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Review: Atlantic’s ‘These Paper Bullets!’

December 23rd, 2015 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

'These Paper Bullets!' at Atlantic Theater Company. (Photo: Ahron R. Foster via The Broadway Blog.)

‘These Paper Bullets!’ at Atlantic Theater Company. (Photo: Ahron R. Foster via The Broadway Blog.)

Much Ado about Nothing, like every other Shakespeare play, has been subject to endless creative manipulation to wring something new from its romantic complications, especially the contentious love affair between Beatrice and Benedick. Most critics would call the play high comedy with farcical interludes (the Dogberry scenes), but few think of it as nonstop slapstick farce. That, unfortunately, is how it’s been reimagined by playwright Rolin Jones, with chaotic direction by Jackson Gay, under the title These Paper Bullets!, an egregiously over-the-top, raucous, and devastatingly unfunny “play with music” currently playing at Atlantic Theatre Company. It’s hard to believe it originated at Yale Repertory Theatre.

Jones places the action in London’s Swinging 60s—1964 to be precise—just when the Beatles returned in triumph from their famous American invasion. The idea is brilliant; the execution—not so much. Four of Shakespeare’s young men have been converted into the Liverpudlian-accented Quartos—Fab Four clones in skinny ties, tight suits with velvet collars, and mushroom haircuts. Their lead singer is Benedick—Ben (Justin Kirk), that is—complete with John Lennon’s nasality. Happily, their terrifically Beatles-like songs are by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong (American Idiot).

Ben’s female counterpart is Bea (Nicole Parker), Carnaby Street’s top Mod designer, replicating miniskirt guru Mary Quant down to her iconic bangs and Sassoon bob. Hero has become the Quaalude-popping, clueless, Twiggy-like model Higgy (Ariana Venturi). Claudio is Claude (Bryan Fenkart), the quartet’s Paul, who turns against Higgy when shown doctored photos of her in flagrante delicto, a machination carried out by the vengefully villainous Don Best (Adam O’Byrne)—Much Ado’s Don John—inspired by Pete Best, the Beatles’ pre-Ringo drummer. The other band members are Pedro (James Barry), the Ringo, and Balth (from the minor character, Balthasar; Lucas Papaelias), the George.

Costume designer Jessica Ford’s colorful, satirical take on go-go Mod fashions is the show’s most successful visual ingredient. Paul Whitaker’s lights are busy but can’t help Michael Yeargan’s clutzy set, despite its clever revolve resembling a vinyl record. The production itself is a clownish mishmash of juvenilia, performed with all the subtlety of the Three Stooges. Scads of action take place in the auditorium (with awkward bits of audience participation), and the dialogue is an uncomfortable hodgepodge of 60s Brit-speak and Bardic locutions.

Gay encourages her actors to mug mercilessly as if this were a dramatization of “Twist and Shout,” the pratfalls pile up like pancakes, girls’ panties fly like snowflakes, people wear lampshades on their heads, and Bea, in one of the plodding attempts at naughtiness, does a bit with a used condom she can’t dislodge from her finger. Yuck. Among all the overstuffed hams, only Greg Sturh’s Dogberry incarnation, Scotland Yard’s fatuously incompetent Douglas Berry, made me laugh (once, I think). These Paper Bullets! is more like an amateur version of a Richard Lester Beatles’ movie than of a great Shakespearean comedy.

Although Armstrong’s nine songs aren’t integrated into the text but are set pieces performed by the Quartos, it’s only when they’re sung that the show proves at all satisfying. West Side Story remains the benchmark transformation of Shakespeare into a contemporary musical, and Something Rotten! is a much funnier spoof of Shakespearean pretensions. As for These Paper Bullets!, well, add one more bad quarto to the list.

These Paper Bullets!
Atlantic Theatre Company
336 West 20th Street, NYC
Through January 10, 2016

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).

Review: “Bullets Over Broadway” — Caught in the Crossfire?

