Friday, September 30, 2011

EXTRA! EXTRA!: Newsies to Broadway?

To me, the only surprising thing about the idea that the new stage musical version of Disney's Newsies might be headed to Broadway, is that it is finally in print.  I had an inkling the minute it was announced.

It is true that Disney has a history of mounting productions of stage versions of it movies to see how the adaptation plays before releasing it for licensing to theatre groups.  One of those productions, 101 Dalmatians resulted in a National Tour.  Most recently, a staged Aladdin  played in California.  Neither materialized into a Broadway (or even off-Broadway) production.  So how could I have guessed that this would be different?

"Sieze the Day!"

1.  It's a question of company-wide marketing.  The Disney powers that be announced about a year ago that it would try to veer from girl-centric "princess" properties in order to bring boys into the fold.  You'd think Aladdin would fit that bill.  Newsies certainly fits the bill - there's only 1 supporting female character of note in the film version, which is ABOUT boys.

2.  It is a question of funding.  The press given that production of Aladdin would not repeatedly mention that the production was on a very limited budget, with very few extra special effects.  Of course, it makes sense.  No one but Disney has a Disney budget, and if it is to be licensed to everyday theatre companies, it must be seen as a viable possibility.  The press for Newsies, while mentioning it as a try-out for licensing, is receiving a "full production" at the Paper Mill Playhouse.

Doesn't this seem pretty elaborate for a
"any theatre can do this show" show?

3.  It is a question of creative staffing.  Come on.  If Newsies were never under consideration for at least a National Tour, would multiple Tony-winner Harvey Fierstein come on board as a book writer, completely overhauling the story and making it more "current audience friendly"?  Would Alan Menken have rearranged the score and written new songs? (Aladdin featured new material - all from the original film cuts)  And there is director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun, much in demand and high profile this season with his Broadway-bound production of Bonnie and Clyde.

4.  It is a question of location, location, location.  If you don't want to be noticed by the biggest fish in the pond, you don't produce a full-out production in the same pond!

A new central love story, and Broadway's hottest star
of the moment, Jeremy Jordan

5.  It is a question of press.  Look at the coverage of Newsies in just The New York Times  and on Playbill Online.  It is certainly befitting of any Broadway-bound production.  Maybe the press people at Paper Mill Playhouse are THAT good.  But Disney, I'm sure, has a full grasp on very word printed about it anywhere in the world.  The Times gave the production a full review, one of those multimedia features, and, in its Fall Preview of the Arts, the only article about Broadway musicals this season was about star Jeremy Jordan doing two shows this season - Bonnie and Clyde and NewsiesPlaybill Online has been running feature articles on the show for weeks - interviews with Jordan, a "Cue and A" with the new female lead/love interest, and several videos featuring the show.  There are Broadway shows already on Broadway that don't get that much ink or cyberspace.

Whether or not the show gets to Broadway remains to be seen at this point.  It'll be disappointing at this point if it doesn't.  But it won't be all that unexpected if it does.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jigsaw Puzzles IV: Follies Edition

Here are some more puzzles for you to enjoy this weekend.  CAUTION:  These two are much more difficult!  Have fun!

Jigsaw Puzzle #10  (198 pieces)

This is FRAVER's interpretation of the show - the 2011 revival window card!

Jigsaw Puzzle #11 (260 pieces)

The original poster is a Broadway icon - as famouws as the show it is advertising.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In Defense of Glee

Caution: The following blog contains Glee Season 3 plot spoilers.

Much ink and TV time has been spent discussing the Season 2 downfall of Glee.  And many an ultimatum has been thrown around ("If things don't get better, I'm going to stop DVRing Glee!", etc.).  OK, we are now a mere 2 episodes into the new season - a season that creator Ryan Murphy and others have promised would highlight the main characters, and have more focused plot lines.  In other words, Glee 3.0 will try to be more like Glee 1.0, which assumes that Glee 2.0 was all that bad.

