Category Archives: musical

Bit by bit…..

Putting it together…..

I was privy this Saturday to a private preview performance of a new and exciting theatre production currently in creative development.

“TTFO, Things That Fall Over” an (anti-) musical of a novel inside a reading of a play, with footnotes, and oratorio-as-coda. Now isn’t that a mouthful?

Yesterday’s performance highlighted the musical aspects of the production and it was fabulous and very entertaining even in its raw state (only a week of development so far), Impressive to say the least.

This behemoth of a theatrical idea comes from the pen of acclaimed playwright Peta Murray (Wallflowering, Salt) and has music by composer Peta Williams – a talented lady with an ear for a good show tune. To find out more about this show click here  to the blog, and like the Facebook page here.

It will be very exciting and a lot of fun seeing the development of the piece to the opening night sometime in the second half of 2013.

Go Girls!!!

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Winning the trifecta

NEW YORK STORIES – The Shows

There are 3 elements that need to be perfect for me to make a show shine above the rest, the play (content), the performances, and the production. It is very rare when all 3 hit the mark. Out of the 21 productions I saw in NYC only 5 made it to the winner’s circle. 3 plays and 2 musicals.

Here I will highlight the plays.

All three of them were from an off-Broadway stage, I’m not saying that the ones caught on Broadway weren’t any good, they certainly were, but they seemed to be held up by star performances with the play or production lacking.

3000 Miles by Amy Herzog.

This wonderful production has star performances by Mary Louise Wilson and Gabriel Ebert as a 91 yr old grandmother and 21 yr old grandson who seeks refuge at her apartment in the West Village of New York City after losing his best friend on a cross-country bicycle tour. Amy Herzog’s delicate and humorous play explores how these two unlikely outsiders cope with living  in today’s world.  One would think that the cross generational aspect of the play may bring up fireworks but Herzog doesn’t succumb to cliche instead drawing two fine and unorthodox characters and giving the actors involved roles to shine in. They are ably supported by the 2 women in the boy’s life, his ex-girlfriend (Zoe Winters) and a one night stand (Greta Lee). The  superb direction by Daniel Aukin never misses and his creative collaborators – costumes (Kay Voyce), lighting (Jaffy Weideman) and set design (Laura Helpern) are first class. Presented by the Lincoln Centre Theatre on the Mitzi E. Newhouse stage they certainly won the trifecta with this one, it has extended many times and won a joint Obie award for the leading actors as well as for best new American play – well deserved.

Gabriel Ebert & Mary Louise Wilson in their award winning roles

Lonely I’m Not by Paul Weitz

This play was recommended to me by a New Yorker. It was not on my radar but she assured me it was a very good play given a top notch production. The reviews were good and the theatre just around the corner from my apartment. I was given a discount code and at the last minute decided to venture along – 30 minutes and $30 later (a bargain) I was sitting in an excellent seat at the Second Stages theatre. To my delight in walked director Mike Nichols and his beautiful wife Diane Sawyer and they plonked themselves down 2 rows in front of me – distracting at first (did Mike laugh? what did he think of it?) but soon this excellent play grabbed my attention and I was delighted to see a top notch show.

Featuring the stage debut of TV & film actor Topher Grace (That 70’s Show) the play was written by Paul Weitz best known as a film screenwriter (Amercian Pie, About A Boy). A contemporary dysfunctional love story – a riff on the Hollywood rom com. The boy, Porter, was a Wall Street broker who suffered a meltdown and four years later is holed up in his LA apartment. Set up by a friend he goes on a blind date (literally) where he meets the girl, Heather who is blind and a workaholic determined not to let her disability get in the way. So they meet, they date, they fall in love, they fight…  The story might have an element of cliché but the finely drawn characters and excellent acting by the whole cast had me enthralled, laughing, crying and on the edge of my seat. Topher Grace (a real surprise) and Olivia Thirlby as his blind girlfriend create totally believable characters and the deft direction by Trip Cullman once again aided by fine collaborators of which particular mention should go to set designer Mark Wendland and projection designer Aaron Rhyne – the production used words, projections and holograms to great effect giving it a contemporary cinematic feel. I left the theatre happy that all 3 criteria had been met and also wondering whether Mike Nichol’s liked it as much as I did and would he direct the film version? here’s hoping 🙂

Olivia Thirlby & Topher Grace perform a rocky romance

A clever set uses words to help tell the story

Cock by Mike Bartlett

An acclaimed English import as far as play and production go but with an American cast. One could imagine that recasting could ruin the trifecta but it sure hasn’t. With a provocative title that is unable to be printed in some New York press it is also known as “The Cock Fighting play”!!

