23 September, 2008

Process and Processed

Another article for Patrol. This time on what theatre's got that film don't got.

04 July, 2008

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Or, Why In the Heights Won Best Musical and Passing Strange Walked Away with Next to Nothing

The 2008 Tony Awards renewed my hope for the future of musical theatre and it wasn’t simply the fact that the Tony voters actually selected the best in each category this year. It was the spectacle of The Lion King’s opening performance, the indomitable Patti LuPone garnering a standing ovation for her performance of "Everything’s Coming Up Roses," the reaction of generations of theatre people to RENT’s farewell performance, and the large number of winners who stood on stage expressing their sincere gratitude for just being allowed to work in theatre. But, most of all, it was the fact that the Lin-Manuel Mirandas took the night with barely a glance back at Stew and his attempt at the autonomous musical.

Just looking at Stew, the creator and self-styled star of the mostly autobiographical Passing Strange, is enough to see how full of himself the man is. Sporting ever present sunglasses, a bright wardrobe, and an irritating take-me-as-I-am personality, Stew announced to the New York Times, as if it were a badge of honor, that he can count the number of times he’s been to the theatre on one hand. He speaks about musical theatre as if it were the most inferior of art forms, in need of his vulgar, over-loud version of reform. "In high school," he said, "when you're a rock 'n' roll stoner, your mortal enemies are the thespians. We thought that musical theater was the dorkiest thing in the world and had nothing to do with the music we listened to. And quite frankly we still feel that way." With all his talk about being an "outsider," one gets the overall impression that the man enjoys being on the fringe and will do all he can to remain there, as if appealing to a wider variety of people were some form of selling out.

Then there’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. Being a Latino on Broadway, Miranda is also a minority; what Stew would call an "outsider." But where Stew harbors this not-so-veiled dislike for Broadway, Miranda is a Broadway baby. He may have grown up in the mostly Latino community of Inwood at the top of Manhattan, with all its hip-hop and salsa influences, but just watching his reaction to the RENT tribute performance is enough to see how much he adores musical theatre. Like many Broadway fans his age, his first show was The Phantom of the Opera and his first Broadway obsession, RENT. It was only right that this theatre fanboy took home some of the biggest awards of the evening. Upon winning for an original score riddled with homages to shows like West Side Story, he burst into an unrehearsed rap and gave some love to Sunday in the Park with George, exclaiming, "Mr. Sondheim, look, I made a hat where there never was a hat! It's a Latin hat at that!"

Miranda did what every good creator does: he loved what came before. In bringing that love together with his love for the present, he created an old-fashioned show that nevertheless "illuminates the stories of the people in the street."

28 June, 2008

Tell Me, What Did I Do It For?

Now imagine that happening two feet in front of you. This means that when she chucks those itty-bitty pieces of paper, she chucks them IN YOUR FACE. That's why the woman is terrifying and that's why she won the Tony. Also, Laura's terrified gasp after "Momma is gonna see to it!" sort of makes my life. Good to note that at the beginning of this scene in the actual production, tears had actually been POURING down her cheeks and she was wiping them away like an 8-year-old. Not okay for me, really.

So, clearly, if you have the means and opportunity, go see this as soon as humanly possible. The show has effectively ruined all past and future productions of Gypsy for me, and I'm okay with that.

And, for good measure, the Tony speeches: Laura, Patti, and Boyd's isn't on YouTube, but you can read it here.

27 June, 2008

No Day But Today

I’ve never liked RENT. I still don’t. I think it is an objectively bad musical, poorly constructed, full of annoying songs and trite lyrics, and just barely carried out with flair. My dislike for this musical has embittered me against the oft-repeated refrain, “RENT was a revolutionary musical that changed the face of theatre forever.”

Then Tony night happened.

