Beauty and the Beast (NETworks non-Equity tour) Review March 31, 2012Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Tour, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
Tags: Beauty and the Beast musical, Beauty and the Beast tour, NETworks
It is the rare non-Equity tour that I review here. but NETworks production of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST has landed at the Stranahan Theater in Toledo, and this same company will be at the Fisher Theater in Detroit next week. The show is charming, but overall this is a mixed-bag production.
Note that this is NOT the original Disney tour with its stunning sets and costumes, but a completely re-designed version of the show that has its own charm, while missing the mark at some points.
The very hard-working cast, led by fresh Emily Behny as Belle and versatile Dane Agostinis as Beast, work hard to bring out the charm in what really is a lovely Disney script and score. There’s a bit too much slapstick and prat-falling by Logan Denninghoff’s Gaston and his comic foil Andrew Kruep’s Lefou. They are very good singer/actors stuck with some bad direction from Rob Roth. The rest of the cast are good in their respective roles, and give it 110% the entire 2 and a half hours. Yep, you heard right — the 2:20 show runs 2:30 here — some of that attributed to pauses and slapstick moments that grind the entire production to a halt for stretches at a time.
The requisite moments are lovely — “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast” radiate warmth and fun. The dance break in Gaston is masterly with clanking tankards and precision choreography by Matt West. But in my eyes, the “big moment” that most Broadway theater goers will remember from the original production was when the massive castle wall swung toward the audience and the Beast, alone in a starlit night atop a massive granite wall, sang “If I Can’t Love Her” — a theater moment that had many an adult eye tearing up at its sheer beauty. That doesn’t happen here. Stanley A. Meyer’s sparse open-frame metalwork platforms are too minimal to provide the grandeur needed in these sets, no matter how many pretty twinkling candles are flickering in their midst. It rotates. The stars come out. And you never once forget that you are looking at a stylized chunk of metal and hoping that Beast doesn’t lean against the railing with too much weight.
In another annoyance, there is a “sampler” type stitched background for the village-based scenes. Its colorful and clutters the stage so that even the lovely village homes and other pieces disappear into that clutter. It bothers me for another reason as well. I don’t recall American Sewing Samplers to be a staple of the French region in which the musical is based.
Its almost unfathomable to believe that Beast has been touring for (gulp) 17 years now. It’s a nice look at Disney book-driven story-telling, and the completely sold-out run at the Stranahan is a reminder of the need for this type of entertainment. Good thing Disney’s new Newsies is a hit — the world needs more family entertainment like this, and Disney knows how to make that happen. Too bad NETworks skimps on the details.
In a final note: SPOILED CHILDREN ALERT — I don’t know who to be angrier with — the 3-year old who sat behind me who talked through the entire production, or her mother, who kept answering all the kids questions and never once told her to shut up, no matter how many people tried to shush them. At best, they stayed quiet for a five-minute span while mother was shoving goldfish crackers and sippy-juice cartons in her mouth. For Heavens sake, if your child can’t sit still for an hour at a stretch, then they do not belong in a theater house of a Broadway tour yet. Enough said.
Superb cast in Encore’s GODSPELL (review) March 31, 2012Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
Tags: Dan Cooney, Encore Musical Theatre Company, Godspell, Godspell musical
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GODSPELL arrived at the Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter last night, and it is a tribute to director Dan Cooney and his superb cast and musicians that this production ranks right up there among the best, and in some ways superior to the current Broadway production.
This is an earthy revival of the show — and its 70′s roots shine through only momentarily as it runs its fleet two-hour course through many of the parables found in the book of Matthew. Trimming some of the fat; re-ephasizing portions of the show often left to be the dreck that they are; and finding some truly brilliant moments in it all (take the vaudeville quarter-size dancing body puppets as one of those examples), Cooney has brought his own spin to the material, and it all works very well on Encore’s stage (here transformed into a dilapidating old theater by stage designer Leo Babcock).
