Friday, July 30, 2010

Barbie's Showtune of the Day #1: I Dreamed a Dream

Every day there seems to be a certain musical theatre song that gets stuck in my head so I'm planning to add a song of the day feature to my daily blogging. I will try to post a youtube link to the song when available. So without further ado, my pick of the day, Miss Patti LuPone singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables.

Fun Fact of the Day: Broadway Houses

The term "Broadway" is thrown around a lot to stand for anything from generic theatre to a street in New York City. So I thought I would give an explanation of what the word actually means. Broadway is indeed a street that runs through Manhattan, but it is also used to refer to a New York City house that seats over 500. There are 39 of these "Broadway Theatres" in Manhattan's theatre district and 1 slightly uptown at Lincoln Center. A house with less than 500 seats is considered Off-Broadway, 100 or less is considered Off-Off-Broadway, and so on and so forth.

The following is a list of the 40 Broadway Theatres with their currently running or upcoming shows listed by capacity:

Gershwin Theatre (Wicked) 1933
Hilton Theatre (Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark *opening TBD) 1813
New Amsterdam Theatre (Mary Poppins)1801
Palace Theatre (West Side Story) 1784
Broadway Theatre (Promises, Promises)1752
Minskoff Theatre (The Lion King) 1710
Majestic Theatre (The Phantom of the Opera) 1655
St. James Theatre (American Idiot) 1623
Marquis Theatre (Come Fly Away) 1604
Shubert Theatre (Memphis) 1521
Winter Garden Theatre (Mamma Mia!) 1513
Al Hirschfeld Theatre (Elf *opens 11/10/2010) 1437
Imperial Theatre (Billy Elliot) 1421
Richard Rogers Theatre (In The Heights) 1368
Neil Simon Theatre (Harry Connick Jr. Live) 1297
August Wilson Theatre (Jersey Boys) 1275
Nederlander Theatre (Million Dollar Quartet) 1217
Broadhurst Theatre (The Merchant of Venice *opens 11/19/2010)1186
Ambassador Theatre (Chicago) 1125
Eugene O'Neill Theatre (Fela!) 1108
Ethel Barrymore Theatre (Race) 1096
Longacre Theatre (La Cage aux Folles) 1096
Cort Theatre (Time Stands Still *reopens 10/7/2010) 1084
Vivian Beaumont Theatre (South Pacific) 1080
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (A Life in the Theatre *opens 10/12/2010) 1079
Bernard B. Jacobs (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson *opens 9/21/2010) 1078
Stephen Sondheim Theatre (The Pee-wee Herman Show *opens 11/11/2010) 1055
Brooks Atkinson Theatre (Rock of Ages) 1044
Belasco Theatre (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown *opens11/4/2010) 1018
Music Box Theatre (Lend Me A Tenor) 1010
Walter Kerr Theatre (A Little Night Music) 947
Lyceum Theatre (The Scottsboro Boys *opens 10/31/2010) 924
Studio 54 (Brief Encounter *opens 9/28/2010) 920
John Golden Theatre (Driving Miss Daisy *opens 10/25/2010) 805
Booth Theatre (Next to Normal) 785
American Airlines Theatre (Mrs. Warren's Profession *opens 10/3/2010) 740
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Pittmen Painters 9/30/2010) 650
Circle in the Square Theatre (Lombardi *opens 10/21/2010) 623
Helen Hayes Theatre (*no production currently running or planned) 597

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Our Musical Theatre Dream Roles, by The Democracy Diva and The BackStage Barbie

The Democracy Diva's (@democracydiva) Dream Roles:

1.      Mama Rose in Gypsy
I know this is one of the Backstage Barbie’s dream roles as well, so I’ll leave the lengthy descriptions of the brilliance of Mama Rose to her. But just know that this is absolutely, undoubtedly, the most important female character in the history of musical theatre. When I saw Patti LuPone perform as Rose, I found myself sobbing hysterically during “Rose’s Turn.” Not because it was sad, but because I couldn’t even believe that Patti was acting. I couldn’t believe she could emote like that – so raw, so pained, so angry, bitter, sad, resentful, desperate, passionate, ambitious – you don’t to be a stage mother (or a mother at all) to feel an unbelievable emotional connection to Mama Rose. She has more depth than any other character I’ve ever seen, and any belter could just dream of blaring out Mama’s notes at full voice.
2.      Fanny Bryce in Funny Girl
As a female Jewish belter, it would be impossible for me to leave Fanny Bryce off my list. Played to perfection by the incomparable Barbra Streisand in the movie and original Broadway cast, Funny Girl’s upcoming revival is the current hot topic in the Broadway community. I won’t bother to go into details about how vocally incredible this role is; just listen to “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” and you’ll understand what I mean. Everyone can relate to Fanny’s drive and ambition and the struggles she faces, but Jewish girls with less-than-perfect noses feel a unique connection to her, and to Barbra. I’m not too bothered about who will play her in the revival, but I do hope it’s a Jewish girl who sings “Who’s an American beauty rose with an American beauty NOSE!”
 3.      Kate in The Wild Party
The only dream role I’ve had the incredible privilege to play, Kate enters the stage by proclaiming that prohibition can “shove it” as she pulls a flask out from her garter. As a supporting lead, Kate is used more as a device to further the plot than as the focus of the plot itself, but she also sings what I consider the greatest female belter song in modern musical theatre: “The Life of the Party.” A caricature of the 1920s vaudeville performer, Kate drinks to excess, snorts cocaine, seduces her friends, and is a diva in the truest sense of the word. Being Kate was absolutely thrilling; it made me feel as if there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish, and I’d give anything to play her again.
4.      Cathy in The Last 5 Years
Cathy is possibly my saddest dream role, because I am far, far too Jewish to play this “shiksa goddess.” But she’s a dream role none the less. She is incredibly real and incredibly relatable – her story is not one of trying to drag her children or herself into show biz or vaudeville; there’s no exaggerations, it’s not over-the-top or showy. Cathy is just a woman in love with a man; and she tells her story beautifully, through tearful ballads and brassy, jazzy tunes. A high belter, the role of Cathy is incredibly vocally demanding, but listen to “I Can Do Better Than That” and you’ll understand why she’s the best.
5.      Maureen in Rent
Sometimes your first dream role sticks with you forever. And when I was eleven years old, I knew that I wanted to play Maureen. Who needs to be in Act I when “Christmas Bells” serves as the build-up to your epically divalicious first line: “Joanne, which way to the stage?” And she more than makes up for lost time by immediately diving into “Over the Moon,” kissing her girlfriend and showing her ass during “La Vie Boheme,” and belting like there’s no tomorrow in “Take Me or Leave Me.” This role catapulted Idina Menzel into the spotlight and made her the stuff of Broadway legends; Maureen is by no means the largest or most powerful role in the show, but nobody has more fun than Ms. Maureen Johnson.

