To the Seat of Sweet Music’s Throne: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Phantom of the Opera – January 26, 2013

Let it be known that January is officially my favorite month in the entire year, despite the bitter cold wind and the occasional snowfall that often turns to slippery dangerous ice that comes with being in New York City. Of course aside from my own birthday being in January, there are also other notable theatrical dates, related to Phantom of the Opera, the longest running musical on Broadway, which celebrated its 25th anniversary on January 26, 2013 at the Majestic Theater.

Phantom 25 years

[Disclaimer: As noted in several previous blog posts, I am a great fan [phan] of Phantom of the Opera and I’m also a great fan of many of the cast members both past and present. The original London cast recording of Phantom was one of the first musical scores I listened to, and have seen the production more times that any other show, whether it be musical or play, and I have seen the show in three different cities, and two different countries. I can almost guarantee that there will be several fan girl moments in the paragraphs to follow, perhaps some mild ranting / nitpicking as well, as I do have strong opinions with regards to this show, many of which might (or might not) agree with the rest of the Phantom fandom, who are among the most loyal and opinionated (both in a good and bad way) fan base I’ve ever encountered, mostly online. I should state here that I’m much more an “old school” fan, though not so much a strict Leroux purist, I prefer to think of the Phantom as an older man, a quasi-father figure to Christine, and not the young, sexy Phantom that seems prevalent these days. While I love the stage production, I hated the film adaptation, though that had more to do with the casting of the film (and had the film been remotely cast like the Les Miserables film, I would have been much happier). I also greatly disliked the “sequel-but-it’s-not-really-a-sequel” Love Never Dies, though interestingly enough, the dislike stems more from the nonsensical plot, which reads more like really bad wishful thinking fan girl fan fiction. Had Love Never Dies been a parody, I would have dismissed it as such; alas it was not.

But I digress.

I’m more familiar with the Lloyd Webber adaptation of the Phantom story, and of course that is the subject of this blog. Anyway, this is quite a long-winded way of stating that there will be fan girl moments, rants / nitpicks and strong opinions with regards to this show, which, as mentioned in previous blogs, my second all time favorite musical that I have seen live on stage.]

As the opening night date for Phantom is public knowledge and that in 2013 it would be its 25th anniversary on Broadway, naturally there was great anticipation on what the festivities would entail and whether or not tickets would be available to the public. For months prior to the opening night, it was announced that there would not be tickets available for that performance; in mid December 2012 it had been announced that there would be only 100 pairs of tickets available, and a sweepstakes contest via the show’s Facebook page would determine the winners (with the stipulation that winners needed to be US residents). One of my friends was fortunate enough to be one of the sweepstakes winners, and was taking me with her, which assured me that I would be able to attend. On January 22nd however, the announcement came that a limited amount of rear mezzanine tickets would be on sale for the 25th anniversary performance, at which time most of my other friends who had not won the Sweepstakes rushed to get tickets. Of course, this also happened seven years ago when Phantom became the longest running show on Broadway; nevertheless, it was great that seats were available for the public.

Phantom Cast List

Phantom Cast List

As stated at the beginning of this blog, there are notable (well at least to me) dates associated with Phantom – its first preview was on January 9th (which is also my birthday), and of course, January 26th, opening night. Another notable date is January 19th, which is original Phantom Michael Crawford’s birthday, so my day of celebrating all things Phantom started with the annual MCIFA [Michael Crawford International Fan Association] Birthday Bash Luncheon, which is always a fun event to meet fellow Crawford fans, many of whom were also attending the 25th Anniversary performance.

As my friend Kay was one of the contest winners, we didn’t know where we would be seated until we picked up our tickets – we ended up in midsection of the rear mezzanine (right side), which I believe is the farthest from the stage I have ever sat at the Majestic Theater. Interestingly there were no other shows (aside from Rock of Ages across the street at the Helen Hayes Theater) running on West 44th Street, as Lucky Guy and Matilda the Musical were scheduled to start its productions at the Broadhurst and Shubert Theaters, respectively, in the Spring, and Barry Manilow, who scheduled do perform in concert at the St. James Theater was out sick, so crowds that gathered outside the Majestic, some in ball gowns and tuxedos, others in more casual formal wear, were all there to see Phantom. There was no press activity outside, as it was quite chilly, though as we were let into the theater at 6:30 PM, the press were already inside, doing what they do; by the time I got into the lobby, press photos were being taken of director Hal Prince, producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, and Sarah Brightman, who was the original Christine. Prince and Brightman quickly left after the photo ops, but Sir Cameron stayed to talk to the press that remained, of course theatergoers hung out in the lobby to take photos (myself included) before heading to our respective seats.

