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

Friday, June 26, 2015

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Cry-Baby

I was shocked to find out that Cry-Baby closed SEVEN years ago this week!  Shocked!  For me, that realization was one of those "what? only seven years? it seems so much longer than that!" moments.  The truth is, I really liked that show, especially the cast and the score.  And it was witty on all fronts.  It, fairly or not, was bound to suffer in comparison to the nearly perfect Hairspray.  And it saddens me that this 4-time Tony Award nominee (Best Musical, Best Book, Best Choreography and Best Score) wasn't recorded - or if it was, it was never released commercially.

Cry-Baby played 45 previews and 68 performances at the Marquis Theater.

Notable Cast Members included: Harriet Harris (It Shoulda Been You), Elizabeth Stanley (On The Town), James Snyder (If/Then), and some of my favorite Broadway gypsies and co-stars: Nick Blaemire, Cameron Adams, Charlie Sutton, Spencer Liff, Colin Cunliffe, and my buddy, Eric Sciotto.  And then there's Ryan Silverman, who made his debut in the ensemble - he went on to ply Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera, Billy Flynn in Chicago, and starred in the revival of Side Show. no crying for him!

The Great Harriet Harris commands the stage!

Elizabeth Stanley and the oh-so-wholesome Whiffles

The bad guys are, um, cool?

"Cry-Baby"( James Snyder) and Allison (Elizabeth Stanley)

When the squares and the scabs met, they get married!

One of the best dance numbers ever!
 Tapping on license plates!

"Girl, Can I Kiss You?" with lots of tongue!

Jeff

Thursday, June 25, 2015

THEATRESCENE THURSDAY: Your Broadway Musical Report Card

Last week's Trendsday Poll asked you to grade all of last season's new musicals and musical revivals. Almost 150 of you took on the challenge of being an armchair critic, and here are your results!  I included your average grade (naturally!), the range of grades you gave (very telling), the percentage of you who didn't see each show, along with my grade (since I didn't review shows for awhile last season).  All-in-all, you and I were pretty in sync!  And, for the most part, I think we were in line with the general critical and box office response to the shows.

See for yourself:

NEW MUSICALS
SHOW
YOUR AVG.
GRADE
GRADE
RANGE
DIDN’T SEE
THE SHOW
JEFF’S
GRADE
Holler If Ya Hear Me
D
C+ - F
60%
n/a
The Last Ship
A-
A - B
0%
A
Honeymoon in Vegas
B
A+ - B-
12%
B
An American In Paris
A-
A+ - B-
0%
A-
Finding Neverland
A-
A+ - C-
13%
A+
It Shoulda Been You
C
B - C-
13%
C-
Fun Home
A+
A+ - C
0%
A+
Doctor Zhivago
F
C - F
30%
D
Something Rotten!
A
A+ - B
0%
A
The Visit
A
A+ - D+
20%
A+

  • Interesting that a bunch of us theater lovers generally felt the same way about these shows as the critics, with the notable exceptions of The Last Ship and Finding Neverland.
  • I think our range of grades for The Visit speaks clearly to the controversial, challenging nature of this show. Unfortunately, this is why we are far from a time when the masses will embrace such shows.
  • I'm guessing that you are faithful readers because, on average, we see eye-to-eye on shows?  My grades were close to your average! (For those of you who asked, my comments about not fully reviewed shows are at the bottom of today's blog...)

NEW MUSICAL REVIVALS
SHOW
YOUR AVG.
GRADE
GRADE
RANGE
DIDN’T SEE
THE SHOW
JEFF’S
GRADE
On The Town
B+
A+ - C+
0%
B-
Side Show
A
A+ - B
0%
A-
On the Twentieth Century
A-
A+ - F
0%
D+
Gigi
B-
A+ - C-
15%
B
The King and I
A
A+ - C
0%
A
  • Again, we were consistent with each other, though we liked Gigi  more than the critics and On the Town slightly less.
  • The range of grades on On the Twentieth Century is very interesting.  More of you loved it than not, but I'm not alone in thinking it was more train wreck than express!
My thoughts on unreviewed shows:


