Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Story of My Life Could've Been So Much More

I am very bad about getting reviews out in a timely manner. And then by the time I get around to it, they are no longer relevant because most of what I would have said has already been said by people far more important than me. Story of my life…

Speaking of which – how’s this for a crappy segue? – I saw the modest tuner The Story of My Life two days before its recent Broadway opening. The premise, sentimental and schmaltzy, was right up my alley. I’m also a longtime fan of Malcolm Gets and a new fan of Will Chase (thanks to the Rent: Live on Broadway DVD). Throw Richard Maltby, Jr. in the director’s chair, and you have a show with a lot going for it.

So what is the premise?

Two friends make a deal as kids – he who survives will eulogize. Thomas Weaver (Chase), finds himself in the sad circumstance where he has outlived his lifelong friend, Alvin Kelby (Gets). In a series of flashbacks, he attempts to put together the pieces of the past by “writing what he knows” for his friend’s funeral.

Basically, if Sunday In The Park with George, Merrily We Roll Along, Groundhog Day and It’s A Wonderful Life all walked into a piano bar, The Story of My Life is what would walk out, drunk and sloppy, with nowhere to go…

While the show does have a few nice moments, it never really packs the punch I was hoping for. We don’t really understand the reasons the two characters make the choices they do – to stay behind or to move on, to wed or to not, to pursue a dream or to be happy with the cards you’re dealt. Perhaps if we understood that better we would care more at certain points in the play. The one memory that repeats and builds throughout the show ends in a big “So what?” I felt a little gypped.

The music and lyrics by Neil Bartram were nice enough but nothing I left the theatre humming. One of the first songs in the show, “Mrs. Remington”, is catchy and clever and it sort of set an expectation that was never really met again. Also worth a mention is “The Butterfly”, a tidy little story song that serves as the perfect opportunity to showcase Chase’s vocal agility. It is also a song that will likely be plumping the audition books of aspiring singers everywhere. The book, by Brian Hill, services the score nicely enough but it never really peels back the scab, which might help this show have a little more impact.

The fact remains that Gets and Chase are both talented performers and, while the story is bland, the two actors carrying the show are not. Gets is intense and affable as Alvin and Chase is charming and aloof as Thomas.

Robert Brill's simple monochromatic set, with stacks of books that fade into a white wall, is striking. It serves as the canvas for some cool lighting effects by designer Ken Billington but for some reason I thought it would go further or do more and it didn’t. And, pretty as it is, when you start seeing snow fall from the rafters 30 minutes into the show, it kind of ruins the moment when it snows at the end.

Overall, I was nonplussed. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. Even though I saw the show at a deeply discounted price, I still feel I should have been a little more satisfied my entertainment dollar investment. In actuality, I feel that that night, my money was better spent on the sushi dinner at Kodama.
UPDATE (02/21/2009):
After having had only 5 performances and 18 previews, The Story of My Life will close after its February 22nd matinee.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stop the Breaking of 36,000+ Hearts

Ken Starr - and the Prop 8 Legal Defense Fund - are attempting for forcibly divorce 18,000 same-sex couples that were married in California last year. The Supreme Court will be hearing arguments in this case on March 5th, with a decision expected within 90 days.

How I feel about Prop 8 is no secret. I have many gay friends - some of whom are married, some of whom are parents, all of whom have the capacity to love and care as passionately and devotedly as any heterosexual couple I know.

I urge you to watch this video, created by The Courage Campaign with the support of musician Regina Spektor. Then go to and join the 300,000+ people that have signed the letter to the Supreme Court asking them to invalidate Prop 8 and reject Starr's case.

This is important. Important to me. And important to so many that are important to me.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Real House Lives of Osage County

I turned 40 a couple of months ago and, since my birthday is a week after Christmas, it is hard to come up with good birthday gift suggestions for those interested in giving them to me. My father, who I’ve mentioned on this blog several times and to whom I give most of the credit for cultivating my love of theatre, has not seen August: Osage County. So, knowing that the show suffers the same malady as others on Broadway, I suggested that for my birthday he and I go together before its low box office results in a closure.

Tomorrow night, thanks to my dad, I am going to visit the Westons once again in their new home at the Music Box Theatre. And tomorrow afternoon, as a sort of amuse bouche, we will be heading to the 92Y Tribeca to attend On Stage with August: Osage County, featuring Estelle Parsons and members of the cast and creative team for a behind-the-scenes look at the show. That should be really interesting.

I saw August: Osage County around this time last year, at the Imperial, with the entire original cast. I loved every minute of it. Certainly, I am eagerly anticipating both Estelle Parsons and the new casts’ performance. In actuality, though, I am just excited to see the show again. And I’m sure that coming fresh off the lecture, too, will add a whole new perspective that theatre geeks like me just get giddy for.

After a week of impetigo, strep throat, sick days and deadlines, it will be nice to escape to Osage County for a few hours. Funny that. Really funny.

I’ll be sure to let you know how the trip was.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I'd Plotz for a Klotz!

At least there's free shipping...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Top 5 Discoveries of 2008

The last few weeks have been, shall we say, tumultuous and as a result of said turmoil I have had a minimal presence in the blogosphere. However, yesterday was Superbowl Sunday. As a no/low-sports family, the Superbowl is honored in our house by muting or fast-forwarding the game, watching the commercials and eating kick-ass snack foods. I made use of the time by hopping back on the bloggy horse in order to provide the last of my round-up lists… The Top 5 up-and-comers on today’s musical theatre scene.


