Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Broadway Games: 'Tis the Season!

🎄Broadway Games: 'Tis the Season🎄


Thanksgiving is behind us, and that means the "Is 'Turkey Lurkey Time' a Thanksgiving song or a Christmas song?" debate has reared its ugly head once again, and rages anew. It also means we begin celebrating the holiday season in earnest. And today's game is all about that!

Directions: Figure out each clue. Then rearrange the tree letters to come up with the Broadway holiday answer. Good luck!  

___  ___      ___  ___  ___  ___      ___

___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___

___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___

1. Now starring Jordan Fischer and Betty Who.   🎄 ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___ 🎄 (9 letters)

2. The demon barber of Fleet Street.   ___ 🎄 ___  ___  ___  ___  ___     ___  ___  ___ 🎄 (11 letters, 2 words)

3. Ms. Levi, Matchmaker.   ___  ___ 🎄🎄 ___ (5 letters)

4. The head Mean Girl.   ___  ___  ___ 🎄 ___  ___       ___ 🎄 ___ 🎄 ___  ___ (12 letters, 2 words)

5. Water For _____.   ___  ___  ___  ___  ___🎄 ___ 🎄 ___  (9 letters)

6. I Need That star.   ___🎄___  ___  ___       ___🎄 ___  ___ 🎄 ___  (11 letters, 2 words)

7. Where you learn to dance this season.   ___  ___ 🎄 ___ (4 letters)

8. Title character in this year's Best Musical.   ___  ___ 🎄 ___ 🎄 ___  ___  ___ (8 letters)

9. She played Elsa.   🎄 ___  ___ 🎄🎄 ___  ___  (7 letters)

10. Back to the _____.   ___  ___ 🎄 ___  ___ 🎄(6 letters)

Monday, November 27, 2023

Broadway Who's Who: Priscilla Lopez

An actor with a nearly 60 year Broadway career, our latest honoree is probably significant for different reasons to theater fans depending upon when Priscilla Lopez came into their theater-going lives. Early 2000s fans probably identify with her as Nina's mother in In the Heights, or more recently as Berthe in the revival of Pippin. If you were new to Broadway in the 80s, you might have caught her Tony-winning turn in A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, or as a replacement in Nine. Through the years, she's been a steady presence on the New York stage in plays as varied as Extremities with Farrah Fawcett, Anna in the Tropics and recently in The Skin of Our Teeth and Grand Horizons. She also has amassed nearly 70 IMDb credits including theater-fan films like Center Stage, Ratatouille: The Tik Tok Musical and Theater Camp. But for most Broadway fans, it was her star-making role as Diana in A Chorus Line, making "Nothing" and "What I Did For Love" instant and enduring Broadway classic songs.  These days, she's giving an amazing performance in the off-Broadway musical, The Gardens of Anuncia.

Broadway Who's Who:
Priscilla Lopez


DID YOU KNOW?
  • BORN: February 26 in The Bronx, New York
  • FAMILY: married to Broadway musician Vincent Fanuele; they have 2 children
  • EDUCATION: New York's famed High School for the Performing Arts
  • FUN FACT: she's the aunt of playwright and film director Matthew Lopez (The Inheritance, Red, White and Royal Blue)

Select Off-Broadway Credits:



Extremities
- 1983; Westside Arts Theatre



The Gardens of Anuncia
- 2023; Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center; as Older Anuncia 

Select Broadway Credits:
She was supposed to make her debut in the ill-fated Richard Chamberlin/Mary Tyler Moore musical, Breakfast at Tiffany's, but did make it in the almost as ill-fated Henry, Sweet Henry. But she earned a measure of acclaim as the replacement for the role of Kathy in the original production of Company, followed by a stint as Fastrada in the original Pippin. Then came...


A Chorus Line
- 1975; Shubert Theatre (following a run at the Public Theater off-Broadway & on the 1st National Tour; as Diana Morales
⭐- Best Featured Actress in a Musical Tony Award nominee; Special Award - Theatre World Awards



A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine
 - 1980; Golden Theatre; as company member/Harpo

⭐- Best Featured Actress in a Musical Tony Award Winner




Company 
- 1971; Alvin Theatre; as Kathy


Anna in the Tropics - 2003; Royale Theatre; as Ofelia



In the Heights 
- 2008; Richard Rodgers Theatre; as Camila


Pippin 
- 2013; The Music Box Theater & on the 1st National Tour; as Berthe

Grand Horizons 
- 2020; Hayes Theatre; as Carla

The Skin of Our Teeth 
- 2022; Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center; as the Fortune Teller



