Monday, June 29, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Mary Stuart (play, historical drama)
read review here
$55/$65 orchestra seats - use promo code QSBBX615
through August 16, 2009
Rock of Ages (jukebox musical)
read review here
$60 orchestra seats - use promo code FLAG09
through July 7, 2009
The Norman Conquests (play, British comedy)
read review here
$60 for one play, $185 for all three plays - use promo code NCBXEONM
through July 25, 2009
Next to Normal (rock musical)
read review here
$70/$85 orchestra seats - use promo code NNBBX0420
through July 5, 2009
Avenue Q (funny musical)
read review here
$59 orchestra seats - use promo code JULY09
through July 10, 2009
For other discount codes visit broadwaybox.com.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Irena's Vow, the new Broadway play starring Tovah Feldshuh, will close Sunday, June 28th. Based on the true story of Irena Gut Odpyke, a Polish Catholic woman who helped hide Jews in Germany during World War II, Irena's Vow is definitely a compelling story. Theasy writer Le-Anne saw the show in May...read her review here.
Since I just saw Irena's Vow (better late than never) this post is pretty tardy. But with five remaining performances I think it's worth putting a mention out there for those who might have a chance to see it. Irena's Vow is a sincere and moving portrayal of life in Germany during the Holocaust. Aside from certain shortcomings in the production, the audience leaves with a powerful sense of understanding and enlightenment about that time and about who Irena Gut was. The production, led by the gifted Feldshuh, is inspirational because it is inspired. It's clear that everyone on that stage is there to tell an important story, and a true story at that; they aren't just entertaining an audience of 900 and then collecting a paycheck. Irena's Vow does a great job of preserving a true story and presenting it with integrity and respect.
I can't say I'm that surprised that the production is closing (biographical dramas about World War II don't provide the same summer escapism that other Broadway shows offer). But I do think Irena's Vow holds a solid place in the theatre world and it is certainly worth seeing while you still can. Its message is important and you'll be glad you got to experience this story.
(Irena's Vow plays at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street. Remaining performances are Thursday, June 25th at 8pm; Friday, June 26th at 8pm; Saturday, June 27th at 2pm and 8pm; and Sunday, June 28th at 3pm. Tickets are $41 - $98 and student tickets are available at the box office same day for $25. Standing room tickets are also available. For tickets visit telecharge.com and for show info visit irenasvow.com.)
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Paved Paradise Redux: The Art of Joni Mitchell (Abrons Art Center Henry Street Settlement, TWEED TheaterWorks)
Okay, so I’m a little embarrassed to say that before this weekend the only familiarity I had with Joni Mitchell was from the movie Love Actually and every once in a while I’d find out that a song I heard on the radio was a cover of a Joni Mitchell song - like Counting Crows version of “Big Yellow Taxi." I don’t remember which, if any, Joni Mitchell songs were in “Love Actually,” (I only remember that Emma Thompson’s character is a big Joni fan), and since “Big Yellow Taxi” is not in Jonn Kelly’s Paved Paradise Redux: The Art of Joni Mitchell, (apparently it was in the original production but is absent in the redux), I must admit, that I went into this experience at the Abrons Arts Center Henry Street Settlement a veritable (gasp!) Joni Mitchell virgin. I walked out however, a newfound fan, not only of Ms. Mitchell but of Mr. John Kelly as well.
Kelly embodies Mitchell in this concert-like performance, not as a drag queen but, more accurately, as an actor taking on the role of a character named Joni Mitchell. Kelly as Mitchell is neither campy nor busy impersonating a female, he is simply honest in his portrayal. Though I was not familiar with Mitchell’s particular “isms” before, by the time the show was over I was pretty certain that Kelly was spot-on. If nothing else the uproarious laughter from the audience (clearly laden with Joni fans) was a good indicator. Thanks to Youtube, I can confirm that Kelly does indeed do Ms. Mitchell justice. His little quirks, such as specific facial expressions and a rambling way of telling anecdotes that trail off unfinished are not gimmicky but, more so, funny because it’s true. For example, when Kelly went up on a lyric he cleverly, and without skipping a beat, apologized and said, “I wasn’t flying,” he said, “I was driving,” before he restarted the song he continued, “I was imagining myself in a plane -- in the third plane from the left...” he trailed off and began the song again. Even though I knew nothing of how Mitchell behaves, (before checking out several Youtube clips), it was clear that Kelly’s choices were grounded in something real. Kelly performs with comfort. He clearly respects his muse, as well as his audience, and his performance is genuine.
Speaking of performance, this man’s voice is outrageous. Kelly sings Mitchell’s songs in their original key and hits even the highest notes with ease. He slides effortlessly back and forth between earthy, warm notes to fluid, high notes that seem to hit the clouds. Note that this reviewer, a mezzo-soprano, wonders if she could hit them so easily herself. Kelly has a beautiful counter tenor that has that strange, seductive quality that tends to accompany such androgynous voices. Kelly’s rendition of “Amelia” - my new favorite song for the moment - brought tears to my eyes, and his “4th of July - Night Ride Home,” is particularly moving. Another song, “Circle Game,” which closes the first act, was complete with disco ball as the audience was asked to join in and sing along.
Like Mitchell, Kelly plays the dulcimer and the guitar, and even enjoys a cigarette during the “concert.” Adding to the concert are Vincent Van Gogh (Paul Ossola) on bass and Georgia O’Keefe (Zecca Esquibel, also Musical Director) on piano and keyboards. The lighting design (Ben Kato) truly sets the mood of a live concert. Strong colors, streaks of light through a smokey haze, backlighting and a beautiful silhouette effect at the end of the show when Kelly disrobes, transforming before his audience from Joni to John, really takes the breath away (a bit of a spoiler alert, I know, but this moment is just beautiful). While the element of surprise is nice, it is so touching that I am confident that knowing about it ahead of time will not make it any less powerful.
Joni Mitchell, herself, is said to be one of John Kelly’s biggest fans. After seeing Kelly’s performance, now I am a fan of both of them. If you are a Joni Mitchell fan you should check out Mr. Kelly’s homage. If you are, like I was, rather unfamiliar with Ms. Mitchell but you enjoy a good concert and a genuine performance, by all means, hop on down to the Abrons Arts Center and check out John Kelly in Paved Paradise Redux: The Art of Joni Mitchell. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to log on to iTunes and purchase my first Joni Mitchell album!
*Special Note: The producer, TWEED TheaterWorks extends a special invitation to Dine al Fresco with Joni, “well not exactly with Joni -- and not exactly Joni -- but...” they have announced that, “they are in cahoots with several high end food trucks -- including Vincent’s Pizza (from Union Square) and The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, among others, to show up and feed the hungry throngs. There is an open air plaza [at the Abrons Arts Center] with tables and chairs and diners are encouraged to show up at 6:30PM AND HAVE DINNER AL FRESCO BEFORE THE SHOW (there is indoor space in case of inclement weather!)”
(PAVED PARADISE REDUX: THE ART OF JONI MITCHELL runs through June 27, Thursday through Sunday at 8pm. Abrons Arts Center is located inside Henry Street Settlement at 466 Grand Street. The show is approx. 1 hour 45 minutes with one 10 min. intermission. Tickets are $20 on Thursday & Sunday, $25 on Friday & Saturday. For information and reservations call 212-352-3101 or www.TheaterMania.com. For more info visit www.abronsartscenter.org.)
Sunday, June 21, 2009
solid production • cool use of photography/multi-media • kinda serious • character study • note performance times (shows start at 15 minutes after the hour)
BOTTOM LINE: Has a sort of TV feel, especially in the sense that I didn’t care as much about the story as I did about the characters’ stories.
