Scene: August '12
Into the Woods
What? From the show website: "In Into the Woods, a witch's curse condemns the Baker and his Wife to a life without children. They embark on a quest to find the four items required to break the spell: the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold. Will they succeed? And what happens after "happily ever after?" A Tony Award-winning masterpiece by musical theater giants Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, Into the Woods is a witty and irreverent reimagining of beloved classic fairytales: Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Cinderella."
When? August 1, '12
Where? Delacourt Theatre in Central Park, NYC
Why? This is a show I have always, always wanted to see. Add that to the fact that I have always wanted to attend a Shakespeare in the Park performance, and the result was that I was willing to become a supporter of The Public to guarantee a seat so that I could make the trip up and know I'd be able to see the show.
Well? Oh my goodness, what a marvelous experience! The intimacy of the Delacorte Theatre perfectly suited the production; and I was particularly impressed with the surround-sound effect of the audio equipment~all the rustling, crunching, whispering of the woods felt as if I was standing amongst the trees. I was reminded of the inventiveness of Peter and the Starcatcher in the staging, especially in the choreography involving Glenn Close's Giant.
The score was beautifully sung and all of the performances were stellar. Denis O'Hare gave such a gently powerful, sympathetic performance and Jessie Mueller and Amy Adams were just so great as Cinderella and the Baker's Wife respectively; and it's hard to imagine a better Witch than Donna Murphy. I last saw Donna in "People in the Picture" and loved her in that, so it was great to see her in such a different role. One of the standouts to me also is Sarah Stiles, most recently one of my very favorite parts of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," (a flawed show but it had some great moments; many of which involved Sarah). Sarah brought the perfect comedic timing to Red Ridinghood and has such a special charisma on stage that I think comes from her creating chemistry with any scene partner(s) with whom she's working. A special mention also goes to Noah Radcliffe as the narrator who also had a great presence on stage and a wonderful voice.
This is one of my favorite Sondheim scores and I really appreciate the dark side of the story. That said, this production does not shy away from the sexual references and the cast handles it all smoothly, particularly Amy Adams, who made her "moment" with the Prince believable and poignant and, yes, humorous.
In the end, the stars of this production, in my opinion, are the staging, the setting and the depth of the cast. I will definitely make the effort to return to the Delacorte next summer!
What? From the show website: ..."The true story of the beloved and controversial father of popular Jewish music, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. A modern day troubadour, he ignited the spirit of millions around the world with his soul-stirring melodies, transformative storytelling and boundless love."
When? August 2, '12
Where? New York Theatre Workshop
Why? I don't know why this caught my eye when I was actually looking for another show to which I wanted tickets, but it did. It's hard for me to resist true stories brought to the stage; particularly when they focus on music and dance.
Well? Soul Doctor is billed as being on its way to Broadway and, while there is much to like about the show, I'm not sure it's quite ready for Broadway. The best parts of the show are the two leads, Eric Anderson (Schlomo)and Erica Ash (Nina Simone); each has a wonderful voice and a dynamic presence on stage. Their chemistry is palpable. This is a fascinating story that I knew virtually nothing about, and the play did a good job of introducing me to this apparently remarkable man. The problem for me was that it felt a bit like driving too quickly by scenery you really want to see; just as you begin to focus on a view, it's gone by and you're on to the next. I would prefer to have the show pick a period of Schlomo's life, or a particular relationship, and explore it with more depth. There are some lovely ballads and plenty of rousing numbers which are infectious and enjoyable; but overall, the show left me with many more questions than answers about Schlomo Carlebach and the impact of his music and personality on the Jewish community in particular, and the world in general.
What? New musical based on a film of the same name. On the eve of their deployment to Viet Nam, four Marines who have become friends challenge each other to find the ugliest girl they can and bring her to a party~guy who brings the girl judged "ugliest" wins the pool, and the girls are not told the "rules." Problems arise when one of the guys starts to see the girl he invited in a different light and when she finds out what's really going on, they each have to face the realities of their lives and what they want from life and from each other.
