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Posts tagged ‘Best Choreography’

“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.

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Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway” More a Miss Than a Hit

Bullets 2Helen Sinclair

“Bullets Over Broadway” was a constantly delightful movie by Woody Allen at his comic best, back in the day. Now it’s back as a full-blown, or more aptly OVERblown Broadway musical, where the chorus comes off best.Director Susan Stroman’s epic hoofers are tapping up a storm in the Best Choreographed numbers I’ve seen in years.

You never want them to stop dancing, but unfortunately, they do.

And it comes as a shock that Allen’s delightful piece of 1920s whimsy is so paper-thin when magnified to Broadway blockbuster size. “Guys and Dolls” it’s not, though it’s mixture of thugs and chorines is oddly similar. Close but no cigar.

And it begs comparison to Stroman’s other great hit at the very same St. James Theater “The Producers.” What’s the diff? Well, it just isn’t funny.

From the minute “The Producers” curtain went up, I just couldn’t stop laughing. In “Bullets OVer Broadway” I couldn’t START laughing.

What’s wrong? Well, the characters seem paper-thin and bloodless, rather than original. And it’s not really the casts’ fault. It’s rookie Broadway book-writer Allen’s, making newbie mistakes all over the place.

First, there are no original songs, although the show cries out for them. I mean, “Yes, We Have No Bananas” as the climatic curtain finale? I mean, seriously?

Zach Braff, sings and dances surprisingly well, as the leading character, the inevitable Woody stand-in as David Shayne, a struggling schlub of a playwright who just can’t catch a break. His best number(and he has a lot of them, too much almost) is the classic “I’m Sitting On Top of the World” and it’s stirring. I thought that would be the end of the first act, but no, it’s not. Not by a long show. Er, shot.

And the tap-dancing gangters, hoofin’ their heavy hearts out to “Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” is really the high-point of the show, which comes waaay to early in the middle of a VERY long first act. Brevity is the soul of wit, Woody. But we thought you already knew that.

As you can see, the numbers seem oddly placed. ANOTHER newbie mistake.

There are some quirkily amusing burlesque-ish turns like the Atta-Girls chorus as pussy-cats shaking their blues away in “Tiger Rag,” which opens the show. And again, the hard-working male chorus disguised as hot dogs, yes, hot dogs, doing the “Hot Dog Song” to Olive Neal, here played by Helene Yorke. Yorke essays the EXTREMELY untalented, but nevertheless pushy actress wannabe/gun moll with the uber-irritating voice. Olive was one of Allen’s most endearing creations, but here she just aggravating.

In the movie, Jennifer Tilly’s rat-a-tat delivery of Olive’s sappily stupid one-liners was again delightfully brief. You couldn’t wait for her ditzy character to come brassily back on.

In the musical, you can’t wait for her to leave. I’ll never forget the jolt I felt when Olive’s fate overtakes her in the movie. In the musical, it doesn’t come quickly enough.

The same sense of too-much-of-muchness is displayed by Marin Mazzie’s waaaay over-the-top Helen Sinclair, a soused diva well-past her sell-by date. In the movie, this again smartly brief role was played with deliciously over-seasoned relish by Diane Wiest, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar, as Woody’s actresses often do. It was a peach of a part. Here she’s a over-ripe orchard.

Marin Mazzie is mugging to beat the band, and yes, she does beat them.

Sadly, in “Bullets Over Broadway” Helen Sinclair has been exploded and expanded to Best(bad) Actress in a Musical status. I like Marin Mazzie,but I always felt there was something missing. I think the word is star quality. Ethel Merman, she ain’t. She’s not even Beth Leaval in “Drowsy Chaperone,” though it’s the same part in a different show.

The word “cliche” springs to mind as we have instead the over-acting Ms. Mazzie, who belts well in “They Go Wild, Simply Wild Over Me” and then really has nowhere else to go but down. Her classic line to playwright Braff “Don’t Speak!” was a witty character trope, defining Diva Sinclair, but here is used over five or six or seven or eight times. Too much! TOO MUCH! ENOUGH ALREADY! Overkill becomes road kill very quickly on Broadway.

The criminally underused Karen Ziemba has fallen on times so hard, she, a real-life former Broadway headliner, is playing third fiddle to Olive and Helen Sinclair, and fourth fiddle to her to her dog Mr. Woofles, who yes, also does his own little doggie dance.

When she sings “It’s a New Day Coming” to open the second act, you sincerely open she’s right. But the number again disappoints, as it goes on and on and on. As Ziemba goes to the dogs, literally.

The real emerging star of the show, for me, was the singing gangster,Cheech, Nick Cordero, who has the deliciously silly “Up a Lazy River” played every time he goes to the Gowanus Canal to, er, work. And he of course, is UNDERused. As opposed to everybody else who is criminally OVERused, like Olive and Helen Sinclair and Mr. Woofles. The other OK actor who escapes unscathed here is Brooks Ashmanskas, whose overweight character grows into ponderous girth, as the show’s leading man, Warner Purcell. Ashmanskas doesn’t miss a beat, or a danish. And he and Olive are fun in “Let’s Misbehave,” as he keeps eating as she keeps seducing him.

But this is Allen’s first Broadway musical outing as a librettist, and it’s good that he’s trying to expand his horizons as a writer by doing so. The next one should be better, whatever it is. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Bobby Cannavale Trimuphs at Drama Desk Awards!

I’m very happy this morning to report that that great underestimated(but not by me) actor Bobby Cannavale won the Drama Desk Award for Best Actor in a Play for “The Motherfucker with a Hat.” It was richly deserved. Congratulations, Bobby!

And now on to the Tonys!

Also winning big was “Book of Mormon” with five wins, but none of them in the acting categories.

And now on to the Tonys!

Are the Drama Desks a bellweather for the Tonys? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

I think this does help Norbert Leo Butz who won for “Catch Me If You Can” as the beleaguered good guy FBI agent Hanratty. Tom Hanks played him in the movie. This was the only award that “Catch Me” got…

Will the Tonys follow suit? Perhaps. But the fabulous Butz already has WON a Tony and recently for “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” Do the Tony voters take that into consideration? I think they do. But this does help him.

Another head-scratcher was the lovely Laura Benanti who won in the VERY competitive Best Featured Actress in a Musical category for the long-closed “Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”

I saw it and reviewed it, not favorably. It was a mess. But Laura was very, very good as the MOST nervous of all the Nervous women. The Drama Desk notably does not care if a show is closed or not. Laura is nominated for a Tony, too. Along the Patti LuPone from “Nervous.”

The Tonys DON’T usually give one of their most-prized awards(since they are seen on National television) to a show that’s closed. And Laura has also won, and recently, for “Gypsy.”  Tammy Blanchard, who was not nominated for a Drama Desk (for “How to Succeed…”) and Nikki M. James(“Book of Mormon”) was nominated for BOTH are all competing in that red hot category.

The patchy “Anything Goes” got five Drama Desk Awards including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Choreography for director Kathleen Marshall.

More on all hoopla this later. I have to dash to the Waldorf to interview Christopher Plummer for HIS new movie “Beginners” which Focus is going to push hard for to get Plummer another nomination, and maybe his long-over due Oscar. We’ll see what category they put him in. A beautiful performance as a man coming out of the closet at 75, he could win in Supporting. We’ll see…

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