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2014 Tony Award Nominations and My Predictions

In June of each year, the Tony Awards honor the previous Broadway season’s productions. Here are the 2014 Tony Award nominations with my predicted winners. Even though I did not see every show nominated this year, I did see many of them. I thought it might be fun to make my own predictions and add some comments. I’m sure I’ll miss the boat on a number of them.

 

Best Sound Design (Musical) A_Gentleman's_Guide_to_Love_and_Murder

  • Peter Hylenski, After Midnight
  • Tim O’Heir, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Mick Potter, Les Misérables
  • Brian Ronan, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

This is pretty much a wild guess. Hedwig was the only nominee in this category that I actually saw. I’ll say this: It was loud. Unfortunately, from where I was seated the band overpowered the actors much of the time and that should never be the case. I’ve heard numerous people comment on the impressive sound design for Les Miserables, commenting on the fullness and clarity. How often do you hear people compliment the sound? Usually the average audience member won’t mention it unless they can’t hear the performers.

 

Best Sound Design (Play)

  • Alex Baranowski, The Cripple of Inishmaan
  • Steve Canyon Kennedy, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
  • Dan Moses Schreier, Act One
  • Matt Tierney, Machinal

I saw both Cripple and Act One and didn’t notice anything unique or challenging here. “A play with music” is the way Lady Day is being billed. I’m still a little surprised this didn’t end up in the revival musical category. With the challenges of blending music with dialogue, not an issue in the other nominated shows, I expect Lady Day will take the prize.

 

Hedwig-and-the-Angry-Inch-Playbill-03-14_THUMBBest Lighting Design (Musical)

  • Kevin Adams, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Christopher Akerlind, Rocky
  • Howell Binkley, After Midnight
  • Donald Holder, The Bridges of Madison County

I saw all but After Midnight in this category and feel better about my choice here. Hedwig is a lighting show. The lighting is an integral element of the show’s concept, not just an enhancement. In addition, it incorporates many effective projections and special effects that normally fall under lighting considerations.

 

Best Lighting Design (Play)

  • Paule Constable, The Cripple of Inishmaan
  • Jane Cox, Machinal
  • Natasha Katz, The Glass Menagerie
  • Japhy Weideman, Of Mice and Men

I saw both Cripple and Of  Mice… and the lighting for both were fine. I didn’t see Menagerie but it’s a single interior set. I saw pictures from Machinal and the lighting looked spectacular, so that’s my choice.

 

If-Then-Playbill-March-2014-a-New-Musical-on-Broadway-Richard-Rodgers-Theatre-Music-Tom-Kitt-Book-and-Lyrics-Brian-Yorkey-with-Idina-Menzel-Lachanze-Anthony-Rapp-Jerry-Dixon-Jenn-Colella-Jason-Tam-Tam-0Best Scenic Design (Musical)

  • Christopher Barreca, Rocky
  • Julian Crouch, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Alexander Dodge, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
  • Santo Loquasto, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical

Rocky, with it’s innovative design approach and high tech movement– stand above the rest. The fact that the boxing ring flies down from above the stage and then places the ring out in the audience (moving the front rows of patrons on to the stage as fight spectators) wins it the prize alone.

 

Best Scenic Design (Play)

  • Beowulf Boritt, Act One
  • Bob Crowley, The Glass Menagerie
  • Es Devlin, Machinal
  • Christopher Oram, The Cripple of Inishmaan

The revolving Cripple set was attractive and worked well, the images I saw from Machinal were outstanding; but I have to give this to Act One with its multi-tiered, intricate, revolving set.

 

Best Costume Design (Musical)

  • Linda Cho, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
  • William Ivey Long, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
  • Arianne Phillips, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Isabel Toledo, After Midnight

I was highly impressed with Cho’s very detail, brilliant designs for Gentleman’s Guide. I couldn’t get over how perfectly she married color, patterns and textures in her stunning costumes.

