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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Theatre Junk Part 3: Photo Cards

I love when you can find something inexpensive related to a favorite show. Sometimes you find stuff on sale in a shop, maybe on eBay, maybe at the Broadway Cares Flea Market. I've even started finding real bargains AT shows, like window cards that are $5 to $10 cheaper than at the shops or Triton Gallery. (Hence, I always pack a large poster bag from one of the shops in my backpack or whatever. The bags they give at the theatres barely cover the card.) But I digress...



One Shubert Alley: They are on the racks that are on the left side of the picture. This picture shows the left wall as you enter the shop.



One really cool and quality thing I've found and started collecting (like I need to collect just one more thing, right?) is photo cards for the shows I see. All of the shops - One Shubert Alley, The Broadway Store at the Marriott and the one I can never name next to the St. James - carry them, as do the hotel gift shops. Sometimes you really need to browse, as the Broadway ones are mingled in with the New York City ones (which are nice, too). And all of the stores carry different ones sometimes, so you have an excuse, I mean, you need to get to all of them!

I've found 3 different types of these cards. Two are actual photos glued to card stock and the the third is a full color print on the card stock. All three come sealed in heavy cellophane wrapping, and include envelopes for mailing. I, of course, never mail them, and love that they are protected for my collection. Right now, I'm keeping them in craft scrapbook binders (I'm almost ready for my third, LOL!)

The first is the color print right on the card stock, by MDesigns. The artist, Michael Dantuono, was a working actor and now does these great cards. These are particularly nice if you like looking at the entire structure/facade of the theatre. Generally, his cards show the entire theatre front. A nice bonus with his cards is the back, which gives details about the theatre itself - date opened, number of seats, address - and lists some of the most famous and recent shows that played there. Below is the card for the revival of Ragtime at the Neil Simon Theatre.





The second type focuses on the marquee of the theatre and how it juxtaposes with the street the theatre is on. Notice the next to normal card shows the entire marquee on 45th Street and the doors to the theatre as they are currently decorated. You get the logo and the theatre and the street all in one with these cards, by Gary Firstenberg. And it is an actual photo mounted to the card.


Finally, the third card, also an actual photo glued to the card is by probably the most famous of the three photographers, Battmann, who is well-known for his artistic photos of New York and New Yorkers. He does a lot of close up work along with portraits. You've probably seen his "Naked Cowboy" and NYFD beefcake calendars. As far as theatre pictures go, he generally focuses on the actual marquee above the theatre. As you can see from the example below, he numbers his works. I've included his collage of all the marquees he's done recently. This card gets updated somewhat regularly. You might not be able to tell from the picture below, but each log is really a separate picture cropped together to make the collage.


All three kinds of cards run between $3.50 and $4.00 at all of the shops I've found them in. For more information visit each artist's site: MDesigns: http://www.broadwaybroadway.com/; Gary Firstenberg: http://www.firstinphoto.com/, and Battmann: http://www.battmannstudios.com/.


Do you have any of these? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!
Jeff

Sunday, November 29, 2009

One That Got Away... and Came Back!


Have you noticed that even the biggest flop shows are getting major attention post-closing? The Story of My Life has since since produced a cast recording and a children's book based on the song "The Butterfly." (I bet that song is in MANY an audition book!) Glory Days has also produced a cast recording and has generated not one but TWO major events... concert/reunion/CD signing parties in NY and where it started, the Signature Theatre in Virginia. Two parties for a show that ran one night! Not bad...

Now comes a media blitz usually only reserved for the most "artsy" of musicals (any production of Passion, a Rodgers and Hammerstein event, or a British concert). But this time it is for a flop Broadway musical by an unknown writer: A Tale of Two Cities by Jill Santorello, who either leads a charmed life, has untold wealth or friends in high places. No matter how it happened, it did.


This was one of those shows I really wanted to see, but couldn't get to NYC fast enough. And it all has to do with the title. The novel, by Charles Dickens, is one of my all time favorites, and I pretty much enjoy any version of it, including several miniseries. Still, the music I had heard from it wasn't all that impressive, the cast was mildly interesting, though I have to admit James Barbour is one of those people I just don't see the appeal of (but that is another blog altogether), and it, from all appearances looked like a Les Miz retread. I am really weary of those. All of that said, it was still on my list of "need to sees." (And cutie Simon Thomas makes this concert a "must see"!)


Well, here we are, several months later, and an all-star, American/British cast has been assembled for a grand concert version to be shown multiple times on PBS, a Cast Recording is coming out and a DVD, too, of this concert. I haven't seen this much attention paid to a new show since Chess. But that's another one that got away and keeps coming back!


What do you think? Send me a comment! Jeff


(Photos by Catherine Ashmore: James Barbour; Brandi Burkhardt and Simon Thomas; The Company.)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Broadway on 34th Street


Well, we are working our way through Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch and dinner. And so I thought I'd work on my one theatrical Thanksgiving leftover - the Broadway segments on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, shown on both NBC and CBS. Here are my thoughts...


CBS: A+ for content and sound. Can you get any more American than Thanksgiving, Ragtime, West Side Story and Dreamgirls? I don't think so! And I loved the idea of showing each in an appropriate but real life context.

The Ragtime segment has me more excited than ever to see this revival of a show that I only somewhat admire. "Wheels of a Dream" was terrifically performed, and in beautiful voice, minus the histrionic over-do of the original. Sorry Audra fans... she and Brian played the show like it was all about them. Quentin Earl Darrington and Stephanie P. Umoh were wonderful, emoting, gorgeously blending, and soaring as the song climaxed, but without all the excess. While the segue to the "Ragtime" sequence was a bit shaky, one can tell by the way the finale of the number is staged that Marcia Milgram Dodge intends to give equal weight to the traditionalist immigrants, the stiff and increasingly crowded out status quo, and the exuberance of the blacks, who are finding their own voice. A+

The West Side Story segment wisely chose "America" which, even outside in an old parking lot, feels just right. Kudos, too, to Natalie Cortez, who played Anita in place of Tony winner Karen Olivo. Ms. Cortez sang and danced beautifully as Diana in A Chorus Line, and it is great to see her in another dance classic. A

Finally, the Dreamgirls segment, done on the street outside the Apollo Theatre gets extra points for ambiance AND guts. The traffic rolled right by (in both directions) and passersby passed by. Whoever handled that particular potential nightmare gets points for making sure no one got taken out by a cab and that no one on the street acted like they even noticed the Dreams! Oh, and the song, always a catchy favorite of mine was well-delivered by the newest company of the show, soon to depart for a National Tour. A


While I am certain there was lip-syncing on BOTH stations, why is it that the entire parade looks like it is on a time delay on NBC? I mean, please!


