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Summertime...Took a little vacation! Three reviews coming soon! Amazing Grace, Hand to God and Mamma Mia!

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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

POLL RESULTS: Merch Madness!

Show Matches and Marquee Cards...
just some of the Broadway merch I collect!

The Ides of March are behind us, and the second half of the Broadway season is in full swing, even though as I write this, it is winter-cold once again!  Anyway, last month, all of the polls were about merch - the fun stuff you just have to buy when you see a new, exciting show or return to an old favorite.  Just this past week or so, I dropped $70 for How to Succeed and Priscilla - bilia.  Had Catch Me If You Can had posters or programs, I'd have spent more.  We need BMA... Broadway Merch Anonymous.  I was not the only one dropping major coin at the Priscilla booth (cute sales boys always add to my total, and the Palace is overrun with Queens these days)!

March Poll #1: Which theatre-related memorabilia do you have collections of?
(You could select as many "collections" as applicable.  Had I voted, I'd have selected all of those below marked with "*".  See?  I need an intervention!)


0% - TIE - Jewelry/Watches and Toys/Cards/Plush
OK, I don't have COLLECTIONS of these, but I do have an Opening Night wrist watch from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and I have a Ragtime teddy bear (charity item), Show Boat playing cards, and a Zazu plush from Disney's The Lion King (a gift from a friend who says I behave just like that blue bird)!


* 4% - Window Cards
My friend Mike will tell you that I have a ridiculous number of these things, and that I have a whole routine for packaging and carrying these things all around Manhattan.  Apparently, though the percentage is low, I'm not the only one of you... Carolyn from Trenton, NJ wrote, "Jeff, I have about 50 window cards, all autographed by the cast of the show, and all of them for charity!  A nice write-off and many fond memories..."

9% - Key Chains and Pins
My gal Sal collects so many of these things that she decorates a small Christmas tree with the key chains she has!  And she must have over a hundred lapel pins, all gathered in a collector's album.


* 14% - TIE - Magnets and Coffee Mugs/Water Bottles
Mike is the magnet man!  He has dozens, including an obscene one from Spring Awakening  that he proudly displays on his refrigerator!  I have the coffee mugs, including 3 different Sunset Boulevard cups.  My favorite is the tall Tarzan mug.  (Disney has the best merch...)  I have, however, stopped collecting them - they take up a lot of room in my tiny kitchen - in favor of those plastic sippy cups with show logos that they sell.  To date, I have never paid for one... I scavenge from the seats after people leave...

* 19% - Souvenir Programs
Again, I have too many, and the best are put out by Disney (though the Priscilla one is enormous and fun).  At least these I do actually pull out and look at.  Lots of great memories.  Writes Sherry from Petok, Maine, "I am always disappointed when I go to a show that hasn't been open long enough to have a souvenir program!  But then I have an excuse to drag my husband back to the same show again!"  I hear you, Sherry.  I've gone back to shows for far less!

* 23% - Clothing/Hats/Hoodies
I'm shocked that this number is so low considering how many people stand in line to buy t-shirts at merch booths!  I have lots of show shirts, but haven't bought a new one since Tarzan.  Not sure why... among my other clothing items: a Phantom ball cap, a Titanic scarf, and Xanadu winter hat.


* 33% - Books/Scripts
OK, so I studied theatre in college, and never really stopped buying scripts.  Most of the books I have now are gifts (thanks to Mike and Sal mostly.  They know me so well!).  And I have some collections - the Theatre World series from 1983-1994, and all 6 editions of the Playbill Yearbook.


* 47% - Ticket Stubs
This one I don't understand.  This number should be much higher, after all, it is a free souvenir.  But as Charlene from Brooklyn, NY wrote, "Doesn't everyone print out their own tickets at home now?"  No, Charlene, not everyone does!  I'll tell you why I don't (besides loving my little slices of cardboard):  I think it is OUTRAGEOUS that the CHARGE you to print your own ticket on your own paper with your own ink!  They charge you the handling fee anyway, whether you print the ticket or not!  So if I have to pay to have something handled, let them do it!


* 61% - Cast Recordings
The ultimate memorabilia!  How do you store yours?  Mine are alphabetical through 1999-2000, and alphabetical per season after that, in one several of those leather binders with a plastic slip for each disc.  I switched to this method when an entire 4 shelf book case wasn't enough to store them in the jewel cases.  I have a series of boxes that have the CD booklets similarly ordered.  And don't bother to write, iTunes people... I recycle my jewel cases for my picture CDs and I bring the rest to work.


* 85% - Playbills
OK, these are more FREE souvenirs from shows.  You can always go back and look at them for fun.  Did I mention they are FREE?  I have Playbill binders for really special ones - opening night, Spider-Man with Natalie Mendoza, Spider-Man without Natalie Mendoza, and I have a space set aside for Spider-Man version 2.0.  I then have each Playbill saved in those special plastic bags and cardboard that comics collectors keep their books in, and in turn those are saved in special cases designed just for that.  Those I have arranged in order of having seen the shows.  The other 15% of you, don't play the "environmental impact" card.  You know you are the people who leave them on the aisles for the rest of us to slip on as we leave the theatre looking for the merch booth!

(NOTE: My apologies for spilling my "merch guts"... I told you, I need an intervention!)

Poll #2: What format(s) are your Original Cast Recordings in?
(A logical follow up to question #1, I thought.)

0% - TIE - 8-Track Tapes and Reel-to-Reel
Tim J. of Potomac, MD wrote, "What is a reel-to-reel?"  Enough said.

