Friday, June 29, 2018

The Friday 5: Gay Characters That Influence

In honor of the last days of Pride Month, I offer 5 Gay and Lesbian characters from plays and musicals that have had a huge impact on my life.  There are many more than five, of course, but these stand out to me for a variety reasons. It wouldn't seem right to "rank" them, so I present them in order of their Broadway debut.


Zach (Robert LuPone) comforts Paul (Sammy Williams)
A Chorus Line

Paul San Marco - A Chorus Line (1975)
Seeing Paul San Marco open up about his homosexuality in his monologue was the first time I ever saw someone like me being portrayed on stage. I wept openly. It was a life-changing moment for me.  I suspect I am not alone in this.  A Chorus Line will probably always be my favorite musical, and Paul has a lot to do with that.

"I Am What I Am" Zsa Zsa (George Hearn)
La Cage aux Folles

Albin/Zsa Zsa - La Cage aux Folles (1983)
In the summer of 1984, my life changed again in many ways, thanks to a Broadway musical.  It was my first trip to New York as an adult, and I went with my first real crush. We saw La Cage aux Folles at the Palace Theatre. There were protesters picketing outside, with really insulting, demeaning placards. My first (and admittedly small) gay pride moment came when we took each other's hand and walked right through the picketers and into the lobby.  And then came Zsa Zsa. Proud, defiant, ripping off her wig and belting "I Am What I Am" before storming up the aisle to thunderous applause. I swelled with pride. What a moment!

Prior Walter (Andrew Garfield) meets The Angel (Beth Malone)
Angels in America

Prior Walter - Angels in America: Millennium Approaches/Angels in America: Perestroika (1993)
I saw Millennium Approaches when it was on Broadway in 1994 during Gay Pride Weekend and I'll never forget it - the emotion from the audience was palpable. I didn't see Perestroika until some time later. And it wasn't until this past season that I saw them all at once. But through every version, one character stuck with me: Prior Walter. You need to understand that I hit my sexual awakening during the height of the AIDS crisis. Fear pretty much ruled my life. And so when I saw Prior live life on his terms and come out on the other side of it all strong and focused. I felt overwhelmingly hopeful.

Dr. Brookner (Ellen Barkin) gives a lecture
The Normal Heart

Dr. Emma Brookner - The Normal Heart (2011)
Though I came to Larry Kramer's masterpiece late, it's impact was in no way diminished.  All of the characters were bluntly honest - the good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly all on display. But it was Dr. Emma Brookner that hit me like a gut punch and made me want to leave the theater and get active. And Ellen Barkin was simply breathtaking.

Alison: Emily Skeggs, Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas
Fun Home

Alison Bechdel - Fun Home (2015)
If you read the blog regularly, you know that this show means A LOT to me and Alison Bechdel (author, not character) is a personal hero of mine. But the show really opened my eyes and heart to my gay sisters.  Probably the best thing about the show - as far as Alison's growth as a lesbian, anyway - is the universality of her growth.  It should be required viewing for everyone. And thank you, Alison (and Jeanine and Lisa) for "Ring of Keys." It gave that moment in my life a name. (The line below fills my heart to overflowing...)

(Photos by M. Swope, J. Marcus and Brinkoff/Mogenburg)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Trends of the Season: Movie to Musical Stars

Well, not yet, but maybe someday...
Well, the idea of movies being turned into musicals goes way back (despite some people thinking this is a new trend), and, in fact all four nominees for Best Musical last season were such musicals.  And there have been plenty of Broadway musicals that were made into movies - many with their original stars. But this year, there is a new small trend developing: the original star of the film version joining the Broadway musical version. Yes, indeed, there have been two such cast additions in recent weeks.

First, there was Chazz Palminteri, who recently joined the soon-to-close A Bronx Tale: The Musical. He not only appeared in the film version, he wrote it! And this isn't even the first time he's played the role on Broadway - he also starred (and wrote) in the one-man play version!

Palminteri in the film version with Robert DeNiro (who co-directed the musical!)