NBC: B for content, C for sound. NBC went more for the traditional Broadway, i.e. advertisable names, recognizable show titles, and trying to be hip. Billy Elliot, Shrek, Bye Bye Birdie and Hair fill that bill nicely.

Billy Elliot's segment gave many of us a first glimpse of the new Mrs. Wilkinson, Kate Hennig, in "Shine." She's no Haydn Gwynne, that is for sure. But really, who is? She was passable, but not worth running to the Imperial to catch a new star. And while the "Angry Dance" might have been a downer for the occasion, no other number from that show really works 100% out of context. "Shine" is no exception. (See below.) B-

Bye Bye Birdie showed me the John Stamos I expected to see live onstage - peppy, charismatic, and more dancey. Of course, here he was lip-syncing his vocals to "Put on a Happy Face," so breathing wasn't really an issue. He seemed much more relaxed and like he was actually enjoying himself out there. The girls seemed like typical Broadway kids, overacting and smarmy. Stamos knows how to act for the camera, but it seems the girls didn't get the memo to take it down a notch or seven. Still, it looked better on the street than onstage, so good for them. B

Hair looks as fresh and energetic as the day it opened. "Aquarius" was a great choice, and the Tribe, led by (I think it was) Sasha Allen was fun and interesting throughout, and played both the space and the camera excellently. A+

The only part of Shrek I didn't see when I saw it months ago was the newly added curtain call, "I'm a Believer." And just like Bye Bye Birdie I have to ask why is the finale the best thing in the show? Clearly the cast loves doing it. If the rest of that show looked as fun and as together as the finale does, I could see it running for years. A

Now, I look at this stuff like a Broadway fan/educated theatre goer. My sister, who barely has time to use the bathroom (two kids under 2 and a half will do that) but has a passing interest in theatre assessed these things as I think someone who might buy a ticket if it looks good, i.e. the general public.
  • Ragtime: "That was pretty. I bet that show gets a standing ovation every night."

  • West Side Story: "My favorite song from that show! I love the way the girls dance."

  • Dreamgirls: "I love the 60's. That song was really catchy. Is Jennifer Hudson in the tour, too?"

  • Billy Elliot: "I don't understand why you like it so much. I thought it was about that boy, not a bunch of silly girls. That woman is distracting in that awful dress, and who was that weird old man running around?"

  • Hair: "Can we get tickets for my birthday?"

  • Bye Bye Birdie: "John Stamos was great! He's so cute! But why were those girls so sad all the time?"

  • Shrek: "Why are there three Princess Fionas? They look like the movie... is it as good as the movie? Eh...I already have the DVD."

There you have it.

Jeff

Friday, November 27, 2009

Bits and Pieces for 11.27.09

OK... so you are either still in a Thanksgiving dinner stupor or you are about to keel over after hours of Black Friday shopping. I hope your holiday was wonderful!

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED THIS WEEK
  • The Times Square Broadway Sandwich Board People
  • A review of the DVD: RENT The Final Performance Live
  • How Grand Hotel and Our Town effected a friend of mine
  • Dancing with the Broadway Stars
  • Theatrical Thanks/Turkey Lurkey Time Video

PLUS: You might have noticed that there have been little tweaks to the blog...look to your right... there! I've listed my reviews and their grades. I slightly reorganized the Blog Archive list. I have a follower! Steve On Broadway, who also has a great theatre blog himself.

VOTE in this month's poll...please...


CAST RECORDINGS COMING SOON!


This week, the one night only sensation, Glory Days, released its Original Cast Recording. I really enjoyed the show - a great effort by young up and coming writers/composers. How many other one night stands got recorded? I'm hoping to get the CD for Christmas, so look for my thoughts on it at the end of the month!

And, despite the fact that Finian's Rainbow was just so-so in my book, I am looking forward to its revival cast recording. As I said in my review, I loved the three leads, and am looking forward to hearing their work preserved. I can't wait to hear "Old Devil Moon" with Kate and Cheyenne!

Finally, they were selling like hotcakes when I saw the show before it opened, but I hope Memphis gets a great recording and soon. I doubt, as they've advertised, that it'll be out before the New Year, but who knows? And if you haven't seen it yet, GET TICKETS!!!


GLEE-LESS WINTER

No one is more happy than I am that Glee is such a huge hit. And I'm really glad that they don't play a ton of reruns. But news that Glee will be off the screen for FOUR MONTHS has me already on the verge of withdrawal. Guess I'm gonna have to get the DVD of the first half of season one, just to tide me over. I miss you already, Lea, Jan and Matthew... :-)

But, how great is it that the hottest Glee guys are among People's Sexiest Men Alive? Broadway fans always knew that about Matthew Morrison, the rest of the world is just finding out!



FRAISER IN LA CAGE?

In a potentially interesting casting coup, rumor has it that Kelsey Grammer will be Georges in the upcoming revival of La Cage aux Folles. If that's where the producers are going in terms of casting this too-soon-again revival, my interest has been piqued!


Talk to you all soon! Jeff

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Theatrical Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and friends!

These days, it is easy to lose sight of the important stuff, and a day like today should give us all pause to reflect on just how much we all have, instead of brooding about that which we don't. I am thankful for the "usual" things: my health, my family - including the most amazing niece and nephew ever, my friends, my job...

Seeing that this is a theatre site, thought I'd share a few things that I am thankful for in that realm.

10. I am thankful that we now live in an age where the fate of a show, on Broadway or off, is no longer determined by The New York Times. Gone are the days when a terrific show that rubs one critic the wrong way closes after an inappropriately short run.

9. I am thankful for the new TKTS booth in Times Square. It is really cool to look at, has some great upgrades (including the ability to pay by credit card) and is considerably more spacious. I might actually use it now!

8. I am thankful for all of those great discounts available, making Broadway somewhat more affordable and making audiences that much larger.

7. I am thankful for Hollywood celebrities who want to do Broadway, and who aren't afraid to admit it. I'm thinking Hugh Jackman, who hasn't turned his back on Broadway; Kelly Osbourne, who publicly pleaded to be seen for Roxie in Chicago on Broadway, during Dancing with the Stars; and any number of stars who chose to include theatre as a large part of their career.

6. I am thankful for local theatre companies who aren't afraid to put on daring productions, balancing their seasons with the tried and true with more controversial, modern fare.

5. I am thankful for local theatre patrons who by virtue of their mere attendance allow number 6 to be.

4. I am thankful to the increasing number of theatre teachers at the high school level who are pushing the envelope in terms of content and teachable moments. Cheers to every drama director who has tried to do RENT or The Laramie Project or even Sweeney Todd!

3. I am thankful for Tim Kitt, who after High Fidelity (which wasn't really that bad) and 13 (which wasn't really that bad), stuck with it and gave us next to normal.

