THIS WEEK @ JK's TheatreScene

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Well, my "little vacation" ended up lasting two and a half years... funny how life steers your life in directions you weren't planning on. I'll start off with occasional posts, but I fully plan to resume this blog to full speed by the new year.

I hope you'll come back for frequent visits, to see new reviews, to share opinions, to take a survey (or two), and to celebrate the shows and show people that have made the TheatreScene!

Jeff

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Happened to the Old Days?




Picture this: I'm sitting in my office at work. I have telecharge.com on my computer and it is 4:59PM. In just one minute, the "Find Tickets" button on the A Little Night Music page will activate, and I'll be amongst the very first non-group, non-VIP people to get what is left of tickets which the page tells me are on sale through June 13, with two weeks listed as "non- Catherine Zeta-Jones" days amongst that time. June feels a long way off, but it isn't when you only have 8 shots a week at getting to see her and my personal heroine, Angela Lansbury. (Ever since Deuce, every time they announce her name with a show, I am excited and sad because I am sure each new show will be her last before she retires...).

Back to scene: Just as my screen clock turns to 5:00, the "Find Tickets" activates! I quickly click through the preliminaries, and click on nearly 20 dates for me to choose from. Knowing everyone will want to sit down stairs, I increase my chances even more by clicking on the "Center Front Mezzanine" button. Having been to the Walter Kerr Theatre several times, I know that front mezzanine, while very cramped, offers a very close view (I could see every wrinkle on Mary Louise Wilson's face as clear as a bell in Grey Gardens). Then my worst fear comes to pass... up comes the notice that there are NO TICKETS AVAILABLE FOR ANY DATE REQUESTED! ARGHHHHHH! So I frantically try again... same thing. This simply cannot be, right? So I nervously pound out the phone number to place my order with an actual person, all while cursing out every Sondheim/Lansbury/Zeta-Jones freak who managed to get ahead of me.

OK, so in "real life," I was on hold for maybe 4 minutes, but it felt longer than Angela's storied career. Ironically, "It Sucks to Be Me" from Avenue Q is playing while I wait, but is continually interrupted by a booming voice that advises that it would be faster to do this online, but I can hold if I want to.
Soon, I zone all of this out... drifting...drifting... back to the year I first attended a Broadway show... 1983, Gershwin Theatre, Angela Lansbury in Mame... I remember literally thinking two things as I looked at the strip of cardboard in my hand. 1) Wow... $27.50 sure is a lot of money for a show. Ahhh, but I am in the orchestra section... and 2) This is so cool! These tickets were printed on the same kind of card stock we used at my school when we did Man of La Mancha!


Drifting back in to be sure I didn't miss the operator that was standing by... drifting back out... The first time I saw a computerized ticket was that same year, only later...when I FINALLY got a seat for Cats. Seems that show was making soooo much money (those orchestra seats were a whopping $32.50!) that they could install a new machine that tracked tickets and printed them out. Of course, getting those tickets was a big deal for someone who lived in the sticks of New England and didn't have a credit card to take advantage of the new "Telecharge" system in place for all of Broadway's best shows. No, I had to MAIL ORDER them. A SASE + a list of dates and where I wanted to sit... sent of to the TIMES SQUARE POST OFFICE STATION (God, it sounded huge!) and the waiting began... 2 to 3 weeks later, you got your tickets and found out when you were going. Imagine all of the advanced planning THAT took, right?

Back in to scene as I try to do the sale by computer again...this time it worked! So I hung up the phone - never getting to a talk to a live person - and completed my sale. I don't know what the glitch was, but I had a panicky 5 or 6 minutes! January seems like an eternity....

Things are so much easier now...you can pick your dates, seats and know instantly when you are going. That was only something New Yorkers could do at the box office back in the day. But I'd trade my 5 minutes of Hell today for that rush of excitement when the mail came and there was my self-addressed, stamped envelope full of expectation and joy - I was going to finally see Cats! ...in 3 months... Still, that amazing feeling of un-immediate gratification just added to the whole experience. There is something to be said for the old days...

Jeff


(A Little Night Music logos: London and Telecharge; Computer Tickets from The Producer's Perspective blog; Printed Tickets fro Getty Images)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bags Full of Fleas!


Rain and even the threat of a shut down couldn't keep the 23rd Annual BCEFA Broadway Flea Market from happening. This news is old - the rain forced organizers to move everything into the Roseland Ballroom. Huge as it is, it is much smaller than Shubert Alley and 44th Street. And the rain did not deter throngs from showing up. At one point it was so crowded, the fire department had to step in and evacuate the building, then apparently made arrangements for more orderly counting of patrons and limiting access. That limited access didn't stop the shopping as the event made well over $400K! Congrats to all involved.


All the show tables had great stuff for sale... lots of signed production photos and posters and the like. And some has some REAL bargains. The Little Mermaid table had high quality T-shirts, opening night Playbills in mint condition and stacks of autographed stuff - everything for $1.00! Added the Playbill to my collection... Avenue Q had a great deal for $20.00: your choice of a signed poster (Kate Monster, Trekkie, etc.) + a huge button, a Playbill and another souvenir of your choice! I think Wicked and Billy Elliot, the new reigning champ at the B.O. were vying for classiest booths with some amazing memorabilia for real fans of each show.



The best non-show booths to me were the Playbill booth, which at the time I was there, had everything for $1.00. So I got a Wicked 5th Anniversary Playbill, a closing night RENT Playbill, and the newest window card featuring every Playbill of the past season. On their own website, each of those Playbills are $15.00 and the poster is $20.00! I saved $47.00, not including shipping and handling. And I took my purchases right to the next best booth - Triton Gallery, and got the poster framed for $20.00! Plus I got a Doubt poster for my collection - it looks to be i mint condition for $1.00! If I got these from their own website, it would have cost me $60.00, plus shipping and handling! I ended up with over $110.00 worth of collectibles for $24.00. AND it is all for charity!


HINT FOR NEXT YEAR: Go later! The deals are even better!



Did you go? Tell us about it!

