Monday, November 28, 2022

REVIEW: KPOP

Review of the Saturday, November 12, 2022 preview performance at the Circle in the Square Theatre in New York City. Starring Luna. Book by Jason Kim. Music and lyrics by Helen Park and Max Veron. Scenic design by Gabriel Hanier Evansohn. Costume design by Clint Ramos and Sophia Choi. Lighting design by Jiyoun Chang. Projection design by Peter Nigrini. Sound design by Peter Fitzgerald and Andrew Keister. Choreography by Jennifer Weber. Direction by Teddy Bergman. 2 hours, 15 minutes including one intermission.

Grade: D


When I was young, it was The Osmonds and The Jacksons. For my parents, it was The Temptations and The Four Seasons; my sister was smitten with New Kids on the Block and The Backstreet Boys. Somewhere in there, it was the "Thriller" zombie dance and Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation." Every generation seems to have its attachment to tight- dancing pop stars, and my teenage niece and nephew have their favorites, too, especially BTS and BlackPink. And so, I went into KPOP with the hope of finding out what this international phenomenon is all about. While there are some things that are quite good about this new show at the Circle in the Square, unfortunately, as a piece of musical theater, it is much less than adequate.
MwE

F8 (left), RTMIS (right)
Under the guise of a behind-the-scenes documentary about the introduction of K-Pop to the U.S. market through a solo artist, MwE, a boy group, F8, and a girl group, RTMIS, the show makes the point repeatedly that what we are seeing is happening today, which seems an odd choice given that KPop has ruled the American pop scene for years now. Actually, the entire framing device - including flashbacks and "hidden camera" footage - feels like it’s all a day late and a dollar short. A lot of that may have been forgiven had the book scenes (by Jason Kim) and the awkward staging by Teddy Bergman not been so laughably amateurish. Scenes abruptly end and the cast walks off the stage, with no attempt to offer smooth (let alone clever) transitions.

Most hampered by this are the actors saddled with the roles of Harry, the documentary director/producer (Aubie Merrylees), and Ruby (Jully Lee), the KPop mogul behind the performers, as they must put across dialogue meant to cause tension, but that is more similar to those moments in old Scooby Doo cartoons when the bad guy is unmasked. I'll admit that I laughed out loud when Ruby discovers she is being filmed while browbeating her protege, and reacts with a hyperbolic rant reminiscent of a telenovela. It doesn't help that it is being shown on a giant set of screens with the quality of an 80's camcorder.

Other times, it is so predictable you know what is going to be said verbatim before a syllable is even uttered. Nowhere is this more obvious than the scenes where Harry tries to get each of the acts to turn on Ruby, and later, to pit them against each other. And even then, there is no new territory covered here, either. MwE (a very winning Luna, a real-life K-Pop star) has no self-esteem and fears disappointing her boss when she wants more than superstardom, while the girl group (woefully underused here) begins infighting over whether or not they should quit just before their years of work are about to pay off, and the 8 member boy group (F8 - get it?) are pissed because a new member has been added when another quits. Brad is already as great as the rest of them, and the others resent him for "skipping to the head of the line." (In a rare clever bit, they try to be really angry because he is actually American, and it turns out a few others are Americans, too, but have gotten by acting like they really only speak Korean.) There's a little more to the plot, but why ruin it all for you? You probably can guess it all, anyway.


Fortunately, the best moments happen between the silly book scenes. Some are visual. Gabriel Hanier Evansohn's scenic design is mostly made up of video/light panels and strategically placed TV screens, allowing for smooth transitions between backstage scenes and "in concert" numbers. He makes great use of the odd space, making it feel both like a traditional theater space and a concert arena. Similarly, the costumes, by Clint Ramos and Sophia Choi, straddle both the "real world" and the K-Pop machine - the finale costumes are pretty spectacular. All of that said, the technical star of the show is the spectacular lighting - designed by Jiyoun Chang - and the breathtaking floor projections - designed by Peter Nigrini. It really is a shame that something that looks so good is otherwise so poor.

Where KPOP really shines is in the dance numbers created by Jennifer Weber. The routines are dazzling in their precision and evolution of movement formations, and the hand/arm choreography is pretty clever, too. These numbers are also obviously where the company feels most confident - their swagger is intoxicating. It probably shouldn't be a surprise that these numbers are so good, since the cast is stacked with actual K-Pop stars. Another thing that elevates the numbers is the strategic use of Korean lyrics (Helen Park and Max Veron), lending a sincere authenticity to it all. (One wishes some of the English lyrics weren't so awkward - "This is my Korea" rhymes with "This is my story-ah.")




