Tag Archive for broadway

Once: A Listening Guide

I don’t know when I’m going to see Once, the new Broadway musical adapted from the popular indie film musical of the same name. It opens on 18 March, the last day of performances for the show I’m music directing, and I’m in tech/performance mode until then. I can only hope soon, as this show has a good chance of Book of Mormoning its way into sold out shows for months when the reviews hit.

What I do know is that NPR has once again reached an agreement with a new musical to stream the Original Cast Recording on their website. Once is nothing without its music. The songs are the draw even more than the story, which admittedly is a bittersweet twist on a classic love story boilerplate. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Boy can’t have girl unless he overcomes an obstacle. Cue the singing.

onceobcr Once: A Listening Guide

Once is nothing without its score and we get the OBCR before the show opens.

As I did with Ghost and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, I’m going to do a track by track listening guide. I’ll be going into orchestration, performance, and how the creative team reinvented the music to work onstage.

Let’s get to it.

“The North Stand” is the overture. It opens up with strings doing an upbeat arrangement of “Falling Slowly.” One singer does eventually come in, but the drive is to set the tone for the show. It’s a party song at an Irish pub and it works.

“Leave” is an interesting choice to really open the show. Steve Kazee, playing Guy, has a beautiful voice. He’s giving good indie/folk on the vocal at the start, but you know he can do more. “Leave” is slowed down a bit from its use in the film, but is still just a guitar/vocal track. It appears that the stage musical sets the stakes for Guy right away. He’s devastated by the breakup with his girlfriend and suffering.

“Falling Slowly” is the song that won the Academy Award. It’s a beautiful ballad and the stage production doesn’t play with it too much. All they do is add a bit of rubato–slowing down the song at certain points and balancing it by speeding up a bit immediately afterwards. The piano bass line is emphasized a bit more, giving the song some weight.

The big difference is that Girl, played by Cristin Milioti, actually matches the power of Guy’s vocal. It’s a welcome change. Milioti has a fascinating tone to her voice. Trey Graham, in the NPR article, says she has “a gorgeously grainy cello of a voice.” I like that as a descriptor. It’s rich and warm and can make you cry. That’ll come into play later.

The addition of strings going into the bridge is beautiful and needed to add interest. I’m trying to remember if they used the full version of “Falling Slowly” in the film. It is a long song that can be a bit repetitive if nothing changes.

“Moon” is one of the new songs used to bring the community aspect into the picture. The whole show has been conceived to take place in a pub. People will come and go and, at intermission, the audience can go onstage to buy a drink.

The harmonies in “Moon” are great. I only wish NPR labeled all the singers so I can give credit to who is singing and playing this arrangement. What I can say is that Martin Lowe, a British music director/arranger (Mamma Mia!, Taboo, War Horse), created really beautiful arrangements for his US debut.

“Ej Pada Pada Rosicka” is an adaptation of a traditional Czech folk song. For people who haven’t heard traditional Czech music, this song will be a treat. It sounds like a party. The men and the women trade lines before breaking into a dance. The accordion and madolin are welcome additions to the strings and guitar. The whole thing just sounds like joy.

The song is sung entirely in Czech, which only makes sense since this is the first big moment for a huge group of brand new characters. The casting call for the Boston tryout mentioned the show adding in Girl’s family of Czech immigrants as a major force in the show. They are the ensemble and the orchestra, but they also get big moments like “Ej Pada Pada Rosicka.”

“If You Want Me” is my favorite scene in Once the film. Cristin Milioti brings a lot more power to the vocal than Marketa Irglova. Their voices are very different, but the song still sounds very good. That’s a testament to the composition. Martin Lowe gives the arrangement a really cool mid-tempo groove. I never imagined myself dancing to “If You Want Me,” but that’s what I’m doing. Milioti does some beautiful vocal embellishment that helps define her character. She’s going full-traditional Czech and I love it. Then there’s the siren song to end the performance. Milioti Elizabeth Davis (Reza) sings a high soprano line over background vocals of the chorus. It’s beautiful.

“Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy” is as cute and funny as it was in the film. There’s not much to say. It’s a one minute song that’s supposed to sound improvised and it serves its purpose.

“Say It To Me Now” puts the focus on Guy’s vocal. The guitar is the only other prominent instrument. You can hear the bass in the background, but it’s secondary to Guy’s moment.

