Friday, January 31, 2020

The Friday 5: 5 Surprising Shows I've Never Seen

Now that I'm well into 300+ different Broadway productions, I thought I'd take a look through my list of shows and see what is missing! This week's Friday 5 is about those really famous shows that I have never seen a professional production of - not on or off Broadway, not on tour, not even regionally. These titles surprised me! Here they are in alphabetical order:

The Friday 5:
5 Surprising Shows I've Never Seen

1. Best Little Whorehouse in Texas - I can't even verify that I've even seen the movie all the way through. Funnier still? I actually saw the huge flop sequel, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public!

2. The Odd Couple - Here's another odd circumstance: I've never seen a professional production of this classic comedy, but I've actually directed both the male and female versions!

3. The Pajama Game - One of the few Best Musicals I've never seen at all, not even amateur or the film. I'm still kicking myself for missing the last revival on Broadway.

4. The Sound of Music - Can you believe it? I sure can't! Unless you count the live TV version, it's probably the most famous musical that I've never seen performed.

5. The Wiz - I am keeping my fingers crossed that this show will be revived sooner rather than later. I really want to ease on down the road!

**** FRIDAY 5 QUIZ ****

1. TRUE or FALSE: Angela Lansbury made her Broadway debut in Anyone Can Whistle.
*FALSE: While it is true that Ms. Lansbury made her Broadway musical debut in Anyone Can Whistle, her actual debut came in 1957's Hotel Paradiso

2. TRUE or FALSE: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat marked the Broadway debut of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.
*FALSE: They did write Joseph... first, but they made their debut in 1971 with Jesus Christ Superstar.

3. TRUE or FALSE: Sutton Foster's Broadway debut was in the role of Sandy in Grease.
*TRUE: That's right! She was a replacement Sandy in the Tommy Tune revival that added an ! and played the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in the mid-90's.

4. TRUE or FALSE: Aaron Tveit made his Broadway debut in the original cast of Hairspray.
*FALSE: Aaron did make his debut in Hairspray, but not in the original cast.

5. TRUE or FALSE: Hamilton's scenic designer, David Korins, made his Broadway debut designing the set for Bridge and Tunnel, a one-woman play.
*TRUE: Absolutely true. The 2006 show was his first on Broadway!


Thursday, January 30, 2020

MUSICAL OF THE MONTH: Applause: The Creatives

In this final installment of January's Musical of the Month series, we take a look back at the creative team behind ApplauseThe writing and design teams are chock full of Broadway royalty. On paper, at least, it is no wonder it was the Tony-winning Best Musical of 1970. Of course, we all know - as do they - that even the best of the best has their share of misses. Here are the highs and lows of these Broadway greats!

January 2020

The Writing and Directing Team

CHARLES STROUSE (Music): He won the first of his three Tony Awards for the classic Bye Bye Birdie, and his last for Annie. In between, he won for Applause, all three were also named Best Musical. But the guy who wrote such tunes as "Put on a Happy Face" and "Tomorrow" also had a few duds to his name, including It's a Bird, It's a Plane...It's Superman, Charlie and Algernon and the notorious flop, Nick and Nora. The well-respected Golden Boy and Rags are also his. Most recently, he contributed songs to Prince of Broadway.

LEE ADAMS (Lyrics): A frequent collaborator with Strouse, Adams supplied the Tony-winning lyrics for both Bye Bye Birdie and Applause. His third nod came for Golden Boy. They also shared credit on such flops as Bird, It's a Plane...It's Superman, Bring Back Birdie and All American. On his own, he provided lyrics for the one-night flop A Broadway Musical, and the less than a month flop Ain't Broadway Grand

BETTY COMDEN (Book): This artist could do it all - book writer, lyricist and actress! She won an impressive 7 Tonys (out of 12 nominations), including contributions to four Best Musicals: Wonderful Town, Hallelujah Baby!, Applause and The Will Rogers Follies. She also had great success with such classics as On the Town, On the Twentieth Century, Peter Pan and Bells Are Ringing. With her partner, she co-created and co-starred in the famous revue, An Evening with Comden and Green. She passed away in 2006.

