Friday, March 1, 2024

Looking Forward to Spring: March - May 2024

Looking Forward to Spring: March - May 2024

At the start of each calendar season, we look forward to what we are hoping to see in the coming three months, as well as the titles of productions we are keeping an eye on. As the weather begins to warm, and the theater scene begins to rev up, there are a lot of exciting things on the horizon. Seeing everything is simply not in the cards time wise or (especially) economically - a nice, if frustrating, problem to have. After all, I'd rather have too much to see than not enough!

Before I look ahead, though, I always like to look back. Starting this year, you may have noticed that I no longer give letter grades with our reviews. But for our purposes here, I'll simply name which shows we saw and whether or not we'd recommend seeing them. Between last December and February, we saw Days of Wine and Roses, Harmony, Here We Are, The Notebook, the new cast of Sweeney Todd, and Purlie Victorious. As of this writing, three of those shows have closed, but I thought Purlie Victorious had the most to recommend, and I still think about Harmony, so there's definitely something there. And as a fan of the master, I really appreciated the opportunity to experience Here We Are, and I mostly enjoyed it. Sweeney Todd, my favorite of all the Sondheim masterpieces continues to thrill with its new trio of stars. But my favorite new theater of the winter, and the show I'd most highly recommend, was the intense Days of Wine and Roses. (The Notebook has not yet opened, so I won't discuss my feelings about that piece here.)

Shows we have booked:

Merrily We Roll Along
- Hudson Theatre
At long last! Finally going to see what all the fuss is about. Of course, we are looking forward to seeing the Big 3, but also the A-list supporting cast, like Krystal Joy Brown and Katie Rose Clarke.







Lempicka 
- Longacre Theatre
The fabulous vocals of long-time favorite Eden Espinosa on the just as fabulous single from the show, "Woman Is" sold me on grabbing tickets fast. Then there's the top-tier supporting cast, including Amber Imam, Natalie Joy Johnson, George Abud, Andrew Samonsky, and the incomparable Beth Leavel. And I'm looking forward to maybe learning something along with the entertainment!




Water For Elephants 
- Imperial Theatre
I loved the book so much, and their logo/advertising has me intrigued. Here's another show where their music releases have me really excited. Also, looking forward to seeing Grant Gustin make his overdue Broadway debut, not to mention the palpable chemistry he shares with his leading lady, Isabelle McCalla. Broadway veterans like Gregg Edelman and Paul Alexander Nolan only sweetens the deal!




The Outsiders 
- Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
Based on one of my all-time favorite young adult novels, I'm very excited by the potential of this one. Featuring a youthful cast (many making their debuts), and a book by a favorite playwright of mine, Adam Rapp, with Justin Levine (who also co-writes the music and lyrics with Jamestown Revival). The potential here is big - I'm trying not to have unreasonable expectations... Can't wait to meet Ponyboy and Johnny again.




The Who's Tommy - Nederlander Theatre
When I saw the original production back in the 90s, I went in blind (no pun intended), never having seen the film, and never having heard a note of the score. I was blown away - the show was simply electric. Can lightning strike twice? I'm hoping so. In the meantime, I've gotten out my cast recording and am getting ready for the Pinball Wizard once again.





Shows we are keeping our eye on:

Suffs - Music Box Theatre
Even with a great cast - including three of my all-time favorite stage actresses: Emily Skinner, Jenn Colella and Nikki M. James - we're a little wary of the mixed reviews of the off-Broadway iteration and Shaina Taub's willingness to make changes. I hope everyone involved can do just that.

Cabaret - Kit Kat Klub at the August Wilson Theatre
Maybe it's Kit Kat fatigue... but as interesting as this production looks, I'm having some trouble justifying the ridiculous ticket prices for a show that seems to pop up every few years... still, seeing Bebe Neuwirth again could just get me there...