Steve Kazee really sells the chorus. I’d normally be annoyed by that rock growl just being thrown in. However, it’s the character. Guy is a would-be rock star who got off track because of a bad breakup. It only makes sense that he would sing like that whenever his true emotions surface.

“Abandoned in Bandon” is another new song for the show. It’s a short drinking song. The goal is to give the audience a brief break from the relationship between Guy and Girl. I could see it going over well in the theater. The actor is really hamming up the vocal and that’s what this kind of song needs.

“Gold” is another song given new meaning in the show. A lot of the music in Once the film practically happened as a montage near the end. Guy and Girl round up a few musicians to join them in the studio so Guy can record his demo. They go from one song to the next over images of the musicians performing and Guy/Girl getting closer.

I figured that those songs would be interpolated into the show to flesh out the story. I think I was right. “Gold” sounds like a declaration of affection for Girl by Guy and that was its function in the film, as well. Here, it’s just placed in the context of the exploratory arc.

The song has always been beautiful. The big change is adding a full chorus of singers and a small orchestra to the arrangement. You can just picture the stage filled with singers playing guitar, bass, and strings tearing the theater down during the extended instrumental break at the bridge. The arrangement turns a neglected song into the showstopper it should have been to begin with.

“Sleeping” is a new song for the show. What starts to worry me is how slow the show is. Most of the songs with any real substance are ballads. That can become very tiring in a live production. Once will live or die based on the staging and power of the cast. We know from the NYTW reviews that the concept is solid. Future casting will determine if the show really has legs. The wrong actor as Guy or Girl will ruin it.

 Once: A Listening Guide

Original concept art for Once.

“Sleeping” is a lovely declaration of love, determination, and regret. Guy knows what he wants and he is going to pursue it even if he might fail. The end of the song is perhaps the best part, with Guy losing himself. It’s another situation where I’d normally be disappointed by a lack of resolution. It just seems to work for Once.

What “Sleeping” does is give me hope that the stage show didn’t externalize the existential crisis of the story too much. For me, the beauty of Once the film was this lack of self-awareness in Guy and Girl. They were writing and singing these beautiful songs that clearly showed how they felt about each other, but they were oblivious to the songs’ true meanings. To them, they were just making music. Subconsciously, they were reaching for each other against all odds.

“When Your Mind’s Made Up” is taken a bit faster than in the film. It has a bit more of an adventurous edge brought on by the syncopated drum kit and fuller harmonies. I’ll give Once big credit for one thing: the show is not afraid to use its ensemble. The full choral moments are beautiful on the recording. I can only imagine how powerful it is to see that many talented musicians wailing away on a song like this. The violin sawing away at a counter melody gave me chills.

“The Hill” is my favorite song in the film. Here, Cristin Milioti underplays the first verse. She brings this beautiful and unexpected freedom to the vocals that serves the character well. Girl is the spirit and joy that Guy is lacking to make his dreams come true. She plays music because she loves music and Milioti is living to sing this song. It doesn’t hurt that she has a beautifully expressive voice and has turned “The Hill” into the character-defining moment for Girl. And again with the rubato that’s driving me wild.

“It Cannot Be About That” sounds like an entr’acte. It’s an orchestral arrangement of “If You Want Me” and, like “The North Stand,” it gets the job done.

“Gold (a cappella)” is an adventurous choice to use in this kind of show. It’s already a stripped down production, with the actor/musicians doubling as the orchestra. There is a strong sense of trust behind Once‘s concept. The creators really believe the audience will buy into the conceit of this relationship and this staging. Turning “Gold” into a full cast performance of a deeply personal song from Guy is a huge risk on paper. In practice, the arrangement is so beautiful that it will most likely leave the audience in awe.

“Falling Slowly (reprise)” is how you would expect the show to end. Why wouldn’t they go back to the best known song from the show to conclude the story? It’s the purest distillation of the story between Guy and Girl and I can see this orchestra-driven arrangement bringing a lot of closure to a story that just ends in the film.

And again, because it’s worth pointing out, I love a show that is not afraid to use its ensemble. Too many shows have most of the cast just sitting backstage doing nothing for most of the running time. Once is not one of those. That makes me happy. Why waste talent if the show can handle more people onstage?

