HERE'S WHAT'S NEW:

CHECK OUT THE TABS ABOVE FOR PREVIOUS ARTICLES, INCLUDING #TBT, THE FRIDAY 5, AND THERE'S AN ALL-NEW BWAY REVIEWS PAGE! CHECK IT OUT!
DON'T FORGET TO SCROLL DOWN THE WHOLE PAGE FOR LINKS TO FEATURED ARTICLES, REVIEWS, SHOW SITES, AND THEATER-RELATED STUFF!

COMING UP ON BROADWAY:
Choir Boy - Opens: 1.8.19 True West - Previews: 12.27.18, Opens: 1.24.19 Be More Chill - Previews: 2.13.19, Opens: 3.10.19 Kiss Me, Kate - Previews: 2.14.19, Opens: 3.14.19 Ain't Too Proud - Previews: 2.28.19, Opens: 3.21.19 King Lear - Previews: 2.28.19, Opens: 4.4.19 Oklahoma! - Previews: 3.19.19, Opens: 4.7.19 Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus - Previews: 3.5.19, Opens: 4.11.19 Burn This - Previews: 3.15.19, Opens: 4,16.19 Hadestown - Previews: 3.22.19, Opens: 4.17.19

COMING UP ON THE BLOG: 12/17: Broadway Heat: The Cher Show Edition: Sweet 16 Round - 12/18: 2018 JKTS Awards: Naughty Fun, Fun, Fun! - 12/19: 2018 JKTS Awards: The Performances - 12/20: 2018 Broadway Trends and Traditions - 12/21: The Friday 5: The Best Broadway Debuts of 2018

CONTACT US: (Email) jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com (Twitter) @jkstheatrescene (Instagram) jkstheatrescene

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

LOGOS: Disney's Frozen

Shortly after they announced that a musical version of Disney's Frozen was coming to the stage, the powers that be came up with several possibilities.  (You can see all of them HERE.) Of those that weren't selected, this one that replicates the Norwegian tradition of rosemaling (painting seasonal nature on the wood in their homes and buildings) is my favorite. I love the colors and the imagery. I think, though, that title coloring is too bright for the rest of the design.  And I also think that excluding Anna from the image leaves out a significant element of the show's themes.

One of the runners up

The logo that was finally chosen for the Broadway musical version of  is, in my opinion, the best choice for many reasons.

The winning design by Olly Moss
First, and foremost, it meets the basic criteria for a good logo for the marquis. Name recognition alone will cause passersby to take notice.  The contrast of the white and the vibrant blues is also striking and eye-catching.

The souvenir program cover
Second, the "Disney's Frozen" in the traditional Disney font, and a close, but (importantly) not exactly the same logo as the animated film signals quickly that this is, in fact that Frozen. Now, here's where it gets a little dicey. For parents who have kids who love the film, it's a good indication of what might be to come. The same for other fans of the film (like me). Then there are those that wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. Face it, there is a certain amount of backlash against this property (see the Tony nominations as a possible indicator, true or not). But just as true, people who don't like it won't buy tickets anyway.  It's the on the fence and grown-ups only ticket buyers that this branding is most likely to influence. 

Third, it is important to notice that the animated figures - especially Olaf - are nowhere to be seen. If they were trying to draw in the family audience only, the cute characters would be all over the branding and all over the outside of the theater as well.  It isn't.  A smart move, especially considering that the stage version has taken great strides to be deeper and more adult in its treatment of the story.

Finally, and again, wisely, Disney has gone the icon route (taking a page from the mega musicals of yore - think of the logos for Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, etc.) which eliminates the need to change a logo featuring the actual actors as the show's run continues (watch out, Mean Girls).  It isn't so girly that boys (and men) would automatically shun anything with the logo on it. 

And the icon itself is genius. The frozen fractal has fun "hidden" images that are fun to discover as you look at the logo more closely. The inner section shows a silhouette of Elsa, arm raised, unleashing her power, while the outer section of the snowflake reveals the two sisters looking at each other, again in silhouette. It is clever and beautifully rendered.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

When "The Best" Isn't Your "Favorite": Dear Evan Hansen vs Come From Away

Will you be found?
A couple of months ago, I wrote a column about the year the Best Musical was Hamilton, but my favorite show that season was American Psycho.  (Read it HERE.)

Who'd have thought that two seasons in a row the Tonys would honor a Best Musical wasn't my Favorite Musical? That's right.  I'm talking about the 2016-2017 Broadway season, and Dear Evan Hansen was the winner. It would have been at least my fourth choice - at least fourth because I didn't get to see Groundhog Day, A Bronx Tale, In Transit or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I did see Amelie, which I liked more than Hansen.

