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Archive for the ‘French’ Category

Rejoice! “Spamilton”s Sparklingly Funny CD Is Out! & The Show Is STILL running!

Rejoice, Musical Theater Lovers! And Haters, “Spamilton”s hilarious new CD is out! Yes! The Original cast in its’ entirety has been captured forever, affording devotees of the Maestro of Mirth Gerard Alessandrini, the ability to listen to his witticisms puncture that OTHER Maestro of the Musical Moment, Lin-Manuel Miranda & his monsterpiece “Hamilton” Things were so out of control last season that when the show opened , I mean, when “Spamilton” opened, and I saw it last fall, that other show “Hamilton”, it was literally eating Bway alive. Other shows were closing (“Shuffle Along” for one for instance) with lines of overnight campers-out literally littering W. 46th St. All hoping desperately to get a returned ticket. As is a  surprise character in the show is…but more on her later…

Things aren’t quite so desperate now. “Hello Dolly” is now the hottest ticket in town. And all of the original cast of “Hamilton” is gone off to Hollywood, or wherever, to be rich. Lin-Manuel himself is shooting “Mary Poppins” for Disney. I don’t know how that’s going to work out. Emily Blunt as Mary herself may save it.

We’ll see, Mary Dugan.

But in the meantime, if you STILL can’t get $800 tickets to “Hamilton” itself, “Spamilton” will do very nicely. And is a fraction of the price. It’s still at the snug Triad night club on W.72nd Street. And the CD is great! And even cheaper!  I can’t stop playing it! And laughing! Here’s a link to my original review from last fall.

https://stephenholtshow.wordpress.com/2016/10/24/spamilton-hilarious-brilliant-hamilton-spoof-off-broadway-at-the-triad/

It seems marvelously effusive in retrospect, but I still stand behind every superlative! And the cast has changed at the Triad. Only the wonderfully vermin-like Dan Rosales as Lin-Manuel and Chris Anthony Giles as the frustrated Leslie Odom as Aaron Burr(“I wanna be in the film, when it happens!) are still in it. But the new cast-members are just as hilariously versatile as the originals and they sing the range-y score magnificently.

Tristan J. Shuler as Daveed Diggs looks so much like the actor he replaced, I thought it was the same person! And he seems to just love rocking his jockeys off in “I Kill My Friends in My Underwear!” And Larry Owens is also a doppelgänger for his predecessor, playing Stephen Sondheim (yes, he’s in it, too) as Yoda. Sort of. And Ben Franklin. (Everybody in history is in this!)

I had the privilege of witnessing the performance of pint-sized Claudia Yanez playing ALLLLLL the females in the show, and I thought “Understudy! Uh-Oh!” But she was astounding, and fresh as a daisy. With a voice that could project all the way to Bayonne!

I’m also happy to report that the Playkill Program has been upgraded to allow me to include a strong mention that the amazingly adept and funny choreography on the dime-sized Triad stage is by Gerry McIntyre (“Thighs Up”!), and the just-right costumes are by Dustin Cross. Gina Kreiezermar is “Guest Diva”who does so well imitating Bernadette Peters, and Liza Minelli (among others) crying, disguised as a homeless woman who enters from the audience “Tickets. I need tickets! For a desperate diva!” to the music of the Beggar Woman from “Sweeney Todd.”

And I can now give fulsome credit to the zany, wonderful Glenn Bassett as the Queen of Broadway, who plays Jonathan Groff as the campy King George III to a T and remarks that his number is really the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” as he leads the audience in a rousing chorus of “Gay, gay, gay, GAY!”

Lin-Manuel himself has been to see it TWICE! And is quoted as saying,

“I laughed my brains out!”

“Bandstand” Another Great New Musical Arrives on Bway!

