Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Half-Blood Prince vs. Half-Baked Stableboy

Not sure which Daniel Radcliffe project I'm looking forward to more...


I just know that I'm really looking forward to both of them. A lot.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

City Center Scores with Damn Yankees

There are some musicals that stand the test of time and therefore, I suppose, are called classic. The classic musical comedy Damn Yankees has been once revived on Broadway and yesterday ended its three week run as part of NY City Center Encores! Summer Stars series. I must say, of the many old school musicals that I've grown (sometimes kicking and screaming) to appreciate, this is one that I actually like.

My first introduction to Damn Yankees was via the 1958 film starring Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon, who both received the 1956 Tony for their peformances in the Broadway production. Even as a tween, before I had the good sense to revere Bob Fosse for the genius that he is, I fell in love with the choreography. By the time Broadway got around to reviving it in 1994, I was well-versed with Fosse's body of work and I was anxious to see the show staged.

The revival did not disappoint. I saw it twice - the first time with Victor Garber and Bebe Neuwirth and the second with their successors Jerry Lewis and Charlotte d'Amboise. Victor and Bebe were great, Jerry and Charlotte not so much. But despite his scenery gnawing and her bland performance, I still enjoyed it the second time around.

A couple of years ago, I stage managed a production of Damn Yankees. These days, stage managing is something I rarely do. However, if it is a show I really like or it gives me the opportunity to work with specific directors, I will dust off my stage manager's kit and take on the task. In this instance, both criteria applied.

When word hit the streets that Sean Hayes and Jane Krakowski would be headlining in Damn Yankees at NY City Center, I rung up the director of the aforementioned production and an outing was planned. Uncle Brad, as many affectionately call my director friend, is someone whose work and creative mind commands my deepest respect. Being able to see the show with my husband and kids and then being able to deconstruct it with Uncle Brad was a delight in and of itself. The fact that it was a stellar production was simply the icing on the cake of an already great experience.

Sean Hayes, of course, is noted for his Emmy winning turn as Jack McFarland on the hit sitcom Will & Grace. His New York theatre debut as Mr. Applegate has certainly proven the actor worthy of a Broadway run some time in the future. Musical comedy is a genre he is unsurprisingly suited for and a transfer of Damn Yankees, much in the vain of City Center's Gypsy, would not surprise me (although it has not, as yet, been rumored).

Hayes is a solid actor and he used just the right dose of Jackisms in his Applegate. The hissy fits that we loved in Jack are perfectly suited for those had by Applegate. In this production it worked to crowd-pleasing effect. Hayes also proved himself vocally strong in his self-accompanied showstopping number "Those Were The Good Old Days". After an appreciative fan whistled from the crowd, Hayes, a classically trained pianist, took a beat, leaned out and whispered: "I'm really playing." And he was. To an audience that was loving every minute of it.

I've long been a fan of Jane Krakowski's and was pleased to see her team up with Hayes to take on the Herculean task of filling the role that was immortalized by Gwen Verdon. Jane's got some formidable vocal chops and comic skills - which I've known since her Ally McBeal days. Known most recently from her role as Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock, Krakowski is a decent enough dancer but I felt there was something off during her big dance numbers. During intermission, Uncle Brad told me that Fosse choreographed very distinctly for the body and that nowadays dancers are so waifish that some of it just doesn't work. Gwen Verdon had a little meat on her bones, so when she was jiggling and grinding it just suited her better (and I mean that in the nicest of ways). I would have to say that I agree with Uncle Brad on this one. Man that bastard is smart.

The below-the-title actors were no hacks either: Cheyenne Jackson, Randy Graff, Megan Gallagher (who replaced the injured Ana Gasteyer), Veanne Cox and Michael Mulheren. Not a bad supporting cast, eh?

Cheyenne Jackson was an amiable Young Joe Hardy and it was nice to see him have the opportunity to work with Krakowski (who vacated the role of Kira/Clio in Xanadu after her sitcom got picked up). He has a kick ass voice, is not a bad dancer and undeniably easy to look at (many in our party agreed that spending a little more time in his undershorts during the locker scene would have been all right with us).

Tony winner Randy Graff brings the right amount of heartbreak and devotion to Meg, the wife that's been left behind during his stint as a Washington Senators champion. Megan Gallagher's nosy reporter Gloria Thorpe lacked the necessary spunk that role needs to be endearing. Veanne Cox was perfection as Sister and Michael Mulheren's Coach Vanburen led the well-known "Heart" number to enthusiastic response. Veanne and Michael, however, shone the brightest at the stage door after the show.

My girls know Veanne from Disney's remake of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, in which she played one of Cinderella's stepsisters. My eldest told me later that when she met Veanne she felt like she was meeting a movie star! My husband and I mentioned how we had seen Cinderella many times and how much we loved it. Veanne was very appreciative of the permanence of film and at the same time a bit nostalgic about the fleetingness of theatre. She did affirm one of my pillar convictions: the importance of bringing children to theatre so that this art form does not die. She was definitely a cool chiquita banana!

