Monday, August 11, 2008

I Got Life, Mother (And Grandma)


This summer's Shakespeare in the Park presented by The Public Theatre brings us a production of the "tribal-rock musical" Hair.

Hair opened in New York 41 years ago at the Public and this mounting is a fleshed out production of the 40th anniversary concert version that was presented last year. The show is firmly rooted in experimental and political theatre of the sixties as it tells a loose story about a group of hippies, students and social outcasts living in New York. The "tribe" faces a new set of issues when one of their own, Claude (played by Jonathon Groff) decides not to burn his draft card and he is subsequently drafted and goes off to fight in Vietnam.

In between all that, the show deals with sexuality, drugs, relationships, race, and everything else under the sun. It's almost plotless, but it's not quite a review. It's more like a collage of scenes and songs that have characters and little plot thrown in for some fun.

What's interesting about Hair is how fresh it still is today, while still being firmly rooted in it's own time. No literal attempts have been made at putting modern flourishes on the show. Of course we are looking at the show through the eyes of 2008, and when someone talks about war, we can't help but remember the fact that we are going through one and people are dying still today, even after all this anti-war activism.

Personally, the ideals behind Hair seem, well... idealistic. As a young person today, I can't quite grasp how these people believed so passionately in their causes. My generation of 20-somethings seems to lack the general know how to host a classy cocktail party let alone attempt to change the world. And of course, we in 2008 know that the hippies didn't change the world. Their revolution never actually happened.

But at the shows finale, the uplifting yet harrowing benediction that cries out "Let the Sunshine In", you can't help but be swept up in the show's message of peace and love, and want to do something about the state of the world.




Tuesday, July 15, 2008

[clever title that uses an aspect of the show but twists it a little]

Tonight was the last preview of the first musical of the 2008-2009 Broadway season. [title of show] opens on the Great White Way, Thursday July 17th at the Lyceum Theatre after a start at the New York Musical Festival, development at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and a run at the Vineyard Theatre off-Broadway.

I mention the shows production history because it's at the core of what the show is all about. The musical is about "two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical." Got that?

Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, who wrote the music and lyrics respectively, play Jeff and Hunter in the show. Basically the two authors play themselves for a musical journey of them writing the very play they are performing in as the 90 intermission-less minutes pass. Also along for the ride are Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff, "lady friends" of Jeff and Hunter who are there to help them with the show. We are taken from the idea of writing a musical, through the musical festival, through the run at the Vineyard, and end on opening night of Broadway.

If this is all confusing to you, it's because it is. When watching a show as an audience member we understand that the actor playing the character isn't really saying those words, or actually feeling those emotions. But of course the most effective performances are ones where those lines between actor and character are blurred; you can't tell where the actor ends and the character begins.

In [title of show], since everyone is essentially playing themselves, when the actors/characters start talking about deeply personal moments, the effect is profound. Here we have a play where honest to God real people are telling us how they really feel. Because of this sort of post-modern meta-effect, the show has an authentic feel that you rarely get with a musical.

The show is full of theatre insider humor. It is not so much a backstage musical, although all of those conventions are there, but more a musical about fans of theatre. Not the people who leave their Playbill behind, but the people who not only save it but buy Playbills of shows they haven't seen on eBay to add to their collection. Not the people who moan when they see an understudy slip in their program, but those who drop everything to go see the matinee performance of Wicked, because the third replacement stand by is finally going on for Galinda.

It's definitely that kind of theatre lovers show. But fun can be had for all, like a Saturday Night Live skit that is spoofing a movie you haven't seen yet, you can still relate and find humor. You may not get everything, but you understand it enough.

The show has a strong appeal to artists as Jeff and Hunter struggle at first to find inspiration for their work, then as it begins to become more popular, they have to deal with outside forces wanting to "clean up" or "fix" their show.

Of course we know the ending as the show opens Thursday on Broadway. But it's has a unique "little show that could" feel that not every backstage musical possesses. It gives out the kind of American dream hope that, yes, two "nobodies" can just write a show, and then one day, maybe it'll be on Broadway. Thursday will be a dream come true for these performers and writers.

It makes me want to grab some friends, a piano, and a barn and put on a show!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Another Season Come and Gone...

As I've said before, this is my first full theatre season here in New York and it was one packed full of exciting shows. The jump from off-Broadway to Broadway of In The Heights and Passing Strange is reason enough to celebrate. Finally, Broadway is starting to nurture talent that is a little more in touch with today's pop culture. And while I'm still not entirely convinced to drink the Kool-Aid and join the throng of Spring Awakening fans, the show coupled with Heights and Strange, offer hope for my ipod. (It is a little embarrassing to be bumping "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" on the C train.)

And as for my Tony predictions this year, while not any where accurate, I feel I had a respectable score; 16/26. Which seems like a lot. But it is more then half. I credit my inaccuracy to the fact that I didn't see the juggernaut, South Pacific in action and also, my unfamiliarity with some of the design aspects.

And while I was sad that Passing Strange didn't win more awards (it's single win was for Best Book of a Musical? The spoken dialogue is hardly the selling point of the show) nothing was terribly upsetting.

Here is to seeing every Broadway show in the next season. [title of show], the first show of the 2008-2009 Broadway season, starts previews July 5th.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

RSVP ASAP

Harvey Fierstein and John Bucchino's new musical, A Catered Affair, playing on Broadway is one of the best acted, simple, and beautiful new musicals to open in a while.

The show centers around Aggie, wonderfully played by Faith Prince, and her husband Tom, (Tom Wopat) and their decision to use a bereavement check from the government for their son, for a stake in Tom's cab company or a lavish wedding for their daughter.

The show is sort of a white middle class A Raisin in the Sun meets "The Gift of the Magi." Every solution that is available is complicated by an equally complex one on the other end. And it's impossible to find a balance. Or rather, the play is about finding that balance, if it can be found at all.

The show is acted very naturally and understated, as musicals are almost never played. It's as if the show was approached as a play, rather then a musical. The characters are fully fleshed out people who are as flawed as they are they are idealistic.

That quality may be the shows downfall. The show is so beautifully understated, if you're not 100% invested in it from the beginning, I can imagine how the 90 intermission-less minutes can feel as if you were invited to a traditional Catholic wedding mass in Latin.

But it's flaw, is also it's strength. You will not find more nuanced performances this season in a musical.




The fact that the show only received three Tony nominations is very upsetting, as it's book and the overall production should have been nominated, especially over the asinine Cry-Baby. But the nominations it did receive are very well deserved. Tom Wopat in Best Supporting Actor in a musical, Faith Prince in Best Actress in a musical, and Jonathon Tunick for orchestrations.

2008 Tony Award Predictions

After the Tony's last year, I was dead set on seeing every show the next year so I can have an "informed" opinion when I watch the next years broadcast.

And while I didn't see every show, I was able to see a vast majority, and have a pretty good sense of the season as a whole. So below are my predictions for the 2008 Tony Awards as well as those who I think should win, but maybe won't. Well... come June 15th we'll see how right or wrong I was.


Choreography
  • Andy Blankenbuehler - In The Heights will win...
  • Rob Ashford - Cry-Baby should win...

Orchestrations

  • Alex Lacamoire & Bill Sherman - In The Heights will win..
  • Jonathan Tunick - A Catered Affair should win...

Book of a Musical

  • Xanadu, Douglas Carter Beane should and will win...
  • A Catered Affair should have been nominated...

Original Score

  • In The Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda will win...
  • Passing Strange, Stew and Heidi Rodewld should win...
  • A Catered Affair should have been nominated over The Little Mermaid.

Scenic Design (Play)

  • Anthony Ward, Macbeth will win...
  • Todd Rosenthal, August: Osage County should win...

