Sunday, October 31, 2010

TheatreScene: October 25 - 31




  • 1995: The "egregiously overlooked" company of Victor/Victoria opened at the Marquis Theatre.  Julie Andrews got the last laugh, though.  It ran just short of 2 years and spawned a popular DVD of the Broadway production.
  • 2009: The ill-fated, but critically acclaimed revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs opened at the Nederlander Theatre, where it ran a sad 9 performances.  The repertory play that was supposed to be paired with it, Broadway Bound, never even began previews.

  • Driving Miss Daisy makes its Broadway debut tonight at the Golden Theatre.

  • Librettist Joseph Stein died today at the age of 98.  He won the Tony for Fiddler on the Roof and wrote the books for such musicals as Rags, Plain and Fancy, and Zorba.  His specialty seems to have been writing about the trials and tribulations of the immigrants and small towns.
  • Wicked had both the top attendance (99.9%) and gross ($1.57M) for the week (10/18 - 24/2010).
  • Colin Quinn: Long Story Short with only 4 previews had the lowest gross at $60K.  Lombardi had the lowest gross for an 8 show week, with $139K.  A life in the Theatre had the lowest attendance for the week at 46.5%.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Adam Pascal, Actor (RENT, AIDA, Cabaret)

  • 1932: Eugene O'Neill's play Mourning Becomes Electra makes a brief Broadway debut (150 performances) at the Guild Theatre.

  • 2000: The Full Monty opens at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, running an impressive 770 performances, though much eclipsed by that season's giant show, The Producers.

  • Rain - A Tribute to the Beatles on Broadway opens tonight at the Neil Simon Theatre.
  • Priscilla: Queen of the Desert opens tonight in Toronto.  Next stop, Broadway!
  • The Pee Wee Herman Show begins its limited (and already extended) run at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Anthony Rapp, Actor (RENT, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown)

  • 1934: The Most Curious Opening of the Week:  Is it the title - Ted Shawn and His Male Dancers? or is it that it played for 1 performance at Carnegie Hall and is still considered a Broadway show?
  • 1966:  Decades before Avenue Q, an all-puppet revival of, get this, The Threepenny Opera opened on this date at the Billy Rose Theatre, where it lasted 13 whole performances.

  • Say goodbye to the GWB!  In the Heights, one of the best shows of the decade will be closing its bodega, hair salon and limo service for good on January 9, 2011.  The final two weeks - December 25 - January 9 - will mark the return of original star and author of the piece, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who will close the show he started and brought to Tony-winning glory.  When it closes, it will have played 1,185 performances.
  • The Kennedy Center Follies keeps getting starrier and starrier: joining Bernadette Peters will be Linda Lavin, Jan Maxwell and Florence Lacey.  I can see this one getting bigger and bigger.  But let's keep it in DC, OK?  Ragtime...

Jane Connell (in red), Bea Arthur and
Angela Lansbury in Mame (1966)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Jane Connell, Actor (Mame, Dear World, Me and My Girl)

  • 2001: The biggest flop (to date) of Andrew Lloyd Webber's on Broadway opened today at the Helen Hayes Theatre.  By Jeeves came and went with little fanfare or advertising.  And it couldn't fill that tiny theatre beyond 73 performances.
  • 2004:  One of Roundabout Theatre Company's biggest hits opened today at the then new-ish American Airlines Theatre.  The stage debut of Twelve Angry Men kept extending and extending and even spawned a national tour, starring Richard Thomas and George Wendt.
Andy Mientus, Carrie Manolakos, Zak Resnick

  • With Broadway as its goal, one of my favorite musicals of the new millennium, bare, was announced to be having a New York reading soon, directed by Stafford Arima, and starring Carrie Manolakos (Mamma Mia!, Wicked), Andy Mientus ( The First National Tour of Spring Awakening) and Zak Resnick (The Broadway Boys singing group).  This might be one of those show that Ben Brantley talked about today: small and best suited to off-Broadway.  No matter where it is, I will be there!  If you don't know the show, get the 2 CD cast recording (it comes with an awesome DVD about the genesis of the show) which features Jenna Leigh Green, James Snyder and Matt Doyle.
  • Lesley Gore finally brought her party to Million Dollar Quartet as promised tonight.
  • In tribute to the late Joseph Stein, Broadway marquees will be darkened at 8PM this evening.
  • Mark your calendars, Addams Family fans!  March 21st marks the day that Roger Rees replaces Nathan Lane as Gomez.  Bebe Neuwirth has extended her contract.  Looks like the show might stick around a bit longer.  We shall see...
  • Leap of Faith looks to be opening in the fall of 2011 on Broadway!
  • The Las Vegas company of Disney's The Lion King will be closing... at the end of December 2011!  A 14 month closing notice is very generous.

