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Stories From an Artist’s Life: Betty Buckley at Joe’s Pub

September 25th, 2016 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Betty Buckley at Joe's Pub. (Photo: Sarah Escarraz via The Broadway Blog.)

Betty Buckley at Joe’s Pub. (Photo: Sarah Escarraz via The Broadway Blog.)

“I will feel a glow just thinking of you and the way you look tonight” are the classic lyrics from Jerome Kern and Dorothy Field’s 1936 tune, “The Way You Look Tonight,” but they may might also describe the emotional reaction from an enthusiastic crowd at Joe’s Pub last evening, where Tony Award-winner Betty Buckley is currently performing a seven-show engagement through September 25.

And how did she look? As a “lady of a certain age,” Buckley—dressed casually but smartly in a slate-colored button down shirt with black pants—looked like a sweet grandmother with her thick beautiful hair and kind face. She presided over the evening as though she were taking care of her flock and imbued a caring confidence that everything in the world would be just fine. More importantly, she sounded marvelous as she navigated her varied and interesting material in her new show entitled Story Songs.

Buckley’s sense of assurance came early in the evening with “All Things In Time,” a song written by one of Buckley’s admired composers Jason Robert Brown. “Let’s make a deal: I will be here, waiting with you, Trusting what’s true, stumbling blind, but knowing we’ll find, everything in its’ time.” She later tapped into the Brown songbook with “Cassandra”, a brand new song that is part of a musical-in-progress, and once again with “Another Life” from The Bridges of Madison County. Perhaps if we’re lucky, a role is in the works for a future Jason Robert Brown musical.

Buckley may have a maternal aura about her but she also demonstrates hipness, referencing a fondness for Facebook, Instagram, and the English rock band Radiohead, covering their 1995 hit “High and Dry.” Returning to her musical theater roots, she sang Stephen Schwartz’s “Chanson,” a song that takes us to the French countryside and “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” a timeless song from South Pacific that strikes an even deeper nerve at the height of our current political and social chaos.

Betty Buckley (Photo: Scogin Mayo via The Broadway Blog.)

Betty Buckley (Photo: Scogin Mayo via The Broadway Blog.)

Buckley joked that she is past the phase in her life of having certain angst. She admitted that one of the joys of growing older is that there are things you simply don’t care about. After discovering the up-and-coming theater composer Joe Iconis on social media, she reached out to him and asked if he would write a song for her upcoming show. Iconis came back with a few tunes that didn’t exactly fit her temperament, but he finally struck gold with the hilarious but deeply poignant “Old Flame.” It speaks about a woman who seeks revenge on a former lover, but in time, changes her mind after realizing that some relationships can never be snuffed out (in spite of insight from Oprah Winfrey). It is a song that no doubt, is destined to become a classic, but only if left in the capable hands of a legend like Buckley.

The Texas native tapped into her country/folk side with a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Emmlyou Harris’ “Prayer In Open D,” featuring her wonderful guitarist Oz Noy. Buckley’s presence was only enhanced by Noy and her entire band directed by jazz pianist Christian Jacob, Tony Marino on bass, and Ben Perowsky on drums and percussion.

She yielded the spotlight to Jacob, who, along with Tierney Sutton, composed the orchestral score for the new Clint Eastwood film, Sully. Jacob performed the theme song to the movie. Buckley shared that Jacob and Sutton had only three days to write all of the music for the film. Clearly, Jacobs is a master and is not only a great film composer, but is a first rate accompanist.

Buckley’s version of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s “September Song” was a major highlight of the evening as she breathed heart wrenching emotion into the standard. Like all good performers, she left on a high note with Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” an anthem of hope and perseverance.

Early in the show, Buckley spoke about how the evening came together with the help of Jacob and other friends who provided input. She remarked that certain songs have a specific emotional connection at different points in life. One only wishes that she had elaborated more on the reasons for choosing her specific songs. Still, Buckley is a gifted and gracious artist who knows the capabilities of her own vocal range and in the final analysis, solidifies her status as a legendary performer.

 Click here to find out where Betty Buckley is playing next!

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.

One Night Only: Cynthia Erivo and Joshua Henry in ‘The Last Five Years’

August 11th, 2016 Comments off
Joshua Henry and Cynthia Erivo (Photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog.)

