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 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.