Wednesday, May 27, 2015

God Has Made it to Broadway

Some of my favorite shows I've seen have been small one or two person shows. New York has another in town now that reads much like a stand-up routine...given by God. An Act of God is playing at Studio 54 for a limited run this summer and has a funny premise written by David Javerbaum and directed by Joe Mantello. The man who has taken over twitter as "God" with almost two million followers and has a long history as a writer/producer on late night talk-show TV has brought his act to Broadway. God isn't thrilled with the current commandments and decides to give us some new ones while clarifying a few points from the Bible.

Much of what is happening on stage had me laughing out loud while other points may be a little cringe-worthy to some. The joy of this evening is the fact that God has inhabited Jim Parsons' body and what we get is Jim being Jim. It's fun, it's irreverent, and it's a great way to spend 90 minutes of your time. I'm not sure that Christopher Fitzgerald and Tim Kazurinsky are truly needed as angels, but they do add for some fun sight gags, a little audience participation, and both are very talented men. But it is Parsons many are here to see and he delivers. How one can memorize an entire show such as this is an amazing feat. Half talk-show (he is sitting there on a sofa for much of the show) and half stand-up, his God is a funny deity that has much to say for how things have gone down since the Commandments were first written.

I felt the show moved along at a great clip (while I've heard from others it becomes a long night for them). I think there is an audience for this show and it may not be the regular theater-going crowd. I'm not sure how critics will take to it, but obviously Javerbaum has been doing something right on social media and knows what jokes work and which ones don't. Whatever critics may say, it's a limited run, people will be making deals with the devil (or scalpers) to see Parsons and this show could continue with God taking over the body of another celebrity.

Grab a few cocktails and get to Studio 54 to be schooled by God. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Something Rotten is Anything BUT

Sometimes a new show in New York seems to come out of nowhere and ends up getting tons of Tony nominations and people attend telling you that you MUST go see it. That's what happened with the musical Something Rotten! It seems we just started to hear about this new comedy that tells the story of the first musical during Shakespearean times right before the Tony cut-off was approaching. However they have been working on this for years (as is the case with most shows before we hear about them). Friends of mine saw it in previews and said it was wonderful. Last night, seeing it with them again - I have to agree.

While the brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick may be new to Broadway, they are not new to the arts. Karey has been working as a writer/director in Hollywood for years and Wayne is a Grammy winner. Add John O'Farrell to the mix (one of the UK's best comedy writers) and you have quite a team making their mark on Broadway with this show. This new comic musical is a cross between Book Of Mormon, Spamelot, and The Drowsey Chaperone which makes since since Casey Nicholaw is at the helm as director/choreographer. What a talent this man is! If you have a comedy on Broadway now - you want him involved in some way.

The musical has it all: rivalry, jealousy, betrayal (sounds like Shakespeare, right?) - but it's all done in a smart, comic book/score. Two brothers (the amazing Brian d'Arcy James and the endearing John Cariani) are constantly trying to write the next best thing in the Renaissance period of 1590, but always competing with that star Shakespeare. Christian Borle is obviously having a ball playing Shakespeare as a cross between Elvis and Frank-n-furter. I don't want to give away too much of the plot of this show as the brothers attempt to write the first musical. How do they find out about musicals…that's a clever plot point in itself with Brad Oscar giving a Tony-worthy performance as a soothsayer Nostradamus. 

I had read the show is 'low-brow' and a one joke show. SOOO not true. It's low-brow meets clever and smart. You are laughing so much at the constant nods to musicals and Shakespeare plays that you miss several. It's a throwback to a kind of humor enjoyed by many while putting a fresh take on a show set so long ago. I loved it! There is a treasure-trove of Broadway funny people in this show from Heidi Blickenstaff as the dutiful wife (donning numerous disguises), to Kate Reinders as the adorable love interest, to Brooks Ashmanskas cracking us up as the prudish puritan, Peter Bartlett, Gerry Vichi….the funny list goes on and on. (Shout out to Jenny Hill who is wonderful in the ensemble and Bud Weber who I could not take my eyes off when dancing! "Cassie, don't pop your head." (Yet another hidden nod to a show that I'm not even certain Mr. Weber knows he's doing when he gives every dance move his all.) 

