Tags: Catch Me If You Can musical, Sister Act musical, The Book of Mormon musical
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I can’t remember a time I spent a few days in NYC seeing musicals that there wasn’t at least one so-so show in the bunch…instead, all three musicals I saw this past weekend on Broadway were all excellent in their own ways, with their own strengths.
No doubt about it, Broadway’s hottest current ticket (and 9-time Tony winner) The Book of Mormon at the Eugene O’Neill theater is something else. It’s the strangest, dirtiest, and funniest musical I think you will ever see. And guess what — the tunes are hummable and pretty good!
The production is ensemble through and through, and while the leads are very strong, some of the ensemble members actually steal the show from time to time. And it’s meant to be that way. “Turn it Off”, a paean to repressed emotion, features the strongest song-and-dance sequence (although “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” comes pretty close too.) This is a show where the music and lyrics are so intricately integrated into the book, that the show virtually races from scene to scene and neither overpowers the other. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea; the show uses language that could make a sailor blush — but it’s all in good fun. Personally, it’s one of those shows where my parents would walk out minutes into the show — but it’s not designed for them, nor for the casual musical goer. Call this “South Park” for adults, humor run amuck. I loved every second of this deliriously funny musical. The merchandise stands do very swift business selling “Hasa Diga Eebowai” t-shirts. I suspect NYC schools will ban them this fall — the rest of the country needs to find out what that phrase means for themselves. You can get them online at bookofmormonbroadway.com/
A block north, Catch Me if you Can has taken up residence at the Neil Simon theater. This one is all about Norbert Leo Butz, who outperforms lead Aaron Tveit in every scene he is in. Not to say that Aaron isn’t very good — he certainly is (and he gets the requisite hoots and hollers when he takes his shirt off), but there is nothing in this show that can eclipse the Tony-winning performance by Norbert. If you saw his number on the Tony awards, you know he has energy to spare. But there is a lot of good going on this show, not the least of which are wonderful performances by Tom Wopat and Kerry Butler in supporting roles.
From music and lyrics to set design and costuming, this is a whiz-bang entertainment. The story works well in this musical setting, and it’s another great evening out for adults (I can’t imagine anyone under the age of 15 will be able to sit still for this one — it’s themes of self-creation, ego-disintegration, and self-centeredness require some maturity and life experience to fully appreciate.). The story unfolds slowly, in spectacular show-within-a-show fashion. You know how it ends. Getting there is what makes this so fun. And the direction (Jack O’Brien) and choreography (Jerry Mitchell) are about as fluid as you will find on Broadway right now. The production itself owes a lot to the revival of “Chicago” 14 years ago. The orchestra is on a tiered set onstage (a convention I don’t like in any production), and set pieces fly and pop-up through stage traps. Things run efficiently and very quickly to cover locals throughout the US and overseas. Had The Book of Mormon not raised it’s delerious head, this show would have won the Tony for Best Musical this year hands down.
And around the corner, Sister Act has what is sure to be a longterm home at the Broadway Theater. In a multi-million dollar production, the show is crowd-pleasing and family friendly (not something that can be said for most of the seasons other new shows).
The real find here is Patina Miller in the role created by Whoopi Goldberg. Her voice soars in the many gospel-cum-Broadway songs, and her stage presence in a force to be reckoned with….it’s the rare performer who can make someone like Victoria Clark (in a superb performance as the reverend mother) fight for her right to party. But she has had several years of experience stealing the spotlight: she also played the role on London’s West End where the show originated.
Granted, the storyline here is relatively thin — it’s up to the music and the very strong ensemble company to make this one shine. And shine it does. The crowd ate it up. You will too. Skeptics need not apply (see Book of Mormon instead).
Tickets for Catch Me If you Can and Sister Act are readily available online and at the box office. The Book of Mormon is another story altogether. I purchased my tickets while I was in NYC in December. The first good tickets I could find were this past weekend (in July). Tickets are on sale through 2012, and don’t expect to get any tickets for months – this is Broadway’s hottest ticket since The Producers, and because it isn’t reliant on specific “stars” it will continue to sell no matter whom is in the cast. By all means get tickets — just expect to wait.
“The Wedding Singer” – Dexter Community Players….or, how to make a community theater production look like a million bucks… July 27, 2011Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: community theater, Dexter Community Players, The Wedding Singer musical
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I’ve just completed directing and choreographing a weekend run of THE WEDDING SINGER, the musical, for Dexter Community Players in Dexter, MI. Not to toot my own horn, but the single most heard comment in the audience (besides what a fun show) was how professional the show looked and sounded. This is not a review. This is a blog entry about what goes into directing a show that looks and sounds as professional as you can make it.