Since the Broadway production of RENT is closing this September, the powers that be brought the original and current casts together on the same stage for the 2008 Tony Awards in tribute to the show that “changed the face of Broadway.” They sang a “La Vie Boheme”/”Seasons of Love” medley and it wasn’t until they showed the audience reaction that I understood just what sort of impact RENT has had on the Broadway community. Among others, Sunday in the Park with George star Daniel Evans sat there grinning and singing along like the fan boy I now suspect he is and Patti LuPone herself was actually rocking out in her seat. These aren’t rabid, thirteen-year-old fangirls; these are industry professionals. But the most glorious moment – the moment that forever changed my perception of RENT – came when the old and new casts had barely finished singing and Lin-Manuel Miranda leapt to his feet, barely able to contain his tears of joy. It was then that I realized that the creation of In the Heights can be traced back directly to RENT.

RENT may not be the best of musicals, but it certainly broke the mold. It freed more talented creators to make musicals that speak to the youth of today, while retaining those elements of the Golden Age that make a musical a musical. And now I can join the throngs of theatre fans in honestly saying:

Thank you, Jonathan Larson.

More Like "Arrogantly Self-Important"

Stephen Holden of the New York Times recently wrote this about new musical Passing Strange:
The young man’s naïve infatuation with Europe, where he dives into a bohemian paradise of sex and drugs, inspires [...] a scathing response to his being fetishized as an angry black militant by a group of German cultural revolutionaries [...] In conclusion he wonders if he is “the postmodern lawn jockey sculpture.”

The term postmodern indicates the intellectual seriousness of the show."
I guess I should begin throwing in the term "postmodern" to my blog posts, lest all three of you who read it begin worrying about my intellectual seriousness.

26 June, 2008

Another Hundred People Just Got off of the Train

Yes, I did in fact go to NYC and make it back alive. The only reason I haven't written anything about it yet is because my real life decided to just start back up again right where I left it. Long story short, it was a theatre marathon and nearly as tiring as an actual marathon, but oh so satisfying.

Despite missing the first twenty minutes of In the Heights because United Airlines has the crappiest service in the history of the industry, the show was great and I had a great time with my aunt and uncle. That Saturday will go down as one the most memorable of my life because, after the show, I my aunt and uncle took me to dinner at The View and then I saw August: Osage County. If you enjoy really spectacularly excellent theatre -- the kind that leaves you breathless and screaming with delight all at once -- you have to go see it. Marvelous.

Then I had a Gypsy marathon comprised of the Sunday matinée, the best Tony Awards ever, a small Broadway by the Year - 1979 interruption on Monday night, the Tuesday evening show, and the Wednesday matinée. And the show got better every time I saw it and the dressing room fight at the end changed each night. But not like they were bored or goofing off. They were EXPLORING. It was brilliant. And Tuesday night's performance -- the one right after the cast won their respective Tony Awards -- was a performance that will live on as the most memorable show I've ever been too. Such entrance applause! And Laura breaking character (which she never does) and crying because of it. The intensity of the dressing room fight made me feel nauseated and "Rose's Turn" made me want to curl up in a corner and cry like a baby; Rose's hair was flying loose, she spat her words like snake venom, and then proceeded to have a complete nervous breakdown before my very eyes and I loved. Every. Second of it. Then I sat front row center on Wednesday afternoon, which really wasn't a good idea because Patti hit me in the face with the torn up letter at the end of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and I almost died. No. Really. Front row is really too close for comfort if you get as emotionally involved as I do. I was on the verge of a heart attack from the train station scene on through the end. Ugh. I hate that show. And by "hate" I mean "love". Clearly.

Then I ended my trip with the jaw exercise that is the sweet show, Curtains. I have never smiled, laughed, and cried so much in a theatre in all my life. It was SO CUTE. Just a grand, old fashioned show with a lot of heart. I loved it. And we sat front row center (technically partial view, but not really), which made the stage door a bit embarrassing when half the cast recognized us. Oops. I'm so sad that it closes on Sunday. It's such a happy little show.

Anyway, great trip. And real live reviews will be coming soon, since I have the rest of the week off.

