Betrayal - Opens: 9.5.19 Secret - Previews: 9.6.19, Opens: 9.15.19 The Height of the Storm - Previews: 9.10.19, Opens: 9.24.19 The Great Society - Previews: 9.6.19, Opens 10.1.19
Freestyle Love Supreme - Previews: 9.13.19, Opens: 10.2.19 Slave Play - Previews: 9.10.19, Opens: 10.6.19 Linda Vista - Previews: 9.19.19, Opens: 10.10.19 The Rose Tattoo - Previews: 9.19.19, Opens: 10.15.19 The Lightning Thief - Previews: 9.20.19, Opens 10.16.19 The Sound Inside - Previews: 9.14.19, Opens: 10.17.19 American Utopia - Previews: 10.4.19, Opens: 10.20.19 Tina - Previews: 10.12.19, Opens: 11.7.19 Slava's Snowshow on Broadway - Previews: 11.11.19, Opens: 11.13.19 The Inheritance - Previews: 9.27.19, Opens: 11.17.19 A Christmas Carol - Previews: 11.7.19, Opens: 11.20.19 Jagged Little Pill - Previews: 11.3.19, Opens: 12.5.19 A Soldier's Play - Previews: 12.27.19, Opens: 1.21.20 Grand Horizons - Previews: 12.20.19, Opens: 1.23.20 My Name is Lucy Barton - Previews: 1.6.20, Opens: 1.15.20 West Side Story - Previews: 12.10.19, Opens: 2.6.20 Girl From the North Country - Previews: 2.7.20, Opens: 3.5.20 Six - Previews: 2.13.20, Opens: 3.12.20 Diana - Previews: 3.2.20, Opens: 3.31.20 Caroline, or Change - Previews: 3.13.20, Opens: 4.4.20 Flying Over Sunset - Previews: 3.12.20, Opens: 4.16.20 Birthday Candles - Previews: 4.2.20, Opens: 4.21.20 How I Learned To Drive - Previews: 3.27.20, Opens: 4.22.20 Take Me Out - Previews: 3.31.20, Opens: 4.23.20

COMING UP ON THE SITE: 8/26: It's National Dog Day!- 8/27: Around the U.S.A. in 80 Musicals: The Pacific - 8/28: ONE HIT WONDERS: Tony Winners: Won and Done - 8/29: #TBT: Vintage Playbill - 8/30: The Friday 5: 5 Burning Questions of Broadway - The Masters Edition

CONTACT US: (Email) (Twitter) @jkstheatrescene (Instagram) jkstheatrescene

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Friday 5: Broadway Logo ABCs (P - T)

How have you been doing so far? Do you really know your Broadway show logos? So far, we've been through A to O.  Here are the next five. Remember: the letters can be from anywhere in the logo, not necessarily the first letter. The answers will appear at the bottom of next week's Friday 5. Good luck!

The Friday 5:
Broadway Logo ABCs
P - T







Thursday, August 22, 2019

#TBT: 2013's HBO Documentary Six By Sondheim

This week's #TBT is likely a true throwback to most of you, as it should be for real theater fans. Sadly, it is all new to me. Somehow, the Peabody Award-winning HBO Documentary: Six by Sondheim eluded me all these years, and I just saw it last week. What kind of Broadway...what kind of Sondheim fan am I??? Surely, I can't be the only one who missed it. And it is for those of you who missed it that I write today's article. And for fans who might not have thought about recently.

In a nutshell, this excellent documentary about America's greatest living Broadway composer is a compilation of highlights from decades of filmed interviews in which Stephen Sondheim talks about his process, his hits, his failures - Merrily We Roll Along really stung him. But what makes this interesting is his candid revelations about his mother, who makes Rose seem like a pussycat, the rest of his family, and how being virtually adopted by Oscar Hammerstein II and family shaped his life and his calling. Hearing him matter-of-factly admit his mother didn't want or like him is sobering, and listening to him tearfully recall an inscription made to him on a photograph by Hammerstein made me cry, too.

