Thursday, September 30, 2010

Guest Blogger: St. Jimmy, St. Jimmy, St. Jimmy

Today, I'd like to welcome a special guest blogger, my friend and theatrical companion, Mike.  As you will read below, he is a HUGE American Idiot fan.  While I admire the show, and really enjoy the Original Cast Recording, I think seeing it twice was enough for me.  Mike, on the other hand is a relatively frequent visitor.  Given this week's big news that Billie Joe Armstrong himself would be taking over the role of St. Jimmy, I was not surprised to find an email from Mike saying he was going again!  (I have done the same thing to see specific performers in next to normal and Billy Elliot.  Thanks, Mike, for sharing your insights on not just Armstrong, but two other St. Jimmys as well.

My friend and constant theatrical companion Jeff has kindly offered me some space here to weigh in on my favorite current Broadway show, American Idiot. (Well, it's neck and neck with Next To Normal, for which I share Jeff's affection, but let's just say that American Idiot hits me in a special, visceral way like no other show I've seen.) As you can see from his reviews, Jeff doesn't fully share my enthusiasm for American Idiot, and I suspect he thinks I'm a bit crazy to have paid to see it four times. Nonetheless, I am thrilled an honored to accept his invitation.

Specifically, my task is to evaluate the three performers I've seen in the splashy, creepy role of St. Jimmy. As you may know, St. Jimmy is the dark and glamorous friend - or represents the dark and tawdry part of the psyche - of our protagonist, Johnny. As Johnny tries to make his way alone in the big city, to find love and success and an outlet for his strangely muted brand of rage, St. Jimmy alternately commands and cajoles him into a different kind of life where pain, rage and pleasure all give way to the numbing power of intravenous drugs. There's plenty of room for personal style in the role, and so it is that I saw a different St. Jimmy pouring forth from each of these three talented performers: the role's originator, Tony Vincent (whom I saw at an April 3 preview performance and then again on May 16); his understudy, Andrew Call (September 18); and the show's co-creator and legendary Green Day front man, Billie Joe Armstrong (September 29; all of the performances were at 8:00 pm).

Tony Vincent as St. Jimmy

First, a tiny caveat: my seats for each of these performances were in totally different parts of a rather large theater. As it happens, I was sitting toward the front of the mezzanine both times I saw Tony Vincent in the role. The night Andrew Call went on as St. Jimmy, I had splurged for a center orchestra seat just a few rows from the stage. But then I went cheap and bought a balcony ticket for Wednesday's performance with Billie Joe. I don't think any of this diminishes my ability to weigh the merits of each performance, but I thought I'd toss a little disclaimer out there.

Tony Vincent, who originated the role last fall at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and re-created it for Broadway this spring, brings unmatched energy to his performance. Vincent's interpretation is the least subtle and most commanding of the three, and certainly the loudest. (That is not in the least intended as criticism.) Terrifying and dismissive, he doesn't just lead Johnny astray - he bludgeons him and drags him astray. Vincent shines most in the ultra-high-energy songs given to him in this energetic score: when he bursts down the stairs singing the breathless "St. Jimmy," there is no question who is in command (of the stage and, more importantly, of Johnny's fate). When that command seems to be slipping later in the show, he easily re-claims it with another song that showcases Vincent's uniquely imposing voice and demeanor, "Know Your Enemy." Vincent is just a tad less effective when he's not singing, and his emotional range is narrower than it could be, but overall this is a role that calls for a take-no-prisoners performance and Vincent does not disappoint. (I think he deserved a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor; at any rate, I know he gave a more effective and appropriate performance than one other nominated actor I saw during the season.)

John Gallagher, Jr. and Tony Vincent

Andrew Call

Andrew Call, whom I had already come to greatly admire as a standout member of American Idiot's very active ensemble, proved to be an ideal understudy for St. Jimmy. In fact, he's close to being an ideal St. Jimmy, period.  I hope you'll forgive me for observing, first of all, that Andrew is one handsome young man and that he made an awfully pretty St. Jimmy.  Much more importantly, though, his take on this role was persuasive in almost every detail.  While he can't match Vincent in his vocal delivery of those power punk moments, his nuance and emotional commitment during quieter scenes, especially the moving "Last Night On Earth," easily make up for it. And Call's acting was simply superb: with each glance, upturned eyebrow, and flirtatious caress, he revealed a very complex relationship with his victim.  This St. Jimmy has a kind of contempt for Johnny even as he seems to almost love him; he is at once dismissive, seductive, and terrified of losing Johnny.  I hope his performance has been seen by a casting director or two; if so, I imagine he won't be an understudy in his next show.

Andrew Call

As might be expected given his rock-and-roll background, Billy Joe Armstrong's performance diverged sharply from the other two. His St. Jimmy stood out as playful and, at times, almost joyful. (I'd like to think that's a reflection of the obvious joy he has shown at every step of the show's development.) What I saw on stage at the St. James was definitely not a mere recreation of a Green Day performance. For one thing, his vocal delivery was much fuller and less nasal than what you'd hear on the concert stage; for another, his demeanor leaned more towards Kiss than Green Day. All of this suited the genre, and the character, quite well.
Billie Joe Armstrong

That's not to say that his performance was ideal. While Vincent's and Call's vocals were nearly always crystal clear, Armstrong's lyrics were often difficult to understand, perhaps a result of the volume at which he performed the songs. And while I do not begrudge him one second of the extensive wild applause he received after each song - especially considering his role in creating the work - he went a bit too far on his final exit when he waved to the audience, provoking cheers at a point when the dramatic focus should have been shifting elsewhere. Still, Armstrong fit into the show seamlessly, having no problem at all with choreography or blocking, and his juicy, unrestrained performance was, in the end, quite satisfying.

