No Reservation Needed: ‘Fully Committed’ on Broadway

by Ryan Leeds

fully committedSolo shows are like first dates: One can usually tell within the first 15 minutes whether or not there’s a spark. For the impatient New Yorker, one might whittle that down to five to ten. Nonetheless, whether or not chemistry exists, two parties enter into an agreement that they will spend a planned amount of time together and make the best of the situation.

With solo shows, a similar dynamic exists: a fast rapport must happen between the audience and the performer or else the rest of the evening is going to drag. So it was with a bit of hesitation that I decided to spend an evening with Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

I’ve never been a huge fan of television’s Modern Family star, but I figured I would leave all preconceived notions and expectations at the door and go along with him on his dissection of the elite culinary world in Broadway’s Fully Committed. It’s not that I have a personal vendetta towards him; I just fail to “get” his sense of humor. It often feels as though as he is wearing his quirkiness on his sleeve and is trying too hard to garner laughs. I realize that I am in the minority, especially since the audience (including celebrity chef Bobby Flay who was seated two rows ahead of me) was laughing out loud.

Becky Mode’s play, which originally opened Off Broadway in 1999, takes place in the dank basement of a haute cuisine Manhattan restaurant where pretentious items like “crispy deer lichen atop a slowly deflating scent-filled pillow, dusted with edible dirt” abound in a restaurant focused on molecular gastronomy. Sam (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) is the harried reservationist who fields calls from a multitude of diners.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson in 'Fully Committed.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Jesse Tyler Ferguson in ‘Fully Committed.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Ferguson voices every customer from Bunny Vandevere, a socialite whose husband “may have invented Botox,” to Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn, a pushy New Yorker who desperately needs to speaks with and/or complain to Jean-Claude, the restaurant’s head chef. Ferguson also impersonates the establishment’s entire staff, as well as his own widowed father, a kindly midwestern man. While I still don’t consider myself an enthusiast, I must admit that Ferguson’s flexibility takes an intense amount of focus and his work here is an accomplishment.

Derek McLane’s set is impressive, with sky-high racks of wine shelving and piping that enhances the gloomy basement setting. But he’s also decided to stack chairs to the ceiling, a device that has been used in two recent Broadway shows (The Color Purple and Doctor Zhivago). Did I miss my invitation to the Ionesco fan club?

Fully Committed seems to be swallowed up the massive house at the Lyceum Theatre and would seem more fitting if it had returned to a more intimate venue like the Vineyard Theatre where it originated. The material itself is humorous and is especially appealing to those connected to a restaurant and hospitality industries. Still, it seems like a plate of hors d’oeuvres at a party: If the tray passes in front of you, you’ll probably eat one and enjoy it, but there’s no real reason to seek it out.

Fully Committed
Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45th Street, NYC
Through July 24

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

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‘The Crucible’: He Has His Goodness Now

by Samuel L. Leiter

The Crucible (Photo: Jan Versweyveld via The Broadway Blog.)

The Crucible (Photo: Jan Versweyveld via The Broadway Blog.)

Once again experimental Belgian director Ivo van Hove (A View from the Bridge) is stirring things up with an unconventional take on a familiar modern classic, this time Arthur Miller’s 1953 The Crucible. Inspired by the HUAC hearings of the late 40s and early 50s that searched for communists under every American bed, The Crucible uses the analogy of the 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, witch trials as a way of excoriating the politically motivated witch hunts of Miller’s day.

Today’s targets may be tarred with different accusations but character assassination and guilt by association continue to mar human relations, especially in the Internet age. Think also of the theocratic leanings of certain present-day politicians that threaten the separation of Church and State. I directed a production of The Crucible 30 years ago and have seen several since, but van Hove’s, despite its wildly mixed reviews, and some questionable choices, is the most powerful, riveting, and provocative of them all.

The Crucible (Photo: Jan Versweyveld via The Broadway Blog.)

The Crucible (Photo: Jan Versweyveld via The Broadway Blog.)

The Crucible examines the mass hysteria stirred up in a Puritan community by the accusations of witchcraft leveled by seventeen-year-old Abigail Williams (Saoirse Ronan) and other girls as a way of avoiding punishment for having been seen at night dancing in the woods; they blame their behavior on the Devil. Allegations of witchcraft are leveled by Abigail at various Salem women, including Elizabeth Proctor (Sophie Okonedo), wife of the independent-minded farmer John Proctor (Ben Whishaw), Abigail’s employer, whom she seduced and whose wife she’d like to replace.

