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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.
The 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 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.
I had a wonderful birthday yesterday… in spite of being cold and wet. I did have a moment last night, between shows, when I was standing in a quiet plaza with snow falling gently all around me and it just felt… perfect. Do you have moments that in the grand scheme of things are quite ordinary but for some reason, at that moment, they just feel magical? That’s what I was feeling.
I had another one of those moments a few nights before we left for New York. It was late and Michael and the dogs were already in bed when I turned in. I laid down and ended up nose to nose with Roxie (one of my Boxers) and she was in and out of sleep, occasionally opening her eyes and licking my face. Such a simple, ordinary thing– but it felt magical.
Birthday In New York. I spent several hours at Starbucks yesterday writing and post blogs and pictures. I love starting my New York days that way. Michael came over from the hotel with his new iPad and sat with me for a while and then we got ready to head out for our last day of shows before our cruise.
A Sure Thing… Or Not. I purposely booked our shows the way I did, thinking I was guaranteeing ‘the best for last’, so to speak. One, a star-studded revival, the other– my most anticipated show on the trip. Our friend Amee was able to get rush tickets and join us for the latter.
Mystery of Edwin Drood. I’d been a fan of Drood for years. I saw a non-equity tour of it years and years ago and frequently listened to my out of print CD copy of the original cast. (Now available digitally.) Now you have to understand that Drood is not, for the most part, your typical musical. There is audience interaction with the cast and in the end, the audience votes for several of the outcomes to the story. (Drood is based on an unfinished Charles Dickens novel.) The show takes place in an old music hall and the actors, play actors playing roles in the story. Confusing? It’s really not.
Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, pulled out all the stops casting this production. Some big Broadway names, past and present make up the core of the casting. Is it a wonderful piece of theatre? No, probably not. The framework is unique, though and I really love most of the music. Especially the haunting Moonfall the sweet Perfect Strangers and the energetic There You Are and Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead. The show is brilliantly sung by the seasoned cast, both powerfully and intuitively. Vocally, there are some glorious moments in this production.
The staging is perfect here. The high melodrama style of the piece is brilliantly played. (This is where it could quite possibly go terribly wrong in staging the show.) Now you have to understand, I am not a ‘laughter’. I’ll smile, grin or chuckle during productions but it is rare that I laugh out loud. I laughed. Multiple times– out loud. Let’s just say, that apparently my laughter shocked Michael enough for he to comment on it later. I was having a wonderful time.
Michael, on the other hand, was not. He’d never seen it before– and at the conclusion stated, “I never want to see that again.” He really hated the format and period style, comparing it to watching an old Gilbert and Sullivan piece. (Not sure where that comes from.) His review would be: “I wanted to see it, I saw it– never again.” (Which makes me laugh out loud, in itself!)
I LOVED it! Can I say that again? I really, really loved it! And lucky for me, I get to see it again in a few weeks. The directing, staging, design elements and spectacular performances all came together perfectly for me.
Me: That villain guy? Don’t you know who that is?
Michael: No, I didn’t look.
Me: OMG! Michael, that was Will Chase!
Michael: And? … Like I’m supposed to know who that is?
Me: Seriously? Roger in Rent… Story of My Life… SMASH?
Michael: Who? The cheater guy? That was him?
Me: OMG! Yes, that was him!
Michael: How was I supposed to know? I didn’t recognize him. Like I know EVERY performer! (pregnant pause) He was good though.
I just found the conversation highly amusing for some reason. And Will Chase wasn’t just GOOD he was BRILLIANT!
BARE. This was my most anticipated show. I’d been a fan of the material since they released a concert sampling of the songs years ago. When a full studio recording was released, I quickly snatched it up and my interest, or love for it– grew substantially. I won’t go in to detail about the plot or subject matter here. Partly because in this ‘refocused’ staging… it’s now unclear what it wants to be. Hence, the title of this blog post.
All I can say for lack of space and clarity. The bittersweet, tragic coming of age story is now a big mess. Characters were cut, characters were combined, well developed characters in the original conception are now disconnected and their purpose, muddied; and new characterizations (or characters) are started but not developed and leave the audience hanging, wondering why we were introduced to them in the first place. Nothing was left untouched. The music, lyrics, dialogue, characters… all have been altered.
