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Three to See: September

September 2nd, 2015 Comments off

“Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh
so mellow.” – The Fantasticks

New York’s theater scene is anything but slow and mellow this fall, as the season gears up with some innovative new productions that have us on the edge of our seats. Here are the Broadway Blog’s top picks for the month.

 

THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE

(l to r) Keith_Nobbs, Matt McGrath, and Wayne Duvall in 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Keith Nobbs, Matt McGrath, and Wayne Duvall in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride.’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

What happens when an Elvis impersonator becomes a winning drag queen in the Florida Panhandle? Playwright Matthew Lopez (The Whipping Man) dishes up a southern comedy starring Matt McGrath (Boys Don’t Cry) and directed by Mike Donahue.

MCC Theater and the Lucille Lortel
121 Christopher Street, NYC
Opening night: September 9

 

SPRING AWAKENING


Duncan Sheik’s stirring, coming-of-age musical won eight Tony awards when it opened in 2006. The newly reimagined Deaf West Theatre production revisits the work, starring Oscar winner Marlee Matlin and choreographed by Emmy award-nominated So You Think You Dance choreographer Spencer Liff.

Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street, NYC
Opening night: September 27

 

CINDERELLA

Davon Rainey in Company XIV's 'Cinderella' (photo: Steven Trumon Gray via The Broadway Blog.)

Davon Rainey in Company XIV’s ‘Cinderella’ (photo: Steven Trumon Gray via The Broadway Blog.)


Move over, Disney. Austin McCormick’s Company XIV returns with an adults-only tale of the girl with the glass slipper. Expect a baroque-burlesque confection of theater, dance, music, circus, opera and sumptuous design.

Company XIV at the Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane, NYC
Opening night: September 30

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

Review Round-Up: ‘Ruthless’

July 30th, 2015 Comments off
(l to r) Peter Land, Tori Murray, and Kim Maresca in 'Ruthless!' (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Peter Land, Tori Murray, and Kim Maresca in ‘Ruthless!’ (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Before there was JonBenét Ramsey and Honey Boo Boo, there was Tina Denmark, the fictional tyke created from the twisted mind of Joel Paley, who wrote Ruthless! (along with music by Marvin Laird) in 1992. The campy off-Broadway show won the 1993 New York Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical and quickly gained a cult following. Now, more than 20 years later, Tina returns in a revival directed and staged by its creator.

Ruthless! follows young Tina Denmark (Tori Murray) as she claws and kills her way to the lead role in a school production of Pippi Longstocking. Her Donna Reed-like mother, Judy (Kim Maresca), seems oblivious to Tina’s mischievous ways, which are only exacerbated by the appearance of a mysterious mentor and career coach, Sylvia St. Croix (Peter Land). Add the play’s director Miss Thorn (Andrea McCullough) and the famous theater critic Lita Encore (Rita McKenzie) into the mix, and the stage is set for campy double takes and scenery-chewing camp.

I imagine Ruthless! doesn’t have quite the sting as it did when the musical opened in 1992. Reality television and social media have desensitized the masses, and the show’s over-the-top plot line and style feel dated. With the exception of Land’s devilishly gangly interpretation of Sylvia St. Croix—a combination of Gypsy’s Mama Rose and Bea Arthur in her heyday—the rest of the cast are one-note wonders. The show’s star-to-be, Murray has a piercing belt but is vacant in the eyes. Maresca, as her mother, does her best Judy Cleaver but comes into her own in the show’s latter half when stage mom becomes star.

Ruthless! could use less style and more substance but theatergoers looking for a lighthearted, old-school Off Broadway comedy might overlook its clichés. Here’s what the critics think…

Surprisingly, the drag queen ends up giving one of the more committed and believable performances. Decked out in fabulous old-lady gear (splendid costumes by Nina Vartanian), Land is spectacularly over-the-top as Sylvia yet completely grounded in the improbable tragedy of the story. He plays particularly well off the equally heightened Maresca, who executes an awesome character transformation from June Cleaver to Joan Collins. Theatermania

 …It’s no wonder The Bad Seed has never been revived, but it was inevitable that four decades later the idea that homicidal tendencies are inherited would return—as a musical! The result was Ruthless!, a campy hit that ran for a solid year in 1992 with a cast that included Sylvia Miles, as well as Britney Spears and Natalie Portman as understudies. When I reviewed it, I called Ruthless! “malicious and delicious.” I’m happy to report the new Off-Broadway revival at the envelope-sized St. Luke’s Theatre has lost none of its piss and vinegar. Observer

Ruthless!
St. Luke’s Theatre
308 West 46th Street, NYC
Open-ended run.

