The Tonys Bring It Home

Tony Award Dress Rehearsal

Can I get an AMEN?! What a wonderful thing to celebrate the success of Fun Home last night (and all the other winners and nominees and non-nominees). It was a fun evening of surprises right and left (all four Actor/Actress in a Musical categories went the opposite way of the predictions).

Before I dive into my high/lowlights of the evening including links to all the performances, a brief word about yesterday morning. If you haven’t heard, I attended the Tony Dress Rehearsal with Miss Jenn Haltman, and it was a grand ol’ time. The best moment for me may have been stepping into Radio City and seeing the iconic Tony set on the stage. It was pretty surreal. The dress rehearsal is as you might expect – they run through the entire evening, all the performances, all the banter, presenters, even fake winners and acceptance speeches. There’s a set of ten or so actors who “play” the nominees, sit in their seats, and one goes up to deliver a thank-you speech after each award is announced. It’s actually quite entertaining. You also get to see how the sausage is made, like how the cameras work and how the crane reaches over the audience. It was a super cool morning, but now, onto the real thing.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Let’s begin with the best of the best: Sydney. Effin. Lucas. Is there really anything else to discuss? This was the performance of the evening. The folks at Fun Home made the (very) smart decision to highlight one song and one performer (with cameos by Tony nominee Beth Malone and now two-time Tony winner Michael Cerveris) to represent their show, a decision I fully support. And to have Joel and Jennifer Grey introduce the number made it all the more apropos. This song stands for so much in the musical theatre genre, and the fact that an 11-year-old is delivering it makes it all the more impressive. I could talk about it for ages, but I’ll let the song speak for itself. Here’s Tony nominee Sydney Lucas singing “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home. Also, a mini-anecdote from director Sam Gold in the press room after winning his Tony, talking about directing Sydney in that song: “The day that I was first going to stage that song with Sydney in rehearsal, I was really nervous…What was I going to say to her? She was nine at the time. I started to ask her, ‘Do you understand what this song is about? What can we talk about?’ And she was like, ‘I got this.’ She had it already. She understood everything about it. She’s a very mature actor and didn’t need to be treated like a kid. I treated her [from] that moment forward like all of the adults.”
  • Something Rotten also gave a great performance. Since there was no real opening number (missing you, NPH), Rotten ended up serving as the big opening of the night, presenting the Act One show-stopper “A Musical” featuring Tony nominees Brian D’Arcy James and Brad Oscar. It’s funny, right?
  • Let’s focus now on the lady power happening last night. I did a lap around my living room every time a woman won. Firstly, yay lady director Marianne Elliott for Curious Incident. Second, representation in all the design categories: Catherine Zuber for The King and I Costume Design, Bunny Christie for Curious Scenic Design, and Natasha Katz for American Lighting Design. And then! Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori for Best Book and Score for Fun Home. They made history by being the first all-female writing team to win for a musical. What should be on the lowlights is the fact that these wins happened during commercials. Considered “Creative Arts Awards” – and deemed not worthy to be aired with the rest of the program – book, score, choreography, and designer awards all happen off-screen with only five-second snippets of their speeches shown later. So here I share their fantastic and important speeches: Lisa Kron for Best Book and Jeanine Tesori/Lisa Kron for Best Score.
  • Let’s hear it for Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang. This category seemed like a shoe-in for one of the Fun Home ladies. I haven’t seen The King and I yet (going in July), but I’m still so excited for her and her adorable speech. And how nice to squeeze in a little bit of diversity on that stage (wow, I just looked it up: she is the second Asian actress ever to win a Tony).
  • While we’re on the topic of The King and I, let us all bow down to the wonder that is Kelli O’Hara. Congrats on winning your first Tony after six nominations. Yes, standing ovation! And that speech!! And have you seen the quick change video going around right now? Amazing offstage choreography. Kelli, I hope you’re still shuffling off to Buffalo filled with joy.
  • I want to do a couple of shout-outs to my other favorite actor wins. Alex Sharp is so wonderfully earnest. Annaleigh Ashford I’ve been rooting for since I first saw her in Legally Blonde in 2007. And Michael Cerveris for Fun Home! A frazzled Tony speech but a terrific performance as Bruce Bechdel.
  • Best presenters of the night were Larry David and Jason Alexander. How Larry David manages to ride that line of hilarious yet offensive is quite the feat.