Wednesday, November 22, 2023

REVIEW: The Gardens of Anuncia

Review of the Saturday, November 4, 2023 evening preview performance at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. Starring Enrique Acevedo, Andrea Burns, Eden Espinosa, Priscilla Lopez, Tally Sessions, Mary Testa and Kalyn West. Book, music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa. Orchestrations by Michael Starobin. Scenic design by Mark Wendland. Costume design by Toni-Leslie James. Lighting design by Jules Fischer and Peggy Eisenhauer, recreated by David Lander. Sound design by Drew Levy. Co-choreographer Alex Sanchez. Direction and choreography by Graciela Daniele. 90 minutes, no intermission. Production runs through December 31, 2023.

Grade: A

This is a bio-musical unlike any you've ever seen before. While The Gardens of Anuncia does tell of the life of celebrated choreographer Graciela Daniele, it is only vaguely biographical. Here, we are presented with Anuncia, who narrates a trip back to Peron-era Argentina where she was a young, dream-filled girl being raised by three strong women. Actually, this charming, mystical musical is really a tribute to those women, and not a tribute to the subject of the show. Anuncia is, most of the time, almost incidental. Sure, she jokes about a decades-long career as a dancer and Broadway choreographer, dreading having to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award. But mostly, she muses - through the eyes of her younger self - about the events that shaped her into the woman she became. It is a beautiful, heartfelt remembrance of the generations who raised her, and the closing of the biggest chapter in her life.


Michael John LaChiusa
, who provides the book, lyrics and music, has had a long association with Ms. Daniele, and his affection for her permeates the entire show. That's not to say he paints her in an exclusively rosy light - she is as stubborn as she is open, as willful as she is collaborative. Her regrets are as prominent as her accomplishments. The book allows for liberties in the storytelling, with moments displayed and then slightly recounted - she admits that parts of her story are softened and glossed over, Memories are strange things, she says. And there are moments of supernatural realism to make a broader point in a fanciful way: she has conversations with a young buck (literally), for example. (And she admits that this probably won't work for her American audiences. The opposite is true, of course. We buy it hook, line and sinker.) LaChiusa's tango and Latin-infused score is lovely - his most completely accessible to date - with not a clinker in the bunch. That's not to say it isn't rich. I hope there will be a cast recording; I hope to dig deeper into his themes and poetic lyrics. Michael Starobin's orchestrations are on point and also worthy of deeper exploration.

The almost mystical, mythological feel of this memory play are brought to lovely fruition by the entire design team. Mark Wendland's set made up of upside down flowers arranged on delicate wires that reveal themselves to be a labyrinth of infinite paths, and sumptuous, dreamy lighting by Jules Fischer and Peggy Eisenhauer (recreated by David Lander) serve the piece perfectly, allowing an effortless back and forth between past and present, dream and reality. Toni-Leslie James' costumes do the same.


The Mitzi E. Newhouse is an ideal venue for this piece - intimate and dark, where you can feel like the show is being performed only for you. Daniele and co-choreographer Alex Sanchez have gone to great lengths to present the work in such a way that no one in this thrust stage setting is left out of any scene. I don't think there's really a bad seat to be had, given this staging. Given that this musical is about a dancer-choreographer, there aren't many dance numbers per se, but what there is, is striking, particularly a tight, sensual and somewhat violent tango. That said, there is dancing and dreamy movement almost non-stop, as if being weaved in and out of the clouds of memory, and the entire cast is up to the task.

Leading the company of seven as Older Anuncia is an aging dancer herself, Tony-winner Priscilla Lopez, who is as graceful and lithe as ever. Her face, full of wisdom reveals a graceful aging, each line and wrinkle earned by the tough life of a Broadway star - how wonderfully appropriate. Her gentle touch, coupled with a magnetic presence and pointed moments of flare are perfection as she tells us this story. Her counterpart, Younger Auncia, is played with a fierce and fiery commitment by Kayln West. It is clear that Ms. West has studied Ms. Lopez's every movement and expression, so exacting is her approach to the character - there are times when the likeness is uncanny. But her performance is much more and absolutely riveting. She does more acting with her big, beautiful eyes and her set jaw than I may have ever seen. I look forward to seeing her again and soon.


