Friday, July 19, 2024

Friday 5: 5 Musicals Based on Children's and Young Adult Books

  5 Musicals Based on
Children's and Young Adult Books


With the success of The Outsiders on Broadway these days, it got me to thinking about other musicals based on children's and young adult novels. There have been some major successes and some major flops in this sub-genre, as with any other, of course, but here are 5 of my favorites. Each are magical in their own way.

Book by T.S. Eliot
Musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Love it or hate it, Cats is a fantastical journey, whether its the more literal, traditional version - full feline make up and big piles of junk, or the more current drag ballroom kitties working the runway and posing their, um, tails off. People often forget that it all started with a book of cat-themed poems written by one of the world's greatest poets to be read to the little ones in his life. I have loved it since my first trip to the Jellicle Ball.


Book by Louisa May Alcott
Musical by Allan Knee, Jason Howland and Mindi Dickstein

While the musical version of this classic wasn't a success by most measures, it was like opening a treasure chest for me. I went into it knowing nothing. Zero. I knew only the title, so every moment was a prized discovery. The score is full of great numbers, clever and tuneful. And the demise of Beth came as a devastating surprise. I noisy-sobbed. Since then, I've read the book and have seen several film versions. My favorite? The Gerwig, with beautiful performances all around.


Book by Roald Dahl
Musical by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin

As a child, I loved the books of Roald Dahl, but Matilda was published well into my adulthood. I never saw the movie version of the book, either, so the events of the show were completely new to me. A beautifully fantastical show full of outrageous characters, stunning staging and choreography, and a technically impressive production, I laughed, cried and cheered like a delighted child. Its message is poignant with a not too subtle message about being an adult, too. One of my favorites of all time.


Book by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Musical by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon
At the risk of sounding sexist, this classic, like Little Women, escaped my boyish clutches. After seeing the utterly gorgeous production - beautiful costumes, stunning scenery and thrilling performances of a thrilling book and score - I made sure to read this wonderful novel. I was just as enamored of young Mary, her friends, family (relative and chosen) in the pages of the book as I was with the stage version. I hope a well-produced revival comes around sooner rather than later.


Book by Natalie Babbitt
Musical by Claudia Shear, Tim Federle, Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen
Somehow, I missed this novel completely, as well as any filmed versions of the work. So I went into this show with a completely blank slate. I adored this show which reveled in the wonder that only live theater can create. Unlike anything Casey Nicholaw has directed/choreographed before or since, its ballet centerpiece sticks with me all these years and shows later. The score was wonderful, the script tight and fun, it was a feast for the senses, the mind, and most importantly, the heart. I would love to see this again, and am still surprised by its very short run. I'm thankful that I got to see it.


Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Play It Again: Hair's "Aquarius"

 Play It Again:
Hair's "Aquarius"

For this new series, Jeff has invited me to choose some classic Broadway show tunes and compare versions of these songs from several different cast recordings. Wherever possible, I’ll link to the songs on YouTube, where I listen to most of them myself.



This week I review four recordings (plus one) of the opening song “Aquarius” from Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s seminal rock musical
Hair. Introduced by a solo singer before being joined by the rest of the tribe, the song functions as a call to begin the communal celebration that essentially constitutes the rest of the musical. The song’s trippy, astrology-informed lyrics and haunting melody haven’t changed at all over the past half-century, but the singing and the overall sound have varied quite a lot (especially the introductory section). Because it’s the first version many of us heard, and a classic in its own right, I’ve included my evaluation of The 5th Dimension’s hit single alongside the stage and screen versions as a bonus, but I didn’t consider it when awarding stars.


My overall favorite version is marked with two stars (**); one star (*) is used to indicate that a particular version stands out in terms of singing, orchestra, sound, or other miscellaneous qualities.



ORIGINAL BROADWAY CAST (1968) -
YouTube


Soloist: Ronnie Dyson


SINGING: Dyson’s voice is strong and pleasant, with very measured notes often placed slightly off the beat, but lacks some of the dramatic effects of later singers. The ensemble functions in unison here and sounds great.


ORCHESTRA: The introduction features lots of clangy and jingly sounds, eventually joined by a funky bass. Overall, the sound is driven by the rock ensemble, with just some small brassy interruptions here and there.


