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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. 

Stage to Screen: Into the Woods Opens on Christmas Day

December 24th, 2014 Comments off

intothewoods

By Beth Kelly

Novel to film adaptations have become wildly popular over the past two years, but another growing trend is the transference of a storyline originally designed for the theater to grace the silver screen. Steven Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical, Into the Woods, is the latest to undergo the transformation and has theatergoers and film critics eagerly anticipating its release. Into the Woods is a twisted, darker take on classic fairy that includes a romantic encounter between the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood, as well as well-known characters such as Rapunzel and Cinderella.

In its latest incarnation, Into the Woods is on the cusp of an entirely new audience and round of critiques, though the screenplay differs enough that there may not even be a true comparison to draw. Sondheim revealed that the film, which was produced by Disney, has undergone massive changes to make it more in line with the company’s family-friendly image. The general plot remains the same, with a baker and his wife suffering a curse from an evil witch and venturing off into the woods to find the ingredients for a cure. The majority of the mature content, such as the Wolf’s lust for Little Red Riding Hood, have been eliminated from the film version. Sondheim understands though, telling the NY Daily News, “You know, if I were a Disney executive I probably would say the same thing.”

Although the changes to the stage production may detract from its original context, Sondheim acknowledges the fact that compromising your work for mass consumption is just part of the territory. “There has to be a point at which you don’t compromise anymore,” he said during a recent interview in The New Yorker, “but that may mean that you won’t get anyone to sell your painting or perform your musical. You have to deal with reality.”

Fans of the original play will be able to draw their own conclusions on just how successful the adaption is when Into the Woods launches in theaters Christmas Day.

Take the leap for two other recent stage-to-screen adaptations…

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Breaking News: Matthew Morrison Returns to Broadway in ‘Finding Neverland’

November 10th, 2014 Comments off
Matthew Morrison (photo: Shutterstock via The Broadway Blog.)

Matthew Morrison (photo: Shutterstock via The Broadway Blog.)

Things are getting murky in Neverland. While it seemed like a sure thing that Jeremy Jordan would reprise his role as J.M. Barrie in the Harvey Weinstein-produced Finding Neverland, it looks like things have taken a turn.

Weinstein announced today that Tony, Emmy, and two-time Golden Globe Award Nominee Matthew Morrison will return to Broadway to star in Finding Neverland as J.M. Barrie. Morrison created the role of Barrie in early workshops of the Broadway-bound musical. Finding Neverland will begin previews on Sunday, March 15, 2015 at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (205 West 46th Street), and will now open on Wednesday, April 15.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to see Matthew returning to his Broadway roots and back to the role he created in our workshop,” Mr. Weinstein said. “He is wildly talented and a true leading man.”

Mr. Morrison has previously starred on Broadway in Hairspray, South Pacific, and The Light in the Piazza (for which he was nominated for a 2005 Tony Award).  He is known to television audiences for his Emmy and Golden Globe nominated role as Will Schuester on the hit Fox show, Glee. Morrison has also released two studio albums since 2011, with the most recent being Where It All Began—a collection of standards, many first made famous in Broadway musicals.

Weinstein hinted at a possible casting change last month, when he told The Hollywood Reporter, “Well, I can’t comment about the Broadway cast right now, but I can tell you that, as far as our relationship with Jeremy Jordan, not only did we get involved in 5 Years, but The Weinstein Co. also nominated him at the Napa Valley Film Festival [Jordan will receive the fest’s Rising Star Award] and we also have a television show that is on offer to him and other things. The guy is a phenomenal talent. So one way or another, on Finding Neverland or not, we’re gonna be in business with Jeremy.”

Reason of why Jordan is no longer with the project has yet to be released, but it may have something to do with the release and marketing of The Last Five Years, which hits movie theaters February 13.

Take a peek at Morrison singing “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”

Weinstein Douses Criticism of “Finding Neverland”—Literally

September 29th, 2014 Comments off

FN_Believe_WEB_1In reaction to a piece written by New York Post journalist Michael Riedel criticizing the new musical Finding Neverland, the producers of the show found out that Riedel had not seen the show and had been writing speculatively.

