Thursday, December 31, 2009

Let's give the waltz a chance.
Let's dance, and let's see what happens.
Let us carouse while Strauss caresses the strings.
Even the shy may fly on musical wings.
They say music can do the most unusual things.
Let's take a step or two or three, and let's see what happens.
Let us pretend, my friend, it's only a spree.
And if a great adventure happens to happen,
Won't we be happy it happened to you and me?

Happy 2010, Everybody!

The Year of Living Cinematically

Another year has gone by, and I have kept up my list of films watched in their entirety for the calendar year. Same premise, same Moleskine. No TV movies or miniseries are included. The only difference from last year's list is that I've marked the films which I've never seen before with an asterisk.

Love Actually
(2003) 1/1
Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) 1/4
*Death at a Funeral (2007) 1/6
*The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965) 1/7
*Burn After Reading (2008) 1/8
His Girl Friday (1940) 1/9
*Back to Bataan (1945) 1/10
Topkapi (1964) 1/19
The Philadelphia Story (1940) 1/21
*Morning Glory (1934) 1/21
The Little Foxes (1941) 1/24
Network (1976) 1/26
Good News (1947) 1/27
*Doubt (2008) 1/28
Vertigo (1958) 1/30
*The Big Sleep (1946) 1/31
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947) 1/31
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) 2/1
101 Dalmatians (1961) 2/2
Once (2007) 2/2
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) 2/2
*The Big Chill (1983) 2/2
Tootsie (1982) 2/2
*Twelve O'Clock High (1949) 2/3
*The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) 2/5
*Be Kind, Rewind (2008) 2/5
*Red River (1948) 2/5
*Radio Days (1987) 2/6
Guarding Tess (1994) 2/7
*Lars and the Real Girl (2007) 2/8
*Only Angels Have Wings (1939) 2/9
*Made for Each Other (1939) 2/10
My Fair Lady (1964) 2/11
*Five Easy Pieces (1970) 2/13
Barefoot in the Park (1967) 2/15
*Darling (1965) 2/16
*Slumdog Millionaire (2008) 2/17
*Ghost Town (2008) 2/23
*Julius Caesar (1953) 2/24
*The Public Enemy (1931) 3/6
*Watchmen (2009) 3/7
Howards End (1992) 3/13
*Milk (2008) 3/21
*Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) 3/22
*Synecdoche, New York (2008) 3/23
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) 3/25
Pinocchio (1940) 3/31
East of Eden
(1955) 4/2
Some Like it Hot (1959) 4/5
So Proudly We Hail (1943) 4/5
Paper Moon (1973) 4/6
Never on Sunday (1960) 4/9
Key Largo (1948) 4/10
*The Actress (1953) 4/11
The Rose Tattoo (1955) 4/13
*Zelig (1983) 4/13
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) 4/15
The Trouble with Angels (1955) 4/18
Anatomy of a Murder (1959) 4/18
The Rainmaker (1956) 4/20
Stalag 17 (1953) 4/26
North to Alaska (1960) 4/27
The Goonies (1985) 5/3
*Last Chance Harvey (2008) 5/8
Inherit the Wind (1960) 5/11
*Star Trek (2009) 5/11
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 6/1
State Fair (1945) 6/1
The Quiet Man (1952) 6/2
*The Hangover (2009) 6/5
The Godfather (1972) 6/13
Splendor in the Grass (1961) 6/22
*Hairspray (2007) 6/23
Last Chance Harvey (2008) 6/23
*You Can Count on Me (2000) 6/25
Amadeus (1984) 6/26
It Happened One Night (1934) 6/27
Stagecoach (1939) 6/28
Saboteur (1942) 6/30
*Rooster Cogburn (1975) 7/1
*The Lost Patrol (1934) 7/2
The Wild Bunch (1969) 7/3
Roman Holiday (1953) 7/4
*Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) 7/5
Clue (1985) 7/6
Animal House (1978) 7/10
*Untamed Heart (1993) 7/11
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) 7/12
*Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) 7/13
*Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) 7/15
A Night at the Opera (1935) 7/16
I Confess (1953) 7/17
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) 7/17
*The Iron Giant (1999) 7/19
Notorious (1946) 7/20
The Court Jester (1956) 7/24
*The Baxter (2005) 7/29
*Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960) 7/30
Doctor Zhivago (1965) 7/30
The Parent Trap (1961) 7/30
*The Paper Chase (1973) 7/31
*Monster House (2006) 7/31
Imitation of Life (1959) 7/31
Oklahoma! (1955) 7/31
*Walk Hard (2007) 8/2
*Little Nellie Kelly (1940) 8/6
*For Me and My Gal (1942) 8/6
*In the Good Old Summertime (1949) 8/6
*The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963) 8/7
The Awful Truth (1937) 8/10
*Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) 8/16
*Chocolat (2000) 8/28
*Troll 2 (1990) 8/30
*The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) 8/30
*Gran Torino (2008) 8/30
*Babette's Feast (1987) 9/5
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947) 9/7
Sweeney Todd (2007) 9/11
Where Eagles Dare (1968) 9/12
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) 9/13
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) 9/18
*Bad Little Angel (1939) 9/21
*A Perfect Couple (1979) 9/25
The Grass is Greener (1960) 9/26
*Lovers and Other Strangers (1970) 10/8
Halloween (1978) 10/31
Big Trouble in Little China (1986) 11/5
*Sunrise at Campobello (1960) 11/8
*Tell It to the Judge (1949) 11/15
Reds (1981) 11/17
*Li'l Abner (1959) 11/26
Elf (2003) 11/30
*Susan Slept Here (1954) 12/11
*Invictus (2009) 12/14
*Bolt (2008) 12/14
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) 12/15
Gone with the Wind (1939) 12/15
*George Washington Slept Here (1942) 12/19
*The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941) 12/20
White Christmas (1954) 12/21
Going My Way (1944) 12/21
Holiday Inn (1942) 12/22
Bad Santa (2003) 12/23
*Christmas in Connecticut (1945) 12/25
Scrooged (1988) 12/25
The Lion in Winter (1968) 12/25
It's a Wonderful Life (1946) 12/25
*Brideshead Revisited (2008) 12/26
Orange County (2002) 12/26
*The Fisher King (1991) 12/26
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) 12/27
Fiddler on the Roof (1971) 12/27
Star Trek (2009) 12/29
Adventures in Babysitting (1987) 12/29
The Simpsons Movie (2007) 12/30
Edward Scissorhands (1990) 12/30
The Dirty Dozen (1967) 12/30
The Thin Man (1934) 12/31

Theatrical Highlights of the Year

1. Reasons to Be Pretty. May 13, 2009 @ the Lyceum Theatre. Never make an unfavorable comparison between your girlfriend and the new hottie at work. That was Greg's, the hero of Neil LaBute's play, big mistake. After the news gets back to his girlfriend, it opens up a maelstrom of life-changing and affirming moments for his character, who ultimately learns to man up. The four-hander was well cast, with Tom Sadoski standing out above the rest but overshadowed by the more mature four-hander down the street that seemed to show what how these characters would end up in about 15-20 years (God of Carnage).

2. Mary Stuart. May 19, 2009 @ the Broadhurst Theatre. There's nothing like watching two of the most fascinating figures in British history duking it out live onstage. Imported from the Donmar in London, Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter dominated in a spare, riveting staging of the Schiller play (in a new adaptation by Peter Oswald) directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Yeah, there were men onstage (namely John Benjamin Hickey and Nicholas Woodeson) but this revival belonged to both leading ladies in superlative performances. The play also sparked six months of bliss as Sarah, Kari, Roxie and other bloggers participated in "The Summer of Harriet Walter."