Editors Note:
RUTHLESS! The Musicals leading man, Peter Land, collapsed onstage at the top of the second act on Friday evening, July 17th. EMT’s arrived on the scene and Mr. Land was transported to the hospital where he received emergency surgery for a tear in the aorta. His recovery is going extremely well and he was even discharged from the hospital earlier this week. Paul Pecorino has assumed the role of Sylvia St. Croix and Mr. Land hopes to return to the show in the near future. Author Joel Paley bravely filled in for several performances in the week following the accident (triumphantly, according to all eyewitnesses).

Review: “Gigi” on Broadway

April 8th, 2015 Comments off

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The cast of "Gigi" (photo: Margot Schulman via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of “Gigi” (photo: Margot Schulman via The Broadway Blog.)

Oh, Gigi. I’m not sure there’s enough champagne in all of France to keep me buzzed through two-and-a-half hours of your romping through Paris and a side trip to Trouville. That’s not to be said a relatively jovial evening can’t be had in your company, but it’s more like sipping from a cup of sparkling cider than a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.

The latest version of Gigi, which opened tonight at the Neil Simon Theatre, is a revival of the 1973 Lerner and Loewe musical, based on the 1958 Academy Award-winning film, based on the 1945 novel by Colette. You get the picture. Young Gigi (a charming Vanessa Hudgens of Disney’s High School Musical franchise) comes of age in the world of Belle Époque Paris—beautifully captured in a soaring scenic design by Derek McLane. She is under the loving watch of her grandmother Mamita (Victoria Clark) and worldly aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty). The elders, who have very different takes on what it means to be a woman, prepare young Gigi for society life as she falls under the spell of a well-appointed suitor, Gaston Lachaille (Corey Cott). Throw into the mix Honoré Lachaille (Howard McGillin), whose past indiscretions come back to haunt him as he revisits his decades-old feelings for Mamita, and you’ve got a recipe for a perfectly fine—if not totally memorable—evening of theater.

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

The cast of “Gigi” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Gigi’s extraordinary film success (it won nine Oscars) might be attributed to the Golden Age of Hollywood or the keen eye of its director, Vincente Minnelli. Unfortunately, we’re living in different times and the book, adapted by Heidi Thomas, doesn’t resonate in today’s world, where songs like “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” and “The Contract” either feel creepy or stale. Director Eric Schaeffer squeezes every last bit of emotional gravitas out of the cast, sometimes pushing them to forced highs and lows, particularly in the case of Cott, who writhes through the show’s title number in the second act. Stilted material aside (including a score that never comes close to the writing team’s hits that include My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Brigadoon), there is much to find entertaining in the production, thanks mostly to the grounded and emotionally resonant performances by Clark and Hoty.

Vanessa Hudgens in "Gigi" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Vanessa Hudgens in “Gigi” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Clark, who’s into the double digits when it comes to Broadway credits, is simply divine. At times maternal and at others flirtatious, her clear-toned soprano is as strong as ever and she plays the material as if her life depended on it. Hoty, tasked with a role that teeters on nemesis but ultimately comes from a place of love and protection, is just as brilliant, delivering dead pan humor and sweeping gesticulations in decadent costumes by Catherine Zuber.

And then, of course, there’s Gigi herself. Hudgens takes on a role immortalized by Leslie Caron but manages to put her own stamp on it. She is ebullient and delightful. Youthful and seductive. She is a girl on the brink of womanhood… a spring flower about to blossom. But perhaps director Schaeffer and choreographer Joshua Bergasse have over-watered the pot, leaving very little room for physical spontaneity, which the character (and actress) seems so desperate to embrace.

Will audiences respond to this nostalgic look at what it was like to come into womanhood amid turn-of-the-century France? With plenty of joie de vivre and not much else, only time will tell.

