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Then and Now: ‘The View UpStairs’

March 15th, 2017 Comments off

By Ryan Leeds

The cast of 'The View UpStairs.' (Photo: Kurt Sneddon via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘The View UpStairs.’ (Photo: Kurt Sneddon via The Broadway Blog.)

Thank goodness for Max Vernon, the 28-year-old wunderkind who continues to carry the torch of gay history to a new generation. Vernon, an NYU graduate, is the author, composer, and lyricist for the thoroughly thoughtful and entertaining Off-Broadway musical, The View UpStairs.

Loosely based on an actual event, this disco-spiked show begins with Wes (Jeremy Pope), a know-it-all millennial fashionista who returns to his native town of New Orleans in 2017 to renovate what was once a very popular gay bar known as the UpStairs Lounge.

Much to his surprise and dismay, the realtor (Nancy Ticotin) failed to inform Pope that the lounge had serious fire damage. Just as Wes is ready to throw in the towel, the locals who used to frequent the establishment visit him in a hallucinogenic Dickensian style) by. Suddenly, he is transported back to 1973.

Frenchie Davis in 'The View UpStairs.' (Photo: Kurt Sneddon via The Broadway Blog.)

Frenchie Davis in ‘The View UpStairs.’ (Photo: Kurt Sneddon via The Broadway Blog.)

The bar’s regulars include Henri (Frenchie Davis), the butch lesbian matron of the joint, Richard (Benjamin Howes), a pastor who conducts weekly church services here, Freddy (Michael Longoria), a spritely Puerto-Rican drag queen whose mother (played in a dual role by Ticton) not only supports her son’s lifestyle but also offers assistance with everything from make-up to tucking (he politely refuses the latter.) The watering hole also attracts some less desirable characters including Dale (Ben Mayne) whose only crime appears to be poverty and wanting to be noticed. Buddy (Randy Redd) serves as the glue to this gay “Cheers,” and Patrick (Taylor Frey) provides the romantic plotline, along with Wes, who is somewhat wary of this blast from the past pretty boy.

Of everyone in this cornucopia of carefree spirits, it is Willie (Nathan Lee Graham) who commands the most attention. Graham, whose antics never tire, could read a business card and turn it into a carefully executed work of dramatic art. Here, he is the “old queen” who is quick with a quip and an arched eyebrow with the tacit implication:  “I will cut you and keep on walking.” Graham is a stunning performer who knows precisely when and how to respond to his fellow castmates but is also careful not to pull focus from the main scene. His work in this piece is a master class in the art of acting.

Vernon is mostly wise to utilize the vocal talents of his cast. Willie’s “Theme Song,” which evokes memories of the good ‘ole days, is something to cherish.  A touching moment occurs when Dale, an outcast, sings “Better Than Silence,” a plea for wanting to fit in better with this tightly knit clan. The show’s main song, “Some Kind of Paradise,” is an upbeat anthem that exalts both the lounge and its inhabitants.

The score is terrific, but I wish that Vernon had showcased Davis a bit more. From American Idol fame to Broadway’s Rent, Davis has wowed audiences with her remarkably soulful voice. Unfortunately, she has little opportunity to share it.

(l to r) Randy Redd, Benjamin Howes, Michael Longoria, and Jeremy Pope in 'The View UpStairs.' (Photo: Kurt Sneddon via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Randy Redd, Benjamin Howes, Michael Longoria, and Jeremy Pope in ‘The View UpStairs.’ (Photo: Kurt Sneddon via The Broadway Blog.)

With kitsch knick-knacks and Christmas lights adorning Jason Sherwood’s detailed set, one might think that this is a dive bar—maybe it is. But to the customers, it is a haven of friendship and community that nurtures face-to-face human connection, something that is sorely lacking for Wes, whose only concern is erasing valuable history and collecting followers on social media.

Vernon’s commentary is astute and on target. In April last year, Michael Musto wrote a piece in the New York Times regarding the death of gay clubs, thanks to a combination of mobile apps, high cover charges, and increased real estate costs. Connection has become transactional.

