October 31, 2014

Assassins

Bridgewater State University
Bridgewater, MA
October 25, 2014

(This blog entry was written by my friend Heather for a school assignment. I have never seen Assassins, but I found her thoughts on the show to be interesting since I love Stephen Sondheim. I hope you find her comments interesting as well. Please let us know if you've seen Assassins and what you thought! --Kristin/Broadway Blogger)

   I saw Assassins at Bridgewater State University, at the Rondileau Campus Center Auditorium.  This is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by John Weidman.  This production was directed by Colleen Rua. 
Assassins is about eight individuals who have either attempted assassination on a president, or succeeded in assassinating a president. While any attempt at assassination is a serious matter, I would say the most important assassins are the ones who succeeded- namely John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Charles Guiteau’s assassination of James Garfield, and Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of John F. Kennedy. 
I would like to begin by saying I had never seen this show, and had nothing to go on while watching it. I didn’t know the storyline, the music, or what the cast was supposed to look like in costume. After I saw the show, I did go back and research the characters, and looked up costumes and sets and other things, just for comparison reasons. 
I would like to begin with what I thought of the set.  While watching this production, I noticed there was one main set piece, which consisted of several different levels of platforms, almost like stairs, and then what I would consider the most important part of the set, a giant television screen with the American flag around it as a border.  It was simple, but effective, as the television was used for certain events, such as showing President and Mrs. Lincoln sitting in the theatre. John Wilkes Booth snuck up behind them and shot President Lincoln. By far, the creepiest thing that was shown on the screen was the Proprietor coming on the screen in black and white, announcing “The President has been shot” in about one minute intervals. It achieved its desired effect, though!  The acting was very well done, better than I expected it to be. I did notice a couple of missed lines, but nothing that was too terrible. I did, however, find that actor Zach Boulay, who played Guiseppe Zangara, needed to work a bit on his Italian accent.  I thought he was Russian at first. I enjoyed listening to their voices; I thought the singing was absolutely wonderful, and on pitch.  I also thought the dancing was done well, there were a couple of times the actors stumbled a little, but they recovered nicely and it wasn’t that noticeable.  While I thought the cast handled singing the score and danced the choreography well, I would like to also mention that I didn’t particularly like the score. I found the music to be unmemorable. It was not something I ran out of the theatre humming, or anything I would want to download through Amazon or iTunes.  The costumes chosen for the cast were fitting, they were appropriate for the decades each assassin was in. I liked that John Wilkes Booth’s outfit looked like it was from the 1800’s, and Lee Harvey Oswald looked like a young man from Texas in the 1960’s.  When I went back and researched the characters, I also noticed that Samuel Byck’s character was spot-on with the Santa suit, which the real Samuel Byck did wear in a protest.  All the principal cast looked as close to the real assassin as possible. Little details, such as Charles Guiteau’s goatee, were impeccable. The makeup that the cast wore blended well, it looked like they weren’t wearing anything, which is good as they were depicting real people and didn’t need much makeup.  The Proprietor’s makeup was eerie, with dark circles under his eyes, and paler-looking skin than the other characters, which suggested that he was almost immortal, there to be the “bad angel on the characters’ shoulders” in a way.
The theme of the show was to portray assassins, from various decades and centuries, who have tried to kill presidents. In my opinion, I don’t think I would have made a show revolving around this theme.  I don’t think it is appropriate to glorify criminals in any way. Overall, I felt the show as a whole was weak.  I was not interested in the subject matter, because I didn’t know that everyone was an actual person who had lived and tried to assassinate presidents. I don’t feel the show portrayed that well. I honestly thought the show was a focus on John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, and just created other people as filler. I had never been taught about any of the other assassins, not in school, and certainly not in the show. I feel as though the show expected you to just know who everyone was. There wasn’t really an introduction to the characters, the opening number was at a carnival and people “trying their luck to win a prize.”  If the opening number had solidified who each person was, maybe the show would have made more sense. The show as a whole seemed like random people unhappy in life, so their solution was to kill a president. I would say the most powerful moment in the show was what I would consider the “eleven o’clock number,” The Ballad of Guiteau. That was the most entertaining scene to me; I loved the dancing and the portrayal of Guiteau’s character. The actor, Michael Bradley, did a great job, and stole the show whenever he was on the stage. He kept my attention.  I actually enjoyed the opening number as well, for the energy.  It didn’t explain who the characters were, but the song and setting felt fun, like you were actually at a carnival. The weakest moment is not easy for me to choose, as I thought the whole show lacked.  I would say the absolute weakest problem with the show is the lack of continuity.  It starts with the assassination of President Lincoln, but then jumps up several decades to a more modern setting and the attempt on President Roosevelt, and keeps going back and forth like that.  I think that the show would have done better to go in sequential order, with more emphasis on who each character was. Anyone can identify John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, but everyone else was undefined. In the case of Lynette Fromme, she was identifiable because of her obsession with Charles Manson, but you had to KNOW who Charles Manson was, first of all, and a bit about his biography. 
The message of the show is to have people understand the severity of national tragedies. The assassination of a president is a major event that will leave the country in turmoil, whether you like the president or not. According to the director’s note, the show is supposed to seek an answer to the unanswerable question, “why”?  I don’t feel that it really answers any questions; it still looks to me as though, you have a problem, why not kill a president?  In the case of Guiseppe Zangara, his character is introduced to us as having a belly ache. John Wilkes Booth, who had died in a previous scene, pops back up, and is asking Zangara what he has done to make his belly feel better. Zangara cites multiple things he has done, and none of them culminate in any relief. Booth then tells him a variation of, “you know what would make you feel better? Why not kill the president?” Zangara then proceeds to go and try to do just that, unsuccessfully. Also according to the director’s note, “Assassins demands that we reevaluate and revise the American Dream.” The show wants you to see how the world would be if everyone was entitled to do what they wanted. But it’s NOT everyone. It is a select handful of people who believed they would change the world or live in infamy by killing the president. I don’t believe that most people would decide to assassinate a president. These people had formed ideals in their heads, really, 8 isolated incidents.  In this day and age, I honestly think a show about assassination is a bad idea. It is too easy to obtain a gun, and many people are easily mislead and influenced. The power of suggestion is a powerful thing. 