You can stream the entire album at NPR. Just a word of warning: one of the tracks is missing in their listen track by track option. “Ej Pada Pada Rosicka” is mislabeled as “If You Want Me.” If you want to hear the Czech folk song, you need to jump to about the 10:00 mark in the “Hear ‘Once’ In Its Entirety” option.

The OCR of Once comes out next Tuesday. Will you be buying it? Sound off below with your thoughts on the show and the music.

The Return of Andrew Lloyd Webber (As If He Ever Left Us)

Ruth Leon wrote a great piece about Andrew Lloyd Webber for Playbill. It really does feel like the right time to look back at his career in the context of Broadway. Phantom of the Opera played its 10000th performance. Both Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar are returning to Broadway in new revivals. The threat of Love Never Dies still looms on the horizon and Webber still seems keen on bringing his expanded production of The Wizard of Oz on tour.

Leon, however, beat me to my Webber retrospective. Instead, I’ll be looking at the upcoming revivals coming in the next few months.

Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the more successful and better remembered rock operas to come out after The Who defined the form with Tommy. It is inspired by the last week of Jesus’ life as told in the Gospel, but really hones in on almost political struggles between Jesus, Judas, and Roman authorities. The show, though popular, is still considered controversial because of the liberties taken in telling the story–Judas is a sympathetic figure, Mary Magdalene is written as a prostitute and Jesus’ main confidante–as well as the majority of the villains being written as Jewish characters.

unavail image The Return of Andrew Lloyd Webber (As If He Ever Left Us)

An industrial feel defines the new revival of Jesus Christ Superstar

Still, forty-one years later, Jesus Christ Superstar is regularly performed all over the world. It’s a great example of a well known story being elevated to easily consumed entertainment by the right approach. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice found a great deal of truth in the story with rock music and the result is a thrilling night of theater.

The show happens to contain one of my favorite songs in all of musical theater. “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” is a tightly wound and overtly dramatic interpretation of the story of Jesus. The night before Jesus will be handed over to Roman authorities for punishment, he steps away from his apostles to pray for guidance. He knows that he was put on Earth to die, but he wants to make sure that God is positive that will be his fate.

Everything about this song works for me on paper. From the steady build of the verses to the more erratic–almost violent–orchestrations at the chorus to the humbling conclusion where everything is accepted, “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” serves as an excellent character song. The one caveat to this is how the vocal performance quickly shifted to what can be overly dramatic at the beginning. The opening verses are written to be performed very straight to create more of a contrast with the explosive chorus. It’s a minor quibble as it just takes a song that went from control to desperation into perhaps a more fitting paradigm of fear and determination. The right actor makes the more popular approach work.

Jesus Christ Superstar begins previews 1 March and opens 22 March.

Evita is, in some ways, a nice complement to Jesus Christ Superstar. They’re both mostly sung through shows that embraced the conventions of theater with atypical scores. For Evita, the Latin-hued score will be going even more out of the wheelhouse of traditional musical theater with this revival. Andrew Lloyd Webber was invited to revisit his score by revival director Michael Grandage. Webber promises to have added more Latin flourishes to a score that already evoked Argentina in some clever ways.

evitarights The Return of Andrew Lloyd Webber (As If He Ever Left Us)

Even the Evita poster is at odds with itself.

Evita sets itself up to tell the life story of Eva Peron, the former first lady of Argentina who passed away from cancer at the age of thirty-three. What the show actually does is provide an intriguing look into the rise of political and cultural figures in the guise of telling Eva’s story. Everything in the show is an act of manipulation to push the audience in unexpected directions.

Even the narrator figure, Che, refuses to play into the sentimentalism that the chorus of Argentine citizens acts on throughout the show. He provides a strong critical counterpoint to all of Peron’s actions. The result is a show that challenges the viewer to examine the public images of famous figures with the safety net of one charismatic woman’s life story. There’s a great video on YouTube that shows how this device was used in a clear visual way in the original production. Watch for how the citizens are kept removed from the backroom politics that overtake the stage.

The difficulty of putting on a production of Evita really is the title role. Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a bear of a role for a belting soprano. The show requires so much vocal strength to come across right. That’s not even taking into account how often the score forces Eva to sing in the upper range of her voice again and again without break. This is particularly evident in “Buenos Aires.”

