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2/19/17

4 Aspects about Newsies' Cinematic Release that just...WOAH

…WTF even?!?!?!

No, really, what originally was just a night spent with my bestest friend of 4evsies, as I continue corrupting her with as much theatre as possible (my life’s purpose, quite frankly), had me questioning everything I thought about the original Newsies production that debuted almost five years ago. Kudos to everyone involved for retconning delivering the goods on a worldwide-scale - the show was every bit as amazing as a live theatrical experience and hopefully a sign of many more to come, Disney property or not. And if you should check your local listings, there may be an opportunity for you to catch a showing or several!!!

The Notable Highlights:

THAT. FILMING - I’ve been opining since Day -15 that filming a live production can look high-end and unlike your typical YouTube bootleg with just a couple of well-placed, hi-definition cameras. Hell, I’ve seen a few National Theatre Live broadcasts that look like they were made with three cameras and a shot of optimism. Well…Disney was clearly having none of that shit. With its bajillions of dollars in the piggy banks, they clearly splurged and had some 429 cameras (y’know, give or take) on hand to capture each square inch of the stage, every facial reaction and all of the non-existent pores on those dancing twink’s faces. It was like seeing the show in person. From the premium seats. And after seeing the Broadway show in-person from the front mid-mezzanine, talk about an upgrade!

Christopher Gattelli and his Ragtag Group of Dancers - I can only name a handful of shows where a dance break could illicit spontaneous applause from the audience, but it cannot be denied it is well-deserved here. Gattelli’s choreography is an impressive, demanding and technically proficient feat - especially during “Seize the Day” and “King of New York” - and every single dancer is shante-ing, flipping, tapping and twirling like their lives depend on it. And bonus - I have a bunch of new hyperbolic expressions to incorporate into my daily roticon, my personal favorite being, “I’m so upset that I must angrily pirouette right now!”

Jeremy. Jordan. Enough said -  Because Jeremy Jordan is Jeremy Jordan, who can do everything without error, of course his Jack Kelly was so fucking awesome, he obliterated everything that stood in his path. How his performance got BETTER so many years after the fact is beyond me, and it didn’t even have to in the first place. But here he is -  fledging every aspect of Jack Kelly for maximum impact. The smooth-talking charmer, the rebel-rousing and social justice advocating leader, the sensitive artist, the adrift soul longing for Santa Fe - every nuance was letter perfect and you can’t look away while he is effortlessly commandeering every single frame (as if you would ever want to). I’ll say it - enough of these teasesconcert cameos and one-time performances of covers, Jeremy. Let’s get you back on to Broadway and in the land of Tony eligibility where you firmly belong.

Kara Lindsay is Here and She’s Not Holding Back - Hey girl, where’ve you been? **Insert Google Montage** oh, Wicked it would seem. Anyways...does anyone else think Kara absolutely crushed it?! Like, even with Jeremy Jordan dazzling at every juncture and an ensemble of cute boys WERQing that stage like it's their bitch, she managed to make the Smurfette principal that is Katherine worthwhile?! I say she did and the show is better off because of her. Her Katherine was ON FIRE - poised and determined to execute her own agenda, standing her ground against Jack Kelly while not acquiescing to his initial advances to her, and clapping back multiple times as her womanhood, writing and intellectual savviness are questioned. It would make more timely sense that Katherine has more of a feministic pep in her step considering how the world has changed in the last five years, and with Kara’s fantastic portrayal, she turned Katherine from “that girl who is…there to kiss Jack at the end” (which, y’know, there are worse ways to spend a minute) into a much-improved upon Disney Heroine. Good for Kara on a personal/career level - she is too beautiful and talented to be caught up in the Wicked juggernaut and it’s clear that her post-Newsies career should of had…I don’t know, more of a variety of casting and performing opportunities. Whether that ensues or not, job well done girl.


Photo Credit: Deen van Meer

11/4/16

Tick, Tick...and BOOM Go All My Feels

A fantastic production of Tick, Tick…Boom is always welcome anytime or anywhere (within a reasonable travel distance to me, my one request), but there is something about Keen Company’s FLAWLESS revival playing at Theatre Row that…transcends. That’s what it does, it just. Transcends. Everything.