Gigi
The Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street
Open-ended run.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at roodeloo

Review: John and Jen

February 26th, 2015 Comments off

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Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan in "John & Jen" (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan in “John & Jen” (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

It’s been 20 years since the original production of John & Jen, a song cycle musical by Andrew Lippa and Tom Greenwald. A lot can happen in two decades. Lippa has gone on to write the theatrical oratorio I Am Harvey Milk (in which he has also appeared), The Addams Family, and a retrospective of his work, Life of the Party, was presented at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory last summer. Greenwald is the author of the young adult book series, Charlie Joe Jackson. People grow up and move on—and occasionally bear the weight of life on life’s terms. Such is the subject matter of their endearing, if sometimes saccharine riff on sibling/parent relations and letting go, now receiving a respectable revival by Keen Company.

Conor Ryan and Kate Baldwin in "John & Jen" (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Conor Ryan and Kate Baldwin in “John & Jen” (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Starring Conor Ryan as John (The Fortress of Solitude, Cinderella), and Tony Award nominee Kate Baldwin as Jen (Big Fish, Finian’s Rainbow), the musical’s first act follows the course of brother and sister respectively as they find coping mechanisms for an abusive father. Jen as the older sibling makes a promise she can’t keep: to protect her little brother and always be there for him. But as they grow older and transition from 1950s America to the Vietnam Era, Jen’s tolerance for violence informs her decision to stay away from the family and ultimately move to Canada, leaving her brother at home to fend for himself. He joins the military and prior to deployment, the pair has an uncomfortable reunion. It’s the last time they’ll ever see each other.

The second act picks up years later and there is a new John in Jen’s life: her namesake son. As a single mom, Jen smothers (albeit with love) her son, desperately trying to keep the memory of her brother alive. You can imagine how that goes. Through some innovative theatrics, including a talk show sequence where the actors have a brief reprieve from their main characters, the mother-son relation finds resolution and the bird—so to speak—is set free to fly.

Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan in "John & Jen" (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan in “John & Jen” (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Baldwin and Ryan do their best to navigate the material. As sister then mother, Baldwin is tasked with a vast range of age and emotion. While less believable in the first act, she hits her stride in Act 2, where the maternal instincts (and age range) feel like a more natural fit. Ryan, who has skyrocketed onto the New York theater scene since his graduation from the University of Michigan last year, displays an adept physicality as well as restraint when appropriate. Each has his or her shining moments, though the physical production doesn’t do them any favors.

Steven C. Kemp’s oppressive set feels more suited to a futurist production of King Lear, with gloomy and foreboding geometrical shapes jutting in all directions in the Clurman Theatre’s wide proscenium. Josh Bradford’s lighting feels misplaced and over saturated. Combined, these elements exude an unnecessary weight on a production that would be better served by more fluidity and space.

Directed by Keen Company’s Artistic Director Jonathan Silverstein and featuring musical direction by Lily Ling, John & Jen reaches for emotional summits and occasionally finds them. For musical theater fans, the show offers insight into the Lippa cannon, offering early glimpses of his current status as one of the more prominent theater composers of this generation. And while the musical may not always soar to new heights, it is an endearing exploration of the human spirit.

John and Jen
Presented by Keen Company
Clurman Theatre, Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
Through April 4

Matthew Wexler is the editor of The Broadway Blog as well as the national style and travel editor for EDGE Media Network. Follow him on Twitter at @roodeloo.

Last Call: Arena Stage’s “Fiddler on the Roof”

January 5th, 2015 Comments off
"Fiddler on the Roof" at Arena Stage (photo: Margot Schulman via The Broadway Blog.)

“Fiddler on the Roof” at Arena Stage (photo: Margot Schulman via The Broadway Blog.)

 

If you can’t wait until next fall for the latest Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, head to Arena Stage for their highly acclaimed production, which has become the theater’s highest grossing production in its 65-year history, shattering the record previously held by the 2011 return engagement of Oklahoma!

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of an American classic, the story follows Tevye, a humble Jewish father who finds his devotion to God severely tested by his headstrong daughters, who want to be their own matchmakers, and the increasingly ruthless government forcing him from his land. The jubilant and masterful score includes “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and “Tradition.”

