Ordinary Magic Happens Every Single Day: Remembering Wonderland – March 21, 2011 (evening) & May 15, 2011 (matinee)

The first preview of a play or musical is a highly emotional experience for the cast and audience – both the cast and audience are facing the excitement of the Unknown – for the cast, it is the responsibility of presenting a good first impression to an audience who may or may not know what to expect, so there’s a palpable surge of anticipation and expectation within the theater. Similarly, the final performance of a play or musical is always a highly emotional experience for both the cast as well as the audience in attendance – the cast always give their heart and soul to that final performance, and the audience always shows their appreciation, so while there is a lingering aura of sadness in the theater, there’s also a comforting blanket of joy.

Over the years of my theatre-going, I’ve had the fortunate, yet unfortunate, opportunity to attend the final performance of a musical or play – fortunate that I was able to be in the audience to witness the performance and unfortunate, (naturally) that it would be the last time I would be able to see the show on stage, at least until the production is revived, either on or off-Broadway.  I’ve also had the rare opportunity to be able to attend a first preview of a musical (and a new one at that), but I must say it’s a far rarer feat to be able to see the first preview and the final performance of the same show, one occurring less than two months after the other. Thus begins my adventure in Wonderland, Frank Wildhorn’s modern interpretation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Wonderland marquee

I probably should preface that Wonderland had played at the Marquis Theatre, located within the Marriott Marquis Hotel, right in the heart of Times Square, one of the few theaters that is actually on Broadway (most Broadway theatres are spread out from 41st Street through 54th Street, between Broadway and 7th Avenue). In recent years, the Marquis Theatre has had relative high turnover for original musicals, with few productions running more than 2 years (discounting limited or seasonal productions). I am in the firm belief that this phenomenon (coincidence?) is due to the remnants of the metamorphosed Minskoff Curse that I had inflicted and subsequently evicted from the Minskoff Theatre (located directly across the street from the Marquis). The circumstances and specificity of the creation of the Minskoff Curse, its apparent effectiveness and the reasoning behind its removal is complex and have not much to do with Wonderland itself, but it does bear mentioning, and the details behind the Minskoff Curse will be outlined and analyzed in a future blog.

But I digress.

The opportunity to see the first preview of Wonderland came about when my friend Chris had a spare ticket (mid mezzanine) – I was looking forward to the performance as I had heard of the out-of-town try-outs in Tampa and Houston, listened to songs from the pop concept album, and was intrigued on how the classic Lewis Carroll story would be reinterpreted and updated. For the most part, the modern spin worked well – the Alice in this version is not a bored child living in the English countryside who falls down the rabbit hole but an overworked teacher with a young daughter living in New York City who travels down a service elevator, the Cheshire Cat is “El Gato”, the Mad Hatter is a woman with her own agenda, the White Rabbit has a magical watch, the Queen of Hearts declares “Off with their heads!” on a regular basis, and there’s also the addition of Jack, the archetypical White Knight, who makes it his mission to help Alice find her way back home and to help rescue her kidnapped daughter Chloe.

While the production received considerably negative reviews, I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and found it to be highly entertaining with a poignant message at its heart. The technical aspects were astounding: the set design (including the pre-show curtain drop showing animated illustrations from the original novel), costumes and lighting design were as vibrant and fanciful as the source material; the score was stylistically diverse, while still retaining Wildhorn’s trademark pop sound and delivered by a remarkable cast. They all inhabited their roles with much gusto and truly brought the characters to life, from Darren Ritchie’s exuberantly pompous but never obnoxious White Knight, to Karen Mason’s positively dotty yet still intimidating Queen of Hearts; from Kate Shindle’s menacing and power-hungry Mad Hatter to Edward Staudemayer’s harried White Rabbit. There were plenty of tongue-in-cheek (often theatrical) references scattered throughout – “One Knight” sung with boy band harmonies and synchronized dance steps, musical references to Evita, South Pacific, Gypsy and The Music Man in “Hail The Queen”, as well as numerous New York City-related references, though it should be noted that these elements are not included in the original cast recording (why, I have no idea). Also, outside the Marquis Theatre, there was specially created 3D street art that seemed to act as a gateway into Wonderland:

