Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Broadway & Hollywood: Harmonious Marriage or Torrid Affair?

I have been waiting to discuss the Broadway community's internal conflict over the presence of Hollywood on the Great White Way until I had completely sorted out my own thoughts on the subject and I'm finally ready to comment. I saw the writing on the wall during this year's TONY awards ceremony when Scarlett Johansson, Denzel Washington, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, all film actors, won the TONY award in each of their respective categories. The backlash from certain Broadway "purists" was almost immediate with a facebook group aiming to "Give The TONYs Back To Broadway" which now has nearly 9,000 followers. It is important to note that the performers leading this charge against film actors are not Broadway headliners, other than TONY nominees Hunter Foster and Christopher Sieber, but primarily chorus members. This adds a new layer to the argument as their protest may simply be a cry for the fame that they have sought but never achieved. But that is neither here nor there.

The primary argument made by Foster, Sieber, and company is that the TONY awards should be a celebration of a year in the theatre and the greater Broadway community rather than a showcase for Hollywood celebrities and commercial musicians like Green Day. In fact, this year's opening number was themed "pop songs that you didn't know were from musicals," which was clearly an attempt to sell Broadway to mass audiences. As a performer myself and a believer in creating theatre for artistic, rather than commercial gain, I completely understand where these performers are coming from. However, I also realize that Broadway is a business and that it needs to take in enough revenue to sustain itself for future generations.

I'm sure we would all love to return to the Golden Age of Broadway where theatre actors were revered and musicals were star vehicles for leading ladies like Julie Andrews and Barbra Streisand and audiences would see shows simply because they loved the music, stories, and costumes. But something changed with American audiences, perhaps it was the growth of television, and the theatre began to lose its status.

The big budget musicals of the 1980s, notably Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera, found a new way to attract audiences to the theatre. The producers of these shows found that if audiences, particularly tourists, could be wowed by elaborate sets and special effects, they did not mind paying a higher ticket price. This age of Broadway saw not only a dramatic increase in ticket prices, but also a change in mindset as audiences wanted to see their money on stage in the form of sheer spectacle rather than performance and talent.

This brings us to the box office tactic known as "stunt casting". Casting B-list celebrities in long-running shows, such as Ashlee Simpson in Chicago, Mario Lopez in A Chorus Line, and Lance Bass in Hairspray are all examples of this practice employed by certain Broadway producers to boost tickets sales. While it is great for audiences to see their favorite stars onstage, these actors from film and television take jobs away from theatre performers who have work very hard to rise out of the chorus. The reasons for casting major stars in Broadway productions are similar to stunt casting in that their names and starpower draw large audiences. But now that I've explained the background information, it is time to get to my opinions.

First, I think it is important to look at the broad scope of things before passing judgement. For every Hollywood actor that was rewarded with a TONY this season, there were many theatre actors that were also rewarded. Yes, Scarlett Johansson won the Best Featured Actress in a Play category, but an up an coming theatre actor, Eddie Redmayne won the Best Featured Actor in a Play category. In the musical performance categories, 3 of the 4 winners, Katie Finneran, Levi Kreis, and Douglass Hodge are theatre actors through and through, with Catherine Zeta-Jones being the only Hollywood gal, and even she got her start in 42nd Street on London's West End.

I look at this issue as a give and take between the Broadway Babies and the visiting Hollywood starlets. Big stars guarantee ticket sales, giving directors and producers a financial cushion so they can take risks with their productions. For example, outside of the hardcore Sondheim fans, this season's revival of A Little Night Music probably would not have had much of a fan base, if any at all, without Catherine Zeta-Jones leading the cast. But because a well known actress signed on with the show, this incredible piece of theatre was brought back to Broadway and a whole new generation of fans, not to mention it employed an entire cast of Broadway actors. Also, because Zeta-Jones' run in the show was such a box office success, the show can have a life even after she leaves. And best of all, Broadway fans will have the treat of seeing our very own Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch lead a show that may never have been revived at all without Miss Zeta-Jones.

It is my personal belief that live theatre must live on and it must continue to affect new generations of theatre-goers in anyway possible as long as the integrity of Broadway is preserved. I am still opposed to the "stunt casting" of shows with B-list celebrities, but I fully support the incorporation of trained and dedicated film actors, Denzel Washington among them, into Broadway productions if that is what it takes to get people into the theatres. I will even guess that most of the people who saw A View From The Bridge merely for Scarlett Johansson left with an appreciation for Arthur Miller, one of most beloved American playwrights in our history. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that almost all of those Scarlett fans are now Broadway fans that will continue to see theatrical productions for years to come, and that is just fine by me.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Yip Up the Sun: A Tribute to the Broadway Revival of HAiR

For five weeks straight in the summer of 2009 I played the ticket lottery for the Broadway revival of Hair almost everyday. It seemed that I would never win the ticket lottery, oddly enough I rarely lose Broadway ticket lotteries, so I heard about the standing room tickets and decided to go that route. Now I would never recommend standing for a Broadway show because I feel that it takes you out of the performance but for this show, it does the exact opposite. Because the cast members, or the tribe, frequently enter the audience and perform in the aisles, I felt like I was truly part of the performance. As I stood behind the last row of the orchestra, Alison Case (Crissy) gave me a flower and an invitation to a "be-in," Will Swenson (Berger) dove over me to get to the last row of the orchestra, and Darius Nichols (Hud) picked me up and carried me around when he made his Act II entrance.

