Tuesday, August 31, 2010

JK's TheatreScene Turns 1 Year Old!

I cannot believe it!  This blog is one year old already!  (Actually it turned one yesterday, but I thought a timely review of Chess was more important than this exercise in self-indulgence!)  Anyway...

I really had no idea of the extent of blogging there is out there, though of all the kinds I have seen, the theatre-related ones surprise me the least.  Why?  Because by and large, they are all intelligent and heart-felt.  There is no one group more passionate about their art than theatre fans.  Ok, maybe opera fans have us beat, but we are kinda related, right?

I want to thank all of you have read any, many or all of my blogs.  I hope my thoughts and ramblings interest and entertain you.  It is so nice to have an outlet for all the excitement, passion and genuine love that I have for theatre, and to know that if you read it it is because you share that love, if not my opinion!

There are a few specific people I'd like to thank:
  • My buddy and frequent theatre companion Mike for being a faithful reader, a clear-minded critic, and wonderful friend - the kind of real friend that everyone deserves in their life.
  • My blogger friend, Esther, whose own blog inspires me and challenges me to improve my own.  Without her, this blog would literally not be what it is.  She taught me the fine art of linking, adding polls, getting a "Stat Counter" and got me on Twitter!  If you haven't tried her blog out, click on Gratuitous Violins down and to the right.  You won't be sorry.
  • My other blogger friend, Steve, of Steve on Broadway, who challenges my ideas, my point of view and is the closest person I know to me in terms for sheer love of all things staged.  I envy him everyday, as he globetrots and sees theatre everywhere!  And I love knowing that we have mutual respect even as we oppose each other in reviews and other opinions. And it is even fun to see if we agree!  Check out his blog, too!, down and to the right from here.
  • And I'd really like to thank my "Followers", some I've had since this blog was only a few days old!  Your allegience is something I keep in mind every single time I start typing entry.
  • Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who has left comments and asked questions both directly on here and via email.  That interaction is the most enjoyable part of this whole thing for me - especially when you don't agree with me.  How else do I grow and appreciate all of the possibilities of the theatrical experience? (Extra special thanks to: Londy, Infinity, Esther, Steve, Broadway Critic, Pun, tyrpentine and Lauren!)

That "Stat Counter" I've had since February has really been a great tool for seeing what people read and what doesn't work.  Prior to February, I only had the counter itself, and remember those first weeks when it was a thrill to see that 5 or 6 people besides me came to the site.  Whether they read anything or not wasn't my concern, really.

Then Esther turned me on to all of the possibilities that the "Stat Counter" service can provide.  Here are a few things I've learned:
  • I have had visits from every continent on Earth except Antarctica.
  • The biggest concentration of visits comes from New York state, followed by Ohio (?), and then Great Britain, Canada, California, Washington, DC and Australia.  My favorite came from a hotel in South Africa - they looked up Aaron Tveit, and read every blog that even mentioned him!
  • The three most popular days for visiting the site on average have been: Monday, Tuesday and Sunday, in that order.
  • The three least visited days on average was Saturday, by far and hands down.  12 of the 30 weeks that I have stats for, Saturday was the least visted day.
  • Prior to the week of April 25, I was averaging about 45 visits a day.  From that week on, I average about 160 a day.  See below for what caused that!
  • The biggest single week for vistors so far was the 2nd week in May, with almost 1,900.
  • The biggest single day for visits was the third week of June, on Monday.  382 people dowloaded the page and clicked on something.
  • Probably the most important statistic, to me, anyway, is the "Returning Visitors" stat:  47 is the average for each week's tally.  It sounds small, and maybe it is, but whoever you 47 faithful are, thank you!

  • I have gotten the most hits on the following types of articles, in this order: reviews, Broadway Boys (interesting...), articles about trips to the city, Broadway Games, my series on the theatres of Broadway, and Broadway Ladies.  But the most popular series by far has been my recent blogs about the first decade of the 21st Century.
  • Speaking of Broadway Boys, West Side Story's Riff, Wes Hart's aunt wrote to thank me for my re-review and for making him a Broadway Boy!  Isn't that sweet?
  • I have gotten the most emails about Broadway Games - usually complaints that they are too easy or too hard.  (I always thought no one did them...LOL).  And then I have gotten many emails about my dislike for Rock of Ages.  Sorry!  Can't like 'em all, but I'm very glad you love that show so much that you felt compelled to write to me!
  • Other interesting emails have included requests for lyrics, several that take me to task for spelling it "theatre" not "theater."  And not a few about why you think I ignore Wicked.  Out of sight, out of mind!  But not for long, Ozians!  I am going to see Wicked later this month after I attend the Broadway Flea Market!  And guess what else?  I have already started drafting 3 separate blogs about our two favorite witches!
At least 3 different college kids and 2 high schoolers have written for permission to use content from my blog!  I'm flattered, but always remind them that I am not an authority.  Did you know (despite the fact that theatre bloggers are vermin) that blogs are considered a viable Internet resource for research, provided that they are fact checked?  Who knew?  (Thanks to Dr. Blank at a local college in Maine - sorry the name escapes me - for answering when I seriously questioned whether one of her students really could quote me in a paper.)  Again, I am flattered, but there really are so many other more important sources out there!  A fact-checked blogger apparently trumps Wikipedia...