The Diva's Honorable Mentions:

6.      Moritz in Spring Awakening
Yes. I would rather play Moritz than Wendla. Moritz is by far the most interesting character in the show, and while I loved everything about Spring Awakening, nothing struck me as much as John Gallagher Jr.’s portrayl of this tragic figure.  Moritz truly makes you laugh and cry, and he steals the show from the rest of the impeccably talented cast because he has this angsty rock star in his soul just bursting out of him. Moritz’s self-doubt is universal, and his expressive rock anthems are incredible to listen to and to watch. I’d give anything to be screaming “Don’t Do Sadness” into that microphone, red lights flashing around me.
7.      Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch
It’s confusing to be a girl wanting to play a man who dresses as a woman, but so is life. Hedwig is a post-op transgender punk rock singer from East Berlin, Germany; the rock score tells stories of her botched sexual reassignment surgery, her rejection by the boy she loves, her incredible passion for music and performance, the impact of the fall of the Berlin wall on her youth, and her desperate, starving need for attention. (She’s the East German Lady Gaga, if Lady Gaga used to have a penis.) The music is different from every other rock musical in that it is indistinguishable from actual rock musical. Nothing about it feels like musical theatre; while watching Hedwig, you’re undoubtedly at a rock concert. Hedwig is a refugee, a victim of abuse, a so-called sexual deviant, a songwriter, and a cutthroat, angry woman who has faced an incredible amount of pain. But she has a soft side, as evidenced by the chilling and inspiring song, “The Origin of Love.”

The Backstage Barbie's (@barbiebackstage) Dream Roles:

1.     Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera
I fell in love with the role of Christine when I saw The Phantom of the Opera, my first Broadway show, at the tender age of four. I was completely captivated by those glorious high notes written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, specifically for the original Christine, Sarah Brightman. I used to run around my house attempting to sing the high E-flat at the end of the title track and although I'm sure it didn't sound great, those notes were inspiration nonetheless. When I began to study classical voice technique and decided to focus on training my head voice, my goal was that high E-flat because it was a requirement for the role of Christine. To this day, reaching that E-flat, and now the G above it, is the greatest milestone in my vocal training. I love that Christine has such a difficult decision to make, between Raoul and the Phantom, which torments her throughout the entire show. She loves that Raoul is safe, but has always felt pulled toward the Phantom for helping her find the power of her voice. While the Phantom's name is in the title, I have always felt that the show was really Christine's story.
2.      Glinda in Wicked
Anybody who knows me knows that this role is a given for me. I have dreamed of playing Glinda since the first time I saw her descend from the rafters of the Gershwin theatre in her bubble and that dream has lingered with me ever since. I love that Glinda gets to sing all over the map, from the coloratura notes in the opening numbers of each act, to the pop belt in Popular and the heartfelt duet For Good with Elphaba. The most extraordinary thing about this show is that it truly celebrates two powerful women and the strengths and the differences that allow them to succeed in their own ways. This is a piece about friendship, which is actually quite rare on Broadway. While Glinda may seem the more shallow of the two witches, I find that she actually undergoes a deep transformation from a spoiled, selfish girl to a strong-willed, independent woman who learns to think for herself and make her own choices.
3.     Nellie in South Pacific
As a soprano with the look of an ingenue, I've always found the Rogers and Hammerstein shows to suit me very well. While some of their shows are quite fluffy, I always thought of South Pacific as delving a bit deeper and being quite revolutionary for it time in its discussion of racial tension and ultimately acceptance. Nellie gets to sing some of the best songs every written, from Wonderful Guy to Cockeyed Optimist. In the roles that I love, I tend to be drawn to strong, take charge women and Nellie, a World War II military nurse is certainly one of those. While she appears to be bubble gum sweet on the surface, she actually has her own deeply rooted issues as she was brought up to judge those of different races. She eventually overcomes this and learns to love Emile de Becque's bi-racial children as her own. This role is particularly special to me because my great-grandmother's name was Nellie and the two actually have a lot in common: courage, compassion, and moxie. 
4.     Val in A Chorus Line
Anyone who has ever seen A Chorus Line knows that Val has the foul mouth of a sailor, but is really just a sweetheart. Now I'm not saying that this necessarily describes me, but it would be so fun to play. First things first, this show celebrates dancers, and dancing has always been my first love. This was the first musical that led me to tears, and not just a few tears, I cried buckets because of its message of the importance of dance and the sacrifice that dances make: "what we do for love." What attracts me to Val is that she puts on a tough girl act to mask her fear in the audition, which is something all dancers can relate to. And most of all, it would be pure enjoyment to sing "Dance Ten, Looks Three" and play that bawdy, sassy character on stage eight times a week.
5.     Mama Rose in Gypsy
Like the Democracy Diva, and probably every other actress in the musical theatre, I dream of one day playing Mama Rose, the ultimate stage mother. Its been said that this is the greatest role for an actress in the entire musical theatre repertoire and I have to say that is correct. She is a character that is so well written with depth and emotion, but also allows for great interpretation by the actress given the opportunity to take her on. There is something so incredible about her resilience because even though June, whom she poured all her loved and attention into, leaves her at the end of act I, she is able to quickly switch gears in order to focus on making Louise a star. Rose gives up everything in her life to try to make her daughters actresses, even the chance to have a normal, comfortable life with Herbie as a husband. But she cannot shake the dream of getting her family into the spotlight and when Louise becomes a burlesque star and realizes she doesn't need her mother anymore, everything comes crashing down. This results in Rose's Turn, which I believe to be the single greatest song every written for the musical theatre. There is nothing more heartbreaking than Mama Rose, in all her desperation, shouting "I had a dream, I dreamed it for you June, it wasn't for me Herbie, and if it wasn't for me, then where would you be, Miss Gypsy Rose Lee." While the Democracy Diva cites Patti LuPone's performance in this song as the most thrilling, I prefer Bernadette Peters' rendition. What I love about Peters' performance is that she has an inherent sex appeal in the song, which makes it very believable to the audience that Mama Rose really could have been a star if she would have focused on her own career instead of her children. And since I am not a belter, I love that Bernadette was able to find a way to give a powerhouse performance in the role while mixing into her head voice.

