Tag Archive for broadway

Watch: The Real Housenuns of New York

Sometimes, you’re just in the mood for good schtick. The ladies of Sister Act on Broadway are more than willing to make fools of themselves. For example, they’re performing eight times a week in the stage version of Sister Act, which resets the timeline to the 1970s. That means disco dancing and singing nuns.

More importantly, they’re doing great web videos right not. Playbill.com got them involved in a short-lived series of The Real Housewives of New York parody videos. The ensemble cast takes on various characters from the show and does actual dialog while dressed as nuns. It’s funny. You should watch them.

The opening credits are spectacular. Unfortunately, they take up half the video. It’s worth it to an extent. They nail the ridiculous character introductions. They’re doing camp without breaking. It’s fun.

Here’s a reenactment of the ridiculous scene where Ramona decides to hire a new assistant for her business.

Little mousy Mary Roberts sure did grow a spine, didn’t she?

You can find the rest of the videos over at Playbill. Give them a watch and have some fun.

For Real Real? On the Twentieth Century Revival

Kristin Chenoweth has mentioned for quite some time that she would love to star in a revival of the Coleman/Comden/Green musical On the Twentieth Century. If you know anything about Cy Coleman, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Kristin Chenoweth, that sentence should excite you. The musical is an operetta and a farce about show business people set entirely on a train. It’s over the top to say the least. The role Chenoweth surely has her eyes on is Lily, the big-time film star originally played by Madeline Kahn.

The strange thing is that, this morning, Kristin Chenoweth may have accidentally (or intentionally) confirmed that a revival of On the Twentieth Century is coming to Broadway. She was interviewed on The View and said it was her next project on Broadway. It’s not normal for an actress to announce a new production on a day time talk show, but it’s not unheard of to open up about a new production on live TV.

What’s so strange about that? Kristin Chenoweth is starring in a mid-season show on ABC called Good Christian Belles. With a full TV production schedule ready to kick off in a few months, when would she have the time to work on this revival? If the show is a hit, it will surely have its second season premiere in Fall 2012 rather than mid-season for a second year.

It gets stranger.

Follies “I’m Still Here”

The much talked about star-studded revival of Follies opens tonight in NYC. I’m expecting mixed reviews, which is par for the course with this show. As beautifully scored and written as it is, it’s a bear to perform and do just right. It’s designed to be played as a one act show. However, it’s hard to force an audience to sit through two-plus hours of a show like this. The Drowsy Chaperone and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee got away with it because they were over the top comedies; Follies is much darker than that. So, Follies is normally played in two acts, but that means cutting off the action right when it starts to build toward the finale. That’s not even getting into the technical demands on the singers and dancers for the show.

If I had to pick a signature song from Follies, I would say it would have to be “I’m Still Here.” It’s an anthem of determination that fights against having a definitive anthemic quality until the final few moments. The song is standard in cabaret and review settings for a good reason: it’s brilliant. It’s a perfect showcase for the right kind of singer.

In the context of the show, former Weismann’s Follies performer Carlotta explains that “I’m Still Here” was her one solo number during her time with the show. Unfortunately, it was cut for being too funny when the producers wanted a serious song. Now, the song works better for her. It’s a nice moment for a character who, up till that point, is trying to get someone–anyone–to pay attention to her role in the cast reunion.

Watch: Liza Minelli sings “My Own Best Friend”

It can be strange to think of Chicago as a musical that struggled to find an audience. John Kander, Frank Ebb, and Bob Fosse’s musical about murderous women gaining notoriety and fame in 1920s Chicago has been playing on Broadway for fifteen years. The film adaptation in 2002 won six Academy Awards and both the film soundtrack and revival cast recording won Grammy awards.

Yet, back when the show originally premiered in 1975, audiences weren’t as fond of it. The show received mixed reviews because of the minimalist approach to the material. Kander, Ebb, and Fosse pushed a Brechtian effect onto the show, breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly. Combined with the subject matter, it was hit or miss with the audiences. It was also overshadowed by another iconic musical released that season: A Chorus Line.