The truth, for me at least, is that season 2 was a little uneven.  And it has some of the very best moments of the entire series so far.  Coach Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones).  Sue (Jane Lynch) nurturing Becky (Lauren Potter).  Bullies (Max Adler) dealt with.  Every scene with Brittany (Heather Morris).  Every second Chord Overstreet was on screen.  Artie (Kevin McHale) getting to walk for Christmas.  The Dalton Academy Warblers.  "Thriller."  Gwyneth PaltrowDarren Criss.  The return of Finn (Corey Montieth) and Rachel (Lea Michele).  The amazing identify yourself (the t-shirt episode) episode.  And there were some things I could have done without.  Rocky Horror (I don't really care for the show).  Carol Burnett and Sue marrying herself (WTF?).  John Stamos (great guy, lousy encroaching character).  The positives far outweigh the negative for me.

Chord Overstreet as Sam

"Born This Way" (The tee-shirt episode)


Still, one can understand the "sophomore slump."  Season 2 means it isn't new any more.  The surprises - which often cover the flaws - are fewer.  And writers are damned if they do, damned if they don't.  Trying to change characters can be dangerous.  Too much trying to advance the plots in new directions can be deadly.  And yet, not changing characters and making them grow can be just as deadly.  And if the plots get too repetitive, God help the show.

So, over the past couple of weeks, I've been reading the comments left by people after articles about each of the two first episodes of Season 3 and have looked over the chief complaints about Season 2.  I've narrowed it down to their four main comments about last season and a couple of their thoughts about season three (already)!

1.  There is too much Rachel/Kurt and not enough of the others! 

OK.  There is a lot of Rachel and Kurt (Chris Colfer).  But you go with your strong suit.  They are just that: the most talented, the most complicated, the most broken.  All of that adds up to the most compelling characters.  BUT... let's not forget the transformation of Puck (Mark Salling) into a decent, if challenging, guy.  The emergence of Artie... Two girlfriends!  The football team!  Losing his virginity!  Just about every male solo in New Directions numbers.  Not bad.  How about the "Asian Invasion"?  Mike Chang (Harry Shum, Jr.) is a dancing machine and too sexy for a high school kid... and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) backing up everyone - not just on stage, but she's the go-to girl for advice and unity.  The emergence of Santana (Naya Rivera) and Brittany as full, multi-dimensional characters.  Quinn's journey from pregnant teen to top of the high school heap, and her downfall... two interesting supporting characters in Lauren (Ashley Fink) and Sam... two down to earth adults with a major plot line - Kurt's dad and Finn's mom (Mike O'Malley and Romy Rosemont) ...  All of that and still too much Rachel and Kurt?  Hmmmm....

Quinn and Santana

Tina and Mike
2.  More Finn!  More Blaine! 

Let's go back to number one first.  More Finn and More Blaine by necessity means More Rachel and More Kurt.  You can't have your cake and eat it, too...  Finn figured prominently in most of the story lines last season, and Kurt wouldn't have grown without Blaine.  And, gay or straight, isn't it nice that there are two couples who are stable AND interesting (Mike/Tina and Kurt/Blaine).  It is hard to think of any plot that didn't involve one or both of these great guys.

3.  Too much singing and dancing! 

Um, it is about a glee club.  Singing and dancing are what they do.  And you knew going into it that it was also a musical comedy, so characters will burst into non-glee club numbers, too.  Sub-complaint: too many show tunes.  I think it is pretty 50-50.  But... (see below)

4.  The show is not realistic! 

Um, it is about a glee club. Singing and dancing are what they do. And you knew going into it that it was also a musical comedy, so characters will burst into non-glee club numbers, too. 

Not to mention that TV is not supposed to be entirely realistic.  If you want real life watch the National Geographic channel.  For me, Glee is a one hour break from the bad news on TV, the Internet and Twitter, from the lousy government, global economic woes, earthquakes, hurricanes and war.  But, even given the musical numbers, there is a certain grounding to the show that is very much based on reality.  Have you been in a public high school recently?  It is more like Glee than not like Glee

And that age old complaint: things get tied up in one or two episodes.  Not true.  But even so, each individual episode wraps up all neat and tidy, true enough.  It is TV, folks.  We need closure before the next show starts!  Not real?  Well, each episode clearly takes place over several days, but is cut to fit in 44 minutes.  And in reality, a lot of high school issues come and go in one school day.  Have you forgotten that?  Still, if CSI can get a DNA test result in 15 minutes instead of a week or more and we can accept that, why can't we believe that a group of kids can spend all day in class, practice sports and cheerleading, and still light, costume and choreograph multiple production numbers a week?  I wish real life worked like that.  I tell you, my job would be so much more fun if me and the other cubicle dwellers dropped our wireless keyboards and burst into a full dance number to "The Brotherhood of Man"!

