Posted in Theatre

For Your Consideration: I Don’t Know What to Make of Falsettos


As most arts-minded people know, the seminal Lapine/Finn musical Falsettos had its lauded Broadway revival broadcast on PBS last week. It was part of the station’s Live from Lincoln Center programming…although the production didn’t actually play at the Vivian Beaumont. It was indeed produced by Lincoln Center Theater, but found its home at the Walter Kerr…pre-Amelie.

I DVR’d the broadcast and watched it yesterday during a rainstorm…and, well, I just had a lot of thoughts about it. So many random thoughts, in fact, that I feel it best to present them to you in a bullet-point form. Here goes!

  • Okay, so first off: I actually had no clue that the show was sung-through. And here I call myself a theatre aficionado!
  • Falsettos is usually classified as a “gay story,” or even a “family drama,” but I believe there is another component: the characters’ Jewish identity. This show would read very differently if that element were absent.
  • I enjoyed the 2nd act more than the 1st. Compared to the complications and themes of Act 2, Act 1 felt a bit like extended exposition. The 1st act is also more “theatrical” in its use of fantasy sequence and nonlinear events to tell the story.
  • Speaking of which, it’s too bad that Tracie Thoms and Betsy Wolfe don’t show up until Act 2. I wanted to know more about them.
  • I didn’t know too much about Stephanie J. Block, other than that she was one of Wicked‘s Elphabas, but this show made me a fan. She looked beautiful and has a really versatile voice. Her big solo, “I’m Breaking Down,” was clearly an audience favorite.
  • Anthony Rosenthal, portraying her preteen son, is a star in the making. He was so easy to love, and considering the demands of this show, I’d already call him a consummate actor.
  • “March of the Falsettos” was probably one of the creepiest production numbers I’ve seen in a while. I know it’s not really intended to come off that way.
  • Brandon Uranowitz, as psychologist Mendel, completely stole the show. He was hilarious in his gestures and vocal inflections…and as a bonus, his chemistry with the kid was great. As a result, “Jason’s Therapy” and “Everyone Hates His Parents” were particularly entertaining moments.
  • On the flip side, Marvin’s final song- “What Would I Do?”- was absolutely gut-wrenching, mainly due to Christian Borle’s facial expressiveness. That’s one of the great things about filmed theatre, you know? Closeups enable you to see things you might miss from a high-up venue seat.
  • Weird opinion: I wasn’t in love with Whizzer’s character, though Andrew Rannells was an ideal choice for the part. However, his fate in the show still moved me to tears because of his loved ones’ reactions/how much he meant to them.

Falsettos takes place over two years…1979-1981. I think it is important to note this, as the piece manages to provide a “slice of the past” while still demonstrating how much and how little its issues have changed. That, in my opinion, is crucial for touching people with this art form.

However, the unusual structure and breakneck pace of the musical make me worry that some folks will miss the significance of those issues. And that, dear readers, is why I don’t know how to rate Falsettos.

Do you?

Posted in Theatre

Impressions of THE OLDEST BOY


On one of my always-magical trips to the Drama Book Shop, I picked up a play that I had always been curious about: Sarah Ruhl’s The Oldest Boy. This curiosity stemmed from two things- one, the original Lincoln Center production artwork (which I thought was gorgeous). Two, the premise of the piece, which explores an American mother and Tibetan father faced with a Hobson choice about their three-year-old son.

As an aside, I really hoped that the cover of the published play would have the original Lincoln Center artwork. It did not. Nevertheless, I plunked down my cash and planned to tackle it after reading the libretto of Heathers the Musical. Got some serious diversity going on, don’t I?!

Having completed The Oldest Boy in one bus ride home, I’m going to share some thoughts about it with you guys. For starters, the parents’ big choice arises when they are visited by a pair of Buddhist monks. The monks are immediately drawn to Mother and Father’s little son…as it turns out, he is a reincarnated Lama, or high-ranking Buddhist teacher. Interestingly, Sarah Ruhl dispels that mystery early on; she has said that the play is not about “if,” but “now what.”

The Mother (portrayed by Celia Keenan-Bolger in the original production) is the central character, facing her own spiritual tugs-of-war while deciding whether or not her child should live in an Asian monastery to fulfill his destiny. It’s a meaty, heart-wrenching role, and one I would love to do someday.

The play’s dialogue was surprisingly breezy and easy-to-read…it could have been very lecture-like but was not. And I still learned quite a bit about the doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism (I’ve long had an interest in world religions). Despite the heavy subject matter, Ruhl managed to infuse some humorous moments, too.