Elena Roger has been playing this role for quite a few years now and will be taking it on in the upcoming Broadway revival. If you watch enough videos of her performances, you’ll see even she struggles sometimes to belt out the final phrase of the song. And just think: “Buenos Aires” is only her second song in the show. She’s in that range again and again and again for close to two hours after this. Let’s just say there’s a good reason that most productions of Evita use an alternate for some performances every week.

Evita begins previews 12 March for a 5 April opening.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Read: Time Out New York’s Greatest Broadway Diva List

Time Out New York took on a monumental task that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. They decided to rank the top 25 divas to ever step foot on Broadway. The first problem? There have been many more than 25 divas–in this usage; fewer if you stick to the true operatic origins–on Broadway.

How do you handle the variety of experience? Do you weight the list for recurring leading ladies or performances you’ll never forget? Do you toss the names in a hat and choose whoever comes up so long as Ethel Merman is listed as the number one diva?

Ethel Merman is the obvious winner. She was the queen of theater. Composers wrote shows for her that didn’t sit right on many other performers. She refused to play scenes facing another actor because the audience paid to see the show, not the side/back of her head. Her voice was strong enough to fill any theater and she had a fantastic understanding of how her body worked to manipulate this sound.

The top twelve, actually, make a whole lot of sense. The ranking isn’t as important among them because they’re all clearly iconic theater performers. These talented women are either known for one massive role–Carol Channing is the Dolly and no one will ever be able to take that away from her–or a varied body of headlining work that demonstrates immense skill–Bernadette Peters has done everything from the only woman on stage for the entire act of a dance musical to being the central figure of a large ensemble show. Actresses like Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, and Audra McDonald are known for their theater work because it’s the work they love and excel at.

From there, the list becomes a bit more adventurous. Kristin Chenoweth ranks nine slots higher than her Wicked costar Idina Menzel presumably because she worked more on Broadway (even if they have the same number of show-stopping memorable roles). Tonya Pinkins gets in for her incredible turn as Caroline Thibedeux in Caroline, or Change with special mention of all her Broadway roles, but Christine Ebersole outranks her by one slot solely for her work in Grey Gardens. Barbara Streisand and Carol Burnett get in with minimal stage work but large musical experience on camera.

Any ranked list of art is a challenge. There is no right answer (other than Ethel Merman at the top of a list of best Broadway performers, or Bach on the list of best counterpoint writers (he made the rules we still follow)). For every person who says “great list,” you’ll get many more who say “how could you…” about some minor quibble and even more attacking the list for not including their “best.”

I think Time Out New York took on a big task and did a great job. There list is nicely formatted with information about the performer and why they’re one of the all time greats. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Coming Soon: Carrie: The Musical

I don’t think there’s a musical fan alive who is ashamed of finding a copy of the soundboard bootleg from one of the only performances of Carrie: The Musical. The show is infamous. From Debbie Allen’s pop video choreography to the large white box set to Carrie suddenly having pyrokinetic powers to a song dedicated to slicing up pigs, Carrie reads like a colossal failure on paper.

Technically, it was. The original production only managed five performances before shuttering. The critics ripped the production to shreds and the show even lost a leading lady–Barbara Cook–before it reached Broadway. The producers were confident the show would resonate with NYC audiences and they were right.

Every report you can find about Carrie: The Musical dives into how wild the audience went for the show. Yes, it was over the top and kind of trashy and didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but the crowd ate it up. When done right, musicals can be an excellent vehicle for horror. It’s hard to imagine someone not wanting to see more of a show based on the grainy video footage available on YouTube.

Unfortunately, most of the show was nothing like this. Just based on the footage of Margaret and Carrie White in the house, I’ve fantasized about a revised production taking place entirely in the White house. Forget about showing what the kids are doing to Carrie–she’s a reliable enough narrator early on to establish her as a victim. Focus on the isolation she feels at home leading to her psychic awakening. Key characters–Sue, the gym teacher, Billy, etc.–could visit the Whites to deal with the school drama.

But I digress. What the original Broadway production did was…special. Unique. Bizarre.

A large white box. Spandex. Leotards. No sight of the title character at all. This is how the Broadway production opened. A rap-aerobics song about catching a man. An intimate little story about a high school girl on the brink of something big and dangerous doesn’t need huge dance songs to draw the audience in.

It gets stranger. I’ve seen the book and score before. People trade copies of real Broadway books/scores all the time. And you know what? The show is solid on paper. It really is.

