Broadway in Bryant Park 2012: Rebecca, Sistas: The Musical, Chicago, Rent, Evita, & Newsies – August 9, 2012

For the penultimate 2012 Broadway in Bryant Park lunchtime concert, the apparent theme for the afternoon was one word titled musicals (discounting the usually ever-present “The Musical” descriptor) with grand showstoppers and loyal and vocal fan bases: Rebecca, Sistas: The Musical, Chicago, Rent, Evita, and Newsies. I arrived at Bryant Park that morning at my usual time and sat in my usual seat, and like the previous week, the weather was warm and sunny, but it wasn’t to be exactly as usual. Not too long after I settled into my seat, I was politely informed by one of the event volunteers that the row in which I usually sat (front center, on the lawn behind the gravel path where the press sat) as well as the rows to the left and right was to be reserved for VIPs. It was the first time this has happened (at least to me), so I moved to the second row on the left side, which was still a good view of the stage, albeit a smidge to the left. As always, the seats filled up quickly, with some opting to stay in the shade until the performance began. The 106.7 Lite FM host was Victor Sosa.

106.7 Lite FM host Victor Sosa

First to perform was the upcoming Rebecca, which starts its preview performances on October 30, 2012 at the Broadhurst Theatre, and is based on the book of the same name (from which the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film was also based) by Daphne du Maurier. Stars Ryan Silverman, Jill Paice, and understudy Maree Johnson were on hand to perform four songs: Jill Paice sang “Free Now”, Maree Johnson sang “She’s Invincible” Paice and Ryan Silverman sang “Help Me Through the Night” and all three sang the title song “Rebecca”. I must say I am looking forward to seeing this show (and hoping it succeeds), which was originally produced and performed in Vienna (and in German) – the songs were grand, sweeping arias befitting the grandeur of the source material.

From left to right: Jill Paice, Maree Johnson & Ryan Silverman

Next to perform was Sistas: The Musical, an off-Broadway show about a multi-generational African-American family, currently playing at St. Luke’s Theatre, and was a “Broadway Bite” (though technically speaking the show is running off-Broadway) with the cast Tracey Conyer Lee, Lexi Rhoades, April Nixon, Jennifer Fouché and Amy Goldberger singing a pair of songs; I wish I could recall the first song they sang, but the second song was the oft-used family oriented anthem “We Are Family”, to which the cast encouraged the crowd to sing along (most did).

Cast of Sistas The Musical: Tracey Conyer Lee, Lexi Rhoades, April Nixon, Jennifer Fouché and Amy Goldberger

Next was Chicago, which is currently the longest running revival, playing at the Ambassador Theater, and is (as stated at the very start of the show) “a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery – all those things we all hold near and dear to our hearts”. The cast members on hand were Donna Marie Asbury, Dylis Croman, Cristy Candler, Tonya Wathen, Tony Yazbeck, Peter Nelson, Amos Wolff and Denny Paschall; the songs that were sung were “All That Jazz”, sung by Donna Marie Asbury, “Roxie” sung by Dylis Croman, “All I Care About”, sung by Tony Yazbeck, and “My Baby and Me”, sung by Dylis Croman, all performed with the classic Bob Fosse choreography.

Clockwise from top left: Donna Marie Asbury, Tony Yazbeck & Dylis Croman

Next up was Rent, the off-Broadway incarnation of the modern adaptation of La Bohème playing at New World Stages until September 9, 2012. Cast members Anthony Federov, Sean Michael Murray, Emma Hunton, and Shaleah Adkisson were on hand to sing three songs: Anthony Federov sang “One Song Glory”, Federov was joined by Sean Michael Murray to sing “What You Own” and Emma Hunton, and Shaleah Adkisson sang “Take Me Or Leave Me”.

Clockwise from top left: Anthony Federov, Sean Michael Murray, Emma Hunton, & Shaleah Adkisson

Next was Evita, currently playing at the Marquis Theatre and tells the life story of Eva Peron, the former first lady of Argentina. Stars Christina DeCicco, Max von Essen and Rachel Potter were on hand to sing a trio of songs: Christina DeCicco sang “Buenos Aires”, Rachel Potter sang “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, and Max von Essen and Christina DeCicco sang “High Flying, Adored”.

