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Review: “When I Grow Up: Broadway’s Next Generation”

July 29th, 2013 Comments off

Apparently guest contributor Scott Redman never wants to play Miss Hannigan in drag. His review of Broadway’s up-and-coming belters gets a standing ovation.

whenigrowupIf you ever wonder what Broadway will be like in 10 years, look no further. The talent is bursting at the seams and has been captured for us all to hear. The newish cabaret venue, 54 Below, recently hosted a show featuring “Broadway’s Next Generation” including youth from current and recent shows. The live recording is complete with vibrant kids singing their hearts out to songs slightly out of their current casting range (Book of Mormon, Avenue Q, Company) but delivers in full force.

The first track, “Song of Purple Summer,” is a somber start but a great ensemble piece to feature the entire group of young talent. Emily Rosenfeld quickly brightens up the mood sending her voice to the rafters with “Show Off” from The Drowsy Chaperone. Don’t be fooled by Rosenfeld’s cute sound—it contains power that demands attention and affords her the ability to carry a quirky and fun solo number.

There is no shortage of belting on the album. Emily Rosenfeld, Zoe Considine, Grace Capeless provide good old-fashion showbiz flair, giving the Sondheim classic “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” a robust rendition with just enough zaniness to give it the laughs it deserves. Matthew Schechter must have lungs the size of a hot air ballon with the ability to ride a note the way he drives home “I Believe” from the smash hit The Book of Mormon. The Mormon casting directors should start a stopwatch to countdown until he’s old enough to step into the title roll. Grace Capeless holds true to the spirit of “Waiting For Life”, the title character’s want song from Once On This Island, giving the tune an exciting facelift filling it with brightness and hope.

This gang also can act through a song, many of them showing prowess interpreting character songs and owning their personal relevance to songs composed for adult performers. Ethan Haberfield delivers a knock-out performance of “Mr. Cellophane” and inhabits the song with zest, pulling you into his dilemma as a transparent spouse. Kelsey Fowler’s rendition of “A Way Back to Then” is just as crushingly brilliant as the performance I saw on Broadway—I think Heidi Blickenstaff (the original performer) would be proud to have such talent following in her footsteps. Matthew Gumley nails the emotional bends in the Jason Robert Brown ballad, “Someone to Fall Back On,” supplying an emotional vulnerability that breathes hope into the piece.

These kids didn’t just show up at rehearsal and learn the notes to the songs: they prepared mentally and mapped out the emotional journeys taking place—both in the comedic and more serious moments of this fine selection of musical theater.

When I Grow Up: Broadway’s Next Generation offers a glimpse as to what these stars-to-be may accomplish in the years to come, but it’s clear why they’re already shining bright on the Broadway stage.

When I Grow Up: Broadway’s Next Generation—Live at 54 Below is available at:
Amazon.com and on iTunes

Broadway Magic: Pippin’s New Spellbinding Production

April 28th, 2013 Comments off
The cast of “Pippin.” (photo: Joan Marcus)

I can count on one hand the number of breath-catching moments I’ve had sitting in a Broadway theater (Cherry Jones’ leap of faith in the final moment of Pride’s Crossing and Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald singing “Wheels of a Dream” in Ragtime just to name two.) Pippin, which recently opened at the Music Box Theatre in a mesmerizing production directed by Diane Paulus with choreography by Chet Walker and circus creation by Gypsy Snider is packed with them. Some are of the good ole’ Broadway hoofer variety, others rely on ingenious theatrical craft.

Pippin opened on Broadway in 1972. It had been a student project of composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz. He had scored big with Godspell in 1971 and after some sage advice from Harold Prince, Schwartz revamped the project with help of book writer Roger O. Hirson. Bob Fosse got wind of the project and the rest is musical theater history… sort of.

The response from critics was lukewarm but Pippin’s producers pulled their own magic, placing the first ad for a Broadway musical on television. Sales picked up and audiences responded. The show ran for 1,944 performances.

Take the jump for our review…

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Review Round-Up: Broadway Gets Hard

March 30th, 2013 Comments off

The cast of "Hands on a Hardbody." (photo: Chad Batka)

What happens when you pit 10 Texans against each other in a contest of stamina and strategy in order to win a brand new truck? Apparently you get a pretty decent new Broadway musical according to the reviews that have surfaced this week of Hands on a Hardbody.

Inspired by true events (and a 1997 documentary of the same name), the creative team of Doug Wright (book), Amanda Green (music and lyrics), Trey Anastasio (music), Neil Pepe (direction) and Sergio Trujillo (musical staging) have created a humorous and poignant look at ambition and the different facets of the American dream.

In spite of good notices, the musical is struggling at the box office — big time. According to The New York Post, there are rumors that the show’s closing is eminent in spite of stand-out performances by Keith Carradine and Hunter Foster.