May 14th, 2014 Comments off
The cast of "Bullets Over Broadway" (photo: Paul Kolnik) via The Broadway Blog.

The cast of “Bullets Over Broadway” (photo: Paul Kolnik) via The Broadway Blog.

Murder. Mayhem. Showgirls and tap dancing gangsters. What more could you ask for?

Bullets Over Broadway, currently playing at the St. James Theatre, is a fast-paced musical theater gem that has eluded some critics, but here at the Broadway Blog, we think its wit and charm fire off like a Thompson submachine gun. Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman with a script by Woody Allen (based on his 1994 film co-written with Douglas McGrath), Bullets packs in a stacked deck of character-driven performances set against the backdrop of 1920s New York.

Zach Braff and Marin Mazzie in "Bullets Over Broadway" (photo: Paul Kolnik) via The Broadway Blog.

Zach Braff and Marin Mazzie in “Bullets Over Broadway” (photo: Paul Kolnik) via The Broadway Blog.

Young playwright David (Zach Braff) has the opportunity to have his play produced on Broadway, but only if he succumbs to mobster investor Nick Valenti (Vincent Pastore), his shrill girlfriend, Olive (Heléne Yorke), who aspires to become a star, and her bodyguard, Cheech (Nick Cordero). Along for the ride are diva Helen Sinclair (Marin Mazzie), compulsive eater Warner Purcell (Brooks Ashmanskas) and ditsy dog lover Eden Brent (Karen Ziemba). As the play within the musical progresses, it’s clear that David’s script needs more than a bit of tinkering, and before we know it, thug Cheech reveals himself as a more astute wordsmith than the playwright.

Stroman is back in her element after a clunky attempt at another movie-to-musical adaptation (Big Fish) earlier this season. Here Stroman nails the style and humor of 1920s New York City with some flashy help from costume designer William Ivey Long and set designer Santo Loquasto, who collectively deliver some of the most lush and period-perfect designs of the season. Deservedly, both are nominated for Tony Awards.

Bullets Over Broadway has been nominated for a total of six Tony Awards, six Drama Desk Awards, and won three Outer Critic Circle Awards, but missed a coveted Tony award nomination for Best Musical. Perhaps some feel that the show didn’t warrant the accolade due to the fact that the score is comprised of period songs (smartly arranged by Andy Einhorn), but After Midnight does the same with the music of Duke Ellington and if we scroll back the clock to 2000, another Stroman creation, Contact, won Best Musical without an original score or live music. But fretting over such details is like trying to fish a waterlogged body out of the East River.

Vincent Pastore and Heléne Yorke in "Bullets Over Broadway" (photo: Paul Kolnik) via The Broadway Blog.

Vincent Pastore and Heléne Yorke in “Bullets Over Broadway” (photo: Paul Kolnik) via The Broadway Blog.

At its best, Bullets delivers boisterous humor, athletic dancing and comedic one-liners that exemplify Woody Allen’s craftsmanship. Missing from the Tony roll call are Heléne Yorke and Marin Mazzie, who both deliver spot-on humor and big vocals. Also looked over is Brooks Ashmanskas, whose doughnut-binging performance literally bounces around the stage. Less successful is Zach Braff. Though he carries the plotline, he doesn’t carry the show and occasionally resorts to Woody-isms that include hunched shoulders and a vocal affectation that doesn’t suit him. Overall though, he’s a charmer and manages to keep up with his more seasoned co-stars. Karen Ziemba, impossibly tasked with creating a role originated on film by the brilliantly quirky Tracy Ullman, also misses the mark.

Minor discrepancies aside, Stroman keeps the ensemble on its feet through countless incarnations and characterizations. They are true triple threats and create a dynamic framework for the ensuing shenanigans. I hope Bullets Over Broadway finds its audience and doesn’t end up an early casualty of the season.