20 June, 2008

The Fairy Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

So despite the fact that A Catered Affair didn't win a single Drama Desk or Tony Award, the impossibly self-important Harvey Fierstein has repeatedly boasted that his precious show has had higher grosses than three of the four Tony Nominated new musicals this season. What he left out is that grosses are one thing, but if your show is too boring to have significant advance sales, you're screwed.

As a result, A Catered Affair will close on July 27th, opening up the beautiful Walter Kerr Theatre for a show worthy of the space. A kick ass straight play along the lines of excellence of August: Osage County, perhaps?

10 June, 2008

Revive Me

There's something that has always bugged me about the theatre community at large and that is the widespread hatred of revivals. Lately, it's been all about the Gypsy hate. Not out and out hatred, mind you. These bitchy theatre queens will be the fastest to confess their love for the great musical. It's the "endless" revivals they can't stand. "It was JUST on Broadway," they complain. "The public is sick of it!"

But the public certainly isn't sick of it. Much of America doesn't even know what the hell Gypsy is, or A Chorus Line, or Company. They couldn't care less that you think Barbara Walsh was so inferior to Elaine Stritch that she doesn't even deserve the time of day from you. What your American tourist cares about is seeing a good show. Furthermore, and more importantly, what your teenage Broadway enthusiast ALSO cares about is seeing a good show. That 13-year-old who just got her socks blown off by Patti LuPone didn't get the chance to see Bernadette Peters in the very same role five years ago. And even if she did, she wouldn't have understood a lick of it.

Theatre by its very nature is a cultural art form. In order for the young'uns to know what is good, they must be enculturated with the good stuff. And that means revivals. It may all seem tiresome to someone who's been going to the theatre for thirty-some-odd years, but it's necessary to raise up the next generation of theatregoers, performers, directors, producers, and creators. Yes, new works are exhilarating. But you can't truly appreciate a new musical's newness until you've enjoyed what's come before.

So, when ten years from now Gypsy is revived again (Emily Skinner as Rose, anyone?), instead of complaining, stand outside the theatre as the show lets out and look at the faces of the young people who will have just seen it for the first time EVER. You'll no longer see a reason to complain.

More Baritone, Please

Say what you will about South Pacific, but it has some of the most beautiful baritone music in the history of Broadway. Perhaps that's why "Some Enchanted Evening" gets so many reprises in the show.

iTunes Top Five

Just because it's funny, my non-fudged top five most played Broadway songs:

1. "Unusual Way" - Laura Benanti - Nine
2. "I Know Him So Well" - Alice Ripley & Emily Skinner - Chess
3. "If I Told You" - Laura Benanti & Stephen Lynch - The Wedding Singer
4. "Another Hundred People" - Alice Ripley - Company
5. "Losing My Mind" - Alice Ripley - Follies

But if we're talking from the actual cast albums, it looks more like this:

1. "Unusual Way" - Laura Benanti - Nine
2. "If I Told You" - Laura Benanti & Stephen Lynch - The Wedding Singer
3. "No One Is Alone" - Laura Benanti - Into the Woods
4. "Someday" - Laura Benanti - The Wedding Singer
5. "My Husband Makes Movies" - Mary Stuart Masterson - Nine

Go ahead. Judge me. I deserve it. You don't even want to know the playcounts on these. Talk about embarrassing.

08 June, 2008

Reality vs. Reality

"In this age of reality TV, what is more real than watching a real person – with real talent – singing their heart out, or acting their heart out, or dancing—only for you? You paid [for] a ticket. You're sitting there and we're performing for you. To me, that is the ultimate human collaboration. And that's what's missing when it's just a camera in your face and you have to cry." (Laura Benanti, Broadway Beat: Meet the Tony Nominees)

07 June, 2008

Throw That Fairy Dust in My Hair

Sometimes I forget how much I love Stephanie J. Block. And then she sings "Never Never Land" again and I curse myself for ever forgetting.

Shoshana Bean gives and awkward and somewhat funny introduction, but feel free to ignore it and get to the good stuff. That being Stephanie acting the face off of Scott Alan's best song, "Never Never Land."