2. I am thankful for Angela Lansbury, who could very easily retire and rest, but would rather get up every day and do an 8 show week, without complaint, in A Little Night Music. Perhaps she is a fan of even numbers - Tony number 6?

1. I am thankful for a world that has such a great thing as the Internet, where plain folks like me can carve out his own little niche and share, with anyone who will listen, his thoughts on something he cares about so deeply. And, of course, that thanks extends to anyone and everyone who takes the time to read it!

And finally... from the original production of Promises, Promises - actually the 1968 Tony Awards - "Turkey Lurkey Time". Think of it is a bridge between Thanksgiving and Christmas...and a look forward to the 2010 revival!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dancing with the Broadway Stars in Chicago?

Doesn't it figure? The top three finalists of Dancing with the Stars all have a Broadway/West End pedigree? Actually four of the top five, if you include growing-up-before-our-eyes cutie Aaron Carter.

Here they are in their final order, with their partners and their theatre links. NOTE to Barry and Fran: Mya as Velma, Kelly as Roxie, Donny as Billy... and Marie as Mama Morton. Box Office GOLD!!!

Third Place: Kelly Osbourne and Louis Van Amstel. Kelly, of course, pled on screen for a shot at Roxie (she's already played Mama Morton) to another former Roxie, co-host Samantha Harris. (Louis could certainly hold his own in a black gauze shirt, huh?)




Second Place: Mya and Dmitri Chaplin. Mya has already done one tour of duty in Chicago. Time for another, girl! (Get some black gauze for Mr. Chaplin, too...)

Dancing with the Stars Season Nine Champion: Donny Osmond and Kym Johnson. Donny still has the pipes, the presence, and the charisma to more than pull off Billy Flynn. (How about Kym as Hunyak?)



And Aaron Carter is grow up enough now, too, to play with the big boys... he could be Fred Casely! The Jury?


What do you think? Jeff

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Logos: Finian's Rainbow


Any time an advertising campaign uses a bold color, it does two things (at least in my mind). It draws my immediate attention, and if the images associated with it are equally bold, I forever associate a show with that color. Lots of shows, for example, use red as their primary color - Billy Elliot and God of Carnage, both Tony winners this year, use that startling hue. But two shows I immediately associate with red - West Side Story (more so because of the iconic film logo which the current revival employs) and even more, the current revival of Chicago. Combined with visually stunning black and white photos, the red CHICAGO really sticks out in a great way. Secretly, I am hoping that when that show finally closes - I'll guess 2017 - that someone makes a book that catalogues the entire history of that show in black, white and red. I will always associate orange with Avenue Q and purple with next to normal.

And so it is somewhat of a shock to my "one color" mentality, that I find myself equally, if not more so, drawn to the ads/logos for two current shows that employ the full spectrum of colors: Finian's Rainbow and Fela! I haven't seen the latter, yet, so I can't fully speak to its success, though I could make an educated guess. But I have seen the former, and that is what I am blogging about today.



You really can't miss the Finian's Rainbow logo that swaths every street level surface of the St. James Theatre. No matter at what angle you approach you can't help but notice the cascade of multi-colored stripes that flow from top to bottom. And for that alone, one can argue that the choice of the spectrum works. Also, it is obvious, given the title, which again can be seen as a plus. After all, ticket brokers all over the place can figure out that a buyer wants tickets to see Finian even if all they can say that that the show has a rainbow in it. In this case, literal is a good selling point. It is also exceedingly simple, reflective of a rather simple show. Again, not necessarily a negative - after all it signals immediately that it isn't the brain tickle that next to normal's messed up music staff suggests or the eerie feeling that the strange stick figures give off at God of Carnage. Further, the bottom of the artwork, a simple cut out of rolling green hills with a lone man approaching a sleepy village, suggests a simplicity and an air of mystery.


Having seen the show, I can also say with some authority that the logo really matches the show you will see. The show is as simple, colorful, and as bare bones as the construction paper strips and ground that the logo is made of. The lack of detail in the production is even mirrored in the logo lettering that has the center of the "R", "A", "B", and "O" missing. Talk about truth in advertising!

And I think the change to this logo from the Encores! is most appropriate. People go to Encores! productions expecting a bare bones, slightly staged concert version of an old show. And so the Encores! logo, full of detail, makes sense: it reminds patrons of the full scale production that happened in the first place, years ago. A memory-tickle, if you will. Changing to a more "as you will see it" logo/artwork for a sit-down Broadway production is all the more appropriate in this "full disclosure" era.

Finally, I think that the logo looks much better small scale - on the Playbill and show card. The larger scale really looks kinda cheesy as it covers story tall doors and theater marquees.

So, I think that the folks who designed the logo/artwork have been successful in creating a memorable piece that is eye-catching and true to the show it represents.
Jeff

Monday, November 23, 2009

Of Thornton Wilder and Michael Jeter...

A few blogs ago, I wrote about the show that changed my life as a theatre-enthusiast. I, like most of you probably did, approached it from the point of view of someone who merely was deciding which show is the one that solidified your love for the art form. Well, as you can probably guess, I wear my theatre-love on my sleeve, and all over my cubicle at work. (Bet you can't guess which 4 show chards are hanging in it as we speak!) And as a result, I am the guy everyone wants mini reviews from, advice on best seats, advice on what show to take the kids to, etc.

One of the nicer by-products of being an out and proud theatre lover is that often people feel compelled to tell me their stories of playgoing. Today, that very thing happened, and I thought I'd share. See if any of this sounds like you or anyone you know:

"Hey, Jeff! Got a minute?" "Sure, Gary, what can I do for you?" "I just wanted to tell you that I went to my first play last weekend - my daughter's high school production of Our Town." "Oh, that's right, Gar, your daughter goes to St. Blah Blah, a private school with an amazing drama program. But I thought you said you saw your daughter last year in Joseph..." "Yeah, that Dreamcoat thing... no, I meant, they always do musicals, and I just saw their first play." I smiled, remembering Gary last spring trying to impress me with his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of that Lloyd Webber opus, and finally discussing the fact that musicals are plays, but not all plays are musicals. I have to admit, I was tickled that remembered and used the distinction!

"Well, what did you think?" "Jeff, I gotta tell you, I'm glad I went to all three shows. I was lost the first time I saw it. I mean, no scenery, no real dishes to wash, not other whatchamacallits?" "Props?" "Yes! Props. It wasn't easy for me to get...I mean I've never been to an actual play before." "But you went back, anyway?" "Well, yeah. My kid was in it. I never miss one of her brothers' games, why would I miss her show?" He looked a tad miffed; I was jealous as hell of his daughter. "So, the second time, I could relax, because I knew what was happening and could figure it out. I even laughed at the first part - the kid that played George was the perfect dumb jock, and got kinda sad at the end. I mean she dies, and he really grew up." "See yourself as George much, Gary?" "Well, I gotta tell you. I'm glad she's into this, because now I see what I was missing. We used to tease theband kids and the play kids. But they were always so close. I mean, I liked my team mates, but aside from sharing a stinky bus and some game injuries, we weren't friends again until the next season. Now I get it." (I swear to you I'm not making this up!)