I really didn't know what to expect when I saw the show for the first time, even though I had heard nothing but positive reactions and I really enjoyed the TONY awards performance. Because Hair is more of a concept musical than a traditional plot-driven show, I must admit that I had a bit of trouble following the story the first time I saw the show and it did not strike me the way I expected it would as I could not find a way to relate to the 1960s characters. Nevertheless I had a great time and loved the energy of the performance, especially when I got to go onstage during the finale dance party.

In the days following the performance, I could not get Hair out of me head and could not stop listening to the soundtrack. Then it hit me that Hair was not just about the 1960s, but rather it was about the power that young people can have when they are united as one. I have never really considered myself an activist but the message of this show, "Letting the Sun Shine In" seemed to relate so closely to many of the issues facing our nation today and I felt so compelled to do something with the passion I felt for this show.

The second time I saw the show on Broadway I was completely invested in everything the cast was doing and the composers were trying to say and I really "got it". When Gavin Creel, Hair's original Claude, began to promote the national march for equality in Washington DC within the Broadway community, I knew I had to be there. Going to the march on the national mall on October 11th, 2009 with all of my theatre friends was one of the most elating experiences of my entire life and it was on that day that I learned what it really meant to "Let the Sun Shine In".

During this time I was also working on my own creative project as a tribute to the youth movement portrayed so artfully in Hair. I was inspired to choreograph Levitating The Pentagon for my Fall Dance Works 2009 piece based on my research of the youth culture of the 1960s. While my piece was not meant to be a direct representation of what I saw and felt from Hair, I wanted to capture the show's community and self-empowerment themes in a different medium: postmodern dance.

I saw the Broadway production of Hair for a third time recently with a new cast that was so much different than the original tribe while still maintaining the youthful energy and feeling of community. I was so happy to be back in the Al Hirschfeld theatre where I had been so inspired six months earlier, not only to create my own art, but to join a social movement. Seeing Hair with two friends who were new to the show was a particularly special experience as I again realized how magical this piece of art really is.

The Broadway production received its closing notice a few weeks ago and played its final performance last night on Sunday June 27th, 2010. While I, along with thousands of others, was so sad to see it go, I know that as this production embarks on its national tour it will continue to inspire new generations of starshines to become the change they want to see in their own world, whether that is in regard to politics, the environment, equality, or any other issue that they feel passion for. It begins in Washington, DC on October 26th, 2011 and I will be there to see the love continue.

When the original production of Hair premiered on Broadway in April of 1968, it was revolutionary and when this revival opened in March of 2009, it compelled an entirely new generation of hippies to stand up for their beliefs the same way that their grandparents did in the 1960s. So I would like to thank James Rado, Gerome Ragni, and Galt MacDermot for having the courage to write a musical that challenged the status quo and Joe Papp and the Public Theatre for believing that theatre could inspire social change. You have taught us all that our differences make us beautiful and that we all possess, within ourselves, the power to change the world around us.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Waltz of the Flowers, Nutcracker 2008

This is the Waltz of the Flowers, which I choreographed for Balance: The GW Ballet Group's 2008 Nutcracker. I learned so much about choreographing, casting, and rehearsing a large piece throughout this process. This experience helped me to create a much more professional work in my snow scene for the 2009 Nutcracker, although I still like this piece a lot also. Choreographing this piece was where I first discovered my love of visually pleasing formations and intricate floor patterns for large groups of dancers.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Remembered But By Me: My choreographic honors thesis

I'm finally posting the video from my honors dance thesis. Unfortunately I had to separate the piece into three videos in order to upload it, but they should run together pretty seamlessly. This work, Remembered But By Me, looks at the role of an artist and the creative process through the lens of Emily Dickinson's poetry. This piece and the rehearsal process meant so much to me and I am happy to finally be able to show the work.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Choreography: Minor Fall, Major Lift

This is my most recent choreographic work, a piece entitled Minor Fall, Major Lift that was shown with the 2010 Balance Spring Show this past April. It addresses the dynamic of family, specifically in regards to what happens when one individual rebells against the family unit. This work begs the question of how one seeks forgiveness and ultimately regains their place in the family. Does the prodigal son figure make an effort to gain acceptance or does the group make the effort to forgive and forget?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year...The TONYS

It has taken me a few days but I'm finally ready to give my overall impression of the 2010 TONY awards and comment on the accuracy of my predictions.

So for being a performer, not a techie, I did okay with my picks for the design awards. I predicted that American Idiot and Red would take the lighting and scenic design categories and I thought they were very deserving. My favorite moment of the creative arts awards was the speech by Christine Jones, scenic designer of American Idiot, where she declared her undying love for director Michael Mayer and the songwriting team Green Day. Red's sound designer wanting to wear his Tony on a chain as bling with a reference to Jay-Z was also a hilight. I do have major issue with the fact that CBS cannot include design awards in their regular broadcast. The technical artists deserve just as much respect as the actors and producers and their awards should be presented on the television.

This year's opening number was kitschy and it was certainly evident, from the pop song theme, that its goal was to draw viewership outside of the normal TONY-watching crowd. In my mind, nothing can compare to the 2009 opening number, but this year's production was good in its own right. Having host Sean Hayes show off his piano playing skills was a great choice and framing the number with Chad Kimball as host was quite clever. The signature Kristin Chenoweth performance of I Say A Little Prayer was obviously a hilight and Sherie Renee Scott and the Mennonettes' trio Up The Ladder To The Roof was simply fabulous. The Memphis, Fela, and Million Dollar Quartet sections were simply forgettable. John Gallagher Jr singing Boulevard of Broken Dreams with the cast of American Idiot was energetic and almost touching until Green Day came onstage and made it a complete cliche.