I see a lot of theatre productions, and I like about 98% of what I see. I see many productions without reading reviews or doing any research, so that my mind isn’t predisposed one way or another. I didn’t enjoy this show. I found myself looking at my watch a lot, so I wasn’t engaged in the story. This is probably because, to me, there wasn’t much of a story. I found it very confusing, to the point that I researched the show and characters afterward.  When I researched the show, I learned and understood each character, what they did, where they came from, and how it related to the show. It would have been helpful in this case to have researched the show before I had seen it. Additionally, I found that it was on Broadway ten years ago with a star-filled cast, and only ran under four months. This show, in my opinion, could have had a much longer life if it had been done differently, either approached as a strict comedy, or as a strict drama, instead of trying to be a historical musical with comedy interspersed. Something in the style of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson would have been much better, with a solid, historical storyline, and songs that stuck in your head long after you left the production. 

September 30, 2014

CABARET

BROADWAY
STUDIO 54
August 30, 2014 matinee



When I was fifteen years old, my great aunt took me to see a local community production of Cabaret. Immediately, I fell in love with this show, which was unlike anything I had ever seen in my fifteen years of (somewhat) sheltered life. It was edgy and scandalous, yet it offered a very poignant message. In college, I spent more time listening to the 1998 Broadway cast recording than I spent studying anatomy (priorities). By the time I discovered this gem of a musical, the revival had long since closed…. so I’ve been waiting patiently for another Broadway revival. I’m happy to report that I crossed “see Cabaret on Broadway” off my Bucket List a few weeks ago and it was entirely worth the wait! And to see the immensely talented Alan Cumming reprise his role as the Emcee was just icing on the cake. 

Upon entering Studio 54, I was transported immediately to the Kit Kat Club in 1920’s Berlin. The orchestra seats were set up in likeness of an authentic cabaret with small tables and lamps. “Even the orchestra is beautiful.” The orchestra sat on a platform above the stage, visible to the audience, musicians in full Kit Kat Club attire. Mysterious dancers quietly took the stage, alluding to the story that was about to unfold over the next three hours. The excitement and anticipation in the house was palpable as the orchestra began the opening bars of “Willkommen.” 

A Tony Award winner for his 1998 portrayal of the Emcee, Alan Cumming is still as fabulous as ever, even sixteen years later. The role fits him like a glove. Joel who? His Emcee is satirical, mischievous, and eerily foreboding of a bleak future for the Jews of Nazi Germany. His performance alone renders this production worth seeing. 

Screen star Michelle Williams portrays the seductive British cabaret singer, Sally Bowles. I respect her interpretation of the character, although her Sally was not what I was expecting. Maybe that’s a good thing. She embodied Sally as meek, timid, nervous (bordering on mousy), and vulnerable. Her singing was adequate, which was fine because Sally is not meant to be talented.  I think that I would need to see her performance again to fully grasp her interpretation of the character. I’m still not sure what I think, to be honest. Alan Cumming is certainly the more exciting performer of the two leads. 

Linda Emond and Philip Hoffman (u/s) were heartbreaking as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Cliff is not the most intriguing character, but Bill Heck gave a dependable performance. Gayle Rankin is impeccably comical as the sly prostitute, Fraulein Kost. The ensemble was spectacular; their quiet, but conspicuous presence perpetuated the dark, foreboding undertones of the story. Like the story, each character seemed to personify a light, comedic exterior, while harboring a darker side. 

The latest Broadway revival of Cabaret is edgy, provocative, and relevant. I hope you will check it out at Studio 54. Emma Stone will take over as Sally Bowles in November. 

June 2, 2014

SNAPSHOTS OF NINE BROADWAY MUSICALS: PRE-TONY AWARDS COMMENTARY

Hello to my followers!  I apologize for the dearth of blog posts during the past few months. No, I most definitely have NOT abandoned my blog. I love my blog and I love connecting with other theatre-loving people. And I have some great news! I have seen NINE new Broadway musicals since January and I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on them below. 

In comparison with recent years, there has been a seemingly strong selection of musicals opening on Broadway this spring. Some of the productions met my expectations and others didn’t, while other shows completely exceeded my expectations! (Don’t you love it when that happens?) Below, I will attempt to provide you with a “snapshot” of each musical, including what I loved about the show, what I disliked, the stand-out actors and performances, and maybe some Tony nomination-related commentary. Please note that my snapshots are 100% biased and based solely on my honest and humble opinion. I would love to hear your opinions as well, so feel free to comment below or on Twitter and Facebook. 

**I will not be seeing the Broadway revivals of Les Miserables or Cabaret until August, so stay tuned! 



AFTER MIDNIGHT (with Fantasia Barrino)
Brooks Atkinson Theatre, Broadway
January 19, 2014 matinee

When I was in college, I wrote a paper on Duke Ellington for a Humanities class, and decided then that he was genius. The plethora of Ellington music in this musical revue is probably what attracted me to the show because typically, I tend to not gravitate toward revues. 

A few comments…. The dancing was phenomenal- some of the best choreography I’ve ever seen on Broadway or anywhere else (choreographer is Warren Carlyle for those who are interested). The cast was very energetic and succeeded in transporting the audience to the 1920’s Harlem club scene. Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Fantasia Barrino or American Idol; however, I thought she was exceptional. She truly has a unique tone to her voice that lent itself well to this genre of music. 

