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Thursday, July 24, 2014

TBT: The Winter Garden Theatre

The recent announcement that Rocky will be closing soon got me to thinking about the huge billboard that adorns the front of the Winter Garden Theatre.  It is hard to believe that only three shows have been advertised up there in the last 32 years!  Talk about your Throwback! So here's something that celebrates the other two shows that have played there in the last three decades before its current tenant and gives you something fun to do while you sit on the beach (or are waiting for the weekend like me!

CLICK ON THE PICTURES BELOW TO OPEN UP THE JIGSAW PUZZLE IN A NEW WINDOW!

Cats - 1982 - 2000 (150 pieces)


Mamma Mia! - 2001 - 2013 (150 pieces)



Jeff
5.216

Friday, July 18, 2014

FAREWELL: Elaine Stritch

Like many a young theatre novice, I was introduced to the classic scores by listening to the original Broadway cast recordings since the shows were long gone.  That was how I was first introduced to the legendary Elaine Stritch.  Her gravelly voice and slightly flat, off key wailing in the opening number of Company shocked me.  How could they have hired such an awful singer? Naively, I shook my head, and then kept listening to the oh-so-very New York sound of the whole thing.  There she was again, forceful and so sarcastic in "The Little Things You Do Together" - a real bitchy broad.  My kind of gal!  But when I got to "The Ladies Who Lunch," I grew up.  A lot. Such sophistication, a complicated mix of pain, anger and amused disdain.  I listened to that song over and over, not knowing at the time that it was a real classic.  I learned every word, belting it out with her every chance I got.  Who was this intriguing woman?  A couple of years later, I finally saw the video of the making of the album, and I was immediately smitten.  I had never even seen a Broadway show yet, and I already had my first diva obsession.  

She was the first "Broadway star" I could recognize on sight.  Long before stage performers were so regularly seen on TV and film, Broadway stars always seemed so separate.  So it was a real treat when she popped up on different shows.  My family still teases me about the time we were watching The Cosby Show, and I yelled at the TV, "Oh my God! Rudy's teacher is Elaine Stritch!"

Recording Company

I had the privilege of  seeing her perform live only twice.  The first time was twenty years ago in the 1994 revival of Show Boat.  She had a featured role, not a starring one. The production was an enormous spectacle, complete with a gigantic titular vessel, a huge cast, lavish costumes and even a car!  Yet, when she took the stage, the Gershwin stage might as well have been empty. She was all you looked at.  What presence and warmth and humor and humanity.

 Show Boat (left) and A Little Night Music (right)

It is amazing what a little perspective and sadness has on a guy.  The last time I saw her perform was in A Little Night Music, and I was so disappointed.  She must have been having an off day that afternoon, as she went up on her lines, and seemed tentative with every lyric in "Liaisons."  She was still funny, and she still commanded the stage, but, at the time, I felt like all eyes were on her because we were waiting for her to mess up or swear (or both).  With her passing, I regret that I so easily wrote her off.  Now, I'll cherish that last memory, remembering instead that we couldn't keep our eyes off of a true legend.

Give 'em Hell wherever you are, Elaine!  And thank you so much for making a difference.

Jeff
5.212

Thursday, July 17, 2014

TBT: Follies (2011)


I am ashamed to admit that as a Sondheim fan, I had never seen Follies until the revival that opened at the Marquis Theatre on September 12, 2011.  Even more, I am ashamed to admit that prior to seeing it, I hated it.  Yes, hated it.  Of course, my dislike for it was based on the horrible original Broadway Cast recording. Face it, even the most ardent fans who relive the original show in their minds daily think the recording is pretty stinky.

But then I finally saw it... and I loved it.  Yes, loved it. (My review HERE.)  I think I started to cry from the moment Bernadette Peters came onto the stage, eyes full of expectation, and, in an instant, her face clouded over with disappointment, regret and sadness.




My favorite Follies things:
The fabulous cast, lead by (L to R)
Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, Ron Raines

I love those spectral girls from Follies-past!

Jane Houdyshell's "Broadway Baby" and the ghost of
her past.  Love that their hair is the same!

"One More Kiss" with the stunning Rosalind Elias
and Leah Horowitz

"Who's That Woman?" as spectacularly led by Terri White!

She wasn't my favorite in the show, but to have the chance
to see the great Elaine Paige live was still a great moment!