Bullets Over Broadway
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street
Open-ended run

Illuminating a Blank Page: ‘Sunday in the Park with George’

February 24th, 2017 Comments off
The cast of 'Sunday in the Park with George.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Sunday in the Park with George.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“White. A blank page or canvas. The challenge: bring order to the whole.”

These words embody the gauntlet thrown down before generations of artists. The opening line of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical, Sunday in the Park with George, resonates deeply in the Broadway revival that christens the historic re-opening of the Hudson Theatre.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as George (both in Act One’s late 19th century setting and as George’s namesake great-grandson in Act Two, set in an American art museum in 1984) and Annaleigh Ashford as his muse Dot, and later, as George’s maternal grandmother, Marie, Sunday in the Park with George remains one of writing team’s most iconic works. More than 30 years since it debuted at Playwrights Horizons and countless productions worldwide, the musical strikes a resonating chord—both in terms of its exploration of the creative (and often obsessive) process of making art, as well as the personal relationships that can crumble in its wake.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford in 'Sunday in the Park with George.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford in ‘Sunday in the Park with George.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Inspired by George Seurat’s painting, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” Sondheim used the artist’s technique, later named Pointillism, as a musical springboard to create the score. It is filled with staccato punctuations (further accentuated by Gyllenhaal’s delivery) and contrasting lush melodies, which encapsulates the sum on the parts. Michael Starobin’s orchestrations and music direction by Chris Fenwick beautifully capture Sondheim’s work as delivered by a stellar cast of Broadway veterans.

Seurat died at the age of 31 and, at least according to the script, never sold a painting in his lifetime. The tragedy of his artistic tenacity and a world not quite ready to accept his creative gifts is the stuff that great musicals are forged from and it’s no surprise that Sunday in the Park with George won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Director Sarna Lapine mines the material for its wealth of treasures, shedding new light and nuance.

There is a purposefully broken current of electricity between George and Dot, interrupted by his nearly manic artistic pursuits. Gyllenhaal leans heavily into this neurosis, but unlike so many film actors that have stumbled onstage before him, he embodies George’s physical precision all the way through the tip of his imaginary paintbrush. Ashford approaches Dot with flirty mischief. Beautiful as she is, she is able to convince us that she’s less than society’s norms, uneducated and increasingly curvy as she carries George’s bastard child. A Tony Award winner for You Can’t Take it With You and nominee for Kinky Boots, Ashford is adept at interpreting lyrics and Sondheim gives her a full sandbox to play in. Gyllenhaal, too, is not afraid to approach the score with riveting intensity.

Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sunday in the Park with George.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Sunday in the Park with George.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Casting directors Carrie Gardner and Stephen Kopel have assembled a top-notch ensemble to support Gyllenhaal and Ashford, including Penny Fuller as George’s mother (Old Lady) in Act One and Blair, an art critic, in Act 2; and Robert Sean Leonard as Jules, a successful artist in Act One, and Bob Greenberg, a museum director in Act 2. Other recognizable faces include Ruthie Ann Miles (The King and I, Here Lies Love), Brooks Ashmanskas (Bullets Over Broadway) and Jenni Barber (Wicked, Annie).

Act 2, which has often been problematic in past productions, jumps to 1984, where George (Dot’s great-grandson) is struggling with creative blocks after years of success with a series of Chromolume art installations (one of which is brilliantly conceived by lighting designer Ken Billington for a show-stopping moment). Ashford, now in a wheelchair as the aging Marie, captivates with a Charleston drawl that imbues her reflective “Children and Art” with a bluesy, languid warmth that will bring tears to your eyes.

This production of Sunday in the Park with George found footing last year as part of New York City Center’s Encores! series. Its physical presence still feels lean, with a simple set by Beowulf Boritt and projections designed by Tal Yarden. Costume designer Clint Ramos opts for a plain Pantone palette and one wishes Seurat himself could have gotten his hands on the designs to offer as much depth as the production warrants.

