Contributor Scott Redman gives a listen to Awakening, the new live recording by Broadway’s Sierra Boggess.
Sierra Boggess, best known for her portrayal of Ariel in Broadway’s The Little Mermaid, recently performed a cabaret act, Awakening, at 54 Below in New York City. It is now available for purchase on CD and digital download. The show was stirred by the book, Inspiration: Your Ultimate Calling by Dr. Wayne Dyer who Boggess credits as changing her perspective on life. She quotes the book throughout her performance and even encourages the audience to pick up their own copy. At some points the couplets of wisdom outstay their welcome, but Ms. Boggess’ crystal sounding voice makes up for the unwanted jibber jabber.
The night starts off where all bouts of inspiration do, in confidence, with the delightful Rodgers and Hammerstein tune, “I Have Confidence.” Boggess’ set list includes everything from show arias from her favorite operas, Disney tunes and Broadway classics. Boggess graciously extends her stage time to include her father, Mike Boggess, who accompanies her on the guitar playing “Wildflowers.” It soon becomes a family affair with her sister, Summer Boggess, playing the cello on selected numbers.
Highlights of the recording include “The Ultimate Medley with Apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber,” which takes a hilarious spin on pop stars and opera singers miscast in Webber musicals. The romp shows off the range of expression and sense of humor Boggess can deliver when put to the test. Her rendition of “Think of Me” done as an impression of a pop star ala Brittney Spears is pure entertainment.
The clear-toned power of her voice is best showcased in “A Quiet Thing” from Kander & Ebb’s Flora the Red Menace. Her voice immediately places you in the scene alongside the bittersweet realization that some of life’s greatest experiences are the simplest. She uses the song to explain her emotional reaction to meeting her idol, Barbra Streisand, backstage after a concert in Brooklyn. Her rendition of the song is powerful enough to ignite a revival of the musical.
The most honest and touching part of the evening surrounds Boggess’ recollection of her grandparents. She reminisces going through a collection of old letters of correspondence between her grandfather (a World War II veteran) and her grandmother during the 1940s. This section personifies the power of love one can achieve with sacrifice and perseverance. Boggess brings the evening to a climax as she sings “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” I did not attend the live concert but can’t imagine a dry eye in the house after hearing this heartfelt story accompanied by a clenching ode to past times.
The evening twists and turns between effortless singing intertwined with Dr. Phil-like expressions that teeter between summer camp credos and vacation Bible school. It is clear that the show lacked direction and Boggess could have used an objective point of view on how to package the material. A director might also have helped shaped the songs into Ms. Boggess’ own interpretation rather than adding accents and simulated emotion. Boggess has a terrific instrument that is fragile and refined — with creative direction she will undoubtedly reappear as a leading lady of Broadway.
Awakening is available at Amazon.com or for digital download on iTunes.
Take the jump for a video taste of Ms. Boggess singing “Falling in Love with Love.
Broadway Blog Matthew Wexler spends an evening with Burt Bacharach interpreted for a new generation.
It is nearly impossible not to be mesmerized Kyle Riabko, the 26-year-old musician/actor who sprang onto the Broadway stage in Spring Awakening and the revival of Hair. You can get up close and personal with Riabko in What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined, playing at New York Theatre Workshop through January 5. Riabko co-conceived of this well-spun tribute to pop composer Burt Bacharach and also wrote the musical arrangements. It is a guilty pleasure so sweet your teeth may ache by the end, but peppered with enough brilliant musicianship that it’s hard not to be captivated.
Riabko offers an informal introduction before the evening begins: his encounter with Bacharach, their ensuing friendship, and a cryptic phone message from the eight-time Grammy winner upon listening to Riabko’s new arrangements that simply says, “Let’s talk.” Then the evening is off to a whirligig ride of vocals, percussive riffs, guitar jam sessions and 20-something wistfulness.
Those 20-somethings — a band of seven musician/singers handpicked by Riabko (with a little help from casting agents Jim Carnahan and Jillian Cimini) — are a melting pot that brings life to the Bacharach songbook for a new generation. The evening carries on seamlessly, from “I Say a Little Prayer” and “That’s What Friends Are For” to ballads including “A House Is Not A Home” and “Don’t Make Me Over.” It should be noted that lyricist Hal David’s contribution (although credited) should not fly under the radar. One of Bacharach’s longtime collaborators, he has more than 30 gold records to his name and gives a voice to much of the song list.