The townspeople respond in a superstition-fueled frenzy that brings powerful officials, led by the obdurate Deputy Governor Danforth (Ciarán Hinds), to Salem to seek out the devil worshippers; torture and the threat of hanging are deployed to force the defendants to name names. Motivated by personal animosities including greed, vengeance, and envy, neighbors turn on neighbors, and reason to unreason. Tragedy ensues when the morally compromised John Proctor performs a sacrificial act that saves his “name,” leading his equally condemned (and pregnant) wife to say, “He has his goodness now.”

The Crucible (Photo: Jan Versweyveld via The Broadway Blog.)

The Crucible (Photo: Jan Versweyveld via The Broadway Blog.)

All of the action is set by van Hove in an unexpected location—one suggesting institutional oppression—a huge, icy, high-school classroom, with a blackboard dominating the upstage wall. It’s perfectly designed and lit by van Hove associate Jan Versweyveld. Wojciech Dziedzic’s bleakly pertinent costumes are modern, mostly in shades of gray and black. Underscoring the performance is the extraordinarily potent hum of a Philip Glass score adding a feeling of tension and dread throughout.

The racially diverse ensemble, with each of its top-billed stars being British or Irish, is very strong. Miller’s ripe pastiche of antique English has never sounded so bitingly fresh. Whishaw, who can sometimes seem effete, is an impressively robust and emotionally riven Proctor; Okonedo (A Raisin in the Sun) demonstrates sensitivity and intelligence on every line; Hinds (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) is commandingly ruthless; and youthful film star Ronan (Brooklyn) conveys scarily muscular anger and wickedness. The leads are perfectly complemented by the startling ferocity of young Tavi Gevinson’s Mary Warren, the serving girl initially willing to oppose the madness; the redemptive heroism of Jim Norton’s old Giles Corey (“More weight!” he’s said to have demanded when pressed with stones); the sympathetic helplessness of Bill Camp’s Rev. Hale; and the sniveling confusion of Jason Butler Harner’s Rev. Parris. Each of the smaller roles gets similarly distinctive work.

Engrossing as van Hove’s staging is, he goes too far when the girls have an ecstatic outburst, with dramatic lighting, smoke, and scenic effects, including the partial collapse of the classroom ceiling. An earlier moment, when we briefly see Rev. Parris’s daughter levitating, looks great, but also makes little sense, since literalizing the visions only makes them real, not imaginary. Similarly, among other questionable practices, people too often sit or crawl regardless of the nearby chairs. (Stephen Hoggett is credited with the “movement.”) And do we really need that wolf-like dog roaming about as act two starts?

Nonetheless, the magnetic pull of van Hove’s The Crucible is so strong, even at two hours and forty-five minutes, and its universal message so piercing, that such directorial slipups can be forgiven. Clearly, Arthur Miller’s play has withstood the crucible of time.

The Crucible
Walter Kerr Theatre
219 W. 48th Street, NYC
Through July 17

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

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Listen: ‘On Your Feet’ Cast Album Now Available

Ana Villafañe and the cast of 'On Your Feet!' (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Ana Villafañe and the cast of ‘On Your Feet!’ (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

MASTERWORKS BROADWAY announces today’s release of the Original Broadway Cast Recording of ON YOUR FEET!. Recorded live from Broadway’s Marquis Theatre, the album is produced by seven-time Grammy Award-winning global superstar Gloria Estefan and her husband, 19-time Grammy®-winning producer, musician, and entrepreneur Emilio Estefan.

Of the cast album, Emilio Estefan says, “Recording this live, we captured the emotion that transcends from the stage every night on Broadway.  Listening to the cast album will take you right inside the theatre and makes you feel like you are in the audience with all the great energy.”

ON YOUR FEET! is a new Broadway musical that follows the Estefans’ journey to superstardom, set to their chart-topping, smash hits, including “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “Conga,” “1-2-3,” “Get On Your Feet,” “Mi Tierra,” “Don’t Want To Lose You Now,” and “Reach,” in addition to an original song, “If I Never Got To Tell You,” written by Gloria and her daughter Emily Estefan.

