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Archive for the ‘Broadway Musicals’ Category

Great American Playwright Neil Simon Passes at 91


Neil Simon Theater 2
Neil Simon, long considered America’s most successful and certainly most prolific playwright dies at 91. It’s fitting that the Neil Simon Theater still exists on Broadway.at 250 West 52nd Street.  I hope it always stays “The Neil Simon Theater.”

I did not know Neil Simon personally. But growing up in the theater in the decades where he dominated the Great White Way, his work was overwhelming to a young playwright, me. At one time, he seemed to have every play on Broadway.

The Christmas after my mother died, I was feeling particularly bereft and found myself observing a great Broadway tradition.I went to Chicago. By train. To see the out-of-town try-outs for a musical version, of a movie  he wrote “The Goodbye Girl.” Seeing that only half-successful work in the middle of the cold Chicago winter made me realize that yes, all your idols have feet of clay. IOW, everyone makes mistakes. The Goodbye Girl was a musical with a book by Neil Simon, lyrics by David Zippel, and music by Marvin Hamlisch, based on Simon’s original screenplay for the 1977 film of the same name.

I was also at a rehearsal of “The Goodbye Girl” when it limped to New York, and in the rehearsal room were the star Bernadette Peters and yes, Neil Simon himself.

He seemed so un-prepossessing in person. He was wearing a robin’s egg blue sweater and  kibitzed around with the various actors….But it was his eyes that got me. The intensity of his stare. Nothing was being missed. He saw it warts and all and I’m sure was thinking “How can I fix this? How can I help?” He reminded me of a very warm and friendly rabbi. His vast knowledge of the theater seemed to match those of a rabbinical scholar. He seemed immediately nice. But also intimidating. I mean, he was NEIL SIMON! But he didn’t carry himself like a star as Ms. Peters certainly did.

I guess I was so intimidated by him, I didn’t even have the chutzpah to talk to him. But what could I have said?  “I saw your play in Chicago and really liked it.” God! I hope didn’t say THAT! Which would have been a complete lie.  I don’t think I did.

I never saw him again. And, the show flopped. I thought nothing he wrote could ever flop, but some did.

He strangely isn’t revived much of late, but the Neil Simon Theater is still there. A permanent and fitting monument to a man that made Broadway history over and over again. He will be missed by all in the theater community. It was his great love.

Neil Simon R.I.P.

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“Twelfth Night” in the Park, Cast of Thousands an Amiable Mess


Productions of Shakespeare’s perennial gem of a comedy “Twelfth Night Or What You Will” boasts a cast of literally hundreds, who seem like thousands. Is it too much of a muchness? Almost. 

Directors Oskar Eustis and Kwame Kwei-Armah have taken what is the Shakespeare-in-the-Park’s most enduring positive, the audience, and put all and sundry onstage in the guises of many, many community groups from the Tri-State. It’s overwhelming and it almost overwhelms the play, but not quite. It’s Shakespeare’s best, just about, and seems to weather every storm that is tossed its way. In this case, crowds upon crowds of extras, some of them toddlers, some of them house-wives, all dee-lighted to be onstage at the Delacorte instead of just watching, lining up for hours for tickets and clapping madly.Who can resist a cast that also resolutely SIGNS the play, too? The most beautiful, transcendant moment for me was when an unnamed young, bearded, blonde man, got up and singly signed one of Shakespeare’s more poignant song poems. I wish he was given credit for that in the program. 

Also, because it was virtually the only quiet, thoughtful moment in this amiable, crazy-house of a mess.

There was no intermission. It was only 90 mins. and Shaina Taub’s average music did not send me. It made me long for the first time I saw “Twelfth Night” which was in an historic, traditional production at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1969, when I was in college in the Cotswolds, and young Judi Dench played Viola.