3. Hair. May 24, 2009 @ the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Well, I guess we all have dreams of making our Broadway debuts. I never actually thought I'd get to sing and dance onstage but lo and behold the revival of Hair captured me in ways I never thought possible. I've never really been a fan of the show - until I took in this performance where I was overwhelmed by Diane Paulus' exceptionally organic staging. It's a special experience, and one of a lifetime. If you see this revival, it's imperative you make your way to the stage for the curtain call. You may never be the same.

4. The Royal Family. September 18, 2009 @ the Samuel Friedman. I have a soft spot for older comedies, particularly those set in NYC in the early half of the 20th century. Jan Maxwell led the cast with a superlative comic performance for the ages as the put-upon Julie Cavendish, a diva at wit's end. Rosemary Harris supplied moments of hilarity and haunting poise as the family matriarch. The comic exploits of an eccentric, loving and larger-than-life theatrical dynasty were explored by Kaufman and Ferber in their 1927 comedy (a take-off on the Barrymore family) The revival was lovingly directed by Doug Hughes (and oh, what a set! And those costumes!) I've rarely wanted to become part of a fictional family onstage.

5. Superior Donuts. October 1, 2009 @ the Music Box Theatre. It's not easy following up a Tony and Puliter Prize winning juggernaut, but Tracy Letts' second Broadway outing was another import from Steppenwolf. This time, Tina Landau directed a tight ensemble in a much gentler comedy about the unlikely father-son relationship between disconnected former hippie Michael McKean and energetic, idealistic Jon Michael Hill. The story, which presents a more optimistic vision of America than August: Osage County is less ambitious and wholly different, offering an unexpectedly moving and often quite funny new play.

6. Finian's Rainbow. October 8, 2009 @ the St. James Theatre. I thought the show was charming at Encores, but didn't think it warranted a transfer to Broadway. Those thoughts were dashed when the show started previews in October. The cast was augmented by stellar replacements, including Christopher Fitzgerald's winning turn as leprechaun Og. Warren Carlyle directed one a valentine to old-fashioned, Golden Age musicals. The production took on its reputation as a badly dated show and emerged one of the freshest and best reviewed experiences of the season. It also provided the luminescent Kate Baldwin her first leading lady turn on the Rialto.

7. Ragtime. October 23, 2009 @ the Neil Simon Theatre. I've waited ten years for the chance to see this musical, and in the first-ever Broadway revival I found myself inordinately moved by the staging, scenography and performances. Stripping away some of the excesses that are attached to the original lavish production, this import from the Kennedy Center (directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge) was actor-driven and a most memorable experience. Quentin Earl Darrington makes an auspicious debut as Coalhouse Walker Jr and Christiane Noll is a revelation as Mother.

8. The Norman Conquests. May 16, 2009 @ the Circle in the Square Theatre. I tend to make this list chronological, so as not to play favorites. But I can't help but saving this best production for last. Of all the theatre I saw in the calendar year, this exceptional revival of the Alan Ayckbourn classic was the best. In fact, it may very well be the best I've seen in my life, but only time will tell. I took in two marathons of the show, and if time had permitted would have done it more. It was seven hours of hilariously heartbreaking theatre, and found myself sad that it was over by the end of the evening. The show was imported from the Old Vic and featured the brilliant six person ensemble, one of the best on stage this year. This production, directed by Matthew Warchus (and which trumps his Tony-winning work in God of Carnage), reminded me why I loved theatre in the first place and has inspired me to make certain changes in my life over the past six months. I only hope you were as lucky as I was to see such a magnanimous theatrical event.

Shows I want to see next year: The Addams Family, A View from the Bridge, La Cage Aux Folles, Promises Promises, Memphis, Race, Lend Me a Tenor, When the Rain Stops Falling, Sondheim on Sondheim, Enron, A Behanding in Spokane, The Miracle Worker, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, Next Fall, Present Laughter, Time Stands Still, Collected Stories, Fences, and Wishful Drinking.

My Favorite Performances, 2009

Jayne Atkinson, Blithe Spirit. The character of Mrs. Ruth Condomine in the Noel Coward classic isn't usually the wife audiences leave the theatre talking about. That honor tends to go to the actress playing the devilishly deceased first wife Elvira. The model of upper classic British waspishness, Atkinson gave one of the most underrated and truly memorable performances last season. As Ruth, the actress dominated her scenes with Rupert Everett and Christine Ebersole with tweedy precision and gave a performance that got funnier and more vivid throughout the run of the play.

Jon Michael Hill, Superior Donuts. I recall hearing from friends when the play first opened at Steppenwolf, that Mr. Hill was a name to remember. His performance as the idealistic and almost fatally flawed Franco was the spark plug that really gave Tracy Letts' new (and gentler) comedy its legs. His chemistry with star Michael McKean was genuine, but it was the younger actor in his first major Broadway role who walked away with this show in his pocket. It's a performance that will one day give those who've seen it bragging rights.

Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit and A Little Night Music. It's a rare thing to be able to put an actor on your list twice, especially when one is a five-time Tony winning octagenarian. Ms. Lansbury is riding high on her late-career renaissance on Broadway. While reviews for both productions have been mixed-to-positive, Lansbury has received nothing but love letters from the critics. Playing two very different Madame's: the daffy, endearing Madame Arcati in Noel Coward's classic and the austere, disapproving matriarch nee courtesan in Stephen Sondheim's musical revival, Lansbury is the epitome of a star. She exudes grace, poise, charm and a rare star presence that outshines her fellow cast members (in both productions). She's already now in line for another Tony nomination and the possibility of a record-breaking sixth win.

Stephen Mangan, The Norman Conquests. Mangan's titanic comic performance in the Ayckbourn trilogy may be the greatest I've ever seen in all my years of theatregoing. Mangan's ability to take the irritable nature of Norman and garner the audience's sympathy and affection was nothing short of breathtaking, a stand out among one of the most uniformly excellent ensembles seen on Broadway this decade. As I've said before, all due respect to Joe Turner's Roger Robinson, the Tony Award should have gone to Mangan. At the end of the third play in the trilogy, he exasperatedly shouts "I only wanted to make you happy." Mr. Mangan's performance did, and how.

Jan Maxwell, The Royal Family. The stylish revival of the Kaufman-Ferber classic about a Barrymore-esque acting dynasty in NYC earned Maxwell some of the best notices of her already auspicious career as the flighty Julie Cavendish, the center of her eccentric family upon whom all burdens rest. In a bravura moment in the second act, Maxwell stopped the show both time I saw it with a comic monologue/breakdown that ended with the elegant, sophisticated Maxwell doing a faceplant into the lip of the stage. However, for evidence of her reality onstage, one only had to look at her reaction in the final moments as the actress finds her mother dead in the living room. I first saw the actress in her memorable turn in the short-lived Coram Boy in 2007. Fortunately, she gets to bring the funny to the upcoming revival of Lend Me a Tenor this March. (Honorable mention to Rosemary Harris for providing such comic support to Maxwell, and by providing an haunting eleven o'clock moment during the final scene of the play).

Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart. In this instance, I feel you can't have one without the other. They are only onstage together for about ten minutes of the play's three hour running time, but whenever one is onstage alone, the other is still deeply present. Both performances resonated with gusto: McTeer had the showier title role, with heightened, crowd-pleasing intensity while Walter had the quieter, albeit more interesting role of Elizabeth I. The symbiosis of their towering performances is what made the Donmar import a must-see revival last season.

