Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why Is SMASH Failing?

Before season 2 premiered, it seemed like it was on the fast track to make up for last season's major problems: a poor plot, bad writing, ridiculous characters, and weird dream sequences. As Theresa Rebeck, the show's creator and writer was replaced by Gossip Girl's Josh Safran.

Then season 2 premiered with a huge, 2-hour season premiere. The episode was good, not great, but you could tell they were trying to clean up last season's messes. They also had some of the best music that a SMASH episode has had yet, like "Cut, Print...Moving On" and "Broadway, Here I Come." The new characters introduced, Jeremy Jordan's Jimmy, Andy Mientus' Kyle, Krysta Rodriguez's Ana, and Jennifer Hudson's Veronica, were all welcome additions that gave the show a fresh feel.

Then there was a week long hiatus. People seemed to kind of forget the show was happening and it lost the little momentum it had.

When SMASH returned last night, it definitely stayed to a much more streamlined plot, focused almost entirely on the business of the shows being produced. But it was very weak. The music, except for Hudson's rendition of "Home," was bland and didn't live up to earlier standards. The streamlined story made us, as viewers, lose something: characters we care about.

I'm by no means saying that I want SMASH to go back to last season's fiasco, but I think it needs to really figure out what it's trying to be and do THAT very well.

Last night's ratings showed a further dip, and I just hope the show can survive to see the plot get better and a rating's bump when THE VOICE returns in late March.

Did you watch SMASH? Any feelings?

Sunday, February 17, 2013


This weekend I went to see a production of David Lindsay Abaire's newest play GOOD PEOPLE at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. Abaire has long been one of my favorite playwrights. His play, RABBIT HOLE, is my favorite play of all time. And while I've never seen one of his plays live before this, he is most definitely still my favorite after seeing this production.

GOOD PEOPLE is the story of Margie, a woman far below the poverty line from the Southie area of Boston. After she is fired from her job, she is reconnected with an ex-boyfriend who has gotten out of Southie and is now a successful doctor. When she goes to him to try to find a job, a series of events follow that brings up old feelings and memories and leads to an unexpected evening.

The production was expertly executed from acting to directing to the technical aspects. The show struck the perfect balance of comedy and drama, without anyone feeling as if the play was trying to make fun of lower class people or people of different races or ethnicities. The actors were so truthful in their representations of these lower class characters, that I couldn't separate the actors from the story, which does not happen for me in the theatre too often.

Johanna Day, a Tony Award nominee for her performance in PROOF, was brilliant as Margie and showed the tough skinned woman with such perfect balance of toughness and heart that when she came to crossroads in her life, we as the audience truly felt for her. While she struggled for some lines at times, it played off as emotion and she regained footing without missing a beat.

The supporting cast was equally as strong, portraying much more comedic sides to those living in Southie. I had some personal qualms with some of the acting choices, but they were all made with such strength, that it overall still led to an almost perfect evening.

The set was amazing, because they used a simple background, with box sets that could easily come on and off stage to serve as the different homes and locations.The set was high quality, as one would expect with Arena, but still realized that they were sets and not real homes/offices.

The sound design, which was an original score for the production that underscored the lengthy scene changes, was brilliant and I hope it gets recognition for its beauty and power.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What the GRAMMY'S Mean for MUSICal Theatre

Tonight is music's biggest night, the Grammy Awards. While that may be, it is by no means even close to the biggest name for musical theatre. That award goes to the Tony's which happen in June. So why does tonight even matter to the theatre community? Well, there is one award given for musical theatre (Best Musical Theatre Album).

It used to be that this award solely went to the producers of the album, meaning not too much actually happened for those involved in the show. But as of last year, principle vocalists now take home Grammys as well. For example, last year Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad also took home statues in addition to the producers of the BOOK OF MORMON cast album.

This gives a much stronger argument for why the Grammys mean anything for musical theatre actors. It is nice to see the mainstream world giving credit to the actors who are featured in Broadway shows, but also who lend their voices and influence the success of cast albums.

