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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

At the Stage Door: Meeting Scott Bakula

Much has been written recently about the stage dooring experience these days on Broadway, and I suppose I'll get around to adding my two cents' worth eventually.  But for now, I'll share a few stories of my stage dooring experiences that are nothing like what is done today.

It was early summer 1988. The Tonys were over, and The Phantom of the Opera and Into the Woods were all the rage. I, like many theater fans, got my glimpse of Broadway shows from the Tony Awards, and that year, the show that really surprised me was the one I hadn't seen or really heard much about: Romance Romance.

To be completely honest, I was really interested because I saw Alison Fraser listed as being in it during the opening credits, and I was a fan of hers since she was a replacement in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, one of my (still) all-time favorite shows. When the number from R/R came on, though, I was immediately smitten with the guy in the tux and then in the jeans and purple shirt.  Man, was he hot!  And what a great singer!  I HAD to see this show.

Of course, I'm talking about Scott Bakula, a largely unknown actor, whose major stage credit at that point was an off-Broadway show called 3 Guys Naked From the Waist Down.  This was still a couple years away from Quantum Leap and just under a quarter century before his current hit, NCIS:New Orleans.

So, I booked my tickets, and my grandmother - a spry, sharp lady - and I went to see a matinee. We both loved the show, and exited the Helen Hayes Theatre on a musical high.  We stopped just outside the door and noticed that one of her favorite comedians, Joan Rivers, was playing in Broadway Bound, right across the street. She wanted to wait and see if we could see her coming out the stage door. So we stood there across the street, just waiting.  Mind you, we didn't want autographs, we just wanted to see her.

Now, in those days, the cast exited the Helen Hayes just like the audience did - through the house and out the front doors.  That little side alley they use today was not in use then. As we are standing there, my grandmother drops her Playbill.  I bend over to get it, and there's a shoe gently holding it down. I look up, and there's Scott Bakula, looking down at me. "Don't want that to blow away, right?" He smiled that crooked smile of his, and my heart was pounding. I was speechless.

Grandma wasn't. "You are that nice young man in that show we just saw!" "Yes, ma'am." "Well, you were wonderful. This is my grandson. He's a big fan of yours." I was beat red, but loving it still.  "Well," he said, "it's always nice to meet fans.  Thanks for coming." I thought that was the end of it. Nope. He stood there and talked to us for a good ten minutes about other shows, where to eat for dinner, and that he was looking forward to an audition for a TV show.  We shook hands; he hugged my grandmother (her turn to blush). And we parted ways.

No crowd amassed, no police barricade. No pressure.  Just theater lovers and an actor sharing a few minutes of  commonality and kindness.  It never occurred to me to ask for an autograph. But I will never forget that wonderful memory. Neither did my grandmother. She was a huge fan of his until the day she died, and frequently recalled that warm afternoon.

We never did see Joan Rivers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Broadway Pulse: Your Favorite Long-Running Broadway show


Before we finish the last 2 preliminary rounds of The Broadway Olympics (see your results so far HERE), this week's poll is a quick one.  Let's take the pulse of Broadway fans!

Which current, long-running show is your favorite of all?  You can only pick ONE!

And DON'T FORGET: You have to click the "VOTE" button at the bottom for your vote to count!




Coming soon: What long-running show has lost its luster and is ready to go?


Monday, April 23, 2018

Logos: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two

As someone who has read all of the books and seen all of the films, I am very excited about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two.  As a fan of the whole Potter-verse, I love the show's logo in all its iterations.  But I have to wonder if the logo will appeal to anyone who isn't a fan of J.K. Rowling's epic saga, and in this rare case, I can honestly say it probably won't matter.  I mean, outside of those folks who will go simply because it's the hot ticket, and a few see-every-play completists, this production really is for the fans. Let me say this from the outset, this logo - and especially its physical manifestation on 43rd Street - fits all my criteria for a successful logo.

Grade: A+

First, black and gold will stand out - just ask Hamilton (and I'll bet not a few tourists will think they are somehow connected).  Second, the title will make people pause..."What is this new Harry Potter thing?  Do my kids know about this? I don't have kids, but I loved the books when I was young...this could be fun! My whole family loved The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I bet they'll love this..." The brand sells itself.