Palminteri in the musical version: 
(left) with the original Broadway Sonny, Nick Cordero
(right) on stage at the Longacre (through August 5th)

Just this week, another original film star has joined the cast of a Broadway version - Sasson Gabay the original Tewfiq in the 2007 film, is the newest Tewfiq in the 10-time Tony winning musical, The Band's Visit. Interesting tidbit: he is credited as Sasson Gabai playing Tawfiq. Both names spelled differently this time around!

Gabai as Tawfiq in the film version 

With original BrodwayTewfiq, Tony-winner Tony Shalhoub

Tewfiq and Dina in the park
(top) with film Dina, Ronit Elkabetz
(bottom) with Broadway Dina, Tony-winner Katrina Lenk

Anyone else expecting Tina Fey and/or Lindsay Lohan joining Mean Girls? Wouldn't surprise me in the least...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

When the "Best" IS Your "Favorite": 2012

I've done a couple of columns about when my "favorite" show of the season was not the "best" musical of the season. So, in an effort to be more positive...

This may be a tad premature, since there's still one more Tony Award for Best Musical to be given out in the 2010s decade. But so far there are 3 "Best Musicals" this decade that were also my "favorite musicals" of their respective season.

First up, Once, the Best Musical of 2012. There were several shows that season that I really liked a lot. And couple, not so much.  I saw all 8 new musicals that season.  Here are my review grades for each (you can read the full reviews HERE), and the ones with an asterisk denote the Tony nominees for Best Musical.

  • Bonnie and Clyde  A
  • Disney's Newsies  A+
  • Ghost: The Musical  B+
  • Leap of Faith  B-
  • Lysistrata Jones  A
  • Nice Work If You Can Get It  C-
  • Once  A+
  • Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark  B- (The final version that "officially" opened. I actually liked the previous version better.)
As you can see, 2 of my favorites made the final nominee cut, and my 2 least favorites also made the cut.  So why was Once my favorite?  Looking back on it, there were several reasons.

1. The cast - Every single person in it was wonderful, and so talented.  And the leads - Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti - were perfection, with chemistry that flowed off the stage.

2. The staging - John Tiffany (director) and Steven Hoggett (choreographer) - was delightfully theatrical and the dancing was evocative and thrilling. And look at them creating more magic with another little Tony-winning show...

3. The music - All of it good, and to this day, every time I hear "Falling Slowly," I get misty-eyed. In the theatre, both times, I wept openly when that song started.

The show is among my all-time favorites. I found it thoughtful, smart and emotionally satisfying. It makes me ache in my soul. The best musicals make you feel.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

At the Stage Door: Pippin

A few weeks ago, I shared my stage door story of meeting Scott Bakula outside the Helen Hayes Theatre after Romance/Romance. Today, I thought I'd share a pair of experiences Mike and I shared one late spring weekend a few years ago.  

The scene: the sidewalk in front of the Music Box Theatre on W.45th Street.  Pippin was all the rage, and we were seeing it for a second time that weekend.  The matinee had just ended, and we were just standing around, trying to decide where to eat. (I don't know about you, but we frequently plan New York trips, but never seem prepared with meal plans...) 

Anyway, we were milling about, and some of the cast re-emerged, free of the autograph and selfie crowd.  Among them was one of my all-time favorite actresses, Charlotte d'Amboise. We smiled at each other, and she offered, "Andrea [Martin] doesn't come out between shows." I told her we weren't waiting for anyone in particular, but that I was thrilled to get the chance to speak with her. Our brief chat included talking about seeing her in A Chorus Line, Cats, and Damn Yankees. She seemed both surprised and pleased that I saw her in Jerome Robbins' Broadway. She laughed, "That was quite an experience!" She was particularly pleased that I remembered her playing Anita in the West Side Story suite. 

Not wanting to take any more of her time, we turned to go, and we literally bumped into the original Pippin, John Rubinstein. I was so surprised I kinda mumbled something like, "You're the original Pippin!" He chuckled and said, "I sure was! Did you love this show?" He pointed to the poster on the wall.  We nodded. "That was really something.  I loved it, too!" We shook hands. I stumbled away, very excited and thrown.  Weeks later, he joined the revival, this time as Charlemagne.

