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 and 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

Of Drinks and Drama: Musings on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – October 4, 2012

It’s pretty much a universal truth that the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol in the wee hours of the morning will bring out the worst in people, resulting in embarrassing behavior, divulged secrets and a whole lot of hurt, be it physical, mental and/or emotional. Perhaps there is no better theatrical display of the damaging results of late night over imbibing than in Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, currently playing at the Booth Theatre and celebrating its 50th anniversary with the current revival opening on the same date as the original production had (October 13th). I had obtained tickets via the TDF ticket raffle booth at this year’s Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market & Auction and I had heard much praise for this production, which originated at the famed Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago.

The play revolves around George and Martha, a middle-aged married couple – he a history professor at a fictional New England college, and she the daughter of the president of said college – who invite a new (young) biology professor and his wife to their home. Already inebriated from the party from which they all attended,  more and more drinks are served along with scathing remarks and vicious retorts between George and Martha; the younger couple, who are never directly addressed by name, are appalled at their hosts’ behavior but are soon baited as well and find themselves entangled in the crossfire. Hurtful accusations and indiscreet revelations are exposed and in the end, the line between reality and illusion is shattered, leaving both couples with deep emotional scars that may never heal.

This was my first time ever seeing this play, and while I knew the general plot of the play, I was astounded by the verbal tennis match between George and Martha, and the appropriate use of vulgarities and sexual innuendo, which must have been shocking fifty years ago, but now seems to be the norm. The four actors, all of whom were in the Steppenwolf production (three of whom were making their Broadway debut), were also astounding – Tracy Letts and Amy Morton, as the combative George and Martha, and Madison Dirks and Carrie Coon as the unsuspecting younger couple. Tracy Letts, a playwright himself, was electrifying to watch as he matched insults and accusations with Amy Morton with great aplomb, you’d imagine that they actually were an embittered married couple (I’ve since read in several articles that both Letts and Morton have worked together numerous times before, which explains their rapport); to see Letts’ almost passive rage build and escalate throughout the course of the play to the point where his entire head turns scarlet red as he spews his combative diatribe to anyone within listening range is a master class in acting. Amy Morton is a perfect verbal sparring partner and is equally vicious in her baiting  tirades and at the same time alluring as the cuckolding wife. Mason Dirks and Carrie Coon also hold their own, involuntarily absorbing the toxic atmosphere in which they find themselves and attempts in vain to not be affected by it, but with the layers of dysfunction they witness in their hosts, coupled with their own flaws, it would not be hard for them to believe, if only for a moment, that they could become like George and Martha.

It was one of the rare occasions that I did not wait at the stage door, as I was quite overwhelmed by what I had just seen that I momentarily had lost the ability to form coherent sentences.  Clocking in at over three hours (with two intermissions), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a massive undertaking to endure, but it is well worth it to see a quartet of actors at their peak delivering a master class in dramatic acting.

Update 6/10/2013: Heartfelt and deserved congratulations to Tracy Letts and Pam MacKinnon who were respectively named Best Actor in a Play and Best Director in a Play, and the production itself, named Best Revival of a Play at last night’s Tony Awards. Kudos to Mr. Letts and Ms. MacKinnon for their wonderful acceptance speeches.