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Half-Baked: ‘Waitress’ Opens on Broadway

April 24th, 2016 Comments off
Jessie Mueller in 'Waitress.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Jessie Mueller in ‘Waitress.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

There’s no mistaking that the producers of Waitress, a new musical by Jessie Nelson and Sara Bareilles (four-time Grammy Award nominee), want to deliver something sweet for Broadway audiences. The smell of freshly baked pie wafts through the lobby and the traditional curtain has been replaced with a scrim of cherry pie with lattice topping. Based on the 2007 film of the same name, the musical throws an awful lot of ingredients into the proverbial mixing bowl. The result is an interesting bite… you might even be satisfied with a whole slice, but the recipe needs some fine-tuning.

Jenna (Jessie Mueller) is a waitress in a small town diner and trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage to Earl (Nick Cordero). Her co-workers Dawn (Kimiko Glenn) and Becky (Keala Settle) are by her side when she finds out that she’s pregnant, though cook Cal (Eric Anderson) is less sympathetic. When Jenna goes to see her longtime family doctor, she discovers that she’s retired and has been replaced by the gangly and flirtatious Dr. Pomatter (Drew Gehling), who is also married. Their chemistry is almost instantaneous and the rest of the show is spent watching Jenna navigate this unexpected life shift.

When not screwing her doctor, Jenna is stashing extra tip money in hopes of entering a regional pie-baking contest (a skill she inherited from her mother) and using the winnings to start a new life for herself and soon-to-be child. Meanwhile Joe, the curmudgeonly diner owner (Dakin Matthews), becomes an increasing presence in Jenna’s life and in an unexpected twist, sets her on a new path as the musical’s final pie is pulled from the oven.

Jessie Mueller and Dakin Matthews in 'Waitress.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Jessie Mueller and Dakin Matthews in ‘Waitress.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Nelson and Bareilles keep the plot faithfully plugging along and even includes some fun side antics, most notably Ogie (Christopher Fitzgerald), Dawn’s love interest with a quirky passion for American history. The score has Bareilles’s signature melodic riffs that jump octaves and twist around unexpected chord progressions. It’s a fresh sound for Broadway, not unlike the season’s other singer/songwriter crossover Bright Star. Jonathan Deans’ sound design is heavy on the band, in spite of major vocal amplification and the use of visually distracting head-worn mics.

Sprinkled with humor and gravitas, it all feels a bit too familiar, and it is only Mueller’s central character that is given a dynamic arc to play. A Tony Award winner for her performance in Beautiful The Carol King Musical, Mueller is achingly magnetic to watch. Broken from a life of abuse she witnessed as a child and embodied as an adult, Mueller’s character slowly finds her voice and the strength to break the cycle. It helps that Bareilles gives her soaring material to deliver, including the 11 o’clock number, “She Used to Be Mine,” which will bring a tear to even the most jaded theatergoer’s eye.

The rest of the cast does its best to bring such depth, but a pie just won’t cook in a lukewarm oven. As charming as Gehling is as an unconventional leading man, there’s barely a moment of consequence or regret (though plenty of abandonment) in acknowledging his infidelity. Only Settle’s character of Becky offers Jenna insight as to the complexities of love versus desire.

Director Diane Paulus has assembled a refreshingly diverse cast who navigate Scott Pask’s vivid sets with dexterity and movement choreographed by Lorin Latarro in the spirit of Frantic Assembly. (Latarro was an associate on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.)

Waitress has—and will continue—to find its audience. It set a house record at The Brooks Atkinson on opening weekend for gross sales for a single performance ($145,532) and tickets are on sale through January 2017. The best reason to see the show, though, is not for the meal, but rather who’s serving it. Make sure you’re sitting at Mueller’s table.

(l to r) Keala Settle, Jessie Mueller, and Kimiko Glenn in 'Waitress,' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Keala Settle, Jessie Mueller, and Kimiko Glenn in ‘Waitress,’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Waitress
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
2556 West 47th Street, NYC
Open-ended run.

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

Review: Finding Neverland

April 16th, 2015 Comments off
The cast of "Finding Neverland" (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of “Finding Neverland” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

I must have been about eight-years-old when I jumped off the couch in our family room and fractured my wrist. I was trying to fly and had gallantly tied a bed sheet around my neck in an attempt to soar through the air. Grounded for the season (not by my parents, but by the injury), I set up shop at the kitchen table with my dad’s old dopp kit filled with markers and crayons and a stack of poster board, provided by my mother who I’m sure hoped that a more sedentary expression of my creativity would be the safer route.