As far as the logo images go, the creepy black wings and that small child crouching in a nest of the logo certainly adds to the mystery and intrigue.  Of course, fans will recognize the nest/wing combination as a form of golden snitch. But the huge black wings are also reminiscent of any number elements from the series.  That sense of foreboding, that mysterious changing of the familiar, the over all sense of danger are all draws.  Audiences need to be intrigued to be willing to commit a large chunk of time and a large chunk of money.



Finally, I think it is smart that the title is in the standard format of the beloved series - Harry Potter and the...- and it is also wise that they don't use the same font for the play as for the books and films.  It signals a maturity of our hero. Harry, Ron, Hermione and the gang are adults now. And just maybe this play is really for older Potter fans after all.

Friday, April 20, 2018

REVIEW: My Fair Lady

Review of the Saturday, March 24, 2018 evening preview performance at Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont. Starring Lauren Ambrose, Harry Hadden-Paton, Norbert Leo Butz, Dame Diana Rigg, Allan Corduner, Jordan Donica, Linda Mugleston and Manu Narayan. Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Music by Frederick Loewe. Sets by Michael Yeargan. Costumes by Catherine Zuber. Lighting by Donald Holder. Choreography by Christopher Gattelli. Direction by Bartlett Sher.  2 hours, 45 minutes, including one intermission.

Grade: B-/C+

In the intervening weeks since I saw an early preview of My Fair Lady, my regards for it have somewhat diminished.  The things that stood out to me then, still do, and that's a good thing.  But the things that sort of tickled the back of my mind as slightly bothersome then, have grown to full blown nagging issues. I'm hopeful that master director Bartlett Sher has made some needed improvements during the near-month since I saw it.  Regardless, the show is in many ways a triumph, despite my qualms.

Sher's revival hits all the right buttons for most theatergoers. First, the costumes are fabulous in every single scene - Catherine Zuber should probably get her Tony speech ready (Sher is her good luck charm; she's won 4 times with his shows).  The "Ascot Gavotte" costumes alone make this worth seeing again.  The sets are fabulous in every single scene, from the frequently moving forced perspective to the jaw-dropping Higgins manse - Michael Yeargan should probably get his Tony speech ready, too (the man knows how to fill the cavernous stage at the Beaumont, and has won two Tonys with Sher).  Donald Holder's lighting is equally magnificent - the kind that even someone who doesn't understand lighting can recognize as excellent.  And one would be remiss not to mention that the glorious score is being played by twenty-nine wonderful musicians under the talented baton of Ted Sperling.  In short, this Sher show is technically top notch.

Dame Diana Rigg and Jordan Donica

Performance-wise, the ensemble is excellent, moving easily between roles of both classes - key to the themes of the show - and to a person, each creates individualized background characters. Two of the supporting players also really stand out, especially notable because they are small roles.  Linda  Mugleston is a riot as the stern head housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce. And there aren't adequate words for the absolutely delightful force of nature that is Diana Rigg, who, as Henry's mother, held court in every scene she was in like a queen. She was beyond wonderful.

"The Rain in Spain"
On the less successful end of the spectrum is Manu Narayan, who plays Karpathy as an unfortunately hyper-stereotype, which is particularly puzzling, considering how other aspects of this production go out of its way to be "woke." Then there is Jordan Donica who makes for a handsome Freddy, but, at least at the performance I attended, struggled to keep on pitch during the crowd-favorite, "On the Street Where You Live." But even more troubling, I'm not sure why his Freddy would be anything more than a pity date for the Eliza he's in love with. Allan Corduner barely registers as Col. Pickering; he is uniformly stodgy, and speaks lines that are meant to show a certain affection toward Eliza with almost zero warmth, and the age difference between he and Higgins, which shouldn't matter, somehow feels...awkward.  Even the one time he cuts loose, during "The Rain in Spain," he gets lost in the shuffle.

Norbert Leo Butz
Then there's Norbert Leo Butz, a performer I generally love, who (and I'm pretty sure this will be an unpopular opinion) is not right for this role.  His performance is an odd mix of underplaying and scenery chewing.  "With a Little Bit of Luck" is mildly charming, but not the uplift one expects (and needs) at that point in the story. Conversely, his act two "Get Me to the Church On Time" is a master class in excess, and not just his performance of it.  But more about that later. It is only in his confrontation scene with Higgins late in the play that Butz gets to show off his acting skills.  All of a sudden, it becomes crystal clear what the real point of Alfred P. Doolittle is in the show, and it isn't funny. It is important.

