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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…

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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

Three to See: April

April 8th, 2014 Comments off

From The Broadway Blog’s editor Matthew WexlerApril showers bring a super storm of Broadway heavyweights hitting the boards this month. From a hilarious musical romp to the latest play from heart-tugger Harvey Fierstein, the season is in full swing as Tony-eligible productions must open before the April 24 cut-off date. Head below 14th Street for an immersive theatrical experience following the trials and tribulations of Imelda Marcos. Shoes not included.

The cast of "Bullets Over Broadway" (photo: Jason Bell) via The Broadway Blog.

The cast of “Bullets Over Broadway” (photo: Jason Bell) via The Broadway Blog.

Bullets Over Broadway
Five time Tony Award® winning director and choreographer Susan Stroman brings this new musical to the stage with a team of Broadway veterans. Adapted by Woddy Allen from the award-winning film, Bullets Over Broadway tells the story of an aspiring young playwright (Zach Braff) newly arrived on Broadway in 1920’s New York who is forced to cast a mobster’s talentless girlfriend in his latest drama in order to get it produced.

Let’s hope that Stroman has better luck with this material than her first screen-to-stage adaptation of the season, Big Fish, which closed after a disappointing 98 performances. Our bets are on Bullets with a star turn from Marin Mazzie in the role so deliciously portrayed on screen by Dianne Wiest…. “Don’t speak.”

Bullets Over Broadway
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street
Opening night: April 10

Casa Valentina
Guess who’s back in the house? Four-time Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein (Kinky BootsNewsies, La Cage aux Folles) comes Casa Valentina, his first play in almost 30 years and his first-ever collaboration with Manhattan Theatre Club. Two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello (Take Me Out, Wicked) directs this world premiere based on actual events.

Back in 1962, most men went to the Catskill Mountains to escape the summer heat, but others took the two-hour drive to escape something else entirely: being men. Nestled in the land of dirty dancing and borscht belt comedy sat an inconspicuous bungalow colony that catered to a very special clientele: heterosexual men whose favorite pastime was dressing and acting as women. It was paradise for these men—white-collar professionals with families—to spend their weekends discreetly and safely inhabiting their chosen female alter egos. But when faced with the opportunity to become an official organization, these “self-made women” had to decide whether public recognition would help them gain a place in open society or spell their own personal disaster.

Infused with Fierstein’s trademark wit, this new play offers a glimpse into the lives of a group of unforgettable characters as they search for acceptance and happiness in their very own Garden of Eden.

Casa Valentina
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
Opening night: April 24

The cast of "Casa Valentina," a new play by Harvey Fierstein  (photo: Henry Leutwyler) via The Broadway Blog.

The cast of “Casa Valentina,” a new play by Harvey Fierstein
(photo: Henry Leutwyler) via The Broadway Blog.

Hey, that’s only two! Take the jump for our last pick of the month.

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Win a Trip to NYC with “Priscilla” and More Theater News

February 24th, 2012 Comments off

"Priscilla Queen of the Desert ". Photo by Joan Marcus.

Find some room on the proverbial couch because we’ve got some casting news to report:

  • Ready to make your Broadway debut? The sashaying folks at Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Ticketmaster are offering a sweet opportunity to win a trip to NYC to meet the cast and dance on stage during the show. Tickets, airfare and hotel are all part of the deal. (You must enter by February 27, so get on it!)
  • It’s been long rumored but Meryl Streep will indeed be playing the pill-popping matriarch opposite Julia Roberts in the film version of August: Osage County. Seems a shame that this Pulitzer Prize winning property couldn’t attract any big movie stars.
  • Linda Lavin & Kate Jennings Grant in "The Lyons". Photo by Carol Rosegg.

    Remember how I said that this year’s Tony Awards are going to be crazy competitive in the Play categories? It just got more fun. Producers announced that The Lyons, the well-reviewed Off-Broadway play by Nicky Silver, is sneaking on to Broadway just in time to be eligible. Even better, it will make the move with the bravura performance from star Linda Lavin (the subject of our recent adoration); add another actress to the list of contenders including Cynthia Nixon, Nina Arianda, Tyne Daly, Rosemary Harris and many more.

  • Two great actresses (and favorites of my youth) have been added to upcoming Broadway productions: the delightful Margaret Colin (Arcadia and As the World Turns!) is joining The Columnist and the criminally under-appreciated Carol Kane will appear in the revival of Harvey. 
  • Don’t speak? Well, she’s going to have to when Woody Allen’s brilliant Bullets Over Broadway comes to the Great White Way as a musical next season. Word is that the script is by Mr. Allen himself and it will feature period songs, not original songs…but the important question is whether Dianne Wiest reprise her Oscar winning role?