Sir Cameron Mackintosh speaking with the press before the show

Sir Cameron Mackintosh speaking with the press before the show

Unlike the Gala Night, my seat was much father back in the mezzanine, so there was little time to search the orchestra section for former cast members or other notable people. At the outset, a short video was shown, detailing the history of the Broadway production, with entertainment news clips from 25 years ago, interwoven with short interview clips from the cast and creative team reflecting on the show’s longevity, all of which was greeted by waves of applause and ovation. Afterwards there was about ten minutes or so of inactivity as the video screen was removed, the stage needed to be set for the start of the show and the orchestra tuned up. Once the show began, the applause began anew, with cheers at the overture and the initial raising of the chandelier, as well as stage entrances for all the principals. As the titular character, Hugh Panaro gave one of the best performances I had ever seen him give; his “Music of the Night” was truly sublime. Sierra Boggess (who was also the Christine at London’s 25th Anniversary performance) was just as astounding, and there is richness in the quality of her voice I had not really heard in previous actress who have played Christine. The rest of the cast were equally amazing, as they are every night.

Intermission comes along, and as like it was for the Gala, there was free champagne to be had, but Kay and I decide to head down to the orchestra section to attempt to spot any actors or notable faces, though we were hoping to see if we can meet Sarah Brightman. While we were not able to find Sarah Brightman, we managed to find our way to the front orchestra, where Sandra Joseph and Ron Bohmer were chatting with those around them; we able to get a quick photo with them, taken by Genevieve, who often takes photos for Broadwayworld.com (and is a member of the MCIFA).  Afterwards, Kay and I made our way back up to the rear mezzanine, picking up a (plastic) glass of free champagne (which was pretty good) before the end of intermission. The photo below (or rather one very similar to it) has been included among the after-party photo spread on Broadwayworld.com

Intermission photo: Kay and I with Sandra Joseph and Ron Bohmer

Intermission photo: Kay and I with Sandra Joseph and Ron Bohmer

The second act was greeted with great ovation, with the reveal of the Masquerade set, as well as after Sierra Boggess’ flawless rendition of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”. One interesting lyric change I noticed was the Phantom’s line during “Wandering Child” section where the line has been  changed  from “far from my far-reaching gaze” to “far from my fathering gaze”, which took me by surprise  – my gut reaction was literally “wait, what?”, which I uttered out loud (quietly, of course). While I understand the reasoning behind the lyric change (or rather the word change, as the rest of the lyric remains the same), it seems an odd one (and one that was done at the London 25th Anniversary performance, and I believe is used in the UK tour production).  The lyric has been fine as it was for the past 25 years, why change it now? Anyway, it’s fine either way, really, but I suppose I’m more accustomed to the original lyric. Another thing I find truly  interesting is that regardless of wherever you are seated in the Majestic Theater (and I’ve pretty much sat in just about every section in the theater) when the flames ignite for those brief moments after the “Wandering Child” section, you can always feel the heat from those flames. There was much sniffling around me as the finale unfolded; standing ovation cheers greeted the cast during the curtain call.

The post-show festivities began with the cast parting to welcome Hal Prince and Sir Cameron Mackintosh to the stage, both of whom spoke eloquently about the show’s longevity and thanked all the various people both who were at the theater and those who could not be there, most notably Andrew Lloyd Webber, who was not in attendance due to medical reasons, and the late Maria Björnson, costume designer, all the while sharing wonderful anecdotes. Hal Prince then conveyed a written message from Michael Crawford, who was unable to attend for reasons unspecified. Afterwards, a short (humorous) video with Sarah Brightman and Andrew Lloyd Webber was shown, which was followed by Sir Cameron Mackintosh introducing Sarah Brightman, who was greeted by a thunderous ovation, and who have a short speech. This was followed by Hal Prince relating the astounding facts and figures associated with the Broadway production, but not before calling out the backstage crew to come onstage to receive the acclamation they richly earned and deserve, as well as praising the orchestra and front of house staff.