Scarlett Johansson's win for Best Featured Actress in a Play for A View From The Bridge was certainly a surprise but it was well deserved and she gave a very gracious and eloquent speech. Eddie Redmayne was simply perfection in his speech for Best Featured Actor in a Play for Red as he spoke of the value of the performing arts in all of our lives and acknowledged his great mentor and co-star Alfred Molina.

Normally TONY performances make me anxious to see the new musicals, but the performances from Million Dollar Quartet, Fela, and Memphis were not the least bit enticing. Actually, I was much more intrigued by the package introducing the best play nominees. And for me to be more interested in a play than a musical really speaks to just how bad the quality of musicals was this year.

Katie Finneran is my new idol and she absolutely deserved the TONY for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Promises, Promises. Her speech was so inspiring and I felt honored that she chose to give advice to aspiring actors, telling us to follow our dreams and ignore everybody who tells us otherwise. Yes it sounds cheesy, but Katie was so sincere, and funny too as she thanked Kristin Chenoweth for lending her eyelashes for the evening. I basically expected Levi Kreis to win Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Million Dollar Quartet but I was really hoping for Bobby Steggert from Ragtime. Levi seemed unexcited about his win and was boring in his subject.

Christianne Noll's rendition of Back to Before from Ragtime was stunning and I only wished this show had lasted longer rather than the rest of the trash from this season that is currently running. On the opposite end of the female solo performance spectrum was Catherine Zeta-Jones with her performance of Send In The Clowns. I wanted so much to love the performance but she overacted it to the point that it became difficult to watch (and listen to). Her musical phrasing was a disaster and she held certain notes forever while barely giving value to others. Her head movements were distracting and she looked like she was seizing...enough on that trainwreck.

Viola Davis and Denzel Washington won the leading categories for Fences and while Davis seemed genuinely moved and thrilled, Washington looked like he would have rather been anywhere else and even forgot the name of The American Theatre Wing. Fences' win for Best Revival of a Play was no surprise and based on its sales, it seems that audiences adore it.

American Idiot's performance was much stronger without Green Day and I really want to see this show. I also forgot to mention the La Cage Aux Folles performance which I found energetic and entertaining. The audience interaction was priceless and this is another show I will be seeing in the near future.

Bill T Jones was totally deserving of the choreography award for Fela and I was happy to see anybody but Twyla Tharp win. Her work was so great in her earlier shows but it is really all starting to look the same and she seems to have lost her innovative spirit.

Don't get me wrong, I love Glee, but in my opinion a television show has no place on theatre's big night. Matt Morrison did give a stellar performance though, in All I Need Is The Girl, and I desperately want him to come back to Broadway. Lea Michele and Don't Rain On My Parade...those two things have become synonymous right? I wasn't sure if Lea was trying to audition for the upcoming Funny Girl revival with this performance or what because she looked like she was about to either kill twelve people with her daggers for eyes of if her head was actually going to explode. When you start out at a 10, there is nowhere to rise to in the climax of the song without looking like you are about to spiral out of control.

Oh, I've forgotten to mention some of Sean Hayes' funnier moments as host, from the major liplock with Kristin Chenoweth and his Bernadette Peters/Annie wig to his Billy Elliot tights and Spiderman costume. He really was fabulously entertaining and his great showing as host made up for his loss in his category.

Red wins Best Play! No explanation needed.

The funniest moment of the entire show for me was the presentation of Best Leading Actor/Actress in a Musical by Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane. The irony of the situation was uncanny as the pair, two of the theatre's brightest stars were not nominated. But they were great sports and it was a very memorable TONY moment. Maybe this will be the 2010 addition to my decade of favorite TONY memories? There were no surprises in these categories as Douglass Hodge won for La Cage Aux Folles and Catherine Zeta-Jones for A Little Night Music. Hodge is a class act and was charming in his speech. Zeta-Jones seemed absolutely floored when her name was announced, almost to the point where it seemed rehearsed. Thank god the awards are not based on TONY night performances or she wouldn't have had a chance, but I believe her performance in her show did indeed merit a win.

La Cage Aux Folles wins Best Revival of a Musical--we all expected it, and it probably deserved it as well.

Normally TONY night ends with a bang as Best Musical is announced. The category started off well with Bernadette Peters presenting, but the excitement soon fizzled as Memphis was announced. I can't say I was surprised but I would have loved to have seen a more innovative show take the night's top prize and would've been much happier with Fela or American Idiot.

As for the accuracy of my picks, I was correctly chose Redmayne, Davis, Finneran, Hodge, and Zeta-Jones in the performance categories, Grandage for direction of a play, and Bill T Jones for choreography. In the pre-broadcast, I had both of the lighting and scenic design categories correctly pegged, along with costume design of a play. And most importantly I was 4/4 in the big categories as Fences, Red, La Cage Aux Folles, and Memphis were all on my list.