The "six" of the title refers to six seminal songs from his oeuvre that highlighted periods of his evolution and/or resonated with the master himself. The genesis of each is discussed, given context, then performed. Each of the presentations offers a wonderful take on the recognizable tunes.

  • "Something's Coming" from West Side Story as performed by Broadway's original Tony, Larry Kert. It is, for my money, the definitive version.
  • "Opening Doors" from Merrily We Roll Along as performed by Jeremy Jordan, Darren Criss, America Ferrera, Laura Osnes, Jackie Hoffman and Sondheim himself. It is really quite good, and was a bit of a revelation to me in that I had no idea Ms. Ferrera could sing! And it is fun to listen to Sondheim do one of his own songs. The look on his face when he sings "they want a tune they can him" is priceless!
  • "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music, easily his most famous song, is presented as a montage of just about everyone who ever sang the song. It ends with Audra McDonald singing the final verses, while accompanied by Will Swenson on guitar. Of course, she's wonderful, but it was a real treat to hear Glynis Johns sing (and talk about) the song.
  • "I'm Still Here" from Follies was an oddity, presented as a comedy club/nightclub scene with ladies of a certain age watching British alt-rock star Jarvis Cocker talk-sing his way through it. It really made me pay attention to the words, and the women's facial expressions were a study in acting.
  • "Being Alive" from Company was pretty much just the scene from that other famous documentary. But it was so great to see Dean Jones, Elaine Stritch and Beth Howland work their way through the number again.
  • "Sunday" from Sunday in the Park with George is, according to the master himself, his favorite of his shows. It's nice to know that it brings him to tears just like the rest of us. It's one long sentence, and, after hearing him talk about it, I'll never hear the last word the same way again. "Forever" is the perfect summary of his impact on the art of musical theater.

If you haven't seen it, see it. If you have, see it again. It is well worth your time.

For more information, click HERE.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Fall Openings: Are They Really That Bad?

The Lightning Thief opens this fall
Just over a year ago, when we had a spate of summer openings, I ran the numbers for long-running Broadway shows (HERE), and despite all three musicals that opened last summer closing at a loss, history has shown that shows that open can be successful - just ask the folks over at Hamilton.

Well, as you likely know, a number of shows recently announced fall openings. And with those announcements, Broadway fans once again began the ritual of armchair quarterbacking. "Fall shows don't stand a chance." "That show will never survive winter." "Everyone knows you have to open in the spring to get any awards - Tony voters forget fall shows." Blah, blah, blah. Okay, so maybe newer shows seem to have a better shot at award nominations. But is it really true? Let's take a look at the history of long-running shows.

In all of Broadway history, 121 productions have run 1,000 performances or more. Of those:

  • 32 opened in September, October or November
  • 4 of those are in the top 10 of longest-running shows
  • Combined, they have accumulated 106 Tony Awards including 12 Best Musicals, 3 Best Plays, 1 Best Musical Revival, and four of them opened before the Tony Awards existed!
  • 2 of those shows were awarded Pulitzer Prizes
  • 9 of these shows also won Grammy Awards for Best Musical Show Album

November 27, 1962
118. Never Too Late - 1,007 performances

November 12, 1989
115. Grand Hotel: The Musical - 1,017 performances - 5 Tony Awards

October 15, 1953
112. The Teahouse of the August Moon - 1,027 performances - 3 Tony Awards including Best Play - Pulitzer Prize

November 27, 1937
102. Pins and Needles - 1,108 performances

October 21, 1969
100. Butterflies Are Free - 1,128 performances - 1 Tony Award

November 20, 1952
97. The Seven Year Itch - 1,141 performances - 1 Tony Award

October 19, 2009
92. (tie) Memphis - 1,165 performances - 4 Tony Awards including Best Musical

November 20, 1966
92. (tie) Cabaret (original production) - 1,165 performances - 6 Tony Awards including Best Musical - Grammy Award

November 24, 1950
88. Guys and Dolls (original production) - 1,200 performances - 5 Tony Awards including Best Musical