Armstrong with Stark Sands, John Gallagher, Jr.,
Christina Sajous and Rebecca Naomi Jones at
the American Idiot curtain call on
Tuesday, September 28.

Finally, a comment or two is in order regarding St. Jimmy's physical appearance for each performance. Tony Vincent was decked out in full goth/s&m regalia, complete with black combat boots and chains galore, and sported a radical half-shaved, half-jet black hairdo. Andrew Call wore the same costumes and approximated the hairstyle effect by sweeping his dirty blond bangs down over his eyes, leaving a buzzed layer exposed on the side. But Billie Joe went with the punk/hipster look he's now famous for, with canvas shoes, tight black jeans, white jacket, and dark spiky hair.

In the end, I won't be coy about the fact that I appreciated the subtlety of Andrew Call's performance the most. But Tony Vincent is a vocal force of nature, and of course no experience could replace seeing Billie Joe perform in a work that, without a hint of sarcasm, he has lovingly called "my baby." You can see him on stage through Sunday evening's performance, after which the understudies (Call and Joshua Kobek) will cover the role of St. Jimmy until Vincent returns on October 12. My suggestion is that you go to right now and make sure you get tickets to see all of these terrific performances! (Not that I'm an obsessed fanboy or anything.)

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

From Ireland to Broadway and Back Again: 1916: The Musical

A few days ago I was contacted by the press agent for a new musical in the UK.  She was very complimentary about this blog and the quality of the comments that all of you leave.  And so she thought we might be able to help her out.  They have a website, a Facebook group and a brief video (below).  First, here is the press release I was sent, their words in BLUE:

1916: The Musical – Brief Summary

1916 is a new sung-through, epic musical on the scale of Les Miserables and Miss Saigon. It is a love story set in Dublin during the Easter Rising of the same year. At its heart lies a relationship between a beautiful girl who falls in love with a British Soldier, but whose brother is a determined Republican. As the events of battle ensue this love triangle is tested to breaking point in both directions.

Production History - So Far

The original concept has been developed by Sean Ferris over the last three years. Over the last two years the writing team of Simon Humphreys, David Christmas and Stuart Hancock have now completed 70% of the libretto and score which is now in workshops in London and will complete by December this year.

This work is so good that Abbey Road Studios in London agreed to support us and we have just completed recording and mastering the concept album at their studios, which contains eight key songs from the show. We have also been offered a worldwide distribution contract for the original cast album by EMI Records.

In July this year we were invited to perform a half hour segment at the theatrical showcase event “West End Live” in Leicester Square. This was an unprecedented invitation as all other performances over the weekend were from existing and well known London shows. As a direct result of this we have been asked for a fuller length performance to be staged in Trafalgar Square next year as part of the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.  We will also be performing a set from the current workshops at The London Irish Centre in December this year for interested investors, coproducers and broadcasters.

The Future of 1916: The Musical

It had been our original intention to open this show in Dublin, however following discussions in Ireland with, amongst others, the President of the Hibernian Society, The Arts Council and Sinn Fein’s leader Martin McGuiness, we have been advised to open in Boston in April 2012, on the 96th anniversary of the Rising, from where the show will transfer to Broadway, London and return to Dublin for the Centenary itself in 2016.

Mr McGuiness described the work as “inspirational” and we are now in discussions with the Irish Governments on both sides of the border to make this the centrepiece of the Centenary celebrations.

While the work does have political threads by its very nature, this is not a revolutionary, anti-British piece, indeed quite the opposite is true. It tells the story of hungry people who overthrow their oppressive masters, but the history contributes greatly to the healing and reconciliation process begun by the Good Friday Agreement. It will change a generation’s perceptions about we know as “The Troubles”. Its subject matter and portrayal are not about violence, bombings and sectarian killings. This is a story of real people who drew up a charter for freedom and the right to peace.

Every member of the team to date has worked on this project as a volunteer, including the creative team, producers and musicians. We have had some notable volunteers including Paul Monahan, formerly The Phantom Of The Opera and The Bishop of Digne is Les Mis, and our Bridie has been chosen by Sir Cameron Mackintosh to play Eponine in his 25th anniversary production of the show. We are now in the process of raising the necessary funding for launch.

On the broadcast side, we have been approached by a US TV production company with a view to them securing the rights for a network TV show in the USA, covering the opening, and we are filming for a documentary series as well to coincide with the Centenary.

There is a fantastic story to tell here, not just the historical side of it, but also about the phenomenal impetus this has achieved in such a short time and the unbelievable collaboration of writers and producers to develop this project to this stage. We have also been approached by BBC Radio to present a concept for a series to be written and presented by Tim Rice. We have also planned a Centenary Concert of the entire work to be performed at Croke Park, Dublin on 24th April 2016 in front of a massive live audience of 80,000 and a global TV audience with simultaneous concert in the USA.

You can see our website at and join our Facebook group to see what people are saying for real!
  • “Look's good! Can't wait to go and see this one!”
  • “Looks very exciting- can't wait to see it, looking forward to this one already....”
  • “Great concept and looks to be being very well put together- looking forward to seeing this on the West End stage.”
  • “Exciting!! Looking brilliant, really coming together!! Forget Les Mis! All eyes on 1916!”
  • “What a fantastic, original idea! The music from that short clip? was so powerful - I can't wait to hear more! SO exciting!!”
This is truly an epic musical piece, imagine the wonderful orchestral
score infused with Celtic rhythms, pipes, harps and flutes.....

