Annie gets a 21st century makeover thanks to co-stars Quvenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx and an A-list supporting cast that includes Cameron Diaz, Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne. Will audiences gravitate toward this new adaptation of a beloved classic, or will this Annie remix end up on the street? We’ll have to wait until its Christmas 2014 release to find out, but in the meantime, here’s a sneak peek…
Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler chats with Stephanie J. Block, who will be appearing with The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall on March 21.
“Nothing came easy to me,” says Stephanie J. Block, who along with Andrew Rannells with be performing with The New York Pops (with musical direction by Steven Reineke) on March 21. The California native now has a handful of Broadway credits under her belt due to her consistently grounded performances and a powerhouse voice that shakes the rafters. “I was a waitress for four months, and I was hideous at it! I’ve supported myself through the arts, sometimes many jobs at a time,” says Block. “I needed to respect and take nothing for granted. It served me well – people can get jaded and over it quickly. But I’m still in awe to be in the position to do the things I love.”
Most theater aficionados perhaps think that Block “burst” onto the scene as Elphaba in the first national tour of Wicked, followed by her playing the role on Broadway. But that green witch isn’t the only one with an untold story. Block was living in Los Angeles and doing regional theater when Stephen Schwartz happened to be on the west coast having dinner with colleagues. He was chatting about a new musical in development and was looking for a certain kind of singer with dark features and a big voice. Stephanie’s name was mentioned and within a matter of days Schwartz invited her over to sing a few songs.
She was attached to the project through its entire development up through a two-week workshop at Universal Studios. By the time it was ready for Broadway and the entire team (and multi-million dollar budget) was in place, the producers felt they needed an actress with Broadway experience to handle the pressure of carrying the show. Tony-nominated Idina Menzel landed the role while Block was offered to understudy then eventually stand by for the lead.
After plenty of tears and contemplation, Block asked herself, “Is this my path? And I said absolutely. Never again would I miss an opportunity based on not having the [Broadway] credit. But there’s a difference between confidence and cockiness. It was a tough choice—hard for me to swallow. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult to watch her play that role. But never showed it in the rehearsal room and never to my co-workers. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t have those feelings.”
It took 19 years for Block to make it to Broadway, who says you’ve got to dream and dream big. Since Wicked, she has established herself as one of the most relevant and versatile voices in contemporary musical theater. She most recently starred as Sheryl Hoover in the Off-Broadway production of Little Miss Sunshine written by James Lapine and William Finn. She received both a Drama Desk and Tony Award nomination for her portrayal of Alice Nutting/Edwin Drood in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Other Broadway credits include Anything Goes and 9 to 5: The Musical, for which she earned a Drama Desk nomination. She created the roles of Grace O’Malley in The Pirate Queen and Liza Minnelli in The Boy From Oz (opposite Hugh Jackman).
Block’s concert work is the latest evolution of her craft. She credits 9 to 5 co-star Mark Kudisch for inviting a concert promoter to the show, which led to performances at such glorious venues like Wolf Trap in Washington D.C., the “fabulous” Fox Theatre in St. Louis, and of course… Carnegie Hall.
Take the jump for more with Stephanie and an insider’s look at her preparation for Carnegie Hall!
This month’s roundup of opening is inspired by the Oscars. And while Blue Jasmine The Musical may only exist in our wistful imaginations, there are three big-budget musicals that are relying on Hollywood notoriety to lure audiences into the theater.
The 1977 film won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Tony Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated songwriters Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens hope that they’ll have a knockout on their hands with the help of director Alex Timbers. Word on the street is that ROCKY is an underdog, save the last epic 20 minutes of the show where the theater is literally transformed into a boxing arena. But we’re rooting for the adrenaline-infused musical, whose tagline is, “Love Wins.”
Winter Garden Theatre
Opening night: March 13, 2014
Disney’s 1993 animated feature film snagged two Academy Awards: Best Music, Original Song (“A Whole New World) and Best Music, Original Score. More than 20 years later, Disney Theatrical is hoping that one rub of a magical lamp (and a whole lot of theatrical innovation), will create another hit for family-friendly audiences.
The creative team is relying on Adam Jacobs (Aladdin), to bring the magic and charm necessary to carry the show and connect with the audience. With Broadway credits including Les Miserábles (Marius) and The Lion King (Simba) and a number of national tours, he certainly has the chops.
Alongside James Monroe Igleharte as Genie and Courtney Reed as Jasmine, the trio will lead an ensemble of multi-talented performers as they dance, sing and fly through this adventurous tale directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw.