Any production of this show hinges on the actors who play the My and the Fair Lady. Much has been made of the relative youth of  Harry Hadden-Paton as Henry Higgins, and frankly, it doesn't really matter, other than it makes him seem like more of a spoiled brat, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  But by and large, no real insights are gained by this casting or by the actor's performance.  He's continually appropriate in the role, with no real missteps, but no real excitement, either. He sings the role slightly more than other Higgins I have seen, but even that doesn't do much to separate him from his predecessors. He's good, not great.

Henry and Eliza: Hadden-Paton and Ambrose
This production will probably be remembered for Sher's making the show more relevant by really making Eliza Doolittle the focus of the show with hardly a change to the script.  And his nod to #MeToo and feminism at the end is entirely appropriate. (And more easily successful than the troubling ending of Carousel.) Bravo to him for that, but the real kudos go to Lauren Ambrose, making her Broadway musical debut in this prime role.  She can do no wrong here.  Her voice is spectacular, and this may be the first time I've ever seen this show (and I've seen it many times) where I didn't hold my breath during "I Could Have Danced All Night" for fear that the high notes wouldn't be there. Her comedic timing is spot on, with not even a smidge of over-playing. If you find yourself not paying attention to others when she's also onstage (like I did towards the end), you will be handsomely rewarded: she is even spectacular off to the side.  I find myself already hoping she's here to stay for more musicals.  If the whole nearly three hour experience was just her, Ms. Rigg and the scenery, this would be one hell of a revival.

"Get Me to the Church on Time"
While I'm pretty sure this show will get tons of Tony love, it isn't without its shortcomings.  As spectacular as it is, the enormous Higgins house set begins to lose its charms once you've seen it all and begin to realize that there are lots of scenes there.  And, particularly in act two where it goes on and off what feels like every five minutes, and you watch it roll all the way from the back of the stage to the front. Over the course of the evening it probably adds ten minutes.  And the pacing of act two was generally sluggish to the point of near boredom.

But for me, the biggest misstep of the evening was "Get Me to the Church On Time," a crowd-pleaser to be sure, even if it stuck out like a sore thumb as the sole "big Broadway dance number" in the show.   Christopher Gattelli certainly puts his ensemble through a lot.  It is impossibly busy - think "Master of the House" on steroids, oddly athletic - think every number in Newsies, and very loud - I'm not talking volume entirely here.  While I appreciated the attention to detail with the Edwin Drood-ish ingenue-as-man character in the music hall setting, I found the totally unnecessary (and I'm not sure entirely accurate) full-on drag queens to be boorish. Gattelli doesn't have that much to do as this is not a dance show: even the ball is more about the dialogue than the waltz, and to dance during "Ascot Gavotte" would likely cause a riot.  So I can see why he tried to pack a ton in this one number. But the lack of restraint here only points up the rather staid, ultimately dull pace of the rest.

The gorgeous score, played and sung so well, plus large scale sets and hundreds of lovely costumes will please the masses, and Ms. Ambrose alone makes this a must-see show.  In fact, I left the show very happy.  But the more I think about it, the more wilted this classic flower feels.

(Photos by J. Kyler, J. Marcus)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

LOGOS: My Fair Lady

The Master at work...
I make no secret of my love for the artwork of James McMullan. From the cool sophistication of his Anything Goes for the 1987 revival to the sensual heat of his Hello Again (off-Broadway, 1994), I just love what he does.  But his work for the current revival of My Fair Lady may just be my favorite of his!

Grade: A+

The epic, colorful scene fits the epic musical it is representing.  It's not just that it depicts the scene where it all starts, Covent Garden, but it beautifully shows an important theme of the classic musical: the overlapping of the classes.  Here, opera goers mingle with their footmen and carriage drivers, and a myriad of street vendors and buskers.  And like the classes of people that populate Lerner and Loewe's masterpiece (and Shaw before them), the classes may mingle, but then never look at each other and barely interact. 