Ah, Pierre! You are a close second!
The other two that I liked better than the winner were Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 and Come From Away.  It is a tough call as to my favorite of the two, as I admire them both so much. Great Comet was daring, ground-breaking and very entertaining. But the book/story is kinda thin, and the show is a triumph of style over substance. I reviewed Come From Away, giving it an A+ (HERE); I have rarely seen a so completely cohesive show.  So I give the edge to Come From Away.

Oh, Connor... more of you. Please...
I had the privilege of seeing Dear Evan Hansen during its off-Broadway run, with the cast about 15 feet away from me, for the reasonable price of just $69. If I'd paid what they charge for a comparable seat at the Music Box, I'd be very upset. Very. Even allowing for the small changes in the move between 43rd and 45th Street, I am certain my opinion wouldn't change. I really didn't like it. My reasons are many. First, the score is full of that whiny, self-involved teen pablum that teens today "identify" with.  All the feels and validation.  I'd be fine with that, since the show is about self-involved teens desperate for validation, but the problem is that it all sounds the same, and there is no variation for the grown-ups.  The lyrics come from the same "How to Validate Your Snowflake" handbook.  Second, I found Ben Platt's performance to be so overwrought as to be uniformly uncomfortable to watch. You could see him working up to a cry minutes before the tears spilled on cue - at one point he was so red and sweaty, I literally thought they'd stop the show because he was becoming too ill to continue. Finally, count me out of the sympathetic-to-Evan group. While I feel for his anxiety issues and being a social outcast (I could have been him in high school, so I can relate), he is also a liar, an ungrateful brat, and a user. Worst of all, he faces virtually zero consequences for his actions, which are more than likely actually criminal. I have several other qualms with the book - his classmates are despicable people, and Connor is woefully underdeveloped and even more woefully underused. And don't get me started on the "power of social media" angle of all this. (P.S.: The school shooter line needs to be cut.)

I'll be back to kiss that fish soon, I hope!
On the other hand, Come From Away, has a fat-free, action packed, emotional book.  The varied score (played by an amazing band) has an authentically Canadian feel - modern, yet folksy, Broadway, but not. And the staging is so amazingly intricate and yet so easy to follow. The performances are so perfectly executed and they gel together seamlessly.  If you know me at all from my history of reviews, you know that, if anything, feel-good shows have to be that much better to really earn my adoration.  This show does just that. Who knew that we'd ever be able to laugh at the events of 9/11? Or that we needed to?  But there you have it.

My favorite musical of the season was not the Best Musical two years in a row.  Will it be three?  I guess we'll see... if The Band's Visit loses, I may just lose my faith in the Tony Awards.

SIDE NOTE: Had I been reviewing shows when I saw them: Dear Evan Hansen (D) and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 (A+)

Monday, May 21, 2018

THE BROADWAY OLYMPICS: TEAM Summer

This is it - the last show of the season! This week, you'll be voting for your fvorite cast members from the new disco-licious musical Summer: The Donna Summer Musical!  Let's talk about how HOT the cast is - looks, certainly, but also talent, career trajectory, and overall charisma, too!  All season, your votes have qualified leading, featured and ensemble cast members for The Broadway Olympics, and you've awarded gold, silver and bronze medals to the casts of the first eight musicals to open this season.  (Check them out HERE.) All of this is leading up to the BIG VOTE to see who makes the 2017-2018 Broadway Team!

Your task this week is to vote for Team Summer in the Leading Actress, Featured Actress, and the Male and Female Ensemblist categories. The top three vote-getters win the medals; categories with fewer than three nominees will earn medals based on the percentage of votes received.



A few things to remember:
  1. You DO NOT have to have seen the show to vote!
  2. You can vote for as many (or as few) cast members as you wish.
  3. Yes, this is just like the old "HOT or NOT" contests of previous seasons. And the "heat level" can be looks, of course, but it could also be talent, career, and potential.
  4. The survey is secure. It does not collect any data from you, and I can't see any identifying data, only the results of your vote.
****MOST IMPORTANT! YOUR VOTES WILL NOT COUNT UNLESS YOU CLICK "FINISH SURVEY" ALL THE WAY AT THE BOTTOM OF THE POLL.  Since there are 23 cast members, you'll have to scroll pretty far down to hit that button!****

The poll will close on Monday, May 28th!

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Friday 5: 5 Breakout Performances in a Play from 2017-2018

THE FRIDAY 5: JEFF'S FAVORITE 2017 - 2018
BREAKOUT PLAY PERFORMANCES

5. NOMA DUMEZWENI
Hermione Granger - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I can't wait to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. And I'm most looking forward to seeing what my favorite characters are up to as adults, and probably Hermione Granger most of all.  And I've heard nothing but good things about this Tony-nominee's performance, both in London and now in New York.

4. NATHAN LANE
Roy Cohn - Angels in America

I'm the first to admit I find Nathan Lane to be a little bit too much after about 10 minutes of him being "on." But this performance was a true revelation. He was stunning in every way - the performance of his career. Give him the Tony, already!

