Friday, June 30, 2023

A Dreamy Gas Bow: A Ram Sang

A Dreamy Gas Bow:
A Ram Sang

In honor of Broadway's newest Best Musical, we are going full Seth Weetis with today's game! 

Here are 10 anagrams that will result in the titles of Broadway shows. Figure out all ten and get a free rental and a soda at Skater Planet!


1. Nightlife Thing

2. No Wet Ruin

3. Ill Mob Cheer

4. Dot Whines Too

5. Granola Poets


6. Ship Array

7. Omit One Strength

8. Many Sneaked

9. I Lure Gun Moo

10. Frog Territory Lunch Month


STOP SCROLLING NOW 
UNLESS YOU ARE READY TO SEE THE ANSWERS!



A Dreamy Gas Bow:
Broadway Games:
A Ram Sang
Anagrams


1. Nightlife Thing - Lightning Thief

2. No Wet Ruin - Urinetown

3. Ill Mob Cheer - Be More Chill

4. Dot Whines Too - Into the Woods

5. Granola Poets - A Strange Loop

6. Ship Array - Hairspray

7. Omit One Strength - Something Rotten

8. Many Sneaked - Damn Yankees

9. I Lure Gun Moo - Moulin Rouge

10. Frog Territory Lunch Month - Girl From The North Country

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

ReDISCoveries: Bernarda Alba (World Premiere Recording, Part Two)

  ReDISCoveries: Bernarda Alba 
(World Premiere Recording, Part Two)
Catch up on Part One HERE

Jeff has kindly invited me to revisit and review some of the older cast recordings in my collection. Every other week or so, I’ll write about a new CD, offering some general impressions followed by my thoughts about each individual song. I continue this week with the 2006 World Premiere Recording of Michael John LaChiusa’s Bernarda Alba.


I recently read the play The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca, which is the basis of LaChiusa’s musical. The adaptation is quite faithful, but the musical expands on the action of the play in some interesting ways. In particular, it’s not possible in a play to assign each character an “I Want” kind of monologue without interrupting the narrative, but such a thing is entirely possible within the conventions of a musical, and LaChiusa takes full advantage of that. One literally has to read between the lines to know the personality of each of Bernarda’s daughters in the play, but in the musical this can be made clear in the span of a brief song. 



LaChiusa’s music for Bernarda Alba, along with Michael Starobin’s orchestrations, incorporate flamenco conventions that have likely not been seen or heard on many New York stages. A very busy percussionist isn’t the only source of pulsation, as members of the cast create their own rhythms though copious stomping. Another musician plays pre-modern instruments like the shawm, a double-reed woodwind that sounds as if an oboe were trying to drown out a trumpet played at full blast. Singers regularly make otherworldly barking and yelping noises, and syllables are spread over multiple tortuous notes. Be prepared for sudden outbursts that include all of these effects at once.


If this all sounds like a bit of a slog, the compensating rewards are well worth the effort. There is some striking and unique music here, along with a great deal of more traditional lyricism amidst all the apparent chaos. There’s not much plot until near the end, giving LaChiusa the opportunity to write a series of intensely character-based songs - and there are certainly some worthy characters in this show, each of whom gets a song or two to sing, with striking variation in style and tone. 



THE SONGS


I use a star (*) to mark the songs I particularly like, and my overall favorite gets two stars (**).


I Will Dream of What I Saw: All of the younger women are doing some ogling here as some young workers in the town walk to their jobs. Aside from contributing to the buildup of libidinous energy that will drive the remainder of the show’s plot, this song is fairly negligible.


**Poncia: This is my favorite vocal performance on the recording, and it’s a great, laser-focused piece of songwriting. Poncia (Candy Buckley) finally gets to speak her full mind about her boss Bernarda Alba, and she pulls no punches: she savors the day when she’ll get to “watch, oh so silently, the house of Bernarda fall.” The music and lyrics are equally chilling.


