Friday, March 31, 2023

What About Plays Turned Into Musicals?

What About Plays Turned Into Musicals? 

So, we are all familiar with the seemingly endless pipeline of movies being turned into musicals. (There are currently four of these running on Broadway.) And there have been plenty of books turned into musicals. (There are currently three of these running on Broadway, not including a play based on a book, Life of Pi.) But what about the play to musical pipeline?

There have been several very successful play-based musicals: Carousel was also Liliom, I Do! I Do! was based on The Fourposter, and several Shakespeare plays were turned into musicals... Kiss Me, Kate and West Side Story come to mind immediately. Currently, Broadway is host to two such musicals - the longest-running American musical, Chicago came from Roxie, and the acclaimed new musical, Kimberly Akimbo, based on David Lindsay-Abaire's play of the same title. 

But, despite the fact there are two play-based musicals currently playing, the play to musical pipeline is a relatively dry one. So Mike and I put our heads together and thought of some plays we've seen that we thought would make interesting musicals. Here's what we came up with, along with suggestions for who could provide equally interesting scores. (Use our idea, we expect credit!) 😉

Lost in Yonkers
Play by Neil Simon
Score by Sara Bareilles 

We can only imagine the fun she'd have writing songs for the two young boys, juxtaposed with ballads for Grandma Kurnitz, and inner-monologue songs for Bella and Louie - not to mention some tricky patter songs for the bickering family! She's great at thoughtful, introspective tunes and catchy toe-tappers!

Casa Valentina
Play by Harvey Fierstein
Score by Ahrens and Flaherty

The current Broadway champs for versatility, we picture an overall American mid-20th century vibe. Plus, we think they could bring some of their amazing historic-era-has-modern-relevance anthems and themes. Picturing a big transformation number, with a parallel deconstruction number in act two. The Mare Winningham role as narrator? And Harvey could expand his play as the book writer,

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Play by Simon Stephens
Score by Elton John and Lin-Manuel Miranda

Marianne Elliott will assume the directorial duties and Stephen Hoggett will choreograph again as well, of course. Sir Elton and Lin-Manuel collaborating would be amazing here, I think: the former gives a British pop sound to the score, while Lin-Manuel would create some amazing rapid-fire lyrics for what I imagine to be Christopher Boone's inner thoughts!

Venus in Fur
Play by David Ives
Score by Michael John LaChiusa

Can you think of a better person to make this tense, sexually charged two-hander sing? We imagine an audience on the edge of their seats, and reaching for a post-orgasm cigarette at the end. In between, we see him opening things up with a small ensemble with taut commentary.

We see great musical potential in both Angels In America and War Horse, but both are so epic that they need full on opera treatment!

Do you have any play to musical ideas? Let us know! Insta or Twitter or comment below!

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

REVIEW: Pacific Overtures at Signature Theatre (Virginia)

Review of the Sunday, March 26, 2023 matinee performance at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. Starring Eymard Meneses Cabling, Andrew Cristi, Albert Hsueh, Jonny Lee Jr., Quynh-My Luu, Jason Ma, Daniel May, Christopher Mueller, Chani Wereley and Nicholas Yenson. Book by John Weidman. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Kabuki Consultant: Kirk Kanesaka. Fight Director: Yoshi Amao. Taiko Consultant: Mark H. Rooney. Scenic design by Chika Shimizu. Costume design & puppet by Helen Q. Hwang. Lighting design by Oliver Wason. Sound design by Eric Norris. Musical direction by Alexander Tom. Direction and musical staging by Ethan Heard. 2 hours, 20 minutes, including one intermission. NOTE: This production closes April 9, 2023.

Grade: A+

Pacific Overtures is a stunning classic, rarely performed, and perhaps underappreciated. True, it isn't for the faint of heart, and you need to bring your "A" game to fully understand it as an audience member. But, when there's as glorious a production as Signature Theatre's current revival, it is most definitely worth the extra effort.

Here is a beautiful production (settings by Chika Shimizu, sound by Eric Morris), that sweeps over you even as you enter the space. Sounds of waves coming ashore fill the air, and the seating area is surrounded on all sides by calming white walls adorned with tranquil screens that evoke the sea and the air. The center of the space is filled with an enormous circular platform attached to a two-level, boxy platform, with gauzy curtains below, a taiko drum, and the branch of a tree, above. We are immediately transported, and the performance has not even begun.