  • The son of theatre legend Helen Hayes and playwright Charles MacArthur, James MacArthur passed away today.  Best known as Danno in the original Hawaii Five-O, he made his Broadway debut opposite Jane Fonda in Invitation to a March, which earned him a Theatre World Award.  He appeared in several Broadway shows including Under the Yum Yum Tree, Murder at the Howard Johnson's, and Barefoot in the Park.  I had the good fortune to see him in the National Tour of Arsenic and Old Lace, in which he played Mortimer opposite Jean Stapleton, Marion Ross, Jonathan Frid and Larry Storch.  (Above, Top Left) Mr. MacArthur was 72 years old.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Cleo Laine, Actor/Singer (The Mystery of Edwin Drood)

  • 1853: The Oldest Opening of the Week: Shylock: A Jerusalem Hearty Joke, a musical based on Shakespeare, opened at Burton's Chambers Street Theatre.  I guess not many people got the joke... it last 4 performances.
  • 1946: Noel Coward's Present Laughter opened at the Plymouth Theatre.  Starring Clifton Webb, it ran 158 performances.  The now-classic play has been revived several times.
  • 1952: Same theatre, 6 years later, the quintessential suspense-thriller play, Dial "M" for Murder, opened and ran a very impressive - and deadly - 552 performances.

  • 2009: A year ago, the critically acclaimed revival of Finian's Rainbow, starring Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson opened at the St. James Theatre.  Despite its critical approval, the show managed only 92 performances.  A wonderful cast recording was made.

  • Oh, how the vultures descend!  Like chum to a shark, the ugly police sniffed out some trouble when it was revealed that dancer/actor Kevin Aubin (Wicked, Hot Feet) was injured while performing stunts at a group sales event for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.  It was reported everywhere like it was a shocking, never-seen-before on Broadway event.  For shame!  Thankfully, the community - who likes hits because it means jobs, and who support friends - rallied to its defense.  God bless the Wicked folks who reported that that little mishap was nothing compared to the near daily list of casualties at the Gershwin.  Seems a raked stage is hell on the skeletal system.  And I remember (showing my age, I know) when the big news back in the day was when a performance of Cats went by WITHOUT a replacement going in at intermission.  And let's not forget that during both lengthy runs of A Chorus Line, Paul gets injured fictionally, but that injuries were so likely with that show that physical therapists were backstage working on cramps and pulls every time an actor exited.  I guess my ultimate question about all of this is: all of these people who revel in these mishaps because they are against this show or that also purport to be die hard fans of Broadway.  If that is the case, why such joy at problems?  Why dismiss a show before a single person has seen it?  How many times to I need to read, "I refuse to see Spider-Man.  It is destroying Broadway!"  How so?  By creating hundreds of jobs?  They said the same thing about all of the Disney shows, none of which has run less than a year and has contributed millions to the Broadway economy, including thousands of jobs.  Yes, they, and everyone associated with Spider-Man, Women on the Verge and any other target de jour are rotten and deserving of our ire, not our praise.  BULLS@#T!
  • On a more positive note: Kudos to the producers of The Scottsboro Boys for allowing 1,800 NYC students to see the show for FREE at several special matinees.  This important show has an important message and deserves to be seen by everyone.  How great that these kids will get the experience of a lifetime without spending a dime.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rufus Sewell, Actor (Rock 'n' Roll)


  • 2003: The Broadway phenomenon, Wicked, opened at the Gershwin Theatre.  As of today, the 7th Annual Wicked Day, the show has played 2,902 performances.
  • The Second National Tour of Billy Elliot, starring Tony winner Faith Prince, begins its angry dance today in Durham, North Carolina.

  • After 4 and a half years, the London production of Avenue Q closes today.  It will begin a UK tour shortly.  Not a bad run for a very American musical.  I guess Internet porn and masturbation are international phenomena.  Small world, isn't it?

Before Glee, Matthew was a
Broadway Bares star!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Matthew Morrison, Actor (Hairspray, Light in the Piazza, South Pacific)

  • 1956: Auntie Mame starring Rosalind Russell opened at the Broadhurst Theatre, and ran 639 performances.  10 years later, the musical version would open at the Winter Garden, but not with Russell.  No, that role went to Angela Lansbury.
  • 2002: Hollywood Arms, the autobiographical play based on the life of legendary Carol Burnett opened at the Cort Theatre, starring Linda Lavin and eventual Tony winner for her role, Michelle Pawk.  Written by Burnett's daughter, Carrie Hamilton, Ms. Burnett had to finish the play when her daughter passed away before the show opened.

  • The Scottsboro Boys opens tonight at the Lyceum Theatre.

  • Trick or Treat!  Kid's Night on Broadway 2010 happens tonight, with free tickets to shows for the kids and trick or treating at various theatre stage doors, plus a tour of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.  Hosted by Adam Riegler, aka Pugsley in  The Addams Family, proceeds benefit UNICEF.  Does anyone else remember those orange boxes that we used to carry with our trick-or-treat plastic pumpkins, collecting change for sick kids all over the world?
  • And this is a biggie in the "endings" category.  Almost 18 years ago, the Third National Touring Company of The Phantom of the Opera opened and began criss-crossing the country.  Known as "The Music Box Company," the others were "The Christine" and "The Raoul," it is the last production in the United States with the exception of the Broadway company.  Led by Tim Martin Gleason (who I saw in the tour as the most boring, wooden Raoul years ago), the production will close following tonight's evening performance.  And tonight's performance will be its 7,284th.  Impressive by any measure.  Congratulations to all.