Phantom Cast and Crew with Hal Prince at the forefront

Phantom Cast and Crew with Hal Prince at the forefront

After all the speeches and such, then came the musical encore, which interestingly enough almost mirrored the one done for the London 25th Anniversary performance, though this time it was Sierra Boggess singing “Phantom of the Opera” with John Owen Jones, Hugh Panaro, Ramin Karimloo and Peter Jöback as the quartet of Phantoms, all of whom were greeted with thunderous cheers, followed by the quartet singing “Music of the Night”. There has been much puzzlement on why the three other Phantoms that were chosen were not ones who had performed the role on Broadway, and who were, in fact the same three who sang at the London 25th Anniversary performance, though it was announced (just like in London) Peter Jöback would be playing the titular role on Broadway for a limited time in the spring. I’m not sure why none of the former Broadway Phantoms were asked to participate or whether they had been asked and had declined for whatever reason; it’s not my place to speculate the why and wherefores, but it would have been a bit more appropriate had the other three been ones who had played the role on Broadway [though it was a pleasure to hear John Owen Jones sing on a Broadway stage again – I’d love to see him a Broadway Phantom, having seen him over a decade ago in London]. Another lovely highlight during the musical encore was the entire cast (and the audience around me) sing a verse of “Music of the Night”, and Hugh Panaro singing the line “You alone have made our song take flight” directly to Hal Prince, which was a fitting and touching tribute. More cheering ensures, as the music swells, the chandelier starts to descend but stops after a few feet and gold and silver streamers explode around the chandelier.

Sierra Boggess & The Phantom Quartet: (from left to right) - John Owen Jones, Hugh Panaro, Ramin Karimloo & Peter Jöback

Sierra Boggess & The Phantom Quartet: (from left to right) – John Owen Jones, Hugh Panaro, Ramin Karimloo & Peter Jöback

Again, having not secure any invitations to the after party, which was at the New York City Public Library at Bryant Park, we stuck around the theater, as the people who ran the Facebook fan page wanted all the sweepstakes winners to assemble in the center rear mezzanine section for a group photo, which was posted on the Facebook fan page. After which, Kay and I wandered around the theater looking for spare playbills (there were none to be found) and also to pull off some of the streamers from the chandelier (which by then made its descent towards the stage). By this time, we’re (politely) asked to leave the theater, as it’s already past 11 PM [I managed to grab two glasses of champagne on the way out], and Kay and I drank another toast to an amazing evening. Second glass of champagne consumed, we’re heading away from the theater, when I spot Davis Gaines, leaving in the opposite direction with a friend.

[Minor disclaimer: Davis Gaines was the first actor I saw play the Phantom live on stage, and he was absolutely astounding; he is quite possibly my all time favorite Phantom whose name is not Michael Crawford, because no one is like Michael Crawford in my book (and probably most everyone’s book), and he’s such an all around nice guy off stage as well. After all, you never forget your first Phantom].

So my truly fan-girly moment of the entire evening was quite shamelessly following behind (oh all right, chasing after) Davis Gaines to say hi and to ask for a photo (and a hug); his friend took the photo of us with the Majestic marquee in the background. I then wished him a happy belated birthday (circling back to my aforementioned love for the month of January, Davis Gaines’ birthday is January 21st), to which he was pleasantly surprised (and earned me another hug). We bade him good night, and headed the way were going beforehand [Kay to the hotel at which she was staying, me back home via the subway].

Kay and I with Davis Gaines outside the Majestic Theater

Kay and I with Davis Gaines outside the Majestic Theater

It truly goes without say that January 26, 2013 will go down as one of the most memorable, spectacular and magical evenings I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in a Broadway theater. There is no doubt in my mind why Phantom has run for so long, and continuously will so for years to come – the score is magnificent, the story is timeless, and the memory of experiencing such an amazing production is one that will live on (and to use a phrase associated with another long running Lloyd Webber musical) Now and Forever.