3. ANDREW GARFIELD
Prior Walter - Angels in America

Another absolutely amazing performance - a Herculean task - played with so much specificity and with such range, I was captivated by this man for the whole, nearly eight hour production. I had never seen him before, in any medium, but I'll search him out from now on. What a talent! Good luck at the Tonys, Andrew!

2. ANTHONY BOYLE
Scorpius Malfoy - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

By far the buzziest performance in HPATCC, I really hope this young actor is still in the show by the time I finally see it. As much as I look forward to seeing the original characters as adults, I'm even more excited to see how their kids turned out!

1. GLENDA JACKSON
A - Three Tall Women

To have seen this performance was an honor and privilege.  People will be talking about it for years. Ms. Jackson is a marvel, and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to witness her talents first hand. I'll never forget it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

REVIEW: Mean Girls

Review of the Sunday, May 6, 2018 matinee performance at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City.  Starring Erika Henningsen, Taylor Louderman, Ashley Park, Kate Rockwell, Barrett Wilbert Weed, Grey Henson, Kerry Butler, Kyle Selig, Cheech Manohar and Rick Younger. Scenic Design by Scott Pask. Video Design by Finn Ross and Adam Young. Costume Design by Gregg Barnes.  Lighting Design by Kenneth Posner. Book by Tina Fey. Music by Jeff Richmond. Lyrics by Nell Benjamin. Choreography and Direction by Casey Nicholaw. 2 hours, 30 minutes, including one intermission.

Grade: C-

It is rare that I even think of leaving a show at intermission, and yet I considered it when I saw Mean Girls.  But when my theater buddy Mike expressed his positive feelings about it, I decided to stick it out. Turns out I'm glad I did. The second act was quite enjoyable, even though its quality only served to point up all the reasons I disliked the first act. If I hadn't stayed, I'd have missed moments of real heart, a couple of really good songs, and an "it only happens in live theater" moment that was a lot of fun.

Judging from the audience's screams of delight, I was in the minority in my feeling of disappointment at this hyper, excessive musical version of the delightfully subversive, wry film. Those screams greeted each beloved line from the film, no matter how loud or shrill the delivery. Granted, Tina Fey knows what her audience wants, and has updated her screenplay enough to make it relevant and even occasionally newly funny. The problem really lies in everything that surrounds it. Save for a couple of really nice songs in act two (namely, the final number "I See Stars," and the empowerment anthem, "I'd Rather Be Me"), and a deliciously wicked motif for chief mean girl Regina George culminating in "Watch the World Burn," Jeff Richmond's score is so bland it registers only as loud monotone. And, unfortunately, Nell Benjamin's lyrics are just as uninspired. Her work here is maybe one-fifth the quality of the vastly superior and clever work she did for Legally Blonde, and it is so far from the level of Fey's book, one would think they never consulted with each other.

Is the mall still a thing?
It seems the future is here in terms of stage design (not Scott Pask's best effort), which is basically a wall of high-def video screens and a few set pieces.  Like the rest of the show, the projections (designed by Finn Ross and Adam Young) are slick and fast changing, but look more like an old video game or Saturday morning cartoon, than anything truly fresh. The most clever it gets is the changing Burn Book pages before the show even starts.  It's a fancy one-trick pony, and it's boring before the first scene is over. Gregg Barnes hasn't done anything too exciting with the costumes, settling for stereotypes over a chance to use them as a subversive way to comment on kids today. (The gay kid wears a Judy Garland t-shirt and the goth artist girl wears Doc Martens and torn fishnets? Shocking. And the drama kids edgiest show t-shirt comes from Dear Evan Hanson? I'm not buying it.) Even the normally stellar Kenneth Posner's lighting is by the numbers.  My point is: bright, shiny, fast and loud doesn't equal quality.

To me, the obvious tell that the show is less than the sum of its parts is the strain of Casey Nicolaw's staging and direction. It stinks of desperation - play it loud, overload the senses, and end every number like it is a grand finale. The problem here, and Nicholaw knows this, is that if every moment is at a level ten, eventually it feels monotonous and exhausting.  For example, having the cast wheel itself around in student desks, changing direction each time there is a "class change" is clever. But doing it for every classroom scene after that makes the novelty wear off quickly. What to do? Up the ante, and have groups roll on and off the stage on self-propelled cafeteria tables. It's not nearly as interesting as he thinks it is. Speaking of that cafeteria scene, with "Where Do You Belong?" a number about school cliques, the whole thing is a blatant rip-off. Sorry, but the tray choreography comes from another, superior, high school piece, Heathers, and the song and staging bear a striking resemblance to a similar scene in High School Musical. Both of those shows did it first and did it better. Additionally, Nicholaw recycles the same five or six hip-hop-adjacent dance moves in every number.  Well, not every number; there is his now trademark tap number, "Stop," which opens the second act, and is a retread of every tap number he's done before.  I fear we are in for more of the same with his next high school musical, The Prom. I hope I'm wrong.