While the show was enjoyable, I do have one major issue with this production— the fact that it was nominated for Best Musical. Huh? The show does not have a story line. It was a revue. How can it be placed in the same category as The Bridges of Madison County (who did NOT get nominated for Best Musical)? Or Aladdin or Beautiful?  Obviously, my definition of a musical is incongruent with that of the Tony voters. In my opinion, musicals should contain three crucial elements: music, dancing, and a story. Oh well. I don’t make the rules. 



THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY
Schoenfeld Theatre, Broadway
January 25, 2014 matinee



Ahhhhh, Bridges. The musical that was supposed to win all of the awards this season, but was passed for a Best Musical nomination and soon after announced its closing date. What a shame. Many theatre fans are still grieving the loss of this show to a cutthroat business. 

There were many positive things about Bridges, which closed on May 18. In my typical fashion, I rolled my eyes when I first heard of ANOTHER movie-turned-musical, but I got over it when I heard the names Jason Robert Brown and Kelli O’Hara. The story is very simple and beautiful. Deserving of a Tony win, Jason Robert Brown’s music is dark, haunting, and richly orchestrated. I was fortunate to attend a performance that was conducted by JRB himself. 

As the female lead, Kelli O’Hara truly embodied the character of Francesca, and articulated an impeccable Italian accent. Though I’m not a big fan of her singing, her acting performance combined the perfect amount of subtlety and nuance. It’s probably time that she wins a Tony Award! 

I would like to say for the record that there is so much more to Stephen Pasquale than his good looks. His performance was soulful and his rendition of “It All Fades Away” was one of the most exhilarating moments on Broadway. In some ways, I question if his good looks impeded others’ perceptions of his acting in this show, causing Tony voters to underestimate his talent. It wouldn’t be the first time aesthetics distracted Tony voters from the essence of an actor’s talents. 

Bridges was well-done, a solid show that I may have seen again had it run longer. But that’s the business. There may be a national tour in 2015…. 



BULLETS OVER BROADWAY
St. James Theatre, Broadway
March 15, 2014 matinee



If you want to see an authentic Broadway musical boasting the talents of director/choreographer Susan Stroman and the infamous Woody Allen, look no further than Bullets. Big dance numbers. Flashy costumes. Comedy. 1920’s NYC. Murder. The audience gets a little bit of everything in this show. And it’s all a little OUTRAGEOUS, but in a good way.  

The cast is super talented and it’s difficult to pinpoint a few stand-out performances because the whole cast is just hilarious. Be prepared to encounter many unique CHARACTERS. Also, be prepared to laugh. The show is a good time spent at the theatre. I was disappointed that the show didn’t garner more Tony nominations, including Best Musical, because it’s a solid show and unlike anything else on Broadway right now.  

P.S. When is Marin Mazzie finally going to win a Tony Award because she so deserves it. 



BEAUTIFUL
Stephen Sondheim Theatre, Broadway
May 24, 2014 matinee



I was resistant to seeing Beautiful because a) I don’t know who Carole King is, b) the ticket prices are really high, c) I hate juke box musicals, and d) I didn’t think I could sit through another juke box musical. What persuaded me to get a ticket was Jessie Mueller, who plays the role of Carole King. I’m a fan of Jessie ever since I saw her in Drood last year and I ONLY hear good things about her performances. So I went to the box office and avoided paying full price for a ticket (but had to sit in the mezzanine of course). P.S. I attempted rush tickets twice but they did not offer any rush tickets on those days…. so the moral of the story is: don’t depend on rush tickets. 

Beautiful was a show that exceeded my expectations because (plain and simple) it is a juke box musical that has a fairly rich story-line, offers considerable character depth, and didn’t just rehash fifty Carole King hits (sorry Motown). Jessie Mueller was, as expected, just exquisite. Her voice. Oh my God, her voice. I can’t tell you if she sounds like Carole King, but I can tell you that her voice is unique with a little twang (for lack of a better description) and simply impeccable. Her piano skills were impressive. With her talent, she is definitely a contender for the Best Actress Tony Award. Good luck, Jessie. 

So in conclusion, Beautiful is a good juke box musical, largely due to Jessie Mueller and good writing. If you hate juke box musicals like I do, give it a chance. I’m glad I did. 



VIOLET
American Airlines Theatre, Broadway
May 24, 2014 evening



I wanted to like Violet, the story of a disfigured young woman who longs to be healed. A story of self-discovery and acceptance, Violet is headlined by Tony winner Sutton Foster. 

Well, normally I love a good story about self-discovery- who doesn’t?  Stories of self-discovery can be very cathartic for the audience. But I did not like this story. Sutton is giving a great performance every night. Her love interest, played by Joshua Henry, is also giving a phenomenal performance, but in my opinion, it is the material which is lacking. 

The Problem: The story line is too simple. Girl gets hit in face with ax. Girl grows up. Girl is affected by scar on her face and decides to take a bus to find a preacher that can heal her wound. On the way, girl hooks up with guy she met on bus, but decides she likes another guy on the bus better. Girl realizes that beauty comes from within and that she can never be physically healed. The end. I felt that there were many repetitious themes in both the music and book. I was a little bored. I didn’t feel like she was taking a journey. There was not much of an arc to the character’s story line. 

Does anyone know why this was revived? 

I wanted to like it, I swear. 



ALADDIN
Amsterdam Theatre, Broadway
May 29, 2014 evening



When I was young (and to this day), I never liked Disney movies with two exceptions: Mary Poppins and Aladdin. As a kid, I sang “A Whole New World” over and over and over and over again. On the bus ride home from school, I would make my friend Lisa sing Aladdin’s part and I would sing Jasmine’s part. So for the first time, I was actually excited when I found out that a Disney musical, Aladdin, was coming to Broadway. 