The View UpStairs also covers eerily prophetic territory as Patrick describes what will happen to the gay community before 2017. It is a vital reminder to young generations of what those who have gone before us have suffered, sacrificed, and endured.

It should be noted that, while the characters in Vernon’s piece are fictitious, the event that inspired it was tragically factual. The UpStairs Lounge was located in the French Quarters of New Orleans and on June 24, 1973, it was the victim of an arson attack that left 32 people dead. It remains to this day an unconvicted crime and—until the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando—the worst attack on a gay establishment in U.S. history.

The View UpStairs, smartly directed by Scott Ebersold, is an important retrospective of the gay community: where we’ve been, where we are, and who we could—and should—be.

The View UpStairs 
Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project
45 Bleecker Street, NYC
Through May 21

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.

 

A Tale of Too Many Cities: ‘A Bronx Tale’

December 7th, 2016 Comments off
'A Bronx Tale' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘A Bronx Tale’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

A Bronx Tale, which recently opened on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre, represents the latest in a continuation of big budget musical adaptations that producers hope will resonate with audiences looking for feel-good shows without too much brain strain. (Take note: Dear Evan Hansen and Off Broadway’s Ride the Cyclone are tempting to break the cycle and have received acclaim from audiences and critics alike.)

Originally inspired by an altercation he had as a doorman at a nightclub, Chazz Palminteri created the one-man show for the stage. The piece was a springboard for the successful 1992 film version, which expanded the narrative into a fully realized feature with a cast of heavy hitters including Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, as well as Palminteri recreating his role as Calogero.

The musical has the creative backing of some of the original team, including a book by Palminteri and co-directors De Niro along with four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks, who I imagine did most of the heavy lifting. With music by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop of Horrors), lyrics by Glenn Slater (School of Rock, The Little Mermaid), and choreography by Sergio Trujillo (On Your Feet!), there are plenty of A-listers in the playbill… which may be what sinks A Bronx Tale like a thug who finds himself wearing cement shoes in the East River.

(l to r) Hudson Loverro, Richard H. Blake, and Lucia Giannetta in 'A Bronx Tale.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Hudson Loverro, Richard H. Blake, and Lucia Giannetta in ‘A Bronx Tale.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Calogero (Bobby Conte Thornton) narrates the story of his urban adventures on Belmont Avenue in the Bronx during the 1960s, as played out by the younger version of himself (Hudson Loverro) and parents Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) and Rosina (Lucia Giannetta). The young boy witnesses a crime on the street, which sets in motion a lifelong mentorship between him and mafia ringleader Sonny (Nick Cordero).

Family tensions run high as Lorenzo encourages his son to stay away from Sonny and his gang of criminal misfits, but the young man doesn’t see much of a future for himself if he follows his father’s straight-laced ways. In the meantime, Calogero’s wandering eyes land on Jane (Ariana De Bose), a black girl from Webster Avenue—a.k.a the wrong side of the tracks. The musical abruptly shifts into a musical about racial tensions with echoes of Hairspray and West Side Story but with neither the charm of the former or gravitas of the latter to hold much weight.

(l to r) BobbyConte Thornton and Nick Cordero in 'A Bronx Tale.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) BobbyConte Thornton and Nick Cordero in ‘A Bronx Tale.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Several performances float above the polluted plot lines. Cordero, who’s recently made a career for himself as the bad guy in Waitress and Bullets Over Broadway, manages to find the delicate balance between tough guy and heart of gold. Thornton shifts midway from narrator to leading man, and his doughy-eyed innocence goes far though the orchestrations push the limits of his range. De Bose, too, has a spark, but the romance—all hinging on a date that never really comes to fruition—feels like a forced layer to an already cluttered script.

Menken’s score echoes The Four Seasons with some big musical theater ballads thrown in for good measure, while Trujillo’s choreography is brash, syncopated, and highly athletic, but doesn’t always feel connected to the story at hand. Lighting designer Howell Binkley often saturates Beowulf Boritt’s sets in pools of red—as if to remind us of the blood that runs in the streets (or maybe it’s pizza sauce.)