Left to right: Christina DeCicco,Rachel Potter & Max von Essen

The final performance of the afternoon was from Newsies, based on the Disney film of the same name, currently playing at the Nederlander Theater based on a true story about the trials and tribulations of teenage newspaper sellers at the turn of the 20th century. This was the show that had the most vocal fans present at the park, and presumably the reason for the increase in reserved seating. Cast members Corey Cott, Kara Lindsay, and Julie Foldesi were on hand to sing three songs: Julie Foldesi sang “That’s Rich”, Corey Cott and Kara Lindsay sang ‘Something to Believe In” and Corey Cott sang “Santa Fe”.

Left to right: Julie Foldesi, Corey Cott & Kara Lindsay & Corey Cott

 

Again, despite the warmer than usual yet typical August weather, it was  an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

 

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Where All The Streets Are Paved With Soul: Musings on the Final Performance of Memphis – August 5, 2012

As I had stated in a previous blog entry, 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. Such was the case for the final performance of Memphis, which ended its almost three-year run at the Shubert Theatre on August 5, 2012.The closing notice had been announced a few months beforehand, with buy-one-get-one free ticket discounts advertised for those few months; nevertheless, I bought my ticket that morning via the TKTS booth in Times Square, obtaining a rear orchestra (right) seat.

As Sunday matinee performances began at 3PM, I made my way to Shubert Alley (after a brief stop to the American Airlines Theatre to purchase a ticket for the first preview performance of Cyrano de Bergerac) and I saw a small group of fans lingering around the stage door to the Shubert Theatre. Many fans carried souvenir posters and had their cameras at the ready, and there was one young woman carrying a large bouquet of long stem red roses, which she handed to each cast member as they arrived at the theater. Some cast members, including leads Adam Pascal, Derrick Baskin, and J. Bernard Calloway lingered outside signing posters, posing for photos and generally chatting with those waiting outside, which I though was a sweet and generous thing to do. There were also signs of appreciation and thanks taped to the metal barricades that were often set up around the stage door, which was also a sweet and generous thing to do.

Some fan-made signs of appreciation and thanks.

Prior to this final performance, I had seen Memphis twice before (both times via the annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market & Auction), once with the original lead Chad Kimball in 2010, and the other time in 2011 with the current lead Adam Pascal. The basic plot of the show is of the burgeoning relationship between an aspiring white DJ and an aspiring black singer in 1950s Memphis and the advent of rock ‘n’ roll music played on mainstream radio.

There were waves of applause and cheering throughout, as typical for a final performance, not only at the end of songs, but also for the entrances of each of the main cast. The cast gave it their all for the last time, and were rewarded with rousing standing ovations after most of the musical numbers. After the curtain calls, Montego Glover step forward to thank the audience for their support and introduced to the stage several cast alumni as well as much of the creative team – composer/lyricist David Bryan (who is perhaps best known as being the keyboardist for the band Bon Jovi), co-lyricist and book writer Joe DiPietro, and choreographer Sergio Trujillo, which was suitably followed by a jubilant encore of “Steal Your Rock ‘N” Roll”.

“Never let anyone steal your rock ‘n’ roll!”

The stage door was expectedly teeming with fans wanting to give the cast their thanks and appreciation, as well as the usual playbill signing and photo opportunities. Despite the heat and humidity, the crowd outside the stage door, (which exits out into Shubert Alley) remained and giving rousing cheers as the cast came out to greet the fans. There were conversations aplenty, hugs and well wishes for all – there was such an outpouring of love and appreciation, the cast seem overwhelmed. All in all it was a thrilling experience and a fun afternoon at the theater. Memphis does live on, as it is currently on tour, and also on DVD, as the show was professionally filmed last year with the original cast. Hockadoo!

