Friday, February 28, 2020

The Friday 5 Quiz: The "JKTS 6"

If you watch Jeopardy!, you probably know about the "J 6." That's a 6th answer created for each category that can be used if there's an issue with one of the others, and is available to play on their app. Well, this week's Friday 5 is kinda the same thing. Here are "extra" questions from the last five quizzes. Good luck! (The answers will be at the bottom of next week's Friday 5 column.)

The "JKTS 6"

1. The Broadway Costumes of Sutton Foster
Name the show and character.

2. EXCEPTional Broadway 2019
All of the following The Prom actors were nominated for a Tony for their role in the show EXCEPT:
A. Caitlin Kinnunen
B. Beth Leavel
C. Brooks Ashmanskas
D. Christopher Sieber

3. 3 Shows - 1 Actor
Name the actor who appeared in all three shows. BONUS: Name the characters.


4. Broadway Debut True or False
TRUE or FALSE: Audra McDonald made her Broadway debut as a replacement in The Secret Garden.

5. Broadway Jeopardy!: Broadway on Set
$400 - 6 guys. A strip tease. Streamers and blinding lights!


Thursday, February 27, 2020

Musical of the Month: Disney's Beauty and the Beast: The Cast Recording

Today, we wind up this month's Musical of the Month series with a look at the wonderful Original Broadway Cast Recording for Disney's Beauty and the Beast

Musical of the Month:
Disney's Beauty and the Beast
The Original Broadway Cast Recording

Which cover do you have?

I, like a lot of people, really love the movie soundtrack. It is Broadway through and through. My favorite songs from the film include "Belle," "Something There" and the best title song ever, gloriously rendered by Angela Lansbury. And they don't disappoint on the cast recording, either. I just love the way "Belle" just builds and builds to that final line and explosive tag. And I love the word play of "Something There," even better live before my very eyes! Of course, Beth Fowler is no Angela, but her take on "Beauty and the Beast" is sweet.

But the real treat (and frankly, a wonderful surprise) is the additions to the score for Broadway. I don't think I'll ever forget the first time I heard "Human Again." Happy tears rolled down my cheeks. Such a gorgeous, full company number - I can't understand how it originally ended up on the cutting room floor! Ditto the sweet duet between Belle (Susan Egan) and Maurice (Tom Bosley), "No Matter What." Terrence Mann's act one closer, "If I Can't Love Her" is also quite emotional, and a perfect way to musicalize the Beast.

Although it is an annoying ear worm, I have to admit that the expanded dance break for "Gaston" may be my favorite 45 seconds of the whole thing. Every time I hear it, I want to grab some beer mugs and start clinking them together!

It was fun to re-visit this recording. I suspect I'll be playing it again sooner rather than later.

Coming next week: a NEW Musical of the Month!


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

One That Got Away: The Secret Garden

In the interest of full disclosure, this One That Got Away is a bit of a cheat. A couple of years after its debut on Broadway, I did get to see the The Secret Garden's national tour. But I'm still going to count it. I'm sure that the main stem version had a better set, and it didn't have a boffo cast, either. I'm also counting it because it is my fault that it "got away."

You see, I can be my own worst enemy sometimes. I was not a big fan of Mandy Patinkin (and while I appreciate him more these days, I'm still not a big fan), nor was I a big fan of the book The Secret Garden. So I dug in my heels and said, "no" all three times to chances to see it. Now I am a huge Howard McGillin fan, and when he came into the show...I still said no! 

Cut to being over at a friend's house and hearing the cast recording. I'll never forget it. I said, "What is that?" "The Broadway cast recording of that show you REFUSED to see," she said. "Wait. That's The Secret Garden??!! No way!" So we hopped in the car, CD playing us to the record store, where I bought the damned thing! It is one of my favorite scores - beautiful, haunting, and even funny. My favorite songs included "I Heard Someone Crying," "Lily's Eyes," and "Wick." But really, I love the whole score.