Overall, I liked the show. The best part of the musical, indisputably, was James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie. He stole the show to put it mildly. “Friend Like Me” is phenomenal and he earned every second of his standing ovation. I would be very happy for him if he won the Tony on Sunday as it would be well-deserved. 

The other part of the show that I really appreciated was “A Whole New World”. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who has not seen the show, but the special effects were just perfect. I couldn’t imagine the song being presented or staged in any other way. The entire scene was beautiful. 

My only criticism is that I thought the production (the costumes, the dance numbers) was a bit too showy… too “Broadway”? It didn’t feel like a Disney musical set in Agrabah, it felt like a showy Broadway musical. I think the production needs to be true to its roots… and its roots are Disney. 

However, I did enjoy the show overall. 



ROCKY
Winter Garden Theatre, Broadway
May 30, 2014 evening



Rocky. I rolled my eyes at this musical for months and months. Another movie-turned-musical and to make it worse, this one is about boxing, which I hate.  But when the reviews starting coming in and they were (what?) positive, I decided that I would be a bad blogger if I didn’t give it a chance. Plus, I do like Andy Karl (also from Drood). 

I loved Rocky. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen on Broadway this year. My fear was that the show would be entirely about boxing without a story line or a good score. Much to my surprise and delight, there was a story line, character development, a love story, and some great songs!  In other words, I wasn’t bored with the boxing scenes because they were intermingled with other story lines. 

As Rocky, Andy Karl was phenomenal. Part of me hopes he wins the Tony.  He’s giving a powerhouse performance, not to be missed. He is another actor that completely embodies his character (also with a great accent). He is tough, yet charming and vulnerable. 

As Adrian, I also enjoyed Margo Seibert’s singing voice, rich and haunting. 

The final fight could not have been staged any better; the ring extends out into the audience and some audience members are allowed to sit on the stage in stadium seating to witness the fight. Large screens provide live images of the fight. The atmosphere created by the staging truly makes the audience feel as though they are at a real fight. 

Rocky may be my biggest surprise of the season. I love surprises. Can’t wait to see Rocky again! (Yes, I said that!)



IF/THEN
Richard Rodgers Theatre, Broadway
May 31, 2014 matinee



What attracted me to If/Then was the simple fact that it is an original musical. They are so rare these days. If/Then is ambitious in that it attempts to depict two possible life paths of one woman side by side within a musical. Sounds confusing. Well, it is confusing, but I think the musical does succeed in its story-telling and its message. 

The premise in itself makes the musical worth checking out. Elizabeth is 39 years old, recently divorced and wanting to start over. She makes one simple, everyday decision: to go with one friend vs. another friend, and based on this decision, her life goes in two very different directions which are presented in tandem within the musical. In one life, she has a career; in the other life, she has love. However, everything works out in the end. No spoilers. 

I have not been a fan of Idina Menzel, thinking that she is a bit overrated and inconsistent to say the least. As Elizabeth, Idina is giving a phenomenal performance. My like for her as a performer is renewed. She was in GREAT voice at this performance. She did not hit a bad note. She belted effectively. Her voice filled the Richard Rodgers Theatre. She was funny and real. She may be a celebrity now (Thanks Frozen), but this was not celebrity casting- she was well-suited for this part. 

I think that people either love or hate this musical.  I near-loved it. I liked the message. If you like serendipitous stories like I do, you will like this. At the very least, the story is bold and original, something that is sorely lacking on Broadway these days. 



HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
Belasco Theatre, Broadway
May 31, 2014 evening

If you are a big Neil Patrick Harris fan, stop reading here. You may not like what I’m about to say. 

I was curious about Hedwig and his botched sex-change operation, but I was more interested in seeing Neil Patrick Harris perform (especially after his amazing opening number at the Tony Awards last year!). And NPH did not disappoint. He is a gifted performer, without a doubt. He sang well, but his strongest moments were in his monologues and improvisation. 

I liked seeing NPH perform, but I did not like this musical. Why? I didn’t care for the music and I found the story difficult to follow. However, there are many people that will love this show, so just know that this is only my humble opinion. For example, a friend who saw the show with me loved it and her sole criticism was that the story was hard to follow in comparison to the movie (which I have not seen). So take this snapshot with a grain of salt. 



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I hope that you enjoyed my snapshots of nine Broadway musicals! More importantly, I hope that they provide you with some insight when deciding which shows you would like to see in the future! And most importantly, I hope everyone enjoys the Tony Awards this Sunday! 

January 14, 2014

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Broadway
Walter Kerr Theatre
December 22, 2013

Hi everyone. For this blog entry, I’ve decided to use a slightly different format. I thought it might be nice to provide my followers/readers with some different perspectives for a change. I saw this show with my mother, and my friend Heather saw the show the week before I did. I prepared a short list of questions about the show and asked both of them to share their answers with my blog followers. I hope you enjoy the responses, and I also hope that they encourage you to check out this musical! 

Quick synopsis: The setting is London, England. The year is 1909. Monty Navarro (Bryce Pinkham) learns that he is the ninth D’Ysquith in line to inherit the Earldom of Highhurst, and conveniently decides to eliminate the eight heirs (all played by Jefferson Mays) ahead of him. Hilarity ensues.

1.) Who had the best death?

Heather: I'd say the priest (Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith) because his "death pose" was funny, and the aunt (Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith) because it took three times to kill her. 

Mom: The best death goes to the priest.  What a way to die!  It was hysterical.

Me: Not to be redundant, but THE PRIEST had the most hilarious and dramatic death of all the heirs. A horrific way to die, yet it was acted out with comedic perfection by Jefferson Mays! 

2.) Which heir would you like to have lunch with?

Heather: The gay cousin!! (Henry D’Ysquith) He'd definitely be the most fun to have lunch with!! (But his bees aren't allowed!)

Mom: The rich guy with the fur coat who fell through the ice! 

Me: Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith, so I could help him to understand the poor!

