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Review: “Here Lies Love” Reimagines Musical Theater

May 2nd, 2014 Comments off
Ruthie Ann Miles (center) and the cast of "Here Lies Love" (photo: Joan Marcus) via the Broadway Blog.

Ruthie Ann Miles (center) and the cast of “Here Lies Love” (photo: Joan Marcus) via the Broadway Blog.

There is musical theater, and then there is Here Lies Love, the immersive multimedia event that has recently launched a commercially produced open-ended run at the Public Theater where it received rave reviews last year. And with good reason. With music and lyrics by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim (with additional music by Tom Gandy and J Pardo) and directed by Alex Timbers, Here Lies Love transforms and transcends the art form, carrying the audience along on an emotionally charged ride through the trials and tribulations of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos—their meteoric rise to fame and power in the 1960s and their ultimate demise in 1983 as a result of the People Power Revolution.

Conrad Ricamona (center) and the cast of "Here Lies Love" (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Conrad Ricamona (center) and the cast of “Here Lies Love” (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Reconfiguring the Public’s LuEsther Theatre into a mosh pit of pop culture through moving platforms, neon lights, booming sound effects, video, and most importantly—a dynamic cast that weaves its way in and out of the action—Here Lies Love grabs a hold of you and doesn’t let go. Alex Timbers, who has brought us the inventive Peter and the Starcatcher and the overblown Broadway knock-out, ROCKY, strikes a keen balance between theatricality and emotion by blending (and occasionally overloading) sensory experiences that carry the story from Imelda’s humble beginnings through her peak of political fame and fortune and beyond. Don’t expect to sit comfortably for this tale, though. It’s standing-room-only as Imelda (Ruthie Ann Miles), Marcos (Jose Llana), and political opponent “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. (Conrad Ricamora) and a hardworking ensemble of cast and crew manipulate the ever-changing space. Moving platforms force the audience into different configurations, each capturing a unique aspect of the storytelling.

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.

Relying on live video feed as well as archival footage, the scenic, lighting, sound, and projection design effectively manipulate the space and throw the focus in an infinite number of directions. Timbers is tasked with managing all the stimuli and does so with great effect, drawing out nuanced and heartfelt performances from his lead actors. As Imelda, Ruthie Ann Miles is nothing short of captivating (in spite of the fact that she only wears one pair of shoes). Imagine Evita in overdrive and you’re moving in the right direction. As her power-hungry cheating husband Ferdinand Marcos, Jose Llana is magnetic on camera—somehow able to play intimately to the live video feed while simultaneously seducing the audience with suave-like stares. Conrad Ricamora as Aquino (who was Imelda’s boyfriend prior to becoming a political opponent) at times feels more boy band than revolutionary, but is equally as invested as his counterparts. The ensemble of 14 singer/actor/dancers run the gamut of talent, belting Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s score while capturing the culturally inspired choreography of Annie-B Parson.

Lest you think Here Lies Love is a Filipino version of Les Misérables, it is filled with as much joy and celebration as gravitas. Self-credited with the creation of karaoke and line dancing, the production embraces pop culture, using these elements as a means to further the action. From rags to riches, Here Lies Love tells a timeless tale snatched from the headlines of one of the world’s most enigmatic political power couples.

Here Lies Love
The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
Open-ended run
Original cast album releases on May 6.

Matthew Wexler is the editor of The Broadway Blog. His work has appeared in Hemispheres, Passport Magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Private Islands, among others. Follow him on Twitter at @roodeloo.

Three to See: March… And the Winner Is?

March 3rd, 2014 Comments off

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.

Andy Karl in "ROCKY" (photo: Matthew Murphy) via The Broadway Blog.

Andy Karl in “ROCKY” (photo: Matthew Murphy) via The Broadway Blog.

ROCKY
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.”

ROCKY
Winter Garden Theatre
1634 Broadway
Opening night: March 13, 2014

Adam Jacobs as "Aladdin" (photo: Cylla Von Tiedemann) via The Broadway Blog.

