Parts to Perform, Hearts to Warm: Pippin CD Signing at Barnes & Noble – July 9, 2013

As stated in a previous blog, while there are a plethora of CD signings, books signings, etc. that occur at Barnes & Noble, I usually attend those in which I have an interest, and such was the case for the CD signing for the newly released cast recording of Pippin, the 2013 Tony Award winner for Best Musical Revival. I was quite familiar with the show and its score, and was looking forward to meeting the principal cast as well as composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz; in addition to the CD signing, there would also be a performance from the cast, which was an extra treat.

Pippin CD signing

This CD signing was again at the Barnes & Noble store on the Upper East side, and as my wont, I arrived early (before the store opened) and saw that about a dozen people were already waiting outside; upon entry, made my way to the music section, bought my CDs (limit two per person), received the [pink] wristband that would guarantee me entry (though I always find it amusing that the disclaimer that “this wristband does not guarantee you entry to this event” is printed on the wristbands). I then headed to my (now usual) spot in front of where the CD signing was to take place to wait – a few of people started to arrive and wait on line (of which I was first) about an hour into waiting. As I waited, I stuck up conversations with a trio of fans who collectively had seen the show over 80 times, and were among the fan chorus featured on the track “No Time at All” (a first for a Broadway cast recording, I’m told). The line steadily grew as time went on (and around the 1 PM mark, I overheard that all the wristbands were distributed).

The cast arrived roughly an hour before the event start (4PM) and there were press people from Broadwayworld.com and Broadway.com conducting video interviews with the arriving cast; the doors opened roughly a quarter to four, and the seating began, with those in the front of the line seated in the center. Shortly after all the seats were filled, the video of the recording session of Pippin’s opening number “Magic to Do” was shown prior to Barnes & Noble Event manager Steven Sorrentino introduced composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz to the stage, who was greeted with great applause. Mr. Schwartz in turn introduced each of the cast members who would be performing: first, Rachel Bay Jones sang “Kind of Woman”, she was then joined by Matthew James Thomas to sing the duet “Love Song”; finally, Tony Award Winner Patina Miller sang “Simple Joys”, all of which were greeted with great applause and cheering.

Clockwise from top left: composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz, Rachel Bay Jones, Patina Miller, and Matthew James Thomas and Rachel Bay Jones

Clockwise from top left: composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz, Rachel Bay Jones, Patina Miller, and Matthew James Thomas and Rachel Bay Jones

Afterwards the customary press photo session commenced before the CD signing portion of the event began; in addition to the aforementioned principal cast members, Terrence Mann, Charlotte d’Amboise and Andrea Martin were also in attendance, as well as the Tony Award itself. In another (slight) deviation from previous CD signing sessions, those seated at the left side of the stage (and seated in the chairs closest to where the tables at which the cast would be signing the CDs) were the first to line up to get their CDs signed (which makes sense, so the event runners would be able to clear that immediate area first). The cast was genial and chatted with everyone on the line, and every now and again, press photographers lingered about to snap photos.

Clockwise from top left: Charlotte d'Amboise, Rachel Bay Thomas, Stephen Schwartz, Patina Miller (and the Tony Award), Terrence Mann, Andrea Martin and Matthew James Thomas

Clockwise from top left: Charlotte d’Amboise, Rachel Bay Thomas, Stephen Schwartz, Patina Miller (and the Tony Award), Terrence Mann, Andrea Martin and Matthew James Thomas

It was quite a thrilling experience to meet the cast and to chat with them as well – I did make it a point to thank Stephen Schwartz for all his amazing scores and to shake his hand (he was quite genial about it). There was not much opportunity to linger about, as there was quite a line of people waiting to get their CDs signed, and the fact that they had an 8 PM show that evening. Though I have yet to see the show – tickets are for the most part expensive, and there’s usually a massive line for the general rush tickets (while chatting with the trio of Pippin fans, they had informed me that people usually line up  as early as 2 AM the night before (or  the morning of, depending on how you look at it) the box office opens to purchase the limited amount of $37 rush tickets [just as a point of reference, Broadway box offices open at 10 AM on weekdays] – I do plan on seeing the show soon, though I have seen video clips of this production (as well as the performance on the Tony Awards) and it looks quite Extraordinary.

