2011: A year of so much theater!

Our New Year's resolution for 2012? Keep Super Awesome Broadway Ninjas more up-to-date! Whoops. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on Wild Animals You Should Know (only a month or so late), Anything Goes (kind of late), Seminar (less than a month late), and The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown (embarassingly late). But as 2011 comes to an end, Hillary and I are having a spectacular time looking back on the TRULY incredible theatre we've seen this year. Yes, we say that at the end of every year. But the past 365 days may take the cake from any other year in our theater-going history together. Celebrities of the stage and screen? Check. Off-Broadway productions and straight plays? Check. Throw in a summer in the city, a few underdog shows that stole our hearts, some Tony Award winners, many a late-night sing-along on the New Jersey Turnpike, and a healthy dose of spontaneity; mix well; and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.


Since that metaphor only served to make me hungry, I'm off to grab some leftover Christmas cookies. We've had a wonderful year of thespian memories, and we hope you did as well. Without further ado, we present our top 10 theatrical moments of the past year, in no particular order:


1. The closing night performance of Next to Normal on Broadway.  We are in no way exaggerating when we say that this was one of the most special nights of our lives. The first of three closing nights we attended together this year, the conclusion of Next to Normal's run at the Booth Theater was the grand culmination of a two-year love affair. We splurged on great seats. We laughed (and cried) as Diana made sandwiches on the floor one last time. We cringed (and cried) as Dan broke Gabe's music box more violently than ever before. We cried (and cried) as Meghann Fahy choked out the line, "But something Next to Normal would be okay." We somehow met Tom Kitt, Brian Yorkey, AND David Stone. We nursed our sore tear ducts the next day. And we have never felt such an outpouring of love and appreciation in one room.


2. The incredible use of actors-as-scenery in Peter and the Starcatcher.  In case you haven't heard, Peter and the Starcatcher is scheduled to make its Broadway transfer this spring, and Hillary and I are preparing to claim temporary residence at whatever theater it claims. This gem, which ran at New York Theatre Workshop last winter/spring, is hands down the most imaginative piece of theater we've ever seen. Nearly a year later, I'm still overtaken with a sense of childish wonderment when I remember the scene in which Molly (played by Celia Keenan-Bolger) decides to explore the bowels of the good ship Never Land, and the wall of actors onstage instantly morph into a variety of scenes. Christian Borle's work as Black Stache is also more than worth a mention, and we dearly hope he'll be able to continue with the show, while simultaneously being dashing, intelligent, and awesome on Smash.


3. The closing performance of Catch Me If You Can on Broadway.  This high-flying show defined a large part of our Summer of Love, and although each performance we attended reinforced our admiration for its ridiculously talented and hard-working cast, the atmosphere of a final show always elevates things to a new level. One image that will never leave our mental photo albums: Norbert Leo Butz receiving so much applause after "Don't Break The Rules" that he began walking around the stage, trying to push down the raised arms of the ensemble members behind him. Another image that will never leave our mental photo albums: Aaron Tveit barely maintaining his composure during "Goodbye," a song that fit his current situation to the point of comedy, and commanding an instant standing ovation from the entire house upon the final note.


4. Ellen Barkin's monologue in the second act of The Normal Heart.  Among an impossible number of stellar performances, Dr. Emma Brookner's monologue, delivered upon being denied funding for AIDS research, stands out in my memory for its sheer intensity. An unbelievable level of commitment by the actor, but also by the audience, collided to produce one of the most exhausting performances we've ever seen - meaning exhausting for us as audience members, let alone the performers onstage. In a play that wasted no time letting us know exactly what each character believed, and in a production as well-cast as this one, brimming with moments of ferocity, it says a lot that Ms. Barkin's performance is the one chilling moment that vividly remains with me. We're still struck by the profound relevance of The Normal Heart and in awe at the emotional stamina required of Ms. Barkin to deliver such a scene night after night. (As it embarks on a national tour this upcoming summer, we BEG of you to see this show.)


5. Standing in line for 6 hours to see The Book of Mormon...and finding that it lived up to the insane expectations preceding it.  Some may call it crazy...we call it worth it! We didn't see The Book of Mormon until after it had already collected scads of Tony Awards and been deemed a show straight from the mouth of the omniscient God via word of mouth. But, as so rarely happens, everything we'd heard about this supposed magnum opus was TRUE! Never have we seen a show that uses the c-word so many times, that was simultaneously so offensive and so heartwarming, that featured tap-dancing Mormons and Starbucks coffee cups, or in which Bono served as the source of a quality theater joke. (Too harsh?) From opening our minds to South Park-style humor, to meeting some awesome fellow theater geeks in line, to the two-and-a-half hour ab workout from laughing so hard, our efforts to see the 2011 Best Musical were SO worth it. In fact, we would totally rush for standing room again. Just not when it's the temperature of Greenland outside.


6. Everything about The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown.  We've made it quite clear in our blogging thus far that we adore the work of Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk. We've seen their songs performed in concert settings and been blown away by the intelligence and insight they put to music. So to see Samantha Brown come to life in a stage production? Kind of unreal. The show's month-long run in Chester, Connecticut this past August was like a Starbucks frappuccino with gobs of whipped cream on top - a culmination of way too many things we like a whole lot. I vividly remember where I was when the cast list was announced (in the Minneapolis airport, typing away a snow storm of text messages to Hillary, should you be curious), and reading official confirmation that Meghann Fahy would play Sam was only topped by watching her be a star from our seats in the tiny Norma Terris Theatre. Also cramazingly awesome? Watching this little show we'd been obsessed with five songs from morph into a truly special and moving piece of theater.


7. Seeing Anything Goes and finally realizing why everyone is obsessed with Sutton Foster.  Call me a lackluster theatre fan, but before this year, I'd never understood the *ZOMG SUTTON FOSTER!!* mentality. Hillary was a huge fan, but I just didn't get it. But then she cried over her dresser during her Tony speech. And then we saw her as Reno Sweeney. And suddenly, everything clicked. Conclusion: Ms. Foster is our freaking hero. She can tap dance her ass off for eight minutes and belt like it's nothing. She has stage charisma like you wouldn't believe. She has a strong penchant for wearing a pony tail. She is living proof of someone who hasn't been jaded by the business. She's won two Tonys by the age of 36. She is Sutton Foster, ladies and gentlemen, and watching her breeze across the stage in the act one finale of Anything Goes made our faces hurt from smiling so much.


8. Watching Lin-Manuel Miranda rap "Finale" during the closing weekend of In The Heights.  Although I was fortunate enough to see Mr. Miranda during his initial run as Usnavi back in 2008, returning to the Richard Rodgers Theatre to see him close out the show that he wrote, and that made him a bright green pushpin on the map of Broadway, was pretty amazing. Other Usnavis were wonderful in their own right, but to see the man himself? Irreplaceable. The show's final number has always been my favorite, for a variety of reasons, and I'm drawing a blank when it comes to describing Mr. Miranda performing it. All I can describe is the image in my head: the man in a single spotlight, surrounded by his cast in the shadows, rapping his heart out about what "home" truly means.


9. Mark Rylance doing a headstand in a water trough and chugging a raw egg in Jerusalem.  Sometimes there are actors, and sometimes there are ACTORS. Mark Rylance transcends both of these categories. Eccentric in his Tony speeches and admirably insane in his performances, Mr. Rylance is an actor who seems to define the craft with his OH-so-powerful presence onstage. We admittedly left Jerusalem a bit shaken by the play's ending, but walking on air from witnessing the phenomenon that is Mr. Rylance.


10. Laura Osnes, Jeremy Jordan, and the AMAZING cast of Bonnie and Clyde.  We were originally going to title this one "the flop that stole our hearts," but you know what? To us, Bonnie and Clyde was anything but a flop. And we know a lot of people who agree with us on that point. (Unfortunately, though, no one who had a small fortune available to keep the show alive.) From the second we watched the rehearsal footage videos back in October, we knew we'd fallen hard for this one. We first saw Bonnie and Clyde a week into previews, and by the time we arrived home that night, we'd already made up our minds to go back the next week...and the next...and the next. We've literally been living and breathing this show for seven weeks now. It's been incredibly inspiring to watch the cast both onstage and off, give their heart and soul to the show, even with the bleakest of outlooks. Each time we've taken our seats in the Schoenfeld Theatre, the opinions so bluntly expressed by the critics are the FURTHEST things from our minds, because we've witnessed the entire audience get caught up in the magic happening onstage. Those moments where hundreds of people are holding their breath together, or gasping in shock, or quietly laughing in collective acknowledgement of a tender moment, don't happen in every show. And while it is, in our humble opinion, an absolute shame that the show is set to close just a month after its opening night, we can't help but be grateful for the beautiful songs Frank Wildhorn has written (read: THANK YOU JESUS TWICE FOR THE CAST ALBUM BEING RECORDED ON MONDAY), the stellar performances that elevated a solid book beyond itself, and the passion that this show has elicited among those who put aside their Wildhorn bias and judged the material for itself. Each and every member of this cast is going on to amazing things and we can't wait to follow them on to new projects.