3.) Who gave the best performance and why?

Heather: I loved Bryce Pinkhams's performance because he plays a wonderful antagonist, but Jefferson Mays takes the cake...eight different roles...that's a major challenge, and he did every role fantastically. 

Mom: The best performance was the guy who had the eight parts (Jefferson Mays).  He was great in the way he portrayed all of them.  He was my favorite performer. 

Me: All of the performances were great. Of course, Jefferson Mays was incredible in his portrayal of so many characters! I loved watching him move from character to character with ease. However, I love love love Bryce Pinkham (Monty Navarro). He was my favorite- he plays the sketchy, creepy murderer SO WELL (thinking back to Ghost as well). We were fortunate to be sitting just a few rows from the stage and we could see his facial expressions very clearly, and some of his expressions were just hilarious. He is very capable of embodying that creepy persona! 

4.) Who will get nominated for a Tony Award and why? 

Heather: Jefferson Mays, hands down. Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Musical. It takes talent to play eight roles, and his talent is above and beyond.

Mom: I would say the two leads should get nominated (Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham).  They both did a fantastic job making the show hilarious and fun to watch.

Me: Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham should both be nominated, but a lot will depend on the other shows that will be opening this spring. There might be a lot of competition this year. I also wouldn’t mind if Jane Carr (Miss Shingle) or Lauren Worsham (Phoebe D’Ysquith) were nominated. 

5.) Would you recommend this show, and if so, to whom would you recommend it?

Heather: Yes, I would recommend this!! I'd recommend it to anyone looking to laugh, this show is clever and original. I actually begged a friend to take a chance and see it with me, with her fully knowing I'd never seen it, just based on reviews. She wasn't disappointed, and neither was I!! Incidentally, I'd also recommended it to strangers on the street, and sold them on it too! So I would say that this would be ideal for just about any adult with a good sense of humor! 

Mom: I would definitely recommend it, as I did Kinky Boots, to all my friends.  I went to see both shows without knowing anything about them and truly enjoyed both.  This one was a comedy that makes you laugh and you come out of the theater feeling good.  It was very entertaining.

Me: Yes, absolutely. This is probably my favorite Broadway show (so far) of the 2013-2014 season and is currently the show that I’m recommending to everyone. I agree that this show would be enjoyed by anyone who wants to laugh and see some super-talented Broadway actors give stellar performances! 


January 12, 2014

WICKED

1st National Tour
Boston Opera House 8-17-13 (matinee)
Providence Performing Arts Center 12-29-13 (matinee), 1-4-14 (matinee), 1-7-14



Today, the First National Tour of Wicked will once again vacate the Providence Performing Arts Center, moving on to another American city. Celebrating its 10th anniversary in October, Wicked has become a familiar old friend to many theatre-goers who have seen the show multiple times... some in the double digits.... some reaching the TRIPLE digits (now that’s dedication). I, myself, just hit #14-- one Broadway performance and 13 National Tour performances in Boston, Providence, Philadelphia, and Hartford. For a while, Wicked followed me around the United States as I moved from New England to Philadelphia and then back to New England, and so it’s been quite easy to catch a performance at least once or twice per year. As I said, Wicked is like an old familiar friend, one that offers a simple but beautiful message, while simultaneously blowing the audience away with its electrifying score and breathtaking special effects. Wicked is, indeed, something special. 

If you follow my blog, you are very likely to have seen Wicked at some point, and so I doubt that a long synopsis is warranted. Suffice it to say, Wicked is described as “the untold story of the witches of Oz. Long before Dorothy drops in, two other girls meet in the land of Oz. One, born with emerald-green skin, is smart, fiery and misunderstood. The other is beautiful, ambitious and very popular. Wicked tells the story of their remarkable odyssey, how these two unlikely friends grow to become the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good” (retrieved from http://www.wickedthemusical.com/the-show). I would add that its Ozian origins may attract an audience, but Wicked is truly its own story, and a much, MUCH better story than The Wizard of Oz

The purpose of this blog is not to review Wicked. I really don’t need to do that. Wicked has not only established its place in modern day musical theatre, but has also raised the bar for other new musicals during the last ten years, and that speaks louder than anything I could write. Instead, I would like to share some of the things I enjoyed about this particular cast. 

GINA BECK AS G(A)LINDA
Gina Beck comes from the West End production on Wicked, where she played Galinda for two years. We should all welcome her to the U.S. because she was a fantastic Galinda! 

1.) I love her accent. Obviously, she is from the U.K., but she spoke with an American accent that suggested the slightest hint of British. The accent was perfect for Galinda- it made the character seem less childish and truly from the “Upper Uplands.”  

2.) I’ve seen many actresses emphasize the childish, egotistical side of Galinda, and sure, watching her act like an airhead or a dumb blonde is perfectly funny, but sometimes I miss the depth. Of all the Galindas I’ve seen, Gina was the most balanced.  By balanced, I mean that she was the perfect amount of childishness, self-absorption, and ignorance, which was perfectly balanced with insight, sincerity, and kindness. She didn’t overplay the ditziness (thank goodness). It never seemed that she was trying too hard to give an over-the-top performance; rather, she embodied the character naturally. She was also one of the strongest Galindas vocally that I’ve heard to date. 

ALISON LUFF AS ELPHABA
This was my first time seeing Alison Luff perform, and she has certainly joined the ranks of the preceding Elphabas that I’ve been fortunate to see. Her Elphaba was young, vulnerable, and sweet. 

1.) What really stood out about her performance were her scenes with Galinda. The chemistry between the two witches just seemed more apparent with these two actresses. I enjoyed “For Good” more than I typically do. Actually, I felt like I was hearing the song for the first time (again). 