SOUND: The sound is quite muddy; the vocals dominate the band, and the brass details in particular are often very hard to hear.


*MISCELLANEOUS: This original version features the fastest tempo of them all, and in general it has a certain quality (hard to pin down) that gives it a strong forward momentum that’s never quite matched again (5th Dimension excluded).




ORIGINAL LONDON CAST (1968) -
YouTube


Soloist: Vince Edwards


SINGING: Edwards has an edgier, more strained sound than the other vocalists, which proves to be another valid choice for this song. The ensemble is a little raggedy but more textured than the original, with different groups playing against each other in the middle section before joining together again.


ORCHESTRA: This time the introduction features some electronic, almost voice-like sounds, giving it a horror-movie kind of vibe. The brass is used more effectively here, and I really like the very forward, syncopated percussion that pops up near the end.


SOUND: Still not a great sound, but it does have a better balance between singers and accompaniment.


MISCELLANEOUS: The tempo is a little sluggish compared to the two Broadway versions.




**
ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK RECORDING (1979) -
YouTube


Soloist: Renn Woods


*SINGING: Woods has a very full-bodied, lovely voice, technically proficient but with pyrotechnic inclinations. This is a good thing, because she dominates this song, with the ensemble very much relegated to a backing role in this version. Her embellishments admittedly border on the indulgent in the second half of the song, but the overall effect is more exciting than over-the-top.


ORCHESTRA: This version features a very different, quite long, more symphonic introduction, with a four-square funky bass eventually being joined by a full brass section and even some strings. The layered brass parts are really nice throughout, but especially in the mid-song instrumental break.


*SOUND: The sound is crystal-clear and perfectly balanced, and the very rich stereo makes for a glorious listening experience through headphones.


MISCELLANEOUS: The tempo is again a bit slow. Unlike the other versions, the soloist sings the whole song, even the bridge (“harmony and understanding…”). As mentioned above, this version includes a mid-song instrumental section, followed by another repeat of the bridge and chorus. It’s no wonder this version is about two minutes longer than the original! (It’s possible that this version is so divergent that, like the 5th Dimension single, I shouldn’t really be comparing it with the stage recordings. But it’s definitely the same song with identical melody and lyrics, and I’ve always considered soundtracks alongside cast recordings before, so I’m going to stick with my ruling.)




BROADWAY REVIVAL CAST (2008) -
YouTube


Soloist: Sasha Allen


SINGING: Allen has a much softer, friendlier voice, very appropriate for this director and this cast’s take on the material. The ensemble sounds terrific in the nicely layered middle section, if a little underpowered when divided into groups. 


*ORCHESTRA: The introductory section resembles the London version, but it’s shorter and its electronic sounds are more ethereal than creepy. The very effective brass arrangements are largely held over from the movie version. Some subtle touches from the familiar 5th Dimension single have been slipped in under the repeated choral intonations of “Aquarius” near the end, I think. This is the only version with a really satisfying concluding gong effect.


SOUND: This is a nice modern-sounding recording, generally clear and well-balanced, with the sound coming out just slightly pinched at louder moments with chorus and brass together.


MISCELLANEOUS: The tempo is faster again here.





BONUS: FIFTH DIMENSION COVER (1969) -
YouTube


Soloists: Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.


SINGING: McCoo’s take on the “Aquarius” solo material is powerful but restrained, lending this version a kind of unearthly tension. In the middle section, band members do a fine job substituting for the usual chorus, with their unique voices playing against each other in rapid succession. Davis’ freestyle vocals in the “Let the Sunshine In” section clash wonderfully with McCoo’s precision.


ORCHESTRA: The brief but iconic introduction features two flutes competing in beautiful but dissonant melodic lines, quickly giving way to a strong and steady pop beat, establishing this single as very much its own thing. Overall, the track is dominated by its densely textured rock-ensemble sound, with piercing brass providing contrast and extra intensity.


SOUND: The sound is very full but not as perfectly clear as a couple of the others, probably designed for radio speakers rather than headphones.


MISCELLANEOUS: A little less than half of this track is taken up by “Aquarius”; the rest is an extended riff on the final song of the stage show, “Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures).” I don’t know who gets the credit for the decision to juxtapose these two radically different songs so abruptly, like yin against yang, but it was a masterpiece of an idea that rightly won this single enduring popularity as well as a Grammy for Record of the Year.