Let me be the first to say that if you asked my opinion on the ten musicals that rank among the worst ever written that have somehow managed to make it into the popular repertoire, Godspell is one of them. That being said, this production manages to avoid most of the pitfalls usually associated with the show: gone is the opening mumbo-jumbo philosophy section; gone are the ridiculous hand puppets; gone is the glitter and confetti and (thank God) the clown outfits.
Rusty Mewha both acts and sings with brio here as Jesus — in fact, his range just continues to grow and grow in the many shows I have now seen him perform in. Brian Thibault performs a solid Judas. The remainder of the cast is sublime — Brian E. Buckner not only performs but also plays piano in the ensemble; Keith Kalinowski shines in each of his numbers; Sonja Marquis and Amy Smidebush sing to the rafters; Angela Kay Miller and Fatima Poggi hit all the right notes in their various ensemble duties; Charles Lindsay is an angelic-voiced Lamar; and Tara Tomcsik delivers the evenings funniest lines and routines (her tap-dancing opening to Act II is both hilarious and demonstrates masterful control of overblown and very funny tap steps).
As the show works its way through Vaudeville; Grand Opera; Westerns: Gangster Flicks; and even a bit of A Chorus Line, the parables are clearly delineated stories, and I must say, Cooney has done a fine job of making sure that they are understandable and defined (something that can not be said of the energetic but bombastic current Broadway revival). Barb Cullen’s choreography matches the styles perfectly and blends nicely between movement and stage action. It bears repeating how glad I was that the hand-puppets are nowhere to be seen.
There was an opening night glitch when the voluminous stage smoke effect in Act II set off the building’s fire alarm. The cast didn’t miss a beat and worked their way through a portion of the show with the whining alarm in the background — and it says something that the audience sat raptly involved in the whole thing to the point where the alarm itself was barely discernible.
But this night belonged to Cooney and his cast. They are magnificent.
GODSPELL continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through April 22. Tickets are available at http://www.theencoretheatre.org or the box office at 3126 Broad Street, Dexter, MI 734-268-6200
Tags: Evita 2012 revival, Ghost the musical, Newsies the musical, Once the musical
Ah — Winter/Spring in NYC — 75 degrees in mid-march, and some hot shows heating up the Great White Way as well…Let me preface this by saying that only ONCE has officially opened — NEWSIES (opening next week), GHOST, and EVITA are still in previews. That being said, these shows aren’t going to change significantly between now and opening, so they are reviewed herein.
Let’s start with my favorite show in years: Disney’s NEWSIES. Jumping, leaping, dancing, and exploding across the stage of the Nederlander Theater, Newsies is sure to settle in for a long open-ended run (currently booking through August 19th). To put it quite simply, I haven’t been this thoroughly entertained by a musical theater piece since I can remember.
Jeremy Jordan (Bonnie & Clyde, Joyful Noise) leads an energetic and superb singing/dancing ensemble of newsboys in a musical crusade against Pulitzer and his plot to increase income by charging the newsies more per paper, leading to a strike. Throw in equal parts reporter as love interest (Kara Lindsay – as superb here as she was in the tour of Little House on the Prairie), badguy (John Dossett as Pulitzer who sings the one song that should be cut before opening) and showgirl (Capathia Jenkins)…have them all stirred up on Tobin Ost’s excellent tri-tower moving set; and you have the makings of a cocktail that goes down easily, and leaves you wanting to see the show again. Which is most likely exactly what Disney is aiming for here.
Jordan turns in a great performance as Jack Kelly. Andrew Keenan-Bolger turns in a warm performance as injured Crutchie; and the entire boys ensemble just shines. You’ll also find mixed into the lot previous So You Think You Can Dance finalists Evan Kasprzak and Thayne Jasperson; and up and rising dancer Ryan Steele.
But the real star of the show is Christopher Gattelli’s choreography which is classically Broadway and electrically athletic at the same time, without ever losing its classic ballet and modern dance core. It’s simply spectacular — and by the time the boys have exploded in duets, trios, and perfectly in-sync combinations midway through “Seize the Day”, your heart will completely be won over by this marvelous musical. By all means get your tickets now.