New Amsterdam Theatre
214 West 42nd Street
Opening Night: March 20, 2014
Meet star Adam Jacobs up close and personal…
Curious about our third pick? Take the leap!
Contributor Brace Cove experiences everything but joy at Rattlestick’s premiere of Craig Lucas’s new play.
Ode to Joy a new play by Craig Lucas, tackles the relationships of an alcoholic. Frankly, I thought it might hit too close to home and I’d find myself overwhelmed with uncomfortable and difficult feelings. Alas, my trepidations were wasted. Ode to Joy is ultimately an unmoving evening in the theater… bordering on just plain dull.
Anyone who has lived with or in proximity to an alcoholic or drug addict knows that life is packed with dynamics. There are the manipulations, lies, infidelities, mistakes, cover-ups (and cover-ups of cover-ups), vomit, despair and loneliness to name a few attributes that life in his or her company has to offer. Addicts tend to roll through our worlds like a backwards steam roller. Instead of flattening everything out, they churn everything up and leave a wake of broken lives and dreams as they continue on the road to self-destruction.
How could a play with such subject matter end up so flat? Kathryn Erbe’s portrayal of alcoholic Adele is more like the result of an actual steamroller. Climactic moments that hold the promise of reaching the audience end up completely flat and lack the pathos that the script promises but doesn’t deliver. Lucas sets a lot of the more dramatic and theatrical alcoholic machinations offstage. The audience hears about them in Act II but only by proxy. However, the biggest problem onstage is the lack of human connection.
At one point in the play, Roxanna Hope, in a delightful portrayal of Mala, yells at Adele, “You know nothing about the meaning of words.” — a summation that echoes Erbe’s performance, one that feels so self-involved that the spoken words mean nothing. She had two speeds: neurotic and emotional flailing. Unfortunately, even these two speeds never seem to connect to any thing organic.
Arliss Howard and Roxanna Hope are far more engaging in their supporting roles. Hope is strong, energetic and connected, like a ray of hope, and makes good on the promise of her entrance throughout the show. Arliss Howard as Bill, is charming, connected and his Bill was driven. At times, he pushes the envelope a bit far, but at least his choices are theatrical even when they stray from the organic.
In the cardinal rule of writing, “show, don’t tell,” the first act is better than the second. There are some theatrical effects in the first act that catch the eye: some rolling in broken glass, blood, a lot of falls and face plants and some mistimed vomit.
The set design by Andrew Boyce is magnificently simple and versatile, transforming easily into different settings. Unfortunately, I spent a good deal of time watching the set and its alterations, which didn’t bode well for the pace of the play.
Perhaps with a bit more subtlety and a lead actress that can tackle the real-life emotions of a struggling alcoholic, Ode to Joy may soar. But at present, this tale of heartbreak and addiction fails to deliver.
Ode to Joy
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Cherry Lane Mainstage, 38 Commerce Street
Through March 30
“Peter Pan is perhaps the most important thing, to me, that I have ever done in theater,” said stage and screen star Mary Martin. But her work transcended that production, with lead roles in South Pacific, The Sound of Music, and One Touch of Venus to name a few. Her life is the subject of a new bio-musical to be presented by The York Theatre Company (James Morgan, Producing Artistic Director; Andrew Levine, Executive Director).
Inventing Mary Martin, conceived, written and directed by Stephen Cole, with music supervision and arrangements by David Krane, music direction by Lawrence Goldberg, co-directed and choreographed by Bob Richard, and featuring original music and lyrics by legendary composers Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein, among others, opens this April for a limited run (opening night, April 27).
The world premiere multi-media musical will feature Cameron Adams, Lynne Halliday, Jason Graae and Emily Skinner. In this musical revue, four fabulous performers, none of whom actually plays Mary (who could?) take us on her amazing journey from naive but ambitious Texan to movie star to Broadway legend, reinventing herself constantly along the way.
The show shines a light on the magic that was Mary Martin. Imagine Side by Side by Sondheim meets Ain’t Misbehavin with a score with musical giants of the Golden Age of Broadway—a time when stopping the show with a saucy but innocent striptease in “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” could propel a novice to a 4o-year career as the Great White Way’s brightest star.
Tony Award winner Debra Monk turned her 65th birthday into an all-star party with her closest friends on Monday, February 24, 2014, delivering a non-stop evening of rock, pop and laughter produced by and benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The concert, billed as “Totally Hot and a Little Dirty,” raised $140,355.
