Monday, July 31, 2023

JKTS: Celebrating 40 Years of Broadway: Reader's Interest Survey

JKTS: Celebrating 40 Years of Broadway 
Reader's Interest Survey

I've often written about my very first Broadway show, Mame, starring Angela Lansbury at the Gershwin Theatre. The date was August 20, 1983, and it is a day that changed my life forever. In just three weeks, it will have been forty years. FORTY!

We here at JK's TheatreScene would like to celebrate our milestone with some of the greatest theater fans out there YOU! Over the weeks following the 20th, we'll have a series of articles, and a few fun surprises, too. 

The first show and the last show of the last 40 years!

But before we begin, we'd like your valuable input. The link below will open a very brief (only 3 questions!) survey asking about what kinds of content and topics you'd like to read. Each question also includes an "other" option for you to write in ideas that we didn't think of, so PLEASE send in your suggestions!

The survey will be open for a full week, through 6 PM on Sunday, August 6th. Thank you in advance! 


Click this secure link to complete the survey: HERE

Friday, July 28, 2023

2023 - 2024 Broadway Musical Logos: Back to the Future

2023 - 2024 Broadway Musical Logo:
>>>>Back to the Future: The Musical<<<<

If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? 

The Back to the Future logo is nearly as iconic as the film it comes from. So, it's a smart move to keep it mostly as is - the only variation being a necessary addition of "The Musical." That distinction is an important one when using a film logo, so that crowds of theater fans, fans of the film, and various tourists will enter the Winter Garden Theatre prepared for live people telling this tale through song and dance.

I haven't seen it yet, aside from production stills and a few short videos (that ad that has Casey Likes entering the deLorean as his character from Almost Famous, and emerging in full Marty McFly mode is genius!). But from all of that, it is easy to glean that the musical is a lot like the film on which it is based. This show art codifies that the film you love will likely also earn your love as a musical. And Broadway stars as recognizable beloved characters (Likes and Roger Bart as Marty and Doc Brown) also pull the theater crowd.

Personally, the minute I see it, it takes me back to my late teens - the mid-80's were a blast. I am flooded with memories of seeing it in a packed movie theater, several times. Then waiting for those agonizing months waiting for it to come out on video or cable. It was torture, but looking back on it, there's a lot to be said for not having nearly instant gratification like we have these days.

I suspect that nostalgia is exactly what the production is hoping will draw lots of people from my generation, and that we will bring our kids and (gulp!) grand kids. Of course, I understand that BTTF is like The Wizard of Oz and other classic popular films. Generations now love this film.

I, for one, am excited to see it. You'll probably see me in a show shirt with this logo soon.

Grade: A+

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

ReDISCoveries: Spring Awakening (2006 OBCR)

ReDISCoveries: Spring Awakening

(2006 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

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 Original Broadway cast recording of Spring Awakening.

This week I return to much more familiar territory with the Grammy-winning recording of this Tony-winning score. I had the good fortune of seeing the original production twice on Broadway, as well as the 2015 Deaf West Broadway revival (also twice) and a nearby non-Equity tour stop. I also listened to this recording almost nonstop when it was released (I had a very long commute at the time!), so it’s safe to say that, probably like many of you, I know these songs very well. Nonetheless, I haven’t listened to it all the way through for quite a few years, so I thought it was time to take it off the shelf for another visit.

My impression of the music remains much the same as it did almost 17 years ago. This score is basically a genre unto itself, neither “Barely Breathing”-style middle of the road pop nor standard Broadway fare. It has hints of both of these styles, of course, but as I listen now I’d characterize it as a collection of Romantic-sounding art songs with a modern folkish tinge.

And this score really is basically a collection of songs, rather unlike the typical post-R&H musical where the story is driven by the songs. Instead, the songs famously express the characters’ internal reflections on what’s happening around them, allowing composer Duncan Sheik and lyricist Steven Sater wide latitude. The lyrics in particular are laden with sometimes inscrutable imagery - unless you happen to have read Sater’s own book explaining them. The effect is enchanting, and almost as enjoyable on a recording as it is in the theater. 

I could probably write a whole series of posts on this score, but in what follows I’ll limit myself to one or two observations (not all of them terribly original) that I had upon revisiting each of the songs.


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

*Mama Who Bore Me: The first time I saw the show on stage, I was a little disappointed that the short string introduction to this song was only added for the recording. Many visits later, of course I realize that the “cold open” is just as perfect for the live musical as those few bars are for the recording.

Mama Who Bore Me (reprise): It’s quite a move to reprise your opening song almost immediately, but this choral version definitely rocks in its own way! Using the same lyrics to music that overlaps only slightly with the first version, it’s a nice transition from the stark opening scene to the meat of the show.