The Great Gatsby - Broadway Theatre
Full disclosure: F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel is my absolute favorite ever. And it shocks me to say I'm worried about this production. Will any show version of this property satisfy me? They seem to have rushed to bring this one in, and I have to wonder why it couldn't wait until the much less crowded 24-25 season? The decidedly mixed reviews and even more mixed audience reviews should call for time to work on it. We shall see.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

REVIEW: Sweeney Todd (New Cast)

Review of the matinee performance on Sunday, February 25, 2024 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City. Starring Aaron Tveit, Sutton Foster, Joe Locke, Maria Bilbao, Daniel Yearwood, Michael Kuhn, Jamie Jackson, John Rapson and Ruthie Ann Miles. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. From an adaptation by Christopher Bond. Scenic design by Mimi Lien. Costume design by Emilio Sosa. Lighting design by Natasha Katz. Sound design by Nevin Steinberg. Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Choreography by Steven Hoggett. Direction by Thomas Kail. 2 hours 45 minutes, including one intermission.

Let me get right to what you really want to know. Sweeney Todd is as amazing as ever - different from when it opened, but just as amazing. Over the years, I've seen more than a dozen different productions of Sondheim's masterwork, and I've seen more than a dozen different interpretations of its characters. Both Aaron Tveit and Sutton Foster more than deliver the goods in terms of acting, singing, and a fresh take on these iconic characters.


Let me also say that neither of their performances sound like those first night audio bootlegs. They sing this score wonderfully, with a beguiling mix of straight singing and character-driven choices. Ms. Foster, particularly, employs her voice to great effect in a wide range of ways, from kooky matron to motherly affection to downright sinister villain. Mr. Tveit, meanwhile, lets Sweeney build, from anger to vengeance to bloodthirsty maniac. What is particularly gratifying are the undercurrents of both of their performances that add a grounding to their interpretations. She, underneath, is a bubbling mess of desperation - desperate to find success, to woo her beloved, to simply survive. Meanwhile, a tragically profound grief informs everything he says and does. 

This production has always leaned heavily into the Grand Guignol tradition, with a heaping helping of melodrama and penny dreadful horror. Tveit's portrayal, a fascinating ebb and flow of cocksure preening and tortured brooding reaches its first climax with his explosive "Epiphany," and later in the climactic finale where the grim reality he faces brings a moment of clarity that is simply chilling. The physicality of Foster's Mrs. Lovett, often very sexually charged, calls to mind the great physical comediennes of a long lost Broadway. She piles it on pretty thick, which might not sit too well with some viewers, but every choice she makes is a study in desperation and an almost gruesome lack of self-awareness. And yet, you can read the calculative smarts this woman has - she may seem flighty and silly, but she is a groomer of the highest (lowest?) order. The most telling moment of her entire performance comes during "Not While I'm Around," when she tries to soothe her young charge with bribes of candy and a hand-knit scarf all with her cheery silliness. The second she realizes she's been found out, her face changes instantly, a veil of darkness slides onto her face, her eyes become steely in their glare, her smile replaced by grim, set lips. 

Speaking of "Not While I'm Around," that number, in the hands of newcomer Joe Locke, was worth the entire price of admission. Yes, I find him to be quite good - excellent, in fact - in Heartstopper, but nothing prepared me for what he does here. Utterly charming and completely captivating, this young man is hard to keep your eyes off of. His chemistry with Ms. Foster is palpable. He has a pure, powerful voice, and a real gift for both comedy and heartrending emotion. Mr. Locke has the unique ability to seem fresh and seasoned simultaneously. One hopes that he will return to Broadway soon and frequently; his is a not-to-be-missed debut. 

Unfortunately, there is now a weak spot where there wasn't one before, and that is with Daniel Yearwood's unfortunate pop star take on Anthony. He reads his lines alright, I suppose, but nothing that comes out of his mouth matches the tone and style of the rest of the company. There is nothing beyond his one-dimensional "I'm the good guy" vibe, and while he sings alright, there is no real passion, wonder or even humor in his voice. Everyone on the stage is in an operatic melodrama, while he's on the 80s on 8 channel. As luck would have it, there was a fifth "newcomer" in the role of Pirelli, Michael Kuhn. He was pretty wonderful - one of the most well-articulated Pirellis I've yet seen, and his comic timing was perfection. Best of all, the plot twist of his character's relationship to Barker/Todd was crystal clear and delightfully nefarious, no small feat.