Debra Monk Birthday Bash (#debrabday) featured the beloved stage and screen star singing, dancing and even playing drums on a musical journey that included everything from Van Morrison to Prince and Elton John, as well as two encores by the legendary Broadway songwriting team of Kander and Ebb. The one-night-only performance lived up to its promise with an exciting mix of rock ‘n’ roll, country and even gospel, interspersed with a stream of Monk’s favorite dirty jokes.
Joining Monk for the special evening were her close friends Charlotte d’Amboise, Brandon Victor Dixon,Scott Ellis, Victor Garber, Andrea Martin, Jim Newman and Ron Rifkin, with a surprise appearance byDavid Hyde Pierce.
Monk conceived and wrote the 90-minute show especially for the night. “I wanted to make my 65th birthday something truly special and a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS was the perfect answer,” Monk said. “By singing some great songs, sharing a few jokes and having fun with my closest friends, I hope I at least helped make a small difference for an organization so near and dear to my heart.”
The concert ran the gamut from sentimental moments, like Monk and Garber sharing the spotlight for a touching rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend,” to outrageous ones, like the seductive take on “Let’s Get It On.” That number started with Newman serenading Monk, only to be joined by lingerie-wearing d’Amboise and Martin, who slithered onto the stage and ultimately into a comical foursome with Monk and Newman.
Rifkin showed off his dance moves in a rocking duet of “Mockingbird,” while famed director Ellis returned to his performance roots for a free-spirited version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Dixon set Monk’s temperature rising with a steamy “Something About the Way You Look Tonight.”
Much of the night, though, featured Monk performing her favorite songs solo. There were quiet moments with “When I First Saw You,” dedicated to her godchildren, and “Desperado.” And raucous moments, like her “sex medley” of “Tell Me Something Good,” “Kiss” and “Do That to Me One More Time.”
Broadway blog editor Matthew Wexler gets a swift kick of theatrical brilliance at the visually stunning production of Kung Fu, a new play by David Henry Henry Hwang premiering at Signature Theatre.
The American Dream has its price, and no Asian-American actor knew this better than Bruce Lee. Born in San Francisco but raised in Hong Kong, Lee returned to the United States at age 18 with $100 in his pocket and eventually made his mark as a master of martial arts (gung fu) as well as becoming a film and TV icon. Kung Fu, a new play by Tony Award-winner David Henry Hwang, brings Lee’s journey to life in a sensational theatrical production that merges traditional storytelling with Chinese opera, martial arts and stage combat.
Cole Horibe (So You Think You Can Dance) kicks it into high gear as Bruce Lee — a dynamic performance that catapults the play’s action with humor, intent and well-focused bravado. Following the course of Lee’s career from his arrival in San Francisco and return to Hong Kong and stints in Seattle, Los Angeles and scouting film locations in India in between, Hwang’s script efficiently propels forward while round-kicking back in time through flashbacks that offer insight into Lee’s childhood and the tense relationship with his father.
Francis Jue as Hoi-Chuen, Bruce’s father, appears in many of these scenes and lays the foundation for Lee’s work ethic and obsession for success. Jue matches the material with his sense of theatricality, as does the dream ensemble of actor/dancer/martial artists.
The creative team’s finely honed vision pulls together Sonya Tayeh’s choreography, Jamie Guan’s Chinese opera movement, Emmanuel Brown’s fight direction and Deborah Hecht’s dialect coaching — all under the watchful eye of director Leigh Silverman. While Horibe emits star power as the central character, the ensemble magically draws from an endless pool of talents to create Hwang’s world.
“This is America. Here is where change can happen,” says Lee at one point, but it was his return to Hong Kong that eventually enabled Lee to succeed in feature films. Hauntingly, Lee died at age 32, leaving the world to wonder what further dynamic creations he might have produced. Embodied by breakout star Cole Horibe, audience members can once again experience the legend of Bruce Lee.
480 West 42nd Street
Extended through March 30
Kids’ Night on Broadway begins tonight and runs through March 2, 2014. Sparking even more excitement for the 18th annual event is National Ambassador, Tony-winner Idina Menzel. Kids’ Night on Broadway is when kids ages 6 to 18 can see Broadway shows for free when accompanied by a full-paying adult. Tickets also include restaurant discounts, parking discounts, educational programs, and some very special events still to be announced!
“When I first went to Broadway, it was a life-changing experience,” says Menzel, who will be starring in the forthcoming Broadway musical If/Then. “There’s something magical about walking through the theatre district and seeing the marquees and the lights. Nothing compares to a live Broadway performance! As an adult, I still have that nostalgic feeling I had as a child.”