Jeff

Monday, September 28, 2009

Theatrical Pet Peeve III: Turn Off Your F#@$g Phone!


I know I am not alone in this... no matter how cute or matter of fact they are about announcing reminders to silence electronic devices, someone in the audience"forgets" or simply ignores the reminder. Then, shock of shocks, the damned thing goes off. And naturally, as it is dark, the offender can't find the device so it continues to ring. Then, as the device is brought out in the open, it rings louder as the person fumbles to silence the thing after all. Unless that "person" is the idiot who answers the phone and starts talking!

Yes, I've seen that not once but twice. And I am sure the touring company of Spring Awakening loved having "Touch Me" so nicely interrupted. Fortunately (?) the other instance was during "The Angry Dance" of Billy Elliot, so only those of use immediately around the fool were annoyed by it. It is so much a part of the theater-going experience that it is an actual topic for each show in the Playbill Yearbook!

Of course, theatre legend and modern technology have come together in making this serious breach of etiquette (let alone basic politeness) a very public argument, which not only applies to cell phones, but flash pictures (you have to have heard the tirade of Patti LuPone when some snapped a photo during Gypsy) and texting (I understand the cast of Hair actually takes the things and turns them off for you when they are in the audience, and that the cast of next to normal will also stop the show for texting, especially in the up close seats which are practically onstage seating). Richard Griffiths of Equus and The History Boys has notoriously refused to continue until the offenders are booted from the theatre. And just today, TMZ.com posted a video of Hugh Jackman addressing a phone call in the audience during a performance of his new play, A Steady Rain. He did it in character, class act that he is. (I wonder how he feels about being taped?)

http://www.tmz.com/2009/09/28/jackman-and-craig-can-you-hear-us-now

I mean, I love myself and have a healthy ego, but is anyone that important that they have to be in contact during a show to take calls or answer texts? Please!


Weigh in on this with a comment below!

(Photo from Getty Images)

Jeff

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Shopping for Fleas

No new post today! I'm off to the 23rd Annual Broadway Flea Market and Auction. And I'll also be going to my favorite restaurant and show. Full details tomorrow!!

(I wonder if I'll see any of you there and not know it because we don't know what each other looks like?!)

Please leave comments about your flea market experience if you go!

Jeff

Saturday, September 26, 2009

normal on TV II: The Final Cut

Ok, ok. You are probably sick of my next to normal obsession. I'll try to do better, though I can't promise, as I am seeing the show again this weekend after the Broadway Flea Market.

Anyway, a few days ago, I posted the series of short spots for the show called "Meet the Family." Now, like I said before, where I live you don't see Broadway commercials unless the touring company is coming to a town near me. And so I rely on YouTube and show websites to see them.

Click here to go to the next to normal website, where you can see their current television commercial, plus a lot of other great video on the show.

http://nexttonormal.com/media

(I tried to embed the commercial, but it has an error in it somwhere. Sorry!)

I'm biased, I know, but I love the commercial. It makes the show look exactly like what it is... exciting, emotional and fast-paced. And kinda like a rock concert...

Jeff

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday's Bits and Pieces for 09.25.09

FLEA MARKET SUNDAY!

If you can get there, you really should go to the Broadway Flea Market in Shubert Alley on Sunday the 27th. As I’ve mentioned before, it is a lot of fun and you can get some amazing stuff cheap and more amazing stuff for a lot of money! But it is all for a great cause, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. They are calling for rain Sunday, but they are planning on it going on as scheduled, unless it is a steady downpour. Check http://www.bcefa.org/ for updates and info.

If you do go, drop a comment and let me know how you liked it!

FAME: WILL IT LIVE FOREVER?

So Fame opens today at movie theatres across the country. I loved the original. It was pretty naughty for a 13 year old, but I loved the gritty edge it had and, of course, the dance numbers. I don’t know how much I’ll like this new version… it looks kinda slick, less edgy, and a little too polished. I guess that is what we can expect in the age of American Idol and the like. Still, I’ll go see it just for the “faculty” which is all Broadway talent – Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth, Megan Mullally, and the Fame dame herself, Debbie Allen. Plus there’s cutie pie Paul McGill, straight from A Chorus Line.

The reviews haven’t been kind… If you see it, tell me what you think! Leave a comment below!

BROADWAY NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM

One section of the Smithsonian that didn’t come to life in Night at the Museum II was the Broadway exhibit. That might have been pretty cool, huh? I’ve not seen it, but the next time I’m in Washington DC (maybe Oct. 11 with the cast of Hair?) I think I’ll take it in. I hear there are costumes, props and set pieces from shows like Cats, Fiddler on the Roof, A Chorus Line, The King and I, and now the latest: memorabilia from The Lion King. Rafiki’s costume, shoes and headdress, Simba’s mask and other stuff was just donated there and revealed in a ceremony that happened yesterday.

Have you been there? How was it? Leave a comment below!

ON MY iPOD THIS WEEK

TOP 5 SONGS

  1. “Superboy and the Invisible Girl” from next to normal

  2. “An English Teacher” from Bye Bye Birdie

  3. “One Boy” from Bye Bye Birdie

  4. “The Bitch of Living” from Spring Awakening
  5. “My Junk” from Spring Awakening

TOP 3 CDS

  1. next to normal – Original Broadway Cast Recording

  2. Bye Bye Birdie – Original Broadway Cast Recording

  3. Spring Awakening – Original Broadway Cast Recording


PLAYBILL IS 125 YEARS OLD!

Happy Birthday! To theatre’s best companion, Playbill Magazine, which just turned 125 years old this week! Check out these cool logos from past to present. I got them from, naturally, Playbill Online!





BLIND ITEM

If you follow my blog, you know there are certain shows I really want to see this fall. Well, I saw one of them recently. But I won’t write about it until it opens, which isn’t for more than 2 weeks. They need all the time they can get…oops! Still, I hope it will turn out great and be a huge hit!

AND FINALLY…

Just last week I was talking about NOT looking forward to Love Never Dies. Then I got this link. http://www.loveneverdies.com/october8th/ Pretty interesting. What do you think?

