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Visually stunning ballet-based “An American in Paris” arrives in NYC (preview review) March 15, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
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Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 4.25.15 PM

I had the opportunity to see the new “An American in Paris” in preview last night in NYC. It already feels finished (the show ran for several months in Paris, with the exact same cast, crew, and designers) where it received raves. Its going to be the talk of the town once it opens, and apparently already is — the audience last night was filled with a virtual who’s-who of New York ballet and Broadway dance professionals.


Ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon (and if you don’t know who he is, you better do a quick Google search, he’s a name every dance aficionado instantly recognizes) directs and choreographs his first Broadway musical (or Broadway-Franco musical as the case may be) and this production is all about the dance.

Craig Lucas expands upon the original movie script with background stories for each of our leads, and its a well-written book. The musical score is pure Gershwin. There are some great vocals — in particular the work of Max von Essen as Jerry’s friend Henri. But that is not why people will flock to this musical — here, its about the visually stunning scenic design and the dance. Its all about the dance — even the sets dance — things float, cross, move, flutter, sometimes all at the same time.

In general, backgrounds incorporate projections of chalk then watercolor sketches that depict familiar Parisian landmarks — and its all sort of like one watercolor painting spilling into another from scene to scene — with a bit of late 40s avant-garde thrown in for good measure. Stunning work by Bob Crowley, 59 Productions, and Natasha Katz.

But its all about dance here — big, huge, ballet-informed dance. This is not your typical Broadway musical — this is ballet set upon a Broadway stage, and it is simply remarkable.


Robert Fairchild plays Jerry (Gene Kelly) and Leanne Cope plays Lise (Leslie Caron). Both are lead dancers at the New York Ballet — and their fans will turn out in droves to see them here. While both have good singing voices, and charisma to spare, nobody will mistake their work for acting genius — this is about their Dance — and dance they do — for almost three hours. When was the last time you saw a Broadway musical and wanted the songs to stop but the dance to go on? That is what you get here — in gorgeous, mesmerizing moves both big and small. Fairchild leaps and bounds about the Palace Theatre, and tosses Cope about like a ragdoll — but she is no ragdoll — her dance is precise, emotional, and highly athletic. Late in the final dance sequence, Fairchild does his famous vertical leap — and you hold your breath and wonder, what was that ten feet? 12 feet?

Come for the musical — stay for the ballet — and absolutely get tickets to this stunner of a show. I did not want it to end. I am already planning a trip back to see it again.

Very highly recommended.  An American in Paris, Palace Theatre, New York.


Bunheads on ABC Family is the real deal (Review) May 28, 2012

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Musicals, TV.
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Set your DVR for June 11th — thats when ABC Family begins airing their new show BUNHEADS — and based on the pilot episode, the show does everything right that SMASH does so wrong week after week.

Broadway’s Sutton Foster stars as a ex-ballerina/Broadway dancer now washed up Vegas Showgirl who impulsively weds a kind middle-aged man who is infatuated with her (Alan Ruck) and they move to his home in seaside Paradise California, where (surprise) he lives with his mother (Kelly Bishop).

Mamma runs a dance school, and is an ex-ballerina herself. The upper-level girls of the same school make up the teenage cast in this (kind of) family friendly show. Like a lot of the fare on ABC Family, it’s suitable for mid-teens and up, but not necessarily for pre-teens. And that’s all the setup you need to know. There’s a major surprise at the end of the otherwise upbeat first episode, and it clearly spells out the direction the show is going to take.

But what is striking here is the writing (storytelling is always a strongpoint for ABC Families original family drama shows). Within one episode, all the major characters, conflicts, wants, and desires of each of the main characters has been spelled out. The musical numbers serve to enhance the show, not detract from it, and its just right.

Opening with a Vegas number (ironically, “Jet Set” from “Catch Me If You Can” — a nod-to or a shot-across-the-bow for Marc Shaiman?), the performances are integrated fully into the script — showgirls dance….ballerinas dance…and in an exquisite sequence in which Sutton teaches a Broadway audition combo, is more humanly realistic than anything on SMASH has been all season.

There is a great cast of young teenage performers, but this is Sutton Foster’s show, make no doubt about that — from sassy showgirl (“I live next door to a hooker”) to fish-out-of-water bride (“Oh, how very Turning Point”).  Kelly Bishop plays a delightfully droll and insightful mother-in-law (“If we don’t find that tutu, we’ll have to cut Clara which will make us look ridiculous”) uncovering nuanced layers of her character even in the first episode. Alan Ruck plays a warm, kind, and love-besotten Hubble.

If you are interested in auditioning for Bunheads, the casting information is here: DO NOT READ THIS RELEASE unless you want to see some major spoilers about the first several episodes. Suffice it to say that they are particularly looking for female dancers over the age of 18 that can play 15-17. Filming in LA.


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

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Theatre.
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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.