Michael Mulheren also took the time to chat with the girls about the show and asked them where they were from. When they replied, he just looked at them and said, "Danbury! I've worked there!" And indeed he had... Apparently he did Pirates of Penzance at Candlewood Playhouse with my friend Kevin. Oh the theatre and its players comprise a small world indeed!

Having now seen professional productions of both the original and revival scripts of Damn Yankees, I have to say that there were things from the revival that I missed. I like the "Blooper Ballet" as a way of introducing the Washington Senators "in action". And, like my friend Brad, I prefer "Heart" to be sung by ALL of the ball players instead of just VanBuren and the Quartet. Finally, while I enjoyed seeing Fosse's beatnicky choreography performed by Jackson and Krakowski in "Two Lost Souls", I prefer that number to be performed by Applegate and Lola. It gives Applegate another song in the show (which I would have liked to have seen) and it allows Joe Hardy to maintain his devotion to Meg by eliminating the kiss between him and Lola.

Both versions of the musical, however, have the same strong story at its core. It is the story where good triumphs over evil, where the underdog team wins the prize and the boy gets the girl. Throw in a good Republican joke, a seductress in her underwear and a Fosse jig and you've got an All-American musical sure to please for years to come!

Related Articles:
New York Times: Selling His Soul For The Part
New York Daily News: Damn Yankees Had Some Great Runs Bottom of the Ninth: Damn Yankees Ends City Center Run July 27
New York Newsday Review: Damn Yankees At City Center Encores!


Thursday, July 24, 2008

More Movie Musicals On The Horizon

It seems the movie musical's resurgence in popularity has everyone in Hollyood scrambling...

I'm not sure which has me cringing more: John Waters writing the sequel to the movie musical Hairspray (with an eye on the cast of the 2007 film to reprise their roles) or Emma Thompson authoring the screenplay for the remake of the Lerner and Loewe classic My Fair Lady.

Meanwhile MTV is planning to revamp Rocky Horror Picture Show and Kenny Ortega is bringing Footloose back to the movie houses. It should be interesting to see how the Broadway incarnations of those films impact the remakes...

And over at Universal, Marc Platt is planning the film remake of Jesus Christ Superstar and Wicked's move to the silver screen (which, if you ask me, will ultimately be the one to beat).

In case you were wondering, I am still on the fence as to whether or not this movie musical mania is madness or euphoria.

UPDATE: I neglected to mentioned the upcoming film of Sondheim's Follies, which has Aaron Sorkin in the unenviable position of adapting. And, of course, there is movie musical wiz Rob Marshall's adaptation of Nine.


Related Articles:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Life-Changing Revelation

Today I realized why the rewrite of Harvest Home has taken almost 3 1/2 years... Because it was meant to be a musical, not a screenplay.

All the signs were there... How can I have been so obtuse?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Plugging In To The Battery's Down

I have a new theatre geek addiction. Sometimes, and this is one of those times, you feel the need to share. It is called The Battery's Down. It is hil-FREAKIN'-larious! And if you're a theatre person, especially of the acting variety, you'll love it!

I had heard about it when it launched back in February (yes, I know, I'm late jumping on the bandwagon). Knowing it was up my alley, I kept meaning to watch it but had never gotten around to it. In Episode 6, however, a friend of mine had a cameo so I finally dragged my lazy fingers over the keyboard to type: to finally check it out.

Lovable, guy-next-door actor Jake Wilson has created an online series in the vain of [title of show] and Cubby Bernstein in which he details the trials and tribulations of the young New York actor. Featuring viral marketing veterans Cheyenne Jackson and Jonathan Groff, among others, the series is a great showcase for some of musical theatre's brightest up and coming talent.

The multitalented Wilson directs, choreographs, writes and stars in the series and has assembled an excellent supporting cast, including a few fellow University of Michigan alums. The music, both clever and catchy, features the work of Pasek & Paul, Salzman & Cunningham and Ryan Scott Oliver. My favorite, so far, is Oliver & Guenther's "This Is Your Life", which is a sort of theatrical "La Vie Boheme". A close runner-up is Salzman & Cunningham's "You Should Be In That", featured in Episode 3. Oh, yes, I've had conversations that were frightening similar to the one featured in this song... I suppose most theatre folks have.

So if you're in need of a quick 20 minute dose of clever comedy targeted to musical theatre types, head on over to the show's Web site or check it out on YouTube. You'll laugh your leg warmers off!

Episodes are released on the first day of each month at 12:01am.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Summer of Iconis Continues @ Theatreworks USA

Ummm... Go see this. Why? Because it's free. Because Matt Lauer is Honorary Chair. Because it gets children to the theatre. Because it has some wickedly talented people in it.

And because the music, lyrics and book are by Joe Iconis. DUH! I've only been telling you about him forever. I don't understand why you haven't been to one of his shows yet. And this, my friend, is the perfect opportunity to get to one! This free offering by Theatreworks USA is a palatable little nibble of Iconis that will definitely leave you craving more.

