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The Mystery of Edwin Drood is Satisfying, Enjoyable, First Rate (Review – Ann Arbor Civic Theatre) June 2, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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“DroooooooooD!”

Do you find reading this name to yourself is a little amusing? Bet your lips puckered without your realizing it. Try saying it aloud; bet you can’t without having a little fun with it. At A2CT’s hilarious production of  “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre this weekend, you can think it, say it, sing it, even stand up and shout it at the top of your lungs and you will be in good company. It is encouraged and it is satisfying, much like the performance that surrounds it. It’s no wonder this interactive Rupert Holmes musical won several Tony Awards. It’s that fun.

As the real story goes, The Mystery of Edwin Drood is the final novel written by Charles Dickens, who died before completing it, leaving the explanation of the title character’s mysterious disappearance unresolved. However, in the musical, we, the audience, get to affect the show’s ending by voting for the murderer (if, in fact, Drood was murdered) as well as decide the fate of other characters. Actors find out live if they have been selected and they have seconds to step into their role. There is a blackboard in the lobby after the show so that you can see the actual audience vote count as you leave.

The musical is a show within a show so every actor plays two roles: “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is performed by various characters in a London music hall aptly named, Music Hall Royale, in 1892. The music hall story centers around Drood (flawlessly played in trousers by Vanessa Banister), who is affianced from birth to the lovely Rosa Bud (lovely in looks and voice Kimberly Elliott), who is the object of her opium-addicted choirmaster John Jasper’s affection (brilliant Roy Sexton). But Jasper is not the only one who craves the affection of Miss Bud. Ceylonese refuges Neville Landless (Brandon Cave), twin sister Helena (Becca Nowak) and Reverend Crisparkle (Brodie Brockie) have desires of their own. The facial expressions these players give are worth the price of admission. Then there is the drunken cemetery watchman Durdles (Jimmy Dee Arnold) and Deputy (Peter Dannug) who know the whereabouts of the living and the dead. Opium mistress Princess Puffer (Alisa Mutchler Bauer) and Bazzard (Michael Cicirelli) add their own spice to the mystery. As mentioned earlier, all of these characters are portrayed by second-rate Music Hall Royale actors with their own agendas. If any of this is confusing, be assured the Chairman of the Music Hall Royale (Jared Hoffert) will guide you along and make sure you are properly sated in more ways than one [wink wink]. Hoffert is a wonderful master of ceremonies. The supporting cast is a hearty shephard’s pie of talent: Julia Fertel, Ashleigh Glass, Chris Joseph, Kari Nilsen, Sarah Sweeter, Kelly Wade, Heather Wing and Lisa Gavan (Stage Manager, both real and in the Royale), who make the evening that much more satisfying and enjoyable.

The Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre is the perfect venue and the audience is greeted by the cast in character prior to curtain. Director and set designer Ron Baumanis, lighting designer Thom “TJ” Johnson, sound designer Bob Skon, Choreographer Debra Calabrese and costume designer Molly Bourneman complete the atmosphere so you really feel like you have been taken back in time — there are footlights, bustles, old-fashioned drops, and wonderfully zany mis-cues by the “Company” and crew. Great work. There is a surprise set piece build by Patrick Johnson and unique props by Aaron C. Wade. The orchestra, who also play a role within the story, is led by Daniel Bachelis and is first-rate. The show clocks in at 2:30 including the intermission and it is non-stop. There is also a special surprise guest appearance that had the audience laughing and applauding last night, and you’ll find it referenced in the program hidden in plain sight once you do.

Very Highly recommended.

—–Guest Review by Patricia Mazzola

Only three more chances to experience A2CT’s “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, University of Michigan, Michigan League Building, 911 Fletcher, Ann Arbor.  June 2-3 at 8 pm, June 4 at 2 pm. a2ct.org/tickets, or available at the door. Please note that tickets go off-sale online a few hours before showtime.

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Why “Come From Away” should win this year’s Tony for Best Musical (and why “Dear Evan Hansen” should not) May 5, 2017

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On June 11th, 2017, when this year’s Tony Awards are announced, I expect to see “Come From Away” the big winner in the musical category. What? You haven’t even heard of it? Well, you should. And I know there is that ground-swell support from younger folks for “Dear Even Hansen” but here is why that one shouldn’t win.