For anyone that has questioned the value of his or her creative expression, Sunday in the Park with George will hit a raw nerve. Like Seurat’s masterful paintings, the musical’s beauty is in its ever-changing perspective. “Order. Design. Tension. Balance. Harmony,” says George before the show’s resounding end. On the page, these words appear so simple. But it takes masters like Sondheim and Lapine to bring them to life.

Sunday in the Park with George
Hudson Theatre
139-141 West 44th Street, NYC
Through April 23

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

A Tale of Too Many Cities: ‘A Bronx Tale’

December 7th, 2016 Comments off
'A Bronx Tale' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘A Bronx Tale’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

A Bronx Tale, which recently opened on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre, represents the latest in a continuation of big budget musical adaptations that producers hope will resonate with audiences looking for feel-good shows without too much brain strain. (Take note: Dear Evan Hansen and Off Broadway’s Ride the Cyclone are tempting to break the cycle and have received acclaim from audiences and critics alike.)

Originally inspired by an altercation he had as a doorman at a nightclub, Chazz Palminteri created the one-man show for the stage. The piece was a springboard for the successful 1992 film version, which expanded the narrative into a fully realized feature with a cast of heavy hitters including Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, as well as Palminteri recreating his role as Calogero.

The musical has the creative backing of some of the original team, including a book by Palminteri and co-directors De Niro along with four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks, who I imagine did most of the heavy lifting. With music by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop of Horrors), lyrics by Glenn Slater (School of Rock, The Little Mermaid), and choreography by Sergio Trujillo (On Your Feet!), there are plenty of A-listers in the playbill… which may be what sinks A Bronx Tale like a thug who finds himself wearing cement shoes in the East River.

(l to r) Hudson Loverro, Richard H. Blake, and Lucia Giannetta in 'A Bronx Tale.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Hudson Loverro, Richard H. Blake, and Lucia Giannetta in ‘A Bronx Tale.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Calogero (Bobby Conte Thornton) narrates the story of his urban adventures on Belmont Avenue in the Bronx during the 1960s, as played out by the younger version of himself (Hudson Loverro) and parents Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) and Rosina (Lucia Giannetta). The young boy witnesses a crime on the street, which sets in motion a lifelong mentorship between him and mafia ringleader Sonny (Nick Cordero).

Family tensions run high as Lorenzo encourages his son to stay away from Sonny and his gang of criminal misfits, but the young man doesn’t see much of a future for himself if he follows his father’s straight-laced ways. In the meantime, Calogero’s wandering eyes land on Jane (Ariana De Bose), a black girl from Webster Avenue—a.k.a the wrong side of the tracks. The musical abruptly shifts into a musical about racial tensions with echoes of Hairspray and West Side Story but with neither the charm of the former or gravitas of the latter to hold much weight.

(l to r) BobbyConte Thornton and Nick Cordero in 'A Bronx Tale.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) BobbyConte Thornton and Nick Cordero in ‘A Bronx Tale.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Several performances float above the polluted plot lines. Cordero, who’s recently made a career for himself as the bad guy in Waitress and Bullets Over Broadway, manages to find the delicate balance between tough guy and heart of gold. Thornton shifts midway from narrator to leading man, and his doughy-eyed innocence goes far though the orchestrations push the limits of his range. De Bose, too, has a spark, but the romance—all hinging on a date that never really comes to fruition—feels like a forced layer to an already cluttered script.

Menken’s score echoes The Four Seasons with some big musical theater ballads thrown in for good measure, while Trujillo’s choreography is brash, syncopated, and highly athletic, but doesn’t always feel connected to the story at hand. Lighting designer Howell Binkley often saturates Beowulf Boritt’s sets in pools of red—as if to remind us of the blood that runs in the streets (or maybe it’s pizza sauce.)

A Bronx Tale is an adequate evening of theater, but who wants to pay a top ticket price of $187 for average? Producers are rolling the dice like Sonny, hoping that audiences will bring a hit, but I’m just not sure that’s a bet I’d want to make.