It could be that the timing of this revival couldn’t have been more perfect, fostering such a hyperbolic reaction (yes, even for me). Maybe it has to do with the current political/sociological climate, which has become so tumultuous, people can’t look at their televisions or computer/smartphone screens without throwing their hands up in disgust while stating aloud, “…the fuckkk??”

Or possibly because adulting has become so difficult as to be unrecognizable, between the mounting cost of living, career woes, health, relationship and/or other life-related stresses. Or perhaps one has a creative outlet - whether it be for a living or for pleasure - that has plateaued, doesn’t generate much enjoyment and excitement or has become so inconveniencing financially or time-wise, one questions his/her entire relationship with what once provided so much purpose and passion.

Not to be sanctimonious or anything, but the crushing reality of adult life is…well, it is prone to sucking. Except, when it doesn’t. And everything feels harmonious for however long - a day, a week, a month or even just one fucking moment that stands out as better then the rest, providing optimism in a world that seems hellbent on self-destruction, sabotage and spreading toxicity. That same world where it seems like most of its inhabitants have given up because fuck it and fuck everything, you know...

If there is anyone that understood alllllll of that, it was probably Jonathan Larson. Because Tick, Tick…Boom! was written over 25 years ago and, with a little help from David Auburn, I can’t recall the last show that spoke so profoundly to life working in the theatre scene of Manhattan, the late-20’s, early 30’s experience or even just adults having to make difficult choices when confronted with a fork in the road. And if there is something to learn from this revival, it can be summed up as a simple encouraging mantra of “no matter what, don’t give up and move forward with everything you have."

That is what blew my mind and soul the most. There may be no forthright villain in this story (essentially, the cutthroat theatre industry and Manhattan itself is just about it), but under Jonathan Silverstein’s astute direction, I really felt that Jon, Susan and Michael were, at the least, trying their hardest in the face of natural conflict to carve out the best lives for themselves. No, really, think about it...

Michael may have traded in his acting career for one in corporate America, but not once did I detect a hint of regret in the sacrifice he made. He mentions to Jon that he doesn’t miss starving and that he can endure the travel demands of his job, hence, he reaps and enjoys the rewards of his elevated income (the BMW he drives, his new apartment, owning more then three belts) before…y’know, shit takes a dark turn.

And while Susan starts entertaining the thought of moving elsewhere, putting her relationship with Jon in a difficult spot as he insists in staying put in Manhattan, she remained strong in her conviction that the change would be for the best. To paraphrase her words, “I’ll still be a dancer, just not in New York.”

And then there is Jon, whom for whatever angst he feels while prepping for his workshop or powering through his writer's block (or composer’s block, as it were), just watch as he lights up walking through the Theatre District, or watching Karessa sing SLAY “Come to Your Senses” during his workshop and, of course, his euphoric moment in Central Park and he commandeers the piano and performs the absolute fuck out of “Why.” He may hit a creative wall or three or six, but as he gains more perspective and thinks it over, he comes to the conclusion that there is nothing else he would rather be doing. Some encouraging words from St------ So------ don’t hurt, but I digress.

All three characters make strong cases for themselves, but the audience is spared taking any sides or judging the choices any of them have made. Yes, even Michael for “selling out” or Susan for, what it looks like, checking out. In other words, we have three well-intentioned, occasionally flawed, but very likable characters veering back-and-forth from stumbling through life and excelling in it, contemplating the present and wondering/being scared of the future…doesn’t that sound like all of us? If you are thinking that this show feels real - almost TOO REAL at times - it’s because it is.

There is so much more that this revival of Tick, Tick…Boom got exactly right, starting with Silverstein’s energetic direction, capturing the frenetic, adrenaline-pumping life in Manhattan. The cast of three whirl around the sets and props - the piano, a couch, some chairs, etc. - and HAUL ASS with Christine O’Grady’s well-done choreography, never letting up and having a blast while doing so.

