Tag Archive for musicals

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.

Bizarre, but True: I Dreamed a Dream: The Susan Boyle Musical

On this edition of Bizarre, but True, we look at perhaps the strangest, musical inspired by reality TV. No, not Jersey Shore: The Musical.

Susan Boyle became an international sensation thanks to her run on the British reality TV show Britain’s Got Talent. Her selection by the producers was a stroke of genius. Here was a middle-aged, frumpy, rambunctious woman who could pull off a pretty decent theatrical soprano. More importantly, she shined onstage. The producers had to be jumping for joy when she took the stage and immediately started sassing the judges and playing up the crowd.

BGT 2009: Susan Boyle – I Dreamed A Dream (Full… by vidsuperstar

Though Susan ultimately lost the contest, her initial audition went viral as soon as the producers of Britain’s Got Talent posted it online. We’re talking millions of views in under 48 hours and still growing. She earned a major label record deal and went to number one in twelve countries for her debut album. She received awards and became an in-demand live performer.

For some reason or other (maybe her success coming from covers of musical theater songs), some theatrical producers decided to cobble together a musical based off of Susan Boyle. Apparently, I Dreamed a Dream has a real book, cast, and everything a show needs because it launches its first UK tour on 23 March.

Here’s where things get strange. No one outside of the production has any clue what shape, form, or tone the story will tell. Will they gloss over all of Boyle’s actual issues for a perfect rags to riches story? Will her character age throughout the show? Or will it be “I’m so sad in my hometown. What’s this? An all ages music audition? Let’s give it a go?” We don’t know. The producers are banking on the appeal of Susan Boyle.

Boyle will be appearing in performances. However, that will only be for the end of the show. Another actress will play her until Susan herself comes out onstage. Again, another odd choice in this production.

Do I think there’s a show here? I do. It would require going into some of the issues Susan Boyle has faced in her meteoric rise to fame.

Does anyone remember how she had a series of episodes after the show finished? Stories of nervous breakdowns, bizarre behavior, and an inability to perform plagued her in the gossip rags as her albums sold by the million worldwide. Remember the performance on The View she had to stop?

The show I’d love I Dream a Dream to be is how an everyday woman gets rushed into stardom and learns to cope with the national spotlight. The woman’s talent is there, but her ability to safely interact with others and perform professionally is in jeopardy. The stakes should not be “will she win” but “can she continue.” It could be a meditation on fame drawn from the disposable reality TV culture. Add in an original score and the choice moment of “I Dreamed a Dream” as one of the only covers and you might have something special. I doubt this is that show.

No, I believe we’re getting a sanitized puff piece about a reality TV veteran who actually saw international success. Those are rare even among winners. For that, I will proudly label I Dreamed a Dream: The Susan Boyle Musical Bizarre, but True.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

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.

Film Review: The Muppets (2011)

The Muppets are back. The newest film in the long-standing franchise, The Muppets, is a loving tribute and a logical evolution for the beloved characters. There’s a meta-awareness about the franchise that allows the film to address the shift in entertainment from scripted all-ages shows to questionable reality TV, as well as the ability to play with the visibility of The Muppets as a modern pop culture icon.

Gary, Mary, and new Muppet Walter travel from Smalltown, USA to Los Angeles for a vacation. When visiting The Muppets Studio, now an rundown dirt cheap tourist attraction, Walter discovers that an oil tycoon is going to destroy the studio in two weeks if the Muppets can’t raise ten million dollars to buy it back. Walter, Gary, Mary, and Kermit work together to bring the gang back together, put on a show, and raise the money to save their legacy.

Filled with clever songs, asides to the audience, and celebrity cameos that don’t just draw attention to themselves, The Muppets has everything you would expect from a new Muppet film in the Jim Henson vein. There is no fairy tale being retold, no distracting introduction of a new unlikable Muppet, and nobody is in space. It’s the Muppets acting like the Muppets, complete with recreations of some of the most iconic moments in their history. This is the kind of film that anyone can go to, young or old, and have a great time at without being bombarded by senseless violence or adult situations. It’s family entertainment in the best way possible.

Coming Soon: Matilda, A Musical

Remember how back in March everyone was raving about The Book of Mormon? It was called one of the best shows in ages. The performances, staging, costumes, sets, lighting, book, score, direction–everything–was praised. What seemed like hyperbole was thrown out on a daily basis. The important thing to realize was that the show was good enough to warrant that praise.

London doesn’t have its own production of The Book of Mormon yet. What they do have is another new show that received the same caliber of reviews as the Parker/Stone/Lopez show. The name is Matilda and it seems poised to take the international theater world by storm.

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?

Coming Soon: Nightfall on Miranga Island

Nightfall on Miranga Island Poster Email Coming Soon: Nightfall on Miranga Island

Nightfall on Miranga Island is the new musical by Justin Moran and Jon Roufaeal. This is the duo that created The Spidey Project, the quickly gestated and now viral unlicensed Spider Man musical. Their goal was to be the first spider superhero musical to open in NYC after opening night for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was postponed during previews. They gave themselves a window of thirty days and a budget of zero dollars to create an epic superhero musical. The results were great for such a small production. The story was good, the songs catchy and well-composed, and the production values appropriate for the small house the show played in. You can watch the whole production at their blog.