Sean Ferris and Martin Cox
Producers, 1916 The Musical

The website ( is pretty full of information, especially considering that a full production has yet to be completed.  Perhaps most importantly, there is information about the historical events being portrayed, events that most Americans probably do not know a thing about (myself included).  But that hasn't stopped us before - how much did you really know about the French Insurrection before you saw Les Miserables?  (I bet a lot of you still think it takes place during the French Revolution, like A Tale of Two Cities.  It doesn't.)  And if we can embrace the sad world of Billy Elliot, I'm pretty sure we can give this a chance, too.

Check out this video, a short documentary about the show to date, along with a rather bold announcement at the end:

And here is a bit of the show in performance at this year's West End Live (think Broadway on Broadway):

The folks associated with this show really want to hear your thoughts, so be sure to tell then what you think about what you've read and seen.

(Photos of 1916: The Musical at West End Live! courtesy of 1916 Productions (UK))

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

REVIEW: Wicked (Fall 2010 Cast)

Review of the September 26 matinee performance. At the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway, New York City. 2 hours, 30 minutes, plus one intermission. Starring Mandy Gonzalez, Katie Rose Clarke, Kathy Fitzgerald, P.J. Benjamin, Andy Karl, Alex Brightman, Jenny Fellner, and Timothy Britten Parker. Book by Winnie Holzman, music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Musical Staging: Wayne Cilento, Directed by Joe Mantello.

(Please be advised that this review contains plot spoilers.)

What surprises me the most about my return visit to Wicked after three plus years is that I found the piece to be much more satisfying than my first time.  I think it is most likely because in the intervening time, I have gotten much more familiar with the score, and having seen and made peace with what made it to the stage, I could relax and enjoy and take in everything this huge musical has to offer.  That liberation, free from trying to figure it out, think about what it means and zeroing in on its flaws, makes the whole Oz experience much more fun and emotional.  In short, familiarity for me strips away much of the critic in me and allows me to just see the show with an "it is what it is" frame of mind, rather than a "it could have been so much more" disappointment. 

Which brings me to what pleases me most about my return visit to the Gershwin Theatre.  I am thrilled at just how remarkably well the whole thing has held up, particularly for a crowd-pleaser that is entering its eighth season on Broadway next month.  Many a show - Cats and Les Miserables come readily to mind - in that same position in the past got to the point where it was a pale imitation of the original.  Not the case with Wicked; no, this show is as crisp, fresh and exciting as it was in its opening days.  And all of that has as much to do with the content and staging as any of the current performances. 

"One Short Day"

The first thing that strikes you as you enter the cavernous Gershwin is the sheer size and magnitude of Eugene Lee's Tony-winning set, which covers the proscenium and extends far into the audience.  A curious blend of mechanics (wheels and cogs and metals) and earthiness (straw and wooden beams and tangled undergrowth), the set calls to mind instantly the duality of Dorothy's rural Kansas and the urban progress of The Emerald City.  Of course, this is not The Wizard of Oz, and the Land of Oz has the same duality, but the design, and in fact the entire production, has the original Frank Baum book and the classic MGM film in mind from start to finish.  It is the hook that bridges the gap between what we know going in and the new reality we are about to learn.  This smart duality - countrified Americana and other-worldly Oziana - is carried out in every set, costume and lighting effect in Wicked, a show that has an overabundance of ideas and themes.  The consistency of the design elements adds to the clarity of the production that I'm sure most patrons don't even realize, but subliminally know.  Tony winner Susan Hilferty's costumes, another curious mix of what we know - the iconic wicked witch's hat and black dress/cape, Glinda's fairy like blue gown that so bulbously extends from her waist - and the new world of Oz - where things look much like 19th century American garb, crossed with an ultra modern, cut at odd angles look - that is both jarring and comfortable at once.  In short, these design elements speak to what the show is all about, literally and thematically: what we think we know isn't exactly as it seems. 

Top: Kathy Fitzgerald as Madame Morrible
Bottom: Alex Brightman and Jenny Fellner as Boq and Nessarose

The lavishness and the magnitude of the physical production also gives audiences what it thinks it craves: a larger than life extravaganza known as the Broadway musical.  The production numbers (quirkily provided by Wayne Cilento) and the very focused almost spare direction by Joe Mantello work for both camps of theatre goers: the clarity and spectacle please the occasional theatre-goer/tourist, while giving the more thoughtful, studied theatre-goer something to chew on mentally.  The exact same thing could be said for Stephen Schwartz' score, a blend of startling huge numbers ("No One Mourns the Wicked"), snappy production numbers ("Dancing Through Life" and "One Short Day") and in this age of American Idol, histrionic power ballads ("For Good" and "Defying Gravity").  Then there are the more traditional musical theater numbers like "Popular" and "What is This Feeling."  But of more interest to me are those numbers that serve multiple purposes: thematic, character driven numbers whose pleasing to the ear quality almost makes you not notice the heft of Schwartz' lyrics, which I think have been vastly underrated: "Not That Girl," "Thank Goodness," and "No Good Deed."  Indeed, like everything else, the score offers the best of both worlds in a toe-tapping, hummable package.

Winnie Holzman's book continues to be problematic for me, though.  There are more holes in the plot than a slice of Swiss cheese.  It crams many themes into too slight a script, while major plot points are glossed over and run through; I am sure there are many things the audience misses or happen so fast that they have no idea they happened.  Do people realize that Morrible causes the tornado that kills the Wicked Witch of the East?  Or that Elphaba doesn't really melt in water, as evidenced by the fact that she stands for several minutes in a rain storm?  There are, to be fair, a lot of poignant moments, sharp character observations and plenty of witty moments in the script, and it must have felt impossible to pare down the source material - the very dense and literary Wicked by Gregory Maguire.