1. Make sure you have great leads — in this case, Andrew Buckshaw (Robbie Hart) is a musical theater student, sure to be a future Broadway performer. Katherine Kujala (Julia Sullivan) is a recent graduate of University of Michigan’s Opera program, already an established performer. Almost all of the supporting cast are or were musical theater, or vocal performance majors.
2. Keep the set simple, fast to move, and streamlined. In community theater, unless you have a half million dollar budget, you can’t even come close to approximating the multi-million dollar Broadway sets. So you do elements of them: you make sure that they fly and move quickly; and you make sure that the show doesn’t stop to wait for set changes. Use fades, not blackouts. Stack sets that fly behind each other. Have more than one person on flyrails so things can move at the same time. Enlist cast members in helping with set changes. Keep it moving.
3. Get the best orchestra and sound designer you can get. We had an 11-piece orchestra under the direction of John Tartaglia that was composed of a mix of music professionals and the very best students we could find. Nothing says “amateur theater” like a bad orchestra. So make sure that it is not. The orchestra was the single most expensive aspect of this entire production. It also sounded like a professional pit orchestra. You get what you pay for. Our sound designer (Patrick Schrock) is an expert in blending vocal sound on stage with rock music in the pit. If you can’t hear every word, you don’t have a show.
4. Simplify choreography. Make sure that you give the ensemble steps that they can perform — your show is as good as it’s weakest link. Your choreography can be brilliant, but if only a few cast members can perform it, you have nothing. Keep the steps simple, repetitive, and throw in some fun steps that they enjoy doing and will take the time to learn. In this case, I rewrote large portions of choreography before even teaching the steps.
5. Light it. Make sure you have a terrific lighting designer. Kent Sprague is a lighting design major at Wooster College in Ohio. Not only does he have an eye for good, focused lighting, but he has a playful sense of color and design. In a show where lighting substitutes for sets, at times, you better make sure that lighting looks fantastic.
6. Make sure you have the details right. If the show calls for a mirror ball, make sure you have a mirror ball. If water needs to cascade onto a cast member, make sure you have an effect that works on stage, and “reads” in the house. If a dumpster is your most important set piece, you better make sure that dumpster looks like a dumpster. If your leads need matching jackets, make sure they have matching jackets.
7. Expect to spend more money than you originally budgeted. Nothing comes in under budget. Ever. Build in a slush fund, or make sure that your design team has deeper pockets than your budget allows.
8. Surround yourself with the best staff you can get — from designers to techies, make sure you have the best people you can find to fill each important role. Have regular production team meetings. Even with the best intentions, expect some miscommunications and work together to resolve difficulties. Have a great producer (Francyn Chomic). Stay in communication with the Board.
9. Stay calm and enthused. Not every rehearsal is going to run as smoothly as you like. There will be plenty of drama that arises offstage. These are actors and “theater people” — expect it!…Stay calm, easy going, and confident.
10. Remember that this is community theater. People expect it to look and sound like community theater, based on their past experiences. When they see something that looks and sounds professional instead, you’ll stun them. In this case, the production really fell into the category of “pre-professional”, given the quality and experience of the staff and most of the tech crew. Pat yourself on the back for a job well-done, and hope the next production at the theater will maintain the same high caliber. Create a new benchmark with each show, and keep the quality up.
Tags: Falling Skies, Noah Wyle, sci-fi, TNT
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If you haven’t tuned into TNT’s “Falling Skies” series, you should give it a try. It’s a family-based drama built around Noah Wyle and his family post-alien invasion, and it’s sort of a mashup of War of the Worlds, Independence Day, and V all rolled into one. A ragtag group of renegades and “fighters” go out to face the aliens who have killed most people, and taken children prisoner to act as servants. It’s all a bit bizarre, really, but it holds together well so far.
I’ve seen three episodes now, and the casting here is terrific. Produced by Steven Spielberg, it has the typical family moments that combine both pathos and humor, and it’s all done straight forward preventing too much camp. There are authoritarian military; mysterious renegades; and a slowly unfolding storyline that is richer than it first appears. Each episode has grown increasingly better.
The CGI work is superb and it really makes you think about how far television effects have come. This is motion picture quality here. If anything, there is a bit too little of it! The creatures are well rendered, but they appear for mere seconds in each episode.
The downfall so far: too much talk. Sure, you need to fill out characters and plotlines in a tv series, but it makes you wonder if this would not have played out better with less talk and whittled down to a 6-hour miniseries rather than a full blown season of tv episodes. Minor characters wax philosophical for five minutes at a time, and it all gets redundant.
Still, its entertaining, and better than most of the tv fare out there this summer. Let’s hope that this one lasts longer than Surface, Invasion and V (to which it has many similarities) and that TNT gives the show a chance unlike NBC and ABC respectively. But we all saw what happened with the superb Defying Gravity last season. Keep your fingers crossed.