Scenic Design (Musical)

  • David Farley and Timothy Bird & The Knifedge Creative Network, Sunday in the Park with George should and will win...

Costume Design (Play)

  • Katrina Lindsay, Les Liaisons Dangereuses will win...
  • Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps should win...

Costume Design (Musical)

  • Catherine Zuber, Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific will win...
  • David Farley, Sunday in the Park with George should win...

Lighting Design (Play)

  • Kevin Adams - Macbeth should and will win...

Lighting Design (Musical)

  • Donald Holder, Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific will win...
  • Howell Binkley, In The Heights should win...

Sound Design (Play)*

  • Adam Cork, Macbeth should and will win...

Sound Design (Musical)*

  • Acme Sound Partners, In The Heights will win...
  • Sebastian Frost, Sunday in the Park with George should win...

Direction (Play)

  • Anna D. Shapiro, August: Osage County will win...
  • Maria Aitken, The 39 Steps should win...

Direction (Musical)

  • Arthur Laurents, Gypsy will win...
  • Sam Buntrock, Sunday in the Park with George should win...

Featured Actor (Play)

  • Raul Esparza, The Homecoming will win...
  • David Pittu, Is He Dead? should win...

Featured Actress (Play)

  • Rondi Reed, August: Osage County will win...
  • Sinead Cusack, Rock 'n' Roll should win...

Featured Actor (Musical)

  • Boyd Gaines, Gypsy will win...
  • Daniel Breaker, Passing Strange should win...

Featured Actress (Musical)

  • Laura Benanti, Gypsy will win...
  • Andrea Martin, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein should win...

Actor (Play)

  • Patrick Stewart, Macbeth should and will win...

Actress (Play)

  • Deanna Dunagan, August: Osage County will win...
  • Amy Morton, August: Osage County or Kate Fleetwood, Macbeth should win...

Actor (Musical)

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda, In The Heights will win...
  • Tom Wopat, A Catered Affair should win...

Actress (Musical)

  • Patti Lupone, Gypsy will win...
  • Faith Prince, A Catered Affair should win...

Play Revival

  • Boeing-Boeing will win...
  • Macbeth should win...

Musical Revival

  • Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific and Gypsy should both win... it's too close to say...

Play

  • August: Osage County by Tracy Letts should and will win...

Musical

  • In The Heights will win...
  • Passing Strange should win...
  • A Catered Affair should have been nominated in place of Cry-Baby.

*first year award is being given out.

Anyone out there agree or disagree?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Curtain Up! (Cue self aware-congratulatory applause!)


Watching a big mega star on stage is always such an exciting feeling. After all, theatre offers you that rare opportunity to be in the same room as them, breathing the same air, as you watch them act.

Some shows, like Chicago, rely on it. There seems to be an endless revolving door of TV, movie, and B-list celebrities shuffling in and out for 6 week engagements at that show.
The current revival of Gypsy is an extraordinary chance to see a larger then life performer in the role of a lifetime. Patty Lupone as Mama Rose.
Some people have speculated that it's too soon to do another revival, of what some people call the greatest musical ever written, on Broadway when the last revival of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters closed only 4 years ago.
For me personally, I was fine with it. I have never seen Patti Lupone live, or seen the show. I was only vaguely familiar with some of the score, but not in any context, and was so happy to hear that such an acclaimed production is happening in my life time.
The other day in the NYTimes, Ben Brantely basically bestowed this production of Gypsy with the title of being the definitive version. And while I don't have a true frame of reference to agree with that, I will say that for such an old fashioned show, it was at once true to it's vaudeville style, but still fresh and contemporary, almost as if the show were written today as a throw back.
But an odd thing happens when you have a such a wonderful star, such an acclaimed production, and such a familiar and beloved show. The audience is strangely aware it's watching a play. In a day and age where if an overture is more then 30 seconds people start talking, this audience applauds at the start of the it, and sits quietly listening ever so attently. Then, like most audiences, applauds when the star makes their first entrance. Then even more odd, after "Rose's Turn," the 11 o'clock number to end all 11 o'clock numbers, the audience gave it a standing ovation. This was a Tuesday.
It was the first time this has ever happened at a Broadway show for me. And if you've read my previous entry on rock musicals, you'll know I have mixed feelings about this sort of behavior. On one hand it's a testament to the performers abilities. But if you're paying so much attention to the performer, what is happening to the story?
It's a balance that is never achieved. And when you get one completely, you hate it for not having the other. So with that said, I loved the show and Patti Lupone. I was especially please with Laura Benanti. I had seen her previously in The Wedding Singer as Julia, the Drew Barrymore character, and while thought she was pleasant enough, was not impressed. But she was absolutely fabulous here, and can't wait to see what's next for her.
Overall, despite the sort of odd audience induced post-modern distance, the show was extremely enjoyable and I am very glad I was able to see it and see Patti Lupone live.
On a random side note, this revival is going to get a cast album. Which is awesome, but it's going to be on the Time Life label!!! Ugh... couldn't you just die!!?!? Time-Life??? All I think about when I think of Time-Life is cheesy commercials where the song titles scroll up for "solo piano whispering versions of the pop songs you know and love" with songs like "The Theme from Ice Castles." I thought Patti was a little better then that...

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Play That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Shakespeare's "Scottish Play" Macbeth is finishing up it's limited run on Broadway next week, starring Patrick Stewart as the ill-fated king. As directed by Rupert Goold, this British production, is in a word, amazing.

The show takes place in a unnamed eastern European fascist country inside a white tiled room that looks like it was possibly double as a morgue. We meet Macbeth (Stewart) who with his wife (Kate Fleetwood) plot to murder their way to the top and become king and queen. And what a bloody mess they make of everything.

The show is staged as a sort of a bloody horror movie and suspense thriller. There is a lot of blood everywhere, hands, faces, clothes, the wall. Blood even pours out of the faucet and into the sink at one point. The eerie qualities are also brought out with the witches being played as habit wearing nurses, booming sound effects, and projections that evoke "The Ring."

Basically, the show rocks. Patrick Stewart as Macbeth is just amazing and Kate Fleetwood's Lady Macbeth is so fresh and inspiring. There isn't much else to say, just hurry up and try to catch it. It closes on Sunday, May 25th. There will not be an extension as the theatre is booked for [title of show].

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Saved the musical

Another musical adaptation of a movie is set to open in New York. Saved the musical, currently in previews at Playwrights Horizon, is based on the MGM movie of the same name. It revolves around Mary (Celia Keenan-Bolger) and her fellow students at a private Christian high school. The school seems to be a wonderfully pleasant and static place where students run from morning service to social pray circles to pray for those less fortunate. But slowly we begin to see the truth.

Dean (Aaron Tveit) the captain of the basket ball team and Mary's boyfriend, admits to her that he thinks he is gay. Mary and Dean then proceed to try and save him and turn him straight by exploring sexual activities. Without giving away too much, when word gets out about Dean's questioning, life for Mary and Dean in this close knit Christian school family gets much more complicated.

The show is still in previews, and apparently the night I saw the show some major changes to the end had just been implemented that afternoon. So the show is still in flux, but it still has some major problems. Mainly it just lacks focus.

The show starts with Mary speaking to the audience telling us that she's going to tell us her story and how she got to where she is. But along the way we spend way too much time with various sub plots to justify it being solely Mary's story. The show could stand some major cutting, with some characters being reduced and some songs trimmed and others cut, mostly those concerning the peripheral characters.