This year has been so great!  Getting to "know" fellow theatre-lovers, seeing and sharing great and not-so-great theatre, and these key events in the past year:

1.  Being able to post a blog every single day for an entire year.  Sometimes it is a chore, and most of the time it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort.  But I never thought I'd have the discipline, and I do!!  Now, if I can only be as regular about going to the gym!

2.  Being called a vermin by theatre genius John Simon.  I am in grand company!

3.  Hearing from actual theatre people about my blog... Adam Halpin (Glory Days), Josh Lamon (Hair), and both Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (The Addams Family).

THANK YOU, Ms. Chenoweth!

4.  The turning point for my blog thus far:  Being read and Tweeted by none other than Kristin Chenoweth!  She loved my review of Promises, Promises and told the world.  The volume of people to this site since then has been incredible.  It was especially nice to briefly say "hello and thank you" to her after a performance.  She actually stopped, looked me in the eye and thanked me "for getting what it is all about."  We shook hands, and I've been in awe ever since...  Graciousness is what separates true stars from mere celebrities.

Wasn't it nice of Bobby, Alice, Jason and Marin
to bring me me birthday cakes?

I have three wishes for this next year:
1.  That I can continue to work on making this the best blog I can make it be.
2.  That more of you will share experiences and thoughts about my blog entries and theatre in general.  PLEASE WRITE IN!
3.  That all of us have the priviledge and ability to see great theatre at any venue we are lucky enough to get to!
Thank you all, so much!
With love and respect,


Monday, August 30, 2010

REVIEW: Chess at Signature Theatre

Review of the August 12 preview performance. At the Max Theatre at Signature Theatre, Arlington, Virginia. 2 hours, 20 minutes, with an intermission. Starring Jill Paice, Jeremy Kushnier, Euan Morton, Christopher Bloch, Eleasha Gamble, Russell Sunday and Chris Sizemore. Choreography by Karma Kamp. Directed by Eric Schaeffer. Limited engagement through September 26.

With so much national press out there about this production – in part because of the Regional Theatre Tony and for its director, Eric Schaeffer of the “smash hit” Million Dollar Quartet (their words, not mine) – I am somewhat surprised to report that the Signature Theatre production of Chess is really not that impressive. According to reports in The Washington Post and elsewhere, Schaeffer impressed himself upon the Shubert Organization and the creators of the show to let him pick and choose from among four different versions of the book, though only Richard Nelson’s Broadway version is credited in the program. Considering that the piece has always been problematic (not unlike another seemingly unworkable, but beloved title, Merrily We Roll Along), I think Mr. Schaeffer deserves some kudos for having the wherewithal to try this; especially given the recently televised London concert version, which had all of its writers concluding that that was probably the definitive version after all (of course, they are still tinkering).

Unfortunately, he didn’t pick and choose the right combination for my tastes. What was always good about Chess is still what is good about Chess; what didn’t work still doesn’t work. Some of that has to be the book (it is), but the direction and concept of this production, as well as an egregious lack of attention to detail, are really what bring down this potentially huge production. (I can’t confirm it, but it is not unreasonable to think that Signature Theatre has bigger plans for this show. Two words: Glory Days.)

Freddie meets the press

Let me get the ugly out of the way first – and all with the caveat that I saw the third preview performance, and it was reported that Richard Nelson was brought in to look it over, so perhaps some changes were made.  Let's hope so.

Flat screen projections remind us throughout that this is 1986. Snippets of Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” speech come flashing on the screen and blaring out of the sound system (did someone from American Idiot consult on this?) And yet, almost nothing of this production has the look or feel of 1986 – a very specific time – the Berlin Wall wasn’t down, and the USSR was enemy number one – yes, a very specific time. Scenic designer Daniel Conway has given us a set that is part CNN news room, part futuristic flight deck and part punk/discotheque. That punk/discotheque part is the closest thing the set comes to evoking the time period. Kathleen Geldard’s costumes also seem to be a mish mash of styles - Molokov wears a ponytail, Freddie wears 90’s style pants and colored shirts, Anatoly wears off the rack Brooks Brothers, while only Florence, in her mini boots and smallish ensemble (see picture below) even remotely resembles 1986.  (A thought: were the designers, in mixing up time periods trying to show the universality of the themes and the show itself?  If so, I say: they don't really tinker much with Oklahoma! or South Pacific - both with remote time periods, but universal themes...)