Now, I want to say that though I’m a fan of the original conception, I don’t consider myself intimately involved in the material to the point of not being open or accepting of changes. Here, the show is almost unrecognizable. Now that I’ve seen it, I can totally understand the NYT’s review of it. I think they’ve destroyed its commercial appeal and dumbed it down for maybe to junior high crowd… except most parents won’t be taking their children to this, due to the subject matter.
I understand a few of the changes that adapted to the current trends, updating the piece that was written about ten years ago; but those changes could have easily been made without the huge unnecessary alterations that were made. The choreography, or musical staging, is completely awkward here too. There are hints of the physicality used so brilliantly in Spring Awakening that in this production are just a cheap copy-cat attempt, not well executed. In addition, I thought much of the cast lacked the overall experience or vocal skill required for a ‘New York show’.
So, what I thought was a sure thing– wasn’t. My ‘birthday show’ was beyond a huge disappointment. It was a disaster.
Less Than Half. In total, Michael and I saw three Broadway plays, one off-Broadway play, four Broadway musicals, one off-Broadway musical, one cabaret performance and one movie. We only both LOVED two shows: The Other Place and Chaplin. In addition, I really loved Mystery of Edwin Drood… but it’s not for everyone. We both really disliked: Golden Age, Grace, Bare (actually Michael said it was ‘ok’ but not good) and the movie, Les Miserables. The rest fell in the middle. Not a very good average and not very encouraging with the prices they charge for tickets.
Luckily, we have two more shows to see when we come back after our cruise: Spiderman (which I’ll probably end up loving since I’m so sure I’ll hate it) and The Book of Mormon (which I’m supposed to love, so I may not.)
I don’t expect to love every show I see but I do expect to be entertained. If it were possible, I’d be asking for a few refunds this trip. Don’t worry, it didn’t spoil my birthday. I’ve had a wonderful time so far. Now I need to get back to my room and finish packing to start the Bahamas cruise portion of the trip. I’m not sure when I’ll be posting. Internet is expensive on the ship. I’ve been writing these posts online ‘live’ and if I write offline on the cruise, I might be able to post. Otherwise, I may not be able to post for a week.
Just in case, Happy New Year everyone!
We started planning our two week vacation, six months ago. Five days in New York, a seven day cruise on Norwegian to the Bahamas and finishing back in New York for one final full day of shows. Pretty straight forward. We booked our cruise, flight, hotel and also booked all our shows in advance. Done.
Michael spent hours watching all the YouTube videos people posted of the cruise ship, rooms similar to ours and read all the reviews of the ship the possible excursions, etc. We both lost a lot of weight so we had some fun shopping for new clothes. Everything planned ahead, ready to go… simple, right? Then the real fun started.
Show Tickets. You have some options if you want to see Broadway shows, you can purchase your tickets in advance, get better seats depending how early you buy– but you pay full price for most of them. Sometimes you can get discounts in advance and we got a few but for the most part, we paid full price. Your other option is the TKTS booth in Times Square. You can get tickets for up to half price based on availability but we would be in NY, Broadway’s busiest week of the year. So instead of taking chances, we booked all our shows in July. Done.
Or were we? Turns out, one show never opened, we re-booked it, that show closed quickly after opening, we booked another, that one cancelled that specific performance, so re-booked it again. Then the show the were to see that same night, open and closed and we found ourselves re-booking shows five times on the same day! (Wednesday, December 26th, 2012)
Packing or “Do you two communicate?”. Thinking we were ahead of the game, we started packing two days before we left, only to discover two things: 1) Packing wasn’t as easy as it seems and 2) We kind of had our wires crossed about what we intended to wear in New York. Oops!
Michael bought us new luggage: we each had a large suitcase and a new carry on sized bag. In the first sound of packing, we found the large suitcase easily held way more than the 50 pound limit of the air and cruise lines. So, we had to unpack. Then, somewhere in round two, we discovered. somehow we had different ideas on clothing for New York.