  • Honeymoon in Vegas: Very enjoyable, traditional musical.  Funny and tuneful with good dancing.  Tony Danza was decent; Brynn O'Malley did everything she could with an underwritten part; Nancy Opel chewed the scenery just a bit too much for my tastes.
  • An American in Paris: The best dancing Broadway has seen in years, and the staging was smooth and flowing. Book was nicely emotional, but didn't know when to end it.  Show dragged in Act Two, especially after the title ballet.  I don't get why people felt the scenery was so stunning - I found it drab and too small.  The dancers were at the top of their form, but leads were either great dancers and lousy actors, or just the opposite.  Notable exceptions were the superb Max von Essen and Jill Paice.
  • Finding Neverland: I loved almost every single minute of it! I found the entire production enchanting, and found the modern edge to the score and Mia Michael's choreography to be an exciting juxtaposition to the "historic" period of the story.  Loved all three leads, the boy who played Peter.  Hated the fairy joke, the Cheers joke, and the "what the fuck" joke, all three of which pulled me out of the story. I was a crying mess at the end.  Can't wait to see it again!
  • It Shoulda Been You: Funny in spots, nicely staged, and a cast that was excellent with material that as sit-com level as best.   The score was serviceable and, again, funny in spots. 90 minutes felt like 3 hours, though. It would have been cheaper to stay home and watch TV.  At least there are commercials!
  • Fun Home: My new Next to Normal. Superb in every way, and even better than off-Broadway. Alison Bechdel is a true hero. Laughter through tears will always be my favorite emotion.
  • Doctor Zhivago:  The best thing about this loud, boring and unnecessarily gory mess was the table.
  • Something Rotten!: A riot, with great scenery and costumes.  The cleverness wears a little thin at times, but overall, it was a great combination of old school traditional and modern smart humor.  Casey Nicholaw sure knows how to stage this kind of show - the dancing was as exhausting to watch as it must be to perform! The main cast is excellent (with special love for John Cariani, Christian Borle and Heidi Blickenstaff - who needed more to do!) and one of the best ensembles of the season,
  • The Visit: This is EXACTLY the kind of show I love!  You have to think, it draws you in and keeps you there - John Doyle was in top form!  Chita was sublime, and the company superb - I had no problem with Roger Rees.  And the score!  A masterpiece by the masters.  Like most of their shows (especially like The Scottsboro Boys) this last entry by Kander and Ebb will be embraced by the masses about 20 years from now when they catch up to its brilliance.


  • On the Twentieth Century: I love me some Kristin Chenoweth, but, really... how does she stay so thin when she eats so much scenery 8 times a week?  Overwrought, decidedly un-funny, and a score that was remarkably droning.  When the best thing about a show is 4 tap dancing porters on a stage full of Broadway's best talent, it says a lot about how bad the show is.
  • Gigi: I found it to be a pleasant surprise.  Not great, but not bad, either.  Did I go in with low expectations?  Yes.  I thought Vanessa Hudgens was very good, and hope this won't keep her from trying another show. Dee Hoty was good, too, and Corey Cott was hot to look at but only good, too.  Howard McGillin was terrific, but way underutilized.  Victoria Clark, as always, was sublime.
  • The King and I: Visually stunning for both its initial excess and later minimalism, it is the epitome of the adage, "They just don't write them like this anymore."  Kelli O'Hara as, as always, superb, if subdued, and her chemistry with Ken Watanabe was palpable from the back row of the mezzanine.  Ruthie Ann Miles was excellent and Tony-worthy.  I do have to say, though, that Catherine Zuber's costumes and Christopher Gatelli's choreography, while lovely to look at and superbly executed, were not new in any way.  Just look at pictures from previous productions. That they were both Tony nominated (and she won!) is disappointing.  I guess there is excellence in quantity alone?  And if Jerome Robbins were alive today, there'd be a law suit over "Small House of Uncle Thomas." Still, I can't argue that this revival was truly excellent overall.
Here's to an exciting 2015 - 2016 season!