It’s the turn of the new century and the question remains: Is it the same as it ever was? Or are we, as a society, totally FUBAR (F***ed Up Beyond All Recognition)? Themes galore surface in Karl Gajdusek’s FUBAR or Interesting, Incredible, Amazing, Fantastic, presented by Project Y Theatre Company as part of the Americas Off-Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters. Addiction, self-doubt, self-recognition, suicide, money, technology, fear, random acts of violence, infidelity, sex, cyberspace, drugs, and love are all explored in this at times confusing, somewhat disjointed, character driven story.
It’s the late '90s. The internet is still relatively foreign, alternative is the new mainstream, and ecstasy was the “it” drug of choice among ravers, college freshman and middle-aged PhD's alike. David (Jerry Richardson) is a six-figure-internet-guru-turned-amateur-photographer, while his wife, Mary (Lisa Velten Smith) is a physician who is apparently spiraling through depression. Their rocky marriage is tested when they move to San Francisco after Mary’s mother, an original flower child, commits suicide. We don’t know why Mary’s mother killed herself but we do know that she was a victim of domestic violence. We also know that she shot herself but not before packing up all of her belongings and labeling the boxes with things like “Virginity,” “For Mary,” “For David” and “Unforgivable Tchotchkes.”
In their new home of San Francisco, David reconnects with his high school buddy Richard (Ryan McCarthy) over some ecstasy at a rave. The two bond over drugs, old times, and their mutual adoration for Sylvia (Stephanie Szostak), the newest type of bohemian, who engages in cyber sex, lots of drugs, and is a muse for David’s new-found passion. Richard shares with David the thought that you go to bed thinking you are beautiful then you wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see what you really look like. He asks David, “Where is the mirror that shows who you really are?” Richard, we find out, is an author (the book he is currently writing is about self-recognition), but really, he’s an upper class drug-dealer.
While all this is going on, Mary is a victim of a random act of violence. She gets pummeled while taking a walk, just after laughing at the site of a big, beautiful, house burnt to the ground and thinking to herself “maybe I’ll get one of those delicious wraps.” After that, she takes boxing lessons from DC (Dan Patrick Brady) so she can learn how to hit something.
After leaving the theatre, I couldn’t help but feel like I had just Netflixed the first season of a new cable series called “FUBAR,” sat down, and watched the entire box set from beginning to end. Even though Gajdusek touches on some topical themes, the story itself is lackluster. It is a bit convoluted and even teeters on trite towards the end. His characters, however, are increasingly interesting. In particular, cast members Richardson and Szostak really honored Gajdusek’s characters with depth and variety. Richardson, with his quirky sense of humor, has a Ron Howard appeal that makes him ever likable while Szostak’s quintessential European cutie delivers with unabashed honestly that is both funny and discerning.
The characters in FUBAR, along with some stunning visual imagery (especially the stirring photographs taken by Eduardo Felix Placer that are intermittently projected on the walls), are what make this play interesting. The characters ask themselves, each other, and ultimately the audience many questions. In the end they prove that we as a people - despite a changing world filled with technology, violence, fear, and an ever present disapproval of what we, the people of the new millennia, have become - are the same as we ever were.
(FUBAR or Interesting, Incredible, Amazing, Fantasic plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th St., through June 28th. Performance times are Tuesday at 7:15pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8:15pm and Sunday at 3:15pm. The show is 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission. Tickets are $18 ($12.60 for 59E59 Members) and can be purchased online at www.ticketcentral.com or by calling 212-279-4200. For more info visit www.59E59.org.)
Saturday, June 20, 2009
take the kids • a good production of a bad musical • potentially headed for Broadway • the In the Heights creative team • "Ease on Down the Road" will be stuck in your head for days
BOTTOM LINE: Alvin Ailey meets Disney on Broadway meets the sale rack at JC Penney.
The Wiz is an urban musical version of The Wizard of Oz with an all-black cast that originally opened on Broadway in 1975. The production did well in the '70s, playing for four years and spawning a movie version starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow. It was revived on Broadway in 1984 and received a less stellar response...it closed after only two weeks. And here-in lies the problem with The Wiz: you better have an incredible production because in the end, it's just not a very good show.
This new version, playing through July 5th at City Center, is a part of the Encores series with the potential for a future Broadway run. Encores employs high caliber casts and creative teams to produce musical revivals. With somewhat minimal sets and a limited three week run, the point is to put a staged but unfinished version of the show up in front of an audience and to see the response and potential future for the production. For example, the 2007 Broadway production of Gypsy with Patti LuPone started at Encores and then played a spectacularly successful run on Broadway. I'm not sure The Wiz will make the transfer, but I'd love to see this cast together again. For all the ways the production misses the boat there are some truly wonderful moments as well.
The Wiz utilizes the In the Heights team (Thomas Kail directed, Andy Blankenbuehler choreographed, and Alex Lacamoire is musical director). This is a solid decision since both musicals are happy and hopeful with an urban vibe; they also both focus on the idea of what it means to be home. To their credit, Kail, Blankenbueher and Lacamoire do a great job with the material. They have a tremendous cast and orchestra, so performance-wise the show really cooks. The weakest link is Grammy winning pop star Ashanti, as Dorothy. This is her stage debut and it's pretty apparent that she's not an actress. But she has a lovely voice and the kids in the audience were going crazy (I guess anything that gets kids to the theatre can't be all bad). Luckily, Ashanti is surrounded by a fantastically talented cast including Tony winner LaChanze at Aunt Em (The Color Purple), Orlando Jones as the Wiz, and a whole slew of other singers and dancers that round out a stellar ensemble.
The story itself is very presentational and formulaic so each scene introduces a new character who gets a fun solo to sing. In a lot of ways, it's like watching bad-show-tune night on American Idol (if such a night existed). With the exception of 'Ease on Down the Road,' the rest of the music is pretty forgettable, even with a talented cast singing their respective faces off. Two songs that don't suck are the wicked witch's gospel-esque diva number called 'No Bad News' and the gorgeous ensemble song 'Everybody Rejoice' which was actually written by Luther Vandoss.
Blankenbuehler's choreography is creative and the dancers certainly perform it with grace and athleticism. As a dance show, The Wiz impresses. The staging is tough with Encores though, because the orchestra is showcased on stage (which, don't get me wrong, is incredibly cool and well-deserved). The result is that the cast of 30 is forced to maneuver around a large, winding staircase and platform. I'm not sure if this is part of the reason the pacing of the show is off or if it is the fault of book and the score, but the scene changes are often disjointed.
It's not that this production of The Wiz is bad. It's entertaining, energetic and brimming with talent. For what it's worth, it's a great kids show as well. It just lacks the wow moments needed to revive an insipid musical and make it new again. But it's worth seeing while it's playing this summer, especially if you have a personal connection to the musical or the movie.
(The Wiz plays through July 5th at City Center, 130 West 56th Street. Tickets are $25-$110. For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets visit nycitycenter.org/tickets.)
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Something pretty interesting is brewing at The Castillo Theatre with their newest interpretation of Heiner Muller’s Hamletmachine. The Castillo is one of only a handful of theatres in the country who regularly produces the work of Muller (a protégé of Bertold Brecht) who strived to transform the theatre for a new social use. Hamletmachine, written in 1977 in East Germany, is a postmodernist drama which borrows from Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and Jean-Luc Godard and deals not only with the ideas of communism and feminism, but the idea of being trapped in any time or situation.
So, I don’t usually give quite that much background about a particular play, but I think it’s important for this one. It truly is a theatrical experience that is unlike anything you have probably ever seen. The actors perform throughout the entire theatre space and even greet audience members in the lobby by creating window art that depict people’s perceptions of Hamlet, communism, and the like. There isn’t a “conventional” plot in this interesting piece. It’s more like watching a hip, living modern art instillation. You might not fully understand everything that you are watching, but you will probably be intrigued.