Two of the best: Kyle Selig and Erika Henningsen
Finally, in act two, things slow down occasionally, the songs vary a bit, and the actors are given the chance to show some heart.  It's no wonder that they look the most comfortable and confident then, too. It is here where you can see what a musical version of Mean Girls could have should have been.

It is most of the cast that elevates the show.. The ensemble does a nice job keeping up the energy, and the dancing, if repetitive, is well-executed.  One wonders how they will look after a few months, though.  Will they stay sharp or get bored? Or will they simply be exhausted?  I can't imagine this having a long shelf life before it starts to look like a shell of its former self.

The principal cast is, for the most part, very good - better than the material they are performing.  The "adults" serve the piece well enough: Kerry Butler does her usual excellent job at broad characters, almost making fun of it while giving it all she has, and Rick Younger is fine as the principal. Kyle Selig is charming as boy-crush Aaron Samuels, and he's pretty funny, too. His duet "More Is Better" (ironic...) is a highlight of the second half. I wish all three had more to do.

Social Outcasts Janis and Damian
(Weed and Henson)
One character I wish I had less to do is Damian, at least as overplayed by Grey Henson, who isn't too gay to function, but simply to excessive to function. Will history look back on this "woke era" portrayal of the snarky gay teen they way we look back on Jolson doing black face?  Maybe so. As edgy as this wants to be, this character is an insulting stereotype.  It doesn't help that Mr. Henson never tries for more than the obvious, and has about the same punch as a Trump Tweet. The audience eats him up (and so, apparently, did the Tony committee) and that says a lot about who this is aimed at, and how far we still have to go in LGBTQ portrayals.

On the other hand, Damian's partner in crime, Janis, at least as gloriously played and sung by Barrett Wilbert Weed, steals the show. True, she has (by far) the best song in the show, "I'd Rather Be Me." But Ms. Weed also has a tremendous gift for comedic timing and more importantly, a natural easiness marked by a talent for economy in her acting. Less is more with her, which makes the times when "more" is necessary really stand out. In the face of so much excess, she is brave enough to hold back. Another actress with the same nerve is the vastly underrated Kate Rockwell, who is hilarious just standing there. She tosses out delicious line after delicious line with an electrifying stillness; she puts a great spin on the stock dumb blonde character. For the life of me, I don't see how these young women have been consistently overlooked in all the awards nominations. More fortunate is critical darling Ashley Park, who as obsessively insecure Gretchen wears her heart on her sleeve and gives a performance to match.  More often than not, she's good at what she does, but if I'm honest, my first thought was, "gee, that'll be easy to replicate for the National Tour," but nothing particularly award worthy.


The Mean Girls meet their match
(Park, Louderman, Rockwell and Henningsen)
Mean Girls boils down to the good girl vs the bad girl - hardly a stretch for musical theatre, but it is what it is.  At least, both of them, Erika Henningsen as Cady, home-schooled odd ball, and Taylor Louderman as Regina, Queen of the Plastics, are at the top of their game.  Ms. Louderman struts and muscles her way around the stage with a fun finesse, and her blase delivery is wonderfully dismissive and biting all at once. She is also experienced enough in the genre to know when to hold back and then make the big moments count - her "Watch the World Burn" is a highlight of the season. Meanwhile, Ms. Henningsen is the backbone of the whole show, and not just because she's the main character who actually has a fully developed arc. She's the one who manages to be seen even when the staging and visual and aural cacophony threatens to swallow her whole. She's got a great voice, presence and acting skills deserving of better material to work with. I'm already looking forward to what she does next.

The best part of the whole show was a moment that probably doesn't happen very often. A series of microphone issues brought the show to a halt during a key confrontation scene between the two leading ladies. Those kinds of live theater mishaps are almost always fun.  But this one really stood out because it forced the show to be quiet (for once), the actors got to let their guard down and actually have genuine fun together, and it showed they they could get the job done without all the crazy.  Would that the rest of the show been that - genuine, fun and slightly less.  As Janis might have said, I really wanted this show to be "tits," but it is mostly a bust.

(Photos by J. Kyler and J. Marcus)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

REVIEW: Disney's Frozen

Review of the Saturday, May 5, 2018 matinee at the St. James Theatre in New York City. Starring Caissie Levy, Patti Murin, Jelani Alladin, John Riddle, Greg Hildreth, Andrew Pirozzi. Book by Jennifer Lee. Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Scenic Design and Costume Design by Christopher Oram. Lighting Design by Natasha Katz. Video Design by Finn Ross.  Choreography by Rob Ashford. Direction by Michael Grandage. 2 hours, 20 minutes, including one intermission.