A Bronx Tale
Longacre Theatre
220 West 48th Street, NYC

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @roodeloo

Opening Night: ‘Falsettos’ on Broadway

October 27th, 2016 Comments off

falsettosThe much-anticipated revival of William Finn and James Lapine’s Falsettos opens tonight on Broadway with an all-star cast that includes Stephanie J. Block (Wicked), Christian Borle (Something Rotten!, Peter and the Starcatcher), Andrew Rannells (The Book of Mormon, Hamilton), Tracie Thoms (Rent), Brandon Uranowitz (An American in Paris) and Betsy Wolfe (Bullets Over Broadway).

Co-book writer and original director James Lapine is back to helm this new production being brought to Broadway by Lincoln Center Theater, the company behind 2015’s Tony winning best revival The King and I.

Take a look behind the scenes…

Don’t Miss: 20th Anniversary ‘Ain’t Nothing Like a Dame’

October 11th, 2016 Comments off

Host committee members Betty Buckley, Misty Copeland, Kelli O’Hara,Bernadette Peters, and Janice Reals Ellig present the 20th Anniversary of Nothing Like a Dame on Monday, October 24, 2016 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 W. 47th Street).  The evening, which features all singing, all dancing, and all women, will benefit The Actors Fund’s Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative. Nothing Like a Dame will honor Tony Award nominee Marin Mazzie with the first-ever Phyllis Newman Dame Award. Tickets are now on sale.

Zach Braff and Marin Mazzie in "Bullets Over Broadway" (photo: Paul Kolnik) via The Broadway Blog.

Zach Braff and Marin Mazzie in “Bullets Over Broadway” (photo: Paul Kolnik) via The Broadway Blog.

Produced by Phyllis Newman, with direction by Bebe Neuwirth, Nothing Like a Dame will feature performances byChristine Ebersol, Melissa Errico, Julie Halston, Judy Kuhn, Tonya Pinkins, and Karen Ziemba, along with Ali Stroker and Erin Hill, and Ava Briglia, Willow McCarthy and Aviva Winick from the cast of Matilda, The Musical.

Tickets for Nothing Like a Dame are $75, $100, $150, and $250 and are now on sale online at www.actorsfund.org/Dame2016 or or by calling 212.221.7300 ext. 133. Tickets that include a post-performance cast party are available for a donation of $500.

The Actors Fund is a national human services organization that helps everyone—performers and those behind the scenes—who works in performing arts and entertainment. Serving professionals in film, theatre, television, music, opera, radio and dance, The Fund’s programs include social services and emergency financial assistance, health care and insurance counseling, housing, and employment and training services. With offices in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, The Actors Fund is a safety net for those in need, crisis or transition.

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Review: The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall

March 15th, 2016 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Betsy Wolfe , Steven Reineke and Darren Criss. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Betsy Wolfe , Steven Reineke and Darren Criss. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

For the Generation X Broadway crowd, Friday night’s New York Pops concert was a fond, nostalgic trip down memory lane. The evening’s theme, 42nd on 57th: Broadway Today, featured guest artists Betsy Wolfe and Darren Criss and selections from powerhouse shows of the 80s and 90s including Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, and Little Shop of Horrors. More modern pieces like The Bridges of Madison County, Honeymoon In Vegas, and Once were also represented.

Ms. Wolfe’s name is yet to be held with the same esteem and notoriety as Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, and Sutton Foster, but just wait. A talent like this will not fly under the radar for long. She has appeared on Broadway in Bullets Over Broadway, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and in the recent Off Broadway revival of The Last Five Years. Ms. Wolfe’s consummate vocal range and powerful voice will cause you to sit up and take notice. The same could not be said for her duet partner for the evening, although if you ask Mr. Criss how great he is, he will likely saturate himself in superlatives—more on that later.