Jill Paice as Florence

And then there is the ensemble, the human embodiment of all that is wrong with this confused production. They are all in black, futuristic army/clubbing outfits, with various leather accouterments, ranging from spiky belts to hard core boots. In short, they are dressed almost identically to the cast of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation. I bring this up because for days after seeing the show, I couldn’t put my finger on where I had seen this before, and lo and behold it was the aforementioned video/short film by Ms. Jackson. I will leave it to you to look up videos of this production and that song, but trust me when I say that Karma Kamp’s choreography is, to be kind, an homage to the video. A curious combination of exciting dance moves and military precision, the dancing throughout can’t seem to decide if it wants to be Broadway flashy or Cold War military drill - just like the production. In any case, Janet Jackson’s video debuted in 1989.

Given the reputation of the theatre company and the caliber of talent they draw (Chita Rivera and George Hearn performed there in The Visit, for example), other anachronisms throughout the show are disappointing and call to mind lesser community theatre companies, not Tony winning regional theatres. And yes, attention to such details matters, particularly in a show that concerns itself with the minutiae of game rules, perceived slights and espionage, not to mention the constant reminders in the score and on those anachronistic flat screens that we are in 1986. Plastic water bottles at the bar? I don’t think so. A foil pull off lid on a cup of yogurt that required no stirring? Definitely not in 1986, and yet both were on stage. OK, so the water bottle thing may be picky, but the yogurt cup is a key prop in a major plot point.

But perhaps the most outrageous and unlikely inclusion here is the final scene of act one. In it, the Russian Anatoly sings the gorgeous “Anthem” as part of a press conference. All of the key players up to that point are there, including a press corps. The setting is a parking garage. Just as things come to a head, the KGB (I am assuming as they are all speaking Russian or Hungarian, definitely NOT CIA English) bursts in and starts shooting at Anatoly! That’s right, folks. The KGB, notorious for its stealth and secrecy, announces itself and shoots at a crowd of people, in public, missing all of them, including their intended target. Really?


Still I could forgive almost all of that had Mr. Schaeffer and team come up with a cohesive and solid point of view. All of it is not his/their fault, as the book scenes have always been a problem, leaving me to wonder why the ABBA guys don’t just write all of the dialogues like most of the songs already are. But I digress. The logo of the show is clearly a woman’s boot, which appears to be stomping over the King chess piece. Given that there is really only one main woman, Florence, is she stomping on Freddie or Anatoly or both? It’s a love triangle, right? I’ll go with both. Another given is that the show as performed here is clearly skewed toward Florence being the heroine, rather than either man being the hero. (An excellent choice, given the cast, but more on that in a minute!). Or is the show really just a highly symbolic rant about political relations? Given that the program has an article about the Game of Chess and the Cold War , and a rather well-publicized pre-opening scavenger hunt around DC, including the National Spy Museum (no joke!), one has to guess that the Cold War/political relations were meant to be the thrust of the show. Rather than choosing one, or better yet allowing one to inform/comment on the other, the production seems to want it both ways: to be part Clancy spy thriller and part international romance – The Hunt for the Tuscan Sun, maybe?

"I Know Him So Well"

I can’t say I am surprised, given Eric Schaeffer’s penchant for cloudy staging and lack of point-of-view, where hitting light cues is as important as knowing the lyrics (unfortunately not even the case this night). If you’ve seen Putting It Together or Million Dollar Quartet, you know what I mean. Oddly, his biggest flop on Broadway, Glory Days, had a very solid point of view. And so, you have a production whose details, dancing and direction are at odds, trying to be all things to all people, and succeeding only on occasion. There are two moments when Schaeffer and company create stage pictures that hint at what might have been – one during “I Know Him So Well” when Florence is seated and Svetlana is above her on a nearby spiral staircase (above). Two places, distinct, two people, less distinct than they think they are, juxtaposed elegantly and simply. The other moment being the poignant tableau during the “Endgame” sequence (below). Not since Sunday in the Park with George has such care been given to the placement of characters. But ten minutes out of 140 does not a hit make.


Fortunately, there is the one wonderful thing that makes this Chess work: the score, which remains one of Broadway’s very best, book be damned. And orchestrator David Holcenberg, along with conductor Jenny Cartney and a 10 piece orchestra really makes the score work. It sounds amazing, and the quality is Broadway class for sure. There really isn’t a clunker amongst any of them, including my favorite word play song of all time, “A Model of Decorum and Tranquility,” the powerful “Nobody’s Side” and the excellent ballad, “Someone Else’s Story.” The other great ones are here, but not listed because their renditions here are not superlative, but rather range from decent to solid. One note about the score as included here: I must applaud the company for excising the “Merchandising of Chess” sequence which really would have added a third or fourth dimension to the muddle.