When you can actually see the lyrics and how the music is arranged, the disconnect between the White household and the high school world makes sense. Carrie slowly starts to shift away from the grandiose religious tones and rhetoric to the contemporary language and sound of her peers, only to be thrown right back into her mother’s arms by the prom prank that fully unleashes her power. There are so many clever tricks in the score and really beautiful moments specified in the book that it’s hard to imagine how the show bombed.

carriemusical Coming Soon: Carrie: The Musical

Representational imagery doomed Carrie: The Musical

The problem was not one of content but one of presentation. You know, there’s another musical that thought it would be a great idea to take a popular story and try to turn it into a Greek tragedy set to music. It’s former director is now being counter-sued for irreparably damaging the book and staging of a $75+million superhero musical.

Sometimes, production teams get in their own way. Such was the case with Carrie: The Musical. There was this grand vision of an epic rock tragedy onstage with flashy visuals and a collapsible set. What the show needed was a realistic set, simpler choreography, and a cast of actors that looked like teenagers. A modern production would need new orchestrations, as well, as the shrieking synth orchestra from the original 1988 Broadway mounting is like nails on a chalkboard.

Enter the MCC in NYC. The original writing/composing team–Lawrence D. Cohen, Michael Gore, Dean Pitchford–has been quietly rewriting the entire show in workshops over the past few years. Now, in February, the show will return Off-Broadway for a limited run. Half of the score will be missing (boo! hiss!) and there’s a brand new book that focuses on characters, not spectacle (I’m listening).

What encourages me the most is not new content, but the limited view of the set in a new video from Broadway World. It’s the White household. It’s dull, it’s rundown, and it doesn’t appear to be designed for a quick transformation into a large white tomb. Did they really rewrite it as the chamber musical of my dreams?

I’m not so sure about the new song (it’s no “Crackerjack (Out for Blood),” but what is?), but I’m a little more optimistic about the new Carrie. It’s starting to turn into a “some version is better than no version” situation. I would love to be involved in a production of this show but the only way right now is to stage it without permission. That kind of production rarely ends without issue.

Carrie: The Musical at MCC

The goal, quite clearly, seems to be to build interest for a Broadway revival. Of course there’s interest. A running gag in the NYC area is that more people claim to have seen the original production than there were tickets sold from the first preview to closing night. The question is whether or not there’s enough good in Carrie to salvage.

The “half new songs” emphasis scares me. I can only think of a few songs–”Out for Blood,” “In,” “Wotta Night”–that probably needed to be replaced. Unless the bulk of these new songs go to Carrie and Mrs. White, I fear this production might not do any better than the original.

What drives people to Stephen King’s best novel and the film version is the story of Carrie White. For every moment that the focus shifts to Tommy, Sue, or Chris, there are at least two moments that focus on Carrie. The only place for a huge series of fireworks (not literally, for goodness’ sake) is the prom. At that point, you’re so invested in Carrie’s story that it almost becomes a relief that the prank results in the destruction. Huge dance numbers and large crowd scenes do not compliment the story at all.

We’ll see in a few weeks what will come of the MCC production of Carrie: The Musical. I never wish a production will fail, but this is one of the few that I want to succeed beyond my wildest imagination.

And you know what? If I get to see it, I’ll be happy just to see “Evening Prayers” performed live. They wouldn’t cut “Evening Prayers,” would they?

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Coming Soon: Once: A New Musical

Last January, I wrote a post about the in development stage version of Once. The Academy Award-winning film of Guy and Girl working together to fulfill their musical needs in modern Dublin featured a strong score and touching story. The characters in the film were unaware that the songs they sang reflected their innermost emotions, adding a sense of novelty to the proceedings. I concluded by suggesting the story is too small to work in even the smallest Broadway theater.

40283322810543726570316 Coming Soon: Once: A New Musical

Once: A New Musical pushes the struggling musician imagery.

It looks like I might have been wrong. Once opened to rave reviews at the New York Theater Workshop. The production did everything it could to make the story seem intimate to a full house, including some unexpected interactivity. A functional bar was built onstage. Audience members were encouraged to walk into the set during intermission to get drinks.

The upcoming Broadway run–previews start 28 February, opens 18 March–just posted a teaser trailer using footage from the New York Theater Workshop staging. It looks good. It also conveniently includes press pulls from the major NYC papers.