33% - Cassettes
I gave most of mine away as my CD collection grew.  I still have The Tap Dance Kid, Starlight Express(the London Cast Recording AND the Concept Recording), and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

34% - Records (Vinyl)
I still have every one of mine.  And you know, I still miss the sheer size of them.  When you bought one you knew you had something.  And I especially miss the big color pictures, the longer liner notes, and the excitement of pulling out the sleeve and finding the lyrics printed on it.  The two best vinyls I have are Evita and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  Both are bi-fold (!) and both have all of the lyrics and plot synopsis - crucial to both shows.  Evita's is a booklet!!!

53% - MP3/iTunes
I suppose that when I final break and buy an iPod, I'll join the ranks.  And yes, it is cheaper, and yes, it is environmentally responsible, but damn it, I like to have something to hold when I buy it!


93% - CDs
Is almost 300 Broadway Cast Recordings a lot?  I have a lot of them.  When Anything Goes comes out, it will be the first one in my new CD book.  (The, A and An don't count as the first word of a title when alphabetizing - unless you are The New York Times)

Poll #3:  Where do you buy the majority of your theatre-related memorabilia?
(Thanks to all of you, and there were MANY, who complained that you couldn't pick more than one.  Yes, I know, Amazon can't be beat for cast recordings, while the theatre itself is cheapest for general merch.  And poor Lon, from Brighton, UK who lamented that, "I have to buy all of my Broadway items from online stores that charge far too much to send things across the pond!")  I let you all pick ONE so you'd have to tell where your MAJORITY comes from!


18.2% - TIE - Other Online Stores (Amazon.com, Overstock.com, etc.) and Online Broadway Stores (BroadwayNewYork.com, etc.)
I buy most of my OBCRs from Amazon myself.  And thanks to BackwoodsBarbie, from Springfield, MA, who reminded me that most show websites also have their own dedicated show "shops" online.


27.3% - Broadway Gift Shops
I also buy a lot here, too.  Mostly posters and programs for shows I've seen but didn't have them when I saw them.  And they pack the posters so nicely for just $1.00!  Plus, these are the only places that sell those marquee cards I also collect (HELP ME PLEASE...).  And what trip to the theatre district would be complete without checking out all three of them?

36.3% - At the Theatre
I couldn't agree more with Trina from New York, NY (loved you in Falsettos, by the way) who wrote, "I don't know about you, but I think it feels more authentic when you buy it right at the theatre!"  And I agree, too, with Marla from Bayonne, NJ who wrote, "I especially love the shows that have small stores set up, like Spider-Man and Wicked.  It's like real shopping, and theatre and shopping are my two favorite things!"

And there you have it theatre fans!  Until next month...  um... hope to see you back here tomorrow!


Have an idea for a poll?  Email me at jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com or Tweet me!
Jeff
2.12

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Masterpiece Theatre: Broadway Bares 2011 & More Bares News

WARNING: NOT WORK SAFE!

BROADWAY BARES XXI: MASTERPIECE

Every year, I look forward to the unveiling of the new Broadway Bares theme and campaign, and this year, for the first time, I was disappointed.  On paper, the theme, Broadway Bares XXI: Masterpiece sounds like a great idea.  After all, the bodies on display each year really are sculpted pieces of statuesque art all by themselves.  And, just like every year, the title is chock full of double entendre possibilities.  Instead, the posters, by SpotCo and brilliant photographer Andrew Eccles, come off as surprisingly literal.  The three posters represent spins on famous works of art: Roy Lichtenstein’s “Girl With a Beach Ball”,  Michaelangelo’s David; and Matisse’s version of Icarus.  I suppose that the adoring crowds staring at the "art" with what appear to be bidding paddles over the "private" parts is supposed to be titillating.  Instead, it comes off kind of stiff (and not in the way Broadway Bares normally conjures up that term).  After all, since these representations are so close to, and so carefully recreating of the originals, what is so "naughty"?  No one ever covers the genitals on the David, or puts a censored sign over the breasts of a woman in a painting.  Is the sign, therefore, supposed to make us think something naughty?  I kinda giggled when I saw them.



To be completely fair, though, they are, as always well done posters, with obviously a lot of work and time (all donated) put into them.  And maybe a few more places would be inclined to display them.  So, in that respect, the posters are a success.


Then, too, are the fun and very sexy "rotators" - pictures that match this year's theme that serve as background to the pages at broadwaybares.com.  Each and every one a lovely "rendering" in a golden frame.  (One might wonder if Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark would be a huge(r) success if Spidey stunt man/ensemble member Brandon Rubendall (above) flew around the Foxwoods in a gold frame ONLY!)






BROADWAY BARES: SOLO STRIPS: SPRING FEVER

And in even more Broadway Bares news... this Sunday at Splash Bar is another edition of Broadway Bares: Solo Strips, called Spring Fever.   This version features Dave August, (Naked Boys Singing!), Tony Guerrero (Broadway Bares 19 and 20), Tyrone Jackson (Baby It's You!), Andy Mills (Memphis), Brandon Rubendall (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), Kellen Stancil (The Lion King), Charlie Sutton (Catch Me If You Can), Rickey Tripp (In the Heights) and Matthew Skrincosky (Broadway Bares 16 - 20).  The cover charge is only $10!  Show times are 8 and 10 PM. 