LAUREL HARRIS AS ELPHABA (standby)




Oh no, that dreaded piece of paper just fell out of your playbill!  Have no fear. Laurel Harris will not disappoint you, not even one bit. Between Boston and Providence, I saw Laurel twice as Elphaba and Alison twice as Elphaba. Both were fantastic. So have no fear. 

1.) I think Laurel is one of those Elphabas who makes it look really easy. Being on stage for three hours, singing songs like “The Wizard and I”, “Defying Gravity”, and “No Good Deed” surely cannot be easy, yet everything about her performance was done with ease. 

2.) Great belter. I wish I’d seen her as Eva Peron on Broadway. 

JOHN DAVIDSON AS THE WIZARD

1.) Best Wizard I’ve ever seen, hands down. Confession: I usually view the Wizard as a character that exists solely to propel the plot forward, not as a comedic role. I don’t know exactly what made this Wizard different from the others. His comedic timing? His mannerisms?  I have no idea. But, he was SO FUNNY. I loved his scenes. And for the first time, I actually felt sorry for the Wizard when (SPOILER) he finds out that Elphaba was his daughter. 

ALISON FRASER AS MADAME MORRIBLE

1.) Again, she is another cast member that seemed to breathe some new life into a character that’s been portrayed by many before her. She portrayed Morrible as younger and a bit more quirky and eccentric yet kind of endearing?  She may be a villain, but I didn't hate her this time! 


So there you have it! Thanks for reading! Oz speed. 

January 1, 2014

"My Favorite Things" About The Sound of Music LIVE


The Sound of Music is probably my all-time favorite musical, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to hear about plans for a live TV broadcast this December.  A few weeks have passed since the live performance aired on NBC and there has been a lot of "buzz" (for lack of a better word) about the quality of the production and some of the individual performances. I think this "buzz" has died down a bit, and so this might be a better time to cautiously assert my own opinion regarding the live performance. One of my favorite aspects of live theatre is the ability to see the same story replayed and re-imagined by different actors and actresses, sometimes within the same production (as with an understudy or replacement actor) or in a brand new production, years or generations after the story's inception (as with The Sound of Music Live or any revival). In either situation, I love the variety that live theatre provides. A particular story is never precisely the same from one performance to the next. Some people embrace variety and other people don't. Non-theatre-goers often criticize me for seeing a particular play or musical multiple times. "Why would you want to see Wicked eleven times? Or Memphis and Next to Normal five times?" Why indeed. Because a show is never exactly the same. The story-telling, the energy, the meaning are always a bit different. And I love this.

But I digress. Overall, I felt positively about NBC's production of The Sound of Music. I thought that some very wise casting choices were made, specifically, Christian Borle, Laura Benanti, Audra McDonald, Christiane Noll, and all of the children. And as I stated above, I really enjoyed watching a new interpretation of the musical and its beloved characters. In the spirit of keeping the commentary positive, I've listed some of "my favorite things" (yup, I said it) about The Sound of Music Live below.

1.) Carrie Underwood's singing

She may not be an acclaimed actress, but I enjoyed hearing a unique interpretation of the familiar score. No one can argue that Carrie Underwood is not a talented singer. The style of her singing is vastly different from Julie Andrews, and I enjoyed a more modern and perhaps younger approach to the role in general. With some hard work and acting lessons, she could be a future musical theatre performer. Let's root for her to improve and shine!

2.) The Goatherd song

My true confession. I love the goatherd song. Of all of Maria's songs, I thought this one was performed and staged the best. Who knew Carrie Underwood could yodel?

3.) Broadway actors

I love that NBC cast some real theatre actors in this Broadway musical. In my opinion, it was the talented group of Broadway actors that really shone in this production. Laura Benanti was absolutely fantastic as Elsa; in fact, this was the first version of The Sound of Music in which I didn't hate Elsa because Benanti seemed to tap into her human side. Audra McDonald as the Mother Abbess was perfection.

4.) The Attention

It's not every day that a major TV network airs a live musical. Musical theatre is rarely awarded any attention on network television, with the exception of the annual Tony Awards. Further, not every American is fortunate to live near New York City or another major city where the National Tours of Broadway shows perform. For some Americans, especially children, NBC's production of The Sound of Music may be their first exposure to musical theatre. It essentially allows access to musical theatre for millions of Americans who would otherwise be unexposed. I hope that my fellow theatre-goers understand the value of this. The fact that NBC is planning on airing other live musicals in the future is critical in supporting the arts in this country. And hopefully, the day will come when major television networks don't need to cast celebrities to improve ratings. (I'm not sure if this is realistic, but one can dream…)


Favorite Performances of 2013

Happy New Year, everyone! Today, I'm taking some time to reflect on my favorite theatre experiences of 2013. I was fortunate to see many entertaining productions on Broadway, tour, and off-Broadway. I've listed a few of my favorites below. Be sure to comment and share your own favorites. Here's to a great year of theatre in 2014! 

1.) Murder Ballad played off-Broadway at the Union Square Theatre this past summer. This production was very unique and intimate, unlike most of the big Broadway and National touring productions that I see on a regular basis. The music was raw and haunting, as were the individual performances. And I always love a twist at the end. 

2.) The Tony Award winning production of Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike was one of the most comedic, yet poignant plays I have seen to date. Kristine Nielsen (Sonia) and David Hyde Pierce (Vanya) were especially hilarious, and I so wanted Kristine to win the Tony Award. With talent of that caliber, her day will come. 

3.) I saw Diane Paulus' production of Pippin at the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.) in Boston in January of 2013 and knew instantly that it was something very special. During the past year, the show has transferred to Broadway, garnered multiple Tony Awards, and is enjoying a successful run at the Music Box Theatre. Once again, Diane Paulus has demonstrated her remarkable talent. 