Honorable mentions: Watching a post-Next to Normal Adam Chanler-Berat shine in the revival of Rent at New World Stages. Taking part in an enthusiastic audience reaction as Daniel Radcliffe was lowered from the ceiling at the beginning of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and subsequently having Brotherhood of Man inked into our brains for a month. Walking into the Foxwoods Theatre to see Spider-Man...and realizing that Jennifer Damiano was out. Attending Johnny Gallagher's solo show in Delaware at a venue where the crowd actually paid attention to him.  Seeing Alan Rickman live and in person, even if it was from the last row of the mezzanine. And, last but not least, becoming semi-groupies for Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk's You Made This Tour celebration for their debut album.

A show this good is almost a crime.

Towards the end of act one of Bonnie and Clyde, a new musical playing at the Schoenfeld Theatre, two characters sing a particularly poignant number called "You Love Who You Love."

(By "poignant," we mean "heart-wrenchingly beautiful.")

If those words ring true, the song's title pretty much sums up our feelings about the show. "You don't have no say / your heart decides / it's that simple, I'm afraid," you belt say, Laura Osnes? Yup, that's exactly how we feel about your show. If you love who you love....well, we really, really love Bonnie and Clyde.

(By "love," we mean "absolutely adore in a way that not just every show makes us feel.")

Bonnie and Clyde is the latest Broadway endeavor of (ill)-famed composer Frank Wildhorn. His most recent project, Wonderland (which shuddered to a close after just 33 performances last spring), is raw in the minds of the theatrical community. We did not see Wonderland, and our familiarity with Wildhorn's work was limited to brief encounters with the cast recordings of Jekyll and Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel. So, we walked into the Schoenfeld with no stigmas against the show, and a whole lot of enthusiasm for Bonnie and Clyde themselves. Because, as will become abundantly clear in this review, we're kind of obsessed with the actors who portray them.

And then there was the moment when the opening number began, and news clippings and photographs were projected onto the back wall of the set, and we were immediately transported into the slums of 1934 West Dallas. And we fell in love.

(Spoilers ahead...although it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that several characters die by the end of the show...right?)

The introduction of the show's two main characters through Young Bonnie and Young Clyde works really, really well. As Young Bonnie (Kelsey Fowler, who has a wonderfully pure voice and looks uncannily like her older onstage self) dreams about becoming a movie star and Young Clyde (the adorable and SO polite Talon Ackerman) sings about his hero, Billy the Kid, book writer Ivan Menchell gives the audience just enough background to understand the characters' later motivations.

To cut right to the chase (ha. ha.), we have a LOT of feelings about the show's two leads. As the title characters, Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan are giving knockout performances that absolutely will push them into the category of A-list Broadway stars. Things we love about both of them? Their voices. The harmonies they resolve at the end of "This World Will Remember Us." Their chemistry. (Mr. Jordan can write us a song and play it on his ukelele any damn time he feels like it. While wearing minimal clothing. In a bathtub. Just sayin'.) The fact that they were both getting entrance applause just a week into previews. (What WHAT!) As Clyde, Mr. Jordan manages to hit each and every note on a roller-coaster ride of emotions. As one of America's most notorious criminal legends, it's always clear that Clyde is a flawed character, but somehow we end up rooting for him (and Bonnie), and without that element, the show wouldn't work at all. Mr. Jordan really shines in conveying the transformations that Clyde experiences in prison and following his first kill, and "Raise A Little Hell" may be my favorite song in the show based simultaneously on climatic acting, raw vocals, and that killer last note that hangs in the rafters. "Too Late to Turn Back Now" is also quite a showcase for his voice; although it may be a bit upbeat for the tone of the scene (Clyde's in the midst of telling Bonnie that he killed a man), it's a fantastic song with tremendous forward motion for both characters.

Likewise, Ms. Osnes does a phenomenal job of introducing Bonnie as a waitress - and a dreamer - and carrying her all the way to the big shoot-out towards the end of the second act, when all the actors on stage are frozen and Bonnie is backlit while aiming her gun at an indeterminable target. It's really a stunning image that stands in stark contrast to the violence and tension of the scene. Every time Ms. Osnes sings, which fortunately for our ears is a lot in this show, it's truly a PERFORMANCE. It's not just her singing; it's her living the song and putting real emotion into it. This holds true for numbers like "You Love Who You Love" and "Dyin' Ain't So Bad," which just about brought down the house both times we've seen the show, as well as "How 'Bout A Dance," which we love for its A) lighting, B) opportunities for Ms. Osnes to belt the crap out of it, and C) the fact that it's introduced as a song on the radio and makes a second appearance later in the show.

In case you stopped reading somewhere in the midst of our ode, here's all you need to know: we think Mr. Jordan and Ms. Osnes are both phenomenal. To die for. (Okay, we'll stop.) Hillary and I spend an inordinate amount of time discussing how perfect they are for their respective roles. Our only pipe dream that remains unfulfilled? WE WISH THEY ACTUALLY DANCED IN THE SHOW DURING "HOW 'BOUT A DANCE." But we'll forgive that in light of the way that both leads command the stage as only a leading man and woman can.

The standout of the very well-cast supporting ensemble is Melissa Van Der Schyff as Blanche Barrow. Not familiar with her name? You should be, because she's sure to be recognized for the performance she's giving. The wife of Clyde's brother Buck, Blanche initially seems like the comical character of the bunch. She's very matter-of-fact, no-beating-around-the-bush, and not at all comfortable with Clyde and Buck's criminal ways. She's also very attached to her faith, and uses that foundation to convince Buck to try and regain a straight path in life. Inevitably, Buck can't escape his past, but Blanche stays by his side until the end. I'm not always one for country-ified voices, but Ms. Van Der Schyff's tone quality is so pleasing to the ear and filled with emotion. Seeing the show a second time and knowing where her character was headed made her performance that much more powerful. The terror and shell-shock she emotes in her final scene, when Buck has died in her arms and she's getting mugshots taken in prison, covered in blood, is so heartbreaking - even more so with a photograph of the real Blanche at the same moment in time projected in the background.

The rugged Claybourne Elder plays opposite Ms. Van Der Schyff as Buck Barrow. Although Buck is onstage for a fair portion of the show, he never really gets a "star" moment, and we wish his character was developed a little further, especially due to his close partnership with Clyde. That said, "When I Drive," sung by the two brothers, is one of the most exciting songs in the show and reinforces another dimension of both characters - their love for fast cars and the Great Depression equivalent of an appreciation for the high life. We were also super stoked on behalf of Mr. Elder to return to the show and see that, after Buck has sadly bit the dust, his frame is no longer barrel-rolled into the grave pit in the stage floor. Ouch.

As sheriff Ted Hinton, Louis Hobson grabs his limited number of songs - "You Can Do Better Than Him" and the reprise of "Raise A Little Hell"- and sings the hell out of them. After seeing him a few times in Next to Normal and attending his concert at Joe's Pub last year, it was even more of a thrill to hear him stretch his voice. Character-wise, though, we had a few qualms. We only learn about the character of Ted in relation to his long-lost love for Bonnie, which should throw a wrench into the love story between Bonnie and Clyde. Instead, because his character isn't given another dimension, and because the chemistry between Ms. Osnes and Mr. Jordan crackles like a live wire, Ted comes across as a rather tepid love interest. That IS the point of the character, after all - no one goes into a show called "Bonnie and Clyde" expecting Bonnie to end up with someone else - but we felt that Mr. Hobson was given the short end of the stick in terms of character development. (Were we to advise Mr. Menchell and Mr. Wildhorn on revisions, we would have either shortened the two songs sung by the preacher, or given those spaces to the character of Ted. Seeing that we only hear him sing about Bonnie, giving Ted a song about his abidance to the law might have provided the contrast to Bonnie and Clyde's outlaw life that the church plot line tried to show.)

On another critical note, we noticed a few moments, mostly in act two, where the scene playing out onstage was pretty serious - you know, with guns and all - and THAT person in the audience would laugh loudly and awkwardly. *crickets* Maybe those scenes need a little bit of work on clarifying the tone they're trying to convey, or maybe it was just our particular audience that night that didn't get the gravity of the moment.

Overall, though, we are madly in love with this show. It's kind of a problem. We also adore....

...the way scenes are integrated into "God's Arms Are Always Open." It helps make the song itself less awkward and hokey.

... that there's an entr'acte at the top of act two! Major props.

...that the ensemble's sound is fantastic! Especially in "Made in America," you'd never guess there were only 10 people onstage - the sound they produce is much fuller. Ditto for the orchestra, which is only 7 people.

...that the poetry Bonnie writes is incorporated as a recurring theme between her and Clyde.

...the middle salon woman's asides during "You're Goin' Back to Jail," which include "Jesus, cover your eyes!" and "Praise Him twice!" You, m'am, are hilarious. Well done.

