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On The Town (Broadway) – Review

On The Town

A town’s a lonely town, when you pass through and there is no one waiting there for you, then it’s a lonely town.

A surefire (at least temporary) cure for that loneliness is to head over to the Lyric Theatre for the most recent (nearly perfect) revival of On The Town. Leonard Bernstein’s moving and joyful score (conducted by John Miller) and Jerome Robbins’ inspired dance would be enough to lift one’s spirit and believe that New York is in fact a helluva town. But the execution of Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s Book & Lyrics are what make this production soar. Much attention is paid to the dance and that’s the way it should be. On The Town is first and foremost a dance show (originating from by Mr. Robbins’ ballet, Fancy Free.)

Director John Rando understands and allows the dance and general movement to tell much of the story. He choreographs additional movement having the actors move through the house several times (to varying effect.) This device works best during Lonely Town as Ensemble members sing plaintively to the house. This might not work with every cast but this Ensemble is flawless and inspiring. There seems to be nothing they can’t do. Much of the principals are equally up to the task. Tony Yazbeck is a poignant Gabey, and I wished for more stage time for him. His sailor brothers, Jay Armstrong Johnson (Chip) and Clyde Alves (Ozzie) are no less wonderful but saddled with much more distraction than Gabey. The purest moments happen when Gabey is on stage.

That purity (otherwise known as relying on the brilliance of the material) is widely in place. The orchestra (Yes, and actual in-house orchestra!) is stupendous and spot on. The sets are clean (Beowulf Boritt) yet evocative and only add to the experience. Much of the casting generates the same effect. Megan Fairchild (Ivy) is a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and makes her acting debut  with On The Town. She holds her own up there and is a brilliant dancer. It’s never quite clear what the attraction is between she and Gabey however. Alysha Umphress is a very entertaining Hildy, and while my heart still belongs to Leslie Kritzer (in the NY City Center Encores! 2008 production) Ms. Umphress was very good. Elizabeth Stanley plays Claire, who is obsessed with the primitive man, or any man for that matter. She has a lot of personality but might not be best suited to the role. Not a dancer and by nature a booming singer, her performance was a bit too burlesque for that of Claire (originated by Betty Comden.) The characterization made for very little difference between Hildy and Claire. Mention must be made of Philip Boykin who opened the show with I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed Yet. He enlivened and deepened every character he played and was an absolute joy to behold. The audience’s favorite however was Jackie Hoffman. Playing the Little Old Lady, Maude P. Dilly and others; she is on stage an awful lot. This role was played by Andrea Martin in the 2008 Encores! production. Ms. Martin was funny and lovely and pitch perfect. I longed for her. Ms. Hoffman’s portrayal (of everyone) was cartoonish and the audience loved it. But nothing, not even the thickest slice of ham can spoil this New York specialty. Yes the costumes (Jess Goldstein) were more suited to the Guys & Dolls gangsters and gals. The addition of overt sexuality and discomforting homosexual stereotypes was distracting and in very bad taste. And yes it was a bit odd to have the show stopped to sing Happy Birthday to & discuss the career aspirations of (presumably) a child of one of the (THIRTY) producers. But the truth of the matter is that three hours flew by and there was never a dull moment. And sitting with all those wonderful people in the dark, soaking in one of the great American Musical was the panacea for a lonely town.

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Posted by on October 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road – Review

act

Somebody wants some supper fixed
And somebody wants some love
And there’s just no time to write a song to say what I’m thinking of
But tomorrow I hit the road
Gonna let loose of this heavy load and FLY!

Few shows capture a time period as perfectly as Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford’s I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road. It was a feminist anthem, performed at Joe Papp’s Public Theater in the late 1970s and is being (briefly) revived as part of the Encores! Off-Center series at NY City Center.

The tale (based upon Ms. Cryer’s experiences) is of singer Heather Jones and her attempt at finding her own voice. Today is Heather’s birthday, she’s 39, which her manager Joe urges her to keep to herself. He would prefer she not mention being a single mother or express anger or upset the men in the audience. He wants her to be successful and then she can sneak in the real. Set in a theatre, during the rehearsal for this evening’s opening night, adds to the overwhelming believability of this show. Unlike many “showbiz” shows, we are watching real people have a real experience. The songs are seamlessly woven into the narrative creating almost an operatic quality.

It can be challenging to sing and say words so steeped in a movement or time period. Singing rock together with ballads is not for everyone, particularly with the original recording artist sitting in the front row. But Renee Elise Goldsberry (Good People, Rent, Lion King) transcends even the highest expectations. Her voice has a quality not often found today; it is devoid of belting and breathiness and filled with richness and feeling. Her sound is reminiscent of female folk singers of the 1970s, a delightful auditory nod to the time period. There is nothing anachronistic about her performance however. She is fresh, real and present. She sings of growing up in the 1950s and being told to smile. “If you smile in just the right way you’ll make a pretty wife and someone will take care of you for all your pretty life.” When Ms. Goldsberry sings these words we don’t think of sepia toned photos of a little girl in front of the family car. Her interpretation makes us think of Facebook photos showing girls in identical suggestive poses.