In a word, the 2010 TONY awards were predictable. I love seeing a few great upsets and there really were none this year. Overall, it was a mediocre awards ceremony for a mediocre Broadway season with a few blips of pizazz from the Chenoweth/Hayes and Neuwirth/Lane sideshows.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Pre-TONY Post...I Promise

All I've been able to think about recently is the TONYs so I'm going to list My Favorite Things (no pun intended)from each show over past decade. **Disclaimer: my 'favorite things' will probably only relate to musicals**

1999, Greatest Dynamic Duo: Both of my theater idols, Kristin Chenoweth and Bernadette Peters win the TONY -- Kristin wins for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for You're A Good Man Charlie Brown and Bernadette for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for Annie Get Your Gun

2000, Revolution of The Decade: Contact wins Best Musical-- This win by a show that was primarily danced and include no original score was the controversy of the year, but it paved the way for what I like to call dance-icals like Movin' Out

2001, Most Predictable Ceremony Ever, The Producers Owns the TONYs-- I didn't enjoy this show, but I found it funny (funny ironic, not funny haha) that there was nothing else better in that season. Precursor of the 2010 season, anyone?

2002, Most Peggy Sawyer-like moment: Sutton Foster wins for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for Thoroughly Modern Millie-- Sutton Foster was pulled out of the show's chorus when the original Millie was forced to step down and the result was Broadway stardom

2003, Yay For Cross-dressers: Harvey Fierstein wins for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of a woman in Hairspray-- This is only the second time an actor has won in a cross-dressing role, Mary Martin won previously in the role of Peter Pan

2004, Best Winner's Speech: Idina Menzel -- When she won the Leading Actress in a musical category for Wicked, not only did she thank the show's creative team for creating a show that celebrates women, but she also thanked her mom for taking her to see Dreamgirls and Annie when she was a little girl

2005, The Classical Musical is Reborn: Adam Guettel's The Light in The Piazza takes Best Score and Orchestrations-- While it ultimately didn't take the night's biggest prize, Best Musical, Guettel showed us that classical melodies, lush orchestrations, and well-trained sopranos still have a place in the musical theater

2006, La-Upset: LaChanze beats the Diva Quartet of Patti LuPone, Chita Rivera, Sutton Foster, and Kelli O'Hara in the Best Leading Actress in a Musical category-- I adore all five women in this category, but LaChanze's performace as Celie in The Color Purple blew the roof off of the Broadway Theatre

2007, Best Themed Opening: God I Hope I Get It-- Introducing every nominated show and presenter with their head shot against background of Marvin Hamlisch's One from A Chorus Line was pure genius. We all remember watching the cast of A Chorus Line performing the opening of their show in front of Radio City Music Hall, seeing the cast of Spring Awakening getting ready in a stairwell and watching Raul Esparza in the role of Bobby from Company as he read a newspaper with his feet propped on a dressing table

2008, Most Divalicious Performances: Patti Lupone singing Everything's Coming Up Roses-- too amazing for words, simply fabulous

2009, Most Exhilarating Opening Number: Liza, Dolly, and Elton, oh my-- I practically fell out of my chair during this opening performance. When I thought it was simply too fabulous for words, it kept getting better and better. We started with Elton John and the Billy Elliot boys, then we went into a rumble between the casts of West Side Story and Guys and Dolls. Then Aaron Tveit and Stockard Channing battled it out in a mash up of I'm Alive and Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered. Then Brett Michaels performed with the cast of Rock of Ages and got smashed with a moving set piece while the Shrek cast let their freak flags fly. But the moment that left me breathless was Dolly Parton singing the title song with the cast of 9 to 5, followed by Liza Minelli kickin' it like it was 1975. It all ended with a big dance party with the cast of Hair singing Let The Sunshine In with every performer from the whole Broadway season.

Snow Scene, Nutcracker 2009

This past December, I choreographed the snow scene for Balance: The GW Ballet Group's 2009 Nutcracker. This was a challenging piece to complete but I am very proud of my work. I apologize that the full snow scene is not in one video, I am working on editing them together. The first video is the Pine Forest pas de deux between Clara and the Nutcracker as they journey into the land of snowflakes and meet the Snow Queen. In the second video, the Snow Queen and snowflakes dance as Clara and the Nutcracker travel to the land of sweets.

Choreography: Early Work

These are some very informal pieces that I choreographed for small performances in the 2007-2008, one for my Dance Composition class, one for SPADE (The Student Performing Arts and Dance Event) & one for Balance: The GW Ballet Group's Spring Show. The video quality isn't great on these but you get the general idea.

Choreography: Seventeen Seventy-Five Plus One, e.d.

This video is the very first piece I ever presented in a formal setting, Seventeen Seventy-Five Plus One, e.d. for the Spring 2009 Dance Works concert at The George Washington University.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Choreography: Levitating The Pentagon

I decided to take a break from the TONYs until I live-blog the red carpet and awards next Sunday. I will be posting some of my various choreographic works throughout the week until I can set some new work on dancers this summer. I will be working with various soloists, duos, and trios from my home studio, primarily teen dancers, to showcase my work with different ages and technical levels.

For now, this is a piece entitled Levitating The Pentagon that I staged for the Fall 2009 Dance Works Concert at The George Washington University.

TONY Nominee Swaps

So just for sheer fun, I decided I would toss a nominee out of a few categories and nominate somebody else who I really believe to be deserving. Oh yeah, and I'm a musical girl so don't expect much attention to be paid to plays in this completely hypothetical exchange of nominees.

Best Musical: Million Dollar Quartet is a waste of space. Did I mention I am sick of jukebox musicals?

My Swap: Sondheim on Sondheim-- it's a lovely night at the theater and includes some memorable performances of world-class music.

Best Revival of a Musical: Promises, Promises is great fun and I would love to see my girl Kristin Chenoweth's show nominated, but I can't bring myself to toss out any of these other fine revivals.

Best Leading Actor in a Musical: Chad Kimball is out of his league in this category.