The song tells us, "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow," but I am gonna love Follies forever!


Jeff
5.211

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Broadway Things That Make Me Happy: July Edition

IT COULD BE WORSE SEASON 2 STARTS TOMORROW!
Love, love, loved Season 1!!!  Can't wait to see what happens to Jacob (Wesley Taylor), Ben (Adam Chanler-Berat) and Sam (Mitchell Jarvis) when they head to L.A.!  Check out the amazing cast list at itcouldbeworse.tv !  You'll be able to see it on Hulu and Hulu Plus starting July 17.




BROADWAY BARKS WAS A BIG SUCCESS!
I love it when the Broadway community comes together for a great cause.  And they've been doing so for 16 years for Broadway Barks, founded by Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore!  This year, the stars were out in full force, including James Franco, Bebe Neuwirth and cast members from If/Then, Beautiful, Rocky and many more.


If/Then's James Snyder and Jen Colella and 2 cute friends!

BROADWAY FAVORITES IN THE ADDAMS FAMILY
And I love it when my favorites performers get to show off their talents all over the country, too!  How lucky the people of St. Louis are to see Rob McClure, Jenny Powers and Jen Cody at the MUNY in The Addams Family.  Can't to see McClure in Honeymoon in Vegas!


BOX OFFICE SUCCESS!
With shows dropping like flies these days, it is great to hear that many shows are thriving!  The Tonys sure gave a boost to the Best Musical A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder - it's doing SRO business!  Beautiful is packing 'em in, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch made back its investment!


YOU ARE THE BEST READERS!
Just yesterday, I posted my dream cast for DEXTER:The Musical, and already, you've sent in a TON of casting suggestions.  Read that blog HERE.  He:re are some of my favorite suggestions:

Tim S. wrote: "How about an older Dexter, Debra and Rita than you suggested? Norbert Leo Butz, Jenn Colella and Kate Baldwin!"  I think Jenn would be great, too, Tim!


nooziefloozie wrote: "You left out Doakes!  How about Bryan Terrell Clark from Motown?  And there has to be room for Andrew Keenan-Bolger!"  Oops! How could I have forgotten Doakes?  Nice work, noozie!  (Love your screen name!)

Kara H. wrote: "You have Jeremy Jordan and not Laura Osnes??"  Kara, for which part? Debra or Rita? I can only imagine Laura with Debra's potty mouth!

Like minds came together, too. 3 of you suggested Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Hall as Dexter and Debra!

Keep sending in your ideas!

Jeff
5.210

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Killer Theatre: Dream-Casting DEXTER: The Musical

With yesterday's announcement that American Psycho would be coming to New York.  This won't be the first time a killer gets to sing - Assassins had a rogue's gallery of one-time killers, and the merry murderesses have been singing from behind bars in Chicago for almost two decades.  American Psycho features a serial killer.  So, I got to thinking about the serial killer TV show Dexter and what it would be like as a musical. After all, there have been other mass murderers on stage before, like Mr. Hyde, Clyde Barrow and our good friend, Sweeney.

I made the connection fairly easily, since it just so happens that Mike and I have been binge watching Dexter over the past several weekends.  We've only gotten through the first three episodes of Season Three, so when I think of making it into a musical, I can only, in fairness, think of casting the main roles, and think of maybe an original story featuring a brand new nemesis for the blood spatter specialist/killer to, uh, cut into.


It would be extra cool if Michael C. Hall could star as Dexter on stage, and even cooler if his other ex-wife Amy Spanger played his sister, Debra Morgan.  It would be a reunion of their days together in Chicago.  (Hall's most recent spouse, Jennifer Carpenter, plays Dexter's sister in the series.)

The TV Cast of Dexter

But, barring that... here's my dream cast for DEXTER: The Musical:


Blood spatter specialist/serial killer of killers, Dexter Morgan: Jeremy Jordan
Dexter's sister, police officer Debra Morgan: Anna Kendrick (love to hear her with a potty mouth!)
Dexter's adoptive father/mentor, Harry Morgan: Terrence Mann


Dexter's girlfriend, Rita: Jill Paice
Cody, Rita's son: Joshua Colley
Astor, Rita's daughter: Sydney Lucas




Lt. Maria LaGuerta, precinct leader in the Miami P.D.: Daphne Rubin-Vega
Detective Angel Batista: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Forensic Specialist Vince Masuka: Telly Leung
Detective Joey Quinn: Brian J. Smith
Special Agent Lundy: Keith Carradine (why not?)



