Wednesday, January 25, 2017

2017 Nationals Recap

Any discussion of the 2017 Nationals should begin and with Nathan Chen, so to the left he is in all his glory. These were my favorite moments of the championships in no particular order.

1. Parsons/Parsons win Jr. Dance-I watched them win novice dance the first season I really paid attention to the lower levels. I also interviewed them for KidsPost many moons ago so that was a fun memory. They were overshadowed by their training partners in recent years, but I hope they win the Jr. World title and I will be so excited to see those two teams go head to head at the senior level for years to come.

2. Cain/LeDuc win the Pairs Short-I loved how they approached their debut. I remember tweeting that I was attacking my wine like Ashley attacked that triple loop. I loved the attitude and the aggression. They have a look of a team that is ready to make waves. Please stay together!

3. Mirai Nagasu's Short-That look of joy on her face when she nailed the short was priceless. She rotated the triple-triple and 2nd seemed like such a great place for her after her history of meltdowns. If only the short were its own competition...

4. The Shibutanis Short Dance-I was puzzled when the ISU announced Hip-Hop as one of the rhythms this year, but its been such a party all season. I love how dance teams are pushing the boundaries by hiring off-ice choreographers and Hok got these guys to move in a way I've never seen.

5. Nathan Chen-He is consistent and throws it down under pressure in a way we haven't seen with US men since Evan Lysacek. The jumping ability is insane, but he's not one of those jumps-only skaters. He certainly isn't Jason Brown, but he hears the music and shows emotion through his choreography. Let's keep him in a bubble until worlds and then again until the Olympics.

6. Madison Chock's Facial Expressions-I'm almost positive this is in my recap every year. That girl was born for the theatre. She has an expressive face like Patti Lupone...she projects to the mezzanine. I love how she is styled with all the bells and whistles whether it's a crop top, a winged eye, or a double pony. Brava for performance quality!

7. Ashley Wagner's Tweets-She has such a unique voice on twitter and she doesn't give a damn what anyone thinks. I love when she tweets about the fashions of the mens event and tells us who competed against her brother. I also invited myself to her happy hour and she tweeted me back, so I guess that means she obliged despite my being in a different time zone. Today's athletes have such a unique opportunity to interact with fans on twitter and she always brings the A game.

8. The always blunt Frank Carroll-We all expected Gracie and Frank to split, but how it happened threw us for a loop. Frank very respectfully told the media that he and Gracie would no longer be working together. When spending so much time and energy together, it is important to see the results and they simply weren't there. The only problem is that Gracie didn't know she'd been cut loose. Still, the two have been so civil in the media. The white gloves haven't been taken off yet, but we know some juicy gossip is sure to come out soon. I started a rumor that Gracie is going to train with Kori Ade and I hope it happens. She is a nurturing coach and Rohene could bring out Gracie's wild side.

9. The Skating Lesson's interview with Christine & Phil-My first skating memories are circa 1994 so all the Tonya stories brought warmth to my heart, not in a sadistic way but in a nostalgic way. In all seriousness, it was so cool to see them in the same place sharing their knowledge and analysis. I often think of how far skating has fallen since the Kwan years, but when they put it in perspective, we are lucky with the coverage and crowds we get compared to most Olympic sports. And if you can't chuckle about Tonya's "broken" skate laces, of which Phil possesses a piece, then you're taking yourself too seriously.

10. Bitching about NBC and Tara Lipinski-This shout out goes to my twitter family. We love to hate NBC's coverage, even though we are actually grateful to get any primetime coverage these days. However, we do have a right to hate the fluff and repetitive short programs that they show instead of live free skates. This brings me to our favoring Nagano OGM winner. When former athletes become commentators, we want their perspective and we want to hear about their experiences. There is a fine line between sharing your stories and making the event about yourself. Tara crosses it every time. It's one think to scrutinize a skater's jump technique or scoff at their hair, costume, and overall packaging, but telling a skater that "the sport has passed him by" is another thing entirely. This comment about Alexander Johnson was both false and rude. Twitter promptly went after Tara, with yours truly wielding the pitchfork. Clearly Tara doesn't see that despite lacking a quad, Alexander Johnson has more artistry in his hair than she had in her entire career from Little Women to Anastasia.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Spring 2017 Broadway Preview

Y'all know that if there is anything I love in this world it is a great diva turn, and this spring on Broadway we will have a plethora. We have Bette in Hello Dolly, Patti & Christine in War Paint, Glenn in Sunset Boulevard...the list goes on! But who will win that TONY? I'm not going to preview all of the winter and spring offerings, but I am going to highlight a few that really excited me!

