Friday, May 31, 2019

Looking Forward to Summer: June - August 2019

The heat is on, and we aren't taking a break from great theater because of a little summer sweat! There's a variety of stuff on our agenda over the next three months - a re-visit to the first new musical of the season, a re-visit to a show we first caught off-Broadway before it became a sensation, a catch up on a show we missed earlier this year, and a regional treatment of a scary Sondheim gem.

Before we look ahead, let's review the ups and downs of the busy spring. It started with an interesting revival of King Lear (B), a trendy and disappointing new musical called Be More Chill (C-), a very good revival of a problematic fan favorite: Merrily We Roll Along (B), a regional revival of one of my favorite shows ever, Grand Hotel: The Musical (A), the best musical of many a season, Hadestown (A++), the biggest disappointment of the season, Tootsie (C-), and an electrifying revival, Oklahoma! (A). That's a solid B - not bad!

Here's what's coming up for us this summer:

Moulin Rouge! (on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre)
It was so excellent last summer in Boston, and now we can't wait to see it again! The dancing! The singing! The romance! "Truth. Beauty. Freedom. Love." will be our mantra. Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo back on Broadway where they belong - it hasn't been this hot in years.

Beetlejuice (on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre)
Thanks to my tummy troubles, we missed this one earlier this month. But what we said three months ago is still true: You know, I've never seen the movie straight through. But I'm still looking forward this musicalization. The set pictures look amazing, and I'm a fan of the cast - Alex Brightman, Rob McClure and Kerry Butler are favorites. Rumor has it that Sophia Anne Caruso's performance is not to be missed.

Hillary and Clinton (on Broadway at the Golden Theatre)
We love Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow. And we really enjoyed Lucas Hnath's last play. If we don't see Beetlejuice, this will take out third slot in July.

Dear Evan Hansen (on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre)
We saw this show way back when it was at 2nd Stage. I found it troubling, and the scenery chewing by Ben Platt insufferable. But since then, it's become somewhat of a phenomenon. Now that they have an actual teenager (Andrew Barth Feldman) playing a teenager, maybe it'll have a bit more honesty going for it. And maybe I didn't give it a fair shake the first time around. Time for a Broadway re-visit.

Assassins (regional at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia)
This will be our first professional production of this Sondheim piece. Given the current political climate, this will likely be more resonant than ever. Seeing a Sondheim show makes me happy. And everybody's got the right to be happy.


Thursday, May 30, 2019

CD Review: OBCR The Cher Show

The song is called "Woman's World," but let's face it, we live in Cher's World. For proof, you need look (or listen) no further the Original Broadway Cast Recording of The Cher Show which is really quite something, especially since she isn't even on it. And what a wonderful treat to listen to it from start to finish. The sound quality is superb, allowing the Daryl Waters orchestrations/arrangements to bring joy to your ears. What is impressive, too, is that even more so here than in the theater, this is truly a tribute to, rather an in impersonation of one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Anything less would be an insult.

If you are keeping track, you know that I gave the show a B+, mainly because as a musical, it's a little shaky, but as entertainment, it is ACES. This recording is right in line with that, only... better. You see, it shows off wonderful renditions of the classics as we know them (like "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," "If I Could Turn Back Time"), and other songs are given the full Broadway treatment (like "Heart of Stone," "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do").

Of course, it showcases the three Chers - Star, Lady and Babe, and each really shines - my two favorites from Micaela Diamond are wonderfully preserved here - the glorious duet "I Got You Babe" featuring a never-been-better Jarrod Spector, and her big production number, the sexy "The Beat Goes On," which also gives the hard working ensemble a chance to shine on record. Meanwhile, Teal Wicks is brilliant on "Bang Bang" and heartbreaking on "A Song For the Lonely." Frankly, on stage, Wicks is nearly lost in the hugeness of her co-stars, but here, she is at least an equal. Which brings me to the incomparable Stephanie J. Block, who, here as on stage, is the one to beat. Man, is she excellent. Yes, she sounds like Cher, but as more homage than replica, and she brings it. What a belt! It was exhausting watching her, and I am just as wiped out after hearing her tear her way through "Turn Back Time," "Dark Lady," and especially "I Found Someone."

Everyone who contributes - Emily Skinner, Matthew Hydzik and Michael Berresse, all of whom I wish had more to do, and the entire ensemble - comes across as a complete labor of love. Just like when they perform the show. Surely, the Goddess Warrior approves.

Grade: A+


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Fosse/Verdon: Episodes 7 - 8

Sure, it was soapy, but the musical theater nerd and Bob Fosse fanatic in me loved every single minute of the miniseries Fosse/Verdon. And I am sad to see it go. I'll especially going to miss watching the marvel that is Michelle Williams, who better get an Emmy for her efforts. Hers a performance far beyond a mimicry of the beloved Tony winner, but rather a fully realized character. Also - it is time for her to return to Broadway, in a musical, please.

And so, here are a few thoughts on the last two episodes.