Hands on a Hardbody
Brooks Atinkson Theatre
256 West 47th Street

Here’s what the critics have to say…

“Although it’s far from fully loaded in a conventional sense, this scrappy, sincere new musical brings a fresh, handmade feeling to Broadway, which mostly traffics in the machine tooled. (Last year’s Tony winner “Once” was a notable exception.) Burrowing into the troubled hearts of its characters, it draws a cleareyed portrait of an America that’s a far cry from the fantasyland of most commercial musicals. “Hands on a Hardbody” simply sings forth a story of endurance, hardship and the dimming American dream, which increasingly seems to hover on the distant horizon like some last-ditch motel whose neon lights are blinking out one by one.” The New York Times

“The production is earnest and solidly performed by a cast including Keith Carradine and Hunter Foster under the direction of Neil Pepe. But all of their skill, and the authors’, can’t finesse a problem of emotional scale. How much can even a Texan want a truck? When the opening number (“Human Drama Kind of Thing”) announces that the winning contestant is “bound for glory,” you feel the workings of a giant air pump artificially swelling the characters’ motivations to singable size. For all the worthy effort to valorize lives not usually depicted in musicals, this has the opposite effect: It makes them seem petty.

But then something happens near the end of the first act: The Bible-clutcher (Keala Settle, sublime) gets the giggles. This leads to a bravura laughing aria and, eventually, a mostly a cappella gospel number called “Joy of the Lord” that successfully combines the personal and communal and lifts the show into musical-theater heaven. It hasn’t much to do with the truck, but it’s daring and thrilling and wins some sort of contest, hands down.” Vulture

“Well, Broadway finally got itself an all-American musical in “Hands on a Hardbody.” The question is, will an all-American audience go for it? It’s hard to picture hotel concierges, travel agents and group sales ladies pitching tourists a show about some working-class stiffs from East Texas clinging desperately to a cherry-red pickup truck in a marathon competition to win it. Better to comp New York cabbies and cops to spread the word about this offbeat but totally endearing show. Still, no matter how this dark tuner fares under Gotham’s cold glare, regional bookers should be lining up six deep.” Variety

Review: Musicalizing the World’s Oldest Profession, “Rentboy”

March 25th, 2013 Comments off

Guest blogger Scott Redman gets an earful about the ups and down about life as an escort. Did he get bang for his buck or choose theatrical celibacy instead? 

The highs and lows of working as a rent boy are currently on display at the Richmond Shepard Theatre on East 26thStreet. Rent Boy, the Musical is a humorous jaunt into the world of male escorts and their clients. The show is framed as an awards show, appropriately named the Hookies with awards given out to male escorts for accomplishments in the “field.” The snappy show consists of multiple vignettes and songs featuring a talented ensemble of performers. The song list itself is enough to make you chuckle with titles including, “Pete’s Tool Rental”, “Tops and Bottoms” and “Who Invented the Jockstrap?”

The evening’s escapades are led by Awards Host & Master of Ceremonies, David Leddick, who not only stars in the production but also has written the book and lyrics. He brings to the stage a wisdom that is intriguing and experienced. He is brassy and takes the stage, fully loaded with one-liners and zingers throughout his performance. Leddick has a quiet moment in the act two song, “Waiting for the Dark Man” where he almost brings himself to tears while reflecting on his dreams of finding the perfect man.

The show isn’t nearly as trashy as it sounds. The tone is light and full of bawdy humor but aligns itself closer to a vaudeville revue more than Naked Boys Singing! This twist on the oldest profession is entertaining and creatively staged by David Kringery. The songs are very catchy and I caught my theater date humming one of the tunes as we left the black box theatre. This isn’t a show I would take my grandmother to but Rent Boy delivers the goods as a well produced evening of romp.

Rent Boy, the Musical
Richmond Shepard Theatre
309 East 26th Street
Through March 31

The cast of "Rentboy, the Musical" (photo courtesy of www.rentboythemusical.com)

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: Arcadia and Priscilla Queen of the Desert

April 6th, 2011 Comments off

Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up on what’s new on stage with a review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents.

First, one quick note: there are so many shows that have opened in the last month that I’m splitting my round-up into two parts to save us all from one eye-straining, mammoth post. Even I don’t want to hear myself talk that much. We’ll discuss the subtly linked (oh, such a tease)  How to Succeed and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo tomorrow.

Photo by Carol Rosegg.

ARCADIA

Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece about the dramatic goings on at an English country estate (and the researchers attempting to make sense of those events almost two centuries later) returns to Broadway in a production directed by David Leveaux.