Usually we go to New York for five to seven days and each just take a carry on and re-wear what we have, dressing comfortable, casual the whole time. Usually jeans and whatever else we threw in the bag. This time, since we would be gone two weeks and needed to dress for both warm and cold weather and needed to have at least some dress clothes for the cruise, we knew we’d be checking luggage and taking more. I had commented several times how it would be nice to dress for the theatre for once BUT I guess it didn’t translate. Michael didn’t hear that and had planned on dressing as we normally did– casual only in New York. I, on the other hand, planned to wear suits and sports coats to the theatre and casual during the day.
It may not sound like a big deal but it was. We went through what we had, what we needed to swap out and what we needed to buy. After a quick analysis, some hair pulling and stressing out, a quick trip to the store Christmas Eve morning….. <sigh> we were back on track. We crammed as much of the weight into the two smaller bags, relieving some of the weight from the big bags and we were ready to go. We were sure we’d crossed our T‘s and dotted our I‘s …. and of course, we were even more certain we were forgetting things. Folks, I actually brought FIVE pairs of shoes!
Off we go. We made the decision to travel in style and were flying first class. When you figure in the additional checked luggage costs, early booking advantage and convenience…. and the fact this was my 5oth Birthday trip…. it all made sense to add this luxury. We got to O’Hare early, breezed through the Priority security line and the rest of our travel to New York was as smooth as possible. No delays, traffic was light from the airport to the city. Perfect.
We checked in to Hotel St. James (where we stayed in March) and got a surprise. Our room was slightly bigger than last time and they old-style hotel which previously was still using actual room keys, had upgraded to scan keys.
Christmas Night. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Our first show. It was a good, strong production but the first act was much stronger than the remaining two acts. Instead of building to a final climax, I felt it lacked, or failed to build and maintain the intensity needed to sustain a powerful ending. The acting was good but I’ve never been a fan of the ‘Chicago-style of acting‘– you are always aware they are actors playing parts, as opposed to actors assuming roles and becoming the characters. I’m pretty sure Tracy Letts will be, at the very least, in the running for a Tony for his portrayal of George.
Wednesday 12/26. In the morning, we headed out to Astoria, Queens for brunch with a friend of ours. Always a favorite part of our New York trips. Then back in to Manhattan for our first two-show day. This was the day that gave us all the problems with our show tickets. The matinee was Golden Age Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club. All I really can say about it is: Not interested. I thought it would have a similar feel to Amadeus based on the description and subject matter– mostly, I was just bored.
The Other Place with Laurie Metcalfe was our wild card show. It was one of our replacements and has turned out, so far, to be our favorite. Metcalfe is sure to be Tony-nominated for her role of a 52 year old woman slipping quickly into the grips of Dementia. The play is well crafted, beautifully acted and emotionally devastating. I’ll be anxious to see how the critics review it after the official opening.
Thursday 12/27. Four shows in one day! Okay, one movie, two shows and a cabaret act. I’ll try and be brief with my descriptions and reactions here. Michael had been insistent on seeing Les Miserables while we were here. I’ve been skeptical since I saw the first previews. The power and beauty of the stage production, brought to the big screen, was… to put it kindly, disappointing. I think it was poorly directed and filmed. The way it was filmed really annoyed me. Despite the dedicated efforts of Jackman and Hathaway, I felt their performances were hindered by the way they were filmed. The only two actors I thought came across well were Samantha Barks as Eponine and Aaron Tveits as Enjoras. Russell Crowe neither acted or sang in the film. I cringed every time Marius and Cozette were on screen. It was actually worse than I expected.
Our matinee performance, Grace with Paul Rudd and Ed Asner, was also a disappointment. It had an interesting framework but failed to deliver any real content. Just a meandering conversation about Christianity and Faith that really didn’t go anywhere.
In 1979, I was lucky enough to be invited to go to New York and perform with the Florida Camerata and then join the Winter Haven Youth Orchestra in several Manhattan and Long Island concerts. It had a huge impact on my life. It was during that trip that I saw my first professional concerts, my first Broadway show and… The Nutcracker. I can still vividly remember the moment in the Nutcracker when it began to snow on stage. I think it was that moment that hooked me on the stage for life. The first Broadway show?….. was Annie with the young Sarah Jessica Parker. No matter what the show, or how good it is… I think your first always holds a special place in your heart.