(You didn't think I'd miss a chance to put
Patti LuPone in this week's TheatreScene, did you?)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Brian Stokes Mitchell, Actor (Kiss Me, Kate, Man of La Mancha, Ragtime, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown)

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

POLL Results: Rock-tober Tricks and Treats


Thank you to all of you who took the time to vote in this month's two polls!  A new poll for November will post on November 1st!

POLL #1: Which is your favorite pop/rock musical on Broadway?

0% - Mamma Mia!
I guess I am a little surprised that no one voted for this show, considering who popular both the stage show and the film are worldwide.  Maybe it is hard to call it a "favorite"...

2% - Million Dollar Quartet
I guess I am a little surprised that any one voted for this show, considering the critical disfavor and lack of audience it receives each week.  Maybe Levi Kreis is excellent enough to make it a favorite.  Or maybe those of you who saw it went the night the real Jerry Lee Lewis played...

6% (each) - Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson/Jersey Boys
I certainly appreciate both, though I really loved BBAJ and didn't much care for JB.  Still, I am surprised that there weren't more votes for Frankie and Company.  And I can certainly recognize that BBAJ might not be everyone's cup of tea...

8% - American Idiot
The one show that actually started life as a rock album, the show seems like it would be more popular.  It is a live music video, with amazing performances.  Way better than most people can even fathom, I am, unfortunately, not surprised that so few people voted for this one.  And it is a shame.

22% - next to normal
A huge leap in the number of votes from the rest of the pack, it gratifies this fan of the show that so many others also love it so much.  For me, it is the perfect mix of pop, rock and theatre music, all played in the rock band idiom.  One of the many things I love about it.

56% - Rock of Ages
To be perfectly honest, I had no idea which show would end up on top.  I could have lived with Jersey Boys, and would have been disappointed had you voted for Million Dollar Quartet the most.  But Rock of Ages, really?  And in such numbers!  You ROA fans really come together.  I will admit and fully support that this show does have a great rock score.  You are reading the musings of one whose high school and college years were punctuated by 80's rock.  And that is really the very best element of the show.  Rock of Ages, I/we salute you!

POLL #2: Which Halloween-ish show is your favorite?

0% (each) - Lestat and Young Frankenstein
Considering the flops that both of these were, I'm not at all surprised that the vampire entry and the monster entry didn't get any votes.  What is interesting, though, is that I got 3 emails each saying they'd have liked to see Dance of the Vampires and Frankenstein (the off-Broadway musical) as choices!

16% - The Phantom of the Opera
I am a little surprised that there weren't more votes for this one, considering the international phenomenon this show is.  But it is old, and really has that been-there-done-that feel to it.  Plus, unless you saw Howard McGillin's take on it, the Phantom isn't all that scary.

20% - The Rocky Horror Show
There wasn't a single vote for this one until Glee aired this week.  This perennial at Halloween parties for decades makes perfect sense, with or without the Glee effect.

24% - The Addams Family
Well, I am finally starting to feel like less of the Uncle Fester of the Theatre Blog world.  For awhile I was a lone voice in support of this fun show.  But look at this!  The second most favorite in the poll!  Here's to all you creepy, kooky and all together ookie people!

40% - Wicked
Since no one does witches better on Broadway than this show, I am not surprised that this show won (I would have voted for this one, too).  But I am surprised that it wasn't by much more of a margin!  I bet we'll see lots of pictures of little Glindas and Elphabas at our doors tomorrow night!


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Friday, October 29, 2010

Broadway Crossword by Blog #3: The New Season: The Answers

Here, at long last, are the answers to Broadway Crossword by Blog #3!  I hope you enjoyed making/doing the puzzle!  Look for a new one soon, plus other new fun games for all of us theatre fans!

The answers are in RED.


17 Across

1 The first Yazbeck/Lane Broadway musical   Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
7 Star of Equus and the new How to Succeed...   Daniel Radcliffe
9 A superior producer of Sister Act   Whoopi Goldberg
11 He'll be driving Miss Daisy   James Earl Jones
12 Song title: "I Get a _______"    Kick Out of You
15 The writers of Elf also wrote the score to this movie turned musical   The Wedding Singer
17 The Sutton Foster revival   Anything Goes
19 Nervous co-star's recent almost solo musical   Everyday Rapture
20 Spider-Man's Broadway home   Foxwoods Theatre
26 Peter Parker's true love  Mary Jane Watson
28 Verge's locale  Madrid
29 The Book of Mormon's co-director had this hit on Broadway  The Drowsy Chaperone

48 Across

32 The new musical from the guys who brought us South Park and Avenue Q  Book of Mormon
34 She will be playing Peter Parker's true love  Damiano
36 Priscilla's pre-Broadway North American try-out town  Toronto
37 The play that will mark Brendan Fraser's Broadway debut  Elling
38 One of Brendan Fraser's co-stars  Denis O'Hare
40 The company behind Anything Goes  Roundabout
42 ______: A Memoir  Patti LuPone
44 Spider-Man's nemesis  Green Goblin
45 She's Queen of the Desert  Priscilla
48 He wrote everything Brief Encounter is based upon  Noel Coward
50 He sang a song from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark on Good Morning, America  Reeve Carney
51 The ______ Painters  Pitman
52 He wrote Driving Miss Daisy  Uhry
54 Broadway's only currently running verse play  La Bete
55 A Life in the Theatre playwright  David Mamet
57 The only star of Time Stands Still that is making a Broadway debut  Ricci
58 He plays Andrew Jackson  Walker
59 How to Succeed's J. ______ Finch  Pierrepont