Sunset Boulevard
Palace Theatre
Previews begin February 2nd
I always look for the drama in all aspects of life and this show brings it in the form of shade that will be thrown by Patti LuPone from the Nederlander. She famously threw a floor lamp out of her dressing room window when Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber fired her from the London Production in the mid-90s. Thanks to a successful lawsuit, Patti has a beautiful pool in Connecticut. I am looking forward to some star power and screlting from Ms. Close who will not be TONY eligible.

Sunday in the Park with George
Hudson Theatre
Previews begin February 2nd 
I have loved Annaleigh Ashford ever since I saw her buying chips in a 7-11 in Chicago with my mom. She was so sweet to me at the Wicked stage door when I told her that I was at Legally Blonde the day that Laura Bell Bundy's wig fell off during the Bend & Snap. Continuing with the Chicago connection, a few years later on my annual vacation I saw the famous Seurat painting and sat and stared at it for an hour while listening to the cast recording. This is one of the most beautiful scores in Broadway history. I was so upset to have missed it at City Center and I think we are all in for a real treat. This is a limited engagement so get those credit cards out!

Come From Away
Schoenfeld Theatre
Previews begin February 18th
I've heard fabulous things about this show from friends who saw it in DC during the out of town tryout. The subject matter is incredibly intriguing. I'm not going to lie, the casting isn't making me do somersaults, but I'm hoping that the material will knock my socks off.

War Paint
Nederlander Theatre
Previews begin March 7th
Two two-time TONY winners in a musical about makeup mavens...I am so exited for this that I don't even know what to do with myself. I missed the out of town tryout in Chicago by about a week and I was really broken up about. Luckily for me, these broads are coming to the Great White Way. I would die to be involved in this production and get to hear about the drama between Patti and Christine. I am having dreams about the costumes and the makeup. And hello, there is a song called "Pink"...sign me up! Are the Nederlander ceilings high enough for all this Divatude? Who will Antoinette Perry prefer?

The Little Foxes
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
Previews begin March 29th
Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney star in a play about greedy Southern Belles. What could be better? To make it more interesting, they will be alternating in the roles of Regina and Birdie. Honestly, when you're as talented as these two, you need a challenge.

Hello Dolly!
Shubert Theatre
Previews begin March 15th
This is so exciting there's an exclamation point in the title. Bette Midler hasn't done a musical on Broadway in 700 years and this is the moment Kweens have been waiting for. I'm going to be completely honest and tell you that I don't really even like this show, but I would see Bette in a musical about coal miners...end of story.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Win FREE Tickets to the New Musical, The Last Word


We have officially reached one of our favorite times of year, the New York Musical Festival. The Last Word tells the story of Jay, a young man who lives above the Indian restaurant his dad left for him. He enlists a group of friends to help him hold onto the restaurant, but will it be enough? Read a full synopsis here http://www.thelastwordmusical.com/synopsis.

This new piece stars Felicia Finley, Jessica Jain, Travis Kent, Nathan Lucrezio, MJ Rodriguez, and Philip Jackson Smith. Michael Bello directs this show with a book, music, and lyrics by Brett Sullivan at The Duke on 42nd Street.

Nathan Lucrezio stars as Jay. In which Broadway show has he most recently appeared? Reply in the comments section below with your answer and an email address so I can contact the winner. The contest closes Thursday night at midnight. Good luck!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Ivo Van Hove's THE CRUCIBLE

After seeing Ivo Van Hove's fast paced, streamlined revival of A View From the Bridge, I was so intrigued to see what he would do with Arthur Miller's most famous play, The Crucible. Unfortunately, I left the Walter Kerr theatre with more questions than answers. They were not robust, existential questions about life's truths or human nature. These were literal questions about directorial intent. What time period are we in? Why is the pacing so laborious? Why is that chalkboard still on stage? Who is using those desks?

