Posts Tagged ‘musical revival’

The Heat is On: ‘Miss Saigon’ Returns to Broadway

March 23rd, 2017 Comments off


The London production of 'Miss Saigon.' (Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The London production of ‘Miss Saigon.’ (Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

I didn’t leave the Broadway Theatre with tears in my eyes after seeing Miss Saigon, the mega-musical revival by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Richard Maltby, Jr., and Alain Boublil. About five blocks from the theatre, it hit me, though, and the tears streamed down my face. All I could hear was the voice of Kim (Eva Noblezada), the parentless teenager forced into a life of prostitution during the Vietnam War…

“I’m seventeen, and I’m new here today.
The village I come from seems so far away.
All of these girls know much more what to say
But I know, I’m so much more than you see.
A million dreams are in me—”

Even Noblezada as Kim in the London production of 'Miss Saigon.' (Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Even Noblezada as Kim in the London production of ‘Miss Saigon.’ (Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

When it originally opened on Broadway in 1991, the Vietnam War was still a not-too-distant memory. Now, nearly 40 years since its end, audiences may see Miss Saigon through a different lens, but one that is just as tainted by the atrocities happening throughout Syria and the Middle East and our own political turmoil on domestic land.

The revival, directed by Laurence Conner and musically staged and choreographed by Bob Avian, is the sweeping, dramatic, and anything-but-subtle journey of Kim’s quest for survival and the aftermath of her brief encounter with an American G.I. named Chris (Alistair Brammer).

The pair’s deep connection is cut short with the fall of Saigon when Chris is forced, along with his buddy John (Nicholas Christopher) and the remaining American troops, to evacuate. Kim is left behind under the sinister eye of the bar owner, otherwise known as The Engineer (Jon Jon Briones), to fend for herself against her cousin, Thuy (Devin Ilaw), to whom she was promised in marriage.

Years later, Chris is now married to Ellen (Katie Rose Clarke) and gets word that Kim is still alive, living in Thailand, and has born him a son, Tam. In an attempt to reconcile his past, Chris, along with Ellen and John, head to Bangkok to meet Kim. Upon discovering that Chris is married, Kim realizes that the dream of a life with him is a fantasy and that the only chance for her young son’s future in America is if she sacrifices herself. A fatal, self-inflicted gunshot wound ends her tragic journey—a stark symbol of the estimated two million civilian lives lost during the Vietnam War.

Reeling off the successful 2014 London revival, Noblezada, Briones, and Bammer have all joined the Broadway company to reprise their roles (along with the stellar Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi), and their deeply dedicated performances carry the sweeping score to new heights. Miss Saigon is a huge show (a cast of 44) in a huge theatre (1,761 seats) and nearly everything about this production is elevated to scale, including the iconic helicopter that comes barreling in from the rafters in Act II’s dramatic flashback sequence.

Even so, Miss Saigon relies just as heavily on its emotions. Connor directs the cast with high stakes, amplified to reach the last row of the balcony. But within this amplified reality, Noblezada can carry your heart in the palm of her hand. With a voice at times a girlish whisper and at others a defiant survivor, she is the face of a fallen country and it is nothing short of heartbreaking. Briones and Clarke are dutiful in their roles, as is Christopher, who delivers the poignant anthem “Bui Doi,” which pays tribute to the thousands of Amerasian children born during the war.

Eva Noblezada in the London production of 'Miss Saigon." (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog)

Eva Noblezada in the London production of ‘Miss Saigon.” (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog)

It is Jon Jon Briones who gets top billing and the final bow (save for whichever little boy is playing Tam, which offers one final heartstring tug before the curtain falls). Briones has been associated with Miss Saigon since the original 1989 London production where, as a production assistant, he weaseled his way into an audition and landed a role in the ensemble.

Now 28 years later, Briones has come into his own and perhaps brings a bit of closure to the role’s original controversy of casting Caucasian actor Jonathan Pryce in the Eurasian role. Briones is a spitfire and delivers much-needed humor to the otherwise ballad-heavy score, and it is his 11 o’clock number, “The American Dream,” that puts Miss Saigon smack dab in the middle of 21st-century relevancy, climaxing with:

Jon Jon Briones in the London production of 'Miss Saigon.' (Photo: Michael Le Poer and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Jon Jon Briones in the London production of ‘Miss Saigon.’ (Photo: Michael Le Poer and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Live like you haven’t a care.
The American Dream.

