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Smooth Sailing for the SS American — Anything Goes at Encore (Review) November 26, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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(Photo courtesy Encore Musical Theatre Company, Michele Anliker photographer)

The SS American has set sail at the Encore Musical Theatre Company and I predict nothing but smooth sailing ahead for this lovely production of Anything Goes. There isn’t a Christmas tree in sight, and it is still the brightest holiday musical in town this season.

Olivia Hernandez is a terrific Reno Sweeney and she sings and hoofs with the best of them. Along for the cruise are wonderful Sebastian Gerstner as Billy Crocker, very funny Dan Morrison as Moonface Martin, delightful Emily Hadick as Hope Harcourt, brassy and sassy Elizabeth Jaffe as anybody’s Emma, and a bigger than life and hilarious David Moan as Sir Evelyn Oakley. Supporting them is an excellent ensemble of what could best be described as a who’s who of Encore’s finest.

Thalia Schramm directs with terrific pacing and fine attention to period detail. Musical direction by Tyler Driskill is outstanding (as is his luscious live orchestra); costumes come and go quickly here and look period perfect by Sharon Larkey Urick, Anne Donovan provides some nifty/funny properties, and it all looks great on Kristen Gribbin’s Set with the outstanding lighting design of Tyler Chinn. Sound design by Dustin Miller and Meg Berg is excellent.

But this show truly explodes when it takes to dance — which is a lot. Rachel Costantino has provided terrific material for the many numbers, and the performances are spot-on tight; particularly the great tap number that closes Act I (“Anything Goes”). But also delightful are the smaller two-person numbers. Evelyn and Reno’s “The Gypsy in Me” is a particular favorite. These are two performers at the top of their game and it brings down the house. Gerstner is at the center of many of the dance numbers and he looks and sounds terrific.

You can’t do much better this holiday season than joining this group of zanies as they head across the ocean on the SS American — fully loaded with talent, musicality, and the best dancing in town (even if the ships passengers find there isn’t a celebrity in sight).

Very Highest Recommendation.

Anything Goes continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through December 23rd. Tickets at theencoretheatre.org or 734-268-6200.


Dance-tacular “Anything Goes” looks great on tour (review) October 21, 2012

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour, musical theater, Musicals.
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What a joy to revisit an old classic and find that the tour is as fresh and spectacular as the original Broadway production (now closed). (Seen on tour at the Wharton Center, East Lansing, MI 10-21-12).

Starring Rachel York in a simply wonderful performance, the dance-laden show veers from joke to song to dance with an ease that one usually doesn’t associate with this creaky old Cole Porter vehicle from the 30’s. Marshall directs with a good eye for modern-day audiences, and the show zips along in a manner that defies its 2:45 runtime. York is magnificent singing, dancing, pratfalling, and tapping her way through all those numbers.

Also in the tour, is UM grad Alex Finke who is excellent as Hope Harcourt. Billy is played with dancing and comic skill by Erich Bergen. When Erich and Alex are together, or when Erich and Rachel are together on stage, its sheer musical theater heaven. They are supported by an excellent cast, in fact, one which I like more than the original Broadway cast. Fred Applegate is particularly superb as Moonface.

That the show is touring with what looks like the original Broadway set (unless my eyes were mistaken) makes it even more dazzling. My original review of the show when seen in NYC is here: https://a2view.com/2011/12/19/broadway-reviews-bonnie-clyde-on-a-clear-day-follies-lysistrata-jones-war-horse/

I know, I know — most of my readers have either seen this show a million times, or like myself been IN it a million times…but this is a revival that is stunning in its simple, straight-forward “lets show them a good time” cheer; that the choreography is some of the best in recent years makes it a must see.

Broadway Reviews – Bonnie & Clyde; On a Clear Day; Follies; Anything Goes; Lysistrata Jones; War Horse December 19, 2011

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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Nothing like some Broadway for the holidays!…from the ridiculous to the superb….

Lets go from the worst to the best from this holiday visit:

On a Clear Day You can See Forever, the book-plagued but melody-lush Lerner and Lane musical, stars Harry Connick Jr so it is selling tickets well, despite dismal reviews after opening last week. And those dismal reviews are well-earned.

