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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, April 30, 2012

The 2012 Tony Award Nominations: Predictions

This time tomorrow, all the speculation will be over.  We will know which shows will be honored and which will be left out completely.  There will be the "of course they weres," the "isn't that a nice surprises," the "are they kiddings," and the "how could they have been left outs."  Then the dust will settle, the Tony nominations will be what they are, and speculation will begin anew.  Who will win?

Until then, my companion for every new musical and new musical revival this season, Mike, and I have independently made lists predicting who should be nominated for a Tony Award and who will be nominated for a Tony Award.  While we have seen some new plays this season, neither of us felt that we saw enough to make any predictions.

It's funny how much we agreed and how much we disagreed.  Actually, we were pretty even overall, when you add up the numbers per show.  The difference, they say, is in the details.

How does your list compare?  Who do you agree with more?  Let us know by leaving a comment or emailing!


THE MUSICAL CATEGORIES

Jeff - Should
Jeff - Will
Mike - Should
Mike - Will
BEST 
MUSICAL
BEST 
MUSICAL
BEST 
MUSICAL
BEST 
MUSICAL
Bonnie and Clyde
Newsies
Lysistrata Jones
Once
Bonnie and Clyde
Newsies
Nice Work...
Once
Ghost 
Newsies
Lysistrata Jones
Once
Bonnie and Clyde
Newsies
Nice Work...
Once




MUSICAL 
REVIVAL
MUSICAL 
REVIVAL
MUSICAL
REVIVAL
MUSICAL
REVIVAL
Evita
Follies
Porgy and Bess
Godspell
Evita
Follies
Porgy and Bess
Jesus Christ Superstar
Evita
Follies
Porgy and Bess
Godspell
Evita
Follies
Porgy and Bess
Jesus Christ Superstar




BEST BOOK
BEST BOOK
BEST BOOK
BEST BOOK
Douglas Carter Beane, 
Lysistrata Jones
Harvey Fierstein,
Newsies
Ivan Menchell,
Bonnie and Clyde
Enda Walsh, 
Once
Douglas Carter Beane, 
Lysistrata Jones
Joe DiPietro,
Nice Work...
Harvey Fierstein, 
Newsies
Enda Walsh,
Once
Douglas Carter Beane, 
Lysistrata Jones
Harvey Fierstein,
Newsies
Ivan Menchell,
Bonnie and Clyde
Enda Walsh, 
Once
Douglas Carter Beane, 
Lysistrata Jones
Joe DiPietro,
Nice Work...
Harvey Fierstein, 
Newsies
Enda Walsh,
Once




BEST SCORE
BEST SCORE
BEST SCORE
BEST SCORE
Flinn (M and L),
Lysistrata Jones
Menken (M), Feldman(L),
Newsies
Stewart, Ballard (M and L), Rubin (L),
Ghost
Wildhorn (M), Black (L),
Bonnie and Clyde
Menken (M), Feldman (L),
Newsies
Menken (M), Slater (L),
Leap of Faith
Stewart, Ballard (M and L), Rubin (L),
Ghost
Wildhorn (M), Black (L),
Bonnie and Clyde
Flinn (M and L),
Lysistrata Jones
Menken (M), Feldman (L),
Newsies
Stewart, Ballard (M and L), Rubin (L),
Ghost
Wildhorn (M), Black (L),
Bonnie and Clyde
Flinn (M and L),
Lysistrata Jones
Menken (M), Feldman (L),
Newsies
Stewart, Ballard (M and L), Rubin (L),
Ghost
Wildhorn (M), Black (L),
Bonnie and Clyde
** - Both Mike and I recognize that one or more of the score nominees may be replaced by the score for Peter and the Starcatcher, One Man, Two Guvnors or Gore Vidal's The Best Man.

THE DIRECTION CATEGORIES

Jeff - Should
Jeff - Will
Mike - Should
Mike - Will
BEST
ORCHESTRATIONS
BEST
ORCHESTRATIONS
BEST
ORCHESTRATIONS
BEST
ORCHESTRATIONS
Michael Holland,
Godspell
Martin Lowe,
Once
John McDaniel,
Bonnie and Clyde
Chistopher Nightingale,
Ghost 
Bill Elliott,
Nice Work...
Martin Lowe,
Once
M. Starobin and J. Joubert,
Leap of Faith
Daniel Troob,
Newsies
Bill Elliott,
Nice Work...
Martin Lowe,
Once
Chistopher Nightingale,
Ghost
Daniel Troob,
Newsies
Bill Elliott,
Nice Work...
Martin Lowe,
Once
Chistopher Nightingale,
Ghost
Daniel Troob,
Newsies




BEST
CHOREOGRAPHY
BEST
CHOREOGRAPHY
BEST
CHOREOGRAPHY
BEST
CHOREOGRAPHY
Rob Ashford,
Evita
Warren Carlyle,
Follies
Christopher Gattelli,
Newsies
Christopher Gattelli,
Godspell
Rob Ashford,
Evita
Warren Carlyle,
Follies
Christopher Gattelli,
Newsies
Kathleen Marshall,
Nice Work...
Rob Ashford,
Evita
Warren Carlyle,
Follies
Christopher Gattelli,
Newsies
Ashley Wallen,
Ghost
Warren Carlyle,
Follies
Steven Hoggett,
Once
Christopher Gattelli,
Newsies
Kathleen Marshall,
Nice Work...




