Monday, January 12, 2015

A Good Thing Going

92Y has a good thing going with the educational and entertaining Lyrics & Lyricists series. If you are a musical theater fan with no plans tonight, I suggest you get a ticket for the final performance of A Good Thing Going: The Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince Collaboration. But if you're reading this too late, at least keep the series on your radar for the future.

The program has a section devoted to each of the six shows that Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince collaborated on as composer/lyricist and director/producer, starting with Company in 1970 and ending with Merrily We Roll Along in 1981 (with Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, and Sweeney Todd in between). As host/musical director/artistic director David Loud explains, it's really incredible that the team produced those enduring works in just 11 years. Hearing songs from all of them in one evening, performed by Kate Baldwin, Heidi Blickenstaff, Liz Callaway, James Clow, Jason Danieley, and Jeremy Jordan, really drives home that fact.

Each musical number, from Baldwin's "Could I Leave You" to Danieley's "Johanna" to Jordan's "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me-Blues"(he'll probably make a surprisingly good Buddy in Follies some day), would make the trek to the upper east side worth it. But what really make the program memorable are Loud's stories. He played Ted in the original production of Merrily We Roll Along (Callaway made her Broadway debut in it as well) and tells about his audition and the crazy preview period, adding a personal touch.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Contest: Win Tickets To Disenchanted

Update: The contest is now closed. The winner was chosen at random from the entries here and on Twitter. Congratulations, Skip!

If you've seen Into The Woods and are looking for more fairy tales with a twist, you might want to enter to win a pair of tickets to Disenchanted! It's a satirical musical about fairy tale princesses (leave the kids at home) playing at the Theatre at St. Clement's through January 25.
Lulu Picart, Becky Gulsvig, Michelle Knight, Jen Bechter, Soara-Joye Ross, and Alison Burns
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
It's really easy to enter the contest. Just leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite fictional princess. (For the record, mine is Aurora from Disney's Sleeping Beauty, followed closely by Ariel from The Little Mermaid.) You can also tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it (if you enter this way, you must be following on Twitter to win). You can enter once each way for a total of two entries. I want to choose a winner quickly so that he/she has time to pick a date to see the show before closing, so I will pick a name at random from all the entries on Friday, January 9, at 4:00 p.m. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. Good luck!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

It's Only A Play Reality Index

Today is the last day to see Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally, and Rupert Grint in It's Only A Play. Martin Short, Katie Finneran, and Maulik Pancholy join the cast on January 7. So in honor of the last day of the original Broadway cast, I decided to put together a brief reality index, as NineDaves and I used to do for Smash (R.I.P.).

I was reminded of Smash because It's Only A Play takes place at the opening night party of a Broadway play as the producer, playwright, lead actress, and director wait for the reviews to come in. I can suspend my disbelief at a show, but if it's about the theater industry, it shouldn't be too hard to get the details right. Terrence McNally seems concerned with getting as many laughs as possible and because of that, there are moments that ring false. I get that sometimes humor comes at the expense of accuracy, but it's not really worth it for a joke that's obvious or old.

Some spoilers follow, though there aren't many surprises in the play anyway. It's a little more difficult to do this for theater than a TV show since I can't go back and watch scenes again, so I'm sure I forgot things. Let me know in the comments if I left anything out.