The rest of the company remains excellent, with solid performances from Maria Bilbao as Johanna and Ruthie Ann Miles as the Beggar Woman. But I have to say that both Jamie Jackson, as the thoroughly wicked Judge Turpin, and John Rapson, as the equally thoroughly wicked Beadle Bamford, really impressed me this time around, each nailing a balance between genuine evil and mustache-twirling melodrama villains, making their deaths... satisfying.

I am really glad I paid another visit to Fleet Street. Its thrills and chills are as powerful as ever - but the wonder of it is that they come in fun, unexpected ways this time around.

📸: M. Murphy/E. Zimmerman

Monday, February 26, 2024

Broadway Games: 3 Truths 1 Lie

How well do you know Hamilton, Kimberly Akimbo or Hadestown? How about Ryan Vasquez or Melanie LaBarrie?

Broadway Games: 3 Truths 1 Lie

Below are 4 statements about each topic. Three of them are true. One of them is a lie. Your job is to figure out which one is the falsehood. Good luck!


1. Hamilton
    A. Thayne Jasperson is the only Original Broadway Cast member currently in the Broadway Company.
    B. Ariana DeBose is the only Original Broadway Cast member with an Oscar.
    C. No one in the Original Broadway Cast has left the show and returned to the company.
    D. Hamilton did not win every Tony Award for which it was nominated.


2. Ryan Vasquez
    A. To date, he is the only actor to play every principal male role in Hamilton on Broadway.
    B. Ryan appeared in the short-lived Broadway musical Cirque du Soleil Paramour.
    C. He was in pre-Broadway productions of The Notebook, The Outsiders and Water For Elephants.
    D. In The Notebook, Ryan's "Middle" counterpart is played by Joy Woods.


3. Kimberly Akimbo
    A. David Lindsay-Abaire's original play version also included songs.
    B. Not all of the characters in the play version appear in the musical version.
    C. LaChanze is a producer of the Broadway musical.
    D. In the finale of the musical, we see Kimberly in Disney World.


4. Melanie LaBarrie
    A. Less than 24 hours after her final Broadway performance in & Juliet, she was in London rehearsing Hadestown.
    B. Melanie originated the role of Angelique, Juliet's nurse, on the West End and Broadway.
    C. She once played Madame Morrible in Wicked.
    D. She was born in Turks and Caicos.


5. Hadestown
    A. Not including understudies or swings, until Jordan Fisher took over, only Reeve Carney had played Orpheus in New York.
    B. There have been Broadway performances where not all of the Fates have been played by female identifying actors.
    C. Ani DeFranco, the current Persephone, has sung the role professionally before her Broadway debut.
    D. Lola Tung, currently making her Broadway debut as Eurydice, is known for her starring role in The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Broadway Games: Pop Quiz!

If Broadway was a class, this is the pop quiz you might get... Good luck!

 BROADWAY GAMES:
Pop Quiz!


1. What was the prior name of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre?
        A. The Cort Theatre
        B. The Alvin Theatre
        C. The Uris Theatre
        D. The Martin Beck Theatre

2. All of these actresses have played Dolly Levi on Broadway EXCEPT:
        A. Angela Lansbury
        B. Carol Channing
        C. Bette Midler
        D. Ethel Merman

3. True or False: Every Rodgers and Hammerstein musical has had at least one Broadway revival.

4.  True or False: The song "Roar" is sung in both Moulin Rouge and & Juliet.

5. The Tony Award for Best Musical of 2017 was: 
        A. The Band's Visit
        B. Dear Evan Hansen
        C. Come From Away
        D. Hamilton


6. Which of the following artists has had a musical created from their song catalog?
        A. Katy Perry
        B. Cyndi Lauper
        C. Michael Jackson
        D. Elton John