COME FROM AWAY will most likely win the Best Musical this year. I said so the moment I left the theater the first time I saw it in Toronto, and keep that same opinion after the third time I saw it in NYC. Quite simply, it has the strongest message of the bunch, and the strongest overall musical theater artistry of the bunch. Don’t label it a “9/11 Musical” — it is not. Its a show about a community coming together in the face of a crisis – and it is the only one of the four musicals nominated this year that has those stakes. More so, lets not forget the Tony Awards are also business oriented, it is the sole show of the four nominees that could use the ticket sale boost. That is always a consideration at award time. This is also the only show of the bunch that I left the theater humming any of the tunes.

DEAR EVEN HANSEN has a great score, no doubt about it, even if I never want to hear anyone sing “Waving Through a Window” unless it is in context of the show. It also has young-folks appeal because of the hot-selling cast album. And it also has the most mixed reviews of any of the current musicals nominated. What it got were raves for Ben Platt as Evan, and the score. Expect to see Tony awards for Ben Platt, and the score. But Best Musical? I don’t think so. Without giving away too much, the entire drama of this show is so millennial-centric that it makes no impact on older audiences — the central drama involves a millennial teenager APOLOGIZING for something he did that was dreadfully wrong. That is it. If our millennial audiences find making an apology the most horrifying thing they have to do, then we have done something very wrong in this everyone-gets-a-participation prize and there-are-n0-consequences-for-your-appalling-actions era.

NATASHA AND PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 is a spectacular musical. I loved every minute of it. Telling the central love story of War and Peace in a Russian-cabaret type setting (even the theater interior has been changed to resemble an in-the-round Russian tent) it has made the rounds from off-off to off and now on Broadway. It is also without a doubt the most bizarre and polarizing of the current nominees — people either love it or they hate it, and you can find plenty of both online. The general reaction is, wow, the staging is remarkable, and indeed look for a Tony for best Direction here. But it also leaves a large number of the audience scratching their heads and asking themselves what exactly is going on here (and I don’t mean in that artsy fartsy “Nine” sort of way). That is never a good marker for awards.

GROUNDHOG DAY is terrific. Another show that I simply loved. Andy Karl will give Ben Platt a run for his money for Best Actor, but ultimately Platt will win the day. It has a fun score, though nothing here is as singable as DEH’s terrific score. It has fun scenic design and illusions. But ultimately, it is what it is — a stage version of the movie — albeit it BETTER than the movie. Still, Groundhog Day is slight at best, carries a message of tolerance, but just barely, and while it won the Olivier award last month for Best Musical, that isn’t going to happen here in NYC.

That brings me back to COME FROM AWAY. This is the little musical that thought it could, and it did, and it should win. There isn’t a better feel-good musical to be found in NYC right now, and that we share this with a vision created by our Canadian neighbors will go a long way to awards-land next month.

You can’t go wrong seeing any of these shows this season. But you will thank yourself for seeing Come From Away because you will feel something you haven’t at a musical in a long time — hope.

 

 

Go, Go, Go see “Into the Wild” at Encore Musical Theatre (Review) April 15, 2017

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Let me preface this by writing that Into the Wild at the Encore Musical Theatre Company is a developmental premier of a new musical with aspirations to get to Broadway. It will get there eventually and you should see it now while you can. And you should not miss the superstar performance of Conor Ryan, but I will get to that later. While it is technically a workshop of the show, it is hard to call it that because everything here is so well polished that it is almost hard to remember that this is a work-in-progress and will still change and grow over time.

Into the Wild is one of those rare experiences that will stay with you long after you’ve seen the show and it is also by far Encore’s most technologically advanced production to date. With music and lyrics by Niko Tsakalakos, Book and Lyrics by Janet Allard, the musical is bound to leave you thinking and talking. It is a matter of opinion as to whether you believe Christopher McCandless was an explorer and risk-taker off to find himself in the Alaskan wilderness — or if he was an idiot egotist with a death wish and possible mental illness out to spite his conservative family. Fact:  25 years ago, McCandless took off after college and bummed around the US and Mexico until making his way to Alaska, eventually starving after eating potato seeds loaded with neurotoxins that can paralyze a person over time. You might have read the wildly popular book by Jon Krakauer, or seen the movie, or read the amazing New Yorker article about his death a few years ago. But there is no denying that what the authors and musicians have done here is to make you feel empathy toward this misguided young man and his family, no matter what your personal opinion in the matter, and that is no mean feat.