The Barbie's Honorable Mentions:

6.     Cunegonde in Candide
I love that this show is a musical, operetta, and a farce all wrapped in one, which happens to showcase my greatest strengths as a performer. And after spending a great deal of time with my voice teacher mastering Cunegonde's aria Glitter & Be Gay, I would love the opportunity to sing it in the show.
7.      A trio of Sondheim roles (because I love the music so much to choose just one)
Cinderella, Into the Woods
Song: No One Is Alone
Desiree, A Little Night Music
Song: Send In the Clowns
Sally, Follies
Song: Losing My Mind, In Buddy's Eyes

Fun Fact of the Day: Sorority Sisters on Broadway!

Not only did Broadway sopranos Kristin Chenoweth and Kelli O'Hara both study voice under Florence Birdwell at Oklahoma City University, but they are also sorority sisters! Both are alumae of the Beta Omicron chapter of Gamma Phi Beta. Kristin graduated in the class of 1990 and Kelli in1998. Gamma Phi Beta is one of the seven founding chapters of the National Panhellenic conference along with Alpha Phi, Delta Delta Delta, Delta Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and Pi Beta Phi.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Fave Five Broadway Sopranos

Kelli O'Hara
This southern gal is a product of the same teacher, Florence Birdwell of Oklahoma City University, that produced Kristin Chenoweth. She is best known for her Tony nominated roles: Clara in The Light In The Pizza, Babe in The Pajama Game, and Nellie in South Pacific. Her earlier Broadway work shows off her light, sweet, airy sound, but her later work and her solo album, Wonder in the World, demonstrate that there is more to this girl than blonde hair and high notes. There is genuine soul behind that glorious voice. Because her voice and her look are so classical, she seems more inclined to revivals and I think that if My Fair Lady is ever revived on Broadway, the role of Eliza Doolittle just may be her ticket to finally winning that TONY. Listen to the title track of The Light in the Piazza for a taste of Kelli's impeccable control and sweeping vibrato. 

Audra McDonald
Television fans will know her as Dr. Naomi Bennet on ABC's Private Pactice, but theatre fans know she is a Broadway Baby at heart. She is a classically trained soprano from Julliard. Many know her as a belter, which is not untrue, but her power in her lower register actually comes from her soprano training.She performed an unthinkable feat, winning 3 TONY awards in 5 years as Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel(1994), Sharon in Master Class (1996), and Sarah in Ragtime (1998). She won a 4th TONY in 2004, portraying the role of Ruth Younger in A Raisin in the Sun. She shares the title of "4-time TONY winner" with legends like Gwen Verdon and Mary Martin. She continues to perform concerts worldwide, specializing in opera and classical song cycles. My personal favorite Audra recording is "Your Daddy's Son" from Ragtime.

Julie Andrews

Perhaps the most well known of these 5 sopranos, Julie Andrews captured the hearts of audiences world-wide on film as Mary in Mary Poppins and Maria in The Sound of Music. Her stage highlights include My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Victor/Victoria. Vocally, she is known for her crisp diction and perfect pitch. Unfortunately, in recent years, she has been limited to non-singing roles due to a botched throat surgery that rendered her singing voice unusable. But she has continued to perform in films and her speaking voice is just as fluid and mesmerizing as when she had the use of vibrato. And we will always remember her as the silvery-voiced soprano we fell in love with. The title track from The Sound of Music is a classic Julie Andrews piece that is not to be missed.

Kristin Chenoweth
Anybody who has ever met me knows that Kristin Chenoweth is my idol. I've loved her ever since I began to study voice and found that I too was a soprano. I thought that only belters could have Broadway careers until I began following Kristin's career and then I decided I wanted to be just like her. Her Broadway highlights are certainly her performances as Glinda in Wicked and her TONY winning turn as Sally in You're A Good Man Charlie Brown where she showed off her upper register and her belting capabilities that, like in Audra's case, stem from her classical training. As Cunegonde in Candide, she showed off her coloratura range in what every soprano considers the most demanding song written for the musical theatre, Glitter & Be Gay. She is currently showing a darker side to her performance in the revival of Promises, Promises and though it is great to hear her sing the classic Burt Bacharach tunes, I miss hearing those great high C's, otherwise known as the "cheno note". "The Girl in 14G," written specifically for Kristin by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan is a shining example of her abilities to shift from operatic arias to jazz riffs and belting all in one song.

Barbara Cook
And last but not least, the woman who has inspired every soprano in the musical theatre, the Queen herself, Barbara Cook. Her earliest roles were in the ingenue category, from her TONY winning portrayal of Marian in The Music Man to originating the role of Cunegonde in Bernstein's operetta Candide. After a hiatus from Broadway, Cook embarked upon a very successful cabaret and concert career. She has also become known as one of the greatest living interpreters of Stephen Sondheim's work and made a triumphant return to the Broadway stage this season in the musical Sondheim on Sondheim where she delivered sensational versions of In Buddy's Eyes, Not A Day Goes By, and Send In The Clowns. Although her voice has dropped a bit over the years and she no longer has her high E-flats, she will always be the singer that all other sopranos try to live up to. There is no song in the musical theatre that is more spectacular than Barbara Cook singing "Glitter & be Gay".