So last night, 33 years after my first encounter, I saw the new revival of Annie. I think its a good strong production. I can’t say it’s phenomenal but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I appreciated that all the bells and whistles were blown early in the show and it felt like it continually built to a big finale. My favorite moment in the show, one that could easily be boring or ignored; was Daddy’s Warbuck’s song, Something Was Missing. It was very well staged and beautifully performed, creating one of the shows most touching moments. Even though it wasn’t over-played (or over-staged), I still couldn’t help but get a big old lump in my through when Annie made her first appearance at the top of the stairs after her transformation. It still gets me, even after all these years. Annie remains on my short list of must-do shows to direct before I die.
As if three weren’t enough, I had made reservations to see cabaret performer, Sirius XM host, and my Facebook friend, Christine Pedi’s show, There’s No Bizness Like Snow Bizness at the West Bank Cafe. It was the perfect end to the day. Pedi’s blend of humor and holiday reminiscing was just what I needed. Michael and I had a delicious meal and really enjoyed the performance. Pedi was a part of the Forbidden Broadway franchise for years with her amazing ability to accurately impersonate dozens of performers. Her final number, The 12 Divas of Christmas, in which names of 12 stars were drawn at random from a hat, was hilarious perfection.
I apologize in advance if my editing is bad. I started this post yesterday morning and just don’t have enough time to write all I’d like. Today we’re off on a Harlem adventure and lunch with friends… then more shows of course! Until next time.
After working twenty nine days straight, I finally had a day off yesterday to recuperate. By recuperate, I mean a day doing laundry and cleaning. Now it’s on to the final month of school: concerts, meetings and award programs. It will most likely take me several months to feel like my self again.
Six months of planning and rehearsing resulted in an epic production of Ragtime that I hope will have a lasting impact on the cast and audience that got a chance to see it. When you begin the process, you never quite know how it will turn out. For me, three days before we opened I was a little more than fearful we had missed the mark. Each day brought us closer and the cast, orchestra and tech became a cohesive unit, resulting in a fine production.
How do you get there? How do you take the known challenges, combined with many unforeseen factors and reach the end result? Vision. You have to have vision and trust and belief in yourself to make it a reality.
The trust and support of those around you are crucial as well. When it’s not there, it doesn’t mean you can’t fulfill your vision –but it’s definitely easier when you have it.
Ragtime was our choir director’s bucket list show. She spent years building enough interest in our small African American population at school to bring it to fruition. BHS has an African American population of less than 120 students and she was somehow able to get 30 to participate. It was no small feat. For those not familiar with the show, Ragtime must have three equally-sized groups to stage the opening number: New Rochelle (white, upper-middle class), African American, and Immigrants. There are individual stories that come from within those three groups that build the overall framework for the musical.
In spite of all its challenges, the success of the production laid in the hands of the directors, volunteers and support staff that so willingly gave countless hours of dedicated labor to make it all happen. Without all the wonderful support, I’m not sure how I could have successfully survived my double duty as stage director and tech director.
In visualizing our production, I had to take into account the large size of the cast (116), the layout of the stage and how best to use it to tell the story and elements that would make our production unique. After spending many hours with the script and score, I returned to E. L. Doctorow’s novel for guidance to connect the dots.
When it came to staging the show, I added in bits of business that reflected on the novel but were not present in the musical script. For instance, in the novel, Evelyn Nesbit was obsessed with Tateh’s Little Girl and she returned time and time again to have silhouettes done. In the musical there is no interaction between them at all. So in a scene where Tateh was working and confronted by Emma Goldman, I had him producing a silhouette of Evelyn and had her sneak out when they were distracted to avoid having her identity discovered by Goldman.
In another instance towards the end of the show, when Mother finds out Father is returning to New York, I had Tateh and Little Girl enter with her and Little Boy to establish their growing relationship. Again, reflecting on the text of the novel.
One of my favorite staged moments in the show was Houdini and Evelyn Nesbit’s Atlantic City routine. Instead of separating the two as it appears to have been written, our choreographer and I made them a team and created a beautifully executed vaudeville number.