Conor Ryan is simply remarkable as Chris. He is the beginning and the end of the show and everything outstanding in between. He’s already a NY theater star, graduating from UM’s musical theater program a few years ago (remember him as Valjean?) and immediately going into Cinderella on Broadway, and then co-starring with Kate Baldwin (as well as recording the new cast album) in John & Jen. Here, his vocals and acting soar – literally at one point – and it was a wise decision to bring this young soon-to-be-superstar to Dexter for this premier. Conor’s vocals are exquisite and his acting is superior all around. You should not miss this performance, because he is the Next Big Thing but also because he IS that talented. Sarah Briggs and Greg Bailey play his parents, and they are spot-on in their roles, and their songs. Young Chris is played by local child wonder Connor Casey, and he eschews cute-as-a-buttonness for a bitterness and edge that can already be seen in the character as a child. Nice work. Other folks that get caught up in the mess that is Chris McCandless include Daniel A Helmer who mixes humor and warmth in his roles, especially that of Wayne;  Gayle E Martin as Jan who brings some powerhouse vocals to her songs, especially “Forgiveness” in the Second Act; Alexandra Reynolds who is sweet and personable as Tracy; the versatile Matthew Pecek in multiple roles; and Mike Szymanski as substitute father-figure Russ.

Tyler Driskill serves as musical director as well as pianist and conductor of the outstanding 6-piece combo band. Vocals throughout are excellent, diction is great, and harmonies soar and land just where you expect. There were tears in audience members eyes, as well as a few of the performers, by the time the show reaches the sad ending and “Live Before you Die”. I particularly liked that the band was visible with the wall removed, instead of tucked away in the back room. Brian Usifer’s arrangements and orchestrations sound great.

This is a good time to mention that score — Oh My God fantastic. This is a show that deserves a studio recording as soon as possible — get it out there, let people listen to it in their cars and on their iPhones, and sing along at top voice — it is that kind of score. Allard and Tsakalakos have created music and lyrics that could easily hold its own against any of the current bumper crop of new musical Broadway scores this season. I fully expect it to be in competition for a Tony sometime very soon. I loved it, and actually found myself humming “Alaska” on my way to the car. Can’t remember the last time I could do THAT after a new show. This is like discovering something very special and precious, and while it will still be developed and is sure to change a bit, the score is utterly fantastic. In the capable hands of the musicians on stage at Encore, it takes flight.

Then there is the artistic and technical end of things. – WOWSA. Director Mia Walker keeps things moving swiftly and makes good use of the multilevel set. The set design/projection design by Stephanie Busing is breathtaking: the projections here are beautifully interwoven with the story and later break your heart as you see “Day 99, Day 100, Day 101” approach. Robert Perry does excellent work lighting it all – things look brighter and more colorful than any show I can remember at Encore. Jenna Brand’s costume design is perfect, and inquiring minds want to know: “how did he change onstage from his shorts to the long pants without anyone noticing”?  Anne Donevan’s properties are outstanding – from boat oars, to hiking equipment, cookouts, bars, books – it is also all cleverly concealed on stage so that it appears as you need it and disappears virtually unnoticeably. Sound design by Chris Goosman and Terry Williams is terrific.  In short, this is the finest and most complicated technical production Encore has endeavored to produce, and it works spectacularly well.

While I almost hate to mention it, the show itself runs a bit too long and could use some tightening and shaping – and (I hate to say it) more musical cuts. Currently clocking in at 2:45 with the intermission, it needs some work which I am sure it will get as things move along in this development production and whatever next step this musical takes.

I have no doubt the final step will be Broadway. It deserves to be there. It will get there. And I’ll be there to review it all over again once it opens in New York. Congratulations to everyone involved with this production, I am going back to see it again before it leaves Dexter en route to points East.

Very Highest Recommendation.

Into the Wild’s developmental  premier continues at Encore Musical Theatre Company through May 7th. 3126 Broad Street, Dexter Michigan. Tickets at http://www.theencoretheatre.org or by calling 734-268-6200.

