Fed Up!: Thoughts and Musings on Fat Asses The Musical – March 24, 2013

Everybody has a fat ass: for some it’s a physical aspect of their body composition, for others it’s the emotional baggage they carry in their minds and in their hearts. Then there are those who have a bit of both – the issues of weight and the stigma attached to it are at the core of Fat Asses The Musical, currently playing at the Theater For the New City, located in the East Village, for a limited run from now through May 31st, music and lyrics by Peter Zachari and Damon Maida, book by Peter Zachari.

Fat Asses the Musical

[Brief Disclaimer: Once again, for the sake of full disclosure, I must state that Peter is a good friend of mine, having first met him two years ago when I saw Parker and Dizzy’s Fabulous Journey to the End of the Rainbow at the New York International Fringe Festival, of which he had not only written, but had also directed and starred. I am also good friends with cast member (and choreographer) Joey Mirabile, who was also in Parker and Dizzy, so my thoughts and musings may not be as objective as in previous blogs, and this is the first time I’m writing a blog for a professional production created by friends I know (though I do hope this will not be the last time, as I do have other friends who are aspiring playwrights.]

This musical revolves around Margaux, Candy, Lacey and Dustine, four overweight women ridiculed and rejected by those around them, who just want to be acknowledged and appreciated for who they are regardless of their size. They decide to make their voices heard by focusing their sights on [fictional] fashion magazine Gaunt and holding its editor Meredith, and her assistant Foster hostage to spread their message. Secrets and plot twists abound and are revealed before all loose ends are resolved, and each finds their own inner peace for themselves. The production was fantastic, with sparse yet effective set design, and inventive choreography. The score was catchy with just the right mix of innuendo (and some profanity) and pop culture references, full of big, brassy showstoppers such as “Check Here”, as well as tender, heartfelt ballads such as “Loving You Is a Dying Art”.

The cast was astounding, bring the right amount and balance of sassiness and emotion to their roles. Central to the ensemble were the quartet of “Fat Asses”: Heather Lee Anderson as naive and non-confrontational Candy, Jane Aquilina as combative, no-nonsense Dustine, Kelly Teal Goyette as world-weary and put upon Margaux, and Itanza Wooden as sassy, brassy Lacey.  Rounding out the cast is Caitlin McGinty as Meredith, Joey Mirabile as Foster, and Elise Castle as various other roles, all of whom brought such energy and heart in their performances.

Fat Asses Cast

I thoroughly enjoyed this show for its originality, a somewhat dying art in theater these days, as most musicals that end up on Broadway and off-Broadway are adaptations of other source material or jukebox musicals and having at its center full-bodied women who are complex characters who are not there to be the butt (pun fully intended) of any jokes. Thoughtful and entertaining, Fat Asses the Musical has the potential to have a life after this off-off Broadway run, especially with such a fantastic score and message of letting go of one’s baggage, whether it be physical or emotional.

For more information on Fat Asses the Musical, please visit their website: http://www.fatassesthemusical.com/

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Memories In Concert – Elaine Paige at Town Hall – March 9, 2013

From her West End debut in Hair to her acclaimed performances in Evita, Cats, Chess and Sunset Boulevard (to name but a few) Elaine Paige has (rightfully) earned the title “The First Lady of British Musical Theatre”. Along the way, she has had success on Broadway in Sunset Boulevard, a brief stint in the New York City Opera production of Sweeney Todd and most recently in the revival of Follies. She is also a noted recording artist, with albums that cover a wide variety of songs, from musical theatre to standards, and even an entire album of Queen songs; she also hosts her own radio program on BBC Radio. She has had concert tours in her native England, as well as all around the world, and it is only in 2013 that she has finally (!) embarked on an American concert tour, with her New York concert venue at the historic Town Hall.