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Don’t Drink the Water: ‘Tuck Everlasting’

Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Sarah Charles Lewis in 'Tuck Everlasting.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Sarah Charles Lewis in ‘Tuck Everlasting.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Hope springs eternal at the Broadhurst Theatre, where Tuck Everlasting is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to capitalize on the cult-like popularity of Natalie Babbitt’s 1975 children’s novel of the same name. With a book by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle, music by Chris Miller, and lyrics by Nathan Tysen, the new musical follows the tale of young Winnie Foster (Sarah Charles Lewis) as she stumbles across Jesse Tuck (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) in the woods near her home. Winnie’s household is a sullen one after the recent death of her father and she’s run away, having had a tiff with her mother (Valerie Wright).

'Tuck Everlasting' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Tuck Everlasting’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

But Jesse is no ordinary 17-year-old. He and his family have drunk from a secret spring that has made them eternal. Out of fear of being discovered, it’s been a decade since Jesse and his brother Miles (Robert Lenzi) have been reunited with their parents Mae (Carolee Carmello) and Angus (Michael Park). Jesse befriends Winnie and introduces her to the family, who worry that she may reveal their secret and thereby disrupt the natural course of life and essentially send humanity into a tailspin. Enter the Man in the Yellow Suit (Terrance Mann), who has just that intention. He’s been hunting the Tuck family for years and discovers Jesse and Winnie after they’ve sneaked out to go to the local fair. Meanwhile, Constable Joe (Fred Applegate) and his sidekick Hugo (Michael Wartella) are on the hunt to find the young girl.

Babbitt’s source material is considered by many to be one of the most significant children’s books of the 20th century and it’s a lot to live up to. Ms. Lewis, in her Broadway debut, carries much of the show in a charming, precocious manner. Mr. Keenan-Bolger, of slight stature but big intention, is equally engaging, as is the ever-reliable Ms. Carmello.

Unfortunately, the physical production, designed by Walt Spangler, practically swallows the cast, including a massive tree built out of what looks like wood shavings. Imposing set pieces assault the audience from nearly every direction. Hand-painted costumes and an overly saturated lighting palette also ensure theatergoers that they’re getting their money’s worth.

Director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw (Something Rotten!, The Book of Mormon) deftly handles the script, though it’s a sanitized version of Babbitt’s original story. He seems to have lost his way with uninspired choreography with the exception of the final ballet sequence, which delivers a standalone morality tale about the value of experiencing all of the joys, trials, and tribulations through one’s life. Insiders say Nicholaw felt it necessary to amp up the choreography throughout the show to justify the musical’s final sequence, but his unnecessary and anachronistic use of gymnastics in Act I’s fair is another example of over-the-top antics that mask the story.

Much like the current revival of The Color Purple, I have a feeling that in a decade or so, we may see a very different reimagining of Tuck Everlasting—one that is older and perhaps a bit wiser.

Sarah Charles Lewis in 'Tuck Everlasting' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Sarah Charles Lewis in ‘Tuck Everlasting’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Here’s what other critics are saying:

Tuck Everlasting rings a variation on the fountain of youth myth, ultimately asking what life would mean if it never ended, and whether a never-ending life would be worth living. It also provides an answer in the enthralling, wordless climax, a ballet that depicts, with moving clarity, what another, much-celebrated musical would call the circle of life. The New York Times

The show faithfully illustrates the story’s fairy-tale vibe, with suitably ornery production values — the tree Winnie and her new friend Jesse Tuck climb is especially lovely. And the actors are largely engaging, especially seasoned pros like Carolee Carmello, Terrence Mann and Fred Applegate. As Winnie, Sarah Charles Lewis is 11 going on Laura Benanti — the downside is that she projects such unflagging confidence that you never doubt that Winnie will be all right no matter what she decides. So much for pathos. You need a cast of aces to even try to bring to life Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen’s score — a procession of dull, Renaissance Faire songs that float by, making barely a ripple. New York Post 

Immortality is overrated. Ask the hapless family at the center of the sweetly wholesome but hyperactive new Broadway musical Tuck Everlasting. New York Daily News

Tuck Everlasting
Broadhurst Theatre
235 West 44th Street, NYC

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.