Director Michael Mayer decided the already terrible book wasn’t good enough, so he had Peter Parnell write an even worse one. In this version, Daisy is replaced by David, an ineffectual gay man who is the reincarnation of 40’s singer bombshell Melinda with whom Psychiatrist Connick Jr falls in love. David (a good David Turner) has a decent boyfriend (Drew Gehling, very good) to whom he has trouble committing, now that he is falling in love with straight Psychiatrist Connick Jr.  The more Psychiatrist Connick Jr. hypnotizes David to get at Melinda (a sublime Jessie Mueller), the more convoluted, unbelievable, and disinteresting it all gets. There are some mind-bogglingly awful costumes provided by Catherine Zuber and some even worse sets designed by Christine Jones — all over-lit by Kevin Adams.

The music is lush and sounds great. In particular Jessie Mueller’s big band numbers bring some life to the proceedings (most of her songs are imported from Lerner and Lane’s movie Royal Wedding) with additional songs imported from the movie version, as if the musical isn’t already too long.

Harry Connick Jr, the clear star around whom this production is built, sings well, moves stiffly, and looks like he would rather be anywhere else but on stage at the St. James Theater. Most likely across the street reprising his own Broadway concert from last season, alas, delegated to Hugh Jackman this winter.  Don’t expect this one to be around past January — so see it now if you must. 2 stars (of 4), and 1 star if it were not for the good leading cast.

By the way — post-show, W 44th Street becomes one of the biggest crowd control problems I have seen in New York in years. Since both shows end at the same time, and huge crowds grow in front of the stagedoors of both Hugh Jackman’s concert across the street, and those awaiting Psychiatrist Connick Jr. The street is blocked off to all traffic, and it’s general chaos. Plan your escape route in advance.

At the end of the block, there is a crowd-control problem of it’s own in Follies at the Marquis Theater.

The ugly poster design for the show should be enough to warn you of what is to come: a sumptiously costumed, overly star-laden adaptation of Sondheim’s Follies. Imported from the Kennedy Center, the show stars bland Ron Raines as Ben (sorry Ron, I know you were my next door neighbor in NYC for years, but its true); the too-old Bernadette Peters as Sally (she gets unintentional laughs when she says “what am I going to do with the rest of my life at the age of 49”); the too-young Danny Burstein as Buddy; and the excellent Jan Maxwell as Phyllis.

Also crammed in are Elaine Paige, not given enough to do; Don Correia (a virtual afterthought); Terri White (in the sole standout number in the show, Whose that Woman); and a handful of other Broadway work horses.

Granted, I have never liked Follies as a show — it’s plotless meanderings are driven by the emotional content of two relationships falling apart. The symbology of “ghosts” floating throughout the dilapidating theater overkill. The parallels to “young” Sally, Ben, Buddy, and Phyllis hitting you over the head throughout. Here, the ghosts are dressed in some of the most glamorous costumes to grace the Broadway stage in many years (Gregg Barnes) — it’s a shame you can’t see them in Natasha Katz’s woefully under-lit design.

It’s all very pretty, and well staged by Eric Schaeffer, but its tired, and ultimately uninvolving. If the cast hasn’t gripped you and caused you to feel something for them, by the time you get to Loveland, the whole thing is just an exercise in stage design. And that’s what you have here. Colorful and bland. 3 out of 4 stars. Worth seeing, if you have the time. It closes at the end of January, so you have another month.

It’s a good season for musicals on both 44th and 45th streets. Down the road, the new Bonnie & Clyde is quickly driving into oblivion (it closes on December 30th).

Now, let me preface this with the statement that I really really liked Bonnie & Clyde, and I am saddened that the producers chose to close it (most likely due to the horrible reviews from the NYTimes and from the WSJ). The audience all seemed to enjoy it too — and the single comment I heard the most at intermission was shock that the show had posted a closing notice.