Amazing 3D Street art outside the Marquis Theatre

The audience for the final performance was as energetic as the first preview and after the curtain call, the audience was treated to a rather unique post-show event during the curtain call speech. More times than not, one of the lead actors would say a few words to the audience, usually about the journey he/she and the cast have gone through their run, thank the fans for supporting the show, etc. In the case of Wonderland, however, along with the usual words of thanks and appreciation, Darren Ritchie took the opportunity to praise and subsequently propose to his co-star and girlfriend Janet Dacal, to the delight of the cast and the audience in attendance. To my knowledge, this is the first (and only) on stage marriage proposal of two cast members (and the two leads, no less), and it was quite a beautiful and heartwarming moment in the midst of a normally somber time.

Naturally, the stage door area was jam-packed with theater goers wanting to personally thank the actors, along with getting their playbill signed and taking photos of (and sometimes with) them. The location of stage door to the Marquis Theatre is an awkward one, as the stage door is behind a very large circular pillar, so much of the entryway is obscured to most of the crowd waiting outside. Nevertheless, with the metal barricades well in place, the fans waited, and it was quite an overcast day already, and by the time the actors started to trickle out of the stage door, it had begun to rain (not too hard, but it was a light steady rain). Thankfully, there is an overhang in the few feet from the stage door to the street, so at least the actors would not get wet (and there were enough people with umbrellas so not too many of the fans – or their posters and/or playbills – got wet either). The wait for the actors to come out the stage door was not without its own entertainment – Cisco, the stage door security minder (I’m not sure of what his exact title is), kept the patient theatre-goers amused, informed and under control (even getting the fans who were waiting to cheer every time he chanted “Wonderland!” It worked.) Of course, there was much more cheering when the actors came out, especially for the newly engaged couple. As my wont, I was able to position myself at the front row of the metal barricades, almost directly across from the stage door, so (not to let an opportunity pass me by) I was able to take a photo of the engagement ring.

Janet Dacal’s engagement ring, close-up.

It was quite a magical and entertaining show, and it’s a shame the critics didn’t feel the same way – I do hope that this show is produced in regional theaters across the US, around the world and maybe return to Broadway in the future.

Final performance signed playbill

Let the Spectacle Astound You: Celebrating the Phantom Gala (and the best birthday EVER) – January 9, 2006 (evening)

In recent years, I’ve often celebrated my birthday (or at least as close to my birth date – January 9th – as possible) at the theater, but few instances are as memorable as January 9, 2006, when a happy set of coincidences and Fate allowed me to be present for a moment in Broadway history (and also to meet one of my musical theatre idols).  Thankfully, I had blogged about this on Friendster (anyone remember that site?) a few days afterwards.  So here (with a few edits and explanatory Notes), is what had wrote (written):

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Normally, I don’t believe in miracles, but on January 9th, I became a believer. For those who don’t know, I am a huge fan (phan?) of Phantom of the Opera (among other musicals) and an even bigger phan of one Michael Crawford (henceforth referenced as MC), the originator of the title role in the aforementioned musical. I even joined his official fan association, the Michael Crawford International Fan Association (MCIFA) in 2003.

On January 9th, 2006, Phantom became the longest running show in Broadway history, at 7,486 performances, outlasting Cats, another musical written by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  It should also be noted  that January 9th was also the date on which Phantom played its first preview.  Anyway, for months before the momentous day, tickets were hard to come by, since it had been announced that it was “invitation only” (which turns out is a bald-faced lie, but I get to that later). There had been an internet contest to win rear mezzanine tickets to the January 9th performance. I entered, of course, with only a slim chance of winning. (I didn’t win.) The weekend before, I read on the MCIFA message board that tickets were being released on Telecharge, and naturally I tried getting tickets that way. Still no luck.