Fun Fact of the Day: Diana DeGarmo Joins the 1st National Tour of 9 to 5: The Musical!

Diana DeGarmo, American Idol season 3 runner-up and Broadway performer in Hairspray and Hair, will be taking on a new type of role. She announced today via twitter (@DianaDeGarmo) that she will be playing the role of Doralee Rhodes in the 1st National Tour of 9 to 5, a musical by the incomparable Dolly Parton. The role was originated on film by Dolly Parton herself and on Broadway by Megan Hilty. The tour kicks off in Nashville in September of 2010.

Congratulations Diana!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fun Fact of the Day: The Four TONY Acting Categories

Since the first TONY was awarded in 1947, only three performers in history have received nominations in each of the four acting categories: Best Actor/Actress in a Musical, Best Actor/Actress in a Play, Best Featured Actor/Actress in a Musical, and Best Featured Actor/Actress in a Play. As of the 2010 TONY awards, neither of these actors has won in all four categories.

Boyd Gaines 
1989-Best Featured Actor in a Play for The Heidi Chronicles (won)
1994-Best Actor in a Musical for She Loves Me (won)
2000-Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Contact (won)
2007-Best Actor in a Play for Journey's End 
2008-Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Gypsy (won)
**Gaines needs a win in the Best Actor in a Play category to complete the TONY award cycle 

Angela Lansbury
1966-Best Actress in a Musical for Mame (won)
1969-Best Actress in a Musical for Dear World (won)
1975-Best Actress in a Musical for Gypsy (won)
1979-Best Actress in a Musical for Sweeney Todd (won)
2007-Best Actress in a Play for Deuce
2009-Best Featured Actress in a Play for Blithe Spirit (won)
2010-Best Featured Actress in a Musical for A Little Night Music
**Lansbury needs wins in the Best Actress in a Play and Best Featured  Actress in a Musical categories to complete the TONY award cycle    

Raul Esparza
2004-Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Taboo
2007-Best Actor in a Musical for Company
2008-Best Featured Actor in a Play for The Homecoming
2009-Best Actor in a Play for Speed The Plow
**Esparza has yet to win a TONY award 

Week Two Poll Results: CATS

Cats won the 2nd weekly poll by the slimmest of margins with 28% of the vote. Miss Saigon followed with 23% and Carousel received 19%. Godspell and Guys and Dolls each took 9%, Hello Dolly and Gypsy each took 4%, and Sweeney Todd finished last with zero votes.

Here are some of my casting ideas for this nonexistent upcoming revival of Cats...some are funny ideas but some are actually serious.

Old Deuteronomy-Harvey Fierstein (I just want to hear that voice singing those crazy lyrics)
Grizabella-Stephanie J Block (she recently played the role at the MUNY in St. Louis and was breathtaking)
The Rum Tum Tugger-Jonathan Groff (because he is a rock star and we love him from Glee)
Macavity-Aaron Tveit (we loved him in Next to Normal and he is just so cute)
Skimbleshanks-Wesley Taylor (we loved him in Rock of Ages and he is just precious)
Mungojerrie & Rumpleteazer-My partner cartwheeling friend and myself

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Trio Of Broadway Alums Join Lincoln Center Theater's Newest Production

An announcement was just made that Broadway veterans Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Sherie Rene Scott will join Lincoln Center Theater's newest production--Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The production, directed by Bartlett Sher, will begin previews at the Belasco theatre on October 2nd with an official opening date of Novemner 4th. The show features a score and lyrics by David Yazbek and a book by Jeffrey Lane. This casting is truly monumental, not only because LuPone and Scott were just featured in "My Fave Five Broadway Belters" list, but also because a group of actors of this caliber has not been assembled in years. Two-time TONY winner LuPone has recently been focusing on revivals, so this will be her first original role in decades. TONY-winner Mitchell also makes a return to Broadway after a several year hiatus. Two-time TONY nominee Scott is fresh off her triumphant original show Everyday Rapture and I am praying that this upcoming role may finally give her the TONY she deserves. I hear that both LuPone and Scott will be playing featured roles so without even seeing their performances or knowing the rest of the Broadway season, I predict these two Divas will battle it out for the top prize at the 2011 TONY awards.

**photo courtesy of

My Fave Five Broadway Belters

Patti Lupone
Need I say more? Well obviously I'm going to. This woman is stuffed to the gills with attitude and sass. She doesn't take any crap from anybody, and that intensity and passion comes out in her voice. Sure, she is known to be a bit of a diva and has even screamed at the occasional audience member for taking photos during performances, but my goodness can this broad belt! From the title role in Evita to Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd and most recently, Mama Rose in Gypsy, she has played the roles that every actress dreams of taking on. Listen to "Buenos Aires" from Evita for a taste of Patti's belting.

Sherie Rene Scott
She burst onto the scene in 1993 as Sally Simpson in The Who's Tommy and hasn't looked back since. She is choosy when selecting theatre roles, careful to take on roles that truly show off her vocal skills. Highlights of her career include Amneris in AIDA, Cathy in The Last Five Years, Ursula in The Little Mermaid, and Christine in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, where she ranges from sultry to quirky to heartbreaking. The best representation of Sherie as a performer is in her recent show Everyday Rapture, where she portrays a stylized version of her life story. Her range is incredible, from gospel and blues, to motown and ballads, but the most impressive thing...her crystal clear belt. She makes belting sound effortless, and any singer will tell you, it is certainly not an easy thing. Check out "My Strongest Suit" from AIDA for a great example of Sherie's soulful side.