"So, this spring, they are doing Hello, Dolly! Did you know that musical is based on another play by the guy who wrote Our Town?" "You mean Thornton Wilder." "Right! Well, of course, you know that. Man, how do you know so much about this stuff?" "It's just like the awe I feel for you, Gar, when you can replay whole innings of games from the 75 World Series. We love what we love. Anyway, glad you enjoyed the play." I started to walk off.

"Wait!" I stopped. Gary is now standing at his desk. "I wanted to tell you I saw a musical on Broadway once. It is my only one. Something about a hotel... and I remember that our company gave us tickets to it to take clients. Hotel, hotel...it had a really sick guy in it, and when he came onstage, I was hooked! Now, every time I see him on TV or in The Green Mile, I tell my wife, 'Krista, I saw that guy live on Broadway!' I'll be damed if I can remember the name of that show or that guy, but I remember him dancing and sliding on the bar, which was really a pole being held by two ther guys. You know, when that show started, I thought, I'd rather be anywhere but here. But by the time it was over, I loved it! I don't know why I never went back. Do you know what I'm talking about? I want to tell my daughter about my first show." You know, I almost hugged the guy. "Gary, that musical was Grand Hotel, and the actor's name is Michael Jeter. You know, he died a few years ago." "That's it! That's it! Grand Hotel... and there was an old ballerina and a lesbian, and the secretary was HOT. She almost got raped, and... wait, he died? No way. That is so sad." "Yes, it is. But you sure remember a lot about it now!" "Yeah, it's funny that I remembered it." "Everyone remembers their first Broadway show. And that "hot" secretary is Jane Krakowski - she's on 30 Rock." "I'll have to watch that! You think my daughter would like a Broadway show?" "I am sure of it. She already does shows, Gary. She will love it." "Yeah. You're right. Tomorrow let's pick which one should be her first Broadway show, ok?"

No pressure there. I mean, we have to pick something she'll remember 20 years from now. Who am I kidding? No matter what, she'll love it. Everyone loves their first Broadway show, right?

Jeff

Sunday, November 22, 2009

DVD REVIEW: RENT Final Performance

DVD: RENT: Filmed Live on Broadway. The Final Performance on Broadway, September 7, 2008, Nederlander Theatre, New York City. Book, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson. Stage Production directed by Michael Greif. Directed for film by Michael John Warren. The Hot Ticket Presents a @Radical Media Production. 152 minutes.

Starring: Will Chase (Roger), Eden Espinoza (Maureen), Renee Elise Goldberry (Mimi), Rodney Hicks (Benny), Justin Johnston (Angel), Adam Kantor (Mark), Michael McElroy (Tom), Tracie Thoms (Joanne), and Gwen Stewart (Seasons of Love soloist).



HOW DO YOU MEASURE A MOMENT SO DEAR?

In my lifetime so far, there have been two truly landmark musicals on Broadway that changed the way Broadway does business, and changed the way Broadway sounded: A Chorus Line and RENT. Both went on to win every major award for theatre, including the Pulitzer Prize, awarded very rarely to musicals. Had A Chorus Line happened second, perhaps we would be as fortunate with that show as we are with RENT in that the producers and the Broadway community at large recognized the invaluable and indelible mark RENT left on the theatre world and filmed the final performance of the show, in lasting tribute to a landmark and to a genius of musical writing silenced forever by his untimely death the night before the very first preview of the show in 1996, Jonathan Larson.

That RENT is a well-done, if imperfect show, has been chronicled since its opening back in the mid-90's. It is widely agreed, even among the original cast and creative team, the Larson would have done much repair - adding/cutting songs, trimming awkward dialogue, etc. - but that was never to be. And it is somewhat to the show's advantage that it remains as it was, warts and all, for it retains its author's original intent, energy and direction - an imperfect, but wonderful moment in time frozen forever. So, with the advent of the DVD, discussing the merits and pitfalls of the show itself is both unnecessary and somewhat disrespectful in a way. But what can be discussed is the quality and value of forever memorializing the final performance.

There is, I suppose, some irony in the fact that musical itself is filtered through the medium of film - the story of the late millennium Greenwich Village Bohemians is told by videographer Mark Cohen, and by putting the theatrical version on film, we can see the show through the same device. The big difference is that Mark's use of the camera is both character driven and metaphorically sound to the story. Watching a live performance through the filter of a camera, a director and several editors is a whole different thing. While one can watch the whole stage picture and select where to focus is up to the audience member entirely, we as a movie audience have those choices made for us. Is this, in this case, a good or bad thing? Both, actually.


On the negative side, much of the staging, NOT changed for the filming, was done with an eye toward the broad picture, with isolated moments and "close ups" carefully chosen by director Michael Greif and his lighting designer. Film director Michael John Warren has all of that to consider, plus where else we get to see the action from his well-placed cameras. Often, we are given moving close-ups during company numbers, where the singers are focused on as they sing. The problem, especially during the "Will I Lose My Dignity?" and numbers like that, is that solo lines are said from far points on the stage, and instead of quickly cross-cutting the camera moves as our head would, the camera pans the stage, thus getting us to the next singer too late or at half way through their lines. Other times, the camera pans up, blinding us in the stage lighting. Then there are the bizarre times when Warren has chosen to go directly from a tight close up to a full stage shot, which is jarring to say the least.

Still there are great advantages, especially for fans who know the show and avid theatre-lovers who crave a chance to see thing from a backstage/onstage point of view, and I'm not just talking about the terrific bonus features (reviewed later in this piece). There are several sequences brilliantly cut in a almost a music video style that both embrace and strengthen the theatricality of the staging, namely "Christmas Bells Are Ringing," "Wet," and the particularly moving "Without You" numbers. Then, too, there are the opportunities to see the acting up close, and often with an actor facing upstage. Then we see what the cast sees, where as if we were in the audience we'd only hear, not see the actor acting. This happens frequently in scenes between Roger and Mimi and Angel and Tom, and to great emotional effect.