Broadway is just bursting with musicals as the season is quickly drawing to a close and the Drama Desk nominations have been announced (See post before this one.) And a marvelous surprise was awaiting me when I saw “Bandstand” last night. It’s one of the best! And in the year of “Natasha, Pierre…and the Great Comet”,”Come From Away” and “Hello Dolly” that is really saying something. I had heard nothing about it. Didn’t know what I was in for. But trust me. It’s a Wow! I know I just said that about “Hello Dolly,” but this is a NEW musical. Brand new, with an entirely new score set at the end of World War II, as the boys come home to…Cleveland.

I know that doesn’t sound like a great premise for a musical, but believe me, it was tremendous. Tremendously rewarding in its’ own sweet way. And it heralds the arrival of a sparkling new bunch of musical talent. Composer Richard Oberacker, who co-wrote the lyrics with Rod Taylor, has written a marvelously melodic, but also dramatic score with one terrific tune after the other.Written in what I guess you could call Swing time.

The band is made up of overseas warriors coming home to find no jobs in Cleveland.(Think “Best Years of Our Lives”) and no work.

Laura Osnes is the only previously known quantity as the leading lady. Formerly “Cinderella” herself, and of course, “Hamilton”s great Tony-winning choreographer, Andy Blackenbuehler, who here makes his stunning directorial debut and well as keeping the dancing GIs and snappy home girls as peppy as a gin fizz.

But the real find is their incredible young leading man, the charismatic Corey Cott, who opens the show and brings down the house in a wife-beater! Wailing a solo tune that bears his name “Donny Novitski.” The hairy-chested but wiry and very, very angry Cott howls up a storm about his plight and the war (and his Polish last name).

Corey Cott turns out to be the man of the hour from “Gigi”! He was the Louis Jourdan role in the delightful musical  of the classic movie, which played all too briefly last season on Bway. Coery Cott in Gigi 1

Cott’s got it all, and is allowed to show his great musical as well as emotional range here, as he returns from the war, truly scarred and troubled, whose only solace is playing his music.He convincingly morphs into ambitious band-leader D0nny Nova, who falls madly in love, natch, with the adorable Ms. Osnes. She is a local girl and a Gold Star war widow, and Danny was her late husband’s best friend. Julia, who has the unfortunate last name of Trojan. So she is Julia Trojan for most of “Bandstand”, and Osnes does her best work ever in this challenging, dramatic role, where she has to go from shy Sunday school church singer to swinging big band belter. And she does. And she’s been awarded a Drama Desk nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. This is in a year when her co-nominees are none other than Bette Midler, Patti LuPone,and Christine Ebersole. She and Cott sing their hearts out. And win ours in the process.

But I’m up in arms about the criminal overlooking of Corey Cott come awards time, which is upon us. Donny Novitsky a.k.a. Donny Nova is as equally challenging and demanding a role as Osnes’ Gloria Trojan. He should’ve been recognized. His vocal range is amazing and his sense of humor right on target. He sees Frank Sinatra as his competitor.  “He’s over-rated and he sings flat.”

I also have to say, I found “Bandstand”s book, funny and sharp, and amazingly well-written. And again it’s Oberacker and Taylor, who wrote it along with all the orginal music in the show. “Bandstand” is certainly a winner on all fronts. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. And the fact that the main music is being played onstage by “Bandstand”s centraI characters, gives the 1940’s inflected  music extra-snappy pizzazz, and oomph is another charming, jazzy plus. I hope audiences find it and embrace it the way Danny and Laura so romantically embrace each other in this tuneful war-time( and post-war) romance.
It’s at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater on W.45th Street, right in the heart of Bway. And I hope Bway audiences take it to their hearts, too.