I will admit, I am not one to always like college show humor. There, I said it. I must think I'm 'above a man in drag for a laugh' or something. But I had a ball at this show. There is a number (I'm sure we'll see on the Tony awards) called "Musical" early in the show and I said to my friend "where do they go from here? That was the 11 o'clock number!" And they just keep topping it. Casey Nicholaw has his cast singing and tapping their feet off…sometimes even dressed as eggs!

If you want a laugh-out-loud night at the theater, get thee to the St. James Theatre.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Slowing Down for Social Media

How quickly do you throw a LIKE on Facebook or a FAVORITE on Twitter? Do you ever click on the link and read the article or does the title grab you and make you feel you need to share it?

We're all slaves to limited hours in the day and some people are jumping on and off social media quickly whenever they can. I will declare my guilt. There are times a topic seems important to me and I want to share it and I do without looking into it more. However if something seems really important to me - I often try and investigate first. (Notice I say 'try' - I'm not always great at my own advice.)

Here are a few social media tips around this topic that might help:

1) Slow down. Remember you are endorsing that topic and should be prepared for others to engage you in conversation because of it. Are you going to be able to take a stand one way or the other?
2) If it's truly controversial, do a search to make sure another news outlet is covering that same story. Anyone can print anything on the web. (I'm doing it right now.) Post the news source that is more trusted and not the ones that will simply upset your friends because of the chosen headline.
3) Hit up Snopes! They can often be a great source to disprove that bandwagon all of your friends are jumping on. News travels like wildfire and maybe you can be the one to post that it's already been debunked and throw water on it until the next fire starts up.
4)  Read the date on the link. Things start to trend again (for some reason) because everyone starts sharing without…duh, duh, duh…clicking on the link. (That's how James Garner showed up as dying again the past few days when..God rest his soul, he died last July.)
5) Stop and decide if it's worth getting in a fight over before hitting the share button. I'll admit - I share A LOT - usually something about Theater, Film, Writing, Equality, Autism - but I've found that some of my topics upset some of the people that only follow me because of another topic. If you are a person that doesn't care what others think about you (I bow to your strength), disregard #5 on my list.

RIP, James Garner (again).
That kid that was missing has been found while we were all posting about the Amber Alert.
The food recalled has been declared fine to eat again.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Man on the Ten Dollar Bill Gets His Own Musical

When everyone talks about the best thing to hit New York in (insert year or show here), I cringe and get nervous to go and see it; always afraid it won't live up to the hype.

When I walked out of the Public Theater tonight, I tweeted to Lin-Manuel Miranda that I bow to his brilliant mind.

Hamilton the musical is absolutely mind blowing genius. Who would ever think "I'll follow up my Tony winning musical In
The Heights with a hip-hop explosion that mixes a history lesson of past and present"…Mr. Miranda, that's who. I will just jump right in and say that I don't enjoy rap. There, I said it. Crucify me now. Yet the poetry that is his book for this show kept my mind going non-stop and smiling at the turn of a phrase, the way he mixed something familiar with something new, and his brilliant rhyme scheme. And then when my mind couldn't handle that any longer, he would switch gears and give us a beautiful song. (I can't wait to own the cast recording.)

But Hamilton is so much more. It is the awesome work of Thomas Kail and Andy Blankenbuehler who have directed and choreographed this piece to where I was exhausted watching this cast tirelessly take us on a musical and historical journey. The cast never stops and they use their bodies to create everything imaginable in a dance motion that honestly can't be described. It's the scenic design by David Korins, lighting by Howell Binkley, costumes by Paul
Tazewell, Sound by Nevin Steinberg and hair and wigs by Charles G. Lapointe that all add to an overall awesome (and I mean that word in its true sense) experience.

The cast are an amazing ensemble. So much so, that I'm almost afraid to single any one person out because they are all so wonderful to watch…right down to every ensemble dancer. Glorious singing voices, energy coming from them that makes you want to jump to your feet at several moments in the show, dance and power and strength that exude from their bodies. Again…blown away.