The show is populated with a cast of singing actor/musicians who seem to carry the show. The film’s score has been re-orchestrated to include many string players. I’m assuming these are the members of Girl’s family that were required to sing and play instruments for the workshops.

It’s hard to judge the production based on a one minute clip. What the teaser does show us is how the production team has found a way to translate a quiet little film into a more dynamic stage musical. Aside from the addition of new characters, director John Tiffany and movement director Steven Hoggett have found a way to naturally incorporate movement into the story.

The film uses very static scenes of the newly met musicians playing together. Girl sits at her piano while Guy performs with his guitar. The songs–sans “The Hill”–are static exercises in performance or used as backing for montages.

For the stage production of Once, the characters do not appear as chained down to their instruments. The most striking image in that teaser trailer is the full cast walking and spinning to the beat with cellos, violins, and guitars. That’s a memorable image that stays true to the musicians exploring their goals and identity concept while tipping its hand toward the more standard Broadway staging.

Shows have obviously worked well in the past without having big dance numbers or traditional staging concepts. American Idiot, Passing Strange, and Fela! have all opened to critical acclaim and Tony nominations for not following the more standard path of a book musical. None of them lasted much longer than a year, though. New and exciting can only go so far when a more casual theater goer doesn’t necessarily show up to be challenged.

Once seems to have found a way to keep its intimate appeal while settling into the larger production demands of a Broadway mounting. Hopefully, the show still plays well in a larger house.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Watch: Follies at Gypsy of the Year

Gypsy of the Year is an annual fundraising event for Broadway Cares: Equity Fights Aids. Broadway companies are invited to put on performances for a paying audience. They don’t do selections from the show they’re in, though; they write new material. Some casts show off variety acts while others go for parodies.

Follies went for parody. The critically acclaimed and star-studded revival of Stephen Sondheim’s look into the reunion of theater performers before their playhouse is torn to the ground will be closing in January to make room for a revival of Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice’s Evita. In tribute to their own demise and rise of Evita, the cast of Follies stage their own funeral and protest the rise of the Eva Peron on Broadway again.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Frank Wildhorn?

Frank Wildhorn’s new Broadway musical Bonnie & Clyde opened last week to enthusiastic panning by critics. Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal, for example, seemed to take great pride in tearing the show apart by mentioning all of Frank Wildhorn’s other Broadway musicals. This is the introduction of his review:

‘Bonnie & Clyde’ isn’t the worst musical to open on Broadway in the past decade. It isn’t even the worst Frank Wildhorn musical to open on Broadway in the past decade. (That would be “Dracula.”) It is, however, quite sufficiently bad enough to qualify for the finals of this year’s What-Were-They-Thinking Prize. Why would anyone not obviously deranged put money into a show with music by a composer whose last three Broadway outings tanked?

That reads like Teachout was looking forward to eviscerating Frank Wildhorn for being Frank Wildhorn again. I can see the motivation for it. His last Broadway outing, Wonderland, was a messy flop that did so poorly that lead actress Janet Dacal had to fly in from a brief vacation after playing every performance in previews and the first few weeks to close the show. Not a single Frank Wildhorn-composed show–going all the way back to his contributions to Victor/Victoria–has turned a profit on Broadway. His shows, as a rule, do very well in Europe and Asia (Dracula was a mega-hit overseas) and work better as cast recording than they do in the theater.

It looks like Bonnie & Clyde will be going the way of Wonderland and The Civil War before it: gone in under two months.

Everything You Need to Know about the Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark Lawsuit

Here we go again. The troubled production of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, currently taking in over $1million a week on Broadway but now assumed to have cost $75million to produce is in the headlines again. This time, Julie Taymor has officially filed a lawsuit against everyone who was ever involved in the book of the show. Why? They haven’t paid her and they broke her contract.

Here is everything you need to know about this lawsuit that might make have some interesting repercussions for future troubled productions (you know there will be more).

1: The Lawsuit is Not Frivolous

If you think breaking a contract with a writer is a frivolous lawsuit, you are mistaken. If you think stealing copy-written material is a legal action, you, too, are mistaken.