18 Down

2 The first show to play the Stephen Sondheim Theatre   The Pee Wee Herman Show
3 A state for Scottsboro   Alabama
4 TV show that made Justin Guarini famous   American Idol
5 Lombardi's female star   Judith Light
6 Broadway's new multi-media play   Brief Encounter
8 Song title: "_______, Yea, Yea"   Populism
10 Brian Stokes Mitchell won his Tony in this musical   Kiss Me, Kate
13 She's Miss Daisy   Vanessa Redgrave
14 Tony show for both LuPone and Benanti  Gypsy
16 What the women are on the verge of...   Nervous Breakdown
17 He's Bloody Bloody  Andrew Jackson
18 Kander and Ebb's new Broadway show   The Scottsboro Boys
21 Mrs. Warren's Profession star   Cherry Jones
22 Sutton will be playing this evangelist   Reno Sweeney
23 Scottsboro's Broadway Interlocutor   John Cullum
24 Lombardi's team  Green Bay Packers
25 Play from last season that will re-open this season  Time Stands Still
27 South Park/The Book of Mormon co-creators

43 Down

30 He will play the title character in Elf  Arcelus
31 He wrote the books for Hairspray, Annie and Elf  Thomas Meehan
33 The newest Scottsboro boy, he was once the Favorite Son  Joshua Henry
35 Spider-Man's alter-ego  Peter Parker
39 Boys' director/choreographer  Stroman
41 Anything Goes' tunes are by this guy  Cole Porter
43 Frank Wildhorn's Broadway-bound new musical  Wonderland
46 David Hyde Pierce won his Tony for this show  Curtains
47 Grey's Anatomy star who returned to Broadway this season  TR Knight
49 She was Tony nominated last season for Time Stands Still  Linney
53 Lombardi's first name  Vince
56 Lumley's hit TV show, abbreviated  Ab Fab

Comments?  Find a mistake?  Ideas for another puzzle?  Leave them here, email me at or Tweet me!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

At This Performance the President Will Be Played By...

NOTE: Thanks to my good blog-buddy, Steve, I have made a correction to this entry! (I have highlighted the corrected sentences in RED.)

Cherry Jones once played the role on TV, and now Benjamin Walker is doing the same 8 times a week on Broadway.  Yes, both critically-acclaimed actors have played the President of the United States.  Of course, neither was the first, and I am sure neither will be the last on TV or Broadway.

As Mr. Walker continues to be all sexypants in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson I got to thinking about other shows devoted to the man in the oval office.  What I found was pretty interesting, actually.  Seems that nearly all of our 44 presidents have appeared as characters in Broadway plays and musicals.

It might be easier to tell you which men have NOT been portrayed in a Broadway show - there are only 7 - and even two of them have potential special circumstances.  The 8 are: Benjamin Harrison, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, George Bush, and Bill Clinton.  Hoover doesn't appear, but his "handiwork" does in Annie, where they sing, "We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover."  Of course, F.D.R. makes an appearance in that show.  The other exception might be that while Benjamin Harrison himself is not a character, his wife was, and she was played by none other than The First Lady of the American Theatre, Helen Hayes.

Which brings me to one of the most interesting Broadway-related presidential facts.  Ms. Hayes appeared in a play called The White House, a 23 performance play about the inhabitants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Among the cast (all of whom played 5 or more characters was: James Daly, Helen Hayes, Fritz Weaver, and Gene Wilder.  The Henry Miller's Theatre has never been so powerful!  23 performances, featuring 23 presidents!

The most recent president to receive Broadway treatment was George W. Bush, played by Will Ferrell in You're Welcome, America.  A Final Night with George W. Bush, which played a brief run in 2009.

Another play, Wilson in the Promise Land, played the ANTA Theatre for 7 performances, and featured 6 of our leaders.

In all, there are 14 plays or musicals that feature the White House as a setting listed in the Internet Broadway Data Base, including 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Mr. President, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Teddy and Alice.  While it is too early to tell about BBAJ, the others I listed, along with the few above were fast flops.  But there have been successes, too.  Frost/Nixon and Sunrise at Campobello did well enough.

Two of the more famous shows to deal with the Leader of the Free World are: 1776 and Assassins.  In the latter, only two presidents actually appear (live, not in photos): James Garfield and Gerald Ford.

Ronald Reagan, an actual actor, never appeared on Broadway, though his son was a photographer for a production in the 80's.  Mr. Reagan's likeness appeared in The Wedding Singer and a musical that never actually opened, Senator Joe.  But his voice was used in the musical Doonesbury.  Speaking of Senator Joe, Richard Nixon also appeared in that show, as well as Frost/Nixon, An Evening with Richard Nixon and..., and Jackie, which also featured JFK's only appearance on Broadway.