And the two biggest complaints so far about Season 3?  Here they are:

Coach Beiste, Artie and Emma
 1.  Why West Side Story? 

Well, why not?  It is a show the general public at least recognizes and can draw parallels from.  The cast is ideal for that show.  It is a show high schools can actually do.  (My favorite comment at Rolling Stone asked why they couldn't do something more modern like American Idiot or Rock of Ages?  Well, that would certainly blur the line between show tunes and pop songs.  But can we talk content?  As cool as it would be, the story of American Idiot would never be approved (not to mention all of the language and situational cuts that would have to be made) by a school.  And they have already done most of "the score" of Rock of Ages.  Plus, do we really need to see Mercedes as a madame or Quinn having dirty men's room sex with Puck or another gay character for Kurt to play?  You can't have it both ways...

Rachel and Finn

Kurt and Blaine
2.  There hasn't been enough singing and dancing/where has Finn been? 

Wait... before there was too much singing and dancing?  Now "15 minutes between songs is unbearable?"  How else can we focus on plots that don't concern Rachel directly?  And Finn's lack of being "in front" also allows others to take up some screen time... like Artie, Coach Beiste, Emma and Mike Chang?  Not to mention Mercedes' new boyfriend, Rachel's dad's, Mike's parents, Emma's parents...

Coach Beiste and Mr. Hummel

Will and Emma
It has been exactly 88 minutes into the new season.  We have 20 more episodes to see where everyone ends up.  And with Kurt, Finn and Rachel graduating, I'll bet toward the end, we will see more not less of them.  Still, today's news of the hiring of a new actor who will actively pursue Blaine should make things interesting even if it does mean more Kurt.  And let's not forget The Glee Project winners who will figure into major story lines concerning Brittany, Santana and Puck will take up a lot of screen time, too.  Add more Idina Menzel, a juicy plot for Matthew Morrison, and hopefully an interesting end to the Sue-runs-for-office plot, and I think the outlook is terrific.

One thing:  I really miss the slushies...

I'll bet, too, that no matter what, some people won't be happy.  Too much Sue, not enough Sue.  Too much Rachel, not enough Rachel.  Too much singing, not enough singing.  To you, I say stop watching Glee, or at least stop complaining about it.  If you are taking time to complain, then, one, you care enough about it to express an opinion, and, two, you are still watching it!

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My Day at the Flea Market

Expecting bad weather, my friends and I spent a good part of Saturday monitoring the New York City weather forecast.  It fluctuated between a 30% to an 80% chance. Ick, right?  Well, it turned out that all three of us bringing our umbrellas to the 25th Annual Broadway Flea Market and Grand Auction not only kept the rain at bay, but the sun even made a few appearances!

Of course, the real success of the day was the over one-half a million dollars raised for Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS!  For details and more numbers, check out THIS.

For me, there is no other event where I feel so connected to the world around me.  I mean, think about it, thousands of people who share a love and passion for theatre coming together for a great cause, and also submerge ourselves in more than city block's worth of memories, history and art.  And the fact that right along with us are the artists themselves, volunteering time, and not just photo ops and autographs, but real time talking to fans.  How fortunate we all are to share such an experience like this. 

Here are a few of my impressions of the day:

  • Best Trend: BRIGHT COLORS!  RED: Godspell; ORANGE: Lysistrata Jones; YELLOW: The Lion King  You couldn't help but notice them even in a tight 44th Street crowd or the sensory overload of Times Square.  The yellow beacon of The Lion King's booth tent... the orange sign, pom poms and basketballs of Lysistrata Jones brought life, and crowds to their simple booth, and the bright red of the t-shirts and hats of the street team, passing out fliers, and again on the cast members at their booth.
  • Best Mini-Trend: Balls.  Yes, balls.  Both Lombardi and Lysistrata Jones had balls - foot and basket, respectively.  And what fun... squeezey stress relievers and fun bath toys both!
  • Best Connection:  The cast and crew of Lysistrata Jones!  They did what all the best do: reach out and relate.  Not only did they cheer on every single brave soul who tried to win tickets by shooting baskets, but they took time to chat and laugh with anyone who wanted to.  Patti Murin and Teddy Toye are the very picture of grace, warmth and enthusiasm... their attitude alone would make me want to buy tickets.  (And I would have bought them then and there, but I already have them!)