Movies That Shouldn’t Be Made into Musicals “Ground Hog Day” & “Amelie”


If you think you’re seeing double, you’ll be seeing triple and quadruple in the current mish-mash that is passing as a hit musical from London, “Ground Hog Day.” I have to say that if you haven’t seen the 1993 Bill Murray movie set in Puxitawney, PA., you’re really out of luck. Because this musical doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.. But, so I’m told,  if you’ve seen the movie, it does. Otherwise, it’s a godawful mess. Or is it? Or is that EXACTLY what it’s supposed to be? Utterly and immensely confusing, like it’s central character, Phil, a TV weather person, played very engagingly by the swaggering Andy Karl.Ground Hog Day 3

But don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Andy Karl, having seen him long ago as one of the five “Altar Boyz” Off Broadway. He was the muscle- bound one and he continued in that vein with the tremendous performance he gave in “Rocky:The Musical” which I just loved. But audiences didn’t. I thought it was a real lollapalooza and Karl gave a knock-out performance as the iconic Rocky Balboa, made famous by Sylvester Stallone. Yes, he sang, danced AND boxed his heart out in “Rocky.”Andy Karl Rocky 1

Then he had the colossal bad luck of dislocating his ACL in previews for “Ground Hog Day,” and now has become something of a Broadway legend and also, believe it or not, a front-runner for the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, because despite performing in a black knee brace, he went on!

They should re-label “Ground Hog  Day” as “Andy Karl MUST GO ON!”

In the great theatrical tradition, nothing could stop him from giving this powerhouse, but utterly confusing performance.” Obviously in pain, he went bravely forward, over and over and over again, as the repetitious “Ground Hog Day”, a science-fiction musical if ever there was one, repeats and repeats and repeats itself. With Karl leading the charge, injured though he is, and with his knee brace clearly showing (he’s in his underwear a lot, as usual. And thank god for those terrific thighs!).

And audiences are going wild.

“Ground Hog Day” will have to run on fans of the movie, and perhaps, garbled and senseless (to me, a non-believer) as it was, that’s what audiences are craving these dark days in our country’s history. A feel-good, only partially funny, gigantic musical that makes no sense whatsoever. The world has gone mad in Puxitawney, Pa, and that’s the plot, such as it is.  Puxitawney is where the famous Puxitawney Phil, the ground hog who if he doesn’t see his shadow when he peaks of his hole in the ground means we’re getting six more weeks of winter. As far as I could tell, he didn’t see it. Thank god, it’s really now spring in NYC!

So, it’s Feb. 2nd and time and Ground Hog Day itself, keep repeating, repeating and repeating  in our beleaguered hero’s brain, while those townsfolk around him make merry and march and re-march and re-march. There is no end to those parading Pennsylvanians!

The music itself is also not much of anything. Tim Minchin who debuted so powerfully a few seasons back with the wonderful “Matilda”, here goes backward in time to really forgettable music and lyrics that seemed to be in a time-warp of their’ own, as if the magical “Matilda” had never happened.

And since this show was generated out of Australia, the small town PA. people are REALLY cartoons of what Pennsylvanians are like. Whatever they are, Pennsylvanians are not singing Australians, with bad American accents. And so the nightmarish cartoon juggernaut that is “Ground Hog Day” continues to roll over and distort and distort and re-distort everything in its’ path.

The Bill Murray movie couldn’t be this non-funny or garish. Oh, yes, and there aren’t any jokes. But there are lots of flying sets, one of which injured Andy Karl and may have won him a Tony. He deserved it for “Rocky,” but not for this mess.

And no, I’m not going to find the movie of “Ground Gog Day” and now watch it just to make sense of this gob-bil-di-gook. It would be just too painful. And I’m sure not funny, after what I’ve just been through with “Ground Hog Day:The Musical.” It’s like a night-mare you want to forget.

And “Amelie”! I hate to say anything negative about “Amelie”. It’s like kicking a kitten. I saw this French language movie, and I didn’t like it ,and can’t remember anything about it, except that Audrey Tautou is endlessly cute, and became a French icon of the ages. And I never could understand why. But there, like the Eifel Tower, she stands. Starring in French films of wildly varying quality. But an American musical?

