"Lady, you can't sit there - move to the back of the bus. Coloreds in the back of the bus!""No. Not no more. I'm going to sit here and rest my feet."
But yeah... the semester is over, we are home for break, and it's time to get crackin' on this blogging business again. Things we've seen since our last post that we haven't covered yet: The Addams Family, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Avenue Q, [Title of Show], Next to Normal (shocking, we know), and The Scottsboro Boys. Phew. [Title of Show] and The Scottsboro Boys need their own blog posts to adequately talk about their awesomeness, and we've been blogging about Next to Normal so much, people probably think we get paid every time we do (unfortunately, we don't, but it would be totally awesome if we did.) This post is going to cover The Addams Family, Avenue Q, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, in that order. Get ready.
Okay, so, The Addams Family. Michelle and I were lucky enough to get free tickets after a friend of ours won a contest on Twitter. Sweet! We were super excited to see this production because, well... let's take a look at the cast, shall we? Nathan Lane, Bebe Neuwirth, Carolee Carmello, Terrence Mann, Jackie Hoffman, Wesley Taylor, and Krysta Rodriguez. It's like a smorgasbord of awesomeness and talent. And the cast did not disappoint. It was definitely the strongest part of the show. Nathan Lane is the consummate song and dance man, and he and Bebe Neuwirth both got huge applause at their entrances. Mr. Lane's Gomez was charming and fun, even if Mr. Lane did at times struggle with his suave, Latin accent. Ms. Neuwirth, who is perhaps best known for her role as Lilith on the hit sitcom Cheers but is best known to me for her hysterical Musical Madlibs rendition of "All That Jazz" (which can be found here), was fantastic. Her comedic timing and dry delivery made her Morticia a sarcastic delight. Jackie Hoffman was hysterical as the senile Grandma (her ad-lib about Charlie Sheen during the "Full Disclosure" number was amazing). Kevin Chamberlin was wonderful as the crazy Uncle Fester. His asides to the audience, playing with the fourth wall, were some of the funniest moments in the show. Carolee Carmello and Terrence Mann were EPIC in their roles as Alice and Mal Beineke, respectively. Both of their voices are so distinct and classic that hearing them sing together was just incredible. It gave me chills. Wesley Taylor was great as Lucas Beineke in what I thought was an underused role.
But for me, the best part of the show was Krysta Rodriguez as Wednesday Addams. That girl is a star. Of all the songs in the show, "Pulled" and "Crazier Than You" were the most memorable for me, and I think a large part of that was due to Ms. Rodriguez's performance. Her vocals are fantastic. She belts without sounding like she's straining, and her physical performance complements her voice perfectly. Her performance was youthful, teen-angsty without being over-the-top, and fun. And overall, I think that's what The Addams Family was - fun. It wasn't perfect - the scenes and plot were choppy, almost like a series of loosely linked sketches rather than a coherent piece, there wasn't a lot of character development to speak of, and some of it was downright cheesy. Above all that, though, it was just a fun two and a half hours of theater. Coming from a girl who loves crying her eyes out over a piece of theater, it was a nice change of pace to be able to walk out of a show humming a tune and feeling entertained. In that respect, The Addams Family was very successful.
Avenue Q has been on our must-see list for a while. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical back in 2004 and enjoyed a lengthy Broadway run before relocating to New World Stages and continuing Off-Broadway. New World Stages is composed of a couple of small theaters that are underground, and so it runs a few shows simultaneously. The rush seats for Avenue Q were in the front row of an already intimately small theater, so we were practically three feet from the stage for the entire performance, which allowed us to see the puppetry work from up-close. It was incredible. The actors are incredibly talented. Not only do they perform puppetry, often playing the roles of multiple puppets at the same time and throughout the show, but they also sing and act and have the best facial expressions to accompany their puppets. The entire cast was fantastic, but Howie Michael Smith, Sarah Stiles, and Cullen R. Titmas were particularly amazing in both their puppetry skills and singing abilities. The score is raunchy, to be sure (really, is there any other show out there that's so blatantly about sex and porn?), but it's also hysterical and catchy. Its "immaturity" works because it's a show about raunchy puppets. It's meant to be fun and a little outrageous, and it definitely delivered.