7. Fill in the blank:
        "Oh! What a beautiful _____! Oh! What a beautiful _____!
        A. dress; lady
        B. day; mornin'
        C. statue; art show
        D. mornin'; day

8. All of the following characters appear in the musical Titanic, EXCEPT:
        A. J. Bruce Ismay
        B. Alice Beane
        C. Margaret "Unsinkable" Molly Brown
        D. Benjamin Guggenheim

9. Frank Wildhorn's most recent original Broadway musical was:
        A. The Scarlet Pimpernel 2.0
        B. Bonnie and Clyde
        C. Wonderland
        D. Jekyll and Hyde

10. How many Broadway theaters are named for African-American artists?
        A. 2
        B. 3
        C. 4
        D. 5

STOP!
If you don't want to know the answers yet,
stop scrolling NOW!
The answers are below!


1. What was the prior name of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre?
        D. The Martin Beck Theatre

2. All of these actresses have played Dolly Levi on Broadway EXCEPT:
        A. Angela Lansbury
        
3. False: Every Rodgers and Hammerstein musical has had at least one Broadway revival.

4.  False: The song "Roar" is sung in both Moulin Rouge and & Juliet.

5. The Tony Award for Best Musical of 2017 was: 
        B. Dear Evan Hansen
       
6. Which of the following artists has had a musical created from their song catalog?
        C. Michael Jackson
       
7. Fill in the blank:
        "Oh! What a beautiful _____! Oh! What a beautiful _____!
        D. mornin'; day

8. All of the following characters appear in the musical Titanic, EXCEPT:
        C. Margaret "Unsinkable" Molly Brown
        
9. Frank Wildhorn's most recent original Broadway musical was:
        B. Bonnie and Clyde
      
10. How many Broadway theaters are named for African-American artists?
        B. 3

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Broadway Collections: Playbill Cards

Somewhere between the baseball card boom and the advent of Lights of Broadway cards, Playbill gave us their version to trade. 

Broadway Collections:
Playbill Cards

While cleaning off and rearranging my shelves the other day, I came across a huge 3-ring binder down in the lower corner. Hard to believe I kinda forgot it was even there. I opened the cover and there they were. Dozens and dozens of collector sleeves filled with Playbill Cards! It was like running into an old friend after many years - a chance encounter that made the memories come flooding back.

Oh, the days gone by when pre-matinee and between shows time was spent running from Broadway theater shop to shop and getting down on the floor to comb through baskets of the black, white and yellow treats. All four of the merch shops kept them in baskets on the floor in corners of the room, and somehow it felt like those of us who knew they were there were in a special secret club.

Who knew there would be so much history on these pages?
The Phantom of the Opera and Into the Woods?
Patti LuPone's triumphant return to Broadway in Anything Goes?
Joel Grey's final Broadway turn as the Emcee in Cabaret?

Each season of Playbills were in a separate bag - you got the whole season at once, not packs of 5 where you had to buy dozens to get the whole set (not to mention a zillion repeats!). I'm pretty sure there were 31 sets altogether, ending with the 2007-08 season, and it nagged at me for years that I didn't find them all!  
For the record, I have the 1977-78 & 1983-84 sets, then every set from 1987 on.

This page brings me back to where it all started - Mame 1983!

Getting a new set brought me such joy. I'd carefully handle each card (no fingerprints or bent corners!!) and slide them into the special card pages. Then I'd devour each one, taking the cover art work, then turning them over to read and reread each and every credit on the Opening Night title page. I know some other collectors (we'd met on the floor of the old store that used to be at the Marriott) arranged their cards alphabetically, but I arranged mine by opening night date.

Playbill didn't discriminate - even flops got their due.
This page has 3 of my favorite flops are on this page: 
Side Show, Triumph of Love and The Scarlet Pimpernel!

Now that I have them out, I think I'll re-devour each one, and all of the memories I have of shows, seen, missed, loved, hated. Sure, I can see the same thing and more online at the Playbill Vault, and get the details from a number of sources. But there is something wonderful about the simplicity and tangible nature of each 2x3 inch cardboard gem.