25th Anniversary Playbill

25th Anniversary Playbill

Night Unfurls Its Splendor: Celebrating the 10,000th Performance of Phantom of the Opera – February 11, 2012

As the date for the 25th Anniversary performance of Phantom of the Opera quickly approaches, it only seems appropriate that I share the last milestone event for this Broadway production I was able to attend. While every performance is a milestone event, as no other Broadway musical has run as long a Phantom has had a sustained run, reaching 10,000 performances is quite an impressive feat, which happened at the matinee performance on February 11, 2012. Unlike the Gala performance, when it had been touted that it would be “invitation only” event (which in a previous blog I had written was a bald-faced lie, as tickets were available to the public a few days prior – the same happened in these days prior to the 25th Anniversary), tickets for the 10,000th performance were available to the public, and was sold as a benefit event for the Actors Fund. I don’t recall if obtaining tickets through the Actors Fund site was the only way to get tickets, but nevertheless, I think this was the smart way to allow the general public to attend this milestone event, and also concurrently contribute to an organization that provides a myriad of support to the theatre community.

2012 Phantom marquee

I obtained my ticket via the Actors Fund site, and managed to secure a front orchestra seat, which was the closest I have ever sat to see Phantom – as I rarely ever sit in the front orchestra section [I’ve usually sat in the left side rear orchestra, and occasionally in the mezzanine section]. It was only when I was shown to my seat that I realized that I was sitting in the very first row (albeit on the aisle) center orchestra, which was a thrilling experience in and of itself, but was made equally thrilling knowing that most of my friends also obtained tickets in that same first center row. Of course, the show was thrilling to watch as it always is – Hugh Panaro is one of the best Phantoms I’ve ever seen, but to see each facial expression and subtle movement from such a close vantage point was nothing short of astounding; Trista Moldovan was a fantastic Christine, one of the best I’ve seen in recent years, Kyle Barisich was a fine Raoul, even though I wasn’t that enamored on his interpretation of the role. Other notable performances came from Michele McConnell and Christian Sebec as Carlotta and Piangi, respectively, who are essentially the comic relief and have several scene-stealing moments; Andrew Galligan-Stierle and Kevin Ligon were also fantastic as Andre and Firmin, the managers of the Opera Populaire who had great rapport with one another and also have their comical moments to shine.

No matter how many times I go see Phantom, and regardless who the leads are, I always tear up a bit at the end, and even after all the years of seeing the show (and listening to the Original London cast recording) I can never really hear the exact words sung by Madame Giry and Meg during the sextet section in “Prima Donna” – even sitting in the front row and attempting to lip read (which I’m really bad at doing). Also sitting in the front orchestra, there is the unique experience of seeing the huge chandelier rise above you and then quickly (and safely) swoop down toward the stage at the end of the first act.

The chandelier from the very first row of the orchestra

The chandelier from the very first row of the orchestra

Of course the cast received a huge ovation at the end, and the post-show festivities included a few remarks from Hugh Panaro noting the significance of the 10,000th performance, the bringing out of a huge cake and some more remarks from choreographer Gillian Lynne, who had a bit of technical trouble with the microphone she was handed, which led to some cheeky improv until a replacement microphone was found. After the speeches, there as a video message from composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, as well as congratulatory well wishes from the London cast of Phantom.

Kyle Barisich, Trista Moldovan & Hugh Panaro behind the 10,000th performance cake

Kyle Barisich, Trista Moldovan & Hugh Panaro behind the 10,000th performance cake

Celebrating 10,000 performances on Broadway

Celebrating 10,000 performances on Broadway

There was little point to head to the stage door, as the cast had another performance to do that evening, and that oftentimes the cast don’t emerge from the stage door, which for the Majestic was around the block behind the theatre, shared with the Golden and Jacob Theatres. Nevertheless, it was a magical experience to witness another milestone event, the next one being the 25th Anniversary on January 26, 2013, of which there shall be a forthcoming (and presumably lengthy, fan girly) blog post.

10,000th Performance Playbill

10,000th Performance Playbill

Just a Little Touch of Star Quality: Ruminations on Evita – January 18, 2013

A healthy dose of charisma and ambition coupled with excellent networking skills and good timing can almost always guarantee success in all aspects of life, though rising to fame and fortune from humble beginnings does have its dangers as well. Such is the case in Evita, based on the life of Eva Peron, the famous or infamous (depending on your view of Argentinian history) First Lady of Argentina in the mid 20th Century, which is currently playing (at least until January 26, 2013) at the Marquis Theatre.