“How will this fadge?” I remember her saying til this day, enunciating Viola’s gender confusion. She’s disguised-as-a-boy Cesario, who everyone is falling in love with. Sir Donald Sindon was the wronged Malvolio, and his performance is awfully close to the present Park’s Malvolio, Andrew Kober, who is the only one of the vast ensemble to capture Shakespeare’s tone of comic absurdity just right.

I also enjoyed Nanya-Akuki Goodrich as an amply-figured Olivia, who is so distraught over her beloved brother’s recent death, she is followed around by a New Orleans jazz band, playing a funeral march every time she enters, black handkerchief in hand, copiously weeping. The tiny little high-heeled shoes that costume designer Andrea Hood has provided her with, ankle straps and all, make her teeter-totter between hilarity, despair, love and high fashion.

And Nikki M. James, a past Tony winner for “Book of Mormon” is quite fine as the business-suited Viola/Cesario. She’s not Judi Dench, but she’s owns the character in her own charming, petite way.Twelfth Night Park 5

 

ONLY THREE DAYS LEFT for my GOFUND ME!!!PLEASE HELP!!!

There’s only three days left to donate to my GoFundMe page! We have not reached our goal. We are only at $535. We need to be at $1500. Thanks to all who have donated and helped. It is deeply appreciated!

https://www.gofundme.com/save-my-early-plays-amp-tv-shows

Cher Saves “Mamma Mia 2,” but It’s Hard to Resist


When Cher, yes, CHER, enters in the Final Act of “Mamma Mia 2,” she saves the film, and yes, kicks it upstairs into Gay Heaven, or at any rate, Camp Heaven with a good, swift  stilletto-heeled sureness, only a stage and screen legend like Cher could provide. Pow! All the dullness and wishy-washiness of her young co-stars vanished, and NOW we were in the midst of a glorious fun-filled summer musical romp. She was so good, I immediately re-wrote my mind’s middling review and began raving like a teenaged fan-girl. Which let’s face it, is a cheery place to be in these troubled times. I guess I ended up loving it, and wanting to see it again. No, really.
In spite of all good sense, I found myself totally abandoning myself to its epic silliness. And why not? I always loved ABBA as a guilty pleasure. Those original, now classic, tunes got me through some very dark times when I was a house-cleaner in London in the ’80s. I was trying to get my plays done and become a right, proper British actor in the grand tradition. And it was tough. But ABBA was so uplifting, it made me forget all the charring.

I was a “Super Trooper”, and now Cher is a Super Trooper, too. In fact, she climaxes this barely organized mish-mash with that song, as well as her much heralded “Fernando” duet. As she and Andy Garcia(yes, ANDY GARCIA!) tango and sing their hearts out, both Senior Citizens now, as fire-works explode behind them, like it was 1968. Or ’86. Or one of those years, or decades that Cher’s career spans and she’s still singing! She’s a goddess for the ages. And FINALLY makes up for Meryl Streep not being in this movie except as a ghost.

You see, “Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again” does not really have a center to it, until Cher appears at the end like the Deus Ex Machina that she is. “Here We Go Again” flips back and forth in time between two stories, both starring lovely young blondes, Amanda Seyfried and Downtown Abbey’s Lily James. They both have to carry half the film each.

It seems Meryl’s character has died a year before “Mamma Mia 2” starts and her cinematic daughter Sophie (Seyfried) has to carry on without her, trying to re-build her mother’s dream of a turning their Greek island into a perfect Aegean guest house. Meanwhile, the film flashes back in time to the ’70s, when Donna (Lily James) was a wild young thing cavorting all over the continent, shagging everybody in sight.

Thus explaining (or trying to) how three different men could have potentially been the father of the single Mom Meryl’s child. As played by a trio of young hunks, notably “War Horse”s Jeremy Irvine (who grows up to be Pierce Brosnan). They make the case quite clearly how and why the young Donna/Meryl couldn’t keep her hands off all of them, one after the other, in rapid succession.