A Bronx Tale is an adequate evening of theater, but who wants to pay a top ticket price of $187 for average? Producers are rolling the dice like Sonny, hoping that audiences will bring a hit, but I’m just not sure that’s a bet I’d want to make.

A Bronx Tale
Longacre Theatre
220 West 48th Street, NYC

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

Love and Lies: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’

December 4th, 2016 Comments off
'Dear Evan Hansen' (Photo: Matthew Murray via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Dear Evan Hansen’ (Photo: Matthew Murray via The Broadway Blog.)

Rarely does a show come along that sits in the pit of my stomach, evoking those intense waves of emotion that come at life-altering moments. Realizing that you’ve fallen in love. An unexpected death. Betrayal. Faith. Resilience.

Such are the sweeping yet beautifully intimate themes of Dear Evan Hansen, a new Broadway musical that opened December 4 at the Music Box Theatre. Originally presented in Washington, D.C. at Arena Stage, then earlier this year at Second Stage in New York City, Steven Levenson (book), Ben Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics) have delivered what has become somewhat of an enigma on Broadway: a completely original musical.

'Dear Evan Hansen' (Photo: Matthew Murray via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Dear Evan Hansen’ (Photo: Matthew Murray via The Broadway Blog.)

Loosely based on an event that Pasek experienced in high school, Dear Evan Hansen depicts what happens after the title character (Ben Platt) writes a letter that falls into the wrong hands of school stoner and bully Connor Murphy (Mike Faist). Evan, who exhibits high levels of anxiety and other spectrum-related social disorders, does his best to keep a lid on things, eliciting the help of family friend Jared Kleinman (Will Roland) and classmate Alana Beck (Kristolyn Lloyd).

Meanwhile a relationship develops between Evan and Connor’s sister Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss) and the Connor kids’ parents Cynthia (Jennifer Laura Thompson) and Larry (Michael Park). Evan’s mother, Heidi (Rachel Bay Jones)—a hard-working single mom—eventually discovers Evan’s secret as the turn of events goes viral through social media and he must decide whether to continue living a lie or face the consequences of his actions.

Mike Faist and Ben Platt in 'Dear Evan Hansen' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Mike Faist and Ben Platt in ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Without revealing plot spoilers, it’s safe to say that Levenson’s book offers just enough twists to keep the audience engaged without diverting into too many subplots. His success is in the development of fully realized, nuanced characters. It feels as though you’re watching an independent film. Director Michael Greif, though not particularly innovative in his staging in collaboration with choreographer Danny Mefford, wisely allows the script to breath, giving the acting company the space to embody the rich material.

Ben Platt, who originated the role, has unequivocally thrown down the gauntlet for this year’s Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. Both a victim of others’ actions as well as a manipulator to create a version of his life that he’d always wished for, Evan is both broken as well as resilient. Platt’s heart-wrenching performance comes to a climax in “Words Fail,” where the truth is revealed and he desperately tries to explain his actions:

Ben Platt in 'Dear Evan Hansen' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Ben Platt in ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Except sometimes you see ev’rything you’ve wanted
And sometimes you see ev’rything you wish you had
And it’s right there, right there
Right there in front of you

And you want to believe it’s true
So you make it true
And you think
Maybe ev’rybody wants it, needs it a little bit too.

Platt is supported by a terrific ensemble, most notably Dreyfuss, who’s soft-spoken Zoe avoids teen clichés; and Jones as Evan’s mother, delivering a painfully honest performance, epitomized in “So Big/So Small,” where her supermom persona dissolves into an admission of her own vulnerabilities. Only Feist as the brooding Connor misses the mark, delivering more boy-band-gone-bad than authentic teen angst.