“Anastasia the musical” is lush, sumptuous, melodic, satisfying. (Review) April 1, 2017

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Disney animated films found competition when Twentieth Century Fox released Anastasia with its beautiful artwork and tuneful score. It has become the favorite of many, and like Newsies, its timing was ripe for parents that needed a VCR to put in their tape player that the kids, in particular girls, could watch over and over to keep them occupied. Even if it had Rasputin as a dead bad guy whose hands and nose kept falling off. The Broadway stage musical is based both on that animated feature as well as the 50’s live action Anastasia (same story, no moldy Rasputin).

That’s a long winded introduction, but what is on stage at the Broadhurst Theatre is lush, sumptuous, melodic, and very highly satisfying. It is one of the finest musicals of this season, even seen in preview.

Animated feature lovers need not worry – Ahrens and Flaherty’s hits “Journey to the Past” and “Once Upon a December” make it onstage intact. Some liberties (for the better) were taken with “A Rumor in St Petersburg”, and this score is augmented by two dozen new songs that are Ahrens and Flaherty at their best – unlike Rocky a few seasons back, this is a melodic and beautiful score that will send you off to iTunes as soon as it is released for download.

Terrence McNally has done a masterful job in rewriting the script so that it resembles an adult musical rather than an animated feature, and better incorporates the horrors of history in Russia at the time (1907, 1917, and 1927). He has created a new foil for Anastasia, Gleb, a party official out to insure that all Romanovs are indeed dead.

Christy Altomare is excellent as Anastasia, and she grows the character over the course of the evening and her transformation into princess for the final scenes is breathtaking. Derek Klena is fine as Dimitri, though the chemistry is far better with Gleb, played by the outstanding Ramin Karimloo, and if you don’t know who he is then you better do a Google search because your musical theater knowledge is lacking. John Bolton is exquisite as Vlad, and uber-talented Caroline O’Connor is outstanding as Countess Lily once the proceedings reach Paris. Mary Beth Piel does a very nice job as Dowager Empress (although her song in Act 2, “Close the Door” should be cut).

But where this musical excels is in the superior sets and costumes (and projections). It has been many years since Broadway has seen a musical this lush and sumptuous. I stopped counting Linda Cho’s amazing costumes and changes. The clothing is stunning, and the “Last Dance of the Romanovs” (later reprised in the ghostly and heartbreaking “Once Upon a December”) is breathtaking.

Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge and Projection Designer Aaron Rhyne have created the type of set that makes you ooh and ahh at many points — a train that hurtles along the tracks toward the audience, and then later away. A turntable that allows for almost instant scene changes. Windows that display snow, and shatter during attacks, and a marvelous reveal of Paris at the end of the first act.

When everything reaches Paris for act two, the show comes alive with life, primarily led by singer dancer Caroline O’Connor and John Bolton.

If there are flaws they are hard to spot here. The show flows beautifully from scene to scene, costumes come one after the other, and the set holds surprises throughout. The addition of Gleb is superb, and I have to admit that I was truly moved by the love triangle created by Gleb/Anastasia/Dmitri.

This is a musical not to be missed. It is one of the most satisfying all-around musicals of the season.

Highest Recommendation.

Quirky “Amelie the musical” is entertaining but lightweight (Review) April 1, 2017

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The movie of Amelie is held by many of us near and dear to our hearts — at it’s heart it is a romantic comedy but it also has something to say about being alone, or not, or being different, or not. Movie fans, rest assured, the musical version maintains the spirit of the film and it doesn’t detract from what is already there. You won’t be disillusioned. But you might be a bit disappointed. You just can’t do on stage what can be done with film, and that applies to this new musical at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

Amelie is a well-done 100-minute intermissionless evening of quirkiness and romantic comedy – populated with a Paris made up of the most charming characters you could ever meet, and none of the drug addicts, pickpockets, prostitutes, and downright rude denizens you actually meet on some of the sidestreets of Montmartre.

Phillipa Soo (Hamilton) is lovely as Amelie. She is charming and, well, quirky. Adam Chandler-Berat is very good as romantic foil Nino, although it feels like he just isn’t given enough to do (and for much of the show he is a member of the ensemble). The small ensemble cast is up to the task of playing quirky, and they do so with energy and talent.

Oh, did I mention the show is quirky? If you are not a fan of quirkiness, probably best to stay away from this one. The audience responded admirably throughout the show, hooting and hollering at requisite times as we are want to do now at musicals geared toward younger audiences and gave the show a standing ovation, just proving that every show now gets a standing ovation, even those that don’t quite deserve it.