As we headed toward Times Square, talking excitedly about how nice and unexpected that was - and still not decided on where to eat - we had another surprise encounter. Patina Miller was walking toward us, holding hands with a guy. We sort of paused in our tracks and smiled at her. "Did y'all like the show?" We both exclaimed, "Yes, we did!" And we all laughed. We congratulated her on her Tony Award, and she introduced us to the man she was with, David Mars. Turns out, it was the man she'd end up marrying and having a family with. To be honest, I'm not sure who enjoyed that chance meeting more - me and Mike, Patina Miller, or David Mars. She seemed genuinely pleased to talk to us, we clearly adored her, and he looked so proud to have her be recognized. She is one of the nicest people I've ever met.

Meeting these people was the icing on the cake - that revival of Pippin is one of my all-time favorite productions.  And just as with Mr. Bakula years before, it was the way it casually happened (and probably because I didn't ask for anything from them) that made it special and way more personal than standing against a barricade waving a Playbill in their faces.

As great as that was, though, my all-time most thrilling stage door encounter also happened at the Music Box Theatre. But that is a story for another time...

Monday, June 25, 2018

Broadway's HOTTEST: Head Over Heels Round 1

The new season is off to a rockin' start already with Head Over Heels, which started previews last Saturday at the newest/oldest theater on Broadway, The Hudson.  And the search for this season's hottest musical performers starts today!

Many of you sent in some great suggestions for streamlining the contest (thanks!) and here's how it goes this time around:
  • Each cast will compete within itself like a tournament bracket.
  • All of them, no matter what level of role they have, will  be randomly paired up.
  • In Round 1, YOU will pick who you think is the HOTTEST of the pair.
  • You'll vote again in Round 2 from pairs of the pool of Round 1 winners.
  • You'll keep voting in rounds of pairs, until we are down to one pair. (The number of rounds will vary, depending on the size of the cast.
  • The winner of the last round will be the HOTTEST cast member of the show.
  • At the end of the season, each show's winner will compete in one final tournament to be named the ABSOLUTELY HOTTEST BROADWAY CAST MEMBER OF 2018-2019!
  • You have to pick ONE from EACH pair (no skipping pairs!) AND click "FINISH SURVEY" at the end of the poll.
  • You don't have to have seen the show to vote! There are pictures of each cast member included!
  • The poll program I use is set for your complete anonymity. I can only see the votes, no data is being collected.
  • I can't stress this enough: YOU MUST CLICK "FINISH SURVEY" AFTER YOU ANSWER EACH QUESTION. If you don't, your vote won't count. Over the whole season last year, there were more than 200 un-submitted votes!
Let the fun begin again! THIS ROUND WILL CLOSE ON FRIDAY, JUNE 29 AT 5 PM EST!

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Friday 5: Broadway Merch I Don't Get


Loyal readers know I'm a Broadway hoarder collector. I have collected an embarrassing amount of things over the years, from a HUGE window card collection to an even HUGER Playbill collection. I also have a decent number of t-shirts, mugs, buttons, pins and scripts/theatre books.  I have even worked merch for both The Phantom of the Opera and Wicked national tours over the years.

I tell you all of this to show how much I love Broadway merch - probably too much, if I'm being honest with myself. And I judge no one for their collections (my best friends have magnet and key chain collections). I say good for all of us! So, if you collect any of these 5 things, more power to you.  I just don't understand why they are...



Looks like The Book of Mormon corners this market... I mean I understand the frog in the context of the show... but a stuffed animal of one?  And a bib/onesie? Really? (And, yes, I think it's funny. For a minute...)


Nothing says Aladdin or Anastasia like a compact, I guess. Though I can't really picture Jasmine or Anya using one...


I'm showing my age here, I guess.  I had to look up what these were... Useful, I guess. But you can't even see it when you use it...


I'm all for writing.  By hand.  And keeping your thoughts in a safe, personal space.  I'm even willing to concede that it kinda goes with Dear Evan Hansen and their stans.  And I'm shocked Mean Girls doesn't have a Burn Book version. (Why not exploit the nasty teens that do that bullying crap every day?) But are you obligated to write fan fiction about the show on the cover?


To walk your dog to the clam bake?

You, too, can be
as self-absorbed as Evan Hansen

What were they thinking? Enough said.