BARED: BROADWAY BARES' DVD DOCUMENTARY

Finally, you have only until Friday to donate to Bared the documentary film about the 20 seasons of Broadway Bares.  The documentary itself will become a fundraiser for the "mothership of Broadway charities," Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and its associated charities including the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative and others.  Click on the link below to see the video and to make your donation.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2022328922/bared

For more information, tickets and to donate to BC/EFA and Broadway Bares, go to:

http://www.broadwaycares.org/ and/or http://www.broadwaybares.com/

(Photos from Broadway Bares.com, by Andrew Eccles.)

Comments?  Leave one here, email me at jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com or Tweet me!
Jeff
2.211

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

REVIEW: Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Review of the March 26 matinee performance. At the Palace Theatre on Broadway, New York City. 2 hours, 30 minutes, with an intermission. Starring Will Swenson, Tony Sheldon, Nick Adams, C. David Johnson, J. Elaine Marcos, Esther Stilwell, Luke Mannikus, Jacqueline B. Arnold, Anastacia McCleskey and Ellyn Marie Marsh. Book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott.  Production Supervised by Jerry Mitchell. Choreography by Ross Coleman and direction by Simon Phillips.

Grade: A

I went into Priscilla Queen of the Desert with the highest of hopes that it would be a non-stop thrill ride of color, spectacular sets, costumes and exciting dancing.  About 2 minutes into I began to get that sinking feeling that this was not going to be the great musical good time of the season.  Don't get me wrong.  I knew enough to hope this would be Mamma Mia style good times, not next to normal, and not even somewhere in between, like say, Billy Elliot.  You see, the problem with Priscilla is that if the scale of intensity was a low of 1 and a high of 10, it starts out at about a 12 and goes higher from there.  What's wrong with that, you ask?  Well, when you start out that high, it gets nearly impossible to build upon, and quite frankly, it is exhausting.

Another problem is that with so much going on - between director Simon Phillips' frantic staging and Ross Coleman's equally frenzied choreography - including a lot of props and costume changes as part of the dance - you miss some of the central action.  About the only reason Will Swenson's entrance is even noticed - he walks into the dance number of all things - is because he is dressed in a non-rainbow color, and because he gets in the way.  If you listen closely, you hear snippets of dialogue (during the song and dance) along the lines of "you're late, you washed up old drag queen," etc.  The pretty boys aren't shoving him out of the way because he's walking through their number.  They are man-handling him (get it?) because they really don't like him.  His act is stale - think Marilyn Monroe meets Avenue Q - and he really needs to get the hell out of Sydney (Australia, mate).  You kind of get that they're from Down Under from Swenson's accent, but the supporting cast up to this point is more uneven with their speech patterns, and I'm thinking I'm back at La Cage aux Folles with a bigger budget.  In the midst of the noise, Will, um, I mean Tick makes a phone call to a friend to bemoan his lot in life, only to discover that the friend, a transgendered woman named Bernadette (Tony Sheldon) is worse off.  Seems her lover, Trumpet (I will not even try to explain the reason for this name; it is tasteless and unfunny) has died and she is about to attend his funeral.  Of course, this is the world of drag queens, so the occasion calls for a huge production number to "Don't Leave Me This Way."  Drag queens in mourning are both wildly funny and shockingly disturbing, and cheap sight gags involving the humping of a casket and ass-less chaps and black umbrellas are the icing on this overbaked cake.  It was right around here that I really almost checked out, arms folded and eyes a-rolling.

The Finale

But then the actual story got going, including the entrance of Adam/Felicia, aka Nick Adams, whose bright eyes, wide smile (and amazing body) are all eclipsed by his youthful abandon, absurd cattiness and infuriating naivete that includes an impetuous lack of consideration for others' feelings.  He comes on like a hurricane of Skittles, and we are instantly smitten.  And all of a sudden there's Tick/Mitzi (Will Swenson) alive and alert and a tower of female strength, Bernadette (Tony Sheldon).  And all of a sudden there are three characters to care about, a thin storyline that holds the show together with heart, and gigantic set piece, a bus, named Priscilla.  And then, out of the blue, one fantasy sequence after another gets funnier and funnier, more clever than the last, and each more cleverly staged.  I am now in love with all three, and am practically wriggling in my seat with anticipation as to what will happen next (even though you already know it will end in a predictably pat ending, you don't care, I didn't anyway, because it is the journey here that is interesting).

Some two dozen hits from the 60's through the 90's, ranging from Bacharach and David (please no more musicals with "I Say a Little Prayer" after this season, OK?) to Madonna to M (remember that techno-ditty "Pop Muzic"?  After you see this show, I guarantee you will never forget it) to Donna Summer (just thinking of the song "Hot Stuff" now riles me up in anger), and a dazzling production number based on the lyrics to "MacArthur Park."  Believe it or not, this may just be the pinnacle of jukebox musicals.  The variety of sources make it more surprising and with more possibility than the limits of using one group's song catalogue.  And not once - even when it seems like it comes out of nowhere like "MacArthur Park" - does a song feel shoehorned in.  You never groan at a song choice for its obviousness, and they have chosen some real doozies.  Part of this might have to do with how some songs are rearranged (orchestrations by Stephen "Spud" Murphy and Charlie Hill).  They are not always like you hear them on the radio, and take on a life of their own in the context of the show - witness "I Love the Night Life" as a torch song/country ballad, or "We Belong" as an anthem of acceptance.