January 9th comes along and it starts out like any other day (well except for the fact that it was my birthday). I decided to bring my digital camera with me, for I had planned to meet up with some MCIFA members to wait outside the Majestic Theater to catch a glimpse of MC and other VIPs before the show started; I figured I’d at least get a nice photo of MC, have dinner with my friends, Keith and Erin, then go home. Well, needless to say, things didn’t end up as planned.

So on that morning, I headed downtown to work [A/N: at the time I worked at the Bank of New York in Lower Manhattan], stopping at the Starbucks on Barclay Street, where I order my (then) usual grande Cinnamon Dolce Latte (which I highly recommend). Watson, the friendly barista (yes, I know the barista’s names at that Starbucks), upgraded my drink to a venti upon learning it was my birthday.  [A/N: this was years before Starbucks rolled out the Gold Card and the free birthday drink]. Anyway, I made my way to the office building, cutting through the stationery store to get inside. While in the stationery store, my jacket gets caught on the metal pegs where the snacks are, and I spill 90% of my coffee (luckily none of it spilled on me), and only about an inch of coffee was left in the cup. Now you may ask, why am I telling you this? Well it’ll explain my behavior later that day.

So I’m working when at 9:42AM my cell phone rings. Normally I set it on silent, but in the confusion of the coffee incident, I forgot to do so. On the phone is Lillian (a member of the MCIFA), informing that there was a spare ticket for the gala performance! I get the relevant information and hang up the phone, jumping up and down like giddy little girl [A/N: Yes, I admit to doing that without any shame]. I should also mention that the area where I work is pretty deserted so only my co-workers and my boss heard me. Later on that afternoon Keith calls to say that he also has secured tickets from telecharge.com, and I then promptly go on telecharge.com and get a ticket for Elizabeth (another dedicated phan) as a belated birthday gift.

Fast forward to 4:00PM – I left work early to meet up with Lillian, who was holding my ticket – the seat is front mezzanine, row E (right side). I arrived at the Majestic and there were a few people already gathered in the area. I spot other MCIFA members chatting with the head of security of the theater, who informs us that MC had popped out thirty minutes before. As night falls, more and more people gather – some dressed up, some not. By 6:00PM the press show up, and metal barricades are set up around the entrance and across the street.

I entered and proceeded to my seat, along with Keith, Erin and Elizabeth. On the seat were a complementary souvenir program book and a masquerade-like mask. I then hear someone say that MC was in the building, specifically almost directly below where our seats were. I grabbed my camera and start snapping photos – we called out to him and he looked up and waved at us!

Hello, Michael Crawford.

I also spied Andrew Lloyd Webber and his family in the crowd and got a few photos of them. Also spotted Michael Eisner and some other celebs, but it was too dark to tell where (and who) they were.

At the center, Andrew Lloyd Webber, his wife, dressed in orange-gold in front, and his two of his children behind him. I can’t tell who is standing next to ALW.

Middle row: The Lloyd Webber family in their seats awaiting the start of Act 2.

The performance started 20 minutes later than expected and there was massive cheering when it was announced that it was the record-breaking performance, and again when the chandelier started it ascent. Cheers stopped the show when George Lee Andrews (one of three original performers who had been with the show since the beginning) made his entrance. In fact there were cheers for all the leading actors, especially for Howard McGillin, who played the Phantom and Sandra Joseph, who played Christine. I have seen him numerous times over the years but his performance that night  was extraordinary (well it would be with the producer Cameron Mackintosh, the director Hal Prince and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber in the audience).

Intermission soon arrives and I heard that there was free champagne being handed out. Again, I hung around the front mezzanine overhang and again spotted MC chatting with someone. Now I have no idea where this sudden burst of boldness came from, but I made my way down (camera in hand) to the orchestra section and found where MC was. I swear my hands were shaking and I could hear my heartbeat, and I finally found him, chatting with a gentleman (I don’t know who that person was). I wasn’t going to interrupt his conversation so I stood about a foot away just looking at him, waiting. He spied me, and another girl (don’t know who she was either), who had her playbill and a pen out. MC asked me if I would like a photo with him and I nodded. I also told him that it was my birthday, to which he proceeded to wish me a happy birthday. The photo was taken (I forget by who) and I saw the lights flicker briefly – intermission was nearly over. I thanked him and made my way back to my seat.