  • Best Freebies:  The free tattoos from Godspell and the free pom poms from Lysistrata Jones.  Free is great, even at a fund raiser, but these accomplished much more.  Every time a smiling face walked by with that show logo on it, I thought of Godspell, and every time I saw someone carrying one, or saw one left behind at another table, or even the two or three I saw on the street, the bright orange and the fun, fizzy plastic reminded me of Miss Jones and her jock friends!  (This show will go miles in bridging the gap between the jocks and the drama geeks!)
  • Best High End Memorabilia: The goods at the War Horse booth.  Not just signed Playbills and posters, but unique magnets featuring all of the puppeteers, and beautiful sketches of the set, mounted and autographed.
  • Best Memorabilia for the Everyday Masses: $1.00 posters at the Triton Gallery booth, $3 posters at the ITS booth, $10 dollar posters at The Book of Mormon table.  A savvy, patient shopper can find some real bargains... TIP FOR NEXT YEAR: Go back several times to the Triton Gallery booth.  The stock is constantly changing.
  • Best Personal Find:  A mint condition Chicago window card featuring Sandy Duncan!  An actual board poster is probably very expensive, and only a photo reproduction of it is available from Triton Gallery for just $75!  My actual poster, sans flaws? $3.00!!!

My final haul: a Lombardi ball: $1.00; window cards: Lombardi: $1, Chicago:$3, Broadway Bares 19.0: $5, and a pristine Anything Goes: $10.00; a Sweeney Todd (LuPone/Cerveris) CD sampler $1, Lysistrata Jones pom pom: FREE.  $21.00 for a bounty of stuff I love and can't get anywhere else.  Not bad!

I am really looking forward to next year's event already.  And all shows should take note of the two shows who really stood out, Godspell and Lysistrata Jones.  And just think, neither of those shows have even opened yet!  I can only imagine how great those shows will be...

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Monday, September 26, 2011

REVIEW: Follies

At the Marquis Theatre on Broadway, New York City. 2 hours, 40 minutes, with an intermission. Starring Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Ron Raines, Danny Burstein, Elaine Paige, Jane Houdyshell, Terri White, Mary Beth Piel, Rosalind Elias, Susan Watson, Don Correia, and Laura Lee Gayer, Kirsten Scott, Nick Verina, Christian Delcroix and Leah Horowitz. Musical direction by James Moore. Choreography by Warren Carlyle. Directed by Eric Schaeffer.

Grade: A+

I came to this Follies as one needing to be wooed, not as a fan already. I had never seen a production of the show and had only the original Broadway cast recording, such as it is, to go by. A self-proclaimed Sondheim fan, I have often counted Follies as second only to Pacific Overtures as my least favorite Sondheim show. But many a friend has counseled me, “this is one of those shows you have to see to fully appreciate the score and the book.”

Happily, all who have told me that were so right, and I am so grateful that this revival production has been my gateway into what is now in the top three of my favorite Sondheim shows, and probably among my top ten most amazing theatrical experiences. Ever.

I can, in all honesty, say that I went into the Marquis Theatre with as open a mind toward the show as possible. In fact, my biggest concern wasn’t even really about the show, but about Bernadette Peters: would she win me back after her so-so performance earlier this year in A Little Night Music? (She did, and then some.) Yes, walking to the theatre, I was fully prepared to just let it happen. And it had me from the second I walked through the doors.