Steven Reineke and The New York Pops. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Steven Reineke and The New York Pops. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

The New York Pops, under Steven Reineke’s masterful direction, opened the evening with a rousing arrangement of selections from The Phantom of the Opera. Criss, who recently appeared in Broadway’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, followed with a muted version of “I Love Betsy” from Honeymoon in Vegas. Wolfe joined him in the patter heavy “Getting Married Today” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company and later, the two performed the beloved contemporary power ballad “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors as well as a reflective version of “Falling Slowly” from Once.

Criss conceded that he is not a traditional Broadway performer and that he has always leaned more towards the genre of pop. To his own surprise, he found himself working on a television show (Glee) that focused more on musical theater styles. Still, he is a talented musician who can accompany himself extremely well on piano and guitar. His acoustic version of “I Dreamed a Dream” was lovely as his light voice lends itself more to the singer-songwriter genre.

Yet Mr. Criss cruised past a comfortable state of confidence and drove full throttle into ego. During the introduction of a duet with Wolfe, he abruptly passed off his guitar to her, dismissively saying, “Here hold this,” while he adjusted the microphone stand. A uncomfortable Wolfe glanced at the audience with a look suggesting, “Can you believe the nerve of this guy?”

Original composers Jason Robert Brown and Robert Lopez were on hand to accompany their own selections. Brown joined Criss and Wolfe in a duet of “Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles,” a piece from The Bridges of Madison County that fit Wolfe like a custom tailored suit, but left Criss in the dust. EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner Robert Lopez sat at the piano to play his international hit, “Let It Go” from Frozen. When I saw it on the program, I was trepidatious. The song has grown tired through overexposure—at least until Wolfe gave it voice. She unthawed the piece with conviction and, for lack of more eloquence, melted the audience.

Criss and Reineke provided a jovial moment towards the end in the silly “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” from The Book of Mormon and Wolfe had audiences leaping to their feet with the show’s finale, “Maybe this Time” from the Kander and Ebb classic, Cabaret.

The issue of poor sound design continues to plague the concert series. Usually the orchestra overpowers the vocalists. On Friday evening, the opposite held true. Overall though, the program was pure fun.

The New York Pops’ next concert is The Music of John Williams: From Spielberg to Star Wars on April 8 at 8 p.m.

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

The Broadway Blog’s Best and Worst of 2014

December 30th, 2014 Comments off

The Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler rounds up what we loved and loathed in 2014.

We witnessed standing ovations as well as patrons storming out of the theater (sometimes at the same show)! It was a polarizing year on Broadway and beyond—packed with enough theatrics and star turns to keep the Great White Way blazing through the season. We’ve highlighted our favorite moments: the good, the bad, and the ugly. One thing is for certain, though. There’s nothing like that moment when the house lights dim. And what happens next? Well… that’s the magic of the theater.

Neil Patrick Harris and the cast of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Neil Patrick Harris and the cast of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

When Life’s a Drag
Neil Patrick Harris’s star turn in John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s glam-punk musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch took Broadway by storm and with good reason. Based on his previous Broadway experience (Cabaret, Assassins and Proof) and four years as an Emmy-Award winning Tony Awards host, Harris clearly had the mastery and precision to make this character into even more of an icon than she already is, and that is no small feat. From head to toe, Harris was all Hedwig. The reimagining by director Michael Mayer introduced the show to a new generation, but for those with nostalgia, Mitchell returns to the role he originated January 21.

 

Terence Archie and Andy Karl in "Rocky" (photo: Matthew Murphy) via The Broadway Blog.

Terence Archie and Andy Karl in “Rocky” (photo: Matthew Murphy) via The Broadway Blog.

Sucker Punch
It takes a lot for a down-on-his-luck guy from Philly to pull off a $16.5 million musical. True, Rocky had heart, but it wasn’t nearly enough to have us believe why he’d break out into a song titled, “My Nose Ain’t Broken.” Speaking of which, the troubled book and score couldn’t be saved by director Alex Timbers or the monstrous sets by Chris Barreca. Rocky was a knockout; unfortunately it was the audience who was left with a concussion.