The staging requirements for the show were very odd to see on paper. Apparently, there is an optional chorus of Tibetan dancers that appears symbolically at pivotal moments in the story. Furthermore, the role of Tenzin (the son) is actually done by an adult speaking his lines while manipulating a child puppet. It’s a curious dramatic device, and one you don’t see very often. I imagine that when this play is performed by smaller companies, these elements get heavily modified.

I don’t have the resources to properly investigate that, but I can tell you that the original Lincoln Center presentation received mixed reviews. Much of the positivity in these reviews was indeed aimed at the unusual staging and direction by Rebecca Taichman (this year’s Tony winner for Indecent). Knowing such facts, I cannot help but wonder if The Oldest Boy will lose a chunk of its power when done on a smaller scale.

Even while reading it, I pondered how the play could translate as a narrative as opposed to a live piece. Could it be that this work fares better as a novella? I don’t know.

I also did not fully understand the final scene, but that might just be my naïveté. The Mother’s struggles were very moving, and I teared up more than once. These themes- loss, parental attachment, and love- are ones that affect us all. In that regard, which is the purpose of all theatre…I find The Oldest Boy to be a success.

Posted in Theatre

For Your Consideration: The Voyage of the S.S. American and all that followed

This weekend, I boarded the S.S. American for a 2nd time by attending Wagner College’s production of Anything Goes. Or did I? You see, Cole Porter’s seaworthy tour-de-force is one of those rare shows that has gone through multiple script alterations over the course of its production history. Originally premiering in 1934, the musical underwent major changes in the book and score for its first revival in 1962…and then again in 1987! The first time I saw Anything Goes, it was the 1987 version. Wagner’s production used the 1962 book and songs, so I thought it’d be interesting to compare the two.

The big standards are all there: “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Friendship,” “It’s De-Lovely,” and the title number. But they are in different spots; for instance, in 1962, “You’re the Top” opened the show, while in 1987, the first number was “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Both songs are sung by Reno Sweeney to Billy Crocker, but the latter arrangement greatly implies the past romantic undertones of their relationship. The former, to me, conveys that they’ve always been just good friends.

Music that appears only in the 1962 version includes “Let’s Misbehave,” “Take Me Back to Manhattan,” “Let’s Step Out,” and “Heaven Hop.” All four are essentially filler songs. The latter two are sung by the gangster’s girlfriend (Bonnie/Erma) and were replaced by a much better character song called “Buddie Beware” in 1987. In Wagner’s production, the actress playing this character (Natalie Schaffer) was a terrific dancer. Almost too good, in fact- she was featured in every big hoofing scene, even ones where she necessarily didn’t need to be.

The plot of both versions follows basically the same premise…madcap things occur on a cruise ship, mistaken identity abounds, lovers divided get coincided. However, I feel that the 1987 script tells the story much more cohesively than this one did. I’m not sure how to explain it; it was just…tighter. As my date put it, the 1962 plot “is slightly unhinged.”

However, Broadway veteran Michele Pawk (who directed the show here) certainly knew her piece and how to play the right moments for laughs. “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and “Anything Goes” were fantastic to watch, largely due to the perfectly-cast leading lady: Miss Sophia Tzougros. She had all the makings of a good Reno, and I detected notes of Patti LuPone in her performance. (Did I mention her dresses were also to die for?!)

Other standouts in the cast included Lauren Dennis and Rebecca Marlowe as Hope Harcourt and her mother, respectively. Sadly, the 1962 script doesn’t do Hope’s character any favors: she only gets a big solo number in the 1987 version. Marlowe was so committed to Mrs. Harcourt that I’d have never thought she was under the age of 21. Unfortunately, that role also figures more prominently in 1987’s script.

Okay, so you’ve probably guessed it by now…I think 1987 gave us the best scope of how Anything Goes in this world. However, as far as 1962 goes, Wagner College gave us what’s probably the best interpretation of that material. Ironically, the school’s next production will be Maury Yeston’s Titanic…and you can’t expect a happy ending from that ship show!


Posted in Theatre

For Your Consideration: a review of Broadway’s WAITRESS

“It’s amazing what baking can do,” sings Jessie Mueller as Jenna the waitress in one of just two non-Hamilton shows surviving from last season. (The other is School of Rock.) And if “baking,” she also means “the theatre,” then she’s absolutely correct. Seeing Waitress on Broadway this week for my birthday affirmed that.