I would love to hear from any of you that have these, too! Leave a comment or email at jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com.

Monday, February 19, 2024

2023 - 2024 Broadway Musical Logos: The Notebook

I think, though I'm not positive, that I read Nicholas Sparks' best-selling novel, The Notebook in the late 90s, not long after it was published. And I just saw the popular film over the weekend, which I enjoyed very much. Seeing it has me very much looking forward to seeing the musical in the coming days, especially to see how this emotional story will translate in completely theatrical terms.

For now, I'll just share my thoughts about the artwork for the show.

What makes this lovely, eye-catching logo work so well is that it is captivating whether you are familiar with the property. It's cloudy/foggy white-gray is immediately a stand-out among the visual cacophony of the Times Square/theater district area, so it's a great choice in terms of visibility. In terms of the story, it suggests the fog of memory, both intentional and mental atrophy. 


Similarly, the bright, varied coloring of the embracing young couple is something that would draw the eye of passersby. The color makes you look, the silhouette draws you in. Even without details, you sense happiness and trust; the pose is intimate and lovely. The way the watercolor-ish way the colors appear (and occasional spatter) suggests wet, dripping rain. Again, in terms of the story, both the rain motif and the exuberant embrace immediately recall a key moment where the young lovers, Noah and Allie hold on to each other, oblivious to the downpour pelting them. Allie's passion for painting is suggested by the way the colors are applied to the key art. It is both art and theme.  


The title and tagline (simply "The Musical") are also striking against the background. Blues and purples are blended together in the same way the white and gray are, and the font is a simple one. Lowering it onto the shape of open pages is a touch of stylized whimsy without interfering with or over taking the logo. Its simplicity adds to rather than detracts from the overall effect.

Of all the musicals from this season, it is one of my three favorites. When I saw it, I knew immediately I needed to have something with its logo on it. Magnet? Window card? Both? Maybe a box of tissues...

Grade: A+

Friday, February 16, 2024

Name That Show! 2010s Broadway Songs (Part Two)

Hello, show tune lovers! Today's game is all about songs from Broadway musicals that opened in the 2010s - not that long ago! You've probably at least heard of most of the shows included here, but how familiar are you with the song lists from each? Some of these are easy, but many are challenging. It's all about learning some Broadway history, right? And we found 50 songs worthy of making the game list; today we finish with the last 25!

Good luck!

Broadway Games:
Name That Show: 2010s Broadway Songs
(Part Two) 
Play Part One HERE.

Multiple Choice: Pick the show that contains the song listed.


26. "When I Grow Up"
   A. Charlie...Chocolate Factory  B. Big Fish  C. Fun Home  D. Matilda  E. Wonderland

27. "One Jump Ahead"
   A. Newsies  B. Finding Neverland  C. Fun Home  D. In Transit  E. Aladdin

28. "Apex Predator"
   A. American Psycho  B. Big Fish  C. Women on the Verge...  D. Mean Girls  E. Rocky

29. "The Boy Falls From the Sky"
   A. Catch Me If You Can  B. Newsies  C. Spider-Man: TOTD  D. Finding Neverland  E. Tuck Everlasting

30. "Uninvited"
   A. Frozen  B. The Visit  C. Ghost  D. Mean Girls  E. Jagged Little Pill

31. "Me and the Sky"
   A. Natasha...Great Comet  B. Come From Away  C. Escape to Margaritaville  D. First Date  E. Bring It On

32. "Good Girl Winnie Foster"
   A. Beetlejuice  B. Charlie...Chocolate Factory C. Tuck Everlasting  D. Mean Girls  E. The People in the Picture

33. "You'll Be Back"
   A. Hamilton  B. An American in Paris  C. Sister Act  D. Allegiance  E. Dear Evan Hansen

34. "Populism Yea Yea"
   A. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson  B. Everyday Rapture  C. American Idiot  D. Newsies  E. Fela!