READER UPDATE: THANKS TO MY TWITTER FRIEND, @amgreenberg (and my clever new friend @MisterJaredGray). After lamenting my lack of knowledge about pop sockets and what they have to do with The Band's Visit.  Within minutes he replied with this picture:

and this response:

I love it!  Thanks for the input guys!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Logos: Head Over Heels

Why not start of the new season with a look at the logo for the first new musical? It's bright, colorful and fun - just like summer, and just like it's probable target audience.  I'm talking about the Go-Go's musical, Head Over Heels.

First and foremost, one way this logo works is that its bright colors are eye-catching.  This is particularly important given the current state of its Broadway home, the Hudson Theatre.  As you can see below, it is covered with scaffolding. I can tell you that being visible is crucial here.  When we went to see Sunday In The Park With George, we almost walked right past the theater.  There's no missing the bright yellow, pink and blue!

These colors fairly scream "WE LOVE THE 80's!!" Fitting for an 80's icon band like the Go-Go's, and, I presume a good portion of the target audience - Gen Xers looking at their favorite decade disappear farther away in the rear-view mirror.  And they - we (I am one!) - have great memories of Belinda and the girls, and money to burn to relive any part of it. So, yes, the colors alone could act like a beacon for us! (Tip: Add neon!)

While the title font is totally 80's, the tag line font (and ribbon for that matter) is all about being Elizabethan! Add to that ye olde etched look of the heart, and you can tell just by looking at it that there is a time-warp mash up going on here.  I believe that is, in fact, what is going on in the show it represents - another mark of a good show logo.

Then there are the other elements that might give hints to the story. Head over heels with 4 arrows in the heart? Are they death blows or are they from Cupid's quiver? Maybe a little of both? Dramatic and funny! And how about the upside-down crown? Royal upheaval? And/Or will love triumph over power? 

Of course, the whole image reminds me of a tattoo a hair band groupie might have gotten during the Reagan years...

Put it all together and it hits the big things that I think makes a good show logo:
  • it's eye-catching enough to be noticed in the midst of all of the visual cacophony
  • it represents the feeling of the show (in this case love and fun)
  • it represents what the show is all about, giving away enough to pique the curiosity, but not too much to give it all away

We'll see if the show is as good as its logo.  Why not be optimistic?

Grade: A

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A David Yazbek Revue...

Many of Broadway's biggest musical talents have had revues done of their works - From Maltby and Shire (Closer Than Ever), Rodgers and Hammerstein (A Grand Night For Singing), Kander and Ebb (And the World Goes 'Round) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber) to the Grand Poo bah of catalogue revues, Stephen Sondheim (Putting It Together, Sondheim on Sondheim, etc.).

Well, David Yazbek may almost be ready for his. After all, he's four for four in Tony nominations, and of course one of those just turned him from Tony-nominee to Tony-winner. Over the years, I've made no bones about professing my love for this man's work.  I was hooked about 10 notes into the unoverture overture of The Full Monty.  I can honestly say that I find all four of his complete scores to be enjoyable - his tunes are ear candy, his lyrics are witty and evocative. And all four have elevated their cinematic source material in wonderfully theatrical ways, too.

So, if I were to create a musical revue of his works (so far) here's what I'd include... a mix of his big, funny numbers, his intimate character ballads and a few numbers to choreograph...

Something Different: The David Yazbek Musical

Prelude: "Something Different (Reprise)" The Band's Visit

  • Overture from The Full Monty
  • "Give Them What They Want" - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
  • "Big-Ass Rock"The Full Monty
  • "Tangled" - Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown
  • "A Woman's World" - The Full Monty
  • "Time Stood Still"Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown
  • "Omar Sharif" - The Band's Visit
  • "Invisible" - Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown
  • "Here I Am"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
  • "What Is a Woman To Do?"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
  • "On the Verge"Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

  • "Waiting" The Band's Visit
  • "Welcome to Nowhere" The Band's Visit
  • "Model Behaviour" Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown
  • "Scrap" The Full Monty
  • "Dirty Rotten Number" Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
  • "Great Big Stuff" Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
  • "Breeze Off the River" The Full Monty
  • "Papi Hears the Ocean" The Band's Visit
  • "Michael Jordan's Ball" The Full Monty
  • "Answer Me" The Band's Visit

What would you include that I missed?  Or what might you cut that I included? Who would you cast? Let me know:
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