When? August 3, '12
Where? Second Stage Theatre, New York City
Why? I seriously loved the score of this show and knew I wanted to see it again as I was still sitting in the theatre the first visit. It still surprises me that this story and these characters turn out to be perfectly suited to a musical.
Well? Loved it even more the second time. I am continually amazed by Lindsay Mendez's ability to project her character through the subtlety of her body language and authenticity of her emotion. She and Derek Klena have a wonderful chemistry and it is at once heartbreaking and hopeful to see their relationship evolve over the 12 hours of their meeting. The music is so compelling and lovely. I am really hoping for a cast recording of this show.
Peter and the Starcatcher
What? Based on the book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson about an orphan without even a name to call his own, who becomes Peter Pan, and the hilarious, touching characters and events that make that happen.
When? August 4 '12
Where? The Brooks Atkinson Theatre
Why? This is a magical show that I would see many more times if given the opportunities. The fact that my friends wanted to see it made it a no-brainer.
Well? This was my first visit seeing Matt Saldivar taking over for Christian Borle as "Black Stache." Matt was great and I still loved every minute...this is truly a magical show. I was so pleased that this was the very first Broadway show for my friends; they were both enchanted by the production. Within the first few minutes, my friend whispered "the staging is just brilliant," and I completely agree. The show has every element working in harmony; cast, score, staging, lighting, costumes, etc., and the result is a gorgeous whole.
Bring it On
What? From the show website: "Bring It On: The Musical tells the story of the challenges and unexpected bonds formed through the thrill of extreme competition. With a colorful crew of characters, an exciting fresh sound and explosive dance with aerial stunts, this hilariously universal story is sure to be everything you hoped for and nothing like you expected. Uniting some of the freshest and funniest creative minds on Broadway, Bring It On: The Musical is inspired by the Bring It Onfilm and features an original story by Tony Award® winner Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), music and lyrics by Tony Award®-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), music by Pulitzer and Tony Award®-winning composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal), lyrics by Broadway lyricist Amanda Green (High Fidelity) and music supervision by Tony and Grammy Award® winner Alex Lacamoire. The production is directed and choreographed by Tony Award® winner Andy Blankenbuehler(In the Heights)."
When? August 5, '12
Where? St. James Theatre
Why? I really love great dancing and I was intrigued by the creative team involved with this. Plus it has one of my favorite "So You Think You Can Dance" alums, Neil Haskell. Just seems like fun!
Well? And it was fun for sure :)! Not surprisingly, there are some jaw-dropping stunts in the show that thrilled the audience with their height and precision. This is a particularly good show for kids and there was a gaggle of them at the stage door afterwards. The messages of "be true to yourself," "be open to differences," "be loyal to your friends," etc. are well conveyed. The second act was definitely stronger than the first, and the energy on stage definitely went up whenever the action shifted to the Jackson High setting (the predominantly minority high school). There are many Broadway debuts in this show and I found the supporting actors to be my favorites: Ryann Redmond as the "chubby," perennial parrot-costume-wearing mascot who comes into her own as friend, dancer, girlfriend and yes, even cheerleader, and Gregory Haney as the reality-bringing, transgender Jackson High student who knows who she is and uses it wisely. The other stars were the actual cheerleaders in the cast who really did "bring it" with their stunts.
What? From the show website: "Marathon ’33 defies easy categorization. A large-cast docudrama with music, vaudeville comedy and nearly continuous dance; it recreates the forgotten phenomenon of the Depression-era dance marathons, which were brutal precursors of today’s TV reality shows. It was written by Hollywood star June Havoc, “Baby June” of the musicalGypsy and the younger sister of Gypsy Rose Lee, and is closely based on real events and people described in her autobiography...."
When? August 9 '12
Where? The American Century Theater, Gunston Arts Center, Arlington, VA
Why? This was an impulse ticket purchase prompted by an email from Goldstar, one of the discount websites to which I subscribe. There is so much great theatre in the DC area, and I love supporting local productions. But really it was the story that made me buy the ticket!