Illustration by Jody Hewgill.

Illustration by Jody Hewgill.

Tony Award nominee Jonathan Hadary (Golden Boy, Spamalot, Gypsy) makes his Arena debut as Tevye in this celebration of family, community and life’s unexpected miracles, large and small. Ann Arvia (Mary Poppins, Les Miserables) plays opposite him as Golde, and the pair is joined by 20 D.C.-area actors out of the 28-person company. The production features choreography by Parker Esse, who adapts the original Jerome Robbins choreography for an in-the-round configuration, and musical direction by Paul Sportelli.

Popular demand for Fiddler on the Roof led to a weeklong extension of performances, and the production continues through January 11, 2015 in the Fichandler Stage.

“We are a theater that focuses on American voices, and the American musical is our seminal art form,” shares Smith. “We produce the gold-standard musicals because they each tell important stories of our times. Fiddler on the Roof is such a story. Fiddler covers the idiosyncratic beauty and range of human experience: the tyranny and joy of families, the creation and destruction of traditions, young love and mature love, community, immigration and racial and cultural hatred. There is a pulsing heart in the middle of this production that breaks on a nightly basis and re-knits itself each day, becoming more powerful every time. As we feel our world cracking apart, don’t we need this beautiful story of family and community?”

Lyricist Sheldon Harnick, who attended the opening night performance, adds, “I only wish that composer Jerry Bock and book writer Joseph Stein could have seen this superb production, directed so brilliantly by Molly.”

Fiddler on the Roof
Arena Stage
1101 Sixth Street SW, Washington DC
Through January 11


Review: Allegro at Classic Stage Company

November 20th, 2014 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

allegro_800x315

In 1947, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were the newly anointed kings of Broadway musicals, having created two remarkable blockbusters, Oklahoma! (1943) and Carousel (1945), in quick succession. Brimming with confidence, they turned away from material based on other people’s plays and came up with something more personal, Allegro, a show loosely inspired by Hammerstein’s own experiences in which he sought to express the age-old conflict of someone tempted to compromise his ideals in favor of a life of comfort and prestige. The narrative, stressing the allegorical over the realistic, could fit any number of professions, but chooses medicine as its focus. (Hammerstein borrowed much from conversations his own doctor, and both Rodgers’s father and brother were physicians.)

Claybourne Elder in "Allegro" (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Claybourne Elder in “Allegro” (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Beginning in 1905 and covering 35 years in the life of its hero, it tells the story of Joseph Taylor, Jr. (Claybourne Elder), a dedicated small town doctor, son of a similarly devoted practitioner, Joseph Taylor, Sr. (Malcolm Gets). Joe, Jr., prompted by his striving wife, Jenny (Elizabeth A. Davis), and her businessman father, Ned Brinker (Ed Romanoff), moves to Chicago where he achieves a high-paying position caring for the rich at a large Chicago hospital; in the end, he discovers that he can best serve medicine by returning to his roots.

To tell their story, Rodgers and Hammerstein broke conventional boundaries by using a Greek chorus and a minimalist production in the style of Our Town (which, to their distress, quickly became bloated). Despite some sympathetic responses, the show lasted only 315 performances, not terrible, but still the team’s first (and worst) failure. Consequently, until John Doyle’s superb new production now at the Classic Stage Company, Allegro has been seen locally only in a brief Equity Library Theatre revival (1978) and, just this spring, at the Astoria Performing Arts Center. As he did several years ago with his Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd, Doyle—who designed the set as well—once more reveals what theatrical minimalism can do when in a creative master’s hands.

"Allegro" at Classic Stage Company (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“Allegro” at Classic Stage Company (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Allegro has been pared down to 90 intermissionless minutes and set on a dark-stained wooden stage backed by a wall of neutral-colored horizontal planking onto which designer Jane Cox splashes deceptively simple lighting patterns and shadows. Only a few chairs and benches serve for furniture, with the actors often seated on the floor itself in Doyle’s smoothly inventive and highly polished staging. Dance, essential to the original production (directed by the great choreographer Agnes DeMille), has been abandoned in favor of staged movement.