Ben Platt and Rachel Bay Jones in 'Dear Evan Hansen.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Ben Platt and Rachel Bay Jones in ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The physical production includes sliding video panels and minimalist furniture by scenic designer David Korins and continuing scrolls of social media feeds and live video with projection design by Peter Nigrini, but ultimately it’s the ensemble of eight actors that delivers the impact of Dear Evan Hansen, as well as a message of hope that we could all use right now. Evan leaves us with this:

Maybe some day, some other kid is going to be standing here, staring out at the trees, feeling so…alone, wondering if maybe the world might look different from all the way up there. Better. Maybe he’ll start climbing, one branch at a time, and he’ll keep going, even when it seems like he can’t find another foothold. Even when it feels… hopeless.

Dear Evan Hansen proves that there is plenty of hope for the American musical—especially one that transcends the theater and delivers a message that supports diversity, tolerance, and acceptance.

Dear Evan Hansen
Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th Street, NYC

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

 

Buckle In: MCC Theater’s ‘Ride the Cyclone’

November 30th, 2016 Comments off
Ride the Cyclone (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Ride the Cyclone (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

If you’re willing to get on the ride, Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond’s new musical, Ride the Cyclone, will take you to unexpected places. Chicago Shakespeare presented the U.S. premiere of the work last year, and prior to that Canada’s Atomic Vaudeville first produced the production. MCC Theater brings it to Manhattan under the deft direction/choreography of Rachel Rockwell.

Emily Rohm and the cast of 'Ride the Cyclone.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Emily Rohm and the cast of ‘Ride the Cyclone.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The 90-minute show recounts what happens after a group of Catholic school teenagers die in a rollercoaster accident. They’ve arrived in a sort of American Idiot meets The 25th Annual Spelling Bee purgatory, and under the direction of The Amazing Karnak (Karl Hamilton), must decide which of them can return to his or her mortal life.

Leading the pack out of the gate is Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg (Tiffany Tatreau), the group’s bratty, bossy ringleader who will say and do just about anything to secure her slot, including throwing her bestie, the apologetic Constance Blackwood (Lillian Castillo), under the bus. The other living dead include the emotionally volatile and soap opera-gorgeous Mischa Bachinski (Gus Halper), the formally handicapped but now virile Ricky Potts (Alex Wyse), the effeminate dark horse Noel Gruber (Kholby Wardell), and Jane Doe (Emily Rohm), an unidentified student who perished in the accident and hopes to claim her life and identity back.

Gus Halper and the cast of 'Ride the Cyclone.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Gus Halper and the cast of ‘Ride the Cyclone.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

In a somewhat formulaic structure, the kids each have an opportunity to make their cases, but Karnak continues to switch up the rules up until the very last chords are played. What makes Ride the Cyclone so wildly entertaining is what happens within each of those moments. Highlights include Mischa’s epic auto-tuned hip-hop number that eventually evolves into a Ukrainian folklore dance (with captivating projections designed by Mike Tutaj)—trust me, it makes sense when you see it. Noel pulls off a Chicago­-style number in a pageboy wig, while Ricky rocks out his alter ego as an 80s space age bachelor man.

Constance is given the 11 o’clock number, which lights up the theatre with a pop ballad that leaves her on a sugar cloud, spouting lyrics like “I could puke a rainbow.” In the end, one teen enters the light, and with deep reverence we’re treated to a montage of a life not yet fully lived.

Ride the Cyclone (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Ride the Cyclone (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Rachel Rockwell, who’s made a name for herself in the Chicago theater scene with a list of critically acclaimed productions including Brigadoon (Goodman Theatre) and Les Misérables (Drury Lane), will now hopefully be on the radar of commercial producers. Her work here is thoughtful and nuanced as she is somehow able to unpack a treasure chest of quirkiness delivered by the authors.

Buckle in. Who knows where Ride the Cyclone may land next.

Ride the Cyclone
MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortelle Theatre
121 Christopher Street
Through December 29.