Well? The most impressive aspect to this production is the immersive quality: the space and staging is perfectly designed to create the feeling that you are one of the spectators of a "marathon dance" taking place in 1933. The references to geography were tailored to the area (Clarendon & Arlington, VA) and there were tables set up next to the railing surrounding the dance floor at which "atmosphere" characters sat and audience members were welcomed as well. A concession stand in the corner sold popcorn and lemonade, and cast members sat amidst the audience to add more "color."
The audience was treated as if it were the audience for the marathon, as opposed to an audience for a play~programs were not given out until we exited the theatre at the end of the show, so as not to distract from this atmosphere. It was all really so well done.
I had no prior familiarity with this almost horrifyingly abusive form of "entertainment" that was fostered by the desperation of the Great Depression. The actor playing June Havoc was completely committed to her role, as were all the actors really. The greatest tribute I can pay to them is to say that they were so passionately involved in their roles that I found it painful at times to watch the action unfold. The bonus bits of singing revealed quite a few extremely talented vocalists in the cast as well. So glad I took the chance on this show!
August: Osage County
What? From the show website: "Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award. A vanished father. A pill-popping mother. Three sisters harboring shady little secrets. When the large Weston family unexpectedly reunites after Dad disappears, their Oklahoman family homestead explodes in a maelstrom of repressed truths and unsettling secrets. Mix in Violet, the drugged-up, scathingly acidic matriarch, and you’ve got a major new play that unflinchingly—and uproariously—exposes the dark side of the Midwestern American family."
When? August 9 '12
Where? The Keegan Theatre, Washington, DC
Why? I had intended to see this play during its initial run on Broadway and the timing just didn't cooperate. I was impressed with "Working," the other production I've seen at The Keegan this season, so was happy to have the opportunity to see the play here. Also, there were a few discount tickets available, and I was fortunate to be able to grab one. Thanks again to Goldstar!
Well? I could not be happier to have seen this production. I knew that the length of the play (3.5 hours) might be daunting, but what a well spent 3.5 hours that was! The caliber of the cast, set and staging is incredibly high; a critical component in making a long play a success. The cast in particular was uniformly wonderful; I can't say enough about the leads, especially Rena Cherry Brown as Violet, the acidic, drug-addicted, damaged matriarch and Susan Marie Rhea as Barbara, her oldest daughter and the daughter most likely to become her mother. Both inhabited their characters; in fact Rena Cherry Brown's performance ranks with some of the best I've ever seen...it was nearly impossible to remember that this was an actor playing a role. The rest of the cast was also great and another special mention should go to the young actor, Lyndsay Rini, who plays Violet's granddaughter~this was a brave and effective performance.
The set involved three different levels and all were used so effectively to reinforce the complexity and tangled relationships being played out. There really isn't a bad seat in this small theatre and the set made that even more evident. I also have to mention that there was an interesting choice to have actors moving about the set before the start and during each of the two intermissions; as if you really were in the trap of this house that held so much painful history.
Little Shop of Horrors
What? From the show website: "Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy meets plant from outer space. Seymour needs all the help he can get, so when a mysterious plant shows up at his doorstep and helps him catch the eye of his secret crush, Audrey, he’ll give it anything to keep it alive. Musical."
When? August 19 '12
Where? Olney Theatre Center, Olney, MD
Why? Yet another classic show I have been wanting to see for years, combined with a local theatre I've heard great things about.
Well? Thanks to an unfortunate combination of being under the weather as in not feeling well, and literally under the weather as in a downpour~I was regrettably about 10 minutes past opening curtain when I arrived. This is something I just dread, because I really hate missing even a moment of a show. That said, the theatre staff could not been kinder, and got me seated on the end of a row close to where my seat was (I would move at intermission). The upside of this was the discovery that there appears to not be a bad seat in this delightful theatre! I was to the extreme right in the orchestra and didn't feel as if I missed anything. The staging was so well done, and accommodated everyone's sight line.
