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Travel 2016: Day Nine – And God Said, Let There Be Rain… And Waves…Lots and Lots of Waves

Soon It’s Gonna Rain. We knew for a couple days there was a likely chance of rain today. As a matter of fact, last night the prediction was above 80%. Not just a shower… rain all day. Troupers that we are– and because you can’t cancel an excursion without at least a 48 hour notice (without paying anyway)– We got up early, dressed appropriately, had breakfast and watched as we were hit with the first down pour.

Our tour was supposed to take us to explore Taormina and Castelmola this morning. The key phrase here is supposed to. All tours ended up being cancelled with ongoing weather concerns anticipated throughout the day and because we were supposed to tender into port. The water was just to rough to safely make it to and from land.

Unfortunately for us, the decision was not made until around 10 AM, long after our scheduled tours were supposed to have started. This left us in limbo, waiting for the final word. It’s too bad we hadn’t known the night before because we could have caught up on some much needed sleep. This is just one of the chances you take with cruise travel.

What To Do? The good news was that the change in plans gave us time to socialize. We had a favorite spot where many of the same people would gather at some point, day to day, throughout the week. The conversations were always lively and anything was fair game– we didn’t just talk Broadway. You could frequently find us with Janet, Paul, Bill and a few others engaging in some animated fashion. One of my favorite ongoing discussions was with Susan, Champ (He was in the cabin next to us on the last cruise with the wall that slid open!) and Philip (Lindsay Mendez’s husband) discussing the upcoming election. After more than a week away from home, I was itching to get some things off my chest.

One thing that I’ve noticed– if you put a group of theatre lovers together in a room– they can talk about pretty much anything, speak honestly and not be attacked by anyone for a differing viewpoint of belief. I find it really comforting. Theatre people are the most accepting, loving, understanding and all-inclusive group I know.

While I was in deep conversation, Michael was off with Mary, Linda and Wendy playing euchre in the card room.

Let’s Put On A Show! In typical fashion, Phil Birsh (CEO of Playbill) and Seth Rudetsky (Music Director on BOTHS) rallied the troupes — Mickey and Judy style– throwing together a really fun, entertaining show with many of the Broadway performers contributing.

Laura Osnes, fresh off her performance the night before, led off the truly enjoyable set of musical numbers this afternoon.

 

Laura Osnes

Laura Osnes

 

Charles Busch

Charles Busch

 

Jennifer Simard

Jennifer Simard

 

Lindsay Mendez

Lindsay Mendez

 

Faith Prince

Faith Prince

 

Chatterbox. As originally scheduled for late afternoon, Seth Rudetsky hosted a Chatterbox session with Brenda Braxton and his longtime friend, Andrea Burns. I always like hearing artists talk about their experiences in the business and sharing their highs and lows.

Brenda Braxton was on the cruise as a “Broadway Ambassador”, not a scheduled performer, per se. I saw her in Legs Diamond with Peter Allen many years ago and got the chance to share that with her later in the cruise.

 

Brenda Braxton

Brenda Braxton

 

Old friends Seth Rudetsky and Andrea Burns.

Old friends Seth Rudetsky and Andrea Burns.

 

Sea Sick? As it turned out, we really didn’t experience much rain during the day but the water was rough. It continued to be throughout the evening. I’ve been on boats that were rocking and swaying a whole lot worse but for some reason it really started to get to me at dinner. I left halfway through and Michael had my entree sent to the room.

I wanted to just stay in bed, only I wasn’t about to miss tonight’s concert. I did start feeling better as the evening wore on.

Adam Pascal in Concert. If you know me or have read my blog, you know that RENT is my all-time favorite musical. So how can I not love Adam Pascal? One of my pinnacle, theatregoing experiences was Adam’s performance of One Song Glory the first time I saw him in RENT. It’s forever etched in my brain.

Adam also starred on Broadway in AIDA, Memphis, Chicago, Disaster! and currently, Something Rotten. He also played Freddy in the highly-acclaimed concert version of Chess with Josh Groban and Idina Menzel.

The format for Adam’s concert tonight, was an informal sing-interview format with music director Seth Rudetsky. It was a great evening– showing off his versatility, powerhouse vocals and occasionally accompanying himself on guitar.

 

Adam Pascal

Adam Pascal

 

Adam Pascal accompanying himself on guitar.

Adam Pascal accompanying himself on guitar.

 

Adam Pascal with Seth Rudetsky.

Adam Pascal with Seth Rudetsky.

 

After the show– a nightcap with friends and then off to bed. Tomorrow Michael and I have a private car and guide scheduled for a whirlwind tour of Malta!