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Don’t Miss: Angela Lansbury and Dana Ivey in ‘Lettice and Lovage’

Angela Lansbury (Photo courtesy of Katz PR via The Broadway Blog.)

Angela Lansbury (Photo courtesy of Katz PR via The Broadway Blog.)

Angela Lansbury and Dana Ivey head an all-star cast in the staged reading of the beloved British comedy, Lettice and Lovage, a benefit for The Acting Company, to be held one night only, Monday, June 13, at 7 p.m., at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues.

Co-starring Patricia Conolly and original Broadway cast member Paxton Whitehead, the charming play tells the story of an eccentric tour guide, “Lettice Douffet.” She channels her flair for the dramatic into embellishing the history of dreary Fustian House, the least stately of London’s stately homes.

Lettice’s flights of fantasy are cut short when she encounters “Lottie Schoen,” a straight-laced bureaucrat from the Preservation Trust. As their animosity gives way to an unlikely friendship born of a shared enthusiasm for historical reenactments, Lettice and Lottie discover that their elaborate fantasies have unintended real-world complications.

Dana Ivey (Photo courtesy of Katz PR via The Broadway Blog.)

Dana Ivey (Photo courtesy of Katz PR via The Broadway Blog.)

Written by Peter Shaffer, directed by Mark Lamos and produced by The Acting Company’s co-founder Margot Harley, Lettice and Lovage also features a group of Fustian House tourists played by recent alumni of The Acting Company. Designing lights is Greg MacPherson and Tim Boyce is designing sound.

The Acting Company’s Executive Director Elisa Spencer-Kaplan promises “an unforgettable evening.” The performance will be followed by dinner with the cast at the Union Club, 101 East 69th Street. This portion of the evening is only available at certain ticket levels.

The Acting Company brings live classical theatre to Americans who might otherwise never get a chance to enjoy and learn from it. Its education programs reach students who have limited access to arts, education and live theatre.

Since 1972, The Acting Company has developed the talents and skills of nearly 400 actors, including the young Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Rainn Wilson, Harriet Harris, Frances Conroy, Jesse L. Martin, Jeffrey Wright, David Ogden Stiers, David Schramm, Keith David, Stephen DeRosa and Hamish Linklater, all of whom began their careers with it.

Click here for tickets.

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Breaking: Jennifer Hudson and Harvey Fierstein Lead Cast of NBC’s ‘Hairspray’

Jennifer Hudson (Photo: Jon Pack/NBC via The Broadway Blog)

Jennifer Hudson (Photo: Jon Pack/NBC via The Broadway Blog)

Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG and Grammy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson and multiple Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein will headline the cast of NBC’s “Hairspray Live!,” the network’s next live Broadway musical holiday event following the phenomenal success of “The Wiz Live!”

Also joining the creative team will be acclaimed television director Alex Rudzinski, who received extraordinary reviews for his television direction of “Grease Live!” Rudzinski was also the TV director for “Dancing With the Stars” from 2005-14.

“We are beyond thrilled with this incredibly talented duo of stars for ‘Hairspray Live!,’” said Robert Greenblatt, Chairman, NBC Entertainment. “Harvey Fierstein created the role of Edna Turnblad on Broadway in an indelible Tony-winning performance that demanded to be memorialized on film, and we’re happy he wanted to step into her shoes one last, unforgettable time. We’re also so grateful that the incomparable Jennifer Hudson will play Motormouth Maybelle and we know her rendition of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ will literally stop the show.”

Harvey Fierstein in 'Hairspray.' (Photo: Bruce Glikas/Film Magic/NBC via The Broadway Blog.)

Harvey Fierstein in ‘Hairspray.’ (Photo: Bruce Glikas/Film Magic/NBC via The Broadway Blog.)

Based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, “Hairspray Live!” takes place in 1962 Baltimore. Teenager Tracy Turnblad’s dream is to dance on “The Corny Collins Show,” a local TV program. When, against all odds, Tracy wins a role on the show, she becomes a celebrity overnight and meets a colorful array of characters, including the resident dreamboat, Link; the ambitious mean girl, Amber; an African-American boy she meets in detention, Seaweed; and his mother, Motormouth Maybelle, the owner of a local record store. Tracy’s mother is the indomitable Edna Turnblad, and she eventually encourages Tracy on her campaign to integrate the all-white “Corny Collins Show.”