After those first several off-putting minutes, Simon Phillips' staging becomes more thoughtful and creative, which is no small feat considering that much has to do with being confined to a bus, and finding realistic reasons to get on and off of it.  To his credit, Phillips really knows how to counterpoint all of the fabulousness with quiet, meaningful moments - there were four times during the show where I wiped away tears and twice where my stomach was in angry knots.  And more to his credit, he gets us to feel deeply, then moves us right back into party mode.  Clearly, his objective is to entertain, make us feel, and then entertain us some more.  Similarly, Ross Coleman's choreography (supervised by Jerry Mitchell, following Mr. Coleman's untimely passing) is frenetic much of the time - in fact, it comes across as rather busy, fussy and repetitive, not unlike the dance moves at any number of gay clubs in big cities - and actually kind of dull by the 5th production number in a row.  But then, he pulls out something small, slower paced and elegant, and you find yourself loving the dancing all over again.

The Divas (top); Mitzi, Bernadette and Felicia (center);
James Brown III and Bob - C. David Johnson (front, center)

And all of this is wrapped up in a non-stop, moving set, designed by Brian Thompson. The bus spins (a lot), the floor moves, there are more sparkly curtains here than in all of Liberace's mansion, and everything that isn't nailed down is hot pink.  Is there such a thing as "too gay"?  Thompson's set, Nick Schlieper's equally busy, but surprisingly unimaginative lighting, and Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner's brilliant, funny and endlessly inventive costume designs (they won an Oscar for their work on the film version) would all point to "yes, there is such a thing as 'too gay'", if it weren't for the fact that they are so damned fun to look at.  The signature flip flop dress is here, and there are some crazy spandex outfits topped with topiary style headdresses and bottomed with bizarre square bouncy feet.  And some very special kudos must go to Cassie Hanlon's make up design, which includes peel on/peel off make up "masks," so that in seconds Tick and Adam can turn into Mitzi and Felicia right before our eyes.

Felicia and Priscilla

To be honest, the spectacle a lot of times obliterates the story and the characters, but the whole thing is so much fun you hardly notice.  There are the three "divas" who descend from the heavens to sing, diva-like, naturally.  Sometimes they (Jacqueline B. Arnold, Anastacia McCleskey and Ellyn Marie Marsh) sing as commentary to the action, sometimes they provide the singing voices for the lip-syncing drag queens, and other times they just add to the fun.  Aside from their singing, they provide no discernible aid to the plot, are never explained or, for that matter, addressed by the cast (save for a duet of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" - go figure - between the Divas and Adam).  Some nice one scene characters add some depth to the book scenes, including Nathan Lee Graham as Miss Understanding, a drag queen hostess/Tina Turner impersonator, James Brown III as a faux aboriginal tour guide, and Steve Schepis as Young Bernadette, who is all glamour and style and proving why old school is sometimes the better education.  And the scene stealer of the year has to be J. Elaine Marcos who plays the mail order bride of a bus mechanic.  She is the one who does a number to the song "Pop Muzic" and nearly stops the show.  She does a "trick" with ping pong balls that cannot be described here without my locking the review from the view of anyone under 18.  It is HILARIOUS.

Luke Mannikus and Jessica Phillips

Much of the emotional ground work comes from Esther Stilwell (in for Keala Settle) as mullet wearing, bar owner and down on her luck in love, Shirley, who milks every possible laugh and a nice dose of empathy from "I Love the Nightlife (I Love to Boogie)," and Jessica Phillips as Marion, Tick's wife and the mother of their child, who Tick has never met.  She plays the role with such sincerity that you honestly believe that she accepts her husband's gay life and has really raised their son without prejudice. (And I say "believe"because her sincerity is played so for real.)  But the real tug-at-your-heart stuff comes from the utterly adorable and charming Luke Mannikus who you'd swear was really from Australia, so superb is his accent.  His duet with Swenson - clearly as smitten with the kid as the audience is - will bring even the coldest-hearted to tears.  Best of all, the boy is as genuine as they come; there is not a trace of "cute kid actor" in him.  Perhaps the most interesting character, though is the bus mechanic, Bob, played with warmth and manly sweetness by C. David Johnson.  He is drawn to Bernadette because of a fond memory from the past, and is smitten enough with her to join the bus trip and leave his annoying wife behind.  Does he know Bernadette is transgendered?  Does he he know that when he first fell for her years ago, she was really a man?  And do they really end up together?  It is nice that the show brings it up and leaves that for the audience to answer.


Finally, and of course, it goes without saying, that if we don't give a hang about the three main characters, Tick/Mitzi (Swenson), Adam/Felicia (Adams) and Bernadette (Sheldon), Priscilla would be a pointless, overblown drag show.  Nick Adams certainly has ascended to the ranks of leading man quickly, and this role suits him perfectly.  His impossibly muscular body, including a much featured bare rear end, is stunning to look at, and yet still manages to look totally femme in his drag costumes (this was NOT the case when he was in La Cage).  He can sing like a bird, and is a fantastic dancer.  I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by his acting - he displays quite a range.  My fear is that, as he gets used to it and after a few months of adding little bits, though, he might go too far, and that will ruin it.  He is great as is.  (I have that exact fear for the entire show.)  Will Swenson has the most accessible role, with the most obvious range of emotions.  It is fun to watch him let himself go and enjoy his big drag numbers - he's a great dancer.  And it is really nice to see him work through his character's biggest fears: that he won't be able to keep his friends together, and worst of all, that his son, once they meet, will want nothing to do with him.  It is the brief glimpses of this man that makes Swenson's performance so terrific, so real.  And then there is Tony Sheldon, who has played Bernadette in every production of this show since its inception.  You would never know he's played the role over 1,000 times.  It is as fresh and new feeling as his co-stars' roles.  Mr. Sheldon wears Bernadette like a lovely flowing dress.  He is, for all intents and purposes, a woman.  Not a man playing a woman, not even a man playing a transgendered person.  If it weren't for a couple of cheesy laughs he's been directed to get by lowering his voice, you would completely believe that Bernadette is a woman now.  But besides believability, Mr. Sheldon also brings to the role a depth of feeling, nuance and charisma that draws you naturally to this woman whose life has been hard fought and beautifully won.

