Friday, February 26, 2021

Broadway Games: Which Leading Lady...?

 Broadway Games:
Which Leading Lady...?

A. Laura Benanti      B. Victoria Clark     C. Patti LuPone
D. Audra McDonald     E. Jessie Mueller     
F. Donna Murphy     G. Kelli O'Hara     H. Bernadette Peters
I. Alice Ripley     J. Lea Salonga

Which Leading Lady...
1. most recently starred on Broadway in American Psycho?
2. is the only one that did NOT  win a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical?
3. appeared in The King and I and Kiss Me, Kate! ?
4. played Rose in Gypsy and Dolly in Hello, Dolly!?
5. won at Tony Award and an Olivier Award for the same role?
6. once played Mother Superior?
7. won a Tony for her role in Master Class?
8. is the only one above who was appearing in a play when Broadway shut down due to COVID?
9. took over the title role in Drood from another leading lady, Betty Buckley?
10. played real life people Maria Callas and Helena Rubinstein?


Broadway Games:
Which Happened First?

1.  In order by Most Recent Revival:
C. Cats  (2016)
B. La Cage aux Folles  (2010)
A. Grease  (2007)
2. In order by Best Play Tony Award Win:
B. Clybourne Park  (2012)
C. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike  (2013)
A. All the Way  (2014)
D. The Humans  (2016)

3. In order by performance by Bernadette Peters:
B. Sunday in the Park with George  (1984)
A. Song and Dance  (1985)
D. Into the Woods (1987)
C. The Goodbye Girl  (1993)

4. In order by Original Broadway Production of a Sondheim Show:
E. Company  (1970)
B. Follies  (1971)
C. Pacific Overtures  (1976)
A. Passion  (1994)
D. The Frogs  (2004)

5. In order of Broadway Debut:
B. Lea Michele  (Les Miserables c. 1990s)
C. Jonathan Groff  (In My Life  2005)
A. John Gallagher, Jr.  (Rabbit Hole 2006)
E. Keala Settle  (Priscilla Queen of the Desert  March 20, 2011)
D. Jessie Mueller  (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever  December 11, 2011)
F. Drew Gehling  (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever  December 11, 2011)

For the record, Jessie entered BEFORE Drew in Clear Day!)

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Favorite Designs: The Scenic Design of The Great Comet

At the risk of being repetitive, for the second month in a row, our Favorite Designs feature focuses on a scenic design. I promise there will be other design elements highlighted in future months, but how could I resist the siren call of the brilliant set design for Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 by Tony-winner Mimi Lien

True, this design takes the concept of "immersive theater" to an entirely new level. And it really is impressive for its sheer scope. Before you even take your seat, or the first note is played, you are swept up in a new, provocative time and place. But its genius is really in the fact that it enhances the performance rather than overwhelms it. 

The Lobby:
I'll never forget walking into the Imperial Theatre and stopping short when I didn't recognize it. Gone were the marbled walls and floor. In their place, hard gray plywood covered in Russian propaganda posters, some partially ripped, ready to be replaced by new, more sinister messages, including the cast board. The wall sconces and crystal lighting fixtures replaced by dull/bright florescent lights. The smell was of machine oil, perhaps, but definitely industrial. The feeling was that of suppression and danger. 

The Theater:
If you've been in the Imperial Theatre, you know how tall the house is. So, whether you've seen the show or not, you can probably imagine the sheer enormity of a room that size covered in red velvet draperies, floor to ceiling. And then the shock of going from the austerity of that war bunker-lobby to the opulence of an art-covered, brass-railed space. It comes at you in waves, as you realize every seat is in the middle of the action, that the aisle right in front of you is big enough for dancing Russians to pass you snacks...or illicit notes. Multiple light fixtures dangle overhead, like so many stars in the sky. The orchestra is, well, all over the place, intermingling with the audience. The light dim slightly, and the cast joins the fray.  We are transported, the outside world gone.