4.) Kinky Boots, the Tony Award winner for Best Musical in 2013, is still going strong. Who would have thought that a musical about women's boots for men would be a box office success?  I definitely attribute part of its success to Cyndi Lauper's score and the individual performances of some of the actors, especially Tony Award winner Billy Porter, Stark Sands, and Annaleigh Ashford. The message of acceptance is also one that the world needs to hear from time to time. P.S. Kudos to Macy's for supporting this timely show. 

5.) The Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) has offered an unusually solid season so far. This fall, the touring companies of Evita, Once, Ghost, Phantom of the Opera, and Wicked have performed at PPAC. All of these shows are favorites of mine. And there's more to come- The Book of Mormon will be playing at PPAC this spring. 

6.) A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is the most recent addition to the long list of musicals I have seen. (I will be posting a blog soon!) I appreciated the skilled acting, clever comedy, and originality of the piece and would recommend this show to any theatre-goer. Hopefully, this musical will enjoy a solid Broadway run. 

7.) Does anyone remember Hands on a Hardbody? This show had a lot of heart, but that wasn't enough to sustain a long run on Broadway.  I'm so glad I had the opportunity to see it. 

December 28, 2013

GETTING STUCK

The other night, I was texting with my friend and fellow theatre-goer, Heather, when we came to a very important realization. We realized that our old and comfortable Broadway cast albums sometimes unintentionally deter us from discovering new Broadway show tunes! Frequently, we become “stuck” on a few select cast albums or songs, which we promptly play on repeat for days and weeks (maybe months?) at a time. Why? Because (for whatever reason) these endorphin-producing songs leave us with abounding feelings of happiness and inspiration. Who wouldn’t want to reproduce those feelings... over and over and over again?  Who needs the new stuff? (just kidding)

Anyway, this led to a fabulous conversation about our top five (or maybe ten) cast albums or songs that cause us to get “stuck” in the “old stuff” (in a good way!). I thought some of my followers might enjoy reading our lists, which contain some random and unexpected choices (as well as some obvious choices). ENJOY and please share your own favorites below! :) 

Name: Kris
Occupation(s): nurse practitioner and Standing Ovations Blogger
Favorite shows: The Sound of Music, Wicked, Evita, Cabaret, Memphis, Fiddler on the Roof, Next to Normal, A Little Night Music (in no particular order)

1.) Carrie the musical (Off-Broadway, 2011)

MY GUILTY PLEASURE. Yes, I admit it- I love this cast recording. My favorite “on repeat” song is “The Destruction.” It’s fierce. 



2.) “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad” from Bonnie and Clyde

Give me a break, I’m a nurse. I’m comfortable with death, and I absolutely believe in these lyrics. Dyin’ ain’t so bad/ not if you both go together/ only when one’s left behind does it get sad/ but a short and lovin’ life/ that ain’t so bad. And Laura Osnes is one of my favorites! 



3.) “Fly, Fly, Away” from Catch Me If You Can

All I can say is that this song causes my brain to release massive numbers of endorphins. Maybe it’s Kerry Butler’s insane belting at the end.  I also like to listen to this song on repeat when I fly in an airplane. It just feels appropriate. 





4.) Evita (Broadway revival, 2012)

Andrew Lloyd Webber may be a jerk (according to Ms. Patti LuPone), but he is a genius. In my opinion, this is his best score (yes- better than Phantom of the Opera). I love almost every song on this cast recording, and because there is no dialogue in the show, the listener can hear the story from start to finish without any major gaps. And while Elena Roger may not be the strongest singer, I really like her accent and phrasing as Eva Peron. 

5.) “Air” from Hair

This song is the most frequently played song in my iTunes library, probably because it’s only a minute and a half long. I’m not suggesting that pollution shouldn’t be taken seriously, but this song is just so much fun. I love clever, quirky lyrics. Vapor and fume at the stone of my tomb/ breathing like a sullen perfume/ eating at the stone of my tomb/ I’m looking rather attractive/ now that I’m radioactive. I'm not making this stuff up. 



6.) “Defying Gravity” from Wicked

Wow, this is a really obscure choice. But allow me to clarify. I don’t like the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Wicked. I wore it out when I was in grad school and now I rarely listen to it. Kristin and Idina’s rendition of “Defying Gravity” is so firmly ingrained in my memory that I really don’t ever need to hear that version again. 

Instead, I listen to bootlegs on YouTube. This is my go-to exercise song. I can’t explain it, but I burn more calories when I exercise to this song. My arteries thank you, Stephen Schwartz. 



7.) Ghost

Another guilty pleasure. I actually think this cast album and the show in general were underrated. Or maybe I just like songs about death? I love cast albums that I can listen to from start to finish without skipping the less appealing tracks, and this is one of those albums for me. It's solid. 



8.) “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from My Fair Lady

I have never seen My Fair Lady, but I love Julie Andrews and I think this song is so much fun. 



9.) Grease, specifically "Freddy, My Love" and "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee"

Grease is fun. It was the musical that got me interested in theatre when I was 14 years old. Is it terribly profound?  Not at all. I wore out the 1995 Broadway cast recording when I was in middle school. (Megan Mullally was Marty and Billy Porter was the Teen Angel). In high school, I even wrote my own satirized version of "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" about my soccer coach, who was a miserable human being. I still remember some of the lyrics

"Look at me, I'm Miss Leary, (FYI name has been changed)
lousy with malignity. 
Won't beat O-R till I go to the bar,
I can't, I'm Miss Leary.

Watch it, hey- I'm Mia Hamm. 
Move or I'll give you a slam." (That's all I remember)

And that's why I'm not a songwriter. I've also matured quite a bit since I was 14. 




**********************************************************************************************************************************

Name: Heather
Occupation: nursing student
Favorite shows: Hair, Rent, Next to Normal, In the Heights, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, The Book of Mormon, Wicked, Promises Promises, Rock of Ages, Memphis (in exactly that order)

1.) Ok, Rent is my quintessential show. It's the first show that I "branched out" on, meaning it was the first one I ventured away from the "classics" for. I listened to RENT exclusively for a year and a half when I first got the cast recording. Today, the songs are just as fresh as they were 16 years ago. The music has something for everyone, and it can pick me up from any mood. I have a song for every occasion, I can quote it at any time, and the slightest thing can trigger a memory or a song.