Limbrada’s Daughter: A neighbor’s daughter is about to suffer some terrible consequences for having a child out of wedlock, and Bernarda (Phylicia Rashad) seizes on the opportunity as a teachable moment for her daughters, intoning to the show’s most menacing music that “all women who lust in sin must die.”


*One Moorish Girl/The Smallest Stream: After the servants engage in some playful sexual innuendo (to some very beautiful vocal arrangements), Bernarda sings her final dirge of the evening, lamenting the costs of widowhood and of aging: “I no longer sleep a slumber too deep, for I have to be on my guard.” 



The Mare and the Stallion: In my least favorite song of the show, Bernarda’s daughters witness… well, you can probably guess what they witness just from the title of the song, and that’s the problem. It’s a rather too obvious way to set us up for the show’s (not to mention Adela’s) impending climax.


Lullaby: Amid the building household chaos at the hands of Bernarda, her mother (Yolande Bavan) returns to recall a simpler time when the two could enjoy time together. There’s nothing special about this song, but it’s a nice respite before the intensity of the show’s final sequence.


Open the Door: The music here is tense, restless, and insistent, as Pepe knocks on Adela’s (Nikki M. James) door. She resists at first, but ultimately surrenders to excitement and to mortal danger, effectively ending Bernarda’s reign over her own house.


Finale: Believing that Bernarda has killed Pepe, Adela has killed herself. Having learned nothing, but having lost all of her power, Bernarda insists fruitlessly that her daughters continue the charade: “My daughter died a virgin. And you will keep your silence. Silence. Silence.”


Next time I’ll discuss the 1999 off-Broadway cast recording of Adam Guettel’s Myths and Hymns.

Monday, June 26, 2023

REVIEW: The Light in the Piazza (Encores!)

Review of the matinee performance on Sunday, June 25, 2023 at New York City Center. Starring Ruthie Ann Miles, Anna Zavelson, Shereen Ahmed, Andrea Burns, Rodd Cyrus, James D. Gish, Michael Hayden, and Ivan Hernandez. Book by Craig Lucas. Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel. Based on the novel by Elizabeth Spencer. Scenic design by Clint Ramos and Miguel Urbino. Costume design by Linda Cho. Lighting design by David Weiner. Sound design by Megumi Katayama. Music director Rob Berman. Choreography by Parker Esse. Direction by Chay Yew. 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission.

NOTE: This production closed following the evening performance on Sunday, June 25, 2023.


Grade: A+ 

The just-closed Encores! presentation of The Light in the Piazza is the perfect example of the joy and pain of the ethereal nature of the art form we love so much. It's that "capturing lightning in a bottle" thrill of witnessing a once in a lifetime moment, savoring the memory of it, and lamenting that it'll never happen again. The Adam Guettel - Craig Lucas musical, one of a small handful of masterpiece shows so far in the 21st century was given a miraculous revival by director Chay Yew, his creative team and a glorious company of actors. Some may disagree, but I found this minimalist (by necessity) version to be more wholly satisfying than the original.


Yew has carefully allowed the near-fantasy of the piece to walk hand-in-hand with both the melodramatic waves of emotion and the harsh intrusions of reality. It is at once otherworldly and grounded. From the dreamy opening ballet sequence (choreography by Parker Esse) to the trance-like movement of the company as they moved throughout the space, every moment was like a soothing sigh in the heat of summer. The staging was so expert and meaningful and yet unobtrusive; we all shared in a dreamlike existence for a couple of hours. The staging was aided by the scenic design of Clint Ramos and Miguel Urbino: a few well-chosen set pieces, floating statues and paintings, as well as a series of arches, instantly taking us to the breathtaking views of Italy, as well as Linda Cho's gorgeous mid-20th century costumes, vibrant and with striking silhouettes. David Weiner's wondrous use of light and shadow, full of warm, sunny shades and vibrant blues, added subliminal weight to the emotions of the moment.

