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First Look: ‘Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened’

October 12th, 2016 Comments off

Best Worst Thing That Could Have HappenedSondheim fans love the cult favorite, Merrily We Roll Along, the 1981 bomb that lasted only 16 performances on Broadway.

Atlas Media has announced that its upcoming feature-length documentary, Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened—a thrilling, behind-the-scenes look into the ‘then’ and ‘now’ of perhaps Stephen Sondheim’s most beloved work—has been acquired for theatrical distribution by Abramorama, the industry’s preeminent distributor of independent cinema.

Best Worst Thing… will be released theatrically on Friday, November 18 in New York City at Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (144 W. 65th Street) as well as the IFC Center (323 6th Avenue); and on Friday, November 25 in Los Angeles at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre(1523 Santa Monica Blvd.).

Take a first look at the documentary…

 

The Best (and Worst) of 2013

December 28th, 2013 Comments off

While the official Broadway season dances along for a few more months before culminating with the Tony Awards on June 8, it seems like a good a time as any to recap our favorite performances of the calendar year and give one more Shakespearian poke at those productions that may have been better left in the mind’s eye.

THE BEST

The cast of "Merrily We Roll Along" (photo: Tristram Kenton)

The cast of “Merrily We Roll Along” (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Merrily We Roll Along

The best musical of 2013 never even made it to Broadway (yet). The Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of Merrily We Roll Along, directed by Maria Friedman, captured the hearts of Sondheim fans and critics alike. Known for some heavy-hitting Sondheim favorites, including “Not a Day Goes By,” the Merrily cast rediscovered this Sondheim gem through fast-paced direction and spot-on choreography and staging. Moments of vulnerability, humor, rage and celebration unfolded throughout the evening — one of those rare musical theater experiences where we were completely transported in time and place.

The cast of "After Midnight." (photo: Matthew Murphy)

The cast of “After Midnight.” (photo: Matthew Murphy)

After Midnight

Back on the home front, After Midnight is an evocation and celebration of the love, connection and liberation that jazz fostered in the era considered to be Harlem’s Golden Age (1920s-1930s). We were rocketed to the heavens by Jazz Age song cycle, which features 26 songs by Duke Ellington and greats such as Cab Calloway, Dorothy Fields, Ted Koehler and others — all performed by a brilliant cast of more than 20 triple-threat performers and a stunning 16-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars band (conducted by Daryl Waters). Fantasia appears through February 9, followed by K.D. Lang (Feb. 11–March 9) and Babyface and Toni Braxton (March 18-30).

The cast of "Jacksonian." (photo: Monique Carboni)

The cast of “Jacksonian.” (photo: Monique Carboni)

The Jacksonian

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley’s latest work, The Jacksonian, was the most gripping play of the year (although we must also give a shout-out to Holland Taylor’s performance in Ann). This noir tinted murder mystery set in 1964 Jackson, Mississippi between the months of May and December took us to dark, twisted places and we didn’t want to leave thanks to stand-out performances by Amy Madigan, Ed Harris and a thrilling ensemble including newcomer Juliet Brett.

 

For Your Ears Only

We reviewed quite a few audio releases this year; many of them live recordings from the newly opened 54 Below, Broadway’s new “supper club” and cabaret space adjacent to the legendary Studio 54. Bebe Neuwirth’s Stories in NYC… Live at 54 Below was the best of the best. The Tony Award-winner performs everything from her old audition song, “I Love the Piano,” to Kander and Ebb favorites like “And the World Goes ‘Round” and “Ring Them Bells.”

Stories… in NYC can be purchased at amazon.com or on iTunes.

 Take the leap for our least favorite shows of 2013…. Read more…

Theater Buzz Beyond Broadway

September 11th, 2013 Comments off

We’re in a bit of a lull as the Broadway season is about to kick off, but have no fear—we can create our own drama here at the Broadway Blog. Broadway openings later this month include Romeo & Juliet and The Glass Menagerie. What is happening a few steps off of the Great White Way? Take a look…

One of our favorite productions from the West End last season, Merrily We Roll Along, will be screened as part of Fathom Events on October 23. If you are a Sondheim fan, we hear by order you to attend or we’ll revoke your fan club card. Set over three decades in the entertainment business, Merrily We Roll Along charts the relationship between three friends Franklin, Mary and Charley. Travelling backwards in time, the score features some of Sondheim’s most beautiful songs including “Good Thing Going” and “Not a Day Goes By.” Cinema audiences will be treated to an exclusive backstage experience with cast interviews and more! CLICK HERE for tickets, which go on sale September 13.

