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Gentleman’s Guide, Big Fish, Beautiful, Little Miss Sunshine – NYC Reviews November 24, 2013

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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Catching up on the current new musicals in NYC (fall 2013) here’s the scorecard — reviews follow —

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder — Walter Kerr Theatre — A+

Big Fish — Neil Simon Theatre — B+

Beautiful, The Carol King Musical — Stephen Sondheim Theatre — B

Little Miss Sunshine — Second Stage Theatre — C

Let’s start with the worst, and lead to the best….not to say the worst it horrible, but there’s a far cry difference between the mediocre Little Miss Sunshine and the sublime Gentleman’s Guide ten blocks north…

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LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, the musical — At Second Stage Theatre, William Finn (music and lyrics) and James Lapine (Book and direction) have molded a mediocre musical out of mediocre material and managed to somehow drain it of charm. The movie itself is a bit of an odd choice for an adaptation (mostly a character study of the members of a family stuck together on a road trip which is unlike any family I’ve ever known). It all leads to a junior pageant, and this show’s funniest and brightest moments. In fact everything that happens at the pageant here is delightful, while everything that does not is droll.

An excellent ensemble cast (Will Swensen, Stephanie Block, Rory O’Malley, David Rasche, Logan Rowland, and the spark of light Hannah Nordberg with a slew of others) is given number after number of not-really-funny-but-not-terrible-either character songs on route to the pageant. The show finally comes to life as the other contestants take over the stage and bring some energy and (at long last) hilarity to the proceedings.

This is a limited run, and if you must see it you won’t hate it. You just won’t like it either. Maybe you will. Some people seemed to love it the evening I saw it. Most sort of shrugged their shoulders and said “meh”.

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BEAUTIFUL, THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL is a solid jukebox musical with more songs than you can shake your groove thing to. It looks and sounds, well, beautiful in the relatively new Stephen Sondheim Theatre (unique in that it’s underground, rather than entering at Orchestra level). The standout here is the stellar performance by Jessie Mueller as Carole Klein/King. Her voice resembles though never mimics Ms. King’s, but has enough of a Brooklyn twang that you can easily imagine the woman she embodies throughout the production. You simply can’t take your eyes off of her, even when at times you should be watching the wonderful things the ensemble here is doing.

If Detroit has Motown, and the other side of the Hudson has The Jersey Boys, then Manhattan has The Brill Building and Carole King. The score is comprised of an anthology of King/Goffin songs, and is augmented by a handful of competing compositions by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. The production effortlessly showcases the factory that was The Brill Building on Broadway in a way that Motown never achieves in its Detroit-based showcase of songs. But the musical doesn’t hit the emotional, nor energy-based highs of Jersey Boys…call this Jersey Boys Lite.

Still, Ms. Mueller and company should have an excellent long run at the Sondheim Theatre, and its a show to which you can take the whole family — especially if its female-laden — after all, as it is stated in the show, “Carole King is a girl who writes songs for girls.” The audience around me clapped, nodded, danced, and head-bopped throughout the show’s two-and-a-half hours.

Jake Epstein plays an understated but handsome and clear-voiced Gerry Goffin —  Ex-Jersey Boy Jarrod Spector is an excellent Barry Mann, and Anika Larsen is effervescent as Cynthia Weil. Along with Mueller, the quartet give this show heart and warmth.

The entire production moves along rapidly on a multi-tiered and many-layered set (at one point I started wondering how much hang space this theater has, and if they need to do rafter-based swap-outs during the show) and the costumes are divine.

The sole problem as I see it, is that there isn’t much drama here — when all is said and told, the decade that the musical covers shows Carole King’s ever increasing stardom, talent, and respect — balanced by the “drama” of a divorce. Call me old fashioned, but divorce is divorce – get over it already. It doesn’t in itself have enough “meat” to make you really think this performer had a “hard knock life”. It is fun, though, to see how the songs and lyrics of her later “Tapestry” truly do play out things that have happened to her — or maybe Jake — or maybe their friends.   Recommended, but don’t expect more than what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

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BIG FISH the musical, is ending its short run at the Neil Simon Theatre all too soon — its a good show that deserves a longer run…there’s clearly something going on from the Producing end of things when such audience-pleasing and sold-out shows like Big Fish and Bonnie and Clyde end their runs before New Years so that their producers can write off the tax loss this year instead of a year down the line which might have been a healthy run for this show. (Don’t be surprised if, despite being closed, it gets nominated for Best Musical this spring).