Fredrick Weller (Glengarry Glen Ross, Take Me Out) is perfectly cast as the layered manager Joe. His delivery (of some of the funner lines) is timed to the millisecond. He is infuriating and endearing and a wonderful counterbalance to the “artist” energy on the stage. Theirs is a friendship that you suspect and hope will go the distance, despite (or maybe because of) their differing viewpoints. The friendship itself is serenaded in the showstopper Dear Friend. Joe wants Heather’s act to play the Troubadour, and he feels that her reading her divorce decree out loud is not the ticket to success. But Heather’s been down this road before. She has recorded a hit song that now makes her physically ill in its sweetness. She works on a soap opera where she’s undoubtedly polished and pushed into a mold. She has some experience with being put in a package and sold. The (fabulous) band and her female back-up singers are only too glad to help her deliver the real. Christina Sajous (Spiderman, Baby It’s You) and Jennifer Sanchez (West Side Story, Ghost) create a perfect sound and harmony with Ms. Goldsberry. Jason Rabinowitz (acoustic guitar) breaks the audience and Ms. Goldsberry’s heart with a solo performance of In A Simple Way I Love You.

It is always a bit risky to revive a period piece that was not a runaway hit. But under the deft direction of Kathleen Marshall and with a cast to beat the band, this production may actually surpass the original (which this reviewer saw and committed to memory as a very impressionable woman in training.)

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The (T.V.) Guide Of Casting

Betty

It’s late July and the first whispers of Broadway’s 2013-2014 season can be heard. Unlike a sighting of back-to-school displays, this prematurity is welcome. Even if one loves the summer and is ensconced in a villa or beach hideaway, paradise can get a bit tedious. And if you’re of the school that there is never enough sand, seafood and sangria it’s nice to think of how you will assuage yourself once the leaves turn. And let’s face it, anticipation is more than half the fun.

If you’re a lover of (what I call) main stage Broadway and swoon at all things Llyod Weber, there’s almost always something to look forward. It’s also almost a sure bet that revival lovers will be happy. But what’s more of a gamble, and therefore a bit exciting, is news of new works, fabulous directors or stellar stage performers. Both camps of theatregoers; main stage and not-so-main stage often experience FOMO (fear of missing out) in extreme form. The line for the cronut is nothing compared to the virtual line for an “insert celebrity name here” show, jukebox musical, or made from TV, or film show. Nothing creates buzz like buzz, and most main stage shows have a marketing machine to beat the band. A quieter, no more attractive frenzy occurs over the not-so-main stage offerings as well. The bragging rights are comparable as well. In brownstones, penthouses and rent control classic sixes, you can hear any of the following; “Cumming’s Macbeth? We saw it before it went to Broadway. Of course Patti was great in Gypsy, but the Encores! production was quite different. You wanna see flying? You MUST see Peter and the Starcatcher.” (Somewhere in apartments we couldn’t afford or dare to enter there are similar conversations of theatre so obscure & avant-garde that knowing their titles is as good as seeing them.)

John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Defiance), James Lapine (Sunday In The Park With George, Into The Woods), Doug Hughes (Inherit The Wind, Mauritius, A Man For All Seasons) will be collaborating in various configurations at The Manhattan Theatre Club. These names are guaranteed to perk the imagination of any theatre lover. The Manhattan Theatre Club often achieves a delicate balance of risk and sure thing. They produce new work and attract stellar performers. The new work is often very good and the performers are often well cast. (Hardly minor points!) It’s not surprising then that the casting for Mr. Shanley’s new play evoked in me a Scooby-Doo type response. The new work will star Brian O’Byrne (Doubt, Defiance, The Beauty Queen of Leenane) and Debra Messing (television star). Now there are plenty of accomplished stage actors who found fame in sitcoms, but (according to her resume) Ms. Messing doesn’t seem to be one of them. Acting on camera is an entirely different endeavor than acting on stage. (You can test this at home by pulling up the one live show of Will & Grace. While it is still edited it is raw enough to discern where each actor’s comfort zone lies.) This is not to suggest that people can’t surprise us in the most delightful way. I love nothing more than hearing the voice in my head shout; “Crikey, would you look at that! He/she is GOOD!” And (for the right price) I’m willing to give any performer (within reason) the benefit of the doubt. But this casting does have me wondering.

I would love to be a fly (or a less disgusting insect) on the wall during the creative meetings. I’d also love to eavesdrop on the editorial meetings in which celebrity opinion pieces are chosen over journalism. What can I say; I love to witness verbal jousting! I’m absolutely certain (she says while adjusting her rose colored glasses) that at least one person pipes up in these meetings; “Do we really need to go the celebrity route?” before being pelted with cronuts.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2013 in Media/Marketing

 

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – Review

NY City Center Encores! production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes belongs to the Ensemble, and it’s in very good hands!  Rob Berman’s orchestra is superb and is neatly paired with Randy Skinner’s lush choreography.  This show is filled with dance and cast with actual dancers.  The chorus is actual singers as well.