My Swap: John Gallagher Jr. for American Idiot-- I know I said I was sick of jukebox musicals but I'm willing to make an exception in this case because Green Day allegedly wrote their album of the same name with the hopes that it would become a staged musical. Plus this boy owns the rock-musical performance style and excels here as he did in his TONY winning performance in Spring Awakening.

Best Leading Actress in a Musical: I'm sorry Montego Glover but I'm not feeling the Memphis love.

My Swap: Kristin Chenoweth for Promises, Promises-- anybody surprised about this decision? This category is filled with veterans and Kristin was clearly missing so I had to oust the newbie (sorry Montego, I hear you are fabulous though)! In my eyes, anytime Chenoweth opens her mouth it is TONY worthy so I stand firm with my choice.

Best Featured Actor in a Musical: I think we are all a little bitter about The Adams Family stinking up Broadway this season (I love your work Andrew Lippa, call me?) so Kevin Chamberlin will have to go.

My Swap: Cheyenne Jackson for Finian's Rainbow-- I know he would've been in the leading actor in a musical category, but this is hypothetical, so who cares?

Best Featured Actress in a Musical: I am a dancer so this is hard for me to say, but great dancing does not necessarily merit a nomination for an acting award, Karin Plantadit, though your talent is immense.

My Swap: Erin Mackey for Sondheim on Sondheim-- I know that was out of left field, far left in fact, but I was utterly blown away by her interpretation of the Sondheim music at her tender age.,

Friday, June 4, 2010

My 2010 TONY Predictions: Design

As we know, this category is certainly not my area of expertise but I'm going to give it my best shot anyway!

Best Scenic Design of a Play: John Lee Beatty, The Royal Family, Alexander Dodge, Present Laughter, Santo Loquasto, Fences, Christopher Oram, Red

My Pick: Christopher Oram for Red-- this pick certainly reflects my 'artsy' taste but I give the nod to Oram simply for the recreation of the Rothko work.

Best Scenic Design of a Musical: Marina Draghici, Fela, Christine Jones, American Idiot, Derek McLane, Ragtime, Tim Shortall, La Cage aux Folles

My Pick: Christine Jones for American Idiot-- the use of television screens is a great incorporation of technology and that along with the graphiti on the walls suits the contemporary time period of the piece.

Best Costume Design of a Play: Martin Pakledinaz, Lend Me A Tenor, Constanza Romero, Fences, David Zinn, In The Next Room/The Vibrator Play, Catherine Zuber, The Royal Family

My Pick: Catherine Zuber for The Royal Family-- nothing in this category impressed me greatly but at least these accurately reflect the time period.

Best Costume Design of a Musical: Marina Draghici, Fela, Paul Tazewell, Memphis, Matthew Wright, La Cage aux Folles

My Pick: Matthew Wright for La Cage Aux Folles-- everything is better in drag! But in all seriousness, these are gorgeous costumes that are flamboyant and fabulous without being distracting.

Best Lighting Design of a Play: Neil Austin, Hamlet, Neil Austin, Red, Mark Henderson, Enron, Brian MacDevitt, Fences

My Pick: Neil Austin for Red-- I apologize for my artsy side coming out again but Austin shows the audience what happens to great art when it is not displayed in proper conditions, giving us insight into the importance of presentation in visual art.

Best Lighting Design of a Musical: Kevin Adams, American Idiot, Donald Holder, Ragtime, Nick Richings, La Cage aux Folles, Robert Wierzel, Fela

My Pick: Kevin Adams for American Idiot-- simply because the scenic and lighting design really do work in harmony in the production.

Best Sound Design of Play: Acme Sound Partners, Fences, Adam Cork, Enron, Adam Cork, Red, Scott Lehrer, A View From The Bridge

My Pick: Acme Sound Partners for Fences-- the score of this play is indeed fantastic, but part of what makes it great is the quality with which it is delivered, thanks to the sound designer.

Best Sound Design of a Musical: Jonathan Deans, La Cage aux Folles, Robert Kaplowitz, Fela, Dan Moses Schreier and Gareth Owen, A Little Night Music, Dan Moses Schreier, Sondheim on Sondheim

My Pick: Dan Moses Schreier for Sondheim on Sondheim-- the show is almost equally split between songs and video projections, but Sondheim's spoken voice blends seamlessly into the performance of his compositions.

Best Orchestrations: Jason Carr, La Cage aux Folles, Aaron Johnson, Fela, Jonathan Tunick, Promises, Promises, Daryl Waters and David Bryan, Memphis

My Pick: Jason Carr for La Cage aux Folles-- this is a great update of a classic without greatly altering the original.

My 2010 TONY Predictions: Performances

Best Leading Actor in a Play: Jude Law, Hamlet, Denzel Washington, Fences, Liev Schreiber, A View From The Bridge, Alfred Molina, Red, Christopher Walken, A Behanding in Spokane

My Pick: Liev Schreiber-- I believe I am going out on a limb here as Washington and Molina seem to be the front-runners, but my gut is telling me that Schreiber is gaining on them and will pull ahead in the race by TONY time.

Best Leading Actress in a Play: Viola Davis, Fences, Jan Maxwell, The Royal Family, Valerie Harper, Looped, Laura Linney, Time Stands Still, Linda Lavin, Collected Stories

My Pick: Viola Davis-- since I am snubbing Denzel, it is only fair to reward the other have of Fences' dynamic leading couple. Davis' performance is utterly heart-wrenching and because hers is one of the few plays still running, her interpretation lives in recent memory.