Travel 2016: Day Eight -Sorrento, Italy and Ancient Pompeii

Hazy Sunrise over Sorrento.

Hazy Sunrise over Sorrento.

Sorrento, Italy. is our port of call today. It was a hazy morning as the sun rose, revealing more and more detail on shore. We couldn’t dock so we had to be tendered on and off the ship to the port.

Booking Excursions. We’ve had good experiences with most of the tours we’ve taken in the past. The success most often depends on the guide. Some are terrific, humorous and informative, some have great English while others struggle a little more; and some just talk way too much.

Some of the Broadway performers go out on the excursions with the guests and sometimes they do their own private tours. Today, Kate Baldwin and her friend (BFF) Amber were on ours.

We had a number of interesting choices for shore excursions from Sorrento. Way back when we booked the trip, I only had one in mind….. Visiting the ancient ruins of Pompeii.

The Dog of Pompeii. My fascination with Pompeii goes back to childhood and the short story, The Dog of Pompeii by Louis Untermeyer. It’s the tale of a young blind boy named Tito and his beloved dog, Bimbo. Bimbo stole raisin bread from the street vendors of Pompeii and that’s how he and Tito ate to stay alive. When the Volcano errupted, Tito was saved only because of Bimbo. Tito was frightened but not able to tell what was going on. It was up to Bimbo to save him. Bimbo nipped at Tito’s feet, keeping him moving away from the city to the ships in the harbor and to safety. With not enough room, Bimbo, sadly– was left behind. Eighteen hundred years later, when excavating the city, the skeletal remains of a dog were found. In his mouth was a petrified piece of raisin bread.

The story is more heartbreaking to me now than I remembered it. Still, pieces of that story have stayed with me my whole life.

So, yes. Pompeii was a must.

A little hitch at the start of the day– our coach bus had mechanical issues. We were able to squeeze on the second bus without too much overcrowding and proceeded on the hour drive to our destination. Since we joined that bus, the other tour guide had control of the intercom. She never- stopped- talking. More than one person commented, wondering how and if she ever to took a breath.

When we arrived at Pompeii, we stopped briefly at a small hotel and street market at the entrance. We split up into our two original groups and we were on our way. Our guide was also pretty talky but made up for it by being very witty and keeping our group moving.

Ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii

Ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii.

Discovering Ancient Pompeii. It is believed that Pompeii was settled around 7 BC. It is also believed that there were approximately 11,000 inhabitants at the time that Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying it under as much as 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice. Approximately 2,000 people died as Pompeii was buried. The city was lost for 1,500 years until portions started to be uncovered in the 1599. Actual excavation began in 1748.

The ancient ruins of Pompeii are one of the highly valued, UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Plaster Cast of one of the victims.

Plaster Cast of one of the victims.

As excavation advanced, it was discovered that much of the city was preserved having been sealed from air and moisture all those years. Scientists found that they were able to make castings of victims by carefully pouring Plaster of Paris into the voids as they were discovered. This resulted in capturing the exact poses of victims when they died.

The excavation of Pompeii is much larger than I’d thought it would be. Because of its massive size, it’s probably best to tour it with a guide; or at least, a map designating the highlights. There are some incredibly well-preserved rooms, complete with frescos and tile flooring.  There are many, many streets; most with just the suggestion of the original shape of the foundations surviving.

At the time of our visit, there was an incredible display of bronze sculptures by artist Igor Mitoraj that are a beautiful addition to the archaeological site. They are set to be displayed only through January 2017. In my opinion, they should stay as a permanent exhibition.

 

One of the larger bronze sculptures by Igor Mitoraj on exhibition throughout Pompeii.

One of the larger bronze sculptures by Igor Mitoraj on exhibition throughout Pompeii.

 

We each had ear piece devices for the tour. It was especially handy for me when I’d get sidetracked, or veer away from the group to take pictures.

 

Standing among the massive ruins of Pompeii.

Standing among the massive ruins of Pompeii.

 

A portion of one of the amphitheatres in Pompeii.

A portion of one of the amphitheatres in Pompeii.

 

Close of of surviving wall art.

Close up of surviving wall art.

 

One of the more complete, excavated rooms in Pompeii.

One of the more complete, excavated rooms in Pompeii.

 

Ruins of one of the streets in Pompeii.

Ruins of one of the streets in Pompeii.

 

Ruins of Pompeii.

Ruins of Pompeii.

 

Mitoraj's art exhibition compliments the landscape.

Mitoraj’s art exhibition compliments the landscape.