Jason O'Connell, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). This year marked my first visit to Boscobel and the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. I had also never before seen this comic romp through the Bard's entire folio, with room for improvisation, camp, cross-dressing and even audience participation. Performed by three actors (with one caustic prop mistress), O'Connell stood out with his comic flair and energy. The actor was the epitome of outrageous one moment, and the next stunned the audience to rapturous silence with a breathtaking delivery of "What a piece of work is man." Now, here I must also give an honorable mention to another performance of his: he was also playing Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing in rep at the same time. His performance there was also quite memorable and distinctly funny, but it was in the Complete Works that he really stood out. I look forward to going back to HVSF next summer to see what Mr. O'Connell will have in store for audiences.

Phylicia Rashad, August: Osage County. To say Rashad was a revelation as the pill-poppin', chain-smokin' mother from hell in Tracy Letts' brilliant three act drama would be a colossal understatement. Ms. Rashad finished out the Broadway run of the Tony and Pulitzer winner with a riveting and often terrifying performance, with nuances and touches that opened my eyes to parts of the script I thought I knew backwards and forwards. I will never forget being at the final Broadway performance; the one and only time Rashad played opposite Tony-winning Mattie Fae Rondi Reed.

Thomas Sadoski, Reasons to be Pretty. If there's one thing you should never do, it's tell your best friend you like your girlfriend because she has a regular face, not a pretty face. Sadoski's Greg learns that the hard way when he says that about Marin Ireland, which sets off a series of introspective, self-affirming events that turns the well-read, non-confrontational slacker into a man. LaBute's play is stinging, vicious and often violent. While Ireland walked away a critics' darling over her performance, which involved a gasp-inducing monologue at a mall food court, it was Sadoski who was the heart and soul of the play, leaving a lasting impression as he gives his job the proverbial figure and grows up as the lights fade out.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Miracle on 52nd Street"

That's what the marketing team behind the struggling revival of Ragtime has called it. What a whirlwind couple of days its been for the cast and crew at the Neil Simon Theatre. It's not been an easy ride for this music, an ambitious, heart-on-its-sleeve tapestry of American life in the early years of the 20th century. Starting from its original New York production which was met with mixed notices, the Disney broom across the street sweeping up the major Tonys and buzz and the financial collapse of the show's producer Garth Drabinsky. Still that original run managed to eke out 834 performances in spite of its setbacks.

After a sold out run at the Kennedy Center, a new production of the musical moved to Broadway this fall where it was met with mostly positive notices, though there was that wholly ambiguous entry from the NY Times (if a review can be simultaneously construed as positive, mixed and negative, then that critic has not done his job... eh, Mr. Brantley?) as well as some reservations about the musical's ambitions. In spite of some very good notices and word of mouth, Ragtime stayed mostly under the radar. The numbers don't lie, and during one of the most prosperous periods on Broadway - the holiday season - the show failed to meet expectations and ignite at the box office.

Michael Riedel - that Broadway vulture you love to hate and hate to love - first mentioned word of a 1/3 closing for the revival back in early December. The viral effect on the internet was astounding, to whirls of posted closing notices and denials and rebuttals, etc. I've seen reports of the show closing on 12/13, 12/20, 1/3, and 1/17. Kevin McCollum, lead producer, was adamant in leading the charge against the viral campaign. But on Monday, the Broadway community elicited a collective "Hmmm..." when the initial rumor printed by Riedel happened to be true.

Something very interesting has happened in the 48 hours since the show announced its closing on 1/3 - ticket sales have skyrocketed. The Tuesday evening and Wednesday matinee performances were SRO, with the box office forced to send people away. In light of the sparked interest in the show, it was announced that there was a one week reprieve: the musical is now closing on 1/10 instead, bringing it to a run of 65 performances. My buddy Chris Caggiano asks "Start of a trend or a dead-cat bounce?" I guess we shall see..

Now, the Ragtime team has come up with the term "Miracle on 52nd Street" to describe the increased audience interest in the show. It's a shame that it took a one-week closing notice to drum up the interest the show needed from its very first week of performances. Excitement levels and buzz are now on the rise, when it would seem that it's too little, too late. It brings me back to another show that suffered a much more severe fate this season: Brighton Beach Memoirs, which folded after one week; a result of what appears to have been poor producing and marketing. I find it interesting that the lead producer on that revival, Emanuel Azenberg, is also a lead producer on this production of Ragtime.

Granted, it's a small miracle, as the theatre has been booked by an upcoming show (which is not Fences, according to the show's sources) and continued extensions seem highly unlikely, but it's nice to see that the show is going to go out with some flair. This has been a season of the "major star." The only guaranteed box office has been those shows with the star quality to match it, in spite of reception. For evidence, look to the artistically bankrupt Bye Bye Birdie from Roundabout that has done exceptionally well in the face of some of the worst reviews I've ever read, or the underwhelming revival of A Little Night Music at the Walter Kerr, which boasts one of the most beautiful movie stars in the world. Meanwhile the more artistically successful, if commercially risky revivals of Finian's Rainbow and Ragtime are left in the dust. Finian's has been more fortunate, as it is the best reviewed Broadway show of the fall, but it still faces an uphill climb.

Last year around this time, there was the usual early January closings. However most of those were older shows that had managed to run for quite some time. This is a bit different, as many of the shows closing on 1/3 are shows that have opened more recently, with the lovely Superior Donuts finding itself shuttering after a three month run. But I'm all about rooting for a show that's good, but I find I'm especially fond of these underdogs.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Donna McKechnie dances "Tick-Tock"

Finding this is a real Christmas present:

Here is Donna McKechnie recreating "Tick-Tock" (choreography: Michael Bennett) in the 1993 concert reunion of Company at Lincoln Center.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Snowy-Blowy Christmas Revisited

Something you want to enjoy 24/7. Once again, here are Donna McKechnie, Baayork Lee and Margo Sappington, plus the original ensemble of Promises Promises leading the first act showstopper "Turkey Lurkey Time." I'm kinda hoping that the original Michael Bennett choreography will be recreated in the spring revival, as I can't see anyone topping what the auteur did with this number. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Side By Side By Susan"

My favorite [tos-ser] Susan Blackwell has been hired by Broadway.com on a permanent basis. With her wacky and unique sense of humor, Blackwell interviews Tony nominee Jonathan Groff and Tony winners Laura Benanti and Sutton Foster. Enjoy:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Auspicious Debuts, 2009

Looking back as my year of theatregoing ends, I wanted to give a shout out to those performers in 2009 whose debut work made me sit up and take notice. Some are unknowns taking their first steps, others are established stars coming into NY theatre for the first time. There is no rhythm or rhyme to the list, just stream of consciousness. Here goes:

Seth Rettberg, Avenue Q: Performing the roles of Princeton and Rod on the national tour, and assuming understudy duties during the final months of the Broadway engagement of this little show that could, Rettberg assumes the mantle of leading man of this motley crew of subversive puppets. Mr. Rettberg gave a high energy performance, complete with offbeat charm and winsome presence, not to mention his pleasant pop tenor voice and stellar comic timing.

Jon Michael Hill, Superior Donuts: This is the Broadway debut this year that will one day give you bragging rights. Mr. Hill, a Steppenwolf Ensemble member, takes this new Tracy Letts play, puts it in his pocket and walks away with it. As Franco, the young, idealistic African American who reinvigorates star Michael McKean, Hill displayed skill and professionalism far more advanced than many of his peers. He has made a name for himself in Chicago, but his NY debut is only the first of what looks to be many great career successes.