Best Leading Actor in a Musical: Sean Hayes, Promises, Promises, Chad Kimball, Memphis, Kelsey Grammer, La Cage aux Folles, Douglas Hodge, La Cage aux Folles, Sahr Ngaujah, Fela

My Pick: Douglas Hodge-- this is another one of those categories that seems almost set in stone. Hodge is simply a revelation on stage, but to the credit of the other nominees, no other actor this season has been given the material to thrive on that Hodge has received in the character of Albin.

Best Leading Actress in a Musical: Kate Baldwin, Finian's Rainbow, Montego Glover, Memphis, Christiane Noll, Ragtime, Sherie Renee Scott, Everyday Rapture, Catherine Zeta-Jones, A Little Night Music

My Pick: Kristin Chenoweth--oh wait--she was the best singer of the season, not the best actress, so my close second will be Catherine Zeta-Jones-- though not a singer by trade, this impeccably trained actress is the star of the season and rightfully deserves recognition for her interpretation of Desiree.

Best Featured Actor in a Play: David Alan Grier, Race, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Fences, Jon Michael Hill, Superior Donuts, Stephen Kunken, Enron, Eddie Redmayne, Red

My Pick: Eddie Redmayne-- I'm really feeling the love for this play! Redmayne is particularly notable in this production because he had the task of playing a character that was the amalgamation of many different men. While Alfred Molina could develop his performance in the play based on Rothko, a person who actually exists, Redmayne created a truly original character based on a compilations of Rothko's various assistants.

Best Featured Actress in a Play: Maria Dizzia, In The Next Room/The Vibrator Play, Rosemary Harris, The Royal Family, Jessica Hecht, A View From The Bridge, Scarlett Johansson, A View From The Bridge, Jan Maxwell, Lend Me A Tenor

My Pick: Jan Maxwell-- the woman was nominated twice this season, she has to win one of them, and this is arguably her stronger performance which should be good enough to topple the other talented women in the category.

Best Featured Actor in a Musical: Kevin Chamberlin, The Adams Family, Robin De Jesus, La Cage aux Folles, Christopher Fitzgerald, Finian's Rainbow, Levi Kreis, Million Dollar Quartet, Bobby Steggert, Ragtime

My Pick: Bobby Steggert-- I'm going to take a huge leap of faith and hope that the impeccable, tour de force performance by Steggert in the long-gone revival of Ragtime will be remembered by the voters. It seems that Levi Kreis is the name on everybody's lips these days but if the award is truly for 'best performance,' Steggert is my choice.

Best Featured Actress in a Musical: Barbara Cook, Sondheim on Sondheim, Katie Finneran, Promises, Promises, Angela Lansbury, A Little Night Music, Karine Plantadit, Come Fly Away, Lillias White, Fela

My Pick: Katie Finneran, Katie Finneran, Katie Finneran-- there are many words to describe Katie Finneran's performance in Promises, Promises. Among them, firecracker, dynamite, and dare I say it, the highlight of the entire Broadway season. Her ten minutes on stage give the audience the experience of being shot out of a cannon in a whirl of hilarity. I knew her performance was something special when it caught the attention of my dad-- because lets just say my love of the theatre does not come from that side of the family. If I were a betting woman, I would say that Finneran's win in this category is the surest of sure things in this entire awards presentation.

My 2010 TONY Predictions: Plays/Musicals

Best Play Nominees: In The Next Room/The Vibrator Play, Red, Next Fall, Time Stands Still

My Pick: Red-- this play about iconic painter Mark Rothko is one of the most innovative subjects explored on Broadway in a long time. It is the complete package with its two actors also favored in their categories as well as several of its designers.

Best Musical Nominees: Fela, Memphis, American Idiot, Million Dollar Quartet

My Pick: Memphis-- this is certainly one of the most contested categories this year, but Memphis is perhaps the most commercially stable that has the best touring future, which is often a factor for TONY voters. It is also the most similar to recent best musical winners of the decade, from Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Producers to Hairspray and Billy Elliot. Fela is certainly innovative, but perhaps too progressive for the TONY awards. And American Idiot is so similar to 2007 winner Spring Awakening--is Broadway really ready to reward another teen angst rock musical? And poor Million Dollar Quartet doesn't have a shot.

Best Revival of a Play: Lend Me A Tenor, Fences, A View From The Bridge, The Royal Family

My Pick: August Wilson's Fences--this seems to be a no-brainer as it has the starpower of Denzel Washington and is a box office smash, not to mention it is superbly written.

Best Revival of a Musical: La Cage aux Folles, Finian's Rainbow, Ragtime, A Little Night Music

My Pick: La Cage aux Folles-- this also seems like an easy pick as it opened to critical acclaim and the viewers seem to love it. It also won the Drama Desk which is often a strong predictor.

Best Direction of a Play: Michael Grandage, Red, Sheryl Kaller, Next Fall, Kenny Leon, Fences, Gregory Mosher, A View From The Bridge

My Pick: Michael Grandage, Red-- this play really is the complete package and that reflects well on the director.

Best Direction of a Musical: Christopher Ashley, Memphis, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Ragtime, Bill T Jones, Fela, Terry Johnson, La Cage aux Folles

My Pick: Bill T Jones, Fela-- the blocking and choreography blend perfectly in the night club atmosphere of this production and it is clear that Jones has done his research on the life and legacy of Fela Kuti.