English playwright Mike Bartlett bounced onto the West End scene when this production originated at the famed Royal Court theatre. It is performed on a purpose built setting in which the audience sit on plywood benches with very thin cushions, the show is performed in the round and the meticulous direction by James McDonald choreographs the action as if you were indeed watching a cock fight play out. What are they fighting for? The love and affection of John (Cory Michael Smith) who decides one day that he does not want to live with his  boyfriend, known as M (Jason Butler Harner), anymore. He meets a co-worker known as W (Amanda Quaid) and they start up a heterosexual relationship which leads to all sorts of conflicts and confusion. M insists on dinner party showdown  in which his father F (Cotter Smith) is in attendance for support.A decision needs to be made and the tension till that final moment is breathtaking. Using no props or settings whatsoever the extremely talented cast perform their roles to perfection in a production of a very profound, funny and moving play. The audience are all in close proximity (check out the setting below) and although at times it can be startling you soon become engrossed in the drama unfolding in front of you. Theatre doesn’t get much better than this. “Cock” is playing an open ended run at the Duke Theatre on 42nd street, go see it if you are in town.

Fighting for love in the ring of life – The fine cast of Cock

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Stinker Superstar, shrill Eva.

NEW YORK STORIES – The Shows Pt 2

1. Jesus Christ Superstar at the Neil Simon Theatre.

2. Evita at the Marquis Theatre.

I have decided to pair these two productions together for two reasons. Both are from the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice team. and both are lacklustre second rate productions of ok musicals, well at least I used to think that they were ok. Perhaps I was wrong?

Jesus Christ Superstar came from an acclaimed sell out Canadian production and all I can say is that up there in Stratford Ontario they must not get out much. Of course this is not entirely true as it originated at the renowned Stratford Shakespeare theatre festival. I saw it on my first day at a matinee, and  I refuse to blame the jet lag for my lack of enthusiasm. I was wide awake in disbelief at how poor it was. It reminded me of musical moments on “Glee”, I am a fan of Glee but it is suited to the small screen and not a Broadway stage. Cheap sets, cheesy staging and two lead performances that were completely miscast or misconceived. Chilina Kennedy who plays Mary Magdalene couldn’t hit the notes and most of the time sounded out of tune, her acting was as mechanical as the set. I saw the understudy in the role of Jesus (Nick Cartell), his role was performed so boringly passive it made me aggressive!!! The only saving grace was Tony nominated Josh Young in the role of Judas, he is a fine actor and belted out his numbers with real conviction (it’s a great theatre role), unfortunately his costumes were very oddly fitting and cheap, along with the rest of the cast – the thrift shop suit Jesus wears in the final scenes looked like reject duds from a 70’s blaxploitation film, oversized on a small white man. The score was supposedly so loud they announced you did not have to switch off your cell phones as nobody would hear it. Well it wasn’t that loud and I found the orchestrations very dull and uninspired. A cheap production transported to the great white way, ripping off the tourists who most probably deserved it since they gave it their obligatory standing ovation. I sat put in my seat defiant!!  This Superstar was a stinker. Being my first production on this trip I was taken aback and feared for the worst. This week the producers have announced that if sales don’t pick up they will close the show on July 1st marking the production as a big flop as it should be. Perhaps there is a god after all?