In the Henry Ford number, as opposed to having Coalhouse’s car simply driven onstage at the end, I envisioned a giant ‘puzzle car’ being assembled on stage with the pieces being held by the workers in the scene. At one point, I was afraid we weren’t going to be able to make it work but it came together quite well.
From the outset, I pictured an Act Curtain (Show Drop) that was a giant quilt with RAGTIME in large letters. I thought I might have to build it myself, but we were fortunate to find a wonderful woman that, after some begging and pleading, was convinced to create the 20 foot by 36 foot finished product… and it only took her five days! I wanted the quilt because it represented the piecing, or coming together of smaller units to create a whole, much like the melting pot of people that represent America.
There were many challenges associated with the production, as there are with most productions. One challenge was getting the cast to understand the historical significance of the material with an even bigger challenge being the way the show is written. Ragtime has many small vignette scenes that intertwine making it difficult for the young actors to develop and understand their characters. A lot of time had to be spent filling in the blanks– another way the novel was helpful.
The biggest challenge was the size of the cast. Normally a high school production has somewhere between 40 and 60 performers but in recent years, BHS has cast 100 to a record 150 performers in last year’s Hairspray. This year’s cast featured 116 performers and along with the size of the cast came the issues of synchronization, rehearsal attendance and eligibility. Most of our leads were active in other school activities such as sports, clubs and competitive academic teams, requiring many changes to the schedule to accommodate productive rehearsals. Combine that with the added expenses of a large cast and a very tight budget and it is a wonder we were able to do what we did.
Hold On To Your Vision
I have to say there were a number of times I wanted to throw up my hands and give up on certain aspects of the production. Exhaustion and frustration begin to cloud your vision and make you question your original goals.
About a week before the show, after a series of frustrating rehearsals, the choir director and choreographer approached me with solemn looks on their faces. I said, “Oh no, now what?” And they simply told me, “Don’t let go of your vision.” I hadn’t, and I didn’t– but a partly due to their never-ending support for my vision.
You have to visualize and set your goals. You have to believe in your vision. Even though it may be a rough road with lots of bumps and curves, you can make it a reality. You must have faith… trust… and believe in yourself and the abilities of the others around you in order to succeed.
Realize your vision.
Make it happen.
What could be more American and apple pie than Friday night with the guys? Blowing off steam at the end of week, joking and talking about family, work, politics, home improvement, Broadway musicals….. WAIT! What was that last one?
That’s how I spent last night and how I’ll be spending my Saturday…. building sets for Bartlett High School’s upcoming production of RAGTIME… working with a great bunch of guys.
Probably one of the biggest benefits of my job is that it gives me a chance to meet and work with a whole different group of people. It’s my male-bonding time. Not an exclusive club, women are always more than welcome to participate but every year it seems that a great group of guys come together to form a tight-knit group with one goal in mind: building a great set for the students. The socializing is just one of the benefits.
This year, I think we have six guys returning for anywhere between their second to thirteenth year. (There’s actually one guy that has helped out, in some capacity, with every musical we’ve produced at BHS.) Over the years, volunteers come and go but some stay beyond their kid’s graduation. Why? I think the main reasons are that in addition to building a great set, it gives guys a chance to be creative, use there hands, be a little experimental and just be themselves. It’s a wholesome, laid-back atmosphere… and a great way to learn some new skills without the pressures of producing a perfect end product.
In theatre, you frequently hear about the 30 foot rule. (The average distance of the audience from the stage.) So the work doesn’t always have to be perfect, it just has to appear to be perfect from a distance. AND it has to be safe.
This year, as I’m sitting in the director’s chair for the first time at BHS, it’s great to have been able to turn over the reigns of set construction to one of our very talented and skilled Dads. I’m still overseeing the project as part of my job but I feel some of the pressure is off with the greatly appreciated help.
Last night we built bleachers, prepped to build a stage extension and gutted an old piano. Good times.
So far this year, I think we’ve had three or four new volunteers join the club. As we start to pick up steam, I’m hoping we get more new people involved.
If you’ve never volunteered before, I highly recommend it. What you learn and the friendships you develop can last a lifetime.