Will Swenson, Tony Sheldon and Nick Adams

As piled on as the spectacle is, ultimately Priscilla works because of its quieter moments.  Not bad for a show whose main characters are inherently larger than life and a bus.  I guess that's what really struck me about the show.  The bus is amazing.  The costumes are amazing.  And all 20 production numbers are amazing.  And yet, I left the show wanting to spend just a little more time with Priscilla and her family.  How many times can you say that about a show that you started out not liking that much?

(Photos by Joan Marcus) 

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Comments?  Leave one here, email me at jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com or Tweet me!
Jeff
2.210

Monday, March 28, 2011

REVIEW: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Review of the March 19 matinee preview performance. At the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway, New York City. 2 hours, 40 minutes, with an intermission. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, John Larroquette, Rose Hemingway, Tammy Blanchard, Christopher J. Hanke, Rob Bartlett, Mary Faber, Ellen Harvey and Michael Park. Choreography and direction by Rob Ashford.

Grade: A+

The 50th anniversary revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying lovingly embraces its old-fashioned-ness like a new A-line dress or three-button suit. It would be really easy to compare this to last season’s Promises, Promises – both share an early sixties look at American Big Business, romance in the workplace and a director/choreographer in Rob Ashford. How to Succeed could very easily have become Promises, Promises II. But leave it to the frequently underrated Ashford to breathe new and completely original life into this somewhat quainter, less edgy show by pretty much leaving it alone.

What can you say to scorn the masterful book by the late great Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willy Gilbert or the sharp, witty and tuneful score by Frank Loesser without imposing modern Broadway thinking on it? Sure, you could say that there is some fat to be trimmed – a reprise or two could go, or maybe dump the whole Pirate Dance business. And you might say that, without a big splashy act two opener, the second act takes awhile to get going. But the truth is, there-in lies the charm of the show. Sure you could make those cuts, but you’d also lose much insight into the main characters – the reprises all act like internal monologues one might expect in a Sondheim show, minus the really ugly darkness, and by letting us SEE the disaster of the whole treasure hunt sequence, the payoff that effects every single character up to the rousing finale is all the richer. And so Ashford gives it all to us – overture, entr’acte and exit music – without apology. And besides, if you can sit through three plus hours of death and “miserables,” surely you can sit still for a half hour less of good old American backstabbing, trickery and ass-kissing fun, right?

True, in an era of Ponzi schemes, bank defaults and an economy that is stalling, the show has considerably less bite than it might have 50 years ago. But make no mistake, the same ass-kissing, ladder climbing world of who you know getting you farther than what you know is still firmly in place. The biggest difference between now and then is that sexual harassment works both ways, what with the advent of the male assistant and the female executive. But the show is still vibrant and relevant. Of course, it really helps that Ashford gives the entire piece a sense of urgency and smoothly fitting interlocking pieces. Basically, his staging is a visual for how many American companies run, from mass production of “wickets” to the advertising that convinces us we need "wickets" in all kinds of varieties, to the equally machine-like quality of life at the executive building in New York City. Each employee is a wicket of sorts, selling wickets and generating ways to sell even more wickets. How does Mr. Ashford do this? Through his collaboration with the creative team and the marvelously complicated simplicity of his thrilling staging.

"Coffee Break": Christopher J. Hanke and
Mary Faber (center) fight over the last cup

Everyone on the creative team is clearly on the same page – so nice for a change, lately. Derek McLean’s silver monoliths of sixties-sleek high-rise design both dwarf and shelter the worker bees of the World Wide Wicket Company, with its honeycomb shape and interlocking look. Even the scenery moves – albeit faster – with that old sixties style: set pieces slide in and out on small trucks, and large set pieces descend from the flies and wings. Nothing too flashy like computerized projections, and we are not bombarded with visual clutter. Howell Binkley has used a similarly conventional lighting design, with pin spots lighting those small honeycombs, and by lighting the set with different colors that suit both the mood and the location changes throughout the “building.” The stage setting really only shifts back and forth, in and out, though it gives off a more complex air, but McLean and Binkley make it simple to understand where we are at all times. And the subtlety of Catherine Zuber’s costume design is a fun nod to the hierarchy of “the company,” too. You have to love that all of the executives wear the same suits and ties, interchangeable clones such as they are. Only those who are actually climbing to the top or are at the top get any variation to that suit and tie. The best is the nod to the fact that the secretaries not only run the company, but they do so as individuals. Each secretary is adorned in bright colors and in a variety of business appropriate dresses and accessories. As it should be, all of the design elements serve to accent, but not overwhelm, the action of the story or take away from the sharply drawn characters. That is left to the aforementioned thrilling staging.

The entire show is stuffed with superb dance sequences, but three really stand out. There has already been much press and social networking about “The Brotherhood of Man” and it is certainly well-deserved. It is sharp, eye-pleasing, and clearly difficult to execute, which the company does with breathtaking intensity and precision. To be honest, I really wanted to stand up when it was over; it was THAT good. The second number which stands out for me is the title song, which opens the show and sets a very high bar for the rest of the evening. It is an intricate set of athletic, yet mechanical moves, as slyly repetitious as it is varied. It also looks like it is as much fun to do every night as the rest of the show does. And finally, there is perhaps the most complex number of the show, “The Company Way,” a tribute to toeing the company line. You’d have to go back to early Susan Stroman to find such a complicated fusion of dance moves, the use of a variety of props, and the reliance of movements of each dancer that are often completed blindly – they often can’t even see each other, and still don’t drop a piece of mail or miss a step. It is wonderful, too, that the audience recognized the feat they just witnessed by rewarding it with a cheering, extended ovation.