Idina Menzel
Whether you know her as Maureen in Rent, Elphaba from Wicked, or Glee's Shelby Corcoran, you know Idina Menzel can belt her face off. She definitely doesn't have the clear effortless sound of some of these other ladies, but her powerful, rock sound has served her just fine. Fans love her sound and from personal experience, I know that she is quite thrilling live. For some, she is an acquired taste, and for others, her voice is a bit too grating and rough around the edges. But regardless, nobody can dispute that this lady can belt, and she can belt high. "Defying Gravity" from Wicked is a great example of Idina's belting range and soaring rock sound.

Stephanie J Block
She is certainly the least known of these five women, but in my own humble opinion, she has the best voice. She made her Broadway debut as Liza Minnelli in The Boy From Oz, and after being replaced by Idina Menzel for the Broadway production, went on to play Elphaba in the first national tour of Wicked. Recent roles have included Grace O'Malley in The Pirate Queen and Judy Bernly in 9to5: the musical. While some belters use sheer force to produce sound, Stephanie doesn't even sound like has to try to belt and I could listen to her for hours. This woman has unfortunately been a victim of the all too frequent "great performer, average show" syndrome with all of her Broadway endeavors resulting in flops, despite her outstanding performances. I have never seen a single performer live as many times as I've seen Stephanie and I will continue to see any production that has the privilege of casting her. This woman has so much to give to Broadway and I can only hope she gets a change to play a fabulous role in a blockbuster show. I'm crossing my fingers that she is offered the role of Fanny Brice in next year's revival of Funny Girl and maybe one day she will be Gypsy's next Mama Rose. Run, don't walk to listen to Stephanie sing "Get Out And Stay Out" from 9to5: the musical. Her voice will break your heart and lift you up all in the same song.

Ethel Merman
Last but not least, the woman who needs no introduction, the original Broadway belter, Ethel Merman. They broke the mold when they made this broad, and while we have some great voices on Broadway today, there will never be another Merman. She was bawdy, foul-mouthed, and the definition of the word "DIVA". She introduced audiences to some of the greatest musical theatre roles ever from Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun to Mama Rose in Gypsy. Other actresses went on to play these roles (Bernadette Peters played both) but none could erase the memory of the incomparable Merman. Her rendition of "Rose's Turn" is not to be missed. She was a machine and a work horse who rarely missed performances, if ever, and did it all before the age of microphones. That only intensified her greatness, as her belt was entirely natural with no help from amplification or auto-tuning. Because she had to produce enough volume to be heard in a Broadway house over a full orchestra, her voice lacked the nuance and detail of some of today's singers, but in any case, she was a revelation. There isn't a Broadway belter alive who wasn't influenced by Ethel Merman, and if they say they weren't they are lying, because my lord, they don't make them like that anymore.

Special thanks to Rick Westerkamp for contributing to this post!

Fun Fact Of The Day: 3 Shows And Counting For This Dynamic Duo

If you know anything about Broadway or New York theatre in general, chances are you've heard of Sherie Rene Scott and Norbert Leo Butz. But you probably don't know that they have shared the stage 3, count 'em 3 times. As replacements in Rent and role originators in The Last Five Years and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the onstage chemistry between these two is undeniable. I hope that each of these three-named dynamos will stay on The Great White Way for a long time with many more shows together. If they are willing to perform as replacements again, I could actually see them as the next Diana and Dan in Next To Normal. Thoughts anyone?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My New Homes On Twitter And Gmail

Follow me on twitter @barbiebackstage or catch up with me on gmail at!!

Fun Fact Of The Day: Happy Birthday Cheno!!

Today is a very special day on's Kristin Chenoweth's birthday! Kristin is currently staring in Promises, Promises on Broadway but is best known for her work in You're A Good Man Charlie Brown and Wicked. Happy Birthday Kristin! We are so glad you are born and broadway wouldn't be the same without you!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fun Fact of the Day: Broadway on a Budget

So I'm thinking of starting a new daily post (it may go weekly if I run out of ideas) where I give a fun fact of the day about theatre, dance, performing arts, etc.

Day 1: There are ways to see Broadway shows without pay $126.50 which is the current top ticket price. Consult this article on for each individual show's policy for lottery, rush or standing room. It is pretty self-explanatory, but make sure to check the specific show you want to see before you go to the box office. Most of these policies generally require that you pay by cash so be ready with cash in hand when you get to the box office.

Happy theatre going!!

Has So You Think You Can Dance Gone Too Far?

Television shows like FOX's So You Think You Can Dance have done wonders for an art form that seemed lost with the days of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers. Dancers who were once limited to performing in the chorus of Broadway shows or dancing behind pop and hip-hop stars in music videos are now receiving national exposure based on their own merit. However, in an attempt to wow television audiences and prove their technical abilities to critical panels of judges, dancers and choreographers have begun to push the boundaries of the human body in an extreme way. From gravity defying jumps to intricate partnering and often dangerous tumbling passes, performers push their physical limits every day, but has it gone too far? Many critics, and even some diehard fans of So You Think You Can Dance will answer this question with an affirmative 'yes'.

For the past three weeks of the show's seventh season, at least one dancer has injured themselves in rehearsals. On the July 7th show it was announced that Alex Wong, whom many thought to be a front-runner to win the competition, had injured his achilles tendon performing a taxing series of Russian split jumps in a Bollywood routine. He was unable to perform in the show and was automatically placed in the bottom 3 and was ultimately voted out because surgery was required to repair his severed tendon. In the same week, All-Star Allison Holker was sent to the emergency room during rehearsals due to a rib injury.

On July 14th, it was revealed at the beginning of the show that dancer Ashley Galvan would not be performing due to a rib injury. She too was voted out during the results show when her doctors prescribed at least 5-6 weeks of rest.

When we finally thought the string of injuries had ended, the July 21st show began without Billy Bell, who had hurt his knee in rehearsal. This injury appeared to be minor however, and he was not sent home during this week's results show, in fact no one was.