(Hamletmachine plays at The Castillo Theatre, 543 West 42nd between 10th and 11th Avenues,
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Hmm. Or maybe, hmm? Such was my response to Axis Company's opening weekend performance of hospital 2009. hospital, now in its tenth year, is a serial play that explores the cerebral inner workings of a terminally comatose man. Each annual cycle employs a different scenario as a metaphor to illustrate the man's dissension into darkness. This year finds him floating in a small escape pod in outer space having accidentally detached himself from his mother ship. He is not certain as to how or why these events have occurred and what's more, he is not entirely convinced that these events have happened at all for in his dream-like state, he experiences vague flashes of his Earth-bound life which persuade him otherwise. Unfortunately, the audience is left just as confused and aimless as the play's main character. Maybe that's the point...?
Despite an interesting premise, a capable cast and a style-savvy creative team, hospital 2009 is a tough sell. The script lacks clarity, the characters are deficient in definition and the dialogue is so heavy with outer space techno speak, it is nearly impossible to follow the movement scene to scene or even sentence to sentence. In addition, the relationships between characters are so aggravatingly ambiguous that the audience is left asking themselves, "Who are these people and why should I care about them?"
At times, it feels as if hospital 2009 isn't really concerned about what the audience thinks, feels or even understands. Other than the set up outlined in the production's program, hospital does not attempt to aid the audience in the navigation of the script's complex storyline nor does it encourage the investment into what they do know about the characters and the circumstances surrounding them. Strange elements appear unexpectedly, but because they are never fully explained, rather than adding interest, depth or comedy, they instead create a component of superfluous frivolity which leaves the audience resentful of the production's pretension.
Regardless of hospital 2009's shortcomings, the production value is noteworthy. Axis Company's space, located in the beautiful West Village, sports an ultra-modern design complete with chrome accents, leather furniture and flat-screen television monitors embedded in the walls. The theater itself, a basement space, possesses perfect dimensions, comfortable audience seating and superior technical capabilities. As soon as one steps into the space, it feels as though one has taken a field trip to the city planetarium, an effect which serves the production well considering the celestial location of this year's installment.
(hospital 2009 includes 4 episodes and plays through July 25 at One Sheridan Square. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8pm. For the complete schedule visit axiscompany.org. Tickets are $12, student and senior tickets are $6. To purchase tickets call 212.807.9300.)
Monday, June 15, 2009
(I interviewed Brian Yorkey, playwright and lyricist of the new Broadway musical Next to Normal, for popdose.com last month. He had a lot of great insight about creating a new musical and even though the article is pre-Tony Awards and therefore a little outdated, I think it's still worth sharing. Hope you find it interesting.)
Brian Yorkey is not an asshole. The playwright of the new Broadway musical Next to Normal would never write disparaging comments on a blog post critical of his show. He actually welcomes intellectual discussions about Next to Normal and is much more humble than proud. So it was obviously disconcerting when he discovered an impostor was posting offensive comments as “Brian Yorkey” on a handful of websites this past spring as Next to Normal opened on Broadway.
That’s actually how I met Brian. Faux-Yorkey posted a snotty comment on my review of Next to Normal (on popdose.com) and Brian contacted me to do some apologetic damage control. Since the Internet feeds the fire of anonymous trash-talking, it’s hard to know Faux-Yorkey’s intentions. Deeply defensive of any semi-negative feedback about the show, he (or she) is either a creepy, obsessive fan or rather someone with whom the show resonates strongly. Writing a critically acclaimed rock musical about mental illness is sure to attract a passionate following, after all.
Next to Normal is a breakthrough original musical, receiving astonishing praise from both critics and fans. The show opened at the Booth Theatre in April and is up for a whopping 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, at this year’s awards. (Editor's note: Next to Normal won Tony Awards for Best Original Score, Best Leading Actress - Alice Ripley, and Best Orchestrations).
The show details the life of bipolar mother Diana, played by Alice Ripley, and how her debilitating mental illness effects both her and her family. The touchy subject matter is delicately and passionately deconstructed while a thumping rock score accompanies the characters’ struggles. It’s certainly an emotional musical, and one that offers a connection to its audience as everyone takes the journey together.
When I sat down with Brian to discuss his experience writing the book and lyrics for Next to Normal, I expected his insight to be almost transcendent, in accord with how the musical elicits such a passionate reaction from its audience. Instead, he told me about his experience with the show’s composer, Tom Kitt, and their journey from when it began as a 10-minute piece at the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop a decade ago. Called Feeling Electric at the time, Brian and Tom wanted to write an edgy final project for the workshop, contrasting from their otherwise traditional peers in the class (and their otherwise traditional work). They were fresh out of college and ready to work on their craft; the subsequent 11 Tony nominations a decade later prove that talent and artistic ingenuity have to start somewhere.
Next to Normal’s journey from 10-minute piece to full-length Broadway musical was somewhat arduous, given all the people that were involved from its inception. The creative team was purely interested in telling the story and discovering the characters and their relationships. Unlike other theatrical endeavors that are about selling the show to a paying audience, Next to Normal didn’t have its sights set so commercially high, at least not at first. And that probably has a lot to do with what makes it so intimately resonant. When you don’t have to add schmaltz and sparkles to make your audience feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, you are at liberty to do what’s best for the story. Then, if a ticket is worth a Broadway price, you’ve not only done your job well, but you haven’t sold out to get there. It’s a sad rarity in theatre these days, especially with ticket prices so astronomically high.
I was curious to hear from Brian what it’s like to write a truly original musical, given that most of the new theatre out there is based on a story previously told in another form (movie, album, comic, etc). Brian admitted it’s “exponentially harder to write an original musical. Musicals that go wrong can be ridiculous because it’s a ridiculous artform. People bursting into song can be ridiculous. But musicals that go right can be sublime.” He was quick to quote Spinal Tap: “it’s a very fine line between clever and stupid.”
Currently 19 musicals are playing on Broadway. Next to Normal finds itself in the company of only two other complete originals (Avenue Q and In the Heights). Sure, there are other original musicals on Broadway, but they’re all based on a story or idea that has previously been told (Wicked, Shrek and 9 to 5, for example). In the 2008-2009 Broadway season, 14 new musicals opened. Of those 14, only four were completely original (Next to Normal, Story of My Life, [title of show] and 13). The only one of those shows still running is Next to Normal.
What is it about original musicals that make them so few and far between? Are people out of ideas? Are previously told stories simply an easier sell? Brian was quick to remind me that adaptations have always graced the Broadway stage, and that maybe “original musicals are the exception rather than the rule.” Really, Next to Normal wasn’t written to be a new, innovative comment on society or the art of theatre. Brian quotes Harold Prince, saying “You don’t set out to break new ground, you set out to write a show.” He adds, “Rent, Falsettos, Tommy, Hair…[Next to Normal] wouldn’t be there without those shows.”
Best-case scenario, Brian hopes that Next to Normal sets a precedent for original musicals in the future. He hopes producers can look at the success of the show and think that maybe it’s possible to develop an ambitious, challenging, new musical and make money at the same time. He believes the success of Next to Normal can prove that you don’t have to resort to sweet, lighthearted productions in the interest of making bank — and sometimes the risk can be worth the reward.
Will the production be around for a while, tour the country and play regionally? It seems likely. Brian counts Spring Awakening as a sort of kindred spirit of Next to Normal. Spring Awakening is the rock musical that won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Musical and has since had much success touring America. It is a unique, non-traditional show, based on a controversial story from the late 1800s. Like Next to Normal, Spring Awakening employs taboo topics (i.e. teens doing it) although Next to Normal doesn’t have the gratuitous nudity of the aforementioned musical — but Brian would put Next to Normal’s Aaron Tveit’s butt against Spring Awakening’s Jonathan Groff’s anyday.
Really, Brian hopes Next to Normal will strike a chord with typical American families because he sees the problems his characters go through as not-too-rare occurrences that many people cope with on a daily basis. He believes with the accessibility of Tom’s music and the relatability of the story, Next to Normal will have much success in the Midwest and other parts of the country. And at best, he hopes that kids who deal with mental illness in their own families will be able to connect with the story and feel comfort knowing they’re not alone.
