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Three to See: Final Curtain Edition

December 3rd, 2014 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler takes a look at some of Broadway’s biggest hits, which are bidding adieu this January. 

Keke Palmer and Joe Carroll in "Rogers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Keke Palmer and Joe Carroll in “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

As 2014 comes to an end, so do the runs of many of our favorite Broadway shows. The current crop of new productions hasn’t been revelatory (perhaps with the exception of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), so it will be especially sad to bid adieu to some of our favorite standbys. But with a slew of vacant theaters comes January, perhaps some new blood will transfuse the Great White Way and get our hearts beating again. In the meantime, let’s take a last look at three of our favorites (plus a couple of bonuses) before they take their final bows…

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella

The original television musical, which aired in 1957, was magically reinvented for the Broadway stage. Originally starring Laura Osnes, the show has seen a several star turns since, including Carly Rae Jepsen and now Keke Palmer. Beyond the gorgeous tunes and innovative design, Douglas Carter Beane retooled the book to make it appealing for a new generation.

Closes January 3, 2015

Josh Kaufman in "Pippin" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Josh Kaufman in “Pippin” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Pippin

It was Bobby Fosse at his best when the original production of Pippin opened on Broadway in 1972. The fantastical reimagining by director Diane Paulus with circus creations by Gypsy Snider took the story to a whole new level. Andrea Martin brought the house down (and won a Tony Award, to boot) with a levitating performance, and the show itself snagged the award for Best Revival of a Musical. It now stars the winner of season five of The Voice, Josh Kaufman, and A Chorus Line vet Priscilla Lopez, who appeared in the original production.

Closes January 4, 2015

 

Once
Guy loses love and inspiration. Guy meets new girl. They put a band together and make music. Add to that Stephen Hogget’s now legendary foot-stomping choreography (or just go see The Last Ship) and you’ve got a show that swept the 2012 Tony Awards, including a win for Best Musical. Running for nearly three years, the show has managed to avoid the star-above-the-title machine, instead relying on a hardworking ensemble tasked with acting, singing, dancing, and playing the entire score. Hey, nobody said it was easy being a gypsy.

Closes January 4, 2015

The cast of Once (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of Once (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Take the jump for two more shows worth checking out…

Read more…

Review of Motown: The Musical, First National Tour

August 24th, 2014 Comments off
"Motown: The Musical," First National Tour (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

“Motown: The Musical,” First National Tour (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

When does a jukebox musical become a think-piece?

Already slightly less superficial and magnitudes more entertaining than the bulk of Broadway’s recent jukebox confections, Motown: The Musicaltook on extra resonance during the opening night of its seven-week run at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater. At the curtain call, legendary record mogul Berry Gordy—credited with writing the show’s autobiographical book, and played by a nicely nuanced Clifton Oliver—bounded on stage along with director Charles Randolph-Wright and producer Kevin McCollum.

It was not so much Gordy’s “surprise” appearance that struck a deep emotional chord (He also materialized on opening night at the tour’s Chicago stop), as the parallel Randolph-Wright drew between American society during the civil rights movement—when Motown was at its commercial peak—and today, when race-based rage and violence are erupting in Ferguson, Missouri.

From the stage, the director suggested that the broad appeal of Motown helped build bridges between black and white America. But as Ferguson shows us, there’s a major difference between commercial musical harmony and deep-seated social harmony. Randolph-Wright’s comments simultaneously raise Motown: The Musical‘s aspirational value while undermining the self-satisfied pop kumbaya that the show would like to have audiences humming as they leave the theater.

That said, the humming—and smiling—is inevitable. While the plot of Motown’s history is rendered in cursory shorthand, dozens of instantly recognizable musical numbers—”Shop Around,” “My Guy,” “Stop in the Name of Love” —are delivered with full-throated vocals and physically intense choreography by a cast of over 30, most of whom play multiple roles (Another post-show discussion for intellectually-bent audience members: Consider the meaning of a single black male performer playing a Miracle, a Pip, one of Junior Walker’s All Stars, and Stevie Wonder. Is he a talented actor, a cost-conscious producer’s commodity, a stereotyped signifier, or all of the above?). Read more…

Gotta Dance! Astaire Award Winners

June 5th, 2013 Comments off

New Jersey's The Art of Dance. (photo: David Dubuy)

Guest contributor Lindsay B. Davis kicks up her heels at the Fred and Adele Astaire Awards.

For performers used to being seen not heard (unless they are triple threats who can skillfully sing, story tell and do a grand jeté), last night’s Fred and Adele Astaire Awards was an out loud affirmation of the art of movement. Broadway performers, Hollywood celebrities and cultural critics were on hand to honor the best in dance and choreography on Broadway and in film.