Now, that is genius design,

📸: C. Batka;

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Track By Track: Zorba (New Broadway Cast Recording)

I was looking through my vinyl collection the other day, and came across my copy of the 1983 "New Broadway Cast recording" of Zorba. I had seen the show during its national tour, which starred the revival's two headliners, Anthony Quinn and Tony-winner Lila Kedrova. Both were utterly charming, with Kedrova stealing the show with her every number. They were a big draw due to their starring in the film version, Zorba the Greek. But for me, the score was the star of the show. Even including their flops, you rarely (if ever) hear talk of this Kander and Ebb score. For me, it is one of their best - a wonderful mix of songs, orchestrated to include traditional Greek instruments that lend to the authentic sound of the show. 
I highly recommend this one! 

Track By Track:
Zorba The New Broadway Cast Recording

Act One
Track 1: Life Is *****
"Life is what you do til the moment you die." As usual, Kander and Ebb have created an exhilarating, scene-setting opening. Sage advice spills forth from the enigmatically named The Woman (brilliantly sung throughout by Debbie Shapiro). It also sets the theme for the evening: Death is coming, so live life while you can.

Track 2: The First Time ***
"I sniff at a woman...each time is the first time!" Anthony Quinn, while certainly no great singer, is captivating. Zorba the Greek's philosophy of life? Treat each life experience as a first time, unique, potentially life-changing event. 

Track 3: The Top of the Hill ****
"There's a woman at the door to a room in a house at the top of the hill, and she's waiting for you." The way this song builds and introduces a community reminds me a great deal of Kiss of the Spider Woman's "Over the Wall." Catchy, vibrant and a great way to give a star her entrance!

Track 4: No Boom Boom ****
"Please, Sir, no Boom Boom!" Charming code for a consort is the fun key to this number, a toe-tapper of a story song. But don't be so taken in that you miss the point that even though Hortense (Lila Kedrova) has had her share of men, she was always in control.

Track 5:
 Mine Song ***
"The sound in your ear is the sound of tomorrow." The business of the village, mining, is the toil and the pride of the community. The vocal arrangement of this song is thrilling.

Track 6: The Butterfly *****
"No too fast. Let it grow. Let it last." One of the most beautiful songs in the entire Kander and Ebb oeuvre, this song is a stunning metaphor for the precarious line between life and death. Robert Westenberg, Nikos, sings with power and gentleness, and acts the song with the same power and gentleness. The final verse, a stunning trio for him, Shapiro and Taro Mayer, the Widow.

Track 7: Goodbye, Carnavaro ***
"Don't forget me!" The verbal game play here between Zorba ("Carnavaro") and Hortense  ("Boombalina") allows the very palpable chemistry between Quinn and Kedrova to flow right through the speakers.

Track 8: Grandpapa ***
"Weak and feeble Grandpapa." When the villagers doubt Zorba's, um, stamina, he proves that he may look like a grandpapa on the outside, but he still has the moves. The star here is the orchestra in a vigorous dance.

Track 9: Only Love/The Bend of the Road/Only Love (reprise) *****
"Give me love. Only love. What else is there?" The Act One closer is a blend of two great numbers - the heartbreaking "Only Love," which shows why Ms. Kedrova won a Tony, and "The Bend of the Road," really a reprise of "The Top of The Hill." This time, The Woman is bringing together the young couple, Nikos and the Widow. Life is, it seems, an endless cycle of love and lovers.

Act Two
Track 10: Yassou ****
"Exchange the rings and drink the wine! Yassou! Amen!" A quick wedding starts the act, but tragedy isn't far behind...

Track 11: Woman ****
"Woman." Zorba offers his philosophy on his favorite topic.

Track 12: Why Can't I Speak/That's a Beginning *****
"Why can't I speak? Why can't I show him?" "And who can say where it may end?" Two songs in counterpoint offering two points of view of one encounter and the beginning of a true love. Mayer and Westenberg are just wonderful here. The last 30 seconds give me goosebumps.

Track 13:
 The Crow *****
"Soon we will see the crow fall from the sky...What doesn't die never was born." Another fable to offer insight to an impending death. Dramatic and urgent, the recording is as dramatic as the staging. Shapiro is breathtaking.

Track 14: Happy Birthday *****
"You'll dance through life. All through life." As Hortense begins to transition, she hallucinates a joyous memory - her 16th birthday celebrated with her mother. So sorrowful even as the music is jaunty. The final moments of this song bring me to tears.