Grade: B

It's interesting how one's expectations can color one's experience with a show.  As a big fan (and I'm not ashamed of it, either) of the film, I have been excited for the Broadway musical since it was announced.  And despite my desire not to, I couldn't resist reading the chat boards about the tryout,  and later, the New York previews.  I guess you could say I went in to the St. James Theatre with mixed emotions - I was excited and dreading it all at once.  For the most part, my trepidation was mostly unfounded. Disney's Frozen is an entertaining and delightfully grown-up affair.

Let these girls sing together!
The music, by double EGOT winner Robert Lopez and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez is much expanded, and is pretty seamlessly added throughout the show.  I suppose it is fair to say that the new songs aren't as "comfortable" as the ones fans of the film are already familiar with, but if we are being totally honest here, if the entire score was fresh to the ear, we wouldn't know which ones were new, would we? None of the new ones stick in a bad way, musically at least.  In fact, I rather enjoyed two of the new songs quite a bit - "Monster" and "Dangerous to Dream." "What Do You Know About Love?" and "Kristoff Lullaby," and to a lesser degree, "Hans of the Southern Isles" also add to the characters of Anna, Kristoff and Hans.  One thing I think would have added a lot to the show would have been an 11 o'clock duet for Anna and Elsa - their portion of the finale sequence offers an all too brief glimpse of what might have been.

Kristoff and the Hidden Folk
Jennifer Lee has crafted a surprisingly straight forward, traditional musical book, and as such, it comes across at times as rather plain, not extra magical.  In it, she has traded (often by necessity) some of the movie magic for a deeper exploration of feelings.  Not all of her choices are quite right - the opening sequence of Act Two, which has stretched a cute, beloved and brief scene from the film, into an odd tribute to Hair meets A Chorus Line.  I mean I get why it's there, but... yikes!  The first act flies by, but the second seems a bit off balance.  The second act opening gets things going at a snail's pace, and the rest of the second half alternates between rushing things (Hans "turns bad" in the blink of an eye) and slowing down too much ("Fixer Upper" wears out its welcome by about two minutes too long). All of that said, the show is funny, emotional and interesting far more often than not.

Everything she touches turns to ice...
Probably in large part due to the nature of the book, director Michael Grandage has shaped the evening rather conventionally, and that is both good and bad. On the not so good end of it, there isn't much creativity in the staging, and as I said above, the acts feel unbalanced.  On the good end of it, it's super easy to follow, and his direction never interferes. And in staying out of the way, he allows his design team to really shine.  Talk about "egregiously overlooked." The design of Frozen is stunning - count me among the "I didn't miss a full-blown ice castle" camp.  Christopher Oram's sets are massive, colorful and exciting to watch as they transform the stage easily.  His costumes are also a visual feast of color and creativity.  You can see where your money was spent for sure.  Then there is the lighting by the always amazing Natasha Katz, who paints the stage in hundreds of wonderful colors in evocative and thrilling ways. But the most magical visual thrill comes courtesy of Finn Ross, who has given Elsa as much live magic as the film did, with his jaw-dropping video design. (Tony Awards people: get a projection design award SOON!) Trust me: you miss A LOT if you don't sit in the mezzanine with this show. So much happens on the floor! And Ms. Katz and Mr. Ross create an absolutely astonishing "freezing" effect at the climax that is not to be believed!

Kristoff and Sven BFFs
What would a Disney show be without non-human characters?  Frozen provides several, including a whole race of Hidden Folk (a perfectly suitable substitute for the movie's trolls), led by the exotic Olivia Phillip and the imposing and buff Timothy Hughes. While their big number is a tad too long, it is, nonetheless, well-danced. (The same can be said for all of Rob Ashford's dances - a challenging mix of Broadway and athleticism, and his ensemble is up to the task.) Olaf, the world-famous snowman, here played by Greg Hildreth, is cute, but nothing really new - we've seen this puppetry before, and while it's hard to imagine Frozen without him, it is painfully obvious he wasn't really necessary to the stage version. His blink and you'll miss it number, "In Summer," is a missed opportunity to beef up the role and add some flair. Instead, the number is as flat as the pop-up, two dimensional set that accompanies it (Oram's only misstep, really.) Hildreth, frankly, seemed uninterested in doing anything beyond the expected. Not to worry, though, there is real magic in the other non-human on the stage, a sweet reindeer named Sven. Embodied by the very limber Andrew Pirozzi, he had amazing presence and dare I say it, chemistry with his co-star. The design was clever, and I smiled every single time he came on stage.