The two male actors in the company each play multiple roles, and are great in all of them. Enrique Acevedo is particularly outstanding in his role as Granpapa, a man big on warmth, and a mysterious air. Tally Sessions, one of my favorite actors, exudes grace and machismo as the deer (yes, he plays a deer - actually 2 of them). He is sexy and beguiling both to Anuncia and the audience, and his powerful voice with Ms. Lopez's in both "Dance While You Can" iterations is a highlight in an evening full of them.

For me, though, the best part is the three women central to Anuncia's upbringing: Mary Testa as Granmama, Eden Espinosa as Mami, and Andrea Burns as Tia. Each of these amazing actresses are so completely enveloped in their characters that they seem to disappear. Ms. Testa offers up her special brand of worldly wisdom and brash delivery, with no shortage of warmth, either. Ms. Espinosa is such a presence here that it is difficult to take your eyes off of her. She is strong but flawed, and I found myself both rooting for her and a bit put off at the same time - I mean that as an entirely positive assessment. And Ms. Burns, who has become one of my favorite actresses of all, is so full of passion, warmth and wisdom, it is no wonder Anuncia is drawn to her as she is. Each has incredible moments to shine individually, but it is when they are together that the magic - and the emotion - really happens. As each drifts out of Anuncia's life, we feel an empathetic wave of grief.


As with most of LaChiusa's works, this isn't a show one goes to to be dazzled and bowled over by flash and excess. You have to come into it open to the possibilities and be willing to participate in active attention. It is a show that, for me at least, only grew better in my heart and mind the further I'm away from it. A complex work about a complex woman, told in idioms central to her celebrated life: her culture and musical theater inextricably woven together.

📸: J. Cervantes

Friday, November 17, 2023

Broadway Games: One of These Things Is Not Like the Others

Broadway Games: 
One of These Things Is Not Like The Others

Was thinking back to my childhood and remembering that as a small tyke, one of my favorite games was "One of These Things Is Not Like the Others." So why not make a Broadway game out of it?

Pick the one thing in each list below is not like the other three.

1.  
  A. J. Harrison Ghee    B. Sean Hayes    C. Bonnie Milligan    D. Victoria Clark

2. 
  A. Oklahoma!    B. South Pacific    C. The King and I    D. The Sound of Music

3. 
  A. Cabaret     B. Kiss of the Spider Woman    C. Zorba!    D. Chicago


4. 
  A. A Chorus Line    B. How to Succeed... C. Lost in Yonkers    D. In the Heights

5. 
  A. Chita Rivera wins her Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award for The Rink.
  B. 42nd Street moves from the Majestic to the St. James to make way for The Phantom             of the Opera.
  C. City of Angels wins the Best Musical Tony Award.
  D. Bob Fosse passes away in Washington, D.C.

6.
  A. Imperial    B. Music Box    C. Shubert     D. Golden


7.
  A. Into the Woods    B. Sweeney Todd    C. Company    D. Follies

8.
  A. Nellie Lovett    B. Rose    C. Mame Dennis    D. Cora Hoover Hooper

9.
  A. "So What?"
  B. "We Both Reached For the Gun"
  C. "Hot Honey Rag"
  D. "Me and My Baby"

10.
  A. Flower Drum Song    B. The King & I    C. Miss Saigon    D. Here Lies Love


STOP!
If you aren't ready to see the answers, stop scrolling NOW! If you are ready, proceed!
As you probably figured out, some of these have more than one possible answer. We will start with the one we intended, and add others. Let us know any that you come up with, and we'll add them!

1.  C. Bonnie Milligan - The only 2023 Tony winner that wasn't for a leading role.

1.  D. Victoria Clark - The only one with more than a single Tony Award.

1.  D. Victoria Clark - The only one who does not identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community (though she's an amazing ally!).

  A. J. Harrison Ghee    B. Sean Hayes    C. Bonnie Milligan    D. Victoria Clark

2.  A. Oklahoma! - The only one listed that did not win the Tony for Best Musical. (It pre-dates the Tonys!)

  A. Oklahoma!    B. South Pacific    C. The King and I    D. The Sound of Music

3.  B. Kiss of the Spider Woman - The only one that, to date, has not had a Broadway revival.

3.  D. Chicago - The only one that takes place in the US.

  A. Cabaret     B. Kiss of the Spider Woman    C. Zorba!    D. Chicago

4.  D. In the Heights - The only one listed that did not win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

4.  D. In the Heights - The only one listed that opened this century.

  A. A Chorus Line    B. How to Succeed... C. Lost in Yonkers    D. In the Heights

5.   C. City of Angels wins the Best Musical Tony Award. - It's the only event listed that did not happen in the 1980s. (It did open in the 80s - December 11, 1989.)

