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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.

http://www.abcfamilyauditions.com/2012/04/abc-family-casting-actors-and-extras_30.html

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

Posted by ronannarbor in Theatre.
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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.

Support Broadway, our actors, directors, musicians and stage designers and technicians. GO SEE A LIVE SHOW.