BEST
DIRECTION
BEST 
DIRECTION
BEST
DIRECTION
BEST
DIRECTION
Jeff Calhoun,
Newsies
Michael Grandage,
Evita
Eric Schaeffer,
Follies
John Tiffany,
Once
Jeff Calhoun,
Newsies
Kathleen Marshall,
Nice Work...
Eric Schaeffer,
Follies
John Tiffany,
Once
Jeff Calhoun,
Newsies
Michael Grandage,
Evita
Eric Schaeffer,
Follies
John Tiffany,
Once
Jeff Calhoun,
Newsies
Kathleen Marshall,
Nice Work...
Eric Schaeffer,
Follies
John Tiffany,
Once

THE TECHNICAL CATEGORIES

Jeff - Should
Jeff - Will
Mike - Should
Mike - Will
Scenic Design
Scenic Design
Scenic Design
Scenic Design

Derek McLane,
Follies
Tobin Ost/Aaron Rhyne,
Bonnie and Clyde
Tobin Ost/Sven Ortel,
Newsies
George Typsin,
Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark

Bob Crowley,
Once
Derek McLane,
Nice Work...
Tobin Ost/Sven Ortel,
Newsies
George Typsin,
Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark

Bob Crowley,
Once
Christopher Oram,
Evita
Tobin Ost/Sven Ortel,
Newsies
George Typsin,
Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark

Bob Crowley,
Once
Derek McLane,
Follies
Tobin Ost/Sven Ortel,
Newsies
George Typsin,
Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark




Lighting Design
Lighting Design
Lighting Design
Lighting Design

Neil Austin,
Evita
Donald Holder,
Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark
Natasha Katz,
Once
Hugh Vanstone,
Ghost

Neil Austin,
Evita
Donald Holder,
Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark
Natasha Katz,
Once
Hugh Vanstone,
Ghost

Jeff Croiter,
Newsies
Donald Holder,
Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark
Natasha Katz,
Once
Hugh Vanstone,
Ghost

Jeff Croiter, Newsies
Peter Kaczrowski,
Nice Work...
Natasha Katz,
Follies
Natasha Katz,
Once





Sound Design
Sound Design
Sound Design
Sound Design

Clive Goodwin,
Once
Kai Harada,
Follies
Mick Potter,
Evita
Ken Travis,
Newsies

Clive Goodwin,
Once
Kai Harada,
Follies
Steve Canyon Kennedy,
Jesus Christ Superstar
Ken Travis,
Newsies

Clive Goodwin,
Once
Brian Ronan,
Nice Work...
John Shivers,
Bonnie and Clyde
Ken Travis,
Newsies

Kai Harada,
Follies
Clive Goodwin,
Once
Brian Ronan,
Nice Work...
Ken Travis,
Newsies
Costume Design
Costume Design
Costume Design
Costume Design
Gregg Barnes,
Follies
Jess Goldstein,
Newsies
Eiko Ishioka,
Spider Man Turn Off the Dark
Christopher Oram,
Evita
Gregg Barnes,
Follies
Jess Goldstein,
Newsies
Eiko Ishioka,
Spider Man Turn Off the Dark
William Ivey Long,
Nice Work...
Gregg Barnes,
Follies
ESosa,
Porgy and Bess
Miranda Hoffman,
Godspell
Eiko Ishioka,
Spider Man Turn Off the Dark
Gregg Barnes,
Follies
ESosa,
Porgy and Bess
Jess Goldstein,
Newsies
William Ivey Long,
Nice Work...

THE ACTING CATEGORIES

Jeff - Should
Jeff - Will
Mike - Should
Mike - Will
Featured 
Actor
Featured
Actor
Featured
Actor
Featured 
Actor

Philip Boykin,
Porgy and Bess
Ricky Martin,
Evita
Michael McGrath,
Nice Work...
Leslie Odem, Jr.,
Leap of Faith
Patrick Page,
Spider Man Turn Off the Dark

Philip Boykin,
Porgy and Bess
Michael Cerveris,
Evita
Ricky Martin,
Evita
Michael McGrath,
Nice Work...
Patrick Page,
Spider Man Turn Off the Dark

Michael Cerveris,
Evita
David Alan Grier,
Porgy and Bess
Joshua Henry,
Porgy and Bess
Ricky Martin,
Evita
Patrick Page,
Spider Man Turn Off the Dark