35. "The Whole Being Dead Thing"
   A. American Psycho  B. The Addams Family  C. Ghost  D. Bright Star  E. Beetlejuice


36. "Live In Living Color"
   A. Million Dollar Quartet  B. The Lightning Thief  C. Catch Me If You Can  D. Motown   E. School of Rock

37. "For the First Time in Forever"
   A. The Prom  B. Getting the Band...Together  C. Hands on a Hard Body  D. Frozen   E. Matilda

38. "When the Booth Goes Bright"
   A. Women on the Verge...  B. Amelie C. Groundhog Day  D. Motown   E. Chaplin

39. "Sonya Alone"
   A. Shuffle Along B. Doctor Zhivago  C. Natasha...Great Comet  D. Chaplin   E. Women on the Verge...

40. "Stronger Than Before"
   A. Allegiance  B. Frozen  C. Aladdin  D. Amelie   E. Dear Evan Hansen

41. "Show Some Respect"
   A. Hamilton  B. Amelie  C. An American in Paris  D. Sister Act   E. The Last Ship

42. "My Nose Ain't Broken"
   A. A Bronx Tale  B. In Transit  C. War Paint  D. School of Rock   E. Rocky

43. "Be the Hero"
   A. The Scottsboro Boys  B. Spider-Man: TOTD  C. Tuck Everlasting  D. Big Fish   E. Waitress

44. "Sex Is In the Heel"
   A. Tina  B. Motown  C. Tootsie  D. Kinky Boots   E. Pretty Woman

45. "Unchained Melody"
   A. Ain't Too Proud  B. Ghost  C. Getting the Band...Together  D. Baby, It's You!   E. A Night with Janis Joplin


46. "Give It Up"
   A. Escape to Maragaritaville  B. Ghost  C. Lysistrata Jones  D. In Transit   E. Rocky

47. "Commencing in Chattanooga"
   A. The Scottsboro Boys  B. Million Dollar Quartet C. Hadestown  D. Tina   E. Shuffle Along

48. "Journey to the Past"
   A. Bandstand  B. Anastasia  C. The Bridges of Madison County  D. Allegiance   E. A Bronx Tale

49. "Our Lips Are Sealed"
   A. War Paint  B. Beautiful  C. Catch Me If You Can  D. Head Over Heels   E. Everyday Rapture

50. "The Squip Song"
   A. Spider-Man: TOTD B. Fela!  C. Aladdin  D. Frozen   E. Be More Chill

STOP!
If you don't want to know the answers yet,
stop scrolling NOW!
Answers below:

26. "When I Grow Up"
   D. Matilda

27. "One Jump Ahead"
   E. Aladdin

28. "Apex Predator"
   D. Mean Girls

29. "The Boy Falls From the Sky"
   C. Spider-Man: TOTD

30. "Uninvited"
   E. Jagged Little Pill

31. "Me and the Sky"
   B. Come From Away

32. "Good Girl Winnie Foster"
   C. Tuck Everlasting

33. "You'll Be Back"
   A. Hamilton 

34. "Populism Yea Yea"
   A. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson  

35. "The Whole Being Dead Thing"
   E. Beetlejuice

36. "Live In Living Color"
   C. Catch Me If You Can  

37. "For the First Time in Forever"
   D. Frozen   

38. "When the Booth Goes Bright"
   B. Amelie 

39. "Sonya Alone"
   C. Natasha...Great Comet  

40. "Stronger Than Before"
   A. Allegiance  

41. "Show Some Respect"
    E. The Last Ship

42. "My Nose Ain't Broken"
   E. Rocky

43. "Be the Hero"
   D. Big Fish   

44. "Sex Is In the Heel"
   D. Kinky Boots

45. "Unchained Melody"
   B. Ghost  

46. "Give It Up"
   C. Lysistrata Jones

47. "Commencing in Chattanooga"
   A. The Scottsboro Boys  

48. "Journey to the Past"
   B. Anastasia  

49. "Our Lips Are Sealed"
   DHead Over Heels

50. "The Squip Song"
   E. Be More Chill
 
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