Evita Marquee

[Brief Disclaimer: I have been a great fan of and have seen most of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals, and Evita was the fourth and final of what I have dubbed Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Big Four” that I had yet see live on stage, the other three being Cats, Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Blvd. and designated as such due to the fact that each of those Lloyd Webber musicals won seven Tony Awards in the year they were nominated. This was the first Broadway revival of Evita since the original production played over thirty years ago, and it’s only now I’ve had a chance to see this production. Also, as I had not seen the original production, (though I had seen the 1996 film adaptation) my frame of reference for the musical is via the various English language cast recordings which interestingly enough, are different from one another (of course, aside from the different casts) – certain songs were changed, and others added in, most notably “You Must Love Me”, which was written for the film adaptation is now included in the musical’s score.]

As often the case, I had obtained my ticket via the TKTS board located in the heart of Times Square, which was fortunate, as it was a full house, aside from a few single empty seats. The show as a whole was great, from the sparse yet effective set design, the elaborate choreography and costumes, capturing the essence of post World War II Buenos Aires. Of course, the “star quality” draw for this revival was Ricky Martin, whose entrance was greeted with much applause – his portrayal of Che, the everyman narrator, was great, though for whatever reason, he elongated every vowel in every word he sang in the opening number “Oh What a Circus”, which seemed to slow down the tempo of the song. This did not occur as much in his subsequent songs, and his charisma shone throughout. As the titular character, Elena Roger, who has the distinction of being the first Argentinean actress to portray the role, she was fine acting-wise, but her singing was quite shrill and vibrato-laden; ironically perhaps, her voice became tolerable and more lyrical as the evening progressed, so that the lament she sings at the end was quietly poignant. But then again, having grown up listening to Julie Covington, Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone on the Original 1976 concept album, the London and Broadway cast recordings, respectively, (and later Madonna in the film adaptation movie soundtrack) the bar was set pretty high on how the songs were to be sung, and my expectations were equally as high. While not having the same amount of songs, Michael Cerveris was fantastic as Juan Peron, displaying a wide range of emotions throughout. Other standout performances were from Max von Essen as Augustin Magaldi, who belted out “On This Night of a Thousand Stars” with much gusto, and Rachel Potter, as the Mistress, who sang “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” with a balance of pragmatism and trepidation.

Evita Curtain Call -forefront (left to right):Michael Cerveris, Elena Roger & Ricky Martin

Evita Curtain Call – forefront (left to right): Michael Cerveris, Elena Roger & Ricky Martin

The stage door experience was a bit more eventful than usual or expected – I should preface this with the fact that the Marquis Theatre is located on the second floor within the Marriott Hotel, and the stage door is roughly a street block distance and on street level from the hotel doors, so there’s quite a distance to cover if one is to attempt to get a good spot to wait at the stage door. All this being said, I’m usually quite agile in getting to the Marquis stage door, and can usually secure a spot right in front of the metal barricades; however, knowing that there would be a larger than usual throng waiting (mostly for Ricky Martin, and some for Elena Roger), I made a mad dash to the stage door and perhaps my forward momentum combined with the occasional wind gusts propelled me forward too quickly and I stumbled roughly midway to the stage door. I was fine, nothing broken, (though I felt a bit bruised as I got up) and there was a tiny gash on my forehead, for which the helpful stage door security personnel directed me back inside the Marriott Hotel to get cleaned and bandaged up. As I (slowly) made my way back to the stage door area, a huge crowd already surrounded the stage door, as well as across the street (as there were cops on horseback on patrol ensuring the street was clear for the oncoming traffic) with the metal barricades a good six feet or so away from the actual door. The stage door security personnel who helped me had allowed me to wait on the other side of the barricade, closer to the stage door.  Probably a good twenty minutes or so passed before the cast started to emerge – of course there was a huge ovation when Ricky Martin came out, and he was good at signing as many playbills as possible before leaving via SUV, after which the crowd thinned considerably. Elena Roger, Michael Cerveris as well as ensemble member George Lee Andrews stuck around to chat and pose for photos.