Susan Louise O'Connor, Blithe Spirit: Most people don't walk away from this classic Noel Coward play talking about Edith, the maid. But in this charming, but unevenly cast revival, Ms. O'Connor made many in the audience do just that. As the nervously eager maid in the Condomine household, the young starlet made an indelible comic impression with what little stage time she had, particularly a showstopping sequence in which she cleared a breakfast table. It cannot be easy to be in a play with such star quality, but where Rupert Everett and Christine Ebersole failed in their comic characterizations, Ms. O'Connor picked up their slack and then some.

Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King: He's a world famous actor and an Oscar winner but that doesn't stop the excellent Australian actor from making my list. Ionesco isn't really my cup of tea. That said, I don't know if I've ever been haunted by the memory of a performance more than I have been by Mr. Rush's auspicious NY theatre debut. I'll long remember Mr. Rush's physicality as his King Berenger, fighting to keep his own life up until the very end of the play. I vividly see the actor, decked out in garish makeup and wearing pajamas and a crown, dancing around the stage, leading a march, etc. He was surrounded by choice costars including Susan Sarandon, Lauren Ambrose and the perennial favorite Andrea Martin. While all performed well, the evening belonged to Rush, who ended up taking home every award possible for his comic and tragic work. Those final moments, as Berenger slowly gives in to his mortality, will stay forever etched in my mind.

Amelia Bullmore, Jessica Hynes, Stephen Mangan, Ben Miles, Paul Ritter, Amanda Root, The Norman Conquests: I couldn't just pick one here, it wouldn't be fair given that ensemble nature is what made this production so successful. In what is one of the great productions of the decade, this revival of Alan Ayckbourn marked the American debut of this brilliant ensemble, all of whom transferred from the sold out run at the Old Vic late last year. While these six actors are well known for their theatre, TV and film work in London, they are not so well known here. However, the six actors, with director Matthew Warchus created one of the most vibrant and astounding experiences I've ever had inside any theatre in my life.

Quentin Earl Darrington, Ragtime. It's not easy filling the shoes of Brian Stokes Mitchell, especially given the indelible mark the actor left on the role of Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in the original Broadway production. Mr. Darrington comes to Broadway in the part, after having played it in Marcia Milgrom Dodge's acclaimed Kennedy Center production and is one of the many strengths in this actor-driven revival of a contemporary classic. Large in stature and voice, Darrington provides a gentle presence in the first act, and his fall into terrorism is all the more devastating as a result.

Alexander Hanson, A Little Night Music. The lone holdover from the original London production of this Trevor Nunn revival, Mr. Hanson strikes all the right notes as Fredrik Egerman. Expecting to be overwhelmed by Catherine Zeta-Jones, I was surprised at her mere adequacy especially when stacked against his superb, nuanced performance. Often the unsung lead of the show (let's face it, most people talk about the ladies in this musical), Mr. Hanson strikes the right balance as the aging lawyer in search of his remote youth.

Honorable mentions: Noah Robbins, Brighton Beach Memoirs; Jude Law, Hamlet; Donna Migliaccio, Ragtime; Julia Stiles, Oleanna.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ragtime DVR Alert!

Cast members from the revival of Ragtime will be hitting the TV airwaves this weekend with various appearances:

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 18:
Quentin Earl Darrington, Christiane Noll, Robert Petkoff and Stephanie Umoh will appear on Good Morning America during the “One Warm Coat Drive” segment tomorrow morning Friday, December 18. The nationally syndicated live appearance will air at approximately 8:05a on ABC, Channel 7 in the Tri State area.

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19:
Quentin Earl Darrington, Christiane Noll and Robert Petkoff visit NY-1's Onstage Audio studio for a round table interview with host Donna Karger.
On Stage airs on NY-1 News on Saturday, December 19 at 9:30a and 7:30p; Sunday, December 20 at at 9:30a and 7:30p; Monday, December 21 at 9:30p and late night/Tuesday morning, December 22 at 12:30a.

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 20:
Quentin Earl Darrington and Stephanie Umoh sit down with WCBS-TV anchor Dana Tyler for an in studio chat about making their Broadway debuts in the hit musical.
The segment will air on the WCBS Morning News on Sunday, December 20 at 7:55a on Channel 2 in the tri-state area.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 21:
Christiane Noll will perform “Back to Before” on ABC's The View live on Monday, December 21. The appearance will air in the 11:30a half hour on the nationally syndicated program on Channel 7 in the tri-state area.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kate Baldwin: "Let's See What Happens"


Christmas came early this year. It started in October when Kate Baldwin released her sublime solo CD "Let's See What Happens." The album features Baldwin singing the songs of Lane & Harburg, the men responsible for her current success in the Broadway revival if Finian's Rainbow, and is a disc that I find myself listening to on a regular basis. I treated myself to a rather luxurious Christmas present: an evening at Feinstein's hearing Kate singing selections from her album.

Truth be told, I actually met Kate Baldwin the person before I became familiar with Kate Baldwin the artist. We were introduced to one another by SarahB last November at Birdland, where she and I simultaneously geeked out when Jonathan Tunick conducted the Broadway Moonlighters in the Merrily We Roll Along overture. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't somewhat star struck by her warm, gracious and effusive personality.

The first opportunity I had to see the actress at work was in the Encores! presentation of Finian's Rainbow last March. There was something ethereal in the moment she opened her mouth to sing the first few measures of "How Are Things in Glocca Mora?" The quality of the vocal timbre, the tone, vibrato and underlying emotion were fused in this beguiling sense of entrancement. Her understated, showstopping delivery was one of the highlights of the musical, which charmed enough critics to warrant a Broadway transfer. Kate Baldwin entered, as she calls it, "Leading Lady Land."

While Baldwin has amassed some impressive credits over the past ten years, she has remained mostly on the periphery. She has appeared in some shows off-Broadway and Encores, but mostly understudied major roles on Broadway in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Wonderful Town, plus noted turns in Opening Doors at Carnegie Hall and at Wall to Wall Sondheim. In regional theatres around the country, she has had the opportunity to play many of the classic musical theatre heroines: Nellie in South Pacific, Maria in The Sound of Music, Marian the Librarian in The Music Man, Amalia in She Loves Me, etc, etc. and so forth. Kate is a performer of such versatility that she can easily be both ingenue and soubrette. In fact, were she born in the Golden Age of musical theatre, the creators of these shows would have breaking down her door to write for her. It is the unexpected and deserved success of Finian's Rainbow that has catapulted her into the big leagues and is likely to be a serious contender for a Tony nomination this spring.

Sarah informed me of Kate's plan to record a solo album, which would homage the canons of both Burton Lane and Yip Harburg, the men responsible for the Finian's score. It was the news that she would record "That Something Extra Special" from Darling of the Day had me about as thrilled as you can imagine. That show, which featured Harburg's lyrics set to Jule Styne's music, is one of my all-time favorite scores. It was a fast failure in 1968, but earned Patricia Routledge a Tony, and became a cult favorite of many musical theatre enthusiasts, Baldwin included.

On the night of the first preview of Finian's Rainbow, I had the pleasure of talking with Kate about the songs on her album, our mutual admiration for Patricia Routledge and many long-forgotten scores that languish in obscurity. There is a great similarity between her and the great Maureen O'Hara. Both are feisty, independent yet always feminine (and both excellent singers) Such is the case I think Encores! should revive Donnybrook! (the underrated musical version of The Quiet Man) for her. She is also exceptionally well-versed in the history of musical theatre, and is one of the few people able to keep up with my inherent esoteric rambling. (Like true musical theatre geeks we finished each other's sentences about various shows and various composers). One of the beautiful things about her solo album is that most of the song selections are obscure gems that have long been waiting for rediscovery.