Creatively directed by Steven Hoggett (The Glass Menagerie, Once, Peter and the Starcatcher), the company moves with precision through Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis’s overworked set, which consists of an explosive number of throw rugs and lamps. Look hard and you might find Stevie Nicks in the corner, wondering how all those people got into her living room. Hoggett’s signature movement — pedestrian yet lyrical and so effective in Once — works here as well as an organic extension of the storytelling.
Lighting designer Japhy Weideman and sound designer Clive Goodwin also deliver the goods, creating a dynamic space that transforms throughout the evening as Riabko and company tap in to Bacharach’s playful and soaring melodies. It is a well-polished production, almost to a fault. Performed without an intermission, your mind may wander, thinking you’ve tuned in to a Bacharach-inspired episode of American Idol or The Voice. Which begs the question: does this fulfill New York Theatre Workshop’s mission to “ensuring the robust and compelling presence of the artist in our society”?
Had Riabko not mentioned the intention of finding relevance in the Bacharach songbook for a new generation, I may not have given much thought to the East Village icons of past generations such as Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna and how this production — from a theater company that gave us Rent — feels saccharine at times. It’s more of a riff than a criticism, and one that I discussed over tea after the show, which is another indication of how the neighborhood’s cultural landscape has changed.
What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined is easily digestible and charmingly realized. While it may feel a bit out of place downtown, it’s still a testament that “What the World Needs Now is Love.”
What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East Fourth Street
Through January 5
Guest contributor Melissa Firlit visits Shakespeare’s dark side at Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Macbeth.
Sword fighting, witches and a confounding battle that struggles to capture the audience is the launching pad in this latest revival of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, presented by Lincoln Center Theater. The scene — stylized in speed and movement feels like an attempt elevate the viewer into a new form of reality.
Macbeth recap: The title character arrives as a war hero. Three witches appear and proclaim his future—which is that of King. He shares this information with his wife in a letter prior to his return. Lady Macbeth becomes determined at the prospect and helps Macbeth set those ideas into action. What better way to do it than to bump off the king of Scotland, who is so pleased with Macbeth that he visits the couple’s castle that night? No time like the present to kill him. Macbeth does killing t but not without the pushing of his Lady. The two become obsessed with power, sleep is lost and paranoia is found. They can never rest and must secure their spots in the throne. Anyone who gets in their way is eliminated. While crazed they in turn bring themselves down. Aforementioned witches reappear, influencing Macbeth’s choices. Finally, Macduff goes to England to retrieve the late King of Scotland’s son Malcom to reclaim the throne destroying Macbeth. Next up, Lady Macbeth kills herself because of the madness. Macduff and future king Malcolm head to Scotland with England on their side. They fight Macbeth to his death for the crown and win, order is restored. While I could recap the general plot in 200 words, this production—haphazardly directed by Jack O’Brien—is virtually impossible to follow.
Beyond the blurry plot points, O’Brien’s Macbeth lacks the emotional powerhouse needed for the circumstances. When Macbeth and Lady Macbeth decide to risk everything and kill the King of Scotland, it’s delivered as mundanely as determining who is going to pick up the kids from daycare. They are about to commit an act of treason: circumstances that require a bolder sense of gravitas.
Offering much-needed distractions are the technical elements, including the epic set design by Scott Pask, projections by Jeff Sugg and costume design by Catherine Zuber. At least the design team had a sense of the play’s epic themes, creating a world that is dark, hollow and intriguing. Zuber’s androgynous witches are captivating as are the men’s military jackets — so much so that they are a welcome distraction from the vague acting choices. Lighting design by Japhy Weideman is crisp, bold and strong.
Most performances feel disconnected, anticipating of the next moment and void of using the text and its glorious rhythms to propel the story forward. How does an actor stay committed and connected to a role when the overall play feels suffocated? Lady Macbeth, played by Anne-Marie Duff, is most successful in her use of the text to drive the story forward.
And then there is Ethan Hawke in the title role. His best moments are when his voice is grounded and I have a feeling that he has more power than he’s even aware of. But this momentum isn’t harnessed, and by the end of Act II, the performance disintegrates into constant screaming that becomes a distraction more than an asset. I applaud Hawke’s desire to do theater in addition to his successful film career. It takes a lot to put yourself out there eight times a week in one of Shakespeare’s most iconic roles. I’ve seen him in The Coast of Utopia, The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard. One can tell his intentions were in the right place with this production, he’s just missing the guidance that connects the story together.