The music by Daniel Messe and Lyrics by Nathan Tyson and Daniel Messe are serviceable and melodic, although instantly forgettable. I can’t remember a single tune forty minutes after the performance has ended. The Book by Craig Lucas has been adapted well from the screenplay. The colorful and “quirky” set by David Zinn is lovely. Pam MacKinnon has done a fine job directing the production and insuring that everything is cute and quirky.

Hey don’t get me wrong, this is a good show. And its going to run for awhile. Which lets you wait to see it after you’ve seen the bigger and better shows first and not worry that it is going to disappear. I’m not a personal fan of quirkiness. A little of it goes a long way – and I lump it into that group of musicals (including the similar though more melodic Amour) that are, well, too quirky for me. I was not the target audience for sure, but even I found things I liked and laughed consistently during the production. Having never been a Hamilton fan, nor a fan of Phillipa Soo or anyone else from that cast, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about — but apparently she has a “following”.

Kind of recommended – but see Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Groundhog Day, or Anastasia first. Unless of course you want half a musical, and then you are good to go.

 

 

War Paint goes nowhere (review) April 1, 2017

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There are two remarkable diva-proportion performances in the new musical War Paint, and it goes without saying that Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole turn in stunning performances playing Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden and their lifelong feud.

But that’s where the interest stopped for me. In fact, its one of the very few musicals I have every started to feel drowsy at. There’s very little to this story except two headstrong independent women rising to acclaim creating cosmetic lines in the 30’s and 40’s and watching that crumble in the 50’s and 60’s along with marriages and friendships. And really, that’s it. Nothing seems to go anywhere in this musical. Even the ending doesn’t go anywhere.

There’s a great score by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (Grey Gardens), and a wonderful set by David Korins. The standout here is the gorgeous costume design by Catherine Zuber. Wow.

Christopher Gattelli’s choreography is serviceable but really there’s very little of it; and Michael Greif has directed everything with a sure hand and a professional touch.

But to be honest, two hours of this 2:30 show (including intermission) is Patti and Christine standing in spotlights, or sitting in spotlights, singing straight out to the audience. Sometimes alone. Sometimes in duets. There isn’t much there there.

The audience was comprised of almost entirely 60-and-over women, their haggard looking husbands, and gay men. Seriously, I think that was the entire demographic at my performance. It has never taken me longer to get out of a theater given the clientele’s age than it did at this theater, and never have I wanted to get out more quickly.

Recommended only for fans of Patti Lupone, Christine Ebersole, or the few people who are really interested in this cosmetics tale.

Not recommended.

Fantastic “Groundhog Day the Musical” (Review) April 1, 2017

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Seen at a preview, Groundhog Day is off and running and it is fantastic. It has already been honed in its rave-worthy West End run, so this is a pretty simple transfer from London – though there is nothing simple about this show.

A big kudos goes to star Andy Karl, who is going to give Ben Platt a run for his money at Tony time. The non-stop energy of this remarkable actor (Rocky, Drood, Legally Blonde) is on full display for the show’s 2:40 run time – and it is nowhere on display better than the frenetic Act two number “Hope” which combines remarkable staging, stagecraft, and illusions as he appears in bed over and over seemingly having disappeared at other places on the stage — a superstar turn and it is not to be missed for this role in which weatherman Phil Connors is forced to live and relive the same day continuously.

But then there is the excellent ensemble cast, led by (potential) love interest Rita (Barrett Doss) and an entire city populated with perky, peppy Punxsutawney residents that hit their marks time and again and again and again in an ever-swirling design of rubiks-cube like set pieces that assemble over and over and over in different configurations in different places.

The remarkable stagecraft is created by set designer Rob Howell and it can’t be separated from Matthew Warchus’s controlled and finely honed direction, and Peter Darling’s great choreography. Lighting design by Hugh Vanstone is exceptional. Your eye goes exactly where director Warchus wants it to go – and that is no understatement nor an easy job when at times the characters find themselves on tilt-a-whirls and parties, and parades, and celebrations. BRAVO.