Final performance signed playbill

 

Broadway in Bryant Park 2012: My Sinatra, Chaplin, Silence! The Musical, One Man, Two Guvnors & Mamma Mia! – August 2, 2012

As mentioned previously, the Broadway in Bryant Park series is a free lunchtime concert wherein a group of shows perform a few musical numbers from their respective shows, but the fourth week in the 2012 edition featured quite a mixed bag – one solo performance, one upcoming musical, one Off-Broadway musical, one play with music and one long running musical: respectively (and in order of performance), My Sinatra, Chaplin, Silence! The Musical, One Man, Two Guvnors, and Mamma Mia!. Of course I arrived at Bryant Park early, and in contrast to the previous time I was at the park, the weather was sunny and seasonably warm. The seats around me filled up quickly, though there were a few who opted to linger around in the shaded areas. The 106.7 Lite FM host this time around was Rich Kaminski.

106.7 Lite FM host Rich Kaminski

The first show to perform was My Sinatra, playing at the Sofia’s Downstairs Theatre, which is a solo performance piece that has Cary Hoffman, a Frank Sinatra sound-a-like (and he did sound a little like Ol’ Blue Eyes), recounting the influence Sinatra had on his life and upbringing. He sang “Fly Me To The Moon” and “Summer Wind” decked out in a full tuxedo (surely not an easy feat on a hot and humid afternoon), and his set was more or less a warm-up act prior to the formal start of the program.

Cary Hoffman channeling his inner Frank Sinatra

The next show to perform was the upcoming musical Chaplin, which starts its preview performances on August 21, 2012 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, and tells the life story of Charlie Chaplin. Stars Christiane Noll, Rob McClure, Jenn Colella sang, respectively “Look At All The People”, “If I Left London”, and “All Fall Down”. The songs were catchy, and had the jaunty feel of the music from that era. It will be quite interesting to see how the show is staged and the overall tone of the musical.

Above: Jenn Colella & Christiane Noll
Below: Rob McClure

Next up was Silence The Musical, the unauthorized parody of the film Silence of the Lambs, currently playing at the Elektra Theatre. The cast included David Garrison, Jenn Harris, Stephen Bienskie, Kimberly Stern, Topher Nuccio, Nick McGough, Randy Harrison, Ronica Reddick, Howard Kaye and they sang “Silence of the Lambs,” “Are You About a Size 14?”, “Papa Shtarling”, and “Finale”. Despite having not seen the movie, I know enough about the basic plot to appreciate the premise of the show.

Silence! The Musical cast (David Garrison, Jenn Harris, Stephen Bienskie, Kimberly Stern, Topher Nuccio, Nick McGough, Randy Harrison, Ronica Reddick & Howard Kaye)

Next was One Man, Two Guvnors, currently playing at the Music Box Theatre until September 2, 2012, and is a hilarious farce about the lengths one man will go to juggle having two guvnors (employers), keeping one from knowing about the other, and to get a decent meal,. The play features an in-house band called “The Craze”, consisting of Jason Rabinowitz (lead vocals), Austin Moorhead (lead guitar), Charlie Rosen (bass) and Jacob Colin Cohen (percussion), who performed three songs “IOU”, “Just My Luck” and “The Brighton Line”.

Clockwise from top: Austin Moorhead, Charlie Rosen, Jason Rabinowitz & Jacob Colin Cohen

The final performance of the afternoon was from Mamma Mia, currently playing at the Winter Garden Theatre, and is about a daughter’s quest to find her father and a mother confronting her past all set to ABBA songs. The leads Judy McLane, Felicia Finley, Stacia Fernandez and much of the ensemble were on hand to sing a selection of songs from the show, including “The Winner Takes It All” “Mamma Mia!”,  “Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo”.

From left to right: Felicia Finley, Judy McLane & Stacia Fernandez

Once again, it was a highly entertaining afternoon, despite the heat and humidity.

Nice is Different Than Good: Sondheim in the Park with Into the Woods – July 29, 2012

Once upon a time…

One of the magical aspects of live theatre is its inherent ability to transport the audience to another place and time, through words and music, costumes and sets (and a dash of special effects thrown in for good measure). While watching a theatrical performance indoors, be it in a school auditorium or a Broadway or off-Broadway theatre is thrilling, there is a different kind of something when watching a theatrical performance outdoors, and especially when the outdoor location is in Central Park in New York City. Shakespeare in the Park is an annual summer event presented by the Public Theater where fully staged productions are performed at the Delacorte Theater, located on the Upper West Side.

