I cannot get over the new musical down at the Atlantic Theater Company. If it doesn’t get extended or picked up somewhere else, what a crime that would be. I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw something this original and simultaneously this good. Sadly, the two things rarely go hand in hand anymore.

So. Some background. Found: A New Musical is based on FOUND magazine and how it got started (ahem, founded), from its humble beginnings to later successes. The magazine is a collection of found items: notes, love letters, lists, anything you might find on the ground somewhere. Davy Rothbart started gathering said stuff and building a portfolio if you will. And now, Tony nominee Hunter Bell ([title of show]) and Lee Overtree have turned Davy’s story (and these real found notes) into a musical.

How does one do this, I hear you ask? The story itself is familiar; we’ve seen this trope before, but not told in this way. Found notes are interspersed within FOUND’s origin story – imagine that the notes serve as the subtext. An ensemble member will jump out and share a little blurb or sing a quick one-liner (which will also be projected on the walls) commenting on the scenes at hand. For example, if two characters are speaking and you can tell there is a spark between them, someone is going to interrupt with a love note written by a 7th grader. These moments are seamlessly weaved into the plot and vice versa (the plot going where it needs to at times in order to share top-quality finds). The letters also serve as the lyrics to the majority of the songs. How amazing is that? Except for a few original numbers (all wonderfully written by Eli Bolin), the remaining songs consist of new music but words from these found items (click here to hear a ballad from the show). The notes are for the most part hilarious, some tender, others heartbreaking. And they’re all so relatable. Much of the joy from the show comes from the fact that these items were written by real people. It’s also refreshing to see the notes themselves in the set/projection design. Who writes things down anymore? Here we can remember a time of passed notes in class instead of texts, to-do lists instead of a phone app, a break-up letter instead of an email. The musical has miraculously found a way to match the varying tones of these letters, lists, and scraps of trash – turning the mood on a dime.

Found features a fantastic talented ensemble, led charmingly by Nick Blaemire as Davy. Barrett Wilbert Weed plays Denise, Davy’s roommate, and damn, girl can sing. I would list the standouts among the cast, but they all get a chance to shine so I’ll list them all instead: Christina Anthony, Andrew Call, Daniel Everidge, Orville Mendoza, Betsy Morgan, Molly Pope, Danny Pudi (Community fans out there?), and Sandy Rustin.

Wrapped up in this extremely funny, modern, fresh musical is also a touching, honest message – one that is not pushed. It’s there for us to pick up on throughout the piece and is only directly addressed briefly in the second act. One of Bell’s strengths has always been sharing an idea that’s simple and true but often forgotten in our day-to-day-life craziness, without hitting you over the head with it. On the chance this production doesn’t have a future here in the city, I suggest you become one of the lucky few to catch it before November 9th.

Found: A New Musical
Book by Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree, Music and Original Lyrics by Eli Bolin, Directed by Lee Overtree
Atlantic Theater Company, Closing November 9, 2014
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich
Pictured: Christina Anthony, Danny Pudi, Nick Blaemire, Molly Pope, and Sandy Rustin

Scenes From a Marriage

Scenes From a Marriage

What a fascinating, innovative, different type of play experience. Of course, I’d expect no less from an Ivo van Hove production. The Flemish director often revisits New York Theatre Workshop to reinvent plays as we’ve come to know them. When I saw Hedda Gabler starring Elizabeth Marvel in 2004, it completely changed my view of theatre. He’s also directed A Streetcar Named Desire, The Misanthrope, and The Little Foxes there. Ivo strips plays down to the characters’ most primitive instincts and then heightens them all over again, leaving you with a very different approach than the original you had come to expect. Scenes From a Marriage is his newest project, based on the 1973 Ingmar Bergman TV mini-series.

As the title hints, we bear witness to different scenes from the same marriage. During Act I, the stage is split into three separate sections. When you arrive for the show, you’re given a colored wristband determining which room you enter first. Within the three rooms are three different sets of actors playing the same couple, Johan and Marianne, at different stages of their marriage, from its more promising beginnings to later struggles. In the first room, timeline-wise, are Alex Hurt and Susannah Flood, 10 years into their marriage. A half hour later you move into the next room to see Dallas Roberts and Roslyn Ruff playing the same couple later on, and lastly are Arliss Howard and Tina Benko working through the remains at the end. Meanwhile, the scene(s) you already watched are replaying beyond the thin walls. You can hear the fights, ones you’re familiar with and ones you have yet to hear – the echoes of past and future battles that resonate throughout the story.

The majority of the second act is absolutely thrilling. The theatre is transformed into one large open space, and as the six actors enter (together this time), the audience begins to prep itself for the roller coaster ride they expect is coming. The scene begins as the characters alternate lines, and soon the three pairs begin doing the same scene at once, overlapping and moving about the entire space. Three different interpretations, three different deliveries, all happening at the same time. It requires active listening from both the audience and the actors. I sat on the edge of my seat, eyes darting back and forth, catching key phrases here and there, and latching on for dear life. Hearing the same scene layered on top of itself made the words more vibrant and charged.