(Top) Andy Karl as Fiyero and P.J. Benjamin as the Wizard
(Bottom) Andy Karl and Mandy Gonzalez

All of those elements are unchangeable, and are what they are and forever will be.  The constant variable, and that which causes fans to return time after time, is the casting. Every time a new pair of witches or a new Madame Morrible or Fiyero takes the stage, fans Tweet and blog and Facebook their fingers off assessing the pros and cons of each new actor.  In most cases, the actors need only offer a close approximation of the original to appease most of the fan base.  But serious Ozian fans nitpick each and every acting choice as if they were the director.  Such is the way of life in the 21st century.  I suppose the fact that this very review now exists does the same.  But I am not a huge Wicked fan - it still wouldn't make my top 20 shows of the last decade - but I do immensely admire the show and enjoy it more every time I see it, be it on tour or on Broadway.  I'm now on my 4th set of principals including the original cast, the original National Tour cast, another Broadway company, and this current set.  So how do they stack up? (I will NOT be comparing Elphabas or Fiyeros, but I will evaluate each on their effectiveness in the current whole.)

A long time Dr. Dillamond, this was not my first time seeing Timothy Britten Parker in the role, but he has created an exceptionally well-rounded character, especially considering the few lines and part of a song that he gets to sing.  His is a small, but pivotal role, and he plays it well, evoking indignation and sympathy from both Elphaba and the audience.  And he eats a large piece of paper (he is a goat, after all) without water and still manages to sing!  Not bad!  Another small but pivotal role is that of Munchkin, Boq.  To be completely honest, I've seen a wide range of Boqs, from maddeningly annoying to dull as beige, and so it is wonderful to report that Alex Brightman does a pretty remarkable job at acting star-struck and growing up into a rage and bitterness without annoying the hell out of me.  He is perky and cute as a Munchkin should be, but as his character grows, so does the actor who seems to mature into a man before our eyes.  Interestingly, he has a ton of charisma, and one finds oneself paying more attention to him than one expects to, and that is a good thing.

Katie Rose Clarke: "Thank Goodness"

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Andy Karl, who is beyond dull as Fiyero.  Please know that Mr. Karl is one of my absolute favorite character actors on Broadway today, and when I read that he would be playing this role, I literally thought, "he is perfect for Fiyero."  Boy was I wrong.  He doesn't even swagger.  Rather, it feels like he is bored with the role and is just walking through it.  Though he improves greatly in act two - the actor in him can't help but rise to the more complex material of the second half, I guess - the final payoff is much less satisfying with him in the role.  On the plus side, Jenny Fellner is the first actress I've seen to play Nessarose who manages to pull of both the pitiful sweetness of a crippled girl in act one and self-absorbed and, importantly, wicked woman in act two.

P.J. Benjamin as the Wizard of Oz, gives a very intelligent performance, one that exudes a genuine fatherly vibe, all while making his darker side and manipulations just as believable.  He actually sings his songs, too, which is a nice change from the talk-singing of most of his predecessors.  His partner in crime, Madame Morrible, is now played by the superb Kathy Fitzgerald, whose charm, natural wit and almost motherly bearing is fun, which makes her evil transformation all the more delicious.  She is downright, um, wicked, in act two and I think she may just be the best of all the Madame Morribles I've seen.

Gonzalez and Clarke

Of course, the main attraction and the pairing that ultimately determines whether or not Wicked  is a success is that of the two main witches, Glinda and Elphaba.  The more outwardly fun part, Glinda, is now being played by Katie Rose Clarke, in only her second Broadway role (her first was Clara in Light in the Piazza).  While her take on the role owes much of its success to the original, Kristin Chenoweth, Clarke is not doing an imiatation, but more a homage.  Really, she is giving the audience what it wants to see, but she is also putting her own spin on it.  It is fun to watch her morph from self-centered, egomaniac, social butterfly with more than her share of stupidity and prejudice into a thoughtful, giving, sacrificing and forgiving Ozian.  Clarke does amazing work in parceling out these changes slowly, but surely, so that each character/plot twist is not shocking but rather a revelation, and thus completely believable.  She has a sweet voice, a reckless abandon and a definite love for what she is doing.  And because it is obvious that she loves her job, the audience enjoys her just that much more.

Two sides to Elphaba: From Student to The Wicked Witch of the West

Elphaba is clearly the more sympathetic character, and is given the richest material.  On the one hand, this affords any actress a certain comfort in know the audience is pulling for her, and even wanting her to become the wickedest witch there ever was.  On the other, in lesser hands, the role could be a nightmare of unfulfilled expectation and disappointment.  Happily, that is most definitely not the case with Mandy Gonzalez who sings the hell out of every number - I literally had goose bumps was she soared through "Defying Gravity", and had tears in my eyes as she poured out her heart in happiness during "The Wizard and I", and later as she poured out her love and appreciation for Glinda in "For Good."  I particularly enjoyed her tough, urban girl take on Elphaba as she built up her defense wall against the students at Shiz, and delighted in the slow melting away (forgive the pun) of those defenses as she gains real confidence and actual friends.  Of course that transformation makes her eventual turn to what the Ozians feel is wickedness all the more sad.  Ms. Gonzalez knows how to hit each emotional chord without being obvious.  And her chemistry with Ms. Clarke makes this current Wicked among the best I've seen.