Have a great weekend!
Jeff

Thursday, September 24, 2009

CD Review: The Story of My Life

Back when next to normal was going into the Longacre and blocking off the balcony, there was another new musical at the Booth Theatre, The Story of My Life. Actually, this little show was my second favorite of the season, after n2n. There are those who argue that it was too small; are two-man shows somehow less than one-man shows? Defending the Caveman ran forever... Then there are those who say it was too sentimental; since when is that a bad thing, especially in a time when everyone is so down? And a show about the real depth of honest male to male friendships is one territory rarely explored in any medium, unless it is about gayness. And there are those who argue that it really is about latent homosexual feelings. I disagree. But that argument is for another time. Thanks to the theatre gods above, they saw fit to capture the sweet music and lyrics and the wonderfully imaginative and heart-warming/heart-breaking performances of Malcolm Gets and Will Chase on an Original Cast Recording. Since you likely didn't see this (yet- I bet there will be tons of local productions), I'd strongly suggest getting this CD at http://www.psclassics.com/.





Title: The Story of My Life
Artist: Original Broadway Cast Recording
Label: PS Classics
Number: PS-981
Format: Single CD
Case: Jewel Case
Booklet: Full color production photos; Full Liner Notes


The Show Itself: The first new musical of 2009, The Story of My Life, should have been a crowd-pleaser, but it is a dicey proposition. For the critics, cynical as they can be, the sentimentality of the piece might work against it, and the subject matter - male friendship - might make a few squirm as it will likely hit them in a private spot that they will grumpily try to put back in hiding.

The Company: Will Chase, as Thomas Weaver, has the less sympathetic role, as the guy who leaves town, leaves his friend and never really looks back. The other part of the equation, Malcolm Gets , as Alvin Kelby, has, on the surface of it, an easier time getting the audience to root for him. Clearly, his character is the wronged one, the orphan, the abandoned one who never leaves his small town. Separately they are terrific, but together they soar - a musical pairing unseen since Side Show. Their chemistry will undoubtedly be touched upon in reviews. Their ability to progress (and regress) from ages six to thirty-something, without resorting to voices or overdone clichés of physicality is perfection. And when they sing together, it is musical theatre heaven.

The Book and Score: The key to any really good theatre is the story (book by Brian Hill, lyrics by Neil Bartram), and this one is great. It is familiar in a universal way, using details and nuances to make it unique, and the way the story is told is both artistic and natural. Mr. Bartram's music and lyrics are deceptively simple. They are easy to follow, the melodies are theme and emotion appropriate, but not a strain to digest, and each song tells a great mini-story as part of the whole. Mr. Hill's book is equally as clever. It is kept simple, but is always surprising.

The Recording: It is a small miracle that this show was recorded, given its short run on Broadway; we should all be very thankful that it was preserved. I can't say it enough about this season's recordings, and The Story of My Life is no exception: the quality of the recording and the performances are exceptional. As the show itself had so little to look at, it was easier to become fully emotionally connected to the words, sounds and performances in the theatre. The recording then becomes more of a reminder than a separate experience. Like in the theatre, the stories each song tells sweeps you away in a swirl of personal memories, even as the immediate story comes into High Definition clarity in your mind as the performance unfolds. Both Mr. Gets and Mr. Chase replicate their outstanding stage work here - the emotions and nuances are rich and plentiful, and the orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick are lovely. Noted theatre critic Peter Filicia has provided an astute and fair essay for the liner notes and the booklet, which, even without the lyrics (which are unnecessary, as the songs are memorable in spite of it), but full of terrific production photos give the recording and the show its due, finally.

Standout Songs:
As in the show, "Mrs. Remington," "The Butterfly," "1876" and "Angels in the Snow" stand out, and find themselves on my constant rotation of songs from the season.

Grade: A+


(Photo by Aaron Epstein: Left: Malcolm Gets; Right: Will Chase)

If you saw this and/or got the CD, drop me a line...let me know what you think!
Jeff





Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Film to Stage... Comic to Stage...

One trend that doesn't seem to be dying is the "let's-turn-a-hit-movie-into-a-musical". Just today, it was announced that a lot of Broadway heavy weights - Tony winners Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), Andy Blankenbeuhler (In the Heights) and Tom Kitt (next to normal), Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q) and Oscar winner Amanda Green ( High Fidelity, "The Rose") - are joining to write Bring It On: The Musical. So far, they are saying it is just the title they will use, and a completely original story by Whitty. God knows he is creative enough, but you have to wonder how audiences that come expecting a story they love and get none of it will react. I hope it is so good that there are lines around the block for years to come.



Andy Blankenbeuhler



That announcement is not really a big surprise, considering that this year another movie-turned-musical won the Tony and is raking in the cash. But it is no sure thing, right? For every Billy Elliot or Hairspray, there is a High Fidelity and 9 to 5. And those that are incoming are big question marks, even after out of town try outs. The First Wives Club: The Musical seems to have dropped off the radar completely, despite its top notch cast. And Catch Me If You Can: The Musical is still listed as "Broadway-aimed" but have we heard a word about it? No.


Then there are two musicals (I hope) still coming in this season that might cause some confusion for movie lovers. Both The Addams Family: The Musical and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark are based on original stories about the original comic characters, NOT the films that are/were so popular recently. Which brings me back to Bring It On. I'll bet they are watching all of these shows carefully...



(Photos from Playbill Online, and the websites for Spider-Man and The Addams Family)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Broadway on TV, Part I - Mondays and Tuesdays

Well it is only the second official night of the new television season, and already there are a ton of Broadway stars to watch on the boob tube! I am pretty sure I'll miss some, so feel free to add your own in comments below! Here are the stars and the show or shows they did on Broadway (not every show in some cases!).



Monday, ABC: Dancing with the Stars
  • Maks and Karina, professionals - Burn the Floor

  • Mya, contestant - Chicago (the film and as a Broadway Roxie)
  • Kelly Osbourne, contestant - Chicago (in London as Mama Morton, and after tonight, I bet she does it here...)

