Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spring On Broadway: Some Special Awards

It is officially spring on Broadway and shows are opening (and closing) right and left. Both new shows and revivals are opening in the next month, so they can be eligible for this year's Tony Awards. I thought I would post some predictions/awards of my own of what I think will happen over the next few weeks.

RUNAWAY HIT AWARD: Matilda - it was a runaway smash in London, and based on early observations, it will do these same here.

Runner-Up: Pippin - it's bound to be great and got great reviews in Boston, but won't quite achieve the success Matilda will. It will probably be hard to get a ticket though for some time.

SURPRISE HIT AWARD: Motown: The Musical - while it lacks a true book, this jukebox musical has already been selling out (despite its quality being poorly received and questionable). I think this could be the next Jersey Boys due to its great song catalog.

COULDA-SHOULDA-WOULDA AWARD: Hands on a Hardbody - despite decent reviews, this show isn't at the level it could have been and will probably close soon, despite its great concept and dedicated cast.

THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD AWARD: Annie - it has had mediocre reception and in a crowded season, especially in the arena of family-friendly musicals, this show will fly under the radar, but it's name recognition will keep it around (at least through the summer).

SHOULD EXTEND BUT WON'T AWARD: Alan Cumming's Macbeth - this show has sold out every venue it's been performed in, and I doubt Broadway will be any different. But I have a feeling this will maintain its very limited engagement status.

SHOULD CLOSE EARLY BUT DOESN'T AWARD: Breakfast at Tiffany's - Reviews were mediocre at best, with very few redeeming qualities. But I think Game of Thrones' Emilia Clark will save this show from an early closing notice.

SHOW EVERYONE FORGETS ABOUT AWARD: The Testament of Mary - Despite a starring role by Fiona Shaw, I have heard almost nothing about this scene and have a feeling it will exist very quietly on the Great White Way.

While I hope every show can be super successful, it just isn't a reality. Only time will tell if these predictions prove to be true. Do you have any predictions of your own? Comment below!

Friday, March 15, 2013



I had the privilege of getting to see Second Stage Theatre's new production of THE LAST FIVE YEARS on Wednesday night, and it was one of the best theatrical performances I've ever seen.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS is the story of Jamie and Cathy's five year relationship, only they tell the story one song at a time, moving in opposite directions, only singing together in the middle at their wedding.

This production, directed by the show's composer Jason Robert Brown, was perfectly cast with Adam Kantor (Rent, Next to Normal) and Betsy Wolfe (Mystery of Edwin Drood, 35mm).

L5Y is one of my favorite musicals, so I have the original cast recording (starring Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Renee Scott) basically memorized, and was worried I'd be disappointed by this new production because of my love of the original. Boy was I wrong. I loved the different moments these actors found and the different choices that made it sound and feel like a different show.

What made this production great was the use of the sparse set and lighting, but using them at specific moments to help illustrate exactly what was going on. The set was almost entirely made up of a set of windows that moved up and down. Three of them had screens that served as setting in multiple numbers.

It was also interesting because Jason Robert Brown changed some lyrics and moments for this revival, which took me by surprise, but were very effective while minimal.

Wolfe and Kantor were both equally matched, both vocally and in acting ability. Both truthfully told Cathy and Jamie's story instead of just beautifully singing the song cycle. (There is almost no spoken text in the show). Highlights for me were Wolfe's "Summer in Ohio" and the Audition Sequence, and Kantor's "If I Didn't Believe in You."

I really hope that they record this production, because it is absolutely brilliant (it has already been extended twice before it has even officially opened). Check out this behind the scenes video!



There is a good musical somewhere in HANDS ON A HARDBODY, with music by Phish's Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green (Bring It On). The only problem is it isn't what's being performed right now at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

HANDS ON A HARDBODY, based on the 1997 documentary of the same name, is the story of ten strangers all competing to win a new truck, by keeping their hand on the truck longer than anyone else. Weaved within the competition, the audience learns about the lives and struggles of the ten contestants.

The music was actually a lot stronger than I expected, but what really brought the show down was the lyrics, which used cheap rhymes and didn't truly help move the story along. The lyrics took me out of the story because they seemed so out of place, especially for a Broadway musical. You can preview a song, "I'm Gone," on the show's website.

The story and book were alright, but the problem stood in the fact that it didn't make the audience truly care about the characters or who won the competition. When the winner was announced, I could have cared less because I didn't care about any of the characters. There were some strong moments, but they were too scattered.

The concept for the story was really strong, and it allowed for a lot of creativity, but the staging was very bland and didn't promote the story in the slightest. They tried to be creative and use the truck (the main set piece), but it ended up being clunky and cut off sight lines (and I was in the center of the orchestra).

The performances were also inconsistent. Keala Settle started off weak, but ultimately had the strongest performance in the end. Her song was by far the highlight of the show. Hunter Foster had a strong presence, but his character was too one-note until the end of the show. Allison Case and Jay Armstrong Johnson were stand outs for me performance-wise, as they were consistently strong the whole time, but the book didn't give them enough to work with.

I really wanted this show to be great because it is a great and unique concept. I think it has the makings of a great musical, but I doubt it will find it before opening night next week. If it had more time in development, or wasn't on Broadway, it could be great. It's just not the calibur that is expected of a new Broadway musical and I have a feeling it won't be around long (I hope I am proven wrong).

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Idina Menzel to Star in NEXT TO NORMAL 2?

Big news broke this week that Idina Menzel would star in a new musical written by Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey, NEXT TO NORMAL 2. Wait. That's wrong. The musical is call IF/THEN.

The show is described as:

"On the verge of turning 40, Elizabeth moves to New York City, the ultimate city of possibility, intent on a fresh start - new home, new friends, and hopes for a resurgent career. But even in her carefully planned new life, the smallest decision or most random occurrence will impact her world in ways she never dreamt possible. Set against the ever-shifting landscape of modern day Manhattan, If/Then is a romantic and original new musical about how choice and chance collide and how we learn to love the fallout."

The show will try to match the success of NEXT TO NORMAL, one of most successful original musicals in the last decade, by reuniting the writing duo with director Michael Greif and producer David Stone.

I, for one, am a HUGE Idina fan and n2n is one of my favorite musicals, so I am extremely excited to see this show. And a positive: the show is having a tryout in DC this fall before opening on Broadway in Spring 2014. That means I will definitely be sure to be seeing this as soon as it opens.

I am curious what the rest of the cast will look like, because I'm sure they will use the success of n2n to find all-stars like Menzel. I just hope that they didn't rush the show and that it is too much of a n2n copy. Only time will tell.

Here is a video of Menzel singing the one song known so far from the show: "Learn to Live Without"