ADOLPH GREEN (Book): A frequent writing partner and sometimes co-star of Ms. Comden, he shared all of the above credits and Tony Awards with her. One of their greatest collaborations was the beloved film masterpiece, Singin' in the Rain, for which they wrote the screenplay and contributed some of the songs. The film was turned into a Broadway musical in 1986, and they both were Tony nominated for their efforts. Husband to the late Phyllis Newman and father to Amanda Green, he passed away in 2002.

RON FIELD (Director/Choreographer): Winner of two 1970 Tony Awards for his work on Applause, he won his first a few years earlier for choreographing Cabaret. His other Tony noms, both for choreography, were for Zorba (1969) and Rags (1987). Field passed away in 1989.

The Design Team

ROBERT RANDOLPH (Scenic Design): With an amazing 47 Broadway design credits, he was the Susan Lucci of Broadway designers - he had 7 Tony nominations and 0 wins. Among his credits are Bye Bye Birdie, Sweet Charity, Skyscraper and, of course, Applause. He passed away in 2003.

RAY AGHAYAN (Costume Design): Applause was by far his biggest success and longest run. He earned his only Tony nomination for the show. He passed away in 2011.

THARON MUSSER (Lighting Design): 123 Broadway credits, 10 Tony Award nominations and 3 wins. More impressive than those numbers is shows she worked on including a career long collaboration with Neil Simon (including all 3 "B" plays, The Odd Couple, They're Playing Our Song, The Goodbye Girl and Lost in Yonkers), and the original production of Long Day's Journey Into Night. Among her musical designs were Li'l Abner, Mame, Once Upon a Mattress and Applause. Then there are her Sondheim collaborations: Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures and Merrily We Roll Along. But it is her iconic work that she will be most remembered for: A Chorus Line, 42nd Street and Dreamgirls. She passed away in 2009.

NEXT WEEK! A new Musical of the Month!


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

REVIEW: Emojiland

Review of the Saturday, January 25, 2020 matinee performance at The Duke on 42nd Street in New York City. Starring George Abud, Felicia Boswell, Max Crumm, Jacob Dickey, Ann Harada, Josh Lamon, Lesli Margherita, Laura Schein, Lucas Steele and Natalie Weiss. Book, Music and Lyrics by Keith Harrison and Laura Schein. Scenic design by David Goldstein. Costume and Make-up design by Vanessa Leuck. Lighting design by Jamie Roderick. Sound design by Ken Goodwin. Projection design by Lisa Renkel and Possible. Choreography by Kenny Ingram. Direction by Thomas Caruso. 2 hours, 10 minutes, including one intermission. Closes March 19, 2020.

Grade: A

A giant lock screen glows the date and time in the back wall, while piles of glowing, colorful pixels cascade around the circuit board floor. We are inside a cellphone and visiting Emojiland, the hilarious, poignant but not too serious show that is pure comfort food. It is the perfect antidote to our techno-centric world. Written by newcomers Keith Harrison and Laura Schein and now enjoying an extended off-Broadway run, this charming musical tells the tale of emojis just living their lives until an upgrade brings fear and doubt to the land. The imperious leader decrees that a virus threatens their safety, and that all emojis that are new are not to be trusted. A firewall must be constructed, she says, to ensure their continued existence. Yes, this is a topical show, and it's point is clearly made, but mostly it is just a fun escape.

Selfie! The Emojiland Company

The score is full of delightful numbers, tongue firmly planted in cheek, and in a variety of pop/showtune flavors. The script is equally good-natured - full of puns, topical jokes and lots of laughs. But it also has heart, and just enough substance to balance things and make us care. The show is in the same family as Avenue Q. Staged with the same tongue-in-cheek flair by director Thomas Caruso and choreographer Kenny Ingram, their creativity seems to know no bounds - poles, piles of blocks and an endless stream of recognizable emoji bring this fantasy land to life. The production values are high with dazzling lighting with cool lasers (Jamie Roderick), lively video (Lisa Renkel and Possible) and colorful, spot-on costumes (Vanessa Leuck).