  • Donny Osmond, contestant - Beauty and the Beast (Gaston)


  • Aaron Carter, contestant - Seussical the Musical (Jojo)
  • Samantha Harris, host - Chicago (Roxie)

Monday, CBS: How I Met Your Mother


  • Neil Patrick Harris - Cabaret (Emcee replacement), Assassins (Lee Harvey Oswald, The Balladeer), Proof (Hal)

  • Josh Radnor - The Graduate (Benjamin)

Monday, CBS: Two and a Half Men

  • Jon Cryer - Brighton Beach Memoirs (Eugene Morris Jerome)

Monday, CBS: The Big Bang Theory


  • Johnny Galecki - The Little Dog Laughed (Alex)

Tuesday, ABC: The Forgotten

  • Christian Slater - The Glass Menagerie (The Son), Side Man (Clifford), The Music Man (Winthrop)

Tuesday, CBS: NCIS

  • Rocky Carroll - The Piano Lesson (Lymon)


Tuesday, CBS: NCIS: Los Angeles

  • Linda Hunt - The End of the World (Audrey), Ah! Wilderness! (Norah)

  • Chris O'Donnell - The Man Who Had All the Luck (David)

  • Barrett Foa - Avenue Q (Princeton/Rod), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Leaf Coneybear), Mamma Mia!



Tuesday, CBS: The Good Wife

  • Julianna Margulise - Festen (Helene)

  • Chris Noth - Gore Vidal's The Best Man (Senator Joe Cantwell)

  • Christine Baranski - Rumors (Chris), Nick & Nora (Tracey), Boeing-Boeing (Berthe)

And that's just the first two nights!

Jeff





Monday, September 21, 2009

Emmy Loves Broadway

For theatre fans, it is really no surprise that last night's Emmy Awards went as smashingly as they did. People all over America found out what we have known all along: stars of the stage shine in every medium!

From our host, the fabulous Neil Patrick Harris...


(TV: Awards Show Host; Doogie Howser, M.D.; How I Met Your Mother. Stage: RENT, Cabaret, Assassins)


to one of Broadway's most respected choreographers, Rob Ashford...



(TV: The Academy Awards; Stage: Thoroughly Modern Millie, Cry-Baby)


to four of Broadway's favorite divas...

Toni Collette...

(TV: The United States of Tara; Stage: The Wild Party)


Cherry Jones...



(TV: 24; Stage: Doubt)

Glenn Close...


(TV: Damages; Stage: Sunset Boulevard, The Real Thing, Death and the Maiden)


and, of course, Broadway's darling...

Kristin Chenoweth



(TV: Pushing Daisies; Stage: Steel Pier; You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown; Wicked)
Congratulations to all of the Emmy winners and nominees! Come back to Broadway SOON!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Theatrical Pet Peeve II: Shhhhhh!

OK, we've all had this happen when we've been to a show: it is either a well-known revival, a long-running show and/or it has been made into a hit movie while the show is still running, and people all around you are doing one of the following (or worse, all of them at the same time!):
  1. They are singing along! And I don't mean quietly mumbling the words or mouthing the words. I mean full-out singing. They think because they aren't belting they aren't loud or annoying. Guess what? They think wrong!
  2. They are reciting favorite bits of dialogue as the show goes on! And I mean word for word, with the same tone and inflection. They think they are enjoying all of it in their heads or just with their companion. Guess what? They think wrong!
  3. They are stymied because the dialogue and/or song on the stage is somehow different than (a) the movie version, (b) the version they did at their high school, (c) "that song is after "x song" in the movie, (d) "on the CD there's no talking in the middle of "Popular!" How are we supposed to know when to start singing again?" or (e) any combination of a - d!
  4. The stars on the "soundtrack" are so much better than so and so replacement! And I mean a full discourse on how the original was better and why, and "how could they ever hire x actress after y actress left the show."

To those of you who do this, this ruining the live experience for the rest of us, please remember:

  1. You are not at home talking back to your TV.
  2. You do not have the right to sing along, unless the show calls for it, like "No Time at All" from Pippin, or the "mega-mix" at the end of Mamma Mia!
  3. Live performance is just that - LIVE - and therefore, even if all of the originals from the "soundtrack" are still in the show, the performance will vary.
  4. We are all glad you love theatre and that you played Eliza Doolittle in 10th grade. Brava! to you. However, we paid to see the Broadway revival, NOT to listen to you warble "I Could Have Danced All Night." First, you aren't as good as when you were in 10th grade. And second, if you want to do the show, audition for it, don't do it from the seats.

Don't get me started on the pickle/deli sandwich burps during matinees or the "I'd rather be home watching the Yankees" moaning at an evening show...

Share your pet peeves with us! Comment below.

Jeff

Saturday, September 19, 2009

normal on TV: Face the Music

As you have probably gathered by reading my blog entries, that I am in love with anything and everything to do with next to normal. While I enjoyed Billy Elliot very very much, n2n really pleased every musical theatre fan cell in my body. The score, the book, the cast, the staging, the technical elements all came together in both an artistic AND entertaining way. Its message is both specific and universal, and that combination is what takes a good musical and makes it a great one. In my mind, next to normal was the Best Musical of 2008-2009.

Even the show's advertisements hit me in all the right ways: the songs picked (and the specific snippets selected) perfectly match the characters, but whether you've seen the show or not, each spot intrigues without being off putting and, in my opinion, generates interest without giving anything away. And I love the density of meaning in the tag line: "One family is about to face the music." Perfection!

I wish thay had one for Adam Chanler-Berat (the cutest nerdy guy on Broadway), but it makes sense not to have one for that character or the doctors, played by Louis Hobson.

For those of you (like me) who don't get to see NY commercials, here, once again thanks to YouTube is a way to see all 5 spots!

MEET NATALIE - Jennifer Damiano (featuring "Superboy and the Invisible Girl")



MEET GABE - Aaron Tveit (featuring "I'm Alive")



MEET DAN - J. Robert Spencer (featuring "I Am the One")



MEET DIANA - Alice Ripley (featuring "I Miss the Mountains")



and finally...

