Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Trump Is No Laughing Matter

It's no longer funny.

What seemed like a reality TV stunt for ratings snowballed into the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party. Everyone is now trying to get their head around how this happened, but I saw it happening last July when I first blogged about it. The other candidates seemed frightened of Trump. The media loved the ratings they got from showing him. He got more publicity than any other candidate and now we're all paying the price.

I'm sad, mortified, heartbroken that some people I love and care about support him as our president. I can even (gulp) deal with them enjoying him as a TV personality or admiring him as a business man - but I can NOT support him as the leader of the free world.

In less than a year, he has managed to undo so much in our country, dividing us, and it will only get worse if he moves into The White House. I completely understand people upset with politicians and believing someone else could do a better job, but that person has to be qualified. I wouldn't call an electrician to my house because my pipes broke! Everyone seems to think he'll be great for the economy because he's a business man. Well, as a business man he profited over the collapse of our economy. And he does not support keeping the rules and regulations in place to stop it from happening again...because that's when businessmen swoop in and make a killing. Look, that's what business is all about, but I don't believe we need a man as our president who knowingly wants the economy to fail. Trumponomics is not a good thing.

Many people love that he speaks his mind - yes, he does. Like a blathering idiot. The man has no filter and will piss off any foreign dignitary he may be dining with. This frightens me to have a loose cannon saying whatever he feels. Perhaps it works in his boardroom, but not in the oval office. At first I had a tough time believing he was really as vile as he comes across. I thought it had to be an act. But he has managed to offend nationalities, disabilities, genders - he doesn't care what comes out of his mouth. This is not someone you want children admiring. American children are the future and need a good role model. I've already heard from teachers that children are emulating this bully in schools and it's not ending well. If you're Mexican or Muslim, be prepared to be pointed at and teased. If you have a disability, you're not immune to his callous behavior.

As he moves towards a general election he STILL hasn't made it about issues. He can't debate or have a campaign on issues because he doesn't know where he stands. Is he a Republican or Democrat? Depends on which way the wind is blowing his hair! He clobbered his way through the primaries by attacking his opponents like a dog, yet NEVER made it about issues - only name-calling and bullying. He's still doing it now with anyone that opposes him. Candidates, congress people, media - he will attack and attack. He loves to call others liars, yet he is the master at it. (I get it, it's part of his ammo - but how can you trust him?) He only gave the 1 million to the veterans NOW because he was called out on it. But has a way to spin it on social media so that his supporters will rally around him like he is the great orange savior that is going to actually DO something for the middle class. He can't even comprehend what that is....middle class OR class.

I can NOT endorse Donald Trump as my president. I can NOT understand those that can. I know I will hear that the Democrats don't have any good choices either, but I tell you - I would take either of them over this sick man that only cares about building up his own name. (Hence the name is everywhere.) I don't believe he cares about America. And though Sanders and Clinton may both have faults of their own, I will jump behind either to take down this horrible man who should stick to building golf courses and hotels and leave the American people alone.

Wake up, America - he doesn't care anything about you.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Waitress Serves It Up

There are certain shows I really look forward to seeing and get my tickets way in advance. That's what happened with Waitress currently on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Waiting until after it opened and after it received four Tony Awards nominations meant there was more pressure going in as I already knew what others were saying. Well, I was NOT disappointed. From the moment you enter the theater with the aroma of pies and see huge pies lined in cases along the proscenium, you know you are in for a treat.

Based on the film by Adrienne Shelly with a book by Jessie Nelson, a score by Sara Bareilles, and directed by Diane Paulus - this all female creative team has created an old-fashioned musical that feels new and fresh. 

Jenna is a waitress in a love-less marriage to her overbearing husband Earl and seeks escape by creating pies with unusual names. (I Don't Wait Earl's Baby Pie, Old Joe's Horny Pie) An unexpected pregnancy, a pie-baking contest, and a new gynecologist all play into Jenna's world as ways to start a new life or does she simply stay and accept the life she has?