Pippin Signed CD booklet

Pippin Signed CD booklet

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Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile: Annie CD signing at Barnes & Noble – June 18, 2013

Another new cast recording, another CD signing at Barnes & Noble – while I don’t (and sometimes can’t) attend every one of these CD signings, I do make an effort to attend the ones in which I have a vested interest (or even a mild interest), so long as I’m aware of the time and place it is happening beforehand. I actually found out about the CD signing for Annie yesterday, via a post on the show’s Facebook fan page, which does highlight the importance and omniscience of social media in these modern times (or perhaps it just illustrates how much time I spend on Facebook).

Annie CD Signing

Once again, in the spirit of full disclosure, as I had written about my thoughts on Annie, my primary reason for attending the CD signing was to meet Anthony Warlow, of whom I am a great fan, and thought was a fantastic Oliver Warbucks. Of course it was also a great treat to meet the creative team as well as the cast, including newer cast member Jane Lynch, most famous for her role as “Sue Sylvester” on Glee. This CD signing was at a different Barnes & Noble store than the CD signings I previously attended, and the time of this signing was also much earlier than previous ones I have attended (at 12:30PM opposed to 5PM) so it was nice for a change to not have to spend all day waiting. Nevertheless, I arrived early, and (per usual) was first in line (and this time there was a nice bonus for this distinction, which I will mention shortly); interestingly, there were no wristbands given out with the purchase of the CD (and apparently there was also no limit to the number of CDs one person could get signed).

As the time of the CD signing was approaching, I heard (all right, overheard) some of the representatives from the show mention that Mr. Warlow would not be able to attend due to illness (apparently from food poisoning the night before), which (honestly) distressed me a bit, but it wasn’t his fault that happened (and I suppose I’ll find another opportunity to meet him). Nevertheless, the popular draw for the signing was Jane Lynch, and sure enough a good number of people waiting on line were Glee fans, and as the morning progressed, the line started to grow and wrap around the shelves. Shortly before the signing began, Lilla Crawford, who plays the titular orphan, appeared with a hand camcorder recording a video for Broadway.com.

The cast, and creative team, which consisted of composer Charles Strouse, lyricist Martin Charnin, and book writer Thomas Meehan, as well as record producer Thomas Z. Shepard, soon appeared and after a quick photo session for the press, the signing started in earnest.  The line moved steadily, and as I approached the creative team, I took the opportunity to shake Mr. Charnin’s hand and thank him (and also Mr. Strouse and Mr. Meehan) for this wonderful show. As I made my way down the end of the line, Douglas Denoff (another one of the record producers was at the other end of the line and asked to take a photo of me with the signed CDs (as he had learned that I arrived early for the signing and was first in line), which was a nice gesture, and a nice reward (if you will) of my dedication.

Annie Cast and Creative Team

 

The Creative Team behind Annie: (from left to right) Thomas Meehan (book), Martin  Charnin (lyrics) & Charles Strouse (music)

Fully Dressed With A Smile: (from left to right) Thomas Meehan (book), Martin Charnin (lyrics) and Charles Strouse (music)

There was no opportunity to linger about, as there was a long line behind me, and everyone was being ushered out after their CD booklets were signed. Nevertheless, it was a lovely experience to meet the cast and also the entire creative team of such an iconic show, and to have the opportunity to thank them for their wonderful work.

Annie Signed CDs

One Day Like This – Sarah Brightman Dreamchaser CD signing at Barnes & Noble – April 16, 2013

As stated in a previous blog, in this age of digital downloads and streaming audio, the act of purchasing a physical CD seems downright antiquated; nevertheless, one distinct advantage an actual CD copy has over a digital download is that an artist can sign the CD booklet (or the CD itself). My most recent CD purchase was Dreamchaser, the most recent album by Sarah Brightman, one of my favorite recording artists, and the one singer who tours the United States on a fairly regular basis. I first discovered the wondrous voice that is Sarah Brightman whilst listening to the Original London Cast Recording of Phantom of the Opera, and followed her recording career first through her albums featuring songs from her ex-husband Andrew Lloyd Webber, and her subsequent solo recordings. I have been fortunate enough to have seen her in concert several times – though for a few of those concerts, I really didn’t actually “see” her, but her voice enveloped each of the venues she sang with great clarity.