Here are the nominees for tonight's broadcast:


Danny Burstein, Jan Maxwell, Elaine Paige, Bernadette Peters & Ron Raines, principal soloists; Philip Chaffin & Tommy Krasker, producers (Stephen Sondheim, composer/lyricist)
(New Broadway Cast With Danny Burstein, Jan Maxwell, Elaine Paige, Bernadette Peters, Ron Raines & Others)
Label: PS Classics

The Gershwins' Porgy And Bess

David Alan Grier, Norm Lewis & Audra McDonald, principal soloists; Tommy Krasker, producer (George Gershwin, composer; Ira Gershwin, Dorothy Heyward & DuBose Heyward, lyricists)
(New Broadway Cast With Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis, David Alan Grier & Others)
Label: PS Classics


Jeremy Jordan & Kara Lindsay, principal soloists; Frank Filipetti, Michael Kosarin, Alan Menken & Chris Montan, producers (Alan Menken, composer; Jack Feldman, lyricist) (Original Broadway Cast With Jeremy Jordan, Kara Lindsay & Others)
Label: Ghostlight Records/ Razor & Tie

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Matthew Broderick & Kelli O'Hara, principal soloists; David Chase, Bill Elliott & Robert Sher, producers (George Gershwin, composer; Ira Gershwin, lyricist) (Original Broadway Cast With Matthew Broderick, Kelli O'Hara & Others)
Label: Shout! Factory

Once: A New Musical

Steve Kazee & Cristin Milioti, principal soloists; Steven Epstein & Martin Lowe, producers (Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova, composers/lyricists) (Original Broadway Cast With Steve Kazee, Cristin Milioti & Others)
Label: Masterworks

And my thoughts:
SHOULD WIN: FOLLIES - this is one of my favorite cast albums because it sums up the show so well and features great vocals and production value
WILL WIN: ONCE - it was critically acclaimed and is the most "mainstream" of the albums.

UPDATE: As I predicted, ONCE won the Grammy! Congratulations to all involved!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

That's SMASHing!

Yesterday, my twitter feed was acting like a major world event was happening, like an election or inauguration. The only problem was that it wasn't an event of national importance. It was the second season premiere of the NBC show SMASH.

For the unaware, SMASH is a TV series that follows the lives of the creative team and actors of a musical aiming for Broadway. They focus on the drama on stage and off. Last season, the focus was solely on a musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, BOMBSHELL. After some major creative changes, including adding showrunner Josh Safran (Gossip Girl) and losing creator and main writer Theresa Rebeck (Seminar, Dead Accounts), the show is now focusing on a wider set of shows (including a new Rent-esque musical HIT LIST) and cutting the ridiculous unrelated-to-the-show story lines.

SMASH was the pinnacle of "hate-watch" television last season, and it was very obvious after last night's two-hour premiere, that they are definitely trying to clean up and move on from last season, as evidenced by the opening number of  the episode "Cut, Print...Moving On." They've cleaned the story up a lot (they still have a long way to go) and have expanded the music styles to include some of musical theatre's most up-and-coming composers. Also, I'm just putting it out there, I've already listened to the new song "Broadway, Here I Come" on repeat.

SMASH is definitely moving in the right direction. The new characters are great, especially Jeremy Jordan (Newsies)'s Jimmy Collins, and have upped the acting quality insanely already. As someone who loves many of Broadway's lesser known actors and biggest up-and-comers, it's great to see people like Jordan, Andy Mientus, and Krysta Rodriguez show up on the TV.

I am interested to see where this season goes, but will definitely stay along for the ride. Here is a preview of the season premiere to give you a taste of the show.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I Want That Soundtrack! I Mean Cast Recording...


The amount I've been corrected when I say "soundtrack" in regards to a CD produced for a musical is greater than I can count. But it was successful, because now I correctly refer to these recordings as "cast recordings" and get duly annoyed when people mix them up.

Now, I also am someone who still enjoys a physical CD. I know, it's the 21st century, but for some reason, buying a physical CD makes it seem more real. This is especially so with cast recordings, because they typically feature production photos and exclusive content from cast members or members of the creative team.

Now, in the theatre industry, recording a CD is a difficult task, because typically, unless the show is a huge hit (a la Wicked or Phantom of the Opera), it is difficult for a cast recording to sell enough copies to make financial sense. So why do we still get so many cast recordings?

Well, first, to document some of the best performances from the stage. This is especially true for revival cast recordings, where the score is already preserved and well-known. Secondly, especially for newer shows, without a CD as a base, it is less likely for shows to be licensed for performances in regional and amateur theatres around the country.

Lastly, it could be for the reason I love cast recordings. As a college student of limited means who doesn't live in New York City, a cast recording is a phenomenal way for me to here a recording of a show or performance I couldn't see, or something I loved so much and would love to experience again, but can't afford another ticket.

So with that, here are some of my favorites (and of course links for if you want to sample or buy it yourself).

Favorite Classic Cast Album: Into the Woods (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Favorite Revival Cast Album: Follies (2012 Broadway Cast Recording)
Favorite Modern Cast Album: Next to Normal (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Favorite Off-Broadway Cast Album: [title of show] (Original Cast Recording)