ONCE the musical which opened this past weekend, is a smart, cute, and charming show at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. It has opened to almost unanimous positive reviews, so who am I to say that I was less than enthralled by the entire thing? It’s a well-done drama with music, based on the off-beat indie film from a few years ago. Steve Kazee ( Guy) and Cristin Milioti (Girl) are marvelous in their roles which explore the subtle nature of love, healing, and re-connection.
The ensemble cast plays all of the other roles, and also play the musical instruments for the show (Who knew Andy Taylor could play Viola?). They are excellent. The musical numbers are about as “heavenly” as you can get and still keep your feet on the ground.
But therein lies my quip. This is more of a play with music than it is a fully-realized musical theater piece. At times, there are long stretches of dialogue and character development with na’ary a song to be heard for long stretches at a time. And when that story can’t hold your interest, it’s a struggle between the excellent musical numbers, and the long-drawn-out storytelling. I’ll be the first to admit that I really have no interest in small love stories, so right from the getgo I was in trouble here. Despite the rave reviews from the media, the audience reaction was somewhat more subdued. It got its obligatory standing ovation, but plenty of buzz by people heading out of the theater that it was less than fulfilling. Get there early, and you can enjoy a cocktail on stage and mingle with the band, who play Irish songs and set the tone for the show.
That’s not to say Once is not high quality. it is. But it shows its downtown off-Broadway roots throughout — and in a large proscenium theater the enitre affair seemed a bit distancing. Notwithstanding my own opinion, it is the clear frontrunner for Best Musical this season.
EVITA returns in a glamorous production at the Marquis Theatre. The star here is Elena Roger, Argentinian actress recreating her role from the West End (2006). But the obvious ticket-selling draw is Ricky Martin, judging by the audience reaction and age.
The piece is slightly reworked from it’s original run, and includes some additional dance music, and the song “You Must Love Me’, written for the movie, and now incorporated into most productions of the show. What is more than significantly changed is the set design — here, fully realized mansions, courtyards, interiors and exteriors with windows that open and shut, large portions of which glide forward, backward, and side to side. At some point you actually start wondering where it all fits. Thanks to a friend working on the show, I got a backstage tour after my matinee performance, and it’s quite astounding what goes on behind the scenes at this show.
Elena Roger is excellent in the role of Eva Peron, and from her first appearance its clear to see why she won every award there was to win for the West End production. Be careful when ordering tickets as her alternate Christina DeCicco performs at Wed evening and Sat mat performances. I am sure she is good, but the theatrical draw here is Ms Roger.
The ticket-selling draw is obviously Ricky Martin as Che, who turns in a very good performance in line with the Antonio Banderas interpretation of the part: gone are the sneers and angry snide remarks from the original production — instead, Che here is an everyman-observer. It works very well, although the impact of “Waltz for Eva and Che” is lessened in Act II as the two have no adversarial relationship, nor have they interacted directly in any previous scene. All is well in musical land though, as just a few moments later, her “You Must Love Me” brings down the house.
Overall, this is a very good production, and most likely the Best Revival winner in the coming season’s Tony awards.
Finally, the more problematic, but jawdroppingly entertaining musical GHOST has taken possession of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre right across the street from Ms. Peron. This show is clearly in preview mode, and some of the bells and whistles still need to be worked out, but it was a clear audience pleaser.
The cast is excellent, starting with clear-voiced Richard Fleeshman (Sam) and Caissee Levy (Molly) as our star-crossed lovers who suffer loss and find love after death. Bryce Pinkham plays smarmy friend Carl.You’ve seen the movie; you know the story; and its pretty much intact here with some very minor changes.