 

Casa-Valentina-Playbill-04-14Best Costume Design (Play)

  • Jane Greenwood, Act One
  • Michael Krass, Machinal
  • Rita Ryack, Casa Valentina
  • Jenny Tiramani, Twelfth Night

For me, the only clear stand out is the well-executed, period costume design of Twelfth Night. The other nominees were well done but failed to have the impressive design-edge attained through an ornate, classical period design.

 

Best Book of a Musical

  • Aladdin, Chad Beguelin
  • Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Douglas McGrath
  • Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical, Woody Allen
  • A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, Robert L. Freedman

I saw both Gentleman’s Guide and Bullets Over Broadway in this category. Only the book for Beautiful might be considered original, as it was written to showcase the music of Carole King and tells her life story. (Hence, a jukebox musical.) Both Aladdin and Bullets were adapted from films featuring music from those sources. Gentleman’s Guide was adapted from a 1907 novel, that was also the source for a film.

I chose Gentleman’s Guide because I thorough enjoyed it– great story, cleverly told and very well written. Though I’ve heard wonderful things about Beautiful, the book was written to move the songs along more than to tell a story. Bullets is the typical, old book style musical, formula plot and I just don’t feel it works effectively on stage. Most of the jokes fall flat. And Aladdin is, well, Aladdin. I’ve heard nothing to indicate that the book for this production contains anything unique or original beyond being a fairly direct adaptation of the cartoon.

I have to note that the only truly original book, If/Then was not even nominated. Egregiously overlooked, as was Bridges, though it is an adaptation. Poor judgement on the part of the nominating committee, in my opinion.

 

Bridges-of-Madison-County-Playbill-01-14_1389306410Best Score

  • Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin. Aladdin
  • Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County
  • Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
  • Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, If/Then

I will be content with any of the shows winning the award for best score except Aladdin, which is not original. Violet and Hedwig were not eligible because they had previous Off-Broadway runs that did not lead them directly to Broadway this season, so they were not considered new. I feel the same about Aladdin even though its source was a film score.

As much as I truly love the score for If/Then, I have to give my vote to The Bridges of Madison County. The score is simply perfection.

 

Best Orchestrations

  • Doug Besterman, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
  • Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County
  • Steve Sidwell, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
  • Jonathan Tunick, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Again, If/Then was snubbed in this category. With no disrespect to the other nominees, there is no competition in this category. Jason Robert Brown’s orchestrations are so clearly, far and above the others, they should have just given him the award. Brilliant, lush, gorgeously written, Brown’s orchestrations are probably the best on Broadway in the past twenty years.

 

All-The-Way-Playbill-02-14Best Featured Actor (Play)

  • Reed Birney, Casa Valentina
  • Paul Chahidi, Twelfth Night
  • Stephen Fry, Twelfth Night
  • Mark Rylance, Twelfth Night
  • Brian J. Smith, The Glass Menagerie

Birney’s performance is the only one I saw in this category. Dressed as Charlotte, I often found myself forgetting he was a man. A great performance in a difficult role.

I’m actually surprised there are no nominees from All the Way here. Three nominees from one show (Twelfth Night) will probably split the vote and Smith’s role of the Gentleman Caller is rather pedestrian (the role, not his performance), having limited stage time. So Birney is my pick.

 

Best Featured Actress (Play)

  • Sarah Greene, The Cripple of Inishmaan
  • Celia Keenan-Bolger, The Glass Menagerie
  • Sophie Okonedo, A Raisin in the Sun
  • Anika Noni Rose, A Raisin in the Sun
  • Mare Winningham, Casa Valentina

Celia Keenan-Bolger could very well win this category for her performance as Laura in The Glass Menagerie and I wouldn’t be surprised– but my vote goes to one of the most under-valued actresses in stage and film, Mare Winningham. She gives a full, layered performance and obviously feels so at home on the stage. Her performance is so natural and real– and she immediate feels like a old friend you’ve always known.

 

Of-Mice-and-Men-Playbill-03-14Best Featured Actor (Musical)

  • Danny Burstein, Cabaret
  • Nick Cordero, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
  • Joshua Henry, Violet
  • James Monroe Iglehart, Aladdin
  • Jarrod Spector, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

I didn’t see Iglehart’s Genie but for God’s sake– it’s the Genie in Aladdin. I’ve heard good things about his performance as well. So he is my choice to win. Cordero definitely had the audience in the palm of his hand the night we saw Bullets. The always incredible, Joshua Henry, one of THE best voices on the stage, gives a touching, carefully thought out performance in Violet. I did not see Burstein or Spector’s performances in their respective shows.