Jeff

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

TRENDSDAY POLL: Your Summer Theater Plans


Does your summer lovin' include any theater?  That's what this week's one-and-done survey is all about! Check all that apply (use the scroll bar to see all the choices), and be sure to click "Finish Survey" in order to make your vote count!  Poll closes Tuesday, June 30.




Don't forget to use the survey scroll bar to move all the way down and click "Finish Survey"!

Jeff

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TUESDAY TROUPER: Matilda's Lesli Margherita

As one of my all-time favorite musicals approaches its 1,000th performance later this summer, I thought it was time to celebrate the robbed-of-a-Tony-nomination Lesli Margherita!  This riotously funny lady tears up the stage nightly as Mrs. Wormwood, and has been doing so since Matilda began previews a couple of years ago.  With such polish and finesse, it's hard to believe the show marks her first and only Broadway appearance to date!  Of course, she has done a ton of regional and touring work.  And there's that "small" matter of her Olivier Award-winning performance in Zorro: The Musical.  Crowds fill 54 Below when she does her act, All Hail the Queen, and she's been known to take it (almost) all off when she appears with The Skivvies.

Congratulations, Lesli!  You are this week's Tuesday Trouper!





Mrs. Wormwood takes Manhattan

Regionally, she's played Aldonza and Anita

She won the West End's highest honor

All Hail the Queen! (54 Below)

With The Skivvies

Jeff

Monday, June 22, 2015

MEDIA MONDAY: The Amazing Grace Logo

With the first new musical of the 2015 - 2016 season beginning previews this week, I thought it would be a great time to look at its logo.  Amazing Grace sets sail at the Nederlander Theatre this Thursday, and I wonder if the logo on the marquee will entice theater-goers (and tourists in general) passing by.  Of course, I hope so, but I'm not so sure.

I actually find the logo itself interesting.  It looks very nautical, especially against the ocean blue background. And it certainly looks historical.  Majestic, even.  And only if you look at it closely, does it look somewhat religious.  The title aside, the compass point, with its southerly end longer than its northern end, does look like a cross. Is it a "moral compass"?

But, really, what does the title suggest beyond the obvious?  All I picture is a church full of solemn parishioners, swaying with emotion as their voices raise as one to sing the admittedly moving song.  In fact, the tagline addresses it head on (an admirable thing).  How you see it in print might affect your interest, too.  I like how, in the version below, "The Song the World Knows" is smaller - we know this already - and "The Story It Doesn't" is much bigger.  It emphasizes that this might just not be what you expect. BUT is "A New Broadway Musical" a selling point or afterthought?


Any other season, the epic look of the production photos might entice, too.  But this year, colonial is definitely in.  Problem is, the other historical musical - opening next! - has the same costumes, but somehow looks waaaayy more hip,  In the summer heat (or the winter freeze), will audiences flock to a museum piece or an edgy stomp through history?


Probably the biggest thing Grace has going against it has nothing to do with its logo or production photos.  Religious-themed musicals lately have had trouble drawing crowds - ask the folks at Leap of Faith and Scandalous.  The time of year and the other colonial musical already make it a tough sell; the religious aspects might seal its fate.

I hope I'm wrong.  I'm going to see it in a few weeks (I hope).  Will it be truly epic?  Or will it come and go as quickly as a summer thunder storm?

Grade: B (for the look), D (for the outlook)

Jeff

Friday, June 19, 2015

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Ruthie Ann Miles in Here Lies Love

It isn't just the distance between the Public Theatre and Lincoln Center that tells just how far Tony-winner Ruthie Ann Miles has come in just a couple of years.   Before she made her groundbreaking Broadway debut as Lady Thiang, she made some serious waves Off-Broadway in her breakthrough role.  She was Imelda Marcos in Here Lies Love, and she won herself both a Lortel Award and a Theatre World Award!  Whatever comes next for her, I'll bet it'll be awesome!

