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Posts Tagged ‘Broadway’


Nov.Shell1Another month lived and another beautiful shell taken from the bowl of a YEAR OF CONSCIOUS LIVING.  Its earthy colors and rippled exterior offer metaphor for life’s daily changes with its peaks and valleys of experiences.

It’s now mid December and I’m forcing myself to make this entry.  That sort of sums up how untuned in I’ve been this month. Days fly by before I recognize that I’m supposed to be paying attention.  And then I realize how often I just exist without making note of the daily hours.  As November started ticking down to its close I’ve wondered how I’ll journal its happenings.

XmasMantleSure, I did a lot and could include a roster of activities.  This is a busy month for everybody as most hustle to get ready for Thanksgiving and start the burden of Christmas shopping.   And “burden” is the operative word especially since everyone buys what they want all year and I have no ideas for anything special.

This month was very much about doing and very little about being and observing.  Plus, as a non sequitur, I’ve been eating a lot – which is apropos for the season.  (Looking forward to January when I can stop allowing myself to be enticed.  Talk about anticipating my life away!)

It does happen, though, when the passage of time takes center stage and I tune into more than five decades of life now behind me.

ReunionTake, for instance, my 40th year high school reunion.  40th YEAR!  Conveniently scheduled around Thanksgiving, about 140 of us (and some spouses, not mine) met up at a hometown country club and danced the night away. But much of the time was spent marveling over the 40 years that had passed and how much living took place in that time…marriages, divorces, children, grandchildren, travel, career choices, progress and set backs, health and deaths.  Multiply that list by 140 people and recognize how, at this time and place, we are touching each other’s lives once again and remembering the roles we played with each other as teenagers.  In all likelihood there won’t be another 40 years to reminisce about.  Now that’s a rude awakening!

911Memorial1And then there’s the 911 Memorial.  Talk about being abruptly awakened!  The truth about life is that one-minute you’re here and the next you’re not.  Imagine the mundane morning that greeted each of the fallen victims.  Life is always unpredictable and often tragic.  There’s another reason to be aware of each day and appreciate it.

Juxtaposed against that was Broadway, my favorite place to be.  As a kid my only dream was to star in Broadway musicals where I could sing and dance my heart out.  After many childhood cast rejections (a cruel reality in my life) I finally decided to find other dreams.  But the fire I feel while experiencing the best that American theater offers is still as strong today as ever.  And BroadwayCurtainI have to sit really close so I can be swept into the world created by a multitude of artists.  I live and breathe with the performers on stage.  And once in town, we gorge on theater, fitting in as many shows and plays as we can in just a few days.  This year it was 5 in 4 days.  Yay!  (I reviewed them on this blog site so check them out!)

It blew my mind that it had been two years since our last stage orgy and I can’t tell you what I’d done in those two years.  And I realize I won’t get that time back.  But I can say that experiencing theater is when I feel most alive, provided I’m within the first 10 rows.   The exhilaration and thrill of live theater brings me to tears, and I’m driven to scream out after a particularly moving song or dance number – when the emotion oozes out of the performer and wrings him dry.  Attend ONCE to experience that transformation during Steve Kazee’s or Cristin Milioti’s numbers.  Wow! 

And touch Chad Kimball’s soul in MEMPHIS during his gut stirring rendition of “Memphis Lives In Me.”

In re-living parts of November on paper I am aware of the fleeting moments of life, articulated well by Silas House in his New York Times piece The Art of Being Still.  A writer, he was given a piece of advice that drives his daily life:  “discover something new every day.”  Thank you for that.  It’s always possible to do.

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This musical feels more like an Irish folk pub than a Broadway musical, right from the start.  As the audience files in from the street there’s a band playing on the stage mingling with audience members as they get drinks from the stage bar.  Number after knee pounding number is played and sung until the lights slowly dim and a spotlight isolates one guitar strumming singer from the rest. Before you realize it, the house is dark, the lead is singing and an actress has entered the stage to listen.

