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.

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On the Brighton Line: Observations & Musings of One Man, Two Guvnors – June 9, 2012 (matinee)

On the day before the Tony Awards 2012, I strode to the TKTS at Duffy Square, (right in the heart of Times Square) with the intention of seeing something, though it was nearly difficult to pick from the discounted shows offered. You see, aside from the Usual Suspects not on the TKTS board (namely, Wicked, The Book of Mormon, Porgy & Bess, Harvey and The Lion King), just about every Broadway musical and play was up on the TKTS board with at least a 40% discount.

There were several factors to consider – there were the newer, Tony-nominated shows, of which, (depending on how the awards are handed out), would announce their closing performance date or would no longer be on the TKTS board; then there were shows that had already announced their closing dates, and some shows that had previous not had discounts available on TKTS.  Should I go see Priscilla Queen of the Desert again before it closes? Or should I go see Peter and the Starcatcher? Once? Nice Work If You Can Get It? Evita? War Horse? Jersey Boys? For once, there were too many choices,  and in for this season of shows, I didn’t have a show on which I quasi-fixated (unlike a certain show two years ago, but that’s for another blog…).

So after a bit of internal debate (and a lot of pondering) I joined the Express Play line (which is usually shorter than the general line, as most theater goers opt to see musicals) and chose to see One Man, Two Guvnors, and obtained a rear orchestra (right) seat. Clearly the Music Box Theatre is now my go-to theater for hilarious comedies, as I’ve realized (after the fact) that the last three plays I had seen at this theater – Lend Me a Tenor, La Bête and Shatner’s World – We Just Live In It – left me with bellyaches of laughter and resulted in the deepening of the smile lines around my mouth.

One Man, Two Guvnors is one of the funniest plays I’ve seen in recent years, though technically speaking, it is a play with music, as the production features a quartet called “The Craze” consisting of Jason Rabinowitz (lead vocals), Austin Moorhead (lead guitar), Charlie Rosen (bass) and Jacob Colin Cohen (percussion), who play a set of songs before and throughout the play (and also during intermission). I now firmly believe that every Broadway show, both play and musical should all have an in-house band or act to entertain the audience at least before the show (intermission optional) – much better than just sitting and waiting for the show to start, especially for those who get to the theatre early or at least on time (and considering the price of theatre tickets these days, I’d want to get my money’s worth).

Given the source material is Commedia dell’Arte, it should not be surprising that the play is a farce, and a British one at that, so in addition to the usual slapstick humor, mistaken identities and comedic mayhem, there’s Cockney slang, double entendres, and British accents. The play is set in the seaside town of Brighton in 1963 and tells the tale of Francis Henshall, played by the charming and hilarious James Corden, a good-natured yet easily confused guy with a voracious appetite, who finds himself (quite inadvertently) in the employ of two guvnors (the British term for an employer), both of whom are not quite on the right side of the law. Naturally, hilarity and chaos ensue as the complicated lives of the two guvnors intertwine and Francis has the arduous task to keep one from knowing that he is the employ of the other. Of course it doesn’t help that he adds to the confusion before everything is happily resolved.

The fourth wall is consistently broken throughout the play by Francis, often addressing the audience directly, and even bringing up some audience members (those lucky few in the first row)  for a bit of audience participation – though I must say the afternoon I saw the play, I think there was more improvisation than usual. Since this was my first time seeing the play, I don’t know if certain things were anticipated or if it was truly improvisation. As previously mentioned, Francis is constantly hungry (not such a good thing) and is consistently short of money (definitely not a good thing) – so at one point in a scene he asks the (rhetorical) question “Does anyone have a sandwich?” to which several audience members respond in kind – one person in the mezzanine section offers him a sandwich, while another sitting mid orchestra right tosses him a Rice Krispies Treat (which gets eaten by another cast member once the scene is restarted).

This lengthy banter seemed to have stopped the show, as James Corden (doing his best to not break character too much) explained that the question was part of the play and definitely rhetorical. So the scene restarts right before the aforementioned line, and sure enough, after he delivers the line again, someone else (somewhere in the mid orchestra left) offers him a sandwich, to which he (clearly) ad-libs, “Oh come on, we’ve just been through this!”, then asks the audience member what kind of sandwich (humus) – “Oh, you can keep it”, and then proceeds to continue with the scene, but not before informing the audience that we had effectively ruined  an ensemble member’s two lines (he only had three lines in the entire play).  Oh well.

 [Brief update/disclaimer: my boss had gone to see the play over the weekend, and he stated that this entire bit was indeed part of the show, which, in hindsight, I should have suspected, but at the time  it was brilliantly executed and does confirm the sheer talent of James Corden and his ability to make a scripted scene look like it was improvised.]

 The role of Francis Henshall is certainly James Corden’s tour de force, with his cheeky smile, comic timing and his sheer commitment to do just about anything for a laugh. The rest of the cast was top-notch, with Daniel Rigby and Todd Edden as worthy contenders for the award for the Best Scene Stealer (which would be an awesome Tony Award category…) As Alan Dingle, Daniel Rigby brilliantly encapsulates the psyche of the Actor, dressed in black and spouting grand (often Shakespearean) proclamations before dramatically exiting the stage – it can almost come across as cliché, but never does. Tony Award nominated Todd Edden is outstanding as Alfie, the octogenarian waiter, with his shaky hands and (often) dialed-up pacemaker, who is the hapless recipient of much of the comedic mayhem that is dished out at a semi-regular basis.

James Corden at the stage door.

Considering that it was the day before the Tony Awards, it seemed as if  the stars were in town and at the theater – I spotted Patrick Duffy in the lobby before the show, caught a glimpse of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones during intermission, and saw Tony Roberts as he exited the theater (someone also stated that Bernadette Peters was also in the attendance, but I didn’t see her). The stage door experience was interesting in the fact that there were no steel barricades surrounding the stage door, which was right next to the entrance between the Music Box and the Imperial, where Nice Work If You Can Get It is currently playing. Since Nice Work If You Can Get It ends roughly the same time One Man, Two Guvnors does, there were some theater goers from that show waiting at the Music Box stage door – I dutifully directed them to the correct location, which is around the other side of the theater on W46th Street.  There weren’t too many other theater goers waiting at the stage door, either (but I suspect that may change very soon) – most of the cast came out the stage door and signed playbills and posters (and posed for photos).

I highly recommend One Man, Two Guvnors if you’re looking for a good laugh and great music.

Update (albeit late): Hearty congratulations to James Corden for his well-deserved win as the 2012 Best Actor in a Play (and against notable actors James Earl Jones, John Lithgow, Frank Langella and Phillip Seymour Hoffman!) His Tony speech was remarkable, humble and sweet, and his brief performance of the scene wherein he fights with himself was astounding.

Signed playbill

Update 09/02/2012:  I had fully intended to see the final performance, but was unable to obtain a ticket, or rather, was not willing to pay full price [$142!] , it had been announced that there would be no standing room seats and no discount codes were being honored). Nevertheless, I passed by the stage door after the show’s end and saw a massive throng of people with cameras at the ready)  waiting at the stage door. There was the usual amount of cheering when the cast came out, and dutifully signed playbills, posters and even one kid’s red sneaker (why, I don’t know). It’s always heartwarming to see such outpouring of appreciation for an outstanding cast of amazing actors.