Bringing this fable of mother-daughter triumphs, failures and growth to life is a stellar company of actors. How terrific it is that Encores!, given the short time between first rehearsal and final curtain, can assemble a cast of proven, beloved Broadway talent and first looks at a new generation at the same time. Where else can you find someone the caliber of Tony-nominee Michael Hayden in a bit part, or Drama Desk winner Andrea Burns in a comedic semi-supporting role. Both are outstanding, of course, the former bringing passive-aggressive conflict to the story, the latter bringing the show to a halt with shrieks of laughter from the audience and reveling in a character of remarkable strength. Then there's the quintessential Italian family headed by Burns and Ivan Hernandez, himself a sophisticated swirl of suave masculinity and debonair sensitivity. Rodd Cyrus is a riot of dimwitted youth and a smoldering sexuality that will help his character Giuseppe survive in life, and Shereen Ahmed adds fiery passion to every scene she's in as his wise-to-his-ways spouse, Franca. Together, the group is both familiar stereotypes and a family willing to grow together, all lovingly written and portrayed.

As the young love-struck Fabrizio, James D. Gish is so natural, so believable, you'd swear he really is an Italian boy with broken English. He wears his sincerity and heart on his sleeve. It is love at first sight for all involved on both sides of the proscenium. What a voice! What a presence! Here's hoping this marvelous young man gets roles he can sink his teeth into for longer than three weeks, and soon.

Everything you may have heard about Ruthie Ann Miles's bravura performance is true, and yet not praised enough. By turns fierce protector and terrified mother, she is a tower of strength, but always with the sense that she may crack like an ancient Roman statue at any moment. She sings the score brilliantly, and is very funny, too. I suspect that this a performance people will be talking about for years (even by those who didn't even see it); it is certainly on my very short list of definitive performances I've witnessed over the past four decades. I continue to marvel at the ever-expanding depth of her talents: can this really be the same human being playing the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd? And that look back - if you know you know - is rightfully already the stuff of theater legend.


Another very short list of mine is that of groundbreaking debut performances. This production just added a name to that list: Anna Zavelson. Before she even opened her mouth as she blew on to the City Center stage, I knew this force of nature is and will be a huge star. I'm talking Martin, Lansbury, McDonald level stardom. I'm getting tears in my eyes as I type this just thinking about what a privilege it was to bear witness to her work here. Every moment, every line reading, every glorious note she sang was pure perfection. It is this kind of talent that makes one really consider just why it is live theater that fulfills the artistic needs of my soul. Hyperbole? Not at all. This young actor transported me, broke my heart and healed it all at once. She is stunning.

The only flaw of this production is that it is over. Yet I have to wonder if an extended life for it might diminish the wonder. Lightning in a bottle should be kept a rare thing.

📸: J. Marcus

Thursday, June 22, 2023

REVIEW: Once Upon a One More Time

Review of the evening preview performance on Saturday, June 3, 2023 at the Marquis Theatre in New York City. Starring Briga Heelan, Justin Guarini, Jennifer Simard, Adam Godley, Brook Dillman, Aisha Jackson, Amy Hillner Larsen, Tess Soltau, Nathan Levy, Ryan Steele and Mila Weir. Book by Jon Hartmere. Based on the music performed and recorded by Britney Spears. Scenic design by Anna Fleischle. Costume design by Loren Elstein. Lighting design by Kenneth Posner. Sound design by Andrew Keister. Projection design by Sven Ortel. Creative consultant David Leveaux. Direction and choreography by Keone Madrid and Mari Madrid. 2 hours, 30 minutes, including one intermission.

Grade: F


Well, I'm sad to report that the 2023-2024 Broadway musical season is off to a ...weak start. Last season's similarly themed Bad Cinderella looks like a masterpiece compared to the loud, ugly mess that is Once Upon a One More Time. I can't remember the last time I have felt such empathetic embarrassment for a cast. And there is another change-the-narrative/female-empowerment-with-a-quill-pen-and-a-jukebox-score a few blocks over from the Marquis that is vastly superior in every way. They even share a few songs, each done better by Anne, Juliet and company.