Best Book of a Musical: Dick Scanlan and Sherie Renee Scott, Everyday Rapture, Jim Lewis and Bill T Jones, Fela, Joe DiPietro, Memphis, Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, Million Dollar Quartet

My Pick: Dick Scanlan and Sherie Renee Scott, Everyday Rapture-- this show burst onto the scene last minute and its quirky blend of Scott's real life story with a comedic twist make it one of the most poignant works of the season. I call it more of a play with music than an actual musical, which truly speaks to the strength of its book.

Best Score: Andrew Lippa, The Adams Family, Branford Marsalis, Fences, Adam Cork and Lucy Prebble, Enron, David Bryan and Joe DiPietro, Memphis

My Pick: Branford Marsalis for Fences-- this is perhaps the weakest category this year in a season filled with jukebox musicals, so out of disgust at the lack of originality amongst the new musicals, I have to give it to a play.

Best Choreography: Rob Ashford, Promises, Promises, Twyla Tharp, Come Fly Away, Lynne Page, La Cage aux Folles, Bill T Jones, Fela

My Pick: Bill T Jones, Fela-- this is the moment of truth for me, choreography is my forte so this has to be right. Normally Tharp is a front runner every time she works on Broadway, but Come Fly Away lacks the originality of her smash hit Movin' Out and this topic has already been explored choreographically in the Sinatra Suite she has been developing over the past few decades. Jones has worked on the Great White Way before, but nothing else has been nearly as explosive, innovative, or electric as his work this year in Fela.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Roundabout Theatre Company's Sondheim on Sondheim

Sondheim on Sondheim is a compilation of Stephen Sondheim’s work, but this production explores a completely different take on the idea of a musical revue. A block of television screens allows Sondheim himself to come into the Studio 54 theatre as he discusses his history as a musician and the inspirations behind his work. The large block of screens separates into smaller clumps to show several images at the same time. The screens that are not in use also fold into a rotating staircase to become part of the set, as if the actors are physically walking among Sondheim’s ideas and thoughts.

The most praised singers of Sondheim’s work are often referred to as ‘interpreters’ and this cast headlined by Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams, and Tom Wopat certainly includes some phenomenal interpreters. Norm Lewis, Leslie Kritzer, Erin Mackey, Euan Morton, and Matthew Scott complete the cast. This company (no pun intended) of eight is perfectly divided into a younger and a, let’s say more experienced, half. This works perfectly, especially in the song Waiting For the Girls Upstairs from Follies in which two older couples sing an octet, reflecting on their younger selves.

With such a luminous cast, we expect powerhouse performances from the above-the-title Cook, Williams, and Wopat, but some of the most remarkable performances come from the lesser known players. Norm Lewis delivers Being Alive more passionately and with more life than any actor who has played Bobby in Company on the New York stage. He is not just another magnificent voice—he carries a tremendous emotional weight, driving the piece forward as a performance, not just a song. Another pleasant surprise is Erin Mackey’s Do I Hear A Waltz from the musical of the same name. This singular soprano number in the show soars above the heavy ballads and comedic tunes, truly showing off her impeccable range. Her performance is nothing to scoff at either as she flawlessly delivers this delightful song from an otherwise flop of a musical. If Mackey is smart, she will follow Barbara Cook’s every move and learn from her, one of the musical theatre’s most stellar sopranos, and she too could have a bright future in the business.

Vanessa Williams is fabulous as always, particularly in the cast rendition of Children Will Listen from Into The Woods where she is featured in a duet with Tom Wopat. This song may actually be even more poignant in this production than in its original source material due to the context. It comes after a very emotional discussion by Sondheim of all the times his mother told him he was a mistake and how that affected his life. This eleven o’clock number paves the way for Cook to sing the emotional climax of the show.

Barbara Cook, a Tony winner and acclaimed cabaret singer, is certainly the highlight of this production, clearly for her vocal and performance qualities, but also for her sheer star power. Her wealth of experience, both in the theatre and in her life, add a great deal of weight to some of the show’s heavier numbers. Her rendition of In Buddy’s Eyes from Follies tells the story of a woman who, although she is aging, will always feel young in her husband’s eyes. Cook’s Send In The Clowns is simply the best I’ve ever heard and could draw a tear even from the most stoic of audience members. Coming after a discussion by Sondheim of the importance of his teacher Oscar Hammerstein II, this iconic song is truly a tribute to anyone who has ever been a mentor or touched a young life.

This production of Sondheim on Sondheim is perhaps most poignant in its exploration of generations from legends, to current stars, to newcomers. The one downside to this otherwise impeccable production is the absence of perhaps the most revered Sondheim interpreter—Bernadette Peters. But who knows, with Peters’ previous work with Tom Wopat and his unique take on the title character from Sweeney Todd in this production, maybe the pair will headline the next Broadway revival of the tale of The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Promises, Promises

The 2010 revival of Promises, Promises promotes itself as a musical comedy, which is exactly what it is—a fun night at the theatre. Written by legendary playwright Neil Simon, it is no surprise that this reads more as a play with music than a musical. This certainly is not a negative thing, simply a credit to how strong the plot is. The Burt Bacharach & Hal David tunes, while they certainly do not show off vocal virtuosity, are American classics and widely recognized.

Sean Hayes makes his Broadway debut in the role of Chuck Baxter and it is about time. Hayes seems so comfortable on stage, making him perfect for this role where he breaks the fourth wall and frequently addresses the audience. He is so generous and personable that we feel that we know him by the end of the performance. His singing is less than spectacular, but we are willing to forgive that because he is so skilled as an actor. We sympathize with Chuck as he seeks to climb the corporate ladder and even get behind his less than moral strategy as he shares his bachelor pad with high-ranking executives for their extramarital affairs. We even pity Chuck when he cannot seem to get the attention of Fran, the office cafeteria hostess that he secretly loves. Always the good guy, Chuck eventually realizes that he would rather not have a job at all than work for a slimy, cheating boss and quits. The fact that he gets Fran in the end softens the blow.

