Ron’s Broadway Awards 2012-2013 season April 21, 2013Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Musicals.
Tags: Best Broadway Musicals 2013
Pippin Broadway revival (Review) — Spectacular April 21, 2013Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: Diane Paulus, Fosse, Pippin, Pippin Broadway, Pippin musical, Pippin revival
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PIPPIN, revived by American Repertory Theater and opening this week at The Music Box Theater in NYC is, in a word, Spectacular.
This is turning into an exciting season: I feel sad because this year’s Best Revival of a Musical award would have otherwise gone to the excellent “Mystery of Edwin Drood” which I loved very much…but along comes the year’s other Best Revival of a Musical – PIPPIN, which I loved even more.
Re-staged (but incorporating much of Fosse’s original choreography by Chet Walker), director Diane Paulus sets the action in a circus-themed environment where Gypsy Snider of Les 7 doigts de la Main has created the circus stunts and effects. The circus performers are so well integrated into the ensemble cast of this production that you really can’t tell who is who — and that is Broadway magic.
Matthew James Thomas plays Pippin, and he is in excellent vocal and physical shape. He almost seems to mold himself from insecure nobody, to physical hunk before your very eyes. Patina Miller plays the Lead Player, and while it isn’t a definitive career move like it was for Ben Vereen, she is none-the-less perfectly cast and sings/dances up a storm. She is particularly good in the Fosse recreations within the “Manson Dance” and cakewalk sequence (which has been moved, inexplicably, toward the end of the show).
Terrence Man is a commanding King, Charlotte d’Amboise a wild-limbed but never out of control Queen Fastrada, and Rachel Bay Jones plays an endearing Catherine. Erik Altemus is an athletic and entertaining brother Lewis (among many of his other parts).
But that leads me to hand-her-the-T0ny Andrea Martin as grandmother Berthe. In the Irene Ryan role (and probably on stage a full 10 minutes in this production) she is going to walk away with gold come Tony night (and just about every other award night, mind you) for her trapeze-swinging performance. Its rare that you see a real showstopper these days, and this one does, and it deserves it. 66-year old Martin makes it look easy and with a wink and a smile she’s on her way. And talk about a show that everybody now knows: her sing-along is tremendous fun and I didn’t see a single person sitting around me that didn’t know the words! While Pippin is re-appearing in NYC again for the first time since the 70′s, it has been done by countless high school, college, community, and regional theaters for all these long years in between. I have personally directed it three times already.
There are some curious changes — in particular almost all the verses in “War is a Science” have been rewritten. New words are substituted in places throughout many of the “standards” which is a bit off-putting in a score that every man, woman, and child in the audience knows by heart. There is also an intermission added — which makes the under-two hour production now run 2 and a half hours and interrupts the flow, although as the Lead Player states leading into it “attention spans these days aren’t what they used to be.” Roger O Hirson’s book has been changed very little from the original, although some of the dialogue scenes in Act II which were so zippily played in throw-away in the original, here tend to drag on a bit.
Diane Paulus’s direction, overall, is fast-paced and clever. Things happen similarly to the Fosse original, and yet very differently at the same time — but never once in the evening does one feel that the show is far from the spirit of the original — and as things start to veer out of control in the larger dance numbers, she cleverly brings your eye back to the very original heart of Pippin still beating inside the modern staging…the hand claps and head turns are all still there in “War is a Science”…the aforementioned Manson Dance is there in its entirety complete with hand gestures and pelvic thrusts…the spear-carriers are there with their instantly recognizable stance…and once “On the Right Track” hits its stride about three quarters of the way through, you see a cast that not only channels Fosse, but excels in doing so and in some ways, outdoes the original.
In almost all ways, this new staging is superior to the original — its zippier, better focused, and better designed. The circus theme works well, and looks great on Scott Pask’s colorful set. Kenneth Posner provides excellent lighting, and Dominique Lemieux’s costumes take notes from the 70′s original, but create something all its own. She has better bodies to work with (the lithe thin lines of the original’s ensemble are here replaced by muscle in both men and women) and understands clothing flow to make it all look just right. Men’s shirts come and go throughout the evening, and women appear in various layers of clothing throughout.
And finally, oh that score. Stephen Schwartz’s songs stand the test of time – from “Corner of the Sky” to the stirring “Morning Glow”, the sing-along of “No Time at All”, and the lovely ballads “With You” and “Love Song” and all the tuneful rest. This is the way shows used to be written — lots of great songs strung together with creative choreography which made the whole greater than the sum of the parts it made of. Wink nod.