MEET THE FAMILY (featuring "(Just) Another Day"



I hope you enjoy these as much as I do! What shows are you obssessed with? Let me know!
Jeff

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday's Bits and Pieces for 09.18.2009

The fall season is in full swing! More and more is happening in the theatre scene, so let's get to it!

GREAT WEBSITE FOR MUSICAL THEATRE FANS!

YouTube, move over! You want to see vintage performances from decades worth of Broadway musicals? Try BlueGobo.com! They have bits from The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tony Awards, movie musical scenes, and any variety show/musical special you can think of! I've enjoyed such things as Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur singing "Bosom Buddies" on the Tonys, a scene from Baby and Chita Rivera recreating "The Shriner's Ballet" from Bye Bye Birdie on a Ballet Theatre special from the 80's.

WHAT IS IN MY iPOD THIS WEEK
TOP 3 COMPLETE CAST RECORDINGS (meaning I listen to the whole thing through, time permitting):
  1. next to normal - The Original Broadway Cast
  2. Bye Bye Birdie - The Original Broadway Cast
  3. West Side Story - The New Broadway Cast Recording
TOP 5 CAST RECORDING SINGLES(meaning I listen to these tracks over and over):
  1. "Superboy and the Invisible Girl" from next to normal
  2. "Who's Crazy?/My Psychopharmacologist and I" from next to normal
  3. "An English Teacher" from Bye Bye Birdie
  4. "Around Here" from 9 to 5: The Musical
  5. "How Lovely to Be a Woman" from Bye Bye Birdie
SOUR GRAPES
Jeremy Piven needs to get over himself. He left a show in a lurch, and even giving him the benefit of the doubt about the disease he suffers from, he could have exited in a nicer fashion. Now, it seems the "star" can't take his lumps like a good sport, having his "people" get a cease and desist order to prevent the presentation of The Piven Monolgues at The Public. Boo Hoo! A show made up of reactions to his actions sounds interesting and even fun. Last I heard, The Public has not cancelled that performance!
WHY?? Part One
La Cage aux Folles, one classic musical if ever there was one, was one of the life-changing shows I ever saw back in 1984. Heck, I remember details from that performance that took place 25 years ago, and can't remember what I had for lunch today. Then there was the revival that played Broadway a few short years ago, and Tony wins or not, it was hardly a success. So, news of another revival coming this season makes me ask WHY!? I understand the production and star being imported from London is a fresh take, so I'll reserve judgement beyond my disbelief for now... but, really? We need this like another revival of Gypsy.
WHY?? Part Two
Full disclosure: Recognizing I will likely go to theatre hell for admitting this publicly, I will anyway: I think The Phantom of the Opera is one of the worst, most boring, overrated musicals ever produced, and I am disgusted every single time it makes a new milestone - 9,000 performances...great. But then comes the official announcement that the SEQUEL, tentatively called Love Never Dies just makes me want to barf. Apparently Sir Andrew didn't talk to the producers of Bring Back Birdie or Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge (aka Annie Warbucks). I've said it before and I'll say it again, I will never wish a new production ill (outloud), but this one has me very close.
PACK THE MOVING VAN!
Color me as surprised as anyone that the closing night of Avenue Q wasn't really the closing night. For those of you living under a rock, the producers announced from the Golden stage that, in fact, Avenue Q was just changing addresses (and ticket prices and overhead costs) by re-opening off-Broadway at New World Stages! Exciting! So whenever I feel blue or need to re-find my purpose, I don't have to pull out my CD...I can see the show! And rumor has it there will be at least one significant change: Gary Coleman will be played by a man this time around!
Have a great weekend!
Jeff

Thursday, September 17, 2009

CD Review: next to normal

Here's my two cents worth on the Original Broadway Cast Recording of next to normal:


Title: next to normal
Artist: Original Broadway Cast Recording
Label: Ghostlight
Number: 8-4433
Format: 2 CD
Case: Card Stock Tri-Fold
Booklet: Full color production photos; Complete lyrics
Parental Advisory: Explicit Content



The Show Itself:

next to normal is about every family, really. And while this family struggles with mental illness, there is a beautiful universality about the piece that allows all of us to relate somehow. Such is the power of great art, which this is. Being next to normal is so much better than being 'normal.

The Company:

With only six members, it may seem like major hyperbole to say that this cast represents the best of the entire musical season, but it is nevertheless true. With no room for a weak link, the cast has truly become one, feeding off of each other to present as best they can a difficult but clearly meaningful for them piece. Each knows, obviously, that they are in the rarest of positions - creating roles in a Broadway musical that will be talked about for seasons to come and one that is sure to become a staple of the American musical theatre scene.

The Book and the Score:

A rock score throughout, Kitt and Yorkey also venture into some jazz, classical, country, pop, and even a little dab of traditional Broadway. Not to mislead here, they are not throwing everything they know into one show; each musical style completely fits the exact moment it is used. And within these various stylings, one never gets the feeling of a pastiche score (like Starlight Express or Joseph…). No, each musical style is so specific to the moment that each is treated like a score of its own - complex when it needs to be, simple at other times, but always interesting to listen to, and always adding to the emotion of the piece. Perhaps best of all is the fact that for all of this emotional guidance, one never feels manipulated or like you've been there, done that. This is a score that will bear repeated listening, and a show that will likely become richer with more viewings.

The Recording:

One thing that seems to stand out about all of this season's cast recordings is the equal quality each has between production, sound and re-creating the songs as if they were being performed on the stage. next to normal certainly fills that bill. The sound is crystal clear and the vocals perfectly balanced, particularly of note as the score represents a wide range of styles and, accordingly, volumes. Being able to concentrate on the songs for their tunes and lyrics without the visual importance given the staging only supports my initial theory that this score is one that bears repeated listening both for meaning and sheer enjoyability. The orchestrations by Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt are as wonderful in recording as they are live on stage, and it is evident why the team won this year's Tony for Best Orchestrations, a fete considering that it is written for a mere six musicians, and yet feels so much fuller. Of course, it is also evident why the score beat favorite Billy Elliot for the Tony in that category. Between the stylized production segments - "Who's Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I", "Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I'm Falling," the powerful stand alone numbers - "I Miss the Mountains," I'm Alive", and the all out rock numbers - "Superboy and the Invisible Girl," "Wish I Were Here," and the closing "Light" the score has complete emotional range, resting comfortably in what are now accepted Broadway/rock stylings, while still pushing the boundaries.