Completely modest and full of appreciation for the success of his show, Brian still finds his 11 Tony nominations hard to believe. He himself is up for two awards: Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score, although collecting two Tonys for his mantle is not his Tony fantasy. He’d actually just like to have an in-depth conversation will Dolly Parton about whatever’s on her mind and then have someone take a picture of them together. He’d also like to chat with Sir Elton. And it would be great if his tux was slimming. Of course, he’d like Next to Normal to win Best Musical, and he’d also like it if Alice Ripley, Bobby Spencer and Jen Damiano could win their respective Best Actor/Actress awards — and if Aaron Tveit could also win in a write-in vote. When asked about winning the Tonys he’s personally up for, he humbly admits he might not even vote for himself in those categories — but adds that he won’t turn them down if, in fact, he wins.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Editor's note: Sole Survivors was presented at Stage Left Studio Theatre June 3rd through June 7th. It will play next at the North 4th Theatre (4904 Fourth Street NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico) from July 17th through August 1st. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit www.vsartsnm.org or phone 505-344-4542. The show will be performed Friday, July 17th, Saturday, July 18th, Friday, July 24th, Saturday, July 25th, Friday, July 31st, Saturday, and August 1st at 8:00pm.
Michelle Vest’s Sole Survivors is an intriguing and heartbreaking look at the complex issue of immigration. Vest portrays four fascinating characters and frames the monologues with a mariachi band, Flor de Toloache, playing songs while she transforms into her next character. (When the show plays in New Mexico, the band will be Mariachi Sonidos del Monte.) Flor de Toloache is an amazingly talented ensemble featuring Mireya Ramos, Shae Fiol, Veronica Valerio, and Antonio Vidal. Veronica Valerio particularly shines with her gorgeous, velvety voice full of pain and intrigue. I have to say it was refreshing for me to see an almost all-female mariachi band. The juxtaposition of Flor de Toloache’s music and Vest’s monologues works perfectly and allows the audience to embrace the spirit of the immigrant soul.
Vest’s characters all have a fascinating story to tell. Her first character is a man that explains how he became a coyote; his experiences with the death and violence suffered by illegal immigrants is bone-chilling. The second character is a vibrant, young mom that crosses the border but must leave her son behind. The next character is a day worker; his story demonstrates how the brutal struggle to survive can sometimes make us forget our humanity. And the last character is a sweet professor from El Salvador who must work in a kitchen in the U.S.; he is waiting to reunite with his family after eleven years. Each character is portrayed with precision and heart. This play needs to be seen, especially in a time of economic recession, when scapegoating immigrants is rampant.
Vest’s show ran at Cheryl King’s Stage Left Studio Theatre, a charming and intimate space perfect for one person shows. The theater is the only solo show repertory theatre in New York and offers a wonderful opportunity for artists like Michelle Vest to get exposure. Go to www.stageleftstudio.net to learn about her upcoming shows.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
The Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn kicked off its month long Antidepressent Festival last week. All performances are at The Brick, 575 Metropolitan Avenue between Union and Lorimer. For show descriptions visit bricktheater.com/antidepressant. Here is the line-up for the festival...
June 6 at 5:30pm, June 17 at 8pm, June 25 at 7pm, July 4 at 5pm
June 6 at 11pm and June 21 at 5:30pm
…and the fear cracked open.
June 10 at 8pm, June 18 at 9:30pm, June 21 at 8pm and June 27 at 8pm
Big Girls Club (The Happy Dance Dance Princess Show)
June 7 at 8pm, June 12 at 8pm, June 23 at 8pm and July 4 at 2pm
Booze, Sports and Romance
June 14 at 5pm and June 20 at 10pm
One Night Only: June 14 at 7pm
Exit, Pursued by Bears
June 14 at 2pm, June 19 at 7:30pm, June 21 at 2pm and July 1 at 7:30pm
June 7 at 2pm, June 12 at 10pm, June 20 at 5pm and June 28 at 3pm
How to Fight Depression When You Don’t Even Know its Symptoms
June 11 at 9:30pm and June 13 at 5:30pm
June 7 at 5pm, June 9 at 8pm, July 1 and July 3
June 13 at 7pm, June 20 at 7pm and June 24 at 7:30pm
June 20 at 2pm
Samuel and Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War
June 6 at 5:30pm, June 27 a 2pm, June 28 at 7pm and July 2 at 7:30pm
Schaden, Freude and You: A 3 Clown Seminar
June 26 at 7pm and June 27 at 10pm
Suspicious Package: Rx
June 13 at 3pm, June 14 at 4pm, June 20 at 4pm, June 21 at 4pm, June 27 at 4pm and June 28 at 3pm
The Tale of the Good Whistleblower of Chaillot’s Caucasian Mother and Her Other Children of a Lesser Marriage Chalk Circle
June 6 at 3pm, June 16 at 8pm, June 19 at 9:30pm and June 25 at 9:30pm
WILM 690: Pirate Radio
June 11 at 7:30pm and June 13 at 3pm
June 13 at 9pm, June 18 at 9:30pm, June 26 at 9:30pm and June 30 at 8pm
Thursday, June 11, 2009
mucho nudity! not for the kiddies! (under 17 not admitted) • smart • funny • a tad long, but well executed • promising and exciting playwright that I hope to see more from in the future.
Why is it when penises and vegan food are thrown into the mix everything is taken just a little less seriously? Not so with up and coming playwright Derek Ahonen’s The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side, presented by The Amoralists Theatre Company (although many laughs are had at the exposure of said body part and the mention of things like “unturkey” sandwiches). Ahonen explores utopian ideals brought on by an obvious conflict with the dystopian world our society is fearfully plummeting toward, with broad humor and even broader views. A detailed design, stellar cast, and bold direction bring to life this necessary story of four struggling friends.
The meticulous set (by Al Schatz) and costumes (by Ricky Lang) are a throw-back to the '60s and early '70s, a clear representation of a time when utopian ideals had perhaps their largest resurgence since Marx. The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side takes place over the course of a week in a small apartment. Billy (James Kautz), Wyatt (Matthew Pilieci), Dear (Sarah Lemp) and Dawn (Mandy Nicole Moore) are a sexually open foursome, who are in a committed relationship with each other and live together above a vegan restaurant in present-day NYC. They each have their individual struggles, addictions, and fears which are challenged first when Billy’s younger brother Evan (Nick Lawson) - your typical Midwestern, close-minded, frat boy - comes for a visit and next when they are dealt a hard blow from friend, employer, and landlord Donovan (Malcolm Madera) that upends their lifestyle.
The entire ensemble of actors is electric. Kautz plays a sad man behind blue eyes that is touching and complex. Pilieci’s comedic timing is perfection and he displays great range from fearless aggression to heartbreaking vulnerability. I fell in love a little bit with Moore whose doe-eyed ingenue is wistful and moving while Lawson does an excellent job of fulfilling a stereotype without succumbing to it’s pitfalls. Lemp has a likability about her that is a must for the hard-as-nails matriarch of the tribe and Madera rounds out the cast with simplicity and rapid-fire comedic delivery. Ahonen has a delicious ability to weave subtle hypocrisy into his characters. It makes some of the characters' personalities less appealing while it makes others unexpectedly more appealing and in the end it makes each one of the characters infinitely more interesting.
When you check out The Pied Pipers, I promise you will have your daily allotment of penises, butts, boobs, and bushes. I’ve mentioned this in past reviews but I’ll say it again: I am not one for gratuitous sex and unnecessary nudity, violence, or words (i.e. anything for shock-factor, it’s just not my bag). This show, however, had more roughness, sexuality, and naked bodies than I have seen on stage in a long time and not once was it distracting or unnecessary. Ahonen (who also directed the show) deserves a giant kudos, as does his cast, for understanding the difference between artsy-fartsy and skill.