Track 15: I Am Free/Finale: Life Is (reprise) *****
"I have nothing. I want nothing. I am free." Having been through another tragedy, Zorba offers his final story, and the one philosophy that gets him through life. "I live as if I might die any minute!"


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

This Week in Broadway History: February 23 - March 1

 This Week in 

Broadway History:

February 23 - March 1


February 23: Sunday in the Park with George (2017) & The Pajama Game (2006)

  • February 23, 2006: The Tony-winning revival of The Pajama Game opened its limited run of 129 performances at the American Airlines Theatre, starring Kelli O'Hara and Harry Connick, Jr.
  • February 23, 2017: The Hudson Theatre re-opened as a legitimate theatre with the star-studded revival of Sunday in the Park with George. Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford lead the cast as Georges and Dot.
  • February 24, 1980: After re-casting the leading role as a female character, Whose Life Is It Anyway? re-opened at the Royale Theatre starring Mary Tyler Moore and James Naughton.

February 26: Jerome Robbins' Broadway (1989)

  • February 25, 1973: With an entire score written at a waltz tempo, Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music began its Tony-winning Best Musical 601 performance run at the Shubert Theatre.
  • February 26, 1978: Opening at The Music Box, Deathtrap began its thrilling run. Famously, Marian Seldes played every single performance of its 6 preview, 1,793 performances.
  • February 26, 1989: Perhaps the greatest revue of staging ever, Jerome Robbins' Broadway, opened at the Imperial Theatre. Dance suites from On The Town, Fiddler on the Roof, and West Side Story were among the highlights of its 633 performance run.

February 27: Take Me Out (2003)

  • February 27, 1997: The Best Play of the season, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, opened at Helen Hayes Theatre, where it stayed for 556 performances. Paul Rudd made his Broadway debut in the show.
  • February 27, 2003: The 2003 Tony Award for Best Play, Take Me Out, opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre starring Daniel Sunjata as a gay professional baseball player. He won a Theatre World Award for his efforts.

March 1: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979)

  • February 28, 2008: The critically acclaimed musical, Passing Strange, opened its 165 performance run at the Belasco Theatre. The show starred its writer, Stew, as well as Daniel Breaker, Colman Domingo and Rebecca Naomi Jones.
  • March 1, 1979: Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which opened on this date at the Uris Theatre, sweeping that season's Tony Awards, including Best Actor Len Cariou, Best Actress Angela Lansbury, and Best Musical.


Erik Altemus     Rick Lyon

  • February 23: The Book of Mormon's Josh Gad and Robert Lopez
  • February 24: Composer/lyricist/book writer and playwright Rupert Holmes, actor (Grease, Nick & Nora) Barry Bostwick
  • February 25: actor/dancer (Pippin) Erik Altemus, Tony-winning actor (La Cage aux Folles) Douglas Hodge, actor/puppet designer (Avenue Q) Rick Lyon
  • February 26: A Chorus Line's original Diana Priscilla Lopez, Les Miserables author Victor Hugo

Bernadette Peters     Tommy Tune

  • February 27: actor/singer (Great Comet) Josh Groban, Tony-winner Debra Monk, actor Elizabeth Taylor, book writer (TitanicPeter Stone
  • February 28: Broadway legend Zero Mostel, Broadway icon Seth Rudetsky, composer/lyricist William Finn, Broadway legend Bernadette Peters, actor Mercedes Ruehl, Broadway legend Tommy Tune
  • March 1: Carousel Tony-winner Lindsay Mendez, actor Lupita Nyong'o, producer (Rent) Kevin McCollum, designer (Cats, Starlight ExpressJohn Napier 


If you were willing to brave the winter chill of New York City, there was plenty to choose from, and except for a few really tough tickets, you could probably get some terrific bargains! One of those may have been the revival of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys at the Lyceum. The draw here was the chance to see TV's Odd Couple, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman live on stage. Early in the week, you might have caught a preview of Art, starring three great actors, Alan Alda, Alfred Molina and Victor Garber. But maybe you were lucky enough to be a First Nighter on March 1st! Last season's Tony-winning Best Play, The Last Night of Ballyhoo was celebrating its one-year anniversary.