 

Best Featured Actress (Musical)

  • Linda Emond, Cabaret
  • Lena Hall, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Anika Larsen, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
  • Adriane Lenox, After Midnight
  • Lauren Worsham, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

I only saw two of these performances and my prediction is based more on buzz and hype than an actual opinion. In fact, I really don’t feel my prediction should win. Lena Hall is just fine in her performance in Hedwig. I just didn’t find it a memorable performance that will stick with me. She sings back up and is only featured vocally on a couple numbers . Lauren Worsham was excellent in Gentleman’s Guide, but so was counterpart, Lisa O’Hare, who was not nominated and should have been, equally.

Will someone please tell me why LaChanze was not nominated for If/Then?

 

Best Actor (Play)

  • Samuel Barnett, Twelfth Night
  • Bryan Cranston, All the Way
  • Chris O’Dowd, Of Mice and Men
  • Mark Rylance, Richard III
  • Tony Shalhoub, Act One

Having seen three of these performances, I think it will be a tight race between Chris O’Dowd’s Lenny in Of Mice and Men and Bryan Cranston’s bravura performance as LBJ in All the Way. Though both performers are both deserving of the prize, I believe Cranston will and should reign victorious.

 

Bullets-Over-Broadway-Playbill-03-14Best Actress (Play)

  • Tyne Daly, Mothers and Sons
  • LaTanya Richardson Jackson, A Raisin in the Sun
  • Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
  • Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
  • Estelle Parsons, The Velocity of Autumn

Some extremely talented women in some powerful role in this category this year. Daly gives a powerful heartfelt performance in Mothers and Sons but I don’t see it as a Best role. Parsons has a disadvantage in that her show closed after an abbreviated run. My head tells me that Cherry Jones should win this but my heart says Audra McDonald, already a five-time Tony winner will edge ahead of the rest. A sixth win would give her the record.

 

Best Actor (Musical)

  • Neil Patrick Harris, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Ramin Karimloo, Les Misérables
  • Andy Karl, Rocky
  • Jefferson Mays, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
  • Bryce Pinkham, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

The outcome of this race may upset me. Neil Patrick Harris is fine in Hedwig, just not a Best performance. He could easily win too, being a big supporter of the Broadway community and audience favorite. Jefferson Mays should win this, playing eight roles beautifully in Gentleman’s Guide. Bryce Pinkham gives an outstanding, memorable performance as well. I’m sure one of the reasons Andy Karl was nominated, was the size of the role. Again, he was fine but I didn’t find him memorable this time around. We would have liked to have seen Ramin Karimloo in the new revival staging of Les Miserables but just couldn’t fit it in our schedule.

Another embarrassing omission here– Steven Pasquale in his tour de force performance in The Bridges of Madison County. Had he been nominated, he’d have been my choice. The best live male vocal performance I’ve ever heard in any genre.

 

Cripple-of-Inishmaan-Playbill-04-14Best Actress (Musical)

  • Mary Bridget Davies, A Night With Janis Joplin
  • Sutton Foster, Violet
  • Idina Menzel, If/Then
  • Jessie Mueller, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
  • Kelli O’Hara, The Bridges of Madison County

With so many brilliant female performers in this category anyone of them would be deserving. I was lucky enough to see O’Hara, Foster and Menzel’s incredible performances. So to choose, I had to go with who went the step beyond. In my opinion, combining acting, singing and the challenges of the role put Kelli O’Hara above the rest.

 

Best Choreography

  • Warren Carlyle, After Midnight
  • Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine, Rocky
  • Casey Nicholaw, Aladdin
  • Susan Stroman, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical

Seeing just two of the four but knowing the requirements of the shows, I chose the dance show, After Midnight. I don’t really remember choreography in Rocky and Stroman’s work in Bullets was not her usual impressive staging.