Sarah Brightman Dreamchaser

Dreamchaser is her latest album, after a five-year absence (her last non-compilation recording had been A Winter Symphony in 2008), and as the  title implies, it has an outer space theme, as she had announced that she intends to travel to the International Space Station in the near future. The album is quite ethereal and soothing, a bit different from her previous albums. The American leg of the concert tour that was to accompany this new album was to have been last winter, but was postponed (for various reasons) to the fall of this year [the New York stop will be at Radio City Music Hall in September, of which I will be in attendance]. Dreamchaser was released in the US today, and to accompany that, there was a CD signing at the Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side. The CD signing was just that – it had been announced that there would not be a performance, though the Dreamchaser album was played throughout the store prior to the start of the CD signing.

As my wont, I arrived at the Barnes & Noble early, and a short line had already formed by the time I arrived [prior to the 9AM opening]. Once again, as the doors opened, I made my way to the music section, while a good number of the people who were waiting in line ahead of me inexplicably made their way to the lower level, where the CD signing was to take place; those people eventually made their way back to the upper level to purchase their CDs [once again, limit two per customer] and the (pink) wristband for guaranteed entry. And once again, as I do, I plunked myself down (comfortably) outside the glass doors to wait (and be first in line); as this was the same Barnes & Noble store as my previous visit, the shelves around me were of science fiction, fantasy and mystery novels. And once again, I never got around to reading any of them, as I struck up conversations with fellow Sarah Brightman fans, discussing the merits and differences between her previous albums.

A formal line began to form around 1PM and grew steadily as the time of the CD signing was to commence [at 5PM]; interestingly the line didn’t just form along the side shelves, but snaked through the free-standing shelves in that area. Once the doors opened (around 4:30, I think, I didn’t look at my watch) another interesting deviation occurred – those who were in line first were seated furthest away from the CD signing area (but were assured that they would be the first to get their CDs signed). Ms. Brightman appeared just after 5PM and posed for some press photos before the actual signing took place. As the CD booklet was of glossy stock, she signed the CD itself, personalizing them as she signed; as I was among the first in line, it had been announced that there would not be the opportunity for posed photos with Ms. Brightman (a rule that somehow changed after I had gotten my CD signed). Having learned of this change, I proceeded back into the CD signing room with Jeannie, a fellow Sarah Brightman fan I had met whilst waiting, to get a photo with her (which thankfully I was able to get).

Sarah Brightman at Barnes & Noble

Me and Sarah Brightman

Ms. Brightman was lovely and gracious as always, chatting with the more loquacious fans (I’m quite an introvert and didn’t have the wherewithal to say anything beyond “Thank you”), accepting the gifts that some fans brought her, and happily posed for photos (while seated). She then signed another stack of CDs (of which would be on sale at Barnes & Noble) before I was able to get my photo with her (after which Jeannie and I were ushered out of the room). Not long after we left the store, she emerged again to her car, so it was an added treat to catch a glimpse of her again before she left. Needless to say it was a wonderful experience to have met her in such an intimate space – truly a close encounter with the theatrical kind.

Signed Dreamchaser CD

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.

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.

 

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.

Broadway in Bryant Park 2012: Ghost the Musical, Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana, Sister Act, Memphis & Wicked – July 19, 2012

Broadway in Bryant Park is a free event held for six consecutive Thursday afternoons in July and August which features performances from four to five different Broadway and Off Broadway shows, presented by 106.7 Lite FM, a local NY radio station, and hosted by one of their radio personalities. As it is a free event, and the fact that Bryant Park is a public park, there is no assigned seating (or formal arranged seating for that matter) and you would need to get there early to ensure you have a good view of the stage. Naturally (as my wont) I arrived at Bryant Park hours before the event started and set up my own chair as close to the stage as I could on the lawn (there is a gravel area in front of the grassy area where chairs and tables were set up for the press and reserved seating for the VIPs, which were usually contest winners or employees from the sponsors).