Joshua Henry and Cynthia Erivo (Photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog.)

It was announced today Tony Award-Winner Cynthia Erivo and Tony Award nominee Joshua Henry will star in a special one-night-only benefit concert version of Jason Robert Brown’s seminal musical, The Last Five Years, with the composer himself leading the orchestra. Produced by SubCulture and Jason Robert Brown, the evening will take place at Town Hall (123 West 43rd St), and 100 percent of the proceeds will benefit The Brady Center, the national organization determined to create a safer America by cutting gun deaths in half by 2025.

“Sometimes all of the elements come together serendipitously, and that has been the case with every element of this event,”Brown said. “From the moment I heard Cynthia sing ‘I Can Do Better Than That’ at the Royal Festival Hall in London last year, I have been determined to see her interpretation of Cathy, one of the most nuanced and difficult roles I’ve ever written; and who could possibly be a better partner than Joshua, a singular extraordinary performer who was the definitive Jim Conley inParade last year at Geffen Hall. To have such amazing artists bring my work to life is thrilling enough, but to be using this performance to benefit the invaluable and desperately important work of the Brady Center is a particular honor, the fulfillment of a real obligation for me and, I think, for everyone in the theatrical community – to raise awareness and raise funds to stop one of the defining moral failures of our time.”

Tickets for the concert begin at $50, and will go on sale at 10:00AM EST on Wednesday, August 18. To purchase tickets, and for more information on the event, please visit www.TheTownHall.org, or call (212)840-2824.

The trailer for the film version of  The Last Five Years, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan.

Ariana Grande Gives Surprise Performance at Hollywood Concert!

January 6th, 2016 Comments off
Ariana Grande (JStone / Shutterstock.com)

Ariana Grande (JStone / Shutterstock.com)

Guess who showed up for Jason Robert Brown’s concert last night in Hollywood? International superstar Ariana Grande, who made her Broadway debut in Brown’s short-lived musical, 13.

Five Years a Slave (to Love)

February 13th, 2015 Comments off

Guest contributor Bobby McGuire reviews the screen adaptation of The Last Five Years.

LastFiveYearsNothing thrills or hurts more than love. Why is it right? How did it go wrong? If I love him, then why do I want to kill him?

With one lane of traffic driving exuberantly into the future and the opposing lane headed into the past fueled by remorse, the saying “love is a two-way street” was rarely more apropos than when used to describe The Last Five Years, director Richard LaGravnese’s artful film adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s chamber musical. Brown’s recent Broadway credits include Honeymoon in Vegas and last season’s short-lived The Bridges of Madison County.

Originally produced Off-Broadway in 2002, the musical two-hander that deconstructs a failed five year relationship, starred newly crowned Broadway diva Sherie Rene Scott and then up and comer Norbert Leo Butz. It has since garnered a cult following, become a favorite of stock and regional theaters around the country and recently enjoyed a well-received Off-Broadway revival. Its latest incarnation is an unlikely but ultimately satisfying screen adaptation starring Academy Award-nominee Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods) and Tony Award-nominee Jeremy Jordan (Smash, Newsies).

There are no spoiler alerts to be issued with The Last Five Years, the story of ill-fated lovers Cathy and Jamie. He’s a rising star novelist and she’s an actress with a faltering career and some serious self-confidence issues. Cathy’s story begins with their break up and moves backwards to the couple’s first date, while Jamie’s takes the opposite route. The film hopscotches through time and alternately the audience sees them grow from infatuation to disillusionment and vice versa. The film is almost completely sung through with the characters rarely breaking into dialogue.

Anna Kendrick, who has been on a movie musical hot streak with Pitch Perfect and Into the Woods under her belt, tackles the challenging role of Cathy with aplomb. Alternately brooding, enthusiastic and often self-deprecating, Kendrick’s sweet quirkiness balances out the negative maudlin and harsh-edged first impression the audience gets from the character when we meet her at her low point. As the glad-handing Jamie, Jeremy Jordan skillfully juggles his character’s arc from sweet natured goofball to guilt ridden philanderer. Their onscreen chemistry is undeniable and as a result, the audience yearns for this relationship to work out. Alas, this is not to be.