There is enormous potential in the story. It's characters are very quirky. An overly self-righteous lead singer to a Christian girl group, her atheist wheelchair bound brother, a Jewish rebel who's forced to go to the Christian school because she's been kicked out of every other high school, among others. And when they are all at their comic best, the show is extremely fun and smart. But unfortunately it falls a little flat when it tries to be a little more serious. It needs to find the right balance between parodying Christian stereotypes and portraying them with sincerity. Which can be (to borrow a word young white Christians, much like those in Saved like to use) awesome if done correctly. The Off-Broadway hit Altar Boyz is an example of how one can be making fun of and celebrate at the same time.
I feel like there may be some life for this show after it's limited engagement at Playwrights Horizon. It is currently in previews and opens June 3rd through June 22nd. Hopefully, unlike Mary trying to save a gay man from being gay, this show can actually be saved.

PS... What is with the artwork for the show? I think I saw that "heart with the wings and halo" in a clip art library in Word Perfect.

Vinyl is Back, For One Musician at Least


Len, Asleep in Vinyl is the first show in Second Stage's summer Uptown Series, in the Off-Broadway McGinn/Cazale Theatre. It revolves around Len, a music producer at the top of his game played by Michael Cullen, who walks off stage while being presented a prestigious music award on television and isolates himself in his secluded cabin/recording studio in the woods.

His estranged son finds him and so does a washed up Britney-esk pop star, who Len is producer and whose music he was to be accepting an award for, both who show up at his cabin. The two have come for different reasons. The son (Daniel Eric Gold) is an aspiring musician and has just cut a demo. He wants to play it for his dad in hopes of validation as both a musician and a son, and the pop star wants an explanation as to why Len would walk out and embarrass her on stage when he is supposed to be accepting an award for their music.

Throughout the course of the play we slowly find out about the relationship of Len and his wife and son, and what has become of his career as he is now producing teen-y pop music. Unfortunately, we never really seem to know too much about anything and it never comes to any definitive conclusion. We're left at the end very much where we started with out finding out why Len has secluded himself to begin with, and with no real change in him.

The pop star character, played by Megan Ferguson, has one of the most fascinating characters in this show. Playing a pop star who is still respected but whose partying and drug use and all around erratic behavior overshadow any music she puts out, Ferguson reminds us of some real life pop stars whose antics grab more headlines then their music. It is interesting to speculate how a person like that behaves in private and how the industry and media affects a real life person.

The show by Carly Mensch (All Hail Hurricane Gordo) is currently in previews. It officially opens June 2 and runs through June 22.

2008 Tony Nominations



The nominations for the 2008 Tony Awards were announced yesterday. I had planned on waking up early and watching them, but alas, the night before I was out late with friends and was in no mood to wake up for a 8:30am anything!

To see a complete list of nominations, click here.

As I expected, In the Heights and August: Osage County both received lots of nominations, 13 and 7 (a sizeable amount for a play.) The revivals of South Pacific and Sunday in the Park with George also received a lot of nominations, 11 and 9, both including Best Revival of a Musical.

For some, the shows that didn't get nominated are always more interesting then the shows that did. The Little Mermaid, Catered Affair, and Young Frankenstein were only nominated for design or supporting actor awards (Little Mermaid did pick up a best score nod, but I doubt it will win, half it's score is from the movie.)

Also, I'm sad that Is He Dead? only received one nomination and only for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Play (David Pittu). The show was extremely funny and there is no reason why it shouldn't still be running today.

I really hope In The Heights and Passing Strange win big. Since moving to New York, these are the only two shows that I've been really passionate about and hope that even if they don't win big, that the broadcast will be enough of an advertisement for them to run for a long time. August: Osage County is doing well after it's Pulitzer win and is a shoo in for Best New Play.

As it gets closer to June, I'll post a Tony awards predictions list.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Glory Days, come and gone


So without my knowing it, I was witness to some Broadway history. A week or so ago, I saw a preview of Glory Days at Circle in the Square. And no sooner then it opened, did it close.

That's right. The opening night performance turned out to also be the closing night performance. This isn't the first time a show has opened and closed in one night there have been quite a few actually, but this is the first one since I've been here, and it's especially sad, since it wasn't completely awful and without any merit.

But it's interesting because it'll be a quiet flop. It's not bad enough to be laughed at and used as a cautionary tale, but not campy enough to have some kind of posthumous following like Carrie the musical. Maybe one day someone brave enough will rework it and it will have some extra ordinary revival and run for years. Or not.

But like most of the reviews out there, I agree with the sentiment that I hope the writers aren't too discouraged by this experience and can bring something else to life on stage one day.

Below is a list of Broadway musicals that have opened and closed in one night (I stole this from UglyBetty on the broadwayworld.com message boards. I don't have the patience to do this much research.)

1 Kelly (Feb 6, 1965 - Feb 6, 1965)
2 Here's Where I Belong (Mar 3, 1968 - Mar 3, 196
3 Billy (Mar 22, 1969 - Mar 22, 1969)
4 La Strada (Dec 14, 1969 - Dec 14, 1969)
5 Gantry (Feb 14, 1970 - Feb 14, 1970)
6 Blood Red Roses (Mar 22, 1970 - Mar 22, 1970)
7 Frank Merriwell (Apr 24, 1971 - Apr 24, 1971)
8 Wild and Wonderful(Dec 7, 1971 - Dec 7, 1971)
9 Heathen! (May 21, 1972 - May 21, 1972)
10 Rainbow Jones (Feb 13, 1974 - Feb 13, 1974)
11 Home Sweet Homer (Jan 4, 1976 - Jan 4, 1976)
12 A Broadway Musical (Dec 21, 1978 - Dec 21, 197
13 The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall (May 13, 1979 - May 13, 1979)
14 Onward Victoria(Dec 14, 1980 - Dec 14, 1980)
15 Broadway Follies (Mar 15, 1981 - Mar 15, 1981)
16 The Moony Shapiro Songbook (May 3, 1981 - May 3, 1981)
17 Little Johnny Jones (Mar 21, 1982 - Mar 21, 1982)
18 Cleavage (Jun 23, 1982 - Jun 23, 1982)
19 Play Me a Country Song (Jun 27, 1982 - Jun 27, 1982)
20 Dance a Little Closer (May 11, 1983 - May 11, 1983)
21 Take Me Along (Apr 14, 1985 - Apr 14, 1985)
22 Glory Days(May 6, 2008 - May 6, 2008)

UPDATE: So as if to rub salt into a wound, the Tony Nominating Committee has ruled that Glory Days will NOT be eligible for any Tony's. No offical word on why.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cry Baby (or any other show out there...)

As far as I can tell, Broadway producer types always seem to be copying each other, eyeing the next big thing on the coat tails of the current big thing. The thinking goes, to use one current trend as an example: If one jukebox musical is wildly successful (Mamma Mia!) let's do one but with the back catalogue of another group.

And poof! We end up with shows like Good Vibrations, All Shook Up, Ring of Fire, We Will Rock You, Lennon, Jersey Boys, Hot Feet, Moving Out and the list goes on and on.. Now if you're lucky lightning can strike twice (is there a week where Jersey Boys isn't playing to 100% capacity?!?) But more often then not, we end up with shows like The Times They Are A Changing.

But this doesn't just happen with juke box musicals. After the success of The Producers, Mel Brooks looked at his movies and decided to turn another of his movies into a musical, Young Frankenstein..

And now, from the success of Hairspray the musical, based on the John Waters' film of the same name comes Cry-Baby the musical which recently opened at the Marquis theatre.

Why such a long intro? Because it's amazing to watch Cry Baby and not think of all these other things happening. The show itself is thoroughly enjoyable and there are some fine performances, especially from the supporting cast, which includes a superb Harriet Harris. But it's no Hairspray.

Of course it's different then Hairspray, so it's a little unfair. Hairspray was a little more a celebration of a bygone era layered with serious overtones. Cry Baby is more satirical and not as emotional as it's more refined, lacquered 60's musical cousin. But with it's cooky characters and subversive humor, and the link between the source material, it's unavoidable.