John Cameron Mitchell and Daisy Egan
Alison Fraser and Daisy Egan

Robert Westenberg and Daisy Egan

Lydia Ooghie, Rebecca Luker and Howard McGillin

Some of my favorite performers were in the Broadway run including Alison Fraser, John Cameron Mitchell, Robert Westernberg and, of course, Rebecca Luker. (There was also the Broadway debut of one Audra Ann McDonald who was a replacement later in the run!) And if you read my stuff regularly, you probably know how much I love the show's logo!

The Tony Award-winning set designed by Heidi Landesman

The Original Broadway Cast Principals

The Secret Garden was nominated for a whopping 13 Drama Desk Awards, winning three: Best Book, Best Scenic Design and Best Orchestrations, and 7 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, winning three: Best Book, Best Scenic Design and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Daisy Egan). It ran for 23 previews and 709 performances, and I missed every single one. When there's finally a revival, you can best I'll see at least one of those performances!


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

LOGOS: Company (2020)

When I see the upcoming revival of Company this spring, it'll be the third Broadway production for me. This has always been one of my favorite Sondheim scores, and I really enjoy the psychology of the book. I'm hoping that this gender-reversed version will enlighten me even more about the very single Bobby/Bobbie. We have a lot in common. So when the newest iteration of the logo came out the other day, I studied it hard. I mean, I loved the title part of the logo already, but if this is the poster, I may just paper my apartment with it!

But let's take a look at that title-only part first. The use of a neon lights style here seems simultaneously very modern and timeless - and definitely urban. The color choices are also doing triple duty: the purple is feminine and strong (versus, say, pink), the bright blue with a red frame not only compliment the purple, they are definitely eye-catching. You see this in the visual cacophony, and your eye is still drawn to it. Even better, in many iterations, the "NY" seems somehow brighter - perfect for a New York set, New York production. And then there's that olive... The "Y" becomes a martini glass. Grown up, boozy,'s to the ladies who lunch. Everybody rise!

But that full treatment, right!? Each character in a separate little (NYC-sized apartment, maybe) box speaks to compartmentalization of our relationships. More importantly, each box tells us a lot about each character and their closest relationship - even the singles are telling. There isn't one pair or single that doesn't interest me here! And as a long-time fan of most everyone in the cast, this is a lot of fun to see them all in character at once.

Of course, the above-the-title stars are the biggest draw. A carefree and very tipsy Patti LuPone - dig that hairdo! - will certainly appeal musical theater fans, and a lot of gay men. The centerpiece photo - a very captivating Katrina Lenk - tells us everything we need to know. Here's a young, stylish woman bathed in red with an enigmatic expression, alone. Celebrating her birthday with a small cake and a bunch of shiny balloons (they even match the title!), she's alone. Surrounded by all of her friends, she's alone. Then there's the one red balloon drifting separately away. Maybe, in her red outfit, she sees herself in that single red balloon. She's alone, but alive.

Grade: A+


Monday, February 24, 2020

Broadway Heat: Girl From the North Country Edition: The Finals

Girl From the North Country Edition 
The Winners!

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

1ST PLACE: Colton Ryan

2ND PLACE: Ben Mayne
3RD PLACE: Marc Kudisch



Friday, February 21, 2020

REVIEW: West Side Story

Review of the Sunday, January 26, 2020 matinee performance at the Broadway Theatre in New York City. Starring Jordan Dobson, Mia Pinero, Yesenia Ayala, Dharon E. Jones and Amar Ramasar. Book by Arthur Laurents. Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Music supervision and direction by Alexander Gemignani. Scenic and lighting design by Jan Versweyveld. Video design by Luke Halls. Costume design by An D'Huys. Sound design by Tom Gibbons. Choreography by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Direction by Ivo Van Hove. 1 hour, 45 minutes with no intermission.

Grade: A++

After a somewhat troubled and controversial preview period, Ivo Van Hove's startling and supremely satisfying production of West Side Story has finally barreled onto Broadway. Much has been made of this stripped down,  streamlined version with its song cuts, video projections and deluge.  Purists will probably hate it, then go right back to bemoaning that old musicals need to be updated. Like so many classics, from Shakespeare to Chekhov, Broadway has played host to radical reinventions for centuries. What is new this time around is that American musicals are now old enough to be done in modern dress, while still retaining the words (most of them) and music (most of it) of a bygone time. That said, the biting realism of this show almost makes last season's equally superb Oklahoma! seem pedestrian. What do they say these days? Oklahoma! walked so West Side Story could run.