But what makes this show tick is Rob Howell’s brilliant design; Jon Driscoll’s eye-popping video projection design; and Paul Kieve’s jaw-dropping magical illusions that create miraculous things like Sam walking through doors; levitation; bodies dying on stage and instantly appearing on the other side of the stage watching it all happen; and in the most dazzling effect of all, Sam appearing and dissolving into nowhere in the show’s final sequence. Frankly, the book, music, and lyrics are all secondary to the special effects and stage design in this show — and it is honestly the first production I would recommend merely for the stage design alone making it worth the price of attendance.
Some parts of the show still need some work: it’s a time-proven piece that has been running in the West End for two years — but it still has a bit of West End edge to it that needs to be better Americanized in some areas (slapstick doesn’t work in some of the sequences for American audiences, where it works well in London). There is at least once song that needs to go. But overall, it’s a show that lingers quite pleasantly afterwards.
Ghost is a much much better show than it has any right to be. With some work, it can turn into one of the surprise hits of the season. I was enormously entertained, even while feeling a dissonance that I shouldn’t be enjoying the show as much as I was — and yet I did, and I do recommend it.
So there you have it — this spring’s rundown of musicals. Not reviewed: Leap of Faith, and Nice Work if you can Get It, which do not begin previews until April.
“Bring It On, the musical” tour (review), Chicago March 11, 2012Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
Tags: Bring It On the musical, Broadway in Chicago
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BRING IT ON, the new musical now on tour across North America aiming for Broadway is, in short. a very good musical waiting for a great musical to emerge. Seen at a Saturday Matinee at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace (the closest the show is coming to the area), the musical is none-the-less a standing-ovation, sold-out-house hit at the venue, and I have to admit, I and my theater partners had a great time.
Starring University of Michigan student Taylor Louderman, the cast is exceptional — in fact, they are better than the source material throughout. Most of the young (and hot) cast are on stage the entire two and a half hours. Comprised of Broadway veterans and a lot of new talent (much of it from the cheerleading/dance team/gymnastics circuits) the show concerns two rival cheerleading squads heading to regionals, and then nationals.
Any resemblance to the movie version of Bring It On stops at the name of the show and characters. This productions has an original book that combines equal parts Footloose, Legally Blonde, and every other teenage musical you have ever seen. It also borrows generously from All About Eve. The libretto is by Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), the Music by Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights), and Lyrics by Miranda and Amanda Green (High Fidelity). The score is strong. The book needs a little tightening in Act I, but in all reality, from the moment the show leaves lily-white Truman High and heads to rival more-diverse Jackson High, the show takes flight (and often stays there, 20 feet off the ground).
The entire cast is energized by Andy Blankenbuehler’s direction and choreography. Let me come clean right here — I was a university cheerleader, and the moves and routines in this production are genuine, accurate, and well-adapted into musical numbers. The aerials (sometimes more than 20 feet in height) are higher than regulation of course, but they are breath-taking on stage. Otherwise, it pretty much represents what it is.
Co-billed with cheerleader Louderman (as Campbell) is the superb Adrienne Warren, as tough-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold Danielle. Also worthy of attention is overweight Bridget (an exquisite Ryann Redmond) and uberbitch Eva (Elle McLemore). The men have less interesting roles (but much more to do). Charisma-free Jason Gotay needs to be replaced pre-Broadway as Randall. But watch the ensemble — for example Dahlston Delgado (himself a multi-award winner in cheering) is in virtually almost every scene. The other men and women of the ensemble change costumes as quickly as possible to become various members of the rival squads.
The set design by David Korins seamlessly integrates video, and the Lighting Design by Jason Lyons is eye-popping. The entire production is designed to move as quickly and as energetically as the performers on stage – often integrating live stage movement with video and screen movement across the stage. A particularly nice effect is the ticking countdown clock on-stage that merrily blinks to life 6:38 before the top of the show and counts down to the very first scene with dazzling effect — the crowd actually counts down the seconds during the last half minute, and it’s an exciting effect at 0:00 — in another brilliant example, one of the actors lets out an outraged scream up stage left and the video screens and lighting take it from there as the animated scream travels in concentric circles across the various elements of the set. Brilliant work.