Whether it’s building forts in the backyard, donning imaginary crowns and riding unicorns through the forest and muck, or simply flopping, jumping and skipping around—children, by natural order, cannot help being creative. Finding Neverland, the new Broadway musical that opened last night at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, is a Technicolor celebration of the imagination. Brought to life by director Diane Paulus and a stellar creative team, you can’t help but leave with a smile on your face—well earned after shedding a few tears throughout.

Matthew Morrison (center) and the cast of "Finding Neverland" (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Matthew Morrison (center) and the cast of “Finding Neverland” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Based on the life of J.M. Barrie, Finding Neverland follows the famous author’s trials and tribulations as he struggles to break free from the workhorse ethics of London’s theater scene circa early 20th century. Unhappily married and creatively stifled, Barrie finds solace in the children of the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, whom he meets in the park. Their exuberance inspires him to rethink his professional trajectory as he invents the world of Peter Pan, finally giving voice to his childish fancies, with much protest from his producer Charles Frohman.

Matthew Morrison and Laura Michelle Kelly in "Finding Neverland" (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Matthew Morrison and Laura Michelle Kelly in “Finding Neverland” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

With a book by James Graham and music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, Finding Neverland is accessible Broadway pixie dust. Sweeping melodies and punctuated patter give away to a solidly crafted storyline that offers enough innuendo for adults while still satisfying audience members who require booster seats. But it is Paulus’s vision, as realized through scenic (Scott Pask), costume (Suttirat Anne Larlarb), lighting (Kenneth Posner), sound (Jonathan Deans) and projection (Jon Driscoll) design that elevates what could be standard fare to an immersive feast of the senses. Emmy Award-winning choreographer Mia Michaels interjects a new vocabulary of movement onto the Broadway stage. Anyone familiar with her work knows of her visceral and uncompromising vision, and the pairing of Paulus and Michaels as a creative team is stuff that dreams are made of.

Take the jump and keep reading!

Read more…

Performances Begin for “Finding Neverland” with Matthew Morrison

March 15th, 2015 Comments off

FN Key ArtThe new Broadway musical Finding Neverland will play its first today, Sunday, March 15 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (205 West 46th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenues).

And for those whose bank accounts won’t grow up, producers also announced a rush ticket policy beginning March 17. A limited number of rush tickets will be available for purchase in-person at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre box office beginning at 10am (12pm on Sundays) for that day’s performance(s) only. Rush tickets cost $37 with a maximum of one ticket per person, and may be purchased with cash only. Rush tickets are subject to availability and may not be offered at all performances. Rush seating locations will be determined at the discretion of the box office.

Starring Tony Award nominee Matthew Morrison (“Glee,” South Pacific), Emmy winner Kelsey Grammer (“Frasier,” La Cage aux Folles), Olivier Award-winner Laura Michelle Kelly (Mary Poppins), and based on the Academy Award-winning motion picture by the same name, Finding Neverland follows playwright J.M. Barrie as he summons the courage to become the writer—and the man—he yearns to be.

Barrie finds the inspiration he’s been missing when he meets the beautiful widow Sylvia and her four young sons: Jack, George, Michael and Peter. Delighted by the boys’ hilarious escapades, Barrie conjures the magical world of Neverland and writes a play unlike any the high-society London theatergoers have ever seen. It’s a tremendous risk, but as Barrie himself has discovered—when you believe, you can fly.

Directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (Pippin, Hair), with music and lyrics by Gary Barlow (Take That) and Grammy winner Eliot Kennedy, book by Olivier Award nominee James Graham, and choreography by Emmy Award winner Mia Michaels (“So You Think You Can Dance,” Cirque du Soleil’s Delirium), this new musical, packed with mesmerizing visuals, irresistible songs and plenty of laughs, is a timeless story about the power of imagination… and spectacular proof that you never really have to grow up.

Tony Awards Recap: Let’s Get Kinky!

June 10th, 2013 Comments off

"Kinky Boots" live at the Tony Awards. (photo: tonyawards.com)

High heels and high theatrics seemed to be a theme for this year’s Tony Awards, which bestowed six awards on Kinky Boots and four for the revival of Pippin and the same number for Matilda The Musical. Neil Patrick Harris brought down the house with an electric opening number (featuring Mike Tyson) and “rapped” it up in a perfect bow for a finale that featured Audra McDonald.