Fans of the show will be thrilled to know that unlike most stage to screen adaptations, Jason Robert Brown’s delightful score remains intact. Considering that the film is 90 minutes of watching love deteriorate from alternating perspectives, this could be considered by some both blessing and curse. What felt a perfect length on stage admittedly, feels almost a tad long on screen.

The filmmakers took a gamble bringing this property to movie audiences. The last art house musical to hit the screen was 2001’s Dancer in the Dark starring Björk. For its theatrical release, The Last Five Years will be playing in small screen cinemas in New York and Los Angeles while becoming immediately available to VOD home viewers everywhere else. In an age where big names and even bigger marketing campaigns are attached to the still risky genre, it’s refreshing to see a movie musical concerned more with integrity than box office returns.

The Last Five Years isn’t for everyone and requires a fair amount of work from its audience. The back and forth storytelling device is much unlike repeatedly picking at a scab only to watch the wound heal all over again. But isn’t that what we all do when we reminisce on love?

Bobby McGuire is the managing editor and associate publisher at EDGE Media Network. 

Review: Honeymoon in Vegas

January 15th, 2015 Comments off

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 Honeymoonartwork

Will you fall in love with Honeymoon in Vegas, the latest Broadway movie adaptation that hopes to capitalize on a (semi) familiar title to lure audience goers into spending upwards of $199 for premium tickets? Well… that depends on your type. With a book by Andrew Bergman (who also wrote the screenplay) and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County, The Last Five Years), Honeymoon in Vegas is love at first site—or rather, first listen. Brown’s dynamic score is his most accessible to date, pumped with a big band sound led by music director and conductor Tom Murray. It sets the bar high and Honeymoon mostly delivers.

The cast of "Honeymoon in Vegas" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of “Honeymoon in Vegas” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The story follows commitment-shy Jack Singer (Rob McClure) and his fiancée of five years, Betsy Nolan (Brynn O’Malley), as they jet set to Las Vegas in hopes of dismissing the looming curse of Jack’s deceased mother Bea (Nancy Opel) and finally tie the knot. In one of the show’s most inventive numbers, Bea appears to Jack as a hallucination thanks to some clever stagecraft courtesy of scenic and projection designer Anna Louizos.

Once in Vegas, the couple crosses paths with con artist Tommy Korman (Tony Danza), who immediately falls for Betsy from afar as she brings back memories of his deceased wife. This sets in motion a scheme to blackmail Jack, seduce her, and apparently live the rest of his life is deceptive marital bliss. The trio eventually find themselves in Hawaii for more antics as Jack chases down his fleeting bride-to-be, and as you might imagine, it’s all resolved with obligatory Elvises in tow.

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Review: The Bridges of Madison County

March 19th, 2014 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler soars across the Midwestern plains of Iowa, courtesy of The Bridges of Madison County.

Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale in "The Bridges of Madison County" (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale in “The Bridges of Madison County” (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

The flat plains of Winterset, Iowa are the backdrop for The Bridges of Madison County, a sweeping yet subtle new musical new playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway. Adapted for the stage by Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics) and Marsha Norman (book) from the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, it is a tale of love lost, love found, and love released.

Robert (played by Steven Pasquale), a photographer for National Geographic, finds himself lost trying to find a specific covered bridge for the magazine’s photo shoot and stumbles across Francesca (played by Kelli O’Hara)—a disenchanted housewife whose family has traveled to the Indiana State Fair. While it may not be love at first sight, it arrives shortly thereafter and the two find themselves enraptured in a four-day love affair that changes their lives forever.

Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale in "The Bridges of Madison County" (via The Broadway Blog).

Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale in “The Bridges of Madison County” (via The Broadway Blog).

While not heavy on external plot or conflict, Marsha Norman’s lean book drives the story forward while Jason Robert Brown delivers an emotionally resonant score with sweeping melodies, flecks of Francesca’s Italian roots, and subtle musical references of the era. But it is director Bartlett Sher, (South Pacific, The Light in the Piazza, and this season’s Two Boys at the Met) who gently cradles the material and creates a seamlessly shifting world that transcends time and locale.