Elizabeth A. Davis in "Allegro" (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Elizabeth A. Davis in “Allegro” (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The work is performed by a company of 12 playing 17 roles (41 in the original). In 1947 the principals were supplemented by 23 dancers and 38 singers (some with brief speaking parts), inflating the onstage company to 78, supplemented by an orchestra of 35, making costs skyrocket. As in the past, Doyle’s actors are also gifted musicians, their instruments including fiddles, basses, saxophones, guitars, banjos, and piano; most carry their instruments with them even during dramatic scenes, most of which are underscored by music. Of course, everyone can sing.

Unlike the big Rodgers and Hammerstein hits, Allegro is not known for an extensive songbook of standards, but many will recognize “A Fellow Needs a Girl” and “The Gentleman Is a Dope”; there is also the lovely ballad “So Far,” which Frank Sinatra once recorded. The songs are so seamlessly integrated into the narrative, especially as performed here, that none stands out as a “production number,” so the show streams steadily along without interruptions for applause. The score has considerable variety, much of it sounding rather contemporary, including a song satirizing the inane chatter of urban cocktail sophisticates that goes “Yatata Yatata Yatata”; it suggests the edgy cynicism of Stephen Sondheim, who was a 17-year-old gofer on the original production.

The title song, “Allegro,” conveys the sense of fast-paced city life, “the clash and competition / of counterpoint,” on which the disillusioned Joe turns his back when the ensemble sings the sweetly appealing ballad, “Come Home, Joe,” luring him to peace and happiness in his home town. Audiences visiting Allegro should find similar peace and happiness in the embrace of this sensitive but uplifting revival.

Allegro
Classic Stage Company
136 E. 13th Street
Through December 14

"Allegro" at Classic Stage Company (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“Allegro” at Classic Stage Company (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

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 writing, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Side Show Returns to Broadway

November 18th, 2014 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler reviews the Broadway revival of Side Show. Want more Broadway Blog? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

The cast of "Side Show." (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of “Side Show.” (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

I’m seeing double.

It’s been 17 years since I heard then-unknown belters Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley, along with the Side Show’s original company, sing “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” at Broadway on Broadway, a free outdoor concert presented by the Times Square Alliance. It was electrifying.

The real-life story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton opened last night in a newly conceived production directed by Hollywood heavyweight Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey, God and Monsters). The show features music by Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls, The Tap Dance Kid) and book and lyrics by Bill Russell (Pageant). Much of the original production has been tinkered with, but the gist of the story remains the same as it follows the girls as they escape from the side show circuit to become one of vaudeville’s most coveted acts.

Emily Padgett and Erin Davie in a scene from "Side Show". (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus via the Broadway Blog.)

Emily Padgett and Erin Davie in “Side Show”. (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus via the Broadway Blog.)

As leading ladies, Emily Padgett (Daisy) and Erin Davie (Violet) are tasked with a seemingly insurmountable task of conveying the pair attached at the hip, delivering a nuanced and delicate performance that often transcends the material. Daisy wants the bright lights and stardom that Hollywood has to offer, while Violet wishes to fall in love and lead a normal life. Unfortunately, neither is going anywhere without the other. Padgett is punchy and manages to find humor in the role, while Davie is saddled with more gravitas and occasionally wallows in sniffles and tears.

The twins are lured with promises of stardom and a better life. Ryan Silverman as their manager Terry, and Matthew Hydzik as Bobby, the twin’s song and dance man with a wandering eye, offer a charming onstage presence and it’s easy to imagine how the girls might fall in love with them. Along for the ride is David St. Louis as Jake, a side show sidekick who is hired to oversee the twins’ well-being.

In its original production, Side Show lasted merely 91 performances, saddled by a clunky book and a few sequences that have become cult favorites (who remembers “The Tunnel of Love”?) Much of this has been cleaned up with the help of Condon, who is credited with additional book material, as well as new music and lyrics. Even so, the musical’s structure lacks cohesion, primarily due to a score that isn’t firmly grounded in time or place.

window cardSide Show has two epic ballads: “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” and “I Will Never Leave You,” which close each act. In between there’s a rebel rousing “The Devil You Know,” which sounds like it could be lifted from the Dreamgirls cutting room floor, vaudeville-inspired song and dance sequences, and an exhaustingly overwrought 10 o’clock number (to be followed by the aforementioned 11 o’clock one) delivered by Jake as he confesses his longstanding love for Violet.