Take even more than it’s fair.
The American Dream…

Spend when the cupboard is bare.
The American Dream.

Just sell your soul and you gain the American Dream.

At the performance I saw, Briones at one point improvised, “Make America Great Again”—a purposeful jab at today’s headlines—and the audience lapped it up. But it wasn’t necessary. His performance and the material on the page deliver the message loud and clear.

In a season of stripped down revivals, including minimalistic productions of Sunset Boulevard, The Glass Menagerie, and Sunday in the Park With George, you’ll feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth with Miss Saigon‘s flashy production design (conceived by Adrian Vaux and designed by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley). But once you’ve left the theatre and the stage goes dim, it will be Miss Saigon’s haunting score and timely reflection on how war impacts the human spirit that will stay with you.

Miss Saigon
Broadway Theatre
1681 Broadway, NYC
Through January 2018

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

Love is in the Air, Dear Friend

March 31st, 2016 Comments off
Zachary Levi and Laura Benanti in 'She Loves Me.' (Photo: Joan Marcus the The Broadway Blog.)

Zachary Levi and Laura Benanti in ‘She Loves Me.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus the The Broadway Blog.)

She Loves Me was a charming success when it premiered in 1963 starring Barbara Cook and Daniel Massey as star-crossed perfumery clerks who unknowingly fall in love with each other through a series of letters. And while Hello, Dolly! was the big winner at the Tony Awards that year, Jerry Bock, Joe Masteroff, and Sheldon Harnick’s sweet adaptation of the Hungarian play Parfumerie has also stood the test of time.

Scott Ellis directed the Roundabout’s 1993 revival and now, 23 years later, he revisits the piece with a stellar production that will leave you with a gleeful smile. Set designer David Rockwell creates a jewel-toned backdrop for Maraczek’s Parfumerie as well as several other locations loosely set in “a city in Europe” in the 1930s, according to the script. There are fluid references to Art Nouveau (rather than the city’s famous Bauhaus movement) and Jeff Mahshie’s costumes nod to the era while still allowing for musical theater pirouettes and splits.

Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski in 'She Loves Me.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski in ‘She Loves Me.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

George (Zachary Levi) is the head clerk and when Amalia (Laura Benanti) arrives looking for a job, sparks fly, but not the romantic variety. The pair seem to unnerve each other at every turn, all the while each is corresponding with a potential mate through a Lonely Hearts Club. Oh, what life was like before Tinder and every other swipe-if-you-like-me app! The shop, owned by Mr. Maraczek (Byron Jennings) also employs swarthy Steven Kodaly (Gavin Creel) and his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Ilona (Jane Krakowski). Arpad, the delivery boy (Nicholas Barasch) is hankering for a promotion, while Maraczek suspects that one of his employees is having an affair with his wife.

While not necessarily plot heavy, there are enough sweet-scented wafts to keep things moving along and allow Bock and Harnick’s score to shine as well as a scene-stealing cameo by Peter Bartlett as the headwaiter at a restaurant where Amalia hopes to meet her “Dear, Friend.”

Benanti is tasked with a mezzo-soprano character role that occasionally sounds technique-driven in her upper register, but there’s no denying her delightful attack, which vacillates between endearingly clumsy and softly seductive. Levi, who cut his teeth on Broadway two seasons ago in the short-lived First Date, delivers a long-limbed and endearing performance with whispering echos of Jimmy Stewart, who played the role in the book’s film adaptation, The Shop Around the Corner. Creel and Krakowski are affable sidekicks, the former probably more suited to the lead role and the latter proving why she was a four-time Emmy Award nominee for her hilarious turn in 30 Rock. And the aforementioned splits? That would be Krakowski’s doing.

She Loves Me is an escape to an imaginary jewel-toned time where boy meets girl and love blooms in just a few short seasons. It’s a sweet, reminiscent scent, and befitting the Roundabout’s 50th anniversary season that celebrates its original mission to produce classic plays and musicals.

She Loves Me
Studio 54
254 West 54th Street, NYC
Through June 12

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @roodeloo. 

Purrr… Guess What Feline is Headed Back to Broadway?

January 21st, 2016 Comments off


The Shubert Organization and The Nederlander Organization announced today that CATS, one of the biggest hits in theatrical history, will return to Broadway this summer at the Neil Simon Theatre (250 West 52nd Street). Preview performances will begin July 14, with an official opening set for August 2, 2016.