2.) Wicked...so many songs are applicable to my life now..."For Good" is how I feel about people I meet, or people I'm no longer friends with as every encounter is a learning experience. "Defying Gravity" makes me feel empowered and strong. "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished" is how I feel when I do things for people that goes unappreciated. "I'm Not That Girl" seems to relate to every guy who sparks my interest. I feel Wicked is very "now," extremely applicable to not only me but everyone. I think almost everyone has felt these emotions. Wicked can be pulled out for any occasion. I get stuck on Wicked when I need a confidence booster, or when I'm sad, or feeling under-appreciated.

3.) Next to Normal I love. And what's NOT to love?? Such a heavy topic broached with rock music and explained in such a way that you can feel all the emotions a person going through a manic depressive episode could go through. "You Don't Know" helps me with frustration, "Light" let's you know it will all be okay, "Didn’t I See This Movie?" reveals how people react when something traumatic could be happening, "Everything Else" I use when I dream of escaping reality, "Superboy and the Invisible Girl" I play when I feel my brother has been the only one of us that matters to my mom, "I'm Alive" is a song I use when I need a jump start in the morning, it wakes me up and gets me going. "Why Stay/A Promise" reminds me of the kind of man I deserve, and "Maybe" reminds me that “I don't need a life that's normal... but something next to normal would be okay.” I can't get enough of this album. 





4.) In The Heights...first, anything by the marvelous Lin Manuel Miranda is automatically deemed fantastic by me!! I love his rhymes, they are clever and flow well. His beats are catchy too!  I listen to “Breathe” when I need to calm down when I'm overwhelmed, "96000" when I need to dream. "Paciencia y Fe-” what a powerful song of overcoming odds and dealing with situations while always maintaining patience and faith. I use this when I feel I need guidance. "Sunrise" is such a tender song, good for newly being in love. "Alabanza" and "Everything I Know" are interchangeable to me. When I'm extremely sad I play these. "Everything I Know" is special to me, as I rewrote the lyrics to fit my family in September of 2008 when my grandfather passed. I was lucky enough to be able to tell Mr. Miranda how his song touched my life, which was so important for me to do. This show and its songs touch your heart strings in so many ways.




5.) Shrek. Such an odd choice one may think. Yes, it has fun songs-I get stuck on "The Ballad of Farquaad" because I love love love the references to fairy tales- same with "I Know It's Today." "Make A Move" is one I love to play for a potential boyfriend interest to hopefully get something to sink in. Same with "When Words Fail," as I tend to communicate heavily through music more than anything. "Build A Wall" is essentially me. I love to keep myself "safe" by hiding behind emotions."Freak Flag" is the ultimate ‘accept everyone for who they are’ song. And "This Is Our Story" basically shows acceptance of yourself. Surprisingly great songs for a musical that is for kids, and fun!

6.) Billy Elliot. For those who know me, they may be surprised to see this on the list, as I refused to see it for the longest time. Then it closed and went on tour. Much to my dismay, I started seeing Billy Elliot tour ads on my TV. The music became catchy and I bought the cast album. I should have known that Sir Elton John wouldn't let me down! "The electricity sparks inside of me..." And that's what this show was. Electric. I finally got to see it live on tour, and I was blown away, but sad I hadn't seen it before. Anyway, I'm constantly listening to the whole album! "Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher" just cracks me up every time I hear it. "Solidarity" is simply amazing. I love how they band together for their beliefs and cause. "Angry Dance" is great to feel emotion and great for when you don't quite know how to express yourself. Speaking of "Expressing Yourself," that song has to be my absolute favorite. Another empowering song, it tells you to be who you are, and not be afraid to show it. "Deep Into The Ground" is so soulful to me, like a wistful memory. It is surprising that I like it, as I'm not a ballad person, but this a beautiful piece. I've learned a lot about myself from Billy Elliot.

7.) Godspell. Another one that may surprise people who know me, as I'm not exceedingly religious. But one of my favorite songs comes from Godspell- "By My Side." Another ballad. Beautiful. It really makes me think. The song is about Jesus being by your side, but it can also relate to people you know in real life. Who really is "by my side?" "Turn Back O Man"- a sassy piece with innuendo that I could see myself performing. "On The Willows" is beautifully haunting. It gets stuck in my head constantly. "All For The Best" I saw as a wonderful tongue twister challenge that I mastered. Most Godspell songs are feel-good, and make me feel good!



8.) Murder Ballad. It's funny that a show I never actually saw made the list. But I love the music! "I Love NY" is a great rock song that makes me happy because I Love NY. "Troubled Mind/Promises" describes how I feel about trusting in relationships. "Coffees On" is always stuck in my head. The music is catchy, and for about 4 months was all I would listen to. I like how the music is mostly softer, as it helps to de-stress.



9.) Bring It On. Another great one by Lin Manuel Miranda. I get hooked on "I Got You," which emphasizes the importance of valuing your friendships over material things. Always a good life lesson to keep remembering. "It's All Happening" is about putting your dream or goal together to achieve it, a great philosophy which reminds me of how you much effort you need to get things in life. "It Ain't No Thing" reminds me to "love who you are and the world will adore you, and the couple that don't- well they can ignore you." Definitely helps boost my self esteem. A great feel-good musical.






10.) Hair. My #1. What can I say? It mellows me out and calms me down-without the use of drugs. The music is almost ethereal, ahead of it's time in my opinion. It's beautiful yet strong and peaceful and the whole cast album speaks to me. Hair is an unwind soundtrack for me.