Adam Jacobs as “Aladdin” (photo: Cylla Von Tiedemann) via The Broadway Blog.

Aladdin
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.

Aladdin
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!

Read more…

SHOW FOLK: The Creators of “Peter and the Starcatcher” (Part 2)

May 31st, 2012 Comments off

Celia Keenan-Bolger, Adam Chanler-Berat & the cast of "Peter and the Starcatcher". Image via O&M Co.

The Tonys are right around the corner, so we’re chatting with the men who made the most-nominated play of the year fly. Last week, the witty and winning playwright Rick Elice filled us in on the making of Peter and the Starcatcher and his other Broadway hit, Jersey Boys. This week, the co-directors of the show, Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) and Roger Rees (The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Cheers and more), play email interview with me.

What’s worth noting here is that these two men from such diverse backgrounds reply in such different ways: the young and voluble Timbers giving intricately thoughtful answers, the seasoned and erudite Rees dropping mysteriously cheeky haikus. With this kind of partnership, it’s no wonder the show they directed is such a joyous mash-up of styles and techniques.

Alex Timbers. Image via PlaybillVault.com.

First up, Alex Timbers:

Peter and the Starcatcher has an exhilarating anything goes, cultural mash-up quality that infuses much of your work (whether Peter’s British Panto meets 19th century boy’s adventure story or Bloody Bloody’s rock concert meets historical bio). How do you work to integrate these juxtapositions in your direction? Was there anything you tried that you felt was too out of place as an anachronism or as a cultural reference?

I love juxtaposing seemingly dissonant ideas and periods in order to better illuminate each and give us fresh perspective on what we think we already know. It’s also a great, fun tool for delivering exposition. Overall I don’t have a set of rules as to when something fits or when something doesn’t; instinct is really my guide as I’m developing the world and the show’s unique sensibility. Unlike on Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson though, I’m not the playwright of Peter and the Starcatcher so those questions fell mainly on the shoulders of our talented writer Rick Elice. I would say generally we found in the move from downtown to uptown that on “Peter” less was more. So a lot of the contemporary references, including an entire modern infomercial sequence in the first act, were cut.

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SHOW FOLK: The Creators of “Peter and the Starcatcher” (Part 1)

May 24th, 2012 Comments off

Roger Rees, Alex Timbers & Rick Elice. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Who knew a little fairy dust could be so powerful?

Like its orphan hero, the Broadway underdog Peter and the Starcatcher soared, grabbing nine Tony nominations — the most nods for any play this year. Behind the stellar cast is an equally starry creative team, led by co-Directors Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) & Roger Rees (most recently as an actor in The Addams Family) and writer Rick Elice (Jersey Boys).

As they prepare for Tony night and a recently announced Peter national tour, this “dream team” sat down to answer a few questions about the show, their collaboration and their careers. First up, the playwright (and a Tony nominee this year for Best Score) Rick Elice…

Kevin Del Aguila & Christian Borle in "Peter and the Starcatcher". Image via O&M Co.

Peter feels like such a collaborative, improvisational work and yet the script is so intricate and detailed. What was the genesis of the script?

In 2007, Roger Rees and Alex Timbers embarked on a series of workshops to adapt Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s novel, Peter and the Starcatchersan origin story of Peter Pan – for the stage.  During the first “lab,” they worked entirely from the novel. But they needed some sort of introduction that would explain how narrative voices would be used in a potential play.  They called a mutual acquaintance, me, and I wrote them a prologue.  The first workshop led to a second, for which they needed some scenes, so the actors would know what to say.  They called a mutual acquaintance, me, and asked if I would supply some dialogue and some ideas for scenes that weren’t in the novel.  Dave and Ridley came to check it out.  Dave, not one to beat around any bush, asked “Who wrote that stuff?  We really like it.”  Tom Schumacher of Disney, who had underwritten the workshops, said, “That guy, sitting over there.”  (I raised my hand and grinned sheepishly.)  Then, Tom added, “He’s going to write the play.”  And sometimes, that’s how you get the gig.  So basically, it’s important to know directors who don’t have lots of friends who are writers.