And not casting a French girl in the lead? New York is NOT Paris, and good as she was in the original Natasha in “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet” off-Broadway in the circus tent, and Tony-nominated for “Hamilton,” as his hapless wife, Eliza, Phillipa Soo never had to utter a single word of dialogue. Both these great early successes for the now 26-year-old Soo were wordless, sung-through pop-operas and boy, can she sing!

She possesses one of the great powerhouse voices, and it’s a pleasure to listen to her over and over and over again on the CDs of “Natasha, Pierre” and “Hamilton.” But here in “Amelie:The Musical” with REAMS of trite, banalities to make cute, piquant, quixotic and adorable, she’s utterly at sea. She’s at a loss with no script OR music to bolster her as she had both so memorably in “Natasha, Pierre” and “Hamilton.” I wonder if it will even last until the Awards are handed out in June? Somehow, I doubt it. And I’m a Francophile.

Can Meryl Parlay Her Golden Globes Speech Into Oscar #4?

meryl-streep-oscarHer Unforgettable Speech at the Golden Globes last Sunday was fiery, brilliant And she reminded us all that she is the greatest there ever was and certainly deserved her Lifetime Achievement Award. I certainly agreed with every word she said, but was she doing something more? Was she going for the Gold? Was she consciously or unconsciously trying to secure her Oscar Number Four? This time it would be for “Florence Foster Jenkins” which she is currently nominated for both SAG and BAFTA?

It could happen.

She effectively upstaged every one and everything that night at the Globes and ended up on the front page of every newspaper and magazine world-wide, looking like she had just one something BIG. Like an Oscar. The nominations are going to be announced on Tuesday morning, Jan. 24, albeit in a new format. They are going to be  shown as a live feed to all and sundry, not a live announcement in front of an audience of press at 5am PST as always before. So it can be shown as part of GMAmerica. We’ll see how this gambit works out.

But Meryl will be nominated again, you can take it to the bank, for her astonishing star turn as the worst opera singer who ever lived Florence Foster Jenkins in the hilarious, touching movie of the same name.florence-foster-jenkins-2-jpg

And in a tumultuous year where she was one of the bravest possible making the political statement that she did, SAG may decide to reward her courage first, when it holds its’ ceremony this week. And that may set the stage for her to win her fourth Oscar, too, tying her with all time winner Katherine Hepburn. Although Young Emma Stone seems a slam dunk at SAG. Best Actress is the only place SAG members can vote for the” La La Land” juggernaut.

The 67 year young veteran has some stiff competition this year.Perhaps her stiffest ever, as she is looking at her 20the Oscar Nomination! 20th! That’s already a record breaking honor.meryl-streep-2

The Best Actress race is the tightest in Oscar history. We have front-runner and Golden Globe winner Emma Stone, closely followed by BFCA winner Natalie Portman as Jackie, and now French icon Isabel Huppert, who just won ANOTHER Best Actress trophy at the Palm Springs Film Festival for the French language film “Elle.” Huppert also just won the New York AND LA film critics, so she’s on a major role. Meryl could upstage them all. Once Again. The power and anger and eloquence behind her Globes speech is something SAG, then the Academy might want repeated on their stages, too. It made headlines.

Supposedly going to be the lowest rated Oscar broadcast in years, industry voters may just want La Streep to put it back on top. and needless to say, her Florence was a fine, fine award-caliber performance. She’s got stiff competition with Stone and Portman and Huppert, but they’ve got stiff competition, too. And with Taraji P. Henson’s “Hidden Figures” suddenly trouncing “Star War: Rogue Nation” at the box-office this MLK long weekend. It’s going to be quite a jam-packed category. Stay tuned.florence-foster-jenkins-3#Meryl Streep

#Oscar Number Four

#Florence Foster Jenkins

#Meryl Streep

#Hugh Grant

#Best Actress Oscar

#Acceptance Speech at Golden Globes

#Golden Globes

#Natalie Portman

#Emma Stone

#Isabelle Huppert

#La La Land

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La La Land Most Golden Globe Noms Seven!