And somehow in the middle of all of this, Mr. Miranda  teaches us a story about that man that lives in our wallet on a ten dollar bill that honestly, I haven't given much thought about him. But I sure am now. By telling a historic story that ties to the world we live in today, Hamilton makes us feel for these people as if they were still alive…even as all of the actual people are played in non-traditional casting (another brilliant move) - I'm not sure I'll be able to think of George Washington again and not picture the incredible black man portraying him on stage tonight.

Bravo to every single person involved with bringing this historical lesson to the stage. Thank you to the Public Theater for continuing your work of excellence downtown. Hamilton closes this Sunday off-Broadway and boy is this summer gonna heat up when it hits Broadway July 13 (starting previews the day after Hamilton died in 1804). I'm telling you…you'll run right home and try to read up more on this man…thankfully someone has told his story.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

An American Returns to Paris

I have been excited for An American in Paris to open in New York since seeing it at the end of December in Paris. There was a true thrill about seeing the show there, but wow - what a night to see it on Broadway the same day it received 12 Tony Award nominations. The cast was on fire tonight and sitting in the front row of the mezz, I was able to fully appreciate all of Bob Crowley and 59 Productions incredible sets and intricate projections that 'draw' constantly in the background to mimic the drawing talents of the main character. 

What a tough year to pick a favorite musical on Broadway, but this is definitely at the top of that short list for me. The movie musical has never been on stage before and it is thrilling the moment you start to hear the Gershwin tunes. Craig Lucas has altered the book from the original film (and the group I was with also swear there have been some changes since Paris which tighten the story even more) and set it at the end of WWII during the liberation of Paris. Jerry Mulligan is returning from war, stays in Paris to be inspired as an artist, and falls in love with a budding dancer.

Let's just stop and say that Robert Fairchild deserves every single nice thing being said about him. He is the epitome of a leading man in this lush and beautiful musical. He is charming, mesmerizing, charismatic and you completely forget about the film from which this musical is based. He is matched by his leading lady Leanne Cope in beauty, talent, and an aura about her that one understands why so many men on this stage fall for her. You can't help it in the audience either. When the two dance together, there is an electricity that you can feel in the house…and the audience doesn't mind when that dance goes on and on. 

Christopher Wheeldon has given Broadway a gift directing and choreographing this mix of musical theater and ballet. Dance is used in such an integral way in this piece that you feel as if you're witnessing certain elements for the very first time. The way that these actors use their bodies (often instead of words) to tell the story is wonderful to see. You may believe going in you are seeing an 'old fashioned musical', but you are getting so much more with this show by seeing masters of their craft working in a Broadway house.

The Tony nominated featured performers of Brandon Uranowitz and Max von Essen round out our three musketeers and both bring such joy to their roles, I love every time they are on stage. Max von Essen has a voice that can bounce off the rafters and Uranowitz gets some of the more subtle moments that pull at your heartstring and yet he also has great comic chops. Rounding out the other leads are Jill Paice as an American with a big pocket book and her eyes on our leading man and the always delightful and entertaining Veanne Cox as a very uptight Parisian. 

This show caused me to leave the Palace Theatre thrilled that such an exquisite musical is on the great white way - one that makes you grin from ear to ear for the sheer joy of what you believe a Broadway show is supposed to be. I can't believe I was ever concerned that perhaps I had only loved it so much the first time because we were witnessing it in the city of lights. It was a gift we gave ourselves then and it is a fantastic gift to give yourselves now when you visit New York. You'll be saying it's 'S Wonderful & Marvelous too! 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Finding Neverland

There is this little thing on Broadway call politics. Yes, that ugly P word appears everywhere. In this case, a show was created years ago with one creative team, the producers brought in a completely new team, tried it out of town and then it came to Broadway (replacing some of the leads that upset some people). The fact said producer is also not a New York guy (but instead a film guy) gives people more reason to pull the "P card" and tear it down.

Those are some of the only reasons I can understand that critics and theater forums have been attacking Finding Neverland. If you read my blog, you know I see almost everything and I don't always like everything - but this show is beautiful, entrancing, magical, and allows everyone to be a child again for just a moment. Yes, a moment in time, Associated Press…hence the 'obsession with clocks' that annoyed you so with this show in your review. A show about a man that doesn't want to grow up (time) where time is running out on so many in this story. But I digress, I'm not going to spend time fighting the reviews that are already out there. 