  A. Chita Rivera wins her Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award for The Rink.
  B. 42nd Street moves from the Majestic to the St. James to make way for The Phantom             of the Opera.
  C. City of Angels wins the Best Musical Tony Award.
  D. Bob Fosse passes away in Washington, D.C.

6.  C. The Shubert Theatre - It is the only one listed that isn't on 45th Street.

  A. Imperial    B. Music Box    C. Shubert     D. Golden

7.  A. Into the Woods - It's the only one not directed by Hal Prince. (He co-directed Follies with Michael Bennett.)

7.  D. Follies - The only one listed that did not win the Best Book Tony Award.

  A. Into the Woods    B. Sweeney Todd    C. Company    D. Follies

8.  D. Cora Hoover Hooper - The only role listed that Angela Lansbury did not win a Tony for.

8.  C. Mame Dennis - The only leading lady role not part of a Sondheim show.

  A. Nellie Lovett    B. Rose    C. Mame Dennis    D. Cora Hoover Hooper

9.  A. "So What?" - The only song listed that is not from Chicago. It is from Cabaret.

  A. "So What?"
  B. "We Both Reached For the Gun"
  C. "Hot Honey Rag"
  D. "Me and My Baby"

10.  B. The King and I - The only one listed that did not ever star Lea Salonga.

10.  B. The King and I - The only one listed that has no scenes that take place in the United States.

  A. Flower Drum Song    B. The King & I    C. Miss Saigon    D. Here Lies Love

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

ReDISCoveries: Kiss of the Spider Woman (1994 Broadway Cast Recording) Part 2

ReDISCoveries: Kiss of the Spider Woman

(1994 Broadway Cast Recording) Part 2


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. This week’s entry is about the 1994 Broadway recording of Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman.


One of the most striking things about Kiss of the Spider Woman is how much of it revolves around the fantasies of its two main male characters. Molina, of course, has organized his entire life around his memories of all those Aurora movies; it’s how he has survived a barren life both before and after being imprisoned. Although Valentin’s fantasies are less flamboyant, he, too, gets through life indulging in memories of his girlfriend Marta, his first lover, and his political rallies - all vividly recounted in musical numbers.


In fact, until the very end of the show, there is little traditional plot development and there are very few “real” characters aside from the prisoners and the warden. Not only Aurora but also Molina’s mother, his friend Gabriel, and Marta are seen almost exclusively through the cellmates’ dreams and fantasies (each one does appear for a few seconds during Molina’s brief moment of freedom late in the show). In the grand tradition of Kander and Ebb’s highly conceptual musicals, the show builds vibrancy, excitement, and momentum not through sophisticated plot but through the dramatic interplay of corporeal characters and ethereal memories.


When I was talking about this with Jeff recently, he pointed out how Molina and Valentin essentially switch roles during the course of the show with regard to the importance of fantasy vs. real-world action. At the start of the show, of course, Molina is entirely engrossed in his movies, while Valentin is a political radical imprisoned for his active engagement in the outside world. This begins to shift as each of them share their dreams and experiences. By the time we get to the “Russian movie” scene, each one has come to fully appreciate the other’s perspective: Valentin is a willing participant in one of Molina’s movie fantasies, but the theme of the movie itself reflects Valentin’s own political identity. 



By the end of the show, the transformation is complete: it’s Molina who, inspired by Valentin’s affection, goes out into the world to accomplish something concrete; upon Molina’s return, Valentin betrays his own romantic fantasies when he begs Molina to save himself by telling what he knows. When Molina refuses to do so and is killed, Valentin’s spontaneous memorial (“his name was Molina”) precisely reflects Molina’s first words in the show (“her name is Aurora”).


THE SONGS


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

stars (**). This CD includes a few brief dialogue scenes, some with small bits of music; these aren’t listed separately below.


*I Do Miracles: With its leaping central motive (repeated by singers and orchestra alike) and its fitful chromatic melody, this song is another one of my favorites. (I sometimes forget how many favorites there are in this show!) Here, Aurora (Vanessa Williams) comes to Molina (Howard McGillin) to promise help for Valentin (Brian Stokes Mitchell), who then hears the same promise from Marta (Kirsti Carnahan). When the two women sing the tune together, it’s pure heaven.