Last but not least, we saw Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Much like The Addams Family, Michelle and I were incredibly excited to see the show because of its star-studded cast. Months before the show even opened, when it's cast was first announced, we decided that we just had to see it. I mean, when would we next be able to see a show with Sherie Rene Scott, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Mary Beth Piel, Danny Burstein, Laura Benanti, and that diva of all Divas, Patti LuPone? By the time it began previews, we'd read that the show was still working out some kinks. Then the Internet message boards were flooded with what a mess the show was, how it didn't make sense, how there was so much going on you didn't know where to look. Still, for every negative review, there was also a positive one, and so Michelle and I went into the theater with open minds, not knowing what to expect but hoping to be entertained nonetheless.
The show was... a bit chaotic, to say the least. There was certainly a lot going on, and for the first few minutes of the show, I'll freely admit that I didn't know where to look or what to pay attention to. Having not seen the Pedro Almodovar film on which the show is based, I honestly had no idea what the show was about or what to expect. The show was frenetic, with constant action and multiple plots and subplots being juggled simultaneously. It seemed almost to have a stream-of-consciousness feel about it, as if someone is telling you a story and keeps jumping from point to point and you're left trying to form a coherent picture of events. So, in that spirit, I present my very own stream-of-consciousness review of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown:
Oh look a taxi cab! Danny Burstein! You were so awesome in South Pacific, but I don't know how I feel about you as a blonde. There are so many people on stage... oh look, there's Sherie Rene Scott! I miss Everyday Rapture, but she's fabulous. Oh my goodness, is that Laura Benanti dancing in the wings? It is! But why can I see the wings so easily? Oh, it's because all these massive set pieces have to be able to get on and off stage. Hi, stage crew. Why can I see you? Why are you nonchalantly walking around on stage? Okay, Sherie's singing and her voice is so pretty. So is Brian Stokes Mitchell's disembodied voice. Oh wait, there he is. Wow, his character's kind of a douche. Sing Sherie, sing! Holy shit that's Patti LuPone! On stage. Like twenty feet away. Dear Lord, she's intimidating. Now she's looking over here, like right at me! Am I doing something inappropriate? I don't want to get LuPwned. Phew, she's looking somewhere else now. Tee-hee, it's Justin Guarini. God, that movie he was in was such a catastrophe, but it sounds like he can actually sing. Hahaha Laura Benanti looks hilarious running around in those ridiculous shoes. She is so awesome. I can't even hear all the words to the song she's singing so fast... how does she not mess up? And so Candela is dating a terrorist, but what does that have to do with Pepa's relationship problems? Whatever, she's a goddess. Love her. Wait... why is Sherie singing next to a bed that's ON FIRE?! Surely that cannot be good for the vocal cords. And why is the damn thing on fire in the first place? I'm so confused. And now Brian Stokes Mitchell and Justin Guarini are singing about microphones. Such pretty voices, but this song is annoying. Not all women are fooled by a pretty voice speaking into a microphone. I'm kind of offended. But wait... what was the point of this song again? Whatever. Laura Benanti is awesome. Why are these women hanging from ropes? Laura Benanti is awesome. Isn't this dangerous? Who lets Patti LuPone swing from this rubber thing over the stage? Laura Benanti is --- INTERMISSION.
Okay, process what just happened. So...much...going on. I have no idea. Pepa is heartbroken and destroyed her answering machine, and is also pregnant. Candela is dating a terrorist. Lucia is suing Ivan, but for what I'm not sure. And Carlos is marrying some bitchy girl that he doesn't even seem to love. And the Taxi Driver is just kind of observing it all and Greek-chorusing the show. Okay, Act II, GO. Damn, Sherie Rene Scott can sing. You know who else can sing? Laura Benanti. Can she just come back and entertain us with her awesomeness for another hour? Brian Stokes Mitchell, you have a pretty voice, but your character is a tool. Why are there so many people on stage? Who are this girl and this guy on the motorcycle and why are they important? Are they important? Oh look, Laura Benanti! She's fierce. Haha, Danny Burstein just sang a line about "feeling like you missed something in the plot." He's got that right... what is going on? Whatever, Laura Benanti is still fantastic. Damn, Patti LuPone is freaking intimidating. Insanely talented, but intimidating as shit. So she's suing Ivan to get years of her life back? Metaphorical, but whatevs. I really like this song, but why did it just end without a big finish. It just kind of trailed off... bummer. Laura Benanti. At least the plot is making more sense this act. Laura Benanti. The farce aspect is actually pretty entertaining. Laura Benanti. Gazpacho can be dangerous. Laura Benanti. Laura Benanti. Laura Benanti taking her clothes off and doing a "sexy dance" is hysterical. Guns? Laura Benanti. Mary Beth Piel is awesome, but her character is pretty superfluous and unnecessary. Laura Benanti. Sherie Rene Scott. Laura Benanti.
