The Addams Family musical – Chicago (Review) – Funky fun! December 21, 2009Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, musical theater, Theatre.
Tags: Adam Riegler, Addams Family, American musical theatre, Andrew Lippa, Bebe Neuwirth, Broadway, Broadway musicals, Carolee Carmello, Chicago theater, Jackie Hoffman, Julian Crouch, Kevin Chamberlin, Krysta Rodriguez, Nathan Lane, new musicals, Phelim McDermott, Sergio Trujillo, Terrence Mann, The Addams family Musical, Wesley Taylor, Zachary James
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Before even commencing with a review, let me state three things. 1) I LOVED this new musical and had a great time. 2) You will either love it or find yourself being indifferent to it depending on your level of a) appreciation for great performances, music, and stagecraft, and b) your tolerance for quirky lunacy. 3) The New York critics are going to chew this up and spit it out — they tend to be a humorless bunch, but audiences are going to flock to it and love it.
There are big big names associated with The Addams Family musical. It has a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (UM grad). It is choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, and directed and designed by Phelim McDermott & Julian Crouch.
What, you ask? Who are these people? They are some of the most influential professional musical theatre leaders. Sergio choreographed Jersey Boys, Memphis, and Next to Normal. Marshall co-wrote Annie Hall, Sleeper, Manhattan and slew of other Woody Allen movies. Rick wrote Jersey Boys. Phelim and Julian designed and directed Shockheaded Peter and a slew of other international theatre hits. Andrew wrote The Wild Party, john & jen, and all the new songs for the revisal of Your a Good Man Charlie Brown. This is a singularly sensational group of creators.
The show stars Bebe Neuwirth, Nathan Lane, Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello, Kevin Chamberlin, Jackie Hoffman, Zachary james, Krysta Rodriguz, Adam Rieger, Wesley Taylor, and a 16 member ensemble. And they are great.
Nathan Lane plays the part of Nathan Lane as only Nathan Lane can. (He plays Gomez with a manic energy, a faux-Spanish accent that comes, goes, and reappears and comes closest to sounding spanish only in his pronunciation of words like “chorizos”). Bebe Neuwirth is a delectable Morticia, and shines in her “Second Banana” number at the top of the second act. She wears a dress that is hard to imagine how difficult it is to get into every evening. Terrence Mann plays straight-laced Mal Beineke, and Carolee Carmello his uptight wife, Alice (in a star-turning role). Jackie Hoffman is a hilarious Grandma, Krystal Rodriguez a wonderful Wednesday, Kevin Chamberlin as excellent an Uncle Fester as you could find, and Zachary James a simply astounding Lurch.
There isn’t much book to speak of: Wednesday (just turned 18) is in love with straight-laced friend from school Lucas (Wesley Taylor) and is mortified to find that Morticia insists the two families meet for dinner. What follows is a knock-off of the basic storyline of La Cage aux Folles as the two families mix and mingle in the most peculiar of ways, each learning something from the other in the process.
The music here throughout is terrific, and Andrew has written wonderfully clever lyrics. Hopefully the sound system will be a bit clearer on Broadway than it was at times here. The set is remarkable — a series of walls, staircases, and surprisingly large open spaces that move, change, rearrange, and make up the crazy world that is the Addams household. The lighting is noteworthy – there is some very pretty stagework done here by Natasha Katz and her crew. Makeup, puppetry, costuming and special effects throughout are good.
Make no mistake here — this is a show filled with lunacy and lighthearted fun. The jokes come rapidly, and sometimes too quickly. Many of them fall flat. This is broad comedy, and it’s delivered and performed splendidly by this fine cast. There is much that is instantly familiar to watchers of the tv show and movies, but it does not stick to that formula — rather, it is composed of a series of vignettes, jokes, and scenes based on the cartoons of Charles Addams, and not intended in any way to resemble what is already known. Thing appears momentarily, and so does Cousin Itt, but they aren’t recurring characters.
Uncle Fester flies (twice!); Grandma curses up a storm; Pugsley creates mischief; Wednesday tortures her brother but is also intrigued by the big wide world out there for the taking; and Lurch makes you laugh in every scene he is in.
Does it need some work? A little. I am confident it will be fixed by the New York opening. The lightbulb in Fester’s mouth is great. When the ensemble echos it, it’s just stupid. That needs to be cut. Some of the jokes need to be fixed and just fall flat. Bebe needs to drop her character voice when singing and just sing. Nathan needs to be toned down a bit more, and someone needs to work with him on his Spanish accent, but I’m not sure he’s an actor amenable to a lot of coaching — at either rate, he needs to be reeled in a bit. Some of the ensemble need to be pulled back into the background a bit more and not dance in One while the leads are in One. The show itself never feels too slow, and is a breezy 2 1/2 hours, so it’s just right for an evening of Broadway entertainment. But it does need those jokes to be fixed.