EPISODE 7: "Nowadays"
The episode every fan of Chicago has been waiting for! Interesting to watch (however compressed events were for dramatic effect) how Gwen got her way in finally getting the show on, and how Fosse punished her for "forcing" him to do it after years of badgering him about it. That cycle of satisfaction for one/pain for the other - a common theme in their relationship, apparently - is perfectly encapsulated, as he takes away dance steps in "We Both Reached For the Gun," (featuring a terrific Tyler Hanes as Jerry Orbach.  And later how he kicks her when she's down - hiring Liza Minnelli to replace her while she was out of the show. The wordless scene of Williams returning to her dressing room, tearing a note from Liza off her mirror and just staring at herself was beautifully understated.

Best sequence of the episode: Kander, Ebb, Rivera (an exquisite Bianca Marroquin), Fosse and Verdon gathered around the piano in the 46th Street Theatre lobby, with Gwen singing a wonderful solo version of "Nowadays." After an argument, Fosse tells her it will be a duet, and she really lets him have it. You go, Gwen!

Also, I love, love, loved the recreation of the original Chicago sets by Tony Walton and Jules Fisher's lighting design. I never realized how much I missed color in that show!

EPISODE 8: "Providence"
Just as it began, so did it end, with Sweet Charity. This time, it's the '86 revival/'87 national tour, but the roles are the same. Bob is a taskmaster perfectionist, and only Gwen can get it right. But before that, we saw the making of All That Jazz, hurtfully copying a cherished memory for his daughter, and humiliating his ex-lover. As the show guided us toward its inevitable conclusion, we see lives in turmoil and lots of unhappiness. Friends die, lovers leave and start families far away. And a daughter descends into the abyss of addiction, unchecked, it would seem, by either parent.

Best sequences of the final episode: When Nicole joins her dad in choreographing "Mr. Bojangles," and that same sequence played out with a young actress and Roy Scheider  (cameo by Lin-Manuel Miranda, of course...). Then there's the recreation  of the "Bye Bye Love" scene from All That Jazz, where Bob does a take at the urging of his cast.

The final moment, when Bob dies in Gwen's arms is as poignant as it is touching. Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell do wonderful work here. A great ending to a wonderful miniseries.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

300 Broadway Shows: My Favorite Musical Revivals

Since my first Broadway show and my 300th were both revivals, it seems only fitting that my looking back over nearly 36 years of shows begins with my favorite revivals. Over the years, I've been so fortunate to have seen 68 different musical revivals. Some were faithful recreations; many were new takes on beloved classics. All of them offered a glimpse of Broadway history.

What makes a revival a "favorite"? To me, it honors the original, expands the ideas, and through innovation and performance, it offers a fresh, thrilling experience.

Here are my 15 favorite musicals revivals, listed chronologically:


Sweet Charity (1986)
One of my first, it remains a wonderful memory. It was a thrill to see a great work done by one of my heroes, Bob Fosse, and having a book by one of my favorite playwrights, featuring one of my all-time favorite scores. Debbie Allen was terrific as were Michael Rupert and Bebe Neuwirth, Tony-winners, both. Later, I saw it with another hero of mine, Ann Reinking, and it was just as sensational.

Anything Goes (1987)
This was a show we almost did when I was in high school, so I knew the score by heart - and knowing Cole Porter songs is a great thing. Well, I just had to see Lincoln Center. And I just had to see Patti LuPone's return to the Broadway stage (not to mention a chance to see Howard McGillin, who made quite an impression on me in The Mystery of Edwin Drood). They were great, of course, but to this day I remember the amazing dancing and the energy of the cast. It filled the room, and it was joyous.

She Loves Me (1993)
Interestingly, this next musical on the list is one I saw specifically to see Mr. McGillin again. Turns out he was out that day (rehearsing his upcoming role in Kiss of the Spider Woman), buy boy am I glad is saw it anyway. Boyd Gaines and Sally Mayes made a lasting impression, and as a musical theater fan, to see one of the greatest musicals of all time sure is important. It was pretty close to perfection!

Damn Yankees (1994)
I am embarrassed to admit that at the time I knew nothing about this show - even more so given that two of my idols, Mr. Fosse and Gwen Verdon were instrumental in the the original's success. I went with a friend who loved the movie, and to see Bebe Neuwirth again. Turns out I adored it (and Jarrod Emick) and ended up seeing it four times! I wouldn't mind another turn at bat with this classic... hint, hint any producers who may be reading...

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1995)
The reason I saw this in the first place was because the pre-Broadway run was a part of my subscription to the Kennedy Center. I was so blown away by it, I went home and ordered tickets to the Broadway production! I loved every single minute of it, especially the score and really clever book. It was so cool to see Ferris Bueller Matthew Broderick, and it was exciting to see three cast members I had never heard of before: Megan Mullally, Lillias White and Victoria Clark!