It's a shame that Hairspray happened. If it didn't, Cry Baby might be a genuine blockbuster. The same goes for Young Frankenstein.

What's even more odd is that all of these new shows, jukebox or ones based on a movie, have the feel of being recycled. There are very few truly original musical stories right now on Broadway. Passing Strange, In The Heights, and Glory Days are the only brand new musicals this season. The rest are ALL based on a movies. (Okay I guess technically A Catered Affair is based on a made for TV movie, not a motion picture. But that's almost worse...) And with exception to [title of show] all the new entries will be based on movies also.

Being based on a movie doesn't portend instant mediocrity. Some very good shows are based on movies, Sweet Charity, Nine and My Fair Lady* are all based on movies. (*My Fair Lady while credited as being based on the Shaw play is virtually scene for scene the film version of Pygmalion with a screenplay by Shaw.)

But at a time when the musical theatre is dying for something new, and a time when there is seemingly lots of support of new musical writers, why are they all choosing such mediocre material?

The music and lyrics for Cry Baby were written by Fountain Of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger and Daily Show writer David Javerbaum. Nothing against Cry Baby or all the other shows out there. But come on there has to be something better out there. I just wonder what could happened if they teamed up with John Waters and did something original! Now that's something to cry about...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Glory Days in the wink of young boys' eyes...

Glory Days is the new musical that is currently in previews at Circle in the Square. It revolves around four guys, all best friends in high school, who after completing their freshman year of college, reunite after a year and reflect on their glory days of high school and come to terms with the inevitable changes that have occurred during that time apart from each other.

The show opened in January at The Signature Theatre to much acclaim and has been set on the fast track to get to Broadway. Previews started last week. It opens May 6th. Just barely in time for the Tony eligibility cut off date, May 7th.

But I wonder if it'll stay open long enough to find out if it'll be nominated.

Okay, that's harsh. But really I do wonder. And not because it's a bad show. It's actually quite competent. But I wonder if Broadway audiences will come out for this type of show.

In the show we meet Will who serves as our narrator of sorts, and are introduced to his best friends from high school. Will, played by Steven Booth with a sort of Michael Cera style charm, has planned to pull a prank on the grounds of their high school and enlists his friends to help on the night of their reunion. Through the course of the evening we find out exactly how far apart these friends have grown the past year and the boundaries of their friendships.

The show can be a bit patronizing in it's attempts to speak for it's generation (the show is subtitled "a new American musical") There is a scene about use of the word "totes" that is at once amusing to me as a twenty something and disgusting to me as a twenty something. There is even a myspace joke. But the fact that the show is written by 23 year olds is what makes it tolerable. I would much rather have a peer be writing this kind of stuff then say, Jerry Herman.

But it does have it's highlights. The song "Generation Apathy" talks about, well, the general apathy that seems to be so prevalent in the current youth of America in an interesting way. And the show is at it's best during "The Good Old Glory Type Days" where the boys all reflect on their great high school moments.

What's odd though all this, is that the deep personal reflection is happening after only a years time, and maybe it's appropriate for a generation that can reflect on last week like it was eons ago, but towards the end of the play when I look at the boys on stage, I still see boys, not men. They just finished their freshmen year of college. They are going to continue to change and grow and hopefully realize that all the drama that they just put themselves through on this one night was not worth it in the larger scheme of things.

The show has a great pop/rock score by 23 year old new comer Nick Blaemire. And it is performed with great energy and enthusiasm by the four person male cast, with Andrew C Call as Andy and Booth as stand outs.

But as much as it pains me to say it, I don't think it's going to make it. Not on Broadway. And as much as I'm all for breaking down the barriers of commercial theatre, you have to ask yourself, is it better to try to make it and fail, or to maybe take the show off-Broadway and have a much longer run and have more people see it. The show seems too small in scope. The audience for it is too small. There are only so many young people who have recently gone through a transitional phase in their lives. Why the show didn't open off-Broadway where I know it would find a very welcoming long run, I don't know.

That said, a personal favorite of mine, Passing Strange, currently playing at the Belasco, is an example of the kind of show that doesn't seem like it belongs on Broadway, and while it's not selling out, it's hanging in there (probably for the Tony's. Which it will win multiple I'm sure) so what do I know?!

I feel like Glory Days is a show that could speak to a lot of people. It certainly resonated with me. Being a recent college grad I know how weird and wonderful it can be to reconnect with people from high school or college, and it seems like suddenly they're not the same person anymore (or is it you that changed?) It's a really interesting idea to try and capture and musicalize. I just feel like it doesn't transfer to larger then life-ness of a Broadway house. I wish it luck though. I hope it's able to run for a long time. I hope it makes a recording. I hope it lasts long enough to look back on it's own glory years on Broadway, and not just days. But like the characters in the show realize, glory days aren't meant to last.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Good Boys and True at 2ST


In Mariah Carey's latest single, "Touch My Body" the chorus goes: If there's a camera up in here/Then it's gonna leave with me when I do/ ...I'd best not catch this flick on YouTube.

We live in an over documented world. Every little thing we do is captured by cameras. Often, before I even get home from a party, the pictures are somehow posted and tagged on Facebook. There is very little that we do, that we don't have a record of. And as we let this kind of documentation into our lives, it doesn't end with just drunk party shots, but begins to exploit deeply personal moments in our lives for everyone to consume.

This issue is at the center of Good Boys and True, a new play at Second Stage Theatre by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. In it we're introduced to students at a prep school where a scandal involving a sex tape between two unknown students is about to burst. I won't reveal a lot as the play revolves around the mystery of the scandal itself, but the more the scandal is investigated and we learn the identities of the students in the tape, the more we learn about the dark history of the school and their families, in influence of class and privilege.

The play is set in the suburbs of Washington DC in 1989. So when I say sex tape, I really do mean tape as in VHS. (Where did they manage to find that prop?! I didn't know they still had those.) But it was this tape that made me think about our over documented world today. Isn't amazing how a sex tape is sort of a PR blessing in that it gives it's participants instant notoriety. That's exactly what happens in this play, as more and more people see the video and get involved. But we can't all be Paris Hilton, and in the play we're shown the horrible personal side effects that occur for this sort of fame.

It's currently running in previews and opens May 19th and runs through June 1st. While the play's 90 intermission-less minutes are captivating, it can lose it's focus and flounders back and forth between one of the students involved in the scandal and his mother, and I wondered at time whose story is actually being told. But the play is just starting previews, so it's more then possible that that will change.

While the play may show the possible dangers of documenting and sharing every aspect our lives, I'm not going to be giving up my photobucket or facebook accounts anytime soon... well on second thought, maybe I'll just take them private.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Back in the City again...

Hello!

After a brief absence, I'm back to New York City and hope to get right back in the swing of things and start seeing theatre and writing about it here.

In fact I'm going to go see the final dress of Good Boys and True at Second Stage Theatre tonight, so I'm throwing myself right back in there. I know very little about the play, other then it takes place in suburban Washington D.C. and involves some kind of prep school scandal.

And after that I have a lot of shows to catch up on! Below is a personal line up, in no particular order, of the spring theatre season.

Crybaby - The musical version of John Waters' movie starring Johnny Depp as a rocker.

A Catered Affair - John Buccino and Harvey Feirstein team up for this chamber musical about a Bronx cab driver's daughters upcoming wedding.

Glory Days - I know very little about this, other then it's a musical about four guys getting together a year or so after high school and realizing how their lives have changed.

Gypsy - This revival has gotten nothing but raves, and since I don't know the show at all, what a good way to get to know it!

Hostage Song - This show looks crazed!!! A musical about a journalist who is kidnapped and being held hostage? What? She's blindfolded most of the show while singing?!?!? WHAT?! I have to go.