Lincoln Center, known for transcendent storytelling in both classic as well as contemporary works, unfortunately doesn’t deliver with Macbeth. Leaving the theater confused and slightly saddened by so many untapped theatrical opportunities, one can only hope that those witches have a pretty powerful spell for the next production.
Melissa Firlit is a freelance theatre director and teaching artist in the New York City area. She received her MFA from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts.
Contributor Scott Redman reviews the live broadcast of The Sound of Music.
Truth be told: Last night NBC attempted a feat nearly impossible: a live telecast of the Broadway musical, The Sound of Music. Was it amazing? No. But was it inspiring and nostalgic to see a musical brought to life before your eyes on primetime television? Absolutely. The thought of wrangling and organizing the logistics seems overwhelming in such a multi-layered project.
The “live” factor of doing a musical has many variables: multiple scenes, costume changes for the lead characters, synching the orchestra with the singers, timing commercial breaks, etc. It was interesting to see the show come together in real time and view the natural mishaps destined to occur on a live telecast. At one point a man stepped on Elsa Schraeder’s dress (played eloquently by Laura Benanti) during the dinner party scene and she gave him a sordid glance to let go! It was also enjoyable to see Broadway favorites Christiane Noll (Ragtime) and Jessica Molaskey (Sunday in the Park With George) in nun habits as well as silk-voiced soprano, Ashley Brown (Broadway’s original Mary Poppins) standing in the corner with a serving tray graciously playing a maid! The stars came out full force to support this endeavor, which reportedly cost NBC an estimated $9 million to produce.
Carrie Underwood stars as Maria and gets an A+ for effort and bonus points for having the gumption to play a role originally created on Broadway by Mary Martin and most famously portrayed by Julie Andrews in the original feature film. Underwood’s voice is plenty big enough to give the songs “The Sound of Music,” “My Favorite Things,”"Do-Re-Me” and “The Lonely Goatherd” the power and precision they deserve. Her acting never quites makes the transition from postulant to governess to wife and stepmother. Many of her lines are delivered in monotone sound bytes as if she is a talking computer program. Stephen Moyer as Captain von Trapp is dashingly handsome and has a sense of command about him but plays his scenes without nuance and fails to establish a true connection to the other actors. Moyer and Underwood have very little on-camera charisma as a couple and it felt awkward seeing them kiss.
The Trapp kids are charming and look and sound just fine. Araine Rinehart is a stand out as Liesl, the oldest in the lineup who is slow to warm up to Maria’s antics. Rinehart embodies the youth and vibrance of what the future of Austria could be if the Anschluss wasn’t knocking on the back door. Michael Campanyo as the gentleman caller, Rolf, does a fine job and the dance sequence during “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” is one of the most captivating moments in the telecast, which ends with the two young lovers rolling down the mountainside entangled together.
The supporting roles, all played by Broadway’s leading men and women, add credibility to the production. Audra McDonald is a powerhouse and sings “Climb Every Mountain” with a rich and smooth delivery. McDonald’s experience shines through the often low caliber camera and sound technology that surrounds her. In a pre-broadcast interview, Underwood described McDonald’s voice as if “butterflies were flying out of her mouth.” I couldn’t agree more. McDonald is a no-fail actress that can tackle any role given to her. Christian Borle’s performance as Max twirls his mustache a time or two too many and has a cartoon swagger about him. Laura Benanti adds a needed elegance playing the Baroness, Elsa Schrader. Benanti has a natural edge for the camera and a voice that matches her prowess.
In terms of production value, scenery was constructed in a way that made live filming possible, yet it at times felt thin. There were a couple of transitions where directors Rob Ashford and Beth McCarthy Miller embraced the theatricality of the show by flying out a wall from the von Trapp mansion to reveal the walls inside the Abbey or pulling back a drape to reveal the stage at Kaltzberg Festival. It was during these brief moments where the team embraced the medium of television while keeping the theatrical sensibility of the musical form intact. Sound effects, better lighting and sound engineering would have given texture and filled the occasional static void between dialogue.