(photo: 54 Below)

(photo: 54 Below)

For all your self-embracing theater geeks out there, the cast of the 2003 film Camp will reunite at 54 Below on Friday, October 3. Director Todd Graff and actors Robin De Jesus, Brittany Pollack and others will be present for a pre-screening talkback. The film includes pre-Glee teen interpretations from hit shows such as Company and Dreamgirls. 

For those fans of American history (or if you just like to see men in tights), American Conservatory Theater presents a brand new staging of the Tony-winning 1776. This West Coast premiere is directed by Frank Galati and traces the heated debates surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence. According to ACT, “More than 230 years ago, our founding fathers wrestled with infighting, held heated debates, and negotiated compromises while drafting the Declaration of Independence. In this exhilarating work, the political skirmishes that played out centuries ago have surprising contemporary resonance. Hailed by critics as “brilliant,” “thrilling,” and “utterly riveting”—and filled with glorious music and unforgettable characters—1776 takes us on a vivid, rousing, and suspenseful adventure into the fascinating first chapter of American history.”

A Triumphant “Merrily…” Arrives in London’s West End

July 9th, 2013 Comments off

The Broadway Blog’s editor Matthew Wexler crosses the pond to check out the acclaimed new production of Merrily We Roll Along that is taking the West End by storm.

The cast of "Merrily We Roll Along" (photo: Tristram Kenton)

The cast of “Merrily We Roll Along” (photo: Tristram Kenton)

There is a throat-catching moment at the end of Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of Merrily We Roll Along (currently playing in London’s West End through July 27) where the past meets the present and friendships — which will eventually erupt and dissolve — are born.

This backwards tale of forlorn love, ambition and loyalty by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth has been a problematic piece of musical theater since its original 1981 Broadway production, a notorious flop that only lasted 16 performances. Countless revivals have been staged (New York City Center’s 2012 production received mediocre reviews) but none have been able to capture the simplicity of this beautiful work… until now.

First-time director Maria Friedman, a three-time Olivier award-winning actress for her work in musical theater, has surrounded herself with an impeccable creative team, most important of which is choreographer Tim Jackson, who is able to navigate the cast of 17 throughout complicated transitions of time and place as seamlessly as flipping through a magazine.

Screen shot 2013-07-09 at 10.26.37 AMMerrily at its core tells the story of three friends, Frank, Charley and Mary, over the course of two decades. The hook is that it begins at the end and the story unfolds backwards, each scene turning back the page toward the night the threesome first bonded on the roof of a New York City apartment building. The original ill-fated production made the mistake of casting 20-somethings who didn’t have the life experience to fully explore the characters’ journeys. Friedman, instead, cast actors approaching middle age. And while you may need to squint to believe their youthfulness in that last scene, the trade-off is well worth it.

At the core is Frank (played by Mark Umbers) a somewhat selfish, conflicted lyricist who bales on his writing partner, Charlie (played by Damian Humbley), in order to pursue fame and money in Hollywood. Trying to keep the peace and secretly deeply in love with Frank, is their foul-mouthed and often inebriated friend, Mary (played by Jenna Russell). Weave in Frank’s second wife Gussie (played by Josefina Gabrielle), and first wife Mary (played by Clare Foster) and you have the ingredients for hot drama and humor that unfolds in snappy, segmented bites that are accented by a versatile ensemble that transforms anew time and again.

Umbers has leading man looks and embodies a captivating selfishness that captures the eye. Humbley, whose Charlie is more understated than usually portrayed, delivers effortless powerhouse vocals and his rendition of “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” should be captured on video and delivered to musical theater acting classes across the country as a prime example on how to integrate technique and performance. But it is Russell’s heartbreaking, word-biting, vicious, and ultimately joyful performance as Mary that will tie your heartstrings in knots. While she delivers the zingers with gusto, it is Russell’s poignant unrequited love that — in part — keeps the production rolling along

Merrily is known for some heavy-hitting Sondheim favorites, including “Not a Day Goes By,” sung by Foster with such fervor, intimacy and focus you may feel as if you’re eavesdropping on a therapy session. Such moments of vulnerability, and others of humor, rage and celebration unfold throughout the evening. It is one of those rare evenings of musical theater where you are completely transported in time and place.

While the original production may have floundered, who could have known that the groundwork was laid for this triumphant production? Perhaps Sondheim himself, who wrote in Finishing the Hat “That month of fervent hysterical activity was the most fun that I’ve ever had on a single show. It was what I always expected the theatre to be like.”

Merrily We Roll Along
Harold Pinter Theatre
Panton Street, London
www.merrilywestend.com

Want to go behind the scenes? Take the leap for video footage and interviews with the creative team…
Read more…