“…a half-terrific revival of Mr. Stoppard’s entirely terrific Arcadia.” New York Times

“It’s easy to admire, but hard to love.” New York Post

Arcadia offers as thrilling and fulfilling a theatergoing experience as you’ll likely have this season.” USA Today

“Despite the mashup of Brit/Yank acting styles, helmer David Leveaux delivers a ravishing revival…” Variety

Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Mizer’s Two Cents:  I saw the original Lincoln Center production (when I was five…cough, cough) and it was one of the highlights of my theatergoing life. This production can’t compete against those glowing, though perhaps suspect, memories but it is a lovely and transporting mounting of a true work of genius. The stage crackles with wit and heart, keeping the focus clean and the momentum rushing forward. Though I agree with reviewers that some performances are not quite fully realized, Billy Crudup’s wickedly exuberant Nightingale and Lia Williams’ fierce and compassionate Hannah are revelations.

Now let’s confront the elephant (or better yet, the second law of thermodynamics) in the room. People say that they are intimidated by the erudition of Stoppard’s plays but Arcadia is not a physics/history/math lesson. It’s not a test and you will not need to bring your number 2 pencils. Yes, the characters talk about theories that are beyond the average theatergoer (and perhaps beyond the average Nobel Laureate) but that’s because they are highly specific and specialized characters. The point is not the minutiae of what they are saying but how and why they are saying it. Relax, roll with the characters’ enthusiasm and trust that Stoppard is smart enough to highlight what you really need to understand (and, the thing is, you will understand enough by the end to impress your friends at math parties.) All that truly matters in this achingly human play is that we are all searching, always needing to know what we can never know.

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Everybody March!

March 31st, 2011 Comments off

Arcadia. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

They say that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb but clearly “they” weren’t talking about Broadway theater. It’s like a twenty car pile-up of show openings out there, everyone trying to crash the party before the Tony eligibility deadline on April 28. Right now, there are overworked publicists surviving on nothing more than leftover pigs-in-a-blanket and fumes from their overheating blackberries. Pray for them. Here are a few bits and bobs to keep our energy up:

  • The new play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo opens tonight for a limited 16 week run on Broadway. The critical reaction to Robin Williams’ performance should be interesting to watch (and I’ll chime in next week in April’s  “To See or Not To See” round-up.)
  • The box office results are in and it looks like people are responding to the fizzy (and slightly filthy) fellas of Priscilla Queen of the Desert as well as the revival of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. In a perfect world, Arcadia would be raking in Wicked-dough for years to come.

We’ve made it through our first month and I want to thank everybody for reading and commenting; this should be a conversation between friends so jump on in and let me know what you’d like to see more (or less) of.  Keep up with posts by joining us on Facebook. And, finally, take a look back at some popular stories from March you may have missed:

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: Spider-Man and The Divine Sister

March 9th, 2011 Comments off

Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up on what’s new on stage with a review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents.

With the spring season about to ramp up, I thought I’d offer a sneak peek edition of “To See or Not to See” featuring a critical look at two shows that are up and running (or tumbling into the pit) and a tease for the three shows I’m most excited to catch in the months ahead.

Image via Google (Sara Krulwich, The New York Times)

SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK

Following multiple delays and bruised bodies (as well as egos), the bank-busting, comic book musical—directed by The Lion King‘s Julie Taymor and with music by U2’s Bono and The Edge—still hasn’t officially opened.  But that hasn’t stopped most major critics from piling on like a spandex sale at the Justice League.

Spider-Man is not only the most expensive musical ever to hit Broadway; it may also rank among the worst.” New York Times

“An inconsistent, maddening show that’s equal parts exciting and atrocious.” New York Post

“It’s by turns hyperstimulated, vivid, lurid, overeducated, underbaked, terrifying, confusing, distracted, ridiculously slick, shockingly clumsy, unmistakably monomaniacal and clinically bipolar. But never, ever boring.” New York Magazine

“Beyond the offstage drama and lavish budget, and all the feats and flash accompanying them, lies an endearingly old-fashioned musical.” USA Today

Mizer’s Two Cents:  If you love stagecraft, go for the jaw-dropping mixture of high tech wizardry and classic theater/puppetry techniques. And now with reports spreading that major reworking is about to happen (with script and music doctors), this could be a truly fascinating chance to see a new show being built before our eyes. But, at Broadway ticket prices, this graduate level theater class won’t come cheap. All that being said, I do hope folks can take a step back from some of the more sensational talk about the working conditions. One of the guys in charge of the flying harnesses actually flew me for a year when I was on tour and he would have thrown himself in front of a two ton set piece to protect me. Whatever stories have been spread, I’d wager my life savings that the crew of this show is doing everything humanly possible to ensure the safety of the performers.

UPDATE: NY1 is reporting that Julie Taymor is out as director. What a tangled web, indeed.

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