So Good, It's Painful

As I've said before, my favorite shows or movies are the ones that leave me incapacitated at the end. Literally in pain. These include shows like Gypsy and Next to Normal and movies like August Rush. But the funny thing about Gypsy is sometimes I get sick to my stomach just thinking about it. I don't even have to be watching it or listening to the cast recording. Merely thinking about the fight in the dressing room or last two minutes of "Rose's Turn" or the mocking laughter that erupts from the venom Louise's own mother cultured in her daughter's gut . . . I can't even deal.

And somehow I'm going to see this show three times in a row. Pray for me. I might just die.

06 June, 2008

You Can't YouTube It

Click open your iTunes (if it isn't already open) and search for the American Theatre Wing's Downstage Center podcast. You there? Okay. Now: download Sherie Rene Scott's May 2008 interview. If you don't have time to listen to the whole thing, listen to it around 28 minutes.

At that's why theatre kicks ass.

02 June, 2008

Tony Week '08

So, as many of you know, I'm going to New York City over Tony weekend. This morning, I finally got around to nailing down my itinerary:

Saturday: In the Heights & Gypsy
Sunday: Gypsy
Monday: Broadway by the Year - 1979
Tuesday: Gypsy
Wednesday: August: Osage County & Curtains

If you haven't seen Gypsy yet, I don't even want to hear any words of judgment come out of your mouth. If you had seen this show, you'd know that as many times as you could possibly go STILL wouldn't be enough. Truly.

Besides wanting to see it so many times, there's actually some sort of logic behind when I'm going. I'm rushing on Saturday because, clearly, there's no way I could wait until Sunday to see it. I'm seeing it Sunday because it's their last performance before the Tony Awards. And I'm seeing it Tuesday (front row mezzanine) because it will be their first performance after Patti, Laura, and Boyd all win their respective Tony Awards; a performance NOT to be missed. So I'm only mildly insane.

Also, I'm really excited about seeing August: Osage County. It's a straight play, something I've never actually seen on Broadway. All my closest friends who have seen it can't say enough about how good it is.

29 May, 2008

"Winner Best Musical!"

I have a new article out for Patrol Magazine with my take on the Tonys' BIG ONE.

24 May, 2008

Shilling in the Heights

If this video doesn't make you adore the show, then you're hopeless.

Am I really a shill? No. But I do adore this show. I have listened to nothing else but the In the Heights cast recording for three days and I don't think I'll be stopping anytime soon.

21 May, 2008

I Buy My Coffee and I Go

I hate rap music. It's true. I hate it with such a passion that I often get into boisterous arguments with others about its worthlessness.

But the score of In the Heights is brilliant. Composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda weaves together slick lyrics with a soul-stirring mix of rap, latino music, and Broadway brass that defies you to stay still. If, at the very least, your head isn't bobbing within the first thirty seconds of the title song, you have severe issues. Add to that the effortless clarity and power of Karen Olivo's voice and Miranda's justified star turn, not to mention the spunk of Robin de Jesus, the intensity of Olga Merediz, and Christopher Jackson's infectious exuberance, plus literally everyone else in the cast, and you get a the joyful, moving score now available from Sh-K-Boom Records.

Highlights include the sick opening number "In the Heights," the beautiful ballads "Breathe" and "When the Sun Goes Down," the Act I closer "Blackout," and Mandy Gonzalez's explosive duet with Jackson "When You're Home." But two songs are particularly remarkable. The first is "96,000," a company number where everyone in the Heights fantasizes about what they would do if they won the lottery. Miranda plays with dynamics and actually throws rap, latino music, and Broadway brass into a mind-blowing counterpoint. And the second is the "Finale" which climaxes as only a finale can into a joyous, tear-filled moment where the company sings, all at once, a smattering of nearly all the songs from the previous hour of music. And it's TWO discs.

Essentially, it leaves me with that same pain in my gut that shows like Gypsy do. Only happier. And that was just hearing the music. I can't even imagine what I'll be like after I actually see it next month.