The horizontal, more panoramic version reminds me so much of Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the impetus, of course, for another masterpiece musical.  One of the great things about this version of the logo is, like any work of art, the more you look at it, the more you get from it, the more you are drawn in.  Who are these people? What are their stories?


If you know the show, you might have other questions.  Is that redheaded girl with the basket of flowers in the center our Eliza?  Is the man in brown a "tech takin' 'er down" like our Higgins?

Both sets of questions really expose what makes this an excellent show logo.  Whether you know the show or not, it makes you stop and look at it more closely. Brilliant.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Broadway Olympics: TEAM Carousel

Love it (I did!) or hate it, the new Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel is the talk of the Rialto these days.  Better to have people talking than ignoring it, right?  This week, we are looking to talk about the show in a much more carefree (if superficial) way.  Let's talk about how HOT the cast is - looks, certainly, but also talent, career trajectory, and overall charisma, too!  All season, your votes have qualified leading, featured and ensemble cast members for The Broadway Olympics, and you've awarded gold, silver and bronze medals to the casts of the seven musicals to open this season.  (Check them out HERE.) All of this is leading up to the BIG VOTE to see who makes the 2017-2018 Broadway Team!

Your task this week is to vote for Team Carousel in the Leading Actor, Leading Actress, Featured Actor, Featured Actress, and Male and Female Ensemble/Stand-by/Swing categories. The top three vote-getters win the medals; categories with fewer than three nominees will earn medals based on the percentage of votes received.

A few things to remember:
  1. You DO NOT have to have seen the show to vote!
  2. You can vote for as many (or as few) cast members as you wish.
  3. Yes, this is just like the old "HOT or NOT" contests of previous seasons. And the "heat level" can be looks, of course, but it could also be talent, career, and potential.
  4. The survey is secure. It does not collect any data from you, and I can't see any identifying data, only the results of your vote.
****MOST IMPORTANT! YOUR VOTES WILL NOT COUNT UNLESS YOU CLICK "FINISH SURVEY" ALL THE WAY AT THE BOTTOM OF THE POLL.  Since there are 39 cast members, you'll have to scroll pretty far down to hit that button!****

The poll will close on Monday, April 23!





Monday, April 16, 2018

Where Do Best Musicals Come From?

As we inch ever closer to the end of another Broadway awards eligibility season, I thought it might be interesting to look at the ultimate winners of the last 20 years. What were their primary sources?  What was their path to the Great White Way? How might these trends bode for the 7 potential "Best Musical"s from this season? Let's take a look.

By "primary source," I mean the most significant place the idea came from. As an example, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera draws from the original novel by Gaston Leroux. There are, of course, many film versions of this story, but the primary source of the 1988 Best Musical is a book. As far as "path to Broadway," the categories are more self-explanatory, though I distinguish between "regional theatre" and "out-of-town."  The former generally means venues that the Tony Awards may honor (and in many cases below, has honored) with a Regional Theater Award; the latter refers to commercial venues, aka touring houses, that often host "pre-Broadway engagements."  The sub-genre/sub-source of "jukebox musical" is based on the broad definition of shows whose score was not deemed eligible for a Tony Award, whether it is a score made up of a catalogue of songs (Jersey Boys) or a majority of songs from a pre-existing score (Once).

Best Musical 2015: Fun Home
Based on a book, off-Broadway tryout
Here are the Tony Award-winning best musicals from the last 20 seasons, their primary source, and the way they got to Broadway.

WHERE DID THE BEST MUSICALS OF THE LAST 20 YEARS COME FROM?
SHOW
SEASON
PRIMARY
SOURCE
BROADWAY
OFF-BROADWAY
REGIONAL
THEATRE
OUT-OF-TOWN
LONDON
Dear Evan Hansen
2016-2017
Original