The Reciter, here a modern day Japanese man (Jason Ma) enters, the lights dim, and we are transported with him to a time when Nippon was self-isolated, and ancient customs and traditions were followed to the letter. As the story unfolds, Oliver Wason's ambient lighting, and, at times, harsher lighting as the story dictates, conjures up a world at peace that is slowly morphing into one of chaotic change, and a devastating finale where East meets West - and all that that implies. Similarly, Helen Q. Hwang's masterful costume design pays tribute to the past culture and troubled, if modern, future. She makes the transitions between scenes and characters (each actor plays several roles) simpler by dressing each in nondescript base costumes, and adds a wide variety of robes, kimonos, wigs, and stylized Western wear, over top. Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations, under the baton of Alexander Tom, leading an ensemble of nine players, sound beautiful here. Special kudos to the percussionists and string musicians, who do stellar work. These elements, along with the versatile, "blank slate" of the scenery creates a feeling of epic, sweeping themes, all while remaining intimate - as if the entire thing is being presented for each of us alone. Visually and sonically, this may be one of the most fully integrated production I've seen at this venue.

Stephen Sondheim
's score never disappoints - is there a weak song in it? And, with this production, each is highlighted with master strokes of inventive staging by
Ethan Heard, who pulls out every stop to create distinct vignettes. Here, Eastern elements of taiko drumming, Kabuki and puppetry swirl together in an intoxicating, and often breathtaking manner. And the abrupt introduction of American vaudeville (and what may be best described as a minstrel show) signals a disquieting, threatening change of tone. It is jarring and disturbing in all the right ways. Heard's direction makes this challenging piece coherent and still thrilling from start to finish.

The full score and script are on display here - including the beloved and hilariously mischievous "Chrysanthemum Tea" - allowing audiences new to the piece to feel the full breadth of the work. Each song seems to function as a play within a play, offering context and commentary to John Weidman's almost poetic book. Heard and his company of actors have fully embraced this idea, and leaves me longing for just a staging of each number as a highlights revue of the evening.

What a company of actors! There is not a single cast member that is giving less than 100%, whether they are front and center or supporting a scene as an ensemble. When you witness a true company like this, you realize that though this is the way it is always supposed to work, it is actually more a rare occurrence. Led by Mr. Ma (a Broadway veteran that I can remember from his days in Shogun), each cast member is an expert storyteller, meeting the demands of whatever style the scene calls for. 

The story of Kayama (Daniel May) and Manjiro (Jonny Lee Jr.), a lower-echelon authority and sentenced-to-die commoner who left Japan and returned illegally, respectively, is particularly exciting to watch, as each saves the other, and as they morph into completely different and opposing men. Their duet "Poems", is light and lovely, humorous and endearing in Act One. Their final moments, captured in the haunting second act song, "A Bowler Hat," is beautifully staged, as Kayama becomes more Western and Manjiro, unable to make peace with Western ways, prepares to fight like a Samurai. The revolving stage at this point adds to the visual evolution of the characters; its eventual stopping point makes the deadly result even more chilling.

Ma dons the garb of the Shogun, while Andrew Cristi's low-key take on the wicked Shogun's mother is both riotously funny and deliciously sinister in "Chrysanthemum Tea." And Chani Wereley is a delight as the Madam in "Welcome to Kanagawa." The staging of "Please Hello!" - when the Western powers insert themselves into Japanese society - takes me back to Cabaret's "Meeskite," where you laugh and laugh until you suddenly realize (too late) that what is happening isn't funny. Nicholas Yenson as Perry/American throughout is an amazing dancer who exudes sinister evil, and really embraces the demands of the style of his scenes.

All of that said, the numbers that end each act, were for me the most exciting of the performance. "Someone in a Tree" did not disappoint: Eymard Meneses Cabling (old man), Christopher Mueller (warrior) and the riveting Albert Hsueh (voice of boy), along with a wonderfully expressive puppet (boy) conspired to create one of the most memorable renditions of that song I've ever seen. Simply exceptional. And the full company shines together in the finale, "Next," a coda of sorts, as we see the end results of this Western invasion, through war (a startling few minutes on darkness after a flash of light, included), and the modern toll of Japan's historic rise in the global community and its effects of the planet. We are left with much to think about.

With just over a week of performances left at the time of this writing, I strongly encourage you to grab up any remaining tickets and get yourself to Arlington, Virginia. You will be glad you did.