The album was released in October by PS Classics, just before opening to unanimous raves from the NY critics. The disc is a necessity for any musical theatre fan. Not only is it an auspicious debut effort, but it's also one of the best solo albums I've heard in quite some time. The first cut is the aforementioned "That Something Extra Special," which establishes the intimate tone for what's to come, and is also an apt description of Kate's vocal styling. Kate possesses a voice that is as at ease in soprano ballads as it is in uptempo jazz. She also enlisted many of the friends she's made for orchestrations, including Jason Robert Brown, Rob Berman (her musical director and pianist at Feinstein's), Georgia Stitt, and EGOT winning Jonathan Tunick (who also played clarinet for one of the cuts - even Benny Goodman would eat his heart out!).

It's hard to pick out favorites, as I don't think there is a single track on the album that I don't enjoy. But my love goes out to the combination of "Let's See What Happens," also from Darling of the Day and "Open Your Eyes" from Royal Wedding, combined in a simple, elegant piano arrangement by Berman (who fuses the songs with the unexpected but brilliant "Emperor's Waltz" by Johann Strauss). There are upbeat readings of "Come Back to Me" from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (Lerner & Lane), "I Like the Likes of You" from Ziegfeld Follies of 1934 (Vernon Duke & Harburg) and "Have Feet, Will Dance" from the 1957 TV musical Junior Miss (Lane & Dorothy Fields). Contrasting are plaintive readings of "Here's to Your Allusions" from the infamous Flahooley (Sammy Fain & Harburg) and "Paris is a Lonely Town" from Gay Purr-ee (Harold Arlen & Harburg). She also plants the tongue firmly in cheek as she takes on Lena Horne's unusual eleven o'clock number "I Don't Think I'll End It All Today" from Jamaica (Arlen & Harburg), an infectious calypso dismissing suicide. The album ends with a stunning "The World in My Arms," originally from Hold on to Your Hats (Lane & Harburg). Her reading of the song is so intimate and so personal, it's like stumbling across a love letter that fell out of the pages of a diary.

Being at Feinstein's last night felt like a sort of throwback as we watched Kate Baldwin the Broadway star became Kate Baldwin the chanteuse. It was her first time performing at the venue, and apparently her first attempt at cabaret. She delighted with her effortless charm and offbeat sense of humor, all the while radiating a luminescent star quality. Her banter included lots of love for her husband, the equally charming and gracious Graham Rowat, as well as stories from her musical theatre background. The audience was smitten from the very start and laughed amiably as she recreated her high school performance as Evita (completely with all operatic head voice and absolutely no chest voice), a summer camp performance as Gloria Rasputin in Bye Bye Birdie as well as stories about looking up various fans on Facebook.

She set list for the evening contained mostly gems from the CD, delivered with the same intimacy and compelling intelligence found on the record (did I mention she referred to it as her "record" all evening? Points for period charm). Poised, patrician and elegant she was at ease with a ballad as she was with an uptempo number; transforming before our very eyes into a girl singer along the likes of Rosemary Clooney. She also added a few numbers not found on the album: "Too Late Now," the gorgeous ballad by Lerner & Lane from Royal Wedding and a charming rendition of "The Merry Old Land of Oz" from, well, you know, but that included some tongue in cheek nods to other's songs in Finian's Rainbow. She also interrupted herself during Cy Coleman & Dorothy Fields' "I'm the Bravest Individual" from Sweet Charity to relay amusingly self-deprecating anecdotes of the unintentionally back-handed compliments she's received over the years. Which leads me to a question: when will Ms. Baldwin record an album of Coleman songs?

Kate ended her set with "The World in Your Arms," which is, as I have been known to put it, musical theatre zen. Her encore was the delicate arrangement of "How Are Things in Glocca Mora?" from her album, which brought the enchanted crowd to its feet. If Mr. Feinstein is smart, he should already be arranging her next engagement before the Cafe Carlyle and Metropolitan snatch her up (which given her exceptional year, is an inevitability).

The season of Kate Baldwin, as Sarah has dubbed it, continues as Kate, Cheyenne Jackson and the cast of Finian's recently recorded their revival cast album, which will be released by PS Classics early next year. Last night wasn't just Kate's first time at Feinstein's, but also mine. (I even wore a suit for the occasion, and those who know me well know that's a feat in itself). I couldn't imagine a better first experience than hearing Kate, while sharing more laughs and good times with those good and crazy people, my friends Sarah, Kari and Roxie. Fortunately, this time no one yelled at us, nor did Roxie yell at anyone famous. So in all, it was an evening I shall never forget. Oh - and one more innocent confession: I'm a little bit in love with Kate Baldwin. (I hope you don't mind, Graham). But truth be told, is there anyone out there who isn't?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Angela Lansbury, Archive of American Television Part VII


Seventh and final part of the conversation with the archive. Angela talks the impact of Murder She Wrote and a summation of her career and coworkers up to that point.

Much to the delight of New York audiences, the actress has fostered a late career renaissance on Broadway which started with her return in Deuce in 2007. She won a Tony earlier this year -her record tying fifth for Blithe Spirit. She'll be in the game again this season as well as she opens tonight in her 13th production, the first-ever Broadway revival of her pal Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Ragtime" to present Monthly Talkbacks starting 12/15

Ragtime is pleased to announce a new monthly “Talkback Tuesday” series, Ragtime Talk Time, beginning Tuesday, December 15th. Ragtime Talk Time is free to anyone attending Tuesday evening performances when the talkbacks are scheduled.

The debut installment of Ragtime Talk Time will feature Tony Award® winning songwriting team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty discussing their process of creating the score for Ragtime, which garnered them Broadway’s triple crown – the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards, as well as their celebrated 26-year collaboration as one of the foremost theatrical songwriting teams of their generation.

Based on E.L. Doctorow’s epic acclaimed novel, Ragtime features direction and choreography by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, a majestic 28-piece orchestra led by musical director James Moore, and features a company of 40, starring Ron Bohmer (Father), Quentin Earl Darrington (Coalhouse Walker Jr.), Christiane Noll (Mother), Robert Petkoff (Tateh), Bobby Steggert (Mother’s Younger Brother), Stephanie Umoh (Sarah), with Christopher Cox (The Little Boy), Sarah Rosenthal (The Little Girl), Mark Aldrich (Willie Conklin), Aaron Galligan-Stierle (Henry Ford), Jonathan Hammond (Harry Houdini), Dan Manning (Grandfather), Michael X. Martin (J.P. Morgan), Mike McGowan (Stanford White), Donna Migliaccio (Emma Goldman), Josh Walden (Harry K. Thaw), Savannah Wise (Evelyn Nesbit), Eric Jordan Young (Booker T. Washington).

Ragtime is produced by Kevin McCollum, Roy Furman, Scott Delman, Roger Berlind, Max Cooper, Tom Kirdahy/Devlin Elliott, Jeffrey A. Sine, Stephanie McClelland, Roy Miller, LAMS Productions, Jana Robbins, Sharon Karmazin, Eric Falkenstein/Morris Berchard, Wendy Federman, Jamie deRoy, Sheila Steinberg, Lauren Stevens, Independent Presenters Network, Held-Haffner Productions, HRH Foundation and Emanuel Azenberg in association with The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

At the dawn of the century, everything is changing…and anything is possible. Based on E.L. Doctorow's celebrated epic novel and set in the volatile melting pot of turn-of-the-century New York, Ragtime weaves together three distinctly American tales -- that of a stifled upper-class wife, a determined Jewish immigrant and a daring young Harlem musician -- united by their courage, compassion and belief in the promise of the future. Their personal journeys come alive as historic figures offer guidance and diversion - among them escape artist Harry Houdini, auto tycoon Henry Ford, educator Booker T. Washington and infamous entertainer Evelyn Nesbit. Together, their stories celebrate the struggle between tradition and independence all in pursuit of the American dream.