 

Best Direction (Play)

  • Tim Carroll, Twelfth Night
  • Michael Grandage, The Cripple of Inishmaan
  • Kenny Leon, A Raisin in the Sun
  • John Tiffany, The Glass Menagerie

Cripple was the only nominee I saw here. Going by the numerous acting nominations Twelfth Night received, I figured it was a safe bet to go with director Tim Carroll. I would also be quite happy if John Tiffany won for his direction of The Glass Menagerie. I really wish I could have seen it.

 

Violet-Playbill-03-14Best Direction (Musical)

  • Warren Carlyle, After Midnight
  • Michael Mayer, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Leigh Silverman, Violet
  • Darko Tresnjak, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

I saw three of the four nominees. The director guides the ship. Some shows require much more steering than others. So I enthusiastically go with Darko Tresnjak’s wild romp in Gentleman’s Guide.

 

Best Play Revival

  • The Cripple of Inishmaan
  • The Glass Menagerie
  • A Raisin in the Sun
  • Twelfth Night

The Glass Menagerie received mostly rave reviews. The fact that this, one of Tennessee Williams’ greatest works has never been nominated, tells me its time has come.

 

Best Musical Revival

  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Les Misérables
  • Violet

It doesn’t matter how good the other nominees are– Hedwig is going to take the prize. Buzz, hype, long lines for tickets and a somewhat legendary history make this a shoo in.

rocky_1389306440Best Play

  • Act One
  • All the Way
  • Casa Valentina
  • Mothers and Sons
  • Outside Mullingar

I saw four of the five nominees and really liked three of them. The most polished and impressive, without a doubt, is All the Way.

 

Best Musical

  • After Midnight
  • Aladdin
  • Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
  • A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

This may end up being a tight race between Gentleman’s Guide and Beautiful. If Beautiful wins, I think it will be considered by many as an upset. I found Gentleman’s Guide to be a perfectly packaged night at the theater and the most innovative of the choices here.

Why aren’t If/Then and The Bridges of Madison County in the running? It’s anyone’s guess. Apparently, an adaptation of a cartoon, a dance show (with existing music) and a jukebox musical are held in higher regard than a completely original new musical or an adaptation with the best score in recent history.

 

Many people have asked me what the best show was, of the seventeen productions I recently saw. I have yet to pick one. I either really liked the shows or I didn’t. It’s really hard to compare art. And there is really no need to. I feel really fortunate to have seen so many excellent, vastly different productions and performances this year. Even though some of my comments may come across a little negative or snarky; they are purely based on my personal impressions and preferences. I applaud all the nominees and those that were overlooked in what I feel is some of the best accumulative work in any recent Broadway season.

Watch the Tony Awards on CBS Sunday night, be entertained and see how close I am on my picks.

Photo Essay: Times Square Three AM

I shot these photos in Times Square, NYC, Monday May 26, 2014 at three AM—shortly before leaving New York to return to Chicago.

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NYC May 2014- Day Ten: Purple Summer

Last Sunday Morning we met up with our friends Richard, Dennie and Alan and headed to a cafe in Hell’s Kitchen, to meet with some other friends of theirs, before heading to The High Line.

Unfortunately,  being Memorial Day weekend, the cafe was closed. This was actually okay because that gave us the opportunity to revisit Chelsea Market. (First visit for our friends.)

View from The High Line.

View from The High Line.

Chelsea Market is in the Meatpacking District, near the Hudson River and The High Line. The building is a full city block wide and long.

It’s considered a “neighborhood market with a global perspective” and has become one of the most visited destinations in NYC over the past fifteen years.

Once everyone had a chance to grab a knosh, we headed for our morning stroll on The High Line.

This was Michael’s and my second visit this trip and Boy, what a difference! So many people! It was a beautiful, sunny morning and the paths were packed with people from all over the world. I have to say, I’m glad to have experienced the park with both more– and fewer visitors… either way, there is still a relaxing, peaceful atmosphere about it.