By far, the most "regular" Broadway President of the United States is Theodore Roosevelt (not including the character who thinks he is Teddy in Arsenic and Old Lace).  He has been a character in 6 different shows, including two specifically about him: Bully! and Teddy and Alice.

And while Andrew Jackson appears in Bloody Bloody, it isn't his debut.  He also appeared in The White House, Wilson in the Promise Land, and his actual debut came in a play called The Awful Mrs. Eaton.  Benjamin Walker is the fifth actor to portray the populist president (not including his two understudies or the understudies of the four others.

OK, I bet you are wondering how our newest president, Barack Obama, made it into a Broadway show already.  Well, technically, he hasn't, yet.  But there is serious talk of the Kenyan (as in African nation) production of Obama: The Musical making the big leap across the ocean in the coming years.  I guess we'll have to see!

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Glee: Best Revival of a Musical?


What an interesting two weeks for Glee, the nation's hottest TV show.  In the two weeks since an original episode aired, the show has been all over the news. 

In typical fashion, the media can't let a good thing go on without stirring up ugly.  Not that the Glee kids didn't have a part in it.  I'm talking, of course, about the racy and controversial photo shoot for GQ which had the three principal stars (Cory Monteith, Lea Michele and Diana Agron) in "hyped-up" - read sexualized - versions of their characters.  Parents cried, "Foul!"  How would they ever explain this to their 9 year old daughters who are rabid gleeks?  Easy.  It is an adult magazine that your 9 year old has no business even knowing about, let alone seeing.  And never mind that all of the cast is actually adult, a fact that the show even plays up occasionally.  Sure, the pictures are a risque, and maybe keeping an image of wholesomeness would have been wiser.  But, really folks.  If you want your kids to be completely sanitized, stick to the Disney Channel.  Oh, wait... Britney, Christina, Justin and now little Miley all started there.  And look what became of them.

How interesting that this real life issue of Glee pushing boundaries comes just before an episode where the boundaries of art in education are pushed and questioned.  Yes, this is the week where the kids do The Rocky Horror (Glee) Show.  And boy, was it a winner!  Let me preface what follows with the this:  I appreciate Rocky Horror and I enjoyed the Broadway revival, once, but I am not a huge fan, nor fan enough to understand some of the references I am sure the show made.  That said...

Managing to legitimately work in 7 songs from the stage show/film, many in context of the actual script, the show really managed to give us the fullest flavor allowable by 8PM TV on broadcast television.  Purists, I'm sure will take issue with lyrics changes, but they are perhaps the most realistic part of the episode.  After all, schools are frequently censored in regards to the plays and musicals they produce.  Kurt (Chris Colfer) even mentions the Texas production of RENT that got shut down.  I won't go on a self-righteous diatribe about how I feel about that, but I am glad that the show recognizes the realities of putting on any show, let alone Rocky Horror.

Each number, even out of context of the show, was wonderfully staged, endlessly clever with camera angles and just edgy enough to keep everyone interested.  I knew it was going to be cool with the opening number done just like the film - red lips and nothing else - and a cast list of credits that featured only the character names!  Of course, "The Time Warp" stands out as the most well known song, and they pretty much gave the audience what it expected.  But there were 3 excellent surprises that really made the episode extra fun for this viewer.  First, John Stamos' number was absolutely thrilling.  Man, can he sing and dance!  Why the hell didn't this guy show up in Bye Bye Birdie?  Second was Amber Riley's amazing "Sweet Transvestite".  How great that they worked in some non-traditional casting and recognition that she rarely gets to be a "lead."  And most/best of all...Jayma Mays finally gets to really sing!  And be HOT!  Her "Toucha Toucha Touch Me!" was sublimely funny, sexy and right on given the context of the scene.  GIVE HER MORE TO DO!

Also nice, though, was that the show gave equal time to issues that would definitely come up and need to be addressed.  The constant barrage in the media of the female form and body image is well known, documented and addressed, even as it continues.  But finally someone has taken the other side of the coin and recognized that body image is a serious issue for guys, too.  The show played it mostly for laughs (and more sightings of Chord Overstreet's fabulous body) but the truth is even the most confident male has issues with how he is perceived.  Being cool and not being perceived as gay are addressed frequently in the show, but it was nice to see the two guys watching out for each other, helping each other, and most importantly confiding in each other that they worry about how they look.  I bet a kid made to wear the "traditional" Rocky costume, no matter how terrific he is in shape, would be embarrassed.  And any kid (in this case Monteith's character) who feels he is "big" would agonize over doing a scene in his underwear.

Then there is the parental issue, succinctly but pointedly addressed by Harry Crum's character, whose parents had an issue with him wearing a bustier and playing a transvestite.  And the utter lack of support from a school administrator, leaving the teacher and the kids out to dry should any trouble come up was shamefully true.  In another surprise, for once, even though her intentions were characteristically self-centered, Sue Sylvester's (the always wonderful Jane Lynch) indignant speech of the week was spot on and well-stated, whether you agree with her point or not (I can agree and disagree with what she said, depending upon the given situation about arts in public schools).  Of course, in typical (in the best possible way) Glee fashion, the real points being made turn everything on its ear.

