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A Sure Thing… Usually Isn’t

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.

IMG_0783Birthday 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.

IMG_0779That Villain Guy. Michael did say he liked ‘that villain guy’. And he really liked Stephanie J. Block in the title role. That sparked the following conversation:

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 RentStory of My LifeSMASH?

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!

Day Three- Sunday in New York

We were both a little slow getting started Sunday morning, but after Starbucks, showers, some blogging and a little wasting time, we finally set out to start our second, three show day. The trouble was… most real restaurants weren’t serving (or open) until noon and we had a one o’clock show. After trying several specific locations and then just searching for anything open… we ended up eating at Chevy’s on 42nd Street. Not exactly fine dining or unique to New York but we were on a schedule and didn’t want fast food.

Newsies was one of my choices of shows to see. I remembered seeing the movie years ago and really liking it. Michael wasn’t so enthused about the prospect. He’d never seen the movie, only the Macy’s Parade clip from last year and that didn’t make him eager to see it.

The good news is that we both loved it. The choreography and dancing was outstanding, as were all the performers. Afterwards, Michael said, “Why is it that the best shows in New York are the ones I didn’t really care to see?” It’s always hit and miss with shows. We’re pretty easy to please if there is an acceptable level of production values and more than anything… the actors need to at least look like they want to be there.

Our middle show was definitely a wild card. After our disappointing Miss Abigail experience the day before, I think both our expectations dropped another notch. So we trekked over to the west side for the off-Broadway performance of SISTAS The Musical! It’s billed as a story of African American women told through Top 40 music…. From Bessie Smith to Beyonce.

I should probably note that Michael and I were two of maybe ten white faces in the audience of mostly 50-something African American women. This excited me because I knew we’d be in for a passionate, vocal crowd.

Just before we went in, another white couple showed up in front of the theatre looking a bit confused. The female disappeared briefly and the male said something to another theatre-goer that I didn’t quite hear. Her response was, “Oh no baby, this ain’t Sister Act, this is SISTAS.” (I would have thought the entrance to a church basement would have been a clue.)  A little embarrassed, he said, “Oh well, there’s singing and dancing, right? What more do you need than some singing and dancing?” I loved his positive attitude upon learning his mistake.  I’m not sure his companion was as cheerful.

The show was very entertaining and truly was a musical journey. The plot was thin but just enough to tie together a treasure trove of musical riches. When it came to Whitney Houston’s I Am Nothing, there were audience whisper’s of “Whitney” and the room fell completely silent and became both a solemn tribute and celebratory moment of a woman, whose name wasn’t even mentioned. It was something you would have had to experience.

We had a rushed trip from midtown down to the Village to catch my most anticipated show of the trip, CARRIE, The Musical. This show had a lot of buzz surrounding it, as the revival of what is considered to be the biggest flop in Broadway history. They re-worked it and made several changes from the original for this production. We made it to the theatre with 20 minutes to spare and Amy was able to join us again.

Let’s just say, I think the three of us all had differing opinions, mostly positive, but something different bothered each of us. The big controversy with this production, is the bucket of blood. In case you are not familiar, the musical CARRIE is based on the classic Stephen King horror classic, culminating in the character of Carrie having a bucket of blood dumped on her at her senior prom. In this production, they chose to do it with a lighting effect instead of actual blood. Let’s just say, at our performance, the effect timing was all off and didn’t happen at the right time. So the actress was basically ahead of the effects that were poorly timed or executed.

Overall, I loved it as much as I thought I would. Could there be changes? Yes. Was it perfect? No. But I love the bullying storyline, the struggles between mother and daughter ( just trying to survive another day) in their warped view of reality. I was completely engrossed and entertained.

My last thought for today’s post goes back a few years. Back in the early 90’s when I would travel to New York by myself, I attended a show in the West Village… and while walking around the streets exploring, I wandered on to a street and suddenly thought, “This is Home.” I can’t explain it, if you’ve felt it before, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s something you just know. So I took this photo on Christopher Street outside the theater where Carrie was playing.

It just feels like home.

Just An Update

I though I better take a few minutes and post an update since it’s been a week since I last posted. This time of year is extremely always busy and my head is full of “To Do” Lists.

Last Sunday night, Michael and I watched the 25th anniversary production of Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall on PBS. It brought back the memories of seeing it live for the first time on Broadway back in 1988. It hadn’t been my most anticipated show I would see on that trip (Les Miserables was) but it was thrilling– especially with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. We saw the Las Vegas incarnation last March and it’s no wonder it remains an audience favorite after all these years.

Wednesday night, we went to the movie screening of the Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies. Again, from the short London run, no plans to bring it to Broadway and sketchy reviews, I didn’t have high expectations. It was glorious! Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score is lush and gorgeous. I love the storyline but think if it should make it’s way to Broadway, the first 20 minutes need to be reworked to draw the audience in to the story sooner. Overall, it is a must-see for theatre lovers.

Rehearsals for RAGTIME are moving full speed ahead… great progress is being made and characters are starting to take shape. We have a month to go until opening. I’m hoping to finally have the show’s blocking complete this week. It’s so much more difficult with a cast of 120 than with 40. Three hour daily rehearsals followed by evenings of school events are starting to take their toll on me.

I’m off to school now for a full day of set construction. Then tonight Michael and I are going to see the comedian, Fluffy– late night. I see a late afternoon nap coming!


The RAGTIME set in progress.