LOWLIGHTS

  • I said it before and I’ll say it again, It Shoulda Been You drives me nuts. From David Hyde Pierce’s intro with a fan letter to the jokes to the song itself, I can’t do it. But let’s give well-deserved credit to the talent that is Lisa Howard and the sound that she produces. I just wish I liked the song.
  • I can’t really speak too much of Gigi because I have not seen it (nor do I intend to quite honestly), but it doesn’t do anything for me. Here’s Vanessa Hudgens performing “The Night They Invented Champagne.”
  • As Jenn said about Finding Neverland while we watched the performance yesterday morning, “Everything is happening onstage, and nothing is happening onstage.” Yes, Matthew Morrison can still sing underneath that beard of his, but this number was literally smoke and mirrors to distract from the fact that so little is actually going on. Here’s “Stronger” featuring Morrison and Kelsey Grammer. Also? That intro.
  • I would never speak badly of Chita Rivera; she’s Broadway royalty. But The Visit, or as I’m now calling it, “The Visit – What Is It?”…I just had no idea what to make of that performance. And sadly I’m not the only one – they just posted the closing notice this afternoon.
  • Although the memoriam was touching and featured a record amount of performers in a Tony number (not to mention actually being aired on the live show as opposed to last year), the speed of that slideshow left something to be desired. It didn’t need to be rushed! Why not start it at the top of the song (with the right notes ideally) instead of featuring Josh Groban for one minute and twenty seconds?
  • Let’s talk about the E.T. bit. While funny and unexpected, let’s read the room, shall we? Wait to send Kristin out in that ridiculous costume until the audience has stopped reeling from Sydney’s performance. The music had barely faded out when she wobbled out, unfortunately reducing the moment that had just occurred.
  • The Jersey Boys finale was a little bit of a letdown after some of the great closing bits we’ve had over the last couple years.
  • As I mentioned above, any award happening during the commercials is a lowlight.
  • And now, a mini-rant on medleys. Have you heard this before from me? Medleys are so rarely a good idea in my book. I totally understand that you want to show as much of your production’s range and stars as possible. I get that one number doesn’t fully represent what your musical is, but what a medley tends to do instead is get all…jumbly. It gets messy because too much is being squeezed into a few minutes. So for example, On the Twentieth Century, which I very much enjoyed the other week (review to come), comes off looking all over the place. There were technically FOUR songs covered in those few minutes. People don’t know what to come away with after seeing that. Why not just do the last song in the medley? I know we don’t get to see Peter Gallagher or the adorable tapping porters, but we’ll get to see Kristin sing her heart out and we’ll enjoy one full song. It’s a bummer Tony winner Christian Borle didn’t get to perform in the Something Rotten number, but guess what? It was still great, and now people get a sense of what that show will be. Why not just do “Shall We Dance?” from The King and I or one dance with the two leads in American in Paris? Haven’t we learned yet that medleys don’t do a show justice?

Alright, let’s not dwell too much on the negative (like no love for Hand to God). Things like this exist now! Not all of the shows can be recognized, and there will always be a lot of BS that gets in the way of celebrating the arts, but Fun Home taking home the big wins last night is a huge accomplishment. So let’s bask in that while we can. One more time, here’s a link to all of the performances. Go see a Broadway show!

Oh yeah, one more thing. Bring back Sound Design.