Harvey Fierstein, who is also writing the teleplay, will play Edna Turnblad, a role he created and won a Tony Award for in the stage version of “Hairspray.” The quintessential Edna, Fierstein portrayed the character for the show’s first two years of its seven-year run at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway.

As an actor, he is a member of an elite group who have won Tonys as Best Actor in a Musical (“Hairspray”) and Best Actor in a Play (for his own “Torch Song Trilogy”). As a writer, Fierstein won Tonys for “La Cage Aux Folles” and “Torch Song Trilogy,” and received three more Tony nominations for writing “Kinky Boots,” ”Newsies” and ”Casa Valentina.” His adaptation of “Funny Girl” is currently running, along with “Kinky Boots,” in London.

Hudson, who will play Motormouth Maybelle, is currently completing a triumphant run in the acclaimed revival of “The Color Purple” — performing the role of Shug Avery in her Broadway debut. She won an Oscar and Golden Globe in 2007 for her iconic performance as Effie White in the hit film “Dreamgirls.” Her sensational rendition of the song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” was greeted with instant acclaim by film critics and moviegoers alike and made Hudson the person to beat as best supporting actress for the Academy Awards.

Hudson’s incredible vocal talents were first recognized with her appearance on the third season of “American Idol” in 2004, where she impressed both the show’s judges and a national TV audience. Soon after, she released her first album, “Jennifer Hudson,” which debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 Chart and sold more than 500,000 copies in the U.S. through the first six weeks. The album was nominated for four Grammys and won for best R&B album.

Hudson continued on the big screen following “Dreamgirls” and has since co-starred in such films as “Sex and the City,” “The Secret Life of Bees” and Spike Lee’s latest film, “Chi-Raq.” Her TV credits include NBC’s “Smash,” Fox’s “Empire” and HBO’s newest telepic, “Confirmation.”

“Hairspray Live!” reunites Hudson with executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who worked with her previously on NBC’s “Smash” and the 85th and 87th Oscar telecasts, which they also produced.

Television director Alex Rudzinski will join stage director Kenny Leon (“The Wiz Live!”). Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (the upcoming “A Few Good Men Live!”) serve as executive producers of “Hairspray Live!” Harvey Fierstein will provide a new teleplay and Jerry Mitchell (“Kinky Boots,” “On Your Feet”) will serve as choreographer for the live production with music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“Smash” and Broadway’s upcoming “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”).

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Half-Baked: ‘Waitress’ Opens on Broadway

Jessie Mueller in 'Waitress.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Jessie Mueller in ‘Waitress.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

There’s no mistaking that the producers of Waitress, a new musical by Jessie Nelson and Sara Bareilles (four-time Grammy Award nominee), want to deliver something sweet for Broadway audiences. The smell of freshly baked pie wafts through the lobby and the traditional curtain has been replaced with a scrim of cherry pie with lattice topping. Based on the 2007 film of the same name, the musical throws an awful lot of ingredients into the proverbial mixing bowl. The result is an interesting bite… you might even be satisfied with a whole slice, but the recipe needs some fine-tuning.

Jenna (Jessie Mueller) is a waitress in a small town diner and trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage to Earl (Nick Cordero). Her co-workers Dawn (Kimiko Glenn) and Becky (Keala Settle) are by her side when she finds out that she’s pregnant, though cook Cal (Eric Anderson) is less sympathetic. When Jenna goes to see her longtime family doctor, she discovers that she’s retired and has been replaced by the gangly and flirtatious Dr. Pomatter (Drew Gehling), who is also married. Their chemistry is almost instantaneous and the rest of the show is spent watching Jenna navigate this unexpected life shift.

When not screwing her doctor, Jenna is stashing extra tip money in hopes of entering a regional pie-baking contest (a skill she inherited from her mother) and using the winnings to start a new life for herself and soon-to-be child. Meanwhile Joe, the curmudgeonly diner owner (Dakin Matthews), becomes an increasing presence in Jenna’s life and in an unexpected twist, sets her on a new path as the musical’s final pie is pulled from the oven.