Chicago (1996)
The mother of all revivals, I've seen this so many times, they could call me in to play most of the roles. Over the years, I've gotten to see some really great performers, including Bebe Neuwirth (I guess I'm a fan...), Ruthie Henshall (once as Roxie, once as Velma), Sandy Duncan (the best Roxie I've ever seen), the late, great Marcia Lewis, Joel Grey, James Naughton and many others. Hotcha! Whoopie!

The King and I (1997)
I have to admit that this Rodgers and Hammerstein gem is not really one of my favorites. Which is odd, since I have seen it more than a dozen times over the years in various iterations. BUT this was such a gorgeous production (it made me love red!) and so wonderfully acted, I left the Neil Simon Theater floating on air. Let me just say Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Phillips were definitive as Anna and the King for me - and that includes having seen Yul Brynner. It is no puzzlement, this version was the best!

Cabaret (1998)
If I had to name the single best revival of a musical I've seen to date, this would be it. I think between this production and the recent recreation of it, I've seen it a dozen times. And so many great star turns, including Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jane Leeves, Gina Gershon, Michelle Williams, Neil Patrick Harris, Raul Esparza, Tom Bosley, Hal Linden, Carole Shelley, and two people that really surprised me - John Stamos and Lea Thompson. My biggest regret is that I missed Natasha Richardson, who left the show by the time I got to see it. Remember that horrible crane accident? My re-booked tickets made me miss her entirely.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2005)
The first time I saw this Sondheim masterpiece was the national tour of the original production. By the time I saw this John Doyle revival, I had seen variations on the original concept many times. So nothing prepared me for this minimalist and frankly terrifying vision. Sure it was hilarious (Patti LuPone on tuba!), but the buckets of blood being poured as the body count rose and the ice cold eyes of Michael Cerveris gave me chills that last long after that razor-slashed curtain fell.

Company (2006)
Sure, the actors-playing-instruments device wasn't new by now, this second Sondheim by Doyle was a whole different level. Raúl Esparza was stunning as Bobby - I wonder if I'll ever get over his Tony loss, and Barbara Walsh's "Ladies Who Lunch" was breathtaking. Angel Desai's tightfisted Marta was a riot of Village cool, Kelly Jean Grant was the first and to date only Kathy who I felt earned the amount of loss Bobby feels when she leaves, and Elizabeth Stanley's blank eyes were as mesmerizing as they were hilariously vacant - an April for the ages.

Gypsy (2008)
Patti LuPone makes the list again, but let's face it, seeing her Tony-winning turn as Rose is a musical theater lover's dream. Damn if she wasn't everything I wished for and more. And Laura Benanti's Louise was deeper and more striking than any other I had seen - her transformation into Gypsy Rose Lee was brilliant.

Follies (2011)
That four Sondheim revivals have made this list (and several others were close) isn't really surprising. His works were all ages ahead of their time when they premiered, and now that the rest of us have caught up, it just makes sense that his time has come. I know purists found fault with this revival, but I found it to be rapturous. Mike will tell you that both times we saw it, I silently wept in my seat from curtain to curtain. I don't think I'll ever forget the look on Bernadette Peters' face when she arrived, hope in her eyes instantly replaced with defeat and disappointed. I'll just simply state that I miss Jan Maxwell.

Pippin (2013)
Talk about a revelation! I've loved this Bob Fosse masterpiece (and Stephen Schwartz's equally amazing score) for decades. But knowing that this would be a departure from the norm had me nervous. Well, we weren't even halfway through "Magic to Do," and my worries disappeared. Mouth agape throughout, I'm not sure I breathed during each act. Tears flowed during "Morning Glow," and my stomach ached from laughing so hard at Andrea Martin and Rachel Bay Jones. And both Patina Miller and Matthew James Thomas gained a lifelong fan in me after this show.

Spring Awakening (2015)
It wasn't too long after the original closed that this gem reappeared on Broadway. One of my all-time favorite shows to begin with, Michael Arden's stunning vision along with the triumphant melding of deaf actors with hearing performers found new depth and meaning. So carefully and thoughtfully staged, it never felt like a gimmick, but rather an insight into the troubling themes of the piece. Krysta Rodriguez's Ilse haunts me still.

Once on This Island (2017)
Michael Arden is two for two with this enchanting, thrilling revival. He took environmental, immersive staging to a whole new level. As with Spring Awakening, this version of Island was a revelation. And it introduced two of the most exciting young actors to come along in some time, Hailey Kilgore and Isaac Cole Powell.


Monday, May 27, 2019

BROADWAY HEAT: Oklahoma! and Hadestown Edition: The Championship Round!

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

BROADWAY HEAT X 2: Oklahoma! / Hadestown Edition


1st Place: Rebecca Naomi Jones

2nd Place: Patrick Vaill
3rd Place: Mary Testa

1st Place: Reeve Carney

2nd Place: Amber Gray
3rd Place: Eva Noblezada

Rebecca and Reeve will compete for the title of "Hottest Broadway Musical Star of 2018-2019" in the Finals beginning in July.

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