Dexter's main nemesis: Hunter Foster
Dexter's other "victims"/"killers who got away with it until Dexter": Wesley Taylor, Gideon Glick, Adam Chanler-Berat and Jennifer Damiano, Krysta Rodriguez and Barett Wilbert Weed (maybe they could all rotate?)



I don't know what the story would be exactly, but I think Lin-Manuel Miranda and Gloria Estefan should collaborate on the book and the score.  And there has to be a song in it called "Cellophane Soliloquy"!  Rob Marshall will come back to the stage to choreograph this, and Alex Timbers will direct.

What do you think, Dexter fans?  Who would you cast?  Let me know!

Jeff
5.209

Monday, July 14, 2014

REVIEW: If/Then (Re-visit)

Re-visit review of the Wednesday, July 2nd matinee performance at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City.  Starring Idina Menzel, LaChanze, Curtis Holbrook, James Snyder, Jenn Colella, Tamika Lawrence, Jerry Dixon and Jason Tam.  Music by Tom Kitt.  Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey.  Choreography by Larry Keigwin.  Direction by Michael Greif.  2 hours 35 minutes, including one intermission.

NEW! JKTS Grade Grid at the bottom of the review!

If/Then is one of those shows that is even better the second time around.  Though I had no trouble following the dual story lines the first time I saw the show (original review HERE), I have to say I enjoyed it even more this time for a few reasons.  First, not having to concentrate as hard on taking it all in allowed me to enjoy the performances and staging even more.  Second, being more familiar with the score (my review of the cast recording HERE) allowed me to really look forward to certain numbers, savor the words in context even more, and, I could really appreciate the vocal performances even more.  And, finally, I got to see a really terrific understudy performance (by an actor I always love) that, for my money, improved the experience.

Knowing the basic story and understanding how the stories are crisscrossed and sometimes converge ahead of time allowed me to catch many more details of the different performances, particularly the differences in LaChanze and Jerry Dixon with "Liz" versus "Beth." And, of course the very specific ways Idina Menzel's "switches" between the two, as well as how much the two are very much the same person regardless of the individual circumstances.  Now 100 plus performances in, the whole cast is much deeper into their roles, and the whole thing benefits from that increased depth.  Both Dixon and LaChanze, as well as Tamika Lawrence and Jenn Colella, are giving much more detailed and nuanced performances, and all of the relationships are that much richer for it.  James Snyder is as good as ever, too.

More experience with the piece also reveals just how carefully Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt have woven together the book and the songs, as well as how much attention to detail - parallelisms and divergences - there is in Michael Greif's direction.  Even Larry Keigwin's choreography, such as it is, is revealed to be important to the proceedings.

After seeing Ms. Menzel earlier in previews, it is great to see how much her performance has grown, and how it makes her big numbers even better.  Her big power ballads were good before, but now "You Learn to Live Without" and "Always Starting Over" have even more impact and emotion; the latter has truly become one of those legendary Broadway moments a la "And I Am Telling You."  And I love her duets as well - "Here I Go" and "I Hate You" with Mr. Snyder are both spectacular moments as well.  Which brings me to another of her duets, "Some Other Me," sung with Lucas.

At this performance the role of Lucas was played by Curtis Holbrook, not Anthony Rapp.  I have to say that I much preferred Holbrook to Rapp.  Gone is the specter of RENT in Rapp's absence.  Intended or not, I felt through the show that first time that part of what made the scenes with Lucas and Elizabeth work was the subtext that they were in that other show together.  And, I think it fair to say that Rapp is not so good an actor that any memories Mark are gone.  In fact, it was just the opposite - I always thought I was watching Mark and Maureen "all grown up."  With Holbrook, the role feels more complex and somehow much more sincere.  While he reads somewhat younger than Rapp, it still works very well, with an added sense of youthful urgency.  He is also excellent with Jason Tam; their chemistry is palpable making their number "Best Worst Mistake" all the better.  And he really knocks "Ain't No Man Manhattan" out of the park!

