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Posts tagged ‘Broadway’

Meryl Streep Makes the Globes Truly Golden w/Incredible Speech. “La La Land” Wins Best Direction!

meryl-streep-1Meryl Streep made one of the most incredible speeches I’ve ever heard upon winning the Cecil B. deMille Lifetime Achievement Award. I’ll never forget it. It was very political against the current incoming regime. I wanted to write it all down verbatim, but I wasn’t able to, I was experiencing it so profoundly and proudly. She ended up rhyming “heart” with “Art.” Magnificent. I’m sure it will be posted everywhere.

At the end, of course, as they cut to commercial, she got a standing ovation.

Shots of the “Moonlight” table with all grumpy faces. They won nothing so far. And now “La La Land” has already won five. And there’s still Best Actress and Best Picture to come. Best Score, Best Song, Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical, Best Screenplay and Best Director.

Damien Chazelle keeps getting younger and younger or more immature-looking/seeming as he keeps winning award after award. He just topped Meryl’s mind-blowing speech with another “La La Land” win.

#Meryl Streep

#Oscars

#Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement

# Damien Chezelle

#La La Land

 

 

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

 

 

Hysterical Comedy “Oh Hello” on Bway!

oh-hello-1

One of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen on Broadway totally surprised me with its’ non-stop hilarity. It’s “Oh Hello” and there’s only two people in it! But they are the super superb sketch comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, who appear as their 70-something alter egos Gil Faison and George St. Geegland. Whether they are a gay couple or not is open to interpretation. The show was described as “very gay” to me, and it is, and it isn’t.

This is simply the story of two old men, who have lived together for over forty years in the same rent-controlled apartment on the Upper West Side ,”the coffee breathe of New York”, they call it. And they get an eviction notice in Act One. Except there is no intermission so there is no act one.

So much for the plot.

Their apartment, their domaine, as it were is high-ceilinged and so vast that they have spent a lifetime salvaging the sets of closed shows. Main among them the hair dressing salon of “Steel Magnolias”, and the staircase from “some Au-goost Williams” play that they can’t remember the name of. There is a front stoop from “The Cosby Show” on the opposite side of the stage. “We got that oh-hello-2because they were throwing it away and nobody wanted it.” Serena Williams and Tennessee Williams were brother and sister. And so it goes…

They are united in their love of theater and theater trivia. Gil claims to be a “multi-Tony Award viewer.” And tries, still, at his advanced age to be an actor, and go out on auditions, even though he has(we find out later in the play) an incontinence problem. They also are wearing white wigs to represent hair that looks like it hasn’t been washed in decades. Nor have their clothes. They are always waxing nostalgic for “That Great Decade, the 70s,.”which everything in their apparel and their apartment dates from(great design by the great Scott Pask, costume consultant Emily Rebholz.)

George sports wide wale corduroys that look like they were once brown, but are now sort of purplish with a shine. There’s no shine on his shoes because he is wearing sandals with not-so-white socks. They both look like they need a good bath, but there is no indoor plumbing visible or referred to. You can almost smell them from the front of house.

George is still trying to get his plays done. Largely to no avail, and he wouldn’t appear so preposterous a character, if he didn’t resemble Florence Foster Jenkins’ real life husband/companion in the recent Meryl Streep movie “Florence Foster Jenkins.” That foppish St. Clair Bayfield was played by Hugh Grant in the movie. A  real-life failed 1920s actor, he married money. But George St. Geegland and St.Clair Bayfield, they are cut from the same fading  theatrical cloth.

Except that George has no money and Gil has even less. You wonder how they manage at all at their advanced ages to pay their $75 a month rent. So the eviction notice heralds disaster .But they ARE spry, and as embodied by the 30-something comic geniuses of Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, you love them to pieces.

There is not one comic beat that is missed. Their malapropisms are monumental. Broadway is pronounced “Brid-way,” a phone call is a “finn-call” and an homage is a “Home-page.” But they try and try to get into show business, still, and their constant rejection is our comic bonanza.

Their big “Brid-way”  break is just around the corner, and Nathan Lane is off-stage waiting to come on, they assure us. They have a favorite diner on the Upper West Side, but can’t remember its’ name, but they do remember that their menu has “fourteen plastic pages” and that one of the dishes is lobster.

“I was going to order that,” says Gil, “Just to see what would come out.” Mainly they venture outside to get throw aways from “Brid-way bombs. There’s so much to choose from.” The entire scrim from “Fiddler on the Roof”(which is still running BTW. How did they get it?) comes down, and they have to act through its’ gauziness towards the end of what would’ve been Act Two.