Wand vs Broom: The Witches of Oz Showdown

Each time I see it, I appreciate Wicked more.  And as it currently stands at the Gershwin, it more than earns its popularity and reputation as a crowd-pleaser and Broadway spectacle.

(Photos by Joan Marcus)


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Monday, September 27, 2010

LOGOS: Brief Encounter

Tomorrow will mark the official Broadway opening night for the already critically acclaimed Brief Encounter, a play based on the Noel Coward film of the same name and a one-act play of his.

The stage version combines heightened theatricality, song and dance, and the cast interacting with filmed elements.  The story about a deeply passionate but forbidden love, is described as "sexy," "beautifully romantic," and "stunning theatricality."  I hope to see the show soon...

Anyway, let's take a look at the show's previous logo, before discussing the current promotional art for the Roandabout Theatre Company.

This version of the logo is wonderful in its simplicity, and relies very little on a patron's prior knowledge of the film or play upon which this show is based.  But it speaks volumes.  The silhouettes of a woman and a man, small and apart certainly suggests that the two are apart for whatever reason - apart and alone.  That loneliness is likely a painful side to any romance that is not supposed to be.  Ah, but that their shadows, long and dark converge into the silhouette of an embracing couple speaks to the fact that the pair do connect and let their passions flow.  There is also a masculinity and urgency about the typography of the word "BRIEF" in all caps, just as there is a definite femininity about the cursive style of the word "Encounter."  Together it suggests a raw passion and a sweet romance.  Notice the title does not refer to the relationship as an affair.

Knowing what I know about the way the show is staged informs my assessment of the current Broadway logo, which I think is compelling, visually interesting and very much in keeping with the play patrons will see.  Of course, not having seen the show myself, yet, some of this is supposition on my part.  And since a show's logo is designed to generate new ticket sales, my point of view here is appropriate.  (I have not seen the film on which it is based, though I have seen some short clips from it.)

First of all, the way the title is printed is very telling.  Now, both words are are in that sharp, all caps font that suggests to me a definite masculinity and the lettering reminds me some how of something darker, a tinge sinister... almost "spy" like... clandestine.  And one as to assume that a story about forbidden love, an encounter, must be clandestine in nature.

The photographic images are also an excellent choice.  The blue colored waves crashing (a nod to a key scene in the film version) suggests many things: a larger than life, cinematic sweep in scope, and a danger as the waves close in on the embracing couple in the photo, not to mention a myriad of water imagery connotations that may or may not fit the work, but certainly come to mind.  Clearly, by choosing such a large scale image as the crashing waves, we know going in that this is an epic story, told with the heightened drama of a torrid romance, and letting us know that film is an element in this production.  The other prominent photographic element, the embracing couple, is also very telling.  First, it is in black and white, telling us that this is a time ago, not current, especially against a full color background.  This image immediately transports us to another era - one where affairs were not expected or accepted as they are today.  Second, we only see their heads in tight close up.  Is this to let us know that these lovers, in spite of everything going on around them are to be our focus?  I think so.  And notice that of the two, we only see part of the man's face, eyes closed as he presses his face to hers.  Notice, though, that they are not in a kissing position, unless he is kissing her forehead or temple.  And then there is his hand, grasping her head, intertwined with some of her me it suggests a passion, but also a desperation like this is the last time he'll hold her.  That he is wearing a suit jacket also suggests that he is a man of means, a professional, not some guy off the street.  Finally, isn't it interesting that almost nothing about this tells us anything about the woman, aside from the fact that it is a woman?

When I eventually see this work (I hope!), it will be interesting to see if the logo presented really matches the show being performed.  Somehow, I think it most definitely does just that.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

TheatreScene: Week of September 20 - 26



  • 1955: Threepenny Opera's most famous Broadway production opened at the Theatre de Lys, where it ran 2,611 performances.  Beatrice Arthur, Lotte Lenya, Jane Connell, Jo Sullivan and John Astin were among the original cast.
  • 2001: Urinetown: The Musical - After a delayed opening due to the terrorist attacks, this viciously funny comedy-satire musical was a huge hit.  It opened at  Henry Miller's Theatre, where it ran 965 performances and won 3 Tony Awards - Best Book - Greg Kotis, Best Score - Kotis and Mark Hollmann and Best Direction - John Rando.

The original cast of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

  • Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson begins Broadway previews at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre.  Populism, Yea! Yea!
  • Catch Me If You Can announces that it will begin previews March 7, 2011 and open April 10, 2011 at a Nederlander theatre to be announced.  Let the speculation begin - only the Minskoff and Gershwin seem to be hands off at this point.  The Lunt-Fontanne seems a long shot, but we'll see what happens to The Addams Family after either Bebe and Nathan announce their departure or how good/bad the BO is between now and the holidays.  The Nederlander itself is a definite contender, and wouldn't it be delicious if the O'Brien/Mitchell helmed show takes the Neil Simon, when Love Never Dies bites the bullet and quits while it's ahead.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Ted Neely, Actor (Original Cast - Jesus Christ Superstar)

  • 1821: An all black cast of Shakespeare's King Richard III, opened at the African Grove.
  • 1966: The Lincoln Center Musical Theatre production of Annie Get Your Gun opened at the Broadway Theatre, starring Ethel Merman and Jerry Orbach.  It ran 78 performances in a limited engagement, and a cast album was recorded.