Will (Matthew Morrison) did the show for all the wrong reasons, and he got called on it.  The result?  A private for glee club members only performance, and an important character growth scene for he and Emma, one that will likely bear fruit in the long run.  And Sue said exactly the right thing for all the wrong reasons.  The result?  She got another one over on the glee club, but also lost her personal goal, a local Emmy.  Such is the life on Glee.

Let's hope next year they tackle another musical.  But for now, this might just be the Best Revival of a Musical in 2010.

(Photos from and TVGuide online, and all are copyrighted by 20th Century Fox Television and Ryan Murphy Productions.)

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Broadway on TV: Channel 7's Broadway Backstage Fall Preview

Those of us who don't live in New York City now at least have options when it comes to seeing things about Broadway on TV.  Thanks to YouTube, show websites and even TV channel websites, all of us can catch a glimpse of ads (which I frequently blog about) and various specials that highlight shows and performers of out favorite entertainment, live theatre.

Recently, New York Channel 7 broadcast a seasonal special called Broadway Backstage: Fall Preview, hosted by anchor Michelle Charlesworth and none other than Bernadette Peters!  Basically. the program amounts to an infomercial, and makes every show look equally dazzling (B Roll and well placed interviews work magic).  Perhaps the only misstep of the program comes at the very beginning when Charlesworth refers to Peters as "the first lady of the Broadway theatre."  She is one of the greats, but even Ms. Peters had the good sense to laugh it off while looking mildly embarrassed and uncomfortable.  But things settle quickly and business is taken care of in a rapid pace.

Channel 7's online site has broken down the program into 4 segments, breaking, one assumes, where commercials would have been placed.  For your viewing pleasure, fellow non-New Yorkers (and any New Yorker reading who loves the theatre) here are those four segments:

Part I:
The Scottsboro Boys in rehearsal, plus an interview with Joshua Henry.
A Life in the Theatre with show footage and commentary by both stars, TR Knight and Patrick Stewart.
Footage of Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice.
Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark is represented by a montage of photos and an interview with villain Patrick Page.  (This show is really being tight-lipped, isn't it?  But does that help or hurt?)
The first segment ends with a review of shows from past seasons that have had high profile replacements: A Little Night Music (Peters and Stritch), In the Heights (Jordin Sparks), Promises, Promises (Molly Shannon), and Fela! (Patti LaBelle).

Part II:
The second segment focuses on shows with a heritage in film:
Driving Miss Daisy, including show footage and an interview with James Earl Jones.  I was surprised to see scenery.  The original production had almost nothing on stage.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, including show footage (I can see they've made some improvements already), and interviews with Patti LuPone and Danny Burstein.
Elf: The Musical, which features the unveiling of Broadway's Elf, Sebastian Arcelus and the ominous statement: "They are really keeping this one under tight wraps."
The Pee Wee Herman Show features footage from Live! with Regis and Kelly.  Philbin and Paul Reubens, both dressed as Pee Wee stroll down the street to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
This part ends with a fun segment about a Wii game that has participants doing Broadway choreography.

Part III:
La Bete features B roll footage and an interview with David Hyde Pierce.
An interview with Cherry Jones and a funny clip highlights Mrs. Warren's Profession.  Jones loves her "hooker boots"...
The Pitmen Painters  includes a brief scene and a chat with Christopher Connel.
RAIN is represented with a segment of the cast doing "Hard Day's Night."  They look pretty authentic!
Lombardi is up next, featuring footage and interviews with Dan Lauria and Judith Light.
Everything gets kicked up a notch with footage from Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, complete with commentary from star, Benjamin Walker.
The final segment is really interesting, focusing on the tattoos of American IdiotStark Sands explains how he and costume designer Andrea Lauer selected the images to tell his character's story and to reflect the actor himself.  The temporary tattoos are explained by a representative of Temptus, the company that creates them, and make up designer Amy WrightMichael Esper ads he two cents worth at the end with a funny quip.

Part IV:
Plays are the thing in this last segment:
Time Stands Still includes a brief scene and interviews with Laura Linney and newcomer Christina Ricci.
Lots of B roll footage highlights Brief Encounter, while an interview with Jeffrey Wright and a rehearsal scene show off A Free Man of Color.
The unusual comedy Elling is represented by some astute observations by co-star Denis O'Hare.
Colin Quinn: Long Story Short  is last up and features a CNN segment with Anderson Cooper, Colin Quinn and director Jerry Seinfeld.  Here's hoping the show is funnier than these comedians trying to be funny about themselves...

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Monday, October 25, 2010

REVIEW: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Review of the October 23 matinee performance. At the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway, New York City. Approximately 90 minutes, no intermission. Starring Benjamin Walker. Book by Alex Timbers, music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. Choreography by Danny Medford, Directed by Alex Timbers. NOTE: This production contains adult language, situations and violent images.

Move over, American Idiot, there is a new bad boy rock 'n' roll show on Broadway, and his guns are ablaze and his wit is dagger sharp.  And his emotional outbursts may be as self-centered as yours, but his have deadly consequences on a national scale.  His name is Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and he has taken the rock, self-reverential and blistering satirical musical to a whole new level.  If you were wondering how the groundwork laid by such shows as Urinetown: The Musical and the aforementioned American Idiot would progress into the next generation of American musicals, you need only get yourself to the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre and find out what all the fuss is about.