Having had the benefit and supreme privilege of seeing the original Broadway cast shortly after the opening, I can testify to the raw energy and passion of that unique group. A largely unseasoned group, the daring, in your face mentality of those Broadway newbies and their lack of show biz polish added an undirectable edge to the piece, adding only more to the heavy burden and hugely life-transforming event the show became because of Larson's death. In short, their unique perspective, lack of experience and indestructible bond could never be replicated, much like the original cast of A Chorus Line, whose only real difference from the RENT cast was that they were telling their own story. Even the original RENTers couldn't replicate that initial synergy when they gathered to make the film version a few years ago. And just like it would be unfair to compare the Chorus Line original cast to say, the revival cast, so, too is it unfair to compare the original RENTers with the final RENTers. The producers of the stage version wisely orchestrated their leaving the Great White Way by gathering a cast of New York's finest, young and best actor/singers for the final company, rather than try to arrange for the original cast (too old) or for completely unknowns (too green to not go through the entire creation process). The result is probably the best post-original cast of the show, full of people who didn't help create, but fully embrace the piece as a masterpiece of musical theatre.


LAST SONG GLORY

The youngest member of the main company, Adam Kantor, wonderfully plays Mark, blissfully unaware of his self-fulfilling loneliness until he is forced to confront it. His performance is not a carbon copy of the original, and his inflection during certain numbers and scenes reflects a study of the piece as true theatre. Further, his voice is in fine form, particularly as both soloist and duettist (with Will Chase) in "Rent" and "What You Own." Mr. Chase, as Roger, also mines the depths of his character's angst and depression, with out getting too maudlin, and watching him transform into a happier, love-struck hero is satisfying. His voice, also quite nice, lacks a certain rock edge in "One Song Glory," but really works in "Your Eyes." Renee Elise Goldberry as Mimi is also terrific, if not really convincing as a 19 year old. Her voice is spectacular (though not nearly edgy enough for "Out Tonight"), and her acting is superb. Of all the main cast, she benefits most from camera-close ups, so specific is her acting. Plus, the camera loves her. I'd be surprised if she doesn’t get film offers from this.

As lesbian couple Maureen and Joanne, Eden Espinoza and Tracie Thoms (sole RENT movie actor in the cast) have awesome chemistry and push and pull as they fight their way through their relationship. Miss Espinoza knows how to walk that line between oddly enticing and off-putting, just as Maureen should. Her "Over the Moon" performance art piece is terrific, even if she has just a wee bit too much polish to be convincing as truly avant-garde. But their Act Two diva duet, "Take Me or Leave Me" is electrifying - a stagy, theatrical and vocally thrilling moment if ever there was one.

Michael McElroy, one of Broadway's greatest voices today, is no less than brilliant as Tom Collins, a lonely HIV+ guy who finds love after a beating with Angel (Justin Johnston), a sweet, equally sick transvestite, who has chosen to grab life like the brass ring that it is. Their chemistry is so real, you'd swear they were truly lovers! Their "Santa Fe"/"I'll Cover You" duets are joyful and uplifting, making McElroy's solo "I'll Cover You" all the more sad and emotionally rich later in act two.


Finally, there are two members of the final company that were in the original, Gwen Stewart, who reprises her roles, including chiefly the "Seasons of Love" soloist. I'm glad to report that her voice has gotten richer and more moving the intervening years. Rodney Hicks has moved up from the ensemble to play Benny, the villain of the piece. And he does quite well, even if he doesn't completely erase the mark left on the role by Taye Diggs. He sings well, and his acting is fine, but he comes across like he is ACTING, not living the role. Still, he doesn’t stick out in any discernible way, and that is good, too for an ensemble piece like this one.


WE'RE NOT GONNA PAY: THE DVD EXTRAS

Like most DVDs, this one has bonus features (there are even more on the Blue-Ray version) that really add to the experience. They were chosen wisely, with theatre-lovers and RENT-heads clearly in mind, and they don't repeat the excellent documentary on Jonathan Larson included with the motion picture version DVD. No, these features celebrate the theatrical even the RENT was. The documentary RENT: The Final Days on Broadway really brings home the impact that the show, its final days and being selected for means to the company. Most interesting are the snippets about Ms. Stewart and Mr. Hicks, who have the benefit of having experienced both the beginning and the end, and Mr. Kantor, whose first Broadway role is the lead in the show, and who can't quite grasp the enormity of that fact or that it is all coming to and end. (Seeing him finally break down after the curtain call brings an nice closure to the whole thing.) The Final Curtain Call is the type of featurette that true fans will love because they can see how many past and present cast members they can identify, without the benefit of names added to the screen. I suspect, however, that if you grow tired of "Seasons of Love," this is one feature you'll watch once.

RENT has a special place in Broadway history for many reasons, but two of the unique ones are is famous wall, where anyone of any note who has been in or visited backstage has signed their best wishes. It is the kind of thing only Broadway would have, and it was a legend very few people got to see first hand. Now we can all enjoy it with the bonus The Wall. The other thing that RENT really left a mark on Broadway with was its instituting a Lottery/Rush policy, where the first two rows (and occasionally some side-view seats) are filled in by people who put their names in a hat for the chance at those tickets for a mere $20.00 each! This policy allows many folks who can't even afford TKTS tickets to enjoy the best of Broadway. Since then, almost every show has some sort of Lottery (Wicked, Avenue Q) and/or discounts for all (Chicago) or students (Billy Elliot). And nearly every theatre has significantly dropped the price of rear mezzanine seats. And all of that is thanks to Jonathan Larson, who famously said before he had any idea RENT would even be produced, "If this makes it, I won't be able to afford to see my own show." The last time this is done is wonderfully archived in the documentary, The Final Lottery, which includes a visibly moved lottery wrangler who loves his job and will miss it terribly.

RENT is about living for the moment and knowing when and how to say goodbye, a sentiment oft expressed by this final company who struggle to put on the best show that they can while still savoring every minute of it. With the filming of this last performance, we can all relive those final, thrilling moments of a true Broadway legend.

Grade: A+

Photos: Top: The Final Company of RENT in "La Vie Boehme" (Justin Johnston and Michael McElroy, center); Left to Right, below: Adam Kantor, Tracie Thoms and Eden Espinoza. Bottom: Will Chase and Gwen Stewart.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A New Sandwich on Broadway


If you've ever been to New York City, and spend any amount of time walking either on Broadway or 8th Avenue, you know what I'm talking about in today's blog. It all started years ago, when Grey Line Tours started having pick up points what seems like every 3 blocks. You know the red double-decker buses? That's Grey Line. You know the groups of five or six guys who block the sidewalk in front of you, trying to shove a brochure in your hands and offering sighting in NYC? If they have on red jackets, that's Grey Line. If all of the above has occurred to you on every OTHER block in Manhattan, switching everything red for blue, you have their competitors, New York City Tours. Perhaps the only distinguishing feature between the two is either the color of the bus or that one company redoes the outside of a whole bus to advertise a certain show. (I don't know what they will do when Shrek closes...).