  • A Life in the Theatre with Patrick Stewart and TR Knight begins previews tonight!
  • Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson Original Cast Recording is released.  Lots of snippets everywhere - Amazon, Playbill and the BBAJ website.  I hope what I see makes what I've heard better...  I'll let you know!
  • 9 to5 begins its National Tour.  Loved the show to begin with, but some of the streamlining I've read about, plus the addition of Miss Dolly herself (via video), and of course, the casting, makes me really want to see it again!  Read about it HERE!
  • Rock of Ages also starts its National Tour today, with original star Constantine Maroulis.  Better to keep my comments to myself, I've learned, when it comes to this guy.  May every night be a sell-out.
  • Broadway's Jekyll and Hyde David Hasselhoff is the first to get the boot from Dancing with the Stars.
  • Sarah Amengual begins performances as Maria in West Side Story.  Miss Amengual is making her Broadway debut.  Welcome to the family, Sarah!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Billy Porter, Actor (1994 Revival - Grease!; off-Broadway: Angels in America)

  • 1913: George M. Cohan's play, Seven Keys to Baldpate opened at the Astor Theatre and ran an impressive 320 performances.
  • 1964:  Theatre history changed forever on this date when the now classic musical Fiddler on the Roof opened at the Imperial Theatre.  Zero Mostel gave a revered and controversial performance as Tevye the Milkman, and his supporting cast included: Maria Karnilova, Bert Convey, Austin Pendleton and Beatrice Arthur.  3 theatres and 3,242 performances later, the show closed.  The show that brought us "Tradition," "If I Were a Rich Man," "Sunrise, Sunset," and "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," remains a classic and has been revived many times on Broadway.

Stephen R. Buntrock, Bernadette Peters and Bradley Dean

  • Stephen R. Buntrock is announced as A Little Night Music's next Fredrik, replacing the departing Alexander Hanson on September 28.  He joins Bradley Dean as one of two cast members who moved up from the ensemble to lead roles.  Dean recently replaced Aaron Lazar as Carl-Magnus.
  • The overnights for the second season premiere of Glee are in and ratings are up significantly!  The episode was a hoot and grounded with some nice emotional content.  I already love the new cast members Charice, Chord Overstreet and especially Dot-Marie Jones who threatens to steal every scene with Jane Lynch.  She is sharp as a tack, bitchy, mean and, get this... vulnerable.  And Overstreet is a major cutie!  Cheyenne Jackson's brief appearance, I hope, will not be his last...
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Marc Kudisch, Actor (9 to 5, Assassins)


Wallack's Theatre

  • 1907: The oddest title of the week goes to The Hurdy Durdy Girl, a 24 performance musical which played at Wallack's Theatre.
  • 1974:  The Angela Lansbury Gypsy revival opened for a limited run at the Winter Garden Theatre.  Ms. Lansbury became the first Rose to win the Tony.

The 4th Annual Broadway Beauty Pageant
winner, Mr. Memphis, Charlie Williams

  • Mark your calendars, everyone!  The 5th Annual Broadway Beauty Pageant, the all-male contest (my favorite Memphis chorus boy, Charlie Williams, won last year), has announced its date and location.  March 21, 2011 is the date and The Peter Norton Symphony Space is the place.  The benefit event supports the Ali Forney Center, which provides shelter for troubled and kicked out LGBT youth.  Add this to my list of events I need to get to...
  • I might actually get to see God of Carnage now!  The film version cast has been announced, and it is a good one!: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Matt Dillon and Christoph Waltz.  The Tony winning Best Play will be directed on film by Roman Polanski.
  • Is all right now in the world of the Jersey Boys?  Seems so.  Frankie Valli and the creators of Jersey Boys have apparently dropped their lawsuit against original stars Christian Hoff, J. Robert Spencer, Daniel Reichard, Robert Longoria, Matthew Scott and Drew Gehling.  The suit claimed that the stars, who tour together in a concert of sixties hits, including numbers by The Four Seasons, was "duping patrons" into thinking they were seeing the National Tour of the musical.  In exchange for no longer calling themselves The Boys in Concert, the suit was dropped.  Sounds like a fun evening to me... and maybe they actually get to sing every song through without interruption!  Info on that tour is at
  • Old News is new news, apparently.  A few years ago, when Baz Luhrman was in his Moulin Rouge/La Boheme heyday, plans for stage versions of his films Moulin Rouge and Strictly Ballroom were quickly announced, including elaborate plans for the former and promises that the latter would make ballroom dancing relevant in the U.S. once again.  Well, things died down, and nothing about these projects was heard again.  Until today, when it was announced that Ballroom was back on.  Of course, things have changed mightily in the intervening years, making the property a more likely hit in this country.  Back then, there was no Dancing with the Stars or Burn the Floor, various incarnations of both sweeping the Western world.  Then, too, is the emergence of hot Australian properties like The Boy from Oz and the forthcoming mega-musical, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.

Lombardi started previews on Broadway

  • La Bete, Lombardi and Time Stands Still all begin previews on Broadway today!
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle officially opens at Yale Rep tonight!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Jason Alexander, Actor (Broadway Bound, Jerome Robbins' Broadway)


The Original Broadway Revival Cast of Oh! Calcutta!

