Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Trip to Cape Cod Via MTC

Sometimes it's great to attend a show without knowing anything about it. That's often what happens when I see a show at Manhattan Theatre Club. I just know they produce great work that I usually am very pleased to witness. That's what I got at the opening night of Of Good Stock by Melissa Ross. One of the great elements of this show is that artistic director Lynne Meadow is at the helm and this family dramady is in great hands. The moment you walk into the theater and see the beautiful set by Santo Loquasto (that rotates to show multiple rooms and outdoors of the cape cod home), I knew I was in for a treat. I was instantly transported to one of my favorite places on earth: cape cod. And then the sisters in the Stockton family all start to arrive at the home of Fred and Jess and the true family drama starts to become clear. The type of family dynamics that Beth Henley or Wendy Wasserstein would write, Ross isn't afraid to show women that complain…and complain. What some may see as archetypes of oldest/middle/youngest in a family, others may see their own family in these sisters who tend to be self absorbed. 

Jennifer Mudge is absolutely wonderful as the oldest sister, the fixer, the caretaker and the one dealing with her own health issues that are obviously an obstacle in her marriage. I have only seen her before in a musical and was completely blown away by the journey she took the audience on with her role. She is matched brilliantly by her husband played by Kelly AuCoin. Known for numerous TV shows, AuCoin is a real guys guy and the type of man you want as a best friend or a spouse. He tries hard to show his love for his wife by doing whatever he can to make her 41st birthday weekend as bearable as possible. He is no stranger to the Stockton sisters and knows each of their personalities well.

Heather Lind is great as the youngest sister who is still unsure what she wants in her life and has brought along her hysterical boyfriend Hunter (Nate Miller) to meet the family for the first time. Lind is so funny, natural, and I instantly loved her. Rounding out the family is the middle child Amy played by Alicia Silverstone known to many for the film Clueless. Amy is the self-obsessed, whiny sister who never feels anyone is paying enough attention to her impending wedding to the uptight Josh (Greg Keller). Keller gets some great lines in before
his premature exit in the show. Silverstone's role is one she has played before, but ending up drunk on stage is always a hard thing for an actor to pull off. Luckily she not only pulls it off but gets a great breakthrough moment in act II with her sisters to shout F-Bombs for all their wrongs in the world. 

Ross's story goes to places that perhaps we've seen before, but it was the direction and performances that kept me so engaged and feeling for the characters. The ensemble in this show all perform from a place of truth which is a great thing to witness on stage. Often times you can see actors 'acting' and in this case, you feel you are peering into the world of this family. Even how Meadows has directed her actors to speak over each other (as we all do in real life) - everything was grounded in realness which was refreshing. I was surprised when I felt tears in my eyes during a wonderful scene with husband and wife. 

The story may be about sisters, but as an audience, we bring our own lives into theater. It was the 25 year relationship between Fred and Jess that truly spoke to me…and moved me as well. This is a limited run through July, so be sure and get your tickets for a very entertaining night.  Bravo to this great cast and crew.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

I Feel So Much Spring

City Center A New Brain
I am one lucky man. I walked out of seeing the concert production of "A New Brain" at City Center  Wednesday night, and millions of thoughts were running through my brain.

This series which shows musicals in concert offers lessor known musicals that have already passed through New York for a new audience to see. Or in the case of those of us who have done the show before gets to relive the moment. Led by Jonathan Groff in the lead role of a man dealing with having brain surgery, the cast including Ana Gasteyer, Aaron Lazar, Rema Webb, Josh
4th Wall Theatre A New Brain 2002
Lamon (to name a few) gave a full out production that felt nothing like a concert. Each of them were wonderful (with Gasteyer completely moving me in her ballad). William Finn's score sounded as incredible as ever (even with new lyrics and a few songs that were cut). James Lapine wrote the original book with Finn and directed this production. The staging, lights, everything was top notch as they always are in this Encores O
ff-Center series. (Thank you, Jeanine Tesori!)