A cast recording of the telecast score has also been released and beautifully captures the golden melodies and poetic lyrics of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The music supervisor, David Chase, has done a fantastic job recreating the original score. Doug Besterman has revised the original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett into a symphonic sounding dream. Kerri Underwood’s talent is best showcased here as a vocal recording artist rather than musical theater actress. The new recording will be a welcomed addition to anyone who is a fan of The Sound of Music.
The Sound of Music is one of the most beloved musicals of all time and was the last collaboration between the legendary song writing team Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hamerstein II. The original film has become the epitome of “family movie night” and has spurned the notorious movie-sing-a-longs that have created a sub-culture of their own. (Ted Chapin, President of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, makes note of this in his recording linear notes.) Whether or not the telecast could have been better is somewhat subjective but it still is a coup that the broadcast exposed a brand new generation to the spirit of musical theater and the American masterpiece, The Sound of Music.
Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler gathers some theatrical chestnuts for the holiday season.
How many times can you drag you or your loved ones to George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker or the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring dozens of leggy and bleach-toothed Rockettes? I admit… these are iconic New York experiences, and if you’ve never been to the Big Apple during the holidays, at least one of them should be on your to-do list, along with the tree at Rockefeller Center and the decorated windows along Fifth Avenue. But for those with a more adventurous (and occasionally twisted) take on the holiday season, consider one of these theatrical ventures that is sure to have you bellowing “Ho, Ho, Whoa?” in no time.
For grown-ups only, this mischievous and somewhat loose interpretation of the beloved holiday classic gets cranked up a few notches thanks to the innovative choreography and circus antics from director/choreographer Austin McCormick. Merging dance, circus, cabaret and naughty theatrics, you’ll be have more than visions of sugar plums dancing in your head.
A stand-out performance by Laura Careless, who transforms from wide-eyed muse to a 21st century version of Gypsy Rose Lee is worth the ticket alone—along with a bevy of high-heeled boys in thongs.
Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane
Through January 5
Presented by Company XIV and The Saint At Large
Want a sneak peek?
Jinkx Monsoon & Major Scales: Unwrapped
Our favorite drag superstar returns with an all-new holiday special, featuring original songs, covers, comedic flair and drag sass that has catapulted actor Jerick Hoffer’s alter ego into sparkly stardom. The pair’s recent hit, The Vaudevillians, just ended a sold-out run at The Laurie Beechman Theater, so now is your chance to catch them in all of their holiday glory.
Jinkx Monsoon & Major Scales: Unwrapped
Laurie Beechman Theater
407 West 42nd Street
December 7 – 10
A Very Special
Star Wars Minute
Star Wars Holiday Special
That’s not a typo, just the quirky humor of co-hosts Alex Robinson and Pete the Retailer, who have been hosting the cult-worthy Star Wars Minute podcast over the last year. The duo will tackle the Star Wars Holiday Special, a 1978 TV broadcast, in a live show. Creator George Lucas reportedly said, “If I had the time and a hammer, I would track down every copy of that program and smash it.”
317 East Houston Street
Wednesday, December 11, 7 p.m.
21 and over
Free plus 2-drink minimum
Take the jump for two more picks and bonus recommendations!
Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler interviews author and acrobat Joe Putignano.
After seeing a Broadway show, you may find yourself reading performer biographies and dreaming of lives filled with standing ovations and bright lights. But what you don’t realize is that their lives are filled with the same kinds of trials and tribulations as our own. In Acrobaddict, Joe Putignano’s new gripping memoir about his battle with heroin, the Cirque du Soleil and Broadway performer recounts his love for gymnastics and his slow descent into addiction and subsequent sobriety.
Tumbling around his living room from the time he was a small child, Putignano says that he was born with a natural ability. “It’s like a musician hearing their instrument for the first time. I knew the first time I saw it on TV I knew this was it. It’s exactly what dancers say, a fire inside of me. As if I was doing it in a past life.” But his love for gymnastics was also tethered to the stigma of participating in a sport not identified as masculine in his Boston neighborhood. “The teenage mind and social system is an atom bomb wrapped in denim and designer clothes,” he writes, “drenched in perfume and cologne, and steered by an intellect that thinks it knows everything.”
Putignano’s passion turned to obsession—one that he feels he was born with and that parallels his addiction. But he is quick to point the difference: “Passion is creative and inspires others and brings unity. Obsession destroys.”
His exploration with alcohol, prescription drugs, cocaine and marijuana eventually led to heroin use and a suicide attempt that nearly killed him. He writes, “I wanted my soul to rocket through my skin and stain the floor where I once lived and breathed, to forever nark my pain, regret, shame and anger.”