The show has seen some minor injuries to dancers in previous seasons, but nothing even remotely close to the bloodbath of these past three weeks. So what is going on this season that hasn't happened before? This question can be answered in a multitude of ways, but one noticeable difference between previous seasons and the current one is the All-Star format. The idea is simple: pair contestants with finalists from previous seasons to push the younger dancers to the level of those who have already been working in the industry for a few years. This format is not to blame, but the sheer number of routines for each dancer may in fact be the cause. The season started out normally with each dancer performing one duet, but oddly enough, the week that each contestant was asked to perform two duet routines and a solo in addition to the group number, was the same week the first injury to Alex Wong occurred. The amount of time spent rehearsing for multiple routines also means that dancers have little time, if any at all, to spend warming-up and taking technique classes to keep their bodies conditioned and to prevent injury.

It seems that the network and producers are trying to cram as many numbers into the show as possible to encourage viewers to keep watching and voting. But the fatal flaw in this thought process is that these dancers, though disciplined and impeccably trained, are humans, not machines. And not only has the number of routines per show increased, but so has the difficulty and risk of each piece. It is very rare to see a work of choreography on this show that does not include dangerous tumbling, jumps that could snap an ankle if the landing is the slightest bit off, or lifts that could leave the female paralyzed if she is dropped. I have always thought the show would have more artistic merit and less potential for injury if the choreographers would cut the "tricks" and actually allowed the performers to dance. But as terrifying as all of this sounds, these dancers are at the peak of their training and should not have a problem with this choreography, that is if they weren't exhausted from the other three routines they were rehearsing that same week.

Here are the opinions of some dancers and fans of the show who feel that the recent injuries are not accidents, as well as their theories on improving the show and the safety of its dancers.

"The show has had injuries in the past, but three weeks in a row is actually quite alarming. If we were talking about Dancing with the Stars where you are dealing with untrained dancers who don't know how to stretch or warm up their bodies properly, then it is quite plausible. However, these are talented and smart dancers who know their bodies and how to prevent injury. There's a huge difference between challenging the dancers to help them grow and challenging the dancers to their breaking points. It's dangerous, and these injuries could affect them for many years to come. Entertaining America is not worth risking the dancers' future careers. One or two pieces is more than enough for one night."
Komal Thakkar, dancing for 16 years

"I think that Nigel [Lythgoe, producer of So You Think You Can Dance] subconsciously mentioned something at the heart of this matter. He said something to the effect of, 'We're bringing people in to take a look at the show and what we're doing. Maybe we need to do warm-ups.' These dancers are being pushed to learn highly technical routines with minimal time with their choreographers. Then, they're rehearsing up a storm and wearing themselves out. If you aren't holding warm-ups for your dancers, you're at a major liability, no matter how may tricks they're performing."
Rick Westerkamp, dancing for 18 years

"I think its unfortunate when the producers make jokes about the seriousness of the situation [ie calling it Survivor]. Injuries are not uncommon in dance but some of the situations they have put the dancers in encourage injury. The jumps that severed Alex's achilles were very difficult and unnatural. After he suffered an injury performing the jumps, they then asked another contestant to do the same jumps in performance.

I think another part of the problem is that the dancers are being asked to do styles they are not trained in which puts them at greater risk for injury. While this has been true across all seasons, the dancers are now being asked to change partners each week instead of having the same partner for five weeks. They now have three-four days to learn a new style and get comfortable with a new partner.

I'm also think there is some blame to lay on the choreographers. Allison [Holker] had a rib injury and was asked to do a lift that required her to leap into her partner's arms and land with her rib on his shoulder. If choreographers know about specific injuries they should alter their choreography for the safety of the dancer."
Amber Lewis, dancing for 19 years

So it seems that what lies at the hear of the matter is this: the well-being of dancers is being sacrificed for ratings and audience appeal. FOX and the producers of So You Think You Can Dance must realize that they are dealing with human beings who have careers riding on the ability of their bodies to function and move properly. This conflict between innovative, entertaining choreography and the dancers' safety seems like an impossible problem to resolve, but in actuality, we have known the answer since we were three years old in our first ballet classes. We were taught by our teachers to always warm-up and stretch before class or rehearsal, take technique class regularly, and most importantly, allow ourselves to rest and recover. So shame on you Nigel Lythgoe and the other producers, you are not giving your dancers a chance to do any of these things, and their childhood ballet teachers must be very disappointed in you.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Not That I'm Trying To Sway The Voting...

Rick Westerkamp and I have always hoped to make our Broadway debuts as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer in CATS. We were born to sing Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's compositions in our head voices and perform partner cartwheels in matching cat suits. Cady Clapp will make said costumes and Pam Lewis will bedazzle them.

Results of BSB's First Weekly Poll!

Drum roll please.......

Based on your votes, you would like to see Stephanie J Block play the role of Fanny Brice in the upcoming Broadway revival of Funny Girl, directed by Bartlett Sher. I would have to agree with your choice. Stephanie is a fantastic performer with stellar vocal chops and I would love to see her in a leading role that suits her as perfectly as that of Fanny.

Stay tuned for next week's poll of the week and feel free to give me suggestions for future polls.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

TONY Winner Alice Ripley Departs Next To Normal

This evening's performance of Next to Normal will be the final show for 2009 TONY award winner for Best Leading Actress in a Musical Alice Ripley after nearly a year and a half run. Ripley has been with the show in the role of Diana since it debuted at New York City's Second Stage, traveled out of town to Washington DC's Arena Stage, and opened on Broadway at the Booth Theatre. Ripley will continue with the show as it embarks on its first national tour. Next To Normal is a poignant show that explores an uncommon topic for musicals, a bi-polar mother also facing severe depression and other various psychological disorders. The play examines the effect that one person's mental illness has on the entire family. Brian D'Arcy James (Dan) and Jennifer Damiano (Natalie) also depart the show after this evening's performance.