Totally True 

  • It gets all the names right, like Ben Brantley is the chief theater critic of The New York Times and Bob Wankel is the president of the Shubert Organization, so maybe audience members who aren't too familiar with theater will learn something and that's not a bad thing.
  • Megan Mullally's character, Julia Budder, is the producer and she remarks that she is so happy to no longer be one of the "anonymous herd of investors who call themselves producers." It's true that anyone who puts money into a show calls him or herself a producer. 
  • After the reviews come out, Bob Wankel calls Julia to talk about closing the show. Bad reviews could mean that the theater owners would try to get a new play in there fast. That's what happened with Side Show.
  • There is a rumor of a Broadway revival of The Music Man starring Audra McDonald. This probably isn't going to happen, so I guess it should go in the other column, but I'd see that.
  • There is a line about up-and-coming playwrights, which is really long and includes many playwrights who have already made it. But up-and-coming often just means young, so this is accurate.
  • This doesn't have anything to do with realism, but bonus points for introducing Micah Stock as the coat check boy Gus. He and Lane get the most laughs and his performance of a popular showtune is the highlight of the show.
Oh Hell No!
  • Why is the opening night party at the producer's apartment? Sure, it's a good a way to get a nice, ornate set (thanks to Scott Pask) that doesn't need to move (which is actually commented on in the play), but wouldn't it make more sense to have it at Glass House Tavern or something? Or the Marriott Marquis, where the actual It's Only a Play party was held?
  • I don't care who is involved with a show, there would never be that many celebrities at an opening night party. Lady Gaga? Hillary Clinton? The Pope?
  • A running gag is that Gus brings coats into the bedroom, declaring who just arrived at the party. For example, he announces the cast of The Lion King while carrying African clothing and the cast of Rock of Ages with leather garb. Actors don't wear their costumes out of the show. This bothered me every time and is the main reason I wanted to do this reality index. Though I did laugh out loud when he brought in what looked like a jacket for a baby and announced Daniel Radcliffe's arrival.
  • F. Murray Abraham plays a critic named Ira Drew, who is reviewing the show. He would not be at the opening night party, let alone listening to the others read Brantley's review when he hasn't even written his own yet.
  • There is a joke about kids throwing snowballs outside and that it's the cast of Matilda because no one can understand what they are saying. I'm sure those professional actors would not be throwing snowballs and they wouldn't be speaking in British accents outside the show.
  • And while we're on the subject, though sometimes casts do go to opening nights together, every cast of every Broadway show would not be there. 
  • The character James Wicker, an actor on a popular television show, is played by Nathan Lane has a line about liking The Addams Family and another about Nathan Lane. How can Nathan Lane exist in a world in which Nathan Lane is playing another character?
  • Characters talk about how successful Wicked is and also talk about how a show that gets a bad review in The New York Times can't run. You know what got a bad review in the Times? Wicked. It just seems lazy not to mention that.
  • Jokes about James Franco's Instagram scandal and Shia LaBeouf's Cabaret incident are true, but they already feel tired. And Jeremy Piven? What is this, 2008?

Monday, December 08, 2014

Broadway Magic

Whoever decided to include a Broadway stop on The Illusionists--Witness The Impossible tour is pretty smart. It's in town through January 4 and though it's not exactly a holiday show, it is sure to attract an international audience, especially with its location at the Marriott Marquis Theatre. And there is even snow.
The Illusionists is a group of seven charismatic magicians with very different talents and styles. They are Yu Ho-Jin (The Manipulator), Dan Sperry (The Anti-Conjuror), Jeff Hobson (The Trickster), Andrew Basso (The Escapologist), Kevin James (The Inventor), Aaron Crow (The Warrior), and Adam Trent (The Futurist). 

After a bit of warming up from Trent, there is an overblown opening number with dance, smoke, costume changes, and a moving train. The problem is that audiences can see that kind of illusion in almost any Broadway musical. More impressive are the smaller, quieter moments, like 2014 Magician of the Year Ho-Jin's ability to make cards appear out of nowhere and change colors. It's the type of trick that makes you wonder, "How did he do that?" and isn't that what magic is all about?
Other highlights are Basso's escape from a tank of water while handcuffed and Sperry's manic technique while performing with birds and terrifying an audience member.

Yes, there is a lot of audience participation, especially in Hobson's and Trent's acts. Sometimes they ask for a volunteer and sometimes they choose, so no one is safe. But if you've always wanted to be in a Broadway show, this might be your chance.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Q&A & Ice Cream With Josh Kaufman

This morning, I joined the new star of Pippin and winner of the sixth season of The Voice, Josh Kaufman, for the unveiling of the new "High-Flying Sundae" at Serendipity 3. It consists of three scoops of Neapolitan ice cream, hot fudge, raspberry sauce, sour rainbow ribbon candy, whipped cream, a circus swirl lollipop, and dark chocolate covered popcorn. I was particularly a fan of the popcorn and ice cream together.
The sundae in all its glory (glory).
When he's not in the show or doing promotional events like this one, Kaufman is working on his first single. After trying the sundae, he was nice enough to sit down with me for a few minutes before his two shows to talk about the journey from The Voice to Broadway.

Q: How did you go from a show geared toward getting a recording contract to doing theater?
A: Honestly, it was kind of a freak thing after the show. I was on The Voice tour over the summer and the guy who runs my website got in contact with me while I was on the tour and said, "Hey. You just got this message through the website about a Broadway show. I looked it up and it looks like it's for real, so you might want to get in contact with them." And it just happened that Bernie Telsey from Telsey + Company was at one of the live shows of The Voice and saw me there and got the idea to get in contact with me about this. It's not an avenue that people probably expected me to go down, but it's something that I've always been interested in and enjoyed, so when the opportunity came up, I thought I at least have to give it a shot.
Josh Kaufman, now playing Pippin on Broadway.
Q: Are you still in touch with any of the coaches from The Voice?
A: There is a guy who works really closely with Usher on all of his albums. He has sort of a musical director role in everything Usher does. He actually worked with him on The Voice. I do keep in contact with him and let them know what is going on with me. Usher had me come out over the summer to a dinner he had with his non-profit organization, Usher's New Look, in Atlanta. It's focused on education. It's a really good organization. I sang a song there. So, I've kept some contact, but obviously the guy's ridiculously busy. He's on tour right now.