Michael Cerveris,
Evita
John Dossett,
Newsies
David Alan Grier,
Porgy and Bess
Michael McGrath,
Nice Work...
Patrick Page,
Spider Man Turn Off the Dark
Featured
Actress
Featured
Actress
Featured
Actress
Featured
Actress
Nikki Renee Daniels,
Porgy and Bess
Da'Vine Joy Randolph,
Ghost
Jennifer Laura Thompson,
Nice Work...
Melissa van der Schyff,
Bonnie and Clyde
Terri White,
Follies
Jane Houdyshell,
Follies
Judy Kaye,
Nice Work...
Elaine Page,
Follies
Da'Vine Joy Randolph,
Ghost
Melissa van der Schyff,
Bonnie and Clyde
Nikki Renee Daniels,
Porgy and Bess
Judy Kaye,
Nice Work...
Liz Mikel,
Lysistrata Jones
Melissa van der Schyff,
Bonnie and Clyde
Terri White,
Follies
Nikki Renee Daniels,
Porgy and Bess
Judy Kaye,
Nice Work...
Jessie Mueller,
On a Clear Day...
Elaine Page,
Follies
Terri White,
Follies
Lead Actor
Lead Actor
Lead Actor
Lead Actor

Danny Burstein,
Follies
Raul Esparza,
Leap of Faith
Jeremy Jordan,
Bonnie and Clyde
Jeremy Jordan,
Newsies
Steve Kazee,
Once

Danny Burstein,
Follies
Raul Esparza,
Leap of Faith
Jeremy Jordan,
Newsies
Steve Kazee,
Once
Norm Lewis,
Porgy and Bess

Danny Burstein,
Follies
Jeremy Jordan,
Bonnie and Clyde
Jeremy Jordan,
Newsies
Steve Kazee,
Once
Norm Lewis,
Porgy and Bess

Matthew Broderick,
Nice Work...
Danny Burstein,
Follies
Jeremy Jordan,
Newsies
Steve Kazee,
Once
Norm Lewis,
Porgy and Bess
Lead Actress
Lead Actress
Lead Actress
Lead Actress
Caissie Levy,
Ghost
Jan Maxwell,
Follies
Cristin Miliotti, Once
Laura Osnes,
Bonnie and Clyde
Bernadette Peters,
Follies

Jan Maxwell,
Follies
Audra McDonald,
Porgy and Bess
Cristin Miliotti,
Once
Kelli O'Hara,
Nice Work...
Bernadette Peters,
Follies

Caissie Levy,
Ghost
Jan Maxwell,
Follies
Cristin Miliotti,
Once
Laura Osnes,
Bonnie and Clyde
Bernadette Peters,
Follies

Jan Maxwell,
Follies
Audra McDonald,
Porgy and Bess
Cristin Miliotti,
Once
Kelli O'Hara,
Nice Work...
Laura Osnes,
Bonnie and Clyde

The top nominees:

Follies


Nice Work If You Can Get It

Disney's Newsies




Once



Jeff
3.242
@jkstheatrescene (Twitter); jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com (email); Comment below (Blogger)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The 2011 - 2012 Season: By the Numbers

The 2012 - 2013 Broadway season has begun!


The first: Opening Night: June 14, 2011

The last: Opening Night: April 26, 2012


Somethings never change.  The talk of last season was the talk of most of this season.  At least Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark finally opened without a fatality.  It is still much in the news, for the good (it is making hordes of money and packing in the audiences), the bad (cast members continue to sue for injuries incurred) and the ugly (the Taymor lawsuit, the producers not getting paid lawsuit, etc.).  Other news of the season included the Sondheim vs The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess flap, where the king of Broadway got a bit testy about the team's attitude toward the venerable old chestnut and the alleged "improvements" that needed to be made.  The New York Theatre Workshop struck gold twice, with two critically-acclaimed productions moving to the big time: Once and Peter and the Starcatcher.  TV got into the Broadway act with Smash, all about the making of a new Broadway musical, with original musical numbers by Hairspray's Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman.  The show features a who's who of Broadway talent, including Megan Hilty, Christian Borle, Wesley Taylor, Leslie Odem, Jr., Will Chase, Bernadette Peters, Ann Harada and Savannah Wise, among many others.  And the cavalcade of stars on the Broadway stage continued this season, with a wonderful mix of stage and screen stars appearing this season: Andrew Garfield, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones, Eric McCormick, John Larroquette, Candace Bergen, Kerry Butler, Jefferson Mays, Michael McKean, Raul Esparza, Harry Connick, Jr., Stockard Channing, Michael Cerveris, Ricky Martin, Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin, Alan Rickman, Matthew Broderick, Kelli O'Hara, Judy Kaye, Estelle Parsons, Hugh Jackman, and pretty much the entire cast of Follies.

Let's look back at the season just ended simply by the numbers, without regard to critical and/or financial success or failure.