X
X


Hamilton
2015-2016
Book

X



Fun Home
2014-2015
Book

X



A Gentleman’s Guide…
2013-2014
Book



X


Kinky Boots
2012-2013
Film



X

Once
2011-2012
Film^^

X
X


The Book of Mormon
2010-2011
Original
X




Memphis
2009-2010
Biographical


X
X

Billy Elliot
2008-2009
Film




X
In the Heights
2007-2008
Original

X
X


Spring Awakening
2006-2007
Play

X



Jersey Boys
2005-2006
Biographical^^


X


Spamalot
2004-2005
Film



X

Avenue Q
2003-2004
Original

X



Hairspray
2002-2003
Film



X

Thoroughly Modern Millie
2001-2002
Film


X


The Producers
2000-2001
Film



X

Contact
1999-2000
Original^^

X



Fosse
1998-1999
Revue^^



X

The Lion King
1997-1998
Film



X

TOTALS

5 Original
3 Book
1 Play
8 Film
2
Biographical
1 Revue
1
4.16%
8
33.34%
7
29.17%

7
29.17%
1
4.16%
40% - Film; 25% - Original; 20% - Book/Play; 10% - Biographical; 5% - Revue
^^ - 15% - “Jukebox”

Well, we all know that the winner of the Best Musical prize doesn't mean the best musical won. We also know that a big win on Tony night doesn't automatically translate to a financial boon and decade long runs. But, it is interesting to look at long term trends.

Best Musical 2006: Jersey Boys
Biographical, jukebox, regional tryout
I know a lot of people lament the steady stream movies-to-musicals, but there is definitely something to producing them, beyond the "obvious cash grab" I often hear talk of. Not that that isn't at least partially true, either. For every The Lion King, there's a Groundhog Day.  Jukebox musicals clearly aren't the easy path to award recognition, and neither are shows based on famous people.  For every Jersey Boys, there's an On Your Feet! Even given the economics of riskier projects, I'm surprised more musicals based on books and plays aren't being produced. Three years in a row, a property based on a book took home the Tony. And we can't forget that the top 5 (soon to be 6) longest-running shows off all time are based on books or plays.

Best Musical 2011: The Book of Mormon
Bucking the trend: original story, cold open
Given the high stakes of opening a new show on Broadway, not to mention the even more immediate, intense glare of social media, I guess it's not surprising that more musicals don't open cold; only one Best Musical winner has done that in the past 20 years, and history has shown that The Book of Mormon, a risk from the start, was a huge gamble that really paid off.  Of course, these days, for the same reasons as above, the out-of-town tryout certainly doesn't offer the buffer it used to.  But it still clearly pays off - nearly 60 percent of the 20 shows had such productions. London imports have sure slowed down from their heyday in the 80's.  Only Billy Elliot came in first from across the pond (though I think Matilda should be on this list), and other London imports have been pretty brutal flops. The Woman in White or Groundhog Day, anyone? Off-Broadway seems to offer both the economic and artistic freedom needed. A full 1/3 of these shows had off-Broadway runs.

Considering these trends, it's interesting to look at the seven (!) new musicals to have opened or will be opening this season:

WHERE DID THE NEW MUSICALS OF THE 2017 - 2018 COME FROM?
SHOW
SEASON
PRIMARY
SOURCE
BROADWAY
OFF-BROADWAY
REGIONAL
THEATRE
OUT-OF-TOWN
LONDON
Prince of Broadway
2017-2018
Revue^^



X

The Band’s Visit
2017-2018
Film

X



SpongeBob SquarePants
2017-2018
TV*



X

Escape to Margaritaville
2017-2018
Original^^


X
X

Disney’s Frozen
2017-2018
Film



X

Mean Girls
2017-2018
Film



X

Summer
2017-2018
Biographical^^


X


57.1% - Film; 14.3% - Original; 14.3% - Biographical; 14.3% - Revue
^^ -  42.9% - “Jukebox”
* - will count TV as a Film for statistical purposes

In microcosm, this season has shows that fit source type, with a high average of film-based and "jukebox" shows. At least this season, one of the original scores could really be a jukebox - every song in SpongeBob SquarePants is by a different songwriter!  Not surprisingly, there are no "open cold" or London imports.

Best Musical 2018: Escape to Margaritaville ???

Best Musical 2018: The Prince of Broadway ???
All analysis aside, the bottom line is that most of the time, the best show - the artistic ground-breakers, and/or the lavish crowd-pleaser wins.  And even if, on any given year, we lament that the "best musical" didn't win, in the long run, quality rules.

Given the 20-year trends, it looks like The Band's Visit will be the likely winner in 2018.  See? Sometimes the "best" musical of the season can be the Best Musical of the season. :-)

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