So Many Dreams to Tease the Heart: Musings on the First Preview Performance of Sunset Boulevard – February 2, 2017

Sunset Boulevard has come home at last.

As mentioned early on in this blog, Sunset Boulevard is one of my all-time favorite musicals, based on the 1950 film of the same name about the Hollywood studio system’s treatment of a faded movie star and a jaded writer. I’ve been a fan of the musical since its inception back in the early 1990’s, and followed all the off stage drama that occurred back then (reference in an early blog post here). The initial Broadway production ran a little of three years, closing in 1997, and there had been two touring productions not too long after its closure (I had seen the second touring production in 2000 in Boston). While there had been regional productions across the US and overseas in the ensuing years, the first major revival was in 2016 with a semi-staged production in London at the ENO (English National Opera) starring Glenn Close, who originated the role on Broadway. After its successful run in London, it seemed only a matter of time when that production would find its way to New York, and is now currently playing at the Palace Theatre (a few blocks away from its original home, the Minskoff) for a sixteen week run, with the four leads from London reprising their roles on Broadway.

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As mentioned earlier, I had been fortunate enough to see the original production, (though not with Glenn Close) with Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige on Broadway, and the second US National Tour with Petula Clark. Knowing beforehand that the revival would be semi-staged with a 40-piece orchestra on stage, I was curious to see how it would be done (I had not been able to fly to London last year to see that production), as the original production had opulent sets at its core, and the second US National Tour had a scaled down set design which didn’t quite match the grandeur of the original production. The overall set design for the current production had an industrial feel, with a maze of staircases and balcony landings and furniture brought on and off the set by the cast. Per the press releases and various online interviews with director Lonny Price, this semi-staged production was meant to look more like the backlot of a Hollywood set, wherein Joe Gillis would narrative the events as if it were scenes from a movie. This is emphasized with the use of black and white film clips (I’m not sure if they were from specific films or just old news reel footage) projected onto a scrim. Also, the clever use of lighting to shift from Norma’s house to Paramount Studios, gave the illusion of a multitude of different sets.

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This is the third first preview performance I’ve seen thus far in my theater-going experience, and the third time seeing the revival of a show of which I saw the original production as well (I hope that made sense). The cast was amazing and hearing this Andrew Lloyd Webber score (with new orchestrations) performed by a 40-piece orchestra was thrilling – I sincerely hope a new cast recording is made. Glenn Close received a thunderous entrance ovation and a standing ovation after “As If We Never Said Goodbye” (with another rousing ovation after singing the line “I’ve come home at last”). As this production aimed to be a stripped down version of itself, it worth noting that Ms. Close’s portrayal of Norma Desmond has also been toned down – this Norma Desmond is not as overly melodramatic (through there are moments of melodrama) as before, making her less of a monstrous figure and more of a real person clinging on to her illusions of grandeur. Michael Xavier was brilliant as Joe Gillis narrating his story with equal amounts of charm and cynicism – in this production he also serves as the director of the story, cueing scene transitions and observing almost abstractly at the events of which he experienced as they were unfolding. The story of Sunset Boulevard is more about Joe, and it’s taken me this long to realize that Joe is on stage throughout the entire show up until (spoiler alert) he’s shot dead and falls into the swimming pool (also inventively staged).

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The stage door was packed, and I didn’t stay too long – the crowds were overwhelming and it was a chilly night – but I did manage to see some of the ensemble cast, who were elated by the audience response. Needless to say I’ll be seeing Sunset many, many times in the next sixteen weeks, so there’ll be plenty of opportunities to meet the cast. I really hope a new cast recording is made, and perhaps a film adaptation (preferably with this cast). While the ticket prices are steep (but then again, it’s s limited run, so I guess its justified) there are $42 rush tickets available (though not specified in the ads, the rush seats are for the rear mezzanine and balcony), and they won’t be at the TKTS booth (per the box office person with whom I spoke).

Opening night is February 9th.