The show was likewise delightful! And that's a surprising word to use about a show featuring the exploits of a human-munching plant (marvelously voiced by Stephawn Stephens, with puppetry by Eric Brooks), a sadistic dentist, a nerdy plant keeper, a miserly shop owner and sweetheart of a girl with issues! The music and lyrics from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman ("Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast") are clever and melodic; what this team always did so well was use the music to move the story along in what I think is a seamless way with songs that you remember later on their own.
The cast features a number of regional superstars in James Gardiner as Seymour (has appeared in shows in every prominent theatre in the DC area~Arena, Ford's, The Kennedy Center, Folger, Studio, Woolly Mammoth, etc.), Carolyn Agan as Audrey (also many regional credits) and Bobby Smith in multiple roles, most notably Orin, the dangerous dentist (Broadway, off Broadway, national tour credits along with award-winning regional performances). The show has been extended at the Olney and if you've never seen the show, or love it and want to see it again, I'd recommend this production!
Non-Equity The Musical / FringeNYC
What? From the show website: "It’s 5 AM. Six non-union actors wake up for auditions, survival jobs, and dance calls that require them to be a dancing kleenex box. Featuring songs: "The Unofficial List", "Typing", and "I Wish I Had A Penis.""
When? August 25 '12
Where? The Players Theatre
Why? Frequent tweeting by the show piqued my interest, and then a producer I respect picked it as one of his top 10 for the festival, so I was glad to add it.
Well? This show had an abundance of charm and talent. Reminiscent of the "what I do for a part" theme of "A Chorus Line," the story of what life is like for those actors not yet union members of Actors Equity (hence the "Non-Equity" in the title) was actually quite revealing as well as highly entertaining. For a small-budget, bare bones production, I was impressed with the engaging songs, clever lyrics and how much I genuinely rooted for the characters to get "the part" that would finally gain them the magical benefits of an Equity card. I knew some basics about the material before I saw the show, and the audience was clearly filled with folks that knew all too well how the story was going to go, but the main success of the show was that it stood on its own and never relied on "inside jokes."
What? From the show website: "Ben and Mary welcome into their lives the rootless couple who move in next door. But as this foursome bonds over backyard
barbecues, the neighborly connection they find threatens to unravel the lives they’ve built and change them forever. An ecstatic, dangerous new comedy, Detroit exposes the nerves that live just under the surface of American life."
When? August 26 '12
Where? Playwright's Horizons Theatre, New York
Why? I had a great experience at the last production I attended at this theatre and the cast includes John Cullum, who is a legend. I first saw him in Shenandoah in 1976 and again in The Scottsboro Boys in 2010. David Schwimmer is also in the cast, so it will be interesting to see him on stage.
Well? If there is any reason for us to be thankful for the panoply and abundance of human dysfunction, it is for the rich source of material for the kind of raw, intense storytelling that can be done on stage. This was a roller coaster of a story that never really telegraphed what bit of madness was coming with the next spin of the revolving set. David Schwimmer was really quite impressive, and each of the actors playing the couples threw themselves around the stage emotionally and physically for 90 minutes with no break. As much as I was not always sure I understood who was sane and who was not, I sure wanted to take this ride to its finish. I often find it at least a bit disturbing to watch humans descend into despair, and sometimes madness, and I don't always walk out feeling positive about humanity after a play like this; but surprisingly this time I did. By the way, John Cullum's part was small, but the one very important scene he was in was my favorite of the entire play.
Secrets of a Life Onstage...and Off: Ed Dixon
What? From the show website: "Ed Dixon’s book, Secrets Of A Life On Stage…And Off is the story of his remarkable 42-year career on Broadway including more than a dozen Broadway shows. Along the way, he encountered Ruby Keeler, Busby Berkeley, Leonard Bernstein, Alvin Ailey, Stephen Schwartz, Ben Vereen, Bob Fosse, Ann-Margret, Kevin Spacey, Tony Danza, Kathie Lee Gifford, Bebe Neuwirth, Christine Ebersole, Christine Baranski, Stephen Sondheim, and a host of others. At the halfway mark of his many decade career, Mr. Dixon suffered a debilitating drug addiction which nearly killed him. He then went on to put his life back together and have an even larger and more successful career than he had before. It is an amazing saga of hope and despair, destruction and redemption.