Riedel was invited by producer Harvey Weinstein to come to the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge and see the show for himself. Weinstein set Riedel a challenge: if less than 80% of the audience did not love the show, Weinstein would do the ALS ice bucket challenge. However if 80 percent or more of the audience loved it, Riedel would have ice dumped on him. The show was surveyed and the results were verified by accounting firm Ernst and Young.

Michael Riedel admitting defeat and being doused with ice water, in front of a large crowd that had gathered to hear the results. (photo: Evgenia Eliseeva via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Riedel admitting defeat and being doused with ice water, in front of a large crowd that had gathered to hear the results. (photo: Evgenia Eliseeva via The Broadway Blog.)

A resounding 96 percent of the audience voted they loved the show and so Riedel, watched by a large crowd that gathered, was elegantly doused by Weinstein.

In an impromptu conversation with Riedel after the show, Weinstein joked that Riedel should stay in Boston to have a heart operation—to have a heart put IN. Weinstein challenged Riedel to champion the theater in his column and the hard work done by actors, directors and producers. He encouraged Riedel to see shows, to understand the process, rather than annihilate with bitchy gossip.

Riedel was a good sport and was charming and gracious. He admitted to giving the producers of Wicked the wrong advice when they opened out of town that they should probably not proceed with the production.

In a move to support the charity, Weinstein said he would write a $50,000 check for ALS.

Weinstein and director Diane Paulus announced on Friday that Finding Neverland will open on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on April 8, 2015. This announcement comes on the heels of Finding Neverland’s sold-out, world-premiere engagement at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University, which ended yesterday. The production began previews at the Loeb Drama Center on Wednesday, July 23, and ran for a total of 75 performances – all of which played to capacity crowds, making it the highest attended and highest grossing production in A.R.T.’s 34-year history. Finding Neverland will begin preview performances on Broadway in March, 2015. Casting will be announced shortly.

“I am so grateful to A.R.T. and its audiences for providing the perfect environment to incubate this new musical,” Mr. Weinstein said. “We are excited to continue the work and bring the musical to Broadway audiences this spring. I know that the Lunt-Fontanne, which has housed so many memorable productions, will be the ideal home for Finding Neverland.”

Based on the Miramax motion picture by David Magee and the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee, Finding Neverland follows the relationship between playwright J. M. Barrie and the family that inspired Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up – one of the most beloved stories of all time.

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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Review: “Kerrigan and Lowdermilk Live at NYMF”

July 27th, 2013 Comments off
Kait Kerrigan, Brian Lowdermilk

Kait Kerrigan, Brian Lowdermilk

She’s vintage girl-next-door with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. He’s got a self-deprecating sense of humor and “stubby fingers.” Together, they are the songwriting team of Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk. And while their musicals have been developed at La Jolla Playhouse and Manhattan Theatre Club (among others), that break-through commercial project has eluded the team so far — or they’re not telling us about it yet.

Even so, Kerrigan and Lowdermilk have become cult musical theater favorites and I understand why. Their contemporary melodic riffs and underdog lyrics tug at the heartstrings but avoid cliché. Broadway’s top performers are clamoring to wrap their vocals around the duo’s work, hence the all-star revue at this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival. Big belters like Jeremy Jordan (Smash, Newsies, Bonnie and Clyde), Kate Shindle (A Christmas Story, Wonderland) and Josh Young (Jesus Christ Superstar) showed up to sing through their songbook, led by Lowdermilk on piano and narrative by Kerrigan.

Brian Lowdermilk, Kait Kerrigan

Brian Lowdermilk, Kait Kerrigan

For an avid listener of musical theater, you’ll pick up on the inspiration of other contemporary composers like Jason Robert Brown and Andrew Lippa, fine-tuned phrases from the likes of Ed Kleban and Richard Maltby, Jr. as well as modern masters like William Finn. There is something warm and fuzzy about K&L’s work—wholly unique, yet informed by the grand lineage of musical theater.