"The Progress Bar"
The cast is terrific. As 🕴🏼, Max Crumm nails the mysterious quality of odd floating businessman, with just the right amount of sleaze as he manipulates the action while zooming around on a hoverboard. As loving couple 👷🏻‍♀️ (Natalie Weiss) and 👮🏾‍♀️ (Felicia Boswell) are sweet together, and both have amazing voices. Boswell belts the emotional "A Thousand More Words" with ease, providing a powerful moment.

Nerd Face and Smize
George Abud and Laura Schein
One imagines that when the show is over Laura Schein must get physical therapy on her cheeks and jaw. She plays 😊 to perfection, and never loses her smile, even when she reveals an underlying sadness, or heartbreaking anger when she finds out she's been part of a love triangle with her cheating boyfriend 😎 (all teeth and sex appeal as played by Jacob Dickey) and her best friend 😘 (delightfully dim as played by Heather Makalani). Schein is a star on the rise - be it on stage or on the page.

In what amounts to a cameo, theater favorite Ann Harada is a scream as 💩. Clearly having a ball, she is the master of underplaying for laughs in her big act two number, "Pile of Poo." (❤ her costume!) Two other current masters of physical musical comedy are giving it 200% and the audience laps it up like a cat with cream. Lesli Margherita is all legs and laughs as 👸, particularly riotous in "Princess is a Bitch," a song that is exactly what you imagine. Josh Lamon is just as funny as the childlike 🤴. Both of these masters now how to play everything just over the top, knowing when to stop and never wearing out their welcome.  They have a gift and know just how to use it.

Princess Lesli Margherita
But is is two actors who play against their previous types of roles that steal the show. Maybe it is because I was so shocked at their departure that I loved what they did, but in retrospect, it is simply because they are so great at their craft. Shame on me. I'm talking of course of the wondrously funny and wickedly earnest George Abud as 🤓, and the deliciously evil and self-absorbed Lucas Steele as 💀. They team up to wreak havoc on Emojiland with a - gasp! - virus, and along the way deliver a pair of tour de force numbers of operatic proportions: "Cross My Bones" and "Start Over." The scenery in New York hasn't seen as much chewing in all the right ways in years.

It is smart, sassy and endlessly fun. And it really keeps your attention - didn't see a single audience member sneaking a look at their cell phone! Trust me. You'll enjoy your trip to Emojiland!

📸: J. Kyler, J. Daniel


Tuesday, January 28, 2020

REVIEW: Jagged Little Pill

Review of the Friday, January 24, 2020 performance at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City. Starring Elizabeth Stanley, Sean Allan Krill, Derek Klena, Celia Rose Gooding, Lauren Patten, Kathryn Gallagher, Lauren Patten, Logan Hart and John Cardoza. Book by Diablo Cody. Music by Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard. Lyrics by Alanis Morissette. Scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez. Costume design by Emily Rebholz. Lighting design by Justin Townsend. Sound Design by Jonathan Deaks. Video design by Lucy MacKinnon. Music Supervision, orchestration and arrangements by Tom Kitt. Movement direction and choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Direction by Diane Paulus.  2 hours, 40 minutes, including intermission. 

Grade: A+

"Ooh, this could be messy..." intones the omnipresent chorus at the start of Act Two from Alanis Morisette's song "Hands Clean." And, indeed the world of Jagged Little Pill (as told by the words and music from Morisette's seminal album as well as Academy Award-winner Diablo Cody's book) is messy. Life is a shit storm these days, let's face it. Social media, gender-identity, climate crisis, quiet rage that simmers until the pressure builds - you can't get through a day in the 21st century without being touched by any one of a hundred issues that have bombarded our day-to-day existence. And that chorus, alternately writhing as a mass playing a characters' demons/conscience and then representing society at large serves as a constant reminder of the mess.