My experience with the show is one that is certainly memorable. I arrived at the Booth theatre at around 9am one Friday last summer expecting to be able to purchase rush tickets (same day tickets at a discounted price) for the evening performance. However, I was about 40th in line with only 20 tickets available and soon found out that the first person in line arrived at 5am. Determined to get tickets my next time around, I arrived to the Booth promptly at 5am the next Friday and I was ecstatic to be first in line. The time went quickly and I bought my front row seat at 10am when the box office opened. I had high hopes for the show and certainly was not disappointed. The show had me on the edge of my seat and tossed me from emotional high to low and every place in between. Seeing Alice Ripley live onstage in this role will certainly go down as one of my most treasured theatre memories. While other performances have faded into history, hers remains as fresh in my mind as the day I first witnessed it. Brava Alice, Broadway will miss you terribly, but the rest of the country must now experience your talents. I will see you at the Kennedy Center!

Please comment and share your own experiences with Next To Normal...I would love to hear about them!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Little Night Music Reopens Today

I just had to post this video because I think it is a stellar representation of Peters and Stritch as people, not performers, and it also explains their process of coming into their roles.

Annie Revival 2012

If we must have yet another revival of this show on Broadway, can we at least have a fierce cast? And by "fierce cast" I mean I want to choose the cast. Here goes...

Annie...Erin Whyland

She made her Broadway debut last year as Debbie in Billy Elliot: The Musical and she is hilarious. I think she can really shine in a starring role. She can even bring along all of her ballet class friends from Billy Elliot to play the rest of the orphans.

Miss Hannigan...Allison Janney
She is a complete scene stealer and the gruff, untrained quality in her voice will suit this orphanage matron very well, not to mention that fact that the woman's height is enough to intimidate any small child. She plays comedy in such a way that she walks the line between grounded humor and over-the-top but never crosses it.

Daddy Warbucks...Michael Cerveris
He has a tough outer shell that commands attention, but is really a big ball of love on the inside. Plus, his head is already shaved.

Grace Farrell...Kelli O'Hara
Nobody can play sweet and loving onstage like Ms. O'Hara and with a soprano like that, how could Annie and Warbucks help but fall in love with her?

Rooster...Raul Esparza
True, he usually plays a leading man, but I think this featured role could show off a different side of Esparza as he channels his inner con artist.

Lily St. Regis...Sutton Foster

I can just hear her singing Easy Street right now and it is over the top and campy, but it is Sutton Foster so some how it is fabulous at the same time.,

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Queens of Broadway Are Back!

No, I am not talking about La Cage Aux Folles, I am speaking of Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch opening the second company of the current revival of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music. These two dames of the theatre are finally returning to the Great White Way after several years on hiatus to do concert work. I did not see the first cast with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury and I am so glad I waited (even though I love you Angie)! Tomorrow, July 13th, marks the Broadway debut of the Peters/Stritch tandem and I can only imagine it will be phenomenal. Bernadette will bring nuance, subtlety, and that glorious voice to the role of Desiree and Stritch will certainly perform a brassy, brazen rendition of the wheelchair-bound Madame Armfeldt. Based on video interviews, it appears that Stritch is most intrigued by the mother-daughter dynamic between the characters while Peters seems enamored with Sondheim's score and the way in which it gradually reveals its magic to the actors throughout the rehearsal process. Elaine Stritch's rendition of Liaisons will certainly be a highlight in the show and I am certain that Bernadette Peters' Send In the Clowns will be simply heartbreaking. This casting is the stuff of dreams, just ask any longtime theatre fan. It was wonderful that Catharine Zeta-Jones' starpower allowed this revival to make it to Broadway, and now that the production has had success, we can see it in the way it was truly meant to be performed, with two of the finest Sondheim interpreters of our time.

Broadway Barks 2010

During my day trip to New York City with Amber yesterday we also attended Broadway Barks, the twelfth annual event to promote adoption of shelter dogs and cats. The event is hosted every year by Broadway Barks founders Mary Tyler Moore, who can still turn the world on with her smile, and my idol Bernadette Peters. I was completely starstruck when I saw her across Shubert Alley, ask my friends, I could barely speak. Can I please look as good as she does when I'm 62? Broadway stars from shows like Promises, Promises, Memphis, and A Little Night Music presented the animals up for adoption and told the often sad stories of the animals lives before they were rescued by the ASPCA and other organizations. I thought I would have to drag my friends there so I could see the Broadway stars, but they fell in love with the animals and so did I. Amber and I even contemplated how we could sneak a baby pooch onto the bus. I wonder if my new apartment will let me have a dog?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What Would Judy Do?

Judy, as in Garland, god rest her soul, could certainly appreciate Everyday Rapture, the semi-autobiographical story of leading actress Sheri Rene Scott. She is a devout fan of Garland and constantly asks herself “what would Judy do?” Everyday Rapture, a part of Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2010 season opened at the American Airlines Theatre with a limited engagement run on April 29, 2010 and played its final performance today.

I caught the evening show last night and I felt so grateful to have witnessed the incomparable Sherie Rene Scott completely in her element. She is known for her crystal clear belt and comedic chops in shows like Aida, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and The Little Mermaid, but who knew she could deliver such a multilayered performance? I had never seen Scott perform live and I must admit that I was skeptical. I was expecting a “Broadway belter” performance, you know the kind I’m talking about, where the singer has to do deep knee bends to get the top notes out and it looks like her face just might fall off? But there were no “defying gravity moments” here and that was quite rapturous in itself.

While Everyday Rapture is indeed a musical, it reads more like a play with music in that the book scenes tell Scott’s story and the songs add sparkle and theatricality. She is one of those very special performers who does not separate her dialogue from the music, but actually continues to act through the song. While she is a fabulous singer with impeccable control, I barely took notice of the vocal technique because her performance was so transcendent. This gal runs the gamut from light ballads on travel trunks and up-tempo numbers complete with magic tricks to Motown anthems with her back-up singers and torch songs, some even performed while lying on the floor.