‘Sousatzka’ Scheduled to Open in Toronto in Pre-Broadway Run

September 29th, 2016 Comments off
Sousatzka

Sousatzka

Teatro Proscenium Limited Partnership (Richard Stursberg, CEO) have announced the world premiere of the Garth Drabinsky production of Sousatzka, the new musical by three-time Tony Award-nominated book writer Craig Lucas and the legendary composing team of Tony Award winner Richard Maltby, Jr. (Lyrics) and Academy Award winner David Shire (Music).

Choreographed by ten-time Tony Award nominee Graciela Daniele and directed by Adrian Noble, Sousatzka will begin performances on February 25, 2017 at Toronto’s historic Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge Street), and officially open on Thursday, March 23. Tickets will go on sale, via Ticketmaster, on October 17. Sousatzka’s pre-Broadway strictly limited engagement is scheduled to run through April 9, 2017.

Tony Award winner Victoria Clark.

Tony Award winner Victoria Clark.

Sousatzka stars Tony Award winner Victoria Clark, Tony Award nominee Montego Glover, Tony Award winner Judy Kaye, and features the Broadway debut of Jordan Barrow.

“To be able to present this remarkable creative team, and cast, and the musical work of one of the best creative producers of our age, is a gift,” Mr. Stursberg said in a statement.  “My association with Garth has proven itself to be one of the most satisfying and enduring creative relationships I’ve ever had, and I look forward to ensuring that he has every resource available to get this inspired show to Broadway, and beyond.”

Based on the original novel Madame Sousatzka by Bernice Rubens, Sousatzka, set in London, England in 1982, tells the story of a young musical prodigy torn between two powerful women from vastly different worlds: his mother, a political refugee and his piano teacher, a brilliant eccentric with a shattered past. These two proud, iconoclastic women must ultimately cross cultural and racial divides to find common ground, or else put the boy’s destiny in jeopardy.

Sousatzka’s creative and design dream team includes Tony Award winner Anthony Ward (Scenic Design), Tony Award winner Paul Tazwell (Costume Design), two-time Tony Award winner Howell Binkley (Lighting Design), Jonathan Driscoll (Projection Design), Grammy Award winner Martin Levan (Sound Design), Tony Award winner Jonathan Tunick (Orchestrations), David Caddick (Music Supervision), Brad Haak (Music Director), Lebo M. (Additional Music and Vocal Arrangements), and Marius de Vries (Additional Music Arrangements).

 

Opening — ‘Speakeasy: John and Jane’s Adventures in Wonderland’

February 8th, 2016 Comments off

SpeakeasyBefore there was Hedwig and the Angry Inch, there was the wildly evocative underground theatrical world in New York City during Prohibition. This comes to live in a new production by written and composed by Danny Ashkenasi.

Speakeasy: John and Jane’s Adventures in the Wonderland shares the sexual freedoms
explored in the 1920s and 30s, and how those freedoms were ruined with the end of Prohibition. It is a love song to queer life in New York City and to forgotten entertainers such as Gene (Jean) Malin, the openly homosexual headline act of New York’s short-lived Pansy Craze of 1929; Vaudeville’s famous Dolly Sisters; the larger-than-life black lesbian singer Gladys Bentley of Harlem’s “Negro Vogue” fame; and the popular female impersonator Julian Eltinge, to name a few. The music in Speakeasy is based on various styles of the era, but with a modern twist, including Tin Pan Alley, musical theater, jazz, swing, cabaret, operetta as well as classical and agitprop strains of the time.

It’s 1929 in New York City. John and Jane Allison are newlyweds. Although they love each other, they have desires they haven’t even acknowledged to themselves, let alone explored. But after giving her neighbor, Roberta White, a kiss, Jane goes “down the rabbit hole,” entering the strange world of a Speakeasy, where time and space and identity don’t appear to follow conventional rules.

On accepting a sexual proposition in a public men’s room, John mysteriously slides “through the looking glass,” and in one fantastical magical realist dream night, they explore their sexuality through the course of two simultaneous and intertwining magical adventures. Lewis Carroll’s literary characters and events from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are transformed into real-life, historically significant entertainers and events from NYC’s Prohibition-era queer culture, with which Jane and John enjoy friendships and love affairs.