When the show was struggling at the box office, original Roxie Hart Gwen Verdon faced an unexpected medical complication; she swallowed a feather during the finale number. This required surgery and an extended recovery time. Somehow, Liza Minelli was able to offer herself up as a five week replacement Roxie Hart.

Is The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess Skipping Broadway?

This is an unexpected turn of events. Two nights ago, the much talked about The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bes opened at American Repertory Theater in Boston. The New York Times sent theater critic Ben Brantley to review the show. This is odd for a simple reason: the paper doesn’t usually review out of town engagements. While Brantley praised Audra McDonald for her performance as Bess, the review is undoubtedly a pan of the entire production. Brantley makes it a big point that the original ending of the musical was restored despite director Diane Paulus’ insistence that her new more optimistic ending was necessary.

Cue everyone’s favorite death knell Michael Riedel of the New York Post reporting “a source involved in the revival of “Porgy and Bess” tells me: ‘You’d better rush up to Boston if you want to see the show.’” He goes on to credit Stephen Sondheim with bringing the artistic direction of Paulus’ production to the limelight.

You know how it went. Paulus and her team said the book was dated, the characters were almost non-existent, and a modern audience couldn’t possibly sit through this show. Riedel is rather negative on this turn of events, criticizing Sondheim (as many have started to) for daring to write about a show he didn’t see. That’s strange because the New York Times also wrote about a show that no one had seen, only they allowed everyone to read all the changes that Diane Paulus was making. That, to me, seems like fair game to discuss.

But I digress. Riedel states “the producers are likely to fold the show after its Boston run,” mentioning that stellar reviews for Audra McDonald are unlikely to fill a Broadway house. I’d disagree, but if his source is correct, it doesn’t matter anymore. Purists win out over the need to add realism to a modern awareness to a period piece. Allegedly. And Audra still has plenty of time to play Bess on Broadway if another production will go after the brass ring.

Watch: OBSESSED!: The Secrets of the Bee Revealed!

I believe I went on Twitter yesterday and declared my love for Celia Keenan-Bolger, she of the many names that I tend to spell incorrectly. Celia starred in one of my all time favorite musicals, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. She played the most upbeat latch-key kid you’ve ever seen, Olive Ostrovsky. Her parents couldn’t even bother to give her the money to participate in the county spelling bee, let alone be in the country to support their daughter’s moment of glory.

Olive sings the best song in the show, “The ‘I Love You’ Song”*, where she imagines her idealized parents finally declaring their love for her. This is particularly sad because even Olive knows that the vision could never be reality. It’s spurred by the word “chimerical,” meaning “highly unrealistic, wildly fanciful.”

Spectacular. Never fails to make me cry.

One of the many unique aspects of Spelling Bee that made it so much fun was the audience participation.

Watch: Highlights from Follies

A revival of Follies, Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s 1971 musical about performers reuniting at a soon to be destroyed theater for one last go at the show, is opening on 12 September. This production stars Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Ron Raines, and Danny Burstein and is a transfer of the acclaimed Kennedy Center production from earlier this year. Follies is arguably the hardest Stephen Sondheim show to perform because of the technical demands of the music and storytelling.

Originally intended to be performed as a one act, 2+ hour show, any production wrestles with how best to handle audience’s needs with the best possible performance. The show immerses the audience in the past and present, building to a stunning climax that is meant to overwhelm. This Broadway revival has already tried the show with and without an intermission. It’s a hot-button issue among theater fans and it will be interesting to see which version premieres on the twelfth. Combined with a score that is expansive and challenging, Follies is a show that can live or die based on the casting decisions.

Here’s a highlight reel from Playbill.com. It, unfortunately, uses the first minute to do a montage of tiny moments in the show over orchestral scoring before showing any of the singing. It’s well-edited and gives a taste of the show. It look like this Follies wants to save the best for a paying audience. I can’t blame them. It’s a limited run with a high profile cast and proven material that almost guarantees a completed run.


Playbill just posted a second video. Now that’s more like it:

So are you going to try and catch Follies? Sound off below.