Daniel Radcliffe and Rob Bartlett (center)
and the mailroom boys play it"The Company Way"

Mr. Ashford’s dances are, in fact, a microcosm of the entire production. Every actor in the show has a character name, and each has created a complete character, even the ensemble members relegated to the background. They are just as great as the above-the-title actors; you could move the background to the foreground and still see a stage full of characters with story lines. And just like the big business that the show satirizes, each “company man and woman” is a small cog that keeps the big wheel turning. In short, everything about the way this revival is put together serves each element separately and as a whole.

One of the great pleasures of being able to see Broadway shows frequently is that you get to recognize a lot of the gypsies, who go from show to show, season after season. How to Succeed is no exception, and in an ensemble that is 100% stand-out quality, five of my favorite dancers are up there, often in featured spots: Charlie Williams, Megan Sikora, Cameron Adams, Ryan Watkinson and Marty Lawson. This revival scores on every level because of such deft staging, almost unequalled detail and a uniformly well cast company of triple-threats. If it weren’t for a lack of lines or stage time, one could certainly argue for a single company bow. That is just how amazing these people are.

Some semblance of fanfare was given to the casting of Anderson Cooper of CNN fame as the Narrator. Certainly a fun nod to the “journalism” of Shepard Mead’s book from which Cooper narrates. His straight forward, analytical sounding delivery is perfect for the satire of the piece, and he gets several laughs throughout the evening.

If you know anything of big business, you know that it is the secretaries that really are the backbone of the company. That is certainly the case here, with Ellen Harvey as Miss Jones, career steno-gal who has climbed her way to the top as Executive Secretary to the big cheese at WWW. Harvey’s hang dog, goofily serious countenance generates enough giggles, but her brusque delivery and subsequent softening make her a crowd-pleaser. (Her solo in “Brotherhood” dazzles with its extreme range.) And there is Mary Faber as the been-there-seen-it-all secretary, Smitty, who knows she’s almost to the point where she needs to get out with a husband or end up another Miss Jones. Considering the range of Ms. Faber’s career thus far (she just left American Idiot of all things), it should come as no surprise that this wise-cracking but lovable character is well within her abilities. It is especially nice to see her use her considerable comic chops in every scene she’s in. Considering how much direct time she spends with the two leads in the show, it says something that she still makes such a strong impression. “It’s Been a Long Day,” a trio for Smitty, Finch and Rosemary, is a perfect example of Faber’s dazzling presence.

"It's Been a Long Day": Rose Hemingway,
Mary Faber and Daniel Radcliffe

Michael Park, late of As the World Turns, reminds us that he is also a song and dance man in his hilarious turn as Bratt, head of personnel. In other versions of this show, I’ve seen the character played with broad, lascivious strokes. But Mr. Park takes a more subtle, and ultimately, more realistic approach to the role. Even as he admonishes the young executives to remember that “A Secretary is Not a Toy,” one can see that he is speaking from experience, and the only thing that keeps him out of that dog house is the constant reminder that he, like everyone else, is hanging on to that ladder of success by the merest thread. And so, as he blusters, huffs and puffs, and glad hands his way to the top, we see a Bratt who is still on the climb. Rob Bartlett, on the other hand, gets to use his subtle ways to show us a man on the rise and a man on top – he plays the dual roles of Mr. Twimble and Chairman of the Board Wally Womper. Audiences familiar with Bartlett’s long association with Chicago as Amos will recognize the woebegone, sad-eyed look that he uses to great comedic advantage in the mailroom scene, and he more than holds his own in the complicated “Company Way” number. And, even more a “type” as Womper, a self-made man, Bartlett pulls out all the stops, milking every last giggle out of his brief act two appearance.

Ponty and Hedy spend an uncomfortable
moment on the Excecutive Couch.

Every company has its ass-kissing pain in the neck and its much-gossiped-about tart; so, too, does the World Wide Wicket Company, with Bud Frump and Hedy La Rue, respectively, played by two of my favorite actors, Christopher J. Hanke and Tammy Blanchard. They also go with a more realistic, less cartoonish approach to their characters, letting their actions speak for themselves. In other productions I’ve seen, both characters tend to be overplayed stereotypes, which get really old, really fast. By taking the less is more approach, both actors allow the audience to get on their side, even as both have a great stake in ruining the fortunes of our romantic leads. Don’t get me wrong, every time Bud Frump gets taken down a peg, you are happy, but you are also looking forward to what he has up his sleeve next. A lot of that is owing to Mr. Hanke’s considerable and natural boyish charm. It is hard to outright hate a guy just for knowing what buttons to push. Likewise, Ms. Blanchard hits all the obvious notes as the dumb office bimbo (as mandated by the script and tradition), but she does so with a sort wink-wink “surely you know I’m not THAT dumb” delivery, and with genuine heart, too. You root for her from the minute she takes the stage.