Ensconced with tattered grey material on every wall, and hanging overhead, too, the house immediately plunges you into the world of a decaying, make that dead, theatre. Its once glorious countenance signaled only by a mere sliver of proscenium still in pristine shape while the rest of the stage frame lies crumpled on the floor or hanging precariously as if to collapse at any second. A sense of sadness, imminent danger, and of past glory clinging to life just before it is no longer even a memory pervading the air. And then there is the background noise - a cacophony of groaning, settling metal, creaking floors, and the echo of debris falling somewhere unseen - which surrounds you in every way that the intense visual doesn’t. And then there are the distant sounds of tap dancing and the occasional girlish giggle that seem to bubble up and can be heard over the ominous din. This is a haunted house, and it is both scary and profoundly sad.

"Beautiful Girls"
The same can be said for the show itself, the story of a reunion of follies girls at the very theatre where they became legends. The theatre, set for demolition the next day, creaks and groans, but stays together for one last follies. As each of the ladies performs her signature number, and the occasional production number is recreated, we find that their lives have gone in a variety of directions, some successful some not, and most mundane. And so they have come back to relive their highpoint of glory and to assess the damage others have suffered as their lives together as showgirls diverged and are now reunited for one night only. The central story concerns the marriages of two of the follies girls who were best friends, but are now miles (figuratively and, on the surface, literally) apart.

From the very moment the show starts, there is, to be blunt, a devastating mind-fuck going on here. Everything your eyes and ears are picking up suggests two or three things at once. And no matter what, you cannot escape the last breaths of the very building you are in. (This is no small irony, considering that the Marquis Theatre exists at the expense of several theaters that had to be demolished so that a hotel could be put up in Times Square.) The ladies are still so vibrant and full of life that they sell you immediately on the idea that this will be a fun, glamorous look back at a time that no longer exists. Some of these gals are old and they still have it; even the younger ones who are beginning to show their age manage to “bring it” when they see the elder gals going all out. Nowhere is this more evident than the opening number, “Beautiful Girls,” as they parade down the grand staircase and go through the motions of poses and arm figures that they once did in their glory days. The number ends and the audience cheers in kind. Good for them, right? But there is also a nagging feeling behind it all, that we’ve moved on and they haven’t. That they peaked in life when they still had so much of it to get through.

"Who's That Woman?"
Terri White (center)
 Then there is the “Who’s That Woman?” production number, led by the remarkable Terri White, a look at what was a huge number, now reduced to a memory, with instructions being yelled out, “remember to look in your mirrors, ladies, not at me!” Joining them are the younger versions of themselves, dazzling in their bejeweled costumes and glittery shoes and hats, each with perfect extension, timing and clarity of movement. At once we can see what was and what it is, and once again we cheer. And then the lights go out for a split second, and come up on the stage filled only with the gals “now.” The specter of their past glory gone in an instant, and somehow the applause amps up. Are we that thrilled that these older ladies can still get through the number? Are we honoring their age? I clapped my hands off just like everyone else, until I literally had to stop in order to wipe away the tears that were now rolling down both cheeks. And it occurred to me then that I was not crying tears of joy at the glorious number just performed, but at just how unbearably sad the entire enterprise is.

Getting one shot at reliving our greatest life moments - who wouldn’t leap at the chance? But then it would be over. And then the regret of things left undone, the anger at the way things didn’t go as planned, the mourning of a life beyond the folly of youth sets in. And there are the could-a, would-a, should-as that set in. I am certain that even ten years ago, at the last revival of Follies, the effect would not have been as personally profound, for now I am middle aged and still have a lot ahead of me, but can recognize a past of misspent youth, of opportunities not taken. And it hit me.  Hard. There is something decidedly cruel about all of the meanings of the show’s title when you get to a certain age, isn’t there? I suppose that it is this very duality that has, and will forever, divide audiences. Those of us who revel in the entertainment value of a stunning performance that also makes you examine your own life will always be balanced by those in the audience who leave only mildly sated by the “Loveland” sequence that ends the show, offering the evening's only real glamour, color and literal follies show.

Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell

With a cast of 41 and a full orchestra in the pit, one imagines that this very well could be the last Follies Broadway will ever see of this caliber. And the production values are as stunning as the sheer number of those involved. The scenic, costume and lighting designs by Derek McLane, Gregg Barnes and Natasha Katz, respectively, represent each of these artists at the top of their game. Designing an environment that is both death and decay and life and larger than life simultaneously is no easy task. McLane’s work stretches throughout the theatre, but the simplicity of the bare bones stage itself (all four stories of it) allows for all possibilities, while the magnitude of it speaks volumes on behalf of the larger themes of the story. The setting amazes for both its simplicity and the incredible attention to detail. Similarly, Barnes’ costumes give you nearly everything you need to know about each character even at first glance, while the detail and complexity of each follies costume is evocative of a past glamour and glory that today, as we creep ever so further from that bygone era, we can still appreciate the work. And perhaps most revelatory is the completely unobtrusive lighting by Ms. Katz, who has never done better work. Until the “Loveland” sequence, there is never an over-theatricality about the lighting. Indeed, the best lighting, they say, is the kind you never consciously notice. And like the ghosts of the past that haunt the theatre, her lighting comes and goes unnoticed, ethereal and otherworldly.


Buddy's Folly

Sally's Folly

Ben's Folly

Phyllis' Folly

Warren Carlyle’s choreography is spot on - thrilling where it needs to be, and sad when it needs to be. He, like everyone else, has managed to find the perfect balance of past glory and present reality of aging. As I said above, the dance numbers beg you to applaud, and you give it generously, all while wiping away the tears. One can only imagine the research that went into creating early 20th century style dances, vaudevillian tap routines, and even showcase jazz numbers. Each and every one brilliantly conceived and executed. And then there is Eric Schaeffer’s direction, which in the past I have taken to task and nitpicked out of frustration. I have always felt that his work has had potential, but is always maddeningly underdone. Not anymore. I could quibble and say that every scene probably should not start down stage center, which it does. And I could really nitpick and say that his use of the second level upstage is inconsistent, which it is. But even those two minor things are barely noticeable compared to the subtle, ingenious strokes he has painted this canvas with. That he has consistently mined the script for both the surface reality and the deeply melancholy subtext is remarkable. The big touches - every time a new follies girl is presented you know immediately what she was to any given year’s show - are deepened and detailed by the minute gestures, pauses and shared glances that undermine any and all attempts to cover up the passing of time or any number of psychological goings on. The gesture, or lack of one, often tells us more than any five pages of dialogue could or should. The details of each performance wordlessly tell us about relationships and lives spent wondering, “what if?” I look forward to Mr. Schaeffer’s next efforts.

Elaine Paige
 Of course, much of the brilliance of Follies lays at the feet of Stephen Sondheim’s glorious score (whoever allowed the OBCR to be released should be arrested for crimes against art) and the subtle book by James Goldman (this version is his paring down of the original). But as other revivals, and even certain parts of the original production I’m told, revealed that all of the brilliance of the script, songs, direction and design are for naught without a great cast of actors who also happen to sing, dance, and be “of a certain age.” I can’t imagine a more perfectly cast production than this one. I have one partial quibble here, though. And that is the casting of Elaine Paige as Carlotta. She is the only person onstage whose present day veneer never seems to give way enough to let us see any of the trials and tribulations she has undergone. Even when confronted with the possibility of a one evening affair, she rebukes it with a musical comedy style delivery of joke. It is a small quibble, though, as it all can be justified by saying that Carlotta is the only one at the reunion that is there to show off what she has become, a celebrated screen star. She did not peak at the follies, she got out and got bigger. Still, no one gets through life or climbs the ladder of success without a few scars. It would have been nice to see a few in Ms. Paige’s performance. (Still, what thrill to see one of musical theatre’s greatest artists performing at all!)

Before I go any further, I must commend the ensemble boys and girls for superb, high quality work. By necessity, they must be razor sharp and youthfully vital at all times, and they are just exceptional in every way. But special kudos must be given to the ladies who are regaled in gorgeous and huge follies costumes, who appear and disappear on all levels of the set. Their ghostly presence both mesmerizes and terrifies me as they walk through the theatre alternately touching the walls, railings and foundation of the building, as if knowing the end is near, and ever so slowly doing their intricate dance steps and arm choreography as they slowly move through the dark shadows and misty pools of light. Until the very final moment of the show, they haunt the entire production in a way that is both seductive and depressing. Brava, ladies!