The opening scene is a classroom full of young girls in a classroom staring at a chalkboard. The color scheme is dull and gray. This moment is but a glimpse as the curtain quickly falls and rises again on a drastically different scene. This glimpse motif repeats itself throughout both acts and is the one shred of urgency in the entire production. The rest of the piece drags like a funeral dirge. I won't bore you with a summary as we all know the plot, but I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that I checked my watch more than I ever have during a show. I did see the piece early in the preview period, so I will try to be kind and assume that the pace will quicken by opening, but this piece is built on drama and suspense, both of which need a sense of urgency to unfold.

Philip Glass provides the score which aims to create a mood of suspense and even anxiety. It is mostly effective in meeting this goal, though the relentless wall of sound does distract from the text at times. Jan Versweyveld nails the ominous feeling of the piece with the mysterious stark lighting that highlights the cold, gray feeling of the sets, which he also designed. The focal point of the set is a chalkboard which works in the classroom and court room, but feels out of place in the Proctor home. Ditto for the desks and chairs. Wojciech Dziedzic's costumes represent curious choices that tie back to Van Hove's unclear (or unclearly articulated) vision. It is so difficult to tell what time period we are in. The Salem Witch Trials took lace in the late 1600s and the costumes are much more modern. They are not present day either, but rather somewhere in between. A modernized production would've been a remarkably intriguing concept, given recent political discussions over feminism, religion, and government power, but the performances are clearly period. The dialect and diction transport the audience to the past, while clearly modern props like coffee carafes place us in the present. It is quite jarring as an audience member and it made it extremely difficult for me to immerse myself in the world of the performances because I didn't know when or where that world was. If this was Van Hove's intention, then I commend his vision, but unfortunately it was hard for me to invest.

Though Saoirse Ronan is selling the tickets, her performance is not the standout. There is nothing inherently likable about her Abigail, who is more of a devious instigator than a sympathetic victim. As far as the ensemble of young girls is concerned, Tavi Gevinson's portrayal of Mary Warren is much more memorable. She is a vulnerable young girl who is clearly confused about her allegiances and that internal struggle shows in her nuanced characterization. Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo carry the emotional heft of the show as John and Elizabeth Proctor, respectively. They are a hard-working couple maligned by ghosts from their past. They are the ultimate tragic tale. Every attempt they make to prove their innocence pushes them further down the rabbit hole. They are faced with one of life's ultimate conundrums. Lies or truth? If they tell the truth that they have not engaged in witchcraft, they will be executed. If they lie and say they have engaged, their lives will be spared, but they will have to one day meet their maker knowing they've committed a grave sin. Whishaw plays out this question with such reckless abandon that I felt as if I was on his back as he desperately flailed about the stage in search of answers. His work is visceral, animalistic, and even maniacal as he seeks absolution.  This final scene was the only moment in the show that truly gripped me emotionally. It left me asking myself how high of a price I would pay to tell the truth and clear my name. This is what I call a "Miller Moment" where the beauty and purity of the text were able to shine through, unencumbered by Ivo Van Hove's confusing direction. I left the theatre largely disappointed, expecting the brilliance of A View from the Bridge to repeat itself, but this new-concept Crucible lacked clarity and cohesion.

BRIGHT STAR on Broadway

Simply put, Bright Star can be described as Broadway meets Bluegrass. The plot of this musical by Edie Brickell and Steve Martin could easily be a Nicholas Sparks novel, but the music is far more unique. Brickell and Martin capture the heart of the American South in a way that pays nuanced tribute to North Carolina nostalgia. They treat the South with loving care. As someone who grew up on country music, these are songs that would be more capably performed by Alison Krauss than your typical Broadway beltress.