Jessie Mueller and Dakin Matthews in 'Waitress.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Jessie Mueller and Dakin Matthews in ‘Waitress.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Nelson and Bareilles keep the plot faithfully plugging along and even includes some fun side antics, most notably Ogie (Christopher Fitzgerald), Dawn’s love interest with a quirky passion for American history. The score has Bareilles’s signature melodic riffs that jump octaves and twist around unexpected chord progressions. It’s a fresh sound for Broadway, not unlike the season’s other singer/songwriter crossover Bright Star. Jonathan Deans’ sound design is heavy on the band, in spite of major vocal amplification and the use of visually distracting head-worn mics.

Sprinkled with humor and gravitas, it all feels a bit too familiar, and it is only Mueller’s central character that is given a dynamic arc to play. A Tony Award winner for her performance in Beautiful The Carol King Musical, Mueller is achingly magnetic to watch. Broken from a life of abuse she witnessed as a child and embodied as an adult, Mueller’s character slowly finds her voice and the strength to break the cycle. It helps that Bareilles gives her soaring material to deliver, including the 11 o’clock number, “She Used to Be Mine,” which will bring a tear to even the most jaded theatergoer’s eye.

The rest of the cast does its best to bring such depth, but a pie just won’t cook in a lukewarm oven. As charming as Gehling is as an unconventional leading man, there’s barely a moment of consequence or regret (though plenty of abandonment) in acknowledging his infidelity. Only Settle’s character of Becky offers Jenna insight as to the complexities of love versus desire.

Director Diane Paulus has assembled a refreshingly diverse cast who navigate Scott Pask’s vivid sets with dexterity and movement choreographed by Lorin Latarro in the spirit of Frantic Assembly. (Latarro was an associate on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.)

Waitress has—and will continue—to find its audience. It set a house record at The Brooks Atkinson on opening weekend for gross sales for a single performance ($145,532) and tickets are on sale through January 2017. The best reason to see the show, though, is not for the meal, but rather who’s serving it. Make sure you’re sitting at Mueller’s table.

(l to r) Keala Settle, Jessie Mueller, and Kimiko Glenn in 'Waitress,' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Keala Settle, Jessie Mueller, and Kimiko Glenn in ‘Waitress,’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Waitress
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
2556 West 47th Street, NYC
Open-ended run.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.

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Don’t Miss: DJ Paul Oakenfold at Fuerza Bruta

Paul Oakenfold (Photo courtesy of Fuerza Bruta).

Paul Oakenfold (Photo courtesy of Fuerza Bruta).

Fuerza Bruta welcomes world renowned DJ and Electronic Music producer Paul Oakenfold for a special one-night-only performance on Saturday, April 23 at 10 p.m.. In collaboration with Fuerza Bruta’s Creator and Artistic Director Diqui James, the music icon will join the company on stage to perform material he has composed specifically for the occasion.  It will be a New York night to remember!

“We met with Paul in Buenos Aires and were immediately excited about doing something together,” states Mr. James. “We feel that the blending of our worlds is an opportunity to create a truly unique and immersive experience and we want audiences to feel submerged in the mix—the best from Paul Oakenfold and the best from Fuerza Bruta. What better place to launch this big party than New York? We are looking forward to a really great time.”
The culmination of the De La Guarda legacy, this latest incarnation of Fuerza Bruta takes the audience on a 65-minute thrill ride, including an extra 20 minutes of heart-thrashing, fast-paced fun, rousing live music, mind-blowing projections, and breathtaking aerial displays. With the newly designed giant scenography and scenes set above the audience, the show is sure to present fans of the previous incarnations (and new fans alike) with fresh experiences and guarantee that Fuerza Bruta will deliver theatrical thrills that flood the senses.