Finally, there is a show that no one can say "they didn't carry it out as far as they could," or "they sold out and went commercial," or "it's it too bad they compromised."  No, BBAJ is evidence that you can still be all out with your creativity, that you can be smart and still be fun, and that there is an audience for unlikely subjects as long as you stick to your point of view and you remember that musicals are first and foremost a form of entertainment.  As such, this show is the almost perfect blend of what I love about musicals.  It ignites all of my senses, it makes me think, it makes me feel and it sticks with me long after exiting the theatre. 

Of course, when you do go all out, you are sure to alienate some people (have you read the message boards?), and are sure to make fanatics out of others.  You are bound to insult some and cause others to roll their eyes in disgust.  Long before Andrew Jackson was even an idea (the writers might not have even been alive yet or were very small boys if they were) there was another show that engendered such extreme reactions from its audiences and the theatre world in general.  That little show was Sweeney Todd, and while I am not even remotely suggesting that Andrew is the masterpiece that Sweeney is, there is no denying that they are remarkably similar, right down to the blood stained costumes and sensory overload provided by their perspective productions. 

What perhaps gives Andrew Jackson the edge on edgy is that it is about a real person.  Sweeney is about a legendary figure of the penny dreadful tradition in England, and possibly a mass murderer or two that took their cue from the legend of the killer barber.  On the other hand, Andrew Jackson, even considering how skewed and purposely fictionalized his history is depicted here, is about a real leader, and a real man who was responsible for a mass genocide within our borders.  The ramifications of his actions remain with us to this day.  And while he certainly doesn't remain in our thoughts these days like Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln are, Jackson represents a dark, if forgotten, period in American history.

Scarier still is the fact that a lot of his ways and political views have remained in the public political consciousness.  Book writer/director Alex Timbers and composer/lyricist Michael Friedman have gone to great lengths and hit us repeatedly over the head with the parallels between the early 19th Century politics of Jackson and every president and the rest of our government in the late 20th Century and into the 21st.  There are plenty of digs about a leadership who throws a temper tantrum when he doesn't get his way.  There are plenty of moments about a president elected by a groundswell of support rallied during a campaign, only to see it all but forgotten when tough decisions, an unsupportive cabinet and an equally immature, self-centered Congress make great campaign promises impossible to keep.  I could go on about actions/policies, etc. that fly in the face of our Constitution, and how ego and a need for admiration over leadership has throughout history has nearly brought this country to its knees.  Let's just summarize by saying that Andrew Jackson as portrayed here was the first of a long line of American presidents to make more of a mess than even he ever dreamed possible.

Which brings me to the show itself.  A lot of what makes this show work is that its subject is a dynamic, charismatic and dramatic central figure.  The show certainly plays up to the fact that Jackson would perfectly fit into today's society.  He was popular, loved to be in a scandal, and he was a completely a self-made celebrity (take that Paris Hilton!).  Were he alive today, he'd be a media mega-star; a staple on shows like The View, the Fox News Channel and fodder for every other news outlet from The New York Times to CNN.  He would keep Perez and TMZ in business.  Everyone involved in the stage production is blissfully on the same page and understands this very well.  The show is full of sound bites (literally and figuratively), and portrays Jackson as a rock star, a bad boy and a scandal ridden media whore.  And the show hits everyone of these buttons with glee and gusto, including mock documentary narration, a news brief commentator, and an entourage of cheerleaders, backstabbing associates and an ass-kissing assistant.  Fittingly, that "assistant," Martin Van Buren, ends up being the next president.

And since everyone is on that same page, it makes sense that the self-proclaimed "emo rock musical" fires on all cylinders - an edgy rock sound, overly emotional with repetitive and bizarre lyrics, the trademark over enunciation of words - my favorite being the words "in particular" repeated ad nauseum as "ian perticulyur" - and of course, the profanity laden lyrics that express both sexuality and anger in the same chorus. (I will not debate the authenticity of the score to the genre, but it certainly sends up what I do know about emo rock and its practitioners.)  Highlights of the score include the Schoolhouse Rock-on-Ritalin-liquor-and-pot influenced "Populism, Yea, Yea!", the ready for radio "Rock Star", the indie station-esque "The Saddest Song", and the most scathing and catchy number in the show, "Ten Little Indians."  The latter song sums up perfectly what my senses were like during the entire 90 minute show: it was clever for my ears and interesting for my brain, the sentiment made my blood boil, and the clever delivery (by outstanding ensemble member Emily Young) made the theatre lover in me tingle.  The score alone - played, mind you, by but three musicians, Justin Levine, Charlie Rosen and Kevin Garcia and supplemented on occasion by cast members - gave me more than my money's worth.