The Rape of the Book, or Prince Caspian: The Movie

I walked out. I had never in my life walked out of any sort of anything until I saw Andrew Adamson's abomination of desecration: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. It actually makes me want to throw up to see Adamson has signed C. S. Lewis's name to his own kindergarten scribbles.

Save your money and read the book again.

17 May, 2008

Iron Man

Good movie. Of course, I say that as a fan of comic book movies, mostly for nostalgic reasons. It's one of those feel good movies that keeps you interested and lovin' it the whole time. There were people in the theatre, including myself, just exclaiming things left and right. Not to mention Gwenyth Paltrow wears these really amazing heels during the climactic scene at the end . . . and she runs in them. It's quite remarkable.

Go see it. You won't be wasting your money, I promise.

27 March, 2008

One Word: RAVE

So, here we are, Thursday night, March 27th, 2008 and the curtain just dropped at Gypsy at the St. James Theatre in New York City. The reviews are in and I couldn't have dreamed of anything better. Mostly raves with a good one thrown in for kicks. Not only did Variety adore it and TheaterMania practically trip over themselves trying to give the best compliments, but Ben Brantley of the New York Times was also among the rave reviewers:

"And Ms. Benanti, in the performance of her career, traces Louise’s path to becoming her mother’s daughter out of necessity. The transformation of the waifish Louise into the vulpine Gypsy Rose Lee is completely convincing. And you’re acutely aware of what’s lost and gained in the metamorphoses."

"When Ms. LuPone delivers “Rose’s Turn,” she’s building a bridge for an audience to walk right into one woman’s nervous breakdown. There is no separation at all between song and character, which is what happens in those uncommon moments when musicals reach upward to achieve their ideal reasons to be. This “Gypsy” spends much of its time in such intoxicating air."

Some of the truest stuff I've ever heard. My God, I love this show!

15 March, 2008

The Aftershocks Remain

It’s rare that a musical can both effectively break your heart and help heal it by the end, but Next to Normal does just that. With a cast lead by arguably the best musical theatre actress of our day (Alice Ripley, finally back in New York after an eight-year absence), this little Off-Broadway show is a perfect example of the elusive show than can both move and teach, that can break you down and build you up again.

Diana Goodman is typical suburban mom with a not-so-typical problem: manic-depression. But it’s the source of Diana’s depression -- and all the baggage that goes with it -- which makes this musical so brilliant.

With the addition of heartbreaking performances by Brian D’arcy James and Jennifer Damiano, the solid Asa Somers, and the haunting Aaron Tveit, Next to Normal touchingly portrays the problems caused by dealing with the symptoms of anxiety and depression without addressing the underlying root of the problem; giving a limbless man morphine doesn’t stop the bleeding or heal the wound, it only numbs the pain. As Diana puts it, after sixteen years of unsuccessful treatment: “What happens if the cut, the burn, the break/was never in my brain, or in my blood, but in my soul?”

In our over-medicated society, it is both heartbreaking and refreshing to see a show that reveals the dangers of jumping to pharmaceutical conclusions and moves us to consider that sometimes the only thing worse than the symptom is the cure.

05 March, 2008

Hold Your Hats and Hallelujah!

From Vanity Fair's April issue.

I'm pretty sure that this picture needs neither comment, nor explanation from yours truly.

23 February, 2008

Feeling Electric

I don't really know how I managed it, but I'll be in the city on the 11th and 12th of March for the specific purpose of seeing Alice Ripley in Next to Normal before it closes (possibly for good). Along with it comes the side benefit of seeing Patti LuPone and -- more importantly -- Laura Benanti in Gypsy during it's previews.

Next to Normal -- 7:00PM, March 11th, seats C105 and C106
Gypsy -- 2:00PM, March 12th, seats TBD

Alice and Laura in one trip. Here's hoping I live to tell about it.