Macbeth - Patrick Stewart as Mr. M. Nuff said...

South Pacific - Not my favorite show, but word on the street says it's good. Word on the street also says there are naked soldiers. And there ain't nothing like a... dame?

The Four Of Us - MTC produces this play about the stress that success can put on a sturdy friendship.

Marcy in the Galaxy - All I know is it's a musical, and I love the title.

The New Century - A series of one acts by Paul Rudnick.

Sizwe Banzai is Dead - I read this South African play about apartheid in college and loved it. I would love to see it done!

From Up Here - Another play by MTC starring Julie White.

Now, will I see all of these?!? Who knows? Probably not now that I see how many it actually is. But here's to hoping!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Underpants @ Purdue University

This week I am writing from West Lafayette, Indiana where I am currently music directing a production of Hair for Purdue University's Theatre. Rehearsals just started and I am very excited to be here working on such an awesome show. I may write a little bit about my experience working on the show out here, since I will be away from the New York theatre scene for a few weeks.

But that doesn't mean there isn't any theatre in Indiana. The day before rehearsals started I was able to see closing night for the first show this semester at Purdue, Steve Martin's adaptation of The Underpants by Carle Sternheim. I knew very little of the show, and was excited to see it.

We are introduced to Louise Maske, who has caused a commotion in the small provincial 1910 German town she lives in, when independently of her dress, her underpants accidentally fall down to the ground.

Just the sight of her underpants at her ankles sends the men of the town into a sexually frenzy. She instantly becomes the object of every man's lust. As a result, a number of men come to her house, posing as men interesting in renting a room in her and her husband Theo's house, but are secretly trying to seduce her.

Through a series of crazy events, a couple of men end up sharing the rented room, and try to seduce her, all the while her husband is unaware of what is happening under his nose.

What has the set up for a fun, old-fashioned sex farce, ends up feeling more like a neutered dog trying to hump you leg.

Steve Martin's adaptation is adequate, but one wonders why this story has any relevance. Of course, we still experience "wardrobe malfunctions" today, and the sight of flesh at an inappropriate time can still be shocking and possibly morally offensive. (The University's upcoming productions of Marat/Sade and Hair have both sparked controversy over their planned use of nudity.) But the play's odd mix of modern and classical jokes and structure leave one wondering if it's a modern play masking as an old one, or an old one desperately trying to be relevant.

In most cases, I prefer the latter. And if I'm honest with myself, in the end I was able to see some of today's culture reflected in this early 20th century German town. But this is all for nothing, if the jokes just aren't that funny.

But Steve Martin did throw in an almost prophetic joke. Louise's noisy neighbor announces upon entering that she just saw the new Sternheim comedy at the theatre that night. Louise asks her how she liked it and if it was worth seeing, to which the neighbor replies, "I would wait for the adaptation."

Now having seen the adaptation that she's talking about, I have some advice for Louise: Don't pay full price!

But there were some fine and occasionally funny performances from the cast. Any problems I had with the show, was with the show itself, not with the students performances. I will be lucky enough to work with a handful of them on Hair.

(I was also very careful with the 50 foot rule here, you never know who's Grandma is sitting in front of you! lol)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cheap Tickets

New York City is a crazy/cool place for theatre. Any actor who wants to pursue a career in theatre generally finds them self here at one point or another. And most aspiring actors know how hard it is to have a life in the theatre.

Unfortunately, just the act of going to the theatre (forget acting in it!) can be just as hard because of the price.

But there are a lot of affordable ways to go and see shows. You just have to be able to work a little bit.

Student and General Rush

Most shows out there have rush tickets. Some of these are available only to students or people under 25. To check rush listings I go to a couple of places. The first is Talking Broadway's Board. It has listings for both Broadway and Off and seems to updated the most often. I always double check it against Playbill's Rush Listings. But the Playbill one is only updated every so often, so when in doubt go with the Talking Broadway site.

Usually with rush tickets there are two ways to go about getting them. Either they go on sale when the box office opens (usually 10:00am) or they go on sale two hours before the show starts. They are almost all $25 (plus a mandatory New York ticket fee called a "theatre restoration fee" of $1.25).

For those people who don't like planning their evening plans that morning, most of the new shows opening have either $20 or $25 tickets for the last two or three rows in the balcony. Not the best, but you can reserve a seat in advance which is a perk.

20 @ 20

Every year, Off-Broadway gets together and does a promotion they call 20 at 20. Basically, Off-Broadway shows sell a set amount of tickets at 20 minutes to curtain for $20. There are a few good ones out there to see (at least for $20). Altar Boyz and Forbidden Broadway are both fun, but expect lines at both as they are popular. I've heard good things about Oroonoko and Naked Boys Singing though I haven't seen them. Roundabout's Crimes of the Heart is also included on the list, and worth checking out.

BUT beware that the 20 @ 20 event is for two weeks only! It starts Monday the 25th, and ends Sunday, March 9th. Also, I guess there is a promotion where if you see 5 shows you get a voucher for a free dinner for two!

If this all sounds a little BOGO, well.... it is basically. But it's about time theatre starts to become more accessible. I mean, like Star Jones once said, "doesn't it feel good to pay less?"

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

No Pare! Sigue, Sigue!!!

In the Heights opened last year around this time Off-Broadway. It got pretty rave reviews, and despite not being able to find a strong audience way out in a theatre on 37th and 10th, the producers decided to take it to Broadway, where it started previews on Feb 14th. It opens officially on March 9th.

I saw the production early in it's run Off-Broadway, and instantly fell in love with it. It was exactly the kind of show that I loved. The music was fresh and fun, I laughed and cried, and I felt like a part of a community when I left the show. I urged all my friends to go see it, and even took some friends to see it (mostly so I could see it again myself!)

The show is one of the freshest, coolest things out there right now, and the composer/lyricist, and star of the show, Lin-Manuel Miranda can be considered a major force among young up and coming composers today.

Now, this is the first show that I've seen where I've seen it make the transfer from Off to the Great White Way. So it was exciting for me to see it on Broadway because I heard there were a few changes to the score and book, and of course some costume and set changes.

But what is interesting is, what time will do to the memory of a show.



As I've mentioned before, seeing a show again changes your opinion of it. When I saw Next to Normal a second time, I loved it. Legally Blonde was different for me this time too, and I actually was able to like it more for some reason.

But with this, I had such fond memories of the show, I wonder if it could have lived up to them.

The show follows a group of people in the Upper, Upper West Side neighborhood of Washington Heights. The title In the Heights, takes on different meanings, with the image of flight or being in the sky comes up often and also in referring to the neighborhood name itself.

It uses a mix of Latin beats and melodies, Hip-Hop and Broadway Pop as the basis for the score. Quite simply, this score is one of the best I have heard in a very, very long time. The lyrics are always interesting. Miranda uses rhymes that are simple but come off as unexpected, and often reference other literary or pop culture items. ("You probably never heard my name/Reports of my fame/Are greatly exaggerated")

I think what happened with myself was I hyped it up in my head. It's basically the same show. But I was looking for the same experience on Broadway as I got Off, and it was impossible to get. (For one, sitting in the Mezz of the Richard Rodgers is not the same as the intimate 37ARTS, the theatre where In the Heights played Off-Broadway.) I should have known better then to do this to myself.

I recommended this show like crazy last year, and will continue to do so this year. Despite whatever little dislikes of the show that I have in it's current Broadway incarnation, this show is wonderful, and better then most of the stuff out there! GO!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Three Shows in a weekend...

I know that I recently talked about seeing multiple shows back to back and how I don't like it. Well... I somehow managed to see three shows this past weekend, Debbie Allen's staging of an all African-American production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the new Off-Broadway transfer Passing Strange, and the so-sweet-it'll-give-you-a-cavity, Legally Blonde.