Jessie Mueller who won the Tony for playing Carole King in the musical Beautiful is absolutely wonderful as Jenna. She is tired, beaten, but hasn't given in. She is not one of the actresses on Broadway that feels she needs to belt her face off in her every song and gives such great texture to the wonderful songs by Sara Bareilles. (Especially the empowering hit She Used to Mine.) She had two friends she works with that makes life bearable and Kimiko Glenn ann Keala Settle each create such awesome characters making for a great family with Jenna. 

Drew Gehling is the quirky doctor that steals Jenna's heart and I really liked that he made the role his own and not a copy of the film. Eric Anderson and Dakin Matthews both show curmudgeons can also have a heart and Nick Cordero gives us a villain without taking him too far over the top. Christopher Fitzgerald uses his comic chops to give us an adorable Ogie that makes you perk up each time he enters the stage. 

The ensemble is used brilliantly to aid in Jenna's mind with choreographed moments of creating pies, or being the customers in the store (constantly having to eat),  and it's fun that you can tell who must be understudying each lead role. I also loved seeing the pit on the stage. I just wish the sound would have been a little better as we had a tough time at the start hearing performers (perhaps it was the accent the performers are using).

This really is a feel-good musical that seems to do it all right. It gives us comedy, it makes us feel, and it offers an everyday heroine that can create extraordinary out of sugar, butter, and flour. Lastly, they have been smart in their marketing from releasing Sara Bareilles singing the songs before it opened to the social media team that is right on top of everything with this show. Great job by everyone involved with this heart-warming musical!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Rocking the Winter Garden Theatre

Walking into the Winter Garden Theatre, I'm always going to think of Cats since it was the first show I saw in that beautiful space. Andrew Lloyd Webber has returned to his home with his latest musical School of Rock (which has an inside jab at Cats). Based on the film of the same name that starred a crazy Jack Black pretending to be a teacher simply to make money, the musical sticks very closely to the screenplay - adding in Lloyd Webber songs where it feels appropriate.

Let me just say that I grabbed a last minute ticket to a matinee at TKTS, ended up on the inside aisle of the 5th row, and the kids and parents around me were loving this show. It's this season's Matilda. A true show the entire family can enjoy (if you bring earplugs). It is ROCK and it is LOUD. I've always been a huge fan of Sir Lloyd Webber, but didn't find anything in this score too inspiring or exciting. You will hear bits and pieces of his former works, but the audiences don't seem to mind. It's not about that. It's about rocking out, cheering loudly at every cute/clever moment that happens on stage. And yes - the kids ARE adorable in this show.

The prep school children that find their inner rock star are all wonderful in their own way...and as the announcement tells you before the show - they play the instruments themselves. I was totally enthralled each time they were on the stage. For me, they are the true stars of the show and I appreciate how each of them has their own personality and moments to shine.

I was curious to see Alex Brightman in this show since he got so many different nominations this year. The man was born the year I moved to NYC (boy do I feel old) and has been in Wicked, Big Fish, Matilda but finally got his big break with this tour-de-force role. He is screaming rock at the top of his lungs, running around the stage like a madman amped up on Red Bull & entertaining the audience each time he opens his mouth - I don't know how he does it all. (I was really glad he played the matinee as I wasn't sure he'd be on.) He truly is a talent. However, I wish director Laurence Connor would have trusted him more to create an original character and not have him copy the film as that's what I felt I was getting. Right down to the facial expressions he'd make. However, he does work well with those talented kids and for that I give him high kudos.

The other person people would recognize is Sierra Boggess (The Little Mermaid, Love Never Dies) as the school principal who you know will be letting her hair down in a rock show the moment she appears all prim and proper. She gets to show her soprano voice off in this role while acting like an uptight Marion from The Music Man. The other adults are all totally fine adding multiple characters in what they know is set dressing around the man and the kids. (Unfortunately, the script is written so unevenly, there isn't much more for them to do except play the parents and the teachers in this show that centers on the children.)

There isn't anything that 'new' or 'different' in School of Rock in this year of revolutionary theater. I felt I'd seen it all before and not simply because it was a film. The cardboard characters that aren't fleshed out, the standard sets, nothing thrilled me. So for that reason, I'd really only recommend this to families looking for something to take their kids to. I am disappointed after seeing this that the Tony committee recognized it with the 4 nominations that it received. There were other shows and performances (cough...American Psycho - Benjamin Walker) that definitely should have gotten in over what I witnessed at the Winter Garden. Guess I'll just have to keep my memories for now of previous shows in this theater until the next production comes along that blows me away. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Dear Evan Hansen Creative Team...Thank You!