Van Hove, together with his design team, has created a black box urban anywhere anytime space, focused almost entirely on the humanity within its confines. Only two times does Jan Versweyveld's setting allow us into an extreme, detailed, realistic realm: Doc's drugstore/bodega, the home base of the Jets, and the dress shop, the home base for the Sharks. And even then, they are at a far distance, with the action frequently out of view, and very rarely spilling out into that black box. We do see what's going on though, via an enormous video screen that shows us the action as if we are watching surveillance camera footage - apt and so of this time. The video action, both live and prerecorded, was brilliantly designed by Luke Halls. Sometimes the feed shows us commentary, such as when we see the Jets, in slow motion, horsing around on the streets of Hell's Kitchen. On screen, they smile and playfully tease, while the actors, downstage seethe with rage and look ready to explode. Other times, we see tight close ups of the current action - Riff and Bernardo confronting each other at the gym, bloodied faces at the rumble - which have a more documentary feel to them. Still other times, the feed provides disturbing social commentary, such as the police brutality images during "Gee, Officer Krupke."  Versweyveld's moody, intense lighting and An D'Huys' evocative modern dress add to this volatile world.

Still, nothing about this is not true to West Side Story, really. The darkness has always been there; it has never before been so pointed and, well, harsh. This is a West Side Story that not only plays out the tragedy of Tony and Maria, but also the ongoing tragedy of systemic racism and yet another generation lost to violence. For the first time, too, we finally have women that are given full agency; they are strong and fighting just as hard to survive. These are not girls who function as arm candy or who spend their evenings prissing around after work. It's not about feeling pretty or being sexy, it's about knowing what they want and going after it.  Here, Anita is as brash as ever, but Maria is just as sassy. She is ready for this world and doesn't have to feel pretty. She already knows it. No, the women have not been erased, rather they make bold, often silent, but wholly necessary contributions.

The Jets
Van Hove's staging and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's modern, beautifully athletic dances are so seamlessly intertwined, it is hard sometimes to figure out where one ends and the other starts. Normally, movement is used to punctuate the story; not so here, where the few times things actually stop moving it startles and jolts you into paying even closer attention. But having the company constantly running - often in circles - speaks to the energetic pulse of youth and the urgency of desperation, all in an endless, inevitable cycle. There are instances where the gangs aren't running, but are pacing, jockeying for position, fidgeting and jerking around as if their lives depend on it. The staging of "Tonight," sans fire escape has never felt more urgent, as the outside forces that will be their doom try to pull the star-crossed lovers apart before they even get started. "The Dance at the Gym" is exciting, tense, too, while "Cool" is like waiting for a bomb to go off, and "America" is as catchy as ever, but never so germane to the national conversation.

The Sharks
The cast, a truer reflection of society than in previous stagings, brings a realistic gravitas to the piece, even as it points out that the rival gangs are all outcasts, more similar than different, while going through the inevitable "them vs us" of alleged privilege. In a raw and wonderful history-making Broadway debut as Riff, Dharon E. Jones commands the stage, while Amar Ramasar offers an arrogant, superbly danced Bernardo. The various Jets and Sharks each offer fully realized characters, with standout work from Ricky Ubeda, Kevin Csolak, Matthew Johnson and Elijah A. Carter. Zuri Noelle Ford gives a very modern, gender fluid take on the role of Anybodys.  Each of the adults are just as terrific with Daniel Oresekes' worn down Doc, and Pippa Pearthree's optimistic, not naive Glad Hand, shining brightly in all the gloom.

"The Dance at the Gym" - Yasenia Ayala (center)
With a stronger Maria, it may seem that Anita seems somewhat slight, but I don't agree with that. She is to Maria what Tony is to Riff, a more mature, knowing support system. As I said earlier, Anita has not lost any of her sass or strength though, especially in the hands of Yasenia Ayala. Yes, she is great in the gym scene, and she kills it in "America," but her moment at Doc's where she is (graphically) sexually assaulted, screaming in terror and rage is as breathtaking as it is shocking. (Kudos, too, to Matthew Johnson, as Baby John, forced upon her, who looks just as scared and mortified.)