I would say Josh Dylan, who is making his big screen debut here as the young yachtsman that one day would become Stellan Skarsgard, has the best chiseled bod. British actor Hugh Skinner, who plays the young Colin Firth, doesn’t really get enough foreshadowing that his character is in later life going to be gay. An interesting opportunity missed.

Though Firth does camp up a storm in his own reserved way as his grown up self, and Christine Baranski (and Julie Waters) are back supplying even more camp (as if this film needed it).Which goes to prove something I’ve always felt. There can never be too much of a muchness. Or too much camp. Camp makes you happy. And so will “Mamma Mia 2.”

And last but not least, the young British hunk of hunks Dominic Cooper is back again as Sky, Sophie (Seyfried)’s hotter than hot love interest, and absentee husband. Dominic was one of the many stars of my year’s Best Film of that year “My Week with Marilyn” playing Milton Green, Marilyn Monroe’s ex-lover and now exasperated agent. He was also one of the original “History Boys” on Broadway and in film, and has been on “The Stephen Holt Show” more times than just about any one else (in this movie).And he used to date Cher! He just told Stephen Colbert. So it must be true!

Come Ride Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Wonderful, Rousing Revival of “Carousel” on Bway!

 

“Come ride away with me! And I will take you to heights you never dreamed of! ” beckons the plaintive/beautiful “Carousel Waltz” that opens Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic “Carousel” now being magnificently revived on Broadway, directed masterfully by Jack O’Brien. It stars, as the star-crossed lovers Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow, Jessie Mueller (“Beautiful”) and Joshua Henry(“The Scottsboro Boys”).

And “Carousel” is sounding more blissfully like an opera than ever. with the largest, most opulently orchestrated orchestra (with a harp even!) I’ve ever heard on Broadway! Orchestrations by the great Jonathan Tunick and Musical Supervision by Andy Einhorn.

The legendary lyric soprano Renee Fleming is on hand, too. To make the point even more clearly that Rodgers and Hammerstein meant to break your broken heart even further with a celestial, moving “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

You can’t miss this one! All you musical  theatre romantics out there!. It will make you cry from the first chords of the wordless, long, lush overture that opens with the “Carousel Waltz ” as Santo Loquasto’s glittering cup-cake-like tiara of a shimmering crown descends to represent the top of this dizzying merry-go round, as Tony-winning choreographer, Justin Peck keeps his dancers flying, spinning through the air. You MUST ride their joyous Carousel with all these wonderful artists on it! It’s a joy ride of a revival that surprises and startles and blows you away over and over again. especially musically. Particularly if you think this is an over-familiar chestnut of a  score that has no surprises left to find. You’ll never be able to forget the sounds this magical musical makes..


As perfectly classical as this “Carousel” is in every respect, it is breaking ground thoroughly too with its casting of African-American Joshua Henry, who proves beyond a doubt that he is one of the best great baritones Broadway now has, but that also director Jack O’Brien’s color-blind casting gives this masterpiece even more depth and timeliness that it’s ever had.

Joshua Henry’s reluctant wooing of white Jessie Mueller seems a perfect match, and gives credence to the other small town New Englanders giving vent to their small-town New England prejudicial warnings to Julie Jordan(Mueller). Their constant put-downs of Billy Bigelow(Henry) now seems justified from the 19th century point of view. It reminds us that their admonishments of an inter-racial romance’s “ending will be sad” prove true  as the (spoiler alert) Second Act turns tragic.

Billy never thinks he’s good enough for Julie and events bare him out.

Joshua Henry brings down the house with a rage-full “Soliloquy,” turning it more powerfully dark than I’ve ever remembered it. When he sings he doesn’t want his unborn daughter “to be dragged up in slums with a lot of bums like me,” it is coming from a place of pain that Rodgers and Hammerstein never envisioned.