Woven throughout, the hard-working ensemble of “freaks” (their word, not mine) comprise Daisy and Violet’s carnie sidekicks as creatively conceived by Paul Tazewell (costumes), Dave and Lou Elsey (special make-up effects), Charles LaPointe (wig and hair design), and Cookie Jordan (make-up design)—they all deserve mention because it is a cumulative and invigorating display of craftsmanship, unlike David Rockwell’s set, which falls flat on creativity.

Under Condon’s direction, this incarnation of Side Show has moments of emotional resonance, but his lack of stage experience is evident in clunky stage patterns and change-of-scene sequences, which could use a defter hand. The real Hilton sisters achieved stardom that many of the era could only dream of, eventually touring with Bob Hope and meeting the likes of Harry Houdini, who according to the program notes, taught them how to self-hypnotize to “get rid” of one another. I’m not sure this tribute to their lives will have quite the same impact, but for an entertaining evening at the theater that is a far cry from the usual display of long-legged chorus girls, Side Show should be front and center.

Side Show
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street
Open-ended run

Interested in the real Hilton sisters? Take a look at this fascinating documentary…

Review: Broadway’s On The Town

October 28th, 2014 Comments off

by Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler

'On The Town' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway  Blog.)

‘On The Town’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

A star has been born on Broadway this season at the Lyric Theatre. Unfortunately you won’t see him onstage because it’s choreographer Joshua Bergasse, who has breathed new life into On The Town, the iconic American musical first staged by Jerome Robbins.

Megan Fairchild and the cast of 'On the Town' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Megan Fairchild and the cast of ‘On the Town’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Following the antics of Gabey (Tony Yazbeck), Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson) and Ozzie (Clyde Alves), three sailors on leave in the Big Apple, On The Town is a celebration of the American songbook and an era of big, splashy musicals. Gabey quickly spots the girl of his dreams on a poster, “Miss Turnstiles” aka Ivy Smith (Megan Fairchild), and sets about finding her in the big city. The trio splits up and they each find their own love interests. Chip hails a cab from a big-voiced broad, Hildy (Alysha Umphress) while Ozzie stumbles across Claire De Loone (Elizabeth Stanley), a sexually starved woman of means at the American Museum of Natural History. Their stories unfold in classic musical theater fashion, with sweeping dance sequences, lots of shtick, and a resounding orchestra helmed by music director/conductor James Moore.

Originally inspired by Robbins’ 1944 ballet Fancy Free, which he created for the American Ballet Theater, On The Town was expanded into a full book musical the same year with the help of music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (both of whom appeared in the original production). Multiple revivals have ensued, including the 1998 short-lived production that helped launch the career of Jesse Tyler Ferguson (of TV’s Modern Family).

Tony Yazbeck in 'On The Town' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Tony Yazbeck in ‘On The Town’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

This latest incarnation set sail earlier this summer under the direction of John Rando (Urinetown) with much of the same cast and creative team at Barrington Stage Company. Mr. Yazbeck as Gabey is the show’s narrative anchor and delivers a Tony-worthy performance overflowing with charm, impeccable dancing and a crooning voice that echoes the great Rat Pack. As his love interest, Ms. Smith brings her New York City Ballet experience to the stage and is ravishing in Bergasse’s complex and demanding sequences. It’s a bit underwhelming when she opens her mouth to speak, and one wonders if Gabey’s infatuation might fade if there was an Act III.

His sidekicks do due diligence, offering laughs, acrobatics and endearing vulnerability. They fare better than their female counterparts, who feel more like cutouts than fully realized characters. (Though Ms. Umprhress’s jazz inflections are worthy of her own show at 54 Below or another such venue.) The hardworking ensemble meets the demands of the choreography and delivers some quirky character performances, including a pocketful of quick-changing accents from Stephen DeRosa and scene-chewing turns from funny lady Jackie Hoffman, who would run off with the set if she could.