Submissions Only Comes to BroadwayWorld

Submissions Only is a comedic web series about casting and auditioning in New York City. The first season of 24 minute episodes premiered January of this year and ran for 6 episodes on YouTube. This might not seem like much, but the show was getting over 10,000 views per episode. That’s huge for an Internet series. It was big enough that BroadwayWorld.com, one of the larger news/messageboard hybrid sites for professional theater, will be hosting the series for Season 2.

Created, written, and directed by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead, Submissions Only is a clever look at a side of live theater that isn’t always looked at. There have been behind the scenes comedies before, but I can’t think of another project where the focus is casting.

If you’ve never sat a casting table or been to an audition, this could be a pretty eye-opening experience. Submissions Only may exaggerate the familiar types you’ll see in real life, but it is hitting at some pretty accurate things in its comedy. You see actors making horrible choices, directors who don’t have an authentic bone in their bodies, and casting directors who clearly want to stand up and scream at everyone but can’t for the sake of their careers. My favorite recurring gag is the scarily accurate fake enthusiasm at recognizing someone you know at an audition. It’s the kind of thing you hope against all hope is an invention of the show. It’s not. It’s just as ridiculous in real life.

Think of Submissions Only as the kind of comedy show Glee could (and should) be, only with less music. It’s equal parts dry wit and over the top comedy. The driving influence is a loyalty to the subject matter. It’s consistently mocking everyone and everything with equal measure. It’s the kind of show worth checking out if you’re bored and need to kill some time.

Coming Soon: Two New Musicals, Two Revivals, and an Update on Broadway

Last time we talked about upcoming productions, we had no official confirmation of the arrival of Lysistrata Jones, the modern adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Well good news, everyone: it’s official. Lysistrata Jones starts previews 12 November and opens 14 December. Here’s hoping it can find an audience to sustain it past the holiday tourist season.

The 2011/2012 Broadway season is shaping up to be an interesting mix of show styles and concepts. Revivals seem to be playing fast and loose with the original productions and brand new shows aren’t playing it safe with well-known or even well-remembered inspirations.

The show I’m now most excited for is Ghost: The Musical. I started writing about it in June, mentioning how great the London press reel looks. It still looks great and now it has the reviews to back it up. I’ve already talked about the score in great detail. What we have here is an innovative staging of a well-known film property reinvented to actually match the demands of the stage.


Can Diane Paulus Save Porgy and Bess?

Wait, what? A theater post on a Monday? Yes, folks, we’re going to try stirring things up at Sketchy Details with some media integration. Let’s see how it goes with flying free again.

It seems every single time the creative team of Porgy and Bess open their mouths, they’re drawing more attention to how flawed they think the Gershwin/Gershwin/Heyward show is. Last Sunday, Paulus’ interview about her new adaptation garnered a horrible response, including my own. It felt like unbridled hubris. Who comes out of the gates before anyone has seen a production and says that they know better than the original? A fool blinded by her own ambition or a poor communicator. Neither option bodes well for a new take on Porgy and Bess.

You would think that the team learned their lesson about discussing radical changes, like adding backstory and a more hopeful ending. Their official press statement in response to Stephen Sondheim’s scathing commentary suggested as much.

The entire creative team and cast have the most enormous love and respect for ‘Porgy and Bess,’ and we are grateful for the support and encouragement we have received from the Gershwin and Heyward Estates for this production.

Now that’s how you make a controversy go away.

What do you mean they’re all still issuing statements to the press?

Porgy and Bess and Sondheim, Oh My

Don’t you just love it when someone with far more clout than you beats you to your own response? On the one hand, it adds credibility to your argument. On the other hand, it looks like you’re copying them. All I can say is that I’ve planned on writing about the updated–with backstories and happier ending–Porgy and Bess that will be transferring to Broadway this season since I read the New York Times article on Sunday about all the changes.