The weather was overcast and pleasantly breezy, a sharp contrast to the heat and humidity that had been lingering in the past few days. The chairs for the general seating area were set up shortly after I arrived, lined up in rows of six with space for walking aisles; thankfully where I had situated myself was compliant with the seat arrangement. By 10:30 the seats began to fill with families, couples and individuals, and the sound check commenced shortly before 11AM. As it was quite an overcast morning, the threat of rain was omnipresent; in fact there were a few minutes of misty rain, which caused the stage technicians to scramble to cover up the electrical equipment (thankfully the rain didn’t return until later on that evening).

The shows that were scheduled to perform were Ghost the Musical, Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana, Sister Act, Memphis and Wicked, and often at these events, the understudies, standbys or ensemble members perform, though occasionally the leads do perform. Each show performs a few songs from their respective shows (though in the case of Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana, the cast performed scenes from their show). The 106.7 Lite FM host was Christine Nagy.

106.7 Lite FM host Christine Nagy

First to perform was Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana, currently playing at Radio City Music Hall until September 2, 2012, and is about a magician in search of his lost love. As with most Cirque du Soleil shows, the performance featured flag throwers (Federico Pisapia, Vincenzo Schiavo, Giuseppe Schiavo and Marco Senatore) and a pair of clowns (Larry Wayne Wilson and Daniel Passer) performing a humorous sketch involving bouncy (and not-so-bouncy) balls. Several other cast members (Jason Nious, Jeremie Robert, Michael Duffy and Tom Cholot) and musicians (Keith Paraska, and Peter Fand) wandered about the crowds as well.

Cast of Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana:
Flag Throwers – Federico Pisapia, Vincenzo Schiavo, Giuseppe Schiavo and Marco Senatore
Clowns – Daniel Passer & Larry Wayne Wilson

Next to perform was Wicked, currently playing at the Gershwin Theatre, and tells the back story of Elphaba and Galinda, who would later be known as (respectively) the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz. Standbys Donna Vivino and Kate Fahrner perform three songs: Donna Vivino sang “The Wizard and I”, Kate Fahrner sang “Popular” and both sang “For Good”.

Top (from left to right): Donna Vivino & Kate Fahrner
Bottom: Kate Fahrner & Donna Vivino

Next was Memphis, currently playing at the Shubert Theatre until August 5, 2012, and tells the story of Huey Calhoun, an aspiring white DJ and Felicia Farrell, an aspiring black singer in 1950s Memphis and how (to paraphrase the show’s marking tag line) his vision and her voice gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll. Ensemble members Kevin Massey and Dan’yelle Williamson perform three songs: Kevin Massey sang “Music of my Soul”, Dan’yelle Williamson, sang “Colored Woman”, and as this was be the last time the show would perform, both sang a medley of songs, which included “Steal Your Rock  ‘N’ Roll”, “Underground”, “Radio”, and “Love Will Stand When All Else Falls”.

Cast of Memphis: Kevin Massey & Dan’yelle Williamson

Next was Sister Act, currently playing at the Broadway Theatre until August 26, 2012, and is based on the movie of the same name. Standby Rashidra Scott, along with ensemble members Alena Watters, Lael Van Keuren performed two songs: “Fabulous, Baby!” and “Sister Act”.

Cast of Sister Act (from left to right): Alena Watters, Rashidra Scott & Lael Van Keuren

The final performance of the afternoon was Ghost the Musical, currently playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, and is based on the movie of the same name (and interestingly enough both Sister Act and Ghost the Musical both have Whoopi Goldberg in common).Leads Richard Fleeshman, Caissie Levy, Da’Vine Joy Randolph performed three songs: Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy sang “Here Right Now”, Richard Fleeshman sang a guitar-rich version of “Unchained Melody” (and had some initial technical difficulty with his guitar) and Da’Vine Joy Randolph sang “I’m Outta Here”.

Cast of Ghost the Musical: Richard Fleeshman, Caissie Levy, Da’Vine Joy Randolph

I don’t recall when the Broadway in Bryant Park concert series began, but it’s another great (free) way to listen and see a sample of shows that are currently on Broadway (though three of this week’s five shows are scheduled to close within the next two months)*. Sometimes upcoming shows are also included in the series, which gives those shows an opportunity to present a sample of what is to come next season. It’s also a great way to spend a lunch hour listening to great theatre actors sing great songs.

*Updated 07/24/2012 – It was announced that Ghost the Musical would be closing August 18, 2012.