TOP: Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette
BOTTOM: "Grand Old Ivy"

Considering the length and breadth of his acting career, it is somewhat astonishing to think that this is John Larroquette’s Broadway debut! I am pleased to report that his comic timing, slow burn and naughty but nice delivery, so great on Night Court and other projects, are as sharp and excellent as ever here. Very few actors have the sharp retort/slow burn combo down like this guy, and he knows how to get a laugh to be sure. But can he carry a Broadway musical? Absolutely! OK, so he’s more Rex Harrison than John Raitt in the singing department, but he can carry a tune without putting the audience on edge, and does so fully within the confines of his well-rounded, fully-developed character. Can he dance? You betcha. He blends in perfectly with the rest of the cast when he needs to, and the man has a gift for sight gags and physical comedy, too. This is most in evidence in the side-splittingly funny, and surprisingly large production number “Grand Old Ivy.” I’ve never seen this number done so BIG before, and with Mr. Larroquette front and center throughout, it becomes another jewel in a whole crown full of them. The audience went nuts at the end of this one, like I’ve never seen before.

Rose Hemingway as
Rosemary Pilkington

Every once in a rare while, you have the great fortune of witnessing a newcomer’s ascendance to the top of the heap. In Rose Hemingway, a Broadway star is born. This impossibly adorable young woman charms with her smile, draws you in with her lovely, heartfelt voice, and her magnetic charm and smooth sophistication sneak up on you and hold you in her grip. I’m telling you, each and every time she is on stage, she is the one you want to watch. What a voice! What a smart delivery! Her rendition of “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” is no anti-feminist manifesto. No, it is crystal clear that she can match Finch trick for trick, machination for machination. His goal may be the board room, but hers is the freedom to run a household, a family and a prize catch of a husband. In her care, it is clear that becoming a suburban housewife is not a step back for the women’s movement, but a definite choice of career. And that she plays off everyone around her so well speaks volumes for her natural and considerable talents. How many people get the opportunity to debut on Broadway with such heavy hitters in every scene? You’d never know she was a “newbie” if you didn’t read it in the Playbill. Keep her name in mind, she is going far. Trust me.

Daniel Radcliffe as J. Pierrepont Finch

Of course, the marquee draw here is one Daniel Radcliffe, worldwide movie superstar and all around good guy, here playing the anti-hero, a guy who we shouldn’t like, but we can’t help but love, anyway. He is also the youngest to play the role on Broadway, and this works especially well in a modern world where 20-somethings invent Facebook, clawing to the top without apology and a giant measure of ego. J. Pierrepont Finch is an opportunistic, often lucky and always in the right place at the right time kind of guy. We all know people like this – life seems so easy for these jerks, right? In Mr. Radcliffe’s take on the role, we can see a guy who is working hard at getting to the top; it seems that just his own impatience is what is keeping him from doing it the old-fashioned way, and who can’t relate to that? His boyish good looks, winning smile, and coy asides to the audience ingratiate the character to the audience, because, let’s face it, we are already smitten with the actor who has grown up before our eyes. Still, starring in effects-laden blockbuster films isn’t quite the same as live, every night in front of an audience Broadway performing. His turn awhile back in Equus proved that he was more than his famous film role, and is, in fact, a daring, risk-taking actor, and the next logical step would be a musical. And here he is. Can he handle the lead in a Broadway musical? In this role, absolutely! I mean, don’t look for him in RENT or a revival of Miss Saigon, but his singing voice is suited to this “actory” role just fine. A little thin in the upper notes, and perhaps still a bit nervous to sing in front of screaming fans, he doesn’t have much belting power, but he can carry a tune confidently, and is such a great actor that he makes any vocal shortcomings seem more like acting choices. (Apparently he saw Alice Ripley in later performances of next to normal.) And let’s just put it out there: the boy can dance! He is truly a good dancer, not just holding his own, but leading “The Brotherhood of Man.” And he is FUNNY - the make your sides hurt kind of funny. He all but stomps all over Mr. Larroquette in “Grand Old Ivy,” one of those numbers you know both actors look forward to every night. And Mr. Radcliffe also has the magical “it” factor; the ability to give and take, and to have a connection with every scene partner he has. His charisma is particularly noticeable every time he and Miss Hemingway have a scene. I can’t remember rooting for a couple as much as these two in years.

This revival is going to be hard to beat this season. It really succeeds in every way, and is one show you really should not miss.

(Production photos by Ari Mintz)

Full disclosure statement:  I received press comps for this show, with the objective of writing a review of the production.  It was very clear, for both myself and the production company, at all times, that I was under no obligation to write a positive review.  The above opinions are mine alone.
 
Comments? Leave one here, email me at jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com, or Tweet me.
Jeff
2.209

Sunday, March 27, 2011

TheatreScene: March 21 - 27

DON'T FORGET TO VOTE IN THE FINAL POLL OF THE MONTH! (JUST TO THE RIGHT!)
LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?  BECOME A "FOLLOWER"!
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED THIS WEEK:

DON'T MISS THIS WEEK'S BROADWAY VIDEO OF THE WEEK - IT'S FOR A GREAT CAUSE!  (IT'S ALL THE WAY AT THE BOTTOM!)