Don Correia, Susan Watson,
Jane Houdyshell and Mary Beth Piel

The rest of the cast is impeccable, each skillfully recapturing their past and revealing their present. Susan Watson and Don Correia manage in one brief song, “Rain on the Roof,” to vividly display the great heritage of vaudeville hoofers. Ms. Watson, who gets more stage time, also represents the decay of memory that aging brings, and she does so with a heartbreaking smile that never leaves her face. Then there is the sinewy sexiness of Mary Beth Piel, who slithers and rolls her way through “Ah, Paris!” This gal still has it ALL. And the show-stopping antics of Jane Houdyshell’s “Broadway Baby” are an exercise in timing and minimalism. She gets belly laughs with a sideways glance. And then there is the palpable exuberance of Terri White’s “Who’s That Woman?” whose real life baggage likely informs the strength and undercurrent of pain in her character. Whenever she is on the stage, she brightens up the room. And finally, there is the bravura performance by real life opera great Rosalind Elias, who is making her Broadway debut at 82. Her coloratura in “One More Kiss” cries out brilliance and a life well-lived, and is balanced by the youthful clarity of the gorgeous voice of Leah Horowitz, herself an already accomplished Broadway actress, who, with this performance, seems on the cusp of real stardom.

Rosalind Elias and Leah Horowitz

The four younger versions of the four main characters are an excellent pairing to their current day counterparts, each clearly having spent much time studying the physical and vocal ways of their corresponding actor. These young triple threats (Nick Verina, Christian Delcroix, Kirsten Scott and Lora Lee Gayer) are stars in the making for sure. They are each as captivating as the people they are emulating. Their part of the Loveland sequence - “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow” is a small tour de force.

"You're Gonna Love Tomorrow"
I think it speaks to the power of his stoic and aggravatingly rigid performance that I frequently felt the urge to rush the stage and pummel Ron Raines in the face, so convincing is his cruel performance as Ben Stone. He is rude, arrogant and verbally abusive to any and all women, particularly his desperate housewife, Phyllis and his fling from the past, Sally. Raines possesses the perfect stage presence - he dominates by even being there - and a superb voice, with just the right imperfections to show us what he once was and now is. It is only at the end of the show that he finally breaks, and his true nature comes shining through in what is possibly the only glimmer of optimism at the end of the show.

As Ben’s best friend in the past, Danny Burstein embodies that great guy we all know - charming, adorable, and inevitably in the shadow of those around him. He will always be the sidekick.  He is the nice guy who finishes last personified. And because he is so likeable, it is easier to feel for him, and even empathize with him when he reveals that he has another woman that he keeps house with when he goes away for business. Like all of his work, Mr. Burstein is incredibly detailed and warmly broad, making him easy to connect with immediately and infinitely interesting as you study his performance.

Ron Raines and Danny Burstein

Jan Maxwell, I am beginning to think, is incapable of a less than masterful performance. This leggy, curvy goddess (especially when done up in sequined gowns or fiery dance dresses) still manages to let you see the real woman - caring, suffering, broken woman - beneath the fa├žade of glamour and almost maniacal self-assuredness that her Phyllis portrays to the world. Nothing will hurt her, and yet everything does. Gorgeous to look at, you can still see that life has taken its toll on this one time follies girl. Instead of letting it beat her, though, she has fought to make every let-down and disappointment make her stronger. Probably too strong. This role showcases all of Ms. Maxwell’s talents - drama, comedy, song and dance. Could this be the role that earns her that elusive Tony Award?

If anyone will give her a run for the money in that department, it will be Bernadette Peters, who should be all but guaranteed a Tony nod (if not a third Tony) for her incredible and heartbreaking performance as Sally. From the moment she bounds on stage full of enthusiasm and hope, you also have no doubt that Sally will leave this reunion even more disillusioned than when she arrived. Ms. Peters uses her squeaky, nasally little girlish voice to supreme advantage, easily manipulating us to her side, no matter how much we find out about this lost soul. Her Sally is so neurotic and out of this world that you mourn for her and what she always dreamed of and all that will never be. There is no doubt by the time it is all over that this version of Sally is indeed a hot mess of craziness, one that engenders our sympathy not only for her, but for the friendship it has cost her with Phyllis and for the bad marriage that she has with Buddy. I don’t think Ms. Peters has given such a nuanced, detailed or riveting performance since Song and Dance. And let anyone who doubts her status as one of the greatest interpreters of Sondheim just witness the master class that is her delivery of “Losing My Mind.” It rates right up there with LuPone’s “Don‘t Cry For Me Argentina,” Buckley’s “Memory,” or Lansbury’s “If He Walked Into My Life.”