While I haven’t seen K&L’s full scripts, this showcase of their work captured one prolific, vulnerable, intimate and soaring song after the next. The two have written for young audiences (Henry and Mudge is still touring with Theatreworks USA) as well as explored themes of young adulthood (The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown). One such highlight was Josh Young’s interpretation of “Run Away With Me.”

Michael Arden sings “Run Away With Me.”

K&L also used the NYMF platform to showcase songs from new works, including Republic, a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV set in 1970s Northern Ireland. Another work in progress is Unbound, based on the harrowing story of one of the Beijing Dance Academy’s most famous dancers, who traveled thousand of miles across China to pursue her dream. It is in these sequences where I wonder what is to become of K&L’s body of work. The team needs is a visionary director who can shepherd these story songs into a fully realized vision that resonates beyond the insular bond of the supportive theater community.

An audience-participation performance of “Holding On” from Tales From the Bad Years, led by Dee Roscioli (Wicked), concluded the evening, as the following lyrics echoed throughout the theater…

The earth keeps turning,
The light keeps shifting,
And I keep holding on.

I’m holding on to see where Kerrigan and Lowdermilk go next. I think the next great writing team for musical theater has arrived. Somebody find them a producer and let’s put on a show.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Wizard

April 16th, 2013 Comments off
Stephen Schwartz’s 65th Birthday Celebration with the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall. (photo: Richard Termine)

While most teen boys probably want to sneak a six-pack and get drunk behind the bleachers for their 16th birthday, I reveled in a mix tape artfully crafted by two of my favorite show-choir girls. Their heartfelt (albeit somewhat flat and lacking vibrato) rendition of Stephen Schwartz’s “Day by Day” left me as inebriated on musical theater as if I had bathed in an overflowing tub of champagne — or in those days Bartles & Jaymes sparkling wine coolers.

It was my first introduction to Schwartz’s folk/rock chamber musical Godspell and I was hooked. I then discovered Pippin, followed by a spat of a piece called The Baker’s Wife, which everyone knows because of the mega-belting “Meadowlark” but I fell in love with “If I Have to Live Alone” because it was in my baritone range and suitably depressing for a teenager.

After a few commercial flops, Schwartz disappeared (and I moved on to Les Misérables). Not really. He went to Hollywood and cranked out lyrics for a bunch of Disney animated features only to return to Broadway in 2003 with Wicked, adapted from the fantastical novel by Gregory Maguire.

Stephen Schwartz (photo: Richard Termine)

With a career spanning more than 40 years (watch out for Houdini, slated for Broadway 2014), it seems only fitting that Schwartz recently celebrated his 65th birthday at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops. Helmed by Music Director and Conductor Steven Reineke, the concert featured stars of stage and screen, including Jeremy Jordon, Julia Murney, Jennifer Laura Thompson and Norm Lewis, along with the Essential Voices USA choir.

The concert was the final hurrah in the Pops’ 30th anniversary season and its fifth sold-out event of the year. The program spanned Schwartz’s diverse career with selections from his musical theater compositions as well as lesser heard works from his opera Séance on a Wet Afternoon and a powerful choral piece titled “Testimony” that was originally written for the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

Julia Murney, who played Elphaba in Wicked on the national tour as well as on Broadway, shared a story of first auditioning for Stephen Schwartz back in 1996 for a review of the composer’s work. He was so taken with her voice that he asked her to sing “Meadowlark,” a notoriously difficult song. She did it on the spot (“after throwing up in my mouth a little bit”) and hadn’t sung the piece again since that audition.

Jennifer Laura Thompson (left) and Julia Murney. (photo: Richard Termine)

Revisiting the number, she shook the rafters of Carnegie Hall but was not to be outdone by Jennifer Laura Thompson, who tackled the equally difficult “West End Avenue” from The Magic Show. The men of the evening had their shining moments, too — particularly Jeremy Jordan, whose soaring tenor voice seemed to effortlessly glide over powerful ballads from Children of Eden, Godspell and Pippin.

Schwartz took to the stage to share some backstory on the creation of “The Wizard and I” from Wicked. Originally conceived as a song titled “Being Good,” he and writing partner Winnie Holzman revisited the song several times, taking into account original actress Idina Menzel’s strengths and crafting a song and situation that would fit more naturally with her voice. Murney delivered her rendition of the piece in an appropriately emerald green dress.