Putignano also had to face his homosexuality and a romantic obsession with a fellow addict whom he eventually disassociated with in order to save both their lives. After attempts at recovery and relapses, he found himself in New York City, which he describes as “being trapped in a nonstop fashion show of sex, pride, prestige and power. Gorgeous people, too busy to appreciate each other’s beauty…”
Putignano eventually landed a job at The New York Times in an administrative position as he continued to face his demons and regain his strength. He was hired as an acrobat in Puccini’s Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera House and then again for Samson & Delilah. He not only stretched himself to overcome his addiction, but was literally stretching himself to explore the world of contortionism as an addendum to his gymnastics ability.
Take the jump to read about Putignano’s experience on Broadway and with Cirque du Soleil.
Contributor Lindsay B . Davis takes a hard look at family disfunction through the lens of award-winning playwright Beth Henley.
There is a moment in The Jacksonian, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Beth Henley’s latest play presented by The New Group at the Acorn Theatre, when 16-year-old Rosy Perch (newcomer Juliet Brett in a breakthrough performance) sits at a seedy motel bar table hunched over a piece of Baked Alaska. Her face is close to the cake and the whipped cream peaks look like an extension of the acne in full bloom on her face. Rosy picks at it with little interest under the penetrating eye of a lascivious bartender Fred Weber (Bill Pullman) who grabs the plate and fork to suck down a bite of cake himself. This is not a girl who gets to enjoy dessert. Henley (Crimes of the Heart, The Wake of Jamey Foster, The Miss Firecracker Contest) clearly has an appetite for humor in the bleakest of places.
Rosy is heavily burdened by events involving her well-off dentist father Bill (Ed Harris) and stay-at-home mother Susan (Amy Madigan) who are recently separated in her birthday month of May, which leads to Bill taking up residence at The Jacksonian Motel and encountering Fred and his breathy fiancé, hotel maid Eva White (Glenne Headly). The time, Rosy narrates to the audience, is “not Christmas, near around, before, before Christmas…and a murder happened…” This noir tinted murder mystery set in 1964 Jackson, Mississippi between the months of May and December (though recounted through Rosy’s eyes in non linear fashion) goes to dark, twisted places and yet its characters, who do grotesque things with ugly fervor, do not feel the slightest bit evil.
This is largely due to the dream team of actor heavyweights anchoring the production and their ability to flesh out characters that are impossible to judge or condemn. The operatic Ed Harris (Fool for Love, Taking Sides, Precious Sons plus more than 50 film performances, including Pollock, The Truman Show, and Game Change), as the self proclaimed “painless dentist,” prides himself for treating patients with the latest in mid 20th century anesthesia while getting high as a kite on whatever remains in his toolkit. His spiral into a suffering abyss of booze, chloroform, Novocain, sex, and violence is nauseating, nuanced and guttural. At times, it is also very funny.
Ms. Madigan (A Streetcar Named Desire, The Lucky Spot, Twice in a Lifetime, Field of Dreams), whose Susan speaks as if she has a copy of Betty Friedan’s feminine mystique on her bedside table— “I am not an artist. I am a wife, a mother, a non-entity”—is so powerful on stage, with her triple threat vocal, physical, and emotional heft, that all I can ask is why she doesn’t do more theater. Ms. Headly’s Eva is a floozy working every angle for a dime or, more specifically, a diamond ring. Her fractured innocence and racist Southern ignorance make Eva a very difficult character to watch. I found myself wondering (in between laughs) what desperate circumstances could have lead her to this place, though Henley does not bring any of that back story into the piece.
Pullman (Oleanna, The Goat, Peter & Jerry on Broadway plus an array of films from Spaceballs to Sleepless In Seattle), draws Fred, a character that uses colorful compulsive lies (from his “heart muscular constriction” to his near Guinness record sword swallowing abilities) with sly, constipated charm. He also happens to be running from the law and bonds with Rosy, who finds comfort doing her French homework in his bar as if it is her kitchen table. Their connection is weighted, dangerous. Rosy, with her disheveled hair, frumpy outfits, skin condition and husky voice, is not a pretty girl by any conventional standards and believes her ugliness serves “the good of human kind.” To Fred, she is prey. As the atmosphere grows more chilling, Rosy’s direct addresses to the audience are as central to understanding the story as they are to knowing how it feels to be a teenager who longs and aches to be rescued.