October 8, 1979
87. Sugar Babies - 1,208 performances

October 24, 1974
86. Equus - 1,209 performances - 2 Tony Awards including Best Play

November 12, 1970
83. Sleuth - 1,222 performances - Tony Award for Best Play

October 24, 2002
76. Movin' Out - 1,303 performances - 2 Tony Awards

November 13, 2008
74. Billy Elliot: The Musical - 1,312 performances - 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical

September 22, 1938
68. Hellzapoppin - 1,404 performances

October 14, 1961
67. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (original production) - 1,417 performances - 7 Tony Awards including Best Musical - Pulitzer Prize - Grammy Award

November 16, 1959
65. The Sound of Music - 1,443 performances - 5 Tony Awards including Best Musical - Grammy Award

October 23, 1963
58. Barefoot in the Park - 1,530 performances - 1 Tony Award

September 25, 1979
54. Evita - 1,567 performances - 7 Tony Awards including Best Musical - Grammy Award

November 1, 1944
42. Harvey - 1,775 performances

October 23, 1972
36. Pippin (original production) - 1,944 performances - 5 Tony Awards

November 22, 1965
30. Man of La Mancha (original production) - 2,328 performances - 5 Tony Awards including Best Musical

November 16, 2006
23. Mary Poppins - 2,619 performances - 1 Tony Award

November 8, 1939
18. Life With Father - 3,224 performances - Broadway's longest running play

September 22, 1964
17. Fiddler on the Roof (original production) - 3,242 performances - 9 Tony Awards including Best Musical

November 6, 2005
12. Jersey Boys - 4,642 performances - 4 Tony Awards including Best Musical- Grammy Award

October 18, 2001
9. Mamma Mia! - 5,758 performances

September 24, 1976
8. Oh! Calcutta! (revival) - 5,959 performances

October 30, 2003
6. Wicked - 6,600 performances* - 3 Tony Awards - Grammy Award

October 7, 1982
4. Cats - 7,485 performances - 7 Tony Awards including Best Musical - Grammy Award

November 13, 1997
3. The Lion King - 9,066 performances* - 6 Tony Awards including Best Musical - Grammy Award

November 14, 1996
2. Chicago (revival) - 9,458 performances* - 6 Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival - Grammy Award

I think it is clear that a fall opening isn't necessarily a death sentence, and more than a summer opening is. The bottom line is: if the show is good, and people want to see it, it will run no matter when it opens.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

REVIEW: Assassins (Signature Theater, Arlington, VA)

Review of the Saturday, August 17, 2019 preview performance at The Max at Signature Theater in Arlington, VA. Starring Christopher Bloch, Kurt Boehm, Evan Casey, Vincent Kempski, Sam Ludwig, Ian McEuen, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Lawrence Redmond, Maria Rizzo, Bobby Smith and Rachel Zampelli. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by John Weidman. Scenic design by James Kronzer. Costume design by Kathleen Geldard. Lighting design by Chris Lee. Sound design by Ryan Hickey. Musical direction by Jon Kalbfleisch. Direction by Eric Schaeffer. 1 hour, 50 minutes with no intermission. Closes September 29, 2019.

Grade: A-

I attended the Signature Theater production of Assassins with someone who was familiar with Sondheim, but completely unfamiliar with the show. Her reaction is, I think, telling about how this show will probably always be received by the public at large. She thought the production was fine, the songs very "Sondheim-esque," but it left her with this question: "I'm not sure I feel right saying, 'I enjoyed that,' but it really gives me a lot to think about."

A little more familiar with the show myself, I've made piece with the fact that I do, in fact, enjoy this show. I love how downright jaunty and toe-tapping the songs are, juxtaposed against the deadly serious content of the subject matter. I can come to terms with realizing that the lyrics and book many times use comedy as a way in to the troubled minds of these assassins, and that we are meant to laugh, then to feel put off by my own joy.  But it all boils down to the same thing, though. Much like several moments in Cabaret, I think we are made to laugh with the hopes that we feel bad about afterwards.