On my recent trip to the city, I became increasingly aware of something similar that I had only noticed as a minor blip previously. For years, college kids earning a few extra bucks would stand near the TKTS booth and shout out about a certain show, passing out fliers and offering "private discounts." It makes sense. Get the folks out of the really cheap discount line, and get them directly to the box office with promises of a better seat selection, no TKTS fee and a discount still. The fee-less ticket promise would have made me jump ship. Well, those people, along with the obnoxious, "I've got Billy Elliot and Gods of Carnage for today's matinee right here!" (Are those legit tix?) guys, are still hovering around the new and beautiful TKTS booth.

But now, with the pedestrian mall set up in Times Square, there are more of these hawkers spread throughout the area. On this trip, I came across a few types of these folks:
  1. The traditional "sandwich board" hawkers: They have signs hanging off their shoulders front and back, leaving their arms free to wave and distribute show fliers. My favorite of these is the cute girl hawking Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking, while wearing Princess Leia tunic and cinnamon bun curl earmuffs. Adorable!

  2. The traditional "pamphlet" distributors: They simply have a handful of fliers and yell out, "Mary Poppins, Live on Stage!" or "See Disney's The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre!" What separates these folks beyond the simplicity is that now that it is colder they wear really cool (as in I'd kill for one) jackets with their show's logo fully embroidered on it. They aren't as nice as the cast jackets you see show people wear, but I'll tell you, I'd buy the Ragtime one, for sure!



  3. "The New Age Sandwich Board-ers": These hip newcomers have both hands free to hold fliers and to make contact with the people because the ad for the show they are hawking is strapped to their back like a combination backpack and wind surfing sail. These folks are brave, really, because none of them seems aware of just how much space they take up. Every time they turn, they threaten to take out everyone within their radius.
  4. The "Mini-Show" People: God Bless, em! A part on Broadway is a part on Broadway, right? Well in this case, I mean literally. I felt a little embarrassed for the Chicago girl dressed in a skimpy black jacket, bow tie and Fosse bowler. She must have been freezing. But to make it worse, she sang, "Come on babe..," struck a Fosse pose, and passed a flyer to anyone who even paused near her. Yikes! But damn, I think more people paid attention to her... And the sweet White Christmas carolers outside the Marquis Theatre where the show is playing. They are dressed just like the people in the pictures of the show and sing a mean "White Christmas." They get the crowd to gather, clap, and then they go in for the kill. I think some folks actually felt cheated that they were doing carols on the street for less than noble reasons. In my "crowd" only three of us took a flyer; five or six people left money in the BCEFA bucket on the sidewalk, while the other 2 dozen or so ran quickly away. Does this really encourage ticket sales? If not, what a shame. The carolers were good.
There are more and more of these people every time I go up there. It makes sense. It is cheap advertising and it creates contact on a personal level between a show and its audience. But I wondered, after getting thrown to the ground by the Superior Donuts guy's sign, when will they become so "normal" to see that we look right past them, like 95% of the people who walk by the Grey Line Tours people? Will the Ragtime people form a coalition with the White Christmas carolers and block our passage until we take a damn flyer? Only time will tell.

Jeff


Friday, November 20, 2009

Bits and Pieces for 11.20.09

Can you believe another week has flown by already? Lots of little stuff to talk about…

WHAT YOU MISSED THIS WEEK:

  • My thoughts on the revival of Finian’s Rainbow
  • What a day in New York City is like if you go with me
  • A link to a really cool article about 30 under 30 Broadway stars
  • Commentary on the Tony Revival of a Musical Race
  • The Loaded Logo is Fully Loaded
  • On the Radar: Frank Wildhorn’s Wonderland
PLEASE VOTE IN THIS MONTH’S POLL!!! ---->


UPDATE ON PREVIOUS BLOGS

“Creature of Habit”: Well, as sure as I said I’ve seen her every time I’m in the Edison Hotel/Café since In the Heights opened, I did NOT see Priscilla Lopez getting her matzo ball soup or running to the theatre. The name of the Broadway gift shop that I can never remember that is across the street from The Phantom of the Opera is called Theatre Circle! Couldn’t get near the Gods of Carnage to check out the pictures of the new cast of that Tony winner – but the sign people at Memphis were putting up some new stuff outside the Shubert, including a great quote about Montego Glover and a beautiful picture of her, and a reprint of an AP article that sings the praises of this awesome new show.

"REVIEW: Finian's Rainbow":I have corrected an error in my review of Finian’s Rainbow. Seems that sweet deal on Wednesday evenings is no longer available.

"Tony Race Over?": And in my angst over an article declaring that Ragtime would win the Revival Tony before the season is half over, I managed myself to forget the revival of La Cage aux Folles which opens this spring at the Longacre. My apologies to anyone associated with that show.


GREEN DAY RECORDS A SHOW TUNE!

I hear that Green Day, whose albums American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, are the basis for the Broadway-aimed (I love that term!) American Idiot, are back in the recording studio with their original cast creating a new version of their current hit, “21 Guns.” Very cool!


ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB

Here is a link to a great interview with Girl Crazy’s Becki Newton (Ugly Betty) and her husband/co-star, Chris Diamantopoulos (The Full Monty). They are great separately, and sound like great fun together! And they couldn’t be cuter… his eyes… her sly smile…

http://www.playbill.com/news/article/134711-DIVA-TALK-She-Said-He-Said-with-Girl-Crazys-Becki-Newton-and-Chris-Diamantopoulos



TURKEY LURKEY TIME

Ugh! It was so much easier when only one network carried the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. If you can think of a way (I don’t have a DVR) that I can see both the NBC and CBS broadcasts, please write! I want to see all of the Broadway stuff…

  • NBC: Bye Bye Birdie (“Put on a Happy Face”), Billy Elliot (“Shine” which should feature the new Mrs. W.), and Shrek (“I’m a Believer” – and the only part of the show I haven’t seen!).
  • CBS: West Side Story (“America”), Ragtime (“Wheels of a Dream/Ragtime”), and the title number from the Dreamgirls revival.
  • Plus one or both should have performances from Alan Cumming, Jane Krakowski and Reba McIntyre!

OH, CARRIE! OH, BABY!

Is anyone else as thrilled as I am that they are giving Carrie: The Musical another go-round? Surely you’ve heard about the star-filled reading they are doing of a revision of that notorious flop… Marin Mazzie, Sutton Foster, Jennifer Damiano, and newcomer Holly Ranson (as Carrie) are in the cast; they must be serious. Apparently, the writers have made many cuts and written a lot of new material. This could end up on my “On the Radar”…

And another 80’s flop (though certainly much longer in run and in regional theatre. Looking forward to hearing about what Victoria Clark, Andy Karl and Kathy Voytko did with it! Broadway-aimed? We’ll see!