"Love is an Open Door"
The suave John Riddle gets to play the juiciest male role - dashing prince and evil villain, and he's terrific.  You can see why Anna falls for him instantly. Best of all, he is at the top of his triple-threat-ability, singing, dancing and acting with a swagger that walks the fine line between sincerity and cartoonish (I mean that as a complement). Even when he goes "bad," you'll find yourself watching to see what he's up to; he's a great adversary for Queen Elsa. More impressive, is the utterly charming performance of Broadway newcomer, Jelani Alladin, who is surely at the start of a long, successful career.  It says a lot that he can keep up with the demands of the character Kristoff. He has to sing and dance, of course, but he has to be an adventurous hero, a physical comedian, a love interest, and have chemistry with a reindeer.  He doesn't just keep up with these demands, he succeeds in nearly stealing the show from the two leading ladies.

Work those pants and ice spikes, Elsa!
All I can really say is that whatever Disney is paying them, Caissie Levy and Patti Murin are worth double or more. Not only do both of them bring out the familiar traits of these royals effortlessly, they both mine the script for every last nuance of each. These are female characters for today: strong and independent. Even though she ends up with a great guy, you never for a minute believe that Anna couldn't make it without him.  Ms. Murin has spunk, energy and nerve to spare - and she sings so beautifully in character. And did I mention how hilarious she is?  Then there's Ms. Levy, who must feel the weight of the world daily leading up to "Let It Go."  She sings it with an effortless but powerful, vulnerable but strong, way that makes it much better than the film version.  I'll admit to quickly wiping my eyes before the lights came up for intermission. But she's also so much more than that one song, of course, and hers is not an easy task, as the majority of her stage time is alone. It is hard to imagine a better pair of princesses. (As a side note, I'd like to say that the two girls who played the younger versions of Anna (Zoe Glick) and Elsa (Mimi Ryder) were also terrific.)

Overall, I'd say that the creative team did a great job of crafting a more mature story, while retaining the familiar and beloved film elements for the stage. The truth is, most of the people who will see this show will get their money's worth. Kids will be thrilled to see Anna and Elsa and hear their favorite songs; adults will enjoy the deepening of the relationships. The proof is in the reactions of the audience - quiet kids, spellbound, and parents, relieved that their kids are happy and that they can enjoy the show, too. That may have been the most surprising thing of the whole afternoon.

(Photos by J. Kyler, D. van Meer)

Monday, May 14, 2018

THE BROADWAY OLYMPICS: TEAM My Fair Lady

Well, we are down to our last two shows of the season! This week, you'll be voting for your fvorite cast members from the critically-acclaimed Lincoln Center revival of My Fair Lady!  Let's talk about how HOT the cast is - looks, certainly, but also talent, career trajectory, and overall charisma, too!  All season, your votes have qualified leading, featured and ensemble cast members for The Broadway Olympics, and you've awarded gold, silver and bronze medals to the casts of the first eight musicals to open this season.  (Check them out HERE.) All of this is leading up to the BIG VOTE to see who makes the 2017-2018 Broadway Team!

Your task this week is to vote for Team My Fair Lady in the Leading Actor, Leading Actress, Featured Actor, Featured Actress, and Male and Female Ensemblist categories. The top three vote-getters win the medals; categories with fewer than three nominees will earn medals based on the percentage of votes received.

A few things to remember:
  1. You DO NOT have to have seen the show to vote!
  2. You can vote for as many (or as few) cast members as you wish.
  3. Yes, this is just like the old "HOT or NOT" contests of previous seasons. And the "heat level" can be looks, of course, but it could also be talent, career, and potential.
  4. The survey is secure. It does not collect any data from you, and I can't see any identifying data, only the results of your vote.
****MOST IMPORTANT! YOUR VOTES WILL NOT COUNT UNLESS YOU CLICK "FINISH SURVEY" ALL THE WAY AT THE BOTTOM OF THE POLL.  Since there are 37 cast members, you'll have to scroll pretty far down to hit that button!****

The poll will close on Monday, May 21st!




Friday, May 11, 2018

The Friday 5: 5 Thoughts on the 2018 Tony Award Nominations

Well, it's been a week and a half since the 2018 Tony Awards nominations were announced, and now that I've had some time to process this information (and see 3 more shows from the season), here are a few thoughts:


1.  There REALLY needs to be a Tony for projections.
In the case of Mean Girls, for example, nearly the entire set IS projections, not a set. And yet, it was nominated for Best Scenic Design - Scenic Designer Scott Pask and Projection Designers Finn Ross and Adam Young. Meanwhile, some of the best projections of the season are in the overlooked Disney's Frozen. Are the nominators still confused? A separate category would eliminate the "is it set design?" vs "is it lighting?" confusion.

Those walls look like a mall! Projections!
2.  How can so many shows claim  the "most nominated of the season"?
Turns out, A LOT of  shows can and do... you really need to read the fine print. The Most Tony Award nominated shows are Angels in America - 11 nominations (a new record for any play, ever - sorry, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), and SpongeBob SquarePants and Mean Girls - both tied with 12 nominations... Meanwhile, in combined award nominations, it is true that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Carousel are the most nominated shows of the season.  And none of this takes into consideration that The Band's Visit won a ton last year, and is only eligible for Tonys this year.