How Everyone Except the Actors is Responsible for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark Ver. 2.0

Yesterday at New York Comic Con, I saw a very eye opening panel about what really happened behind the scenes at Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. The panel consisted of original Julie Taymor collaborator Glen Berger, Julie Taymor replacement writer Roberto Aguire-Sacasa, and an associate set designer named Rob who is not credited on the Spider-Man or Comic Con sites. Other recognizable members of the production team were in attendance but did not take part in the panel.

The Marvel and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark PR people in attendance seemed tense before the panel. There were many hushed discussions about what to do in case of this and even a brief with the panelists before the event began. I assume they were being instructed to be candid but not slanderous about anyone who may or may not be involved in the production anymore. Judging by the fact that Julie Taymor’s name was mentioned only once (but her contributions were referenced and joked about repeatedly), I’m guessing my assumptions are pretty accurate.

If you want to know why so many stunts were put in that caused so much chaos during the development of the show, blame Marvel itself. Glen Berger explained that anyone working on the show in charge of a huge creative aspect–book, score, set design, costumes, etc.–was contractually obligated to use the latest “groundbreaking technology.” Hence, a flying apparatus called “The Catapult” that broke legs and arms before finally being show-ready. Hence, Swiss Miss with her at one point deadly spinning blade weapon. Hence, sets made of super-expensive carbon fiber rather than plywood and Masonite that fold up in odd approximations of pop-up books. Hence, gigantic distracting screens with flashing images because the holograms didn’t work.

Wait. Holograms?

The Broadway Shuffle: 2011/12 Edition

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There’s a strange thing that happens on Broadway. Since there are a limited number of official Broadway theaters, productions planning to come in during a season might go through a few different options of houses before they’re locked into a contract. Two big closings are allowing for an interesting set of adjustments to which show goes where.

First, The Addams Family will be closing 31 December. The show has struggled since it’s out of town try-out in Chicago. Jerry Zaks was brought in as a consultant to fix the show. He was left with a lot of strange and disparate elements he tried to tie together. Even with a new opening number and a tighter rein on Jackie Hoffman’s ad-libbing as Grandma Addams, it still didn’t work. The critics ravaged the show and it survived on name recognition (both for stars Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth (replaced by Roger Rees and Brooke Shields) and the macabre cartoon family) and family appeal. The national tour kicks off in New Orleans with five new songs, a new book, and the elimination of the fabulous squid puppet. Team cephalopod for life. Playbill has a great article on what, exactly, went wrong with this production. It’s a must-read for theater fans.

Next, Tony-award winning juggernaut Billy Elliot announced a closing date of 8 January 2012. This is surprising for a really simple reason. Unlike The Addams Family, which couldn’t take the financial hit of instituting the new book and songs on Broadway, Billy Elliot changed its book a few weeks ago. They cut out a lot of the questionable language to open the show up for younger audiences, families, and school groups. Obviously the ploy was too little, too late. Billy Elliot will end its run after a little more than three years.

A show closing on Broadway is rarely a surprise. What does become much more interesting is the strategizing that new productions can look at when big houses open up at the same time. The Lunt-Fontaine has already been booked to host Broadway transfer of Ghost, based on the film of the same name. Hopefully, the house isn’t so large that the effects so key to the production suffer.

But what will become of the Imperial Theater? The current Broadway revival of Follies was set to be a limited engagement because the upcoming revival of Evita was going to takeover the Marquis Theatre. The closing date was pushed back to 22 January 2012. Rumor has it, however, that Evita might try to take over the Imperial Theater. It could be a good match for that show if everything lines up. That either means that Follies could try to extend with replacement actors (if I’m not mistaken, some of the leading actors have jobs lined up, like concert tours and other productions, shortly after the new closing date) or the Marquis Theatre could host another show coming in.

What else is coming in? Jesus Christ Superstar has been confirmed for the Neil Simon Theater in March. End of the Rainbow, the new Judy Garland bio-show that played to raves in London, is coming in March to an unnamed theater. Rebecca, a musical based on the Hitchcock film of the same name, has also announced a March bow but no theater.

The musical adaptation of Little Miss Sunshine recently did an industry workshop after its critically acclaimed run in California over the summer with a new cast, including Sherie Rene Scott and Raul Esparza. No run has been announced, but the kind of workshop they did is usually designed to get financing in place. Then you have shows like Love Never Dies (based on the Sydney production, not the London production) and Newsies that are threatening to take Broadway at any moment. There are others.