Highly recommended — and quite possibly one of the overall best musicals currently running on Broadway, new or revived.
Motown the Musical on Broadway review April 20, 2013Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: Motown the musical
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Move over Mamma Mia and Jersey Boys, Motown the Musical has taken your place as audience favorite…and count me in. I loved it.
The book by Berry Gordy is weak: but the music is a dream. Rapidly directed by Charles Randolph-Wright and zippily choreographed by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, the show barrels along over 67 Motown hit songs, some fully realized, some truncated.
The audience reaction throughout the show is ecstatic, clearly hitting an emotional note resulting in spontaneous applause, sing-alongs and shout-backs. This is probably the first rock musical ever aimed directly at 50 to 80 year olds. And boy, did the house love it at my performance this afternoon. And so did I.
The very talented cast is entirely interchangeable with the exception of the superb Brandon Victor Dixon as Gordy; Valisia LeKae as Diana Ross, and a heart-melting Charl Brown as Smokey Robinson.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not art. This is something different–a musical entertainment clearly meant to entertain and there is nothing wrong with that. Seen the afternoon after the nation sat rapt watching the capture of the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, the Act One finish to “War, What is it Good For” was absolutely stirring.
Motown the Musical is recommended. But its sold out through September so good luck with your ticket search.
“Jekyll & Hyde” Broadway Review April 19, 2013Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: Jekyll & Hyde 2013, Jekyll & Hyde musical
First, I have previously reviewed this production when it played at the Fisher Theater and that review is here: http://a2view.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=992&action=edit
Second, the show now seen at the Marquis Theatre in New York is basically identical to that seen on tour.
The New York Media have not been kind to this revisal, and of course, they weren’t kind to the original either. I happen to like this show, and I like this production, and my opinion after having seen it tonight has not changed.
Constantine Maroulis remains in fine vocal form, and it must take energy of steel to keep this up night after night. Deborah Cox, if anything, sounds even better than she did on tour. She seems to have grown into the role, and appears to relish the audience reaction. Teal Wicks remains clear-voiced and lovely in her underwritten role of Emma. “In His Eyes” with Cox has become a showstopper.
I continue to be impressed by the staging, which eliminates the milling and posing by the Ensemble from the original in 97. Here, everyone has a purpose, and every move has stage meaning. Calhoun has done a fine job making it all move dramatically around Tobin Ost’s set.
The audience reaction was, of course, diametrically opposite of what the critics would have you believe — in a full house, the audience was enthusiastic throughout and ecstatic after the major numbers. This is a show that is critic-proof, and those who hated it last time will probably hate it now; while those of us who liked it last time around will probably like it much better now.
One final note: I absolutely hate the Marquis Theater, which is just one big echo chamber with no charm whatsoever. I’ve hated it since it opened with “Me and My Girl” in the 80′s. I continue to hate it now, and it is the wrong venue for this show, which would have looked and sounded better in a smaller Broadway house.
Hands on a Hardbody (review) Broadway. March 24, 2013Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
Tags: Hands on a Hardbody, musical
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I’ve held off a few days on posting my review of Hands on a Hardbody, seen on Thursday night. I have to admit right off the bat that I didn’t like the show, and haven’t been able to put my finger on exactly why.
Trey Anastasio certainly creates a good musical score, if a bit too country-twangish for my taste. Its not the fault of the very strong cast from top to bottom, though their stereotyped roles certainly didn’t draw me in very much. And its not the direction, which does everything it possibly can to draw dynamic movement from a musical about a bunch of people standing around a truck holding on for dear life, in order to win the vehicle in depressed Texas. Based on the 1997 documentary of the same name, which I have to admit I also have no interest in seeing, its not the script, which tries to wring interest out of the setup.
But then there is the opposite: things don’t move enough, The show seems slow, and the set is basically one big advertisement for Nissan trucks. Much like Once last season, which I also did not particularly like, there isn’t anything exactly “wrong” with the show…it just wasn’t of much personal interest. It all seems very “small”, the stories just one piled upon another. I really didn’t care who won the truck, and that’s a big problem in a show where the entire purpose to have someone win the truck. Its about a truck.
And I can’t imagine this show is going to survive very long: seen only days after its official Broadway opening, the house was only about 2/3 full — not a good sign during the first weeks of a show. Its not a show I would recommend a casual visitor to NYC put on their must-see list (though I did recommend Once to friends that I thought would enjoy it). As usual, your mileage may very — and there have been a lot of good reviews for the show.
