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Thoroughly Entertaining “Promises, Promises” – Broadway, Review April 25, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Uncategorized.
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Chalk another one up for Director/Choreographer Rob Ashford as he leads a talented and very funny cast of actors/singers/dancers in the Broadway revival of “Promises, Promises” which first appeared on Broadway in 1968. The Book written by Neil Simon, Music by Burt Bacharach, and Lyrics by Hal David instantly transport you to the 60’s; as does the set design, costume and wig work, and lighting.

Sean Hayes carries the comedic role of Chuck Baxter with stage presence, comedic timing practiced on years of episodes of Will and Grace, and charm. His singing voice is fine for the part, although he struggles a touch with higher notes and some of the endings of songs have been shortened so he doesn’t have to hold the notes as long as Jerry Orbach was able to in the original production.

Kristin Chenoweth is in fine vocal form in the role of Fran Kubelik, and this production gives her two additional songs added to the score (“I Say a Little Prayer” and “A House is Not a Home”). Many in the audience were clearly there to see Kristin, and she gets cheers and hoots after every song…the same annoying response she got while in Wicked where younger audience members mistook Broadway songs for American Idol numbers.

Tony Goldwyn turns in a nice performance as Sheldrake, and surprised many in the audience with his clear singing voice. He oozes charisma in every scene, and it’s easy to see what Fran would see in a lout like him. It’s harder to see what Fran would see in Baxter, but that’s where the story goes.

The cast is uniformly terrific, especially in the many many dance sequences throughout the show. Rob has added creative dance touches throughout, including a dance number during the Overture that not only sets the tone, but clearly defines the male/female take on office sexual politics in the early 60’s. They had me at the Overture.

Katie Finneran stops the show as alcoholic one-night-stand Marge. Her comic timing is to die for, and her dance sequence with Hayes earns well-deserved laughter through creative use of dance pratfalls and her own chemistry with Sean on stage. Terrific featured actress work here — look for a Tony nomination.

The set design is colorful and stunning. At times Scott Pask fills the stage with sparse furniture pieces to represent location; at other times he creates complete environments that capture New York City perfectly. Bruce Pask has built beautiful costumes for everyone, and they all look good in motion.

There isn’t a weak link in the cast or design. Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrastions sound “fab” as played by the large orchestra, which retains it’s backup girl singers in the pit.

Promises, Promises is a problematic piece to be sure. Not all of the music is up to Bacharach and Davis’s best work — but some of it is terrific. “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” remains the signature tune, and got an extended ovation. It was wise to include both interpolated standards to round out the tunefulness of the show, even if they force Fran into a somewhat conflicted role throughout.

Some of the script has been tweaked; a few numbers slightly modified or moved; some awkward scripting reworked. Generous use of ad-libs and clever staging by Rob Ashford tie everything together in a way that makes the show zip and zoom throughout it’s 2 hour 40 minute length.

I had a tremendous time. Its great to see the types of things I grew up with being restaged and re-imagined. And it’s awesome to hear this almost-forgotten score again! Sean Hayes, Kristin Chenoweth, and Tony Goldwyn are true stars, and it shows throughout the production.

Highly recommended.

Little House on the Prairie, The Musical: Wholesome, lovely, and pure (Review) December 4, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Theatre.
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Something very rare happened at the Fox Theatre last night in Detroit. I walked to the Box Office at intermission to get a ticket to see the show a second time for later in the weekend. Little House on the Prairie, the Musical, is wholesome, lovely, and pure. It brings something to the musical theatre that hasn’t been seen in a long, long time — a STORY, told simply, with a great cast, costumes, set, and fully geared to the entire family.

Granted, this is not West Side Story. The tale being told here is simple, humorous, and lively. It’s family theatre, and it’s fine. Seen only a few weeks after the not-ready-for-primetime “101 Dalmations, the musical”, Little House is a breath of fresh air – and I mean that in the best way.

While the musical follows the written books, not the tv show, everything here will be familiar (at least to 30-somethings and up). But there is a wonderful story for your young ones to follow as well. The audience was rapt to the show from start to finish, and I have to admit, there are some big tears by the end of the show — I dare you not to well up. I dare you, because you SHOULD well-up — it’s directed beautifully and performed pitch-perfectly to the style and size of the show, and the emotions are perfectly manipulated for you. I’m a big fan of gratuitous emotional manipulation if it is done right — and here it is done right — it sneaks up on you and catches you with a lump in your throat for most of Act II (which is stronger, by the way, than Act I).

Once again, the Fox Theatre proves to be the wrong venue for the production – and was more than half empty at the performance I saw. This is a musical that deserves to be seen. It came to town with great word of mouth from audiences, and critical word of mouth from theatre folks I know. Well, they’re Scrooges if they can’t take a family-classic and enjoy it for a couple hours. I loved it. As I stated before, I loved it so much I’m going back to see it again.

If you saw the musical version of LITTLE WOMEN a few seasons ago, you’ll instantly be familiar with the style of story theatre employed here — props become other objects, set changes and technical objects are kept to a minimum, and the musical focuses on the story at play.

The music is lovely — it evokes Americana at it’s best; though like Aaron Copland or Charles Ives, it soon fades away from memory. But it’s integrated well with the lyrics, and it sweeps you along on, well, the prairie. The art design is perfect for the show, and reminds you that life used to be lived on a much larger canvas than it is now. And the cast itself is one of the most appealing I’ve seen in a long time.

Highly recommended — and I mean that in the most genuine, wholesome, lovely, purest way. This is clean-cut American musical theatre, and it deserves to be seen. Forget the cynics, just get your tickets. It’s here through Sunday. There is nothing objectionable for your little ones (though you might have to explain some of the storyline to them on the way home). Let me just warn you — if you think “Rent” is the best musical ever written, you are going to absolutely hate this musical — call it the anti-Rent…it’s the kind of show that was a dime a dozen in the 50’s — the musicals I grew up on, and the musicals that I consider the “heart” of musical comedy.

And that’s the view from Ann Arbor today.