In short: Jenna is a small-town waitress who happens to have a gift for baking pies. The trouble is that she’s stuck in an abusive marriage and unexpectedly pregnant…until a baking competition offers a $20,000 prize and the potential for a new life. Along the way, she is aided by her friends at the diner (Kimiko Glenn, Keala Settle) as well as the new doctor in town (Drew Gehling). Actually, she and the doctor wind up having an affair. The show is based on a 2007 motion picture.

Famously, the score was entirely done by pop singer Sara Bareilles, who received a Tony Award nomination for her work. Her involvement with the show has been a staple of their marketing campaign, and she makes vocal cameos (pre-recorded) at a few points in the musical. I am in love with Bareilles’s music for Waitress; in fact, it’s a big part of why I wanted to see the show onstage. It’s fresh, it’s catchy, and each number is carefully crafted to reflect the personality of its characters. My favorite songs are “Opening Up” and “Bad Idea,” the opener and closer of Act I, respectively. There is also the 11 o’clock song, “She Used to Be Mine,” but I’ll talk about that at the end.

One of the most interesting aspects of the show is how the ensemble is used: they fill lots of minor roles, but they also serve as a Greek chorus of sorts for the action. The effect works surprisingly well. As for the leading players, they were all perfectly suited to their roles and got great audience reception; at my performance, Kimiko Glenn’s understudy was on, but she did a great job. Another thing Waitress knows how to do is find a balance between comedic and serious moments. You have the ludicrous awkwardness of Ogie (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Becky’s take-no-prisoners attitude…and then a scene later, you see Jenna get hit by her husband (Nick Cordero).

Speaking of which, Jessie Mueller gives another electric performance as the main character. She brings such raw emotion and sincerity that I cried at three different times in Act II. “She Used to Be Mine” spoke to me on a profound level as I thought about my own trials and tribulations. Like Jenna, the girl I once was didn’t ask for bad things to happen to her…and both of them escape (and still do) by immersing themselves in their passions.

With any luck, someday I too can achieve my ultimate happiness- and the ones I care about will be right there with me. Waitress was not only a delightful birthday gift, but a reminder of just how spellbinding the arts are for the soul. They don’t even have to be fundamentally perfect; as I’ve heard, “it only takes a taste.”

Posted in Theatre

For Your Consideration: This is the Hour and the Heat is On

Disclaimer: Before I go into my review, I need to say that I have not listened to the Original Broadway Cast of Miss Saigon. Therefore, I will not be comparing this recording of the show to the OBC.

Not long ago, I wandered into the 5th Avenue Barnes and Noble looking for the recent studio recording of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. To my (albeit happy) shock, all copies of that CD were sold out. However, they were also holding a great sale on most musical theatre CDs, so I didn’t really want to go home empty-handed. I walked out of the store with a live recording of the most recent production of Miss Saigon– on the West End, but soon to be headed to Broadway (more on that later).

Let me start off by saying that the sound quality of this thing is phenomenal. Although the numbers retain their massive applause, the voices and orchestra are so clear and beautiful that you’d swear this were made in a studio. Furthermore, the moments of applause flow so seamlessly into one another that it’s almost like the show is playing around you (Miss Saigon is virtually sung-through, which majorly helps in this case).


For those who aren’t familiar: the story of this piece is taken from Puccini’s landmark opera Madama Butterfly, but in a new time period. During the Vietnam War, a young Saigon woman (Eva Noblezada) falls in love with an American soldier – only for them to be separated for good when the city falls. Unbeknownst to Christopher (Alistair Brammer), Kim is still awaiting his return- with their little son by her side. In the midst of everything is Kim’s former boss, a scheming dreamer known only as The Engineer (Jon Jon Briones), and Chris’s new wife Ellen (Tamsin Carroll).

This cast seems to be very hot-and-cold among longtime fans of the show. Some people criticize Noblezada and Brammer’s chemistry, some think the supporting case outshines the leads, and some inevitably compare them all to the famed OBC. It’s hard to pinpoint acting choices without seeing them onstage, but from what I can hear, this cast sounds really wonderful in their roles. Eva has a crystal pop voice that really reverberates in “The Last Night of the World,” “Room 317,” and the Finale. As Gigi, a call girl working for the Engineer, Rachelle Ann Go is also a stunning singer.