Thankfully, there are two bright spots in the show: leading lady Luna, an international star in her own right, and Patrick Park - an amazing understudy - in the featured role of Brad, the new member of F8. She has a magnetic presence and genuine star quality; perfectly cast, she deserves a much better vehicle. Mr. Park also has that elusive "it" quality, with triple-threat capabilities on full display. I look forward to seeing more from both of these stars of tomorrow.

So, the musical theater part of me left shaking my head in, well, disgust and disappointment. A revival of Dreamgirls would cover the same ground, and better, too. The optimist in me was glad to have discovered some new talent. But most of all, I learned that what I suspected all along was correct: every generation has its version of dancing-in-unison-to-pop-music. This time around it is wrapped up in big shoes, mismatched pieces of clothing in a rainbow of pastel colors, and a coy innocence mixed with a subversive sexual androgyny. All of them tease with wordless promises of kisses and smooth moves. Anyone older than Gen Z might call to mind Madonna, Elvis or any of The Beatles. In other words, K-Pop and KPOP hasn't come up with anything really new, but it nudges the boundaries just enough to at least seem current. 


📸: M. Murphy

Friday, November 25, 2022

Happy Black Friday/Cyber Monday! NOW ALL WEEKEND LONG!

SORRY, THE SALE IS OVER!
LOOK FOR NEW SALE STARTING DECEMBER 12.

Today's This weekend's gonna be a great weekend, and here's why:



  • We have hundreds of collectible Playbills and Lights of Broadway Cards on sale TODAY ONLY ALL WEEKEND!
  • Playbills from the current season and all the way back to the 90's - musicals, plays, revivals, mega hits and super flops!
  • LOB Cards from Autumn 2017 - 2021 sets, plus cards from special sets like Megamix, The Prom, Moulin Rouge and Beetlejuice!
  • And this weekend ONLY: Special "Broadway Bundles" of Playbills AND Cards together at a discount + Free Shipping on those bundles!

Click on the tabs above or HERE:

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving From JK's TheatreScene!

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER, INSTAGRAM & HIVE - @jkstheatrescene  

Happy Thanksgiving!


We are so grateful for all of your support & 
enthusiasm for our return on a regular basis! 

To show our appreciation, we'll be having a Black Friday Sale AND a Cyber Monday Sale! All of our Playbills and Lights of Broadway will be on sale beginning 12:01 AM Friday. PLUS we've created super savings bundles - perfect for collectors, theater fans, and new Broadway lovers alike!

We will be back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday
beginning Monday, December 26th! In the meantime, we'll be getting warmed up with these articles:

Monday, November 28: REVIEW: KPop
Friday, December 2: Looking Forward to Winter
Monday, December 5: He Said/He Said REVIEW: Into the Woods
Monday, December 12: REVIEW: Some Like It Hot
Monday, December 19: He Said/He Said REVIEW: 1776


Wednesday, November 16, 2022

REVIEW: Almost Famous

Review of the Sunday, November 13, 2022 matinee at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York City. Starring Casey Likes, Chris Wood, Anika Larsen, Alisa Melendez, Drew Gehling and Rob Colletti. Book and lyrics by Cameron Crowe. Music and lyrics by Tom Kitt. Scenic and video design by Derek McLane. Costume design by David Zinn. Lighting design by Natasha Katz. Sound design by Peter Hylenski. Choreography by Sarah O'Gleby. Direction by Jeremy Herrin. 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.
Grade: A+

Over the years, I've grown pretty tired of the film to stage pipeline. It is the rare occasion when a super popular film ends up being an awesome new musical (looking at you, Legally Blonde). On the other hand, smaller, lesser known movies seem to have a much better chance of being amazing (looking at you, The Band's Visit, Once, Hairspray...). Almost Famous falls into the latter category; the property is completely new to me, so I went into it with fresh eyes, seeing it only as a piece of musical theater. And it certainly is both awesome and amazing. 