Monday, July 15, 2024

Broadway Eats: Marriott Marquis' Breakfast Buffet

A few times a year, whether we stay for the weekend or just go up for the day, we splurge on a meal at the Marriott Marquis' restaurant, Revel and Rye. It is pricey. But it is convenient, offers a variety of classics and slightly elevated dishes. Sometimes, we stop by in the time between shows, usually eating at the bar. (For the record, their sandwiches are tasty and big!) But the last few times we've eaten there, we've gone for a late breakfast, opting for the all-you-can-eat-buffet.

Broadway Eats:
The Breakfast Buffet at the Marriott Marquis


LOCATIONTheater District/Times Square:
1535 Broadway, 8th floor of the Marriott Marquis
CLOSEST THEATERSMarquis, Rodgers, Lunt-Fontanne, Minskoff, Booth,
Schoenfeld, Jacobs, Golden, Music Box, Imperial
HOURSDaily: 6:30 am - 11:30 am
WEBSITEhttps://www.revelandrye.com/
MEALS SERVEDBrunch
BARBrunch drink menu
OUTDOOR SEATINGNo

THE MENU:
When you stop by during breakfast hours, there is an a la carte menu, or you can go for the buffet. If you can't decide what you want, or have a taste for a little bit of everything, the buffet is the way to go, since nearly everything on the buffet is on the a la carte menu. A lot of it is typical American breakfast items. There are two hot sides; one has scrambled eggs, a frittata, an egg whites dish, bacon, sausage, home fries with onions and peppers, and hot waffles with warm syrup (sometimes they also have French toast); the other side has "healthier" options such as turkey-based meats, vegetarian and vegan dishes. In between the "hot" sides, there is an extensive baked goods island - danishes, muffins, pastries and breads and bagels. Finally, there is a long back row with plentiful fresh fruits, hot oatmeal, cold cereals, and a large selection of milks and other breakfast beverages. The buffet also includes a variety of chilled juices, coffee, tea, iced teas.


THE PLACE:
The restaurant is on the 8th floor and is part of the hotel's expansive lobby. There are two areas - the bright open atrium, flooded with natural light and a variety of seating options, and the "under cover" area which is a darker, cozier place to eat. We usually get seated out in the open section, great for people watching and catching up on news and sports on the gigantic screen that overlooks the room. It's pretty nice there.



OUR ORDER:
As I said, this is on the pricier side - the buffet is $42 per person. But when you consider that you can eat several plates of food, or just 20 slices of some of the best bacon I've ever had, it is a great deal. Consider this, too. A two egg breakfast with home fries, bacon OR sausage and toast is more than $20 alone, and does not include a beverage. If you want cereal, fresh fruit or a bagel, it's all a separate charge. For us, the biggest selling point (besides that bacon!) is that you can take your time, eat as much as you want, and the need for lunch is really unnecessary. I can tell you that on days we eat breakfast and lunch, we spend much more than $42 per person.


THE SERVICE:
We have never had bad service here. The servers are attentive and friendly, quick to clear plates, and most importantly, rapid refills on drinks. The staff works together so well, you never need for anything long, either. The staff that maintains the buffet is excellent as well. I've yet to have a cold egg or waffle, and it is very clean. Nothing sits for too long between it being busy and consistently replenished.

There is also use of the fabulous Marriott bathrooms! IYKYK!

out of 5 spoons

Friday, July 12, 2024

Broadway Games: Marquee Match-up I

Like most theater fans, we long ago set a goal of seeing a show in each of Broadway's 41 theaters. We've been lucky enough to have done just that some time ago. How many have you been to? Whether you've been to all of them or not, we bet you can remember which shows you've seen and where! This week's game has a lot to do with that. 

Broadway Games:
Marquee Match-up I


DIRECTIONS: Match each of the marquees with two of the shows below. They may be current, past or future shows. Good luck!

1.     2.
3.     4.     5.


A.  B.  C.  D. 

E.  F. 

G.  H.  I.  J. 

The marquee images above are magnets available HERE.