Did you participate actively in rehearsals and did the cast influence the script? Is there still wiggle room for play in the piece even now that it has been “frozen” on Broadway?

I was at rehearsals every day, or close to it – (sometimes I had to do laundry).  I wouldn’t have missed them.  In La Jolla, I was rewriting whole sections, so I often sat in the room, glued to my keyboard.  I just liked being in a room with so much great, creative energy.  And I was getting to know the actors, and enjoyed the very particular pleasure of writing to various actors’ specific talents.  Between La Jolla and New York Theatre Workshop, I did major rewriting to accommodate a change in cast size, and a conceptual change that dramatically altered the two title roles – something we only learned through La Jolla’s great “Page to Stage” program, of which we were a part.   At Theatre Workshop, I was there every day, because I was jealous of the limited rehearsal time, and, by this time, had become great friends with the actors.  So to have a free ticket into the room was a treat.  Also, like a tailor at the local laundry, it was very efficient to have me there to do rewrites, and develop new sequences “on premises” – based on our finally having a set. For Broadway, we gave the actors a new script on the first day that had some big structural changes, and over the course of rehearsals, I was able to do very specific work.  I love being at rehearsals a lot.  I have the rest of my life to be somewhere else.

Wiggle room?  Well, actors of the caliber in Peter are so alive in their roles that wiggle room isn’t necessary.  Also, the physical tasks at hand require that everybody know what everybody is doing moment to moment, or someone could be hurt.  So no – the text is the text and the production is the production.  There are one or two “cadenza” moments, where the duration of certain things may vary from night to night, at the discretion of one or two of the actors.  It’s lovely when audience members say the whole thing has this entirely improvised feel, but believe me, it’s all worked out very carefully by the extraordinary ensemble of actors, the choreographer, the directors, the stage managers.  It’s a tribute to them that the play has that improvised feel.

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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Peter and the Starcatcher”

April 16th, 2012 Comments off

David Rossmer, Adam Chanler-Berat, Carson Elrod & the cast of "Peter and the Starcatcher". Image via O&M Co.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER

Based on the best-seller by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter Pan gets a prequel in an imaginatively staged new play from writer Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) and directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson).

“It’s the most exhilarating example of locomotive storytelling on Broadway since the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby visited three decades ago…” New York Times

Peter soars—deliriously high and gloriously far. ” Time Out New York

“…rich in antic humor and theatrical invention, but the stardust loses potency and becomes a tad precious on a larger stage. Hollywood Reporter

“…there are laughs aplenty — largely owing to Christian Borle’s turn as bombastic buccaneer Black Stache.” Entertainment Weekly

Read more…

Win Tickets to “Peter and the Starcatcher”

April 12th, 2012 Comments off

Celia Keenan-Bolger, Adam Chanler-Berat & the cast of "Peter and the Starcatcher". Image via O&M Co.

The boy who wouldn’t grow up is about to make you feel like a kid again, as Peter Pan returns to Broadway April 15 in the acclaimed prequel adventure Peter and the Starcatcher. And now, we’re giving away a pair of free tickets to be sure you can fly back to Neverland.

Before you write off the new play as just some “family” show, the production boasts serious indie theater cred in directors Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) and Roger Rees (Nicholas Nickleby), as well as raves from its off Broadway production that highlight its wildly innovative staging and witty, literate script. In this case, “family friendly” does not mean “adults beware”.

Ready to set sail? Just tell me in the comments below about the last show that made you feel like a kid again. Write your response by end of day on Monday, April 16 and I’ll randomly pick a winner from everyone who replies. (Please be sure to check back in the comments for this post on Tuesday to see who won and for instructions on how to claim the ticket voucher.)