I’m going to stop here, because I really don’t have anything else to say.
Tags: Broadway, Matilda the musical
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Matilda the musical, now playing at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway, is a naughty big brash musical comedy freshly imported from London where it won a record number of Olivier awards a few months back. Half of that cast has come along for the ride.
It probably helps to have read Roald Dahl’s book prior to seeing the show: some audience might otherwise walk away from this show thinking “what the heck was that?” — it plays differently to adults and kids: adults can see the destructiveness of the dysfunctional parents and teachers on an otherwise genius young girl (a superb Bailey Ryon at my performance), while kids take the characters for what they are and revel in the revenge story. Its the rare musical these days you can take your 8-year old to that they will sit captivated by, while also entertaining you.
Bertie-send-him-his-Tony-now-Carvel plays a lunatic headmistress Miss Trunchbull in kinda the weirdest drag you will ever see on any stage anywhere. Lesli Margherita and Gabriel Ebert are terrific as Matilda’s white-trash parents, the Wormwoods. Ryan Steele turns in a fantastic dance role as ballroom dancer Rudolpho and Lauren Ward is practically perfect as Miss Honey.
I’m going out on a limb to say Matilda will pull a “Billy Elliott” at the Tonys this year and win everything except best score — Tim Minchin’s lyrics are ridiculously funny, his music bland and repetitive without a single standout. When it finally gets rolling with the luscious “My House” in the show’s penultimate scene, it peters out before you know it.
Peter Darling’s choreography is outstanding throughout, with “School Song” the highlight. Matthew Warchus directs as if the musical is Benny Hill on acid…sometimes its brilliant, sometimes it falls into British pantomime…but it is never ever dull. Your tolerance of the show will completely depend on your enjoyment of broad-stroke pratfalls and slapstick. Really big, over-the-top slapstick.
The audience ate it up. The kids (many many many) in the house loved it. What the heck, pack up the car right now and head to the Shubert for this season’s biggest hit.
Kevin Rose in Concert – Encore Musical Theatre (review) February 13, 2013Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
Tags: Kevin Rose
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Every now and then, a rising star swings through the Ann Arbor area, most recently thanks to Dexter’s Encore Musical Theatre Company, and treats the audience to an evening of polished, superb Broadway fare that really makes you think about the amazing talent out there in the world, and how fortunate we are in the area to have them drop by.
New York City-based Kevin Rose (recently appearing in Plaid Tidings, and now the title role in Joseph…Dreamcoat) took a night off from his normal musical theater duties to present a sublime evening of (mostly) love songs from Broadway, off-Broadway, and even a little Beatles sprinkled in. Supported by the ever-charismatic Sebastian Gerstner and pitch-perfect Thalia Schramm, clear-voiced Rose sang through delightful songs from She Loves Me, West Side Story, Into the Woods, Carousel, and some lesser known shows like I Love You Your Perfect Now Change, I Love You Because, and (ever workshopping) Elyria. Accompaniment was provided by R MacKenzie Lewis and his three-piece ensemble.
Rose’s voice is particularly lush in ballads like “If I Loved You”, and “My Funny Valentine”…but he also has a delightful mischievous side that had the audience rocking with laughter often throughout the 80 minute set. His musical choices are good, and the entire evening very well rehearsed and energized. Its a concert cabaret performance he can take with him anywhere, and I hope he does. Rose joins an ever-growing number of performers like Laura Osnes and Erich Bergen who can ply their wares nationwide, and share the enthusiasm of musical theater wherever they are through their cabaret performances. Meanwhile, you can catch Kevin in Joseph through March 3rd at the Encore.
SMASH is back, and its as infuriating as ever… February 8, 2013Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, TV.
Tags: Smash (2013), Smash NBC
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Reviewed after screening the first three hours of the new season (NBC has telecast to the first two hours this week).
Well, Smash is back on NBC, and your like (or dislike) of the show will directly relate to a) your ability to tolerate Katharine McPhee, b) your enjoyment of musical theater as a whole, and c) your like/dislike of soap opera.
Here’s the good news — they’ve toned down the ridiculous interpersonal stories for Messing and her husband (even if it does mean we don’t get to see the excellent Brian D’Arcy James anymore this season) and sent their whining son off to boarding school. They’ve also gotten rid of the horrendous scheming plotline for Ellis (goodbye) and enigma Dev (goodbye).
The many Broadway actors that appear in the show, in cameos, in songs, in backgrounds continues to astound — witness Brynn O’Malley’s excellent little scene firing Jack Davenport. Fun, fierce, and Facebook-worthy.