All That’s Known: It’s very important that we know who Melchior is and what makes him tick as we later witness his world crumbling around him. This “I Want” song casts a spotlight on his dedication to learning and to creativity by juxtaposing it with the stultifying classroom he’s currently stuck in. It’s a very concise way to introduce the character and his ideals.

*The Bitch of Living: This is the first song I heard from the show, and I was infatuated after the first few iterations of the opening vamp. With all due respect to Jonathan Larson and the title song from Rent, this song as close to authentic grungy angst as Broadway has ever come. Moritz may not be the lead role, but it’s the barely contained volatility of John Gallagher, Jr.’s vocals that is the driving force on this recording for me.

My Junk: I have to admit that I didn’t care for this song when I first heard it; it seemed far too light and frivolous in the context of the rest of the score. My opinion changed significantly when I saw it performed on stage, where it’s the perfect accompaniment for a variety of mostly humorous stage vignettes.

Touch Me: This song represents Spring Awakening at its most Spring-Awakening-iest, with most of the male characters chiming in with their own thoughts as Melchior and Moritz discuss anatomical drawings. I love the soaring music of the “where I go” sections, but the lyrics here really are quite difficult to decipher.

**The Word of Your Body: I haven’t heard many people discussing this song over the years, but I think it’s a high point of the uniquely beautiful style of this score. Not quite a duet, it’s rather more like two parallel arias sung by people who are physically right next to each other but psychically worlds apart. Of course, the breathtaking vocals of Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele really help to sell it, too.

The Dark I Know Well: The lyrics here are, for once, not abstract at all; in fact they’re frighteningly direct. This song is chilling enough on the recording, but it’s even more disturbing in the context of the story as told in the stage musical.

And Then There Were None: This isn’t one of my very favorites, but I think this song is exceptionally well crafted. The alternation of the spoken correspondence and Moritz’s increasingly alarming responses is an economical way of characterizing his descent into despair without violating the “rules” of the score.

The Mirror-Blue Night: This trippy little ballad is full of colorful imagery that seems to speak of a desire for sexual release on the part of Moritz and his friends. For me, it’s probably the most forgettable song in the score - indeed, it’s the only one I couldn’t place when I read the song list before listening to the CD.

I Believe: This song deftly conjures a (perhaps spurious) sense of well-being and communal togetherness for the central couple. It gradually spins off into a haze of musical psychedelia not heard on Broadway since Hair.

Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind:
This sequence, which poignantly sets Moritz’s nihilism (“Don’t Do Sadness”) against Ilse’s thoughtfulness (“Blue Wind”), is another brilliant demonstration of the show at its best. When the characters talk to each other, they don’t manage to communicate very much; when they sing, they communicate a great deal, but not to each other. Lauren Pritchard shines here as brightly as Gallagher.

The Guilty Ones: On stage, this is the first song of Act Two (before “Don’t Do Sadness”), so it’s slightly out of sequence on this album. It’s sort of a rejoinder to “I Believe,” a personal and communal acknowledgment of the consequences of Melchior and Wendla’s coupling.

Left Behind: Get a tissue ready as Melchior celebrates the memory of his friend, simultaneously driving Moritz’s father to a grief-stricken breakdown. The gentle music and vivid lyrics do their job well here, with the final lyrics (“it whistles through the ghosts still left behind”) foreshadowing the penultimate song of the show.

Totally Fucked: I can certainly understand why this explosion of a song is a popular favorite, and I love seeing and hearing it on stage! Beginning with one of the show’s best punchlines, it develops into a musical orgy of angry resignation, with even the adults joining in. Rarely has the word “blah” been used to better effect as a song lyric.

The Word of Your Body (reprise): At one point I used to think of Hänchen (Jonathan B. Wright) as a rather shallow character who didn’t consider Ernst (Gideon Glick) as much more than a conquest, but this song really gives the lie to that interpretation. In fact, these two are really the only people in the whole show who manage to communicate successfully with each other about what they want. Exceptionally, they even seem to understand each other when they sing.

Whispering: Wendla’s second solo of the evening doesn’t make quite as big an impression as her opening song, but the writers probably thought it important to give this character a reflective scene at this point. I find the music and lyrics slightly pallid in the context of this otherwise vibrant score.

Those You’ve Known: Musically a reprise of Melchior’s first song, “All That’s Known,” here his words draw a path from complete despair to a kind of determination to fulfill his dreams, as he gains strength from the ghosts of his best friends. I have always thought of this as the happiest ending the story could logically have had, although the persistent mournfulness of the music betrays some instability in Melchior’s apparent optimism.

*The Song of Purple Summer: Much more reassuring is this warmest of finales, naturally sung at first by the pure and free spirit Ilse, but soon enough taken up by the full company. For once the varied colors and intricate metaphors that fill the show’s lyrics promise redemption rather than frustration. Even if it all seems a little too rosy in the cold light of day outside the theater, it’s exactly the right endpoint for those of us who have taken this musical journey.