In the spirit of Our Town and the Lars von Trier film Dogville, the ensemble is all hands on deck, shifting furniture, fences, doorways, tables, and even the kitchen sink… literally. Their watchful eyes observe Francesca and Robert’s love affair unfold. There is undoubtedly judgment in those stares, but that is left to the audience’s imagination.

At the epicenter of the action, O’Hara and Pasquale conjure up a believable attraction, but what each of them is attracted to is unclear. Beyond the physical lust, it’s hard to say what draws these two together. As Francesca, O’Hara emits a melancholy sadness as well as a self-knowing dark humor. While her vocal quality feels foggy at times set against Jason Robert Brown’s pop-melodic score, her journey tugs at anyone who has questioned their own happiness. Steven Pasquale, making his Broadway musical debut as Robert, delivers a performance of subtle humility yet aching desire. His bari-tenor voice fits snuggly in the pocket of Brown’s music as he richly delivers the 11 o’clock number, “It All Fades Away.”

Hunter Foster as Francesca’s husband, Bud, is dealt a short hand both in terms of storytelling and music, but he makes the most of it and finds humanity and humor in the man who can’t seem to retain Francesca’s love. And in a beautifully staged sequence, Whitney Bashor (Broadway debut) as Robert’s ex-wife Marian, channels Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez in flashback scene that, while not necessarily plot-driving, is a splash of watercolor on an evolving canvas.

Jason Robert Brown continues to establish himself as one of the great Broadway composers and orchestrators of the 21st century. The Bridges of Madison County is a testament to his evolution as an artist. Keep an eye out for the film version of his off Broadway hit, The Last Five Years, and his next Broadway show, Honeymoon in Vegas, arriving on Broadway this fall.

The Bridges of Madison County
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street
Open-ended run

Our Favorite Broadway Love Songs

February 14th, 2014 Comments off
Margo Seibert and Andy Karl in "Rocky." Photo by Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.

Margo Seibert and Andy Karl in “Rocky.” Photo by Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.

There’s nothing more romantic (besides diamonds, a trip to Paris or a home cooked meal) than a Broadway love song. Here are our top picks for beautiful belters, dulcid duets and passionate patter songs.

No matter your style, there’s a wee bit of musical theater that can tell your story better than you.

From Kerrigan-Lowdermilk Live at last year’s New York Musical Theater Festival, Jeremy Jordan sings one of  the songwriting team’s signature tunes, “Run Away With Me.” And we’d like to do just that.

“One Second and a Million Miles” is one of Jason Robert Brown’s soaring melodies from The Bridges of Madison County, opening February 20 at The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

While the revival of Pippin is receiving well-deserved accolades, this throwback clip of William Katt and Leslie Denniston singing “Love Song” holds its own special charm.

Want more? Take the jump!

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Jason Robert Brown Sings Music of Heaven

April 12th, 2011 2 comments

Image via CAP21.

Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown (Parade) performed a magic trick last night. No, he didn’t pull a rabbit out of his piano but, like a master of slight of hand, he knew what card I had and, with an emotional musical flourish, amazed and astounded the audience by calling it perfectly.

I was lucky enough to attend the CAP21 Spring Gala honoring Brown and his wife, fellow composer Georgia Stitt. The evening included a number of lovely performances, including a premiere song from Brown’s upcoming adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County, sung by the exquisite Kelli O’Hara, but the highlight was when the composer sat down at his piano to sing “Music of Heaven.” I’ll be honest (and I’m not proud of this), I can be competitive and analytical when I listen to theater music from younger, non-canonical composers. And now he was going to perform his own song…well, smell you, fancy pants.

Then he began to sing, in a strong and expressive voice, about his experience attending a Gospel concert and feeling outside the music, unwilling to make a leap of real faith. He sang of being a cynical New Yorker “with a frozen smile” and I realized that stiff grin was on my face. When he ached to be opened by the music, I felt that urge in myself.  This mirroring carried me through the song, dramatically allowing me to experience what Brown had, and left me emotionally exposed and uplifted. The ovation at the end of the song certainly suggested that I was not alone in feeling like something special had happened. Brown’s sophisticated craftsmanship made a personal moment into something universal and strikingly beautiful. He made magic…with nothing up his sleeves but talent and artistry.

After the jump, watch Jason Robert Brown singing, with Georgia Stitt conducting, another recent and quite similar concert performance of “Music of Heaven.”

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