There is something so exciting to see a show as it takes shape either in an out-of-town run or Off-Broadway. There was great buzz around the musical Dear Evan Hansen arriving into NYC after it's run at Arena Stage in DC last summer and though nervous about listening to buzz, we grabbed up our tickets to head to Second Stage Theatre to see what the show was all about.

Wow. What an incredible evening we had. From the very first song, I knew we were witnessing something truly special. With a book by Steven Levenson (playwright and writer for Showtime's "Masters of Sex") that reads like a YA novel and an amazing score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dogfight, A Christmas Story) this story is said to be for the outsider in us all. It's about that feeling of isolation that many high schoolers can feel. Think back to the movie "The Breakfast Club" and we learned no matter who you were in school, there was still a feeling of being alone and attempting to fit in. The people in Even Hansen know that all too well. Even if you are the nerd, the goth, the brain - each has their own secrets of wondering if anyone would notice if they disappeared.

The title is made clear fairly quickly as Evan is giving an assignment by his therapist to write affirmation letters to himself daily. But what happens if those letters can get in the wrong hands and a lie can snowball? Especially in the world of social media which can play such a huge part in those feelings of loneliness (and a huge part in the wonderful scenic and projection designs by David Korins and Peter Nigrini). I don't want to give much more of the plot away because like Next to Normal (which was also directed by Michael Greif who directed Evan and which this musical will likely be compared to by some reviewers), it's best to walk in knowing little about it and taking the journey with Evan Hansen. (I also want to give a shout out to Nevin Steinberg for some of the best sound design I've heard in a show recently.)

And what a beautifully, moving journey it is. Much is said about seeing a star performance by a theater or film legend that gives a live performance of their careers. Well there is a 22 year old young man giving that kind of performance nightly on 43rd street at Second Stage Theatre. Ben Platt is absolutely incredible as he inhabits the life and world of Evan Hansen. A high school senior that has such anxiety disorder he has tics, he takes medicine to calm himself, he sweats on command (how does this actor do this?) and he breaks your heart. Sitting on the third row of the theater and being so close to the actor, there were moments I just wanted to take him in my arms and tell him it was going to get better. THAT'S how real he plays this role. It is masterful performance with amazing vocals singing the beautiful score by Pasek & Paul. (How any actor ever sings through tears on stage always baffles me - this one can sing through an ugly cry.)

The rest of the cast is also just as wonderful with huge kudos going to Rachel Bay Jones playing his mother who is simply trying to raise a son she can't connect to while working on a single parent salary. Countering her is the wealthy Murphy family (who has their own issues with a son) and Jennifer Laura Thompson and John Dossett show their own layers in this family, especially when the situation brings Evan Hansen into their lives. Laura Dreyfuss and Mike Faist play their children in this dysfunctional family. Rounding out the cast are Kristolyn Lloyd and Will Roland as other classmates who some may feel are there for comic relief in a fairly heavy show, but I see under the comedy they also have issues of fitting in they are dealing with.

I really can't wait to see what happens next with this show. It is already so powerful, but I'm sure like others before it, it will continue to morph and change until all the kinks are worked out. I do hope they release a cast recording while they continue working on the inevitable road to a small Broadway house for this show because I need to hear this music over and over.

Bravo and thank you to the creative team for tackling this story and giving us a story we often need to be reminded of: we are not alone, everyone deserves to be remembered, and #YouWillBeFound.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

American Psycho Thrilled Me!

2016 is the year of the revolution. Not just in politics, but on Broadway as well. The creative team at the Richard Rodgers Theatre are not the only ones completely changing the way we view theater. Add the folks behind the musical American Psycho to that list! One of the most stimulating, immersive,  game-changing experiences I've ever had on Broadway. Bringing a story about a murderer to Broadway (unlike Sweeney Todd this isn't about revenge) that is shallow, greedy, full of ego, Trump-loving, materialistic, non-redeemable is a hard pill for many audiences to swallow. I swallowed and want more! 