The show begins when Billy Cane (AJ Shively) returns home from the second World War to his backwoodsy North Carolina town. He learns his mother has died and laments her passing, but quickly moves on. He dreams of following his own Bright Star, which is to become a published writer. With the encouragement of his childhood friend Margo Crawford (Hannah Elless) he moves to Asheville in hopes of writing for the Asheville Southern Journal. He soon meets Alice Murphy (Carmen Cusack,) the Journal’s stern editor. She quickly tosses Billy to the curb, but in a moment of fleeting weakness, she gives him a second chance. We are quickly transported back to the 1920s when Alice is a free-spirited teenager in love with Jimmy Ray Dobbs (Paul Alexander Nolan). Alice comes from a working class family, but Jimmy Ray’s father has bigger hopes for his son. When Alice becomes pregnant, Josiah Dobbs (Michael Mulheren) does what he deems necessary to protect his son and ultimately takes Alice’s baby from her, disposing of him off the back of the train. As is the case with all great musicals, things work out for everyone. Alice and Jimmy Ray find one another decades later and fall in love again. Billy becomes a published writer and marries Margo. Oh, and I forgot one small detail…Alice’s baby didn’t die. He was rescued like Moses in a basket by a farmer and his wife; they named him Billy Cane.

If you think I threw that plot twist at you nonchalantly, then you and the show’s audience are in the same boat. The double-timeline structure is a tricky one for an audience to follow, but we will stick with you through the never-ending rising action if the payoff is sweet enough. In this case, the climax was over and done with faster than you could say Yee Haw! Billy invites Alice to visit his family home, she sees the baby sweater she knitted in a box of his old things, they realize they share blood, and they move on happily ever after. Where is Billy’s anger over being lied to by his father? Where is his confusion over which family he should feel allegiance to? Where is his father’s guilt over lying to his son or never helping him to find his birth family? The double timeline and the North Carolina setting do conjure images of a Nicholas Sparks novel, but the questions that are left unanswered and the lack of emotional catharsis are more reminiscent of a lifetime movie.

Though the structure and pacing of the book have serious flaws, the dialogue itself is sharp, witty, and dripping with appropriate southern colloquialisms. The score, both homey and evocative, is hands down the best I’ve heard in show that uses the country vernacular. Walter Bobbie’s direction is as swift and seamless as the clunky book will allow, using stylized movement rather than codified dance to express the melodies and transition between timelines and scenes. Carmen Cusack’s Broadway debut has been a long time coming, but talk about waiting for the perfect role! I have never seen an actress play two distinct ages so convincingly. You believe her when she’s 17 and when she’s 40. For fans of Designing Women, Cusack’s 1940s Alice is a dead ringer for Julia Sugarbaker. She has the musical theatre chops to “act the songs” and develop the character, but in my book nailing this role comes down to that country spirit and she exudes it. Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton would be proud. After having seen this show nearly two weeks ago, Cusack’s performance and the score are two of the three things that have stuck with me. The final thing is one of the most memorable lines I’ve ever heard in a musical: “It would be easier to remove Lincoln’s face from Mt. Rushmore than to remove home from the heart of a Southern Writer.” This motif carries this show, and while it may not sell hundreds of thousands of tickets to a Broadway audience, the sentiment will mean the world to those who get it.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Color Purple is a Religious Experience!

Two Sundays ago, I went to church twice: Once at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian, and again at the Jacobs Theatre. This phrase is often used liberally, but John Doyle's revival of The Color Purple is unequivocally a religious experience. I'm not one to preach, but the Holy Spirit was in that place. From the opening chorus number, "Mysterious Ways," it is evident that this company can saang! John Doyle has done it again. He has taken a show that was clunky in it's first incarnation, stripped away everything but the necessities, and presented a production that is emotionally charged in it's simplicity. The set is a simple wooden floor and a tri-section back wall with simple wooden chairs that can be moved by the cast. Immediately, the audience understands the setting: a small Southern farm town with caring people and a simple way of life.

The Color Purple is a beloved American story that we all know so I won't bore you with a summary. Let's jump to the performances, shall we? A highlight for me is anything involving the church ladies. If you grew up in church like I did, you'll know that is where you find some of the biggest gossips. But they mean well of course, even as they speculate about poor child Celie, that fine Mister, Sofia, and Harpo. Jennifer Hudson is selling the tickets, but in the role of Shug Avery, she is not the biggest powerhouse in the show. Her characterization of Shug is aloof and disconnected at first, but her heart shines through as she connects emotionally to Celie in "Too Beautiful For Words." She also carries the title song, my personal favorite. Danielle Brooks, whom I love in Orange is the New Black, left me utterly shocked. Her Sofia is not the tough, battered woman from the novel, but a diva who steals the show. When she takes the stage in "Hell No" you'll see what I'm talking about. It's Danielle/Sofia's world and we're just living in it. She has Harpo (Kyle Scatliffe) wrapped around her little finger and their relationship becomes a model for how to be a real man and treat a woman with respect. I won't give away the details but "Any Little Thing" is showstopper.

