Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Readings: Flops on a Comeback!

Lewis Cleale is the man I want to be these days.  He has managed to be a part of three major New York readings of three musicals that are being revisited and re-tuned for potential major productions.   They also happen to be three of my all-time favorite musicals!

Carrie: The Broadway Poster

Carrie: November 9

  • Original New York Production: The Virginia Theatre, 16 previews, 5 performances.  Starring Betty Buckley, Linzi Hateley, Charlotte d'Amboise, Scott Wise, Gene Anthony Ray and Darlene Love.
  • The Scoop: After a disastrous try-out in London at the Royal Shakespeare Company no less, the troupe came to Broadway with only one major change.  Betty Buckley replaced Barbara Cook as Carrie's mother, Margaret White.  Terry Hands "directed" and Debbie Allen choreographed.
  • The Collaborators: Dean Pitchford, Michael Gore (music/lyrics) and Lawrence D. Cohen (book).  Considering that until recently, Pitchford didn't even acknowledge that Carrie was his, I am glad they are working on this one again all these years later.
  • The Reading:  The cast, directed by Stafford Arima, will assemble on November 9 (today).  And it will feature the brilliant Marin Mazzie as Margaret, Molly Ranson as Carrie, and an ensemble that includes Aaron Tveit, Annaleigh Ashford, Jenn Gambatese, Wesley Taylor, and the previously mentioned Lewis Cleale.  What a cast!
  • My Two Cents Worth:  I have seen a video of the RSC production, and Cook had a decent voice, but was as bland as oatmeal.  Hateley radiated even from a far camera angle.  I think the show suffered from a dual personality, which if both had been taken seriously, would have worked considering the duality of Carrie's existence.  Instead, the "high school" Carrie was a joke, played as satire (I think that's what they were going for) but it came across as bad camp.  The "serious" Carrie was chilling, scary and deeply moving.  Even though most of the score these days is remembered as "the Betty Buckley part was brilliant" and "the high school stuff" was laughably bad.  Yes, I agree that the "Betty Buckley" part was brilliant - "And Eve Was Weak" may be one of the best theatre songs ever written.  Ever.  But not all of the "high school" stuff was bad.  I think the title song is terrific.  I cannot wait to see the MCC Theatre production next season.

bare: a pop opera
The Off-Broadway Poster

Bare: November 1

  • Original New York Production:  American Theatre of Actors, limited-run off-Broadway production.  Starring Jon Hill, Michael Arden, Jenna Leigh Green and Natalie Joy Johnson.  A complete concept recording of the show stars James Snyder, Matt Doyle and Jenna Leigh Green.
  • The Scoop:  This show has amazing buzz and has always been rumored to be having further productions.  I know there are people that are such fans that they travel all over the country seeing every production.
  • The Collaborators: Newcomers Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere have spent years on this show and their work is fantastic.
  • The Reading: Stafford Arima is again working on a reading, and Bare is his second of the three currently being presented.  In addition to Lewis Cleale, the cast will feature Andy Mientus, Zak Resnick, Carrie Manolakos, Leah Hocking and Capathia Jenkins.
  • My Two Cents Worth:  I loved the off-Broadway production and have nearly worn out my CD set of the show.  There are some amazing songs - "Are You There?" and "Role of a Lifetime" stand out, some great, poignant moments, "Plain Jane Fat Ass" (the perfect combination of funny and profoundly meaningful) and "Once Upon a Time," and some really fun, campy numbers, "Wedding Bells" and "God Don't Make No Trash."  Under Kristin Hanggi's fast-paced direction, some of the story got swept away by the lighting effects, other parts were too predictable, even in a predictable, but very well-done piece, and she had trouble balancing the seriousness with the camp (which explains a lot of Rock of Ages).  Still, there wasn't a dry eye in the place, including mine.  And considering the content of the show, it couldn't be more timely than today.

Smile: The Broadway Poster

Smile: November 19

  • Original New York Production: The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 11 previews, 49 performances.  Starring Jodi Benson, Anne Marie Bobby, Marsha Waterbury and Jeff McCarthy.
  • The Scoop:  After a very successful pre-Broadway engagement in Baltimore, Maryland, and a huge 60 Minutes segment which ran on opening night, this show was a SURE THING.  Except it wasn't.  For a time composer Marvin Hamlisch didn't include mention of it in his Playbill bios, and it sadly, turned out to be one of lyricist/book writer Howard Ashman's last original pieces.
  • The Reading: Richard Biever will direct the reading, which will star Lewis Cleale, Chris Hoch, Carol Linnea  Johnson, and as pageant roommates, Addi McDaniel and Mollie Vogt-Welch.  According to press information, the reading will use a revised (by the authors) version that combines earlier workshop and the pre-Broadway version.
  • My Two Cents: I come to this one fully prepared.  It has a fantastic score - "Disneyland" is an audition/cabaret act staple, but the real gems are the snarky/sincere "Smile", the opening number "Going to Santa Rosa", the pageant number "Young and American" and the feisty "Shine" which montages all of the pageant talent numbers and other preparation into a huge and catch production number.  I actually saw the pre-Broadway production and thought it was flawless: funny, biting, self-aware but not ugly, and sharply honest.  The Broadway production...not so much.  Somehow, they made it too nice and in the process too cheesy.  Yes, a musical about a low-end beauty pageant does NOT have to be cheesy.  In Baltimore it wasn't.  I am sure they left that city confident that they had a huge hit on their hands.  And then someone just had to tinker with it... ICK!  I am so glad to hear that even the authors agreed way back then that the earlier version was better and licensed that one.  And I;m really glad that is the version being workshopped now.

How much of this turns into actual production, who knows?  But the prospect is wonderful, with or without Mr. Cleale!

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