It was recently announced that Mr. Holbrook would be playing the role for several weeks while Mr. Rapp recovers from an injury. I can't recommend strongly enough that you see this important new musical, but even more so now, with him in the lead.  If/Then is in excellent shape - you really need to pay attention to it, no doubt, but if you haven't seen it yet, give it a try.  If you have seen it , a return visit is in order.  Everything about it better than before.

JKTS GRADE GRID: IF/THEN
WRITING
25 pts
Book (10)
8
Score: Music (5)
5
Score: Lyrics (5)
4.5
Orchestrations (5)
22.5
5
DIRECTION
25 pts
Staging (15)
13
Choreography (10)
21
8
ACTING                    
20 pts
Leading Roles (7)
7
Supporting Roles (7)
7
Ensemble (6)
20
6
TECHNICAL ELEMENTS
20 pts
Scenery (5)
5
Costumes (5)
5
Lighting (5)
5
Sound (5)
20
5
ARTISTIC IMPRESSION
10 pts
Unity of Concept (5)
5
Entertainment Value (5)
10
5
FINAL GRADE
93.5
A
100 -98 A+
97 -93 A
92 -90
A-
89 -88
B+
87 -83
B
82 -80
B-
79 -78
C+
77 -73
C
72 -70
C-
69 -68
D+
67 -63
D
62 –
60
D-
59 and lower
F
(Please email me and let me know what you think of this new system! I've already refined it based on first comments - thanks!)

Production photos by Joan Marcus; head shot from ifthenthemusical.com

Jeff
5.208

Friday, July 11, 2014

How to Market a Show: On The Town

These days for a new Broadway show to be heard above the din of Times Square, the buzz and squawking of social media, and the one-upsmanship (for the good and bad) of critical notices and pull quotes.  We've all seen the epic fails - decent shows fall victim to poor marketing - the original The Bridges of Madison County comes to mind.  Mediocre shows survive with a great campaign - sorry Rock of Ages fans, but it is true.  And of course there are the campaigns that have become iconic - penguins in Antarctica recognize the Phantom mask, I'm sure.

Where the campaign (and the show itself) for On the Town will finally end up remains to be seen. BUT, and it is a big one, so far, their efforts are exemplary.

They have the basics down:
For the tech-savvy/younger audience:

  • A constantly evolving website (HERE)
  • A Twitter account that is very active (@OnTheTownNYC)
  • A Facebook page (HERE)
  • And their stuff appears on Instagram.
  • It helps, too, that the stars of the show are also active on social media
And for the more mature audience/off the media grid set, there's already a preview commercial that explodes with Leonard Bernstein's famous "New York, New York" while the New York Times quotes from the pre-Broadway Barrington Stage run on the screen.  (I'll talk more about the commercials and the very cool logo in another blog later this summer!)

But the people in charge of getting this show "out there" to create awareness and buzz have really done a nice job so far, too, I think, especially considering that the competition for dollars will be stiff, and, perhaps that a show that will celebrate its 70th anniversary on December 28th!  New Yorkers and tourists must be courted, and boy, have they done that!

How about a photo-op at the National Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island?




How about a short film featuring the three main cast members singing and dancing around all of the treasured spots of native New Yorkers - Coney Island, the New York Public Library - AND hitting all the tourist spots - The Statue of Liberty, Macy's, museums, and more.  They interact with people who live here AND with the tourists (I love the expressions on the faces of the people on the tour bus!)  In short, they are appealing to both key groups that will fill the seats.  And, let's face it, they make coming to the Big Apple look like a safe, fun adventure.  Best of all, If you know they show, there are nods to the story AND Jay Armstrong Johnson, Tony Yazbeck and Clyde Alves act completely in character - 1940's character!  That the two eras come together so easily and pleasingly speaks well for how much this classic still works today.  I hope the show itself has the same appeal.



Then there is the genius cross-pollination of stage and TV, by offering one of today's biggest prizes for the common folk - the parlaying of a reality show appearance into a career.  Many dance fans are also theatre fans, right?  So why not give the winner of the Emmy-winning So You Think You Can Dance this season a spot in a Broadway show!?  And even better, why not make the very last time the 20 contenders will dance together - a bittersweet thing - be the big opening number from the show that'll be the prize, choreographed by the guy who'll do the same on Broadway!?  A not so shameless plug, with further advertising potential for several weeks leading up to the first preview!  BRILLIANT!


Keep it up, On the Town!  I'm even more excited to see your show.

Jeff
5.207
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