📸: S. Finney, D. Rader

Monday, March 27, 2023

Broadway Games: Who Sang It?: Sweeney Todd Editon

To celebrate last night's opening of Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, let's play a game! Below are some of the show's famous lyrics. All you have to do is name the character who sings them. Good luck!

Broadway Games:

Who Sang It? Sweeney Todd Edition

1. "At last, my right arm is complete again!"

2. "Fresh supplies!"

3. "Smoke! Smoke! Sign of the Devil! Sign of the Devil! City on fire!"

4. "Do they think that walls can hide you? Even now I'm at your window..."

5. "No, we all deserve to die! Even you Mrs. Lovett. Even I."

6. "Goodbye, Johanna. You're gone, and yet you're mine."

7. "Gilly flowers, maybe. 'Stead of daisies..."

8. "This is piss. Piss with ink."

9. "I blow you a kiss!"

10. "With you beside me on Sunday...married on...Sunday..."


1. Sweeney Todd

2. Mrs. Lovett

3. The Beggar Woman

4. Anthony

5. Sweeney Todd

6. Sweeney Todd

7. Mrs. Lovett

8. Sweeney Todd

9. Pirelli

10. Johanna

Friday, March 24, 2023

Revivals, Recreations or Revisals...

I'm old enough to remember a time when revivals of classic shows were near exact duplicates of the original. Think Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! re-staged every few years to match Gower Champion's original staging. Think Yul Brynner in The King and I with the original staging by Jerome Robbins. This was a common thing all the way through the late 80's - the latest I recall personally seeing was the 1987 tour of Cabaret starring Joel Grey, painstakingly recreated from the Joe Layton original. Perhaps the best analogy for these carbon copies would be popping in a VHS tape of a beloved film. Nostalgia, beloved performances, iconic Broadway! I can understand it, though. I mean, think about bootlegs, and the clamoring for any shows given the pro-shot treatment. Think Hamilton, Into the Woods, Passion, Sweeney Todd, Catsetc. The only difference, it seems, is technology, and not desire.

Let's go back to that Cabaret revival, first on Broadway, then on an extensive "farewell" national tour. It wasn't exactly a carbon copy. As I recall, at the time, there was much hullabaloo about this version containing additional gay-themed material that expanded the role of Cliff, and additional music. Was that the starting point for "revisals" - fully re-conceptualized, overhauled (modernized, etc) take on classic shows? Maybe, but the tide really turned with the 90's revival of Guys and Dolls, big, splashy, rearranged, redesigned and staged with an eye toward modern sensibilities and spectacle. That Jerry Zaks revival took Broadway by storm, made Nathan Lane, Peter Gallagher and Faith Prince household names. Suddenly, the thought of bringing in a classic as-is was taboo, and the era of reexamination and, I think, increased imagination began. Audiences still wanted familiar titles, sure, but they didn't want to see their parents' King and I anymore. 

With the new century came the era of John Doyle, Sam Mendes, and now Michael Arden, as well as theater companies with missions to focus on reviving American classics like Roundabout, Classic Stage Company, etc. Among these new stagings that have outrun their classic originals are Cabaret, West Side Story, Porgy and Bess, She Loves Me, Peter Pan, Oh! Calcutta! and the grand daddy of them all, Chicago. Parade and Merrily We Roll Along will definitely join this list.

Not all of them are successful in some way, be it artistically, financially, or just a lack of audience interest. Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof, the first Into the Woods re-do. Others were brilliantly re-conceived and just had limited runs like the recent Once On This Island, Pippin, Oklahoma! Company and Spring Awakening. Still, it seems the audience's desire for fresh takes on Golden Age shows is alive and well.

But then...

Some shows are just so iconic for their staging (and not so for their stars) and design, that there seems to be a divide among Broadway fans - some who want completely new takes and more that say, "don't touch a thing on the original!" Cats's revival was a near carbon-copy, but remember the outcry when Andy Blankenbuehler was brought in to re-do Gillian Lynne's famous feline moves? Miss Saigon? Virtually the same, right down to the theater. A Chorus Line? Color-blind casting, fine. Change anything Michael Bennett did with it? No way! And lengthy articles have already been written about changes made to The Phantom of the Opera...

Which brings me to the current revival of Bob Fosse's Dancin'. When a show like this, which is purely an original revue created to show off the creator's talents, can a revival be anything but a carbon copy? Would any even minute change have a place in such a recreation? Of course, the production answered it for us: Fosse's daughter and Verdon/Fosse Legacy have approved of everything currently seen at the Music Box. Still, Broadway fans seem split. Many hate the additions, and still more don't like the perceived lack of true Fosse technique, which many have pointed out is a much about intent and psychology as it is about jazz hands and bowler hats. (Since I actually saw the original, I'll have to let you know how the new version compares after I see it.)