This season, the Tony Committee met four times to determine eligibility of productions that opened, starting with Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark on June 14, 2011 through Leap of Faith on April 26, 2012.  They determined that  15 new plays, 8 play revivals, 8 new musicals and 6 musical revivals - 37 productions in all - are eligible for the coveted silver medallion.  Eight special event productions also opened, but are not eligible for award consideration.


SPECIAL EVENT PRODUCTIONS (8)

  • Camelot (benefit 1-nighter)
  • (benefit 1-nighter)
  • Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway
  • An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin
  • The Visit (benefit 1-nighter)
  • She Loves Me (benefit 1-nighter)
  • Shatner's World: We Just Live In It
  • Hair (the summer return engagement is not eligible for Tony consideration)


Death of a Salesman

PLAY REVIVALS (8)

  • Master Class
  • Man and Boy
  • Private Lives
  • The Road to Mecca
  • Wit
  • Death of a Salesman
  • Gore Vidal's The Best Man
  • A Streetcar Names Desire



Seminar

Other Desert Cities


PLAYS (15)

  • The Mountaintop
  • Relatively Speaking
  • Chinglish
  • Other Desert Cities
  • Venus in Fur
  • Seminar
  • Stick Fly
  • End of the Rainbow
  • Magic/Bird
  • Peter and the Starcatcher
  • One Man, Two Guvners
  • Clybourne Park
  • The Lyons
  • The Columnist
  • Don't Dress for Dinner



Evita


MUSICAL REVIVALS (6)

  • Follies
  • Godspell
  • On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
  • The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
  • Jesus Christ Superstar
  • Evita



Once

Ghost: The Musical


MUSICALS (8)

  • Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
  • Bonnie and Clyde
  • Lysistrata Jones
  • Once
  • Disney's Newsies
  • Ghost: The Musical
  • Nice Work If You Can Get It
  • Leap of Faith



If I had a say...


With the Tony nominations less than 2 days away, here are a few things I hope the committee doesn't forget:

Bonnie and Clyde


  • Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
  • The Frank Wildhorn-Don Black score of Bonnie and Clyde
  • The set and particularly the projections of Tobin Ost and Aaron Rhyne for Bonnie and Clyde
  • Bonnie and Clyde's Jeremy Jordan, Laura Osnes and Melissa van der Schyff
  • The clever book and score of Lysistrata Jones, by Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn, respectively
  • Pretty much anything to do with Once, the most beautiful musical of the season
  • Pretty much anything to do with Follies, the most beautiful revival in years
  • Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kara Lindsay in Disney's Newsies



Evita



  • Caissie Levy in Ghost: The Musical
  • The choreography of Rob Ashford in Evita
  • The lighting of Ghost: The Musical and Evita
  • The score of Ghost: The Musical (Dave Stewart, Glen Ballard, Bruce Joel Rubin)
  • The charming performances of Celia Keenan-Bolger and Adam Chanler-Berat in Peter and the Starcatcher
  • Peter and the Starcatcher period - as a work and all aspects of technical theatre


Peter and the Starcatcher



  • Stockard Channing, Rachel Griffiths and Judith Light in Other Desert Cities
  • Jennifer Lin in Chinglish 
  • David Korins' set designs for Chinglish and Godspell 
  • Judy Kaye, Michael McGrath and Jennifer Laura Thompson in Nice Work If You Can Get It
  • And Phillip Boykin in The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess



The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess

Jeff
3.241
@jkstheatrescene (Twitter); jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com (email); Comment below (Blogger)


Saturday, April 28, 2012

JKTS Interactive: HOT/HOTTER: Round 14: The Hottest NEWSIE, Part 1

LAST DAYS TO VOTE IN APRIL'S MONTHLY THEATRE POLL - 
TO YOUR LEFT!


The last three weeks of the HOT and HOTTER qualifying rounds will be all about the hottest guys in the hottest show of the season, Disney's Newsies.  I'm talking about those "penny a pape" triple threats who have sung and danced their way on to Broadway and into our hearts!  Each of the next three weeks will feature 4 Newsies - but NOT former Mr. Broadway Jeremy Jordan or current Mr. Broadway Andrew Keenan-Bolger, or future Mr. Broadway Ben Franhauser (they've had their time in the spotlight!).  Each week, RATE ALL 4 NEWSIES, on the heat scale from Ice Cold (1) to Smokin' Hot (10).  Then, the Newsie with the highest average score will move on to the quarter finals.

Here are their headshots, an action shot and a video for your consideration!  Need more?  Click HERE to get to the NEWSIES website.


REMEMBER: RATE ALL 4 NEWSIES EACH WEEK!  
VOTES FOR ANY LESS THAN ALL 4 ARE NOT COUNTED!