The entire company (Alice Ripley, J. Robert Spencer, Aaron Tveit, Jennifer Damiano) shines here as they do onstage, each committed to preserving their stage performances rather than creating some sort of hybrid for the disc. What is nice, too, is that the lesser characters - Adam Chanler-Berat's Henry and Louis Dobson's Doctor Madden come across as equally important, which they are.


Songs That Stand Out:

Keeping in mind that the entire score is noteworthy, the songs I find myself going back to include: "Who's Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I", "Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I'm Falling," "Superboy and the Invisible Girl," and the unlikely "Perfect for You" and "Hey" sequences. But mostly, I enjoy it from start to finish, over and over.

Grade: A+

Jeff
(Photo: "My Psychopharmacologist and I" by Joan Marcus.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Glee Club


Well, it is Wednesday night and there is finally something decent to watch - Glee on FOX. It is a natural, of course, that someone into theatre would be drawn to what is basically a weekly musical. And I admit I LOVE the dancing and cool vocal arrangements, and the fact that - so far - I haven't had an unintended cringe at what they are doing. I mean I think that as an audience we were supposed to cringe at the ballsy/awkward/dirty/in-over-their-heads routine to "Push It" last week. And cringe I did.

To be completely honest, I thought that I'd be cringing more, but sticking with it to support some of my favorite Broadway actors. I thought we'd see much more of that weird choral group thing - show choir - that gets put up on YouTube to be laughed at rather than admired. But so far so good.



I think Lea Michele is doing a fantastic job of being annoying and pushy and Prima Donna-ish without annoying me, and her voice is great; her "Take a Bow" last week was better than the Rhianna version if you ask me. And natch, I enjoy the so far under used Jenna Ushkowitz (a Spring Awakening replacement/co-star). Who doesn't love the belty sassy Jennifer Hudson to be Amber Riley, either? And the kid in the wheelchair is also very good.



Full disclosure: in my book, Matthew Morrison can do no wrong. I find him charming, charismatic and sweet. Just fey enough to buy that he wouldn't work as a soccer coach, but manly enough to buy that he is a doting husband that still makes the girls swoon. And it goes without saying that uber-bitch cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, aka Jane Lynch is supreme!

I wish that the jock (well acted and sung by Cory Monteith) and prissy queen (but well acted by Chris Colfer) weren't SO stereotypical, but judging by the mostly terrific writing so far, I bet we drift farther from these types and flesh out some interesting characters.


Still, the story with Morrison and his wife (Jessalyn Gilsig) has to go. It drags down the rest of the show, and it is an ugly storyline that feels extremely out of place with the rest of it. (I won't spoil it for those who might not have seen the show yet.) But definitely keep the story between Morrison and Jayma Mays , who plays the woeful and subtly funny (great counterpoint to Lynch) guidance counselor with a crush on the glee coach.

I am really looking forward to the cavalcade of Broadway talent coming to Glee as well - Victor Garber (Sweeney Todd), Debra Monk (Curtains), John Lloyd Young (Jersey Boys), Stephen Toboloski (Morning's at Seven)and Josh Groban (Chess) are on tonight and there are more to come!

Well, as I write this, episode three is getting ready to start. Let me know what you think about Glee!

Jeff

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ticket Discounts

I don't know about you, but I am so tired of hearing the phrase "in this economy..." Not because it isn't something to really consider when making a financial decision, but because it reminds me constantly of money woes and worries. But it is wise to be money conscious; why waste it if you don't have to?

I am a firm believer in careful shopping - not crazy like driving 15 miles to a gas station that has gas 5 cents a gallon cheaper than a closer one - for foods and services. And like most consumers there are just some things I don't cut corners on. No matter what you tell me, generic brand pasta sauce in a jar is not as good as chunky vegetable Ragu or generic chocolate creme cookies are as good as Oreos! BUT, if I have a coupon for Ragu or Oreo cookies, I'm going to use it right?

So I obviously love live theatre (we wouldn't be here if we didn't, huh?). Why pay full price when you can use a "coupon"? Ahhh... I have come to LOVE ticket discounts, even more than TKTS. For one, I can use them from home with no lines and I can take my time and pick my own seat!

Now, I have made peace with a few things. One, I'm most likely NOT going to get a fifth row center seat. Two, the really hot shows (Billy Elliot) aren't going to be discounted, and I'll have to pay full price. Three, I will still (most likely) have to pay those damnable service fees if I do my business online.

Where do I get my discounts? I use a short list, because I've weeded out the more obnoxious, less customer friendly sites that are hawking tickets cheap. Here it is, though I am not endorsing one over the other - I use each about equally, and I am not receiving any sort of compensation for naming them. They are listed aplhabetically.











  1. Broadway Box.com
  2. The Playbill Club
  3. The Theater Mania Discount Club.


That is really it. There are many others, but like I said, I have found these to be the easiest and most user-friendly.

Tips:

  1. READ THE FINE PRINT on the discount ad. It will save you much heartache. If you are like me, you always seem to want to go on a "blackout date!"


  2. Even though sometimes you are offered the same seats no matter what code you put in, it happens to me enough that trying the discounts offered by all three for the same show may offer different seats.


  3. Take your time! Don't settle for the first seats they offer! I have actually gotten what I consider to better seats MANY times by clicking "look for next seats" 6, 8 even 10 times before saying OK, I'll take these.


  4. The more possible dates the better your chances.


  5. If you are going with another person or more, consider single seats. You might get individually better seats. And you can't talk during the show anyway!


  6. Ordering as soon as the discount is posted will give you more choices. But I also know that sometimes better seats pop up as available the closer the date is to when yo want to see the show. Remember, a lot of people use these discounts. Hot tickets will go fast no matter how long you do or don't wait.