When CATS opens, Andrew Lloyd Webber will, once again, have the rare distinction of having three musicals running simultaneously on Broadway: The Phantom of the OperaSchool of Rock – The Musical, and CATS.

Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” the original Broadway production opened in 1982 at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre (currently home to Lloyd Webber’s newest hit, School of Rock – The Musical), where it ran for 7,485 performances and 18 years. CATS was originally produced on Broadway by Cameron Mackintosh, The Really Useful Company Limited, David Geffen, and The Shubert Organization.

The creative team for the new Broadway production of CATS includes Mick Potter (Sound Design), Natasha Katz (Lighting Design), John Napier (Scenic & Costume Design), choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, based on the original choreography and associate direction by Gillian Lynne, and direction by Trevor Nunn.

Betty Buckley and the original Broadway company of CATS.

Co-producers The Shubert Organization and The Nederlander Organization issued a joint statement, saying: “In 1982, the arrival of CATS took Broadway by storm. The show went on to dazzle audiences at the Winter Garden for the next 18 years, becoming one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. We are delighted to join together to bring Andrew Lloyd Webber’s phenomenal musical back to Broadway.”

Since its world premiere, CATS has been presented in over 30 countries, has been translated into 15 languages, and has been seen by more than 73 million people worldwide. Originally directed by Trevor Nunn with choreography and associate direction by Gillian Lynne, scenic and costume design by John Napier, lighting design by David Hersey, and sound design by Martin Levan, CATS opened in the West End in 1981.

The same creative team brought the musical to Broadway in 1982 where it won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Both the original London and Broadway cast recordings won Grammy Awards for Best Cast Album. CATS hit song “Memory” has been recorded by over 150 artists from Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis to Liberace and Barry Manilow. The Tony Award-winning Best Musical held the title of longest-running musical in Broadway history until it was surpassed in 2006 by Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. The original Broadway production closed on September 10, 2000 and is currently the fourth longest-running show in Broadway history. This marks the first New York revival.

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To Life! ‘Fiddler on the Roof’’s Triumphant Return to Broadway

January 10th, 2016 Comments off
The cast of 'Fiddler on the Roof' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

When it opened more than 50 years ago at the Imperial Theatre, Fiddler on the Roof received tremendous critical and audience acclaim. The sweeping musical starred Zero Mostel as Tevye, a poor milkman in turn-of-the-century Russia struggling to find a balance between his religious beliefs and changing times. (Theater geeks may also appreciate that the original cast also featured Bea Arthur, Burt Convey, and Austin Pendleton.)

Fiddler won nine Tony Awards (and a tenth in 1972 for becoming the longest-running musical at the time) with direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins and produced by Hal Prince. It was a brief return to the Golden Age of Broadway. Nominated for four Tony Awards throughout his career, Fiddler was book writer Joseph Stein’s only win. For young writers looking for a blueprint to successfully structure a traditional book musical, look no further than this seminal work. The polishing cloth has come out once again. Staged with humor and humanity, this Fiddler on the Roof redefines tradition.

Danny Burstein as Tevye in ''Fiddler on the Roof' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Danny Burstein as Tevye in ”Fiddler on the Roof’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Bartlett Sher (The King and I, South Pacific, The Light in the Piazza) directs a cast of 34, this time led by Danny Burstein (Cabaret, South Pacific, The Drowsy Chaperone) as Tevye. Burstein’s patriarch is infectiously charming, occasionally boyish, but with the gravitas needed to withstand the repercussions of his daughters’ love interests as well as the demands of his hard-edged wife, Golde (Jessica Hecht).

Burstein has plenty to work with, including a terrific sparring partner in Hecht and an ensemble of triple-threat character actors. Sher unearths the complex personalities existing in the fictional village of Anatevka, including the meddling matchmaker, Yente (Alix Korey), the newly arrived student with revolutionary ideas, Perchik (Ben Rappaport), and the lovelorn tailor, Motel (Adam Kantor) in pursuit of his eldest daughter Tzeitel (Alexandra Silber), among others.

The creative team assembled to help realize Sher’s vision is mostly successful. Making his Broadway debut, choreographer Hofesh Shechter breathes new life into a work that has been stamped with Jerome Robbins’ blueprint since its inception. While traditionalists can rest assured that the bottle dance still exists in “The Wedding” sequence, much of Shecter’s work feels visceral and new, casting an athletic, thrashing energy to Jerry Bock’s score and Oran Eldor’s dance arrangements. Catherine Zuber’s costumes affectively set the tone for the bleak Russian landscape with a colorful reprieve during “Tevye’s Dream.”