If you are like me, you may have missed the 2004 film of Finding Neverland with Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet when it came out. I actually only saw the film this past year on cable and loved it. Sobbed at the beauty of it. It hit me on so many emotional levels. So I was looking forward to the musicalization of the film with trepidation as I read so much about the bumpy road to Broadway. Yet director Diane Paulus has given us a visually stunning show with her team of designers, intriguing choreography by Mia Michaels, a beautiful score by Gary Barlow, and an ensemble of actors that make  you want to believe in Tinkerbell once again. The score was first written by the team behind Grey Gardens, yet I loved the pop score Barlow has given us. Sure there are a few lyrics that are trite or not perfect rhymes, but I forgave that due to the fact he took me on a journey with his music. 

The story of J.M. Barrie and how he came to write the story of Peter Pan may be a little different from what history books say, but it makes for a moving evening of theater. Barrie's infatuation with the Llewelyn Davies boys and their caring and giving mother brings up themes of death and divorce, but isn't that real life? What is so wonderful is how in the midst of all of that 'realness', he teaches the boys and in turn the audience to stay young. To play. To let go. 

Matthew Morrison returns to the stage in the main role and has a wonderful voice and great presence. He counters the fantasy of the musical by grounding his Barrie in an understated performance, yet still effective. As Sylvia, the widowed mother of the boys, Laura Michelle Kelly deserves a Tony nomination. She is stunning, amazing voice, warm and you care deeply for her raising four boys and putting up with a pushy mother played perfectly by Carolee Carmello. Kelsey Grammer takes on the role of Barrie's producers and is everything an overbearing American working in London should be. Great comic relief as well and hams it up wonderfully as the Hook inside of Barrie's mind. 

There are amazing images displayed on stage in this show (and I don't mean the ever-changing sets and projections). I mean the use of shadows to create a dance. The way in which ensembles move and shift (it's not just dance, it's an exciting use of body not always seen in musicals). The building of a ship as Barrie grows stronger. And I won't even share the magic at the end that some critics gave away. There are some things we're meant to enjoy in the moment and not know they are coming. We escape into our childhood, we cheer for the hero, and we want to protect Peter. In this case, Peter Llewelyn Davies was played by Aidan Gemme and he grabbed my heart the same way Freddie Highmore had done in the film.

For those that say it's too sentimental and not a crowd-pleaser, I have to say that I haven't heard thunderous reactions from an audience like this (after every number) since seeing Wicked. And perhaps, like Wicked…this too will find its audience and stick around New York for a long time. Maybe if people believe and keep clapping long and loud enough, others will hear and take a trip to Neverland even if critics and politics attempt to keep people away.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

FilmFest in My Own Backyard

What a great morning I had! Last week I received an unexpected email from a member of the Passaic County Film Commission wishing me well at the Boston Film Festival. I can't believe I didn't know the county that I live in has a film commission let alone their 11th year of producing a film festival. The festival is made up of high school students, college students and indie filmmakers showing shorts, documentaries, PSAs, and music videos.

I thought I had missed the day, but luckily made it to the Fabian Cinema where the entire festival was top notch from top to bottom. The way the staff ran it all making people feel welcomed with pins and t-shirts, the greetings from the Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the wonderful turnout of families and film enthusiasts, and the amazing talent…especially from young budding filmmakers.

The entire festival was full of talent, but there were a few that stood out to me in each category among the high school students: 

LaFortuna by Sam Applebaum (documentary) Wayne Hills High School.  
Discover Learn Live by Evan Quintero, Brianne Remy, Erin Van Lenten, Caitlin Duffy (Music Video) from Eastern Christian High School
Highbeams by Reid Hensen (short films) Wayne Valley High School

One With Wifi by Frankie Lagana (short films) West Milford High School

Many wonderful PSAs (I actually learned about the Move Over America law from Matthew Romano from Passaic County Technical Institute as it never occurred to me you have to switch lanes when passing an emergency or police vehicle on the shoulder)

I had to run before the awards were handed out, so I look forward to checking their website on Monday to see who took the prizes.

Thanks to Carl "Doc" Burrows for the email this week letting me know about the festival and a huge thanks to everyone involved who brought this wonderful FREE Festival to New Jersey.