Q: When you were going to do this, did you have to run it by them? Did you have obligations with the show besides the tour?
A: I did have the obligation to do the tour and really beyond that, everything flips over to the record label. I signed with Universal Music Group Republic Records and so it's more them that I have obligations to now. NBC and The Voice, I'm kind of finished with that. Everything shifts over to the record label, so I did have to make sure that this would all work because obviously I've signed a contract, so I have to make sure that there are no conflicts, but we were able to work all that out.

Q: Did you get to work much with Diane Paulus [the director] when you were preparing?
A: I did a lot of working in the studio with the stage manager and him reading lines and going through things with him, just the two of us. The day before my put-in, I had time with all of the principal actors and with Diane. She was real intense and would give any notes she could think of to give me as we'd go along, so it was a really good session, very helpful. 

Q: Is Broadway what you expected it to be?
A: That's a hard question because I don't know how many expectations I really had. It was more just go into it and figure it out and see what it is as I go. I saw the show and I knew what I would have to prepare for. I knew it would be a lot of work and a lot of time to put in. But I went into it pretty open-minded.

Pippin starring Josh Kaufman runs through January 4 at the Music Box Theatre.

Friday, November 07, 2014

A Strong Start to The New Group's 20th Anniversary Season

The New Group kicks off its 20th anniversary season (in its new space at the Pershing Square Signature Center) with the first major New York revival of David Rabe's disturbing 1971 play Sticks and Bones. Director Scott Elliott, the company's artistic director, does perhaps his finest work here (at least that I've seen) and has assembled the right ensemble of actors, led by Bill Pullman, who should probably star in at least one of The New Group's productions per season.
From left: Ben Schnetzer, Raviv Ullman, Bill Pullman, Holly Hunter. Photo credit: Monique Carboni
Ozzie (Pullman) and Harriet (Holly Hunter) are a typical American couple--just like in the sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet--in a typical American home (rendered perfectly by Derek McLane). Their son Rick (Raviv Ullman) plays guitar, always greets his parents with a smile, and has a healthy appetite. However, their perfect world starts to fall apart when their oldest, David (Ben Schnetzer), comes home from Vietnam, blind. He is haunted by the memories of his lover Zung (Nadia Gan), but his family doesn't want to hear about her and they don't know how to deal with this new angry presence in their home. The characters are too prone to exhausting monologues, but surprisingly, this play still has the power to shock.

Perhaps it would feel more dated in less capable hands. Schnetzer caught my attention a few months ago in the film Pride and here he again proves that he is an actor to watch, giving David more dimensions than just an outlet for Rabe's anger. Hunter delivers a manic performance, but she could have reigned it in more at the beginning. While Pullman's Ozzie slowly unravels, she speaks in the same high-pitched, high-strung manner throughout. Ullman gives a layered performance, going from comic relief to creepy. When the play ends, it's a relief to be rid of this toxic atmosphere, but, especially as we're approaching Veterans Day, it's a reminder that not everyone has that luxury.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Tziporela Brings Its Quirky Brand of Comedy to the U.S.

Combining dance, music, comedy, and charming accents, Israeli theater troupe Tziporela is a welcome addition to the downtown theater scene. The company is making its U.S. debut with Odd Birdz at the Players Theatre. Most of the show is in English, though a lot of the sketches are wordless. And when they do speak in Hebrew, it is translated, usually adding to the comedy.

There are 24 scenes--enough to appeal to a variety of tastes. I enjoyed some sketches more than others and I'm sure everyone will have their own preferences based on individual sense of humor. I probably laughed the most at "A Real Date" starring Ben Perry and Tamara Klayngon (see video below), which addresses what people would say on dates if they were completely honest.

Another personal favorite is Perry and Dana Ivgy as a musical duo singing "Something Stupid" and changing the lyrics from "I love you" to actual stupid things a person might say. Ivgy is also a standout in "This Thing Called Love," in which she alternates lip syncing as a man and a woman, creating a dialogue in song lyrics. Gal Friedman and Tomer Nahir Petluck comment on some of the differences between Odd Birdz and a typical Off-Broadway show as a hilarious old couple arguing in the audience. The entire ensemble, which also includes Efrat Aviv, Danny Isserles, and Lotus Etrog, is effortlessly in sync with each other.

As we exited the theater, the cast shook our hands and thanked us for coming (they had also greeted us when we arrived with Hershey's Kisses) and then had a "Something Stupid" singalong, inviting audience members to suggest their own stupid lines. Odd Birdz closes on November 19, but Tziporela should feel free to come back any time.