Kristin Chenoweth plays the role of Fran Kubelik and the moment she steps on stage, she receives an incredible round of applause—her reputation precedes her. There is nobody that sings like Kristin Chenoweth and she knocks every number out of the park, even with the trachea infection she was experiencing during this specific show. She has fabulous acting chops too, but I just struggled to believe her in this role. My love for Kristin Chenoweth is very deep, she is my idol, we all know that. But there is just something to be said for the perfect marriage of a performer and a role and it simply did not happen in this case. She is so gifted and charismatic and it is truly a shame that she was not given a role worthy of her talent.

Katie Finneran in the role of Marge MacDougall is a firecracker, sending the show into the stratosphere for the two brief scenes that she is on stage. Finneran takes a huge risk in her portrayal of Marge as she tiptoes the fine line between unexpected hilarity and just plain over the top. She stays on the safe side because her character is so grounded and realistic. With her crazy antics, Marge seduces Chuck and is able to take his mind off of Fran. Finneran truly invests in this role and the audience believes everything that comes out of her mouth. From her dark red wig to her low, brassy voice, Marge looks nothing like Katie and this is truly a transformation.

I wanted terribly to fall in love with this production, I really did. After all it has all the right ingredients, praised source material, a sitcom actor, a phenomenal supporting cast, and not to mention my idol, but even with all of these assets, there is something missing. A running theme in all of my favorite musicals is a personal connection to a character or the story, but that simply did not happen for me in this show. I guess it was my assumption that with Chenoweth in the role, I would have an instant connection to Fran, when in actuality we have nothing in common. Even though nothing in the show pulled at my heartstrings, Promises, Promises is nevertheless enjoyable and entertaining and after all, is that not the reason we attend the theatre?m

My Review of Sex and The City 2

Sex and the City 2 appears to be exactly what women everywhere have been wanting for the past two years. After all, aren’t we all itching to know what Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda have been up to since the first film in the summer of 2008? Those with unbridled love for these four New York women won’t be disappointed, but if you are looking for a truly engaging plot or something that might surprise you, this sequel lacks the sparkle and wit of the original.

The film opens in typical fashion with the always-couture Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, in yet another stunning ensemble as she meets her three best girlfriends for a midday shopping excursion. We learn that they are wedding shopping for the Carrie’s gay best friend Stanford and Charlotte’s bff Anthony. We expect anything involving these four ladies to be lavish but this wedding is a spectacle beyond belief. From the ballad-singing choir and delicate white swans to Liza Minnelli-turned-minister, this movie could not have gotten any gayer if there were bedazzled drag queens in a Dolly Parton look-alike contest.

We soon realize that Carrie and Mr. Big (Chris Noth) do not have the perfect storybook marriage they had hoped for, but who really could have expected that after he dumped her at the altar in movie 1? But that’s neither here nor there. Carrie misses her party girl days of late dinners and film premiers while Big is content to spend his time in bed with the flat screen. When Samantha (Kim Catrall) offers the girls an all expenses paid trip to Abu Dhabi, it seems like the vacation that they all need, Carrie from her marriage, Charlotte from her kids, and Miranda from her chauvinist boss. Unfortunately, the minute the ladies leave the Big Apple, all of the magic stays behind.

Their Middle Easter holiday is nothing but a big fat cliché, but hey, at least the outfits match. We have come to expect fabulous fashion from Sex and the City and the wardrobe team certainly holds up their end of the bargain. From sunbathing by the hotel pool and visiting the town market to riding camels through the dessert, these girls know how to pick a look for the occasion.

In true Sex and the City tradition, each woman has her own unique coming-of-age moment. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) never wanted anything more than to be a mother, but realizes with her second child Rose that motherhood can have its downsides. Charlotte tries to put on a happy face, but in a charming scene with Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), the two share their horror stories of mommy hood over a few rounds of the signature cosmopolitan. Samantha sets out to single-handedly change the way women are viewed in the Middle East as she struts about, scantily-clad not to mention, after Rikard, a Danish architect and the object of her affections for this vacation at least. Ever the leading lady, Carrie experiences the greatest conflict as she shares a kiss with old flame Aiden and then proceeds to tell Big to clear her conscience.

Of course we end get a happy ending with Big forgiving Carrie’s indiscretion and giving the bedroom plasma screen the boot, Miranda quitting her high profile job in favor of a smaller firm that appreciates her, Charlotte realizing how much she loves her family, and Samantha—well Samantha being Samantha.

We do exactly what we wanted, a chance to catch up with four of our favorite girls. But as Sarah Jessica Parker once stated, “New York City is the fifth lady in our story.” Therefore, with Abu Dhabi as the primary setting, we lose a very special character, which somehow cheapens the entire experience. After all, what are we left with when Sex and the City loses “and the City”?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Welcome to my new blog Backstage Barbie, a shameless pun on the Dolly Parton Song "Backwoods Barbie". Here I will post my own original choreography, poetry, and other creative writing. I will also write reviews of other work that I see from theater, dance, and music to movies and books. You can track my journey from recent graduate on the job search until I reach my goal of becoming a Broadway star! I hope you enjoy my blog!