Gabriel’s Letter/My First Woman: The cellmates each reminisce about their past, Molina about a straight retail worker (Jerry Christakos) he became enamored with (and who we will learn later is not as tolerant in reality as in Molina’s memory), and Valentin about his first sexual experience.


Morphine Tango: In what is surely K&E’s trippiest song, medical aides administer morphine to Molina, who has eaten poisoned food intended for Valentin. This little song leads directly to…


You Could Never Shame Me: In this gentle foxtrot, we hear the pure distillation of maternal love, as Molina’s mother (Mimi Turque) - or his image of her - assures him of her affection and pride. This quickly gives way to…


A Visit: The return of the cascading Spider Woman chords tells us that Aurora is appearing to Molina as his most dreaded character. Tellingly, she makes death seem like an erotic experience to be warmly anticipated - but it’s not time yet.


She’s a Woman: I’m not sure what to say about this song, which means of course that I’ll say a ton about it. On the one hand, the song itself is evocative and engaging, and it gives McGillin his clearest shot to show off his incredible skills as an actor-vocalist (that’s reason enough to justify its existence). On the other hand, it stops the plot cold just when the tension is starting to build. 


I’ve gone through several phases with this song: as a 20-something, I thought it was just a pleasant bit of fluff that should be cut; somewhat later on, I thought it was emblematic of the widespread public confusion about the difference between gay people, transgender people, and cross-dressers (which I now realize is implausible given the show’s creative team). These days, I think it was an attempt to flesh out Molina’s tacit self-identity as a transgender woman, which I understand was fairly clear in Manuel Puig’s novel (which I haven’t read). That’s an awfully big weight to put on one song, and I still don’t think it’s necessary for the show to do that, but I’m glad it’s there nonetheless.



Gimme Love:
Aurora states her personal credo in the title of another raucous “imaginary” number for her and her men. Its conclusion leaves Molina in a state of turmoil as the first act ends. It is a nice bonus that this song is more complete than the original, providing more of the thrilling dance music in the score.


Russian Movie/Good Times: Aurora plays against-type as a Russian countess in this long, complex number. As Molina nurses Valentin after a murder attempt, he narrates the plot of his favorite movie, with appearances by the cellmates themselves in a story that will presage the show’s final moments. Valentin, about a dying Aurora: “this is not death; this is ecstasy.” 


The Day After That: In return for Molina’s kindness, Valentin opens up to him about his life and what has led him to be a political radical, in this stirring song that develops into an imagined workers’ rally. 


Mama, It’s Me: The warden (Herndon Lackey) allows Molina to speak on the telephone to his mother, whose health is failing, which he does in this short and sweet little song. He learns he will be freed soon.


Anything For Him: The Spider Woman and her chords are back, as the warden and Valentin begin to ensnare Molina in their separate traps, which she knows will lead him into her web for a final kiss. The melody here is obsessive and repetitious as the scheming unfolds, culminating with Valentin’s offer of sex that he knows will help persuade Molina to deliver a message for him when he’s released.


**Kiss of the Spider Woman: This song, which finally brings together musical themes that have been heard separately earlier in the score, gives the star her best opportunity to show off her vocal and physical abilities. The evocative and pliant accompaniment, the dramatic pauses, the surprise modal shift at the end - not to mention Williams’ bravura performance - gang up to make this a title song for the books.



Lucky Molina/Over the Wall:
The prisoners express their jealousy over Molina’s escape as the warden watches him fulfill his own scheme to use Molina to discover Valentin’s secrets. Molina visits his mother, his work friend, and Gabriel, but finds his old life unsatisfying after his intimate encounter with Valentin; finally, he calls an unreceptive Marta with an encoded message from her lover. (This song was not included on the original recording, and its presence helps significantly in clarifying the show’s climax.)


*Only in the Movies: Molina is caught and brought back to prison, where the warden threatens to kill him if he doesn’t tell what he knows. Despite Valentin’s exhortations, Molina refuses to betray his beloved and is shot. Suddenly Molina himself is in a cinematic pastiche as he recalls what he’s gained and lost by living his life as if it were a movie, and how Valentin’s affection has redeemed him at the last possible moment - all with his own Hollywood ensemble for accompaniment. Who would have thought something so fanciful would be the perfect ending to such a brutal story?

 
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