SPECIAL DISCOUNT CODE FOR HOW TO SUCCEED!: (Just click for details!)
http://howtosucceedbroadway.com/HSFAN105.php

TOPS AND BOTTOMS (March 14 - 20)
  • Top Gross: Wicked ($1.67M)
  • Top Attendance: The Book of Mormon (101.8% - 7 previews)
  • Bottom Gross: Lombardi ($263K)
  • Bottom Attendance: La Cage aux Folles (62.5%)
  • $1M Club: Mary Poppins, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, The Lion King, Wicked
  • SRO Club: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, The Lion King, The Book of Mormon, Wicked
BROADWAY BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK:
  • March 21: Actor Matthew Broderick (1995 - How to Succeed…, Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Producers)
  • March 22: Composer Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story, Gypsy, Passion)
  • March 23: Actor Hope Davis (God of Carnage)
  • March 24: Actor Jim Parsons (The Normal Heart, TV’s Big Bang Theory)
  • March 25: Actor Lee Pace (The Normal Heart, TV’s Pushing Daisies)
  • March 26: Actor Jennifer Grey (The Twilight of the Golds)
  • March 27: Actor Quentin Tarantino (Wait Until Dark)

IN MEMORIAM:


  • Helen Stenborg, actress, passed away at the age of 85 on March 22. Her Broadway career spanned 5 decades. Her most recent appearance was in the 2002 revival of The Crucible, in which she played Rebecca Nurse. She is pre-deceased by her husband, Tony winner Barnard Hughes.
  • Elizabeth Taylor, actress, passed away at the age of 79 on March 23. On Broadway, this screen legend starred in revivals of The Little Foxes and Private Lives. She also co-produced a revival of The Corn is Green. The lights of Broadway were dimmed in her honor on March 25.
  • Lanford Wilson, playwright, passed away at the age of 73 on March 24. Among his many plays, he was most famous for The Hot L Baltimore and the Talley Trilogy, which includes Fifth of July and Talley’s Folly, 2 of the most produced plays in the late 20th century. He also wrote the Broadway play Burn This.

BROADWAY IN PREVIEWS AND OPENING THIS WEEK:


  • Anything Goes: Previews – March 10; Opening - April 7
  • Baby It’s You!: Previews - March 26; Opening - April 27
  • Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo: Previews – March 11; Opening - March 31
  • Catch Me If You Can: Previews – March 11; Opening - April 10
  • High: Previews - March 25; Opening - April 19
  • The Motherfucker with the Hat: Previews - March 15; Opening - April 11
  • Sister Act: Previews - March 24; Opening - April 20
  • Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark: Previews - November 28, 2010; Opening – June 14
  • War Horse: Previews - March 17; Opening - April 14
  • Wonderland: Previews - March 21; Opening - April 17

COMINGS AND GOINGS:

Casting:
  • Roger Rees has joined The Addams Family as Gomez Addams.
  • Richard H. Blake will replace Kyle Dean Massey as Fiyero in Wicked.
  • Victoria Matlock, Erik Hayden and Jared Mason have joined the cast of Million Dollar Quartet.
  • The Geek Chorus has been axed from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. They will not return when the show re-starts in May, but will continue until the hiatus starts in mid-April.
  • Chase Brock has joined the creative team as the choreographer for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

Shows:
  • Good news for 5 New York shows! Ghetto Klown (through 7/10), Good People (through 5/29), Dreams of the Burning Boy (through 5/15), Peter and the Starcatchers (through 4//24) and Hello, Again (through 4/10) have all been extended past their original limited runs! See what a good review or two can do?
  • March 24th saw the re-start of Rock of Ages, now at the Helen Hayes Theatre.

Milestones:
  • On March 21, Michael Cusumano aka Mr. Chicago, was named Mr. Broadway at the 5th Annual Broadway Beauty Pageant.  The pageant benefits the Ali Forney Center in New York City.
  • On March 25, Chicago became the 5th longest running show in Broadway history with its 5,960th performance. Only A Chorus Line, Les Miserables, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera have run longer.

BROADWAY HISTORY: WHAT OPENED THIS WEEK IN THE PAST:
  • March 21: Both The Wizard of Oz and Toto opened on this date; the former in 1904, that latter in 1921.
  • March 22: The Tony winning Best Play of 2009, God of Carnage, opened on this date.
  • Ghetto Klown opened March 22, 2011.
  • March 23: The 1995 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying opened on this date.
  • March 24: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opened in 1955. It played 694 performances at the Morosco Theatre. It lost every Tony it was up for, but it did with the Pulitzer Prize.
  • The Book of Mormon opened March 24, 2011.


  • March 25: Come Fly Away opened at the Marquis Theatre in 2010. The Las Vegas production of this Twyla Tharp piece is a big hit, and the National Tour starts soon.
  • March 26: Funny Girl opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1964. It played 1,348 performances.
  • March 27: Dancin’ opened at the Broadhurst Theatre in 1978, Brighton Beach Memoirs opened at the Alvin Theatre in 1983, and Gypsy opened at the St. James Theatre in 2008.
  • How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying opened March 27, 2011.

BROADWAY VIDEO OF THE WEEK:

Broadway Bares, the annual striptease burlesque show put on by the hottest dancers in the world - Broadway gypsies - is about to launch its 21st season of sexy fundraising, with Broadway Bares XXI: Masterpiece, Broadway Bares Solo Strips: Spring Break, and, with your help, the completion of a film documentary that chronicles  all of the first twenty editions of the show.  That documentary, compiled by Broadway Bares regular (and Mr. Broadway on this very site) Daniel Robinson and others, is in need of some final financing to be completed.  Once that is done, and the dvd is complete, all proceeds will go to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and its associated charities.  At the time of this writing, about 2/3 of the funds had been raised.  Let's see what we can do to help this worthwhile cause by April 1st - that's LESS than a week from now!  Even a dollar will help.  Donate more and earn a gift!


 If there is no video above, please click on this link to watch video and to contribute:

Comments?  Leave one here or email me at jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com or Tweet me!
Jeff 
2.208
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