Was nominated: Grey Henson.
Shoulda been nominated: Barrett Wilbert Weed and Erika Henningsen
3.  I would have done opposites of what was nominated from Mean Girls
Instead of Taylor Louderman for Best Actress, I'd have nominated Erika Henningsen. I'd have nominated Kate Rockwell over Ashley Park. And instead of a Featured Actor, I'd have gone with another Featured Actress with Barrett Wilbert Weed. Sorry, Grey.

4.  Not sure how these people made the list...
I can think of at least 5 other very worthy performances over Grey Henson, Alexander Gemignani, and Norbert Leo Butz. Two of these guys waaayyy over acted and the other had almost nothing to do.

Overlooked: James McArdle

Overlooked: Jellani Alladin

Overlooked: Phillip Boykin
5.  The egregiously overlooked...
How could they have nominated Christopher Gatelli's work on My Fair Lady and left out Camille A. Brown's Once On This Island choreography?  Then there's the Frozen freeze-out: no costumes, scenery and lighting nods? Really? And I'd take both Patti Murin and Caissie Levy over Jessie Mueller. No Kenita R. Miller as Featured Actress? Sad. And Angels in America's James McArdle really got overlooked... As for the 5 very worthy performances I can think of over Butz, Henson and Gemignani? I feel that Once On This Island's Phillip Boykin and Isaac Powell, The Band's Visit's John Cariani and Frozen's John Riddle and Jelani Alladin all offered more, in my opinion.

Every year there are surprises and disappointments, and this year is no exception.  Good luck and congratulations to all!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

REVIEW: Angels in America

Review of the Thursday, May 3, 2018 (Millennium Approaches) and Friday, May 4, 2018 (Perestroika) performances at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York City.  Starring Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane, Susan Brown, Denise Gough, Amanda Lawrence, James McArdle, Lee Pace and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett.  Written by Tony Kushner. Music by Adrian Sutton. Scenic Design by Ian MacNeil and Edward Pierce. Costume Design by Nicky Gillibrand. Lighting Design by Paul Constable. Puppet design by Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes. Direction by Marianne Elliott. Part I: 3 hours, 30 minutes with two 15 minute intermissions; Part II: 4 hours, with two 15 minute intermissions.

Grade:  A+

The first time I saw Angels in America, it was the original Broadway production of Millennium Approaches. It was amazing, life-changing theater. I remember a very intense feeling in the the audience, as if each word held the secret of life. It was very intense and extremely emotional. Together we laughed, grew silent in seething anger, and wept in despair.  In fact, it was the weeping I remember most vividly - particularly the sobs that greeted the reveal of Prior Walter's first lesion. It was a special matinee performance during Gay Pride weekend in June 1994, and the wounds of the AIDS crisis were fresh.

Amanda Lawrence and Andrew Garfield
When I revisited Angels this past weekend, it was, once again, an intense, emotional experience. This time around, the laughs were easier and even heartier than before.  And the anger felt more intense.  But I didn't hear (or even feel the need for) crying this time around. A lot has changed in the quarter century since the play premiered.  AIDS is no longer a death sentence; the shame of being queer is less an issue (I pray), and homosexuality is much less of a cultural novelty/taboo.  Of course, American politics these days are as frightening as they ever were, probably more so.  You can practically hear our president wailing, "WHERE'S MY ROY COHN??" The balance has shifted in the last 25 years: before, the AIDS tragedy was in the forefront, set against a backdrop of politics; now, the politics are in the forefront, set against a backdrop of the AIDS crisis. It is quite telling that a speech about racism in America got the biggest hand of the night this time around. Ultimately, these different but equally intense reactions to this epic speak to the enduring quality of  Tony Kushner's work. In short, this brilliant master work was must-see theater then and is now.

Denise Gough
Marianne Elliott has once again proven that she is a master at staging epic theater. Just as she did with War Horse, she has again staged large scale pieces - think big production numbers - that have a wow factor that leaves you mouth-agape and breathless. Whether is the lonely snow scape of Antarctica, a full-out fight with an angel, or a "backstage battle" between a prophet and a heavenly flock of angels, the epic scenes are a feast.  That is not to say that they ever overshadow while the rest of the play gets lost.  No. In fact, the small scenes are just as epic - words and actions cut like daggers, and the ebb and flow of emotions is so carefully planned, that the "small" scenes feel epic and the "big" stagy scenes feel intimate.  The scenic design (by Ian MacNeil and Edward Pierce), lighting (by Paul Constable) and the score (by Adrian Sutton) -Tony nominees all - all contribute to the intricate chaos created by reality and fantasia.  Each element informs each moment to hit a perfect balance.