I am also not one for hippie-dippy-tree-hugging-free-loving-why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along-ing. Puhlease. Stop. Enough already. Somehow this play avoids this trap yet manages to explore existential, philosophical, ecological, moral, and social questions without being heady or pretentious. Ahonen, both as director and playwright, bombards the senses and the mind with thought-provoking challenges that race through this reviewer's head on an almost daily basis. He creates one of those "you kinda had to be there" experiences. That being said, I suggest you go ahead and be there.
(The Pied Pipers Of The Lower East Side plays at PS 122, 150 1st Ave (at East 9th St.) through June 28th. Performance times are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 5:00pm with an added show on Wednesday June 24th at 7:30pm. Tickets are $25, $15 for students/seniors and $10 for PS 122 members, and can be purchased online at www.ps122.org or by calling 212-352-3101. No one under 17 will be admitted. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes including two intermissions. For more info, visit www.TheAmoralists.com)
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Well, the Tony Awards aired last Sunday night and there weren’t any surprises of note. Everyone who was supposed to win took home their respective awards and aside from the teleprompter being apparently really hard to read, the night pretty much went as planned. Billy Elliot won almost all of the awards it was up for, including the coveted Best Musical prize. God of Carnage won the award for Best Play, as expected. Neil Patrick Harris proved to be a decent Tonys host, not terribly cheesy but still endearing to Grandmas in Ohio. And the G-rated entertainment offered more musical performances this year including the tours of Legally Blonde, Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia (because that's apparently what people want).
Other highlights included NPH's blatant mockery of Jeremy Piven's "mercury poisoning" (his reason for dropping out of Speed-the-Plow earlier this year) and Frank Langella's snarky "I'm not mad I wasn't nominated for a Tony" rant. Winners were genuinely gracious and most, like Gregory Jbara (who won the Best Featured Actor in a Musical award for Billy Elliot), gave truly thoughtful speeches. It was also pretty great that The Norman Conquests won Best Revival of Play, even though none of the four actors who were up for acting awards won (that's okay, it really is an ensemble show).
There were a lot of unfortunate things about the Tonys, too. First of all, Bret Michaels sang with Rock of Ages in the opening performance (a pretty great idea) but got injured exiting the stage by some moving scenery (seriously, he fractured his nose). I feel bad for Bret; I mean, there were a whole lot of people on stage in that opening clusterfuck. Another issue I'm bothered by is that the creative awards (including Best Choreography, Best Book of a Musical, and all of the designer awards) don't get to be announced during the live broadcast. Instead, they are announced at a small, less significant ceremony beforehand. I understand people might not care which play had the best lighting design, but the broadcast had the 48,000th tour of Mamma Mia performing for god's sake. Another Tony problem: CBS mixed up the Mary Stuart ladies (Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter) when showing their close-ups as the Best Leading Actress in a Play nominees were announced. I know they're British and starring in a drama but come on, there are five people in the category, get it right.
For the full list of Tony winners, visit tonyawards.com.
Monday, June 8, 2009
MOST CORRECT PREDICTIONS IN THE WIN A TONY! (GUESSING CONTEST)
Congratulations Benjamin! You correctly predicted 21 winners out of the 27 awards given out at the 2009 Tony Awards. We are humbled by your Broadway knowledge! You are the proud owner of five pairs of tickets to the five FringeNYC shows of your choice.
Thanks to everyone who participated!
Saturday, June 6, 2009
In this third and final installment, I’ll go through my thoughts on the remaining awards, and then I’ll rant a bit about the upcoming broadcast, and why I think the Tony Award Broadcast is needlessly becoming dumber and dumber each year. But first…
This is only the fifth year in which there have been separate design awards for plays and musicals, and only the second in which an award has been given for sound design. So whereas in 2004 there were only three design categories, now there are eight. The winners in these categories are often the hardest to predict. But for those who want to win a Tony contest (like the one on Theatre is Easy - enter here - the design categories can be crucial.
Of course, it is hard to know how people vote. It isn’t that I think voters are mindless when they vote for design awards, it is just that there is so much to take in when you see a play once. While I believe that many voters try to select the most deserving nominee, I think sometimes it is hard to figure out who that is. Sometimes, they just vote down the line for whatever is the big show of the season. This happened in 2001 with The Producers (I am STILL annoyed about this, the lighting for Jane Eyre was far superior). And last year, South Pacific won all four musical design awards, but in this case, I felt it deserved them. Since Billy Elliot has been nominated for all four musical design awards, a sweep is possible. On the other hand, design awards are often a place where voters can award a show that they liked, but didn’t vote for anywhere else. For example, last year The 39 Steps (which is somehow still running) won two Tony awards, for Lighting and Sound Design. Voters may also vote based on the designer’s history at the Tonys: for example, costume designer Jane Greenwood received her 16th Tony nomination this year for Waiting for Godot, and has never won. (And I doubt she’ll win this year). But that would mean voters say to themselves “Michael Yeargan should win Best Scenic Design of a Play,” as opposed to saying “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone should win Best Scenic Design of a Play.” (It would also mean they know who has and who hasn’t won a Tony.)
It could be that voters “vote down the line” more with musicals than with plays. Or it could be that because scenic and costume design is more “concrete” (you can spot it in a photograph, for example), voters are more likely to actually vote based on the designs. In comparison, lighting and sound design have less tangible “products,” and so perhaps in these categories, voters just go with the show they liked the best. It’s worth mentioning that the Tony website, tonyawards.com, has this year started what will hopefully be an ongoing feature: a three minute clip of every nominated show (play, musical, and special event). The clips I saw seemed to provide a good sample of each nominated production. So if you want to make some informed guesses in the design categories, it might be worth checking these videos out.
Here are my best guesses as to who will win the design awards. But some of these categories are really tough to call.
BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY
I’m guessing 33 Variations here—it has the most intricate set, and I can still remember those sheets of paper flying through the air as the set was moved. (Also nominated: Exit the King, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, and The Norman Conquests).
BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY
Tough category. Rule out Blithe Spirit. Exit the King has regal costumes, and a bit absurdist. Waiting for Godot has the Susan Lucci of costume design (Jane Greenwood). But I’ll go with Mary Stuart, if only because the concept (women in Victorian dresses, men in modern suits) was so brilliant. Plus, I think voters will want to reward this show with something.
BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY
Again, tough call. I’d rule out Equus, simply because it closed. But it’s a toss up between the other three. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone has Brian MacDevitt, who has three Tonys already. 33 Variations has a beautiful overall aesthetic, which could help it stand out. And Mary Stuart has rain.
BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY
I’d go with Exit the King, if only because it has the most memorable “effects.” Equus also had some great “effects” (the scraping of horse hooves was particularly haunting). But again, it closed. (Also nominated: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and Mary Stuart).
BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
The set for Billy Elliot isn’t pretty, but it moves around in interesting ways. And it’s big, which is always a plus. I’d actually give it to [title of show], for daring to only have four chairs and a keyboard, but I’m perverse like that. (Also nominated: Guys and Dolls, Next to Normal, and Pal Joey).
BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Hopefully this will be the category that will prevent a Billy Elliot design sweep. Many are predicting Tim Hatley’s designs for Shrek will win, but I also wouldn’t count out Michael McDonald’s gorgeous costumes for Hair, which are clearly visible to the audience since the performers often come right up near you. (Also nominated: Rock of Ages).
BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Kevin Adams is nominated twice here, and while his designs for Next to Normal were good, I hope he wins for Hair - the lighting in that show is stunning. But Billy Elliot is also a possibility. (Also nominated: West Side Story).
BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Hair has people running out into the audience, and Next to Normal has an orchestra scattered around the stage: both seem like big challenges sound-wise. I’d actually vote for Rock of Ages...as loud as the music was, I could also hear every single word and sung lyric, even during the loudest guitar riff. But while I thought the sound design to Billy Elliot was atrocious (rarely do I notice sound design this much!), I’m betting it has a good chance of winning.
BEST SPECIAL THEATRICAL EVENT
Ok, so this is the one category in which I didn’t see ANY of the nominees. Does this mean I have nothing to say? Ha! Liza's at The Palace is a sure winner here, and while I still regret not trekking out in the snow to see Liza Minnelli’s show this winter, I’m looking forward to an entertaining acceptance speech. Her closest competition would seem to be Will Ferrell’s show You're Welcome America- A Final Night with George W. Bush. At least, this is the show that did the best at the box office. But Ferrell isn’t someone Tony voters care much about, especially since he refused (repeatedly, I heard) to host the Tony awards this year (Neil Patrick Harris is hosting this year). The other two nominees are Slava's Snowshow- a holiday transfer of a Russian clowning spectacle, and Soul of Shaolin- a Chinese martial arts spectacle. Both may have been nice shows. But they aren’t Liza, and as one might say, Liza IS the Tonys!
It’s worth briefly reviewing some of the people and shows that didn’t receive nominations this year. Almost every one was from a show that closed in 2008 or January 2009. And while shows that don’t run into the spring often don’t do as well in the Tonys, the sheer quality of the Fall shows, and the almost total lack of nominations, is particularly noticeable this year. In fact, not counting the special theatrical events, only three shows that closed in or before January received any nominations- [title of show] received one, and Dividing the Estate and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas each received two.
While I didn’t see Impressionism, A Man For All Seasons, Hedda Gabler, The Philanthropist, Accent on Youth, or Cirque Dreams, they all received mixed to negative reviews, so I’m not surprised that none of them received nominations. Two of the worst shows I saw this season, To Be or Not To Be and Desire Under the Elms, also did not receive any nominations (although some people, including New York Times reviewer Charles Isherwood, apparently loved Desire Under the Elms). Some feel that Tovah Feldshuh and James Barbour should have been nominated for their performances in Irena’s Vow and A Tale of Two Cities. I found Feldshuh’s performance a bit over-the-top, but I agree that Barbour probably should have been nominated (instead of Contantine Maroulis). Likewise, I think Daniel Radcliffe made an astounding Broadway debut in Equus, and should have been nominated for his performance. And Mercedes Ruehl, probably the best part of The American Plan, also should have been nominated.
It was a great year for play revivals, so I guess it is inevitable that some revivals were undeservedly shut out, most notably The Seagull (which I missed) and All My Sons (which I loved). But all four plays nominated for Best Revival opened in the spring, by which time both The Seagull and All My Sons had closed. Apparently Casey Mulligan was excellent in The Seagull, and All My Sons had several Tony-worthy elements, including performances by Dianne Wiest, John Lithgow, and Patrick Wilson, and direction by Simon McBurney.
Likewise, I thought two musicals, both of which closed by the beginning of January, deserved more attention from the nominating committee. While many did not like 13, the musical with a thirteen-member teenage cast, I thought it an extremely well done, exciting new musical. If nothing else, Jason Robert Brown should have been nominated for his score. I also thought Aaron Simon Gross’s performance Tony-worthy- certainly better than any of the kids from Billy Elliot. And while [title of show] received one nomination for its book, I think it should have also been nominated for Best Score, Featured Actress (Susan Blackwell), and Best Musical. And I wonder, if it had been running on Broadway in the spring, if it wouldn’t have received more nominations.
The Tony Awards Broadcast
To quote from a recent press release: “The Tony Awards telecast on Sunday, June 7th will feature performances by each of the Tony-nominated Best Musicals and Best Musical Revivals, including: Billy Elliot, The Musical; Guys and Dolls; Hair; Next to Normal; Pal Joey; Rock of Ages; Shrek the Musical; and West Side Story. Additionally, The Tony Awards will feature special performances from three touring shows – Jersey Boys, Legally Blonde The Musical and Mamma Mia!”
Ugh. I’m all for performances from the season’s musicals. I still remember watching one of my first Tony awards, and seeing the cast of Falsettos perform “The Baseball Game.” These early musical performances, from shows I had never even heard of, riveted me. Unfortunately, the CBS execs, especially head exec Les Moonves, have decided that people are ONLY interested in watching musicals. And so the more musical performances, the better, which is why space is being given in the broadcast to performances from touring shows. The design awards are not shown on television...you can only see them by logging onto the Tony website’s live feed for the “Creative Arts Awards.” Also part of this segment are the awards for Orchestrations, Choreography(!), Book of Musical(!!), and Revival of a Play(!!!). I am appalled by this. (It happened last year too). If the Academy Awards can find a way to fit in the award for Best Animated Short Film, shouldn’t the Tony Awards be able to fit in Best Revival of a Play?
CBS is clearly trying to “boost” ratings by stacking the broadcast with performances, and thus getting rid of the “boring stuff.” However, the Tony awards is NEVER highly rated. No one who isn’t already planning on watching is going to tune in because the touring cast of Legally Blonde is performing. I believe that the Awards show that takes place in Radio City Music Hall should be shown in its entirety. One could argue that the American public doesn’t care about orchestrations. But how do we know, if we don’t let audiences learn about them? What if there was a short speech before the award was presented that explained what an orchestration is (like in the Academy Awards)? Why must television programming always be dictated by what executives think audiences want to see?
Perhaps one could argue that the Academy Awards are more star-studded. And although everyone can see movies, only a small handful travel to New York to see a Broadway show. So maybe a comparison between the two awards shows isn’t exactly fair. But what CBS forgets is that people aren’t just interested in seeing familiar performances. I always watched the Tonys growing up because it would give me insight into the hidden, magical world of “Broadway.” And not just musicals - I remember watching one year and repeatedly hearing a five-word phrase “Angels in America: Millenium Approaches.” I had no idea what it was about, but I was fascinated. I don’t believe that American audiences aren’t interested in plays - I think they are, but they aren’t given the chance. I believe that things like the Tony award broadcast make it seem like Broadway is all big and flashy musicals. Broadway theatre is many things, and big flashy musicals are only one part. But in recent years, the Tony Award broadcast has become increasingly dumber, in a futile effort to draw in more audiences. But I don’t think CBS will ever draw in more viewers this way, I think they have the wrong strategy. I think the only way they can increase viewership is to put back in all of the “boring stuff,” because I’d argue that this is the one thing not available anywhere else. I think viewers actually want to be challenged. Many people will never watch the Tonys. A much smaller group will always watch. And I believe that the group in the middle, the ones who might watch if the show is good, are tired with an awards show that has so little to do with celebrating achievement. They want to learn more about theatre (including things like lighting design), but have given up on the Tonys as a source for this.
Ok- rant over. Now go watch the Tonys.
The 63rd Annual Tony Awards
The Tony Awards will be broadcast live in HD, from Radio City Music Hall on CBS, Sunday, June 7th, 8:00 – 11:00 p.m. (ET/PT time delay). The 2009 Tony Awards are presented by the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing. To view the live Tony Awards pre-telecast, featuring the Creative Arts Awards, please log onto www.TonyAwards.com at 7:00 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, June 7th.
For the first time ever, fans in the New York area are invited to watch the Tony Awards simulcast in Times Square. Live from Radio City Music Hall, the Tony Awards will be simulcast on the Clear Channel Spectacolor HD Screen, from 7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. and will feature the pre-telecast Creative Arts Awards and the Tony Awards broadcast. Seating will be provided in Duffy Square.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Korean-American Family that all can identify with • if you like stories like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" you'll like this • solid production • great writing • attention Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans: James Saito, AKA Shredder is in this. You should see this, if for no other reason that to say that you saw Shredder in an awesome play
Every family's got one. One relative. One event. One circumstance. One thing (or some things) that makes it tick and makes it both unique and utterly normal at the same time. In American Hwangap, new playwright Lloyd Suh illustrates the dramas of a typical American family through a specifically Korean celebration but creates a story that everyone can identify with. This production of American Hwangap, produced by Obie-award-winning companies, The Play Company and Ma-Yi Theater Company, is simple and touching with a sense of humor.