Ciara Renee’s excellent portrayal as Susan and co. won’t make me forget Karen Olivo’s perfect showing from the Encore’s production a few years back, but Miss Lady is a beautiful, talented star and we all should be ready for her to be a household theatre name. Her rendition of “Comes to Your Senses” - basically, Jonathan Larsen’s best ballad that is not “One Song Glory” (and one of my all time favorites) - is every bit enthralling and powerful as it should be. 

While it may sound like a back-handed compliment, George Salazar really has “the best friend” role (typically, named Michael!) down to a science. He’s well-sung (as always) and the rapport he develops with Blaemire felt sincere, like there really is a decades-long friendship between the two of them (co-starring in the last revival of Godspell probably helped!). “No More” - Jon and Michael’s overjoyed reaction to the latter’s brand-spanking new apartment - is a good song in itself and a feat of direction/choreography, but Salazar and Blaemire’s killer dance moves, enthusiasm and perspiration (literally) leveled the entire building and then some. It was hard not to watch and laugh along as Jon and Michael play make-believe and be total dorks. Like all good buddies do!

Renee and Salazar also occupy a dozen or so supporting characters between the two of them and its worth pointing out that they shift back and forth between them all - with only a few adjustments of costuming to help - without a moment of hesitation, it would seem. Just one look at either of them, with a different posture, facial reaction and/or vocal affectation, was sufficient enough for me to buy into a new character.

And then there is our homeboy, Nick Blaemire. Nick Fucking Blaemire. We’re all ready for him to be a mega-watt star, performing and composing and taking Broadway (even more) by storm, right?! How it hasn’t happened already is a crime to all people with eyes, ears and a functioning nervous system. As wonderful as he was performing in Godspell, Dogfight or Found: The Musical, his performance as Jon is a cannonball to the soul.

Casting a perfomer/composer for the role of Jon was only going to yield positive results, but Nick's casting is next-level genius given his, um, track record (although, Glory Days was just ahead of its time and if you were to ask the younger theatre-going generation, most will tell you the show is quite good). He is clearly enjoying himself walking the audience through the narrative aspects and hitting all of Jon's quirks. But when Jon is hardcore angsting and emoting like there is no tomorrow, that is where Nick is laid bare on the stage. "30/90" lands all of its punches as he quarrels with his almost-30 years of age and what little his has to show for it, projecting self-doubt and uncertainty amidst that wonderful, charismatic gem of a song. "Johnny Can't Decide" is a vocal explosion on all ends, with Nick hitting the high notes in his range to melt your ears. To top it all off, he makes "Why" the moment you didn't realize you were holding out for, as he proceeds to OWN EVERYTHING, working his pipes and every one of his emotions for all their worth as Jon rediscovers his resolve for song-writing.

And remember, this guy was wearing an eyepatch and playing Plankton in the SpongeBob Musical not too long ago. Classic Nick.

This old chestnut of a show is a theatrical treasure that I would put at the top of my favorite musicals list instantly every time. The fact that I can find further nuance in Tick Tick…Boom! isn’t a surprise as my age gets closer and closer to 30, but all-too relatable, reassuring/inspiring theatre is…well, it speaks for itself. I know this show's Off-Broadway run was just extended (YASSSS!), but, like, I believe I speak for everyone when I say it is time for this mostly unknown gem to be on a Broadway marquee and start delighting larger crowds. C'MON already...Tick, Tick...Boom! has never been on Broadway before, we're so many years removed from Rent's regime that it is time a spotlight was lent to Jonathan Larson's other show, even just for a little while, and we have a director/cast that knows what they are doing once the light hits the central piano on stage. If I had the money to make this happen (LOLZ), consider my check written out yesterday.


Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

10/20/16

A Tale of Writing, Simon Stephens and Heisenberg

I don’t think I could ever write a play.

As I am writing this, my mind lingered over to the possibility of writing for the stage at some point in the future - like, in a part-time Sharr White-esque fashion - and yes, I don’t think I have it in me to do so. Sure, I’ve seen A LOT of shows and have years of writing experience, but, of course, that doesn’t mean I can just up and write the next The Humans. Allow me to bow out and leave the playwriting to the actual professionals.