If you believe director Diane Paulus, Porgy and Bess is an ill-developed period piece that doesn’t reflect the true vision of George and Ira Gershwin, the original composer and lyricist*. Paulus, the director who pulled together the wonderful Hair revival and tried to revive The Capeman last summer, is “assessing it virtually line by line to judge when heightened musicality or newly punched-up dialogue works best — resulting in a kind of hybrid.”** So what does that actually mean? Paulus thinks Porgy & Bess is an opera that needs to be changed for a commercial Broadway run. She’s changing the style of dialog and even adding backstory and a happier ending.

In the opera you don’t really get to know many of the characters as people, especially and most problematically Bess, who goes back and forth from Crown’s woman to Porgy’s woman while also addicted to drugs…I’m sorry, but to ask an audience these days to invest three hours in a show requires having your heroine be an understandable and fully rounded character.

::record scratch:: Say what?

A Chorus Line

A Chorus Line is one of the most influential musicals in the history of the form. Guided by director/choreographer Michael Bennett (who, coincidentally, choreographed that sweet little musical Henry, Sweet Henry), book writers James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, composer Marvin Hamlisch, and lyricist Edward Kleban combined the stories of real Broadway dancers into a remarkable musical. A group of dancers are lined up for an open call to play in a Broadway show. They are asked by an unseen director very personal questions about their lives and work until he makes the final cuts.

When this show is done right, it’s gut wrenching. You have a line full of triple threats who never leave the stage singing, dancing, and acting their way through some heavy subject matter. Take, for instance, the trio “At the Ballet.” Forgive the video quality; it’s actual footage from the original Off-Broadway production and shows this song in context better than any other video I can find.

That was three women explaining their family situations by way of discussing their childhood history with dance.

Last Call: Baby, It’s You!

I made my feelings about the musical Baby, It’s You! quite clear already. Great cast, terrible book, eye-straining curtain design. I also figured the show would run for the better part of a year before closing. I was wrong.

Baby, It’s You! will play its last performance on Broadway on September 4. This surprises me. I feel like, even though it wasn’t close to being a perfect show, it had an audience. I wasn’t so much baffled by the audience participation during every song as I was saddened. With this catalog of music, that story, and those actors, Baby, It’s You! could have been something truly special. The target audience* was loving every minute of it. They didn’t care that the book didn’t make sense because they knew the music.

So what went wrong with the show? Other than the book, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly. I know they’ve been heavily discounting tickets for weeks through flyering and discount sites. It doesn’t look like a particular expensive show to produce–a lot of similarly shaped costumes, a few projection screens, only one big-named star–but that doesn’t mean there aren’t huge hidden costs.

The Best of All Possible Candides

I’ve made it no small secret that I think Candide is one of the greatest musicals ever written. Just last week, I included Kristin Chenoweth’s “Glitter and Be Gay” performance in a post to try and hook someone else on the score. The book (which one?) and score (which version?) is excellent. The problem comes in trying to sell an over the top piece of period satire as something palatable for a wide modern audience.

Candide is Leonard Bernstein’s adaptation of Voltaire’s master-work of satire. Voltaire was lampooning the various philosophies that were quickly gaining popularity based on variations of optimism. People were really getting behind movements that said things like good things come to good people and everything that happens is good because everything is meant to happen. So, Voltaire created a grotesquely absurd tale of a young man, Candide, whose life is systematically torn apart by forces beyond his control. He is exiled from his kingdom, separated from his betrothed, witnesses the repeated murder of his mentor, and faces horrid luck at every turn. Still, in spite of all of this, he keeps claiming everything that happens is good because his mentor taught him everything that happens is the best thing that can happen.

It’s a strange choice to turn into a musical for numerous reasons. One, it’s bizarre. I’m not exaggerating when I say the novel features Candide’s mentor Pangloss murdered again and again. Because only the best things can happen in the world, even being drawn and quartered is not enough to kill the man. Two, it’s episodic. Each chapter is like a miniature story on its own accord. Three, there are a ton of settings. These people travel all over the world to experience more and more absurd variations of misery. Four, by the time Berstein began working on Candide, most of these philosophies had fallen away or transformed to unrecognizable forms. That means it’s a satire that requires a historical context that is near impossible to present onstage. This requires a massive transformation of the original intent of the story to sell to a wide audience.

There have been five major mountings of this musical in NYC, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.