His act, which bears the same name as the book, includes stories from the book punctuated by songs from the many musicals he has written plus original material composed specifically for the evening."
When? August 27 '12
Where? Signature Theatre, Arlington, VA
Why? I really love hearing tales of life in the theatre. I know some might think it takes away from the magic of a show to see behind the "curtain," but I think it makes it all the more interesting and wonderful to understand what it takes to bring performances to the stage!
Well? This is one charismatic gentleman, with a lovely voice and wonderful stories to tell (and sing!). I loved the small, cabaret setting; it made me feel as if I'd been invited to an evening at Ed's home, that just happened to involve a cabaret act :). The songs, most of them original, were expertly woven into the storytelling, and beautifully sung. It is not hard to imagine Ed in the roles he played over the years (especially "Les Miserables;" his voice is perfect); in fact I think I saw him in more than one of them. The act did not go into the sordid details of his drug addiction; he seems to have made peace with his past, and I look forward to reading the book to get a bit more backstory. In the meantime, I am so glad to have spent my evening listening to Ed sing, tell tales and make me laugh. I had the opportunity to meet him after the show at the book/CD signing and it was a pleasure to thank him in person for a great evening!!
Red Hot Patriot
What? From the show website: "Academy Award and Tony Award nominee, Kathleen Turner, brings her sizzling blend of sensuality and intelligence to the bravado of newspaper columnist Molly Ivins. A dyed-in-the-wool liberal from deep in the heart of Texas, Ivins’ rapier wit made her one of America’s highest-regarded columnists, satirists and beloved rabble-rousers. The incomparable Turner “excels” (Variety) in this searing, 75-minute show that weaves personal anecdotes and a look at our national pastime – politics."
When? August 30 '12
Where? Kogod Cradle, Arena Stage, Washington, DC
Why? I have always been a big Molly Ivins fan and I'm intriqued to see Kathleen Turner on stage. I saw her interviewed about playing the role and she seems to have virtually inhabited her subject.
Well? From the moment that the lights went up on Kathleen Turner in jeans, work shirt and red cowboy boots, with her feet up on the desk, vintage typewriter and armadillo statue in front of her, the audience was in her spell. I was so impressed with how well the playwrights wove Molly's writings, personality and life story together to make a theatre piece. In particular, the interaction between Turner and the images projected on the large screen behind her was so effective~whether it was a photograph of a smiling family as the backdrop for the story of the not-so-cheery family dynamics, or the photographs of people important in Ivin's life as transitions to a story that moved us along in her life, it just worked.
I also marveled at how you could be laughing heartily at an Ivin-ism one moment, only to have her turn the mood on its head and have you weighing the importance of civic responsibility the next, Turner was masterful at conveying the thorough humanity of Molly Ivins, right through to her all-too-soon death from breast cancer at 62. It is clear to me that this country lost a national treasure in 2007. The opening and closing music was one of my all time favorite Willie Nelson recordings,"Stay a Little Longer:"
"Stay all night, stay a little longer; Dance all night, dance a little longer; Pull off your coat, throw it in the corner; Don't see why you can't stay a little longer..."
Kathleen Turner made it clear why we should all wish Molly Ivins had stayed a lot longer.
Aside: I was fortunate to attend a discussion with Kathleen Turner and one of the playwrights, Margaret Engel, at the Newseum two weeks before the show and Turner made it clear that she was not trying to "imitate" Molly Ivins; rather she was trying to give the audience a sense of Molly, her passion and her style. Margaret Engel, who wrote the play with her sister (both are also journalists and worked with Molly at various times), talked about how intelligent, passionate and fearless Molly was and how they really felt that her life and work was a rich source of history, entertaining stories, and wisdom that would continue to be relevant long after her death. They were right.