Jan Maxwell and Bernadette Peters

There is a song that is sometimes done in the show in place of “The Story of Lucy and Jessie,” called “Ah, But Underneath.” It is the “underneath” that makes this show go from interesting to brilliant. For those who miss that, I can see why Follies is a bit of a letdown. The title, after all, promises the glitz and glamour of Broadway. But that promise goes largely unfulfilled. Instead, as this production beautifully realizes, the real treasures lie in what is not being said or sung. The window card for this production quotes Ben Brantley as saying that it is “one of the greatest musicals ever written.” This Follies certainly lives up to that statement. And to think, three days ago, I hated it.

(Photos by Joan Marcus, Bonneau/Bryan-Brown and Sara Kulrich of The New York Times)

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

TheatreScene: September 19 - 25 in Pictures

Here is the TheatreScene for September 19 - 25, 2011!

BROADWAY BOX OFFICE (September 12 - 18):

Top Gross: Wicked: $1.479M
Photo by Joan Marcus

Top Attendance: The Book of Mormon: 102.4%
Top Average Ticket Price: The Book of Mormon: $147.58
Photo by Joan Marcus

Biggest Drop (Over previous week):
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark -3.3%
Photo by Jacob Cohl
Now in previews:
Man and Boy: Previews: September 9; Opens October 9
Relatively Speaking: Previews: September 20; Opens October 20
The Mountaintop: Previews: September 13; Opens October 13


Kathleen Turner and Evan Jonigkeit in High
Photo by Joan Marcus

8 included actors Matt Bomer and Cheyenne Jackson
Photo by Joseph Marzullo
September 19:
  • High didn't last but a week on Broadway last season, but Kathleen Turner and Evan Jonigkeit will be taking their troubled souls on the road for a national tour starting in Boston.
  • 8, by Academy Award-winning writer Dustin Lance Black, had a star-filled benefit reading at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre directed by Tony Award-winning director Joe Mantello.

Reeve Carney and Diane Pagan (center) along with all
the Spider-Men at the announcement of the first Everyday Hero.
Photo by Krissie Fullerton
September 21:
  • Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark's Reeve Carney announced that show's first honoree in their "Everyday Heroes" program.  Her name is Diane Pagan, honored for her work making house calls to home bound patients in an effort for them to avoid hospitalization.  She's been doing this important work for six years!

Follies at the Marquis Theatre through January 22, 2012
Photo by Joan Marcus
September 22:
  • Follies has been extended for an additional 3 weeks at the Marquis Theatre.  The critically-acclaimed revival will now close January 22.

September 25:
  • Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS held its 25th annual Broadway Flea Market and Grand Auction today.


The Addams Family: A Portrait
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
  • Roger Rees will continue in the role of Gomez Addams opposite the Morticia of Brooke Shields through the closing night of The Addams Family, December 31.

Anything Goes: Reno Sweeney (Sutton Foster, center) and her Angels
Photo by Joan Marcus
  • Tony-winner Sutton Foster also extended her contract this week with Anything Goes.  This tap dancing phenom will now play Reno Sweeney through April 29, 2012.  Of course, this also means that the show will go on at least that long as well!

Bobby Steggert (left) in a scene from a previous production of Yank!
  • Yank! will be getting a New York reading before heading off to the Old Globe Theatre, and, one hopes, then returning to Broadway.  The reading will star Bobby Steggert, Santino Fontana and Nellie McKay.


A Little Night Music's Hunter Ryan Herdlicka
in Dallas Theater Center's The Tempest
Photo by Karen Almond

The Submission as rendered by (left) Ken Fallin and (right) "Squigs"
Last week, Spider-Man, this week,  Assassins
and Cabaret  star Neil Patrick Harris
makes the cover of a magazine.  

The making of the latest Roxie Hart, Kara DioGuardi:

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