Tony Award Dress Rehearsal


Summertime Recap and Tony Prep

Summertime

Well hello, old friends. Sorry to disappear on you for so long there. As most of you probably know, I’ve been practically living in Gowanus, Brooklyn the past two weeks putting up our production of Summertime. Despite a tumultuous chain of events, I think we made a beautiful play, and I’m so proud of it and everyone involved. Here is a peek at some production photos to give you a little taste. And to stay up-to-date on our future projects, you can subscribe to our mailing list here.

But now down to business. It is prime Tony season, and I am BEHIND! I gotta stop producing shows in May! Here is what’s topping my list right now of what I need to see, ideally before Tony Night on June 7th.

  • Fun Home – Missing the run at the Public was my big regret of the 2013 season, but I found solace knowing it would likely come to Broadway. And yet I STILL haven’t made my way over there so this is definitely a top priority.
  • An American in Paris – I should’ve snagged preview tickets on TDF when I had the chance. Now it’s a huge hit and a main contender for Best Musical this year. I’m buying tickets for this later today to catch it next Wednesday.
  • Airline Highway – I never miss a Julie White show. I’m also buying tickets for this today to go next Saturday.
  • On the Twentieth Century – I’m seeing this next Thursday with Jenn! It’s going to be a busy week!
  • The King and I – Sadly I won’t get to this in time for the awards, but I did snag tickets for mid-July with the roomie.

There are others of course (The Visit, Skylight, etc.), but they’ll have to fall to the wayside for the time being.

So – are you ready for Tony night? Excited for Alan and Kristin? Which performance are you most excited to see? What do you think will take home Best Musical?

Summertime
Written by Charles L. Mee, Directed by Jenn Haltman
Gowanus Loft, May 7 – 17
Photo Credit: Craig Hanson Photography
Pictured: Spencer Aste, Josh Doucette, and Becca Schneider


Wilkommen to Cabaret, Emma Stone!

Cabaret

Now THAT is how you play Sally Bowles. I mean no offense to the very talented Michelle Williams, but this was the burst of energy that was needed last year whenever Alan Cumming departed the stage.

Yes, I went back to see Cabaret. Yes, I went because I’m a huge Emma Stone fan. When the revival was announced, she was actually originally slated to be the first Sally but had to back out due to scheduling issues. Man, am I glad they were able to work her out as a replacement.

If you recall from my review last spring, the trouble I, and others, had with Michelle’s interpretation was there was too much vulnerability and fragility too early. When we first met her, it was like Hitler had already taken over, the game already lost. Act 1 is supposed to be a party and we’re all invited, but she was playing the end at the beginning. Of course Sally is troubled and distressed and has serious issues to work through, but she, like the rest of the characters, is in total denial, and that should carry through until close to the end of the show. And arguably, even then, when facing the reality head-on, she still turns the other way. But until that point, Sally Bowles is the life of the party. Like (random reference alert!) Angelina Jolie’s character in “Girl, Interrupted,” she’s the girl you want to hang out with even though she’s going to be a terrible influence on you.

I like to jokingly take credit when I predict that someone is going to be a star. When I saw “Easy A” for the first time, I said to my roomie, “That girl is going to be the next ‘It’ girl.” Mostly because of this clip which I still watch on a regular basis. Cue Oscar nomination.

Emma Stone is absolutely infectious as Sally (here is an all-too-brief montage). How can I explain it? She makes you…lean in. She takes her time with her lines in such a way, it’s as if every word she says is going to be the one to change your life. She tells her stories and delivers her jokes slowly but surely because she knows you’re gonna wait.

And then to see all that fade as the world around her begins to crumble is all the more effective. Her emotional journey is powerful and her physical transformation also striking. By the end, once that fur coat is gone, we see a frail woman. Her petite frame revealed, she looks small and defeated but is still holding on by the grit of her teeth. Her desperation to cling to the status quo is actually pathetic and even harder to watch knowing she is also plagued with self-awareness. To all the people out there who claim that musicals don’t hold the same weight as plays, I ask them to watch the last scene between Sally and Cliff in Cabaret.