The reason I felt lucky was thinking back to that time 13 years ago when I played the role Groff so beautifully portrayed tonight and looking at my life since then. His character is concerned with writing something great before he dies (in case the surgery doesn't work). Knowing I would never be a parent, I often thought of that in my 20s/30s…wanting to leave something behind I had my hand in creating. I can almost recall working through that feeling in rehearsals for this show as if it were yesterday and yet since that moment I played the man hoping to leave something behind,  I've had a musical produced, a reading of an original play, several books published and a film completed. An abundance of life-altering, wonderful moments! Realizing that 'full-circle moment', a feeling washed over me that I can't explain. 

Groff's character and Lazar's are boyfriends working through juggling career and relationship. Like most people in a relationship, I know a little something about that one too. However, tonight I was transported back to our production when I was not even two years into my relationship. Working through the ups & downs of those early times and now 13 years later, we're happily married and he has been so supportive of my ability to juggle. It feels as if I've spent an entire lifetime with him since our production…and I wouldn't trade it for the world. 

Sure, I've seen shows before that I've previously done, but for some reason this one hit me in such a profound way. I'm not sure if it were subject matter, the score, lyrics, being with dear friends, or using it as a barometer on my life - but I feel so much spring in my heart afterwards…I hope that this 46 year old Greg can look back at that guy I was 13 years ago and take some of the lessons taught to us in this musical. To live in the moment more and enjoy what life brings our way each day. There is no promise or guarantee of tomorrow so just go for it!

The one sadness that hit me was thinking I could never sing like that again in a show. This 'little' show is a mammoth one vocally for the lead. Honestly, I look back now and can't believe I was able to do it. I suddenly realized I miss singing. Maybe someday that will come back into my life again. But, who knows. If I don't, at least I can remember what it felt like to do it back when I was a performer and be happy for the projects I'm able to throw myself into today.

A beautiful production. Wonderful memories. And huge thanks to a talented cast & crew for bringing it alive on 55th street once again for these very few performances.

"I feel so much 
Spring within me, 
Blow, winds blow;
Spring has just begun.
And something's taken 
Wing within me.
What was dark so long
Had felt like winter,
Finally there's sun.
And so I sing
That I feel so much spring."
               - William Finn

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Are We Our History?

I grew up in Texas; a state that has so much pride for those that live there. We even grew up taking Texas History in school (along with the regular history courses). There is a reason you see bumper stickers that say "Don't Mess With Texas" because they mean it. We had pride that we won our independence from Mexico and then 16 years later joined seven other states to secede from the union before Lincoln took office. When that war was over, it took four more months before a state of peace was declared between the union and Texas. 

That was part of my history.

Texas was known as the last frontier of slavery in the United States and through research I've found that even my own ancestors were slave owners. (A sentence that makes me shudder as I write it.) Texas is also part of the Bible belt where religion, especially the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest protestant group in the US), carries much weight in decisions that are made. Ironically, it's also the denomination that many blacks were part of until after the civil war when they created a new congregation of Baptist churches. I was baptized and raised as part of that very arm of religion.  

That was part of my history.

All of my beliefs, values, thoughts were wrapped up in my history and upbringing as a Texan. We loved the "Dukes of Hazzard" and gave little thought to the flag on top of the car. (My own brother's 3 or 4 year old birthday cake was a replica of the General Lee car.) "For God & Country" was more than a slogan: it was a way of life. This was just all part of who I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.

I happened to move north at 18 years old during the time that people go off to college to discover who they are. I brought my roots with me and clung to many of my beliefs as they were challenged with new thoughts and new ideas. Even though I left home, I have friends that stayed in that state and went through the same metamorphosis I was going through as our ideas and concepts of life evolved. 

We may be a product of our history and our upbringing, but that doesn't mean it's who we are. Holding on to history as a reason for doing or allowing something does not make it right. Growing up, making new decisions, evolving as a person - that's what it's all about. Sure those first 18 years of my life helped shape me into the man I am now, but the last 28 years of living, learning, growing has more to do with who I am than anything that happened in a history book that I read years ago. And keeping a symbol as a reminder of those times…well, personally, I'm not one to hang on to things to help me remember. For those that feel their need of history overrides the world we live in today, aren't your memories enough? Do you really believe the person you are is based on what your ancestors did? I sure hope that's not true. I'd hate for anyone to believe the fact my ancestors owned slaves has anything to do with the man I am today.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

America is Broken

America is broken.