Thinking back, I was very calm and collected when I approached and spoke to him, and to my credit I waited until I was back in the mezzanine section to get all hysterical and fan-girly. I think it was the lack of coffee in my system that made me calmer than I would have been. Act Two is as wonderful as Act One, and massive cheering ensued when the cast took their bows.

Then came “Act Three”, wherein a dancer dressed up like a Cat danced a bit and symbolically passed the baton to the Phantom, and bowed to the cast, relinquishing its place as the longest running show. Afterwards, alumni cast members came on stage, including several former Phantoms, Christines, Raouls, and Carlottas.

A line-up of former Phantoms at the Phantom Gala

They then launched into a brief reprise of “Masquerade”, then parted to admit Andrew Lloyd Webber to the stage. He made a brief speech, followed by director Hal Prince, producer Cameron Mackintosh, and choreographer Gillian Lynne. Then Lloyd Webber introduced MC, who received the loudest cheers of the night (and rightfully so!). He made a short speech as well, he embraced Howard McGillin and kissed Sandra Joseph’s hand (lucky girl!); he then went on to say that it was his first time seeing the show from the audience’s POV (who knew?), and after thanking Lloyd Webber, etc., in his best Phantom voice, bellowed out “GOOOOOOOOO!” thus releasing confetti and balloons everywhere. More cheering ensues.

Having not secured passes to the gala ball at the Waldorf Astoria (I’m not THAT lucky), we (Keith, Erin, Elizabeth and I) headed home. It was certainly the best birthday I’ve ever (or will ever) have [A/N: well, my birthday at La Cage is a close second, but, again, that’s for another blog…), and quite an unforgettable night.

Quite possibly the BEST gift a girl could ask for on her birthday – a photo with one of her favorite actors/singers.

On the Brighton Line: Observations & Musings of One Man, Two Guvnors – June 9, 2012 (matinee)

On the day before the Tony Awards 2012, I strode to the TKTS at Duffy Square, (right in the heart of Times Square) with the intention of seeing something, though it was nearly difficult to pick from the discounted shows offered. You see, aside from the Usual Suspects not on the TKTS board (namely, Wicked, The Book of Mormon, Porgy & Bess, Harvey and The Lion King), just about every Broadway musical and play was up on the TKTS board with at least a 40% discount.

There were several factors to consider – there were the newer, Tony-nominated shows, of which, (depending on how the awards are handed out), would announce their closing performance date or would no longer be on the TKTS board; then there were shows that had already announced their closing dates, and some shows that had previous not had discounts available on TKTS.  Should I go see Priscilla Queen of the Desert again before it closes? Or should I go see Peter and the Starcatcher? Once? Nice Work If You Can Get It? Evita? War Horse? Jersey Boys? For once, there were too many choices,  and in for this season of shows, I didn’t have a show on which I quasi-fixated (unlike a certain show two years ago, but that’s for another blog…).

So after a bit of internal debate (and a lot of pondering) I joined the Express Play line (which is usually shorter than the general line, as most theater goers opt to see musicals) and chose to see One Man, Two Guvnors, and obtained a rear orchestra (right) seat. Clearly the Music Box Theatre is now my go-to theater for hilarious comedies, as I’ve realized (after the fact) that the last three plays I had seen at this theater – Lend Me a Tenor, La Bête and Shatner’s World – We Just Live In It – left me with bellyaches of laughter and resulted in the deepening of the smile lines around my mouth.