Jordan Dobson (Tony) and Mia Pinero (Maria)

At the performance we attended, both Isaac Powell and Shereen Pimentel were out of the show, but we had the great fortune to see Jordan Dobson (Tony) and Mia Pinero (Maria), both making their Broadway debuts. Both were absolutely stunning, in virtuoso performances. Their chemistry was palpable and their singing was flawless. Tears flow from my eyes; I have never felt West Side Story so deeply before.

The show has always been a favorite of mine - I've been in it and directed it - and I'd go so far as to say it one of the greatest musicals of all time, if not the greatest. But it is no exaggeration on my part to say that this production moved me, angered me and overwhelmed me in unexpected ways. And I've thought of little else in the month since I saw it.

📸: J. Cervantes, J. Versweyveld, J. Kyler


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Musical of the Month: Disney's Beauty and the Beast: The Cast

The original cast of Disney's Beauty and the Beast was full of newbies, seasoned players, up-and-coming stars, future Tony Award winners and even a bona fide Broadway/TV legend! What, if anything, have these performers been up to in the last 26 years? Let's see:

Musical of the Month
Disney's Beauty and the Beast
The Principal Cast

Susan Egan (Belle): She's been on Broadway a few shows since BATB, including Cabaret, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Triumph of Love. But she hasn't left Belle too far behind - she is a frequent member of The Princess Party, and she recently mentored on Disney+'s Encore! series. It would be great to have her back on the boards in New York soon!

Terrence Mann (Beast): He was a pretty big deal before BATB, with originating roles in Cats and Les Miserables among other shows. Post-Beast and a Tony nod, he's stayed busy on stage, including roles in The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Rocky Horror Show, The Addams Family, Pippin (Tony nomination), Tuck Everlasting and Finding Neverland. He and his wife, Charlotte d'Amboise, also work each year with young aspiring actors at their intensive program in North Carolina.

Burke Moses (Gaston): As the show's villain, Moses earned a Drama Desk nomination and a Theatre World Award.  Since then, he's only appeared twice on the Broadway stage, in Kiss Me, Kate (1999 Revival) and The Frogs.

Gary Beach (Lumiere): Tony-nominated for his flamboyant turn as everyone's favorite candelabra, Beach would be nominated twice more: for the 2005 revival of La Cage aux Folles, and The Producers. He won! His final Broadway appearance was as Thenardier in the 2006 revival of Les Miserables. He passed away in 2018.

Beth Fowler (Mrs. Potts): Prior to BATB, Ms. Fowler appeared in such shows as Baby and Sweeney Todd, for which she was Tony-nominated. After her time in the tea pot, she has returned to Broadway just three times: in the revivals of Bells Are Ringing and Inherit the Wind, and in the musical The Boy From Oz. She earned a Tony nomination for that show.

Heath Lamberts (Cogsworth): Beauty and the Beast marked his Broadway debut, and he later played King Sextimus in the revival of Once Upon a Mattress. He passed away in 2005.

Kenny Raskin (Lefou): To date, Raskin has not returned to Broadway. Beauty and the Beast remains his sole Broadway credit.

Tom Bosley (Maurice): Probably best known to the world at large as Howard Cunningham in TV's Happy Days, Bosley was a stage veteran long before BATB. He won a Tony Award for the title role in Fiorello. After BATB, he returned to Broadway only once more, as Herr Schultz in the 1998 revival of Cabaret. He passed away in 2010.

Eleanor Glockner (Madame de la Grande Bouche): To date, Ms. Glockner has not returned to Broadway. Prior to BATB, she appeared in three late 80's/early 90's blockbusters, Me and My Girl, City of Angels and Guys and Dolls.

Stacey Logan (Babette): Since she played Broadway's most alluring feather duster, Ms. Logan has returned to Broadway three times, in Candide, High Society and, most recently, Sweet Smell of Success.

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