The reappearance of Young Bonnie and Clyde in one of the show's last scenes brings everything full circle, especially since it's quite easy to forget that the real outlaws were only 24 and 25, respectively, when they died. The image of Old Clyde showing his younger self around the scene of a shootout, frozen in time, and explaining his kill-or-be-killed mentality of survival, is one of the show's most quietly powerful scenes.

For the odd theater-goer who lives under a rock, the entire outside of the theater is covered with "decorative" bullet holes. (Slight tangent, but: this show has the sexiest show art/commercial out of any Broadway show we've ever seen. Ms. Osnes and Mr. Jordan sure are pretty to look at, but Nathan Johnson's gorgeous photography - shout out to the Mr. Laura Osnes! - is fantastic.) If you've somehow NEVER HEARD of Bonnie and Clyde, the show's artwork should hint that it will involve a moderate amount of gunfire. And, HUGE SPOILER AHEAD, the very first scene drops right into the middle of the shootout that ended the duo's lives. Once you've seen that rather traumatic image, it's in the back of your mind for the rest of the show. Even if it's partially because you're marveling that Mr. Jordan and Ms. Osnes looked very convincingly dead because they didn't move a MUSCLE. As the second act winds down, it becomes clearer and clearer that Bonnie and Clyde are wearing the same clothes they were in that first scene, that they're having the conversation that ends with them driving away into the ill-fated night. And even though you know what's going to happen next - you've SEEN what's going to happen - you're completely on the edge of your seat for these two tragic characters. And then the show ends. The decision not to conclude by duplicating the show's first scene is complete genius. It leaves the audience wanting more, with a sense of bittersweet victory without glorifying the pair's criminal ways. Bonnie and Clyde are ending the chase on their own terms, together and in love and all pretty-like. The end. It may place an unrealistic emotional spin on things, but we're talking about a musical, here, folks. And we can't think of a better ending for this one.

If only that time machine from "Back To The Future" was real.

How many moments have you wished that you could go back in time? More importantly, how many times have you wished you could go back in time solely for the purpose of seeing a show that came and went before your time?

.....Bueller? .....Bueller?

It just so happens that Hillary and I play this game quite a lot. I mean, in a perfect world where time could suspend itself, money grew on trees, and schoolwork completed itself, we'd spend every waking moment expanding our show-going repertoires. And although more than a few shows over the past few seasons have opened and closed before we could see them, we may or may not be more devastated in some cases that, for example, we never saw the original production of A Chorus Line....because it opened in 1975 and we weren't born yet. Bummer. Or the original cast of Spring Awakening - because while I did everything I possibly could to convince Mom to take 17-year-old me on a 400-mile trip across the country (literally, there were spreadsheets involved), it just wasn't in the cards.

On the occasion of a light homework night, I thought it'd be fun to give our readers a little break from reading about the shows we've seen by reading about...well, the shows we wish we'd have seen. You know, if we'd lived in closer proximity to New York during our formative infantile years. Or met each other earlier. Or...been alive.

1. The Last Five Years. This show, okay...this show. Since a two-month off-Broadway run in 2002, Jason Robert Brown's one-act creation has become a staple of regional theaters, underground-theater lovers, and cabarets. While JRB can certainly be viewed as the forerunner of composers like Kerrigan  and Lowdermilk and Adam Gwon, the style and approach he takes in crafting a complete show is unmistakable. (See also: ParadeSongs For A New World, and 13.) TL5Y features just two characters, Jamie and Cathy, two 20-somethings who fall in and out of love over a period of five years. The cool part? Jamie tells his side of the story from beginning to end, and Cathy tells her side of the story from end to beginning, with the couple's stories overlapping just once in the middle. The way the relationship's painful end is placed in direct juxtaposition with the carefree anticipation of its beginning is complex and delicate and honest and beautiful and just plain different from any other musical we've ever heard of. Not to mention that the show's themes will always be universally relevant (except for that Borders' reference in "A Summer in Ohio"...poor Borders); it's intriguing to think that the show, minus a few name changes and minor details, could work just as well with a same-sex couple.

JRB's lyrical and compositional style is unlike most modern-day Broadway scores, and rises above many of them - he seems to live by the "show, don't tell" mantra, and  every single word and note has a purpose. I mean, who else would think to rhyme "mahvelous" with "novelist," or "Klimovich" with "limb-o-vich"? And in the midst of a countless number of cast recordings, JRB's intricate string and piano arrangements in this show are some of the most gorgeous we've ever heard. The ebb and flow of the violins in "The Next Ten Minutes"? The staccato transition from "If I Didn't Believe In You" to "I Can Do Better Than That"? "Nobody Needs To Know" in its entirety, but especially when the chimes kick in at the middle section? Guh.

Also, we love Norbert Leo Butz, we love Sherie Rene Scott, and we love JRB. The only thing we'd love even more? A REVIVAL. As previously mentioned, any time these three want to put on a benefit concert of the show, we are so there. In the meantime, though, we love to dream-cast a multitude of our favorite actors in the roles of Jamie and Cathy. So many exciting possibilities that will most likely never happen. But hey, a girl can dream, right?

2. The original Broadway cast of Rent. Is there even a question why this holds a top spot on our list? The first conversation Hillary and I ever had may or may not have concerned our mutual love for Idina Menzel. We've waxed poetic about Jonathan Larson's work before. And as much as we adore each production that we have seen, Rent, we can only assume, must be one of the best examples of an original cast that exuded an irreplaceable and almost magical quality. When the revival currently playing at New World Stages opened last month, we respected Ben Brantley's review, but at the same time wondered how he could devote so much of his critique to comparing the production to the original. When it moved into the Nederlander Theatre in 1996, Rent became a cultural phenomenon almost instantly; given the circumstances surrounding its opening and the bond that both Mr. Larson's work and passing created amongst the cast, it's unlikely that any other incarnation would be able to attain that same level of emotion and catharsis. And while we questioned whether it was fair of Mr. Brantley to make a comparison that, to us, seemed impossible to live up to, that same logic is precisely why we'd give anything to experience the show with its original cast, and nearly all of whom have gone on to become stars in their own right.

3. [title of show]. Another fairly short-lived show, only one act long but by no means lacking in wit, hilarity, honesty, and heart. And inside theater jokes flying left and right. Read: the kind of thing that Hillary and I love the most. The long-awaited chance to see a production of [tos] at George Street Playhouse earlier this year turned us into official [tos]sers, and while the cast was SO wonderful and we had an absolute ball, there was one small thing we couldn't quite deny. See, [title of show] tells the story of four people, trying to write a musical about writing a musical, and chronicles the show's successes and failures on its way to Broadway. It's literally a microcosm of itself. [tos]'s creators and original cast members - Jeff, Hunter, Heidi, and Susan - are literally the characters in the show. Literally. These four goofballs (a term we only use in the most endearing, we-love-you-and-worship-everything-you-do way possible) are the real deal, and we wish dearly that we could have been part of it all. But, we thank our lucky stars every day that the four reunited this summer for 1) an episode of Side By Side with Susan Blackwell, 2) a theatri-concert of their newest collaboration, Now.Here.This. (which Hillary was privileged to see and informed me that it was quite close to life-changing), and that....*drum roll*... 3) said collaboration will be produced as a full production by off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre in March 2012!!! Eek. Normally, it seems, our favorite theatrical co-conspirators will create something so amazingly awesome...and then never have the chance to work together again. So this is a pretty frickin' sweet cause for celebration. They're smart, they're hilarious, and they'd rather be nine people's favorite thing than a hundred peoples' ninth favorite thing. And for that, we love them.

Honorable mentions go out to:

- The Story of My Life. Who isn't intrigued by an intimate Broadway show that closed after only 18 previews and 5 regular performances, especially when it starred Will Chase and Malcolm Gets, playing two boyhood friends? Interestingly enough, the show is another one-act-er...we're seeing a pattern here. Thankfully, Neil Bartram's nostalgic score was preserved on a cast recording, and it's certainly worth a listen. The orchestrations are fantastic. I only wish that I'd been able to watch the dialog, and the show's one big catch, played out onstage before figuring it out from the OCR myself.

- Ragtime. While we can lamentably use our youth and distance from New York as an excuse for missing the original production, which featured Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, and a young Lea Michele (yes, all of them...in the same show...our point exactly), we have no excuse whatsoever for omitting the short-lived 2009 revival from our schedule.

- And finally, Gypsy. The Patti LuPone/Laura Benanti version. No explanation needed.

Our unedited, uninhibited reactions to the closing of "Catch Me If You Can"

So many feelings.

As you may or may not know, tonight (really this afternoon since it was a 3:00 matinee, but still) was the closing performance of Catch Me if You Can. While the show got mixed reviews and closed before it was scheduled to, Michelle and I are unabashed, unapologetic fans of the show (we may be a wee bit biased because it stars our favorite GQMF Aaron Tveit, but the show has quickly become one of our favorites for more than just its dashing, golden-voiced leading man). That said, we entered the Neil Simon tonight with mixed feelings - on the one hand, excited to see a show we enjoyed immensely get a proper send-off; on the other, disheartened that what we believe is a very good show close before its time while others of, in our opinion, lesser quality remain open.