In the 1860s when America fought the Civil War, a line was drawn and there were battles to fight for what each side believed. Nowadays, people take to social media and declare war on 'the other side' for a multitude of issues. In the 1860s, the country was divided over racism and the right to own another human being. Nowadays, this country is still divided over racism only people aren't as forthcoming over their feelings. Many thought having the first black president would show progress and change, yet it seems the tensions have only gotten worse. You can look at any headline of accounts across the country and see it happening over and over. People get mad and blame the liberal media for propagating something they believe to not be real. Others blame a particular news channel for choosing words that incite people to anger. Then both sides point fingers and never listen to the other. 

I see it on social media where people are writing horrible racists rants and then turn around and will praise God in their next posts. Oddly enough, racist white people do not have a strong hold on religion. It was in a church that black people were just massacred when they were doing nothing but worshiping God. And the moment the words "confederate flag" are mentioned, both sides once again go on attack as that symbolizes something different for each group.

It's not only racism that has our country broken. It's religion as well. We are a melting pot of many cultures, religions, and societies and yet we can't seem to accept how someone else chooses to live. Marriage equality (which many read as "special gay rights") has everyone in an uproar as well - believing it shouldn't be allowed in 'Merica. That issue has ripped at the seams of our country (as well as other countries around the world). Change frightens people; the unknown terrifies. 

I have no answers. I too am part of the problem as a person who believes the 'other side' is bat-$h*t crazy in some of the beliefs they have. But I find it drains me, it drags me down, and around political season - I get to the point that I don't even want to turn on the computer and read anything.

How is this country ever going to come together? Or are we simply going to fall apart? There are many that feel a divide is warranted, but just because people see issues differently - does that really mean they should secede from the country and start their own? (Yes, my home state is one that says that over and over.)

Today I am a sad American.

Friday, June 5, 2015

My Mom's New Journey

My mother is my hero.

The woman literally has no fear. I'm sure I get much of my 'go for it' attitude from her, but she continues to show that fearlessness all the time. A few years ago I blogged about her fight against breast cancer and how she came out on the other side victorious. Now, in her late 60s - she's decided to simply change courses in her life and start a new. Leaving her home, moving into an apartment in another town closer to my sister and nieces…completely uprooting the life she knows and going after another one. 

That takes tremendous guts and again…the woman is showing no fear. 

Mom has always been involved with early childhood education as a pre-school teacher for years and for the last nine, serving as a foster grandparent in the school district in her town. While many people retire and travel, my mom retired several years ago and knew she wanted to continue to work. She lives for those kids (and is actually stir crazy during summer months). Today is her last day with the kindergarten class and the children, teachers, and staff at Terrell Elementary that she has grown to love and consider as family. Speaking of family, she lives in the small town where she was born with siblings and nieces and nephews that she loves dearly. But she knows this change in what she believes to be the right thing in her life and so in three weeks, she'll be moving. I wish her well on this new adventure in her life. 

I hope that the foster grandparent association in Dallas County sees what an asset she would be to have them in her school district there and she can jump right back in next September in a new school where she can touch the lives of other children as she has done for most of her life.

Happy last day of 'school', mom! I know they are all going to miss you - but I know there are many that are looking at you with awe and inspiration as you start the next chapter of your life.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

It's Tony Awards Time

It's awards time in New York and theater is being honored for what they've given us this past season. As we head towards the Tonys on Sunday night, I wanted to share my predictions/thoughts and link to a few past reviews of some of the shows. 

My Thought: An American in Paris (But Fun Home might slide in there and take it.)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Hand to God
Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two

My Thought: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The King and I
On the Town
On the Twentieth Century

My Thought: It would be great to see On The Twentieth Century recognized in this category, but I think it will be handed to one of the others.