They’ve also brought on the excellent Jennifer Hudson and Jeremy Jordan, and UM’s Andy Mientus to round out a new storyline. In the first three hours, the show absolutely comes to life when Hudson or Jordan sing — and crashes when the old McPhee/Hilty story comes into view.
And the show actually follows the development of a musical more this season, rather than the soap-opera-like antics of supporting characters. How will the money for the production be raised. How will media rumors hinder the development of “Bombshell”, the Marilyn musical (note to producers: Marilyn Monroe is not interesting, and the musical version already bombed on Broadway), and how will distractions of lawsuits and sexual harassment play into the development of the show.
Pasek and Paul (another feel-good UM success story!) provide some new songs that are a notch above the “everything in Bombshell sounds like it was cut from Hairspray” music of last season.
But that is where the good news ends. The show still depends on time-worn cliches more relevant to soap opera than to musical theater, and a lack of reality that is astonishing…that any single producer or artistic staff of any show anywhere would cast the lackluster McPhee in a lead role over the superb Megan Hilty is just television storytelling of the worst kind. The entire storyline rings false from top to bottom. And when you bring in a rising star like Jordan, why saddle it all down with a ridiculous badboy drug-addict subplot…and throw superstar Hudson into another mother (Dreamgirl Sheryl Lee ralph)/daughter conflict subplot. BLECH.
The musical numbers continue to be the shows highpoint — and they are better integrated into the plotline this season; but the ongoing use of near-public-domain pop songs rather than theater songs is disappointing and panders to the American Idol and Glee set.
I say put Bernadette Peters and Sheryl Lee Ralph into a room and let them duke it out.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to see my Broadway folks at work…but I am not a fan of Smash, even though I watch it just to see what jawdropping disaster befalls the cast each week — like watching a train wreck, and enjoying it for what it is. Still, the show is a notch above most primetime soap-opera fare. But that is where it stands. Its not a comedy. Its not a drama. Its a bizarre mix of soap opera and musical theater. And that’s the view from here.
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It’s hard to make a “best of” list in this area of the country, since the blend of collegiate, community, and professional often overlap and sometimes Community theater productions can be as good as (or better) than some professional productions, while at other times, college shows can look better than Broadway tours….nonetheless, here is my summary of the good, the bad, and the ugly…
The Best overall community theater production this past year was: GREY GARDENS at Ann Arbor Civic Theater. Special kudos to Kathy Waugh for her terrific performance.
The Best summer theater production was: SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS at Croswell Opera House. Its been a long long time since Croswell had such a dance-tacular production, thanks to the Hissong’s direction and choreography.
The Best summer theater production that was indistinguishable from a Broadway Tour: AVENUE Q at Croswell Opera House. It was so good, it was hard to even compare it to other local productions, it had to be held to professional Broadway tour standards — and it was as good as, if not better, than the tour that came through Michigan a few years ago.
Speaking of tours: The best Broadway Tour to come through Detroit was: JEKYLL & HYDE — Broadway Bound with a spectacular Tobin Ost set, and a remarkable performance by Constantine Maroulis.
The best Broadway Tour to come through Wharton Center in East Lansing was: ANYTHING GOES, with a touring cast led by Rachel York that was stronger than the Original Broadway cast.
The best local university musical was: CHICAGO at the University of Michigan. Although it had strong runners-up in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (also at UM) and LEGALLY BLONDE at MSU. Also delicious was SWEENEY TODD at Sienna Heights.
Speaking of Legally Blonde: I saw 4 productions of this show, and despite varied levels of good lead performances, it just goes to show that this is a musical that is hard to recreate without a multi-million dollar budget. The Original Broadway production is so deeply visually ingrained (thanks to MTV’s relentless showings a few years ago) that any non-professional production just pales in comparison. One favorite note: in the Croswell production, when the trailer door stuck, David Blackburn hilariously announced “I’ll just use the back door!” and came around from stage left complete with bulldog. It was the biggest laugh of any show I saw this past year.
The best small-cast show of the year: THE LAST 5 YEARS at Jackson Symphony Space — Jayna Katz and Adam Woolsey blew the roof off of the place nightly.
The best “becoming an annual tradition around here” musical: EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL at Dexter Community Players. Expanding community theater’s boundaries by squirts and bounds, with a strong cast and twice the splatter-power.