From a technical standpoint, On The Town neither reinvents itself nor pays homage to the splashy productions of yesteryear. Beowulf Boritt’s sets and projections feel flimsy and at times even distracting with the extensive use of transparent and reflective materials, assumingly used to add volume to the vacuous stage. Jess Goldstein (costumes) and Jason Lyons (lighting) fulfill their Technicolor duties in spades. It is all but a playground for Joshua Bergasse’s handiwork and a sweeping score that reminds us that New York truly is a helluva town.

On The Town
Lyric Theatre
213 West 42nd Street
Open-ended run

Matthew Wexler is the Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his work at www.roodeloo.com and follow him on Twitter at @roodeloo.

Exclusive First Look: Side Show

October 17th, 2014 Comments off
'Side Show' (photo by Matthew Wexler via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Side Show’ (photo by Matthew Wexler via The Broadway Blog.)

Have you tired of those happy-go-lucky musicals packed with leggy chorus girls and perfectly coifed gents tapping their way through a perky Cole Porter dance break? Fear not, the dark, underbelly of show business is arriving on Broadway this fall and it’s called Side Show.

In an unprecedented move, the creative team and producers of Side Show invited press into the St. James Theatre for a first look at the much-anticipated musical revival by Bill Russell (Pageant) and Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls). The original production, which opened in 1997, ran for only 91 performances but has been a cult favorite ever since.

Based on the real-life story of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who made a name for themselves on the Vaudeville circuit, the plot  is set against the backdrop of 1920s and ’30s show business, seamlessly blending the worlds of carnival, vaudeville and Hollywood glamour.

Speaking of Hollywood, notable film director Bill Condon is at Side Show’s helm. Condon is known for his screen adaptation of Dreamgirls, which won two Academy Awards and three Golden Globes. The stellar production team includes sets by David Rockwell, costumes by Paul Tazewell and special make-up effects designed by Dave and Lou Elsey.

Previews begin October 28 with an official opening scheduled for November 17.

'Side Show' (photo: Matthew Wexler via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Side Show’ (photo: Matthew Wexler via The Broadway Blog.)

'Side Show' (photo: Matthew Wexler via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Side Show’ (photo: Matthew Wexler via The Broadway Blog.)

'Side Show' (photo: Matthew Wexler via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Side Show’ (photo: Matthew Wexler via The Broadway Blog.)

'Side Show' (photo: Matthew Wexler via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Side Show’ (photo: Matthew Wexler via The Broadway Blog.)

Casting Announced for Classic Stage Company’s “Allegro”

August 28th, 2014 Comments off

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Classic Stage Company has announced casting for its production of the rarely performed Allegro by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Directed by Tony Award-winner John Doyle (who directed CSC’s production of Passion last year), the cast will feature George Abud (Charlie Townsend), Alma Cuervo (Grandma Taylor), Elizabeth A. Davis (Jenny Brinker), Claybourne Elder (Joseph Taylor Jr.), Malcolm Gets (Joe Taylor Sr.), Maggie Lakis (Hazel), Megan Loomis (Beulah), Paul Lincoln (Brook Lansdale), Jane Pfitsch (Emily), Randy Redd (Dr. Bigby Denby), Ed Romanoff (Ned Brinker) and Jessica Tyler Wright (Marjorie Taylor).

Allegro marks the second installment of CSC’s Musical Theater Initiative, which launched last year with the company’s hugely successful production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Passion, directed by Doyle.Considered one of Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein II’s most personal and groundbreaking works, Allegrowas their third collaboration and first premiered on Broadway in 1947.

Scenic design for Allegro is by John Doyle, costume design is by Tony Award winner Ann Hould-Ward, lighting design by Jane Cox and sound design by Dan Moses Schreier.

Classic Stage Company is the award-winning Off-Broadway theatre committed to re-imaging the classical repertory for a contemporary American audience. Founded in 1967, CSC uses works of the past as a way to engage in the issues of today. Highly respected and widely regarded as a major force in American theatre, it has become the home to New York’s finest established and emerging artists, the place where they gather to grapple with the great works of the world’s repertory. CSC has been cited repeatedly by all the major Off-Broadway theatre awards: Obies, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Drama League and the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Body of Work.

Previews for Allegro begin Saturday, November 1. The official opening night is Wednesday, November 19 for a limited engagement through December 7.  Tickets go on sale to the public Thursday, October 2 at 12 p.m.