     

The only two (and I do mean onlythings that save this from being a complete failure are the invigorating presence of Justin Guarini as Prince Charming and Aisha Jackson as Snow White, who dominate the stage when they're on, and create a vacuum when they're off. A triple-threat of singing, comedic timing, and, surprise, dancing, Guarini is, as the kids say, living his best life up there. He truly understands the assignment: use pompous arrogance and vapid thoughts to be, well, charming. Similarly, the sassy delivery of Jackson as she morphs from silly, wide-eyed princess to empowered queen is a delight, and when she sings... wow! She shakes the rafters and wakes the bored among us right up.

Briga Heelan has the unenviable position of playing Cinderella. There have been way too many Cindys lately, and she suffers in comparison. Mostly, it's the cringey material she has to work with. With its forced plot points, forced laughs and annoying vapidity she is, I think, a stand-in for Ms. Spears. This may account for her on-the-verge-of-dumb-blonde nasal tone and line readings. She's also the only person in the whole cast who sings like Britney, only without the aid of lip-syncing to prerecorded tracks and digital fixes. I mean, she's literally the only one like this, so being a stand-in must be why. Right? (I'm grasping at straws here.) The rest of the featured princesses are okay, I guess, but after a while, they seem to blend into one royal blob. (I don't think the woman next to me ever understood who the princess from Princess and the Pea was, and only when the actress referred to herself as Rapunzel, did she get that one. I quote, "That's who that is!? Bitch needs more hair!")

Another set of characters that have appeared in too many similarly themed shows are the wicked/evil/misunderstood Stepmother and Step-sisters. This go round, they are, respectively, played by Jennifer Simard, Amy Hillner Larsen and Tess Soltau. The sisters, here called Belinda and Betany, are a screechy, unfunny duo - I gritted my teeth every time they entered. (The audience did love it when the one sister screamed, "It's Betany, bitch!") Even the always wonderful Simard is not good here. Sure she gets big laughs and gets to sing an...interesting... version of "Toxic," all while swaggering around the huge stage sounding like a young All About Eve era Bette Davis. But I think the rapturous online preview reviews she's gotten have to do with her past accomplishments, and even more to do with the fact that she's such a pro that even the combination of bad material and her "couldn't care less" demeanor makes it seem like it's another winning performance. I've always been baffled when I hear people say, "So and so looks bored the whole time." Not any more. I've seen it for myself here.

The inevitable narrator character (Adam Godley) is more of an annoyance than sinister ringmaster, and the other inevitable character - Fairy Godmother - (Brook Dillman) is just as ridiculous. OFG as they call her, dressed like a 50's housewife, spews platitudes and woman power slogans like she's reading a grocery list; Dillman reminds me of the Agatha character in WandaVision in her campy delivery, but decidedly less effectively. Where is Jackie Hoffman when you need her?

Aside from the fact that a revival of the greatest fractured fairy tale musical ever was on Broadway recently, and two other, vastly superior versions trod the boards last season, book writer Jon Hartmere, Jr. had a good idea here. He could have made something really interesting. But the plot is repetitive - how many princess club meetings must we sit through where the same material is covered every time? And there are potentially interesting sub-plots that just stop - what about that damned magic quill ominously glowing in a bubble over the stage? The best relationship in the whole thing is between a gay dwarf and a gay prince, which is saying something given how tired that trope is. Worst of all, the book never matches the songs used beyond the first few lines of each blending into the dialogue - sloppy punchlines where the rest of the song barely has anything to do with the characters or plot. Each song is, however, an excuse to dance.


Renowned in the music video world and for the occasional theatrical dance piece, Keone and Mari Madrid certainly put their dancers through their paces. And it is when the dancers dance that the show really picks up. The first few are quite good, until you realize that they are painfully repetitive (like the book). The formations - circles into a line that breaks into a "v" - over and over offer only diminishing returns. It says something about the choreography when a segment of "Oops, I Did It Again" is done to the original video dance routine and the audience screams in adoration. (At least that choreographer is credited in the Playbill.) Two-time Tony nominee Jennifer Weber has nothing to worry about. The Madrids are also responsible for the direction, which is pretty basic staging coupled with a woefully apparent lack of understanding about theme and book tightening. More than once, I thought to myself that the actors are directing themselves to see what sticks.