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the series, and I had the opportunity to see Into the Woods, composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s musical mash-up of familiar fairy tale characters – Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (of beanstalk fame), etc. interwoven with an original tale about a childless Baker and his Wife. Wishes are made and fulfilled, but typical of Sondheim musicals, “happily ever after” is not always the case, preconceptions are dispelled and life lessons are imparted. [Interesting side note: Into the Woods marks the third Sondheim musical I have seen in 2012 thus far – the other two being the amazing Broadway revival of Follies and the City Center’s Encores production of Merrily We Roll Along  – and the first time I had seen three different productions from the same composer.]

Another great thing about Shakespeare in the Park is that tickets are free, though tickets can be purchased though donating to the Public Theater; two ways of obtaining the sought out (free) tickets – either waiting on the stand-by line or the virtual ticketing lottery – I was able to attend via the latter option, by invitation from a friend of mine. Thankfully the evening was a bit overcast, and mildly warm; it had rained (lightly and briefly) earlier that afternoon, so it was not as humid as it was earlier in the day. Walking through the park en route to the theater was refreshing, and there was still a good amount of people waiting on the stand-by line, and a (typically) longer line for the ladies restroom.

“The woods are just trees / the trees are just wood…”

The set design was inspired, having the look of an elaborate tree house, with stairs, ladders and walkways for at least three levels; there were stage-built trees onstage, adding to the illusion of being in the woods. The illusion was further enhanced by the very real trees that were situated beyond the theater, as well as the occasional birds that flew and chirped by; inevitably, the illusion was shattered periodically with the all too familiar rumble from a passing airplane. These things do happen, I suppose. There were some other unique aspects of this production, one of which was that the Narrator was a child of ten or eleven years of age, who sought solace in the woods after an argument with his father (to which had been alluded at the very start); this inclusion further explored the show’s theme of the ever-changing and complex relationship between a parent and a child.

As to be expected the cast was astounding, especially Donna Murphy as the Witch, conveying humor, malice and pathos with equal ferocity serving as the instigator, catalyst, and moral compass for the various characters who venture into the woods to fulfill their own desires and wishes. Another interesting footnote is Chip Zien, who had been the Baker in the original production, being cast as the Mysterious Man, who turns out to be (spoiler alert!) the Baker’s father; Denis O’Hare, who portrayed the Baker with great depth of emotion, also doubled as the father to the narrator, thus perpetuating the theme of fathers and sons.  Also honorable mention goes to the puppetry that went into portraying the Giant (who usually appears as just a looming shadow), voiced by Glenn Close – seeing the Giant appear amongst the trees was nothing short of fantastic, and the use of large umbrellas to symbolize the giant beanstalk.

Into the Woods runs through August 25, 2012* and it is well worth the effort to obtain tickets, despite the chance of the weather is unbearably hot and humid as it typically does in August; also the added nuance of actually being in the woods (OK, technically speaking, in the park) makes for a magical evening fitting for watching a fairy tale adventure.

Updated 08/07/12:  It has been announced that the production will extend another week, ending its run on September 1, 2012.

Update 08/14/12:  Despite the rather mixed-to-negative reviews from the critics, it seems that there is still talk about moving this production to Broadway – while I thoroughly enjoyed this production (regardless of what the critics think), I don’t think the show would benefit from the transfer. The innate charm of this production is its performance space, with Central Park as a counterpart and even an extension of the overall set design and the outdoor atmosphere. As dusk turns to (nearly) midnight as the tale unfolds around the audience, it emphasizes and enhances the turn of events that befall the characters. Take those elements away and it’ll just be like any other revival – the last Broadway revival ten years ago was good, but enclosing this production into an indoor space, regardless of how large the stage space is, would be as stifling and restrictive as the Witch confining Rapunzel in her tower. If this production were to transfer to Broadway, and it seems that the earliest time frame would be the season after next (as there are a slew of new musicals and plays arriving on Broadway for the upcoming season, and that several cast members have conflicting projects in the upcoming months), I would still like to see the show again, but for me, it wouldn’t be the same as it was in the woods (well, park). I suppose we’ll have to wait to see how things unfold.