This is Wildhorn’s strongest score to date; and it has a quartet of very appealing leads in Jeremy Jordan (Clyde); Laura Osnes (Bonnie); Claybourne Elder (Buck) and Melissa Van Der Schyff (Blanche). Jeremy and Laura, in particular, are sexy together, and they bring a level of interest to two characters who could otherwise be seen as quite unsympathetic. You already know how it ends (in fact, it’s made clear in the first measures of the show exactly how it will end), but it’s well written and it reaches its conclusion logically and not without feeling.

Tobin Osts set and costumes are spot-on, and there is generous use of projections by Aaron Rhyne (also well done). Local Encore Artistic Director Dan Cooney is in the Ensemble and is fun in many of the small roles that he plays. In fact, this entire ensemble is terrific.

Closing the show will, however, allow Jeremy Jordan to return to Newsies (opening in March), and look for him to become a major breakout star once his movie Joyful Noise arrives in movie theaters.

There’s an air of “dead-show-walking” when you see a musical knowing it has already posted a notice. But it gives one a good glimpse into how New York critics are currently out of touch with popular theater and audience likes/dislikes. This is a show that in seasons past might have run for months and months. Now, in our economic climate, producers are unwilling to take any risk in the show, and are closing it on December 30th to allow them to take their tax write-offs this spring rather than next. It’s all sad.    3 stars out of 4.

But wait — there’s a surprise in store a few blocks north!

Chalk up another hit for Douglas Carter Beane, who has created the funniest, craziest, and warmest script of the season in adapting Aristophanes Lysistrata to modern-day college basketball players and cheerleaders.

The show has an off-Broadway feel (not surprising, given it’s off-Broadway roots) which is fresh on Broadway. Stylistically, the musical is very similar to Xanadu from a few seasons back. There are a few dirty jokes and some lame “drawings” in which the cheerleaders demonstrate what will be withheld from the men on the basketball team if they don’t win a game (the school has not won a game in 33 years).

The ensemble cast is wonderful top to bottom, and they are clearly having fun. Director/Choreograper Dan Knechtges keeps it all moving at a swift, entertaining pace, and Lewis Flinn has written some genuine tuners. Yep, a musical with a great script, great cast, great music. And despite rave reviews, virtually no audience. I saw it papered by friends. Half the house seemed to be papered. If this one doesn’t pick up some legit paying audience, it’s not going to be around for long. See it now, it’s well worth it.     3 1/2 stars out of 4.

What’s to add about one of the best reviewed shows of the year, Roundabout’s Anything Goes:

Sutton Foster is knocking them dead in Anything Goes, Kathleen Marshall’s homage to the musicals of the 30’s. Using the recent Lincoln Center revival script, but ratcheting up the dance quotient, the show looks, sounds, and is terrific. The Anything Goes tap number that rounds out Act I is spectacular — and Sutton Foster, as Reno, kicks up her tapping shoes and joins right in. It, and Blow Gabriel Blow, are the biggest numbers in the show, and what a thrill to see the entire cast participate in these big numbers.

The stark while gorgeous three-floor set looms throughout in the background, and Kathleen uses all three of those levels to great effect, especially when the big numbers break out. Things look like they are going to keep tapping along here for a long long time.

Finally — a visit to New York’s War Horse, at Lincoln Center which I originally saw in London several years ago.

There isn’t much I can add to the many rave reviews that this production has received (including the Tony award for Best Play this spring). Combining some live-action, with amazing puppetry, and whizbang scenic design, the show is even larger in it’s Vivian Beaumont home. It’s hard to imagine this show touring — but there is one in the works for the coming season, so you will be able to see it for yourself soon if you can’t make it to New York.

I’m looking forward to the movie this Christmas (based on the book, not this theatrical version); but there is something about seeing the sheer theater magic take place before your eyes that make this a very special show indeed.  Having seen it twice now, I can tell how the show manipulates the emotions (the tears come in the exact same places night after night); but its so well done that you go with it and you emerge in a somewhat transfixed state. War is hell. People know that. Seen through the eyes of the horses who don’t comprehend but do react to noise, pain, shock, and gunshots, it illuminates the horrors of war in a way that sometimes people alone can not.   4 stars out of 4.