The poor thing had the flu this week (aren’t I fancy with my inside information?), but I think the sickness, if anything, gave her more drive. She struggled through her songs in the best way possible, giving it her absolute all, particularly for the 11 o’clock number.

See her if you can, performing through February 15th. Until then I will be crying out from Astoria, Emma: bleibe, reste, stay!

Cabaret
Music and Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Book by Joe Masteroff, Co-Directed by Sam Mendes, and Rob Marshall
Studio 54, Closing March 29, 2015
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Emma Stone and the Kit Kat Girls of Cabaret


Tony Tony Tony: A Recap

Tony Awards

So I know I’m beyond behind on my reviews, but I figure we should take a moment to discuss Sunday night’s Tony Awards. Did you watch? DVR it for later? I got comfortable in my pajamas and sat back to enjoy an evening of theatre. Here’s a brief look at my take on some of the highs and lows of the evening.

HIGHLIGHTS 

Jessie Mueller! Carole King! A wonderful performance and a much-deserved win for Miss Mueller as Best Leading Actress in a Musical. I haven’t even seen the show, and I love her! I do admit that I was also deeply rooting for Kelli O’Hara as it was her fifth nomination and she certainly deserves it after all these years. Perhaps next year for The King and I? Nonetheless, Jessie has been taking the theatre community by storm ever since On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. I’m stoked for her and can’t wait to see Beautiful.

Three words: Idina. Effin. Menzel. Well, let me back up. First there was Jonathan Groff’s brilliant introduction, and then the house was subsequently brought down with her If/Then 11 o’clock number. And yet, people haven’t been talking about it! I did not see my Facebook or Twitter feed freaking out afterward. Weren’t you watching, theatre fans? Honestly, in my eyes, this may have been the performance of the evening.

Also, let’s rejoice for Best Musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder – a fantastic performance and an even more hilarious introduction by Jefferson Mays. Let’s hear it for the underdog of the season actually getting its due with its multiple wins.

Cabaret and Alan Cumming? Solid of course.

James Monroe Iglehart’s praise shout.

Lena Hall’s heartfelt speech.

I also want to give a shout-out to Sutton for always being glorious.

And that Hedwig performance?? Yes! I’m so excited to see it in a few weeks!

And perhaps the ultimate highlight of the evening: Audra. Tears. Will Swenson. Tears. Standing ovation. More tears. Making history in two ways. For those of you who don’t know the momentousness of Audra’s win on Sunday for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, she is now the winner of the most Tony awards. She had five, tying with Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris, and now she has a whopping six, on top of the fact that she is now the only person who has won in all four performance categories! Audra McDonald = Queen of Broadway. Can she host next year?

LOWLIGHTS

Clint Eastwood and whatever that presenting was supposed to be.

The opening? I’m sorry, I just wasn’t into it. I do like how so many shows had cameos, and the awkward elevator ride with NPH was delightful, and I understand that they likely didn’t bother with a “traditional” opening number because it could never compete with last year’s. But seriously – Hugh Jackman just bouncing the whole time? Yes, I know it refers to something specific, but we’re really going to take an obscure reference and make it the centerpiece of a four-minute opening number? C’mon Tony writers, you can do better than that. You want more people to tune in? Don’t lose them in the first few minutes!

Sting, I’m bored.

Aladdin’s Friend Like Me was like watching a seizure on stage. And listen, if the funniest part of the song is when the Genie stops to sing from different Disney movies, then I think there’s an inherent problem with the show. People out there who want to spend money on Aladdin? I’m just saying – that’s the best you’re gonna get. They played their best hand on Sunday, so if you didn’t enjoy that number, you might want to reconsider your options.

Zach Braff’s hair.

I thought ROCKY was a musical. Also? Shortest fight ever.