Elaine Paige in Concert

Her concert kicked off with a Sting song “An Englishman in New York”, with fragments of “America” (from West Side Story) interpolated, to which she quipped afterwards that it was her only opportunity to sing that particular song. She went on to point out the confusion she experienced in the verbal differences between British and American English [French fries instead of chips, chips instead of crisps, eggplant instead of aubergine] when she was last in New York during Follies. This segued into her acknowledging that there were a few of her Follies co-stars in attendance (indeed, I spotted Jayne Houdyshell in the audience, and another concert goer had remarked he also spotted Mary Beth Piel), which followed with her spectacular rendition of “Broadway Baby” during which she briefly outlined her early theatre credits in between verses. Next she related a colorful story about her time in the Hair tribe, and her trepidation of having to be naked on stage, which led into “Easy to be Hard”. Next up was “Hello, Young Lovers” from The King and I, which she had played on the West End, and which she humorously had re-titled The Kings and Me, due to the seemly revolving door of actors playing the King.

Next, she related a story of meeting Dustin Hoffman early on in her career when she had doubts on pursuing her musical theatre career – she had related that he had given up pursuing a career as a concert pianist in favor of becoming an actor, and she credits Hoffman for giving her advice to keep at singing. This lead to her auditioning for a role coveted by every actress – the role of Eva Peron in Evita – and she proceeded to sing her audition song – the Beatles song “Yesterday”, which was sung much more dramatically than the original version; this naturally segued into the first of her signature songs, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” from Evita. I should note that the accompaniment was a four member band playing the piano, string bass, guitar and various woodwinds (flute and alto saxophone). While not on a Broadway stage, it was thrilling to finally hear Ms. Paige sing this song live in New York, to which she quipped “it only took 35 years” for her to do so, which was rewarded with a rousing standing ovation. This was followed by “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard, which was the show in which she made her Broadway debut. I was fortunate to have seen her as Norma Desmond, and she was amazing in the role (I’ve discussed in a previous blog that I had cheered so much during her performance that I literally lost my voice and therefore physically unable to speak with her at the stage door). The song was also greeted with thunderous applause and a few people giving a standing ovation (myself included – Sunset Boulevard is one of my all time favorite musical scores).

Next up was a tongue in cheek song “Small Packages” written especially for her – as she is four-foot eleven in height, her dreams of being a “tall, leggy blonde” were out of the question, lamenting that she was too short for most of the leading roles but as the song reveals, thankfully for her, “Eva Peron was short”. Following this was another humorous story of her meeting the Queen Mother after a performance of Anything Goes, which led to a fantastic rendition of “I Get A Kick Out Of You” followed by the Noel Coward song “Mad About The Boy” (which she had recorded on her “Romance and the Stage” album), which she sang with the stylistic mannerisms of a socialite, a maid and a chanteuse singing of their fixation on a silent movie star.  This led to her discussion of her involvement in the development of Chess, singing “I Know Him So Well” as a solo song instead of as a duet as the song was originally sung. She then remarked on how she has played two roles that share the same initials as her own – Eva Peron and Edith Piaf, leading into a staccato-laden, declarative arrangement of “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (which was originally arranged more lyrically and softer on her Piaf recording). Her final song was “If You Love Me” also from Piaf, which was a powerhouse of a rendition – I wish I had been able to have seen her in Piaf – this was greeted with much applause and another rousing standing ovation.

For her first encore, she related the story of how she had become involved in Cats, which (as she told the story) was unexpected and perhaps by fate – she told of how she had heard the radio DJ stating that the theme to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s [then] new musical would be played after the midnight news. Rushing home to tape the music off the radio, she relates how a bedraggled black cat found its way into her home and how that was a sign of good fortune (unlike how it is in the US). The next day she was contacted by Lloyd Webber to replace Judi Dench, who had suffered an injury and had to withdraw from the production. This led into a powerful rendition of her “other” signature song “Memory”, once again greeted with a huge standing ovation, and induced a second encore, which was an amazingly powerful rendition of “With One “Look”, from Sunset Boulevard.

Elaine Paige in Concert

Elaine Paige looking stunning in red.