Tim Minchin’s music is far better here than it was in Matilda. He has created a score that is at once repetitive and rift-filled as required by the show’s repeating motif, but also melodic and soaring when need be. Andy Karl gets a lot of rock tunes that lift his voice out and up and into the Pennsylvania snowscape. Barrett Doss gets the ballads. And the ensemble gets everything else (including a lovely song about being stuck in routines and expectations even if you are not stuck in time, “Playing Nancy” by the striking Rebecca Faulkenberry.)

In a season of Broadway hits and misses, Groundhog Day the Musical is one of the shining stars. Don’t miss it.

Very Highest Recommendation. Now playing at the August Wilson Theatre, New York.

Come From Away the musical is the best new show of the season (Review) March 31, 2017

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I saw Come From Away in Toronto pre-Broadway twice, and have already reviewed it, but wanted to add a few words about the Broadway production which has now opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

When I left the theater in Toronto, I posted on Facebook that I had just left the Best Musical of the season feeling like I haven’t felt leaving a theater in, well, ever. 12 actors and an on-stage band play hundreds of different people both in the small Newfoundland town of Gander as well as the “plane people” when the events of 9/11 close down airports and flight for 4 days leaving 7000 people stranded in the small town where there were fewer residents than visitors. The town banded together to gather supplies and extend hospitality to the plane people while everyone watched the events on tv, finding out about what had happened almost two days later than the rest of us.

You would think this would be a heavy drama – but it is not — its a celebration of small town life, supporting your fellow man, and the joy that can come of new relationships and friendships banding together in the face of terror.

Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s music almost never stops, as the songs play out in pop rock, folksy, almost blue-grassy sequences. The 12-person cast feels like you are watching 40, playing hundreds of parts. And there isn’t a weak performance in the entire group.

This is simply stunning theater work and you should not miss it. The standing ovation even before the final refrain had been sung points to the audience reaction to this intermissionless 110 minute show.

Mark my words, Evan Hansen, a few blocks away, will be waving through his window while Come From Away collects the lion’s share of awards in a few months. Its remarkable theater.

Very Highest Recommendation – Not to be Missed.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Broadway — Avoid at all costs (Review of preview) March 31, 2017

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It is so rare I need to write something like this, but this is more an expose than it is a review. Seen in a preview this week, the show should just shutter right now and rethink everything before proceeding. As is, this is a show to be avoided at all costs, unless you are interested in a flop of Carrie proportions, in which case use TKTS, TDF, or whatever other cheap method you can come across to grab a ticket and watch this musical self-implode.

While I recognize that this was a preview, there is absolutely nothing they can currently do to save this show short of a complete rethink. In short, what’s wrong?

1)The run time is currently 2:50 – that’s like Les Mis and this is no Les Mis. Both acts are too long, and Act I is almost interminable.

2) I’m not sure who decided it was a good idea to cut the kids in the show and recast them with adult actors. It’s a terrible idea. (Note: This show originated on the West End in London where kids played all the correct parts). Only Charlie (a very solid Ryan Sell at my performance) was the sole exception. He’s one of three alternating Charlie’s. I’m not sure why there are three — it’s not that demanding a part.

3) The set design: Oh My Fucking God. You go into the show expecting some degree of spectacle, otherwise why do this show? So the best thing to do is show you some photos. Since I couldn’t take any in the theater, of course, of the current production, I have drawn some of them and these are completely accurate and not exaggerated. The decision to go with a minimalistic approach is terrible. Every one of the Broadway sets should be scrapped and rethought. Heck, pay any amount you can and bring over the West End tour sets. Anything is better than what you get here for 148.00 a seat.  So lets proceed with two examples:

Here’s the London “Gate” set (note the children in the cast)

IMG_2477

Here’s the Broadway “Gate” set (note the, well, nothingness of it all)

And Here’s the “Big Reveal” In Act II

And Here it is on Broadway. I kid you not. Almost the entire second Act, with the exception with small rolling wagons that carry on Oompa Loompas (cute) and some small set pieces, is played in an empty room. Nothing is even projected on the walls other than a few fireworks or lighting designs here and there.

Yeah — that pretty much tells you all you need to know right there. The Glass Elevator sequence is pretty. For three minutes.

4) Apparently audiences in London complained that they had cut all of the songs from the original movie and left only the (not all that good) Marc Shaiman tunes with the exception of  Pure Imagination sung in the glass elevator. Here They are ALL BACK and all they do is add 20 minutes to the already too-long show. Oh the audience clapped and some sang along to “Candy Man”; “Ive got a Golden Ticket”; “Pure Imagination”; “The Oompa Loompa song”.  Either you trust your material, or you do not, and here, they clearly do not.