This was the final concert in this season’s series, but you can celebrate the New York Pops’ 30th birthday at their star-studded gala on April 29. The event honors artistic collaborations and the work of Frank Loesser, Jule Styne and Danny Kaye.

“I am thrilled,” says Dena Kaye, “and so very touched, that The New York Pops has chosen my father, Danny Kaye, to honor at their 30th Birthday at Carnegie Hall, as we continue a year-long tribute of the Danny Kaye Centennial. As my father was born and raised in New York, this is the perfect celebration for a man who has brought his laughter and joy to generations through his talent as an actor, singer, dancer, conductor, comedian and humanitarian.”

Next season’s performances have also been announced and include Chris Botti, Tony award-winner Montego Glover, Marin Mazzie, Jason Danieley and others. Season tickets start at $150.
Visit www.nypops.org for more information.

Free Theater? The Town Hall Celebrates Broadway

March 19th, 2013 Comments off

The Town Hall (photo courtesy of www.thetownhall.org)

Have you ever been to a stink bomb of a show only to find yourself mesmerized by the glorious architecture and design of the theater that you have found yourself trapped in for three hours? Well, apparently the Department of the Interior has, as they have recently designated New York City’s Town Hall as a National Historical Landmark site.

Celebrating this honor as well as the appointment of newly elected President and CEO Michael Presser, the trustees of The Town Hall Foundation are presenting a free — yes that’s FREE — concert on March 28. And you won’t have to worry about being bored out of your mind as the line-up includes some of the great modern classics currently on Broadway.

Jeremy Jordan

Spotlight on Town Hall will feature performances from the Broadway productions of Chicago and The Phantom of the Opera, Off-Broadway’s Avenue Q, The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, The Town Hall Broadway’s Rising Stars Chorus, and others to be announced shortly. The evening is hosted by NY1 anchor and theater critic Roma Torre and will also feature a special performance by Broadway hottie and current star on NBC’s Smash, Jeremy Jordan.

“With this exciting event we are opening our doors to New York audiences and the arts community as we all come together to celebrate this beloved New York City institution,” said Presser. “As the newly elected President I am looking forward to many more events to come as a new era at Town Hall begins.”

First opened to the public on January 12, 1921, The Town Hall has hosted many of our most celebrated artistic, political and public figures, including, German composer Richard Strauss (who performed there in February, 1921 just weeks after it opened), Eleanor Roosevelt (who spoke and appeared on numerous occasions), renowned singer Marian Anderson (who made her New York debut at The Town Hall in 1924), jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker (who played together at a concert in June, 1945), and more recently President Barack Obama, Woody Allen, John Grisham, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Billy Joel, Liza Minnelli, Bruce Springsteen and Whitney Houston (who performed for the very first time at age 14 at The Town Hall).

Tickets will be available be available at 12 p.m. on Monday, March 25 on a first come, first serve basis.
For more information on The Town Hall, visit www.thetownhall.org.

 

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Newsies”

March 30th, 2012 Comments off

Get caught up with what’s on stage with our review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents…

Aaron J. Albano & Jess LeProtto in "Newsies". Photo by Deen van Meer.

NEWSIES

Like the story’s paperboys on strike, the film flop turned Broadway musical rises up to seize the day in a dance-filled adaptation from Harvey Fierstein, Alan Menkin & Jack Feldman and directed by Jeff Calhoun.

“Disney has unveiled its finest fairy tale in over a decade…Newsies will be many young fans’ first Broadway experience. They’ll emerge knowing they’re not alone, and that there’s not just strength in numbers, but rhythm and harmony, too.” New York Magazine

“…it’s the attractive young cast and the high-energy physicality of Jeff Calhoun’s production that make the show so engaging.” The Hollywood Reporter

“…Disney’s happiest outing since The Lion King.” Variety

“…all set in extra-large type, all goal-posted with exclamation points and all proclaiming essentially the same thing.” New York Times

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