And what of possible transfers of other productions from Off-Broadway? Lysistrata Jones is transferring to Broadway based on a well-received run in a tiny little converted theater space Off-Broadway. Could the upcoming revival of Carrie earn good enough reviews to take a similar risk? And then there’s the popular strategy of “rush it to Broadway because there are empty theaters” that happens every few years. What producers are going to try and jump on an empty Broadway house in the hopes of gaining an audience through Tony nominations?

I know not everyone gets off on the rumors about this kind of thing. I just find them exciting. It’s like getting the Toys’R'Us Dream Book as a kid. You see all these things you could have. You want that one and that one and that one. You make your list up for Santa Claus and hope he brings you everything. You know that you won’t get the unicorn and the new Nintendo and the RC monster truck, but that doesn’t hamper your joy when you’re first inundated with all these possible new toys. That’s how I view this part of a Broadway season. Christmas is coming by the end of April and I’m already hoping for everything I’ve ever wanted.

UPDATE: Funny Girl takes the Imperial in April.

Thoughts? Sound off below.

Coming Soon: Newsies on Broadway

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New York Post theater critic Michael Riedel claims Newsies will be transferring to Broadway in April 2012. The show, based on the 1992 Disney film of the same name, is currently playing a limited run at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ. It received enthusiastic reviews from the major NYC critics, praising the new songs by Alan Menken, the fast moving book by Harvey Fierstein, and leading man Jeremy Jordan.

While there is no official announcement yet (is there ever this early?), Riedel is right more often than he’s wrong on this kind of rumor. He was the one who broke the unexpected Broadway transfer of Lysistrata Jones. He knew when Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark would be pushing back its opening night and when Julie Taymor was going to be replaced. He broke the news of a brand new book for the Broadway run of Wonderland, when most others assumed the previous production in Florida would have just been tweaked for NYC. If the show is a sure thing coming to Broadway, he seems to have the inside line.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess Now Excites Me

I take back everything bad I said about the insane comments the cast and creative team is making about this show. It’s become clear that the entire thing is a put one. Christopher Guest is likely filming every step of this production without his usual band of improvers to turn into the greatest “putting on a show” comedy of all time.

How else do you explain lead actress Audra McDonald comparing Porgy and Bess to a squid?

People have been trying to put it in a box for all these years, I don’t mean put it away, but shove it into you know: It’s an opera, it’s a musical, it’s — I think, it just continues to defy. It’s this sort of big large squid that just plopping out (gesturing madly) that’s like NO! I’m all of these things.

If we re-contextualize all these strange things that McDonald, Diane Paulus, and everyone else has been saying, it suddenly becomes clear that they’re in on some kind of bizarre joke. Or else the 18th bookwriter for Wonderland decided “How is a raven like a writing desk?” was a bit too straight forward and fed Audra the line about an unboxable squid.

Coming Soon: Diner (Broadway Fall 2012)

Sheryl Crow, the multi-Grammy award winning singer/songwriter, has composed a musical based on the 1982 film Diner. It will be coming to Broadway in Fall of 2012. Original director/screenwriter Barry Levinson has written the book and Tony Award winning director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall will direct and choreograph the production.

Diner is a coming of age drama about a group of college friends in 1959. They spend all of their free time in the diner almost as a coping mechanism. They begin to consider leaving the diner for good to move on with their lives. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Here’s the trailer for the original film.

Watch: Side by Side by Susan Blackwell: Jonathan Groff on a Goat Farm

I pretty consistently make some kind of comment about Susan Blackwell’s newest Side by Side by Susan Blackwell videos. They’re hilarious. She’s charming. The guests are always game for whatever nonsense she throws at them. It’s a fun thing to watch. You get this idea about certain performers based on the characters they play and then they’re allowed to rip those expectations to shreds or live up to them.

Susan Blackwell previously interviewed Jonathan Groff–Tony nominee for his work in Spring Awakening, as well as recurring guest star Jesse St James on Glee–while riding around in a horse-drawn carriage. It’s probably the most memorable episode of the series. It also featured breakfast in bed with Sutton Foster and a trip to Hooters with Laura Benanti. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should.

In May, the show switched to a single guest format. After two or three videos, Susan and crew got into the groove of only interviewing one person and really started to make those videos pop. The visit to Jonathan Groff’s family’s goat farm is fantastic. Most new episodes get a tweet; this one gets its own post.