Josh Young shines as Judas

Evita is another second hand production that originated in London quite a few years back. Acclaimed director Michael Grandage is responsible for the first ever revival of the hit musical from the late 70’s about the life of the infamous wife of an Argentine dictator. Originally it had star performances from Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin in the roles of Eva Peron and Che Guevara. This time we have dull performances from Elena Roger (recreating her London success) and pop star Ricky Martin who hardly registers at all in his role. This production has abandoned the high theatrics of the original clever Hal Prince staging and opted for a more realistic approach that unfortunately lays bare the tedium of the by the numbers biography elements of the show. Eva is bored in small town, Eva meets high powered politician and beds him, Eva wants power, Eva gets sick, Eva dies. It’s a bit like watching a Hallmark TV movie. Scary that I have compared both shows to television! Now back to the leading actress Elena Roger, she’s a pint sized dynamo in the first few scenes and well suited to the choreography (Rob Ashford doing a great job) they fling her up in the air countless times perhaps because they can. But she lacks the vocal chops that the role demands sounding so shrill it hurt my ears. The gimmick is that she is from Argentina therefore authentic, well unfortunately I didn’t understand very much of what she was singing, thankfully I knew the score. A lady sitting next to me was new to the whole show and was very confused and unimpressed. A saving grace was the standout performance by Michael Cerveris as Eva’s hubby the dictator Juan Peron. He gave the role soul and compassion and has a superb singing voice, very grateful that I got to see this fine performer live on stage. As for the rest of it well lets just say that I’m not crying for Argentina, I’m crying for Broadway mediocrity.

Michael Cerveris in his Tony nominated role as Juan Peron in Evita.

It is interesting that both productions have a standout supporting performer and that both leading ladies have vocal problems. Mr Lloyd Webber and Mr Rice sure have cashed in this year with lazy revivals of old hits. What I am fearing next is that Sir Andrew has a reconceived production of “Cats” waiting in the wings – this time performed on roller-skates with authentic cat fur costumes.

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Let’s go on with the shows…….

NEW YORK STORIES – The Shows Pt 1.

I was in New York for a total of 29 days and 28 nights. I managed to catch 21 productions in total. Some shows were brilliant, others downright stinkers. I was there whilst the Tony awards were being presented – live. Fun that I had seen a few of the productions that were nominated and honoured. I’ll give my opinion of them all in coming posts but let me  just say that Lloyd Webber & Rice musicals need good productions and that playwright Kenneth Lonergan should not write & direct he also needs a good script editor…………

The Tony awards red carpet

Stinker # 1

Don’t cry for me Ricky Martin.

Lonergan should begin again.

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Should I see Superstar?

Jesus Christ Superstar is a musical I hold very close to my heart. It was the first show I ever saw live on stage, you can read all about that experience here.

I have never seen another production on stage since that fateful night 4 decades ago! (the film I have seen multiple times) and it is a favourite musical of mine. Last time I was New York I went to see a revival of my favourite musical Hair and it was a real treat – a good production. This time it is Superstar  being revived and offers me a chance to hear those great songs live on stage once again.

The latest revival of the legendary rock opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice comes from a sold out production at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada, followed by a follow-up run at the LaJolla Playhouse in San Diego, California, directed by Des McAnuff the man responsible for the mega hit Broadway production of Jersey Boys – still playing at the August Wilson theatre across the road from the Neil Simon theatre where Superstar will preach. I must admit that judging from the stills of the staging that I have seen I expect it has a similar amount of showbiz pizzaz that made Jersey Boys an enjoyable experience.

Andrew Lloyd Webber was planning his own revival but got wind of the Stratford production, went to see it, and decided it was good enough for Broadway. Here is my chance to decide for myself, do you think i should?

 

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It takes two

Babs likes a bit of useless trivia.

A couple of stars, a couple of coincidences, a couple of shows to catch……

Two shows that will be playing on Broadway in May/June when I visit share a few coincidences of sorts.

The shows are  – Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz  and The Lyons by Nicky Silver

Both plays have will have transferred from hit off-Broadway engagements to Broadway houses. Both feature leading actresses that I have seen on Broadway on a past visit 21 years ago  – yes that long ago!!!

One of those actresses is Stockard Channing (West Wing, Grease) whom I saw in the brilliant play Six Degrees Of Separation by John Guare which was another production that transferred from an off-Broadway venue to Broadway. Six Degrees and Other Desert Cities are/were both presented by The Lincoln Centre.