My money is on any show that has a fully realized production that engages the mind and takes me away from it all for a few hours - be they new works or revivals, recreations or "revisals."

Where do you stand on this?

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

2022 - 2023 Show Logos: Camelot and Sweeney Todd

Hello, again, logo lovers! Today, we are taking a closer look at the key art for two of this season's biggest - literally and figuratively - musical revivals, Camelot and Sweeney Todd. One, I think is very successful in conveying the show it represents. The other, not so much.


If you've followed me for any serious length of time, you know how much I admire the works of James McMullen. He is one of my favorite show art artists of all time, in fact. So you can imagine how much it pains me to say that I find this logo to be a complete miss.

Where do I start? How about that title? The "font" is generic, the shade of yellow, while eye-catching, is practically offensive. The color palette is bleak - muted earth tones and smokey grey sky, punctuated with a fire red. The images - a tree in the foreground that calls to mind the African Savannah, not Medieval England, and the mountaintop castle is stark and lonely looking. The color combination and the bleak imagery makes for a dystopian nightmare, not a fantastical Knights of the Round Table, Lancelot-Arthur-Guinevere romp. Where is the pageantry? The magic? The "take me away to another time"? 

The bottom line here is that I find it, well, ugly. Nothing about it entices me to look into it more, let alone buy a ticket. (Of course, I have a ticket...) I hope the show is better than the logo.

Grade: F

Sweeney Todd:

Funny how a bleak color palette and stark imagery that does not work for one show, works brilliantly for another.

Much has been made of the fact that this revival will be a big production: big cast, big orchestra, even a big theater. The epic nature of this version is more like the iconic 1979 original than any other New York revival of the Sondheim classic. It makes perfect sense, then, that they are using the original title plate. It is what they have done with it that makes it chilling fun. Here the blood stain of the title is smeared as if it were spatter sliding down a wall, or what a body might do as it slides down a chute to a basement... Even better, within that smear is a Victorian London skyline surrounded by a bloody smoke.. a city on fire, if you will.

I also love the Playbill/advertising image, a painting of our two stars in character on a cobblestoned London side street, faces menacingly aglow from a sewer grate, bowels of the underground clearly aflame. If I had to quibble about anything, it's that the title doesn't stand out enough in this iteration.

This fresh take on a classic has me very excited to pay a visit to Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett very soon. I think the logo adds to the thrill.

Grade: A+

Monday, March 20, 2023

Broadway Who's Who: Heather Headley

This month's honoree is Tony and Grammy Award winner, Heather Headley. With 5 studio albums - two certified Gold - she's made an impact on the music world. With starring roles in such television programs as Chicago Med and Sweet Magnolias, she's taken the small screen by storm. She starred in the West End production of The Bodyguard, earning a Best Actress in a Musical Olivier Award nomination. So why have we selected her as one of Broadway's Who's Who? Though she has only four Main Stem credits, she is definitely Broadway royalty. Whether she's originating roles in blockbuster musicals, making a role her own as a high-profile replacement, or guest-starring at a concert of international superstars, her impact is always important, breathtaking and cause for celebration.

Broadway Who's Who:
Heather Headley



  • BIRTH DATE: October 5, 1974
  • BIRTHPLACE: Barataria, Trinidad and Tobago
  • FAMILY: Married to Brian Musso, 3 children
  • EDUCATION: Northwestern University
  • RECORDING HISTORY: This Is Who I Am (Gold), In My Mind (Gold), Audience of One (Grammy Award), Only One in the World, Broadway My Way

West End and Off-Broadway:

The Bodyguard
 - Aldelphi Theatre (West End); November 2012 - August 2013; Rachel Marron

⭐ Best Actress in a Musical Nominee: 2012 Olivier Awards and What's On Stage Awards

Into the Woods
City Center (Off-Broadway); 2022; The Witch



The Lion King
- New Amsterdam Theatre; 1997; Nala, Original Broadway Cast


AIDA - Palace Theatre; 2000 - 2001; Aida, Original Broadway Cast

⭐ Tony Award Winner! Best Actress in a Musical


Il Divo
Marquis Theatre; November 2013; Special Guest Star

The Color Purple
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre; May - October 2016; Shug Avery, replacement
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