This brings us Ms. Cynthia Erivo. She is giving the female performance of the season. Her transformation from a meek, abused woman to a confidant, take-charge, entrepreneur is a master class in character work. Celie's changes are subtle until she curses Mister, and that is when she is reborn. When Ms. Erivo saunters onto the stage in her homemade lemon yellow pants, you would think you were watching Tina Turner. I don't intend to sound hyperbolic; that is just the confidence she exudes. I've never quite seen a eleven o'clock number as powerful a "I'm Here" except for maybe "Rose's Turn". Cynthia's interpretation of the song is quite reflective in the beginning, that is until the bridge. It builds, and it builds, and it builds until the audience is on their feet before the final exclamation. If you read my reviews often, you'll know that I'm a big cryer, especially in musicals. But this was something different. I had goosebumps of the variety that I've only ever gotten during particularly rousing renditions of church hymns or Whitney Houston's "The Star Spangled Banner." If you do not see Cynthia Erivo in this role, you will have missed one of the greatest female performances of all time. Think LuPone in Gypsy, McDonald in Porgy and Bess, and Ripley in Next to Normal....she's that good.

To put it simply, this a story of forgiveness. The show and it's source material carry numerous themes, but at the heart, this work teaches us not only how to forgive, but it also shows us how much lighter our load in life can be when we forgive those who trespass against us. My favorite lyric comes from the title track...."Like the Color Purple, where do it come from? Now my eyes are open, look what God has done." Enough said. The only thing that could've made the performance better is if the cast performed an encore of "Amazing Grace" or "How Great Thou Art". But then again, how would the Jacobs operate without its roof?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

She Loves Me Leaves Me Smitten!

She Loves Me is a story of sworn enemies turned lovers that is so sugary sweet it might give you a cavity. But when we attend the theatre, we are asked to suspend disbelief, and after twenty minutes or so you'll be swept into the charming little world of 1930s Budapest and you'll deal with the sugar hangover tomorrow. It's this season's version of On The Twentieth Century, another classic show long overdue for a revival and was also produced by Roundabout Theatre Company. In this, their 50th season, they've brought together Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Gavin Creel, Byron Jennings, Michael McGrath, and Jane Krakowski in this Bock and Harnick classic with Scott Ellis at the helm.

The above mentioned players work in Mr. Maraczek's (Byron Jennings) Parfumerie and things are running exactly as planned until Amalia (Laura Benanti) arrives. This charismatic salesgirls butts heads with head clerk Georg (Zachary Levi) from the moment she arrives. Little do they know, they have something very important in common. They've been writing to one another anonymously under the pseudonym "Dear Friend." While they've been hating each other in person, they've been falling in love on the page, and as we've learned from every romantic comedy, love always wins.

Highlights include Benanti's vocally virtuosic "Vanilla Ice Cream," Levi's exuberant "She Loves Me," an astutely choreographed hurricane of actors and props in "Twelve Days to Christmas," and the melodramatic "Ilona" featuring a crooning Creel and a Krakowski crash split. Speaking of Ms. Krakowski, she was born to play the comedic characters in these classic musicals and she absolutely shines in this production. If we could go back in time, I would give anything to see her take on Ado Annie or Carrie Pipperidge.

In addition to outstanding performances, David Rockwell's' set is a star. Forced perspective creates the illusion of a real Budpest street and the opening and closing of Maraczek's Parfumerie is like that of a supersized dollhouse. Appropriate words to describe Rockwell's designs as well as Ellis' staging are 'charming' and 'delightful'. This show is a welcome addition to Studio 54 and anytime we can see such a stellar cast performing the work of one of history's best composing teams, we should all be happy.