*Deep breath.*

It was an emotional ride, to say the least. The show itself is energetic and infectious, due largely in part to the score written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Although, if you ask the annoying, loud, and opinionated lady sitting in front of us at closing, the music was one of the weakest parts of the show. Given that she stated numerous times that she was a huge fan of Hairspray, we're a little confused since, ya know, they're written by the same people. And just a thought - perhaps you shouldn't be demeaning the score of a show at intermission, much less in the theater where anybody related to the show (directors, producers, composers, etc.) could be sitting and overhearing you. We believe in everyone's right to their opinion. We also believe in being classy and adhering to theater etiquette. But we digress.

But before we get too deep into our feelings about the closing performance, we would just like to take a moment to acknowledge the only understudy we saw during Catch Me's run on Broadway - Alex Ellis, who understudied the role of Brenda and who we were lucky enough to catch (haha, see what we did there) twice during the run - her first night on as Brenda, and her last. Being able to see her twice let us see how nicely she settled into the role - her first night, she was definitely nervous (but still fantastic), but when we saw her last performance as Brenda, it was obvious that she felt more comfortable in the role. Her Brenda, to us, was more real than Kerry Butler's; where Ms. Butler at times opted to portray Brenda as a naive, innocent girl, Ms. Ellis' Brenda sparred with Mr. Tveit's Frank. She challenged him, and that challenge made Frank more engaged and invested in the life he was leading. We've always seen Brenda as the catalyst that drives Frank to be more than just a bystander in his own story; it's her that makes him want to be a real person, to do more than just play a part. To us, Ms. Ellis' Brenda did that organically and seamlessly.

Having said that, both Ms. Ellis and Ms. Butler have powerhouse voices and both brought the house down with "Fly, Fly Away." These ladies can belt their faces off.

You know who else can belt their faces off? Pretty much every member of this ensemble. They sing, they dance, they make fierce show faces (Rachelle Rak, we're looking at you. You go, girl). "Jet Set" and "Doctor's Orders" are two of our favorite numbers from the show, and they thrive almost solely on the power of the ensemble. Is there any other show on Broadway that allows its ensemble members to play such a significant role in the story or has two numbers almost completely devoted to showcasing their mad skills? Not that we can think of. Anything Goes came to mind, with its ensemble of insanely talented tap dancers who can dance for five minutes straight and then bust out a tune without gasping for breath, but even they don't get as many solos as these girls get throughout the show. It's damn impressive, and we wanted to take this opportunity to give them their due.

There's really no way to do this without feeling so many emotions that it makes us want to run away and hide in an alternate reality where Aaron Tveit sings soothing lullabies 24/7, so we're just going to get right down to the nitty-gritty, emotional intensity that was the closing performance. The show started off with its usual high energy - Aaron was in top-form vocally and his voice is just so damn pretty that you can't help but fall in love with it (and him) from the moment he hits his first ridiculously high note in "Live in Living Color." It really says something about his talent and vocal range that he can sing notes that are both too high and too low for either Michelle or I to reach when we blast the cast recording in the car and sing along at the top of our lungs (for those of you wondering, yes, that's exactly what happened on the car ride back to campus tonight). Anyways, the moral of the story is that the score drives the show, and there's nobody better to be at the wheel than the GQMF. Literally the best he has sounded. Ever.

Also, Norbert Leo Butz, Tony Award winner extraordinaire and the reigning winner of the Fred Astaire Award for Best Male Dancer on Broadway, was in top form as well. He got huge entrance applause, and his performance of "Don't Break the Rules" stopped the show for so long that poor Norbs was left futilely attempting to push down ensemble members' arms from their final poses in an effort to continue with the show. Looking back on our previous post about Catch Me if You Can, Michelle and I think that we were unfairly lukewarm on Norbert's performance, probably due in part to the fact that at the time, we were still smarting over Aaron's Tony nomination snub. In the time since we wrote that post, we have fallen completely in love with his Agent Hanratty, from his fantastic dance moves to his dry wit to the case of chronic smoker's lung he has developed over the course of the run (and by that, we mean that he now wheezes and has intermittent panic attacks in the middle of a scene. It's as ridiculous as it is wonderful). Add in the fact that he seems like a genuinely nice guy and has the best bromance ever with our favorite golden-haired matinee idol, and we can't say enough good things about his performance. Mr. Butz's full-out dedication to his role, and his chaotically beautiful dancing, will always be remembered. Also, any time he wants to do a benefit concert of The Last 5 Years with Sherie Rene Scott and Jason Robert Brown, we are so there. Just throwing that out into the universe. It's worked for us before (see: Meghann Fahy in Sam Brown. And yes, we just managed to once again insert Meghann Fahy into a blog post that really has nothing to do with her. It's a gift).

And now, the man whose face incites a harem of screaming fangirls to shriek at decibels previously only audible to dogs, whose perfectly coiffed hair was never out of place even while playing softball, whose farmer tan (and nice abs and nice arms and nice... everything) never dimmed under the harsh stage lights, and whose voice and charm make us swoon on a regular basis: Broadway's Hottest Leading Man, Aaron Tveit. And that's just the abbreviated version of his resume. Other special skills include scatting, magic tricks, and throwing his hat like a Frisbee - twice. Did we mention he can sing his face off? We have always felt that Tivs is the driving force behind this show - it is, after all, Frank's story. We were so happy that he finally had a vehicle to showcase the ridiculous amount of talent he possesses, and we can't believe that we will never get to see his electrifying, incredibly charming performance again. There are so many moments when his voice gives us chills - from the opening notes of "Live in Living Color," when his soaring voice smacks the audience in the face and lets them know that they're in for a hell of a show; the little riff he does during "Jet Set" when he tells the audience to 'buckle up, next stop is lo-o-ove'; any time he uses his falsetto; the insanely high note he reaches in "Seven Wonders"; and, perhaps most chill-inducing, his performance of "Goodbye."

So, from the get-go, Michelle and I knew that "Goodbye" was going to be a tough one to get through today. Every line of that song is so poignant and painfully ironic when looked at in the context of the show closing. The song addresses the ending of Frank's own personal show - his insistence that he get his happy ending. Even without the context of the show closing, the song is such a thrilling, heart-stopping number. It's always been one of our favorite songs from the show, precisely because it is so emotionally powerful. Needless to say, Aaron was a wee bit emotional. He sang the first line softly, his voice wavering and almost cracking and reducing us to shaking puddles of emotion in our seats. My heart was legitimately in my throat for the entire song. It was so obvious that he was feeling every line as he sang it. By the time he reached the bridge, about how he wasn't afraid of stopping, I was in tears, and so was he. And when he belted out the final chorus and the backdrop rose to reveal the orchestra lit in white (always a chill-inducing moment), you could really feel that this was it. This truly was, to be completely cliched, goodbye. Even as Michelle and I attempt to write this post, words are failing us to describe this performance. It's one we'll always remember but will never be able to put into words. It was emotion in its purest form, and the audience responded to that emotion with an instant standing ovation. The audience was on its feet, and Tom Wopat and Linda Hart were standing in the aisle next to the stairs leading backstage, applauding as well. It was one of the most powerful responses I have ever seen to a performance, and Aaron was clearly touched and overwhelmed. He looked at Norbert as if to say "is this for real?" and all Norbert could do was nod at him like a proud papa. It was wonderful to see Aaron get the recognition and love he deserved from the audience, both fans and industry peers alike, and the standing ovation was an incredibly touching moment and one that will stay with us for a while.

In case we haven't made it glaringly obvious, we kind of think Aaron Tveit is the bee's knees. Beyond his talent and natural charisma, there is a serious work ethic and dedication to his craft. He never missed a performance in Catch Me's Broadway run - for those of you keeping score at home, that's 202 consecutive performances. Given the fact that he sings the majority of the score and is on stage for 93% of the show, we think that's damn impressive. And so do Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. In their closing night speech at curtain call, they singled out Aaron for his performance and thanked him for essentially carrying the show on his shoulders. Given that some theater message boards alluded to Aaron's performance as a reason for the show's premature closing, it was touching to see that Aaron was in no way being held responsible for any perceived failings or shortcoming. Instead, the creative team celebrated his contributions and thanked him for an incredible performance (which, in our view, is totally justified).

Despite what this love-letter of a post may lead you to believe, we don't think this show was perfect. It had its flaws and its moments that fell flat. But in a theater culture where The Book of Mormon is hailed as the second coming of Broadway and jukebox musicals reign supreme, it was refreshing to see an original score performed at such a high level by such talented actors. It's disappointing that Catch Me If You Can could not capture enough of an audience to remain open on the Great White Way, but we feel confident that it will be successful on tour. While we feel saddened that we won't be able to return, we are grateful that we got to experience such a high-energy, feel-good musical that left us tapping our toes and humming a tune. Congratulations to the cast, crew, and creative team on a hell of a run, no matter how unfortunately abbreviated.