The celebrated production team includes scenic design by Derek McLane, costume design by Santo Loquasto, lighting design by Donald Holder, sound design by Acme Sound Partners, hair and wig design by Edward J. Wilson and orchestrations by William David Brohn.

RAGTIME tickets prices are $46.50, $86.50 and $126.50 (including $1.50 facility fee) and available by calling Ticketmaster at 212-307-4100 or visiting www.ticketmaster.com.

Angela Lansbury, Archive of American Television Part V

The 60s begets Anyone Can Whistle plus more television work. And of course, Mame:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Angela Lansbury, Archive of American Television Part IV

Day #4: The oral historian asks Angie more than 20 questions about her live television career of the 1950s, which was her major source of income that decade. Plus, she talks about her appearances on Broadway in Hotel Paradiso with Bert Lahr in 1957 and A Taste of Honey with Joan Plowright in 1960. Then of course, there's The Manchurian Candidate...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"A Little Night Music" preview video

A look into the upcoming revival of the Sondheim classic, opening Sunday. Courtesy of Broadway.com:

'How the Stritch Stole Christmas"

Courtesy of Langley Studios:

"Every one down on Broadway liked Christmas a lot.

But the Stritch who lived just north of Broadway, on Mount Carlyle, did not!

This Bats Langley Studios parody is meant in the spirit of playful caricature of the great Elaine Stritch. Miss Stritch is an inspiration. Merry Christmas, and we hope you enjoy.

Thank you to Nick Clark-Spear for lending his vocals and lyrical talents, Dr. Seuss for creating such a perfect foundation for the parody, and Ms. Stritch, Ms. Chenoweth, Ms. Cook and Mr. Grey for providing the inspiration for this venture."

It's a bit mean-spirited, and I don't agree with their assessment of At Liberty at all, but I couldn't help but laugh... (sort of like the cut Family Guy bit). Speaking of Stritch and Christmas, the promos for 30 Rock don't seem to have our annual appearance from the sardonic legend. Anyone know if she's going to be on this season?

Angela Lansbury, Archive of American Television Part III

Day 3: Angela talks about signing with MGM, screentesting for Gaslight and The Picture of Dorian Gray and talks at length about her career on live television during the 1950s:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Angela Lansbury, Archive of American Television Part II

Day 2 in our interview finds Angela talking about discovering New York City for the first time, living in American during the Second World War, her experiences of dramatic school, humble beginnings as a performer and her arrival in Los Angeles:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Angela Lansbury, Archive of American Television Part I

The Archive of American Television has been compiling an oral history of television. The organization has spent the last decade or so filming in depth interviews with icons of the medium discussing every aspect of their life from birth to the present. You get a glimpse at actor's childhood experiences, what made them become actors, their experiences in training and the various stepping stones of their careers. This week in a department from the norm, I'm going to be posting one clip of the Archive's 1998 interview with Angela Lansbury each day leading up to her opening night in the Broadway revival of A Little Night Music this Sunday. Though, given all that the acclaimed actress has achieved in the last eleven years, I think the AAT should consider giving Ms. Lansbury another reel.

This first part covers the actress' childhood and early life in England up until her family's emigration to America in 1940:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Patricia Routledge Talks "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue"

Upon the premiere of A White House Cantata in 1997, Humphrey Burton wrote a detailed feature on the history of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue called "The House That Alan and Leonard Built," for July 5, 1997 issue of the British newspaper "The Independent." The piece talks about the show's short-lived chaos from Philadelphia to New York. For the article, Burton talked with original star Patricia Routledge about her experience on the show and she offered these words:

Despite the heartache and the humiliation, the celebrated actress and comedienne Patricia Routledge says she wouldn't have missed the opportunity to work with Bernstein for worlds. "Lenny gave you his respect if you knew your job. Wonderful to work with. Inspiring. But he was saddled with genius and genius can be monstrous. It was a heart-breaking tragedy, really. When we opened in Philly it was an impasse of the worst kind; nobody would cut a line of dialogue or a note of music. Basically you cannot write a musical about a house. A friend said it was like watching a great prehistoric animal lumbering across the stage but there were moments of dazzling light... When it really came to life was when the human element was allowed to emerge. `Take Care of This House', for example, that's a beautiful lyrical piece [sung by Mrs Abigail Adams, the first incumbent first lady]. And in the second act, there's an absolutely genius number called `Duet for One' - two first ladies, the incumbent Julia Grant and the incoming Lucy Hayes, waiting for the presidential election result, a wonderful cliff- hanger presented in Busby Berkeley fashion, surrounded by lots of ladies with parasols."

Quote of the Day: Angela Lansbury

"I mean, there are times when you walk into that dressing room and you think, 'I can't do this. I cannot do this.' And it's a curious thing: When you sit down in front of that mirror and you pick up that first piece of makeup and you start to apply it - you see how I immediately go under the eyes? First thing! - and suddenly, you transform yourself into that person who is capable of going on stage and delivering that performance. And you do it, and yes, you can. Yes, I can! Yes, I can!"

"I'd like to do one great movie before I pass along the way," she said. "I don't know what it'll be. But I think there's one out there somewhere."

Angela Lansbury, in her sit-down interview with Katie Couric on CBS Sunday Morning.

Friday, December 4, 2009

"I'm not a supporting actress"

Rita Moreno's famed Tony acceptance speech for Best Featured Actress in a Play for The Ritz in 1975. Enjoy:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

31 Days of Oscar: 2010 Edition


It's an annual TV event that I take great pleasure in every winter, and I'm not even talking the Oscar ceremony. Every year to celebrate the annual Academy Awards, Turner Classic Movies has its "31 Days of Oscar." Here's some further info direct from TCM:

The 2010 edition of the month-long event will feature 360 Academy Award®-nominated and winning movies, all presented uncut and commercial-free. The month's schedule is designed so that each movie is linked to the next movie in the lineup through a shared actor or actress.

"31 Days of Oscar" will begin Monday, Feb. 1, at 6 a.m. (ET) with Kevin Bacon and James Coco in Only When I Laugh (1981). Coco and Harry Andrews will then be featured in Man of La Mancha (1972) at 8:15 a.m., followed by Andrews in 55 Days at Peking (1963) at 10:30 a.m. The festivities will continue linking from movie to movie, one star at a time, throughout the month. The final movie in the festival, Diner (1982), starring Bacon, will bring the entire month full circle.

TCM host Robert Osborne, who is also the official biographer of the Academy Awards and the Academy's red carpet greeter, will host 31 DAYS OF OSCAR, which will mark its 16th year on Turner Classic Movies. The 2010 edition will feature 22 films making their debut on TCM, including Gladiator (2000), Titanic (1997), Mrs. Brown (1997), A Room with a View (1985), Trading Places (1983), Frances (1982), Only When I Laugh (1981), Alien (1979), Julia (1977), Serpico (1973), Lady Sings the Blues (1972), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), An American Dream (1966), Morituri (1965), Summertime (1955), Call Me Madam (1953), The Snake Pit (1948), Moonrise (1948), Kiss of Death (1947), Kitty (1945), Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938) and One Hour with You (1932).

The Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2009 will be presented live on Sunday, March 7, 2010, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center® and televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 200 countries worldwide.