Usually when I see multiple shows in a close amount of time, they always end up, sometimes surprisingly, having themes that somehow reinforce one another. (The similarities of Steppenwolf's epic drama August: Osage County Second Stages' rock musical Next to Normal are remarkable) but I was at a loss at trying to put these three together :)

This revival of Cat is fairly straight forward. The only difference is the use of an all African-American cast. Terrance Howard is making his theatrical debut as Brick. Anika Noni Rose is Maggie, and Phylicia Rashad and James Earl Jones as Big Mama and Big Papa.

So, basically... the cast is great. I went in loving everyone before I even saw it. It was too cool to see all these people live. But as the play went on and I became less star struck, to my surprise, they were all great!

The use of an all African-American cast is an interesting one. The first time this has been done on Broadway, but there have been some all-Black casts at some professional regional productions. What was interesting about it was the fact that it didn't really change anything all that much. I expected possibly some new light to be shed on the characters, but besides a few lines here and their taking on a new meaning, not much changed. I mean... what did I expect? I don't know. And I'm not really complaining. Because just the chance to see these actors do these roles was such a treat.

I hope Terrance Howard comes back to theatre. While his Brick was very good, Brick doesn't do a lot to talking. Mostly listening... It would be nice to see him in a more active role.

After the matinee of Cat, I saw Passing Strange in the evening. I was very excited about seeing this show as I heard really good things about it when it played at the Public last year, but missed it. So I jumped at the chance to see it now on Broadway.

The show is a new rock musical that follows a young singer/songwriter as he finds himself and his voice as he grows up in Los Angeles, then moves to Amsterdam, Berlin and then eventually comes back.

A coming of age story isn't new ground by any means, but what makes this story remarkable is the way that it's told. Half rock concert, half play, the band is on stage surrounding the actors who play around them. There is no set, just a few chairs. (and I realize that the whole no-set-just-chairs-and-band-on-stage thing isn't really new either, but this just feels so fresh!)

The show is oddly postmodern and so groundbreaking, not the kind of thing you expect to see on Broadway. And I don't mean that as an intentional knock at commercial theatre. But the show is so cool and so different then everything else out there! The music is great, and despite my grumblings about rock musicals (see here) it works really well.

The show is narrated by the guitar player and composer, Stew (gotta love anyone with one name), who sometimes steps in for his younger self to sing major songs. It is a convention that turns out to be extremely powerful at times.

This is first show that I'm really excited for this year. I just hope it's able to find an audience. It's not a traditional show, and isn't going to attract a traditional audience. But I'm sure once the reviews come out it'll be packed, as when I saw it Saturday night there were some empty seats.

At Legally Blonde meanwhile, there was hardly an empty seat Sunday night. I've seen Blonde before, (and on MTV) a co-worker's husband got free tickets, and she invited me to come, and I'm not going to pass up a free show!

And the show was fine, not spectacular, but full of energy and bubble gum gusto you can't help but smile at times. If you've only seen it on MTV I will say it's much better in person. Christian Borle is a fantastic actor and I fell in love with him all over again as Emmet (the Luke Wilson character in the movie.) Laura Bell Bundy as Elle Woods was satisfactory, but her voice was so shot by Sunday night (Legally Blonde has a four show weekend) that I just felt bad for her. Take the matinees off girl!

I'm going to see In the Heights this Tuesday. It's no secret to the people who know me, that I love this show. I can only hope that being in a big Broadway house doesn't change the show too much.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Rock Musical...? meh...



Something has been bothering me for the past little while. It started after the huge success that Spring Awakening enjoyed with transferring to Broadway, then winning all these Tony's, including Best Musical. Also, the rock musical Next to Normal just opened at Second Stage. With that the "rock musical" sort of came back into people's theatrical peripheral vision, or at least mine.

As it was fluttering around in mine, I came to the conclusion: I hate rock musicals.

Now that said, there are about a million exceptions to what I just said.

My first cast album was The Who's Tommy (and even as a child opted for the 2 disk complete recording, not the highlights.) And I am a big fan of Rent, Hairspray, Dreamgirls, and countless other shows that use pop or rock music in their scores. But rock musicals are problematic for me.

I ended up seeing Next To Normal again recently. I had to give it another shot. And to my surprise, where before I just kinda liked it, this second time I loved it. But I think I liked it because I was able to listen to it this second time around.

Rock music is designed to do just that, rock. It is all about the 2 and the 4, and throwing down and having a good time to the beat. (And when I say rock, I am generally referring to popular music, including rock, pop, gospel, etc. Basically anything with a beat and not something classified as a "showtune".)

Now when a musical uses rock music to tell it's story, and when the song rocks, I mean truly rocks, it stops telling a story. Because in the end, rock music doesn't serve the show. It's about the beat.

There are countless examples. When you go to a show and a character is singing a song that rocks the house, and people start cheering what is happening? People end up cheering for the song, the beat, not the story.

I remember seeing an advanced screening of Dreamgirls where everyone there was so excited to see it. Basically the kind of crowd where even if the movie turned out to be crap, we were all going to like it no matter what! The audience was abuzz, and you knew that every person in that theatre knew the lyrics to every song.

But a strange thing happened. When Jennifer Hudson was half way through "And I Am Telling You (I'm Not Going)" and she was belting the hell out of it, people started cheering and clapping. And while it can be argued that people are cheering for the character, at the same time, aren't we just cheering the virtuosity of the performer and the music? Should at the end of that scene we think "wow, that poor girl just got dropped by her group" or "dang, that girl can sing!"? (It doesn't help that it was a movie, so why are people even cheering to begin with!?!)

Another example, I played in the pit for a production of Gospel at Colonus. It's a retelling of the Greek Tragedy Oedipus at Colunus, set in a Pentecostal Church. The show uses gospel style music to tell the story of Oedipus' death and redemption. The show is totally thrilling and uplifting, and the music is good, like really good. But so much of the story is in the lyrics and when people in the audience are clapping and stomping and literally dancing in the aisle, whose listening to the story?

The playwright Bertolt Brecht often collaborated with Kurt Weill for songs for his plays. And it's interesting to note that most of Weill's music for Brecht plays is largely overlooked, but Brechts plays live on. Some people have speculated that Brecht, being the self centered person that he was, chose Weill because his songs weren't catchy. Basically, that they weren't going to distract from his lyrics. If this is true or not, I don't know. But it brings up an interesting point about what is more important, the lyrics or the music?

In seeing Next to Normal for a second time, I was able to bypass the beat, and go straight to the lyrics. Of course, I guess it's just a matter of being able to absorb it all in one sitting. I know for me personally, it can be a little much.

So what am I saying? Should rock music not be used? No not all. I just think with a rock score, there needs to be a balance between the lyrics and the music.

It's totally safe to say that rock music isn't going anywhere. Nor is gospel or pop music. And it's continued use in musicals is here to stay. Hip-Hop, which is even more about the beat, is finally making it's way to a legit, family friendly musical In The Heights which begins previews tonight at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. (I'm seeing it on the 19th. I saw it Off Broadway and it's SO good. I can't wait!)

And even though I think rock music is an awkward fit in a musical, I will put Rent in my playlist any day over Light in the Piazza. So, call me a hypocrite, but at the end of the day, I totally forget all the theory and academic stuff about musicals because I am just not going to sit there and listen to all those strings... I need a beat!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The movie was better...

This past weekend I saw two shows. And it's always a little weird because when you see two shows almost back to back, it's like you never have time to digest the first one. (I'm always shocked by the theatre tourist who comes to New York for 8 days and sees like 9 shows! You can't possibly appreciate them all with out some time to think about them...)