Despite this intense engagement, I did struggle with the latter half of Act II as my attention wavered (there were dips in Act I as well). I should note here that the play is three and a half hours long (including a 30-minute intermission). It doesn’t feel that long, but certain scenes weren’t as engrossing for me. Although this may have been because they were such a stark contrast to the times when there was so much going on. It was an odd thing bouncing back and forth between being overly engaged to not totally present. The play is well acted, but I was most partial to Susannah Flood’s performance as Marianne 1. She is moving, spontaneous, and a joy to watch.

To sum up, if you’re interested in seeing a piece of theatre that will challenge you to listen and work your brain, I do recommend Scenes From a Marriage. If nothing else, it’s always a good idea to be introduced to Ivo van Hove’s approach to theatre.

Scenes From a Marriage
Written by Ingmar Bergman, English Version by Emily Mann, Directed by Ivo van Hove
New York Theatre Workshop, Closing October 26th
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich
Pictured: Tina Benko, Dallas Roberts, Roslyn Ruff, Alex Hurt, Arliss Howard, and Susannah Flood

King Lear

King Lear

What a beautiful night in the park I had last week. Thanks to a dear friend who hooked me up with tickets, I took my dad to see his very first Shakespeare in the Park! I tried to see Much Ado About Nothing last month, and the performance was unfortunately canceled due to those insane hurricane rains. Thankfully, we had better luck with King Lear, and the weather could not have been more ideal for an evening of outdoor theatre.

King Lear is a striking production (click here for a montage), although I wasn’t fully engaged the whole time. The reviews have been very mixed, and I can see where they’re coming from. I’m giving the show a solid “good” (I should note – my dad thought it was excellent). While the play wavered and lost my rapt attention in spots, for the most part, I was hooked in with the action, which drove ever forward during the three-hour tragedy. I felt Act II especially found its stride.

The cast is led by the incomparable John Lithgow whose Lear is adamant and stubborn and sad. Witnessing him fall into madness leaves us full of pity despite the arrogance that blinds him in the first scene of the play (Lithgow kept a wonderful blog throughout the rehearsal process for the New York Times. I encourage you to check it out if you’re interested in reading more about the behind-the-scenes work). The Fool, played excellently by Stephen Boyer, brings humor and wit to all of his scenes. Another acting highlight, as always, is Jay O. Sanders as Kent. Sanders is a constant favorite of mine in the park. I have had the opportunity to see him in Hamlet, Twelfth Night, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His performances are always vibrant, full, and clear in his choices, no matter the role size. Sheffer Stevens as Edmund is also strong; I very much enjoyed his work in Act I as he connives against Gloucester and Edgar.

A few of the performances fell flat for me, perhaps only compared to the more brazen Lithgow. Annette Bening and Jessica Hecht (as Goneril and Regan, respectively) – and I’m a big fan of both – didn’t stir me as much as I’d hoped. Whether this was a directing or acting choice I don’t know, but their cold and calculating deliveries left me wanting more. What’s bubbling beneath the surface? I wanted more real connection between the characters, no matter the quality of the relationship. Perhaps their distant nature further adds to what pushes Lear over the edge, but I craved something deeper. For example, I found the relationship that developed between Lear and his fool to be very touching. It is clear that despite their jokes, they deeply care for each other, and as Lear veers toward madness, you can see him reaching out to his fool in a desperate hope to stay grounded.

There is an ominous percussion underlying most of the action, which sets the looming mood in addition to creating the booming thunder of that infamous storm. One of the best aspects of the play is how extremely clear the language is. We heard every word thanks to excellent diction and a clear understanding from all of the actors as to what they were saying. So while occasionally stagnant, it’s certainly a worthy production worthy of your time.

King Lear
Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Delacorte Theatre, Closing August 17th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Steven Boyer, Jay O. Sanders, John Lithgow, and Chukwudi Iwuji


Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging!

Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging!

The most recent incarnation of Forbidden Broadway is once again a hodgepodge of Broadway spoofs. Conceived by Gerard Alessandrini, Forbidden Broadway has been running Off-Broadway on and off since 1982. It features two men, two women, and piano accompaniment. In no apparent order, the hits (and flops) of the current season are parodied, and other always-popular-topics are sprinkled in as well (such as Annie or Ethel Merman).

I grew up listening to a whole bunch of FB tunes that I had downloaded on Napster as a dorky Broadway-loving teen. I’ve always been obsessed with “Into the Words,” “I Couldn’t Hit the Note,” and the Les Misérables medley. My dad took me to see it for the first time eight years ago or so, and honestly, I couldn’t stand it. This new version I liked more. The performers are charming, and there are several clever spoofs with full-on laugh-out-loud moments. Some of it is really mean though; it actually made me a little uncomfortable at times. The tone shifts from poking fun or teasing the premise of a show to specifically jabbing at an actor’s talent (or lack thereof). It’s one thing to do a funny impression of Patina Miller in Pippin, but to straight up mock Laura Osnes in Cinderella? Not necessary. Or deserved for that matter.