And that, dear readers, is the hot mess that is Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. It had potential and a freaking amazing cast, but there was just too much going on, and it resulted in an often incoherent story. There were too many set pieces and too many characters, which resulted in some serious talent (like Mary Beth Piel and de'Adre Aziza) to be wasted. There also wasn't all that much character development - I didn't feel all that invested in the outcome. The songs were good if not forgettable, with "Model Behavior" being the highlight for me. Basically, Laura Benanti stole the damn show with her incredible voice and great comedic timing, and her awesomeness was almost enough to redeem a whole lot of "WTF?" moments. Almost, but not enough, though it wasn't for a lack of trying. She gave 130% to her performance and made any time Candela was on stage the best part of the show. Incidentally, she's also a total sweetheart at the stage door, thanking us for coming and saying how "great it is to see young people at the theater. It makes me think it's not dying out." Between that, her performance, and her incredible "It Gets Better" video for The Trevor Project, it may be safe to say that I have a new Broadway idol. Despite the show's many problems, it was entertaining, and you could tell the cast was having a blast performing the material and is proud of the product they're producing, which I guess makes critical reception a moot point. If these people are having fun doing what they love, I'm not going to stop them.
P.S. - Patti LuPone? A one-of-a-kind stage door experience. She just sweeps down the line, signing randomly on your Playbill before getting in her chauffeured car and being driven away. Hilarious.
The main thrust of the play rests on the conflict between Mr. Hyde Pierce's Elomire (a clever anagram of Moliere, who's style is emulated in this work, btw), a playwright and actor in the service of the Princess (the lovely Ms. Lumley), and Mr. Rylance's Valere, a boorish, crass, and generally disgusting street entertainer who the Princess wants to work with Elomire to develop new material for the rest of Elomire's troupe. Elomire is offended and repulsed by Valere's manners as well as everything Valere stands for - the simple, unintelligent, flashy art that is heavy on the entertainment value but light on the substance. His distaste for Valere is evident from the very beginning of the play, as he speaks with his colleague Bejart (ably acted by Stephen Ouimette) about Valere after witnessing a tableau of his less refined traits at dinner. And then the man himself enters the scene... and proceeds to give a rambling monologue for the next 25 minutes.
I'm not even kidding. Mark Rylance spoke uninterrupted for a solid 25 minutes. It was a stunning display of acting, a true masterclass in comedy as Valere spoke on and on about his life story. He rambled, he roared, he questioned, he answered his own questions, he ate, he expectorated food onto the stage in front of a disgusted Elomire and Bejart. He made up words (verbobos and francescas for words and chairs, respectively) and toyed with language masterfully. At one point, he went into an adjoining room off of the set's main library set and "defecated" into an urn. In fact, he did not stop his tirade until he quite literally shut himself into a trunk (at which point, Mr. Hyde Pierce's Elomire hilariously queried, "Is this a pause?") I have honestly not laughed so much over a piece of theater, much less a half hour of it, in my life. I was in tears. Not only was Mr. Rylance's Valere uproariously boorish and cringe-inducingly inappropriate, but Mr. Hyde Pierce and Mr. Ouimette pulled off the difficult feat of reacting purely with their expressions and body language while still conveying their utter distaste for the man. It was amazing.
The rest of the cast was delightful as well. Ms. Lumley was adorably ridiculous as the pampered Princess who demands that Elomire accept Valere into his troupe and, when Elomire balks at her request, commands Valere to put on one of his "famous" (read: pulled out of Valere's ass) works using the rest of Elomire's troupe. They put on an utterly ridiculous performance of a nonsensical work that Valere makes up as he goes along, and it is highly entertaining. My favorite supporting character, however, is the servant/maid Dorine, who speaks only in words that rhyme and otherwise relies on an exaggerated pantomime to get her point across. For instance, her attempt to tell Elomire that the Princess had arrived by shouting "BLUE!" and gesticulating wildly to indicate bleeding (the phrase was "blue blood") was awesome. Greta Lee's portrayal of Dorine's exuberance and later exasperation with Elomire's inability to understand her was wonderfully conveyed.