This has been a common rant on Facebook and everywhere else so I won’t digress too long, but I will say I too am tired of the out-of-place Hollywood actors presenting. I love you Tina Fey, but why are you up there and not a Broadway vet? It’s all to improve ratings and get viewers, right? Well, ratings were lower this year. Maybe they should focus more on the theatre community and what we do best and feature more performances from the current season instead of a Music Man rap with LL Cool J and T.I.? Sure, The Bridges of Madison County closed, but couldn’t we get a song with Steven and Kelli? Anyway, more on that and the recent Tony Award Administration Committee ruling in a later post.

All in all, it was a relatively smooth evening without too many hitches, and we got to see some great numbers (go here to watch the rest of the performances). Here’s to another season of theatre!


Cabaret

Cabaret

Last Thursday, I was fortunate enough to attend the opening night of the revival of Cabaret. And when I say revival, I mean that in the most literal way possible. As you may already know, Roundabout Theatre Company has remounted the Sam Mendes production that opened in 1998 and ran until 2004 (starring the late Natasha Richardson). Sadly, I missed it the first time around. Originally I had questioned the choice of putting up the same show. In my book, the point of producing a revival is to revisit a classic in a new way, to find a different angle. But boy, am I glad they did so I could see it now. It’s rare to get that kind of opportunity. Cabaret is back and once again it’s starring Tony-winner Alan Cumming as the Emcee, and together they are tearing it up at Studio 54.

Cabaret itself isn’t a flawless show – it’s long and certainly drags on in parts. There are a few songs that don’t need to be there (the pineapple song anyone?). Although you could argue that every seemingly unnecessary number contributes to the story as a whole. Every piece has a place in the puzzle – pieces that slowly build (or more appropriately, collapse) the world around us. For example, the songs Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz share aren’t particularly strong, but we need them in order to grow close to these characters and care about their relationship, so we can be even more distraught when things come crashing down.

It’s remarkable to me that a musical I’m so familiar with (Oh! How nice of you to ask – I was in it my senior year of college) can still be so chilling. Like the first time a swastika is revealed, you can practically hear the silent gasp emanating from the audience. And even though I know it’s coming, it’s still a punch in the gut. The same goes for “If You Could See Her (The Gorilla Song),” and basically, let’s be honest, the entirety of Act Two. It’s a one-two punch, over and over again. The fun, crazy world that is initially created is shattered as reality sinks in. That’s the beauty of Cabaret. It’s enough to make you almost forget what’s coming. It’s all fun and games with the Emcee, but the moment the kick line kicks into a goose step, we know there’s no going back.

The majority of this seamless shifting in mood can be credited to the wondrous Alan Cumming who is still ridiculously sexy, sensual, and sleazy in the role. Plus he sounds fantastic. His Emcee is a performance everyone should be lucky enough to witness. He makes it feel like a private show just for you, full of seedy antics and entertaining songs, and at the same time, creates a dark, mysterious sense of foreboding of what’s to come.

All of the supporting characters are also excellent, particularly the Kit Kat Club dancers, Fraulein Kost (Gayle Rankin), and the newly Tony-nominated Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz (played by Linda Emond and Danny Burstein, respectively). And even though the critics can’t agree, I will vouch for Michelle Williams. She impressed me. I’m not sure how I feel about her take on the character (although this could very well be a director’s call). Sally Bowles is larger than life, especially in Act I, and Michelle’s Sally is much more reserved and fragile. I think that fragility should be bubbling under the surface but not necessarily for the entire story. That fear and heaviness seems to be there from the start, rather than the somewhat-oblivious, party-loving girl. Still, it was interesting to see something new. And her performance of “Cabaret” is extremely powerful. I bet her performance as a whole will only get stronger and stronger as she gets more comfortable on stage.

All in all, I give Cabaret two thumbs-up. You should definitely try to see it, especially if you missed the last revival. And even if you didn’t, why not get chills all over again?

Cabaret
Music and Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Book by Joe Masteroff, Directed by Sam Mendes, Co-Directed by Rob Marshall
Studio 54, Closing January 4, 2015
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Alan Cumming and the Kit Kat Club Dancers