  • 1976: The revival of Oh! Calcutta! opened at the Edison Theatre.  It is noteworthy for being the longest running revival ever, until recently when Chicago overtook that title.  The nude revue ran an unbelievable 5,959 performances.
  • 1989:  Broadway made headlines around the world when bomb threats became a regular thing during the run of Orpheus Descending, which opened at the Neil Simon Theatre and starred the then-controversial actress Vanessa Redgrave.  Seems people in her native Britain didn't approve of her politics.  This sort of thing is NOT anticipated with her upcoming appearance in Driving Miss Daisy.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Paul Michael Valley, Actor (1776)


The Tony Award winning Best Musical of 1980

  • 1820:  The oldest Broadway opening - 190 years ago, a play called Virginius, starring someone named Mrs. Baker, opened at the Anthony Street Theatre.
  • 1979:  It was a new Argentina and a huge hit when Evita opened at the Broadway Theatre on this date, going on to win the Tony for Best Musical (1980) and a Tony for Patti LuPone.  The show, which ultimately ran 1,567 performances, made stars of LuPone and co-star Mandy Patinkin.  It is also one of, if not the, first shows to actually schedule a 6 show week for a star.  Ms. LuPone's alternate, Terri Klausner, performed the title role at Wednesday and Saturday matinees.
  • 2008: The youngest Broadway opening - 2 years ago, Daniel Radcliffe made his Broadway debut, naked no less, in Equus.  His Harry Potter co-star, Richard Griffiths, also starred.  It has been two years already!  Radcliffe is preparing for his musical debut in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying!

Linda Lavin and James Lapine

  • The honorees of the 2010 Broadway Theater Hall of Fame were announced today.  They are actors Brian Dennehy, Linda Lavin and Fritz Weaver, conductor-musical director Paul Gemignani, writer-director-Pulitzer Prize winner James Lapine, and playwrights Caryl Churchill and Joseph Chaikin.  Honorees are selected from all of those theater professionals who have 5 major credits or more and 25 years since their first Broadway appearance.  For those keeping track, that would mean 1985 or later.  The honorees are selected by vote by the American Theater Critics Association and members of the Theater Hall of Fame.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: to both Michael Douglas, Actor (Pinkville) and his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Actor (A Little Night Music).


(Top to Bottom) The Opening at the Winter Garden Theatre;
Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence in the famous Promo;
and Chita Rivera as Anita

  • 1957:  Arguably, musical theatre grew up a little on this date when the controversial and now classic West Side Story opened at the Winter Garden Theatre.  Directed by Jerome Robbins and written by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, it is hard to imagine that before this, "Maria," "America," and "One Hand, One Heart" were not a part of of our history.  Starring Larry Kert, Carol Lawrence and Chita Rivera, the show ran 732 performances.
  • 1985:  One of the longest running one person shows ever opened on this date: The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.  Starring Lily Tomlin, who played 14 characters (and sometimes more), the show ran for 391 performances.

  • The big news of the day is happening as this is posted!  The 24th Annual Broadway Flea Market and Grand Auction is today, held outside (weather permitting) on 44th and 45th Streets and Shubert Alley.  It is a great time.  If you've never been, I strongly suggest planning on it next year!  You get to pick through all kings of fun trinkets and memorabilia that only a real theatre fan would love, hobnob with the stars of your favorite shows, and contribute (large or small) to a very worth cause, Broadway Cares.  My favorite find was 2 years ago... 10 bar cups, with lids from The Times They Are A-Changin', for $1!  My most valuable find so far? A poster for Doubt that is in mint condition and worth about $35...for $1.00!  I love it!!!  More later...
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Philip Bosco, Actor (Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo)

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

On the Radar: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Based on the novel by Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the second recent musical that has caught my eye as having much potential.  Jackson, author of the famous The Lottery, is one of my favorite storytellers, and this story just about screams for theatrical treatment.  Will it succeed as a musical?  That remains to be seen.

The world premiere production of the piece opened Thursday night at Yale Rep, and like the other "On the Radar" piece this week, much of what draws me to the work is the potential story.  The Yale Rep press release succinctly describes the story thusly: "We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a haunting, lyrical, and darkly humorous new musical based on the 1962 novel by Shirley Jackson, author of The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House.

The Castle Company

Acquitted of a horrible crime six years ago, Constance Blackwood lives with her devoted younger sister Merricat and their uncle Julian in what was once the home of the richest—and most envied—family in a small New England town. Constance tends to the house and garden while Merricat invents magical charms to protect the surviving Blackwoods from the townspeople’s prying eyes and vicious gossip. But talismans may not be powerful enough to keep the sisters together when their handsome cousin Charles comes to visit."

Creepy?  Interesting? Poetic?  All of the above!

Jenn Gambatese and Alexandra Socha

Jenn Gambatese and Sean Palmer

Of course, the creatives behind the piece bear interest and responsibility, and both are relative unknowns/just starting out on long careers.  "Composer Todd Almond’s recent projects include this season’s Girlfriend at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and On the Levee at Lincoln Center Theater's LCT3. Playwright Adam Bock and director Anne Kauffman previously collaborated on the plays The Typographer’s Dream and The Thugs, for which they both received OBIE Awards."

I know that the actors who perform in intial readings and performances either stay with the project to the end (like Benjamin Walker and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) or come and go from the piece as time and project needs fluctuate.  Still this initial cast of leads should earn the work some serious looks and credibility: Bill Buell (Equus, Titanic, Urinetown, Jenn Gambatese (Hairspray, Tarzan, Is He Dead?) , Sean Palmer (The Little Mermaid, Saturday Night Fever, Fosse) and Alexandra Socha (Spring Awakening, Brighton Beach Memoirs).  The ensemble is equally full of Broadway experienced talent.

Gambatese and Palmer
with Ensemble

Alexandra Socha

The current production is designed by David Zinn, scenery (In the Next Room), Ilona Somogyi, costumes (Atlantic Theater Company, The Vineyard, Playwrights Horizons) and Stephen Strawbridge (Bernarda Alba, The Glorious Ones).  Clearly, this show has been given the full New York-bound treatment.

Here is a clip from the show in performance.  I think the songs have a definite Adam Guettel feel, with a touch of LaChuisa and Kitt... which naturally has its roots in Sondheim.  What do you think?