It starts the moment you walk in and see the set design by Es Devlin. It continues once the musical opens with a bang and we are pulled in by the video design by Finn Ross, lighting design by Justin Townsend, and sound design by Dan Moses Schreier. The most exciting use of technical elements I've seen in a long time. And it all works perfectly for this piece.

Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis and the film of the same name, the musical (with a book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa) pays homage to both of those yet takes a journey of it's own. I was with people that saw the film as well as some that hadn't and we all enjoyed it just the same. 

I need to stop and praise Duncan Sheik for his unique score that sounds like nothing else on Broadway. Where some reviewers complain it's not a score worthy of the Broadway stage - they are simply wrong. Every song, sound, lyrics takes you back to the 80s where the musical is set and makes perfect sense for this show. I can't imagine anyone else haven set this to music. (Yes, count me as one of the cool kids, Mr. Sheik as I get you even if NYT doesn't.)

Rupert Gould wowed me with his direction of King Charles III and now I have to see he's one of the most inventive directors working today. His direction is clean, crisp, and nails the people of this time and place perfectly. Lynne Page uses choreography in a way that shows us the 80s without poking too much fun at it, creating an entirely new 'voice' of movement. 

I can usually gage a show by how long I stay up at night after seeing a show. I couldn't get to sleep last night. I even downloaded some of the songs from the UK Recording of the show that just came out last month. The show sticks with you and doesn't let go.

Honestly, I think I would give the Tony award to Benjamin Walker right now. Playing an 
anti-hero is not an easy thing to do, especially when the character of Patrick Bateman hardly ever leaves the stage. Yet he plays the callous Wall-Streeter with humor and yes...the writers have given him somewhat of an arc that wasn't present in the film that you can't help but like him. You shouldn't. He's evil. He's a jerk. (They even left much of the language from the book intact such as using the F-word for gay men which is necessary for this character.) But Walker is brilliant in the role. Forget the fact that he is stunning running around in his tighty-whities on stage. His singing voice, his delivery - everything is an award-winning performance...yes, even in 'this' season.

The entire cast is wonderful, but a few others stand out to me because of how they capture the essence of the late 80s when I moved to NYC. HelĂ©ne York as the girlfriend Evelyn has the vapidness of the rich girl down pat. Theo Stockman is channeling James Spader as the man in the office you love to hate...and I couldn't get enough of him. Drew Moerlein plays the nemesis of Bateman and captures that Corporate America (where I spent 13 years) mentality perfectly.

A shout out to the small pit who took me to my club days, the vocal arranger for some sweet arrangements, and the sound mixer as I was in the front row of the mezz and NEVER heard the drummer sitting in the box to my left except via the sound system.

I get this musical will not be for everyone, but if you want something completely different from anything else running on Broadway (and you can't get a ticket to that other earth-shattering musical) - do yourself a favor and get to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

End of April Politics

Another super Tuesday down and this presidential race in America continues to get crazier and crazier everyday. We woke Monday to two republicans creating a Survivor-type alliance to vote Trump off the Republican Island. It doesn't seem to be working since he swept 5 states.

But then Trump goes on TV and says Bernie Sanders should run as an independent. Trump is not a stupid man. He wants votes to be split because his main objective is to win - no matter the cost.

I think the real interesting part in all of this is that the two candidates that wanted to start a revolution really don't fall into the party in which they are running. Both complain about their parties, feel the party is against them, think the elections are rigged, and yet have gotten more publicity by running IN those parties than had they stayed independent right out of the gate. Neither would have gotten the media attention they did had they stayed true to their political roots. Yet it will be a true sham if either decides to run independently (if they do not get the nomination in their party). And honestly - I wouldn't put it past either one of them to do just that. They will have used their party as a jumpstart and then jump ship. I can feel it coming. 

IF the GOP goes against Trump at the convention even though he has the most votes, he'll put himself on the ticket as an indie. Sanders said today that he will do whatever it takes to make sure Trump isn't the president - but never said he'd back the democratic nominee. Instead, that sounded a little like "I'll cause my own revolution and go rogue." I guess we have to wait until summer to see how it all plays out, but this has been the wildest election season I can recall. Less politics, more American Idol. Less about credentials, more about popularity.