"One Night in Bangkok"

And now about that cast, a hybrid of Broadway, top regional theatre actors, and a few new locals, too. I have to say, a gamer cast (pun not intended) will be hard to find these days. Their energy and commitment to the piece gives the whole affair an urgent and much needed vibrancy. While the dances themselves seem to add to the confusion of the production, they are very well executed. “One Night in Bangkok,” though, gets dangerously close to campy sleaze, with such earnest writhing and groping (and one embarrassing bit of gymnastics) missing the point of the song and the character singing it (below, look closely).

The character of Walter is a bit of an enigma. In act one he is a churlish, self-absorbed, possessive asshole. In act two, he comes right out of the gate being downright friendly and with everyone’s best interest at heart. That I fault with the writing (and maybe the picking and choosing) and the direction. Couldn’t Mr. Schaeffer have helped local actor Russell Sunday work on a subtle arc for his character? Instead, Mr. Sunday comes across as rather amateurish because both personalities are so abrupt and stereotypically played. There is, however, a nice bit of nuance to his vocals. When he sings, you can see why he was hired and why the whole show needs to be sung through.

Of all the characters, I think I was most disappointed in the Arbiter, played with conviction and not much else, by Chris Sizemore. Again, I’m thinking at least some of this has to do with the cut and paste nature of this version and a lack of directorial vision as much as anything else. A good deal of the character’s sung parts have been cut, and what is left makes him all referee and no cheerleader. Played like a prison warden, the one character that could help us see why chess has such a passionate following does nothing but keep us scared straight.

The Russian, The Arbiter, The American

The two supporting Russian characters, Molokov and Svetlana, are ably played by Christopher Bloch and Eleasha Gamble, respectively. And here we can see the duality of the USSR, and perhaps by accident, the most meaningful subtext of the evening. Bloch plays Molokov with a nice degree of emotion, letting us see that even as he is a puppet of his regime, he can recognize the human element his superiors care nothing about. Sure he lies and manipulates, but not always for personal gain. Then there is Svetlana, who under Ms. Gamble’s care, comes across as having a strong fa├žade, pro-Soviet and wronged wife, while under it all she is all too human and in pain as the man she loves wrestles with freedom, a new woman and his conscience. She loses no matter what, but given this performance, you know that somehow she will survive – and probably thrive in just a few years.

"Pity the Child"

Given that all three of the leads are Broadway folks, there are high expectations on all three. If the third preview is any indication, I’m not sure how either of the men will have a voice much further into the run. Both struggled with pitch issues and scratchy voices, one has placement issues that cause literal screaming of higher notes, while the other was not in full command of the intricate lyrics. This production does set one thing perfectly straight: Americans are piggish, self-centered, self-entitled show offs. It is decidedly anti-American, and I’m OK with that. At least it is a point of view. The problem here is that Jeremy Kushnier, who puts a RENT-style spin on every syllable that comes out of his mouth, has found not one likable thing about Freddie to show us. Why on earth would Florence feel anything but contempt for this man-child? He is so arrogant, selfish and cruel that even when he gets to his perilously one-note performance of “Pity the Child” the whole thing falls flat. We are meant to really feel something for him after this gush of emotional baggage. Not in this production. Oh, he got the requisite “woo hoos” from the audience, but more for volume and in-your-face audacity than for any kind of cathartic value. True, as staged, we aren’t sure if it is all in his head, anyway – he starts the scene staring at the chess board, and ends the number in the exact same position. No matter; when that song doesn’t make you feel, it is a lost cause.

"Terrace Duet"

Then there is Euan Morton, who I think has the best chance of growing in his part, and could be reason alone to return to the show were I not so far away. He struggled that evening – his voice sounded tired, he lost the lyrics to “Where I Want to Be” (kudos to the band for a wonderful vamp), and just seemed worn out. But Mr. Morton is no newbie to working on in troubled shows – he of Taboo fame – and he knows how to bring his A game even if inside he’s feeling only a C game. His chemistry and blend with Ms. Paice is honest and endearing, not overboard or stereotypical (a wise choice). When they sing “Terrace Duet” the awkwardness of such new, unexpected and forbidden feelings is expertly played and sung. As staged , they hardly move (ditto the equally stirring “You and I”) and that really is for the best because for those two numbers you can lose the visual and mental clutter and see and hear two wonderful musical theatre moments. I think, given his state that night, that Morton’s subsequent performances of “Anthem” have to be better than the night I saw it. And still it was a very good rendition of the number.