The majority of the ensemble plays multiple roles, and every single one of them is very clearly defined and remarkably different, a testament to the depth of talent that they posses.  Add to that that they all have perfect comic timing and can play satire as well as anyone in the heyday of Saturday Night Live, as well as cutting modern commentary and surprisingly deep, honest moments of clarity.  They are asked to do an awful lot in 90 short minutes, and are easily the best ensemble on the Broadway stage today.  Particularly outstanding are the gentlemen who play other real life political figures: Darren Goldstein (who plays the arrogant, self-absorbed Calhoun with suave devilishness), Jeff Hiller (a humorously whiny, self-absorbed John Quincy Adams), Ben Steinfeld (a wonderfully confused Monroe), Bryce Pinkham (a laugh out loud riot of drool, facial contortions and an equally bug-eyed weasel), and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (a fabulously effete Van Buren with a...Twinkie fettish...).  Also quite good, both in a funny, satiric way, but balanced with some surprisingly real moments of serious depth is Maria Elena Ramirez as Jackson's wife, Rachel.  Ms. Ramirez gets to be part of most of the show's more somber moments and she plays them very well.  In fact, her scenes with Andrew Jackson that are more serious and sincere are what balances out the show and makes the funny funnier instead of tedious.  She deserves a lot of credit for that. 

Esthetically, the designers have collaborated brilliantly with the concept created by Mr. Timbers and Mr. Friedman. Now I did not see the show off-Broadway, but if the set on the Broadway stage is any indication of how it was at the Public, designer Donyale Werle did his best to recreate the tight closeness of what had to be a smaller playing space previously.  I am pretty sure that the set only takes up the front half of the stage, if that, and every inch of the playing space is crammed with items that give the place the feel of a hunting lodge, a museum attic and boy's clubhouse all at once.  Where the design probably got bigger was in extending every element of the stage out into the entire house area.  Not since Cats has a Broadway show felt so completely environmental.  Every inch of the walls and most of the ceiling space is covered with portraits of dead leaders, political bunting and other Americana, along with letters that spell out the show's initials, funky upside down chandeliers and the infamous stuffed horse that hangs upside down over the orchestra seats.  When you enter the theatre, it is completely bathed in red Christmas lights, and most of the hundreds of stage lights are gelled red as well.  In short, lighting designer Justin Townsend has made the audience complicit in Jackson's actions as we enter and leave the theatre blood red in color.  And, as early in the season as it is, I think I can safely predict that both he and Werle are well on their way to Tony nominations, if not wins, for their endlessly creative sets and lighting, alternately theatrical and rock concert-ish in feel and scope.  Sound designer Bart Fasbender similarly contributes to this free-for-all/heavily calculated entertainment as well, with perfectly timed gun shots, arrow shootings and a wide variety of sound effects, while costume designer Emily Rebholz manages to make the costumes as witty and modern/of the period as the rest of the show.  Particularly interesting is the costume design for various cast members during the scenes when Jackson is in the oval office, which are predominantly black and definitely of today.  Smartly, only Van Buren remains in period costume, and as we know he will be the next president, it serves as a subversive reminder that everything old will be new again.

As I said earlier, this is an almost perfectly executed, all out musical, but even when you go all out, you must be sure not to go too far.  While 99.9% of Timbers' direction and choreographer Danny Medford's staging is right on target in its frantic pace and deliberately sophomoric moments, there is one character that kind of feels shoe-horned in, and is the only one that comes close to being overkill or eye-roll inducing, and that is the pretentiously named Storyteller.  One gets the impression that the device was perhaps used more thoroughly in previous drafts, and exposition being what it has to be with such a foreign topic, maybe the authors felt there was no option but to keep it.  Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe she (a perfectly fine actress, Kristine Nielson, plays her) is meant to be just one more element of the send up.  But it is really the one thing in this bizarre circus that doesn't fit right.  And don't think for a moment that it is because she is portrayed as a handicapped person in an electric scooter.  Hell, that is the least offensive thing in a show that is equally offensive to Indians, slaves, Spaniards, gays, the rich, the poor and even cobblers.  It just isn't that funny or necessary, especially when other moments are later narrated by ensemble members seamlessly.

So what about the star of the show, Andrew Jackson himself?  Well, Hollywood's loss is definitely Broadway's gain, as Benjamin Walker tears up the stage as our seventh president.  He is cheeky, bombastic and literally sweats up a storm as he ages from a small boy to a petulant teen to an even more petulant adult.  Walker carefully lays out this progression so that it seems like a progression not a repetition.  There is a fine line between a one-note brat and a multi-faceted self-indulgent jackass of a man who acts like the child he once was.  Ben Walker doesn't just walk that fine line, he stomps right across it.  He embodies the entire notion of the show - that charisma, charm, bullying and not caring what the rules are can make you a star.  Andrew Jackson, at least according to this show, wrote the book on celebrity masquerading as substance - one that a myriad of today's stable of so-called stars follow (Paris, Snookie, and "The Situation" come right to mind).  What is so wonderful about Walker's genuinely star-making performance is that he is doing it the old-fashioned way: with blood, sweat and some remarkably well filled out jeans as the ad promises.  Sexypants indeed!  But best of all, he does so with the most important quality: genuine talent. 

It is sheer talent that got Timbers, Friedman, Walker and company to the big leagues.  And Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a homegrown hit that should give Broadway fans something to cheer about for some time to come.


(Photos of the original Broadway cast by Joan Marcus.)

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