I saw the tour of The Wedding Singer and the City Center's Applause concert staging.

Now I had seen Wedding Singer in New York. So it wasn't my first time with the show. And on top of that I have seen the movie a bunch of times (thank you VH1 Movies That Rock!)

It almost goes without saying that The Wedding Singer the musical is hardly ground breaking art, but it's a lot of fun and held my attention for the most part over the course of the evening.

There's not much to say about it, a left at the altar wedding singer falls for an engaged cater waitress and then through a series of events, one including Billy Idol (and some other 80's celebrities) they end up in love. Nothing to crazy, but what makes the show great is all the references to 80's pop culture. Its almost like some one took an episode of I Love the 80's, musicalized it, then got Lisa Frank to design the set.

I really like the show a lot, knowing that it's not very good (for a show about pop culture, to not have real 80's music is sad. But on the flip side... thank gawd it's not a jukebox musical using the Wedding Singer motion picture soundtrack!)

But seeing a non-equity production about 5 months into it's tour, just brought out all the flaws even more. It made me miss the movie...

I could totally see through the flimsy book, the empty energy in the choreography, and the attempt at pastiche with the score. What's more I had to travel to New Jersey to see it! (But don't worry, the ticket was comped. A friend, Joel Abels, is in the show. He by the way, was great, playing all the male "adult" roles, including a hilarious bum and a dead pan Ronald Reagan.)

But good for me, the non-eq tour didn't totally erase the fond memory I have of the original cast led by Stephen Lynch as Robbie Hart (the Adam Sandler character) and Kevin Calhoon as George (the David Arquette, Boy George character) who were able to make the show seem better then it was.


On Sunday I saw the final show of the City Center's concert staging of Applause. It was a star studded evening (Broadway stars mind you... not Hollywood stars so don't get too excited. No Julia Roberts.)

Applause is based on the movie All About Eve. Christine Ebersole plays Margo Channing, a famous film and theatre actress who's life gets hi-jacked and eventually upstaged by her apprentice, Eve, played by Erin Davie. Mario Cantone plays Margo Channing's hair dresser, and the list of stars goes on to include Chip Zien, Kate Burton, and Tom Hewitt.

The show itself if forgetable, and even more the The Wedding Singer, begs to be compared to the movie, which is superior in every way, but was still a pleasant enough night out. Christine Ebersole was fantastic as always, but like the performers in Wedding Singer, one can only transcend so far above mediocre material.

There are so many exciting plays out right now. I don't know when or how I will be able to see them. Come Back Little Sheba, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, TheSeafarer are all on my list... hopefully I'll be able to see them all before they are gone.

Oh, and remember the 50 foot rule. At both of these shows, it was very hard for me to follow my own rule! So I wanted to just encourage everyone to keep up the 50 foot rule :)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Concentration. Focus.... wait? what was I saying...



In Sunday in the Park with George, Dot, the painter George Surat's lover, talks about the art of concentration when she's modeling for him. She says that she used to think that concentration was about sitting still but now she realizes that concentration is about... about...

Oh. Sorry. I lost my own concentration and can't remember the rest...

This play was a big test of my concentration. Part of that was that I knew nothing going in.

When going to see a play, I feel like it's best to know nothing about it. And while Sunday is hardly a new play, I don't know it at all, it's not often produced, and chances to see it are few. Let alone first class productions.

When I heard there was a revival by the Roundabout Theatre Company, I was so excited and jumped at the chance to see it. I put off listening to my cast recording of the London Revival (The show is a transfer of that production) in anticipation of it. Not wanting to know anything. Wanting to soak it all up fresh.

To say that the show didn't connect to me, is an understatement. I feel like I not only needed to memorize the cast recording before hand, but also have read "Pointillism For Dummies" and taken at least 6 units of Art Appreciation classes at a French Art University. I was so lost the entire show.

That said, it's not necessarily a negative about the show. It was just very dense. The score is beautiful and I think with repeated listening, this could very well be a favorite show. But the experience of watching a show, this show, for the first time, knowing nothing was overwhelming.

The sets and lighting were absolutely beautiful and stunning. Everything was basically projections on three walls. Using the word projections is a little misleading, because saying projections makes it sound cheap. These were truly beautiful, and seamless. They turned us into the world of what George was seeing on his drawing pad. It looked more like living breathing scenery.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I feel like it could be a show I grow to love. I know it holds a dear place in lots of people's hearts (The boy sitting next to me was weeping at the first act finale, almost too emphatically.)

I only wish I had studied that cast album before I went in.

In my last blog I mentioned that I was going to see David Mamet's November, but wasn't able to get in on account of the box office not having any kind of rush policy. Damn them!!!! I don't quite know what is next on my list... until then!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wow.... that's F**ked up! (August: Osage County)


I think I've heard the phrase "That's F**ked" more times in the past week and a half, then I've heard it my whole life.

I saw August: Osage County last night. The phrase was used by many members of the Weston clan to describe their family. And they are right.

The play, a Broadway transfer from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, the play is a three and a half hour epic about a family that comes together after the death of the father. Let me tell you, this family has more problems then most. Throughout the course of the night, I think I saw 2, maybe 3 marriages end, drug abuse by a grandma and granddaughter, suicide, unspeakable sordid relations, and molestation. (That's F**ked up!!!)

It almost reminded me of the first season of Brothers and Sisters. The Walker family on that show go through a family crisis every episode; a crisis so big that their very lives seem to hang in the balance every week.

But the best part of August is that despite all the breaking dishes, cursing and drama the show is the funniest thing I've seen in a while!

Most of the laughter comes from being uncomfortable, a mother saying something a mother should never say to a daughter or visa versa. But there were some genuinely funny moments. I guess with a family this crazy it's bound to happen. Sort of like a "My Big Fat W.A.S.P. Funeral."

I don't mean to cheapen it by comparing it to Brothers and Sisters and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This show features some of the best acting and the best playwrighting I've seen in a while.

Tracy Letts (Bug, Killer Joe) has crafted a play that lets every actor shine. It was a true ensemble piece with every actor creating a deep and full character. And despite the play being three and a half hours with two intermissions, it is extremely tight and flies by! There isn't anything that could be cut. It is a great play, and I know it is for sure in the running for Best Play of the Year Tony.

This is a play I very strongly recommend. Go see it. And there is no excuse, while I student rushed it and got great seats, the last three rows are on sale and available for reservation for $26.50 which is about as cheap as Broadway gets. The play was just extended through April (no doubt a chance to give more Tony voters a chance to see it.)

This really is the play of the season.



I'm going to go see Sunday in the Park with George next Tuesday, and hopefully November on Saturday. So look out for those entries soon! Until then....

Monday, January 21, 2008

Crimes of the Heart


For me, Crimes of the Heart holds an awkward place in my own heart. Right next to Steel Magnolias.

Not only because they are simple, kitchen sink, explorations into the southern women's lives, but because I think every girl in high school was forced to do a scene from these shows in acting class at some point.

As a result, I was forced to watch way too many scenes from Crimes of the Heart. And with all due respect to the ladies whose scenes I watched, I hated watching them.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the show last night and liked it!

Watching the scenes out of context, the characters seemed silly, and the situations absurd. But seeing the whole story it made what was torture into a sweet story about sisters. Or rather... only slightly tortuous.

The sweet, sentimental, southern family slice of life serio-comic play is not my thing. But for what is was, it was a nice evening out.

Now just to be clear, when I say I "liked it", I do mean it in the most condescending way possible. It was overly sweet, overly sentimental, and overly southern for me. But I am a sucker and will fall for that stuff despite my better judgement.

It revolves around three sisters. One sister is just turning 30 and one has returned home after moving to LA to pursue a singing career. She comes home because the third and youngest sister just shot her husband, and they come to help her.