 

Steven Reineke and Stephanie J. Block (photo: Richard Termine) via The Broadway Blog.

Steven Reineke and Stephanie J. Block (photo: Richard Termine) via The Broadway Blog.

Defying Gravity
The Broadway Blog was privileged to interview some of today’s greatest talent, including Betty Buckley and Andrew Lippa, but none touched us as deeply as Stephanie J. Block on the brink of her performance with The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall. 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.”

Ruthie Ann Miles in "Here Lies Love" (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Ruthie Ann Miles in “Here Lies Love” (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Papp Lives On
Joseph Papp conceived of the Public Theater nearly 60 years ago and through the decades it has established itself as home to an array of culturally diverse artists that push the boundaries of storytelling. Two of our favorite shows of the year appeared at the Public: Here Lies Love and The Fortress of Solitude. The former was an unconventional telling of Imelda Marcos’s life that relied on live video feed as well as archival footage—all seamlessly integrated into palpitating performances, a mobile set, and a catchy score by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim (with additional music by Tom Gandy and J Pardo). The latter, as described by the Public’s artistic director Oskar Eustis, embodied “the things The Public Theater strives to achieve: it is a tremendously personal story that takes place within a larger social context, and a story that reveals how our most intimate relationships are shaped by history, class and race.” We can’t wait for Fun Home to arrive on Broadway this spring.

 

"Bullets Over Broadway," set design by Santo Loquasto. (photo: Paul Kolnik via The Broadway Blog)

“Bullets Over Broadway,” set design by Santo Loquasto. (photo: Paul Kolnik via The Broadway Blog)

Bum Deal
We admit it. We were one of the few who enjoyed Susan Stroman’s staging of Bullets Over Broadway. The flashy spectacle received mediocre reviews but we felt the director/choreographer nailed the style and humor of 1920s New York City with some flashy help from costume designer William Ivey Long and set designer Santo Loquasto, who collectively delivered some of the most lush and period-perfect designs of the season.

 

"Allegro" at Classic Stage Company (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“Allegro” at Classic Stage Company (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Shades of Grey
No, we’re not talking about the “erotic” novel by E.L. James, but rather the conflicted season at Classic Stage Company. While we were bewildered by Bertolt Brecht’s A Man’s Man, easily one of the snooziest and poorly staged productions of the year, the off Broadway company bounced back with a stellar revival of Allegro, proving that a little faith goes a long way. We have high hopes for the upcoming production of A Month in the Country starring Peter Dinklage and Peter Sarsgaard’s take on Hamlet.

There’s more! Take the leap…

Read more…

Three to See: September

September 4th, 2014 Comments off

The Broadway Blog’s editor Matthew Wexler rounds up our top three picks of the month.

After a quiet summer and theater vacancies (so long, ROCKY, Bullets Over Broadway and Holler If Ya Hear Me), new productions are slowly rumbling onto the stage. It’s proving to be an eclectic season. Which shows will win the hearts of critics and audiences? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, we’ve got our eyes on three openings this month worth a second glance:

Bridget Everett and The Tender Moments (photo: Kevin Yatarola)

Bridget Everett and The Tender Moments (photo: Kevin Yatarola)

ROCK BOTTOM
Downtown’s bawdry broad Bridget Everett returns to the Public Theatre with the premiere of Rock Bottom. Conceived with the help of heavy hitters Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Matt Ray, Everett tells the story of what happens when you’re too passionate to give up, and too big to fail. In it, she barrels through life tiptoeing toward disaster, wine bottle by wine bottle and man by man. However, instead of succumbing to a chardonnay-induced stupor, Everett embraces a series of revelations that lead her and her voice of an angel to redemption. Originally commissioned as part of Joe’s Pub 2013 New Voices series, Everett and her entourage have moved beyond cult status into the “see and be seen” of New York’s theater world.