Unfortunately, Michael Yeargan’s minimalist scenic design feels unnecessarily utilitarian in this otherwise splendid production. It’s been noted that Boris Aronson’s original set designs were inspired by the work of Jewish modernist Marc Chagall, and while that visual reference might not fit Sher’s concept, this production could use an innovative jolt, though Donald Holder’s lighting design makes the best of it.

'Fiddler on the Roof' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Fiddler on the Roof’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

There was much said when Fiddler on the Roof opened in 1964 in regards to its Jewish identity and how it might (or might not) resonate with audiences. Sher frames this production in a contemporary context, implying not so subtly that the diaspora of the Jewish people in late 19th century Russia is not so different than today’s struggles of Syrians and other persecuted populations looking for a peaceful land to call home. It is a haunting reminder that unless societies are willing to change and work toward peaceful co-existence, history is destined to repeat itself.

Here’s what the other critics are saying:

“…As directed by Bartlett Sher with his customary sensitivity (“The King and I,” “South Pacific”), this multihued staging moves to a heart-stopping conclusion. It’s impossible to watch the people of Tevye’s town, Anatevka, marching toward their unknown destinies in the shadow of a threatened pogrom without thinking of the thousands of families fleeing violence in the Middle East and elsewhere today.” The New York Times

“Performances are very good, as is the lively dancing choreographed by Hofesh Schechter that taps tradition and some contemporary moves. But the curious scenery often gets in the show’s way. It makes for a distracting, busy and slow-pokey production of a tightknit musical. As always, it ends on a strong note. Tevye’s acknowledgment, “God be with you,” to the disavowed Chava will change the shape of her life, her fathers’ and everyone’s. You’d have to be made of granite not to be moved to happiness and tears.” Daily News

“Registering strongest among the new perspectives of this production are the new movements and dances from Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter, based on the original staging by Jerome Robbins. Schechter finds his own conceptual vocabulary, especially in its grounded and raw folkloristic moves and its uplifting hand filigree, while at the same time paying tribute to Robbins.” Variety

Fiddler on the Roof
1681 Broadway, NYC
Open-ended run

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

Review: Transport Group’s ‘Once Upon a Mattress’

December 14th, 2015 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Jackie Hoffman (center) in 'Once Upon a Mattress.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Jackie Hoffman (center) in ‘Once Upon a Mattress.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Transport Group (Jack Cummings III, Artistic Director) has nurtured some fine productions that have gone on to commercial success. From Almost, Maine to Lysistrata Jones, they have introduced new works and reinvented “old chestnuts.” The company’s name seems perfectly apropos for their new, fabulously funny production of 1959’s Once upon a Mattress, which opened Sunday evening at the Abrons Art Center.

Composer Mary Rodgers and book writers Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer whisk us to medieval times, where we are introduced to a kingdom in a quandary. Queen Aggravain, played by runway perfect female impersonator, John “Lypsinka” Epperson, has decreed that no one in the land is permitted to marry until her son, Prince Dauntless (Jason SweetTooth Williams), is wed. As they shuffle through 13 princesses, not one is deemed worthy—that is, until Princess Winnifred (Jackie Hoffman) arrives.

John Epperson (l) and Jackie Hoffman (r) in 'Once Upon a Mattress.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

John Epperson (l) and Jackie Hoffman (r) in ‘Once Upon a Mattress.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Winnifred, or “Fred” as she is known to close friends, claims to be “shy.” Believing that Hoffman is shy is akin to believing in the tooth fairy. Hoffman, whose Broadway credits include Hairspray, The Addams Family, and the recent revival of On the Town, carries so much life and comedic skill it’s a small wonder how one stage can contain her. Hoffman has big shoes to fill, as Carol Burnett originally created the role. She effortlessly succeeds. With impressive vocal and physical gymnastics, Hoffman owns the role. Epperson also shines as the Joan Crawford-esque villainous Queen. Few performers have the ability to draw focus with the slightest raise of a brow, but Epperson is an old-school master who knows how to rule both a kingdom—and a stage.

The show, based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea, has a marvelous ensemble under the direction of Jack Cummings III. A subplot involving Sir Harry (Zak Resnick) and Lady Larken (Jessica Fontana) increase the urgency for Dauntless to take a bride. Larken is pregnant and wishes to tie the knot, lest she flee the kingdom from embarrassment. Resnick and Fontana possess beautiful singing voices, which blend quite nicely in the score’s ballads, including, “In a Little While” and “Yesterday I Loved You.”