Speaking of the Engineer, his is a very tricky character to analyze. Widely regarded as one of the best supporting roles in the musical theatre canon, he gained much of his acclaim from the original actor who played him: Jonathan Pryce. As a result, Jon Jon Briones had a lot at stake when he tackled the part, but I honestly think he did a fantastic job. In his showstopper, “The American Dream,” Briones performs with such gusto that I get a great picture of what facial expressions he’d have during the song. That number itself is full of depth and insight; after the Engineer tells his personal story, he goes into a grand delusion of what some people think it means to live in America.

I love listening to the orchestra and ensemble on this recording. You can tell by their sound alone that Miss Saigon is a hallmark of the 1980s’ “mega musical” era. For the most part, it is a time long gone; with the exception of juggernaut shows like The Phantom of the Opera and Wicked, the current Broadway economy and audience numbers simply cannot sustain monster productions. It’s just one of several reasons why bare-bones, “minimalist” theatre is so popular these days. As I mentioned earlier, this presentation of Miss Saigon will be headed to the Imperial Theatre next spring- and Eva Noblezada and Jon Jon Briones will both be reprising their roles.

Regardless of whether this theatrical time capsule will successfully find new footing in the U.S., I’d certainly recommend the 2014 live recording as an introduction. It’s a very satisfying listening experience and a good way to gauge if, for you, the heat is still on in Saigon…or if some things should just stay in the past.

Posted in Theatre

For Your Consideration: They Say It’s Wonderful (and it was)

Last night, I was in the audience for the special concert performance of Annie Get Your Gun presented by New York City Center. It was a two-performance event: the first for their big fundraising gala, the second for the common man (i.e. me). Despite the pouring rain and subsequent decimation of my Playbill, it was a really awesome evening.

Annie Oakley is one of those musical theatre roles that can only be played by a pure juggernaut. It’s not easy for an actress to capture the homespun charm, feisty confidence, and transitory arc of the character…all while belting her face off. It makes perfect sense that the great Ethel Merman was the one who originated the part. She was followed by such actresses as Bernadette Peters, Judy Kaye (who was actually in last night’s show), and now Megan Hilty.

Hilty gave a sparkly and sincere performance as the title character- and from the reviews I read by other people, a universally acclaimed one. More than one person believed that if this concert production ever became a full show and ended up on Broadway, she would have a Tony Award in the bag. It was unusual to see a platinum blonde Annie Oakley…I’m so used to the character having darker hair! But that’s a minor thing, as Megan Hilty brought the house down with her sick vocal range and comedic timing.

Her Frank Butler was Andy Karl, who (as you may know) I adored in On the Twentieth Century. He was more of the “straight guy” in this role; that is, Frank’s masculine coolness really contrasts Bruce Granit’s flashy histrionics. But his voice was in prime form, and he and Hilty sounded beautiful during the love duets. Furthermore, one of my favorite moments in the show was their “Anything You Can Do.”

It really is Annie and Frank’s show, but the supporting cast was also very enthusiastic and talented. Ron Raines (who I last saw in Follies) was Buffalo Bill, while Something Rotten‘s Brad Oscar portrayed Charlie Davenport. And the two children playing Annie’s brother and sister were adorable. Some of my other favorite moments in the show, actually, were things that can only be done with NY City Center’s Encores! productions. You see, Encores! shows are done concert-style, so the actors often have their scripts in-hand. City Center is very, very good at incorporating the scripts into the humor of the show; they almost become a bonus prop for the actors to play with.

The bottom line? Although the story is dated, and my companion was quite upset with Lady Oakley’s final decision, you really can’t go wrong with a classic like Annie Get Your Gun. The brilliant, timeless Irving Berlin score is reason enough for that. But when you also have a cast like the one I saw last night, the stage is dynamite!

Posted in Theatre

For Your Consideration: All Aboard the 20th Century!

Yesterday, I made a lovely trip to NYC to see the Roundabout revival of On the 20th Century at the American Airlines Theatre. This “madcap musical comedy,” as it’s billed, features music by Cy Coleman and book/lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. This production stars Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher as Lily and Oscar, an actress and producer who were once romantically involved. The problem is that Oscar is broke and needs his ex to star in his new project- and he’s only got 16 hours before their shared train travel arrives in New York.