A NEW BROADWAY ADOLESCENT

Happy birthday, Chicago! The revival turned 13 on the 14th! Congratulations!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

REVIEW: Finian's Rainbow

Review of the November 18 matinee performance at the St. James Theatre in New York City. Starring Jim Norton, Cheyenne Jackson, Kate Baldwin. Two hours, twenty minutes, including intermission.
UPDATE: This review has been edited to revise facts about the ticket prices discussed below. Also, there are plot spoilers included.

Finian's Rainbow, which opened recently at Broadway's St. James Theatre, earned much critical praise when it opened as part of the Encores! series earlier in the year. In the time between that concert and the Broadway run, we were assured by the director/choreographer and the producers that the Broadway version would be a much fuller, more realized, and opulent production than the concert version. I did not see the concert version, so I can't speak to the differences, if there were any. But from where I was sitting (an excellent seat in the mezzanine), it looked less like a full Broadway production than a glorified concert.

I'm guessing Chicago spoiled us all for Encores! transfers. But the differences between the two point out all that is wrong with Rainbow. Chicago was re-imagined to what we can see eight times a week at the Ambassador Theatre. It was purposely paired down to nothing, but always with an eye toward keeping the themes and style of the original staging. Further, Chicago's staging is fully realized, detailed down to the last finger flick, and choreographed by a master in the style of a master. Mostly, though, this Chicago works because it was never old-school, never old-fashioned. And that is what works against Finian's Rainbow, a decidedly old-school, old-fashioned show. Not that there is anything wrong with that, necessarily. But put a creaky old book (sooooo much exposition that things don't move forward until a full hour has gone by in an hour ten minute act one) together with community theatre level production values, and you get Broadway's first show downsized due to the economy, I'm guessing.
The Book and Score: I'm not old enough by two decades to have seen the original, so I can't really speak to any tinkering done between the original book (by Yip Harburg), the film version (by Fred Saidy) and the book adaptation (by Arthur Perlman). But whatever they did or didn't do, the book still plays like like it is a 40's musical, and still comes across as a poor man's Rodgers and Hammerstein crossed with an even poorer man's Lil Abner (if that's possible). I'm sure its bold in your face-ness about bigotry caused quite a stir back in the day, balanced only by the magical element which could always have given the creative team an out if necessary. And in two ways, Finian's Rainbow even comes across as a timeless classic: the bigotry theme is certainly relevant considering a black man (to use the show's vernacular) is in the White House, while a veritable rainbow of citizens is still fighting for equal rights; and the whole idea of wealth through credit is particularly resonant given our current economic state. So there are enough bones here to build an interesting, relevant revival out of a mediocre show. Instead, mediocrity rules the day.

Ultimately, Finian's Rainbow was everything I feared it would be. Even the up-tempo numbers were slow. It got really good, though, about ten minutes before intermission, when they got to the meat of the story. The first hour was all set up for about five subplots, none terribly interesting separately. Act Two, which was almost all reprises, went much faster, mainly because the story actually happened.
The Leads: I am glad I saw it, because it was nice to see Cheyenne Jackson (Woody) playing a straight role (not versus gay, but meaning without camp) and the chemistry between he and Kate Baldwin (Sharon) was palpable even from the mid-mezzanine. Hers is a star-making performance. I'd like to see her in an original role, and thought she would be a great replacement for Alice Ripley in next to normal. The woman can sing – her soprano is nearly flawless, particularly in “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?”- and dance and act like nobody's business. She was easily the most interesting thing in Act One. And when she and Mr. Jackson duet in “Old Devil Moon” you can see just how good this could have been. Mr. Jackson’s dancing/singing/acting style here perfectly fits the matinee idol mold. And when he smiles, it lights up the room. I’d like to say that he he really makes the most of his role, but he does everything he can do with a role that isn’t much of a push for his much more considerable talents. The third of the show’s leads, the titular Finian is played by Tony-winner Jim Norton. And he is a revelation. The role requires little in the way of singing, which handles nicely and more like an acting choice than with regard to “prettiness.” Norton is absolutely magnetic; he plays the show straight with the conviction of an actor who finally gets his shot at Hamlet. His performance has Tony nominee written all over it.

The Supporting Cast: The supporting cast is much more mixed bag than the solid leads. Christopher Fitzgerald, as Og the leprechaun is really not very funny in spite of the fact that he milks one cute joke til that cow is dry, all five or six times the script calls for it. He is somewhat better at the sight gags required of his role, and his knobby knees and gigantic calf muscles help add to the visual humor. Much of his role depends on the magical element of the show, which is mostly, apparently, caught in the budget crunch. At the risk of being snarky, he doesn’t even do a passable Lucky Charms shtick or accent, which goes in and out at will. Somewhat better, though largely because he is way better than the material, is Tony-winner Chuck Cooper, who plays the “black version” of a bigoted white Southern senator. Watching him work through the self-discovery and metamorphosis from jerk to open man is both hilarious and poignant. Unfortunately, his big number, “The Begat” when he is joined by three other men of color comes across more like a black-face vaudeville number (it could be the insulting staging), than a powerhouse opportunity for great singers. The much lauded return to the stage by Terri White, is notable mostly because she makes a tiny part seem huge simply by mugging a few times in that sassy black woman way and by belting out a single verse of a single song like the whole of American Idol rested on those 20 seconds.


The villains of the piece, Senator Rawkins, the Sherriff, and the Senator’s henchman, Buzz are really little more than stereotypes, but all three actors (David Schramm, Kevin Ligon and William Youmans, respectively) play them in an excellent mixture of reality and hyper-stereotype. Mr. Schramm, in particular, walks that fine line that allows us to laugh at, rather than hate, his bigotry, which in turn allows us to appreciate his transformation by the end of the show. Only the two kids, Christopher Borger and Paige Simunovich, stick out as particularly bad. Apparently, both went to the Annie school of obnoxious kids acting. They mug, they pull focus and they dance is if they are the head ballet dancers in the film Center Stage (no offense to Center Stage).


The Staging/Choreography: The large ensemble sings together very well, and the make the most of director/choreographer Warren Carlyle’s staging. Considering how much press is quoted outside the theatre regarding the dancing, let me say this, and I am being literal, not exaggerating even a smidge: there are, I think, three dance numbers, not including the lovely girl (Alina Faye) who dances what she's saying because she can't speak - and every second of that looked ad-libbed. Each of the three dance numbers go like this. The entire cast is on stage, and the music starts. Someone either whistles or "whoo-hoo"s and Cheyenne Jackson/Kate Baldwin/Jim Norton (depending on the song) starts a solo that looks like a cross between Riverdance and Oklahoma. The cast applauds the solo and two dancers join the first person, in a triangle that has the lead as the front point. They do the same solo, and step/slide forward. Three more dancers make up the new back row and all repeat the initial solo. Whomever is left on the sides of the stage moves to spots that will allow them to sidestep with thumbs in belt loops (guys), or twirl (girls) in between the rows the next time the solo is repeated. Then the side people sidestep/twirl back to the side where they started, linking hands with the other dancers resulting in a circle which then turns into rows, which then turns into a couples version of the original solo, and finally, into a tableau that resembles the end of a cheerleading routine, including a forceful head nod/broad smile in the final musical bump.