The play centers around the return of an absent father on his Hwangap. Hwangap is the Korean expression used to recognize one's 60th birthday. Before the birth of modern medicine, not many people lived to see their 60th birthday so it is a celebration of a long life. It also marks the end of the zodiac, completing the circle of one's life and the rebirth of another life within one's life. For Min Suk Chun (James Saito) it is a chance to begin his life again, with his family in America. Min Suk left his wife and three children in suburban Texas fifteen years ago to go back to Korea, something that has deeply affected his wife and children in very different ways. His homecoming is bittersweet as are his relationships with his family members.
A soft accent and subtle moments lost in translation abound but doesn't overpower this story. Saito is honest, never gimmicky, in his portrayal of the returned immigrant. He has a charming way of inserting profundity to the simplest of observations. During along overdue father/son moment with his youngest, Ralph (Peter Kim), Min Suk, referring to a video game that Ralph broke in anger earlier, shares "I think these objects have it coming to them." Saito's comedic timing is perfect and he delivers moments like this with such simplicity and honesty that one is sure that Suh has hidden pearls of wisdom somewhere in there.
Suh's voice is modernly poetic, colloquial, and humorous. Within exchanges of dialogue that seem light an inconsequential he hides some of life's deepest stuff. In one particular poem about a puppy which Ralph, a 29-year-old, slightly imbalanced, science fiction poet still living in his mother's basement, reads from his journal, he describes the sweetness, cuteness, and loyalty of this puppy then concludes, "he licked my hand. And then he pooped." Fantastic. Kim's handling of the tricky character of Ralph is smart and wonderfully delicate.
Director Trip Cullman's pacing is spot on, as are his choices. There are several moments in the play that could be played either as jokes or as weighty, poignant moments - Cullman struck an excellent balance. Cullman's staging is simple, making great use of the minimalist set (Erik Flatmo). The ensemble is solid. Each actor brought something very specific to how his/her character fits into the family as well as how they don't fit together. The family dynamic created on stage is interesting to witness, and maybe even recognize, at times.
American Hwangap presents a family story that is relatable and real. A story full of hurt and laughs, with a lot of issues made simple, and a lot of simple things made into issues. It is about one American family with a hope of repairing mistakes made, and maybe even the chance at a new beginning.
(American Hwangap performs at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, through June 7th. Tues.- Sat. at 8pm; Sat at 3 pm; Sun at 4pm. The show is 90 min.'s with no intermission. Tickets are $25 and can be reserved by calling 212-352-3101. Discount tickets available at http://www.blogger.com/www.broadwaybox.com. For more info visit www.playco.org and/or http://www.blogger.com/www.mayitheatre.org.)
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
There were ten new musicals and four revivals on Broadway this season, and I saw all but two. I missed Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, a holiday special that some suspect was brought to Broadway (at a financial loss) simply to give it additional credence in its more lucrative regional life. And I haven’t yet seen the revival of Guys and Dolls, although I’ve heard it is not worth the time. But I’ve seen everything else (yes, I even saw The Story of My Life, which didn’t run long enough to be Tony-eligible). My favorite musicals of the season are Next to Normal (which received 11 nominations) and [title of show] (which sadly only received one, for Hunter Bell’s book). And while I don’t think Billy Elliot will completely sweep the awards this year, I think it will do quite well, and will likely win in categories I don’t think it deserves, starting with…
I don’t think Billy Elliot should win here, because while some aspects were quite wonderful (the direction, and perhaps the book), the total product was surprisingly disappointing. But voters love big musicals, and from what I can tell, most people seem to enjoy this show, and don’t mind the bland score as much as I did. If there is an upset, it will be Next to Normal. On certain days, when I’m feeling especially optimistic, I think this might be possible. I certainly wouldn’t count it out (and if it happens, it could be a tie-breaker in Tony contests). But I’m betting that Billy Elliot, with its 15 nominations, will win Best Musical. The other two nominated musicals, Shrek and Rock of Ages, have almost no chance, especially because some feel one (or both) took the slot(s) that should have been given to either 9 to 5 or [title of show].
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
This one is kind of a no-brainer. Pal Joey was an excellent revival, but it closed on March 1st. And while I am very glad I saw it, I think the musical itself is more for musical theater buffs, whereas the other three nominees are more popular shows that will appeal to a wider audience. I haven’t seen Guys and Dolls, but many say it was only nominated for Best Musical Revival because there is a clause that says the nominating committee MUST fill all of the slots in a category when possible. So since there are only four musical revivals, they all automatically receive nominations. (It’s the same reason the apparently hideous revival of Grease was nominated last season.) This leaves West Side Story and Hair. Before I saw them, I thought they might be about evenly matched. But after seeing both in the past few weeks, it is clear that Hair will win this category hands (and pants?) down. West Side Story might be a better musical on paper, but this isn’t what wins a Best Musical Revival. West Side Story has sets that seem to be taken from a regional, or even college production, and direction that is relatively uninspired. It isn’t that it is a bad production...it is almost impossible to ruin West Side Story and this is a solid production. But there isn’t much that is special about it other than a few performances (if I return to West Side Story it will really be to see Karen Olivo again...see Featured Actress category). Hair, on the other hand, has been hailed as a minor revelation, a production that brings out the best qualities of the musical, and shows the magic that can be found therein. And I agree. I will almost definitely return to see Hair again because of the overall experience.
BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL
Supposedly the book of a musical is one of the hardest things to write, and is often the first thing blamed when the musical suffers. It is also kind of difficult to quantify; it is more than just the words people speak when they aren’t singing. I think of a musical’s book as the structure, and the outline for what happens so even when a musical is sung-throughout there is still a book. This year, the four nominated books are from Billy Elliot, Next to Normal, Shrek, and [title of show]. Even though David Lindsay-Abaire has a Pulitzer, I think his book for Shrek is the first to rule out, not because it isn’t good, but because in a category like this, voters need to feel drawn to a show, and I think Shrek is the one show with the least emotional pull. Next to Normal is pretty much sung-through, and while that shouldn’t make a difference, I think it might hurt here. Many think Billy Elliot is the likely winner, because it is the big show of the season. Personally, I’m hoping for Hunter Bell to win for [title of show]. While the show closed in October, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was one of the big upsets of the evening. There’s a line on the recording where Bell sings “What if this show won a Tony award?” I’m hoping voters want to find out.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATRE
By all rights, I don’t think Billy Elliot should even have been nominated (I would have picked the scores to both [title of show] and 13 over this one.) But it IS a score with music by Elton John, and it IS the big new musical of the season, so it could certainly win. The trouble is, the score to Billy Elliot is, to put it simply, bad. And I have a feeling I’m not the only one who thinks so. And because people will expect Billy Elliot to win a bunch of awards, voters may use this category to award another show. So who will win? Shrek’s score has music by Jeanine Tesori (who has been nominated three times already, and who should have won a Tony for Caroline, or Change) and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire (who won the Pulitzer prize for Rabbit Hole). And the score is (surprisingly?) quite good; it's intelligent and funny and maybe even a little bit subversive. But the show as a whole is just pleasant...you leave the theatre thinking “that was nice.” And this is why Shrek may not win anything. It is the same with 9 to 5. The score was written by Dolly Parton, and overall, I think she did a fine job. I am looking forward to listening to the score again (the album hasn’t been released). However, I’m not sure that Dolly’s immense fan base overlaps much with the Tony voters. So Next to Normal is Billy Elliot’s biggest competition. In my opinion, Next to Normal has the best score of the year. The show is almost entirely sung-through, and the score does an incredible job in creating the complex characters on stage.
BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL
At the Academy Awards, the winner for Best Director often (but not always) wins for directing that year’s Best Picture. The same thing generally happens with musicals at the Tonys, with the difference that in the Tonys, there are two “Best Musicals”- the new musicals and the revivals. So given that Billy Elliot and Hair will most likely win these respective categories, this category is basically between Stephen Daldry (who directed Billy Elliot) and Diane Paulus (who directed Hair). Kristin Hanggi did a decent enough job with Rock of Ages, and probably is one of the key people responsible for making it as good as it is, but I have as much chance of winning this award as she does. And as much as I love Next to Normal, my biggest problem with it is the direction. Michael Greif (who also directed Rent - boy does he love his scaffolding!) probably contributed a lot in the developmental process of this piece, so I guess one might justify the nomination for that reason. But his direction always seems serviceable to me, with occasional moments where I think “why on earth did he have them do that?” Whereas Diane Paulus staged perhaps the best ending of any musical this season (and those last ten minutes or so of Hair are ALL her). I’d love to see her win for this reason alone. But I suspect Stephen Daldry will win here, and as much as I thought Billy Elliot was just ok, I have to admit Daldry’s direction is excellent.
Given that Billy Elliot is a show about dancing, and that it is the big show of the season, and that there is a lot of solo dancing and group dancing and flying in the air dancing, does anyone else have a chance? I don’t think so. Randy Skinner’s choreography in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was reportedly quite good (I didn’t see it). Karole Armitage’s work in Hair fit the piece well, which means it is less showy than the dancing in Billy Elliot. And Andy Blankenbuehler, who deservedly won this award last year for In the Heights, did some of the same things again (i.e. dancing that isn't featured center stage, but occurs more atmospherically) in this year's 9 to 5. All fine choreography. But I bet even if Jerome Robbins had risen from the dead and re-choreographed West Side Story, he still would lose to Peter Darling and Billy Elliot.
This is one of those awards that most people (including, I suspect, many Tony voters) don’t quite know how to judge. The orchestrator’s work varies depending on the composer, and the right orchestration can turn a simple melody into a thrilling moment in the theatre. However, where does the score stop and the orchestration begin? I suspect rather than thinking through this, many voters simply go with either their pick for Best Musical, or their pick for Best Score. (Occasionally musical revivals have new orchestrations that are nominated, but that didn’t happen this year). If they do, Shrek and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas have little to no chance, leaving Billy Elliot and Next to Normal. My personal pick is Next to Normal; the orchestrations turn what could have been a more traditional “rock” sound into something much more complex. But I have a feeling Billy Elliot may have better chances.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Everyone I know is crossing their fingers that Alice Ripley wins on June 7th (ok, what can I say, I know a lot of theatre queens). Ripley’s performance in Next to Normal is one of the best performances this season, man or woman, play or musical. It is so difficult to play a crazy person realistically, that is, not go overboard with the craziness, and Ripley’s genius is that she simultaneously shows both the unhinged, bipolar person, and the completely rational (in her mind, at least) person who is battling that illness. Ripley was nominated once before with Emily Skinner...the two women played the Siamese twins Daisy and Violet in Sideshow. (Emily, when will you return to Broadway?) And since this is the only acting category in which Billy Elliot has no nominees, Ripley’s chances look good. I’d guess her biggest competition is Allison Janney (who we all love, of course). Janney is quite good in 9 to 5 (in the Lily Tomlin role), but she isn’t the strongest singer, and that may hurt her. Pal Joey’s Stockard Channing was wonderful, but the show closed already. Sutton Foster was also good in Shrek - funny, quirky, a bit of a tomboy - but she’s already won a Tony and now just seems to get nominated every time she does a Broadway musical (for roles in which she is funny, quirky, and a bit of a tomboy), so I don’t think people will vote for her. And while Josefina Scaglione is lovely as Maria in West Side Story, she doesn’t remain etched in one’s memory days after the show the way that Ripley or Janney or even Channing do. So c’mon Alice Ripley!
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
This year, it was ruled that all three boys who share the role of Billy would be considered together. And it was also ruled that voters only needed to see one of them perform. While both of these rulings make sense (otherwise, it would mean needing to see Billy Elliot three times), it means that those who vote for the three kids will be voting for performers they haven’t seen. This nomination really asks voters to vote for a role, rather than a performance. The role of Billy is exciting to watch: a 10-12 year old boy dances all over the stage. But I’d contend that the boys who do the role in five years will be just as exciting - it is the role that is the star here - the choreography and the sight of a kid dancing it. While I think voters will be suckered in by the draw of youth (the mindset of “yay, I love when kids win awards!”) I think all of the other nominees deserve the award more. American Idol alum Constantine Maroulis is surprisingly good in Rock of Ages. Gavin Creel in Hair is terrific (although I liked castmate Will Swenson even better). Brian d’Arcy James somehow manages to humanize Shrek the ogre, even through all of that makeup. And while some feel that James was better than J. Robert Spencer in Next to Normal (James did the role of Dan at Second Stage, but left the show to star in Shrek), I think Spencer perfectly captures the ordinariness of his character, a father and husband who wants desperately to live a normal, even boring, life. So yeah, when this award is announced, I fully expect to be annoyed, but hey, that’s commercial theatre for you.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Ok, it is really hard for me to be objective with this category this year. I worked with Karen Olivo several years ago, and love her in everything she is in. And she is an incredibly warm, loving person to boot. I’m trying not to jinx her chances by getting my hopes up too much, but I DO think she has a good chance at winning. Her performance as Anita is one of the best parts in the current revival of West Side Story. So since I can’t be objective, who else is nominated? There are two women from Billy Elliot: Carole Shelley (Billy’s grandmother) and Haydn Gwynne (Billy’s dance teacher). Of these two, Gwynne has the better chance, if only because her role is larger. I think she is Karen’s biggest competition. Martha Plimpton’s rendition of “Zip” was a highlight of Pal Joey, and while this is the third year in a row she has been nominated, I don’t think the role was enough of a standout to make up for the fact that the show isn’t running anymore. And finally, there’s Next to Normal’s Jennifer Damiano. While I’m thrilled she is nominated (because I love the show), I think this is a case where the nomination is the prize.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Enough with Billy Elliot already! This category also has two nominees from that showm Gregory Jbara (who plays the father) and David Bologna (who plays Billy’s soon-to-be-gay friend Michael). Or rather, Bologna is one of the two kids who plays Michael...the other one (Frank Dolce) isn’t nominated. Apparently, while the producers made a special petition to get all three Billys considered together, they didn’t do the same for the two Michaels, so because Bologna did the show opening night, he is the only one eligible for the nomination. The two kids are still splitting performances, so it is conceivable that many Tony voters won’t even see Bologna in the role. Whatever...if someone from Billy Elliot wins this category it will be Gregory Jbara, who I loved in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and who also gave my favorite performance in this show. Which isn’t to say I think he should win (although he has a good chance). I’m rooting for Will Swenson, who played Berger in Hair. Easily the best performance in that show, Swenson perfectly encapsulates the spirit and energy and innocence and playfulness that Hair is all about. But I wouldn’t count out Marc Kudisch or Christopher Sieber either. Both are well-known Broadway stalwarts who have been nominated in this category before (Kudisch for Thoroughly Modern Millie and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Sieber for Spamalot). Kudisch is perfectly cast as the lecherous boss (the Dabney Coleman role) in 9 to 5. And Sieber gives probably the most unforgettable performance in Shrek...as Lord Farquaad he spends almost the entire performance on his knees. So this is another tough category, and I’m honestly not sure who I’d pick if I were taking part in the Theasy Tony Guessing Contest (where you can win 5 pairs of tickets to the NYC International Fringe Festival- enter here) Good Luck!
Stay tuned for Part 3- Everything Else