Despite its seemingly ridiculous plot and gut-busting humor, which could easily relegate the show to being a farce with lots of laughs but little meaning, La Bete still manages to contemplate serious questions about art. In one of the final scenes of the show, Elomire delivers a passionate defense to the Princess of his troupe and his "serious" plays that are, to him, far superior to anything Valere could ever produce. He argues that pieces of theater, or any art for that matter, that rely on the audience's enjoyment of the crass and vulgar to entertain, are dangerous and do a disservice to art as an entity. Art, he maintains, needs substance and meaning. It must have a purpose that is greater than mere entertainment. It must have a message, a moral, a lesson. Listening to Elomire's words, one cannot help but contemplate the issues he is raising. What do we consider to be art? More importantly, what constitutes good art? Does our current culture value entertainment, even of the most crass nature or in its least challenging form, over art with substance?
Given our culture's propensity for the stupidest reality shows (Jersey Shore or Real Housewives of [Insert location here], anyone?) over more substantial entertainment (such as the delightful and powerful drama Parenthood, which is rumored to be on the verge of cancellation), I can't help but think that Elomire has a point. At the same time, I can't begrudge the joys of simplistic entertainment, even if it is vulgar. I love "that's what she said" jokes just as much as the next person (perhaps even more so), so I admit that I'm not always the most high-minded in what I find funny. But all that aside, what is the audience supposed to think of La Bete itself, which simultaneously relies on the highbrow and lowbrow to provide humor? The dichotomy provides such an interesting dynamic and, if an audience member were so inclined, prompts real thought about just what kind of play La Bete is, and just what message it is attempting to convey. And really, isn't that what art is supposed to do?
Also, Michelle and I are calling this now: Mark Rylance - Tony Award winner for Best Leading Actor in a Play 2011. You heard it here first.
We know what you must be thinking. "Hillary and Michelle," you ask, "your last post was nearly two weeks ago. How can you possibly have gone that long without seeing a show or two?"
....surprise. We absolutely did not go that long without Broadway in our lives. And now that midterms week is over, we have some time to catch up on the incredible theater we've seen since our last update.
On September 19, we headed back to the St. James (in awesome seats - front row of the mezz! - thanks to a great student discount deal) and had the pleasure of seeing Van Hughes as Will in American Idiot. I had previously seen Mr. Hughes as Johnny, and while he was wonderful as the Jesus of Suburbia, I have to say that I enjoyed his performance as Will so much more because his characterization was completely different from Michael Esper, who usually plays the role. See, here's my problem with Will. To me, he comes off as very whiny and passive - arguably much like the other characters in the show, but while Johnny jumps a Greyhound to the Big City and Tunny turns to the army, Will is the only one who never (or can't) make an effort to rise above his situation. (Exhibit A: throughout the entire 90-minute show, he rarely leaves the couch parked on stage right.) When I saw Mr. Hughes play the role, I felt sympathetic for this lamentable character for the first time. First off, he looks younger than Mr. Esper, which makes Will less pathetic in my eyes because it's easier to connect with the "rebellion of youth" idea. (In a similar example, I very much enjoyed the opportunity to see Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp in the recent national tour of Rent, but even I had to admit that seeing two men in their late 30's playing characters who are supposed to be in their early 20's was a tiny bit odd and disconnected from the heart of the story.)
Secondly, it became very clear to me why Will is stuck in the situation he's in. At the beginning of the show, he's in "love" with his girlfriend, Heather, but completely immersed in the "lust" part of their relationship. When he discovers that she is pregnant, and reality sets in, lust is no longer enough to keep them going, and he just can't understand that. When Mr. Esper plays Will, “Give Me Novocaine” and the “I fell asleep while watching Spike TV…” section of “Homecoming” is sung in a weak little voice that, while beautiful and heartbreaking, tells me that Will is resigned to his situation and has given up trying to get out of the hole he’s in. Mr. Hughes, however, sang with the tiniest bit of edge, determination, and strength, showing anger rather than passiveness. For the first time, I really felt terrible for Will, because he truly didn't know how to move forward with the relationship, or his life - although he desperately wanted to. And by the end of the show, Heather has moved on (see "Rock and Roll Girlfriend"), but Will is still stuck. Suddenly, the metaphor of being a lifelong couch potato didn't seem pathetic any longer - it just seemed sad.