 

Standing guard over the ruins of Pompeii.

Standing guard over the ruins of Pompeii.

 

We reached a point in the tour where, having visited the main highlights, our guide gave us the option to head back to the market or continue on with her. At the end of the tour there was to be some time for shopping or a bite to eat before heading back to the ship.

Michael and I opted to head back and had our first (delicious) slice of pizza (in Italy) from one of the vendors. Shortly after, we saw one of our new friends, Paul, who said the group was making its way back our direction. We also saw Kate and Amber strolling through the marketplace. Since we were told we’d have time for shopping, Michael and I got gelato and proceeded to walk through the rows of market vendors.

Left behind? We never saw the rest of our group and also lost track of Paul. We just figured they still weren’t back yet. I put my ear piece back in and after a moment, could hear the guide saying something about getting on the new bus and then she turned off the audio system!

Wait, what?

Michael and I shifted into high gear but had no idea where the bus was parked. We left the market square went out to the street. We looked left and right and couldn’t figure out which way to go. I happened to see the other bus from our cruise leaving and we flagged it down. The guide said ours– was looking for us– so we headed to where that bus had pulled out. We found our bus– only our guide had gone back to the market to look for us. Oops!

We apologized to everyone as we got on, found empty seats near Kate and Amber, who seemed to be enjoying the humor of the situation. Eventually our guide came back, told us she was going to kill us, everyone laughed– and we drove off.

We got back to the port and had just missed the tender to our ship, meaning a 40-minute wait until the next one. (I guess this was our fault!) So some members of our group stood in line waiting, some shopped and others grabbed a snack.

At the port in Sorrento.

At the port in Sorrento.

 

While we waited for the tender, Michael kept wandering off, out of sight, going in and out of the shops. He was making me nervous because I saw the tender coming and didn’t want to miss the next one. He reappeared and we made it on with no problem. I joked that ‘we made it‘ to Amber and Kate– and Amber said they were keeping an eye on us so we didn’t get left behind. (This became our running joke.)

 

Sorrento from our ship.

Sorrento from our ship.

One of the reasons I didn’t want to miss that tender was because it was getting close to time for the late afternoon BOTHS activity, a talkback with playwrights Charles Busch and Douglas Carter Beane.

Charles Busch is an actor, playwright, screenwriter and female impersonator known for his high-camp style. He is an iconic figure in the New York Off Broadway scene and beyond. Charles is responsible for the cult classics Die Mommie Die! and Psycho Beach Party, both of which were also made into films. His best know work is The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, that played Broadway in 2000.

Douglas Carter Beane is a prolific writer for the stage, having worked on many familiar productions you may not realize he had a hand in. He was Tony-nominated for his wonderful play, The Little Dog Laughed and more recently, his play The Nance appeared on Broadway. Douglas wrote the book for the musicals Xanadu, Lysistrata Jones and the new adaptation of Cinderella. Many probably don’t realize he also wrote the screenplay for the cult hit, Too Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar.

I found their stories and experiences fascinating and enlightening.

 

Douglas Carter Beane discusses his writing process.

Douglas Carter Beane discusses his writing process.

 

Charles Busch sharing stories of acting and performing in his own work.

Charles Busch sharing stories of acting and performing in his own work.

 

We had a large group for dinner (as we did most every night) at The Restaurant (that’s actually the name) followed by one of the best sunsets of the trip.

 

Stunning Sunset as we sailed from Sorrento.

Stunning Sunset as we sailed from Sorrento.

 

A gorgeous view as Sunset framed this rock formation jutting out of the sea.

A gorgeous view as Sunset framed this rock formation jutting out of the sea.

 

Laura Osnes in Concert. The main event onboard was a concert featuring Laura Osnes, accompanied by Seth Rudetsky on piano.

I started following Laura’s career when she appeared on Broadway in Bonnie and Clyde (with Jeremy Jordan) receiving high praise from the critics.

She is probably best known as the winner of Grease: You’re the One That I Want!, giving her a starring role as Sandy in the 2007 Broadway revival of Grease. I had failed to make this connection until the cruise.

Among her many credits, Laura recently starred on Broadway in Cinderella, in the title role.

It was a great concert. One of the fun highlights of the evening was bringing her high school sweetheart– now husband, Nathan Johnson on stage for a sweet duet.

 

Laura Osnes with husband Nathan Johnson.

Laura Osnes with husband Nathan Johnson.

 

Laura Osnes.

Laura Osnes.

 

Laura Osnes in Concert.

Laura Osnes in Concert.

 

Tomorrow– Sicily!

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 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.