The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks is based on a series of children's books by Nancy McArthur about a plant that eats... well... socks. In preparation for our family outing to NYC, I've actually been reading the book with my girls. We're only on Chapter 9 but it essentially seems to be a less gory version of Little Shop of Horrors. It is definitely a charming way to introduce kids to (1) musical theatre and (2) Joe Iconis. This morning, whilst looking at the book cover, my eldest was actually singing from the show. Yes, I've taught her well!

But maybe sock-eating plants are not your thing. For those that prefer their Iconis bloodier (and with a cocktail), go see this:

Or this:

You will not be disappointed. And you will thank me.
Ticket Info:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Whoopi Joins Xanadu for Month of August

Just announced on The View...

For the month of August, Whoopi Goldberg will be covering the role of Calliope/Aphrodite in the award-winning cult musical Xanadu. Mary Testa, who plays the role of Melpomene/Medusa, appeared on the talk show and announced that Whoopi will be playing her conniving counterpart next month.

I love Whoopi! And I'm hoping that her stint at the Helen Hayes will bring more people to see this charming musical comedy that makes virtually all who see it an unexpected fan of the show.

My husband has mentioned several times that he would like to see (1) Xanadu and (2) her on stage (I saw her in Forum). Perhaps we can work it into our already crammed schedule. But even if we can't... you should!

Whoopi Goldberg will be featured in Xanadu from July 29th thru September 7th, 2008.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Summer Crowds Passing By Passing Strange

OK - so I'm a little bit of a loser because I haven't seen Passing Strange yet. I purchased the soundtrack on the day it was released and it is currently in heavy rotation on my playlists. However, I've not yet made it to the Belasco. Stupid girl! *she whacks herself on the head with her wireless mouse*

It seems, with 38% attendance, the inevitable is looming. I'm really hoping it hangs on a few more weeks (or months)... Despite the fact the show has received awards and critical acclaim, I'm afraid it has not received the much needed boost in attendance to get through the dog days of summer. Most other shows are playing at 85% and above, so it's looking bleak for Stew and his groundbreaking musical.

Fortunately, Spike Lee is set to film two live performances and one closed performance, so if I don't see it while its running on Broadway at least I will see it through the eyes of someone who is both a talented filmmaker and a fan of the show.

But I'm hoping that it sticks around a little longer because I'd rather deal with the real... for real.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tesori's Violet Headed to NYU's Stage

This past Sunday, I attended the final performance of Joe Iconis' The Black Suits at SPF/The Public (full-throttle review is forthcoming). As if the sheer excitation of being at a fully realized Iconis production wasn't enough, I was thrilled to see this little bit of information tacked on to the end of John Simpkins' bio:

Violet is a wonderful, obscure little show written by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Caroline, or Change and Shrek). I've been a fan of Violet for several years and am over the moon that it will be directed, no doubt with great aplomb, at NYU next year.

Simpkins, who seems to be exclusively at the helm of Iconis' shows, is someone whose work I was introduced to in the summer of 2006 before I ever heard the name Iconis. When it comes to selecting directing projects, I don't think a more like-minded person exists. The primary difference, of course, if that NYU actually produces them whilst I am relegated to directing shows considered safe for community theatres. But that is a lament for another day...

In the meantime, as I bemoan the plight of community theatre, I'll await the onsale date for NYU's Violet. I will also keep my fingers crossed for the announcement that John will continue the trend of directing shows from my short list by including Bare in Steinhardt's 2009-2010 academic year.

Friday, July 04, 2008

TBTA's Peter Pan Opens Tonight

Recently there have been some lovely articles written about our production in the local papers. As I wrote previously, our theatre is hosting The Heart Gallery in its exhibit space during the run of Peter Pan. In fact, last week DCF hosted a reception recognizing some families that have been touched by adoption. TBTA's former artistic director Bart Geissinger, who selected Peter Pan for this season, spoke with his son about how adoption has touched their lives:

Following Bart's presentation, my husband and I rushed to New Milford Hospital just before my brother-in-law's wife delivered our first nephew. Needless to say, it was an emotional evening.

The next day the cast, crew and their families enjoyed a Sitzprobe & Potluck in preparation for Peter Pan's tech week. As I sat there watching everyone mill about I was struck by something I've been noticing a lot lately: the word family can mean so many things.

The next day I was at the theatre working on the set. I was there by myself and a woman popped her head in the theatre and told me that she had been calling and calling. Initially, I thought that she was talking about getting tickets for the show. Then I realized that she had been calling to make an appointment to see the photography exhibit. I walked her over to the gallery space and we talked briefly about the adoption of her daughter. She then told me about how she was feeling it was time for a sibling when she saw the article in the paper. I told her to take her time and indicated the cards on the table with details about each child featured in the exhibit.

I returned to the stage and continued to build the window pane through which Peter Pan flies into the Darling nursery. About five minutes passed and the woman returned to let me know she was leaving. She thanked me and waved the cards she held in her hand: "I've got five cards here!"

Yes, indeed, the word family can mean so many things.


Peter Pan opens tonight at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts. Performances are July 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 8:00pm and July 13 at 2:00pm. All tickets are $20. Call 203-775-0023 for reservations.