One other minor thing that happened at the show: we sat in the same row as director Michael Mayer, and lead singer of Green Day Billie Joe Armstrong and his wife Adrienne. No big deal. (Right after the ushers instructed everyone in the front row of the mezz not to set anything on the ledge in front of them, Armstrong proceeded to rest his feet on it. Win.)
A talkback, advertised under the title “Idiot University,” was held after the show, but unfortunately it proved to be a bit of a disappointment. While the opportunity would have been perfect to ask questions about the show to Mayer, Armstrong, video and projections designer Darryl Maloney, and actors John Gallagher Jr., Stark Sands, and Tony Vincent, the moderator only allowed time for four “questions,” all of which consisted of hardcore Green Day fans fawning over Mr. Armstrong. Of course, I can’t blame them for freaking out a bit at the chance to speak to their idol…but we couldn’t help thinking that, were we to finally meet someone we had admired our whole lives, we would want to come across as intelligent and level-headed. We also felt badly for the members of the creative team and the cast who took the time to attend the talkback, and were promptly ignored.
Two weeks later, incredible lotto luck helped us to return to American Idiot and witness one of the first absolutely seamless transitions between musical theater and pop culture. As the pre-show announcement put it, "Oh - and by the way, the role of St. Jimmy, usually played by Tony Vincent, will be played today by Billie Joe Armstrong." The opportunity to see Green Day's lead songwriter and the man credited with the book of the show, let alone one of the biggest rock stars on the planet, perform in the show that he basically wrote, can be described as nothing short of electric. The sheer excitement and energy between the audience and the cast was reciprocal (maybe too reciprocal, seeing that John Gallagher Jr. jumped into the shopping cart as usual during “Jesus of Suburbia,” was spun around with a little too much force, and ended up crashing onto the floor). I have NEVER experienced anything quite like the show that day. During Johnny’s monologue right before St. Jimmy’s entrance, yelling and shouting could be heard from backstage; once the audience collectively realized that it was Mr. Armstrong, the entire theater was BUZZING with excitement – and then St. Jimmy burst onto the scene.
Upon the announcement that Mr. Armstrong would be joining the show for one week only, I honestly expected him to turn the show into a mere spectacle. Wonderful reviews from his first few performances had me intrigued, however, and I am thrilled to say that Mr. Armstrong is not only a true performer, but an actor as well. He seemed to be exactly the same height and stature as Mr. Gallagher, which made St. Jimmy seem more like Johnny’s dark side rather than an actual alter ego – a presence that is not always present, but always threatening to return. Considering who he is, I was particularly impressed with Mr. Armstrong’s ability to fade into the background when he wasn’t the center of the scene. He made St. Jimmy a very vulgar, mocking creature, yet still hilarious to the audience and attractive to Johnny. During several poignant sections of the show where St. Jimmy is sitting in the background, it was hard to tell whether Mr. Armstrong was crying, or shaking with rage. I particularly loved the moment before “21 Guns” when St. Jimmy snatches away Johnny’s guitar – in essence, taking away his voice – because he seemed so determined to reign Johnny back in, and yet so disgusted with himself. Vocally, he was excellent (um….DUH), although he didn’t reach for Mr. Vincent’s usual high screaming note in “Know Your Enemy.” Overall, Mr. Armstrong delivered an extremely raw performance in the best sense of the term, and I hope that he continues to pursue the story-telling side of music, both on and off Broadway.
A very respectful audience, for the most part, only added to the electricity of the show. It was incredible to see the talented cast of American Idiot giving the performance of their lives, energized beyond belief from taking the stage with someone that so many of them must have grown up idolizing, and receiving so much love and appreciation, with and without Mr. Armstrong on stage.