The Elephant Man
This Is Our Youth
You Can’t Take It With You

My Thought: I enjoyed The Elephant Man, but I have a feeling it's You Can't Take It With You's year.

Michael Cerveris, Fun Home
Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris
Brian d’Arcy James, Something Rotten!
Ken Watanabe, The King and I
Tony Yazbeck, On the Town

My Thought: Tough category as I like many of these men. I want Robert Fairchild, but voters may lean towards Cerveris.

Steven Boyer, Hand to God
Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man
Ben Miles, Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two
Bill Nighy, Skylight
Alex Sharp, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

My Thought: My favorite male performance this year was Jake Gyllenhaal in Constellations, but I'm going with Alex Sharp on this one. Great performance!

Kristin Chenoweth, On the Twentieth Century
Leanne Cope, An American in Paris
Beth Malone, Fun Home
Kelli O’Hara, The King and I
Chita Rivera, The Visit

My Thought: I saw them all except Kelli O'Hara and it has to be Kristin Chenoweth. She is amazing in this role.

Geneva Carr, Hand to God
Helen Mirren, The Audience
Elisabeth Moss, The Heidi Chronicles
Carey Mulligan, Skylight
Ruth Wilson, Constellations

My Thought: I really want Ruth Wilson to win, but I won't be upset if Helen Mirren takes it. Both were wonderful.

Christian Borle, Something Rotten!
Andy Karl, On the Twentieth Century
Brad Oscar, Something Rotten!
Brandon Uranowitz, An American in Paris
Max von Essen, An American in Paris

My Thought: This is the hardest category for me as I have many favorites. I think Andy Karl just barely edges out Max von Essen for me (but I have a feeling voters will go for Borle).

Victoria Clarke, Gigi
Judy Kuhn, Fun Home
Sydney Lucas, Fun Home
Ruthie Ann Miles, The King and I
Emily Skeggs, Fun Home

My Thought: Sydney Lucas. That little girl has grown up the past few years in this role and she owns it.

Matthew Beard, Skylight
K. Todd Freeman, Airline Highway
Richard McCabe, The Audience
Alessandro Nivola, The Elephant Man
Nathaniel Parker, Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two
Micah Stock, It’s Only a Play

My Thought: I want K. Todd Freeman, but I bet Micah Stock gets it (which from what I hear would be a good thing).

Annaleigh Ashford, You Can’t Take It With You
Patricia Clarkson, The Elephant Man
Lydia Leonard, Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two
Sarah Stiles, Hand to God
Julie White, Airline Highway

My Thought: Julie White is my choice. She took what could have been a stock character and added so much more.

Sam Gold, Fun Home
Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten!
John Rando, On the Town
Bartlett Sher, The King and I
Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris 

My Thought: He's not the favorite to win, but I'd go with Casey Nicolaw for this one.


Stephen Daldry, Skylight
Marianne Elliott, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Scott Ellis, You Can’t Take It with You
Jeremy Herrin, Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two
Moritz von Stuelpnagel, Hand to God

My Thought: Marianne Elliot. Wow.

Craig Lucas, An American in Paris
Lisa Kron, Fun Home
Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, Something Rotten!
Terence McNally, The Visit

My Thought: I actually prefer the book to Something Rotten!, but I think it's Lisa Kron's year.

Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, Fun Home
Sting, The Last Ship
Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, Something Rotten!
John Kander and Fred Ebb, The Visit

My Thought: Finding Neverland should have been in this category over some of these others, but while I would probably go with Something Rotten! (which is so not like me to pick comedy over drama), I think it will be Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron.


Bunny Christie and Finn Ross, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Bob Crowley, Skylight
Christopher Oram, Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two
David Rockwell, You Can’t Take It with You

My Thought: Curious Incident... offers something new and fresh.

Bob Crowley and 59 Productions, An American in Paris
David Rockwell, On the Twentieth Century
Michael Yeargan, The King and I
David Zinn, Fun Home

My Thought: LOVE what Bob Crowley & 59 Productions did with An American in Paris.