The Healy Family of Jagged Little Pill

While I've read that some theater-goers take issue with the sheer quantity of subjects Cody's book touches upon, I think each issue is entirely necessary. Adding to the intensity of the very real problems the Healy family faces in the show, no one lives in a one-problem vacuum. Instead, the jumble of subject matter brings an uncomfortable reality to this surprisingly brave piece. As the cast ebbed and flowed physically and tonally, I thought more than once that watching it all unfold wasn't unlike a quick spin through our individual timelines on InstaTwitBook. In spite of a wide variety of subjects, the whole thing is rather tight and fat-free; each moment is important to the next and to the whole. Ms. Cody's book is that rare and often illusive example of a strong book that supports a strong score.

Make no mistake, either, that this is just your run of the mill jukebox musical. Believe me, I, too, have had my fill of the genre, and frankly, I may go in to each with a chip on my shoulder against them. But I am pretty sure I was sold on JLP before the sung overture was even over. Morissette is a gifted songwriter who never settles for the "easy." Rather, her lyrics are layered in such a beautiful way that they can be enjoyed on the most basic level, but hook you so deeply that you feel everything in a swirling mass of emotion. While the words themselves don't always seem on the surface like a sure thing for a theatrical treatment, they are so rich, so human, so raw...watching them take life on the Broadway stage makes so much sense it is unbelievable that it has taken this long for it to happen. It was worth the wait.

Elizabeth Stanley and Heather Lang - "Uninvited"
And how about how that album-turned-score translates to the stage? Tom Kitt supplies his usual genius to the evening seamlessly bridging the gap between pop/rock and Broadway with his gorgeous orchestrations and vocal arrangements, as with his work on American Idiot, one could argue that he has improved upon the original given the context of the piece. It is largely because of his work that the way the music is integrated with the book and its care for character is hugely successful. Like I said, it is almost as if the music was always meant to be part of a musical.

Where director Diane Paulus' work ends and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's work begins is often anyone's guess, so intertwined is the staging with the movement. Both are in top form here, with Paulus' pacing at a perfectly urgent pace, rarely pausing for us to catch our collective breath. These are desperate, breathless times. Perhaps because Cody's genre is usually film writing, Paulus has taken her from cues a need to frequently stage sequences like film scenes. Notable among many, the scene where everything we have just witnessed is done in reverse is breathtaking in its detail and skilled performance - you would swear you were watching a film played in reverse. Cherkaoui's sometimes jarring, always thrilling movement is a pleasing blend of contemporary and jazz, and is striking in its simultaneously general world view and character-driven specificity. The sheer theatricality of the movement during Mary Jane's overdose ("Uninvited") makes an already sad moment terrifying and deeply moving. Often featured dancers Ebony Williams and Heather Lang are truly brilliant; their future is bright, and I'm sure their careers will be lengthy.

Lauren Patten and Company - "You Oughta Know"

The look of the show enhances the action without overwhelming it. Riccardo Hernandez's scenic design is constantly in motion, featuring sliding panels which change the shape of things in the blink of an eye, while the videos projected on them in a disorienting blur (designed by Lucy MacKinnon) allow us to experience the increasing disorientation of the characters. Emily Rebholz's costumes wordlessly give us insight to every person on the stage. The real design stars here, though, are sound designer Jonathan Deaks and lighting designer Justin Townsend, who combine to create a glorious rock musical while never forgetting the story at its heart. In short, the show is thrilling to look at.


The cast. Oh, the cast! Lead by a career-defining turn by Elizabeth Stanley, this company has no weak link. She is fearless, intense, and profound in her portrayal of the perfect-on-the-outside-dying-on-the-inside Connecticut housewife. Hers is a performance that builds and builds until its tragic explosion. But she is also so careful to dole out the emotions so as not to overwhelm or overplay her hand; no, she is economical with every movement, every rise of voice, every tear. As her perfectly molded son, Derek Klena is, well, perfection (I wish he had more to sing), looking Ken doll perfect while betraying his self-doubt (and later self-loathing) with blink-and-you-miss-it changes in his face, eyes and posture. Sean Allan Krill finally in a role worthy of his talents, plays the frustrated husband who hides behind his work but wants desperately to fix his marriage quite well. It is in act two, when his character faces some harsh realities and very tough choices that Krill really takes off. His "Mary Jane" is a highlight of the show.