Well, someone’s died and gone to Heaven! That would be me, sitting second row, gaze affixed upon a little podium and very large stage filled with Bebe Neuwirth, Harry Belafonte, Marge Champion, Judith Jamison, Charlotte d’Amboise, performance selections from Contact, 42nd Street, and Carousel, plus video montages highlighting the nominees and honoring the career of Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and 93-year-old dance legend, Marge Champion.

My working emotional age throughout the evening was probably around nine, which is how old I was when I gleefully interviewed Cassie and Diana from the original A Chorus Line in 1986 for a school project and could be found taking ballet, jazz and tap classes hoping to become their replacements (that didn’t happen). My guess is the audience that filled NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts for the entertaining, upbeat and oft-times very touching 2-½ hour ceremony held equally powerful memories and appreciation of the art form Martha Graham called “the hidden language of the soul.”

There were simply four categories, two achievement awards and one scholarship recipient (see full list of winners below) so the presenters and performances were as much a central focus as the actual awards. Performance stand-outs included “Simply Irresistible” from Contact (that Yellow Dress!) presented by American Dance Machine for the 21st Century, New York City Ballet dancers Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild’s breathtaking rendition of “Pas de Deux” from Carousel, the “Audition” number from 42nd Street and “Dancin’ Fool,” presented by the adorable and energetic children of Chester, New Jersey’s Art of Dance. Pass me a tissue, please!

Presenters lit up the stage as well, including Broadway heavies Susan Stroman, Karen Ziemba, Cady Huffman and Kathleen Marshall, writers Rex Reed and Michael Riedel, plus TV personalities Carson Kressley, Dancing With the Stars’ Tony Dolovoni and The Real Housewives of New York City‘s  Countess LuAnn de Lesepps, but the night belonged to the winners. Each one shared personal stories about the importance of dance and arts community support in their lives.

Winner Charlotte d’Amboise (center) and Billy Porter (left). (photo: Charles Dubuy)

Outstanding Male Dancer in a Broadway Show recipient, Eric LaJuan Summers (Motown), recounted how he came to dance late in his career after training mainly as an actor/singer. He was moved to tears by the honor. Another team MOTOWN winner, Warren Adams, became a choreographer only after an Achilles tendon tear ended his dance career. His co-collaborator and winner, Patricia Wilcox, recounted her childhood in dance therapy that eventually led to dance performance followed by choreography. Charlotte d’Amboise (Pippin) won the Outstanding Female Dancer in a Broadway Show award and in her excitement actually dropped the trophy (which broke in half)—endearing her to the entire audience. She went on to thank her extraordinary cohorts at Pippin (three of whom were also nominated in the same category) and incredibly supportive husband, Terrance Mann.

Lifetime Achievement Award winner Marge Champion with Rex Reed. (photo: Charles Dubuy)

But the most heart-warming moment came when Marge Champion, of MGM musicals, Walt Disney, and The Marge & Gower Champion Show fame, accepted her Lifetime Achievement Award from Harry Belafonte. His introduction followed by her speech captured the essence of the night — that love and dance are inseparable. Dance, said Champion, taught her that other people can do the same thing but do it their own way. That dances are none other than love scenes and a graceful, curtsey never gets old. She closed by sharing one of her own favorite quotes, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but learning to dance in the rain.”

The Winners:

Outstanding Choreographer in a Feature Film: Sidi Larbi Cherkaouit (ANNA KARENINA)

Outstanding Female Dancer in a Broadway Show: Charlotte d’Amboise (PIPPIN)

Outstanding Male Dancer in a Broadway Show: Eric LaJuan Summers (MOTOWN)

Outstanding Choreographer of a Broadway Show: A tie between Chet Walker (PIPPIN) and Patricia Wilcox & Warren Adams (MOTOWN)

Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award: Marge Champion

Outstanding Achievement in the Preservation of Musical Theatre: Ted Chapin

Adele Astaire Scholarship Award: Connor Yockus

Lindsay B. Davis is an arts/culture journalist, actress, playwright and director. She resides in New York City.

THEATER BUFF: Grasan Kingsberry of “Motown the Musical”

March 20th, 2013 Comments off

Every third Wednesday of the month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer will fill out my nosey little questionnaire and offer a glimpse of what they look like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. For March, we’re revving our engines for a visit to the Motor City…

Grasan Kingsberry. Photo by Kristopher Kelly.

Name: Grasan Kingsberry – named after my grandfather’s middle name Gray, and great-grandfather’s first name Sandy.