I may have insufficient breathFor the words I've got inside my headIf they run out then we can kiss instead- "The Buried Boy"
And it's tough, so incredibly toughWhen you give and it's never enoughWhen you shiver 'cause you can't stomach the stuffAnd you live too close to the cuspI'm just trying as hard as I can to be what my gut might call a good manIf you have any questions, if you don't understandAsk me like a person, I'll be happy to answer them- "Close to the Cusp"'Cause they say that the truth hurtsAnd we'll do everything that we canNot to feel its lightShine on us so brightWe've got to stay so blissfully unawareJust to show we don't careAnd I know now that you don'tYou're too proudYou're too loudYou're too scared- "Proud, Loud and Scared"I need a longer fuseAnd I need to slow down and chooseWhich suit fits me betterDo I keep it all togetherOr let loose?- "Longer Fuse, Stronger Dam"'Cause I'm crawling up through the dirtThrough the roots, through the wood, through the hurtThat I have bestowed on my friends and the girl of my dreamsI've been caught and crushed and uncleanedSince I let 'em goBut I'm rising from the grave, rising to be savedRising so I can slave away all my debtDead for a year- "Dead For a Year"
"But what it all comes down to is that thing. The indefinable thing when people catch something in your music."And Mr. Gallagher, and his music, definitely have "that thing."
If you are so inclined (and we hope you are, because these two are big up and comers in the future of musical theater) feel free to visit their fundraising project here to make a contribution to the funding of their album. If you're reading this thinking I have no clue who the hell these people are - shame on you. Just kidding. But seriously, if you are not hip to the awesomeness that is Kerrigan and Lowdermilk, check out their YouTube page here. It's filled with videos of their songs being sung by super awesome Broadway and indie music talents, many of whom will be singing on their CD. You can also check out their website at www.kerrigan-lowdermilk.com for more information on their work. We highly recommend that you do.
Okay, that's the end of our shameless plug. We will soon return to our regularly scheduled programming. Thanks for reading, and please help fund this amazing project!
Lastly, and to sum up this epically long post, I just have to give a shout out to the cramazing new note Kyle Dean Massey reaches at the end of "I'm Alive." Michelle and I have always gotten chills when Mr. Massey belts out "Shine!" during the show's finale, but this note was so unexpected and it completely blew us away (Michelle actually turned to me and exclaimed "Holy shit!" when it happened. I, in turn, busted a gut trying to not to laugh while nodding my head in emphatic agreement. It was unreal.) Mr. Massey has a truly incredible voice, and he has completely taken over the role of Gabe and made it his own. I am never disappointed by his performance, or that of anyone else, and I am once again eagerly anticipating my return to the Booth.
The lazy(ish) days of summer are a thing of the past, and school is back in session. Which means that Hillary and I are once again living only two hours from the Big Apple. Which means....well, you can probably figure it out. Expect a multitude of posts over the coming months as we resume our frequent excursions to the city and catch up on the shows we didn't have a chance to see over the summer!
First, though, we had to pay a visit to some old familiar faces. It was only appropriate that our first trip of the semester included two shows that we had fallen in love with over the course of last year. After spending the afternoon with the new cast of Next to Normal, we returned to the St. James to see American Idiot from excellent lottery seats in the second row.
We've said it before, and there's no other way to say it - American Idiot screams its message loud and proud. In a way, sitting so close to the front for the majority of times we've seen the show has spoiled us. Seriously - after having Chase Peacock, Sidney Harcourt, and Miguel Cervantes singing fiercely and punching the air three feet away from you during the title song, well, no other seat in the house can really compare.
I'd already seen Gerard!Theo once before, and he is truly brilliant. In July, he went on opposite Aspen Vincent in Alysha Umphress's track, which was funny because they both have such small statures. This time, though, we really enjoyed the contrast between Mr. Canonico and Ms. Umphress. Exhibit A: she literally picked him up and threw him off the couch during "Too Much Too Soon." Win. Where Mr. Stockman owns the track in his own right with his intense stares and....well, "Theo-ness," Mr. Canonico takes on the role of a kid riddled with ADD who wants nothing more than to intrude on every conversation and focus it on himself. The humorous side he brings to the track, along with the It Factor that draws your eye to him onstage, solidifies Mr. Canonico as one of our favorite ensemble members.
