Thursday, February 28, 2019

#TBT: Playbill: The Who's Tommy: July 1993

Looking back on it, The Who's Tommy was pretty advanced thinking for Broadway in the early 90's, and not just because it had three actors playing the main character. A true rock opera that hadn't really been seen since Jesus Christ Superstar or Hair some 20+ years earlier. It was loud, in your face rock though Who purists may have taken exception to changes made and a fuller orchestrated sound. Still, it is certainly Pete Townshend's masterpiece. It may have softened it all a tad, but it certainly was not "Broadway-fied." Then there was the state of the art use of projections and seamless direction and choreography by Des McAnuff and Wayne Cilento, respectively. It was visually stunning, beautifully sung and acted, and the music, which left my ears ringing for hours after, was amazing.

The Who's Tommy
St. James Theatre
27 previews, 899 performances
July 1993 Company: Michael Cerveris, Marcia Mitzman, Jonathan Dokuchitz, Anthony Barrile, Paul Kandel, Cheryl Freeman, Sherie Scott, Christian Hoff, Norm Lewis, Alice Ripley, Michael McElroy
Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff. Music and lyrics by Pete Townshend. Additional music and lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Choreography by Wayne Cilento. Direction by Des McAnuff

July 1993
 (Click the pictures to enlarge them.)

Look who I got to see!

Look at the future Tony winners, Michael, Alice and Christian. 
And how about future Tony nominees Norm and Sherie - before the Renee?

A decent array of shows - Millennium Approaches before Perestroika was even a thing... the last days of Falsettos (for another 23 years, at least). The Big 3 (Les Miz, Miss Saigon, Phantom) are still going strong, while traditional musicals seem to be making a comeback - Crazy For You, The Will Rogers Follies, the best revival ever of Guys and Dolls. And darker musicals also prove popular - Jelly's Last Jam, Blood Brothers, Kiss of the Spider Woman. And the star power! Harry Groener, Jodi Benson, Bill Irwin, Brian (pre-Stokes) Mitchell, Ben Vereen, Phylicia Rashad, Chita Rivera, Brent Carver, Anthony Cravello, Larry Gatlin, Martin Short, Lynn Redgrave and Bernadette Peters!

The Pinball Wizard and his machine (the ultimate merch find)!


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Hamilton: The Revolution

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. Published by Grand Central Publishing. Copyright 2016. Hardcover. 288 pages.

Regardless of how I feel about the show itself (review HERE), I have to say that the quality of the merchandise for Hamilton is next-level amazing in both quality and content. I never say this, but I'd have paid double the price for the souvenir program, it is that artful and interesting. And so now I am in love with this show's coffee table book, Hamilton: The Revolution. It is, quite simply, a stunning work.

At 288 pages, the book is comprehensive. It features over two dozen essays on everything from the Hamilton biography that started it all, to a compelling history of the production. Naturally, the creative team offers behind-the-scenes features, as well as those old from the perspective of each original cast member. The description of why Pippa Soo was cast as Eliza is wonderful, for example. Commentary from several political analysts and some sightings of President Obama lend some scholarly heft to the book, as well. Interspersed throughout are artifact photographs, from colonial documents to costume sketches with fabric swatches. As a theater buff, finding out how a show came to be from pretty much every angle fascinates me.

The book also includes the full libretto - interspersed among the pertinent essays for each scene - annotated and footnoted on each page with remarks from Lin-Manuel Miranda himself. He talks about everything from the real history of the Founding Fathers, to allusions to other works, and explanations of his word choices and the hip hop influence. It is a treasure to have such a resource from a man at the top of his game. I'd say that this volume is on par with the Sondheim pair of books that analyze that genius' works. (Mr. Sondheim also contributes here.)

The quality of the book is superb. The leather-like binding necessitates that the book go on a shelf full of other important books. Fans of the show will want it for all the reasons I mentioned above, but also for the absolutely gorgeous cast portraits and the stunning production photos that can be seen nowhere else by legendary photographers Joan Marcus and Frank Ockenfels.

Frankly, this is a book I'd like to study. Perhaps in preparation for a future return visit to the show itself...

Grade: A+

If you don't have it already, here's a link to the book on Amazon.


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

LOGOS: Be More Chill

I would imagine that creating a logo for a show so firmly rooted in its fandom was a difficult task. Internet fans are famously loyal, and just as famously (infamously) easy to lose. I'm betting the powers that be at Be More Chill had to consider the fans more so than just about any other show needs to. It better look good on all the merch these kids would want, and different enough to warrant a new t-shirt, hoodie and hat. And it better be "cool."