"You and I"

As I said earlier, the thrust of this cobbled together Chess certainly skews things in Florence’s favor. But nothing skews it more than the rich, heartfelt performance given by Jill Paice. Her Florence is an interesting mix of confusion, a lifetime of heartache, and a series of defenses put up to protect herself. She is a strong, if flawed woman. Her strength grabs you, but Paice’s subtle performance of Florence’s flaws takes your heart. You can’t help but be moved by the turmoil of her “Someone Else’s Story” or “Heaven Help My Heart”, and her strongest number, “Nobody’s Side” almost stopped the show. This woman has Broadway diva potential, if only she could find the right vehicle.

Interestingly, the production really focuses on the “Nobody’s Side” number. It underscores their YouTube reel, and is on their show t-shirts. It is also, regrettably, a big curtain call number, too. Yes, after everything is said and done the cast launches into a full-frontal aural assault belting out that number like a Les Miz anthem. Again, did someone from American Idiot consult here? (They, too, have a misguided sung curtain call.) Perhaps, most unfortunately, “Nobody’s Side” sums up what makes this Chess more stalemate than checkmate. It wants to be all sides, and as such, nobody’s side wins, least of all the audience. Still, any professional staging of Chess is a win for musical theatre fans.


(Photos by Scott Suchman)

Comments? Please leave one here or email me at jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com or Tweet me!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bits and Pieces for 08.29.10



NOTE:  Links to the entire series of "Decade" blogs can be found by clicking on the "21st Century Broadway" tab above.  Links to the "What Happened on Broadway" blogs can be found by clicking on the "Broadway: Then and Now " tab above.  Links to all of my reviews can be found by clicking on the "Reviews" tab above, and all of my Logos blogs can be found under the "Logos" tab above.


If you want to play the game before you read the answers, click here for Part I, and click here for Part II.

Here are the answers, in this order: SHOW/WHO IS SINGING TO WHO/SONG TITLE.

1. The Addams Family, Wednesday to Gomez and Morticia, “One Normal Night”
2. AIDA, Aida to Radames, “Written in the Stars”
3. Aspects of Love, Rose to Alex, "Parlez-vous Francais"
4. Assassins, Proprietor to John Hinkley, Jr. “Everybody’s Got the Right”
5. Avenue Q, Rod to Nicky, “It Sucks to Be Me”

Blood Brothers

6. Blood Brothers, The Narrator to the audience, “Prologue”
7. Cabaret, Fraulein Schneider to Cliff, “So What?”
8. Chess, Florence to Freddie, “How Many Women?”
9. City of Angels, Buddy to Stine, “The Buddy System”
10. Company, Paul to Amy, “Getting Married Today”
11. Damn Yankees, Sohovik to the team, “The Game”
12. Footloose, Ariel to her girlfriends, “Holding Out for a Hero”

The Full Monty

13. The Full Monty, Jerry to the union rep, “Scrap”
14. The Goodbye Girl, Elliot to Paula “My Rules/Your Rules”
15. Grand Hotel: The Musical, Flaemmchen to herself, “I Want to Go to Hollywood”
16. Grey Gardens, Big Edie to Brooks, “The Five-Fifteen”
17.  Hairspray, Edna to the prison matron, “The Big Doll House”
18. Jekyll and Hyde, Hyde to Jekyll, “Confrontation”
19. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Mrs. Potiphar to Joseph, “Potiphar”
20. Kiss of the Spider Woman, Valentin to Molina, “I Draw the Line”
21. Les Miserables, Thenardier to Jean Valjean, “Master of the House”
22. Mary Poppins, Mary to the children, “Practically Perfect”
23. Memphis, Delray to Huey, “She’s My Sister”
24. Miss Saigon, John to Chris, “The Telephone Song”
25. The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Neville Landless to Edwin Drood, “No Good Can Come From Bad”
26. next to normal, Diana to Natalie, “Superboy and the Invisible Girl”


27. Passion, Clara to Giorgio, “Happiness”
28. RENT, Mimi to Roger, “Light My Candle”
29. The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Marquis to God, “Madame Guillotine”
30. The Secret Garden, Mary to Dickon, “Wick”
31. She Loves Me, Georg to his co-workers, “Good Morning, Good Day”
32. Shrek: The Musical, Gingy to Pinocchio, “Freak Flag”
33. Sunset Boulevard, Betty to Joe, “Every Movie’s a Circus”
34. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Mrs. Lovett to Sweeney Todd, “The Worst Pies in London”
35. Thoroughly Modern Millie, Trevor to Millie, “The Speed Test”
36. Urinetown: The Musical, Officer Lockstock to Little Sally, “Too Much Exposition”
37. The Who’s Tommy, The Nurse to Mrs. Walker, “It’s a Boy”


38. Wicked, Fiyero to Galinda, “Dancing Through Life”
39. The Wild Party, Queenie to Delores, “Welcome to My Party”
40. Xanadu, Kira to Sonny, “Magic”

How did you do?