THIS WEEK:

AARON J. ALBANO                    MARK ALDRICH
as "Finch"                                         as "Seitz"

       RYAN STEELE                  THAYNE JASPERSON
as "Specs"                              as "Darcy"






THE NEWSIES IN ACTION:




THE NEWSIES (ALL OF 'EM!) ON VIDEO:





Jeff
3.240
@jkstheatrescene (Twitter); jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com (email); Comment below (Blogger)

Friday, April 27, 2012

REVIEW: Leap of Faith

Review of the Saturday, April 7th evening preview performance at the St. James Theatre in New York City.  Starring Raul Esparza, Jessica Phillips, Kendra Kassebaum, Kecia Lewis-Evans, Leslie Odem, Jr., Talon Ackerman and Krystal Joy Brown.  Music by Alan Menken.  Lyrics by Glenn Slater.  Book by Janus Cercone and Warren Leight.  Choreography by Sergio Trujillo.  Direction by Christopher Ashley.  2 hours, 30 minutes including intermission.


Grade: B-


If there wasn't already a musical titled See What You Wanna See, I might have suggested it to the authors of Leap of Faith, the new musical based on the film of the same name which opened last night at the St. James Theatre.  The show is a curious mix of hyper, obvious manipulation and uneven conviction, as well as razzle dazzle showmanship and a great deal of heart.  This mass of loud, over the top theatricality is bound to polarize audiences with its religious themes and its insistent in-your-face fake urgency.  Still, even if you don't leave the theatre feeling revived and connected to Him, you will probably leave feeling an exhausted exhilaration akin to riding a small, but scary, roller coaster.  How you feel about will likely determine whether, as one of the show's turning point of crisis numbers asks, "are you on the bus or not?"

Jonas Nightingale and His Angels of Mercy

I suppose it says a lot about the subject matter - evangelical tent revivals - that you find yourself easily swept up in the scenes that depict it.  It is almost like the minute they crank up the volume, lower a neon cross, and 30 people are swaying as if possessed while a preacher screams at you to shout "AMEN!", that your mind numbs, and hypnotized, you follow as you reach for your wallet.  Those numbers in Alan Menken and Glenn Slater's score are really among its best, drawing you in with their tempos and fervor: "Rise Up!", the rousing opening number, and "Dancing in the Devil's Shoes" and "If Your Faith Is Strong Enough," both of which sound and say what you'd expect from their titles.  But like most intelligent people, once the smoke and mirrors and heat of the moment pass, you start to question what your saw and your resulting behavior.  What exactly do I believe in?  Can that guy really make a crippled boy walk?  Why have the authors cheated by using a ridiculous framing device that has the story being told in flashback, but would never happen after how the story ends?

I also suppose that we are meant to forgive the equally obvious and manipulative scenes between this rogue preacher and the lovely town sheriff, who - shock of shocks! - is just as lost as he is, what with her duties to a tragic, dying town, the tragic loss of her husband in a car accident that also caused the tragic crippling of her son.  Her plate is full.  No time for the Lord, especially when it appears he has forgotten her altogether.  And, of course, despite being the Lord's "mouthpiece," the rogue preacher is on the lamb, unable to travel to most states, and out of money, but still as slick as the Devil enough to know that "one good haul from the needy" will put him right back on track.  The minute these scenes start, you know how everything will end up - mostly - given the title of the show.  And still, because these scenes are as slick as the Devil, too (book by Janus Cercone and Warren Leight, based on Cercone's screenplay), and because the game cast throws the very best of their talents into them, you forgive it all in the name of being entertained. Amen!

Preacher and Sheriff at the Motel 6

That is not to say there aren't any charms to be found in all of this shock and awe.  One of the best things about the book is its attempt, right up until the very end, to be balanced.  Is there such a thing as faith-based living, or is it just a way of giving ourselves hope when things are down?  Well, if you are the desperate folks of Sweetwater, Kansas where unemployment and drought has the town near death, then you go to to the revival desperate for help and salvation.  And if you are the town sheriff whose only coping mechanism for the state of her life is to deny any kind of faith, be it in a higher being or just herself, and call it "the line of duty," then you go to the revival hell bent of stopping the nonsense before the people lose what little they have left.  And both the town and the sheriff see what they want to see - hope and hell on earth - and neither party goes away disappointed.  As you watch the show (and if you haven't seen the film) are two surprises in this attempt to keep things balanced: that the sheriff , who hates everything the preacher stands for, is drawn to him enough to succumb to her carnal needs and beds him the day she meets him; and that when push comes to shove, the very people who perform these revivals are just as split over it as the sheriff is.  Half believe they are doing the Lord's work; the other half see it for the scam that it is.