With a majority of the players having Broadway credits, the downtown show may well be served in midtown’s Broadway theater district. While there has been no talk of a transfer, let’s hope that producers will find a way to bring this adorable family-friendly show to a larger house. (The last revival was seen in 1996 starring Sarah Jessica Parker).

With Kathryn Roe’s colorful costumes, Sandra Goldmark cartoonish sets, Ken Fallin’s live, projected drawings and this winning ensemble, this newly scrubbed version of Once Upon A Matttress provides the perfect escapist antidote to “transport” us to a magical world of musical theater.

Once Upon a Mattress
Transport Group at Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street, NYC
Through January 3

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.

15 Minutes with Jackie Hoffman

December 8th, 2015 Comments off

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Once Upon a Mattress

by Ryan Leeds

No one will ever accuse Jackie Hoffman of subtlety. As a musical theater actress who made her Broadway debut in 2002’s Hairspray, she’s continued to chew the scenery and turn small bits into pure hilarity. In September, she wrapped a successful run as the alcoholic voice teacher, Maude P. Dilly in the Broadway revival of On the Town. She’s now sharing the stage with Lypsinka in Transport Group’s revamped version of Mary Rodger’s Once upon a Mattress. For the first time, she’s a leading lady and, in spite of her less glamorous dressing room at downtown’s Abrons Arts Center, she’s thrilled to be wearing the crown of comedy in a role originated by the legendary Carol Burnett.  The Broadway Blog spoke with her by phone recently, prior to one of her first preview performances.

You’re a native New Yorker, having grown up in Bayside, Queens. Is that right?
Yes. But now my mom lives in Great Neck—not the wealthy part, but the down and out part—as I sit talking to you from an electrical closet, like a room in the movie Room.

Jackie Hoffman (center) in 'Once Upon a Mattress.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Jackie Hoffman (center) in ‘Once Upon a Mattress.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Tell me about your history with John Epperson (a.k.a. Lypsinksa):
We met when I came back from doing Second City in Chicago. Amy Sedaris and I did a production of The Children’s Hour where we played two little girls and the two lesbian schoolteachers were played by Charles Busch and Lypsinka. It was at a theater company called Tweed. Then we did another show with that company that was legendary. It was Imitation of Imitation of Life. John played Lana Turner and I played the mixed race daughter of the maid. So we go waaaay back.

Are you concerned that you’re assuming a role that Carol Burnett created?
At first I didn’t think it was a good fit when we did the reading, but when we did the concert version I started to really get it and I made it my own. It’s hard not to have her in my head, but I mean that in a good way. I have her blessing and she told me that I’d have so much fun with the role—and she’s right. I’ve been fortunate to be able to create every role I’ve played on Broadway, except On the Town, which was my first revival. I think I brought my own unique spin to that show and I’m bringing my own unique spin to this as well.

John Epperson (l) and Jackie Hoffman (r) in 'Once Upon a Mattress.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

John Epperson (l) and Jackie Hoffman (r) in ‘Once Upon a Mattress.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Talk about your role in Once upon a Mattress and give us a thumbnail version of the plot:
Well, there’s an evil queen, (which I’m sure all your readers will identify with) who has an abnormal attachment to her son and doesn’t want him to get married. She has deemed that no one else in the kingdom can get married until the prince gets married. It’s basically a sophisticated story about a bunch of medieval horny people who can’t wed until Prince Dauntless finds an appropriate princess. It’s like auditioning for the Roundabout. Not that I know what THAT’s like. Quote me! So then my character, Princess Winifred arrives. She is unlike anyone anybody in the kingdom has ever met; she’s fun, down to earth, and takes over the castle by storm.

You went to NYU and did improv work at Chicago’s famous Second City, and yet you have such a natural ability to make people laugh. I wonder if you do any character studies or if you just go onstage, do your thing and “crack people up”?
I’d say the latter. Especially in this show, where I get reach into the trunk of shtick, because there is so much opportunity. Carol Burnett said that I would have so much fun doing this and I am because it’s really built for a comedienne.

How are you preparing for performances?
It’s a very vocally demanding role and it takes a lot of me, so I definitely have to warm up vocally. We’re just in the first few performances so I hope I can last through the run. We’ll see.