Here's a look back:









You gotta give it to George, right?

Jeff

Thursday, June 18, 2015

THEATRESCENE THURSDAY: The Hamilton Dilemma

I'll bet that if you are reading this blog, you probably had the same immediate thought I did when the U.S. Treasury made their big announcement regarding the $10 bill.

"Oh my God! What is Lin-Manuel Miranda going to do now?" His "10 Dollar Founding Father" lyric is in jeopardy, right?

Like the coolest guy that he is, he wittily Tweeted about it, with his usual smart and sharp sense of humor.  (ICYMI: Read HERE!)

Then, being the complete theater nerd that I proudly am, my thoughts immediately went to this:

"What Broadway diva should replace Alex on the sawbuck?"  (You know you did, too...)  I figure that she has to be American and already dead.  Sorry, Audra... (but she'd look great, right?)  Sorry, Idina... (on the plus side, we already know what she looks like green!) Sorry, Angela (not completely American, but certainly worthy!)...

So, how about Mary Martin?  Lorraine Hansberry?  Ethel Barrymore?  All three are certainly historically-significant...

No matter how it turns out, it's about time a woman was on a bill of any size.  Sacajawea got screwed on that quarter dollar coin.  And I am positive that Lin-Manuel will be just fine.  Unless... this is just the beginning of the inevitable Hamilton backlash.  Conspiracy theories abound.

Finally, I must give full disclosure: My actual first though was, "Damn! Could this news makes Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson somehow less significant?"  You can guess how often I have a $10 bill in my hands.

Jeff

(Photos by J. Marcus)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

TRENDSDAY SURVEY: Grade Last Season's Musicals

During my break from writing, I did see every musical and musical revival that opened, but did not review them for the blog.  (I saw and reviewed all of the fall musical openings, save for Holler If You Hear Me.)  Since I've been back, many of my regular readers have asked me how I would have reviewed them.  So, next Thursday, I'll share my thoughts and grades on each show from last season... when I reveal your grades!

You be the critic and grade each musical (new and revival) that opened during the 2014-2015 season!  Didn't see some of them? Click the "I didn't see it" button!  Even if you only saw one of these shows, your vote still matters.  When you have weighed in, be sure to click "Finish Survey" to make your vote count!

Survey will close on Tuesday, June 23 at 6PM!  Thanks for your input.  Jeff

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tuesday Troupers: The Dancers of Broadway Bares 25 (NSFW)

TODAY'S BLOG IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK!

25 years after it all started, Broadway Bares has continued to grow, while it remains, sadly, relevant.  This year, the sexy show looks ready to deliver again, with the 2015 edition: Top Bottoms of Burlesque.  The show is at 9:30 PM (SOLD OUT) and Midnight this Sunday, June 21, 2015; if there are tickets available, and/or you need more information make sure you go to www.broadwaycares.org or www.broadwaybares.com .

Every year, the very HOT ad campaign features a lot of the most beautiful Broadway dancers around.  This year is no exception.  Here's a look at some of the excellent photography by Andrew Eccles, and a couple of steamy promo videos!  Enjoy these extra-special Tuesday Troupers!

(As always, you can double-click any photo to see them all as a slide show.)







THE CASTING DIRECTOR: Casey Lee Ross

(LEFT) THE COMPOSERS: Alec Varcas and Kristen Beth Williams
(RIGHT) THE DANCE CAPTAINS: Joshua Buscher-West and Ryan Worsing 

THE CHOREOGRAPHER AND HIS CHORINES: Alec Varcas with Betsy Struxness, Adriene Couvillion, Skye Mattox, Elizabeth Dugas, Paloma Garcia-Lee, 
Holly Ann Butler and Greer Gisy

THE DIRECTOR AND THE CHORUS BOYS: Erik Altemus...and others...