Like I said, the creative team has gone to great lengths to present a balanced point of view, so as not to ruffle any religious or atheist feathers, right up until the very end.  That end is "Jonas' Soliloquy," a powerfully performed, if poor man's "Gethsemane."  And I really mean right up until the very end.  Here is Jonas Nightingale, con man extraordinaire, finally a moral crisis of conscience, after years of stealing from the poor, alone in a field, turning to the God he has forsaken all of his life (his father was a brute, naturally) to see if there really is something to this whole faith thing.  Throughout the course of the song, he reminds himself of all he's done, questions his own worth and comes to his own conclusion that it isn't too late to stop and lead a good life.  If the song has stopped right there, we, as an audience made up of the believers and the non-believers, could see what we want to see: either Jonas is saved by a higher power, or his own humanity saved himself.  We could all leave satisfied, right?  Wrong.  Because in the last seconds of that number, Jonas does something to suggest which it is that saves him, forever tipping the scales in one definite direction, and robbing us of the chance to think for ourselves.  Whether or not it is a cop out depends on how you feel about such things already.  For me, it almost ruined the whole thing, so I can understand the ambivalence that the show has engendered in the chat rooms and Twitter feed.  Religion as show business is a slippery slope, indeed.

The least appealing thing about Leap of Faith is its look.  Robin Wagner's omnipresent tent and arena rock set design are wholly unattractive.  Plain and just ugly, you have to look at it because it reaches far out into the seats and into the boxes upstairs.  Don Holder's lighting is equally unattractive, accentuating the (lack of) appeal of the set, and William Ivey Long's costumes - which amount to street clothes and some choir robes - are about as interesting as that disco ball jacket that figures into the show logo, which is to say they have occasional flair, but once you get over it, you are over it.  Most heinous of all is the extremely muddy sound by John Shivers, whose reliance on per instrument amplification and poorly used hand held microphones renders every revival scene's songs almost incomprehensible.

On the plus side, Sergio Trujillo's choreography is always interesting, which is no small feat considering it is made up entirely of show choir moves.  And, except for the ridiculous and unnecessary audience participation stuff intended to get us riled up for the impending festivities - the actors look uncomfortable and as unconvinced as we are that they are "the real thing" - Christopher Ashley's direction is brisk and frequently and effectively employs multiple simultaneous scenes occurring at once.  He is very good at letting us see what everyone is doing at the same time, making sure we know where to focus and when.

Leslie Odem, Jr. and Kecia Lewis-Evans

The cast is terrific from top to bottom.  They are the main reason I enjoyed the show so much despite the "disappointment hangover" I felt after some reflection on what I saw.  I especially enjoyed Kecia Lewis-Evans as the bookkeeper/choir mistress, Ida Mae.  Watching her navigate the rough balance between her true convictions and what she does for a living is very interesting.  Her song, "Lost," about the lies we tell ourselves and others, is a study in internal conflict.  The breakout performance of the show has to be Leslie Odem, Jr. (TV's Smash) as Isaiah, the son of Ida Mae, who is a true believer, and who, for all the right reasons wants to bring this whole operation down.  Even though that means turning in his own mother and sister.  I love watching him work through this conflict, and I love how his character ends up.  His solo number, "Walking Like Daddy," is a highlight.  Talon Ackerman who plays the wheelchair-bound kid, Jake, does very well in making us believe that he believes he can be helped, even if he isn't 100% sure about miracles.  For him, faith is one thing, miracles are another.  It is also to his credit that he doesn't dumb down the part by playing cute or overly maimed, begging for our sympathy.  Rather, he draws us in with his strength, making us feel like, "hey, give the kid a break, already!  He's shown he can deal with this like a man, now fix it!"  And though the role is written pretty much as a one note character - smart ass cold girl with her eye only on the money - Kendra Kassebaum makes the role much more dimensional.  A good actress can elevate such a role, and she is a good actress.  Her big back story reveal number, "People Like Us," though no real surprise content-wise, is affecting simply because she puts it over so well.

Kendra Kassebaum, Raul Espraza and Jessica Phillips

The town sheriff, Marla, is played by star-on-the-rise Jessica Phillips.  She is terrific, with great chemistry with her co-star, and a great, sweet motherly vibe in scenes with her son.  I hope that over the course of previews they have fleshed out her character some more and have given her more to do.  She is as hard as nails at first, but as the play progresses, she slowly reveals her vulnerabilities.  That she can go toe-to-toe with her co-star in such numbers as "I Can Read You" and "Long Past Dreamin'," only goes to show what a strong performer she is.  A lesser actress would easily get swallowed up whole in the vortex of intensity that is Raul Esparza.  As I have come to expect, he throws himself completely into this and every role with unbelievable vigor.  He will take huge risks, go larger than life one minute, and then become a low key attention magnet the next.  Smart enough to not completely chew the scenery, he is also a gracious actor, not pulling focus (on purpose, anyway) when he isn't the focus of the scene.  Still, and especially in this tour-de-force role, his charisma practically begs you to watch him, even in the background.  His preacher man is one cool customer, making you feel like he is performing just for you, even though he is ice berg cold and wouldn't give you the time of day if you were alone with him.  One-on-one is too much for this guy, but a tent full of the most desperate is right up his alley.  Esparza sings the role very well, and his two solos numbers that end each act are memorable, even if the latter, "Jonas' Soliloquy" is a deal breaker for some.  It isn't his performance that breaks the deal.