  7. If you are in town, take the discount to the box office. Be ready with date choices, even DAY OF, and the best part is NO SERVICE CHARGES. And I have on more than one occasion gotten seats from the nice guy behind the window that aren't usually part of the discount.


  8. Even though it will increase your emails, DO sign up for "special bonuses." I have gotten some great deals - including front row center tickets for Hair - through these "specials," which include extra days, advance notice and no service fee special deals.


We've all had our share of horror stories and disappointments when it comes to tickets. After all, a crappy seat is a crappy seat at any price. But online discounts are one of the best things to happen to Broadway theatre-going in years.


Any tips you'd like to share? Add your comments below!

Jeff

(The logos above come from their respective websites. No endorsement of one over the other is intended, not is use of the logo meant to be a copyright infringement. Rather they are meant to represent the icons readers might look for when searching each site.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Replacements

A few days ago, I blogged about understudies and replacements in next to normal. As with Kyle Dean Massey replacing Aaron Tveit for a spell in that show (and understudying in Wicked, too), I always go into a show with high hopes for the replacement actor or actress. I haven't been disappointed too often, always able to find validity in "different" performances. Occasionally, but rarely, I find the replacement to be better than the original; conversely, just as rarely do I find the replacement a complete failure.


With its rotating Billys, I've managed to see two of the three original Tony winning Billy Elliots, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish. While I enjoyed both young men very much and am awed by their talent, I still found that I liked the BE of Mr. Kowalik more. To be completely honest, I can't express exactly why that is. But I can say I found him to be charming, endearing, and in many ways more effortless, as if he were Billy Elliot, not playing Billy Elliot. I guess I just explained it, hmmm....

I loved the Glinda of Megan Hilty and the Elphaba of Eden Espinosa. There were things about both of them that I preferred to the roles' originators (blasphemy in some circles, I know), but I know what I like, and they were great together.




Of all the Princeton/Rods I saw in Avenue Q, I think I liked Howie Michael Smith the best - again I can't put my finger on it exactly, I just know I liked him the best. And kudos to his understudy, Jonathan Root, who was equally up to the task. Then there is the last P/R, Robert McClure, who I also saw on tour in the show, and he is wayyyy better these last days on Broadway than he was on the road. Of all the Kate Monsters I've seen (again I'll be blasphemous Stephanie fans) I loved Kelli Sawyer the best. And Ann Harada, an original AND replacement, IS Christmas Eve, and I will think of her every December 24th.




As I've mentioned in previous entries, I am looking forward to seeing the replacement Sherrie in Rock of Ages, Kerry Butler, especially as it reunites her with her once co-star from Xanadu, James Carpinello, who, it seems, has finally caught that elusive break he so deserves. I also am looking forward to catching the Riff of John Arthur Greene, who replaces the only weak link in the revival of West Side Story, in my opinion, Cody Green. Then there is the Mecca of replacement worship, Chicago, which changes leads more often than most people change their socks. I'd love to catch the fierce Dierdre Goodwin's Velma and Tom Hewitt's Billy Flynn.




To bring this full circle, one of those rare occasions where the replacement outshines the original: Sandy Duncan's Roxie was superior in every way imaginable to the Roxie of Ann Reinking. And if you knew what an Ann Reinking fan I was, you'd know how hard that is for me to admit. But Sandy was really THAT good.


Any good replacement stories? Add your comments below!


Jeff


(Photos from various Broadway show sites and common Google searches.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Goodbye, Q...

For six years, Avenue Q has been the sweetest address in Manhattan. I, like a lot of people, fell in love with a show that was an interesting curiosity before the lights went down and "The Avenue Q Theme" started. A mixture of comedy, slap-stick and sentimentality, Avenue Q really hit a part of me that until then I managed to keep hidden. Like so many people in the middle of the Generation X/Y time period, I was moving forward rapidly with my life, but feeling underneath it all kind of empty and lacking purpose. The show allowed me to feel and explore those feelings unashamedly, but with the "safety net" of the story being told by a bunch of puppets and larger than life "real" people. It channelled my childhood of watching hours of another street on TV and expanded it into much larger problems, joys and issues I found from adulthood. What I learned from Bert, Ernie and Big Bird was now growing up with Rod, Nicky and Trekkie Monster.

The "in between scenes" on the monitors were an instant throw back to the same thing I remembered from long ago; the miniature furniture and scale props brought back even more memories. I laughed til I cried at such blunt honesty as "The Internet is for Porn" and "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." But it was the other kind of tears I shed that really, in retrospect, made Avenue Q the show that meant so much to me: "I Wish I Could Go Back to College," the bits with Christmas Eve and Rod coming out, the sadness of Kate Monster in "A Fine, Fine Line." But the single moment that most resonates with me, and brings me to tears even thinking about it is the very last moments of "Fantasies Come True," when Rod and the audience realize at the same time that it was all just a dream. The inevitable sigh of sadness for Rod that every audience I sat in was moving all by itself. I am certain that that moment caused more than one homophobe to change his mind about gay people.

Anyway, for six years other shows have come and gone, as they must do. And it was nice to have an old comfortable neighbor to visit once in awhile. Now that neighbor is moving on, and it is sad, but aren't we all just a little bit better for having had Avenue Q in our lives? I think so. I just hope that the little hole in my heart that is there is, like the song says, "only for now."



Thank you, Avenue Q. May your fuzz never get knotted.

Jeff

(Photos by Carol Rossegg; Top: The Original Broadway Cast; Bottom: The Final Broadway Cast.)





Saturday, September 12, 2009

Broadway on TV: More YouTube Commercials

YouTube has become a semi-addiction for me these days! Anyway, here are four more commercials from: Grand Hotel: The Musical, Disney's Tarzan, the recent revival of Sweet Charity, and from my favorite flop, Grind!

Up first: Grand Hotel: The Musical. This one is longer than the other one I posted, plus the picture is clearer and the poster added credits! Nice work!



Like I said before, this commercial (and even more, this version of it) would make me run to the theatre to buy a ticket.