One Man, Two Guvnors is one of the funniest plays I’ve seen in recent years, though technically speaking, it is a play with music, as the production features a quartet called “The Craze” consisting of Jason Rabinowitz (lead vocals), Austin Moorhead (lead guitar), Charlie Rosen (bass) and Jacob Colin Cohen (percussion), who play a set of songs before and throughout the play (and also during intermission). I now firmly believe that every Broadway show, both play and musical should all have an in-house band or act to entertain the audience at least before the show (intermission optional) – much better than just sitting and waiting for the show to start, especially for those who get to the theatre early or at least on time (and considering the price of theatre tickets these days, I’d want to get my money’s worth).

Given the source material is Commedia dell’Arte, it should not be surprising that the play is a farce, and a British one at that, so in addition to the usual slapstick humor, mistaken identities and comedic mayhem, there’s Cockney slang, double entendres, and British accents. The play is set in the seaside town of Brighton in 1963 and tells the tale of Francis Henshall, played by the charming and hilarious James Corden, a good-natured yet easily confused guy with a voracious appetite, who finds himself (quite inadvertently) in the employ of two guvnors (the British term for an employer), both of whom are not quite on the right side of the law. Naturally, hilarity and chaos ensue as the complicated lives of the two guvnors intertwine and Francis has the arduous task to keep one from knowing that he is the employ of the other. Of course it doesn’t help that he adds to the confusion before everything is happily resolved.

The fourth wall is consistently broken throughout the play by Francis, often addressing the audience directly, and even bringing up some audience members (those lucky few in the first row)  for a bit of audience participation – though I must say the afternoon I saw the play, I think there was more improvisation than usual. Since this was my first time seeing the play, I don’t know if certain things were anticipated or if it was truly improvisation. As previously mentioned, Francis is constantly hungry (not such a good thing) and is consistently short of money (definitely not a good thing) – so at one point in a scene he asks the (rhetorical) question “Does anyone have a sandwich?” to which several audience members respond in kind – one person in the mezzanine section offers him a sandwich, while another sitting mid orchestra right tosses him a Rice Krispies Treat (which gets eaten by another cast member once the scene is restarted).

This lengthy banter seemed to have stopped the show, as James Corden (doing his best to not break character too much) explained that the question was part of the play and definitely rhetorical. So the scene restarts right before the aforementioned line, and sure enough, after he delivers the line again, someone else (somewhere in the mid orchestra left) offers him a sandwich, to which he (clearly) ad-libs, “Oh come on, we’ve just been through this!”, then asks the audience member what kind of sandwich (humus) – “Oh, you can keep it”, and then proceeds to continue with the scene, but not before informing the audience that we had effectively ruined  an ensemble member’s two lines (he only had three lines in the entire play).  Oh well.

 [Brief update/disclaimer: my boss had gone to see the play over the weekend, and he stated that this entire bit was indeed part of the show, which, in hindsight, I should have suspected, but at the time  it was brilliantly executed and does confirm the sheer talent of James Corden and his ability to make a scripted scene look like it was improvised.]

 The role of Francis Henshall is certainly James Corden’s tour de force, with his cheeky smile, comic timing and his sheer commitment to do just about anything for a laugh. The rest of the cast was top-notch, with Daniel Rigby and Todd Edden as worthy contenders for the award for the Best Scene Stealer (which would be an awesome Tony Award category…) As Alan Dingle, Daniel Rigby brilliantly encapsulates the psyche of the Actor, dressed in black and spouting grand (often Shakespearean) proclamations before dramatically exiting the stage – it can almost come across as cliché, but never does. Tony Award nominated Todd Edden is outstanding as Alfie, the octogenarian waiter, with his shaky hands and (often) dialed-up pacemaker, who is the hapless recipient of much of the comedic mayhem that is dished out at a semi-regular basis.

James Corden at the stage door.