Hometown: Charlotte, NC

Current Show/Role: Motown the Musical/Four Tops, Jackson 5 (Tito), Contours

The best part of the show I’m working on now is: Being able to listen to and perform with a 19-piece orchestra playing Motown music!! And then seeing the audience go bananas! It doesn’t get much better than that.

The most challenging job in show business I ever had was: I’d have to say was when I did the out of town try-out for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in San Diego.  At the time I had just started dating someone back in New York.  It was only my second show but my first being a part of an original production.  I knew no one in the cast. So being away from home, my boyfriend, and in an unfamiliar environment amidst new and interestingly dynamic personalities in the cast made it a challenging experience.

If I wasn’t an actor, I would be: An athlete. I once had a dream to be an Olympian.

Places, Intermission or Curtain Call? Places!!: It’s when all of those jittery emotions and nervousness have to hone in as you ready yourself to take that journey. And as soon as that curtain rises it’s GO time! As my friend Jerry Mitchell would say, “FULL OUT!”

Read more…

A Free Broadway Concert, A Cate Blanchett Return and More Theater News

September 7th, 2012 Comments off

It might be nice if they eased us into a new theater season but, no, it’s full speed ahead! So today’s news roundup is going to be a light speed round the world tour…

  • New York: The 20th Broadway on Broadway Concert is this Sunday at 11:30 am in Times Square. A right of passage for all Broadway fans (like your Mandy Patinkin phase), the event is free and set to feature musical performances from Bring It On, Newsies, Once, a sneak peek at Season 2 of Smash and more.
  • Jennifer Coolidge. Image via PlaybillVault.com.

    Los Angeles: What I wouldn’t give to be in the City of Angels this Sunday to see the 25th anniversary reading of Steel Magnolias. A benefit for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the cast includes Alexis Bledel, Frances Conroy, Elizabeth Perkins, Annie Potts and…wait for it…Jennifer Coolidge. Seriously, get me on a Virgin (flight, that is) to LAX stat ’cause Coolidge is divine.

  • Chicago: According to Playbill.com, my Tony-winning talent-crush Norbert Leo Butz is officially headlining the musical adaptation of Big Fish in the Windy City spring of 2013. The world premiere based on the 2003 Ewan McGregor (speaking of crushes) fantasy will be directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a book by the original screenwriter John August.
  • Detroit & Pittsburgh: Producers announced impending Broadway runs for two new musicals. Motown: The Musical, written by and based on the life of record label founder Berry Gordy, will jukebox its way into the Lunt-Fontanne on April 14, 2013. A few months later in August, that gritty film expose of steelworkers with ballet dreams Flashdance is hauling its welding tools and leg warmers onto the Great White Way. This follows a separate tour that will begin in its setting, Pittsburgh, January 2013. What a feeling, indeed
  • Richard Roxburgh & Cate Blanchett in "Uncle Vanya". Photo by Lisa Tomasetti.

  • Sydney: Speaking of hopping a Virgin, the 2013 season announcement for the Sydney Theater Company contains two flight-worthy productions. First up, an adaptation of Kate Grenville’s beautiful novel The Secret River by playwright Andrew Bovell (of Lincoln Center’s acclaimed When the Rain Stops Falling). And, building on the exquisite Uncle Vanya that came through New York a few weeks back, Cate Blanchett will be starring in Jean Genet’s The Maids opposite French icon Isabelle Huppert. Be still my film goddess-loving heart.
  • London-ish: The British smash War Horse posted a closing notice for its stateside run at Lincoln Center following a summer dip in ticket sales. You’ve got plenty of time to cry yourself silly, though; the final performance is scheduled for January 6, 2013
  • Heaven: The new Theresa Rebeck (Seminar, Smash) play Dead Accounts revealed its complete cast and I am on cloud nine. Seriously, this just shot to the top of my must see list for fall. Joining the previously announced Norbert Leo Butz (him again) and Katie Holmes (work that divorce) will be the deliriously good Jayne Houdyshell (Follies, Well), the handsome and charming Josh Hamilton (The Coast of Utopia) and, I’m giddy here, the film scene stealer Judy Greer (The Descendants).

Finally, if you’d like to make sure new and original music theater finds its way to the stage, here’s a simple and inexpensive way to play your part. This year’s NAMT Festival of New Musicals is raising money to support demo recordings for the eight new shows being presented (full disclosure: I co-wrote one of them). There’s only a day left to contribute at Rocket Hub but as little as $5 will help artists focus on the writing and allow fresh songs to be heard.