Musical lovers had a great mix of things to see, including last season's The Life, Cy Coleman's look at the world's oldest profession, and the Tony-winner, Titanic. Hard to get tickets include two revivals of classic musicals: The London import of Cabaret and The Sound of Music. The immersive production of the former, starring Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson is previewing at The Kit Kat Klub (Henry Miller's Theatre). The other revival, also in previews (at the Martin Beck), stars Rebecca Luker as Maria von Trapp and a young Laura Benanti as a nun.

Two other shows offered Broadway fans a bit of controversy. The Scarlet Pimpernel (in what today we recognize as "Version 1.0") was undergoing a not-so-secret creative makeover during the day, while performing the original at night. The other was an even more public controversy at the Marquis Theatre, where protesters were picketing the content of Paul Simon's The Capeman.

But there were three super tough tickets. One was the razzle dazzler revival, Chicago, at the Shubert, and currently starring Marilu Henner as Roxie Hart The other two are new musicals, playing across 42nd Street from each other. Disney's The Lion King was packing 'em in at the refurbished New Amsterdam Theatre. Julie Taymor's puppets and artistry are a sight to see.  Finally, Ragtime, at the Ford Center, was an enormous, epic pageant with a beautifully sung score by Ahrens and Flaherty. Beloved actors Marin Mazzie, Judy Kaye, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald lead the company.


Good news! If you missed them in 1998, you can still see Chicago and The Lion King when Broadway reopens!

Monday, February 22, 2021

2010s Broadway Musical Logos Bracket Tournament - Region 3 Elimination Round!

Over the past months, we've been in search of the very best in Broadway musical logos, going back 40 years. And now, here we are starting a new tournament, looking for the very best logo of the most recent complete decade of the new millennium! The 2010s were a mix of everything, really. From movie-to-stage adaptations to bio-musicals to a few completely original works, variety was the name of the game. As usual, there were big hits and even bigger flops. There was even a genuine cultural phenomenon.

But how were the show logos? That's up to you to decide. We've created a bracket of 64 Broadway show logos from the decade. The Tony winners and hits and flops have been evenly distributed over four 16 "team" regions. This week, its the Elimination Round for Region 3. 

See the full bracket below, including the winners from Regions 1 & 2:  

2010s Broadway Musical Logo Madness!
Region 3 Elimination Round!

  • Each week, we'll open the voting for a different segment of the bracket, and you will select your favorite from each pairing.
  • Your selection should be based on the logo/window card ONLY. We are NOT looking for your favorite show! It is possible to like a logo from a show you've never heard of before!
  • We will provide pictures of the full window card (in most cases) or logo above each week's ballot, then you scroll down and make your selections. You MUST click/tap the "Click Me to Count Your VOTES" button at the bottom of the survey.


GAME 1:                                                                    GAME 2:

GAME 3:                                                                    GAME 4:

GAME 5:                                                                    GAME 6:

GAME 7:                                                                    GAME 8:

Friday, February 19, 2021

Broadway Games: Which Came First?

Broadway Games:
Which Happened First?

We made it through another week! Here's a new game to get your Broadway brain going!

How To Play: Put each list in the order in which they occurred.

1.  In order by Most Recent Revival:
            A. Grease
            B. La Cage aux Folles
            C. Cats

2. In order by Best Play Tony Award Win:
            A. All the Way
            B. Clybourne Park
            C. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
            D. The Humans

3. In order by performance by Bernadette Peters:
            A. Song and Dance
            B. Sunday in the Park with George
            C. The Goodbye Girl
            D. Into the Woods

4. In order by Original Broadway Production of a Sondheim Show:
            A. Passion
            B. Follies
            C. Pacific Overtures
            D. The Frogs
            E. Company

5. In order of Broadway Debut:
            A. John Gallagher, Jr.
            B. Lea Michele
            C. Jonathan Groff
            D. Jessie Mueller
            E. Keala Settle
            F. Drew Gehling