P.S. - we can't wait for Smash!

Smile! Rent's Return to New York

DISCLAIMER: This review was written two weeks ago, after seeing Rent's 8th preview performance the week before. It's based, therefore, on the new off-Broadway production as it existed just one week into public performances. While we plan to return to Rent, we haven't yet, and can't comment on the frozen version of the production. Based on the unspoken principles of integrity that surround theater journalism, we decided to wait and post this review until this evening, the show's official opening night.

When the news broke late last year that Rent would return to the New York stage, just three short years after the long-running Broadway production finally shut down at the Nederlander Theatre, the theatrical world exploded. Literally. Many reactions, including our own, at first, expressed the opinion that it was much too soon for a revival, that it hadn't had enough time to settle in and fade in the minds of fans or be "missed" yet. Some were afraid that the new production would simply be a carbon copy of the Broadway show, that the producers were selling out for any profit possible. Some were afraid that it would change completely and dishonor the iconic nature of the show. Rentheads are notorious for being fiercely devoted to their show (not a bad thing!), and of course a revival of Jonathan Larson's tale of bohemians struggling against HIV/AIDS and societal oppression in New York's Lower East Side would spark controversy. Questioning continued with each casting rumor - would the races of several characters be changed? How could this person or that person possibly be cast in this role or that role?

Did all of this mean that we (as in the collective "we") weren't excited for the revival? Of course not. The truth of the matter is that our generation has grown up on Rent. Judge me or don't, but my very first introduction to the world of contemporary theater was sitting in a movie theater, feeling completely enraptured by the 2005 film version of Larson's show. I've since seen the Broadway tour with Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal; heck, after an entire semester of living across the hall from each other, the tour's arrival in Philadelphia was the catalyst that sparked Hillary and I to strike up a conversation! But the thought of seeing the show that started it all for me in New York was an exciting and moving prospect. In the end, all the premature critiques and concerns expressed by fans were really just an expression of how deeply embedded Rent has become in the Broadway community.

Thanks to Hillary's fierce lotto luck (as well as the karma I earned from sitting on a bus for three hours in rush hour traffic and having to race like crazy to New World Stages, only to just miss the opportunity to put my name into the lotto bucket), we were able to purchase front row tickets to the production as it opened its second week of previews, going in relatively cold and making up our own minds about the long-awaited revival. And as soon as Mark spoke the words "We begin on Christmas Eve..." all doubts in our minds disappeared. In addition to some fantastic new staging and a few costumes that vary from the iconic originals, what makes this production of Rent really pop is the truly excellent, young cast that  presents the show and its message in a way that's fresh, relevant, and very much alive. It's kind of odd to realize that members of this cast, most of whom are in their 20s or early 30s, grew up singing along to "La Vie Boheme" on their Walkmans, just like we did (albeit sounding a bit more impressive). To have the generation who grew up on this show take a hand in continuing to share its message with the next generation is something pretty special, and ultimately what makes this revival so perfectly poignant.

Since so much of our anticipation for Rent was based on our previous experiences with the show (and in some cases, previous experiences with these actors in different shows), we've decided to craft this post in the manner of What We Expected vs. What We Got:

  • Annaleigh Ashford as Maureen

What We Expected: We'd both liked her as Jeannie in the replacement cast of Hair last summer, and although she didn't fit the "mold" of past Maureens, we decided to hold judgement until seeing her.

What We Got: Ms. Ashford's Maureen was sort of what we'd expected from her, and sort of completely different as well - a bit spastic, very much kind at heart, and fiercely individual. She was not quite the stereotypical ditzy blonde, but there were definitely elements of naivety and innocence in her character. (At points it was obvious that Maureen was very caught up in protesting, but it also seemed that she didn't know exactly what she was protesting.) The highlight of Ms. Ashford's performance was Maureen's performance number, for sure; she made "Over The Moon" completely her own and was absolutely hysterical doing it.

  • Adam Chanler-Berat as Mark

What We Expected: Literally THE most perfect casting decision we'd ever heard in our young lives.

What We Got: Literally THE most perfect casting decision we'd ever heard in our young lives. Mr. Chanler-Berat brings the same qualities to Mark as he did to Henry in Next to Normal and Peter in Peter and the Starcatcher - an overwhelming amount of genuine heart and sensitivity, the strongest concern for his friends, and an inability to conceal his underlying enthusiasm for life. It breaks Mark's heart to see the people he loves getting hurt, or to offend or hurt someone in any way, and that aspect of the character really dominates Mr. Chanler-Berat's performance. His reaction to being shot down by the Bag Lady for filming her on-the-streets lifestyle, for instance, perfectly conveyed Mark's embarrassment at realizing that he'd made her feel like an object of pity - and that his own situation, financially, at least, wasn't so different from hers. Watching Mark's reactions in the background during scenes where another character is suffering emotionally (Collins during "I'll Cover You (Reprise)," Roger during "Finale A" and "Your Eyes") only reinforced this characterization. It's like Mark tries his best to quietly tiptoe around these injured souls, while wanting so badly to help them, while discounting his own abilities to do so. Admittedly, his Mark isn't as self-involved as Anthony Rapp's portrayal of the character, but Mr. Chanler-Berat brings out another layer in Mark that works just as well. Vocally, his distinct voice fits Mark's songs perfectly, and stands out in the larger numbers, giving a lot of texture to the ensemble's sound. Not to mention that he looks absurdly similar to Jonathan Larson (photo thanks to Broadway.com). Seriously, with Mr. Chanler-Berat's haircut, the resemblance is absolutely uncanny, and really kind of an awesome tribute to the show's talented and gone-too-soon creator.

  • Nicholas Christopher as Collins

What We Expected: We'd both seen and enjoyed him as Benny on the recently-closed first national tour of In The Heights.

What We Got: Seeing that neither of us knew much about a large majority of the cast beforehand, Mr. Collins was possibly the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the night. He played the role very sensitively, and it really made sense why Collins would be friends with Mark. He also let Angel take the lead in their developing relationship, which made Angel's death even more heartbreaking. I loved that he didn't pick up on, or add to, any of the flirtatious innuendos in his first encounter with Angel (like the lines "Angel...indeed!" and "Nice tree"). And "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" was absolutely stunning.

  • Arianda Fernandez as Mimi

What We Expected: We had no opinion on Ms. Fernandez prior to her casting. However, we'd heard that she'd played Mimi before, on tour, and hadn't been particularly impressive.

What We Got: Ms. Fernandez definitely exceeded my rumor-infiltrated expectations. She's an incredible dancer (thanks to a new, more three-dimensional set design, "Out Tonight" basically took place over our heads, and it doesn't take much more than dancing in heels that reach dangerous heights to impress us on that department!), and when she belts, she sounds fantastic. While we didn't *love* her through portions of act one (i.e. lack of a strong belt on "Ouuu-oooottttt, tonight," although she's certainly not the only Mimi to perform the song that way), she grew on us with strong, clear vocals in act two, and "Without You" was well done. We also felt that she had great chemistry with Mr. Shingledecker, and the two made a very believable couple.

  • Corbin Reid as Joanne

What We Expected: We'd seen her in the ensemble of American Idiot, and didn't have a particular bias toward or against her.

What We Got: I felt that Ms. Reid really brought a fresh and very relevant perspective to Joanne, making her tough, professional, sharp, and also boldly individual. Vocally, she was very strong, dueling fiercely with Ms. Ashford in "Take Me Or Leave Me." I didn't feel a lot of chemistry between the two (and honestly kind of forgot that Maureen and Joanne were a couple until they kissed in "La Vie Boheme"), although we sensed definite direction for improvement. And Hillary pointed out that the defining aspect of the relationship between Maureen and Joanne is the fact that they're so different from each other, and become compatible anyways...so it worked out in the end.

  • MJ Rodriguez as Angel

What We Expected: Neither of us had ever heard of him.

What We Got: In addition to Mimi, Angel was the character that we most enjoyed being portrayed by someone who looked the age of the young character! Mr. Rodriguez's voice is out of this world, strong and peppy and bright, and as previously mentioned, he took a noticeable lead in romancing Collins, which added an extra sweetness to his character. Along with Mr. Christopher, Mr. Rodriguez was also one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of the evening. (Random note: Angel no longer jumps onto the table in the middle of "Today 4 U," but Mr. Rodriguez still added a flair both physically and vocally that made the song an audience favorite.)

  • Matt Shingledecker as Roger

What We Expected: Mr. Shingledecker as Roger was perhaps the most shocking casting decision. I'd seen him a few years back as Melchior in the Spring Awakening tour; more recently, he'd stood by for Tony in the Broadway production of West Side Story. As neither of those roles are remotely similar to the vocals that the role of Roger calls for, I was very curious to see the new direction that the production was apparently taking with the character.