Moran and Roufael launch their new musical Nightfall of Miranga Island in two weeks in NYC. The show is described as a pirate musical in three acts. It will play twice a week at the Magnet Theater on West 29th Street. Tickets are more than reasonably priced: $18 general admission, $10 for students, $0 if you show up in full pirate regalia.

Here’s the plot straight from the press release:

NIGHTFALL ON MIRANGA ISLAND is a swashbuckling pirate adventure in three musical acts. Our hero, Declan, has been tracking the legendary pirate captain Vicious Martin La Foe for nearly a decade on a quest to rescue his sister who was kidnapped those long years ago. Finally, Declan makes landfall on the lawless Miranga Island, where La Foe is known to make port. As the story unfolds you will be taken through a world of pirates, romance and action the likes of which would flabbergast Gilbert and Sullivan.

The reference to Gilbert and Sullivan is a good one. I can’t think of another successful pirate musical besides Pirates of Penzance. Even then, you get into the operetta or musical debate. This does not mean that Gilbert and Sullivan are the only ones to have tried pirate musicals. Most recently, The Pirate Queen, based on the life of famed Irish pirate Grace O’Malley, failed to impress critics or audiences during a two month run on Broadway.

Do you really imagine pirates singing? Do you normally imagine big sword fights in musicals? I don’t. Not that I don’t welcome them. It’s a concept that pops up occasionally and usually fades away. I imagine, if you had just the right story and found a musical vocabulary that didn’t render the pirates laughable, a pirate musical could work.

Is Nightfall of Miranga Island the show to turn this concept around? I don’t know. No one knows yet. The earliest I could get to the show is the second week in November (tech for the show I’m doing the music for starts in two weeks, followed by performances the first week in November). It’s not a matter of if, but when, I get to this show. If I double it up with a research session at the Lincoln Center performing arts library, I can count it as a business trip.

Will you be seeing the show? Thoughts on The Spidey Project or pirate musical in general? Sound off below.

The Broadway Shuffle: 2011/12 Edition

Did you like Sketchy Details on Facebook yet? The 50th person to like the page gets any item they want, up to $20 in value, from the Etsy store. Exclusive content and easier commenting at the click of this link.

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

Did you like Sketchy Details on Facebook yet? The 50th person to like the page gets any item they want, up to $20 in value, from the Etsy store. Exclusive content and easier commenting at the click of this link.

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.

The 26 Greatest Musicals of All Time

In continuing with my attempts to make my 26th Birthday a bit more memorable, I’ve chosen my 26 favorite stage musicals of all time. Like earlier with the film list, the musicals had to overcome two hurdles. Do I really enjoy the show? Is the show actually good? Some great shows were left off because of the enjoyment factor, and some shows I adore got bumped because they’re not particularly good.

Let’s get started. In no particular order:

My Fair Lady: On stage or screen, this tuneful musical about a young woman being picked off the streets and transformed into a social darling is a hit. Best song? “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

Sweeney Todd:

New York Musical Festival 2011

Playbill.com just posted a great little video introducing five of the Next Link shows playing at this year’s New York Musical Festival.

The Next Link Project allows musical theater writers to submit brand new shows for full productions at NYMF. The selected shows have their participation fees waived and receive assistance every step of the way in putting on a great show. Will all of these shows go on to have a healthy life outside of the festival? It’s impossible to tell.

NYMF is averaging about two to three shows receiving big professional pushes nationwide from each festival year. That’s not to say the other shows aren’t doing anything. It can take years to get a musical just right.

What I do know for sure is that in four days, you can start catching productions of any of the thirty shows participating in the festival. Tickets are $25 each for full productions nothing is completely sold out yet. You can even catch certain concerts and dance shows for $15 or take in free readings, mixers, and events. It’s a great way to catch some exciting new theater work for cheap. I, unfortunately, won’t get to any of the productions this year because of my own theater work and Comic Con. Maybe someone will come through with an extra ticket for a weekend show for me. Maybe not. That shouldn’t stop you if you’re in the area from getting there.

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.

Glee’s Jumped the Shark: So Watch It

Last night, I decided to tune into the season premiere of Glee. Despite my love/hate relationship with the show, I’m always willing to give it another chance for, at this point, one good reason: it’s Ryan Murphy. Ryan “let’s have the evil southern girl torture the animal rights activist by eating nothing but meat in front of her” Murphy. Ryan “what if a serial assailant in a mask started carving up plastic surgery patients” Murphy. Ryan “why you gotta hate on gingers in a horror series” Murphy. When he’s at his best, he’s doing something so crazy that you can’t stop thinking about it.

I can proudly announce that Glee has gone full tilt Popular Season Two. It’s insane now. That makes it worth watching.

In this first episode, Sue Sylvester becomes a supervillain against the performing arts. Every word that came out of her mouth put her at the level of at least The Scarecrow in Batman or the first Green Goblin in Spider-Man. She’s a nuisance who can’t possibly win but gets you going anyway. She instructs teenage girls to destroy all the pianos in the school and tells the greater Ohio area that no arts programs should be funded until every child is at the appropriate reading level; sports and non-performing arts clubs are not similarly punished. Every single time someone tries to take her down, she gets even stronger. It’s a hoot. I wonder if they’ll give her a mustache, monocle, and cape to play with by season’s end?