The Technical Elements: The set (designed by John Lee Beatty) never changed and looked like something a community theatre might throw together the weekend before the show; they apparently got a deal on bright green paint. It says a lot when the picture of Hidden Valley on those dressing bottles looks more interesting. Framing the stage is a rainbow shaped light rig (lighting designed by Ken Billington) that has matching light fixtures aimed directly at the audience, so you just know eventually, we will see a rainbow. In fact, at the very end we do, and it started to light up and the audience started to clap, likely thinking that the effect will be spectacular. Suffice it to say, it was not. By the end of the 30 or so seconds it took to light the whole thing, the audience stopped clapping. (The audience, I should also note, did NOT give a standing ovation.) Finally, Toni-Leslie James’ costumes are appropriate to the period, purposely (and purposefully) colorful, and even fun occasionally. But even if you are a student and snag a $27.00 seat, you really aren't getting your money's worth, and with all of the discounts out there, I'd be pissed to find out that I paid $120 on Tuesday night. And that is in spite of how terrific the leads are.

Grade: C

Photos of Finian’s Rainbow by Joan Marcus.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Check This Out: 30 Under 30

Hi Everyone!

As you know, I'm dashing out of town to catch Finian's Rainbow today in New York City. But before I go, I wanted to share a really cool article that I got in email today from one of my favorite newer Broadway spots... www.broadwayspace.com. Check out the space and join.

This article is really cool... it is their list of the top 30 Broadway stars UNDER the age of 30! It makes me feel old, but hopeful about the future of live theatre. And I realized as I scanned it, I think I've only missed 5 of them performing, so far!

Here's the link: http://www.broadwayspace.com/page/30-under-30-broadways-hottest

What do you think? Share your thoughts, please!
Jeff

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Creature of Habit

(44th Street - 2007: Xanadu hasn't opened,
The Producers has been closed,
Spring Awakening won the Tony)

As I prepare for my jaunt to New York tomorrow to see Finian's Rainbow, I'm trying to figure out what I will do with my day, pre- and post- show. Every time, and I mean that literally, I say to myself, "Jeff, there is so much to do in New York, there has to be somewhere new you can go. A new place to eat, something..." But the truth is I am most comfortable in the Theatre District/Times Square/Hell's Kitchen area.



(Shubert Alley - the Big Posters)

I've been there hundreds of times, and the thrill of walking up the subway steps on 44th Street and seeing the marquees for Phantom and whatever is playing at the St. James and Shubert Theatres gets my heart to pumping. Strolling past Sardi's and looking in at the fabulous and near fabulous having lunch makes me smile. (In better times, I'd eat there myself as a treat.) Then crossing the street and feeling that burst of wind at Shubert Alley, glad to see that Memphis' producers have enough confidence in the show to add a Memphis awning over the front door. After checking out the new production photos with critics' quotes, I start down the Alley and look to see which shows have their big posters hanging there. The most recent "new" thing is Junior's, which isn't really that new anymore. And I am faced with my first decision: should I go there for lunch, or should I grab take out on my way back to the train station?

Then I am at 45th Street. To my right, the marquee for The Lion King looms large, and to my left the Booth Theatre, where my beloved next to normal has added a purple awning over the sidewalk.

I know that at some point that afternoon, I will walk down 45th Street to get a closer look at the huge faces on the Booth doors, and then the pictures for A Steady Rain and God of Carnage (I bet there will be more to look at this trip now that the cast has changed). To avoid my pang of sadness I'll feel now that Avenue Q is no longer at the Golden, I'll cross the street mid-block and checkout the Imperial and the latest additions to the Billy Elliot company. My tour will end with a looking over at the new pictures and critical exclamations at Superior Donuts. But that will be later, probably as I mill about too excited to stand still as I wait for the doors to open for the matinee.

So, I'll cross 45th Street and walk in the Marriott tunnel of wind, missing the huge billboard for Thoroughly Modern Millie, but even more missing that cool mirror/mural they had of iconic Broadway moments - Hello, Dolly!, Cats, A Chorus Line, Joel Grey in Cabaret. And I'll come out at the other end, glad that TKTS is back where it belongs, hoping they'll finally have The Addams Family up at the Lunt-Fontanne (that theatre bare is UGLY!),and then a quick glance to my left, and a smile at the exuberance that In the Heights is.

(Inside the Cafe Edison)

At this point in my trip, give or take a half a block and/or 10 minutes, I will either pass, hold the door and/or smile at Priscilla Lopez, who I will see either coming into, leaving or ordering at the Cafe Edison at the Edison Hotel. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have seen her on every trip I've made there since In the Heights opened, roughly 15 trips. I'm surprised she doesn't recognize me and think I'm a stalker or something! I usually, 90% of the time have at least one meal at the Edison. Great for celebrity sighting, cheap food and huge portions, the Edison is one habit I'll probably never break. Besides Miss Lopez, I've seen Howard McGillin, Rebecca Luker and hubby Danny Burstein (and their kids), Faith Prince, Matthew Broderick, and Karen Olivo to name just a few. And you have to love the hand printed signs taped to every non-moving surface, and the paint which betrays decades of paint-overs...

(Billboard Corner in Times Square)

Before and after the show, I usually make the rounds at all my favorite shops, and I always start with that breathtaking moment when you step out onto Broadway itself and take in the hugeness and excitement of Times Square. There are times when it brings tears to my eyes, you know? Then I hit the M&M Store, the Hershey Store, and all three Broadway gift shops - the one at the Marriott, where the staff sings along to whatever CD is playing, the "original" cute hole in the wall, One Shubert Alley, and the nicest shop, the one whose name always escapes me, but is right across the street from the Majestic Theatre. Every time I go to One Shubert Alley I always feel nostalgic, remembering when that was the ONLY place you could buy Broadway stuff, and being thrilled when a new catalogue came in the mail.

(Inside One Shubert Alley)

The only place outside that immediate area became a part of my Broadway experience is the "new 42nd Street." Thanks to Disney and the Hilton Theatre, my routine also includes frequent dining at the BEST DEAL in New York City...Dallas BBQ. Been there? Try it. HUGE portions and CHEAP! Trust me, you'll get hooked on it just like me. And what's next door? Coldstone Creamery. MMMM MMMM! And it is very close to Penn Station.

(Dallas BBQ on 42nd Street)

That I can recount exactly all of these details tells you I am a creature of habit. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

What do you do every time you are in NYC? Share by adding a comment below!
Jeff
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