5) For a show designed for children, the children’s sequences are far too violent. Veruca gets quartered by ballet-dancing Squirrels (yeah, I’m not even going to go there except to say the performers are really good). Violet almost rolled off the edge of the stage at my performance, were it not for her very alert father. Mike TV is portrayed as an obnoxious millennial teenager with an iPhone. Well, at least they got that character right.

6) Which kind of brings up the question of time and location. WHERE is this taking place? There are no British accents being used, so where are they? Pennsylvania? And WHEN is it? Is it the 50’s? The 70’s? Modern Day? I guess it doesn’t matter since you don’t know where you are anyway.

Ive never heard louder banging and clanging from backstage than during my performance. Sure its a preview and the intermission was 25 minutes long. But you kind of expect that — but not the banging and clanging going on backstage installing those ridiculous walls and the ceiling unit.

Joshua Bergasse has designed great choreography, so that’s a plus. Jack O’Brien has done what he can as director. I would have walked away. Sound is generally good and the orchestra sounds great. Japhy Weideman’s lighting design is as sparse as Mark Thompson’s horrendous set design, although his costume design is quite good.

I’m just going to say that I don’t think there is anything that can derail and fix this train barreling along to a deadly opening night. Get ready for the critic reviews for this one. The press is going to kill this show.  I would shut this down for four weeks and do anything possible to bring in the West End sets, recast the adults with kids, and fix what is already a pretty weak show even with these additional flaws.

Not at all recommended, in fact its my first review in 7 years to include the phrase AVOID.

Fantastic “Dear Evan Hansen” and Acapella “In Transit” on Broadway (Reviews) December 15, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
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There’s a new force of nature in the musical theater world and his name is Ben Platt who has arrived in a mail-the-Tony-to-him-now performance as the title character in “Dear Evan Hansen” at the Music Box Theatre — able to play both a lonely, communication-inept, misfit teenager and alternately explode in self-assured musical numbers with a voice that makes you drop your jaw this is a performance to be treasured…and it will be come award time.
The show itself has been very quiet in advertising what it is about, and for good reason, because like the (very similar) Next to Normal it is better to discover it’s many layers of family drama as the musical slowly explores themes of loneliness, grief, outsiders, outliers, lies, depression, and the pain of teenage angst when you find yourself unable to “fit in” even on social media (constant ticker tapes of which flicker and advance on the stages many screens).

The cast of 8 are remarkable performers, and they have terrific material to work with from writer Steven Levenson and music/lyrics by Benjamin Pasek & Justin Paul — front stacked with the explosive “Waving Through a Window” and “For Forever”. Director Michael Greif lets the show play out primarily downstage center, and the on-stage orchestra adds a feeling of urgency to everything. The very high-tech set and projections by David Korins and Peter Nigrini as well as the outstanding lighting by Japhy Weideman will not be forgotten at award time either.—-I can’t say much more in favor of this excellent new musical except that you should try to get tickets — if you can. It’s sold solid for months.


At the other end of the extreme is the feather-light “In Transit” at Circle in the Square. Billed as Broadway’s first acapella musical this really is a show all about the vocals — documenting the daily travails of a group of New Yorkers on trains, planes, and busses, it is a glorious advertisement for the good, bad, and ugly aspects of the NY MTA and a favorite moment included a radio-controlled rat carrying a slice of pizza along the track.
The eleven member cast is superb, and includes Justin Guarini, Telly Leung, James Snyder, and Margo Seibert. That’s really about it. I enjoyed the show quite a bit as an ex-New Yorker, but I can’t imagine anyone outside of New Yorkers finding much to care about in the paper-thin mini dramas. Instead, go for the acapella singing because it is exquisite (even if the tunes themselves are instantly forgettable).
The very clever set is designed by Donyale Werle and includes a stage length slip stage which allows for some great scene changes and motion. Director/Choreographer Kathleen Marshall has done an expert job keeping things hopping on the thrust stage, and it is all fun and entertaining without ever really drawing you in. Mostly it just made me wonder: “why”?
Look for heavily discounted tickets, and a short run – if you want to see it, see it now.