After one of our previous reviews of American Idiot mentioned our thoughts on the Favorite Son being played by actors of different races, we were excited to see Andrew Call in the role! It's always great to see ensemble members get their chance to step into the spotlight, and although Hillary still hasn't seen Wallace Smith, Joshua Henry's replacement (fresh from the recent and very-much-missed production of Hair), let's face it - that just gives us another reason to go back. Mr. Call's voice was smooth and slick, and he managed to create a depiction of the "clean-cut All-American" that was unique from those of his predecessors. Instead of drawing a strong connection to President Obama as America's most recent "favorite son," Mr. Call instead emoted the vibe of Mr. Corporate America, which was just as effective and perhaps more generalizable.
Basically, this show was a hot damn mess. Months went by without the show opening, and yet the poster remained up in Shubert Alley (which, incidentally, caused Michelle and I to snicker every time we walked past it and say things like "Oh my gosh, can we go see if the understudy for the janitor is on today?"). Spider-man became the punchline of many of our jokes. Then it was revealed that Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming had both been let out of their contracts and had left the show. I began to wonder if this show was ever even going to see the lights of Broadway. After all, so much money had been poured into it that ticket prices were sure to be astronomical just to break even and be able to pay weekly operating costs. It was bound to be flop, if it ever even opened. Honestly, it really just seemed like a lost cause, one of those shows that never were and that, years from now, I would look back on and chuckle at what a disaster the whole thing it had become.
But now... the tides seemed to have changed. Patrick Page has been tapped to take over for the Green Goblin, and one of Michelle and my favorite young performers, Jennifer Damiano (!) has been cast to play Mary-Jane Watson. (Honestly, we're tempted to see the show just to see her, but only if they have a decent rush and/or lotto policy. We're poor college kids here, people). Full casting was recently announced, and the show began rehearsals August 16. Things are definitely looking up, it would appear.
Who knows, maybe the show that almost became one of the biggest snafus in Broadway history will rise from the ashes and become a hit. My bet, however, is that the show will struggle. Ticket prices, from what I have seen, are indeed steep, with premium seats selling for over $130. That's not to say that people won't pay to see the show, merely that the show may have trouble making the money it needs to stay open if people cannot afford or do not wish to pay such hefty ticket prices. While I would be happy if the show were to succeed (mostly, I'll admit, because I want Ms. Damiano to be successful in whatever she does), the odds already seem so stacked against it. It would take a, shall we say "superhuman" effort for the show to succeed, and I'm just not sure if that's feasible at this point.
Still, stranger things have happened on Broadway. Only time will tell if Spider-man will be able to overcome its tumultuous history and have a successful run on the Great White Way. In the interim, I just hope it continues to keep me entertained.
I've also had the opportunity to watch the performances of the incredibly talented people who came through the doors of the Benedum this summer. The extremely quick rehearsal-room-to-stage transition period creates a fascinating environment in which an actor must develop their portrayal of a character at a rapid pace. Since I just HAPPENED to be at the theater so much anyways (do I need a better excuse?), I managed to catch each of the six summer shows multiple times, and was able to witness the progression of the actors over the week or two that each show ran. In true PCLO fashion, each show had an extremely solid cast. I am truly in awe of each and every performer I watched this summer, and it's hard for me to believe that I won't be reading about each of them on the front page of BroadwayWorld in the near future. That being said, there were countless individual or duo performances that brought down the house every night.
So, without further ado...*drumroll*...I present my Top 10 List of Performers at PCLO This Summer, in no particular order:
1. Madeleine Doherty as Hold-Me Touch-Me in The Producers
Ms. Doherty reprised her role from the original Broadway cast of The Producers, but her performance was anything but stale. Really, any of the characters she played throughout the season popped right off the stage with the wacky mannerisms she embodied them with (see, Gym Teacher in Hairspray, Gretchen in The Student Prince). Look for her in the upcoming first national tour of 9 to 5!
2. Chad Johnson as Prince Karl Franz and Jacquelynne Fontaine as Kathie in The Student Prince
Okay, okay...I'm totally cheating by listing two actors together. Oops. Before rehearsals began for The Student Prince, I wasn't sure what to expect acting-wise from two star opera singers, but Mr. Johnson and Ms. Fontaine brought youthful innocence and refreshing honesty to their characters, and blew me away with their talent. And their voices...let's just say that I have finally begun to appreciate opera and how it is sung.