  • LOGOS: The Scottsboro Boys, Lombardi, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
  • Broadway Boys: Mr. September 2010
  • What I'm Looking Forward to This Fall
  • Broadway on TV
  • REVIEW: Chess at Signature Theatre
  • Back to School Broadway Style
  • LOOKING BACK: Good Vibrations
  • DESIGNER CLOSE UP: Theoni V. Aldredge


  • Mrs. Warren's Profession (American Airlines Theatre) Previews: 9/3; Opening: 10/3; Closing: 11/23
  • Brief Encounter (Studio 54) Previews: 9/10; Opening: 9/28; Closing: 12/05
  • The Pitmen Painters (Samuel J. Friedman) Previews: 9/14: Opening: 9/30; Closing: 12/12
  • A Life in the Theatre (Schoenfeld) Previews: 9/17; Opening: 10/12; Closing: 1/2/2011
  • Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Jacobs) Previews: 9/20; Opening: 10/13; Open-ended Run
  • Time Stands Still (Cort) Previews: 9/23; Opening: 10/7; Open-ended Run
  • La Bete (Music Box) Previews: 9/23; Opening: 10/14; Closing: 2/12/2011
  • Lombardi (Circle-in-the-Square) Previews: 9/23; Opening: 10/21; Open-ended Run

(Dates are subject to change.)

Happy Birthday Last Week to:
08/22: Theoni V. Aldredge, Costume Designer (A Chorus Line)
08/23: Marian Seldes, Actor (Deuce, Deathtrap)
08/24: Jessica Boevers, Actor (In My Life)
08/25: Van Johnson, Late Actor (La Cage aux Folles - 1983)
08/26: Michael Jeter, Late Actor (Grand Hotel: The Musical)
08/27: Ira Levin, Late Author, Playwright (Deathtrap)
08/28: Donald O'Connor, Late Actor (Show Boat)

Comments?  Please leave one here or email me at Yahoo or Tweet me!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Best of the Decade: The Best Musicals of the Past

Now that my top musicals of the 21st Century have been posted, let me answer a question that several of you have asked me:  What were my favorite musicals of past decades?

Even though I didn't really start attending live theatre regularly until 1983, several 1970's musicals had their influence on me, so I'll start there.  I'll give you my 3 favorites for each decade.

The 1970's:

Honorable Mention: Applause

3.  Company

2.  Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

1.  A Chorus Line

The 1980's

Honorable Mention: La Cage aux Folles

3.  Evita

2.  Grand Hotel: The Musical

1.  The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Here is a video made for the song "Don't Quit While You're Ahead" featuring the Original Broadway Cast and writer Rupert Holmes.  Love the 80's beat!  And Betty, Cleo and Howard look amazing!! (Thanks, Kevin D. for bringing this treat to my attention.)  RIP George Rose, a gentleman and a great actor.

The 1990's

Honorable Mention: Sunset Boulevard, Titanic and Side Show

3.  RENT

2.  Blood Brothers

1.  Kiss of the Spider Woman

What were yours?  Please write in and share!


Friday, August 27, 2010

What Happened on Broadway This Week (8/23 - 8/29)

With the exception of one record-breaking show, this was one sloooow week in the history of Broadway!  Still, it is interesting to take a look back at bygone eras and to remind us of the not too distant past.

August 23:  Maybe the slowest day of the whole year!  Not a single Broadway show has opened on this date in 1935, when Smile at Me opened at the Fulton Theatre on 46th Street.  This musical only lasted 27 performances.  Perhaps what is most interesting about this is that the theatre was re-named the Helen Hayes Theatre, and it, in turn was torn down to make room for the Marriott Marquis.  It was located next to what is now the Richard Rodgers Theatre, and the box office was pretty close to where the new Marquis Theatre box office is.  The lobby of the old theatre is now where the breezeway of the hotel is located.

The Fulton Theatre...

...later re-named The Helen Hayes

This week's Oldest Opening: Uncle Tom's Cabin  opened on August 23, 1852 at Purdy's New National Theatre.

August 24:  A revival of one of Broadway's longest plays opened in 1986 at the Broadhurst Theatre.  The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby was performed in two parts.  This revival ran for 29 performances of both parts.

This week's Most Interesting Title: My Wife's Husbands opened on August 24, 1903 at Hoyt's Theatre on 24th Street near Madison Square.  This is the first theatre to feature gas lights, folding seats and a primitive form of air conditioning.  It was torn down in 1908 for an office building.

August 25:  The biggest opening in the history of Broadway during this week happened on this date in 1980 at the Winter Garden Theatre.  There, 42nd Street  opened and caused a nostalgic sensation.  The opening was marred by the death, earlier that day, of the show's director/choreographer, Gower Champion.  The show went on to win the Tony for Best Musical 1981.  Three theatres and 3,486 performances later, the show closed in 1989.