Walt Spangler’s set design is simple and effective. The motel’s bar sits stage right with dark wood and dingy Christmas lights that could be there all year round. Stage left is Bill’s motel room, dank and dismal, while even further stage left sits an ice machine. Open. Scoop. Slam! Characters who use it help sustain the rhythm and tension that director Robert Falls (Artistic Director of The Goodman Theatre whose Broadway directing credits include Desire Under the Elms, Talk Radio, The Rose Tattoo and Long Day’s Journey Into Night) builds into the production. Falls gives his actors ample room to play and makes no apologies for Henley’s darkly comedic script. Together they originated the production at the Geffen Playhouse in 2012 with Harris, Madigan, Pullman and Headly, whose trust and chemistry on stage is reflective of the time spent developing the show out west.
The Acorn on Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
Through December 22
Lindsay B. Davis is an arts/culture journalist and theater artist living in New York City.
Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler reviews Big Fish and Lies My Father Told Me.
An unusual theme appears on the New York stage this fall as two musicals, each in its own way, tackles the subjects of fatherhood and deception. Big Fish, a new musical based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and subsequent film, is a splashy hodgepodge of forgettable music by Andrew Lippa set against the backdrop of a fantastical world created by scenic designer Julian Crouch and costume designer William Ivey Long (with some blurry projections by 59 Productions). The story brings to life the bigger-than-life tales of Edward Bloom as recounted to his son. Downtown, you can catch Lies My Father Told Me (based on the works of Ted Allan and film by the same name), a memory play with music that follows the musings of lead character David as he recalls his tender relationship with his grandfather and the volatile verbal abuses of his father. Neither show manages to find its emotional core, despite moments of honest theatricality that occasionally bubble to the surface.
There were big expectations for Big Fish, which opened in early October and has already posted its closing notice. (Its last performance is scheduled for December 29.) With Tony winners Susan Stroman as director/choreographer and Norbert Leo Butz taking on the lead role, it seemed like a sure-fire hit. But Broadway overflows with rough waters and Big Fish never found its audience. As Edward Bloom, Butz pulls out all the stops and may well be one of the hardest working men on Broadway right now as he attempts to carry the show along. I rooted for Bloom as he tackled the mammoth tales of a life fully lived, trying time and again to impart his wide-eyed enthusiasm on his son before it’s too late.
But Andrew Lippa’s uninspired score doesn’t do him any favors. Co-stars Kate Baldwin as his dedicated wife, Sandra, and Bobby Steggert as his beleaguered son, Will, create a compelling and conflicted family unit, but the show’s ensemble appears to be floating in the nether regions of someone’s imagination and none are tethered to the same reality. During the particular performance that I saw, they appeared vacant and detached (with the exception of cameos from the ever boisterous Brad Oscar and Broadway newcomer Ciara Renée).
Stroman, who achieved astronomical commercial success with The Producers and critical acclaim with The Scottsboro Boys, is overshadowed by the production’s “wow factor.” I knew I was in trouble when the visually engineered trees blowing in the upper reaches of the set enraptured me. The subtlety and intelligence of Stroman’s choreography is lost in The Neil Simon Theatre and a sea of yellow daffodils. Big Fish is a big disappointment and a harrowing reminder that a Broadway hit is a tough fish to catch.
Unlike Big Fish, the National Yiddish Theatre’s production of Lies My Father Told Me relies on more traditional storytelling and fares marginally better than its uptown counterpart. The story follows the memories of David as he recounts his childhood in an immigrant community in early 20th century Montreal. As older David, Joe Paparella is tasked with the nearly impossible task of narrating a series of scenes that individually resonate but cumulatively doesn’t offer much dramatic arc.
At the center of the conflict is David’s father Harry (Jonathan Raviv), an angry wannabe inventor who is constantly borrowing money and making empty promises. Young David finds solace in his relationship with his grandfather Zaida (Chuck Karel). This is “Tevye-light” and Karel exhibits the mannerisms and anecdotes you’d expect to see in a production of Fiddler on the Roof but without the fire in his belly. Add the grumpy neighbor Mrs. Tanner (overzealously played by Renée Bang Allen), young David’s beaten down mother Annie (Russel Arden Koplin) and uncle (Jonathan Hadley) and a handful of locals and you’ve got yourself a Canadian Street Scene.