The High Line

The High Line

We stopped at various points along the way to enjoy the views of the city, the Hudson River and of course the wonderfully ingenious layout of the park itself. One of the great things about all the green spaces in NYC is that they are all unique. They all provide a different experience and have their own distinct vibe.

It was brought up in conversation that Chicago is in the process of creating it’s own version of The High Line, called The 606; creating an urban parkway on the abandoned, raised freight rails of The Bloomingdale Line. It’s scheduled for opening this coming fall.

Michael and I split from rest of the group as they headed towards Macy’s and we headed back to Times Square before our show.

Violet-Playbill-03-14Violet I hate to ever pass up the opportunity to see Sutton Foster perform. She embodies honesty, sincerity and loads of passion in every role she plays. This was one of the reasons we scheduled Violet as our last Broadway show this trip.

Violet has been around for awhile, although this is its first Broadway production. I was not familiar with it and had no preconceived expectations of it.

Violet is the story of a girl with facial scar, that sets out on a journey to be healed by a TV evangelist; finding herself, instead, along the way. In the end there is always hope.

I loved the story, the music and the staging. Performances were also good all around. Supporting Foster’s outstanding performance as Violet are Joshua Henry (Flick) and Colin Donnell (Monty), both enamored by her. In the ensemble, Annie Golden gives one of those really rare stand out performances that sticks with you.

Between shows, we stopped back at The Counter to see our friend Amy (who was starting her shift) one more time and had one of their delicious build your own burgers. Then, we headed up 10 blocks to our final show of this NYC visit.

heathersHeathers the Musical No matter what your age, you’d have to practically be living under a rock to have not seen the cult-film, Heathers. Well, now Heathers is on stage in the form of a highly-entertaining Off-Broadway musical. We met up with our friends again and this was actually the only show that we all saw together, at the same time.

We all enjoyed it. Heathers is just crazy-fun. Even though I felt the pace of the performance was off a bit with multiple understudies in key roles, the show still works. Barrett Wilbert Weed leads the cast as the quirky, Veronica, commanding the stage at every turn.

heathers-the-musical-off-broadway-poster-17There’s some really good music in this– and I can’t wait for the album’s release date.

A happy and satisfying, last production in our ten day, seventeen show adventure.

Before heading back to pack, we stopped one last time at the 8th Avenue Shake Shack for Concretes. We said our goodbyes, headed back to our place, feeling very fortunate to have had such a great time.

This had been our longest stay in New York to date– and it’s never long enough. It’s always bittersweet saying goodbye to our home away from home.

NYC May 2014- Day Nine: Crossdressers, Creatives & Curmudgeons

The quiet solitude of Central Park.

The quiet solitude of Central Park.

Planning our trip, we originally narrowed our show list down to twenty three productions we were interested in seeing.

We initially thought we had fifteen slots open but with some of the changes in the performance schedule, we were able to book seventeen shows.

That meant Saturday was going to be a three show day.

Sheep Meadow on Central Park's west side.

Sheep Meadow on Central Park’s west side.

While we were trying to squeeze in all the other things we wanted to do in New York, we purposely left Saturday morning free, thinking it was already going to be a really long day.

As it turned out, Michael and I were up early and raring to go. So with our first show at Lincoln Center, we decided to head up that direction and took a walk in Central Park.

One of a number or bridges in Central Park.

One of a number of bridges in Central Park.

The sun appeared from behind the clouds, off and on and it turned out to be a rather nice morning.

Having been there many times before, we didn’t have a specific destination nor were we trying to see the whole park. We entered from the Fifth Avenue side and just started wandering.

Warm days like this, fill the park with tourists and New Yorkers alike; walking, jogging and bicycling through the many paths and trails.

The newly renovated and reopened, Tavern On the Green.

The newly renovated and reopened, Tavern On the Green.

We hadn’t planned on it but we had the time, so we found ourselves lunching at the recently reopened Tavern On the Green.

Closed in 2009, all the interior decor had been auctioned off and for a brief time the space was used as a visitors center.