Equally as entertaining was the mid-show riff featuring celebrated theater actors whose TV shows were recently cancelled. The all-star casualty list included Megan Hilty, Andrew Rannells and Laura Benanti. What fell awkwardly flat were the introductions and award presentations by actors in costume — and character — from currently running shows. It was especially painful to watch those standing around who didn’t have any lines to deliver.

Cyndi Lauper performing live at the Tony Awards. (photo: tonyawards.com)

The award speeches ran the gamut from Cyndi Lauper’s heartfelt ode to a lifetime appreciation of Broadway to Cecily Tyson’s… deliberate… final… ode… to… a… life… in… the… theater. And then there was Tom Hanks’ speech — oh, wait. He didn’t win.

Here’s the official winner’s list. But as so many of those making speeches indicated, it’s all about celebrating the community and artistry of live theater.

Best Musical – Kinky Boots

Best Revival of a Musical – Pippin

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical – Patina Miller, Pippin

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play – Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play – Tracy Letts, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical – Billy Porter, Kinky Boots

Best Lighting Design of a Play – Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer, Lucky Guy

Best Revival of a Play – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Best Lighting Design of a Musical – Hugh Vanstone, Matilda The Musical

Best Play – Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical – Andrea Martin, Pippin

Best Scenic Design of a Musical – Rob Howell, Matilda The Musical

 Best Scenic Design of a Play – John Lee Beatty, The Nance

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre – Music & Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, Kinky Boots

Best Choreography – Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots

Best Direction of a Play – Pam MacKinnon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Best Direction of a Musical – Diane Paulus, Pippin

Best Book of a Musical – Dennis Kelly, Matilda The Musical

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical – Gabriel Ebert, Matilda The Musical

Best Sound Design of a Play – Leon Rothenberg, The Nance

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play – Judith Light, The Assembled Parties

Best Sound Design of a Musical – John Shivers, Kinky Boots

Best Orchestrations – Stephen Oremus, Kinky Boots

Best Costume Design of a Musical – William Ivey Long, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Best Costume Design of a Play – Anne Roth, The Nance

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play – Courtney B. Vance, Lucky Guy

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre:
Bernard Gersten
Paul Libin
Ming Cho Lee

Regional Theatre Award:
Huntington Theatre Company, Boston, MA

Isabelle Stevenson Award:
Larry Kramer

Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre:
Career Transition For Dancers
William Craver
Peter Lawrence
The Lost Colony

The four actresses who created the title role of Matilda The Musical on Broadway – Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon and Milly Shapiro

The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and The American Theater Wing.

We asked the Broadway Blog’s Facebook fans which acceptance speech was most inspiring – congratulations, Patina Miller! (We want to know – who is going to write you a Tina Turner musical? Look at those arms!)

When You Wish Upon a Star: Tony Award Picks

June 9th, 2013 Comments off

2013 Tony Awards-nominees pose for a picture atop the Empire State Building. (photo: www.tonyawards.com)

The stars of Broadway are dusting off their patent leather shoes (do they really reflect up?) and breaking out the costume jewelry for the most celebrated night of the year: The Tony Awards. While we’re not going to give you a rundown of every category and projected winner, we do have a few favorites that we’re rooting for and a recap of some zingers from past reviews of our favorite performances.

From contributor Scott Redman:

The cast of "Pippin," directed by Diane Paulus. (photo: Joan Marcus)

Diane Paulus without a doubt is the most deserving of the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical. Paulus should win on her ability to put Pippin into a modern context that is relevant and theatrical. She has bonded a cast and creative team into a unified vision.

Using the circus as a setting isn’t just a clever excuse to have acrobats doing tricks, its supports the theme and characters in the show. The show feels fresh and is invigorating to watch: stellar cast, beautiful design and finally a show that sounds clear and vibrant.

Pippin also signifies the importance of a well done revival – a remount of an existing show that tells us something new about the material or sheds light on new ideas. Paulus has found her “corner of the sky” and I can’t wait to see what she does next. Good Luck Diane!

Lindsay B. Davis’s recap on two of the nominees for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play:
Holland Taylor [in ANN] almost dances across the stage as she entertains and tells jokes, some dirty, which she learned from her warm-hearted dad (Did you hear the one about the Terrier and Great Dane?). She speaks with the delight and skill of a seasoned cabaret artist or vaudevillian comedian. One can’t help but wonder if the real governor Richards was this entertaining but it doesn’t really matter. You’re too busy laughing to care.