Thursday, July 11, 2024

Review: OBCR: The Outsiders

Cast Recording Review:
OBCR The Outsiders


The Tony Award-winning Best Musical of 2024, The Outsiders has released its Original Broadway Cast Recording. It features music and lyrics by Jamestown Revival - Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance - and Justin Levine. Levine also has a co-book writing credit (with Adam Rapp), as well as contributing the show's orchestrations and arrangements. They are all well-deserving of their Tony nominations. Here are some thoughts on the cast recording:

The show hews closely to S.E. Hinton's seminal young adult novel, and Rapp and Levine wisely expanded the show to include a deeper understanding of the characters and their relationships. With Levine as the bridge between the book and the score, his contributions are crucial to this being a carefully, skillfully integrated telling of this story where everyone is really an outsider looking to find themselves and their place in a society - wealthy and poor alike - in a world that doesn't really see them. 
As a result, even in isolation away from the staging, the recording offers and emotional, exhilarating listening experience. Every note, every lyric remains true to these beloved characters and their story. The mixture of 60s country-pop, honky tonk/rockabilly and folk feels so authentic, and just "Broadway" enough. Just like in the show itself, the recording showcases the quality of the ensemble cast, as well as the remarkable principal characters, with each give ample opportunity to show off their talents.

"Tulsa 1967" -
The opening number sets up the story perfectly through the lens of its narrator, Ponyboy (Brody Grant), who lays it all out in simple turns of phrase, but with a mature awareness of reality that only comes to a teenager who has faced some tough times. The way it builds and builds to a crescendo is a great way to start the show with unmistakable energy.

"Grease Got a Hold" - Another high energy number that brings Ponyboy into the Greaser fold at the urging of the toughest of the gang, Dally (Joshua Boone). With smooth jazz and rapid fire runs. Here each Greaser gets a moment to shine, and come together with sharp harmonies in the choruses. As exuberant and cocky as the number is, there is an undercurrent of anger and resignation behind the catchy rock beat.

"Runs in the Family" - Here's where the musical takes a deeper look at the Curtis family. Brent Comer as Darrel lets us know where life has lead him - more father than brother. The sense of duty he has is both a source of pride and a constant reminder that this isn't the life he chose.

"Great Expectations" - With this song, Ponyboy realizes through his love of literature, that he has much in common with the Dickens novel he's reading. He and the Greasers all dream of better - again their harmonies are spectacular, and Grant shows that he is a force to be reckoned with as the new generation of Broadway talent emerges.

"Friday at the Drive-In" -
Our first look at the Socs is a catchy bop of a song, full of references to all that they have and take for granted. As Cherry, Emma Pittman gives us our first glimpse of the character in the company of her group and all the expectations that come with it. The song is a swinging number that parallels the Greasers' earlier number, with intense keyboards and rock guitar.

"I Could Talk to You All Night" - Pittman and Grant establish a chemistry here that is as palpable on the recording as it is in the theater. You can't help but wonder what might have been with these two if their circumstances were different. They both seem shocked at how they aren't really that different. Simply played, but impactful.

"Runs in the Family (Reprise)" - Darry's fear as anger in this hardcore reprise ends up being the catalyst for all of the events to come. So powerful.

"Far Away From Tulsa" - At an emotional crossroads, Ponyboy at odds with his brothers, Johnny (Sky Lakota-Lynch) virtually ignored by his family, the best friends plan to run away to greener pastures and how they'd be each other's family. A beautiful power ballad duet, that ends with a full company reprise of "Great Expectations."


"Run Run Brother" -
As things come to a violent turning point, the boys, needing to flee for their lives. A great act closer, this number is simply orchestrated to make the dialog crystal clear, and an urgent, driving beat, it makes everything feel desperate and exciting, especially as the entire company comes in to sing the final choruses, ending with the roar of a passing train out of Tulsa. Grant, Lakota-Lynch and Boone are superb here.

"Justice For Tulsa"
-
Act Two begins with an ominous tune with a dangerous ticking beat, suggesting an urgency of time running out, and the lyrics revealing a finger-pointing mob and others defensively denying all. As the number progresses, it is interesting how the music and vocal arrangements depict the in-fighting within the Socs. The title, of course, really only means justice for some, not all of Tulsa.