So — here’s the scoop. The show does need some work prior to Broadway, in particular in giving the first half hour of the show a speed-pill to zip the action along; granted it’s used to introduce characters, but they are so paper-thin here that not that much exposition is required to get the ball rolling. The current effect is in essence that the first 25 minutes or so kind-of follows the original movie version of Bring It On; and then it suddenly veers off into its own delerious universe and never references the original again…so why start there?…
Second — this score is terrific. It really is. What isn’t so great is the constant interruption of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rap into the songs, where exposition and a lyrical line would work better. Sure, its designed to offset the suburban school from the urban school, but it doesn’t work. The hiphop numbers themselves are excellent. Where rap was used to define specific character traits in In the Heights, here it just gets in the way and makes the whole thing feel fake. I suppose this is where my own bias comes into play, since I hate rap.
Finally, the script needs to give Louderman’s Campbell a touch more of heart. Kirsten Dunst in the movie had it to spare, and it made you feel something when the rival teams go at it in the climactic final sequence. Here, it’s a rather dull finish to what has been a fast race to the Nationals.
But let me conclude by saying that this show is virtually critic-proof. It has a built-in fan base already, and the rowdy, cheering, screaming teenagers at the performance I saw are probably indicative of the general reception this show will have nationwide and eventually on Broadway — Give the audience some funny characters to laugh at; some brilliant dance routines to cheer for; and some fine-looking technology to back it all up, and your target audience will eat this show up for years.
For more information, and tour schedule, see http://www.bringitonmusical.com/
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Ann Arbor has its first must-see musical of the season — and it is brought to you by way of Ann Arbor Civic Theatre and their production of GREY GARDENS at the Arthur Miller Theater at the University of Michigan.
In a mesmerizing star-turn as Edith Beale/Little Edie Kathy Waugh turns on the charm and vocal highlights necessary for this very difficult dual-role and it is spectacular. You can’t keep your eyes off of her. Matching her blow-for-blow in Act II, Laurie Atwood plays the now-aged Edith Beale with both humor and pity so essential to this piece.
Under the direction of Edmond Reynolds, the remainder of the cast is generally strong — Thalia Schramm as Young Little Edie is particularly good; Sebastian Gerstner both charming and catty as George Gould Strong, and Charles Sutherland steady and able as Major Bouvier. The rest of the cast is comprised of Christopher Joseph (as Brooks Sr and Jr); Maeve Donovan and Audrey Wright as the Bouvier children; and Kevin Douglas Jr as Joe Kennedy and Jerry.
A true standout here is the superb orchestra work, under the direction of Tyler Driskill and a virtual who’s-who of Ann Arbor musicians in the 11-piece ensemble. It’s one of the strongest orchestras I have heard locally for a musical, professional or otherwise.
There is the rare stumble that reminds you that this is not professional theater — Leo Babcock’s well-designed set is sloppily painted; there are a few light cues that take a bit too long; and the costume design is hit-and-miss, especially a particularly glaring gaff in Young Edie’s engagement dress, which my theater partner last night turned to me and said “should be burned immediately”.
There are other things that make you sit back in surprise that this is indeed community theater: the lighting design by Tiff Crutchfield is sharp and the use of the haze system to make the light beams pop at the beginning of Act II something you rarely see at the amateur level; the sound design by Bob Skon is exceptional. The set dressings and props by Brenda Casher and Martha Montoye are spot-on. Stephanie Buck and Heather Wing supply beautiful wigs and hairstyles; and Rachel Francisco’s choreography is fun and character-driven.
But that brings me back to Kathy Waugh. Go see this show.
GREY GARDENS continues at the Arthur Miller Theater on North Campus through Sunday March 11th. Tickets are available at a2ct.org. As with all shows at the Arthur Miller, let this serve as warning: parking is not plentiful and there is a parking charge. Get there early, as seating is general admission, but mostly because parking is not sufficient and you might have a long walk to the theater from elsewhere on North Campus if the lot is full by the time you arrive.