Don't let the pictures or the B-roll clip fool you, design-wise, this is a wholly unattractive production with the best thing being the garish to excess lighting by Kenneth Posner, who seems to get that he has the lion's share of work to do, with a mostly bare metallic box as his canvas. The set, what there is of it, by Anna Fleischle, is neither fairy tale-like nor nightmarish enough, and that box she put it in is... Anyway, Loren Elstein's costumes show some promise at first, when they pay tribute to their Disney/Grimm counterparts, but fall apart in act two when the Princess 2.0 cavalcade begins - each coming out looking like they got hastily wrapped up in yards of sequinned material from the discontinued bin at Walmart. And why do these things always make female empowerment mean looking like hookers? I can't believe that the same guy (Sven Ortel) who did the stunning projections for Parade was responsible for the ugliness seen here. Andrew Keister's sound had one volume - loud.

In a one-quarter or less filled mezzanine on a Saturday night, the people that did come seemed to have a good time. I'm glad for them, really. They came for Britney and they got Britney. Loud and dance-y. But I know at least one group of people who were disappointed. The ladies next to me sang loud and proud with each song, that is, until a lyric changed. Then they stopped and picked up again when they knew the lyrics. "Why do they keep messing up the words?" They were less enthusiastic as the show wore on. Maybe it didn't matter to them that the songs had so little to do with the plot.

They say in the show that well-behaved princesses rarely make history. Neither do rotten musicals. If pop hits and girl power re-write is what you need, head over to the Sondheim and grab tickets for & Juliet.  

📸: M. Murphy 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Broadway Eats: O'Casey's Times Square

Maybe we have a restaurant type - Irish pubs - when in the Theater District? We recently ate at O'Casey's Times Square. Blink and you miss it, this small slice of a place abuts the cavernous construction pit on the corner of W. 46th and 8th, and has a tattoo place and the back of the Imperial as its other neighbors. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but once you step into this cozy joint, and your eyes adjust, it feels less Times Square and more local joint.

Broadway Eats: O'Casey's Times Square

LOCATIONTheater District/Times Square: 252 West 46th Street Phone: 212-302-7500
CLOSEST THEATERSImperial, Richard Rodgers, Lunt-Fontanne, Marquis
HOURS7am - 4am, Monday - Sunday
WEBSITEhttps://ocaseystimesquare.com/
MEALS SERVEDBreakfast, Lunch and Dinner; Weekend Brunch
BARFull bar
OUTDOOR SEATINGWeather permitting

THE MENU:

(Click each to enlarge)


As I mentioned above, this is an Irish pub, and it is open all but 3 hours a day! We've been there twice, both times for a pre-show lunch, and so the regular menu was what we ordered from. As you can see from above, they serve a variety of dishes, including "bar food" appetizers, burgers, and our favorite - comfort food! If authentic Irish is your thing, they've got you covered as well. Even though it's not my thing, the Bangers and Mash looks and smells amazing. The variety of items makes it an easy choice for a return visit - there are several things we both want to try!

THE PLACE:



We've only been here in the hours before a Sunday matinee, and business at that time is steady, but quiet. We felt welcome to stay and linger as long as we wanted, and the owner even invited us back after Sweeney Todd, which unfortunately, we couldn't that day. Long and narrow, the place never felt claustrophobic, and it was really clean. This includes the bathroom, which, though small, was spotless. We also enjoyed the framed Playbills and window cards on the walls - most from shows with Irish content and/or authorship. Great meeting of content and locale, here!

OUR ORDER:


We had drinks - Mike's usual margarita
($12) and my usual rum and coke (Pepsi here) ($12). Though we did not have any appetizers, I had my eye on French Onion Soup. For our meal, Mike had a roast chicken club sandwich on ciabatta bread ($17), and I had, on our server's 
recommendation, the beef stew ($24). The portions were huge, but so tasty, we both cleaned our plates. Mike's sandwich came with a pile of homemade fries - potato wedges, really. My meal was a large bowl of tender beef chunks, with potatoes and carrots in a rich, delicious gravy, and topped with a dollop of mashed potatoes. It was SO GOOD!