But there are brilliantly creative moments here as well: a tassel falling off the act curtain and running away…Fester flying to the moon…well-staged sword-play, and some great surprises.
In short, I truly loved this musical. I saw it with two seasoned musical theatre fans, and they both loved it too. The Chicago media was split — The Sun Herald gave the show a 4-star rave. The Tribune a 2-star average rating. The New York media will most likely split on this as well — but one thing was clear: the audience adored the show. It got a rousing standing ovation for the cast, and people left the theatre in a great mood. And that is a very good thing in this poor political and financial climate. I’ve read a few blog entries where people either loved it or were indifferent to it as well — and I think that is how this one is going to play out. Another friend said that he was surprised I liked the show, his friends had walked out at intermission. Well let me tell you, I did not see one person leave at the sold-out snowy Sunday afternoon performance that we saw in Chicago. I saw a very happy audience that was positively abuzz with laughter during intermission and back in their seats ready to go for Act 2. I also saw a long line of frozen theatre goers waiting in the cancellation line for possible tickets for the performance. I smell a big fat hit. I am going to go out on a limb and say, this show is at a point in its development that it is already critic proof.
If you live in the regional area — see if you can get to The Addams Family — and go have a great time. It’s also generally family-friendly though it does skew to an adult audience. The full website for the show is here: http://www.theaddamsfamilymusical.com/
UPDATED 12/29/09 — It has just been announced that Jerry Zaks will be brought in to review and fix the parts of the show that are not currently working! This is great new, and perhaps he will do a good job of reigning in Nathan Lane since they are buddies who have worked together before. For the NYT article, see this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/29/theater/29addams.html?ref=arts
And that’s the view from Ann Arbor today.
Tags: Broadway, Chicago theater, Cleveland theater, Detroit theater, Encore Musical Theatre Company, Michigan Theatre, musical theater, musical theatre, professional theater, Toronto theater
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Broadway is alive and well across the region during the coming musical theatre season. Note that the following list is not comprehensive, and it does not include any community theatre listings nor small venues, only professional theatre in full-sized houses. I have included UM and MSU seasons at the end. This includes Detroit musical theatre venues, as well as those within a short drive of Detroit. Particularly noteworthy this season is the pre-Broadway tryout of The Addams Family in Chicago this fall — starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth. Also noteworthy is this fall’s The Boys in the Photograph in Toronto, a reworking of the Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Beautiful Game.
Support Broadway. Go see a Broadway show.
BROADWAY IN DETROIT 2009-2010
Ethel Merman’s Broadway (Gem Theatre) Sept 9 – Dec 31
Phantom of the Opera (Detroit Opera House) Sept 8 – Sept 27th
Legally Blond (Fisher) Oct 15 – Nov 01
Jersey Boys (Fisher) Dec 17 – Jan 23
The Wizard of Oz (Fisher) Jan 29-Feb 14
Young Frankenstein (Detroit Opera House) Feb 23 – March 14
Spring Awakening (Fisher) April 20 – May 09
OLYMPIA ENTERTAINMENT DETROIT (Fox) 2009-2010
101 Dalmations, The Musical Nov 17-22
Little House on the Prairie, The Musical Dec 1 – 5
Jesus Christ Superstar with Ted Neeley, Feb 14
STRANAHAN THEATRE TOLEDO 2009-2010
The Wedding Singer Oct 1 – 4
The Drowsy Chaperone Jan 14 – 17
The Rat Pack is Back Feb 25 – 28
Wicked March 31 – April 18
BROADWAY IN CHICAGO 2009-2010
Jersey Boys (Bank of America Theatre) Open ended run
Spring Awakening (Oriental Theatre) Aug 04 – 16
Cats (Cadillac Palace) Oct 13 – 18
Young Frankenstein (Cadillac Palace) Nov 3 – Dec 13
The Addams Family Pre-Broadway tryout (Oriental Theatre) Nov 13 – Jan 10
In the Heights (Cadillac Palace) Dec 15 – Jan 03
Dreamgirls (Cadillac Palace) Jan 19 – 31
Mamma Mia! Jan 19-24
Annie Jan 19-24
The 101 Dalmations Pre-Broadway tryout (Oriental Theatre) Feb 16 – 28
Billy Elliot (March 18 – this is a sit-down)
Beauty and the Beast (Mar 23 – Apr 4)
Shrek The Musical (Oriental Theatre) July 13 – Sept 5 (unconfirmed: this will be a sit-down)
Tap Dogs – Oct 24
Menopause the Musical – Jan 15-16
Camelot – Jan 30
A Year With Frog and Toad – Mar 7
Forbidden Broadway 25th Ann tour – Apr 17
PLAYHOUSE SQUARE BROADWAY IN CLEVELAND 2009-2010
Young Frankenstein (Palace) Oct 13-25
Chicago (Palace) Jan 12-24