At the stage door: Ricky Martin, Elena Roger & Michael Cerveris

At the stage door: Ricky Martin, Elena Roger & Michael Cerveris

Despite my aforementioned critiques, the overall production is great, and it’s a shame it’s closing – the official reason is that the producers were unable to find suitable replacements (as I believe Ricky Martin was to depart the show next week). I have a sneaking feeling that one of the reasons is that the producers could not find a replacement of the same celebrity stature as Ricky Martin; there are plenty of capable (albeit not well-known outside the theatre community) actors who could take over the role – Max von Essen, who does understudy for and has performed the role multiple times, could be a viable successor, but alas the business side of show business seems to take precedence these days. I’m glad to have seen this production, and would recommend it.

Signed playbill

Signed playbill

Clears Away the Cobwebs and the Sorrow: Musings on Annie – January 13, 2013

Economic uncertainty and high unemployment rates, resulting in an overwhelming resentment towards the previous presidential administration that failed to live up to its promises of prosperity, with the new President struggling to find a viable solution to stimulate the economy – this scenario could apply to the sentiments felt by many Americans in recent years. However, this is the state of the nation in the world as depicted in Annie, currently playing at the Palace Theatre, which is set in New York City in the midst of the Great Depression.

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[Disclaimer: Once again, in the spirit of full disclosure, my sole interest in seeing Annie was primarily based on the fact that Anthony Warlow, an acclaimed singer and actor best known for his remarkable performance in Phantom of the Opera in his native Australia, was finally making his Broadway debut in Annie as Oliver Warbucks. Having only heard him on various cast recordings and solo albums, not to mention rave reviews from my Australian friends, I was looking forward to seeing him perform live on stage. So, some advanced warning that there will most likely be some mild fan-girly moments within this blog post.]

Nowadays there seems to be a lot of cynicism and resignation everywhere you look, so the optimism and hope the title character exudes even when her life at the orphanage seems bleak, and turns out to be quite infectious. This is the first time I have seen this musical on stage, only having only seen the 1982 movie and the 1999 TV movie version, albeit many years ago. Interestingly, Annie was not among the discounted shows on the TKTS board, though it did appear on the TKTS boards roughly a half hour before show time, which was after obtaining balcony box seats via the box office; the balcony box seats (on the left side) had a full view of the stage, albeit at an angle. The show was fantastic, and started off humorously with the usual pre-show announcement literally barked out (by a dog) and translated by that usual omnipresent voice. The set design was inspired, with the set pieces depicting the various rooms in Oliver Warbucks’ mansion magically unfolding like a large storybook, in contrast to the single, stark set for the orphanage from where Annie manages to escape. Another interesting change (at least from the aforementioned movie versions I’ve seen), the orphans all sang and spoke with distinct New York accents, which added a bit of the realism of the piece.

The cast was amazing – Lilla Crawford as the titular Annie was fantastic – her  spunk and tenacity shone through her poignant renditions of “Tomorrow” and “Maybe”. Anthony Warlow brought humor and heart to what is usually a more austere role, and his lovely baritone voice was just as wonderful to hear live my friends have extolled – his charm is ever-present from the moment he walks on stage, and his comedic timing is impeccable. Katie Finneran gave a spectacularly outrageous performance as the Miss Hannigan, playing the role in a uniquely madcap (and drunken) manner, she, along with Clarke Thorell as Rooster Hannigan and J. Elaine Marcos as Lily St. Regis provide the comic relief, as well as a dose of pragmatism as the recount their plot to get to “Easy Street”. Of course, Sunny, as Sandy the dog more or less upstaged his human counterparts, getting cheers and applause from the audience, which predominantly consisted of young children (mostly girls) and their parents.

The stage door experience was fine as always, composed mostly of the aforementioned children and their parents – as the newer schedule has two performances on Sunday (most shows usually have one performance on Sundays, if any), many of the adult cast did not come out the stage door, though all the girls did, which was fine, as the crowd of girls that surrounded me wanted to meet them (and Sandy as well, though we were informed that the dog would not come out). The nice thing that happens at the Palace Theatre stage door is that there is someone (usually one of the security personnel) hands out (silver, this time) sharpies to the actors upon their exiting the stage door, which is always helpful to those waiting at the stage door to help identify cast members from the crew or visitors who also exit out the stage door.