Stockard Channing as Betty Rizzo in the film Grease

and as Polly in Other Desert Cities

The other actress is Linda Lavin (tv’s Alice, Tony winner for Broadway Bound) who co-starred in the off-Broadway presentation of Other Desert Cities but declined to make the transfer to Broadway so she could take on the leading role in The Lyons which gave her glowing reviews to go along with the ones she recieved in the production she departed – are you following?   I saw Linda Lavin back in December 1990 in the role of Mama Rose in a revival of the hit musical Gypsy (she replaced Tyne Daly who won a Tony for the role). Incidentally Dick Latessa (Hairspray) co-stars as Linda’s dying husband and is an actor I have seen once before – in the revival of the musical Promises Promises in 2010.

Linda Lavin as Alice with Beth Howland  (left) and Polly Holliday (right)

Linda Lavin as Rita Lyons with her dying hubby Ben – Dick Latessa

This could mean that Miss Lavin & Miss Channing may be competing for the coveted best actress trophy at the Tony awards!!!

Both were brilliant the last time I saw them so I will definitely will go see them tread the boards again and I expect to be thrilled by these wonderfully talented ladies once more.

Here is the synopsis for both plays

Other Desert Cities – Brooke Wyeth , a once promising novelist, returns home after a six year absence to celebrate Christmas in Palm Springs with her parents (Stockard Channing and Stacy Keach), former members of the Reagan inner-circle, her brother , and her aunt (formerly played by Linda Lavin now it’s Judith Light). When Brooke announces that she is about to publish a memoir focusing on an explosive chapter in the family’s history, the holiday reunion is thrown into turmoil and the Wyeths are both bound together and torn apart as they struggle to come to terms with their past.
The Lyons – A play about about a family grappling with the impending death of its patriarch. When Ben Lyons’ wife, Rita, and their grown children gather to say goodbye, they learn that despite being a family, each of them is utterly isolated. Afraid of closeness and afraid of solitude, they are propelled into foreign territory – human connection.

I like the sound of both of them and the critics and public seem to like them, so off I go.

* Rachel Griffith starred as the daughter in ODC replacing Elizabeth Marvel who was in the OBC cast, Griffith has since departed and has been replaced by Marvel – sorry to confuse you with senseless trivia again – Griffith is eligible for a Tony.

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Meryl you are a witch???

No I am not complaining about my disappointment in Meryl Streep’s Oscar win last week for “The Iron Lady“.

This post is much more of a delight.

Meryl Streep is rumoured to be cast as the Witch in a film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical “Into The Woods”. The film is to be directed by Rob Marshall who brought “Chicago” to the screens successfully (in box office terms-not artistic) but we must remember he is also responsible for bringing “Nine” to the screen which was a disaster (box office and artistically!) I do love his TV remake of “Annie” that was a success in my own opinion.

But there is more rumour-mongering about Meryl as the Witch…..

The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare In The Park Festival are mounting an outdoor production of the Sondheim musical this July and rumoured to play the Witch is none other than the reigning Oscar Queen Meryl. Is this an audition?

I am a big fan of this show and was very very lucky to see the original Broadway production way back in 1987 – Bernadette Peters played the Witch and she was fabulous. Of the course the role to steal the show belongs to the Baker’s Wife. Who will be cast in that coveted role? Joanna Gleason won the Tony that year and she was also fabulous! I recall turning to my partner and said – “she will win the Tony, not Peters!”

Brilliant Bernadette Peters – the original Witch of the woods.

In the meanwhile…..

Sondheim has announced that he is collaborating on a new musical with playwright David Ives who is currently represented on Broadway with the hit show “Venus In Fur” – of which Babs has on his list of “shows to see” when he is in town in May.

He has apparently written 20-30 minutes of the piece and says of it – “Having spent the better part of four years writing two books [Finishing the Hat and Look I Made a Hat], I’m really rusty,” Sondheim humbly said of his process. “I sit at the piano and think, ‘Where’s middle C?’ Any muscles, as you know, atrophy when you don’t use them, and I haven’t been using my musical muscles.”

Who cares? Any thought of another Sondheim musical certainly gets my muscles into action. I am so excited about this.

And what does he say about Streep the Witch? Sondheim neither confirms nor denies the rumours. “We will see,” the composer said. “I think she’d be great.”

My hero Stephen Sondheim.

Nina Arianda & Hugh Dancy star in David Ive’s “Venus In Fur”.

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