The show flew by - I was completely captivated - thanks in large part to the cinematic flow of the production. Director
Jeremy Herrin uses some slick scene transitions that fit each scene specifically, and are carefully character-driven. Similarly, Sarah O'Gleby takes full advantage of the high octane rock and roll vibe of the piece (not to mention the hippie-mellow feel of 1973) in her choreography, which often blends in seamlessly with Herrin's staging. That flow is also integral to the technical elements as well. The set pieces and colorful, morphing projections by Derek McLane glide in and out in ways that are clever, but always in service of the story. A scene toward the end of the show is a perfect example: it is an urgent, tumultuous moment, made even more exciting by a series of constantly moving doors. David Zinn's period costume design is spot on, including a dizzying array of vintage concert shirts, hot pants, and denim in various forms. Lighting designer Natasha Katz has really brought her A-game this time around - traditional stage lighting, rock concert lighting, and ethereal mood lighting comes and goes without intruding and is always in service to the show.

The score has achieved the rarest feat of this type of thing: the original songs and preexisting songs blend together so beautifully, there is never that "ah ha!" moment when you recognize one. This anti-Moulin Rouge effect really adds to constant momentum. Even with act one closer, "Tiny Dancer," I found myself more impressed with how it was sung and staged than the fact that it popped up. Most, if not all, of the credit for this surely lies with the expertise of Tom Kitt's gorgeous orchestrations, as well as his music for all of the original songs. Much like his work with American Idiot, he has elevated the whole affair. Equally impressive, though not surprising, are the clever lyrics and book by Cameron Crowe, who famously wrote, produced and directed the semi-autobiographical film.

The Band-Aids
As wonderful as the whole production is to look at and listen to, the true wonder is the thrilling cast, all of whom make interesting contributions to the performance. Their energy is infectious, their commitment is inspiring. The ensemblists play several characters and include such standouts as Van Hughes, Libby Winters, Emily Schultheis and Jakeim Hart. The fun, sexy groupies - aka the Band-Aids - are brought to vibrant life by the enchanting Katie Ladner (as Sapphire), Jada Dejenne Jackson (Polexia) and Julia Cassandra (Estrella).

Drew Gehling
Stillwater is the band on the cusp of stardom, and as both a group and individually, the guys manage to be both a loving tribute to and a comic send-up of 
such real-life musicians. It works so well because each actor understands this. Gerard Canonico (as band manager Dick Roswell), Brandon Contreras (Silent Ed Vallencourt) and Matt Bittner (Larry Fellows) are having a ball and it shows. More central to the conflict that threaten's the group future are Russell Hammond (Chris Wood) and Jeff Bebe (Drew Gehling), both passionate about their craft but with clashing expectations. Wood imbues this hard partying rock star with an intoxicating blend of aloofness and sex appeal. He's one of those performers who rivet your attention. Gehling fully embraces the seventies rock star in a fierce and funny turn. Both men are magnificent.

As the narrator/mentor/Creem magazine editor, Rob Colletti makes abrasiveness hilarious and obscenity endearing. Then there's Anika Larsen as the lone parental figure, making over-protectiveness charming and being sorely out of touch with her children humorous. She shines throughout, but her act two song/monologue brings down the house, and her moment in the fully staged bows is one for the record books.

Anika Larsen, Casey Likes and Rob Colletti

In the role of Penny Lane we had the great fortune of seeing Alisa Melendez make her Broadway debut. You'd never know the role wasn't her own, so at ease and in the moment was she. What a voice! What a range of emotion! It was truly an honor to share that life-changing experience with her. She's going to be famous.

Casey Likes and Company (left); Casey Likes and Chris Wood

All of that said, the real star of the night was young Casey Likes in his Broadway debut as the child prodigy  coming of age. Yet another exciting product of the Jimmy Awards, his talents are obvious and plentiful. Singing, dancing and shedding tears (sometimes all at the same time) this young man is a wonder. I'm sure this will be just the first of many leading roles for him, and I can't wait to be there for each.

I've said before that after nearly 40 years of Broadway shows, it takes a bit more to give me that feeling of true exhilaration and bliss of seeing an exceptional show. Almost Famous had me walking out of the Jacobs Theatre on the proverbial cloud. It's that good. No "almost" about it.