Next time I’ll turn my attention to the 2000 studio recording of Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella - or at least the first CD of the three-disc set


Monday, July 24, 2023

Star-To-Be: Piazza's James D. Gish

Piazza's James D. Gish 

It has been weeks since we basked in the theatrical glow that was Encores' The Light in the Piazza and the stunning performances of Ruthie Ann Miles and company. But it hasn't been far from our minds since. One of the many reasons why it continues to resonate was the utterly charming turn by James D. Gish as Fabrizio. By intermission, we just knew this guy is a Star-To-Be, and not just because of those matinee idol looks, either.



Sure he has a Broadway credit (as one of a long line of Fiyeros in Wicked), a couple of National Tours (Beautiful and Les Miserables) under his belt, and an impressive resume of regional roles. He also has a great career as a vocalist and voice over artist. Gish is also a graduate of ASU's Barrett Honors College with a B.S. in Business Administration (it's good to get an education). With his face on a Hershey bar, maybe he's already a star?



National Tours: Beautiful (far left); Les Miserables (to the left of Eponine)


Regional (clockwise from top left):
Jersey Boys (2nd from left); Newsies;
Bullets Over Broadway (center); The Toxic Avenger

What we see, though, is a future where he is a real above-the-title ticket draw on the Great Bright Way and beyond.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Broadway Games: Characters!

Broadway Games: Characters!

Below are pictures of characters from Broadway musicals from their show's logos, Playbills, or window cards. For each, name the character (not the actor) as fully as you can, and the show they are in. Some show more than one character, so try to name them all!

1 point for the character's first name, 1 point for the character's last name (if there is a known last name), and 1 point for the show title. Good luck!!


1 point: Annie

1 point: Warbucks

1 point: Annie

1.   2. 
3.    4.    5. 
6.    7. 
 8.     9.

 10.     11. 

 12.     13. 

14.    15. 



Wednesday, July 19, 2023

ReDISCoveries: Myths and Hymns (1999 Off-Broadway Recording)

 ReDISCoveries: Myths and Hymns
(1999 Off-Broadway Recording)

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 1999 off-Broadway cast recording of Adam Guettel’s Myths and Hymns.

This recording of Adam Guettel’s modern song cycle is perhaps the least familiar one on my CD shelf. I’ve never seen a performance of the work (rather few have had that opportunity!), and before this week I had only given the CD one casual listening since buying a used copy about ten years ago. It’s interesting to approach a score like this with an almost total veil of ignorance about its music and lyrics. This approach is greatly facilitated by the non-narrative nature of the work, since one can appreciate each individual song without trying to figure out a story that connects them.


Myths and Hymns had a very brief run at the Public Theater in 1997 under a title shared by one of its songs, Saturn Returns. This recording features the full cast from that production, along with some performers who had participated in the show’s development. The list includes several Broadway icons (Audra McDonald, Mandy Patinkin, Billy Porter), a couple of fan favorites (Jose Llana, Annie Golden), and the composer/lyricist himself.

The 13-player orchestra is in a sense the complement of the Light in the Piazza ensemble: this one is relatively heavy on winds and percussion and light on string instruments. (Both use a harp, which seems central to the dense musical textures Guettel tends to create.) Playing orchestrations by the late Don Sebesky and Jamie Lawrence, this small group manages to evoke several different musical styles and create a variety of unusual effects.

Although the songs in Myths and Hymns are not connected by an overarching storyline, they form a cohesive unit on the basis of a shared theme, suggested by the name of the work. In a note included in the libretto for the recording, Guettel writes that he was inspired by books on mythology as well as a hymnal he found in a used book shop. He discovered that “they have a lot in common - a desire to transcend earthly bounds, to bond with something or someone greater.” While I can’t say that these songs affected me quite as deeply as this lofty description might suggest, I did find listening to this score to be an intense and unusual experience, often quite beautiful, constantly changing, and never dull.


I use a star (*) to mark the songs I particularly like, and my overall favorite gets two stars (**). The main performer(s) for each song are indicated in parentheses.

*Children of the Heavenly King (Theresa McCarthy): We’re thrown immediately into the depths of post-Sondheim modernism with this gentle but highly dissonant introduction to the themes of the song cycle. The singing here is beautiful and ethereal, comfortingly grounded in musical theater rather than opera. The first verse of this is accompanied by bare piano chords, while the second verse has a more piquant woodwind arrangement.

At the Sounding (Vivian Cherry, Darius de Haas, Llana, McCarthy): This strident fanfare of a song features some glorious vocal arrangements for the quartet of singers, who call us together to hear the stories that form the remainder of the work. It’s pretty amazing that this orchestra can produce such brash and brassy sounds (the only actual brass instrument is a single trumpet). 