Well, you had quite a long run in On the Town, so that should have been a good primer.
Yes. I did a lot of vocal gymnastics in that, too, but the songs that I sang fit my voice. Oddly enough, I’m a natural soprano. Winnifred’s songs are much more vocally demanding and “belty.”=

Marc Shaiman, composer of Hairspray, said in a recent New York Times feature  about you that you can do just about anything but dance. Is that because you can’t or you won’t?
Wow! That’s a deep question. I would say 73 percent can’t. I can eventually, but I’m incredibly clumsy and it takes me a lot longer than everybody else. But I will say that Marc saw me dance an intricate finale in Hairspray. It’s just that I had to study it in the wings for two and a half years!

What would you do if you weren’t acting?
Crying. Which is actually what I do after every gig ends and the next one begins.

You are quite self-deprecating, but you’ve also been described as being fearless. Do you have any self-doubt about yourself as a performer or do you always maintain a confidence?
It’s a weird mix. You must think you’re good enough to put yourself in front of people, but if you think about too much, you’re in trouble: What am I doing? Why am I doing this in front of people? Am I good enough?

As a resident of Manhattan and constant kvetcher, what are your top three pet peeves about living in NYC?
Ugh! Sirens, Urine, and Vomit. In that order.

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.

Three to See: December

December 3rd, 2015 Comments off

Do you want “naughty” or “nice” this holiday season? New York theater is offering it all, so gather your friends and loved ones and head to one of our favorite picks of the month!

Ryann Redmond (l) and Bonnie Milligan (r) in 'Gigantic.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Ryann Redmond (l) and Bonnie Milligan (r) in ‘Gigantic.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Go big or go home. Vineyard Theatre presents Gigantic, a new musical that some may remember from 2009’s New York Musical Theater Festival, when it was called Fat Camp and received the “Best of Fest” award.

Getting shipped off to weight-loss camp is hardly Robert’s idea of the perfect summer, but even he isn’t prepared for what can be lost or gained at Camp Overton, the “#3 weight-loss camp in Southern Pennsylvania.” With biting humor and irreverence, Gigantic tackles the growing pains of adolescence through the experiences of a bunch of misfit teens forced to find solace in one another as they look — inside and out— for acceptance, a hot make-out session, and the last contraband Butterfinger.

The Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
Opening night: December 3
Through December 20

'The Color Purple' at Menier Chocolate Factory (Photo: Nobby Clark via The Broadway Blog.)

‘The Color Purple’ at Menier Chocolate Factory (Photo: Nobby Clark via The Broadway Blog.)

The Color Purple
Director John Doyle reinvents The Color Purple, which opened a decade ago starring LaChanze (a role which earned her a Tony Award). His acclaimed 2013 from the Menier Chocolate Factory jumps the pond, this time starring Cynthia Ervio and Jennifer Hudson. Expect big voices in this musical adaptation based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

The Color Purple
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th Street
Opening night: December 10

Once Upon a Mattress

Once Upon a Mattress
This one’s a wild card, but if anyone can pull it off, it would be the groundbreaking Transport Group. Directed by Jack Cummings III, Once Upon a Mattress stars the loud-mouthed Jackie Hoffman (On the Town, Hairspray) and John “Lypsinka” Epperson (Lypsinka’s The Boxed Set, The Passion of the Crawford).

During a kingdom-wide search to find a princess fit for the hapless Prince Dauntless, in swims the less-than-regal Princess Winnifred the Woebegone (Hoffman).  Unrefined and undeniably charming, Winnifred is like no princess Dauntless has ever seen and his heart is captured.  The truly terrible Queen Aggravain (Lypsinka) goes on a mission to come between her son and his soulmate in this retelling of the classic story of “The Princess and the Pea.” This is a Happily-Ever-After unlike any other!

Once Upon a Mattress
Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street
Opening night: December 13
Through January 3

Breaking: ‘Miss Saigon’ Returns to Broadway in 2017

November 19th, 2015 Comments off


Cameron Mackintosh announced today that his acclaimed new production of Boublil and Schönberg’s legendary musical Miss Saigon – a smash hit in London since its premiere there in May, 2014 – will open on Broadway in the spring of 2017 at a Shubert theater to be announced. The Broadway return of Miss Saigon will feature its acclaimed London stars, Filipino-born and L.A resident Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer and 19-year-old North Carolina native Eva Noblezada as Kim, who was discovered by the Miss Saigon casting team at the National High School Musical Awards two years ago in New York. First performance and opening night dates will be announced at a later date.