la-la-land-8The Nomination announcement of the Golden Globe Awards always seems to me to be more important to The Race than the actual awards presentation themselves. THIS is the day when all the barriers are broken and all the gloves come off and the speculation just HAS to stop. Because well, we’re faced~ AT LAST~ with the actual participants in this Oscar saga. Or Awards saga, or what have you. NOW we know. With a historic SEVEN nominations for “La La Land” it is what has been rumored all along and I heartily concur, a great big fat solid award-winning hit!golden-globe-1

I loved it as I said the day before yesterday and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association loves it, too. And I’m so glad they did.

Sure, I feel sorry for the runner-up, the VERY deserving beautiful “Manchester by the Sea.” Of course, there’s a bias there, too. I love New England. Manchester by the Sea seems like a Cape Cod town not unlike Provincetown, with all the gay people removed. And in winter.

And yes, if that sounds depressing, it is. But it’s WONDERFULLY depressing. It’s THAT good a film. It may even be a great one, a classic. It’s GOOD depressing. It makes you think. It’s screenplay and director, both the great Kenneth Lonergan got nominated, and that’s very important.manchwarwe-by-the-sea-6

And it got nominated for Best Actor Casey Affleck, yes, him again. And Best Supporting Actress Michelle Williams, who will sadly lose in that category, if Viola Davis stays in that category.manchester-by-the-sea

Everything seems set in stone(though it’s not) once the Golden Globe nods are announced. THESE are the contenders, the people all the Oscarologists and Oscar strategists will have to bob and weave around. Yes, and SAG, too.

The Broadcast Film Critics moved their CEREMONY to last night and no one even knew it was on! So even though there was the strange upset of Emma Stone for Best Actress by Natalie Portman’s “Jackie,” it barely registered with the general public, which in this case means the Academy voters.jackie-tourBut it WAS noticeable because it was the only upset.

It will register with them the way that Isabelle Huppert’s three wins for Best Actress from the New York Film Critics, the LA Critics and the National Board of Review. As hardly a blip on the radar.

This season is going to now be all about “La La Land”s winning everything and whether or not that means Emma Stone loses to Natalie Portman. Emma will, of course, win in Best Actress Comedy or Musical and Portman will win in Best Actress Drama. Then what happens at the Oscars is anyone’s guess.

I know you’re all dying to know who actually WAS nominated for Best Actress, Drama, well, besides Portman it was Huppert, Amy Adams for “Arrival”, Jessica Chastain for “Miss Sloane” and the wonderful Ruth Negga for “Loving.” But the battle royal is shaping up between Emma Stone and Portman.

“Jackie” a film I loved personally and thought “How could the Academy deny this films’ greatness?” got only Portman as a main nominee. No screenplay. No director. No Best Picture. It WILL do much better at the Oscars. But compare the Golden Globe nods. “La La Land”s 7 to “Jackie”s 1.

Then of course, there’s the always unpredictable Supporting categories that suddenly seem to be the most predictable of all. Mahershala Ali wins for “Moonlight” and Viola Davis for “Fences.”

There was a serious lack of support for “Fences” too. Like “Jackie” it was surprisingly snubbed for Best Picture Drama, Best Director Denzel and Best Screenplay (by the late August Wilson). However, yes, Denzel did get ANOTHER Best Actor nod. But he and Viola were the only two from “Fences” which shocked me.

That will change come the Oscars, too. But it doesn’t have the myriad possibilities of nominations in the below-the-line categories that “La La Land” and also, unbelievably “Jackie” does.

And then what if the Academy decides, as it did so recently with Kate Winslet, to put Viola Davis not in Supporting, but lead for “Fences”?!?!? And why do I think they may just do that and who would get bumped out?fences-1

Taraji B. Henson already saw all the air go out of her tires this morning and only Octavia Spencer from “Hidden Figures” got in.

And it seems pre-ordained now that Mahersala and Viola will just march in lock step to the Oscars and Supporting duo winners(not from the same film) seem to keep doing. As recently as Lupita Nyongo and Jared Leto only three years ago,

If Viola had to break up the Natalie v. Emma log jam, I think she would win. Then Michelle Williams would win in Supporting for HER incredible performance in “Manchester by the Sea.”

We shall see…

For a list of the complete Golden Globe nominees go of course to http://www.awardsdaily.com

“La La Land” Sweeps Oscar Off His Feet. Emma Stone Will Win Best Actress!

la-la-land-1I must say, I resisted “La La Land” for the longest time imaginable. I, a musical comedy queen par excellence, just did not believe the hype, that this small scale musical(seems like there’s only two people in it) couldn’t with one fell swoop bring Musicals back to the movies? And go on to win Every Single Critics Best Picture Award in the book? And have a real shot at winning the Best Picture Oscar, too? And a singing and dancing Emma Stone was going to waltz her way to the Dobly Pavillion and dance off with her own Best Actress Oscar, too? Well, that’s exactly what happened. To this film with the ridiculous title. It’s winning everything.

And I finally saw it and I fell in love with it.

Hard.la-la-land-2

Starring two of the most beautiful people in the world, the aforementioned Emma Stone and the dazzlingly handsome Ryan Gosling, they not only sing their way into your heart, they dance there, too! And Ryan Gosling turns out to be an ace jazz piano player, and plays all the film’s musical numbers himself. Yes! With his own real hands! Brilliant 32- year- old director, a Hollywood wunderkind, if ever there was one. Damien Chazelle might be dancing with more than one Oscar in his hands come Awards Night.

He’s done the impossible. He’s single=handedly brought musicals back to the movies, and he did it last year, too, with the astounding debut film “Whiplash.”

la-la-land-3Which, for all its’ dramatics, was really a musical too. About Jazz, again. And both films are going to go down in Hollywood history as will Stone, Gosling, and Mandy Moore the brilliant choreographer. And yes, there is a third part in this film, too, J.T. Simmons, the sadist drum-teacher of “Whiplash,” which won him an Oscar last year. Here he’s a uber-nasty manager of the nightclub of sorts that our Hero Sebastian, (Gosling) has been reduced to playing Christmas ditties in.

“La La Land” is the perfect film. For this year. It’s total escapism, and that’s what we all need right now. It just seems impossibly wonderful and harks back to all the great Movie Musicals of the 1930 through ’50s.

Being a song and dance man myself (I’ve also written MANY musicals myself, way back when, and an opera, too), I know what Seb (as she calls Gosling) and Mia(Stone) are going through. And it’s total rejection almost all the time. That’s Show Biz. And that’s particularly LA, where I lived for one year, and wondered how the dreams were manufactured that got me there.

“La La Land” is a love poem to LA. And I have never seen it look so gorgeous. The cinematography is candy coated and Ms. Stone wears bold, single colored costumes. After a particularly brutal audition experience, she walks sadly down pinkish Hollywood streets in a royal  blue dress. She later wears a solid yellow. Redheads are NEVER supposed to wear yellow, but Stone does, and she’s forever going to be associated with the “little yellow dress” that she’s seen dancing with Gosling as he falls in love with her.la-la-land-4 la-la-land-5

Oh yes, Stone is playing the ultimate Aspiring LA Actress. She’s so frustrated, she starts writing her own play, a one woman show for herself. I can related. I’ve done that, too. And she doubles her despair by becoming a playwright/actress.