Raul Esparza

As I said, Leap of Faith does a pretty decent job and keeping all sides represented, but religion and entertainment are close, but strange bedfellows.  You will be entertained, regardless.  How you feel about religion, faith and man's power over himself will certainly effect how you ultimately feel about this show.  Miracle or self-righteous epiphany; it is up to you.  You will see what you want to see.

(Photos by Joan Marcus)



Jeff
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@jkstheatrescene (Twitter); jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com (email); Comment below (Blogger)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

CD REVIEW: Bonnie and Clyde

I have found over the years that I either love the music of Frank Wildhorn or I hate it.  There seems to be no in between.  I love The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Civil War.  I do not like Dracula or Wonderland, and I really think the best parts of Jekyll and Hyde were left behind on the concept recording.  I know I am not alone in recognizing how polarizing his scores can be (and let's face it, the productions of his shows and his choice in lyricists probably have a lot to do with it).  Still, I can, in clear conscience, say that I go to each of his shows with an open mind.  After all, just months after being mentally traumatized by Wonderland, I went into his next show with high hopes.  And I was not disappointed, nor were most of us in the blogosphere, who were singing the praises of Bonnie and Clyde from the first preview.  Even naysayers found the score to be quite good.  History tells us now that the critics just can't cut Wildhorn a break.  Imagine how they'd have been had he done more than provide the tunes!  Cut to a few days after the show closed.  The cast assembles to record the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Bonnie and Clyde, to be distributed by a new label, Broadway Records.  That recording is the subject of today's review.

Grade: A+




Title: Bonnie and Clyde
Artist: Original Broadway Cast Recording
Label: Broadway Records
Number: BR-CD00112
Format: Single CD
Case: Single Jewel Case.
Booklet: Full color production photos and sepia toned historic photos of Bonnie and Clyde; complete synopsis by Ivan Menchell, full lyrics; liner notes by Frank Wildhorn, Don Black, John McDaniel and Corey Brunish.

 THE TOP 5 REASONS YOU NEED TO ADD THIS RECORDING TO YOUR COLLECTION:


5.  To support the quality recording of ALL Broadway scores. 


If all of the future recordings produced by new label Broadway Records are this good, they need our support.  First and foremost, fans of Broadway need to get behind any effort to preserve these pieces of history, regardless of whether or not the show itself is a hit.  Like it or not, the works of Frank Wildhorn and his various collaborators represent an important voice in American musical theatre in the late 20th and early 21st century.  Flop or hit, the man continues to challenge himself and Broadway with show after show.  Only time will tell exactly where in the pantheon of composers he will end up.  The recording of all of his scores - as well as dozens of past and future writers - is vital in keeping the memory of his shows alive.  And I am pretty certain that Bonnie and Clyde in particular will prove to have legs far beyond its sadly short run in New York. 





4.  The superb quality of the booklet.


This CD comes with an impressive 30 page, full-color booklet that really preserves so much more than just the lyrics of the show (design and layout by Van Dean).  From the sensual show logo on the cover to the touching close up of Bonnie and Clyde's final moments on the back, the entire booklet is top quality.  Included are the complete lyrics and messages from the composer (Frank Wildhorn), lyricist (Don Black), musical director (John McDaniel) and one of the producers (Corey Brunish), as well as a thoughtful synopsis by the book writer, Ivan Menchell.  Fans of the show (and those who unfortunately missed it) will be thrilled by the dozens of color production photos by Nathan Johnson and additional photos by Aaron Rhyne, including several never published before.  History buffs will also appreciate the historic photos of the real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, as well as a full reprint of Ms. Parker's 1934 poem, "The Trail's End: The Story of Bonnie and Clyde."  As there was not a souvenir program created for the Broadway run, this CD booklet becomes a de facto keepsake.

3.  The preservation of the fully orchestrated score, plus a bonus track.


John McDaniel's orchestrations played by the 10 member band of musicians sounds like double that number, so lush is the quality of the recording.  Despite the small number of players, they play a full array of instruments from acoustic and electric guitar to piano and just one synthesizer, and a violin and several woodwind instruments, a lot of musical ground is covered here.  The attention to time period detail and accuracy of the early 20th Century Texas/American sound and style is evident from the inclusion of such unique instruments as a mandolin and dobro, as well as specific uses of the clarinet and fiddle to instantly evoke music of a bygone era.  Whether the accompaniment calls for a simple tack-piano, or a  full on rockabilly jam, the entire recording is notable for the even and superb sound quality of the musicians.  There is also a bonus track: "This Never Happened Before," a song cut on the show's journey to Broadway.  A lovely ballad on its own, it is sung in duet by Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes, and accompanied only by the piano, played by the composer himself, Frank Wildhorn.