Cameron Mackintosh said “It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly 25 years since Miss Saigon first opened in New York, but if anything, the tragic love story of the show has become even more relevant today with the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. This new production, directed by Laurence Connor, takes a grittier, more realistic approach than the original production while still delivering the power and epic sweep of Boublil and Schönberg’s tremendous score.”

“Of all my shows, Miss Saigon is the one that I have received the most requests from the public to bring back, and I am thrilled that Broadway audiences will get to see this tremendous new production that audiences and critics in London have embraced since it opened last year,” continued Mackintosh. “And I am delighted that our wonderful London stars, Jon Jon Briones and Eva Noblezada, will be bringing their stunning performances across the Atlantic.”

“Because of the complexity of creating as big a production as Miss Saigon, we have decided to put together one Company to play North America, launching with a limited season on Broadway. And I am thrilled that every major theater across the country is eager to host the show, which has not been seen on this grand scale, and with such an unusually large multi-cultural cast, since the original production closed 15 years ago,” said Mackintosh.

Miss Saigon will perform on Broadway through January 15, 2018 before launching its national tour later in the year in Providence, R.I, followed by engagements in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Washington, DC, Philadelphia and more than 50 additional cities.

The full backstage story of how the new production that will be on Broadway and then touring North America was created, “The Heat Is Back On,” has just been released on DVD by Universal and is one of the most comprehensive insights into how a big musical is put together that has ever been filmed.

Members of the public can visit to sign up for Priority Ticket Access.

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Don’t Miss: ‘Spring Awakening’

October 20th, 2015 Comments off
The cast of 'Spring Awakening' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Spring Awakening’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

You’ll be happy to know that teen angst, in all its heightened and fleshy glory, is alive and well on Broadway in the stunning revival of Spring Awakening, playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre through January 24. This new production, originally conceived by The Forest of Arden Theatre Collective and Deaf West Theatre, is a wildly impactful and visceral production that goes straight to the heart and doesn’t let go.

German playwright Frank Wedekind’s play—a controversial exploration of sexual discovery and repression, first appeared onstage in 1906 and over the course of the last century has been repeatedly censored due to its sensitive subject matter. Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (music) used the source material for a new musical that opened on Broadway in 2006, snagging nine Tony Awards.

The cast of 'Spring Awakening' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Spring Awakening’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Nine years later, Spring Awakening is as potent as ever, thanks to a triumphant cast that includes deaf actors and their singing counterparts. The plot follows Wendla (Sandra Mae Frank, voice by Katie Boeck) as she begins to question the changes in her body. Her longtime friend Melchior (Austin P. McKenzie) slowly becomes an object of desire and the pair begin to explore their sexual identities, resulting in a conflicted encounter that many might constitute as rape.

Meanwhile, other local teens cope with their trials and tribulations: Moritz (Daniel N. Durant, voice by Alex Boniello) must face his father after being expelled from school; Martha (Treshelle Edmond, voice of Kathryn Gallagher) admits to being abused at home; Ilse (Krysta Rodriguez), somewhat of an outcast, runs away to join an artist colony; Hanschen (Andy Mientus) manipulates his sexuality to seduce Ernst (Joshua Castille, voice of Daniel David Stewart). Though the plotlines are clear, Sater’s book is more of a mosaic that offers different perspectives when examined through the trajectory of a single character or taking in the repressive society as a whole.

While the teens seem to be running the show, the production is blessed with a handful of “adult” actors that set the bar high and create enough dramatic tension to propel the plot forward, including Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin, Patrick Page, Camryn Manhein, and Daniel Marmion.

The cast of 'Spring Awakening' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Spring Awakening’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

It’s blissfully impossible to discern where director Michael Arden and choreographer Spencer Liff’s work begins and ends, for the results of their collaborative efforts are so visually stunning it may take your breath away. Sheik’s pop score pummels through the theater, with pinpointed falls of silence communicated through American Sign Language.

It is this sensory overload that makes Spring Awakening soar.

Anyone who has been around a gaggle of teens can attest to witnessing bodies on the verge of discovering themselves, gangly movement and general awkwardness. There is something almost anachronistic about the punctuated and deliberate “voice” of American Sign Language. These actors—by necessity—are keenly in touch with their bodies and the nuances of each specific gesture, and so magnify the stakes for the entire company.