And she doesn’t understand or “get” jazz. So. of course, she’s at cross-purposes with Seb, because he’s the ultimate jazz aficionado, who wants to own his own jazz club some day. She wants to be a star. And somehow, through the magic of movies, they find each other and fall predictably in love, but not toooo predictably.la-la-land-6

“La La Land” starts with a massive traffic jam on a highway(some things never change. I hate cars. I hate smog. And I hated LA until I saw this lovely picture.) The entire stalled group of honking horns and frustrated drivers then inexplicably burst into song and dance. “Another Day of Sun,” which I found a bit much. Seb and Mia don’t sing and dance here. He honks his horn at her. She gives him the finger, and drives off. This I could relate to.la-la-land-7

But “La La Land” is a slow burn. It’s takes it’s time getting to where it wants to go, but boy, oh boy, when it gets there, it just KILLS you. I just couldn’t stop the tears. And in this last part of the movie, Emma Stone goes from being just Emma Stone, who we’ve now seen for years, the almost garden variety movie ingenue doing almost the same raspy-voiced, big-eyed schtick, suddenly transforms into the great Screen Goddess we all hoped she would be, and she turns into an actress of such unexpected depth and poignancy, as well as beauty, that glows like uranium, or more accurately Oscar gold.

She’s Hollywood’s new Princess. The envelope, please.la-la-land-8

E.T.A. “La La Land” just led the pack with SEVEN Golden Globe nominations! More on this later.

Josh Groban Makes Musical Theater History on Bway in Spectactular “Natasha, Pierre…”

Can you believe that schlump is  handsome rock star Josh Groban???

natasha-pierre-1How to describe what is certainly one of the best musical theater experiences I’ll ever have in my life? There are no words. Only superlatives, and they can’t even begin to do justice to the transformative, shocking, heart-breaking, bravura performance Josh Groban gives in the pop-opera “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comic of 1812” now on Broadway at the Imperial Theater. Former home to “Les Miserables” which ran there for decades and I’m predicting this will, too.

And win Josh Groban Best Actor in a Musical and every other Tony in the book. Move over “Hamilton” there’s a new masterpiece in town! (And it’s right next door to “Hamilton” too!)”Natasha, Pierre…” is a tiny sliver of Leo Tolstoy’s 1000 page epic Russian novel “War and Peace” and is as unlikely a musical comedy blockbuster as “Hamilton.” The War that’s “breaking out somewhere out there” is the Napoleonic War against Russia. But in Moscow, the decadent aristocracy is partying like it’s 2016.

They sing “Chandeliers and caviar! The war can’t touch us here!” But of course, it is, led by Napoleon. And  as it gets closer and closer the  aristocrats & the party crowd are becoming more and more frantic.

 

natasha-pierre-5Those who’ve been following the career of pop star Josh Groban will be stunned by the absolute 360 he’s done with “Natasha, Pierre…” which is as innovative and spectacular a musical, and risky, too, as the astounding performance Groban gives in it. You see, “Natasha, Pierre…” is not your ordinary musical comedy. It’s hardly a comedy at all, though you do feel like you’ve been in the midst of a drunken Russian party that turned into a wild, thumping troika ride.

As a handsome young man, who is now unbelievably only 35, one did wonder what Groban, a brilliant musician, lyricist and composer as well as a platinum selling recording artist with four world tours and seven albums under his belt, and millions of fans to boot. Sexy, and angelic at the same time, one wondered what he was going to do when his teenaged good looks and youth appeal began to wear off. Not that it has, but Groban was open-minded and daring enough to take on the completely incongruous and daunting role of Pierre Bezukov, Tolstoy’s depressive, over-weight, bespectacled alter-ego in “War and Peace.” It’s proving to be the role of his career.natasha-pierre-4

At first entrance, on to the stage, flanked by a blinding bank of rock star lighting (by Mimi Lien, whose contribution  is inestimable) Groban enters as Pierre with an accordion, then makes his way almost lumbering to center stage, down several stair cases (director Rachel Chavkin has carved up the Imperial into a brand-new, almost intimate cabaret-like space and puts the audience onstage, too!) and you think that middle-aged, almost-fat man CAN’T be Josh Groban, but it is! josh-groban

Heavily bearded with long-grown out, almost greasy, dark, curly locks, he looks nothing like any iteration we’ve seen of Josh Groban  before. He’s almost unrecognizable!  He’s totally transmogrified himself into this hulking Russian bear of a character, but that’s exactly what Tolstoy wrote his hero as. He’s the symbol of pre-Napoleonic Russian aristocracy.