(Photos by Joan Marcus)

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Broadway Crossword by Blog: The New Season: Part 2

Here are the second set of clues to this new puzzle.  If you missed the first week, click HERE.
Some reminders:
  • This puzzle is a perfect square: 38 blocks across by 38 blocks down.
  • This week I'll provide clues for all the words that are in the next seven lines, or at least start somewhere within the next seven lines. You can assume that any unaccounted for blocks are black; the rest are blocks to be filled with letters.   When you are done today, the first 14 lines will be complete.
  • At the bottom of each of these blogs, I'll re-write the clues like standard crossword puzzles do. And the pictures included are clues to the answers, too.

Here we go!  Again...  good luck!

The Clues:

1. 13 Down: Row 8, Block 20.  15 letters: She's Miss Daisy.
2. 14 Down: Row 8, Block 29.  5 letters: Tony show for both LuPone and Benanti.
3. 15 Across: Row 9, Block 2:  16 letters: The writers of Elf also wrote the score to this movie turned musical.
4. 16 Down: Row 9, Block 14:  16 letters: What the women are on the verge of...
5. 17 Across: Row 9, Block 27: 12 letters: The Sutton Foster revival.
6. 17 Down: Row 9, Block 27:  13 letters: He's Bloody Bloody.
7.  There are no new clues for Row 10.  All of the blocks are either already being used by "down" clues or are black.
8. 18 Down: Row 11, Block 1: 17 letters: Kander and Ebb's new Broadway show.
9. 19 Across: Row 11, Block 6: 15 letters: Nervous co-star's recent almost solo musical.
10. There are no new clues for Row 12. All of the blocks are either already being used by "down" clues or are black.
11. 20 Across: Row 13, Block 13: 15 letters: Spider-Man's Broadway home.
12. 21 Down: Row 13, Block 30: 11 letters: Mrs. Warren's Profession star.
13.  22 Down: Row 14, Block 8: 11 letters: Sutton will be playing this evangelist.
14.  23 Down, Row 14, Block 10: 10 letters: Scottsboro's Broadway Interlocutor.

The Clues - Crossword Style:

15  The writers of Elf also wrote the score to this movie turned musical
17  The Sutton Foster revival
19  Nervous co-star's recent almost solo musical
20  Spider-Man's Broadway home

13  She's Miss Daisy
14  Tony show for both LuPone and Benanti
16  What the women are on the verge of...
17  He's Bloody Bloody
18  Kander and Ebb's new Broadway show
21  Mrs. Warren's Profession star
22  Sutton will be playing this evangelist
23  Scottsboro's Broadway Interlocutor
Questions?  Find an error?  Email me, please!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Broadway and the New TV Season: Thursday - Sunday

The second half of the TV week is kinda dull in terms of drama.  It is full of reality shows, reruns and sports.  Heck, there isn't anything comedy/drama-wise that is original on Saturday nights at all.  And only Friday nights offer any new programming featuring Broadway stars.  There are, however, many great actors returning to existing series, so at least there is that for us rabid theatre fans!

For a look at the new TV season, Monday - Wednesday, click HERE.


Tim Daly, Taye Diggs and Audra McDonald of Private Practice

Returning from last year: CBS's Johnny Galecki  (The Little Dog Laughed) in Big Bang Theory; NBC's 30 Rock has Alec Baldwin (Twentieth Century) and Tony-winner Jane Krakowski (Grand Hotel, Nine); On ABC's Grey's Anatomy  there are Chandra Wilson (Chicago), Sandra Oh (Stop: Kiss), Tony-winner Sara Ramirez (Spamalot), original Dreamgirls gal, Loretta Devine, Kim Raver (Holiday), and James Pickens, Jr. (Balm in Gilead); CSI stars Laurence Fishburn (Thurgood)on CBS, while NBC's The Office features Rainn Wilson (London Assurance) and Melora Hardin (Chicago); FOX's Fringe features Blair Brown (Copenhagen); and ABC's The Practice  has 4 time Tony-winner Audra McDonald (Ragtime, A Raisin in the Sun, Master Class, Carousel), Timothy Daly (Coastal Disturbances), and Mr. Idina Menzel Taye Diggs (Wicked, RENT).


Blue Bloods stars Len Cariou and Tom Selleck

8PM:  FOX: Human Target - an action-drama that features Jackie Earle Haley (Slab Boys)

9PM:  FOX: Good Guys -  is actually a return from the mid-season last year and stars Boeing Boeing's Bradley Whitford.

10PM:  CBS: Blue Bloods - This cop drama stars Tom Selleck (I Never Sang for My Father) and Broadway's original Sweeney Todd, Len Cariou (Applause, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music).

10PM:  NBC: Outlaw - This political drama stars Jimmy Smits (Anna in the Tropics, God of Carnage).

Returning from last year: On CBS's CSI:NY, Melina Kanakaredes (Cabaret) and Gary Sinise (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) co-star.


Desperate Houswives' Vanessa Williams and Felicity Huffman

9PM:  ABC: Desperate Housewives - Things are sure to reheat with Wisteria Lane's newest neighbor and Broadway favorite, Vanessa Williams (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Sondheim on Sondheim).  Atlantic Theatre Company member and Broadway star Felicity Huffman (Speed-the Plow original production) also returns.

Returning from last year: On ABC's Brothers and Sisters, Calista Flockhart (The Glass Menagerie), Sally Field (The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?), and Ron Rifkin (Cabaret).

What shows are you watching this season?  Write in!

Comment here, at my Yahoo email or Tweet me on Twitter!
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