Norbert Leo Butz is the star here as Edward Bloom, tall-tale spinning patriarch of the Bloom clan, told in present day (Bloom is dying of cancer) while his estranged son (Bobby Steggert) and loving wife (Kate Baldwin) alternately work at understanding and supporting their father/husband.

The secondary star of this production is the dazzling wood-and-projection set designed by Julian Crouch and Benjamin Pearcy, with superb lighting by Donald Holder.  Scenes rapidly fly from location to location (and they are legion in this production)…trees sway, clouds swirl by after a thunderstorm, mermaids swim, and yes, Daffodils smother the stage in the Act I finale.

But its a show that, like the movie, is a “male-weepie”. The father-son story at the core of the musical isn’t as strongly developed as that in the movie version, but it pulls at the heartstrings none-the-less. And the “is it real or were they all tall-tales” finale plays out simply and emotionally. Lots of kleenex at the end of this one.

Catch it while you can, though — it closes December 29th.

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Finally, I can not say enough wonderful things about the simply perfect musical theater confection A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER. And you won’t have to rush to try to see it before it closes — its going to keep the Walter Kerr Theater filled to capacity for years and is currently the front-runner to win Best Musical at this spring’s Tony Awards (lets see if Rocky is as good as everyone says it is).

No detail is too small in this devilishly funny musical about a young man (Bryce Pinkham) who learns that only 8 relatives live between himself and a fortune inheritance as he sets about to (hilariously) end their suffering one by one (all 8 are played by the chameleon-like Jefferson Mays)…but don’t let that scare you off: this production has more in common with The Mystery of Edwin Drood than it does with Sweeney Todd. Cross Drood with The Drowsy Chaperone and any Wodehouse novel and you have the delightful tale.

Lutvak and Freedman have written a hilarious (and melodic) score that sweeps from operetta to music hall, with plenty of Gilbert-and-Sullivan thrown in, mixed with just enough pop influence to keep the songs moving along. By evening’s end, bees attack, ice breaks, petticoats come off, doors slam, and escapades ensue. Its the cleverest and funniest show I have seen in years. Award winning director Darko Tresnjak knows when to play up character bits, and when to let things ride and play themselves out.

The big winner here is the audience — the jokes and non-stop puns are side-splitting, and in the intimate Walter Kerr theatre, everyone feels like they are “in” on the jokes. And in a rarity on Broadway these days, its a show aimed squarely at the adult audiences that you absolutely don’t need to worry about bringing your kids to (though I am going to guarantee you that they will be bored within the first few minutes and they should be left at home).

Very highly recommended. Jefferson Mays is a national treasure…or he oughta be.

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Matilda the musical (review) NYC — something naughty this way comes March 23, 2013

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre, Uncategorized.
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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.

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.

“101 Dalmations” musical posts closing notice March 23, 2010

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“101 Dalmations” the musical, has posted a closing notice. It will continue with its current tour, which opens in NYC at Madison Square Garden in a few weeks, and will close on 4/18. All further national tour dates have been cancelled.

This is a shame — I’ve previously written a blog entry on the show. It needed work, and it was not ready for prime time. 101 Dalmations has played at both the Fox Theater in Detroit and Wharton Center in East Lansing during the past few month.

Rachel York, the show’s dynamite shining star, departed the cast on January 31st. Sara Gettelfinger took over the role of  Cruella DeVil and will play the part in NYC. Sad to see another show with 30 cast members and a huge crew close — but the show never achieved its lofty goals, had a week score, and required massive re-do of sets, costumes, and concept (i.e. eliminating adults on stilts) if it wanted to go anywhere. It might have been beyond fixing. At either rate, the producers did not give reason for closing the show.

The Addams Family musical – Chicago (Review) – Funky fun! December 21, 2009

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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/

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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.

Legally Blonde, The Musical — Tour, Detroit October 20, 2009

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Legally Blonde, the musical, as any 13-year old girl knows, is the girl-power Broadway show that tells the tale of Elle Woods trip to Harvard Law School, initially to follow her ex-boyfriend, and ultimately to find success as a lawyer, find new love, and save the day for a former sorority sister accused of murder. I mention the 13-year old girls, because the Broadway Production was televised on MTV continuously for about three months last year, creating it’s own super-buzz and following. The tour now stops at the Fisher Theatre — and it’s good.

It’s easy to dismiss this entertaining musical — but sit in the theatre for a live presentation for a few hours and you will find yourself completely delighted by the show and its infectious energy and music.