And Jessie Mueller is a revelation too, singing in a sweet coloratura soprano that we’ve never heard her use before. She’s always been a Broadway belting baby utilizing her killer voice in the lower veiled registers. She now shows that her vocal and emotional range is limitless. She also doesn’t shy away from the passion Julie is feeling that propels her to Billy. “What’s the Use of Wond’ring” which is often just a throw away, here becomes a life lesson. 

It is foreshadowing as she is joined in its sad, resigned tones as Mueller proves to be a true relation of Renee Fleming, who joins her in the song and agrees with her. And then on Billy’s horrifying death, a bloody one this time, when Fleming tells Mueller over Billy’s dying body “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” she shakes the heavens as well as the rafters with the celestial perfection of her legendarily, thrilling voice.

My only disappointment, and it was a big one, was that Tony Winner Lindsey Mendes was out the night I saw it. She was replaced by a very bland, super-white, uptight college girl, which is not what Carrie Pipperidge’s character is supposed to be at all. I disliked her so much I won’t even mention her name.

And SHE won the Tony? In THAT part? Ms. Mendes must’ve been terrific, because the massive achievements of Joshua Henry, Jessie Mueller and Renee Fleming were world-class, unforgettable.

The excited audience applauded everything. The opening carousel appearance, and stopped almost every single number with rounds of applause also, WITHIN the song. I’ve never seen anything like it.

And last but not lost, Method Actress Margaret Colin proves that tasty, tacky, businesswoman/owner of the carousel, Mrs. Mullins demands and commands every single second of her stage time. She makes one wish she had more to do and even makes you think that SHE should have had a rousing song, too. I’ve never seen a “Carousel” with such a strong Mrs.Mullins. In Ann Roth’s flouncy, bouncy costumes, Colin’s virago becomes a diva.

I could see this “Carousel” over and over and over again, and I can’t wait til the next time I do!

Happy Fourth of July!


Happy Fourth of July to all my dear readers, dear cineastes and lovers of theatre all! And now donors, too! Thank you! I’m at $575 still nowhere near the $1500 sum needed. Go to GoFundMe. com and type my name in the search box, and it all will com up. Thank you advance!

The Great Barbara Cook Passes at 89

The great, legendary chanteuse Barbara Cook has just passed at 89. The news also came yesterday that “Rhinestone Cowboy” Glen Campbell passed away the same day. And I am equally saddened to report that none of the New York Television News Programs reported on her death, while they sure reported on his. But we, her fans, and they are legion, will never forget Barbara Cook, and her lilting, great coloratura soprano. She brightened many lives…

Coming back in mid-life to a monumental career as a solo singer, Barbara Cook was a symbol of her surviving her
own demons, even her constant battles with the bottle and her weight. In mid-life, she began to live.

Originally known as the Broadway ingénue to end all ingenues in the 1950s, I did not realize for quite a while that she was that same, slim person, who  immortalized Marian in the Librarian in 1957 and won a Tony too.

The Music Man” had a huge impact on my life because it was the first Broadway show I ever saw. And I can remember every single minute of it to this day. It was branded into my mind. It was unforgettable. And Marian’s solos “Til There Was You,” “My White Knight,” “Being in Love” were just the sine qua non of romance. That’s what I thought life was going to be like.

Of course, the great lie of “The Music Man” was that love was nothing like that, but the fantasy of this romance has stayed with me forever.Barbara Cook 2

Barbara Cook’s triumphant return career symbolizes all that. She sang those signature songs in later life, and showed that her heart was broken by them too.

I saw her concertize more times than I can recall, but each performance was a jewel, and very, very touching. Coming back as she did right in the middle of the AIDS epidemic and coming to symbolize to so many who survived it, all their loved ones who were gone, was something I think she was very proud of.She became an icon to the AIDS-ravaged GLBT community.

Barbara Cook and her great beautiful all-encompassing voice and soul will be sorely missed. R.I.P. Barbara.

#Barbara Cook, #The Music Man

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