I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm a little frightened by it all.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Will Tuck Last Forever on Broadway?

Seeing a musical about facing one's mortality during the week that I'm getting another year older seemed like one that would certainly tug at my least that's what I thought after attending Tuck Everlasting on Broadway. However, I didn't know that was what the show was about. I had never read the novel by Natalie Babbitt. But there were plenty of people in the audience who had. It was full of a fan club for either the book or the film that would scream out after every song. Having no experience with the story prior, I could only assume the lyrics must have come right from the book. When I walked out of the theater, I heard 20-somethings saying they cried the entire final 20 minutes. I was happy for them as I know that has been my experience with many shows and I know that exhilarating feeling.

This wasn't that show for me. 

The musical has a beautiful look thanks to Walt Spangler, costumes by Gregg Barnes, lighting design by Kenneth Posner, and sound design by Brian Ronan. Yes, I'm discussing those elements first because for this audience member, they were the most exciting things on that stage.

Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw (who I love his Something Rotten) has taken what should be an intimate story and turned it into an overblown musical. I think what many critics complained about Big Fish when it ran on Broadway will happen with critics of this show. The producers picked the right theater with the Broadhurst (which usually houses plays) to tell the intimate story. The set designer has pulled everything in to add to that feeling of a smaller show (which would be greatly told in the round even). However, the decision to add a large ensemble instantly removes us from the story at hand due to the way they are used. Dancers appear all throughout the show for no reason whatsoever. Are they townspeople? Are they woodland fairies? We don't know. They are just there to distract from what the leads are singing about. 

Speaking of lead, this show is lead by 11 year old Sarah Charles Lewis and what an amazing job she does in her Broadway debut as young Winnie who discovers the Tuck family and their secret of living forever.  There are other performers that I've absolutely loved on stage in other shows (Carolee Carmello, Michael Park, Terrence Mann, Andrew Keenan-Bolger), yet something is missing in this show for me. None of the music by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen takes me anywhere. All the songs blend into each other sounding too similar. (My theater partner pointed out a few they liked that stood out to them.) The book feels like there are huge holes in it that never let us really get to know the Tuck family (hello, title of the show), which in turn means I don't end up feeling anything for them. There are also setups that I think are going to lead in one direction and then dropped. (Miles Tuck gets a song all about his son and I really believed there was going to be a huge revelation about him that didn't pan out.)

I walk into every Broadway show wanting to love it, yet I knew after the opening number it hadn't grabbed me. I was actually pretty lost by the time that ended. (I blame the useless dance number.) I don't know if it's because the musical felt it needed to pad the original novel, but I would have preferred getting to know the characters better and a stronger conflict, some dramatic tension in the story. Even the villain (The man in the Yellow Suit) while played wonderfully by Mann feels underdeveloped and the stakes are not high enough. Winnie quickly comes into the lives of the Tucks, but somehow I miss the journey and only felt I was watching a different take on the Peter Pan story.

There is another original show that opened on Broadway this year (Bright Star) that also has issues in the book and the score, but there is a fire in that show that allows it to transcend. Even though Tuck Everlasting has been worked out of town before coming to NYC, it feels very flat to me as if it doesn't quite achieve the wonder and magic it's wanting to convey. 

I will say there is a moment towards the end where a choreographed ballet is very effective (especially if you love the first five minutes of the movie UP), but even that would have been better had the ensemble not been overused prior.

Perhaps this will be this year's Finding Neverland, meant to fill that family-friendly void in a Broadway show. I will admit I saw that film and maybe that's why seeing it on Broadway
tugged at my heartstrings more than this did. (The same can be said about Big Fish which I wrote a love letter about for Huffington Post.) We DO bring our prior knowledge of source material into the theater with us and it's quite obvious lovers of this story are fawning all over this musical. However, a show needs to be able to stand on it's own as well and not rely on our memory to fill in the blanks. For me, there is too much NOT working in this for me to wholeheartedly recommend. (And now I can feel the students that have read this book of immortality suddenly wanting to run me out of town like the man in the Yellow Suit.)