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...


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!