Elan Kunin’s score has moments of great theatricality, from the opening “Rags, Clothes, Bottles” to Harry’s rage-filled “What’s With The Knees” and Annie’s wistful 11 o’clock ballad “Maybe Someday,” but the larger company numbers are undermined by choreographer Merete Muenter’s staging. Muenter seems wholly determined to have the cast of actor/singers turn, shuffle and knee-slap their way around John C. Dinning’s towering set. Their movements are often without purpose or motivation—nor do they feel inspired by the era. Director Bryna Wasserman (who also adapted the piece) is unable to take the reigns and ultimately delivers a production filled only with glimmers of truth.
Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street
Through December 29
Lies My Father Told Me
Baruch Performing Arts Center
55 Lexington Avenue
Through December 15
Contributor Scott Redman gives a listen to Bebe Neuwirth’s new release, Stories… in NYC.
Bebe Neuwirth, the sultry sounding Broadway triple threat dancer /singer/actress, has recently released a live recording of her performance at New York City’s iconic cabaret space, 54 Below.
Stories… in NYC: Live at 54 Below (available as digital download or CD) showcases the unchained power of a true performer who does everything in her body to portray songs with passion and truth. Neuwirth is dynamically accompanied by music director and pianist Scott Cady. The 19 tracks include songs from Broadway as well as standards and contemporary selections.
What makes this recording astounding is Neuwirth’s ability to communicate explicitly without regret overflowing with raw passion. Neuwirth starts the evening singing “I Love a Piano”, her old audition song that gave her the opportunity to perform on Broadway, as she recalls her first audition for the musical Dancin’. Neuwirth’s signature vibrato flourishes like the lights of Times Square. Her quirky delivery is often self-depricating as she commits to the audience to perform story songs that have a personal connection to her life as a dancer. There is chatter between musical numbers as Neuwirth engages the audience.
Musical highlights include Kurt Weill’s “Susan’s Dream,” which examines the relationship between dreams and reality. Neuwirth’s voice is primed with a haunting tone as she uncovers the staleness in everyday life. “Mr. Bojangles” (written by Jerry Jeff Walker) tells the story of a southern gypsy dancer who has led a life entertaining those around him. Here Neuwirth isn’t just performing — she is embodying the song, which sounds like a conversation with an old friend. She doesn’t just sing of “Mr. Bojangles” but knows him and understands the pain and joy in his life. “Mr. Bojangles. Mr. Bojangles… dance.”
Neuwirth particularly delivers the Kander and Ebb songs ”And the World Goes ‘Round” and ”Ring Them Bells” with exceptional aplomb. It is here that the dancer inside Neuwirth relaxes and embodies the music and lyrics as if she is slipping into a snug leather glove. The rhythms come naturally to a dancer who has lived through John Kander and Fred Ebb’s songs and shows (Neuwirth won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Velma Kelly in the 1996 revival of Chicago).
Stories… in NYC offers an exceptional showcase of Bebe Neuwirth’s talent, which is a rare power to convey an array of emotional values and give meaning to lyrics. The final song “Shiver Me Timbers” demonstrates this immense power. The balance between brassy and quiet moments of her singing allows the listener to experience the full vigor what a talented performer with a simple piano accompaniment can deliver to an audience. Her approach is wholly unique and uses the sentiments of New York City to tell her stories. Keep telling them Bebe.
Here’s a rare look at Bebe’s silly side as she reinterprets “All That Jazz” for Musical Madlibs.
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 November, we’re seriously thankful for our handsome, talented man of the month…
Name: Matthew Montelongo
Hometown: I was born and raised in Independence, MO.
Current Show/Role: I’m currently performing numerous roles (they all have mustaches and they’re all kind of jerks) in One Night at The Cherry Lane Theatre.
The best part of the show I’m working on now is: The best part of being an actor in One Night at The Cherry Lane is that I finally am working at a stop on the Sex and the City Tour. I kid! Kind of. Seriously though, working at such a storied theatre on what might be the most beautiful block in Manhattan makes going to work every night just a little bit more thrilling.
The most challenging job in show business I ever had was: I was in a production of a play called God’s Ear a few years back in which I had to wear six inch stilleto heels (actually, they were probably more like four inch pumps, but heck, who doesn’t lie about size?). I learned two things whilst doing that play: I have very pretty legs and no sense of balance.