In the Heights (Palace) Feb 9 – 21
Xanadu (Palace) March 2 – 14
Grease (Palace) May 11 – 23
Fiddler on the Roof (Palace) June 15-27
TORONTO MIRVISH and DANCAP 2009-2010
Jersey Boys (Toronto Centre for the Arts) Open ended run continues
The Sound of Music (Princess of Wales) Open ended run continues
The Boys in the Photograph (aka: The Beautiful Game) (Royal Alexandra) Sep 22 – Nov 1
Rock of Ages (April 20 – June 6)
Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Spring 2010 venue TBA)
Fiddler on the Roof (Dec 2009/Jan 2010 Venue TBA)
Young Frankenstein (Mar/Apr 2010 Venue TBA)
Little House on the Prairie The Musical (Jan/Feb 2010 venue TBA)
THE WHARTON CENTER AT MSU BROADWAY SEASON East Lansing (2009-2010)
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (Dec 8-13)
Young Frankenstein (Feb 2 – 7)
A Chorus Line (April 6 – 11)
South Pacific (Lincoln Center version) April 27- May 2
The 101 Dalmations Pre Broadway Tryout )Jan 26-31)
Phantom of the Opera (May 19 – June 6)
MILLER AUDITORIUM (Kalamazoo) 2009-10 Season
The Wedding Singer (Oct 20-21)
Stomp (Jan 19-20)
Menopause The Musical (Jan 29-31)
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (Feb 23 – 25)
Avenue Q (April 21-22)
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN MUSICAL THEATRE PROGRAM
Evita (Lydia Mendelssohn) Oct 15 – 18
Ragtime (Power Center) April 15 – 18
MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY THEATRE PROGRAM (Pasant Theatre)
The Rocky Horror Show (Sept 25 – Oct 4)
Rent (April 16 – 25)
On the current state of musical theater locally… February 7, 2009Posted by ronannarbor in Theatre.
Tags: Ann Arbor, Blackbird theater, Chicago theater, Cleveland theater, community theater, Detroit, Detroit theater, EMU theater, Encore, Lansing theater, musical theater, Performance Network, professional theater, Purple Rose, Toronto theater
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This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the premier production of the new “professional” Encore Musical Theatre Company’s EVITA in Dexter, Michigan.
First, the theatre itself is nice. It needs some makeup – like hiding or painting everything on the ceiling black, including the heating/air conditioning ducts and vents. Apparently, they got a 40,000 dollar donation of heating/cooling. That is awesome! But it needs to be hidden. Similarly the lighting needs to be adjusted, and the spotlight moved so that it avoids hitting lights and sound equipment and throw shadows on actors faces. That can all be ironed out as the season progresses.
But then things get worse. The production itself was little more than a community theatre production with several good Equity leads. The show was directed as if it were in proscenium rather than a blackbox theatre, and it was both too large for the space and too small to do the show justice. JESSICA GROVE (Eva) and DAN COOLEY (Che) were the standouts here, with kudos to STEVE DEBRUYNE (Migaldi and assorted parts) as well. THALIA SCHRAMM (Mistress) is an up-and comer (good in the recent A2CT FOLLIES as well). JOHN SARTOR, though handsome, was forgettable as Peron. The ensemble was utterly distracting and in over their heads; and the musical direction was spotty. The orchestra was woeful — and was in tune only when keyboards were in use without any other instruments. Musical entrances were consistently missed (the theatre needs a video system with television so the actors and the backstage musical director can see each other). In general, the show was well-directed. The choreography was interesting and fun (although completely too difficult for the community-based ensemble, that neither looked, nor moved, like dancers capable of doing strenuous stage dance).
And therein today’s rant — if you want to do professional musical theatre, you have to do it right. The Encore Theatre space itself is lovely for smaller shows and cabaret. That’s where their focus should be at this point. Forget the big blockbuster musicals that smack of community theatre (and some of it, frankly, much better in the area — see Croswell Opera House for example). Focus on smaller, 4-6 cast member ensemble musicals. Romance/Romance; The Last Five Years; Baby; They’re Playing Our Song; Weird Romance; Oh Coward; etc. This would be a lovely space for Passion, or The Light in the Piazza, or Floyd Collins. Anything but big shows.
I’m already frightened by their announcement that the coming two shows will be GUYS AND DOLLS and OKLAHAMA….What??? Those are both big-proscenium dance shows. EVITA has proven that can’t and shouldn’t be done in this space. And the ensemble here proves that you can’t rely on small-town talent alone to fill out a professional theatre ensemble. Sorry folks — despite some lovely voices and some good dancers (some, not most), this is not professional theatre quality.