24 January, 2008

Life is a Cabaret

"That's the scary thing about theater—it doesn't live on. But that's actually the most beautiful thing about it, too. That's why it's more beautiful than film and certainly more beautiful than television, because it's like life. Real life. Any picture that you take or any video that you make of yourself is not really you, it's only an image that represents the experience you had. In theater, the process of it is the experience. Everyone goes through the process, and everyone has the experience together. It doesn't last—only in people's memories and in their hearts. That's the beauty and sadness of it. But that's life—beauty and the sadness. And that is why theater is life." (Sherie Rene Scott, broadway.com Q&A, January 24, 2008)

08 January, 2008

Absolutely Perfectly Written. Period.

Some of you may be wondering, as I once did, what exactly it is that makes Gypsy the perfect American musical. How can this musical about an overbearing stage mother and her soon-to-be stripper daughter qualify as anything true, good, or beautiful?

Putting your finger on perfection is a difficult task. It’s never the result of one thing, but all things working together, well, perfectly. It’s music, lyrics, and book flowing out of characters who think, act, and react just as a person would in real life. It’s capturing the essence of the universal in a series of specifics: the strange tension of competition and love between a mother and daughter, the destructive nature of love in the form of favoritism, and the male-female dynamic all exploding from the stage in a backstage story to end all backstage stories.

Gypsy is not a story about a stripper. It is not a story about Momma Rose or Gypsy Rose Lee. It's a story about life. With all its comedy, tragedy, and drama. You will laugh, you will cry, and you’ll probably be terrified. And once your stomach settles and your knees stop quaking, you will leave the theatre with a different outlook on life.

If a piece of art can do all that, you have to call it perfect.

Here She is, Boys!

The temp page for the new Gypsy site is up. Apparently that's the official artwork which will soon be on the marquee, plus delis and cabs all over New York City. Yes, it's one of the fugliest things I've ever seen and, yes, it will be on my wall -- signed, sealed, and framed -- come late June.

But still, someone needs to fire their marketing team. Holy lack of Photoshop skills, Batman!

03 January, 2008

New Songs?

I love Songs for a New World as much as any other musical theatre fan . . . probably more. As far as song cycles go, I've never heard better. As far as music goes, you'd be hard-pressed to find better. Jason Robert Brown has an unbelievable ability to create the most beautiful piano pieces out of the simplest sounds and his lyrics . . . holy crap, we're not even going into that. It will reduce me to some blathering pile of goo. Anyway, LOVE Songs for a New World . . . until the strings come in.

What? Strings? you say. I though you loved strings! I thought they made you spazz and flail like nothing else and profess your undying love for the composer and/or musician, sometimes to their faces, even if they're complete strangers!

This is all very true. The problem is the strings on the cast recording aren't real strings. They are electronically reproduced strings. I used to just blow it off as me being picky, but then I got this really kick ass pair of headphones (Grado SR60) for Christmas. Songs sounds RIDICULOUSLY amazing on these babies. Like, so-good-it-should-be-illegal amazing. And then the fake!strings come in and it makes me want to cry. The difference between the real!instruments and fake!strings is quite distressing. Having heard it live with real cellos and violins, the fake!strings are even sadder. ESPECIALLY in "Hear My Song" when the strings come in at the climax and because of the dorkiness, the climax just doesn't work.

So I want a new recording. Please? Because, clearly, the Broadway gods listen to me. Just for kicks, my dream cast:

Laura Benanti as Woman 1 - her "Christmas Lullaby" is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard.
Alice Ripley as Woman 2 - her "Flagmaker, 1775" would -- I don't even want to think about how amazing that would be.
Norm Lewis as Man 1 - listen to "You Should Be Loved" from Side Show and just TRY to tell me his "King of the World" won't kick your ass from here to doomsday.
Norbert Leo Butz as Man 2 - arguably the most talented actor on Broadway right now with a chocolaty smooth voice that just spills from his lips. Delicious. A little "I'd Give It All For You" from him and I'm a goner.

Eh, like it'll ever happen. But a girl can dream, can't she?