But the stakes are much higher on Broadway, and there's a lot more to think about than 'tweens and teens and their eager to please parents. It certainly needs to be "classier" for its uptown digs and venerable company.

It goes without saying that how successful the logo is as far as my analysis goes depends on my tried and true criteria: Will it stand out from the crowd enough to even get noticed? Is it visually appealing and/or enough of a curiosity to make people stop long enough to even consider what they are looking at? Does it "say" enough about the show (without giving too much away) to pique enough interest in passersby to make them consider purchasing a ticket? In summary, will it be both art and commerce joined together in an iconic image?

The short answer is...mostly yes.  The long answer is a little more complicated.

Grade: B

Will it stand out from the crowd enough to even get noticed? With a primarily hot pink and purple blended background and prominent electric blue secondary color, it certainly catches the eye. The downside is that the extreme colors likely provoke a strong reaction. Whether it appeals or not largely depends on one's love for pink. (Side note: it may be wise to pick a subliminal connection to last season's teen sensation Mean Girls.) It is not a color I like very much, so I won't be buying a window card for this one. But since I'm not their target demographic...

Is it visually appealing and/or enough of a curiosity to make people stop long enough to even consider what they are looking at? Assuming the viewer isn't completely put off by the color, I do think they will be intrigued by the young guy (grab that gay demo!) in the stylish hoodie and backpack, especially when they notice that the back of his head had exploded into pixels.

Does it "say" enough about the show (without giving too much away) to pique enough interest in passersby to make them consider purchasing a ticket? Now would be a good time to examine the title and its font. Despite what the current generation may think, the term "chill" goes way back in pop culture. Generations, even. It may have had slightly different iterations (chillax, anyone?) When I was kid, we often would tell someone who was upset or overreacting to "take a chill pill." Which brings me to the tittle over the i in chill. I'm willing to bet that adults who are actually buying the tickets for their kids think that is what that little yellow pill is. And I guess to a large extent that's what it is in the show. The font of the title also recalls old school computers, another thing we oldsters might recognize! Taken as a whole, though, I wonder if it says enough about the show to entice ticket buyers who don't have a clue about the content. (For the record, I know enough about the plot to recognize what I'm looking at, and I think it is clever.)

Will it be both art and commerce joined together in an iconic image? This logo is one of those that people will appreciate after they've seen the show. As they leave the Lyceum, they'll look at it and light bulbs will go off. From a merchandising standpoint, this will work in their favor. (They would be insane not to publish the novel that the show is based on with the logo as the cover.) From a ticket sales point of view, maybe not so much.

Good riddance

Early box office reports seem to indicate that the logo won't matter that much. But right now, the audience is mostly packed with fans. When that group is depleted, or their parents can't afford return trips, or the next big sensation comes along, the logo may not be much help. It least they dumped that hideous off-Broadway logo. Yuck.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Broadway Heat: Kiss Me, Kate Edition: Elimination Round

HOT on Broadway (adj): fierce, talented, big potential; has "buzz"; has "it" factor.


There's even a song in Kiss Me, Kate called "Too Darn Hot!" And, boy, this cast is just that! BUT there can only be ONE HOTTEST cast member. Once again who that'll end up being is up to YOU, dear readers. This time around, we are going to start off a little differently. 

Below, pick anywhere between 1 and 8 male cast members and between 1 and 8 female cast members (you have to pick at least one of each). Then, make sure you click "Finish Survey" when you are done! Your vote won't count unless you do!


The following cast members have been eliminated:

Terence Archie, Preston Truman Boyd, Christine Cornish-Smith

Derrick Cobey, Rick Faugno

Haley Fish, Mel Johnson, Jr., John Pankow

Sherisse Springer, Lance Coadie Williams


Friday, February 22, 2019

The Friday 5: The Broadway...How Many? Quiz

A few weeks ago, we had a Friday 5 Broadway Quiz, and the response was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Seems you liked it, so we'll do it again. Maybe we'll make it a regular thing, once a month. If you have a topic for a theater/Broadway-related quiz, let us know at the email and/or Twitter address above.

The Friday 5:
The Broadway...How Many? Quiz

1. How many currently running Broadway productions won the Best Musical Tony Award? 

2. How many currently running Broadway shows have played in more than one theater? 

3. How many currently running Broadway shows are directed by Casey Nicholaw? 

4. How many currently running Broadway shows that did not win the Best Musical Tony the season they opened have run longer than the show that did?