ElleBecky Gulsvig as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, the Musical. Photo courtesy Broadway in Detroit.

Seen in a matinee performance filled with screaming 13-year old girls (continuing the nauseating trend started with Wicked and it’s screaming-fan audience after every song) Becky Gulsvig appears to be having the time of her life, and the energetic and talented cast exudes charisma. The screaming was there at the Palace Theatre too, by the way, when I saw the show in NYC. It’s a loud show — and not in an appropriate way: the kids talk during the show, eat candy, tear open bags of treats, and act like they are at a movie theatre. You will most likely fare better at an evening performance when the 13-year olds (and their 9 year old sisters) are at home in bed.

For those who have seen the Broadway production, there are a few minor set changes but the production is generally intact…but Jerry Mitchell’s highly energetic directing/choreography work well at the Fisher, and the show is really quite fun.

There isn’t much to think about on the way out the door, but it’s an entertaining piece of musical theatre that fares much better than a lot of movies-turned-into-musicals — and look out when this show is released for amateur production — every high school, college, and community theatre will be jumping on this one: a pop-rock score with enough roles for girls, and its guaranteed amateur theatre overkill. See it now with a professional cast and production values and it’s a show you can genuinely call charming. See it next year at your daughter’s high school and not so much.

Recommended, and better than you would think.

Professional Musical Theatre – Detroit Regional 2009-2010 June 28, 2009

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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)

MACOMB CENTER

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)

“Billy Elliot” has Big Night at the 2009 Tonys June 8, 2009

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As predicted in this blog a month ago (and most blogs about Broadway, lets be fair) Billy Elliot had a big night at the Tony awards last night, winning 10 awards, including Best Musical. The voters took pity on Next to Normal by awarding it Best Score, one of only two major awards that Billy was nominated for that it did not win (costumes was the other – going to the well-deserved Shrek).

08tony.billy.4802David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish won the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical. Photo NYT, 2009

The boys had a hard time articulating their thank you’s…what would you do if you were 14 in front of that size audience?…and rumor has it all of them will be gone from the show by the end of the year (little boys grow up and their voices change — two new Billies are already in rotation as of this past week in NYC).

Elton John, on the other hand, made a beautifully articulated thank you upon winning Best Musical and acknowledged the artistic team of Next to Normal (a not-so-veiled concession speech for best score).

I’ve blogged before about this brilliant show, so I won’t do so here again — just look down a few posts and you’ll find my thoughts on the show. But I did want to mention that while American audiences and critics were a bit more mixed on the show, the British media and audiences (the origin of this musical is on the West End, not Broadway) have readily appointed Billy Elliot as the finest musical ever written. I can’t really argue with them. I love musicals of all types, but there is something about Billy Elliot that speaks to every single child (and adult) who ever had a parent that told them “No” when they wanted to sing, or dance, or paint, or play an instrument. Told through dance, the story resonates with every single performer who has taken a step on a stage. The Tony Awards well-chosen “Angry Dance” last night was a good sample of emotion expressed through movement in the end of Act I curtain number.

Congratulations to everyone nominated for this year’s Tony’s and all those who weren’t. But my heart goes out to Billy…

For the Record: 2009 Tony Awards for Billy Elliot: Best Musical, Best Actor (David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish), Best Director, Best Featured Actor (Michigan’s Gregory Jbara), Best Set Design, Best Book of a Musical, Best Lighting Design, Best Sound Design, Best Orchestrations, Best Choreography.

Shrek; 9 to 5; Billy Elliot — Broadway Musicals May 10, 2009

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While on a quick weekend trip to NYC this weekend, I had the opportunity to see three top notch musicals, all of them adaptations of movie screenplays…and surprise of surprises not one of them was a clunker — Like The Wedding Singer and Legally Blonde the past few seasons,  Shrek, 9 to 5, and Billy Elliot are all solid adaptations that deserve great audiences and long Broadway runs.

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Lets start with BILLY ELLIOT, THE MUSICAL…I first saw Billy Elliot in London a few seasons ago, a few days before official opening night. I knew that it was going to be an international hit that first viewing, but the Broadway production is even larger, and the cast tighter and more skillful. I had the fortune of seeing Kiril Kulish play Billy Elliot – and his dancing is not fully describable in words; it demands to be seen. Here he is “flying” with his grown up alter-ego (Stephen Hanna).