While this is primarily a one-woman-show, Sherie Rene Scott is supported by two back-up singers, Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolfe, or as she refers to them, the Mennonettes. The harmonies created by these three women are out of this world, particularly on the final number Up the Ladder to the Roof. There is also a scene stealing performance by the 16-year old Eamon Foley who plays a crazed fan that uploads his own interpretation of Scott’s My Strongest Suit to youtube. This hilarious segment of the piece depicts Scott’s frustration as she attempts to reach out to this young fan while he refuses to believe the emails are really from her. Foley’s character really gets his idol riled up when he mentions Idina, but Scott quickly reminds the audience that this other beloved Broadway belter was in fact her replacement in AIDA. This delightfully catty comment is exactly what makes Sherie unique and electric, her quirky, and sometimes biting sense of humor.

The subject of the show is Scott’s half-Mennonite upbringing in Kansas and her road to New York City. Her idols growing up were Jesus and Judy Garland, enough said. She opens by stating that a wise man once told her to carry two pieces of paper in her pockets every day, one stating “I am a speck of dust” and one stating “the world was created for me.” She waffles between these two philosophies throughout the show as her Mennonite half taught her to feel insignificant but her other, more theatrical, half leads her to believe that she is special and has the potential to truly shine. In the end, she rips pieces of paper into tiny pieces, showering herself in confetti, as she ultimately concludes that there truly is magic in the world, and specifically in the theatre, if she can only find “it” within herself.

Ever since this piece was rumored to make the move from off-Broadway to Broadway, I have been intrigued by it, partly because I found the idea of an autobiographical show incredibly self- indulgent, and also because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about surrounding this “phenomenal” actress. So I had my doubts, and Sherie Rene Scott, a woman whose talent cannot by confined by two names, proved me wrong, and she did it in a big way. Not only was I floored by her talent, but I totally connected with her story. There is absolutely nothing self-serving about this piece and in fact, she is one of the most giving performers I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Her story of a small town girl with a big dream and complete belief in herself resonated with me tremendously and based on the mood in the audience, I think she reached many others as well.

I found myself in tears by the final number, which was an up-tempo I must add! Maybe it was because of her character’s ultimate realization of the magic of the theatre, or maybe it was because I felt so honored to have been privy to this woman’s deeply personal story, but either way, the show struck a chord with me and pulled my emotions to the surface. I went into Everyday Rapture having never seen Sherie Rene Scott perform and I left the theatre as an eternal fan, and that is exactly what I told her when she signed my poster at the stage door.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

We're All A Part Of It

It's true that New York City is one of the dirtiest, grittiest, loudest places in the world, so then why do we love it so much?

"When you leave New York, you are astonished at how clean the rest of the world is. Clean is not enough."
-Fran Lebowitz

"While we are looking to clean up our cities, NYC brings one something that all the clean air in the world couldn't provide."
-Rick Westerkamp

These quotes say it all don't they? Any city can be pretty and clean, but it takes a true gem to have its own energy and its own spirit. It is almost as if the city is alive and breathing--it has its own pulse that beats steadily through every subway train, taxi cab, and human footstep. In an episode of Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw refers to New York City as 'the 5th lady' because of its overwhelming presence and influence in the lives of the four central characters.

Its diversity is astounding. A countless number of cultures cohabit in a multitude of boroughs and villages--yet surprisingly, it works. From Little Italy, Chinatown, and the West Village, to Chelsea, the Upper West Side, and Washington Heights, every turn will surely bring adventure to anyone who wishes to truly explore the city and all it has to offer. Something truly special happens here, and there is always the sense that something new and amazing is just around the corner. Besides, where else can you find a Korean market, a Jewish deli, a falafel stand, and a street performer all on the same block as trendy boutique and a group of tourists from Iowa?

Many cities are bustling and exciting, but nowhere other than The Big Apple is the energy truly palpable. Helen Keller once said, "cut off as I am, it is inevitable that I should sometimes feel like a shadow walking in a shadowy world. When this happens I ask to be taken to New York City. Always I return home weary but I have the comforting certainty that mankind is real and I myself am not a dream." This woman who was not blessed with the ability to see or to hear, was forced to rely on her other senses, most notably her ability to feel. The city celebrates those who are unique and different and unites us all, something that is so tangible that it must be felt and truly experienced, not seen or heard. In Kander and Ebb's iconic song New York, New York, I think he speaks for all of us when he says "I want to be a part of it, New York, New York." But we are already a part of it because it celebrates us and what makes us special, from the time our ancestors first stepped onto American soil on Ellis Island to the excitement we all still feel when we wake up in the city that never sleeps.

NYC is a city of hopes, aspirations, and of dreams. I heard it said once that when you walk down a New York City street, everyone that you pass is there in hopes of achieving great success, otherwise they would live somewhere that wasn't so expensive (insert laughter). This resonates with me on a very personal level because I am a singer and a dancer, I have been all my life, and every time I visit this amazing city I am reminded that my biggest dream is to one day perform on The Great White Way. I think all performers have been told many times that their goals are silly and unrealistic, but regardless, the city inspires us to keep dreaming and believing that "if I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere." Thanks again Mr. Ebb for those poignant lyrics.

This brings me to my favorite thing about NYC--its celebration of art and the people that create it. Whether you are visiting a world class institution, such as the Museum of Modern Art or Carnegie Hall, or simply stumbling across a drummer or b-boy jamming in a subway, art lives and breathes here and is, in my humble opinion, the very heart of the city. My absolute favorite medium for presenting art is the live theatre. What is it about seeing a play or musical live that both excites and inspires us to such a heightened degree that it pulls us out of ourselves? I've tried many times, unsuccessfully, to express my love of the theatre with words, but I think my friend Shaina says it best. "We go to the theatre, most notably Broadway, to feel. You can exhale, let go, and take everything in. I mean, breaking into song because you have too much inside of you to merely speak? Isn't that what so many of us want to do on a daily basis but can't because it's not really socially acceptable? New York in itself is really one big musical."

I am going to leave you with a video clip that encompasses everything I love about New York City--diversity, community, music, Broadway, and of course, my idol, Bernadette Peters.