We had eaten here twice before and enjoyed the gawdy decorating that included many Tiffany and crystal chandeliers.

greenAnyone visiting the historic landmark today will be in for a bit of a shock as the new operators have renovated the property, returning it to more of its original look and feel. It is a warm, open and inviting atmosphere that features a contemporary and reasonably priced, gourmet menu that features delicious offerings that are also beautifully plated. It was one of the best meals we experienced this time in New York.

Act-One-Playbill-03-14Act One This production actually didn’t make our first cut but since the show we had scheduled closed early, we decided to see it, influenced by its five Tony nominations.

Lincoln Center’s production of Act One isn’t without its merits. The acting is good, the revolving, sometimes dizzying set, moves the action quickly between locations and the direction is good.

Based on Moss Hart’s best-selling autobiography of the same name, Act One would probably have benefited from some serious cutting and more humorous moments. (The show runs nearly three hours.) James Lapine both adapted and directed this piece. That, though interesting, was a little too slow paced for my taste. Combine that with uncomfortable seats and it made for a slightly less than enjoyable afternoon.

Coming out of the show there was a sudden downpour. Luckily, there was a subway entrance less than a block away. We only got minimally drenched. We went back to our place, threw our clothes in the dryer and got changed for our next show.

Mothers-and-Sons-Playbill-02-14Mothers and Sons Tyne Daly stars in this touching drama about love, loss and connecting.

Terrence McNally has skillfully crafted a play that explores the lingering and devastating effects that AIDS has left on families affected by the disease.

Difficult conversations between a mother and her deceased son’s lover, ignite this play, questioning what was and what is.

It reminds us that though huge steps have been taken toward Equality in the past ten to twenty years, people essentially have not changed. Prejudice, pain and fear still overshadow the lives of so many.

Hedwig-and-the-Angry-Inch-Playbill-03-14_THUMBHedwig and the Angry Inch Neil Patrick Harris is filling the house to capacity in this first Broadway production of Hedwig. You might say, this is the current hot ticket show. It has certainly generated a lot of media buzz.

Hedwig has a cult following that has grown over the years from the 1998 Off-Broadway production and the 2001 film adaptation. It has been performed all over the world.

Harris does a fine job inhabiting the role of Hedwig, an East German transgendered (albeit a botched operation) singer –probably singing the best in his career.

The show is flashy, trashy and full of special effects. It’s more of an event than a musical. There is a story that develops through the songs and updated dialogue. Still, there’s not a book-story, even by contemporary standards. It’s the equivalent of attending a very loud punk rock show. We enjoyed it but it definitely has a specific audience that is not traditional Broadway by any means.

It’s one of the most Tony-nominated shows (eight) this year, although I don’t real understand why.

NYC May 2014- Day Eight: Parks & Perfection

Entrance to Fort Tryon Park.

Entrance to Fort Tryon Park.

What better way is there to spend a Friday in New York than to venture away from Times Square, with friends, to visit friends? That’s how we spent the bulk of the day. The four of us ventured up to Washington Heights and Fort Tryon Park to visit our friends, Carrie and Joel. We’d never been up to that part of Manhattan before so it was nice to see something new. On previous visits, Carrie and Joel had always met us in Midtown, so we finally got to see their beautiful apartment too.

The George Washington Bridge from Fort Tryon Park.

The George Washington Bridge from Fort Tryon Park.

Fort Tryon Park was a great break from the noise of Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen and perfect for relaxing and conversation.

We decided not to go to the Cloisters but leisurely wandered around the park and had great views of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge. We chatted for awhile on a beautiful overlook and then headed to the Gaelic restaurant and pub, Le Cheile for lunch.

After lunch, it was back to Midtown for a little rest before our evening show.

If-Then-Playbill-March-2014-a-New-Musical-on-Broadway-Richard-Rodgers-Theatre-Music-Tom-Kitt-Book-and-Lyrics-Brian-Yorkey-with-Idina-Menzel-Lachanze-Anthony-Rapp-Jerry-Dixon-Jenn-Colella-Jason-Tam-Tam-0If/Then Written by the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning team, of Next To Normal, Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey, If/Then is one of the only completely original musicals this Broadway season. No contemporary writing team better expresses our inner feelings and explores the human condition with such insight and style.