For more information, visit: http://sunsetboulevardthemusical.com/

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Getting Through the Journey of the Music of the Night: Thoughts and Opinions on the works of Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber

March 22nd is a significant date for any musical theatre fan and for musical theatre as a whole – the birth date of two of the most influential and prolific musical composers from the latter part of the 20th Century: Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber, born eighteen years and an ocean apart from one another. These two composers and their respective oeuvre have had a considerable impact on the kind of musicals that have been and are being created, for better or for worse (depending upon other people’s opinions), as well as introduced me to the world of musical theatre. I’ve also had a quasi-close encounter with both composers too (well I’ve been in the same room with both – at two separate occasions –  at one point in my life, if that counts).

Follies & Phantom of the Opera - two of my favorite shows by Sondheim & Lloyd Webber

Follies & Phantom of the Opera – two of my favorite shows by Sondheim & Lloyd Webber

More of that later…

While many have their own, sometimes strikingly opposed opinions about these two composers, my outlook on their body of work is more amicable (at least that’s my impression from the various online message boards, articles I’ve read over the years). As stated in my introductory blog post (I think), one can concurrently like Sondheim and Lloyd Webber and their respective musicals, and one is not necessary “better” than the other (though in the last few years, I’ve had… issues with one of Lloyd Webber’s works, but I don’t have to like everything he’s written…). Some have considered Sondheim’s musicals to be art, and Lloyd Webber’s to be mere entertainment, but I hold the opinion that both composers’ works are works of art and entertainment – and neither is “better” than the other.

I was aware of Lloyd Webber’s musicals first, as my school had done a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and knew of Cats and Phantom of the Opera, which at the time of my discovery of Lloyd Webber’s works, had recently opened to rave reviews. My introduction to the works of Sondheim came via PBS and their airing of the celebration at Carnegie Hall, to the point when I decided to sing “Send in the Clowns” as my solo song during the 8th grade spring concert when I was a part of the chorus after hearing Glenn Close sing the song on that telecast. Years later, I had read that many recording artists found that song to be difficult to sing – I was not aware of any of that when I made the decision to perform that song (I have a video recording of that spring concert and my interpretation of that song, but alas it exists on VHS and I have yet to have the capability to transfer said recording to DVD).

Another source of exploration of the musicals of Sondheim and Lloyd Webber were the cast recordings I had obtained via my public library and later purchased for my own (growing) collection – it was later on I researched both composers and learned more about their background and more about the shows themselves. As to actually seeing the shows live on stage, I have seen more Lloyd Webber productions than Sondheim, mostly due to the fact that at the time I started to go see shows on Broadway, there were more Lloyd Webber productions running on Broadway than Sondheim – the scales (as it were) have tipped in the other direction as more Sondheim musicals were being revived and less Lloyd Webber works were being produced (though I do make it a point to see Phantom at least once a year).

The first (professional) Lloyd Webber musical I saw was a revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and the first Sondheim musical I saw was a revival of Into The Woods, both of which were fantastic. Since then, I have seen a number of shows from both composers, and have (as alluded to earlier) have actually been in the same general area with both gentlemen. My first quasi-encounter with Lloyd Webber was at the Phantom Gala when the show became the longest running show on Broadway (coincidentally on my birthday) – he was in the audience (I had spotted him and his family seated in the orchestra section) as were many Phantom alumni actors, and had given a short speech after the curtain call, so that kinda, sorta qualifies as an encounter. As Lloyd Webber primarily resides and works in the UK, it seems he rarely comes stateside for any momentous events (of course, he’s had health issues of late, which prevents his travelling outside the UK, which is understandable – though given his recent works have not quite made it to Broadway, that might also be a contributing factor). My brief encounters with Sondheim have been less formal and more substantial as I’ve attended (and have blogged about) the CD signings at Barnes and Noble for the fairly recent revival and staging of Follies and Merrily We Roll Along, respectively, where he graciously signed CDs and chatted with those who waited in line at the CD signing events.

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

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

 

Stephen Sondheim at the Barnes & Noble CD signing for Merrily We Roll Along, July 10, 2012.

Stephen Sondheim at the Barnes & Noble CD signing for Merrily We Roll Along, July 10, 2012.

In conclusion (maybe) my thoughts on both composers are of equal affection and admiration, both have had a lasting impression on the art of theatre and the arena of entertainment, and both have created a catalog of rich, diverse and highly melodic tunes, and have crafted musicals that have entertained and educated, and thrilled generations of theatergoers.

I wish both Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber a most happy birthday, and would like to thank them both for the magnificent work they have created over the years.

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.

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