📸: J. Kyler, M. Murphy, K. Schlueter

Friday, November 11, 2022

REVIEW: Kimberly Akimbo

Review of the Saturday, October 29, 2022 matinee preview performance at the Booth Theatre in New York City. Starring Victoria Clark, Justin Cooley, Bonnie Milligan, Steven Boyer, Alli Mauzey. Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on his play. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Scenic design by David Zinn. Costume design by Sarah Laux. Lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew. Sound design by Kai Harada. Choreography by Danny Mefford. Direction by Jessica Stone. 2 hours, 30 minutes including one intermission. 
Grade: A+

"Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion," says Truvy in Steel Magnolias. I couldn't agree more, and so I was thrilled with the bittersweet emotional roller coaster that is Kimberly Akimbo which opened last night on Broadway. With the musical, based on his play of the same title, David Lindsay-Abaire has retained all of the charm and laughs, while expanding the emotional complexities of the characters through his book and impactful lyrics. Meanwhile, Jeanine Tesori once again proves she is a musical chameleon, nailing the late 90's sound and creating a musical basis for each character. Do any of her shows sound the same?


The Booth Theatre is the perfect venue for this little gem; the show fills the stage when need be, and keeps it intimate just as deftly. Thanks to David Zinn's very detailed settings that glide in and out (and occasionally tuck away), Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew's specific lighting, and Sarah Laux's delightfully quirky, character-driven costumes, the design elements enhance the piece without ever getting in the way. Kudos, too, to Kai Harada's perfect sound design. No this isn't a big, splashy extravaganza, and the show is all the better for the restraint.

Danny Mefford keeps things character-centric with choreography that shows individuality, and snazzy show choir moves, usually at once. Aside from the stellar cast - more on them in a sec - the star of the show is really actress-turned-director Jessica Stone, who helms this show with a light touch, smartly letting the show guide her choices. She is equally adept at staging small moments as she is with frenetic ones. Her elegant use of a turntable allows us to see everyone in a tense dinner conversation, while a certain economy of movement makes an elaborate number about committing a crime allows for sharp physical comedy. What a Broadway debut for her - she's one to watch for!


But the biggest reason to see this wonder of a musical is the nine member company. Not a weak link among them, from top to bottom they are aces.The four actors (three making their Broadway debuts) who make up the ensemble of high school misfits - a geek squad, if you will - give me hope for the future of the Broadway musical. With few words, fun dance moves, and very specific characterizations, Olivia Elease Hardy, Fernell Hogan, Michael Iskander and Nina White, are a Greek chorus to be reckoned with.


Kimberly's family is a hot mess, almost making her debilitating and tragic sickness the least of her worries. Hilariously and pitifully white-trash, each are perfectly cast: Steven Boyer, the alcoholic dad who tries, but never quite gets there; Alli Mauzey, the narcissistic mom, pregnant again and scared to death; and Bonnie Milligan, the larger than life aunt, and so bad the family moves around just to get away from her. They are all by turns bat-shit crazy, morally appalling, and complex in ways that are surprisingly heartwarming. Each has stand out moments, with Ms. Milligan blowing the roof off the theater with what has become the riotous breakout song from the show, "Better." Ms. Mauzey has a beautiful introspective moment with "Father Time." (Cue the tears.)

Broadway newcomer (with the finesse of a well-seasoned veteran) Justin Cooley dazzles with his utterly sweet characterization of anagram-loving band geek, Seth. He knows he's an outcast in the high school hierarchy, cringe-y in his awkwardness, and empowered by his ability to embrace it all. He's a good kid who you know will be a sought after friend in college and after. Cooley walks a tightrope between awareness and complete oblivion, making the evolution of Seth's new friendship with Kimberly both inevitable and surprising. Best of all, his chemistry with her is all charm, and pleasantly not awkward at all. (Cue the tears.) Mark my words: Mr. Cooley is going to be a huge star.


For all intents and purposes, the great Victoria Clark is really a teenager - the way she moves, gestures, stands, sits... all of it is so accurate you'd swear you were watching an adolescent becoming an adult, not an aging woman knowing death is on the horizon. So convincing is her performance as the titular Kimberly, that the audience's sharp gasp when she comes in dressed as a grandma said more than the rapturous applause she earns at the curtain call. Her ability to navigate a labyrinth of emotions with the most specific of details and larger than life gestures is inspiring. This is a brilliant performance, more than award-worthy.

There is a moment just seconds before the final blackout that wordlessly captures the utter joy of life. You laugh and smile knowingly. Then it hits you. Kimberly is getting older.  Laughter through tears, indeed.

📸: J. Marcus
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