I don’t know the last time you watched a radically entertaining, 70-year-old woman perform on stage, uninterrupted, for close to two hours. It commands respect and wins your love. So too, does this production.

Flexing her masterful storytelling muscles and using her real ones (there is a good deal of physical work involved to establish and advance the story), Fiona Shaw in The Testament of Mary delivers a performance that is so visceral, skillful and raw that the 85 minutes performed without an intermission sprint by in a flash. It is a journey marked by incidents in the life of her son, some based on actual Biblical stories — such as when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, healed the sick or turned water into wine, plus the crucifixion itself — and others completely imagined by the author. All manage to illuminate the mother not the messiah. She speaks not to advance the narrative of Christianity but to deeply reveal herself and come to terms with traumatic experience. As an audience it is impossible not to feel her deep torment and fight for survival.

Take the leap for thoughts from The Broadway Blog’s editor Matthew Wexler, including choreography from Matilda The Musical and our pick for “should have been nominated!”
Read more…

Inside the Casting of Broadway’s “Pippin”

June 6th, 2013 Comments off

Duncan Stewart (l) and Benton Whitley (r).

A handful of very fortunate (and talented) theater artisans are going to walk away with Tony Awards on Sunday night. But one category that does not receive nominations is that of Casting Director. With a keen eye for talent and social skills on par with a highly trained psychologist (have you ever been around theater people?), casting directors are responsible for helping to create the artistic vision for a show.

From A-list celebrities to chorus kids plucked right out of school, casting directors are a critical — and often overlooked — part of the creative process. The Broadway Blog sat down for an exclusive interview with Benton Whitley, Casting Director (CSA) and Partner at Duncan Stewart and Company. Known for their connections with high profile agents and managers, Duncan Stewart and Benton Whitley have been responsible for putting numerous stars, celebrities and international pop stars into theatrical productions including: Mary-Louise Parker, Kelsey Grammer, Christie Brinkley, Sofia Vergara, Harvey Fierstein and Liev Schreiber to name a few.

Their latest project is Pippin, the most nominated show of the year, including 10 Tony Award nominations, 11 Outer Critics nominations, 3 Drama League Nominations and 6 Drama Desk Nominations. We asked Whitley to share the company’s thoughts about casting its three nominated actors and here’s what he had to say:

The Broadway Blog:

Patina Miller as The Leading Player. (photo: Joan Marcus)

Patina Miller
Nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical.
Patina Miller as the Leading Player is, hands down, spectacular. Was it your concept from the beginning to cast a female or were you looking at all different types? She also has a captivating way of engaging the audience – almost as if they are another character in the show. Was this something you were specifically looking for?

Duncan Stewart and Company:
It was a huge priority in the casting of the role that the actor could break through that fourth wall and engage with the audience. Director Diane Paulus said, “I’m looking for an actor to ingratiate with the audience.”

Somehow this ringleader has the ability to reel you in, from a five-year-old to an 80-year-old man — and not be scared! We saw many actors that had a dominating presence, but didn’t have the heart. It was pivotal in our search.

[Diane] was open to the idea of a female. It was written for a male, the keys, the script, everything was geared toward a man. In auditions we saw men and women, ranging in age from 20- to 60-years-old. It’s our understanding that they’re not sold that Leading Players in the future needs to be an African American female.

By casting Patina, the role has become a showcase for her skill set. She had the edge over people. She’s sexy. She’s young. She’s gorgeous. And (which most people didn’t know) she’s a phenomenal dancer. If she had said no, the dancing would have been a lot more minimal. When it’s time to recast, it’s the bar that we’ll be try reach for, but we believe directors should not try to have actors fit into cookie cutter molds of the originating actors.

The Broadway Blog:

Andrea Martin at Berthe and Matthew James Thomas as Pippin. (photo: Joan Marcus)

Andrea Martin, nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical.

Andrea Martin as Berthe — come on! She received a standing ovation in the middle of the show the night that I saw it. Without giving too much away to readers who haven’t see it yet, how did you know that she would be able to ‘rise to the occasion’?

Duncan Stewart and Company:
It’s the beauty of creating an original cast and the time in the rehearsal room. Andrea was hired “offer only,” which means she didn’t have to audition. We knew that she was the right type and fit for the role and this production. She did have one stipulation. She said, “I’m only going to do this if you’re not going to make me the old granny that sits on the stool where everybody dances around me. I want to be shot out of a cannon.” Well, we got pretty damn close.