Saturn Returns (Guettel): The jarring piano chords are back, as the soloist sings at first of vague memories and longings. Pretty soon this develops into a full-fledged cry for something transcendent, as he is joined by the full orchestra and vocal ensemble, pleading: “Oh, get me up like Icarus/And give me wings like Pegasus/Just get me out and get me high!”

Icarus (Guettel, Lawrence Clayton): We’re on more solid Broadway-like ground with this song, a very funky take on the famous mythological episode. Guettel serves as narrator, with Clayton interjecting his paternal warnings to Icarus. Eventually the rest of the ensemble joins in as the song reaches its rather psychedelic climax.

Migratory V (McCarthy): After a long and plaintive oboe solo, the singer embarks on a tranquil meditation on human achievement, concluding that only by striving together can we reach our potential: “A migratory V/How wonderful if that’s what God could see.” 

Pegasus (Porter, Lynette DuPre, McDonald): This guitar-driven folk-like song is a three-way dialogue among Pegasus (DuPre), her rider (Porter), and the gadfly that bit her, causing her to throw him off (McDonald). The focus here is on the clever, fast-past lyrics, as when the gadfly observes: “They seize upon the incident/Look for implications/When it was only Zeus again/Venting his frustrations.”

Link (Cherry, de Haas, Annie Golden, Llana, McCarthy, Bob Stillman): This brief track serves its literal purpose, consisting of some vocal murmuring to transition into the next song.

Hero and Leander (Guettel): In this comparatively conventional love song, the narrator compares his own new-found love to that of the legendary couple. In the tradition of similar romantic pop ballads, the accompaniment builds from a solo piano to full orchestral climax, before receding again for the final few measures.

*Sisyphus (Patinkin): This song, with a delivery reminiscent of Patinkin’s vocal antics in “The Day Off” from Sunday in the Park With George, is about as close as the score gets to genuine musical comedy. The title character vents his famous frustrations with increasing ferocity as the vocal ensemble interrupts with unhelpful comments, punctuated by loud jabs from the orchestra. While this song isn’t as musically interesting as others in the score, it’s pretty fun, and an effective way to tell this story.

**Come to Jesus (McCarthy, Guettel): In this six-minute song - somehow both the longest and most concise in the show - a young couple, Matthew and Emily, exchange letters, the orchestra recapitulating the music from the very beginning of the score. She, writing from a doctor’s office, wonders if the couple has made the right decision about ending her pregnancy, and implores him not to let the experience tear them apart. He, writing from an airport, replies that they are each alone now, and prays for forgiveness. Much of the song is taken up by a jagged and expansive setting of a traditional religious text, allowing each of them to express their hopes and their despairs without having to come up with words to pin them down. The overall effect is of a complete mini-drama unfolding over the course of a simple exchange of letters.

How Can I Lose You? (Golden): This song, a fast but amiable waltz, drips pleasantly of Sondheim pastiche, evoking especially the melody and rhythm of “Agony” from Into the Woods, combined with the tone and theme of “Losing My Mind” from Follies. I know I’ve invoked Sondheim several times in this write-up, but it’s hard to avoid hearing his influence in this score - and particularly in this song, which seems like a deliberate homage to his style.

There’s a Shout (Cherry): This song is a straightforward, full-throated Gospel pastiche, in both music and lyrics. It’s not a song I’d probably listen to on its own, but it does make for a pleasant detour in the context of this generally heavy score.

*Awaiting You (Porter): This song, featuring the score’s most enigmatic lyrics, seems to be a meditation on the contradictions of life on earth, simultaneously a great gift and a series of losses and frustrated hopes. Regardless of its meaning, it features a young Porter already exhibiting his unique and very theatrical vocal talents. Although I think Guettel might go to the well a bit too often in this score with songs that follow the quiet-loud-suddenly-quiet-again format, this is probably the best example of that type.

The Great Highway (McCarthy, de Haas): This is another transitional passage, consisting of a rather desperate flow of “oohs” and “aahs” from the singers (wordless vocal lines seem to be a Guettel trademark), with a slightly nightmarish orchestral accompaniment.

There’s a Land (Guettel): The mood is more celebratory in this jaunty song, with the singers imagining a land “of pure delight,” perhaps invisible but not too far off or difficult to get to. The texture of this song is striking, with sudden shifts in tempo, but a little disorienting.

Saturn Returns (reprise) (Guettel): This is not a recapitulation but an “update” to the earlier version of the song. Where the singer previously focused on the pain of longing for something beyond the ordinary, here, in the work’s finale, the singer acknowledges that it is precisely this emptiness that can be our best guide to pursuing the things that we really need.

Next time I’ll return to more familiar territory: the 2006 Original Broadway Cast Recording of Spring Awakening

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...