What We Got: If I'd had any idea that Mr. Shingledecker could sing the way he does as Roger, I would never have doubted his casting for a second. While at first I thought he sounded a bit like he was imitating Adam Pascal, and at times the gravely rock-edge he added to his voice sounded rough on his vocal chords, I was very impressed by his overall sound and the way he integrated his classically-trained voice into Roger's songs. And although we didn't want to label his Roger with the stereotypical descriptives "emo" or "sensitive," both words fit his portrayal well. His Roger, in act one, at least, is much more sad than angry; he finds Mimi attractive but can't permit himself to stop wallowing in the reality of April's recent death and his own impending fate. The fact that he's conflicted and upset with himself for wanting to move on serves to make the anger he shows in act two extremely organic. While the role of Roger could easily become one-dimensional, we felt that Mr. Shingledecker succeeded in his transcendence of that.

  • Ephraim Sykes as Benny

What We Expected: Neither of us had ever heard of him.

What We Got: Benny isn't the most flashy role in the show. With that said, because I don't want to understate Mr. Sykes' performance, he was very good, but didn't stand out in any particular way to me. His singing and acting both fit well with the rest of the ensemble. (On a random note, we were left wondering why costume designer Angela Wendt, who did the original production of Rent, had changed some of the characters' costumes but chose to keep Benny's iconic blue-and-green jacket.)

  • The Staging

After visiting the tiny space at New York Theatre Workshop earlier this year and seeing a show in the space where Rent was performed for the first time, it was pretty cool to experience the show in a smaller, more intimate theater than I ever had before. Mark Wendland's set design added a sense of tangibility to the world of Rent. In a jungle gym that was slightly reminiscent of Next to Normal (which he also designed), the audience got a more concrete idea of Mark and Roger's apartment, Maureen's performance space, and Mimi's fire escape. We can't wait to hopefully sit further back in the theater at some point to take everything in. The production also integrates Mark's film-making with a live-streaming camera (ala American Idiot's use of the same technology) to show the audience the tent city that's sprung up outside Mark and Roger's building and other locations; my favorite use of his camera, though, was during "Finale B" - when Mark screens his completed film, he projects live shots of each character onto the screens, rather than the production using pre-shot footage. One critique, though - lose the projections that flashed throughout "Contact"...because they were awkwardly reminiscent of what we'd guess an 80's porn film would look like.

  • The Orchestrations

The orchestrations, while for the most part not noticeably different from the originals, sounded ROCKIN' and did integrate new instrumentations at several points. We were especially proud to see Will Van Dyke's name on the cast board as the show's musical director, after having attended the concert for his debut album, Chasing The Day, at Le Poisson Rouge earlier this year. (Ironically enough, in our review of that night, we compared Mr. Van Dyke's style and enthusiasm in sharing his music to one Jonathan Larson.) This is clearly a huge step for Mr. Van Dyke's career - congratulations to you, sir, and keep doing what you're doing!

  • Other Random Notes We'd Like To Point Out:

- Ensemble member Ben Thompson, fresh from understudying Tunny in American Idiot, appeared as The Man...and now he has hair!

- As the "Seasons of Love" soloist, Tamika Sonja Lawrence made The High Note her own while still incorporating the original style of the solo. Major props to her.

- The best way to take us out of the world of the story and send us into peals of laughter at the most inappropriate moment? In the middle of Mr. Christopher's tear-inducing version of "I'll Cover You (Reprise)," sit in the front row, wait until he sings the line, "I know that they meant it [when they said you can't buy love...]", and shout reverently, "YES THEY DID!!" This actually happened.

    Harry Potter and the Broadway Musical (aka How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying)

    There's a lot of good, old-fashioned Broadway fun happening at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, where the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying has been running since March. The show, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert, is based on the book by Shepherd Mead. Starring Daniel Radcliffe (for those of us who live under a rock or have been in a coma for the past ten years, that's Harry potter, y'all) as J. Pierrepont Finch and Tony winner John Larroquette as J.B. Biggley, How to Succeed... is an immensely entertaining show that leaves you tapping your toes and humming the incredibly infectious "Brotherhood of Men" (seriously, we were humming it under our breath for at least a solid week after we saw the show).

    The success of the revival is due mainly to the cast, with the obvious draws for the casual theater-goer being Mr. Radcliffe and Mr. Larroquette. After all, who doesn't want to see if Harry Potter can sing and dance? Neither gentlemen disappoints. Mr. Larroquette was fine in his Broadway debut, bringing great humor and stage-presence to the role of Mr. Biggley, the president of World Wide Wickets. His J.B. was a big goof, knitting in his spare time and just generally being ridiculous. Mr. Radcliffe was incredible. I admit that walking into the theater, I wasn't sure what to expect. Sure, he earned rave reviews for his performance in Equus, but that had been straight acting. Singing and dancing were whole other arenas. I walked out of the show completely blown away. While he doesn't have the strongest voice in terms of pure power, it was more than serviceable for the role, and his dancing was very strong. It was obvious that Mr. Radcliffe was completely committed to the role and he looked like he was having the time of his life performing on that stage. He brought such energy to the stage (feeding off the very receptive and appreciative audience, to be sure), and although it was a strong year for male performers on Broadway, I was surprised that he didn't earn a Tony nomination for his role. Mr. Radcliffe and Mr. Larroquette had great comedic chemistry together, especially because Mr. Larroquette is so tall and Mr. Radcliffe is so... not. (That's the only short joke I'll make, but seriously - DanRad is wee.) The two numbers where they get to show off their comedy - "Grand Old Ivy" and "Brotherhood of Men" - are my favorite numbers in the show.

    The supporting cast was also superb. Christopher J. Hanke, as J.B. Biggley's slacker nephew Bud Frump, was the perfect "villain" for the light-hearted nature of this show. He could have gone completely over-the-top with the role, but he showed restraint and turned in a delightful performance. In her Broadway debut, Rose Hemingway turned in a stellar performance as Rosemary Pilkington. Her pure voice and general sweetness worked perfectly for the innocent, naive Rosemary. In contrast, Tammy Blanchard was seductive and brash as Hedy La Rue, J.B.'s kind-hearted yet dim-witted mistress. Ms. Blanchard earned a Tony nomination for her role, and while she was certainly hilarious, I would have been equally pleased to see Ms. Hemingway nominated. Her vocals were simply phenomenal. The ensemble nailed the flashy, superb choreography by Rob Ashford, making the whole show immensely enjoyable to watch.

    A special shout-out must be given to Michael Park, who was great as Mr. Bratt. My grandmother and mother both watched As the World Turns for years before it went off the air last year, and while it was a bit disconcerting at first to see Jack Snyder singing and dancing (not because it was his first foray onto Broadway, mind you - my mother saw Mr. Park in Smokey Joe's Cafe many years ago), he was wonderful. It's always a treat when actors you know from something other than theater give such fantastic performances- Mr. Radcliffe is further proof of that.

    Last, but certainly not least, Michelle and I want to take a moment to fangirl over MARY FUCKING FABER - where the hell did that performance come from?! I was expecting pregnant Heather who hella hearts Oakland, and I got someone completely different. Ms. Faber's Smitty was wry and sarcastic, and she brought a completely different energy to her work than she did in American Idiot. Her performance in How to Succeed... is a testament to her diversity as an actress.

    While the show was enjoyable and entertaining, it was not without its short-comings. The show itself felt a little long, with a lot of time spent in Act I introducing characters, such as all the executives, that were hard to keep straight when they were all dressed up in suits (then again, that may have been the point - poking fun at the mentality of big corporations). Additionally, "I Believe in You" was definitely the weakest number in the show because you never really saw Finch be anything other than confident; you never really saw him doubt himself because his crazy schemes or sheer luck was enough to get him through. The portrayal of women was obviously dated and sexist - it is no longer so commonplace for women to be merely secretaries who are "happy to keep his dinner warm" for the men they love and marry. While this conceit was generally played as a nudge to the audience, a "look at how silly this thinking is!" type of thing, there were moments where that conceit seemed to slip, where the joke didn't land, leaving a feeling that something was missing.

    There was also no real character development to speak of, but then again it wasn't really needed for a show like this. The characters were all more or less caricatures - the successful businessman, the up-and-coming new guy, the disgruntled employee, the love-struck girl who just wants the object of her affection to love her. Did Finch actually learn his lesson by the end of the show? Not really, but Mr. Radcliffe made his character so likable that it didn't even matter - you rooted for him no matter what. The show was supposed to be light, funny, entertaining, and a bit silly - and it succeeded wildly on all counts.

    The People in the Picture

    Alright, readers, we try to be brutally honest with you, and in turn hope that you won't judge our show-going decisions too harshly, so here goes: Roundabout Theatre Company's The People in the Picture was on our summer show list simply because we enjoy keeping up with projects that formal Next to Normal cast members become involved in. In this case, we decided to take a trip to Studio 54 the second we learned that, not only had Louis Hobson been cast, but he would be playing another doctor. Win.