Spring Awakening, as evident by the handful of teens waiting in tears by the stage door after the performance I saw, is palpable.

Spring Awakening
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street, NYC
Through January 24.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @roodeloo.

Review: ‘Rothschild & Sons’

October 18th, 2015 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

'Rothschild and Sons' (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Rothschild and Sons’ (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Bankers, stockbrokers, financiers, hedge fund managers, investors—all you one-percenters—have I got a show for you! Everyone else, save your money. But if you’re panting for a show about moneymaking, with dialogue sprinkled with sexy words like stocks, bonds, currency, investments, interest, loans, payments, profit, and loss, then hop into your limo and have your driver drop you off at Off Broadway’s York Theatre Company, where Rothschild & Sons, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Sherman Yellen, is playing.

If you’re thinking that there’s already a musical about the Rothschilds by this very team, you’re right. The Rothschilds opened in 1970 and ran for 505 performances, with Hal Linden (who won the Tony) as the patriarch, Mayer Rothschild. There was also a successful Off Broadway revival in 1990, with Robert Cuccioli as Nathan, one of Mayer’s sons. Cuccioli now plays Mayer in this stripped-down, hour and 45-minute, one-act version of the original.

Robert Cuccioli in 'Rothschild & Sons' (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Robert Cuccioli in ‘Rothschild & Sons’ (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

While the trajectory of the plot, covering the rags to riches story of the German-Jewish Rothschild family, is intact, various incidents and characters have been excised, and several musical numbers not in the original have been included, with new lyrics by the 91-year-old Harnick. The Broadway version had a cast of almost 50, while the new staging uses only 11, some of whom play several roles. Dance was also a prominent factor in the original (iconic director-choreographer Michael Kidd helmed it), but the few moments of choreography at the York (credited to Denis Jones) look more like staged movement than dance.

Harnick and Bock (who died in 2010) created Fiddler on the Roof. Rothschild & Sons has a number of parallels to that great musical. Each focuses on a proud Jewish patriarch, his supportive wife, Gutele (Glory Crampton), and a brood of five children over whose welfare their parents obsess. The Rothschild offspring are boys, unlike Tevye and Golde’s daughters; the Rothschilds live in a German ghetto while Tevye’s family resides in a Russian shtetl. However, while Rothschild starts out as a poor peddler but becomes a financial titan, Tevye remains a poor milkman, only dreaming “If I Were a Rich Man.”

The episodic show (based on a book by Frederick Morton) begins with Mayer’s days as a Frankfurt peddler in 1772, when, by selling rare coins, he ingratiates himself with Prince William of Hesse (Mark Pinter). The crafty Mayer convinces the prince to approve his marriage to Gutele, at a time when only a dozen local Jewish couples a year were allowed to wed. He becomes an agent for court bankers, fathers five boys in rapid succession, trains them in business, shares their desire to see the walls of Europe’s ghettos torn down, sends them off to collect the money owed throughout Europe to Prince William, and has his son Nathan (Christopher M. Williams) invest that money in England. (The original’s romance between Nathan and the wealthy Britisher Hannah Cohen is gone.) Eventually, his dealings with Prince Metternich (Pinter, again), who at first reneges on his promise to remove restrictions against the Jews, succeed, and the House of Rothschild, granted a barony, climbs ever higher in wealth and position.

'Rothschild & Sons' (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Rothschild & Sons’ (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The tech and design elements all click, from Carrie Robbin’s period-appropriate costumes to Kirk Bookman’s creative lighting to James Morgan’s simple set of black walls, with sconces, leading in perspective to a rear wall with an opening for dramatic entrances. Although quality performers, Glory Crampton and Broadway star Robert Cuccioli never rise above being conventionally glamorous leads. Most interesting is Mark Pinter in his several aristocratic roles, displaying something of the colorful versatility that helped Keene Curtis win a Tony for these roles in The Rothschilds.

Still, even a smoothly professional production can’t hide the doldrums that eventually set in with a disappointingly bland score that reveals little of the emotional or humorous impact of Fiddler, and whose sole familiar number, the power ballad “In My Own Lifetime,” needs new batteries. With a script that eliminates romance and, except in dribs and drabs, comedy, this is a show that even Mayer Rothschild might have considered flat, stale, and, worst of all, unprofitable.

Rothschild & Sons
York Theatre Company/The Theater at St. Peter’s
619 Lexington Avenue, NYC
Through November 8

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (