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Sunday, April 6, 2014

THE REALISTIC JONESES: Some Neighbors Are Anything But Ordinary

The Realistic Jones is the story of two sets of neighbors, both named Jones. Jennifer (Toni Collette) and Bob (Tracy Letts) Jones live a pretty bland existence until Pony (Marisa Tomei) and John (Michael C. Hall) Jones move down the block. Their lives become intertwined over drinks in the backyard, a fainting spell, and a surprising affair.

Will Eno's text sparkles with witty banter and nuanced repartee as the vibrant characters interact and feed off of one another. Though the plot itself is rather mundane, Eno's dialogue pops and sizzles. This emphasis on dialogue over plot brings the most basic of human behaviors to the forefront. We don't have thrilling adventures everyday, but we all express our thoughts and feelings with others. He plays with social boundaries and even the generation gap as the younger Pony and John open up to their new neighbors and begin divulging personal information immediately, while the older Jennifer and Bob stick to small talk before anything serious comes up.

Tracy Letts is a standout as Bob. Even more impressive is the fact that he is an award winning playwright, yet he still finds time to focus on the craft of acting. His deadpan delivery gets every laugh and aside from a questionable moral compass, you will still find yourself feeling invested in him as a character. Marisa Tomei steals the show as the flighty Pony. Her portrayal teeters on the edge of nailing it and going too far, though she always manages to stay on the former side. She is just so honest and endearing that even though she seems like she could be from another planet, you can still imagine her living just on the other side of your picket fence.

Clocking in at just around 90 minutes, this one-act play is a thoroughly enjoyable night at the theatre. It features the best writing, play or musical, on Broadway this season. Be prepared to laugh, but you'll need to pay attention, because this isn't cheap humor. This is a well-crafted play and you'll be hearing the title many times during the upcoming awards season, so get used to it.

If you really want to keep up with the Joneses, stop in at my new favorite bar in Midtown for a pre- or post-show cocktail. "The Lantern's Keep" is a tiny speakeasy located in the Iroquois NY hotel at 49 W 44th street. This is not your typical lobby lounge, but rather a unique little hideaway that will take you back nearly 100 years. "The Lantern's Keep" features a plethora of creative specialty cocktails, though I would highly recommend The Glass House. I promise you won't be disappointed. 

BULLETS OVER BROADWAY: Mobsters and Chorus Girls Collide

Bullets Over Broadway is currently in previews at the St. James Theatre and opens on April 10th. Based on the Woody Allen movie of the same title, this new musical tells the story of David Shayne (Zach Braff), a budding playwright, and his show's road to Broadway. David has had many plays rejected in the past, but Julian Marx (Lenny Wolpe) finally agrees to produce his most recent work, though it seems like everything gets in the way from a diva and a wannabe to a motley crew of mobsters.

Woody Allen fans already know the story and there is no original music, so the fate of the show falls squarely on the shoulders of director/choreographer Susan Stroman and her actors they do not disappoint. There is something so seamless in shows where the director and choreographer are one in the same. Stroman's love of the leggy showgirl is alive and kicking, literally. Her dancers are statuesque and technically perfect, though it helps that most of them are off-season Radio City Rockettes. They don't merely perform in dance breaks, but Stroman also integrates them into the sets and uses them to transition between scenes. Also, watch out for a surprise tap number, I promise it comes out of nowhere!

Zach Braff in the role of David is the surprise of the Broadway season. We have never seen him in a musical and he does not disappoint. His singing is merely serviceable, but his timing is impeccable and his reactions to the zany antics of the other characters are priceless. David is a newbie to show business and you get the feeling that he is just trying to keep up with everything that his happening around him; Braff plays it perfectly. Marin Mazzie is simply divine in the role of Helen Sinclair, the show's grand diva. She commands attention, but shows just enough vulnerability that you still like her. Her transformation into this role is incredible, and for a while you forget you are watching Mazzie. Her commitment to the role is without question from the vocal inflection to the posture and carriage.

Betsy Wolfe is quite lovable in the role of Ellen, David's girlfriend from Pittsburgh, and her singing is heavenly, but unfortunately the character doesn't do the actress justice. She does what she can with the role, but the material given to her is too slight for a performer of her caliber. Karen Ziemba, one of Stroman's favorite performers, plays Eden, another actress in the show within the show. It saddens me when brilliant dancers start to show their age, but she still has a killer attitude turn and is transitioning seamlessly into the comic relief character. Brooks Ashmankas plays Warner Purcell, the male lead in David's play and, without giving away any punch lines, he reinvents the phrase "physical comedy". Vincent Pastore plays Nick Valenti, a mob boss, and dare I say the role he was born to play. He bankrolls David's play in order to give his girlfriend Olive the chance to be a star. He also leads the cast in a choral rendition of "Yes, We Have No Bananas," but I will let you figure that one out.

Helene York steals Act I in the role of Olive. From a hot dog number to a few stellar one-liners like "I'm going to put a shiv through your liver in your sleep," she lands every single joke in true zinger fashion. She lets them fly left and right and though she pushes the limit in every scene, she never once goes too far. In Act II, Cheech (Nick Cordero) takes over scene stealing duties as the play writing gangster who we still find it in our hearts to love for his, umm, artistic soul.

It is zany, out of control, is not ashamed to go for a cheap laugh here and there, and it may be a slight ripoff of The Producers, but this is a big fat fantastic show! It will be a hit and should be the frontrunner for Best Musical come June so buy your tickets now! 

UNDER MY SKIN: Enter to Win a Voucher for a Pair of Free Tickets!

Take the dashing CEO of America’s leading healthcare provider, a single mom from Staten Island, and an outrageous twist of fate and you’ve got the makings of a sexy and outrageous new comedy, UNDER MY SKIN.

Kirsten Sanderson directs the new off-Broadway comedy about three things we all want but can’t always get: Sex, Love & Healthcare. 

Tony and Drama Desk-nominee Kerry Butler (“Xanadu,” “Catch Me If You Can”) and film, TV and stage actor Matt Walton (“Burn After Reading,” “One Life to Live”) star in the play that will leave you in stitches. 
Tues-Sat: 8 PM
Dark Mondays.

They are joined by actresses Megan Sikora, Allison Strong, Kate Loprest, Dierdre Friel as well as actors Edward James Hyland and Andrew Polk.

UNDER MY SKIN is written by the husband and wife writing team Robert Sternin and Prudence Fraser, known for their hit shows “The Nanny,” “Three’s Company,” and “Who’s The Boss?” It’s the uproarious out-of-body experience that brings “he said, she said” to a whole new level and proves a man can’t really understand the opposite sex until he’s walked a mile in someone else’s stilettos.

To enter to win a voucher for tickets, answer the following trivia question in the comments section below by Sunday April 13th. Please include your email address so we can contact winners!

Leading actress Kerry Butler last appeared on Broadway in 2012. What was the title of that play?

Good Luck and continue to check back for future contests!


TICKETS
Tickets are currently available on Telecharge.com:
Student tickets are available on Tix4Students:

The Little Shubert Theatre
422 West 42nd Street (Between 9th & 10th Avenues)
New York, NY 10036
  
PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
Previews begin on Saturday, April 5 at 8 PM. 

Sun: 7 PM
Sat (except 4/5) and Sun: 2 PM
Opening Night is May 15. 


ONLINE AND SOCIAL NETWORKS

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

ROCKY's Excitement Level Punches the Back Wall

Rocky's nose ain't broke yet, and you'll know that from what seems like six reprises of the song. Rocky is America's favorite underdog and if you loved the classic 1970s movie, the new musical at The Winter Garden Theatre does not disappoint. If "Eye of the Tiger" and "The Rocky Theme" don't get you all hot and bothered, then you have no business seeing this show. I grew up loving the Rocky movies, I run to the theme song, and I'm a sports fanatic, so for me it was just everything.

Andy Karl in the role of Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion, is to be commended for his sheer energy and commitment to the role. He isn't the cute office boy from 9to5 or the hunky UPS guy from Legally Blonde anymore. He looks like a genuine prize fighter and according to some interviews, has gotten the occasional black eye to prove it. His singing has it's moments, especially in "Fight from the Heart" when he decides to fight Creed, though the Stallone accent interferes with his pitch in other songs. This performance should certainly garner nominations in the upcoming awards season.

Margo Seibert makes her Broadway debut as the mousy Adrian. Her first solo "Raining" is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but her Act II solo "I'm Done" shows some real grit and power. As she really gives it to her brother Paulie who has done nothing but put her down for twenty plus years, she conjures a bit of Stephanie J. Block in 9to5's "Get Out and Stay Out," though thinner vocally.

The true star of the show is the boxing. Why else would you see Rocky? The excitement begins with the training sequences that feature Karl running in place, hokey as it may sound, but the moving transparent projects of the Philadelphia streets bring director Alex Timbers' vision to life. I wanted to love the famous stairs scene even more, but it is pretty anticlimactic in comparison to the final scene. Speaking of which, right before Rocky fights Apollo Creed, "security" marches the first eight rows of center orchestra into bleachers onstage. This is when the audience is transported from the Winter Garden to a Philadelphia arena. Timbers's attention to detail is impeccable. We have color analysts, an announcer, a referee, judges, ringside girl, and even live TV cameras. You can't help but stand and cheer as Rocky and his team march down the aisle of the orchestra and you won't sit down for the rest of the show. The fight choreography by Steven Hoggett & Kelly Devine is so realistic you forget where you are for about twenty minutes.We all know how the story ends. Rocky goes the distance, and though Creed wins by the judges' votes, Rocky really wins because he proves that he isn't a bum and he gets the girl. Yes, we hear our favorite line from the movie "Adriannnnnnn" as she too runs into the ring from the aisle of the orchestra.

The production's tag line is "Love Wins," but that is really selling the show short. If you want to see a love story, go to The Bridges of Madison County, but if you want to see boxing, then yo, come to Rocky. Does this absolutely need to be a musical? No, it doesn't, but it is certainly an exciting theatrical experience. I don't know how long it will run on Broadway, but it certainly has a future in Vegas where boxing is a marquis event and flashiness is king.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

IF/THEN: An Ordinary Story About Ordinary People

People, we have a new turntable on Broadway, and no, I'm not talking about the revival of Les Miserables. Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey's new musical IF/THEN opens tonight on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. This is a modern musical about everyday people doing everyday things. Elizabeth (Idina Menzel) is a recently divorced almost-forty Urban Planner who has recently returned to Manhattan. Urban Planning, how modern? She is faced with a series of choices, both personally and professionally, that will affect her life drastically. Pretty ordinary, right? None of this screams, "let's make a musical," right? I've always loved the old saying "the characters sing when they can't speak anymore," but I rarely felt that these characters were pushed to the emotionally brink, at least not enough to merit a song. The only thing really intriguing about the plot is the overlapping exploration of Elizabeth's multiple lives. The audience gets to watch both sides of her choices play out, which is fantastic in theory, but really makes for a confusing plot. If you're a fan of the show LOST, think of those flashes-sideways and you'll have an idea of what is going on here.

The opening scene, set in Madison Square Park, is reminiscent of Sunday in the Park With George as the actors seem to spring out of the set. The opening number speaks repeatedly about choices, and though it is didactic and basically hits you over the head with the themes of the show, at least it let's the audience know what we will be seeing. It is very Comedy Tonight in that way, which is no surprise since Tom Kitt has mentioned more than once that he is a Sondheim disciple. 

Elizabeth (Idina Menzel) faces an endless series of choices in the show, beginning with the decision to go by 'Liz' or "Beth". She carries this show on her back and vocally, she is stunning as always. Her vocal power hasn't regressed at all in the ten years since she last Defied Gravity. The highlight is certainly the 11 o'clock number where she questions why she did what she did before finding contentment in the finale. I didn't find the character particularly interesting, but she does well with what she is given. You can see how tortured she is when her life doesn't go the way she planned, and she's way too proud to ever ask for help from friends, even though she is always a rock for them.

Kate (LaChanze) is the standout of the show. Her performance is what the "Best Featured Actress" TONY was made for, a bright light in an average production. She delivers the one liners perfectly with snap, and sometimes with bite. Her energy is absolutely palpable, even from the rear mezzanine where I so humbly sat. Her confidence and strength play perfectly against Elizabeth's confusion and uncertainty.

In the show that is a not-so-subtle love letter to RENT, it's fitting that Anthony Rapp plays Lucas like he played Mark. Lucas is all "power to the people" and sexual confusion, which is both annoying and frustrating. It just seems so been there, done that. In the past, and in one of the many alternating presents, Lucas and Elizabeth had/have a romantic relationship. Maureen and Mark anyone? Do we see it yet?

Ultimately, Michael Greif's production begs us to ask ourselves "what happens to the other versions of ourselves when we make different choices?" It certainly makes you think about your own life choices, and for that, we should applaud this production. Cut the plane crash, the bisexual bestie from 1994, and the shmaltzy melodrama and we could have something here, but as of now, it's nothing all that special. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Bridges of Madison County is Almost Real(ly Good)

Soaring melodies, lush arrangements, romantic performances, and the voice of a Broadway generation, these are Hallmarks of The Bridges of Madison County, based on the novel and movie of the same name. If you don't mind sacrificing plot depth for musical complexity, then skip on down to the Schoenfeld where Bartlett Sher is taking audiences on a tour of Iowa eight times per week. It is a simple story where we learn about the Johnsons, a seemingly average Iowa family. Bud is a former soldier and his wife Francesca (Franny to the locals) is an Italian war bride. They live on a farm with their two children and all is well until Francesca is left home alone for a few days and Robert Kincaid, a mysterious photographer and soon-to-be love of her life appears on the farm.

Kelli O'Hara and her voice are the true stars of this production. I've seen her in other shows and concerts, and while she is always fantastic, she was born to play this role. It is a different type of character than we've seen her play in the past, no longer an ingenue, and Brown's music sits right in her sweet spot. Her Francesca feels like a Rodgers and Hammerstein's leading lady with a lot more issues. These flaws make her Francesca feel more contemporary and therefore, relatable in a way that she's "Almost Real," hence my title. Francesca is every woman who has ever been in a loveless marriage, has regrets, or wishes her life would have turned out differently. I'm slightly appalled that I would get behind a character who would sacrifice her family for another man, but when Francesca takes us through her past and we see how much she has endured, we want her to have every bit of happiness. O'Hara does an Italian accent, and I thought it would be a distraction, but after the first few minutes of the piece it seems so natural that you don't even question in. In fact, in makes her seem more exotic and even more out of place in the flat Iowa farmland. Vocally, this is the best she has ever been. Her soprano is a breath of fresh air in an era where you can't go into a Broadway house without hearing belting, or even worse, screlting. Her singing is very controlled for the majority of the show, but there are a few times that she really let's it fly, especially in "Almost Real" when she takes us back to Italy and in "Before and After You/One Second & a Million Miles," during her last moments with Robert.

It's hard to believe that this is Steven Pasquale's Broadway musical debut. Why on earth hasn't some director scooped him up? Because he is fresh for the musical theatre audience, he works even more perfectly as Robert. First of all, he is terribly handsome and just rugged enough to make us believe he was a former cowboy and current vagrant artist. His brilliant baritone really makes Brown's music sing, no pun intended, and his chemistry with Francesca Kelli O'Hara is undeniable. It is a credit to their acting that the forbidden affair between their characters becomes something that the audience not only accepts, but actually roots for. Pasquale portrays Robert as a shy, polite gentleman who simply tries to keep to himself until fate puts him on Francesca's front porch. His intensity grows throughout the show in a way that feels natural and honest, peaking during his final moments of Francesca. When we see Robert again at the end of the show, he is quiet and reflective, resigning himself to the fact that he will live his final days alone in such a way that we as the audience and heartbroken that he never tried to go after her again.

The songs are the heart and soul of the show, as they should be with a composer such as Brown who is known for his nuanced and layered music, but this also highlights the weaknesses of the book. Outside of the songs, the characters aren't particularly well-developed. This is fine for Francesca and Robert, who sing the majority of the songs, but it is a true disservice to the rest of the characters. For example, Bud, (Hunter Foster) Francesca's husband, is written as so flat and boring that the audience roots for the affair and pulls for Francesca to leave him. It is only the presence of their children that makes Francesca's decision a true moral dilemma, not only for her, but for the audience. And even the children, Carolyn (Caitlin Kinnunen) and Michael (Derek Klena) have few redeeming qualities. Both are written, and acted, as so whiny and annoying that it's no wonder Francesca can finally let her hair down when her family goes off to the Indiana State Fair. Marge (Cass Morgan) is the one likable member of the supporting cast. The nosy neighbor could easily become a caricature, but as she nails the one-liners with such zip, she also shows her heart in the end when she just subtly lets on that she knew about Francesca's affair all those years ago and never once judged her for it.

Bartlett Sher's direction is pretty traditional, highlighting the romance and beauty of the score and his two leads. It's actually quite similar to his work in The Light in the Piazza. He does spice things up a little, particularly in Act I, with a scene that can best be described as a flashback. As Robert tells Francesca about his first wife, Marian (Whitney Bashor) actually takes the stage to sing the story. Sher took a stab at a different type of storytelling, but it just doesn't feel particularly necessary. Bashor does have a fantastic voice, but it seems like Sher liked the actress and created a character for her that wasn't integral to the story. The montage scene near the end of Act II is a triumph for Sher in that it covers several decades seamlessly without feeling forced. In another director's hands this scene could have really dragged on, but he keeps it moving with Brown's bluegrassy/folksy "When I'm Gone".

The Bridges of Madison County has the makings of Jason Robert Brown's first big broadway hit. He is known for The Last Five Years, Parade, and other slightly more offbeat shows, but this piece was clearly written with Broadway patrons in mind. It is a "big show" in every sense of the word. You have a marriage-turned-love triangle unfolding in a gossipy small town in the ever changing 1960s. All of this is the perfect framework for drama and music. We've all heard the old theatrical adage "we sing because we can't speak anymore," and it plays out perfectly in this show. Emotions are running high throughout, which leads perfectly into the songs, particularly in Act II. Brown blends his layered, complex musical sensibility with the local character of Iowa to create a folksy, yet sweeping piece of Americana. This score harkens back to Aaron Copland as much as Stephen Sondheim. If you're looking for a perfect production, this show isn't that, but then again what is? I, and I think most people, see musicals for the score and the performances, so if you go in the right frame of mind, O'Hara and Pasquale's voices and Brown's music will sweep you away.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Ticket Giveaway for THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN on Broadway!

A Broadway season that has already marked the Broadway returns of numerous fan favorites will get even better on April 12th when Daniel Radcliffe returns to the boards. The Cripple of Inishmaan, already a hit on the West End stage, comes to Broadway this spring.

“Daniel Radcliffe delivers his finest performance to date. He is remarkable,” raves The New York Times. Radcliffe, star of the eight Harry Potter films, makes a triumphant return to Broadway following his 10-month sold out run in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in the Broadway premiere of Martin McDonagh's riotous comedy directed by Tony® award winner Michael Grandage.

Set on the remote island of Inishmaan off the west coast of Ireland, word arrives that a Hollywood film is being made on the neighboring island of Inishmore. The one person who wants to be in the film more than anybody is young Cripple Billy (Radcliffe), if only to break away from the bitter tedium of his daily life. McDonagh’s comic masterpiece examines an ordinary coming-of-age in extraordinary circumstances and confirms his position as one of the most original Irish voices to emerge in the second half of the twentieth century.


"5 Stars! A stupendous performance by Daniel Radcliffe. The finest piece of acting I have seen all year.” - Tim Walker, The Sunday Telegraph


“The most politically incorrect play in the West End – and probably the funniest.” - Robert Gore-Langton, The Mail on Sunday

To enter our ticket giveaway, reply to the following trivia question in the "comments" section below by Monday March 17th. Be sure to include your email address so that we can contact you.

In which play did Daniel Radfcliffe makes his Broadway debut? Good Luck!

TICKETS
Tickets are currently available on Telecharge.com:
https://www.telecharge.com/Broadway/The-Cripple-of-Inishmaan/

THEATRE
The Cort Theatre 138 West 48th Street (btwn 6th & 7th Aves) New York, NY 10036

PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
Previews begin Saturday, April 12. Opening Night is Sunday, April 20.
Tuesdays: 7pm
Wednesdays: 2pm and 8pm
Thursdays: 7pm
Fridays: 8pm
Saturdays: 2pm & 8pm Sundays: 3pm

ONLINE & SOCIAL NETWORKS
Website: www.TheCrippleofInishmaan.com Facebook: www.Facebook.com/InishmaanBway
Twitter: www.Twitter.com/InishmaanBway
Instagram: www.Instagram.com/InishmaanBway