Answers to Last Week's Game:
Broadway Romance 

1. Guy & Girl  N. Once  
2. Amalia & Georg  
Q. She Loves Me
3. Albin & Georges  
K. La Cage aux Folles 
4. Wendla & Melchior  
T. Spring Awakening 
5. Julie & Billy  
B. Carousel 
6. Pamela & Mopsa  
G. Head Over Heels 
7. Alison & Joan  
D. Fun Home 
8. Donna & Sam  
L. Mamma Mia! 
9. Simba & Nala  
 V. The Lion King
10. Peter & Mary Jane  
S. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark  
11. Frankie & Phoenix  
JJagged Little Pill  
12. Christian & Satine  M. Moulin Rouge! 
13. Tony & Maria  X. West Side Story 
14. Zach & Cassie  AA Chorus Line  
15. Dolly & Horace  H. Hello, Dolly! 
16. Tevye & Golde  C. Fiddler on the Roof  
17. Fran & Chuck  O. Promises, Promises
18. Tracy & Link  F. Hairspray 
19. Roger & Mimi  P. Rent 
20. J. Pierpont & Rosemary  I. How to Succeed...
21. Orpheus & Eurydice  E. Hadestown 
22. Marian & Harold  W. The Music Man 
23. Kira & Sonny  Y. Xanadu 
24. Nellie & Emile  R. South Pacific 
25. Anthony & Johanna  U. Sweeney Todd 


Thursday, February 18, 2021

CD REVIEW: Jay Records' Anyone Can Whistle

I have long held a fascination with Anyone Can Whistle. The Original Cast Recording was the second Sondheim album I ever bought (Sweeney Todd was the first). And, like most Sondheim shows, it was a lot to take in, and the synopsis offered little help. But I loved the weird sound of it, and the task of trying to unravel the puzzle of the lyrics. "Simple" remains a favorite enigma of mine. Each subsequent recording only added to the mystery and the fun. The CD release of the OBCR offered nicer sound and bonus tracks, while the Carnegie Hall Concert recording offered new takes on familiar tunes and even more music. (Bernadette Peters and Scott Bakula were particularly charming, and I wish Angela Lansbury had reprised her role instead of just narrating.)

CD Review:
Jay Records' Anyone Can Whistle

Now, 23 years after they began recording it, Jay Records has finally released the ultimate recording for true fans, one the purports to contain every note of music from the production. On two discs that run just under two hours, you really do get it all. In addition to the songs, there are overtures/preludes, incidental music (one assumes they accompanied scene changes) and underscoring. Throughout, there is plenty of dialogue to help put the story together, and even snippets of narration provided by book writer Arthur Laurents himself.

Let me say from the outset, that this is a superlative recording. The quality is absolutely first-rate. The National Symphony Orchestra brings a fullness and vitality to the music that has heretofore been largely missing. Of course, that's no slight or fault to the original as recording methods and quality have exponentially improved since 1964. The ensemble of 26 certainly adds to the group numbers, and sings beautifully. The supporting cast of 13 provides very well-defined characters - no small achievement given the chaos of the book. The three principals, some of Britain's most accomplished musical theater artists also do well, though I'll admit I had to listen more than once to warm up to Julia McKenzie's villainous Mayoress Cooper, and though she'll never match Angela Lansbury in my estimation, she really is quite good. John Barrowman also sings his role - the pretend Doctor Hapgood - well, and his acting is fine. Truth be told, any number of actors could have done as well, if not better. The best of the three by far is Maria Friedman, who, as Fay Apple, is a heady mix of insecurity, indignation and coy sophistication. She pretty much oozes charm right out of the speakers, and her voice is wonderful.

Julia McKenzie & Maria Friedman

The booklet that comes with the CD version offers a very detailed synopsis, and a terrific essay. That essay, which details how relevant Whistle is to our current times, is particularly interesting to me, as when Mike and I were listening to it, we kept pointing out specific lines and themes that sounded very Trump era/alternative facts/anti-science. Over and over, we kept saying that this show, with some fine tuning of the book, could certainly make a poignant parable for the decade in which we live. How cool to open the booklet and find such validation.

Ultimately, this should come as no surprise to Sondheim fans and musical theater fans/scholars: Anyone Can Whistle 57 years ago was way ahead of its time. And the fact that the story and themes seem "ripped from today's headlines" makes it ripe for revival and a full production. Adding to this new awareness is that the show is a meshing of modern themes and sound, and roots firmly in old school musical theater with its three act structure and use of ballets to extend and comment on the story.

We've waited nearly a quarter century for a full recording. Hopefully, we won't have to wait too much longer for a full scale revival. On the other hand, anything we get is really a bonus. How many shows that ran 9 performances get this much attention?

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