The New York City production of Fuerza Bruta originally began performances at the Daryl Roth Theatre in 2007, and recently celebrated its 2,800th performance. Originating in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2005, Fuerza Bruta has been thrilling audiences around the globe for over 10 years. Over 5 million spectators have been captivated in over 25 countries and over 50 cities that include productions in Brazil, Budapest, Istanbul, Peru and China.
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‘American Psycho’: He Works in Murders and Executions

by Samuel L. Leiter

'American Psycho' (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

‘American Psycho’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

Patrick Bateman is back. Perhaps you remember him as the narrator of Bret Easton Ellis’s provocative 1991 novel, American Psycho, and the equally notorious 2000 film, starring Christian Bale. Bateman’s a 26-year-old, homophobic, misogynistic, sexually carnivorous, materialistic, narcissistic, anti-Semitic, greedy, perfectly attired, brand name-obsessed, sadistic Wall Street investment banker who also happens to be a serial killer. He has a particular taste for stabbing, slicing, eviscerating, dismembering, and decapitating hot young women, with whose gory remains he may copulate before disposing of them in some disgusting way, including digestively.

The evil Patrick Bateman (Benjamin Walker, stardom-bound) may not be your typical Broadway hero but his tale, an icily satiric attack on the soulless superficiality and selfishness of American consumer culture during the Wall Street boom of the late 1980s (what’s past is present), has been made into a high-tech, rock musical (following a hit 2013 London production) by book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) and composer/lyricist Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening). Its strikingly cool staging is by Rupert Goold (King Charles III).

'American Psycho' (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

‘American Psycho’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

Aguirre-Sacasa’s book hews faithfully to Easton’s novel while making numerous cuts, changes, and additions. Major scenes are reimagined for dance, like “Cards,” a number in which Bateman and his vapid friends compare the relative quality of their business cards; others, like the big police chase scene, are banished. The Les Misérables and homeless people material remain to remind us of the one percent’s disdain for the down and out. Bastard that he is, however, this American psycho nevertheless gains a thimbleful of sympathy; Easton’s ambiguous “did he or didn’t he actually do it” door remains open, the author’s own claims to the contrary.

Easton’s readers will be anxious to know how a Broadway musical could possibly express the novel’s nauseatingly precise scenes of violence and hyper-pornography; like the movie, the staging (albeit differently) lets the audience imagine much of it. Oceans of blood may be splashed (a scrim to protect the first rows drops before Paul Owen [Drew Moerlein] is axed open) and Patrick may get it on with a pair of bimbos but everything’s necessarily been aestheticized. During his ménage à trois (or quatre, since a stuffed animal’s involved), childlike sex cartoons, like those on bathroom walls, are seen, rendering them harmless, even amusing. Nudity is eschewed in favor of underwear; in fact, the impressively buff Walker spends lots of time in expensive skivvies.

'American Psycho' (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

‘American Psycho’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

As appropriate in a work emphasizing depersonalization—people are always mistaking one person for another—only Bateman has any dimensionality. One problem is the story’s essential plotlessness; we watch his insatiable appetites snowball as he seeks the trendiest restaurants and clubs, food and drink, clothes and accessories, as well as the hottest women, goriest splatter flicks (those videotapes he always has to return), hippest music (that Sony Walkman), and most potent drugs. Laughs abound, but often in response to the topical name dropping of once-popular places, like Tunnel, or now dated technology, like 30-inch TV sets. Easton’s book can be like reading a Sears Roebuck catalogue of 80s’ consumerism.

American Psycho is a narrative of escalation, the chief conflict being internal as Bateman wrestles with his guilt, thus necessitating his first-person narration; monotony sometimes looms. The other characters, like Bateman’s insipid businessman buddies or his rich bitch airhead bedmates, Evelyn (Helene Yorke) and Courtney (Morgan Weed), exist mainly as reflections of his own shallow values. Only Bateman’s shy, naïve, love-hungry secretary, Jean (Jennifer Damiano), garners sympathy, but she’s interesting only as the potential victim we want most not to be harmed. The talented Alice Ripley (Next to Normal) plays several older women, one being Bateman’s mother, but none are especially noteworthy.

Lynne Page’s choreography makes excellent use of the 80s’ electro-pop club music that informs much of Sheik’s beat-heavy score, fun to hear but little of it more than momentarily memorable; it’s supplemented, though, by infusions of actual 80s’ hits from Huey Lewis and the News, Phil Collins, New Order, Tears For Fears, and others. Es Devlin’s sleek, adaptable scenery, using two revolves, combines thrillingly with the incredible lighting effects of Justin Townsend and the kaleidoscopic, wall-blanketing video designs of Finn Ross. Katrina Lindsay’s costumes make 80s sartorial excess look good again.