ONCE is a new kind of Broadway show, very different from the standard musical fare where the book is distinct from the songs and choreography.  Maybe that’s why it captured this year’s Tony Award for best musical. Have a listen.

In this show the music IS the show because the story revolves around musicians.  Of course there’s also a love story evolving but that is complicated.

Steve Kazee is the focus of the story and sings most of the emotionally charged numbers that rip through your gut.  He’s incredible and won a Tony for his performance.  Equally powerful is Cristin Milioti, Tony nominee, whose soulful contributions are haunting and melodic simultaneously.  The music is phenomenal and will soon join my CD collection.

ONCE is among the best theater I’ve seen where story and music are one entity and the result is an exhilarating, memorable experience.  BRAVO!

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The headlined star of this play is Jessica Chastain whom I know from the movie “The Help.”  She played the ditzy and curvy Celia Foote whom everybody hated.   In THE HEIRESS on Broadway she’s the lovelorn daughter, Catherine, who is considered too plain and too dull to be loved by a man. (Don’t know what happened to the generous boobs – they were missing). She’s adequate in the role; some of her lines lack sincerity and I often saw her acting the part instead of becoming the character.  She’s more wooden than I would have expected Catherine to be and that was periodically distracting.

The real show stopper is Judith Ivey who steals every scene she’s in.  She owns the role of Aunt Lavinia and delivers long strung together lines that could easily be stilted without her character’s stylized interpretation.  There is a bit of eccentricity in her performance in all the little quirks and pieces of business she adds.  She’s a terrific actress and brings her role to life, energizing all the characters in her scenes.  She’ll certainly be a Tony contender for her role as a supporting actress.

THE HEIRESS is a compelling story told very well through its various characters.  It all takes place in Catherine’s well-appointed living room and parlor.  Her father, played by David Strathairn, (just seen in the film “Lincoln”) continues to mourn Catherine’s mother who died during childbirth and he worries that the man Catherine has fallen for is really just a gold digger after her inheritance.  He’s quite good in the role, reserved yet sufficiently intense and serious.

There’s some mystery involved and the evolution of Catherine’s character as she reckons with newly learned insights.  It’s a terrific play and I loved it.

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South Park

South Park (Photo credit: zoonabar)

I waited a year to finally see this show and came away thinking it was – eh, pretty good, certainly entertaining and more than a bit childish.  The childish part stands to reason since its writers are the same guys who created South Park – Matt Stone and Trey Parker.  These guys get off telling fart jokes and others of the same ilk.

BOM is definitely outrageous in the way it pokes fun at religion and how it showcases profanity in the way 13  year old boys find hysterical.  How many times can we say fu** in a song, and better yet, words I don’t want to write in a blog.  Body excrements take center stage in this show and all the ways it can be showcased in sophomoric style humor.

My funny bone isn’t activated that way, unfortunately in this case since I paid a lot of money for seats in the nose bleed section of the theater.  That would have even been fine if I’d laughed occasionally with everybody else who appreciated the offbeat humor.  But then again, I never found South Park funny either.

Oddly enough I did enjoy the show though.  Music is fantastic, which isn’t surprising since it was created by Robert Lopez of “Avenue Q” fame, the adorably inventive and truly funny Broadway show.  Dance numbers were great too and well staged.  And the sets were colorful, elaborate and beautifully designed.  Performers were all simply terrific with powerful voices that punched out songs the way they were meant to be sung.

It was certainly a Broadway calibre musical.  But for me the book was a little too stupid and adolescent to become engrossed in.  I’m glad I saw it though; now I know what all the fuss is about.

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The show, NEWSIES,  is what Broadway is meant to be – poetry in motion.  It has all the elements working together to create an extraordinary experience.  No wonder it won a Tony for music and choreography – they bring the book to life and weave story, power and emotion into a frenzy that keeps the audience engaged and applauding enthusiastically.  I’m among the regular whoopers at the end of a powerfully performed number.  I can’t contain myself – the emotion has to go somewhere so why not channel it into my hands and out of my mouth!  The cast appreciates the appreciation and I don’t have to explode.  Win, win right?