There is a number towards the end of Act I, “In the Champ de Mars” when the chorus does not use body microphones.  They stand on the edge of the stage and sing out.  It is practically disorienting to hear sound and be able to locate its source.  These singers do not need amplification or tricks of any kind, they are the real thing.  If hearing truly talented singers unplugged isn’t enough to knock your socks off there are Attmore & Grimes.  Yowza.  This tap-dancing duo (in real life as well) perform “Mamie is Mimi” with Megan Skiro (a spit-fire dancer brimming with all kinds of personality.)  It has been a very (very) long time since I have seen this kind of dancing anywhere but in an old MGM movie.  Simply stunning.

While Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Music: Jule Styne, Lyrics: Leo Rubin, Book: Anita Loos & Joseph Fields) is not the most riveting of musicals, director John Rando made much of it.  There is enough fun and powerful talent in this production that I found myself fantasizing of a dream team of Kristin Chenoweth and Laura Benanti as Lorelei and Dorothy.  Those roles are currently filled with Megan Hilty and Rachel York.  The audience loved them, and Mr. Rando predicted it.  Every number of Ms. Hilty’s was split into three parts, allowing the audience to applaud in triplicate.  Ms. York came in at the end of dance numbers to throw her arms up and receive applause.  I’m not sure Dorothy needs to be a dancer, so it’s best to keep her off the stage and allow the dancer’s their moment.  The audience was so enamored with Ms. Hilty that at one point they wildly applauded her dress.  Yet I found this duo unsettling.  Ms. York almost disappeared as Dorothy (when she wasn’t taking a bow.)  Ms. Hilty’s interpretation seemed more Betty Boop (with blond wig) than Lorelei.  When the second act opens, Dorothy and friend enter in red dresses.  The blond with her seemed so much more toned down than in Act I.  I let out a small sigh of relief.  Then I realized the blond was in fact Mrs. Spofford (Ella Rush) and not Lorelei.

See this show for the dancing and the incredible orchestra.  See this show to remember what songs sound like with out technical tricks.  See this show to experience an Overture and Entr’acte.  None of these elements should be taken for granted.  If you’ve ever experience a Broadway musical at which the conductor is waving his arms to an empty pit (the music being piped in from the basement and locales unknown) you know exactly what I mean.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Pipe Dream – Review

N.Y. City Center Encores! is back to its old self with its production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Pipe Dream (1955.)  Fully choreographed (Kelli Barclay,) with a perfect set (John Lee Beatty) and costumes (Toni-Leslie James) that by all rights should be in my closet, Encores! once again, does not disappoint.

Pipe Dream is based on two John Steinback novels (Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday) and has a certain grittiness that one may not always associate with Rodgers & Hammerstein.  To be perfectly candid, I often suffer from insulin depletion at declarations of climbing every mountain, or of the corn being as high as an elephant’s eye.  I’ve always been more of a; boy like that, sit down you’re rocking the boat, you’ll never get away from me, kinda gal.  And while Pipe Dreams is by no means a perfect show, it has lured me onto Team R&H.

The theme of the show is that of the world of work, and not the button downed briefcase carrying kind.  Much of the show takes place in both a house of…well, a house of female comfort and a flop house.  There are some simply beautiful songs; Everybody’s Got A Home But Me and Suzy Is A Good Thing (which opening notes are reminiscent of the opening to Bali Hai.)  There are also one or two songs that simply fall flat.  However, with a strong producer (back in 1955) it’s clear that this show could have been work-shopped into something wonderful.

With any show that does not come complete with recognizable tunes or story, or has not come directly from a film or comic book; casting is key.  Marc Bruni (director) hit a trifecta with Leslie Uggams, Tom Wopat and Stephen Wallem.  Mr. Wopat and Ms. Uggams are in great voice and simply devour their characters.  Mr. Wallem is an extremely enjoyable character actor (with a very good singing voice) and captures the character of Hazel perfectly.  The male and female romantic leads; Will Chase and Laura Osnes are not as suited to their roles.  Romantic leads are never that interesting to play, and without a certain spark, or electric magnetism, they are not very interesting to watch.

The real star of any Encores! production is the thirty(!) piece orchestra, directed by Rob Berman.  At a time when paired down orchestras are being divided and sequestered into basement rooms with tiny monitors of the stage (across the street) it is phenomenal to see a full orchestra on the stage.  When the curtain rose to reveal the elevated orchestra I heard a young girl gasp.  If there is anything that is less than positive about Encores! is that the run is always far too brief.  Pipe Dreams plays until April 1st.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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