Susan Brown
But a brilliant script and equally brilliant direction only works with a cast that is up to the task.  This cast is more than up to it. They elevate it.  Each actor plays several characters, but none more than Tony nominee Susan Brown and Amanda Lawrence. Ms. Brown has the widest range of roles play, and, frankly, isn't entirely successful with all of them. Neither her "rabbi" or "oldest living Bolshevik" are completely devoid of her femininity, but they still serve their purposes.  She intrigues as a ghostly presence as Ethel Rosenberg to be sure. But she more than acquits herself in the pivotal character of Hannah Pitt, an unlikely heroine who undergoes and beautiful transformation. Watching that happen is one of the great pleasures of Perestroika, just as watching Ms. Lawrence's enigmatic, mysterious and thrilling Angel is.  Her physicality, at once broken and strangely athletic, is riveting, and her line delivery is mesmerizing.  The effect is fantastic and otherworldly. And kudos to her, her "Angel Shadows" and the design of Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes, and the team behind the entire movement/fight sequence - absolutely breathtaking.

With incredible presence and flair, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett's Belize, is a fiery force of nature. His comic timing is spot on, as is his gift for walking that line between just enough and excess.  But most remarkable is his innate ability to show us, with razor-like precision, the searing anger and proud resistance that lies beneath every barb.  The other raging inferno of the cast is the wonderful James McArdle, who, as loud-mouthed but weak, politically charged but self-righteous, Louis Ironson, manages the impossible.  He makes a very unlikeable, cowardly man compelling nonetheless. It is a shame that the Tony nominators couldn't make room for these fine actors.

James McArdle and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett
Lee Pace, as Mormon Joe Pitt, delivers an amazing performance that makes you feel every one of his character's multitude of emotions. Not just because he is very tall and strongly built, Pace towers over others by using his physicality to inform every scene he is in.  Sometimes menacing, sometimes surprisingly weak, his presence and bearing draw your eye and it is difficult to look away. Watching his Joe fight, break and rebuild is one of this season's greatest pleasures.  The same could be said for Denise Gough's breakthrough performance as anxiety-ridden, pill-popping, is-she-hallucinating-or-is-she-facing-reality Harper Pitt. This woman is a force of nature, giving one of the great performances of the season. Riveting from start to finish, Ms. Gough allows us to admire, revile, be fascinated by, turn away from and feel everything for this woman.

Lee Pace, Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane
I must admit that generally I feel that a little bit of Nathan Lane can go a really long way.  When he is on, he is ON, and you never really forget that you are watching Nathan Lane as Nathan Lane.  And at first, his performance here is just that. For about 5 minutes. Then, all of a sudden, you are watching a hateful, disgusting human being lord over anyone and everything in his path.  In short, Mr. Lane is giving the performance of his storied career. This is a ferocious, balls to the wall tour de force turn that is so intense, it is a relief when he appears as a Ghost of Prior Past full of his trademark flare. A full week later now, and I am still having flashbacks of his venomous delivery and the shocking realism of his seizure-filled descent toward death.  Far and away, though, the one who almost steals the show all to himself is the amazing Andrew Garfield. There simply aren't enough adjectives to describe this performance.  I will say that seeing him perform here has been one of the great privileges I've ever had in 35 years of theater going. He creates such a complex character in Prior Walter that it is like watching the proverbial onion being peeled, layer by painful layer, right in front of you. Mr. Garfield is just incredible - a performance not to missed. I am now a fan.
Andrew Garfield

Smartly, both plays are staged very differently, with Millennium Approaches the more conventional of the two, and Perestroika the more "fantasia."  In both cases, though, fasten your seat belts.  Angels in America is one hell of a ride.

(Photos by J. Kyler, Brinkhoff/Mogenburg and H. Maybanks)

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Mr. Broadway May 2018: Wesley Taylor and Isaac Powell

May is Celebrate Broadway Couples Month here! We already honored a pair of ladies of the stage, but today, we honor a real-life couple - one a former Mr. Broadway (September 2010) and the other, a brand new Broadway Baby.  I'm talking, of course, about SpongeBob's Wesley Taylor and Once On This Island's Isaac Powell.  (Readers, you asked for "beefcake" and now you've got it!)  These guys are as cute as they are talented, and make one heck of a couple.  Fortunately for us, they post a ton of pictures along with lots of pictures of their work.  Congratulations!  You two are Mr. Broadway May 2018!


Mr. Broadway(s) - May 2018

Headshots

Birth Date: August 13

Birth Date: December 30




Red Carpet and Candids

Talk about support! Opening night at SpongeBob SquarePants and Once On This Island


 


Wesley At Work
SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, CABARET, TALES OF THE CITY
AN ACT OF GOD, SMASH, INDOOR BOYS











 












Isaac At Work
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, NIKOLA TESLA DROPS THE BEAT
BLACK WATCH











AND AS PROMISED...
BEEFCAKE!

 












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