After a night of speakeasies, buffet flat parties, police raids, drag balls, and a bizarre trial, will they reveal their “dreams” to each other and “speak easy” about their truths?

Speakeasy: John and Jane’s Adventures in Wonderland
Theatre for the New City
155 First Avenue, NYC
February 18 – March 13

Weston Playhouse Announces 10th Annual New Musical Award

January 29th, 2016 Comments off
Kirsten Childs (Photo provided by Weston Playhouse.)

Kirsten Childs (Photo provided by Weston Playhouse.)

The Weston Playhouse Theatre Company announces Kirsten Childs’ Bella: An American Tall Tale as the winner of its tenth annual New Musical Award.

The only honor of its kind in the country, the Weston New Musical Award supports the production of a high-quality demo of a new work by writers and composers of notable promise, chosen from a group of national nominations.

Winners rehearse in Vermont under professional music direction with a cast of Broadway actors/singers, performing selections on the Weston stage. The cast then travels to New York for an invited concert and a recording session with Kurt Deutsch of Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records. “The New Musical Award was the first of our now annual New Works Programs,” notes Weston Producing Artistic Director Steve Stettler, “and it has led to ongoing relationships with an exciting group of emerging and established writers and composers, including five productions of new musicals on our stages.”

logo-300x300Nominated by The Sundance Institute Theatre Program and commissioned by Playwrights Horizons, Bella: An American Tall Tale is a musical exploring the African-American experience in the Old West. When Isabella “Bella” Patterson boards a train headed west to reunite with her Buffalo soldier sweetheart, she encounters the most colorful and lively characters ever to roam the Western plains. Calling Childs “an under-appreciated gem of the American musical theatre,” nominator Janice Paran celebrates Bella’s “heart and hope and pizzazz.”

Author Kirsten Childs is an award winner many times over. Her Off-Broadway musical The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin won an Obie and garnered a handful of impressive nominations: Lucille Lortel, NAACP, and Drama Desk among them. She holds faculty positions at NYU-Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program and is a TDF Mentor in Wendy Wasserstein’s Open Doors Program.

Weston’s New Works Programs are supported by the Anton Family Foundation, Dramatists Play Service, the Frederick Loewe Foundation, Stacey Mindich Productions, Music Theatre International, the Rodgers and Hammerstein Foundation, Sh-k-Boom/Ghostlight Records, the Shubert Foundation, Tams-Witmark Music Library and many generous individual donors. The demo recording is supported in part by SAG-AFTRA.

Past recipients of the Weston New Musical Award have been produced around the country, have been chosen for the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s annual Festival of New Musicals in NYC, and have received such honors as the Jonathan Larson Grant and Richard Rodgers Award.

The Vermont concert of Bella: An American Tall Tale is on Saturday, February 27 at 8:00 pm at the Weston Playhouse on the Village Green in Weston. The event is free and open to the public. The performance will be followed by a brief reception, with an opportunity to meet Childs and her cast. RSVP recommended at info@westonplayhouse.org.

Margaritaville the Musical?

December 17th, 2015 Comments off
StacieStauffSmith Photos / Shutterstock.com

StacieStauffSmith Photos / Shutterstock.com

Move over, Carole King—producers Frank Marshall, Mindy Rich, Anita Waxman, and Beth Williams announced today that they are developing a new musical featuring the music and lifestyle of legendary singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, with an original story by co-book writers Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley. Tony Award  nominee Christopher Ashley will direct. A world premiere production is expected to be announced for 2017.

“The idea of turning Margaritaville into a musical has been percolating for quite a while, but finding the right people to tell the right kind of story to go with the right songs from my catalogue took some time,” Mr. Buffett explained. “Now we have found our crew and I am happy to sail with them to Margaritaville.  It’s going to be a fun voyage.”