Heisenberg - playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater - is the show that prompted me to think about playwriting while also confirming that it’s probably not my calling. Like most of the great new plays, I could just never write something like this.

Having seen a few of his works, I figured Simon Stephens to be some sort of writing sorcerer. Not just his adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but Punk Rock was also a gem of layered suspense and shock that spoke about humanity on a larger, more cynical scale.

Heisenberg feels like it exists more in the former’s subverted realism-esque universe, such as, in the very station where Christopher Boone is scrambling to catch his train, he could have walked past the bench where Georgie, an American woman in her 40’s, randomly kisses Alex, an Irish man in his 70’s, on his neck from behind (Heisenberg officially commences mere moments after that). The reason why both worlds felt so (wonderfully) similar to me is that suspending disbelief came organically and it took minimal effort to convince me that all three characters exist in a reality where an exciting adventure awaits them.

That’s quite an achievement given Heisenberg's constructs lend more credence to the fact that Georgie and Alex would probably not engage in further conversation after their initial…ummm, ‘exchange', which can be described as awkward at best or bizarre and creepy at the worst. After maybe 3 minutes of apologies for the misunderstanding and miscellaneous small-talk, it is more than apparent that both individuals aren’t compatible in any regard. She is ditzy and may or may not have lied about her love life and professions (take one guess), while also having an ulterior motive as to why she pursues Alex so vociferously, going as far as visiting him at his butcher shop after their initial not-so-meet-cute. He’s reserved and set in his ways, replying with few words and exhibiting little interest in Georgie during the early-going while she haphazardly stumbles around (physically and verbally) in their interactions.

Several breaks - and set-changes - pepper the run-time, each one indicating a fast-forward in these character’s journeys together, which goes on to include dinner-dates, sex and a full-fledge romantic relationship. As unconventional as it may be, Stephens’ writing nails it over and over again as these two vastly different people build a believable rapport with each other, the age difference and unsuitable natures all aside. The dialogue is funny and pleasant, not to mention, occasionally sad as Georgie and Alex let their guards done to reveal some of the pain they harbor around. And it’s a nice, unstraining thought that two random individuals can meet and establish a bond regardless of whatever, you know...

Like Georgie and Alex’s interest in each other, the audience can’t help but observe and be intrigued as to where things may go. And once the beautiful final scene comes around and after the final fade-to-black, my thoughts began to theorize what is in-store for these characters. Ambiguous (and abrupt) endings can polarize an audience, but Stephens side-stepped a more tantalizing route for something subdued and heart-warming.

The other aspects of this production are all on-point, starting with Mark Brokaw’s primitive, but effective direction. On-stage seating is never not awesome and with a series of risers upstage and with the normal in-house audience with consideration, Brokaw directed the cast and their “tables and chairs” set-up with minimal movement and shape-shifting, with nary a bad angle (as far as I can tell) from either vantage point while also letting Stephens writing and the performers do their stuff.

Mary Louise Parker’s performance as Georgie is delightful and manages to impress in one important regard: as insufferable and occasionally dubious Georgie can be, the audience does more than just tolerate her - we play along and even cheer a little as she wears Alex down. It’s not shocking to hear someone drop the ‘F’ bomb on stage, but Parker’s no-filter, Giggles McAdorable delivery landed every time for some of Heisenberg’s best laughs. Usually, two-character plays don’t have characters like Georgie - I imagine it is out of concern of jumping the shark should the character not land right away (if at all) - but in Parker’s performance, Georgie has many shades to her, so much so, she sustains our attention throughout.

And while Denis Arndt has the more quiet, reactive role between the two, he doesn’t overshoot subtle and wind up being boring. His “quiet, but confident” schtick is perfectly calibrated to offset Georgie’s Georgie-ing, while also crescendo-ing into his final monologue, which Arndt performs with a palpable exuberance without raising his voice all that much.

Manhattan Theatre Club should become the sole proprietor of these two-character handlers (that is, if it isn’t already). The last revival of Collected Stories, Venus in Fur, Constellations, and now, Heisenberg is quite the strong pedigree of shows if you ask me.


Photo Credit: Joan Marcus