Bob Crowley, The Audience
Jane Greenwood, You Can’t Take It with You
Christopher Oram, Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two
David Zinn, Airline Highway

My Thought: Again, Bob Crowley showing such attention to detail as the years change in The Audience.

Gregg Barnes, Something Rotten!
Bob Crowley, An American in Paris
William Ivey Long, On the Twentieth Century
Catherine Zuber, The King and I

My Thought: I like them all! But just so I don't say Bob Crowley again, I'll go with William Ivey Long.

Paule Constable, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Paule Constable and David Plater, Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two
Natasha Katz, Skylight
Japhy Weideman, Airline Highway

My Thought: Paule Constable for Curious Incident... The technical aspects in this show really added to everything about it.

Donald Holder, The King and I
Natasha Katz, An American in Paris
Ben Stanton, Fun Home
Japhy Weideman, The Visit

My Thought: Torn between Paris & the Visit. I'm happy with either of them taking it, but I think Natasha Katz may edge out others.

Joshua Bergasse, On The Town
Christopher Gattelli, The King & I
Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten! 
Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

My Thought: Hand it over to Christopher Wheeldon now. He has brought dance back to Broadway in a BIG way!

Christopher Austin, Don Sebesky, Bill Elliott, An American in Paris
John Clancy, Fun Home
Larry Hochman, Something Rotten!
Rob Mathes, The Last Ship

My Thought: An American in Paris - that score, those songs - those orchestrations!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Visit to Brachen

I need to go on the record stating I am a huge fan of Kander & Ebb and Terrence McNally. I have actually directed productions of Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Rink (where I had older versions of the characters watch their younger counterparts on stage; much like what happens through the entire musical of The Visit.) This writing team loves to write things that are edgy (Cabaret) or non traditional storytelling (Chicago). They know how to musically punctuate a moment with a crash or dissonance to heighten the entire experience of the show. They seem to have blended all of that in their musical The Visit

A wealthy woman returns to the town of Brachen, Switzerland after years of being away. The town has fallen into disrepair and see her as a savior when she offers to give them money - but for a price. Her first love is still there and she has come back…for him. There are themes of greed, revenge, and love in this small chamber piece of a musical. The set is decaying and worn and the people look as if they have been left in another place and time. There is an eeriness to the piece reminiscent of Moulin Rouge or some stylized foreign film. There are all types of musical influences in this show. Some that sound like they came from other Kander & Ebb shows and others that are fresh and new. However, the one that really grabbed me was sung by the incredible Jason Danieley called "The Only One" which haunted me even after he had left the stage. 

The main reason people are drawn to this piece is to see the remarkable Chita Rivera's return to Broadway. To think this woman has spent numerous decades on the Great White Way makes one realize they are in the presence of royalty. She has been involved with this show since 2001 and obviously knows this character very well. I bow to her greatness and understand why she has been remembered at Tony time for this role. However, I found myself drawn to Anton, her former lover, now played by Tom Nelis since Roger Rees has had to leave the show. He, like this entire cast full of Broadway vets such as David Garrison, Mary Beth Peil and Timothy Shew all have amazing voices. The sounds that reverberate through this gloomy stage are beautiful. 

Yet for me, this Tony nominated best musical is missing something. And I think it sits on the shoulders of the often wonderful director John Doyle. All the elements are there and yet what should make the hair on your neck stand-on-end often times brings a chuckle instead. I didn't feel the direction matches the macabre feeling the piece is evoking. Nor did I ever get the torch that Claire so desperately carried for Anton. Instead, my heart went out for Anton - oddly enough, played by an actor who has spent the least amount of time invested in the role. I ached for him as everyone turned on him, even if his past had been so horrible towards Claire.   

In the end, I left with many questions and thoughts about aging, death, and love. I suppose a good theater piece should send us out into the streets talking. In that case, this one has done what it set out to do. It's a shame it's not selling well and I can't help but wonder how much longer it will stay around after the Tony awards this Sunday. I'm truly glad I got to see the 82 year old Rivera once more on stage where she belongs.