You remember that girl, Adele Dazeem? Yeah, she’s in it. That’s the one and only, Idina Menzel. She’s not just in it, she is it.

Oh yeah, and remember that Mark-guy from Rent? He’s in it too. Anthony Rapp is reunited with Menzel in this fascinating production.

You know how you sometimes wonder, What if…? If/Then explores that question through two different scenarios , had Menzel’s character, Elizabeth made different choices. The action moves back and forth between the two choices in a beautiful telling of what might have been.

The entire supporting cast is wonderful. In addition to Rapp, it features James Snyder (we saw in Cry Baby) and the phenomenal, LaChanze (I saw previously in Once On This Island), were among the standouts. Jenn Colella (we saw in Chaplin) as Anne, is a performer to watch. I was extremely impressed by her impressive vocal skills.

The show is funny, moving and takes you on a journey none of us will ever experience— but some might wish they had.

If/Then is by far, one of the best, if not the best new show currently on Broadway.

NYC May 2014- Day Seven: Everything Old Is New Again

We walked over to Pier 88 to meet Michael’s Mom & Dad and then went to lunch with them at Pom Pom Diner. They were sailing from New York on a long cruise leaving Thursday, so we were lucky enough to spend some time with them, having not seen them in over a year. It was overcast and we had a little rain but we somehow managed to avoid it.

Phantom-Of-Opera-Playbill-12-11The Phantom of the Opera I saw Phantom twice in New York just after it opened in 1988. First, starring Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman and the second time with Timothy Nolen and Patti Cohenour.  I’ve seen other productions since then, including the more modern (technically) Las Vegas version and have always found it to be entertaining.

When it originally opened (less than a year after Les Miserables), it was part of the British Invasion of Broadway and the mega-musical phase. Much like Disney’s entrance on the Broadway stage, many in the theatre community resented it and were unfairly critical. The fact is, Phantom has been running for 26 years on Broadway and with the exception of a few years prior to the movie version’s release, when attendance dipped, it has consistently sold at 85-100% of capacity.

Michael and I have both seen Phantom multiple times. I never considered it one of my favorite shows, yet I never fail to be thrilled and swept away by it. There were two reasons we chose to revisit it on this trip. First, It was one of only a few shows with a Thursday matinee. Second, we found out Norm Lewis was stepping into the role of the Phantom and that’s the real reason we bought tickets. We met Lewis last summer on the Broadway On the High Seas 3 cruise and were instantly enchanted. He is not only an amazing performer but a sincere and gracious person.

So the verdict? I can happily report that Phantom, with it’s current cast, looks and feels as fresh and electric as any show currently running on Broadway. The sound was excellent and the lighting tech and special effects, which remain pretty much unaltered, work flawlessly. (There are no intelligent (moving) or LED lights evident as there are in all the newer productions.)

Norm Lewis (Phantom), Sierra Boggess (Christine) and Jeremy Hays (Raoul) probably sing the show better than any previous cast. Both Lewis and Boggess bring so many more layers in vocal styles to their performances than I’ve heard from others assuming those roles. I have to be honest and say I’ve never liked the Raoul character in past productions. Now with Hays in the role, I finally did. Hays brings Raoul to life in a fully-rounded, brilliantly sung performance.

Lewis is not duplicating Crawford’s Phantom character. This is a departure from the way it is usually done when a replacement goes into a currently running show. I think Lewis’ character could be a little better developed– but I’m confident he will continue to grow in the role. He’s making it his own. Lewis’ Phantom is more a romantic and less the control-seeking victim of his predecessors. The same can be said for Boggess as Christine. This is not the weak victimized Christine of past seasons. Boggess makes her fresh, more confident and has full command of the stage. Boggess’ Christine seems to be more in control and makes choices, as opposed to being the victim of circumstance.

If you’ve never seen Phantom on Broadway and want a sure-thing– this is it.