Like Matt Smith, of TV’s “Dr. Who,” who won raves as London’s Patrick Bateman, Broadway’s Benjamin Walker walks the walk, talks the talk, looks the look, sings the songs, and dances the dances. Resistance to him, I’m afraid, is futile. This guy kills it.

American Psycho
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
230 West 45th Street, NYC
Open run

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

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Categories: The Buzz

Theater Buff: ‘American Psycho”s Anthony Sagaria

Every month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer fills out editor Matthew Wexler’s nosey little questionnaire and offers a glimpse of what he looks like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. We’re losing our minds over this month’s sexy buff, Anthony Sagaria, now appearing in the highly anticipated musical American Psycho.

Anthony Sagaria (Photo: Jordan Matter via The Broadway Blog.)

Anthony Sagaria (Photo: Jordan Matter via The Broadway Blog.)

Name:
Anthony Sagaria

Hometown:
Centerville, Ohio

Do you think Broadway is ready for a musical bloodbath?
Completely. This show is dark, hilarious, bloody, and certain aspects are eerily relevant to today’s society. It’s the perfect time for this show to be making its way to Broadway.

You’re covering five roles in American Psycho — what was the audition process like and do you have a favorite?
The audition process wasn’t too bad actually. I read for one role, got called back to dance for a different role, and then at final callbacks read for both of them. All of that took about a week, and then a month and a half later, I got the call. As for a favorite part, they are all incredible in their own way. The P&P boys (Patrick Bateman’s friends) are probably my favorite, though.

American Psycho is set in the late 80s / early 90s – what is some of your favorite music from that era?
So much good music was being written at that time—from Queen to Michael Jackson, Tears for Fears to Genesis, Radiohead to Run-DMC. The list just goes on and on.

Anthony Sagaria (Photo: Lindsay Hoffman via The Broadway Blog.)

Anthony Sagaria (Photo: Lindsay Hoffman via The Broadway Blog.)

American Psycho’s lead character, Patrick Bateman, is known for his materialistic tendencies. If you had unlimited funds to fill your medicine cabinet with grooming products or closet with high-end fashions, what might we find?
A closet of well-tailored, good looking suits with ties, cufflinks, dress shoes, and shirts. A well-tailored suit can get you in just about anywhere.

If I wasn’t a performer…
I would be in marketing using my creative side to convince you to buy things you might not necessarily need.

Anthony Sagaria (Photo: Brittney Callahan via The Broadway Blog.)

Anthony Sagaria (Photo: Brittney Callahan via The Broadway Blog.)

Places, Intermission or Curtain Call? 
Places. The energy backstage while waiting for the house lights to dim is incredible.

The best post-show cocktail in New York City is at:
It’s a toss up between Glass House Tavern on 47th Street and Betti Bar at the Hourglass Tavern on 46th Street.

After you’ve hit all the traditional sites of New York City, you should totally go to:
The Thirsty Koala, in Astoria, which has incredible Australian food or Black Tap in SoHo for the craziest milkshakes you’ve ever seen.

If I could live anywhere else in the world it would be:
Italy or London.

My workout “secret” is:
Simply get to the gym. Even if it’s only for 10 minutes, those 10 minutes will eventually turn into 20 and then 30 and so on. Getting motivated to get off the couch and go to the gym is the hardest part.

When I’m looking for a date, nothing attracts me more than:
Confidence and originality. If you’re happy with who you are, the rest comes easy.

My favorite website to visit that you may not have heard of is:
You’ve probably heard of it, but as a music lover it is Pitchfork.com.

Anthony Sagaria (Photo: Damon Condon via The Broadway Blog.)

Anthony Sagaria (Photo: Damon Condon via The Broadway Blog.)

People would be surprised to learn that…
I am an amusement park fanatic. Nothing’s better than getting a group of friends together and going to Six Flags, Cedar Point, Disney World, etc.

When I was 10, I wanted to be just like:
My dad. He has a gorgeous voice, can figure out how to fix anything, and is one hell of a hard worker.

Ten years from now I’d like to be:
Still acting and giving people reasons to support the arts.

American Psycho is currently playing at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street.

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Categories: The Buzz, Theater Buff