The Assassins Company

Of course, it also speaks volumes about the American obsession with fame, celebrity and justice, and how they intertwine with politics. Given today's climate, Assassins is as timely as ever. I suspect that is at least part of the reason the company is presenting it for the third time, and is opening its 30th anniversary with this Sondheim piece and not another. It was a good choice.

Director Eric Schaeffer has again worked some Sondheim magic with this production, carefully intertwining these disparate characters as they (literally, sometimes) glide into and out of each others' stories. All vying for our attention, they perform/plead their case for us, searching for approval while we take in the insanity of their "logic." Schaeffer makes a solid effort, effectively balancing dramatic scenes and presentational numbers. Occasionally the pacing lags, and there is an uneven sense of urgency sometimes. This show needs a constant energy and intensity. Of course, I saw this just a week into it's performances, and a lot of that will likely change as the company gets more comfortable with their assignments. Musically, Jon Kalbfleisch does excellent work, and the sound he gets from a band of eight is remarkable.

The physical production perfectly captures the creepy Americana evoked by the actions of this band of social misfits. The lighting by Chris Lee is often chilling, frequently amusing, and always on point. Upon entering the theater, the massive unit set (designed by James Kronzer) gave me goosebumps, with its broken plaster walls and columns and the haunting decay of the Ford's Theatre box seats, thick with dust, festooned with a tattered American flag, and all leaning at a precarious angle, suggesting an impending collapse. Kathleen Geldard's costumes make each assassin instantly recognizable. The gasp of the audience when the Balladeer is revealed to be Lee Harvey Oswald must be very gratifying for her.

Ian McEuen as Zangara
The small ensemble is strong vocally, and perfectly evokes a sense of an "every-man chorus." This is especially true of "Something Just Broke," a haunting "I remember where I was when" number sung directly to us with little movement. The show opens with the Proprietor, selling a variety of guns and the chance to shoot the president. played with just a tad too much skeezy fervor by Kurt Boehm, whose overall performance would be much improved if he took it down a notch. Should his character really be creepier than the title characters when they are first introduced?

The main cast is pretty close to perfection, though, as I said before, they'll be even better when they settle in.  Ian McEuen gets the least to work with, but he has electric intensity with his big number, "How I Saved Roosevelt," and Lawrence Redmond brings a surprising depth to the pitiable ultra-depressed immigrant Leon Czolgosz.  The dour John Hinckley (Evan Casey) and the sexually charged Manson family member "Squeaky" Fromme (Rachel Zampelli) are memorable for, respectively, blending in like a sad sack wallflower and an over-the-top flower power cult member. Their "Unworthy of Your Love" is a highlight. Though he doesn't get a big solo number, Christopher Bloch gives 1000% to each of his profanity filled monologues, straight from the tapes of Samuel Byck.

Sam Ludwig as Lee Harvey Oswald

Vincent Kempski as John Wilkes Booth
Bobby Smith as Charles Guiteau

Rachel Zampelli as Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme
Tracy Lynn Olivera as Sara Jane Moore

The other four assassins are true stand-outs in every way. As nut job frenzied housewife Sara Jane Moore, Tracy Lynn Olivera is an absolute riot - I'll never again pass a KFC without thinking of her. And the witty self-absorption of Charles Guiteau comes to vibrant life in the hands of Bobby Smith, and his one man cakewalk up the stairs of the gallows is a showstopper. On the opposite ends of the chronological spectrum, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald are brought together in an improbable meeting of the minds - an extended scene that is a tour de force for both actors - Vincent Kempski and Sam Ludwig, who are fantastic in every way. Kempski is the ultimate ringleader, and Ludwig is the ultimate depressive sociopath. Mr. Ludwig does double duty as the Balladeer, with a powerful voice and almost too perfect all-American looks.

Assassins does give us a lot to think about. None of it is very nice, and most people would probably rather not think about it. But attention must be paid. This production goes a long way toward making the case for these American villains.  No one does evil-as-entertainment like Sondheim. Leave it to Signature Theater to handle these challenges so well.

📸: C. Mueller

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