Here’s their page on broadway.com

Newcomer Corey Cott plays the vulnerable lead in Jack Kelly.  Fresh out of Carnegie Mellon University, Corey landed this role as his Broadway debut.  Not too shabby.  And he’s great too.  He has a lovely tenor voice that needs a bit of strengthening to project more powerfully into the audience.  But I suspect that will come with practice.  In fact, all the fellows who play the news boys are terrific singers and dancers who bring to life the struggle of trying to make a buck as little guys against big business.  These guys win in the end – and oh how good that feels!

 Here’s a number from the show.

The writing team of Harvey Fierstein (book), Alan Menken (composer) and Jack Feldman (lyrics) is dynamic and magical.  I always marvel at how the strongly produced musicals seamlessly weave those vital elements together.  It’s a mystery to me and one that continually fills me with awe.

The set is so inventive and useful as it is continuously reconfigured to move the story along in place and for dance numbers.  Direction is tight and purposeful.  And the performers are top-notch!

NEWSIES is Broadway musical at its best.  What an exhilarating way to spend an evening!  How is it remotely possible that NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT won the Tony for best musical?!  Crazy!

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English: Matthew Broderick at the 2009 Tribeca...

Kelli O'Hara (South Pacific) at NYS ARTS Fall ...

Kelli O’Hara (South Pacific) at NYS ARTS Fall Gala 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This ’30s musical comes to life at the Imperial Theater on Broadway.  There’s a lot going for it, if you like these old-time musicals.  Costumes are colorful and gorgeous on a cast of talented dancers who make good use of a smaller stage.  Sets are effective and believable with most of the action taking place inside a mansion.  Voices are strong as they belt out popular ditties by the Gershwin brothers – “Someone To Watch Over Me,” “S Wonderful,” “Fascinating Rhythm” and others.  And the audience for our performance really seemed to like the show.  But I came away thinking – eh.. I hope the next one’s better.”

Matthew Broderick shares the leading role with Kelli O’Hare.  Here’s a sneak peek at one of their songs together.

Our matinée featured Ms. O’Hare’s understudy Cameron Adams in the role of Billie Bendex.  She was actually quite good – a strong performer with a lovely confident voice.  But Broderick was a different story.  We wished we’d seen his understudy instead, frankly.  He’s careful and tentative in his portrayal of this playboy, not at all believable in the part.  He’s light on his feet as a dancer but lacks any nuance to his performance.  His nerdy persona does not a playboy make.  And just about every singer was stronger than he.  Frankly, he was boring in the role.  We felt like we were watching a walk through of the show and not a scheduled performance.  Quite a disappointment since he received such glowing accolades in “The Producers.”  Ben Brantley loved “Nice Work,” but had similar sentiments about Broderick’s performance in his review of the show.

Direction and choreography for the show was so-so, rather lackluster and formulaic in places.  It lacked inventiveness even though Kathleen Marshall is a veteran director/choreographer on the Great White Way.  It almost seemed like she toned the show down to avoid overshadowing Broderick’s weakness on stage.

Obviously this wasn’t among my favorite stage shows, ranking with the likes of “Promises, Promises.”  But if you’re attracted to traditional Broadway flavor and singable tunes you’re likely to find “Nice Work” enjoyable.  It’s a predictable and formulaic production performed by a talented cast and executed by a professional production crew.

I’m glad it’s the first show we’re seeing on this trip and not the last.

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NY - the BroadwayEvery year or so we head to New York for an orgy of theater, one performance after the other.  We see more shows in 4 or 5 days than some people experience in their lifetimes.  It’s my favorite thing to do and fills me up until our next visit. Theater has always been my first love and I dreamed of being a star on a Broadway stage one day.  But reality took over and eventually my sensibility caught up to the realization that performing was not my strength.  That didn’t dampen my love for the performing arts, though, and attending top quality theater is necessary fuel for my soul.