3. Ma-Anne Dionisio as Kim in Miss Saigon
Ms. Dionisio has literally grown up playing the role of Kim, and the maturity she now lends to her character made for an inspiring performance. She is also capable of conveying such a range of emotions with her voice, which aids in creating a strong female character.
4. Malcolm Gets as Lt. Frank Cioffi in Curtains
Mr. Gets is a true stage actor, with charisma that shot to the very last row of the Benedum's balcony. The style of his voice reminded me a lot of David Hyde Pierce, who won a Tony Award for the same role in 2007. His work in "A Tough Act to Follow" made the number one of my favorite scenes of the whole summer.
5. Michael Kadin Craig as Link Larkin and Katrina Rose Dideriksen as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray
(Cheating again...sorry!) Ms. Dideriksen brought such a spunkiness to Tracy, and sang the hell out of the score (no wonder she works with Joe Iconis!), especially "I Can Hear The Bells," "Welcome to the 60s" and "Without Love." Mr. Kadin Craig's Link was more toned down than past portrayals of the role, but it totally worked. His acting during the scene when he tells Tracy why he can't join the protest against Negro Day was PERFECT; it's immediately evident that he's not the kid who's popular because he's a stuck-up, football-playing stud, but because he's the hardest-working, focused-on-the-future kid who is also nice as can be to everyone.
6. John Walton West as Carmen Ghia in The Producers
Comedic brilliance. Mr. West's tall, lanky stature, combined with fluid, flamboyant movement across the stage, was perfection as Roger DeBris's assistant. He also nailed the delivery of his ridiculous lines and the interactions he created with other cast members onstage.
7. Jim J. Bullock as Wilbur Turnblad and Paul Vogt as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray
There's no point in apologizing any further-many, and arguably most, performances wouldn't be what they are without another actor or two thrown into the mix! Mr. Vogt and Mr. Bullock completely won the audience over on opening night with their antics during "You're Timeless to Me." Mr. Vogt's inclination for improv and Mr. Bullock's goofiness and honesty really brought Hairspray to life.
8. Kevin Gray as The Engineer in Miss Saigon
Mr. Gray is also a true stage actor, and although I've only seen him in one role, I thought he was wonderful as a character actor, in the best sense of the term. As the Engineer, his hidden allegiance to Uncle Sam, and greed, is so typical of the American way, but endearing at the same time - because he created a character that we as audience members could relate to.
9. Tim Hartman as Herr Lutz and Patrick Richwood as Hubert in The Student Prince
I couldn't have imagined a better comedic pair than Mr. Hartman and Mr. Richwood. With Mr. Hartman's imposing physical presence and Mr. Richwood's lack of height (hey, being short isn't such a bad thing!), they are perfect physical foils. Both men seem to be natural stage actors who project their dialogue and mannerisms to the back of the house, and the transfer of dominance throughout the show from Mr. Hartman's character to Mr. Richwood's was hysterical to watch.
10. Jim Stanek as Leo Bloom and John Treacy Egan as Max Bialystock in The Producers
Again...the perfect pair. (Way to go, CLO casting team!) I can only describe Mr. Egan's performance as dominating, in a good way - during "Betrayed," all I could think was, "How is he doing that?!" seeing that the solo number is quite an expenditure of energy. Mr. Stanek truly embodied Leo Bloom, and part of his charm lay in the fact that his story as a hometown boy who made it to Broadway nearly paralleled that of his character. And despite the hilarity of both performances, the pair managed to create a space for "Til Him" to be completely genuine and honest at the end of a laugh-out-loud extravaganza.
Honorable Mentions: Joseph Serafini as Oliver in Oliver! (reference his performance of "Where is Love" - what a bright future Mr. Serafini has!), Stuart Marland as Christopher Belling in Curtains (when it's impossible to imagine anyone else playing a certain character, you know the actor is doing something right!), and Rob Sutton as Aaron Fox in Curtains (what a stunning delivery of "I Miss The Music").
And that's a wrap! A cookie for you if you read the entire post...and since most of you are not from the Pittsburgh area, two cookies for you if you read the entire thing without having seen any CLO shows.
Pittsburgh is truly lucky to have access to world-class performers right in its backyard. Thanks to EVERYONE involved for a wonderful summer, CLO!