    The People in the Picture was not quite one of this season's big hits; it only garnered a single (but well-deserved) Tony nod for Donna Murphy, and didn't sell well enough to extend its run past the originally announced closing date. In fact, Hillary and I saw the show the night before it closed. An announcement prior to curtain informed us that videographers were there to film the show's third-to-last performance for the Lincoln Center archives, which was cool and something that we'd never experienced before. (The things we'd do to get into those archives...) In the month that's gone by since that night, very few people that I've talked to saw this production, and even fewer admitted to enjoying it. But after Hillary and I cried our way through the second act, we were so glad to have been drawn to see the show, even by something as insignificant as the involvement of an ensemble member, because the only word that came to mind to describe what we had just seen was beautiful.

    As the title suggests, The People in the Picture opens with a young girl, Jenny (played by the amazingly talented Rachel Resheff), examining an old picture and asking her grandmother, Bubbie (Donna Murphy), an enchanting story teller, about the people posed in it. The stage was framed by a giant, elaborate picture frame, and "the people in the picture" came to life to tell their stories to Jenny. As Jenny gradually learns how Bubbie's own story intertwines with the people in the picture (a cast of characters played by, among others, Alexander Gemignani, Christopher Innvar, Hal Robinson, and Chip Zien, who all belonged with Bubbie to an acting troup in pre-World-War-II Poland), Jenny also comes to know of the fractured past between her mother, Red (played by Nicole Parker) and Bubbie. (So Bubbie is Red's mother, and Red is Jenny's mother. Got it? Good.) All the while, the story transitioned scene-by-scene from past to present, flowing from Bubbie's current struggles to pass on her family heritage to Jenny, and back to Bubbie's younger days, when she was known to her friends as Raisel and struggled to survive against the impending Nazi regime. In act two, the large frame still encompassed the stage, but it was broken into pieces to represent the fractured family history of the characters. The floor of the stage was covered with some sort of reflective material that created a mirror effect with the frame, and combined with gentle lighting, the whole effect was just - wait for it - beautiful.

    Donna Murphy, a legend in her own right, was absolutely brilliant. Her transition from Bubbie, her character as an old woman, to Raisel, her character as a young woman, was perfect. Although our seats from the last row of the mezzanine afforded a wonderful overall view of the staging, and in no way affected our ability to connect with Murphy's character, there were points where I wished we could have sat closer, just to see even more of the detail she put into differentiating the physicality between young and old. Another thoughtful detail that we appreciated: Murphy played Bubbie with a Yiddish accent, but Raisel without one. (As a young woman in Poland, Raisel would have been surrounded with people who spoke like herself; as an older woman living in America, her accent would have stood out.)

    The young Resheff's credits prior to The People in the Picture include Shrek, Billy Elliot and Mary Poppins (so, like, every major recent show on Broadway that involves kids). While we've always felt hopelessly behind when comparing our lives to the accomplishments of, say, Jennifer Damiano or other young Broadway stars, we've now found a 10-year-old to make us feel even more pathetic! Seriously, though, we were so impressed by Ms. Resheff and fully expect to see her career continue to outpace her young age. Her chemistry with Nicole Parker was very believable and extremely touching, especially as the story approached an inevitable ending and the grandmother-mother-daughter relationships were woven to a beautiful and heartbreaking conclusion.

    The show's score was not particularly memorable (read: we didn't come out of the show humming any tunes), but nonetheless quite wondrous. Its rhythm and sound were very clearly based in the tradition of Jewish music, alternating between delicate interludes and celebratory dances. (We felt that one slightly superflous song, late in act two, was included purely to give Donna Murphy another opportunity to make us cry - but who's complaining about that?) Shortly after the production closed, unofficial rumors of a cast recording were swirling around, and we truly hope that the score, with music by Mike Stoller and lyrics by Iris Rainer Dart, has been preserved for future listening purposes.


    As it turns out, Mr. Hobson's part wasn't all that large (mostly ensemble, until his character, Dr. Goldblum, came out in act two and entertained us with many ironic Next to Normal references, including a line about how the main character "couldn't just walk out on her doctor," which had us in stitches at a very touching moment in the show). But our interest in a single actor resulted in an introduction to a show that, although not appreciated by many, was truly one of the most moving original stories we've seen in a while. While The People in the Picture perhaps never reached its potential, we reveled in the universal story it told of mothers and daughters; of forgiveness; and of the importance of memories, the past, and family.

    Would you like to change religions? I have a free book written by JESUS!

    What if we told you that we woke up at an ungodly hour on a Saturday morning, to sit on a sparkling clean New York sidewalk for six hours, to pay $27 to stand for another two-and-a-half hours, just to see a show? You, dear readers, might admire us for our dedication...or you might deem us certifiably insane. Either way, we had a grand time doing what was necessary to finally see The Book of Mormon, this year's biggest Tony winner, sweeping the night with nine awards including Best Musical. Seriously, what's not to love: sleep is for the weak, we met some fantastic fellow rushers in line, the price of our tickets were a LOT less than $150 each ($27, to be exact), and the view from our standing room spots at the back of the orchestra were superb.

    (Note: standing room tickets are only available when the show is completely sold out. Fortunately, The Book of Mormon is sold out until kingdom come - literally, they're selling tickets far beyond when Hillary and I will graduate next year - so if you're willing and able to get to the theater early enough, it's a fantastic opportunity to more or less guarantee yourself a ticket. We think it's awesome that the show's producers have left this option for those of us who can't quite afford to buy a premium ticket.)

    Oh, and the show actually lived up to every single bit of the hype that we've been hearing since it played its first Broadway preview in February.

    The fact that The Book of Mormon is the brainchild of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, with music and lyrics by Avenue Q's Robert Lopez, should give you a pretty good idea of where the show's material is headed. To be completely honest, I am not a fan of South Park - more specifically, I don't think I've ever watched an episode of South Park. It's just not something that's ever appealed to me. And I'll admit to being one of those people who always associated South Park with unnecessarily crude humor, with no basis for doing so. That said, The Book of Mormon is by no means, to quote [title of show], "two tight paragraphs on kittens that your grandma would be so proud of." (Although, much to our surprise, there were many blue-haired ladies in the audience at the show we attended...and they were laughing just as hard as we were.) To illustrate more clearly, we present to you a recent conversation that took place between Hillary and her mom:

    Mom: "So why is The Book of Mormon inappropriate for your younger brother?"
    Hillary: "Uh.........there's a lot of swearing.......and they use the word 'clitoris'. A lot."
    *crickets*

    But again, that said, the comedy in this show is 1) a nearly unbroken stream of laughs, and 2) really smart. Even though The Book of Mormon is the first show we've ever attended where the words "explicit content" were printed on our tickets, neither of us felt offended by the material or language used in the show. At first it was a liiiiittle disconcerting to hear AIDS used as a subject of humor...especially only a few weeks after seeing The Normal Heart...but it immediately became apparent that AIDS, and the "c-word," and the meaning of "Hasa Diga Eebowai" which we won't spoil for you, and making fun of Mormonism, was done in such a way that it was contained completely within the world of the story. To us, at least. This is definitely a show that won't appeal to close-minded people - but if you're willing to take a step back and appreciate the irony, sarcasm and hilarious truths employed by the story, you'll be shaking with laughter throughout.

    Speaking of laughing like hyenas, we are SO GLAD we forcibly restrained ourselves from listening to the cast recording before seeing the show! While the jokes and puns within the score are really only the tip of the iceberg, in terms of "lines that will make you laugh until your eyes start to water," it was really worth the effort to go into the show as blind as possible. Now that we're listening to it nonstop, we've realized just how good the score is - not that we didn't enjoy it in the theater, but perhaps we were too preoccupied with laughing our asses off to truly appreciate it. Parker, Stone and Lopez work completely within the range of traditional musical theater structure, simultaneously honoring and making fun of the form, and it totally works. (U2 should have taken a hint from this when crafting the score for Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.)  The only problem? I can't really let myself listen to the cast recording in public, even with my headphones in, because 1) people would look at me cackling like a crazy person and think I was a crazy person, and 2) a large portion of the lyrics are in no way appropriate to have stuck in your head and then start humming under your breath/belting out in the car at a red light when your windows are down and the driver in the car next to you can hear you. Nope, that's never happened.

    In addition to the comedic aspect, the heart that lies beneath the laughs beats loud and clear, bringing the characters' stories full-circle and leaving us feeling fulfilled as audience members. And while Hillary and I would rather see the Tony love spread to multiple shows, rather than heaped all on one show, it was immediately obvious after seeing the show that The Book of Mormon is such a solid, tight production, all the way around, and any resentment we had over the show's awards sweep dissipated instantly. The cast just clicked; excellent direction was obvious from the show's pacing; the sets, sound, and lighting were all immaculate; and the score is fantastically layered, in both lyrics and orchestrations. It was incredibly fascinating to see Mormon the day after attending a performance of Spider-Man, because both shows opened on Broadway with no out-of-town tryout...and to say that they received COMPLETELY different responses is a drastic understatement.