Bullets-Over-Broadway-Playbill-03-14Bullets Over Broadway I have to sum up Bullets with one sentence: It’s been done before. Based on the Woody Allen movie, Bullets is just a plain fun, old book, entertainment. There is nothing new or fresh here and it’s been done  better, dozens of times before. It has a thin plot (complete with gangsters) and a score comprised of familiar catalog songs. The charm of the film doesn’t translate to the stage in this production.

I didn’t find anything unique in the staging or choreography and found that though all the actors give strong performances, they weren’t able to rise above the material. Don’t get me wrong, the show is enjoyable. It just isn’t something I’d go see again.

I didn’t expect a revelation here. I did expect that I would laugh, or at least smile a lot more than I did.

Last comment: How could anyone think that the song, Yes, We have No Bananas was a good way to end the show?

It’s beyond me.

NYC May 2014- Days Four & Five: Rocking the Political Cradle On Stage

A view on The High Line.

A view on The High Line.

Monday we met with our friends Steve & Amy (from home) who happened to be in NYC this week as well. We had a great time socializing and made our first visit this trip to The High Line with them. The High Line, which runs above Gansevoort Street to 34th Street on Manhattan’s West Side, is a public park built on what was once a historic freight rail line. It was a beautiful sunny day and only took us about an hour to walk the whole park. We’ll be returning with other friends from home later this week and hopefully I’ll get some good pictures to share.

Short on time, the four of us headed back to Times Square and Havana Central (our second time this trip) for lunch before parting ways.

art-web-telecharge-176x176The Cradle Will Rock We actually had tickets for another show that we ended up giving to friends. When we found out that this special, one night only, benefit concert was happening, we couldn’t miss it.

I’m a huge fan of Patti LuPone. Given the opportunity, there was no way I was going to miss the chance to see her recreate her Oliver Award-winning performance in this historic, ground-breaking theatrical work.

The staging was a benefit for The Acting Company, which originally produced the show under the direction of John Houseman. This concert staging directed by Lonny Price, featured LuPone and a number of other original company members, as well as more recent alumni.

This is a work I hope to produce one day. Its political and social message are still relevant today and I have a specific vision for staging the piece.

Tuesday, Michael and I both did a lot of exploring on our own. I’m not sure how much ground Michael covered but I’d traveled over five miles (tracked on my Fitbit) before noon. We initial thought we’d find a new destination to visit and then decided to just explore instead. The great things about a big city is there’s always something new to see, it’s always evolving and there are always things you hadn’t noticed before.

Friends arrived in the afternoon and while I was off exploring 6th Avenue and Bryant Park, Michael accompanied them to the TKS booth to get their show tickets and then to stand in line for the lottery for Kinky Boots tickets (which they won).  We had dinner at Yum Yum Bangkok before splitting up to go to our shows.

 

All-The-Way-Playbill-02-14All The WayAll the way with LBJ!” Bryan Cranston IS LBJ. You won’t see any evidence of Walter White (Breaking Bad) on this stage. From his first breath in a solo spotlight, Cranston gives an incredibly layered performance as President Lyndon B. Johnson, proving his versatility and skill as as actor and showing that a true performer can successfully thrive on stage and screen equally.

Written by Robert Schenkkan and directed by Bill Rauch, All The Way follows LBJ’s journey from the Kennedy assassination through Johnson’s reelection as President. It carefully weaves the personal, public and political struggles LBJ had to juggle while blazing the trail in his fight for civil rights.

The story was skillfully told by an ensemble of veteran actors, supporting Cranston. Some of the other stand out performances were given by Brandon J. Dirden as Martin Luther King, Jr.; Betsy Aidem as Lady Bird Johnson/Katharine Graham/Katharine St. George; Michael McKean as J. Edgar Hoover/Robert Byrd; and Robert Petkoff as Hubert Humphrey.

All The Way is Tony-nominated for Best Play and Best Actor (Cranston), and has already won the Outer Critics Circle, New York Drama Critics’ Circle and the Drama League awards for Best Play.

 

On the way back to our apartment, we stopped and picked up Concretes at the Shake Shack. (8th Ave. & 44th St.) With multiple locations, this is THE spot for ice cream treats in New York City. The lines are almost always out the door but they move fast and you always get great service.