I wasn’t impressed much by any of the local professional musical theater productions this year, although there were some mighty fine performances. The Dionysus Theater made a strong debut as a professional theater company with their holiday offering HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS – right out of the gate hitting all the right notes in a finely performed production in a gorgeous proscenium theater space. A couple shows will go without mention here, because I abhor when major changes are made to Broadway musicals to fit a director’s “vision” or a small budget — but it is worthy to mention the lovely GODSPELL at Encore, where Dan Cooney took a show that has become bloated and almost unwatchable over the years, and turned it into a fresh, sparse, and clown-makeup-free delight.
Finally — one “ugly” — the reworked BEAUTY AND THE BEAST arrived at the Stranahan on tour, with a non-equity NETworks production, featuring some of the ugliest costumes and sets I have seen in a Broadway tour. UGH.
“Les Miserables” movie is stunning, emotional, and divisive (Review) December 27, 2012Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Entertainment, Movies, musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: Les Miserables movie
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Do you hear the people sing? Do you scour all the movie reviews to decide if you want to see a movie or not? Do you trust your Facebook friends and their opinions? It seems everyone has an opinion on “Les Miserables”, the movie adaptation of the long-running stage musical. I, among many, just loved it.
Arriving nearly intact from its stage incarnation, its a good adaptation of the musical, and almost every change made is helpful. A few of the songs have been re-ordered to give them more flow in a movie setting, and a few lyrics have been changed, along with two all-new recitatives that catapult several short scenes into one There is also one new song, “Suddenly”, added for your consideration, Academy (since songs from another medium are not eligible).
Hugh Jackman is a convincing Jean Valjean, and delivers the money songs at full voice. There’s little subtlety in his performance, but it fits the style of this production. Sure, Alfie Boe would have sung a far superior “Bring Him Home”, but Alfie Boe would not have sold 18.5 million dollars worth of tickets in the first day. Russell Crowe, much maligned as Inspector Javert, actually turns in a very decent performance — having seen the stage production in London, NYC, and various tours probably more than a dozen times, I can easily say that he is no worse than some stage Javerts, while a far cry from the best of them. His singing voice is somewhat lackluster: its not off key, it’s not horrible, but it lacks inflection. While lack of inflection seems to be a necessity in rock bands these days (of which Mr Crowe is a longtime participant in addition to his acting career) its detrimental when singing a semi-operatic musical theater score. While his songs don’t soar, I imagine 99 percent of movie goers aren’t going to care, as long as there are lots of closeups of his eyes. One of the movie reviews I read called him a “singing fire hydrant”.
Anne Hathaway gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Fantine, and her “I Dreamed A Dream” will win her that statuette next month. Might as well mail it to her already.
Amanda Seyfried (Cosette) and Eddie Redmayne (Marius) both have too much vibrato in their voices, but their acting is genuine and in the case of Redmayne, at times exhilarating. “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is emotionally overwhelming. Samantha Barks fares better as Eponine, but then she gets the musicals best songs by far. Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen play the Thenardiers for laughs, and the parts are what they are — they are out of place in the stage musical, and they look even more out of place in the movie. Aaron Tveit makes for an excellent Enjolras. The ensemble is terrific — and if you look closely, you will find dozens of Broadway and West End musical theater up and comers, in particular the guys playing the student compatriots of Marius and Enjolras.
Director Tom Hooper’s approach to the film is to close down some of it into closeup, while opening up other scenes for wide panoramas of sweeping scope. Aside from one odd shot in which St Paul’s Cathedral is visible in “Paris” (the movie was filmed in London), the sets look appropriately Parisian in nature. Most of the movie is filmed using hand-held cameras — now the standard for most action movies, new for musicals to be sure. There are some extreme closeups, and there are dizzying angles and camera sweeps. Photographers refer to putting things in “thirds”…Hooper works, at times, in “fourths” – with Javert, in particular, often appearing in the 4th quarter of the screen with nothing in the first three quarters. Its off-putting, and unique. After awhile, you start to feel that you are part of the action, that you are there, that you are peeking at the action from behind a crate or a ledge above; and Hooper wants it that way.
Les Miserables has always had its debates among the performance set: it’s an operetta masquerading as a musical…it’s a musical with operatic overtones. Its overblown, its overlong, its perfect. It should come as no surprise that the same debate rages now that the movie has been released. Take a look at the Broadway forum “All That Chat” for plenty of vitriol and debate. Reviews have been all over the map.
In reality, I don’t think it matters. Chalk up Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman), Best Actress (Anne Hathaway), Best Supporting Actor (Eddie Redmayne), and a slew of technical awards, from costumes to scenic design.