Elizabeth Stanley (left) Kathryn Gallagher (center) and Company

There is a trio of supporting characters that standout, not just because of the plot, but because the actors playing them are really doing marvelous work here. As privileged bad boy Andrew, Logan Hart handles the demands of being an all too recognizable villain (and a very disturbing depiction of a rape) in all the right ways, more often wordlessly than by any other means. John Cardoza (an understudy!) was smashing as Pheonix, the new kid/love interest, with a set of his own problems. He has a wonderful voice and was a perfect match for his frequent scene partner - his contributions to "Ironic" and "Head Over Feet" were beautiful to hear. And as Bella, a rape victim struggling to find her voice and regain her sense of self, Kathryn Gallagher provides a grounded, but giant portrayal. Her face and the way she held her body spoke volumes without benefit of words. Her work here is brave and unflinching. Brava.

Celia Rose Gooding and Lauren Patten and Compant

For me, though, aside from Ms. Stanley, the two standouts from a company filled with them are Celia Rose Gooding in her brilliant Broadway debut, and Lauren Patten who I loved in Fun Home, but who I now add to my must-see list, no matter the project.  As Frankie, the adopted daughter, Ms. Gooding makes full advantage of this opportunity to represent. Frankie, an African-American, lives white privilege 24/7, and confronts that reality on a daily basis. Gooding effortlessly depicts the inherent contradictions of her situation, from anger to resignation to rage and back again. And what a voice! Every time she opened her mouth to sing was an edge of your seat thrill ride. I'm not sure hyperbole is even possible when talking about the tornado of emotion that is Ms. Patten. Her time on stage feels short, and every time she stepped into the light, you could feel the audience leaning forward in anticipation. Funny, outrageous, troubling, she is bliss, giving one of the greatest single performances I've ever witnessed. Everything you've heard about her showstopping (literally) "You Oughta Know" is true, but to experience it live is a true gift. People will be talking about it for years.

If there is any justice, people will be talking about Jagged Little Pill for years. It raises the jukebox musical to an art form.

📸: J. Kyler, M. Murphy


Monday, January 27, 2020

BROADWAY HEAT: West Side Story Edition: Run-off!

Well, this was a first in all of the years we've been having polls like this. Last week, your votes were supposed to select a winner (and 2 runners up). Instead, the vote ended up with a statistical 4 way tie! So... Now it is really up to you! That's right, you will vote for the ONE cast member that you think is most deserving of the title of THE HOTTEST BROADWAY MUSICAL CAST MEMBER OF 2019-2020! Will it be a lead? Or how about a featured cast member? An ensemblist? A Swing? Vote today! The person with the most votes wins!

West Side Story Edition: 

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

Adolfo Mena Cejas

2nd Place - Jarred Manista
3rd Place - Isaac Powell



Friday, January 24, 2020

The Friday 5 Quiz: Broadway Debut True or False

There will be many Broadway debuts this season (most of them in West Side Story!). Of course, even Broadway icons had to start somewhere. That's what this week's quiz is all about.  Read carefully! This quiz is tricky... Good luck! The answers will appear at the bottom of next week's Friday 5.

The Friday 5 Quiz:
5 Broadway Debut
True or False

1. TRUE or FALSE: Angela Lansbury made her Broadway debut in Anyone Can Whistle.

2. TRUE or FALSE: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat marked the Broadway debut of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

3. TRUE or FALSE: Sutton Foster's Broadway debut was in the role of Sandy in Grease.

4. TRUE or FALSE: Aaron Tveit made his Broadway debut in the original cast of Hairspray.

5. TRUE or FALSE: Hamilton's scenic designer, David Korins, made his Broadway debut designing the set for Bridge and Tunnel, a one-woman play.