Considering that it was the day before the Tony Awards, it seemed as if  the stars were in town and at the theater – I spotted Patrick Duffy in the lobby before the show, caught a glimpse of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones during intermission, and saw Tony Roberts as he exited the theater (someone also stated that Bernadette Peters was also in the attendance, but I didn’t see her). The stage door experience was interesting in the fact that there were no steel barricades surrounding the stage door, which was right next to the entrance between the Music Box and the Imperial, where Nice Work If You Can Get It is currently playing. Since Nice Work If You Can Get It ends roughly the same time One Man, Two Guvnors does, there were some theater goers from that show waiting at the Music Box stage door – I dutifully directed them to the correct location, which is around the other side of the theater on W46th Street.  There weren’t too many other theater goers waiting at the stage door, either (but I suspect that may change very soon) – most of the cast came out the stage door and signed playbills and posters (and posed for photos).

I highly recommend One Man, Two Guvnors if you’re looking for a good laugh and great music.

Update (albeit late): Hearty congratulations to James Corden for his well-deserved win as the 2012 Best Actor in a Play (and against notable actors James Earl Jones, John Lithgow, Frank Langella and Phillip Seymour Hoffman!) His Tony speech was remarkable, humble and sweet, and his brief performance of the scene wherein he fights with himself was astounding.

Signed playbill

Update 09/02/2012:  I had fully intended to see the final performance, but was unable to obtain a ticket, or rather, was not willing to pay full price [$142!] , it had been announced that there would be no standing room seats and no discount codes were being honored). Nevertheless, I passed by the stage door after the show’s end and saw a massive throng of people with cameras at the ready)  waiting at the stage door. There was the usual amount of cheering when the cast came out, and dutifully signed playbills, posters and even one kid’s red sneaker (why, I don’t know). It’s always heartwarming to see such outpouring of appreciation for an outstanding cast of amazing actors.

Greetings and Salutations!

Welcome to Close Encounters of the Theatrical Kind, my theatre blog, one I probably should have started years ago, but nevertheless, Here I Am!.  I plan to use this specific blog to share my adventures, observations and musings of the various Broadway and Off-Broadway shows I have seen over the years, as well as theatre-related events I have attended.

Disclaimer:  Please be aware that the opinions and observations reflected in this blog are my own, and if you disagree with any of it, please be courteous about it. I will do my best to refrain from being outright mean or offensive, though I do reserve the right to be snarky and sarcastic. There undoubtedly will be some references and inside jokes not everyone will understand, and maybe my sense of humor may not be to everyone’s liking, but I Am What I Am, and there’s not much that will change that. Also, all the photos that appear on my blog are my own, so please ask permission before copying and reusing. Thanks.

I believe that:

  • One can enjoy the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim equally (yes, it’s possible) – both composers have their unique style (heck, they even share a birthday!). One composer is not necessarily better than the other; each have their signature scores for which they are praised, and each have scores that are not quite as good  too.
  • Phantom of the Opera does not, did not, and will never need a sequel.
  •  Theatre can be Art, theatre can be Entertainment and in those rare occasions, they can be both concurrently artful and entertaining.
  • Movie adaptations of musicals should be cast with age-appropriate, trained actors who can actually sing the score and do justice to the source material, and not just be cast with photogenic [young], bankable movie stars for the sake of drawing in the tween set [A/N: this bullet point is more or less directed at one particular movie musical, and for those who know me, you know which one]
  • Dance of the Vampires, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Wonderland  had a brilliant score, amazing cast and should have had a longer run on Broadway
  • Sunset Blvd. and Oliver!  should be revived on Broadway. Soon. (though not necessarily in the same season)
  • Les Miserables should return to Broadway for good.
  • One cannot possibly be unhappy after seeing Mamma Mia!, Priscilla Queen of the Desert or La Cage aux Folles, and songs from those shows will be in your head for days afterwards.
  • While the taking of photographs should not be done during the show, the taking of photos during the curtain call should be allowed (after all, the show’s over and the cast are on stage as themselves) – same goes for final performance, post-performance speeches and such.
  • The Tony Awards telecast needs to cut down on the production numbers (especially from musicals that are not even nominated) and broadcast the technical awards, let the winners speak as long as they need to,  and be allowed to run overtime (if the Oscars can run over time, why can’t the Tonys?)