This trip takes place pre-Thanksgiving, 2011, when we attended 7 stage shows in 4 days.  Here’s a snapshot to tickle the taste buds for the rest of you theater lovers with plans to visit the Great White Way.

Fantasticks has been around for 50 years and this is the first time I’ve seen it.  What a delightfully intimate experience in this small off-Broadway stage where our front row seats had the actors practically in our laps during some of their leaps.  It’s a sweet love story built around a contrived feud between two neighbors.  Songs are lovely and the performers are real pros.  Pop star Aaron Carter is in this show and while he’s adequate as the young love interest, he’s the weakest link on the cast.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular is a feast for the senses, in fact, it’s actually an experience of sensory overload.  Of course there are the Rockettes– but their backdrop is a 3 story high screen on which runs a variety of technicolor scenes from stars of the Milky Way to a computer generated tour of NYC streets.  More than 1200 costumes are worn in this show, all color coordinating with the sets, backdrops and lights.  The double-decker “tour NY” bus seen in one scene is 34 feet long and 12 feet high, yet is dwarfed against the scenes running on the LED screen behind it.  It’s an amazing show, impressive in every way!

Hugh Jackman at the X-Men Origins: Wolverine p...

Hugh Jackman on Broadway might have been my favorite experience this year.  This man can do it all – act, sing, dance, ad-lib and his breezy, natural showmanship is a sheer delight.  He’s supported by 6 gorgeous “dream girls” whose voices provide beautiful harmony and whose dance skills add sexy flair to his choreography.  Jackman is on Broadway for just 10 weeks before he leaves to film the role of Jean Valjean in the movie version of “Les Miserables.”  If you can swing it – his show is not to be missed!  Hugh Jackman on Broadway

Sister Act is a high energy musical after the first 20 minutes or so.  It was a good show, not my favorite.  The acting disappointed me and wasn’t Broadway calibre, in my opinion.  But once the music and staging kicked in I started enjoying myself, especially the large ensemble numbers.  Actress Patina Miller (Deloris) is the real reason to see the show.  She belts out song after song with a strong stylized alto voice that epitomizes a Broadway star.

War Horse is a stunning play staged at Lincoln Center depicting the 8,000,000 horses that were killed during WWI.  This is what theater is supposed to be.  Inventive and effective staging offer the perfect blend of “see what’s being said” vs. allowing your imagination to tell the rest of the story.  The Irish brogue is flawless and the horses … ah the horses…impressive life-sized puppets, each operated by 3 people who control all movements both large and small.  Subtle ear twitching, snorting, trotting and galloping all accomplished by the humans beside and underneath – yet all any of us see are horses.  Live, spirited, muscular, living-breathing horses.  Uncanny and incredible!  Definitely deserved its Tony!

Sons of the Prophet, a comedy that does provoke a number of laughs with the twisted perspectives of its characters, is well acted and interestingly staged.  But its story of relentless dysfunction among its characters grew tiresome for me – partly because the 1 hour 45 minute play had no intermission and partly because its circular story seemed to go nowhere.  At one point it just started, and at a similar point it simply ended as though the entire play was just a lift from a typical dysfunctional series of events among the participants.  I must say that there wasn’t a weak performance among them though, including Joanna Gleason who’s been seen in many TV series and movies in her career.

Billy Elliot is a really powerful musical about the dancing dreams of a young boy despite his non-supportive working class mining family.  This show has it all – strong story, powerful music, quality voices and effective staging and set design.  There are 4 boys who play Billy; we saw Peter Mazurowski who’s a killer little dancer at 11 years old but whose forte is not yet singing.  You’ve got to hurry to catch this show because it closes in early January.

Excellence at its finest is what Broadway is all about. It doesn’t matter if a show is happy or sad, you’ll usually find me crying in the audience overwhelmed by the sublime.

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