5. How many Broadway theaters have escalators to the seating area? 

(Look for the answers at the bottom of next Friday's blog!)


Thursday, February 21, 2019

#TBT: 2011 OBCR: The Book of Mormon

Mike will tell you that after we saw an early performance in the now legendary run of The Book of Mormon, I predicted a 3 year run, max, and that after all the South Park fans were depleted, it would close. "If ever there was a niche market musical," I speechified, "this is it!" Well, I'm about 5 years off and counting. As the show approaches its 8th anniversary (the 1st preview was on February 24, 2011), what better a throwback could there be?

The show is one that I hope to see again some day, though, frankly, it will be on my list of "glad I saw it, I appreciate it, and it will never be a favorite of mine" shows. It is funny, yes, and even touching. Giving credit where it is due, the show knows what it is and gives 100% to being that - something I wish more shows did.

Speaking of giving 100%, the Original Broadway Cast Recording is a treat for fans. The CD version (you know me) really is something else. The booklet that comes in the tri-fold case is a souvenir all by itself. Within its whopping 76 pages, there are dozens of full color photos, a full synopsis, all of the lyrics and an essay by Frank Rich. It really is nice.

I'm glad I got to see the original cast, and all these years later I remember their performances pretty well. With the CD (which I only got this past Christmas), those memories came flooding back. And as I listen to it (over and over), I find more and more to laugh at, though as in the theater, listening to the score makes me have favorites.

The opening number, "Hello!" is just simply awesome, and those harmonies are unbelievable. And the big group numbers are still very good, even without the visuals. I'm speaking of "All-American Prophet" and "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" specifically. Rory O'Malley is so awesome, one wishes he had more than the "Turn It Off" showstopper to do. Tony winner Nikki M. James is utterly charming in "Sal Tlay Ka Siti," as is Josh Gad in "Baptize Me." As charming as those are are, they are still funny. I'm a huge Andrew Rannells fan, so maybe I'm biased, but everything he does here is golden, particularly "I Believe" and that tribute to ego, "You and Me (But Mostly Me)."

As funny as it all is, the laughs, for me, offer diminishing returns with each listen. After I get tired of it, and I'm sure I will, I'll put it away. Then I'll pull it out again after a year or so and laugh again.

Grade: A-

Fun Facts About The Book of Mormon...

  • The show premiered and opened on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. Previews began on February 24, 2011, with Opening Night on March 24, 2011. To date, it has played 28 previews and 3, 309 performances.
  • The show was nominated for 14 Tony Awards, winning 9, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score.
  • Six original cast members are currently in the Broadway company: Graham Bowen, Lewis Cleale, Tyson Jennette, John Eric Parker, Chase Ramsey, and Maia Nkenge Wilson.
  • Famous alumna of the show include: Tony winners Gavin Creel and Ben Platt, Mean Girls guys Grey Henson and Kyle Selig, The Prom's Michael Potts and Broadway fan favorites Nikki Renee Daniels, Daniel Breaker, Nic Rouleau, Carly Hughes and Matt Doyle.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

REVIEW: Fun Home @ Baltimore's Center Stage

Review of the Sunday, February 17, 2019 matinee performance at Center Stage in Baltimore, Maryland. Starring Laura Darrell, Michelle Dawson, Jeffry Denman, Liam Hamilton, Justin Gregory Lopez, Molly Lyons, Jon Martens, Andrea Prestinario and Shannon Tyo. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Book and lyrics by Lisa Kron. Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. Scenic design by Scott Bradley. Costume design by Karen Perry. Lighting design by Xavier Pierce. Sound design by Charles Coes and Nathan A. Roberts. Projection design by Hana S. Kim. Choreography by Jaclyn Miller. Direction by Hana S. Sharif. 1 hour, 40 minutes, with no intermission. This production will close on Sunday, February 24, 2019.

Grade: A+

Fun Home at Baltimore's Center Stage is wonderful in every respect. It's just that simple. Under Hana S. Sharif's poignant direction, this trip to Pennsylvania is decidedly more robust and intense than any version I've seen before. Think hybrid of the Public Theater premiere and the Broadway version, plus an urgency heretofore un-mined. There were also some nice new laughs and some new heartbreaking moments as well. Sharif's use of juxtaposition not only makes excellent use of the large thrust stage, but in adding visual meaning to the themes of the show.