Click here for the complete schedule.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"A Jubilant Song" at Carnegie Hall

On March 30, 2008 I was lucky enough to be in the audience for the New York premiere of A White House Cantata, the concert revision of Bernstein-Lerner's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a fast failure in 1976. The Collegiate Chorale, who was responsible for that premiere, held a gala concert called "A Jubilant Song" last night at Carnegie Hall. I was more than thrilled to go when invited, especially when I learned that they would be performing excerpts from 1600/Cantata. Now while I have my quibbles with the Cantata and the use of opera singers instead of more qualified musical theatre performers in the lead roles, it's always a pleasure to hear selections from this exceptionally underrated, often brilliant score.

Hosted by Tony-winning actor Roger Rees, the evening was the gala inaugural concert to introduce the new music director James Bagwell, who is assuming the mantle of conductor after the unexpected death of Robert Bass. The Collegiate Chorale was first established in 1941 by Robert Shaw and has been a staple of classical repertoire in NY ever since, emphasizing choral tradition and American music but also presenting operatic works.

While there many guest vocalists, the first segment of the evening was strictly about the Chorale. The evening started with performances of Giovanni Gabrieli's "In ecclesiis," Alexander Kopylov's "Svete Tihiy" and an arrangement of the spiritual "Set Down Servant." This led into Norman Dello Joio's "A Jubilant Song" which may be one of the most difficult choral pieces I have ever heard with intricate melodic lines and rhythms; I can only imagine what the sheet music for this piece must look like.

With the exception of Daniel Mobbs as the President, the principal singers of A White House Cantata were on hand to reprise their work from the 2008 concert performance. Mobbs was George Washington in "On Ten Square Miles by the Potomac River," Soprano Emily Pulley sang a tender "Take Care of this House" with Kalif Omari Jones while "Anita Johnson and Robert Mack performed the infectious "Lud's Wedding." Pulley, in a tremendous Carnegie Hall debut, recreated her colorful "Duet for One" to the wild enthusiasm of the audience. While she's no Patricia Routledge (who is, really?), she understands the schizophrenic comedy better than other opera singers who have taken on the part in presentations of A White House Cantata (namely Nancy Gustafson and June Anderson). The segment ended with a full-throated rendition of "To Make Us Proud," originally cut in Philadelphia but reinstated by the Cantata. The song echos other anthems, specifically Bernstein's own "Make Our Garden Grow."

One of the great joys of the entire evening was hearing this music performed, not only in such a perfect performance space as Carnegie Hall, but also to hear simply pure acoustic sound. Except for Rees' commentary, the entire evening was without amplification. Though I've had a considerable classical background, I haven't gone to many concerts or to the opera as much as I'd like in recent years. Every time I do; however, I marvel at the extreme beauty of hearing music performed with some sort of electronic filter. Even some of our loveliest musicals on Broadway are miked to the hilt, with an emphasis on loud. It was especially evident how thrilling to hear selections from a score I love, with its complete original orchestration intact. 160 voices singing "To Make Us Proud," and holding out that last note for what must be glorious eternity. You can't ask for anything more stirring or moving.

Coloratura soprano Erin Morley, who recently made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera brought the concert to a crashing halt with an exquisite rendering of "O beau pays" from Giacomo Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots. Morley, dressed to the nines and with the poise of a true star, stunned the crowd into an extended ovation - the largest of the evening - with her gorgeous sound and flawless technique. I look forward to following the singer's career, as I'm sure there is nothing but good things awaiting this diva on the rise.

The evening built to its climax with a performance of Beethoven's "Choral Fantasy, Op. 80" Acclaimed pianist Jenny Lin proved her virtuosity and flawless proficiency with the lead-in piano solo. For the finale, Morley and tenor Salvatore Licitra were to lead the famed "Brindisi" from La Traviata; however, an emergency kept Licitra in Switzerland last evening so instead they divided up the parts between the various soloists. While they urged the audience to join in on the chorus, most of us were content to just sit back and enjoy the performers onstage.

I'm even more excited for the Collegiate Chorale's next concert: Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie's The Grapes of Wrath will be presented at Carnegie Hall on March 22, 2010. This marks the world premiere of a two-act concert version of the ambitious contemporary opera. Jane Fonda, Nathan Gunn, Victoria Clark, Steven Pasquale and Christine Ebersole are among the folks participating.

The world is small and funny and fine. Last night, my high school freshman English teacher, Mrs. Fran Schulz, was also at the Chorale gala. Of all the teachers I have had, she ranks as the one who has made the most impression on me, and I continue to maintain a remarkable friendship. Throughout my freshman year, she encouraged my interest in film and theatre, often handing me a package of films and performances she felt I needed to see every Friday. With a personality akin to Mame, Fran is the only teacher I've ever had who entered the classroom with a quality not unlike star presence. I've been imbued with her enthusiasm for literature and theatre, and she has always been supportive of me as a writer and performer. An avid theatregoer, she has regaled me with stories of seeing every major revival of My Fair Lady in New York and London, Camelot with Richard Burton and again with his understudy John Cullum. She also has seen every major star turn by Angela Lansbury since the original Mame. I could go on for hours. She continues to encourage and advise me, even though I haven't been her student in 12 years. I can only hope that you've had a teacher like her at some point in your life.

Judi Dench sings "Send in the Clowns"

With the first-ever Broadway revival of A Little Night Music approaching its opening date, I've felt like revisiting all my various recordings and texts and video of previous productions. This one is a favorite. Dame Judi Dench won an Olivier Award for her triumphant performance as Desiree in the 1995 Royal National Theatre revival of A Little Night Music. The production, directed by Sean Mathias, ran for 11 months and co-starred Sian Philips as Madame Armfeldt and Laurence Guittard (the original Broadway Carl Magnus) as Fredrik. A cast album of this production was made, but it has been long out of print and goes for extraordinary amounts on Amazon and E-Bay. However, if you do get the chance to hear it, you will not be disappointed. Especially in Dench's sublime portrayal, my second favorite next to originator Glynis Johns.

Here Dench appears on a British talkshow to promote the show and talks a little bit about the play and her character and the moments leading into "Send in the Clowns," followed by a heartbreaking rendition of the song by the star. Enjoy:

Leslie Caron


Leslie Caron, star of so many classic films, has released a memoir about her life called Thank Heaven. Trained as a ballerina, she got her big break at the age of 20 as a last minute substitute for a pregnant Cyd Charisse in An American in Paris, which launched her exceptional film career, including memorable turns in Lili (Oscar nomination), Daddy Long Legs, Gaby, Gigi (another Best Picture), Fanny, The L-Shaped Room (Oscar nomination) and Father Goose (among many others). She's also one of the few actresses to have danced on screen with both Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. Living in semi-retirement, Caron still acts on occasion winning an Emmy award for a guest appearance on Law and Order: SVU in 2007. She also maintained a bed and breakfast called Auberge La Lucarne aux Chouettes in Burgundy. The daughter of an American dancer from Topeka, Caron recently became an American citizen after discovering that she was eligible. This winter, she will play Madame Armfeldt in the first-ever Paris production of A Little Night Music with Kristin Scott Thomas. While I would love to go over to see this one, I'll be relying on our very own Kari for a full report come February.