Billy Elliot Kiril Kulish Stephen HannaBar none, this is absolutely the finest musical currently playing in New York. The audience routinely leaps to its feet to applaud young Billy in the many many many dance numbers – from jazz to ballet to tap. And Kiril is up to all of them. Supported by a top-notch cast this production just soars. Run do not walk to get tickets. The tour isn’t going to look like this. It can’t. The showmanship on display in this huge theatre with it’s huge soaring proscenium arch high above the house can’t be replicated anywhere else. When Billy flies, he truly flies in this theatre — and it is worth every penny. This is one of those shows that is worth flying in to New York for, even if it is the only thing you do while you are there.

For families — absolutely do NOT bring your under 10’s to this show — it is laden with coarse language, adult themes, and region-specific dialogue. It is not at all geared toward children in the audience, and while those preteen and older will be enchanted, it is NOT, repeat NOT a family musical.

My money for the Tony for Best-Just-About-Everything-This-Year gets bet on Billy Elliot — it might even surpass The Producers (and should) for Tony gold.

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At the Broadway Theatre, you’ll find another musical that has settled in for the longrun. SHREK THE MUSICAL is fun, tuneful, colorful, hilarious, and a bit green. There is whiz-bang technical wizardry on stage here, as are some dandy performances (in particular Christopher Sieber and Brian D’Arcy James). I wasn’t sure about this one going in, although friends who had seen it had all mutually agreed that they loved it. Well guess what – it IS that good.

shrek-cp-w5982417shrek2The sets and costumes are colorful and terrifically realized. The lighting design pops. The makeup affects are outstanding. One word of warning, though; just like the original movies on which this musical is based, this is not a musical for Tiny Tots– parents should use discretion when deciding upon a family outing — if you’ve seen the movie and the kids are okay with it, ask yourself will they be okay with those same situations front and center, live and in person.

In a year the Billy Elliot is sure to dominate all of the Tony Awards, Shrek’s nomination for Best Musical is a fit accolade for this superior entertainment. Modern day Music Hall meets Slapstick Comedy and Brian D’Arcy James exquisite and emotional Shrek ties it all into one entertaining night out.

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Finally, I had zero expectations for 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL going into the Marquis Theatre. I was pleasantly surprised by the comic and tuneful performances, and the absolutely amazing set. Allison Janney and Mark Kudish both deserve their well-earned Tony Nominations (for Best Actress and Best Featured Actor), as does Dolly Parton’s songs and lyrics. Country pop lives on Broadway!

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The script is virtually intact from the 1979 movie, with the same jokes and the same punchlines — even the goofy “stealing the body in the hospital” sequence. But you expect no less.

What the real revelation here is the set, and I have to say as a Director and as a Set Designer, this technical team’s omission from the Tony Awards borders on criminal. Future generations will look back at this musical (and they WILL look back – as this is sure to be performed by every high school and community theatre from Peoria to Eureka in future years to come) as the groundbreaking set design that finally integrated both a standard fly system and video screen with the newest trend: popup scenery that rises from lifts in the stage — not just platforms, entire set pieces. It is so well done here that the motion never stops — the set and choreography so intricately integrated that you fear the performers will disappear into holes in the floor — yet there they are, fresh and perky throughout as massive pieces of wall, columns, and ceilings swing and move and rotate and assemble and reassemble and put you in an entirely new location within seconds. This set design is one of the most superior I have seen in a musical probably ever. TONY COMMITTEE TAKE NOTE: YOU HAVE MADE A GRAVE MISTAKE IN THIS OMISSION.

Oh, and Allison Janney is all that and a cup of milk. Not a singer, not a dancer, she sings and dances well and brings comic timing and stage presence to the Lily Tomlin role throughout the evening. Marc Kudish deserves his Tony nomination as well for his over-the-top performance, as well as his willingness to play foil to the three ladies of the office as he gets roped, tied, hung, flung, flown in, flown out, dressed to the nines, stripped to boxers, and still look like he is having the absolute time of his life.

All three of these shows will have long healthy runs on Broadway. None of them will look the same on tour  and are all worth seeing in New York. Billy Elliot is designed to tug at your heart and make you cry (and you will – over and over throughout the evening). Shrek unexpectedly brings a tear or two (Hey, Let Your Freak Flag Fly cast!!!) and 9 to 5 will wow you with sheer entertainment and technical wizardry beyond anything seen on the Broadway Stage to date.

A couple subtle notes: Encore Musical Theatre (Dexter) bigwig DAN COONEY plays Dick in 9 to 5. He’s fine in an important but small role. University of Michigan graduate Jeremy Davis gets to have fun in the show as well.

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