This show was super fun, especially in Act II. What was particularly impressive was the seamless set changes; train cars shifted away to reveal flashbacks and dream sequences. I’ve heard some complaints about the “tinny” orchestrations in this production, but it sounded great to me. The best numbers in the show were “Veronique,” in which Mildred Plotka becomes the fabulous Lily Garland, “Life is Like a Train,” which featured an awesome tap dance by the porter quartet, and “She’s a Nut.” Let me tell you something about that last one: it is the screwball chase scene at its finest. Flashing lights, manic pursuit, and an escaped sanitarium patient straddling the front of the train (seriously) all made for big laughs and excitement.

Speaking of sanitarium patients, let’s talk about the cast! I have to say, the supporting cast of this show was exceptional. As Oscar’s slick henchmen, Michael McGrath (of Nice Work fame) and Mark Linn-Baker were bumbling and charming, all at once. Mary Louise Wilson was also a crowd favorite as the token crazy old lady, and the four Porters were magnificent. But the biggest show-stealing performance came from Tony nominee Andy Karl, who completely nailed the role of Lily’s new boyfriend Bruce. He relied heavily on physical comedy, and he was a treasure to watch. In fact, by the end of the show, I found myself actually wondering what happened to Bruce.

Although Kristin Chenoweth is very suited to roles like this one, it was nice to see her having fun with the part and showing off her moneymaking vocal chops. She and Peter Gallagher played off each other very well and had good chemistry. They also had beautiful fashions designed by Broadway’s costume king, William Ivey Long. In conclusion, On the 20th Century made for a sparkling afternoon of theatre; I would recommend it, but you’ll have to be quick. This production is playing a limited engagement and will close on July 19th!

Posted in Theatre

Tonys Countdown Special: The Big #1!

Are you ready for the Tonys? Well, if you’re not, then GET READY! But before I bid you farewell to temporarily dissolve into a sea of Broadway delights over the weekend- I must reveal my best Tony-winning performance of the past decade…drum roll please…

CHRISTINE EBERSOLE (Grey Gardens, 2007)

Christine Ebersole is a Broadway grand dame at her most sophisticated- in my opinion, anyway. She is an incredibly versatile performer. This is proven in no small part by her skilled double portrayal of young Big Edie and present-day Little Edie (try to keep that straight!) in the musical examination of Jackie O’s relatives. Grey Gardens, despite losing the Best Musical Tony Award, has an extremely devoted fanbase; much of it is, in fact, due to the beloved Christine Ebersole. But the other part of it comes from the brilliant score, which has produced such modern standards as “The Cake I Had” and “Another Winter in a Summer Town.” I suppose the show could be considered one of those great unspoken masterpieces of modern American musical theatre. Ebersole’s costar, Mary Louise Wilson, also walked away with a Tony for Grey Gardens. Currently the former can be seen in Ever After at Papermill Playhouse; I myself will be watching the latter on Broadway this month when I see On the Twentieth Century.

Posted in Theatre

Tonys Countdown Special: #2

Note: Tomorrow I reveal my top choice! What do you think it will be? For now- we’re all caught up! The 2nd best Tony-winning performance of the past decade is…drum roll please…

ALICE RIPLEY (Next to Normal, 2009)

Many a theatre fan was up in arms when Billy Elliot beat this Kitt-Yorkey rock opera for the Best Musical Tony. But they did have one big consolation: the piece’s anchor and fantastic role in its own right- Diana Goodman- earned actress Alice Ripley one of the night’s biggest hallelujahs. Her portrayal of a hallucinogenic wife/mother battling bipolar disorder was universally acclaimed, and that’s no small feat; an accurate rendition of a character with mental illness is absolutely vital. It not only becomes representative for all people with the disorder, but it also sets a precedent for those trying to understand it better. Ripley had a lot to live up to and she succeeded! Later in the run, real-life couple Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley would take the Next to Normal stage as Diana and her husband.

Posted in Theatre

Tonys Countdown Special: #3

A day late, but here and now, the 3rd best Tony-winning performance of the past decade is…drum roll please…

NEIL PATRICK HARRIS (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, 2014)

Irony at its finest: the first time in forever that NPH doesn’t host the Tony Awards, and he actually wins one of the evening’s biggest prizes. It was a tight race between him and Jefferson Mays, who played six different roles in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, but ultimately Harris’s turn as a German trans singer gave him the edge. (For the record, if Mays had won, he too would have made my list; both performances were equally stunning.) If you aren’t Hedwig-savvy, here’s the scoop: it originated as an Off-Broadway show written by and starring John Cameron Mitchell, who would reprise his iconic role in a cult musical film and later in this same Broadway production. The character of Hedwig goes through emotional traumas and dynamic self-journeying, all set to hard rock music.