Next: Sweet Charity




Unfortunately, this commercial comes of like I've heard the show actually was (I never saw it): cheap! The girls aren't all that sexy, and it is clear that there isn't much dancing. Christina Applegate looks decent, but not enough to erase my memories of the first revival with Debbie Allen and, later, Ann Reinking... that was the best, with real Fosse dancing and direction! Plus Bebe Neuwirth!

Next: Disney's Tarzan




This one I saw, three times. I know I'm in the minority here, but I really loved Tarzan. The first fifteen minutes are electrifying, Josh Strickland and Jenn Gambatese are perfection together and both as cute as buttons and sexy as hell. That said, I'd probably have bought a ticket based on the commercial, but not run to the box office. First, the old time photos mixed with the action looks cool, but I'd be disappointed that that wasn't too much in the show. Also, the "apes" look funny out of context. But the clips of Josh and Jenn and the song in the background would have made me more than interested, I think.

And finally: Grind




I probably can't be totally fair about this one... but I would definitely buy a ticket based on this ad. It is everything Broadway is known for... splashy costumes, stars (Ben Vereen and Stubby Kaye for two), plus dancing, pretty girls, a provocative title and it looks mysterious and glamorous and seedy all at once! And that was Grind in a nutshell. I like how they rewrote the opening number so you didn't need to know the show, but could follow what it is about.

What are your favorite ads?

Next time, I'll post some current ones.
Jeff

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday's Bits and Pieces for 09.11.09

Another Friday, though, of course, this one feels just a bit heavier than most others, what with the 8th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Hard to believe it was that long ago; sometimes it feels like just yesterday.

NO COMEDY TONIGHT

I hope I don't have to start each Friday with a piece about the death of another theatre star. Sadly, this afternoon, the passing of Tony winner Larry Gelbart was announced. He is probably best known to most of the world for writing M*A*S*H, but for theatre fans his contributions to the musical comedy canon will be felt for decades to come. The man knew how to keep good company, and how to pick excellent projects - he worked with Stephen Sondheim on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and with the late, great Cy Coleman on City of Angels. Both shows won Tonys for Best Musical, and both won Gelbart well-deserved Tonys. Forum is pretty much a staple, but don't miss it - it is a riot of the bawdy, clever kind; Angels is rarely produced, probably because it would be tricky to pull off budget and score-wise (it is sharp jazz through and through), but if it ever plays nearby, GO SEE IT! It is smart, witty and hilarious. And, arguably, one of the best Best Books of a Musical ever.


WHAT IS IN MY iPOD THIS WEEK
People ask me what I listen to on my iPod at work. They always scrunch up their noses in distaste, but always smile after because they can tell I love it so much. If they asked me this week, I'd say:

TOP 3 COMPLETE CAST RECORDINGS

(meaning I listen to the whole thing through, time permitting):
  1. next to normal

  2. West Side Story - The New Broadway Cast Recording

  3. Billy Elliot

TOP 5 CAST RECORDING SINGLES

(meaning I listen to these tracks over and over):

  1. "Superboy and the Invisible Girl" from next to normal

  2. "Around Here" from 9 to 5: The Musical

  3. "Will-a-Mania" from The Will Rogers Follies

  4. "Dance at the Gym" from West Side Story

  5. "Who's Crazy?/My Psychopharmacologist and I" from next to normal

My co-workers can always tell when the last one is on... apparently, I sing the backup vocals aloud...loudly...



BCEFA FLEA MARKET

Mark this on your calendars: When: Sunday, September 27th Where: Shubert Alley and 44th Street What: The Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Broadway Flea Market

If you've never been to this event, you really need to go - this year will be my third. It is a chance to mingle with real theatre fans for impromptu discussions on everything from the Best/Worst Elphaba to why In My Life is the BEST MUSICAL EVER! Then there are the events themselves, all for a good cause. Lots of money? Try the silent auction for really awesome items - past years have included autographed theatre advertisements that actually hung outside a theatre, like the one from Deuce signed by Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes, to walk on parts in Phantom, and seriously one of a kind props, like Whoopi Goldberg's roller costume and Kerry Butler's skates from Xanadu. Expensive, but priceless and all charitable! Not a lot to throw away this year, but still want the good stuff? Pay to walk through the autograph line and get as many autographs from the stars that are there. I think there are three sets of stars this year, including Broadway stars from current shows, Broadway legends and even some super nice soap stars (Van Hansis from As the World Turns is on my list this year!). Still only a few dollars to spend or maybe some saved up allowance? The flea market is the place to shop! Merchandise from closed shows for SUPER CHEAP, old Playbills for sale, costume pieces and props (last year they had shirts from Jersey Boys, prop hairspray cans from Hairspray, naturally), and great bargains... last year for a grand total of $8.00, I got a Beauty and the Beast farewell poster ($2.00), a Tarzan Christmas ornament ($3.00), a Grey Gardens note pad (2 for $1.00), and 10 that's TEN soda cups with lids from The Times They Are A-Changin' - I sold 1 on e-Bay for $15.00... (10 for $1.00) and my best purchase - a Lion King sweatshirt from the tour for $1.00!!!

It is a fun event, especially getting to chat with the stars of your favorite shows as they sell you cupcakes and fun show stuff. The entire cast of [title of show] couldn't be nicer, John Tartaglia is the most kind gentleman, and Tyne Daly is a HOOT! I can't wait to see who's here this year! For details go to http://www.bcefa.org/.

Drop me a line if you go! I'd love to hear about the treasures you find and cool folks you meet!

SPIDEY UPDATE

I just know that announcement I talked about previously is coming... they are probably handling the billing as we speak, and probably finding a Disney Channel star to be the title man! Meanwhile, the "semi-on-hold" production of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark announced that the opening date hasn't changed (I bet it will...) BUT that tickets will officially go on sale October 31st. Shows that aren't happening aren't usually in the news weekly. They have one hell of a publicist!

Jeff

(Photos: Larry Gelbart by Ryan Miller of Playbill Online and Flea Market Poster from the BCEFA website.)

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