Caron is currently on a book tour in the United States, and was in New York over the past couple of days. She spoke and signed at Barnes and Noble Lincoln Center last evening, and also was interviewed by Leonard Lopate on WNYC. The charming, elegant actress talks very frankly about herself, her career, her romances (including an affair with Warren Beatty) and problems with drinking and depression.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Leftovers

- Donna Lynne Champlin has taken it upon herself to release a solo CD on a shoestring budget of $1,000. When she broke her ankle in September she found herself with six weeks to spare and got to work. The CD is now out, and the Sweeney Todd star celebrated with a release party performance at the Laurie Beechman Theatre last evening. I was supposed to be there until asthma got in the way; however, I've went ahead and purchased a copy of the CD, for which I have to confess I'm very excited. DLC has been blogging the experience from the beginning, with considerable humor and blunt honesty. Anyone interested in how a recording is made will find her blog an educational tool, as she gets into warts and bolts of what goes into every aspect of both creative and business aspects. I always applaud a grassroots effort and am looking forward to hearing the new disc.

- A Little Night Music has returned to Broadway for the first time since the original production closed in 1974. The revival is yet another in a long line of transfers from the West End, specifically the Menier Chocolate Factory. Naturally, I was at the first preview. I won't go into too much detail about performances and such, as it's in its first week and there is work to be done (though I think a certain someone might be getting Tony #6...). There were some issues with the orchestra. Namely there were points where I couldn't hear it from my vantage point far house left, and during dance sequences found the shoes and dresses hitting the stage louder than the band. It reminded me of the ballet scene from the film version of Amadeus where the dancers continue after the music has been cut. Between this orchestration and that for the Menier Sunday in the Park with George it's becoming quite clear that Jason Carr hates the French horn.

One other quibble - Madame Armfeldt would NEVER allow a formal dinner at her house to be held as a picnic on her lawn. It would be far too gauche for someone of her status, especially considering that in the first scene of the second act she is mortified at the prospect of guests finding them "squatting on the ground like bohemians." It's completely incongruous to the character - it's Madame Armfeldt's house and she wouldn't allow it. Period. But oh, that book and score. So sublime, and always so lovely to see it onstage.

- While I blogged at length about the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music, I neglected to mention that another iconic 1959 musical celebrated its golden anniversary this month. Only one week after the final Rodgers and Hammerstein musical opened at the Lunt-Fontanne, Bock & Harnick's Fiorello! opened at the Broadhurst Theatre. The musical about Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia was a big hit, running 795 performances, winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Star Tom Bosley won the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical as the charismatic "Little Flower." And for the only time in Tony history, there was a tie in the Best Musical category with The Sound of Music and Fiorello! sharing the honors.

It's interesting to note that as far as musical theatre is concerned, both fall short of a third nominee that came up empty handed at the Tonys in 1960, Gypsy - which is the most artistically successful of the three. SOM got the smash hit film version, but that improves on the muddled stage libretto but brings in audiences based on their experiences with Julie Andrews. Fiorello! contains a beautiful score, but is perhaps too topical for today's audiences who consider LaGuardia an airport and a high school. It was the first-ever musical staged by City Center Encores! but seems unlikely for a Broadway revival unless one of the non-profits were to do it.

- Oleanna and Superior Donuts have announced their closing notices. Both are productions worth seeing. The former doesn't surprise me as much, the subject matter is difficult and that in itself would make it a hard sell. However, I would have expected Donuts to remain open through the Tonys. I highly recommend seeing both before they close on January 3, especially the latter for the breakthrough performance of Jon Michael Hill. You will one day want to be able to say you saw him when. Other shows haven't posted notices but seem to be having some trouble. That Bye Bye Birdie is succeeding where Ragtime and Finian's Rainbow are struggling suggests to me that perhaps there is no God. Or at least serves as a reminder that life is far from fair.

- Yet another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Stopping briefly to be reflective, I find myself looking back on the year and the reasons for which I am thankful. I'm thankful for my general good health, shelter overhead and food. (Cue "We Gather Together...") But getting past the obvious I'm grateful for every opportunity I have had to see and experience theatre. (Yes, even the bad...) I'm also so fortunate to have such a group of eclectic and diverse friends. I'm especially grateful that I get to go to the theatre with these folks, and consider so many of them personal friends. To think it all started because I decided to blog on this site; I am sincerely humbled that you even care what I think let alone that you read what I write. Also, I must mention the new friends who I have met through Twitter and Facebook, one of the most positive aspects of new media and social networking. I look forward to continuing the fun times and conversation with all of you.

"What once was a sumptuous feast is figs..."

A Little Night Music, then (1973 Original Broadway production):


A Little Night Music, now (2009 Broadway revival):

"Forbidden Broadway: Behind the Mylar Curtain"

Whether tackling a mega musical or a mega ego, Forbidden Broadway has been a staple of the Broadway scene for almost three decades. The small off-Broadway revue has thrived on poking fun at NY theatre with their inventive costumes, wittily knowing lyrics and this general sense of tongue-in-cheek fun. While the show has closed up shop (for now) earlier this year, its legacy continues with the release of the new book Forbidden Broadway: Behind the Mylar Curtain by FB's creator Gerard Alessandrini, assisted by Michael Portantiere. Together, they have assembled this coffee table sized book which details the history of the franchise, offering brief analysis and selections from some of the parody lyrics and scenes he has written over the years.

It's most fascinating to look back at the show's humble origins. Alessandrini was a waiter and maitre d' at Avery Fisher Hall in the early 80s while Richard Burton was reviving Camelot at Lincoln Center. From word of mouth on how drunk the actor was onstage (and off), he wrote "I Wonder What the King is Drinking Tonight." With his friends Nora Maye Lyng and pianist Pete Blue, the show was first performed at open mic night at Palsson's in 1981. It gradually grew into a steadier gig, with four actors, a piano and that mylar curtain. Alessandrini also relays how a ruthless evisceration of Lauren Bacall in Woman of the Year ("I'm One of the Girls Who Sings Like a Boy") brought the show to the attention of Rex Reed, and by extension the entire NY theatre community. Alessandrini is at his best when discussing the early history of the show. He does offer some running commentary throughout the book, but he doesn't nearly go as in depth as one would like.

More interesting than his recollections is the opportunity to see his lyrics in print. There have been enough lyrics, updates and revisions to warrant a two-volume tome, but here you get the best of the best. It's especially nice to see some of those that were never recorded (i.e. Woman of the Year). As someone who grew up on the recordings alone, it's interesting to note that the lyrics in print do not necessarily correlate with those on disc. (I'm also grateful that three of my favorite parodies are reprinted here: "I Couldn't Hit the Note," "Super-Frantic-Hyperactive-Self-Indulgent-Mandy," and one of the most brilliant, "Gagtime.") However, the some of the interesting contributions to the book come from FB alumni, including Broadway staples Ron Bohmer, Dan Reichard, Brad Oscar, Barbara Walsh, Dee Hoty, Bryan Batt and Christine Pedi. These actors offer their perspective and fond memories of what it was like to be involved with the show and to work with Alessandrini.

There are a great deal of pictures throughout, most notably in a tribute to the late Alvin Colt, the Broadway costume designer whose visual gags were sometimes just as funny, if not funnier than the parody at hand. There's also a Hall of Fame of sorts showing the various celebrities who had come to see the show over the years (who knew Myrna Loy was a fan?) However, not all is perfect. There is a major issue I have with the book and one that makes me feel a little bit too much like a cranky old schoolmarm. But there are copious amounts of typographical errors, both in the commentary and in the lyrics. I stopped counting well into the double digits; it proved to be an overwhelming distraction for me as I read. For a book that retails at $24.99, I just think there should be some consideration given to proofreading by the publishing house.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

An Amuse Bouche for Today

Does anyone not like The Muppets? No doubt most have seen these by now, but I couldn't help but share. First up: the Muppets "Bohemian Rhapsody"



For an encore - Beeker does "Ode to Joy."