The scenic and lighting design, by Scott Bradley and Xavier Pierce respectively, features sliding set pieces, props that come out of the floor, and a back wall covered with giant picture frames around projection screens, along with focused pools of light. The combination suits the space well, and goes miles toward showing us Alison's memories that are both crystal clear and fuzzy glimmers. Karen Perry's costumes get the job done, and Charles Coes and Nathan A. Roberts' sound design was vibrant. The real technical star of the show, however, is the projection design of Hana S. Kim. It is beautifully evocative, and the use of color and black and white is interesting, and the animation of the letters reveals a lot about the writer's state of mind at the time. But there are two times where it is truly superlative. During "Maps," as Alison is drawing and later describing the map, it appears on the wall behind her and on the floor, and it interacts with her. Very cool! And at the end, during the finale, Bechdel's actual drawings appear on the screens, with final "airplane" image not just appearing, but being drawn on the wall. It was terrific to see.

The cast is just as terrific. In multiple small roles, Justin Gregory Lopez makes a great impression, particularly in "Raincoat of Love," where he nails that 70's/Partridge Family kitschy vibe. Important to the story (and one of the show's key songs) is Joan, here played with low-key confidence by Shannon Tyo. It is clear from Tyo's performance what makes Joan such a key figure in Alison's life. And the boys who play Alison's brothers, Liam Hamilton and Jon Martens, are charming - their rendition of "Come to the Fun Home" was a delight, made all the better by their clear enunciation.

Every actress who takes on the role of Helen Bechdel does it differently, of course, but Michelle Dawson's take is really different in its level of attack. As her hurt and rage (and fear and pain, for that matter) grow, you can really see it, especially in her eyes. Everything builds to an explosive and harsh "Days and Days," which comes off like an aria. It works. And it makes her line to Medium Alison about not coming back even more meaningful.

Jeffry Denman is the third person I've seen play Bruce Bechdel, and he may be the scariest of all. The conflict Alison feels about how she sees her father parallels my reaction to Mr. Denman: I wanted to like him, to see he good qualities, and I wanted to understand why he does what he does. I think that's key to understanding the show. But this portrayal is somehow more graphic in its insidiousness, and sexuality. The lust in his face toward his gardener and his former student is chilling. And his cruel manipulation of his family is frightening. Yet, somehow, impossibly, he makes us feel almost sorry for him, right up to the last moments when he shares a last car ride with his grown daughter. Bravo.

Since the the trio of actresses playing Alison make or break Fun Home, it is indeed great news that this production has three amazing women more than up to the task. Andrea Prestinario is a wonderful singer, and even better observer. Watching her watch the action was a master class in being present - particularly as she was watching "Changing My Major." Speaking of that number, I have to say that Laura Darrell's rendition of this crowd-pleaser was easily the funniest I've ever seen - funniest, sweetest and most satisfying. While I doubt I'll ever be as taken by Young Alison as I was with Sydney Lucas, Molly Lyons sure gives the Tony nominee a run for her money. There is a droll adult air to her that is utterly charming, and a sweet childlike innocence that makes you ache when you watch her desperation for her father's affections. "Ring of Keys" is a showstopper in her hands.

I wish I had seen this earlier in its run, because this is one Fun Home I'd like to visit again.

(Photos by B. Geenen)


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Standing at Zero: Hamilton's Ryan Vasquez

So, why "Standing at Zero"? You know the numbers across the front of the stage? Zero is center, and we are putting one performer front and center. This month's honoree is a true utility player for that little founding fathers musical... he's played several roles as a swing/understudy, including the one he played when he caught our eye, George Washington. He's also gone on as both Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. We're talking about the super-talented (and so sexy!) Ryan Vasquez!

Standing @ Zero:
Ryan Vasquez

Ryan's credits include regional productions of Cabaret (Cliff), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Pharoah), West Side Story (Tony) and South Pacific (Lt. Cable). Broadway audiences have seen him in Wicked (debut), Waitress (original cast), and, currently Hamilton.


South Pacific
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
West Side Story (left)
Waitress (far left)

George Washington
Aaron Burr

Alexander Hamilton

Bonus Video:

We would love to hear who you'd like to see in future months - the only guidelines are that he must be in a show currently on Broadway, and he must be in the ensemble. Leave us a comment below, send us an email at, or Tweet us (@jkstheatrescene).

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...