    As Mormon's two leading men, Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad are cast so perfectly in their roles that it's hard to imagine anyone else playing Elder Price and Elder Cunningham. Rannells, as an overly-optimistic (and maybe a bit naive), never-do-wrong, confident young Mormon, wants nothing more than to spread the word of God through his faith (ideally fulfilling that duty in a certain Floridian city). Gad, as an overly-optimistic, always-do-wrong, awkward-yet-lovable young Mormon, has the same goal, but needs a bit more guidance along the way as to what the Book of Mormon actually preaches. In a predictable turn of events, the two misfits are paired together on their mission, and the evolution of their friendship becomes the heart of Mormon's book. Both men's voices are incredible, with Rannell's belting strongly and smoothly and Gad's unexpected range especially blowing me away. Many of the show's funniest moments come from each actor's impeccable comedic instincts as well as the pair's juxtaposed physical appearances (with Rannells as squeaky-clean as Barbie's steadfast mate and Gad as the slightly plump nerd character). While neither took home a Tony for his efforts, I thought that the true highlights of both of their performances came when they played off each other.

    Over in the realm of supporting actors, Mormon has also achieved near-perfect casting. The visual of a clean-cut, cookie-cutter ensemble of young Latter Day Saints or tribal African villagers is hilarious in itself - let alone watching them break out into a full-on tap number complete with sparkly pink vests and a Clapper. Said number was a showcase for Rory O'Malley as Elder McKinley, a shy young Mormon struggling to repress thoughts of homosexuality; his scenes were some of my absolute favorites in the show. Nikki M. James as Nabalungi, the ever-optimistic and wide-eyed daughter of the tribal chief, also delivered a performance that was impossible not to root for. While we personally still would have given the Supporting Actress Tony to Laura Benanti (she's just ridiculously talented/unabashedly honest/perfect, okay?), James' work onstage made it easy to fall in love with her. The difference between the two awesome ladies? Benanti was wonderful in a not-so-good show, James was wonderful in a great show.

    If you really break it down, all religions have a component or two that seems a little extreme or just plain weird. No offense to any Mormons who might happen across our humble blog, but some parts of their canon are absolutely hilarious. God lives on a planet called Kolub? The Garden of Eden is in Jackson County, Missouri? In 1978 God changed his mind about black people? All are mentioned in the show (in just one song, to be more specific), and all are based on actual Mormon beliefs and historical happenings. Not to be discriminatory, however, the show pokes fun at other religions too (i.e. believing something "just....'cuz"), and SO many different groups of people that it would take all the fun out of it to list them all here. But strangely enough, Mormon's conclusion doesn't leave audiences thinking that atheism is the last hope (although there's nothing wrong with atheism either). Somehow, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham learn that a common belief such as religion can bond people together and lift them up like nothing else - just as long as those beliefs aren't always taken so literally.

    If I remember correctly, Broadway has not seen a production with as much well-directed hype as Mormon has received since 2001's The Producers. There's no question that this runaway hit will be around for quite a while. So try your luck at the lottery, get comfortable on the sidewalk outside the Eugene O'Neill, or shell out the big bucks for a premium ticket - but definitely keep this one on your list, even if it takes you a Latter Day or two to get there.

    Jerusalem

    A while ago, we set ourselves the goal of seeing more straight plays on Broadway. Based on our usual steady diet of musicals, we'd say we got a pretty good start this season, breaking out of our shells and opening our eyes to some of the fantastic work that relies on pure dialogue rather than song and dance to tell a compelling story.

    Jez Butterworth's Jersualem is a production that first played the West End before opening on Broadway this spring. Johnny "Rooster" Byron, played by the incomparable Mark Rylance, is a kind of rebel hero, hiding away in a trailer in the woods and living a hippie lifestyle, making a stand for his chosen style of life as local authorities move closer and closer toward evicting him from the public land he lives on. Like other similar operations, Rooster's establishment attracts a bevy of misfits looking for refuge and  a place to belong, mostly young teenagers, but also including The Professor, played by Alan David. (I'd love to get a copy of the script and re-read his lines to get a better understanding of why he finds Rooster's life and ideals so attractive.) While the play touched on a lot of English folklore and mythical tales (it takes place on the day of a festival celebrating St. George's Day, essentially equivalent to the Fourth of July in its significance to English national pride), some iPhone-assisted Googling at each of the two intermissions helped us to understand the background of the holiday. While Butterworth's dialogue certainly wasn't simplistic, we didn't find it as difficult to jump into as, say, Tom Stoppard's in Arcadia. There were also a few pop culture references in the first act (undoubtedly updated for American patrons) that helped to draw the audience in.

    On a random note, the production's scenic design (by ULTZ...we're still not sure if that's a person or a company?) was AMAZING! It featured a lush forest of greenery, complemented with real grass and dirt planted on the stage floor. Heck, the fly that buzzed around in our faces during the show honestly could have been placed in the theater on purpose.

    We'd first begun our worship of Mark Rylance after seeing him in La Bete in the fall and just being generally blown away at his ability to completely command the entire performance. You may remember that we predicted him to take home the 2011 Tony for his leading performance...well, turns out we were right, but Mr. Rylance went above and beyond our forecast, delivering a second Tony-worthy performance in the same theater, in the same season. Reprising the role of Johnny "Rooster" Byron from the play's run at London's Apollo Theatre, Rylance gives a one-of-a-kind performance. To describe his work as riveting does not do it justice. Acting seems to be nowhere in sight; he inhabits Rooster's shoes with sheer being. It was only as we were leaving the theater that it occurred to us what the production would have been without Rylance that the strength of his performance truly sunk in.

    Ben Brantley's review talked about Rooster as a mythical figure that maybe never really even existed, but that we all want to believe on some level did exist. He's more of a staunch defender of "The Last Frontier" than a crusader for it, which is interesting to think about when you consider the crusader symbolism behind St. George's flag, which serves as the show curtain.

    To put it lightly, it was so cool to see Rylance in both of his stellar performances on Broadway at the Music Box this season, although both performances were completely different. He is such a physically grounded actor who conveys an incredible range of emotions through the way he carries himself on stage. And while I believe that British actors tend towards comedy through physicality more than American actors usually do, Rylance delivers much more than a slapstick comedy routine. It's incredible to watch him move around the stage as Rooster, and to see the way he instills the character with pure silliness (dancing around in a ridiculous, not-quite-sober manner, chugging a delicious milk-and-raw-egg concoction, and doing a headstand into a water trough...a woman in the front row "splash zone" was NOT amused by this), and then, by act three, gradually transitions into an intense, panicked rage that was enthralling and a little scary to watch. The way the character limped around the stage on a bum foot made our own ankles hurt - it's no wonder Rylance thanks his chiropractor in his bio!

    We had the fantastic opportunity to see Mr. Rylance in Jerusalem just a few hours prior to watching Joe Mantello's performance in The Normal Heart (to say that the day was intense is a bit of an understatement), and to compare the two most-talked-about performances by leading men in a play this season just a week before the Tony Awards. What it boils down to for us is this: Rylance plays a gigantic character who is largely unlikable, and Mantello plays a character who is so small in the scheme of things, but is doing everything he can to become a force of nature, and is admirable in spite of everything because of that. (Ironically you could switch those two descriptions and they'd still be accurate.) We would have been happy for either man to win recognition for his performance, but while Mantello's performance was more moving to us, Rylance perhaps gives a more unique performance, which is partially credited to him as an actor and partially credited to the role of Rooster itself.

    While the play is very much Rylance's to lead, the supporting ensemble very much holds their own. Mackenzie Crook as Ginger, Rooster's only true (or believes himself to be true) cohort gave a fine performance opposite his gigantic scene partner with some very funny lines (he continually insists that he is a DJ by night; whether this is true or not, we never learn for sure, and it doesn't really matter). Without spoiling one of the play's most crucial scenes, Crook is heartbreakingly real in his attempt to act as a friend and rescuer to Rooster.

    John Gallagher Jr. as Lee (one of the few roles that were recast when the production transferred to Broadway from the West End) fit in surprisingly well with the rest of the British supporting ensemble. Well, not surprisingly...it should be no surprise that we admire Mr. Gallagher's work very much around here. His character was actually quite similar to the role of Johnny in American Idiot; if we're being super simplistic, both Lee and Johnny are suburban kids who ran away to drugs, alcohol, and the "guidance" of a Fagin-like character to "find" themselves.

    While my attention was held captive for the entirety of the play, coming in at nearly three hours, Jerusalem is definitely very demanding on its audience members. Again, not spoiling anything because we think you should go see the production for yourselves, but act three was VERY intense and left us scratching our heads a little bit. I think this is partially because we'd never seen a three-act play before, and on some level had expected act three to be full of answers...and that's not exactly what the end of Jerusalem provides. I also think I came to appreciate the play more after it had a few days to sink in. Even now, I still find myself debating whether Rooster is admirable for holding so tightly to the freedom of lawlessness, or a character with no redeeming qualities, a stoner in the woods whose defeat by society was inevitable.

    If you've seen Jerusalem, we'd love to hear your thoughts, because this one is definitely food for thought! If you haven't, Rylance's performance in itself is absolutely unmissable. Be sure to catch this limited engagement before it closes on August 21.