2.  The wonderfully even score with so many terrific stand out numbers.


I loved the show when I saw it, and I was completely taken by the score at the time.  Of course, over time, the memory fades, especially when you can't see the show when it isn't there, and all that is left are some snippets of promo versions on YouTube and the show's website.  But even after one listens to this cast recording, the memories came flooding back like I had just seen the show yesterday.  And subsequent listening has afforded me the opportunity to realize just how well most of the score is put together.  I love that the same tones and rhythms are used for certain characters over and over.  Wildhorn's use of motifs is alternately obvious and subliminal.  I love the slow country twang of the numbers sung by Blanche, the heart racing rockabilly of Clyde's solos, the slow, sensual blues sound used for Bonnie's solo numbers, the fast-paced barn-stompers for the "exciting" moments and their lives together, and the syncopated slow waltz that accompanies their love songs.  I love how even within those styles, the character motifs insinuate themselves into each song.


For me, there are a number of standout songs.  I love Louis Hobson's plea for Bonnie's affections in "You Can Do Better Than Him" as well as the cocky bravado of Clyde, who joins Hobson's Ted in the final verses of the song.  The irony and hypocrisy of "God's Arms Are Always Open" come shining through with Michael Lanning's intense Holy-roller preacher at the lead and the company providing a desperately feverish back up of religious fervor.  That same anger and irony comes blasting through on the rock-tinged "Made in America," also sung by Lanning and company.  The younger versions of Bonnie (Kelsey Fowler) and Clyde (Talon Ackerman) provide an interesting context in "Picture Show," a song about the all-American need for fame and a legacy of celebrity. The comic relief of "You're Goin' Back to Jail" is vivid and welcome as performed by Blanche, Buck and the ladies at the beauty parlor.  And the sorrowful resignation of "Dyin' Ain't So Bad" brings a tear to the eye just by listening to it.


1.  The fantastic performances by the leads and principal supporting cast.

While the majority of the score is sung by the title players, the other two members of "The Barrow Gang" get their chance to shine here, too.  As Buck, the dim, if well-intentioned brother of Clyde, Claybourne Elder played the lost and dutiful poor soul to perfection.  That same loyalty to his brother Clyde comes through on the recording in the exhilarating duet "When I Drive."  And the lovely and dynamic performance of Melissa van der Schyff as Blanche, Buck's long-suffering, religious wife is well-represented here with  "You're Going Back to Jail," a comedic number, the touching "That's What You Call a Dream," and in beautiful duet "You Love Who You Love."  Let me state again that her performance was Tony-worthy.  I hope she is not forgotten.




What more can I say about the two leads of the show, Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan, than they are both utter perfection?  The best news is that their thrilling, dangerous performances come shining through on this recording. Separately, they shine, showing some serious acting chops along with dramatic singing voices.  Mr. Jordan's metamorphosis from small time crook to blood thirsty murderer is crystal clear and brilliantly rendered in "Raise a Little Hell," a song which is essentially an epic soliloquy of near Shakespearean proportions.  What an amazing acting and singing performance!  And in what I think is the show's best number, and one of the best songs of the entire season, Ms. Osnes' sexually charged, sensual performance of "How 'Bout a Dance?" is surely the highlight of the disc.  Alternately brave, sad, lonely and self-assured, the song allows the actress to show us a complicated woman that we care about, no matter what her later crimes are.  Of course, given the complexity of the chemistry between Bonnie and Clyde, it speaks volumes for both the actors and the score, that it is when they are together that listeners will feel the most emotional impact.  In the opening numbers "Picture Show" and "This World Will Remember Us," their characters' greed and lust for fame wrapped up in an all-American Texas twang is apparent, even without a visual.  The rousing "The World Will Remember Us" ends the first act and the pair tear through the number with a frightening sense of purpose and menacing glee. The entire show comes down to the penultimate moment when the pair reflects on their lives together and realize that their fate is sealed.  The stunning "Dyin' Ain't So Bad" is a quiet, emotional ballad, surprising in that you find yourself not only caring about two mass murdering bandits, but even hoping that somehow they will live to see another day.


That all of this comes through on a cast recording says a lot for the score and for the actors performing it.  What a shame that the critics couldn't see or hear that when they reviewed the show.  The release of this recording reminds me that Bonnie and Clyde really was one of the best shows of the season.  Boy, am I glad this got such excellent treatment.

Read my review of the entire show HERE.

(CD Cover from The Broadway Records release of Bonnie and Clyde; production photos by Nathan Johnson; photo of Frank Wildhorn and historic photos from Getty Images)

Full disclosure statement:  I received a complimentary copy of this cast recording from Broadway Records, who approached me, with the objective of writing a review of the recording.  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.


Jeff
3.238
@jkstheatrescene (Twitter); jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com (email); Comment below (Blogger)




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