"Death's at My Door" - The largely acoustic nature of the instruments here allow for some stellar vocals and acting by Grant and Lakota-Lynch. Guilt transitions to compassion and togetherness as these friends now depend on each other for survival.

 

"Throwing in the Towel" -
A brilliant showcase of the aftermath and consequences of horrible events, here's the best expansion of the original work. The Curtis brothers are hurting and scared, and Comer and Jason Schmidt (as Sodapop) deliver powerful vocals, and when Grant joins in, in three part harmony, it's probably the single best moment of the score and of the Broadway season. Gorgeous and heartfelt.

"Soda's Letter" - With its happy-go-lucky feel and plucky tune, this short bit gives Schmidt a great moment to shine on his own. I love his voice - the perfect blend of professional and character.

"Hoods Turned Heroes" - The relief and pride resonates in this rocking number encapsulates the theme of expectations vs reality - Greaser's can be the good guys. With some great vocals from Two Bit (Daryl Tofa), this is a toe-tapper.

"Hopeless War" - A poignant but brutal reality check, this is a great showcase for Grant and Pittman, both of whom use restraint rather than histrionic vocalizing to bring home the point. 

"Trouble" - The orchestrations - urgent strings, pounding percussion and electric guitars - are the stars of this interlude as the rivals prepare for a rumble. "Do it for Johnny!" is a war cry for the ages.

"Little Brother" -
A powerful soul-blues showcase for the brilliance of Boone's performance. The song fits the post-rumble scene perfectly, but it bears the weight of so much more - the poverty cycle continues, taking victim after victim. Loss, regret and an explosive guilt are superbly conveyed here. A self-eulogy is a shocking and thrilling way to convey this profound tragedy.

"Stay Gold" - From beyond the grave, Johnny connects with his best-friend one last time in a moment of clarity and understanding. Simple acoustic guitar with simple, beautifully sung harmonies really makes this so sad, yet uplifting. Keep a tissue close when you listen to this one. 

"Finale (Tulsa '67) - Musically back where we started, but emotionally eons apart. A great coda to a beautiful show.

Grade: A

Monday, July 8, 2024

Around the TheatreScene - June/July 2024

This month, we are starting what we hope will be a monthly feature. Over the course of each month, we'll collect pictures and newsy tidbits from the "TheatreScene." We'll be scouring Twitter, Instagram and other social media for interesting items. 

Around the TheatreScene
June/July 2024

Tony-winning Neighbors!


West 45th Street is the place to be if you are in a 2024 Tony-winning production! Best Musical, The Outsiders, and Best Play, Stereophonic neighbors got together to celebrate and show off their spinny awards...

Speaking of Stereophonic...
American icons, The Archies, known for their own recording career ("Sugar Sugar" a #1 song in 1969) pay tribute to the now iconic American play... artwork by Ray Kampf.



Speaking of The Outsiders...
All dressed up before their Tony Awards triumph, some of the company took a moment on set to commemorate the evening... Darrel Curtis aka Brent Comer greets fans after the show...a real fan snuck a pic of Brody Grant doing his Ponyboy thing... and Brody and Sky Lakota-Lynch took a promo pic outside the Jacobs.




⭐Stars-To-Be Doing Their Summer Thing!
Harmony's Danny Kornfeld in Europe... Tommy's Ali Louis Bourzgui at the beach is a real sensation... The Outsiders' Brent Comer catching some rays at the park... and The Light in the Piazza's James D. Gish was recently at The Muny as Enjolras, and has been cast in the International Arena Tour of Les Miserables as... Enjolras!... and Kimberly Akimbo Tony-nominee Justin Cooley celebrated a milestone birthday with many of his cast mates!






Protesting Suffs...
...is more effective when you've seen the show before you make your disruptive banners...


Kudos, ladies, for rising above it all and recognizing the efforts of Nikki M. James, Laila Erica Drew, and Anastacia McCleskey as Ida B.Wells, Phyllis Terrell and Mary Church Terrell, respectively. And to Shaina Taub who made sure to improve the book to her show by including these important and often overlooked pioneers of women's rights.


We'd really like to hear from you. Send in your stage door pictures, Playbill at the show pictures, and anything else you'd like to share! You can email us at jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com, or DM us on Twitter, Instagram or Threads at @jkstheatrescene. (Mind the spelling!)
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