 The stage door area was a bit crowded, with no visible barricades (though as it was a concert and not a stage performance, that wasn’t to surprising); when Ms. Paige came out (after waiting about twenty minutes or so) she was quickly ushered into her car, as her next concert was the next day. I don’t recall if she was able to sign anything, but those waiting out in the brisk evening were miffed that she was rushed off into her car. In fairness, her next venue was in New Jersey, and taking into account the fact that the clocks were to be set an hour ahead due to Daylight Savings, it made sense for her to rest up for her next concert – and at least she did exit out the stage door, so at least those waiting at the stage door were able to thank her for her wonderful concert.

This is the only photo I was able to take outside the stage door

This is the only photo I was able to take outside the stage door

I thoroughly enjoyed this concert, which touched upon the majority of her musical theatre career, and many of the stories she told during the concert I had heard several years ago when there was a book signing for her memoirs, Memories at Barnes & Noble. Her voice was as powerful and emotional as always, sustaining long notes with ease, and her banter was easygoing and witty (with the cultural word differences between England and America as a running theme).  I would have loved to have heard some of the pop and standards songs she has sung on her many solo recordings – perhaps she will be able to if she were to embark on another US concert tour.

With Every Job When It’s Complete, There’s a Sense of Bittersweet: Musings on the Final Performance of Mary Poppins – March 3, 2013

A little Disney magic has left Broadway with the closing of Mary Poppins, though not before entertaining four million theatergoers both young and old for 2,619 performances during its six-year run at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Of the stage adaptations of Disney films, Mary Poppins is perhaps my favorite of the ones I had seen, and remains one of my favorite Disney films. As I had written roughly two months ago, I was saddened to hear of its closing (though if rumors are to believed, the next show to occupy the New Amsterdam Theater is Aladdin, so perhaps a bit of Disney magic will return to Broadway soon). Even though the LED marquee boasted that the final performance was sold out, I was able to obtain a ticket at the box office [the show was not listed on TKTS] sitting mid mezzanine (center). Indeed it was a full house, with a good percentage of the audience comprised of young children and their parents.

Mary Poppins Final Marquee

There were cheers at the very start and throughout, with massive ovations after every musical number, with a few in the mezzanine section giving a standing ovation after “Step in Time” (myself included). The cast was fantastic, giving it their all as they have at every performance – the only notable indications that it was the final performance was during “Step in Time” with Nicolas Dromard (as Bert) delivering his line (upside down after tap dancing up the perimeter of the stage) “One Last Time” instead of the usual “Step in Time”, and Steffanie Leigh (as Mary Poppins) singing her final verse with great emotion before ascending to the heavens for the last time. After the curtain call and a final reprise of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, Thomas Schumacher, President of Disney Theatrical Group, came out to thank the audience for their support and introduced to the stage the backstage crew as well as many of the children who had played Jane and Michael Banks (there have been 42 different children playing those two roles during the six-year run). Also acknowledged were several former cast members in the audience, including original cast members Ashley Brown and Rebecca Luker, and Christian Borle, before introducing to the stage (among others) musical supervisor David Caddick and composer Richard Sherman, who, with his brother Robert, wrote the original songs for Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins final curtain call - forefront (from left to right): Elizabeth Teeter, Karl Kenzler, Steffanie Leigh, & Nicolas Dromard

Mary Poppins final curtain call – forefront (from left to right): Elizabeth Teeter, Karl Kenzler, Steffanie Leigh, & Nicolas Dromard

 

Curtain Call - forefront: Richard Sherman & Thomas Schumacher

Curtain Call – forefront: Richard Sherman & Thomas Schumacher

There was a respectable crowd at the stage door (I suspect had it not been a chilly evening, the crowds would have been larger), waiting to greet the cast and show their appreciation. Despite the cold and the wind, the crowd waited and as the cast came out, there were hugs and conversations aplenty, with great appreciation from the cast of the crowd that remained waiting a little over an hour, along with the usual signing of playbills, posters and programs and posing for photos.

All in all, it was a magical experience to witness, though I must say that I’ve (sadly) seen too many closing performances of shows I love over the years. Then again, perhaps Mary Poppins’s job on Broadway is complete, and the show is needed elsewhere. Maybe we’ve got to get through things now on our own, but one this is for sure – like the Banks family, I’ll never forget Mary Poppins.

Final Mary Poppins playbill signed