Thursday, January 23, 2020

MUSICAL OF THE MONTH: Applause: The Cast

This week, let's take a look at the people who were in the Musical of the Month - the multiple Tony nominated company of Applause. Among them are once and future TV and movie stars, legends of the Broadway stage, and even an original cast member of Sesame Street!

Musical of the Month:
The Cast

The Principals
There was plenty of star power in the main cast of the show, that is for sure!

Lauren Bacall in Applause

Lauren Bacall (Margo Channing): Wife of both Humphrey Bogart and Jason Robards, Jr., Bacall was a Hollywood legend. But she was no stranger to the stage, either. In addition to her Tony-winning turn in Applause, she won another for Woman of the Year - both for Lead Actress in a Musical.

Len Cariou in Sweeney Todd

Len Cariou (Bill Sampson): The future Sweeney Todd made his Broadway musical debut in Applause, for which he was Tony nominated. His decades long career includes the original company of A Little Night Music, and the short-lived Teddy & Alice. For the past ten years, he's been featured on CBS's Blue Bloods.

Bonnie Franklin (left) in One Day at a Time

Bonnie Franklin (Bonnie): Franklin became a household name when she starred in the classic TV series One Day at a Time. Applause was her one and only Broadway role, and it earned her a Theatre World Award and a Tony Award nomination.

Penny Fuller (left)

Penny Fuller (Eve Harrington): She was Tony nominated for her portrayal of bad girl Eve, a role she got when she replaced the original actress out of town. She's been a Broadway baby for decades including a stint as Sally Bowles in the original production of Cabaret, the most recent revival of Sunday in the Park with George, and most recently as the Dowager Empress in Anastasia.

Brandon Maggart (left) in Sesame Street

Brandon Maggart (Buzz Richards): Applause brought him a Tony nod for Featured Actor in a Musical. With dozens of film, television and stage credits, he is definitely a working career actor. Fun fact #1: he was in the original cast of Sesame Street. Fun Fact #2: he is the father of Fiona Apple.

Robert Mandan (right) in Soap

Robert Mandan (Howard Benedict): Though he had five Broadway credits, he was best known for his TV role as Chester Tate in Soap, and later as Jack Tripper's father-in-law in Three's a Crowd.

Lee Roy Reams in 42nd Street
Lee Roy Reams (Duane Fox): After Applause, Reams went on to play Cornelius in the 1978 revival of Hello, Dolly!, a show he would later direct and choreograph (Carol Channing's final Broadway Dolly). He also created the role of Billy Lawlor in 42nd Street, and took over roles in such shows as Beauty and the Beast and The Producers.

Ann Williams (left) in Applause

Ann Williams (Karen Richards): Williams only appeared on Broadway twice, first in The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (1963) and in Applause (1970).

The Ensemble:
Notable members of the 30 member ensemble included:

Alan King in The Golden Girls

Alan King (Tony Host): He had 9 Broadway credits, including two stints in the Judy Garland show. He was perhaps even better known for various television and film appearances, including playing Blanche's on-again off-again lover, Mel Bushman on The Golden Girls.

Patti D'Beck

Patti D'Beck (Dancer): Applause marked her Broadway debut. She has gone on to be an associate choreographer for Tommy Tune and his protege, Jeff Calhoun. Credits include Grease!, My One and Only, The Will Rogers Follies, and the Bernadette Peters revival of Annie Get Your Gun.

Renee Baughman (center) in A Chorus Line
Renee Baughman (Dancer): Applause marked her Broadway debut. She originated the role of Kristine ("Sing!") in A Chorus Line.

Nicholas Dante (far right) with the
creative team of A Chorus Line

Nicholas Dante (Dancer): He co-wrote the book for A Chorus Line.

Sammy Williams (right) in
A Chorus Line

Sammy Williams (Dancer): A Tony winner for A Chorus Line, it is said that his role of Paul was based on the life of Nicholas Dante.

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