Friday, June 26, 2009

Two Fitting Tributes

I'm honestly not sure how to feel about Michael Jackson's death. It really has no profound impact on me. I was never a huge Michael Jackson fan. The memory I most associate with him is being terrified of Captain EO at Disneyland as a child. But I did enjoy many of his songs. My mom had this cassette she made of songs she liked from the radio that we used to listen to in the car and "Billy Jean" was on there, as well as "Say Say Say." And there is no denying the impact he had on the music industry. When I heard the news of his death last night, shortly before leaving work, I was mostly shocked and also sad thinking about that talented young man from the Jackson 5 and the strange directions his life took. I already had tickets to see The Wiz at City Centers and it seemed the most appropriate place to make sense of it all (Michael Jackson starred in the film version).

An announcement was made before the show that the performance would be dedicated to Jackson, and what a joyous dedication it was. The show was so much better than I expected, having critic-o-metered the reviews. One complaint by the critics was that the book by William F. Brown doesn't hold up with its '70s jokes, but the cast sold every line and nothing fell flat. And yes, Ashanti isn't a great actress, but she can sing, which is all that's really necessary in the role. Dorothy is the blandest character in the show anyway. From David Korins' sets (especially the platform holding the orchestra made to look ravaged by a tornado) to Andy Blankenbuehler's inventive choreography which includes dancers as the tornado to the overall superb cast, the show was a good time from start to finish. The celebratory attitude towards music, even if it obviously wasn't written by Jackson, seemed to me the perfect tribute.

This morning, only a few hours later, I trekked to Central Park to catch the cast of Hair perform for Good Morning America. Sasha Allen and Gavin Creel, backed by the rest of the cast, sang this rendition of "I'll Be There." During that song only, it started to pour down rain, which made for an oddly beautiful moment.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Shout Out

Producer Ken Davenport wrote some kind words about an article I wrote for TDF. This may be the first time something I wrote was referenced by someone, so I had to share.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

It's show time!

7: 44- The Tony live feed isn't working for me, so I'll start blogging at 8.

8:01- So excited! Those Billy Elliot boys are amazing dancers. Something is off with the sound. At least they are showing one of the decent scenes from Guys and Dolls. I'm not loving the opening though. Where's Neil Patrick Harris?

8:05- Horrified about Stockard Channing and Aaron Tveit. How did they decide which songs would go together for this opening? I love Shrek, the most underrated show of the season. I love Dolly too.

8:09- Ladies and gentleman, the best looking cast on Broadway right now- the cast of Hair. It's a Hair dance party with everyone!

8:12- Neil Patrick Harris needs to sing at some point tonight.

8:17- Roger Robinson deserves this award. I also loved Stephen Mangan and Paul Ritter. But this speech is really touching. I'm one for one so far.

8:27- I'm glad they chose a Christopher Seiber number for Shrek, but I wish they went with "The Ballad of Farquad." Is it going to take Brian D'Arcy James 45 minutes to get out of his costume or keep his costume on the whole time? Wow, they kept the "Defying Gravity" bit in, but kept it off the CD.

8:31- I love Angela Lansbury, but I would have liked Amanda Root to win. But how cute is Angela Lansbury?

8:34- I'll admit, I really enjoy Mamma Mia, but I would have rather seen the presentation of the other awards.

8:44- Will Ferrell is really funny. He just announced that Lee Hall won for best book. I thought Billy Elliot would edge out Next to Normal for best score, but I was wrong. I'm going to say for the record, Shrek was my favorite score of those four. As much as I don't like Next to Normal, I feel bad for Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey for getting drowned out.

8:49- Smart of West Side Story to showcase the dancing, which was the best part of the show.

8:58- Matthew Warchus should have won for The Norman Conquests, not God of Carnage, but either way, he is a brilliant director of comedy. I don't get a point for that.

9:01- I was really hoping Diane Paulus would win, but I did really like Billy Elliot.

9:04- Watching the Rock of Ages medley makes me want to watch Glee again.

9:17- Oliver Platt and Lauren Graham have to announce Guys and Dolls instead of performing with them. The guy running to give Tituss Burgess a microphone was my favorite moment so far. It was a real shame this production wasn't better.

9:27- Best orchestrations was a tie between Next to Normal and Billy Elliot. I think there should be more ties.

9:31- Like best supporting actor, for example. I wanted them all to win. I checked Will Swenson on my ballot even though I thought Greg Jbara would probably take it. That was really sweet. I love him, but I didn't think that role was as memorable as some of the other ones. He should have been nominated for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but I'm really happy for him. Will Swenson will be nominated again. So will they all, I imagine.

9:33- Karen Olivo was really sweet too. I'm really happy for her too.

9:44- First Jeremy Piven joke of the night.

9:46- Raul Esparza will have his day. I thought all 5 of these performances were terrific. This was overall an amazing season

9:48- I missed Dividing The Estate. I haven't seen Mary Stuart, Godot, or any of the special theatrical events besides You're Welcome America. I've actually seen everything else that was nominated, I think that's a personal best.