Loyal readers should find no surprise in the fact that my top discovery of 2008 is Joe Iconis and his unruly troupe of musical theatre punks. Joe is so sick with talent that, despite the troubled economy darkening several New York marquees, he saw three fully-realized productions of his musicals in 2008: The Black Suits, The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks and ReWrite. This past year also saw the critically-acclaimed return of Iconis' signature concert, Things To Ruin, as well as gigs at Joe’s Pub, Sardi’s and the West Bank CafĂ©.

Joe's songs tell stories. Good stories. Songs that people relate to. Songs about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Each tale told with the perfectly blended cocktail of honesty, irreverence and dirty words. But what intoxicates you are those contagious melodies, euphonious harmonies and pulsating rhythms that make people want to sing them. And sing them. And sing them.

And stomp a hole in the floorboards.


I first stumbled upon Scott Alan via a YouTube search that ended with a video of Jonathan Groff singing a beautiful ballad about a telephone call. That led to Danny Calvert killing you softly with this heartbreaking tale of divorce. Which led to song after song of Broadway celebrities singing Scott's beautiful compositions. Not long after, I downloaded Scott's release Dreaming Wide Awake from iTunes.

Like Iconis, Scott has a knack for writing songs that tell a story. Where Iconis' songs tend to tell stories more about the idiosyncratic, Scott's songs are inclined to explore those universal chords that strike in relationships. His follow-up release, Keys, won my heart with "Blessing" and "The Dress". In addition to his incredible talent, Scott also champions the work of other up-and-coming artists through his Monday Nights, New Voices program, which has featured several of the composers featured in my sidebar.

All of my exposure to Scott's music has been through his releases and YouTube. I haven't made it to a live show yet but plan to as soon as schedule and budget allow. I also count myself among those anticipating the staging of his musical Piece. I love it when a composer's music, like Scott's, stands on its own, so I am always anxious to see their music in the context of a book musical. And something tells me when that happens, I won't be disappointed.


2008 marks the year that the multitalented Nick Blaemire hit my radar. The first I'd heard of Nick came in April or so, when the theatre community was abuzz about this kid, who was making his Broadway performing debut in Cry-Baby and, at the same time, preparing for his Broadway debut as a composer/lyricist with the coming-of-age musical Glory Days. I did see Cry-Baby and was nonplussed. I did not see Glory Days but wish I had. Both shows shuttered quickly but Blaemire certainly did not walk away defeated. A streak of performances to round out 2008 followed: in Iconis' The Black Suits at The Public's Summer Play Festival, in Mazzaferri's Green Eyes at the NY Fringe, in the return of Iconis' Things To Ruin and in the debut of Iconis' musical triptych ReWrite. Nick is an energetic and dynamic performer with a savage rock tenor voice. And you are hard-pressed to find a performer with a higher likeability factor. He's sort of the Ferris Buehler of musical theatre.

Expect great things from Nick. More great performances, certainly, but look out for his next writing project, which partners him again with his Glory Days co-writer James Gardiner. Nick played a selection from the commissioned project at a concert a few months back and I feel confident saying that he has not seen the last of his "glory days".


If you want a composer who is on the cusp of greatness then you need look no further than 2008 Jonathan Larson Grant winner Gaby Alter. As with the other composers on this list, Gaby writes a kick-ass story song set to some fiercely catchy melodies. I defy anyone to listen to this song and not walk away humming. Gaby is a prolific writer with many works in development, including my personal favorite, 29. In January 2009, Gaby and his writing partners Tommy Newman and Mark Allen had their musical Band Geeks! featured as part of Goodspeed Opera House's 4th Annual Festival of New Artists.

I had the privilege of hearing Gaby perform one his compositions at The Secret Show back in the fall. But his talent won't be a secret for long. Before long Gaby will break through in a big way and you can say that you heard it here first. And you'll be able say something similar to what I say to my friends when they finally discover Facebook: "Yeah, I started that addiction 2 years ago!"


2008 saw many memorable Broadway/YouTube marriages (think [tos], Legally Brown, Cubby Bernstein). Not to be outdone, fresh-faced and fancy-footed Jake Wilson leapt right onto that bandwagon with The Battery’s Down. This "online tv series" chronicles Jake's life as a struggling actor in New York, complete with fancy Broadway guesties and big splashy musical numbers. Bear in mind that this YouTube jewel is a ship captained primarily by Jake, who wears the hats of director, writer, cinematographer, actor and choreographer. It helps, too, that he runs with a talented crowd who help out as his supporting cast. The professional quality of TBD, combined with Jake's unbelievable charm and business sense, as heard in this Playbill Radio interview, will most assuredly propel him swiftly to the limelight.

But the bottom line is this: Jake has talent. Well, many talents. In fact, while The Battery’s Down was on filming hiatus, that talent landed him a role in a production of Hair out West. But fret not, the tours and out-of-town gigs are over and the cast and crew of TBD are back at it for Season 2, premiering March 1st. And they should be around until the next gig surfaces, which is pretty much assured with this bunch.