Basically, the production, as I imagine many of them are, is hit or miss. Some of the songs are very funny, but the misses fall very flat. The best material is mostly in Act 1 – highlights including a Jason Robert Brown bit, The Bridges of Madison County parody, and Pippin. Now, it’s one thing for me to laugh, but I’m betting there were several tourists there that night who probably had not seen most of the season. What’s impressive about the show is that everyone finds it amusing, even when they haven’t seen what’s being spoofed. It’s packed with inside jokes, specific references, and impressions of not-so-famous actors from this year’s productions, and people still laugh. So these guys are doing something right. They have a formula, and they’re sticking to it. But while funny, the gimmick does get old over time. Maybe that’s why Act 2 didn’t do much for me. I say, lose the intermission, cut the weaker filler numbers, and go out with a bang instead of a whimper.

Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging!
Created, Written, and Directed by Gerard Alessandrini, Directed by Phillip George
The Davenport Theatre, Closing July 20th
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg
Pictured: Scott Richard Foster, Marcus Stevens, Mia Gentile, and Carter Calvert

tick, tick…BOOM!

tick, tick...BOOM!

“In one week I’ll be thirty.”

That’s one of the opening lines of tick, tick…BOOM! as the storyteller (and writer), Jonathan Larson, introduces himself to the audience. I have always been one of the many who felt that Larson’s songs and words were meant for me. But this line rang especially true this past Saturday because I could have literally said the same thing. My 30th birthday is this Saturday, July 5th, and what a unique opportunity to be able to revisit one of my favorite musicals at the age up for discussion in the show.

Some background first. tick, tick…BOOM! is a 90-minute rock musical written by Jonathan Larson. Before he went on to write the monster hit RENT, he created this auto-biographical one-man show. After he tragically died of an aortic aneurysm at the age of 35 (and right before RENT’s first preview Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop), this piece was reworked by David Auburn into a three-person show (the character of Jon himself, his best friend Michael, and his girlfriend Susan). The story is about Jon, a “promising young composer,” as he nears his 30th birthday in the year 1990 and battles with the decision of whether he should continue pushing forward along the artist’s path or finally throw in the towel. It’s a beautiful show, for artists in particular, but really it’s for anyone who can relate to the struggle of sticking to one’s dream. Plus it has a fantastic score and a smart, funny book.

The show originally premiered Off-Broadway at the now closed Jane Street Theatre in 2001. I was 17 and an enormous Renthead, so of course, I was all over that sh*t. I went four times and fell in love with Raúl Esparza, Jerry Dixon, and Amy Spanger. I freaked out a year later when I saw Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George for the first time and realized the brilliance of Larson’s song “Sunday” (it’s one big shout-out to the Act 1 finale of George). I wanted to play hooky my senior year of high school and go to the city for the demo CD signing which ended up being on September 11, 2001. I wore out the cast recording in college and would go to the practice rooms at 1am with Brigitte to play piano and sing through the music.

Sooo basically this show and I have a history, and to see it again was very emotional. I was coming in with an entirely different perspective, and it felt all the more personal. All of a sudden I find myself at the age Jonathan is singing about and asking similar questions: what does it mean, what happens next, what choices should I be making, what path should I be following? Do I continue to choose this crazy path of theatre despite the challenges? Or just throw myself fully into a day job? Do I talk about these questions over and over or do I just…act?

Unfortunately I cannot recommend this specific production to you because it was part of the Encores! Off-Center program, running only for five performances after a very brief rehearsal process. Due to the limited rehearsals (sneak peek here), the actors still use their scripts for many of the scenes. There are music stands for some songs, and not every scene is fully staged or realized. But what director Oliver Butler and these three actors managed to do in such a short time was incredibly effective. Fingers crossed it gets to move on like Violet did after its run last summer, because I think there’s more to be discovered.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony-winning composer of In the Heights, is a wonderful Jon. Although his vocals don’t match Raúl’s, his emotional presence is fully felt, and his performance resonates even more since he can so directly relate to the path of a struggling composer trying to change the face of Broadway. Here’s a lovely article written by Miranda as he talks about his journey with Larson’s work. Leslie Odom Jr. is excellent as Michael, and Karen Olivo (Tony winner for West Side Story and returning from her break from show business) knocks the big 11 o’clock number “Come to Your Senses” out of the park. I mean, holy crap. Not to mention that the song is in a higher key! Here’s a bootleg that does not do her justice but will give you a little taste.

I hope the show has more life. I want more people to see it. To hear the music. To hear Jonathan’s story. The ending to his actual story makes it all the more important to remember to embrace the time we have and move forward and hopefully continue to choose to do what we love day in and day out.

I’ll leave you with these miraculous videos of Jonathan Larson himself performing songs from tick, tick…BOOM!:

Johnny Can’t Decide
Why (audio only)

tick, tick…BOOM!
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson, Directed by Oliver Butler
New York City Center, Closed July 28th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Leslie Odom Jr., Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Karen Olivo