Rock Bottom
Joe’s Pub at The Public
425 Lafayette Street
Opening night, September 17
Through October 11

Take a peek at Patti LuPone crashing one of Bridget’s performances at Joe’s Pub last year.

 

YouthTHIS IS OUR YOUTH
Hollywood stars come out to play in the revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth, directed by Anna D. Shapiro. The play follows three wayward youth, played by Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson, as they stumble their way through life and love via 1982 New York City. The New Group originally produced the play Off Broadway back in 1996. This revival got its footing at Steppenwolf in Chicago earlier this summer in their intimate Upstairs Theatre. Hopefully those performances will translate to the 1,082-seat Cort Theatre.

This Is Our Youth
Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street
Opening night, September 11
Through January 4, 2015

 

2020at20
With too many Off Broadway shows to pick from this fall, we couldn’t limit ourselves and why should you? The Off Broadway Alliance’s bi-annual promotion enables audience members to snag $20 tickets at 20 minutes prior to curtain for dozens of shows. Revisit old favorites like Avenue Q and Naked Boys Singing, or check out a new production such as Port Authority or Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story (closing September 14).

For a full listing, visit, 20at20.com.
September 9–28

The cast of "Piece of My Heart" (photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog).

The cast of “Piece of My Heart” (photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog).

Review: Original Cast Recording of “Forbidden Broadway: Comes Out Swinging”

September 2nd, 2014 Comments off

It’s back to Broadway as we gear up for a new season of hits, flops and everything in between. To kick things off, contributor Scott Redman gives a listen to the new cast recording of Forbidden Broadway: Comes Out Swinging.

fbThe camp flavored perennial favorite, Forbidden Broadway, spins through nearly every theater on the Great White Way but fails to make a lasting impression on every stop it makes.

The satirical revue has been running sporadically Off Broadway since the 1980s. All of the versions of the shows have been conceived by Gerard Alessandrini whose signature talent of twisting show tunes into humorous jilts while poking fun of writers, actors, directors, composers, and producers on the rialto has become a tradition of its own.

Highlights from the latest incarnation include scenes from the Jason Robert Brown Fan Club (guess who’s the President?) and laugh out loud zips from Kelli O’Hara’s character in The Bridges of Madison County, “I live here with my kids and Sutton Foster’s brother…” Idina Menzel gets a hilarious nod in “Let it Blow” making ample use of the Frozen anthem and showcasing her prowess as one of Broadway’s belters. Liza Minnelli gets a moment in the spotlight commenting on the revival of Cabaret and battling it out with the new Sally Bowles, Michele Williams.

Unfortunately, many of the other show jabs don’t land, mostly because they rely on a single punch line in the song’s refrain to carry the joke. The Matilda skit attempts to replace the original “Revolting Children” lyric with “We are exploited children”  …Aladdin gets “Disney Cheese” as the hook and it slips right off. Les Miz gets ridiculed for the new projections used in the revival. These quips land flat and lack a humor that doesn’t go anywhere passed its delivery. The skits land best when accompanied by a larger commentary rather than one-liners that don’t really land. Kinky Boots, Bullets Over Broadway, Pippin, and more all have songs but meld together in a vague haze that is sadly boring and seldom humorous—perhaps better appreciated in live performance with costumes and requisite camp.


Missing from this piece are classic Forbidden Broadway moments. Earlier renditions included an adult actress belting out Annie’s title song, “Tomorrow”, with a lipstick-stained cigarette, lamenting “I’m 30 years old and still playing Annie!” Another memorable poke was The Phantom of the Opera and Cats producer Cameron Mackintosh’s “Favorite Things” taken from The Sound of Music with clever lyrics illuminating his obsession with show branding and selling show themed merchandise.

Through the years of listening to the various albums and seeing the show numerous times, Forbidden Broadway has good years and not so exciting years. This latest edition seems to have hoped its claws would scrape through the greasepaint but unfortunately doesn’t achieve a knockout. Here’s looking forward to next season!