I wish the play went deeper and darker then it does, but that's not the style. It's about people who make coffee (on the stove mind you) for every guest who comes to their house and who leave their doors unlocked all day and night and where gossiping and catching up is the night life.

The set was great and overly detailed and decorated. I could have stared at it for ever, and whenever my attention wained, the set was there to hold my attention.

My favorite detail was a cellar door that was never used. And looks like it hasn't been used in years, as there is a bunch of furniture and a lamp in front of it, as if it isn't even a door, but part of the wall. Of course we find out later that the girls mother hung herself down there, and while its never spoken about, it served as a reminder of the sadness that these sisters felt for their mothers suicide.

I saw an understudy for the role of Babe, Jessica Cummings. She was great. I'm assuming she had little time to rehearse as they just started previews and understudy rehearsals don't start until then, if not after opening. Kudos to her!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Speech & Debate and Next To Normal

GROWING up in California, Broadway was a far away place... literally. So I would see every touring show that came through town, and try as much as I could to coax my family into seeing shows that came to San Francisco or LA.

After moving here and seeing so much theatre, it was a small milestone for me to sit down and watch the Tony's and have seen virtually every show!!! I was finally in a place where I could do that!

(Cleaning out my house for the new year, I went through all my playbills, and in 2007 I had seen over 40 shows!)

So, I've been trying to start this year off right. On the 8th I saw Speech and Debate at Roundabout's Underground Black Box Theatre and last night I saw the final dress of Next to Normal at Second Stage.

The fact that I saw Speech and Debate in January is laughable, because it's been extended like 20 times, and I've never gotten around to seeing it, despite hearing great things, and with HipTix being able to get in cheap! But I finally got around to it, and was more then happy that I did.

Speech and Debate follows three high school seniors, all outcasts in their own right, who through a series of events involving alleged student/teacher sexual relationship and the formation of a Speech and Debate club on campus, become unlikely friends.

The play featured some hilarious scenes that revolved around IMs (where there was no speaking, only IMs projected on screens behind the actors.) Also of note are some very funny musical sequences that were part of the speech and debate performance given by the seniors, played by Jason Fuchs, Gideon Glick and Sarah Steele.

Susan Blackwell ([title of show]) is hilarious in her supporting roles as a teacher and a NPR author.

Unfortunately before I saw the show, I read a piece of promotional material that quoted a review saying this a "play for the facebook generation."

That bothered me for a number of reasons.

1) I prefer myspace to facebook.
b. It's patronizing to say something like that.
Third - I prefer myspace to facebook. And feel very strongly about it! :)

The play was so much fun, and quirky, and spoke to me directly which I loved. But I couldn't help but hear that quote in the back of my head throughout the show, and was mad at myself for laughing at jokes about what ROFL means...

I wish I had seen it in previews so I wouldn't have had that annoying tag line in the back of my head nagging at me whenever something contempory came up... That said this was a play for people my age and younger (the fact that I have a myspace vs. facebook argument unfortunately proves the quote!) And while the older gentleman who sat next to me, did not laugh or even crack a smile once, I do think anyone could enjoy it.



NEXT to Normal, which begins previews tonight and opens February 15th, is a play that is also trying to speak to a younger generation.

I saw the final dress rehearsal, so I'm more then sure that what I saw will change and continue to grow into something stronger as rewrites are applied and things tighten.

But from what I saw, I liked it. I don't know if it will be the "next big thing" as talk on the boards (and it's own advertising) claim it to be, but it is a nice addition to the contemporary musical theatre canon.

Next to Normal revolves around a suburban family who is far from normal (or "next to?") but wants to have the Leave it to Beaver "normal" life.

The matriarch of the family (Alice Ripley) is bi-polar and possibly schizophrenic. (Despite some painfully clinical dialogue and songs we are never actually told what is wrong.) We also meet her husband, played by Brian D'Arcy James, who is loving and cares, but unable to keep up with his wife and increasingly distant daughter (Jennifer Damiano.)

We find out the family has a deep secret that haunts them, and they all try medicating the problem away with everything from pot, to Valium to electric shock therapy. If this all sounds bleak and bizarre, it is. But it's very interesting and I hope it continues to evolve into something beautifully tragic.

I don't want to give away too much, as there are some M. Night Shyamalan style surprises, but this is definitely a show you want to catch. Although I do feel the stories of suburban kids who have everything yet hate their parents, husbands who aren't there, and wives with a pharmacopoeia of self destruction in their purse are a little played out, the music saves it and makes it a story that you can sit through.

Word on the street is that it's vying for the Great White Way, and will more then likely play the Circle in the Square Theatre where Spelling Bee is closing this month. (Spelling Bee also debuted at Second Stage then moved to Broadway.)

I'm glad that I was able to start 2008 with two shows that were fresh and appealed to people my age (or at least marketed that way.) I just wonder what all the blue haired season subscribers (who are a main source of revenue for both non-profits Roundabout and Second Stage) think of them...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Striking 12: The new GrooveLily Musical


Like every year, I was looking for something to do on New Year's Eve (on the 30th mind you) when I came across a playbill.com article that mentioned that it would be returning for a special holiday engagment at the Zipper Theatre. So I figured that seeing a play on New Year's Eve would be a lot of fun. And it was called Striking 12, so I figured it would be New Year's themed...
The first time I heard of Striking 12, was when Amazon.com "recommended" it to me as I was shopping. And it always pops up as a "recommended item."

I've been very cautious of blind recommendations from websites or other media, when I had the weird experience of going through some extras of the Cabaret DVD where I was told "If you loved Cabaret, you'll love Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me"

Of course the same movie company just happened to own both properties, and Michael York is featured in both, but when one thinks of Cabaret, Austin Powers is no where to be found.

But I gave Striking 12 a chance since I wanted something to do on New Year's Eve and Amazon was so insistent.

I knew nothing of it except that it was some sort of retelling of "The Little Matchgirl" by Hans Christian Anderson and was written by a New York area band called GrooveLily.

Amazon was right.

The story is simple, on the last day of the year, a grumpy office worker (Brendan Milburn) wants to be left alone on New Years Eve when a young girl (Valerie Vigoda) selling "extra bright holiday bulbs that are designed to cheer people up" shows up at her door. When he starts to shut the door on her, she tells him that people have been rude to her and yell "get out of here little light bulb girl." Which he explains to her is a literary reference to "The Little Matchgirl."

Not needing any lights, the man closes the door on her still, then decides to read "The Little Matchgirl." and the story has a profound effect on him and makes him reconsider his life in the upcoming new year.

The simple story of "The Little Matchgirl" takes over and packs a heavy emotional punch when GrooveLily's music is added.

The play is half concert and half theatre piece. It is performed by the three member band as they simoaltaniously play the keyboard (Milburn), electric violin (Vigoda) and drums (Gene Lewin).

The show seamlessly switches back and forth between the present day and the story of "The Little Matchgirl".

It was a great show and I had a great time. I managed to laugh and (almost) cry which I think is essential to a great night out (what is a night out with out some drama!!! it can't be all laughs)

Striking 12 really struck a chord with me and I went home and immediatly bought the CD on iTunes. (Sorry amazon, I couldn't wait for shipping.)

Welcome!

Hello! Welcome to my blog.

My name is Alex! I'm originally from Fresno, California but recently moved to New York City in November 2007. I'm starting this blog as a way for me to get some writing done about theatre. As part of some new year cleaning, I went through all my Playbills and realized in the last year, I've seen over 40 plays!

I wanted a place for me to talk about and share my thoughts on the plays I've seen and other (as they say on New York 1's On Stage) "Theatrical goings on around town"

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions.

Have a wonderful new year! Thanks for visiting.

Alex!