THE STAGE HANDS: Colby Q. Lindeman, Alfie Parker Jr. and Evan Siegel

THE MALE INGENUE: Steven Wenslawski


(LEFT) THE MALE SOLO DANCER: Josh Daniel Green
(RIGHT) THE DANCING DUO: Brandan Rubendall and Adam Roberts

(LEFT) THE BURLESQUE DANCER: Nikka Graff Lanzarone
(RIGHT) THE SOUBRETTE: Joey Taranto

Jeff



Monday, June 15, 2015

MEDIA MONDAY: Playbill's Pride Designer: Robbie Rozelle

I started out with today's blog as just my musings on the Playbill Pride Poster, which I recently added to my collection.  I love all of the Playbill posters (and the rest of their merchandise).  But, as a gay man who loves the theatre and has seen how it transforms, empowers and has facilitated change.  Needless to say, the Pride poster caught my eye immediately, and I just had to have one.

What this blog ended up being, though, came as a very pleasant surprise.  When I got my poster, I took to Twitter to thank its creator, Robbie Rozelle.  Then, just today, as fate would have it, the platform I write this on was down, So I wandered over to Twitter while I waited, and saw Robbie on there again.  So I took a chance, and asked him a few questions about the poster and how he works.  He kindly (and quickly) obliged, and here's the scoop (and a very inspiring story, too!):




JEFF: Can you talk about Playbill's commitment to Pride Month?

ROBBIE: I’m not on the editorial team of Playbill- I’m the graphic designer and very happily art directed and designed the Pride issue. I can tell you personally how much it moves me to know that something I love so much, and a company I love so much, is so dedicated to the Pride cause. As a teen, I used to walk down the hallways of high school singing show tunes, and can honestly say that musical theatre saved me from killing myself, so if we are celebrating what is possible, I think that is amazing.

On Saturday night, I searched the hashtag #PlaybillPride on Instagram, and found this from a 17-year-old, who could have been me: https://instagram.com/p/35QZEawwKp/
"I wanted to take a minute to talk about just how much better the Playbill for Wicked made the actual show, which was wonderful in itself. The Playbill is a special Pride edition. Being from the South, I can't say I've ever actually seen people truly being prideful. However, I've actually seen multiple pride flags in New York, and to see something as big as the Broadway show of Wicked supporting the cause is really overwhelming. I've felt a lot of comfort here, a lot more than I usually feel back home. Thank you Broadway for your wonderful acceptance and your stance on the right side of history #playbillpride

Just knowing that I am a part of that, that I am woven into that history now, was terribly moving for me.

JEFF: How did the poster come about? 

ROBBIE: Last year, we didn’t really think about Playbill Pride merchandise - it was something people asked about, wanting it on a t-shirt or a hat. This year, with a little more foresight, we decided to create this poster. Not all of the shows on it actually have color playbills (Roundabout doesn’t do them, for example, and some long-running shows have switched to black and white), so I set about colorizing the ones that were always black and white or that were formerly in color but had changed to B&W (i.e.: Finding Neverland). It was a little difficult because we wanted this for June 1, but we knew the Tony nominations might cause some shows to close and we wanted it to reflect June. As it turned out, we were correct, and some stuff indeed folded right after the Tony nominations came out, but what we were left with became this beautiful, colorful celebration of the pride of Broadway.

JEFF: What is your design process?

ROBBIE: My design process is so different from project to project. Because I had designed the Pride logo last year, we knew going in that we were going to use it again. This was the first time I had designed the magazine, and created a style through it. I worked with the Editor in Chief, Blake Ross, to create something that was really beautiful. I wanted something that reflected what I would want to read and KEEP. We hit upon the idea of including quotes from the various plays that the writers profiled had written, to tie everything together, along with the rainbow banner on the top. I’m really happy with it, and got an email from my mother today saying she was, too. I really think that readers are responding to it. I can’t speak for Playbill, but I’m really hopeful it will become an annual thing.

Thanks, Robbie!

(Photos by Robbie Rozelle)

For more information and purchasing Playbill Pride merchandise, go to: www.playbillstore.com 

Jeff


(Playbill did not solicit me in any way, nor do I receive any compensation from them.) 
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