Tony-winning legend Jerry Orbach and
Tony-winning star Karen Ziemba in 42nd Street

August 26:  The newest musical to open this week was on this date in 1992, when Anna Karenina opened at the Circle-in-the-Square Theatre.  It starred Gregg Edelman and was the debut of Melissa Errico, who to this date is still looking to be in a hit Broadway show.  The show closed after 46 performances.

The Cover Art for the Concept Recording

August 27:  The newest play to open this week was on this date in 1998.  A one-man show, Colin Quinn: An Irish Wake opened at the Helen Hayes and limped through 22 performances.

Literally nothing else significant opened during this week in August.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Best of the Decade: The Best New Musicals #1

If you have followed this blog at all since I started it almost a year ago, the musical I selected as the best new musical of the first decade of the 21st Century should come as absolutely no surprise. I have been raving about/obsessing over it for at least that long.

At Second Stage and at Arena Stage

What is perhaps the sweetest part of all of this is that I was kind of, but not too, interested in the show when it debuted (in this version at least) Off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre, but then took it off my radar after the reviews mentioned the self-aware, ironic, funny tone the show had taken. At that point, I was sick of  so many shows like that. But then, in a daring move, the show got re-worked and was given another full production at Washington, DC's Arena Stage. A couple of cast changes, a re-worked tone and rave reviews got it moved to the big time.

On Broadway

I still didn't know all that much about the show beyond the fact that I had loved the show's star since I saw her debut as Mrs. Walker in The Who's Tommy, and later in Side Show. And, frankly, I was still smarting over the Booth Theatre's previous tenant's (The Story of My Life) short run and critical dismissal. Still, as many of you know, I try very hard to see all of the new musicals, and so this show got on the list, even as I went into it with no expectations or much knowledge. What I came out with is one of the top five lifetime experiences in my more than 25 years of theatre-going. And even more amazing, that gift just gets better and better!  At one point, the show was known as Feeling Electric, and that is exactly how I feel after every performance of it I see!

1.  next to normal
Book by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Musical Staging by Sergio Trujillo
Direction by Michael Greif
Statistically Speaking:
First Preview: March 27, 2009
Opening Night: April 15, 2009
Closing Night: Still running
21 previews, 568 performances as of August 26, 2009 at the Booth Theatre
  • The Original Broadway Cast consisted of: Adam Chanler-Berat (Henry), Jennifer Damiano (Natalie), Louis Hobson (Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden), Alice Ripley (Diana), J. Robert Spencer (Dan) and Aaron Tveit (Gabe)Understudies were Michael Berry, Meghann Fahy, Jessica Phillips and Tim Young.

Brian D'Arcy James as Dan Goodman

  • The Original Off-Broadway Cast was pretty much the same, except Asa Somers played the roles now played by Louis Hobson, and Brian D'Arcy James played the role now played by J. Robert Spencer.  Interestingly, Mr. Somers rejoined the company as an understudy for a time, and Mr. James replaced Mr. Spencer.  Mr. Berry's wife, Sarah Uriarte Berry also joined the company as an understudy for the role of Diana while Ms. Ripley took vacation and Ms. Phillips took the role.

The New Cast Takes a Bow

The New Cast Gets "the Door Treatment"

  • Recently, there was a significant cast change, big enough to garner re-reviews by the major media.  Again they were raves for the most part.  The current cast consists of : Mr. Chanler-Berat, Jason Danieley (Dan), Meghann Fahy (Natalie), Mr. Hobson, Kyle Dean Massey (Gabe - he also took over for Mr. Tveit during the latter's leave to do Catch Me If You Can), and Marin Mazzie (Diana).  The understudies are: Mr. Berry, Brian Crumb, MacKenzie Mauzey, and Ms. Phillips.
  • The 6 member band also at one point included Ms. Ripley's husband, Shannon Ford.
next to normal was honored with 11 2009 Tony Award nominations.  It won 3.
  • The Tony winners were: Alice Ripley - Best Actress in a Musical, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey - Best Original Score, and Tom Kitt and Michael Starobin - Best Orchestrations.  The nominees included: J. Robert Spencer - Best Actor in a Musical; Jennifer Damiano - Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Michael Greif - Best Direction of a Musical; Mark Wendland - Best Scenic Design of a Musical; Kevin Adams - Best Lighting Design of a Musical; and Brian Ronan - Best Sound Design of a Musical.
  • Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt were awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, making next to normal only the 9th musical so honored.  The most recent, RENT, was also directed by Michael Greif.

next to normal at the 2009 Tonys:
Aaron sings, Alice, Tom and Brian win!
My Favorite "normal" Moments:
  • The "mini - Overture":  There is something thrilling about the soft tinkling of the first notes as the lights begin to dim, and then that electric guitar boom of a note as we rock out and are plunged into complete darkness, only to get soft musically again...