THE SERVICE:

There's something about sitting at the bar and getting to know the servers while we ate. Both the bartender and waitress were from Ireland, and it was fun just listening to them talk - about New York and about their country. And the owner was there, too, chatting us up. The drinks were a nice pour - generous. And the service was just terrific, we never had to ask for anything - they anticipated everything from extra napkins to drink refills and water. All with a good nature and some feisty chat, we felt more like we were regulars than new to the place.

We will definitely be back. 

BONUS: They accept restaurant.com vouchers, if you have them!

🥄🥄🥄🥄🥄 out of 5

Monday, June 19, 2023

2023-2024 Broadway Musical Logos: Once Upon a One More Time

Here we are just a week after the Tony Awards, and we already have a new logo to dive into! Opening later this week, the Britney Spears musical is yet another catalog jukeboxer that presents a fractured fairy tale scenario of female empowerment. How successful a venture this is as a show, we will discuss later; today, we will discuss just how successful their advertising is.

2023-2024 Broadway Musical Logos:
Once Upon a One More Time 


Google "Britney Spears Butterfly" if you aren't a hardcore fan, and it will enlighten you (maybe) as to why the species figures so prominently in the show's logo. And given that it looks like it is made out of lights, one might think that this is some sort of concert. This is by design I'm sure, however ethically murky that might be. Do butterflies figure into the show at all, or are they just a Brit signal?


Now add words. The font, right off Microsoft Word, is vaguely fairy tale-ish - royal, if you will - and in shiny Cinderella blue. Kudos to the marketing design team for making a clever tagline, ending with Ms. Spears' name in bright white and second only to most of the title in size. The biggest part of the title, "One More Time," references her biggest hit, of course. The part of the otherwise moderately clever title, is, let's be honest, nearly invisible. Again, I have to ask, is this a call to Britney fans, and not musical fans (there are a lot of overlaps between those two groups)? Is this a Brit and Switch here?


Another iteration of the logo has a much more appropriate, show themed tagline, changing "powered by" with "empowered by." The latter is also a much more trendy buzz word. On the other hand, maybe it's a little too smart. (Who is their target audience?) At least it recognizes that it is actually a musical and not a concert. This one is the better of the two so far.


Again, kudos to their team for trying to evolve their logo. Perhaps after a few surveys of the public, they realized they needed to add something to get potential ticket buyers to see what the show is really about.  Adding the princesses to the logo is probably a good idea. And I like the blend of Disney Princess posing with 21st century girl power poses. Definitely adds to advertising the show not just Spears. And the rainbow... Happy Pride!

    

    

And yet, something about feels a little too... familiar... copycat-ish. Famous females as rock stars. I mean, six queens should set the standard for six princesses...

I hope the show is better, fresher, than this logo.

Grade: D


Friday, June 16, 2023

Broadway Jeopardy! Game 6

Broadway Jeopardy! Game 6

Broadway trivia fans! This. Is. ... Jeopardy! The Jeopardy Round, The Double Jeopardy Round and Final Jeopardy, plus two not so hidden Daily Doubles. Good luck!

#GetShucked

All of the responses have something to do with corn, of course!


One of the ingredients in the Into the Woods potion


They served this with chili at Oklahoma! in 2019


The show where the corn is as high as an elephant's eye


In South Pacific, she's as corny as Kansas in August


He was the founder of Dogpatch in Li'l Abner

And now, the Double Jeopardy round. Dollar values are doubled.

Life of Pie

All of the responses are either pie related or have the word "pie" in them.


Josh Groban played this title character 
along with a girl and a great comet


The Kander & Ebb flop about a dance marathon


He wrote the book for Memphis and Diana: The Musical


What they renamed the diner in Waitress


The two pie makers on Fleet Street

And now the Final Jeopardy round. Players, make your wagers.

Tony Award Winners

The most recent Best Musical winner 
based on a book

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