“It’s important that kids come to theatre because they get to see life through different characters. The arts are so important in general,” says Menzel, “and I’m so grateful that my career awards me with so many special opportunities to connect with young people. I’m honored to be the Kids’ Night on Broadway National Ambassador and extra thrilled that this year’s cause-related component is our arts-centered foundation, A Broader Way, which enables expression, empowerment, and enlightenment. As does Broadway.”
Idina Menzel made her Broadway debut in the Pulitzer Prize-winner, Rent, for which she was nominated for a Tony Awardâ and followed that with her Tony Award-winning performance in Wicked, which she subsequently brought to London’s West End. She will make her highly anticipated return to the Broadway stage this March in the new musical, If/Then. Menzel’s voice can currently be heard in the hit Disney animated film, Frozen.
On film, she recreated her role of Maureen Johnson in Chris Columbus’ film version of Rent, and has appeared in movies as varied as Enchanted and Ask the Dust. On television, Menzel recurred over multiple seasons of “Glee” and has guest-starred in numerous other shows. She starred in her own PBS special, “Barefoot at the Symphony,” with an accompanying album. Menzel recently concluded a highly successful international concert tour with a sold out performance at Carnegie Hall.
In 2010, Idina Menzel founded A Broader Way Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to offering girls from urban communities an outlet for self-expression and creativity through arts-centered programs, with an emphasis on building self-esteem, developing leadership qualities and striving for personal and social achievement. Kids’ Night on Broadway is proud to salute A Broadway Way Foundation as this year’s cause-related component. Visit ABroaderWay.org for more information.
Kids’ Night on Broadway will also take place in multiple cities around the country, with different shows and venues putting their own spin on the event, on numerous dates throughout the year. Check kidsnightonbroadway.com/across for specific dates and locations.
At 75 years old, British dramatist Caryl Churchill—one of the world’s premier influential voices in theater—has made a career out of crafting stories with an embarrassment of riches. This was made quite evident as she returned for her seventh American premiere at New York Theatre Workshop with the aptly titled Love and Information at the Minetta Lane Theatre, produced in association with London’s Royal Court Theatre.
But unlike Churchill’s 2002 sci-fi human cloning epic A Number, Love and Information is a night out on the town that never quite leaves the couch. It doesn’t have the vitality of her iconic 1982 play Top Girls, which is as much of a feminist theatrical gem as it is a course on sexual politics and the exploration of abuses of power in the corporate world. Love and Information, a laundry list of vignettes cut into seven parts with an epilogue, may mystify those looking for rollicking entertainment while entrancing those expecting a run-of-the-mill production.
At the top of the show, the exterior of a pitch-dark stage is lined in colored glowing light, forming a perfect square, seeming to box in the action of the scenes to come. In rapid fire, the audience is introduced to over a hundred different characters, all of which are trying to figure out the riddle of life.
With linguistic gen, Churchill showcases she is a rare talent when it comes to prose and broadcasting a variety of fun and refreshing situations. Each story is more provoking than the last: The conversation between two mature ladies discussing suicide bombers over cocktails; a lesbian couple relocating to the mountains to enjoy silence in the midst of the surge of social media and e-news; a young motor mouth lab physician talking about the dissection of chicken brains and their memories over a romantic first date picnic; and two clowns seducing one another while one talks about their partner’s recent infidelity.
Churchill brings the point home with the epilogue, showcasing a young lady cramming for a “Jeopardy!”-style quiz show, cruising through all of the inquiries, but hesitating to say ‘those three little words’ to her beau. With the advent of the Internet and information at our fingertips, people have become so numb and desensitized to the profusion of facts and information that as a civilization, we are lacking the obligatory skills for human interaction and feelings.
Every third Wednesday of the month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer fills out contributor Tom Mizer’s nosey little questionnaire and offers a glimpse of what he looks like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. For February, we’ve got just the right guy to show you how it’s done…
Name: Andrew Brewer
Show/Role: Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man / Stefan
The best part of the show I’m working on now is: Getting to share the stage with two incredible actors. Jason and Lindsay are just the best and it’s a blast to be up there every night with them.
If I wasn’t an actor, I would be: A teacher. I wanted to go to school for math education before I got into acting so I would probably try for that.
Places, Intermission or Curtain Call? Places. There’s something about that moment as the lights are going dark and the show is starting that just sends every fear and doubt about acting or being in a show to the forefront of my mind. Then one step onto that stage and it all goes away. Read more…