  • "Who's Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I":  Sure it sets up the tone of comedy-drama, and it really establishes the Dan/Diana relationship as it currently stands.  But I love the song - the swing, that catchy beat, the great counterpoint/round, and especially the vocal arrangements that make the 4 "voices" sound like so much more.
  • "I Miss the Mountains":  Our first "alone time" with Diana, and it really defines how we will feel and how much/comfort/discomfort we'll have in later, similar moments.

  • "You Don't Know/I Am the One": I could always tell this sequence was meant to be one of those big moments in the show, but I never felt fully satisfied until I saw Marin, Jason and Kyle Dean do it.  Perfection on all levels.

  • "Superboy and the Invisible Girl": Catchy, lyrically interesting, meaningful way beyond the words.  Probably one of my all-time favorite single Broadway show tunes.  All-time.
  • "I'm Alive":  OK, I'll be blunt.  Both actors who have played Gabe are hot to look at.  Bad boys who do dangerous things are appealing.  Belt + danger + cute = great theatre moment! 

The New Cast

  • "Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I'm Falling":  I love this number in the same way that I love "Psychopharmacologist", only not funny.  At all.
  • The End of Act One:  After all of the cacophony, it is the quiet moments that really stick.

  • "Wish I Were Here":  A great rock moment to start the second half...
  • "How Could I Ever Forget?/"It's Gonna Be Good (Reprise)": Let the tears begin.  When the final pieces of the Gabe puzzle come frighteningly clear, there isn't a dry eye in the place, and the argument here has always been gut-wrenching and brilliantly played.
  • "Why Stay?/A Promise": The "there's no turning back" moment, wonderfully executed and nicely low key even when you least expect it.
  • "Maybe (Next to Normal)": Is it because we finally know for sure what the title of the show means?  Or is it because it is nice to see an un-crazy moment so full of truth - making up without either side giving in?

  • "Hey #3/Perfect for You (Reprise)":  Happy tears and I get them every time.  The vastly underrated Adam Chanler-Berat, turns and sees Natalie at the dance, and his smile/relief/love comes pouring out in one look.  I live to have someone look at me with that much love.

  • "Light": A rousing, tidying up of loose ends, without being too tidy or too final.  The staging is simple, but huge.  Remember, there are only 6 cast members, but there is an epic feel to the exact moment they are all over the set, then run down the steps and join in a line and advance on the audience.  We are one, despite differences, issues, individual needs; family is the light.

The Original Broadway Cast

Since the Opening:
  • The Original Broadway Cast Recording has become a best seller.
  • next to normal became the first musical to do a Twitter performance.
  • The show has its own YouTube page where fans submit video of themselves singing their favorite n2n songs, and they are put together in "mash ups" hosted by the show's writers.
  • Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey held a contest for ideas about a song that isn't in the show that depicts a moment or relationship mentioned but not portrayed in the actual show.  It is called "Something I Can't See" and it is a song for Gabe and Dr. Madden.
  • Alice Ripley continues to do her solo act in NYC.  She will also headline the National Tour of next to normal.
  • J. Robert Spencer tours with his Jersey Boys buddies in concerts around the country.
  • Louis Hobson became a father during the run - of twins!
  • Aaron Tveit is co-starring in the upcoming Broadway musical, Catch Me If You Can.

  • Jennifer Damiano and Adam Chanler-Berat developed an act and performed at Joe's Pub.
  • The entire company has performed at various charity events.
  • Tom Kitt orchestrated and arranged Green Day's American Idiot, which is currently playing at the St. James Theatre.
  • Both Kitt and Brian Yorkey continue to work on several projects, both together and apart.  Yorkey directs shows on the West Coast, and is working on the book to Catch Me If You Can, with Terrence McNally.
  • Jessica Phillips will be leaving the show shortly to take on her next project, co-starring in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.  I can't wait to see her!
  • Meghann Fahy continues to do double duty.  During the day, she has a recurring role on One Life to Live.

  • Kyle Dean Massey was in the Broadway photo shoot for the Broadway Issue of Out magazine.
  • No word on a film version yet, but I suggest Betty Buckley as Diana's mother in a cameo.

Final Thoughts... 
There are so many reasons to love next to normal.  The songs are catchy, perfect for each moment and rich in texture and meaning.  The lyrics are thoughtful, clever and most of all, honest.  It is a show that perfectly blends all of the technical aspects of theatre - the set, lights and costumes all contribute to the meaning.  The staging is tight, focused and endlessly interesting.  It is the best in years because it doesn't back down, it makes you think, it makes you feel.  It is easy to relate to, even if you have no one in your life like these people.  And it is fat-free - there is not a single note, lyric, word, pause, lighting cue, movement that is wasted.  Every single part contributes to the whole.  And while it may make you uncomfortable or take you to a dark place, you come out of it moved and alive.  Not a bad thing, at all.
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