Now it’s a huge challenge for us moving forward. She’s contracted for a year but we’re already thinking about who could do what she does. There are few women in that age bracket who can do that, but the number has been shaped and we’ll do our best to maintain it.

The Broadway Blog:

Terrence Mann as Charles and Charlotte d'Amboise as Fastrada. (photo: Joan Marcus)

Terrence Mann, nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical.
As King Charles, Terrence brings both gravitas and humor (along with his real-life wife, Charlotte d’Amboise, who recently one an Astaire Award for her performance) to the production. How did that all come about?

Duncan Stewart and Company:
He tackles it like Shakespeare. Terry is a classically trained actor and it shows onstage. He also understands the comedy of the show. So many guys came in and played it like a puppet, but he also instilled a sense of realness. When we were pulling the lists together the lightbulb came on. Charlotte was on the list for Fastrada (King Charles’ wife) and we thought the two of them together onstage would be a great combination. They have different representation and were clear that they were both interested in the project independent of one another.

Diane said — and we agree — that Pippin is the definition of musical theater: glorious music, glorious acting and glorious dancing.

Broadway Magic: Pippin’s New Spellbinding Production

April 28th, 2013 Comments off
The cast of “Pippin.” (photo: Joan Marcus)

I can count on one hand the number of breath-catching moments I’ve had sitting in a Broadway theater (Cherry Jones’ leap of faith in the final moment of Pride’s Crossing and Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald singing “Wheels of a Dream” in Ragtime just to name two.) Pippin, which recently opened at the Music Box Theatre in a mesmerizing production directed by Diane Paulus with choreography by Chet Walker and circus creation by Gypsy Snider is packed with them. Some are of the good ole’ Broadway hoofer variety, others rely on ingenious theatrical craft.

Pippin opened on Broadway in 1972. It had been a student project of composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz. He had scored big with Godspell in 1971 and after some sage advice from Harold Prince, Schwartz revamped the project with help of book writer Roger O. Hirson. Bob Fosse got wind of the project and the rest is musical theater history… sort of.

The response from critics was lukewarm but Pippin’s producers pulled their own magic, placing the first ad for a Broadway musical on television. Sales picked up and audiences responded. The show ran for 1,944 performances.

Take the jump for our review…

Read more…

We’ve Got Magic To Do. Pippin Returns to Broadway!

January 17th, 2013 Comments off

The cast of Pippin at American Repertory Theatre. (photo: Michael J. Lutch)

The circus is coming to town but it’s not your average Ringling Bros. Oh, no. Diane Paulus’ reimagined revival of “Pippin” is taking flight with the help of Gypsy Snider and Les 7 doigts de la main, a Montreal-based circus troupe. (Remember our post from a few week’s back, “Berlin’s Bedroom?” Same creative team!)

“Pippin,” which snagged four Tony awards for its original 1973 production starring Ben Vereen as the Leading Player, returns to Broadway this April after an initial run at American Repertory Theatre that left audiences spellbound, both by its theatrics and its deep emotional connection. Paulus says she knows Stephen Schwartz’s score inside and out. That familiarity has opened the door for this new interpretation that still pays homage to Bob Fosse’s original work with choreography by Chet Walker.

Patina Miller as the Leading Player (photo: Michael J. Lutch)

“Pippin” tells the story of a young prince on a death-defying journey to find meaning in his existence. The score includes high school talent show favorites “Magic to Do” and “Corner of the Sky.” Guiding the action is the Leading Player, a role that snagged Ben Vereen a Tony award for Best Actor in a Musical. This time around, the role will most likely be played by a woman — Patina Miller — who originated the role of Deloris van Cartier in the West End and Broadway productions of “Sister Act.” While most reviewers were kept at bay, Broadwayworld.com said of of her performance, “the sultry vocal powerhouse Patina Miller takes her slithery song and dance talents even further to create a taunting, tantalizing spiritual guide.”

Casting has yet to be confirmed, but if the creative team sticks with the principal performers from the A.R.T. production, we’ll be  also be seeing Matthew James Thomas (Pippin), Charlotte d’Amboise (Fastrada), Terrence Mann (King Charles), and Andrea Martin (Berthe) back on Broadway this spring.

Our Broadway Blog prediction: this will be the hot ticket of the 2012-13 season.
Follow “Pippin”‘s journey to broadway at www.pippinthemusical.com.