He’s depressive. He’s unattractive and he drinks and drinks and drinks.

“I drink and read and drink and read and drink,” he sings in a confused clarion of voice that is less than happy about this inactive plight.

He’s married to a completely inappropriate wife, the witchily attractive Helene, who is referred to in the opening number simply as “Helene’s a slut.” Amber Gray plays Helene with exactly the right blend of nastiness, sexuality and charm. as she sashays  her way through the night seductively telling our heroine, the virginal Natasha (Denee Benton) that she is “Charmante, Charmante.”amber-greyHer brother, who turns out to be a dastard of the first water, Anatole, is portrayed with a devil-ish  blend of blond good looks, rock star pompadour hair, and VERY tight military pants by Lucas Steele. “Anatole’s hot” the opening chorus sings. And who are we to disagree?natasha-pierre-2He’s out to elope, or basically kidnap, Natasha. He’s already married and clearly an irresistible and untrustworthy slime-ball. Anatole’s seduction of Natasha, who thinks he’s going to marry her, forms the plot that is as wildly complicated as the novel itself. But don’t be scared of Tolstoy. You can follow him.natasha-pierre-6

 

Dave Malloy, who I saw play Pierre originally three years ago, wrote the music, lyrics and adaptation. It is all sung-through, so yes, it is indeed an opera, but it’s only a tiny sliver of Tolstoy. Volume 2, Part 5, to be exact. I saw it first in a circus tent in the Meat Packing District of the West Village, where they served a Russian meal to you while seated at cabaret tables(see above.) It was dazzling, even then.

Phillipa Soo was astounding as Natasha, and went on to become a Broadway star as Eliza Hamilton in “Hamilton.” But Denee Benton, who plays Natasha now, just glows and glows and grows on you, too, the absolute picture of willful innocence and stubbornness as she falls in love with, then insists on her ill-advised elopement with bad boy Anatole.

A core of miraculously agile, vocally and physically, actors continued with the show from the tent  they called Kazino to Broadway, including Amber Gray, Brittain Ashford and Grace McLean. In that cast I first saw, Josh Canfield of “Survivor: San Juan del Sur” fame, was equally charismatic as Anatole.

But it’s Groban that kicks this show upstairs and into theatrical history with his astonishing performance and perfect voice. To hear someone who has been called a choir boy for years with his perfect pitch and miraculous tenor, tear into the gutsy, difficult, challenging, sometimes discordant vocals of “Natasha, Pierre…” is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Drunken, depressed, over-weight, near-sighted and scruffy though his Pierre convincingly is, his golden tones ring out in the night(and twice weekly at matinees.) His respect for the other actors is evident as he also blends seamlessly into their tight ensemble.

Josh Groban, genius that he is, has perspicaciously plunged himself into the midst of an equally amazing group of fellow-artists, who are geniuses, too, in their own ways. Did I mention Mimi Lien’s lighting? She’s the recipient of a MacArthur Genius grant. So it’s official. And of course, there’s a killer solo that composer Malloy newly wrote just for Groban that they call “Dust and Ashes”, but I would call “This is how I die?” as Pierre berates himself for his intellectual inaction as “there’s a war going on out there somewhere.”

I’ve seen “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” three times now and I can’t wait to see it again!

Groban has committed an entire year to staying in this historic production and helping it thrive. It’s been making a million dollars a week.

#Josh Groban

# Broadway musicals

#Natasha, Pierre…

#Tony Awards

# Broadway

 

 

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