All in all, I enjoyed Annie, and would recommend it (if only to witness the sheer awesomeness of Anthony Warlow and the absolute fabulousness of Katie Finneran), and it’s one of the few (inoffensive) family friendly musicals left on Broadway that’s guaranteed to leave the audience singing the songs upon leaving the theatre.

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Like Something is Brewing and ‘Bout to Begin: Thoughts on Mary Poppins

It’s pretty much a well-known fact that Disney is synonymous with magic – that magical quality that leaves visitors to their various theme parks as well as those who have watched their films in a state of gleeful wonder. The same can also be said for the young and the young at heart that experience a stage adaptation of their films. Mary Poppins has a wealth of this Disney magic, coupled with a heartwarming tale of a disjointed family finding their way back to one another with some guidance from that “practically perfect” nanny. While it has been a few years since I last saw the production, the announcement that the show would be closing on March 3, 2013 prompted me to write this blog – I fully intend to return to see the show, and perhaps also attend the final performance.

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The first time I saw Mary Poppins was on October 4, 2007, roughly a year into its run playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre – I had obtained a ticket (per usual in the Fall) via the TDF ticket raffle table at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market & Auction. The film has always been one of my favorite Disney films, and I had been looking forward to seeing how it would be adapted for the stage and the changes that were required for the stage. Firstly, there were new songs written for the stage, some added/changed lyrics to the existing songs and some of the songs that were in the film were not included in the stage production. Also, while the overall story remains the same, some elements were changed to bring the tone a few shades darker (but not too much, after all, this still a Disney tale) than the film, which was more whimsical; the changes were necessary and made sense for a two act musical, and probably would not have worked as well for the film.

The scenic design was astounding, with the set of No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane moving fluidly from the living room to the children’s nursery and then to the rooftop, as well as the inventive 3D appearance of the bank at which Mr. Banks works, and the fanciful park sequence during “Jolly Holiday”. The choreography was also amazing, especially the sequences for “Step in Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. To this day, I am perplexed how Spring Awakening won the Tony Award for Best Choreography over Mary Poppins. For the record, I did see Spring Awakening, and found much of the choreography lacking, as it looked (to me at least) like the cast was randomly flailing around the stage. I have been informed by friends are knowledgeable about such things that the choreography for Spring Awakening was an example of modern dance; I suppose I’m more old school about stage choreography.

But I digress.

As expected, there were many magical moments that were recreated on stage as they had been in the film, such as Mary Poppins’ “it’s bigger on the inside” carpet bag from where a multitude of items are extracted, and the aforementioned dance sequence for “Step in Time” (with an added thrill of Bert tap dancing up the side of the proscenium of the stage and upside down), and of course the most magical moment of all (and I’m pretty sure everyone has either seen the stage production or the TV commercial for the musical, so it’s not that much of a spoiler) – Mary Poppins making her final exit by flying across the stage, then above the audience. I will say that I had not seen the TV commercial (and I don’t think that bit was included in the commercial) and I vividly remember being absolutely awestruck the first time I saw this – while I had seen her fly across the stage earlier in the show, I had been truly unprepared (though I probably should have deduced it would happen) to see her actually fly (and of course, she was on a wire, which was visible from the lighting around her) above the audience from the stage to the balcony.

The casts I’ve seen were astounding and truly look like they’re having the time of their lives on stage – Ashley Brown and Gavin Lee, the original Mary Poppins and Bert were amazing and had a great rapport with one another. Their respective successors, Laura Michelle Kelly (who had originated the role in London) and Christian Borle were equally amazing. I did not stage door that night, but did on my subsequent visits to the show – the stage door experiences were always wonderful, with mostly young children (more girls than boys on the occasions I’ve waited at the stage door) and their parents. The cast was always happy to sign playbills, chat with the kids and pose for photos.

Clockwise from top left: Ashley Brown, Gavin Lee, Christian Borle & Laura Michelle Kelly

Clockwise from top left: Ashley Brown, Gavin Lee, Christian Borle & Laura Michelle Kelly

It’s a shame that the show is closing, though six years is a respectable run (especially in this day and age when some productions have significantly shorter runs) – it’s one of the few family friendly musicals remaining on Broadway, and its six-year run is a testament to its longevity. I have a feeling that when Mary Poppins flies off into the night for the last time on March 3, 2013, a little of that Disney magic will also be leaving Broadway.