“As lifelong Buffett fans Mike and I jumped at the opportunity to work together on this project,” Mr. Garcia said.  “Buffett’s music means so much to so many people. It’s a lifestyle. A way of looking at the world. We hope to tap into what Jimmy has created and help bring that fun to the stage.”

“Working on this project is like being invited to the best party ever,” said Mr. Ashley.  “Not only is his song catalogue a treasure trove, but we also have his unique spirit to draw upon for inspiration.”

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Review: ‘Gigantic’ at The Vineyard Theatre

December 4th, 2015 Comments off

Gigantic
Go big or go home. At least that’s the vibe from The Vineyard Theatre’s new musical, Gigantic, which opened last night at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row. An earlier version of the show (then called Fat Camp) was a hit at the 2009 New York Musical Theatre Festival, where it received the “Best of the Fest Award.” Since then, the creative team of Randy Blair (book and lyrics), Tim Drucker (book), and Matthew roi Berger (music) has fine-tuned the piece with the help of director Scott Schwartz (Murder for Two) and choreographer Chase Brock (SpiderMan: Turn Off the Dark). The result: a bigger-than-life look at self-acceptance and adolescent angst.

Gigantic is no Spring Awakening (nor does it try to be), but much like the current Broadway musical Something Rotten!, it pays humorous homage to the latter’s gravitas, along with similar silly snapshots that theater aficionados might recognize from Hamilton, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and last season’s cult favorite, Heathers, along with a hilarious Michael Jackson “Thriller” tribute that should win Leslie Kritzer an Obie Award. That’s a lot of purposeful name dropping, which is to say that musically speaking, Gigantic doesn’t necessarily score big in the originally department. But what speaks volumes is the show’s construct and wildly talented cast.

Max Wilcox (center) and the cast of 'Gigantic.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Max Wilcox (center) and the cast of ‘Gigantic.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Robert (Max Wilcox) is shipped off to Camp Overton, “the #3 weight loss camp in Southern Pennsylvania” helmed by longtime fiancées Sandy (Leslie Kritzer) and Mike (Burke Moses). He meets an array of characters, including urban rapper Darnell (Larry Owens), camp regular and general badass Daphne (Bonnie Milligan), nerdy Jewish kid Anshel (Jared Loftin) and eventual love interest Taylor (Ryann Redmond).

Most campers are none too thrilled with being relegated to fat camp, and a plan hatches to get kicked out. Mike’s nephew and junior counselor Brent (Andrew Durand)—who’s lost weight but managed to retain an ego the size of Jupiter—along with his freakish sister Britta (Katie Ladner) are on hand to wreak havoc on the aforementioned break-out scheme. Act II brings the arrival of some swaggy cheerleaders from the neighboring camp, including Ashley (Taylor Louderman), Robert’s imaginary girlfriend. A color wars-type throwdown ensues until the plot is neatly tied up in typical musical theater fashion.

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.)

The Vineyard Theatre, which is committed to producing new works, has been the incubator for productions that have won two Pulitzer Prizes and three Tony Awards. Gigantic pulls out all the stops with a cast of 15, an impressive set design by Tim Mackabee, Technicolor costumes by Gregory Gale and richly saturated lighting by Jeff Croiter. Decibel levels run high with the six-piece band and John Shiver’s sound design, which deliver a bubble gum pop score with an extra dose of sugar.

Leslie Kritzer (center) and the cast of 'Gigantic' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Leslie Kritzer (center) and the cast of ‘Gigantic’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Gigantic is great fun, due mostly to a committed cast that relishes the material. The aforementioned Ms. Kritzer leaves no comedic rock unturned, while Ms. Redmond’s sweet transformation from shy newbie to camp heroine is as heartfelt as Mr. Wilcox’s unconventional leading man.

So many big voices made this reviewer wonder when we might see a slightly rotund Elphaba on the boards (somebody call Ms. Milligan’s agent) or other casting choices that look beyond size. It’s a message delivered in an eye-popping package; hopefully the theater community will unwrap it.


Gigantic
The Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
Through December 20

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

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.)

Gigantic
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.

Gigantic
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