9:57- I expected these Tony Awards to be more entertaining. I'm mildly disappointed, but there's still an hour to go.

9:59- Frank Langella is cracking me up. Is this a dig at the fact that the Tonys barely nominated anything from the fall?

10:10- Best performance of the night so far, Billy Elliot. I think I might need to see it again. For some reason, it didn't have as lasting an impression on me as some other shows, but I did really enjoy it.

10:17- Let's thank Kevin Spacey for getting best revival of a play televised. I saw The Norman Conquests marathon yesterday and if you can see it that way, you must.

10:19- As expected, God of Carnage won. I'm afraid reasons to be pretty (which I think is a better play) might close soon without this win.

10:32- Jerry Herman is adorable.

10:37- Everybody in this apartment is very happy right now. Everything in the audience at Radio City Music Hall seems to be enjoying the Hair performance as well. And of course Hair wins. And the whole cast goes onstage. It is not possible to love a cast as much as I love this cast.

10:40- I am loving Anthony Hollock behind Oskar Eustis right now.

10:47- Edit: I thought Alice Ripley had won for Side Show, but that was the year Natasha Richardson won for Cabaret, so I was wrong. I think it's funny how before the Tonys I would say that I thought Alice Ripley was crazy, and nobody believed me, and now everyone seems to be saying it.

Alice Ripley kind of scares me sometimes. Though I'm not a fan of her show or her voice, I can't help but be happy for her.

10:50- I was sort of rooting for Gavin Creel, but the Billys are adorable. Everyone is standing. This is amazing. They don't know what to say. New best moment of the night. I thought that Tony nominators should have seen all three actors, so that they weren't just voting for the role, but whatever, these boys are incredible. At first they couldn't say anything and now they can't stop talking.

11:00- Liza is happy for Billy Elliot. So am I. I got 18.5 out of 27, not bad. It was a fairly predictable Tonys. I can't believe Neil Patrick Harris didn't sing. And I'm signing off. Good night.

11:03- False alarm. Neil Patrick Harris is singing. And the night is saved. He needs to come back to Broadway soon.

Overhead on 8th Ave.

Guy 1- "What's it about."
Guy 2- "3 or 4 guys who are waiting for Godot."

Friday, June 05, 2009

It's Tony Time... Almost

I'll be live blogging the Tonys on Sunday, just for fun, since I'm too intimidated by Twitter. I won't actually be at Radio City, just in a friend's living room. So if you get bored of the live tweets from these guys or these guys or these guys or these guys or these guys (I'm sure I left out some), then I'll be here.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Next to Normal Revisited

Next to Normal opened on Broadway on April 15 to mostly positive reviews. The main theme in the reviews was that the problems from the off-Broadway production at Second Stage had been addressed, so I decided to give the show another chance. While it is true that the show has improved, it still suffers from a number of problems.

Most of the worst scenes were cut from the show, the electric shock therapy number, the Costco meltdown, and it definitely feels as if the writers finally decided to believe in the material rather than undercut it with misplaced humor. However, the show still relies to heavily on unnecessary gimmicks. *Warning: Spoilers about key plot twists to follow.* A key element in the show is that Diana refuses to acknowledge the death of Gabe, who died as a baby. For much of the first act, though he only interacts with her, it is not explicitly stated that he is dead. When it is finally revealed, I heard a few gasps in the audience. I see no reason why the audience can't be aware that Gabe is dead early on in the show. An even bigger problem is that once Diana leaves Dan, her husband, he starts to see Gabe as well. We see him struggling with Gabe as Gabe tries to get his father to see him. Are we to believe that mental illness is contagious? There is no hint at mental illness in Dan prior to this. It is brought up in the show that Diana's symptoms (she suffers from bipolar disorder and anxiety) could have been brought about by trauma, which I think is believable if she was already predisposed to these conditions, but that didn't seem to be the case with Dan.
*End Spoiler*

The score can be enjoyable in the way that certain pop songs are fun to listen to. "Superboy and the Invisible Girl," for example, is great for rocking out to on the subway, but as a whole the score does not serve the story well, mostly because of the lyrics, which are mostly expository.

J. Robert Spencer as Dan is a great addition to the cast and is more deserving of a Tony than the overrated Alice Ripley. She is very convincing in her role, but her voice is in bad shape, especially when compared to Jennifer Damiano, who plays her daughter, Natalie. Aaron Tveit has a fine voice, but talk that he was robbed of a Tony nomination is unfounded. He doesn't do that much besides sing and dance around the stage (some of the "musical staging" still makes me cringe). Gabe is not a fully developed character as he only exists as the perfect son to Diana and a torment to Dan.

It may seem like I'm out to get this musical, but that's not the case. If this show strikes a chord with people, great. I just hope that the critics and fans embracing the show so passionately, really believe it is that strong and are not just ignoring flaws because they want an original and adult musical to succeed.