The choice of the shows themselves is problematic. Are Dan and Company aware that GUYS AND DOLLS has been presented by every single community, college, high school, youth, and church basement theatre in Ann Arbor and environs in the last 10 years? Who wants to see this show, professional or not professional? It’s always more fun for the actors than the audience, but all the potential actors have already done this show!
I was honestly quite sad after seeing EVITA and seeing this attempt at professional musical theatre fall far short. It wasn’t for lack of effort. Dan and Company have put a tremendous amount of energy and heart into their efforts. I’ve been wanting to launch a professional musical theatre here in Ann Arbor for years, but there is just plain old no space to do normal proscenium-based large orchestra musical theatre here in Ann Arbor. None of the existing theatres can grant access for more than a week at at time, and are scheduled years in advance. And unlike most other communities across America, the high school auditorium access is non-existent (did you know, for example, that in the Ann Arbor school system, if you rent a theatre for a week, if one of the high school clubs decides they want to use the auditorium for a meeting one night the Renter is OUT OF LUCK and is thrown out while the club meets!).
This leaves plenty of room for chamber-musical companies like Encore to fill the void. But what you get is not what you expect — and not in a good way either. As it is, their first production is just another community theatre show, with good leads, and worse overall production values.
An example can be made of Performance Network’s recent attempts at musical theatre. SHE LOVES ME was the perfect professional musical theatre production a few seasons ago. MAN OF LAMANCHA was too small (I hate when theaters rip out the chorus, cut the dance numbers, cut the orchestra and still call it a “musical”); and THE BAKERS WIFE showed what happens when you try to do a big proscenium show in a cramped space with a female lead who can’t carry the part. Encore can learn from Performance Network’s mistakes.
There are a couple other shows of note that should probably be mentioned…ANNIE GET YOUR GUN presented by Burns Park Players at Tappan Middle School is exactly what all their other shows have always been — enthusiastic, big, far too many cast members, and completely entertaining as a community-based experience. Be warned, if you don’t live in Burns Park, you are kind of an afterthought in the audience…meanwhile, over at Eastern Michigan University, REEFER MADNESS is lighting up the stage (so to speak)….dare you not to laugh yourself silly…
Non-musical wise; THE GRAPES OF WRATH at Blackbird did a two-night staged reading of the masterwork. It deserves a full staging at some point. Bart Bund and company continue to do the most innovative theatre this side of Performance Network before it went professional and started selling out to more crowd-friendly works. Michelle Mountain continues to chew up the scenery (and I mean that in the absolute best way) at Purple Rose in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. This performance deserves to be seen and savored — if this were on Broadway, hers would be a shoo-in for Best Actress. Hats off to Purple Rose for consistently the best acting and ensemble work in southeast Michigan.
I saw EVITA with a dear friend who is also theatre-savvy and we both agreed that with the tremendous amount of professional musical theatre tour shows available within a few hour drive of Ann Arbor, it makes it increasingly difficult to settle for the mediocrity of the local community theatre musical scene, or for that matter, even recent “professional” attempts at local musical theatre. To truly see professional musical theatre, you need to have a truly fully-staged professional musical.
For the record, Detroit is currently hosting SPAMALOT and just completed runs of WICKED; AVENUE Q; A CHORUS LINE and IRVING BERLIN’S WHITE CHRISTMAS. Coming up are MOVIN’OUT; SWEENEY TODD; FIDDLER ON THE ROOF; ANNIE; RENT; GREASE; and JERSEY BOYS. A few hours away, in Toronto, you can see DIRTY DANCING THE STAGE SHOW; THE SOUND OF MUSIC; WE WILL ROCK YOU and JERSEY BOYS. A few hours away in Chicago, you can see JERSEY BOYS, DIRTY DANCING and XANADU, and coming soon: MARY POPPINS, LEGALLY BLONDE, and SPRING AWAKENING. Lansing’s Wharton Center is hosting SPRING AWAKENING’s national tour in just a few weeks. Two hours away in Cleveland, you could have seen A CHORUS LINE or LEGALLY BLONDE this fall, and MARY POPPINS and SPRING AWAKENING this spring and summer.
It makes the head spin. There is always a place for community theatre, since it has such strong volunteer roots, and it has educational purpose. But it’s a different story when you start calling yourself “professional.”
Bar none, the only “professional” quality musical theatre productions in Ann Arbor are being presented by the University of Michigan’s Musical Theatre Program. Go see one of their fully-staged productions and you will immediately spot the difference between professional and amateur-quality musical theatre.
And that is the current state of musical theatre locally…