And their other culinary obsession is tuna. There seems to be Tuna everywhere on this set, but unlike Big and Little Edie Beale (of “Grey Gardens”fame), there are no visible cats. It’s like they’re the Collyer Brothers, with no piles of newspapers, but a trap-door from “The Diary of Anne Frank.”oh-hello-3

They also seem to have or have had a public access TV show called “All That Tuna.” And if this isn  ‘t enough to convince you to run right out and see it, every night, they pull an “unsuspecting” celebrity out of the audience, and make him sit down with them to a gigantic tower of tuna sandwich, delivered from the heavens with attached angel’s wings, which they assure us is from “Angels in America.”

Adam Driver (of “Star Wars:The Force Awakens”) was the celebrity guest the night I was there and I’m still shaking with laughter.  The theater was suddenly filled with screaming teenage girls in the second and  third balcony, and they wouldn’t stop shreiking as George, Gil and Adam sat down at their checkered red and white diner dining table for an interview. It got so bad, Gil just yelled at them “SHAD-DUP!” And they did.oh-hello-4Only slated at the moment to run through January, catch them now, while you can. It’s the perfect New York holiday show for misanthropes.

 

 

Wonderful, Important “Falsettos” is Back on Bway!

falsettos-1The most astonishing, important new musical on Broadway,  isn’t a new musical at all. It’s a revival of “Falsettos.” And in its execution and impact, it is absolutely overwhelming. In Act Two. In Act One, well, it left me wondering what all the fuss was about. It won Tonys back in its’ day,(1992) and the same Tony-winning team of composer William Finn and director James Lapine are both back, too. It’s cumulative effect however is devastating. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Mine among them. I could barely speak, either.

I didn’t know what was coming in Act Two, but most people know what it’s about. It is a damaged, damaging cry from the front-line of AIDS. And this revival of “Falsettos” is so fresh and new, especially in Act 2, as I’ve said, that it hits you like a ton of bricks as its’ horrible, inevitable denoument plays out.

And of course, it’s the character I loved the most, Whizzer, who gets sick and dies. He’s played by the admirable Andrew Rannells, who launched like a supernova as the lead in “Book of Mormon” six years or so ago. But here he surely has stepped into a kind of legend with this heart-wrenching portrayal, that does not once ask for self pity of any kind.

He’s starring opposite another Broadway legend of sorts of the most modern kind, the two time Tony winner, Christian Borle, who also astonishes and steps up his game big-time as Marvin.the bisexual love of Whizzer, who survives him. But suffers with his decline with an anguish and depth I didn’t think Borle was capable of. But he is and he makes you cry along with him as Whizzer slowly dies. One of their greatest love songs, “Two Unlikely Lovers.”

Their song ” What Would I Do(If I Hadn’t Met You)” is a love song that tops the show and makes you think and makes you cheer with pride, all at the same time. I wanted to give it a standing ovation, but was so emotionally devastated by its’ power and beauty, I could not stand. Just yell, hoarsely “Bravo”!

And if Mr.Rannell’s doesn’t get a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his “Everybody’s Gotta Die Sometime” as he expires…well, I don’t know what to say.

This show deserves all the accolades that will get thrown at it. Stephanie J. Block can reap a Supporting Actress nomination surely for her turn as  Trina.the ex-wife of Borle and the mother of their understandably confused child, twelve-year-old Jason( a fantastic Anthony Rosenthal. )She’s never been better than when slamming out the solo “I’m Breaking Down.” As she tries to describe the confusion a straight woman feels who is left by her husband for another man.falsettos-3

This is a limited run only through Jan. 8 however. It’s at the Walter Kerr, where “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”  ran for two and a half glorious years. And now it’s got another smash musical there “Falsettos.” I hope it runs forever.

 

#Falsettos

#Andrew Rannells

#Christian Borle

“Cafe Society” Worst Woody Allen Ever? S.O.S. Same Old Story

Kristen Stewart 1As you can see by this ultra glamourous pic above ^ of Kristen Stewart, Woody Allen has cast her against type, as a nice little goodie two-shoes,compleat with bows in her hair and ankle socks, in “Cafe Society”. Her character, Vonnie, has to appear so beautiful that the men in the movie fall madly in love with her. The men being Steve Carell as well as his nephew Jesse Eisenberg. And they’re all very good in this magnificently shot and styled paean to old Hollywood in the ’30s.

But this is perhaps the worst movie he’s ever done.It’s soooo boring. It’s that we’ve seen it all before. Over and over and over and over again. We expect more from the man who gave us “Midnight in Paris”, “Hannah and Her Sisters”, “Blue Jasmine”, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and his Oscar winner “Annie Hall.” But this is not that. Not by a long shot.

At least his other recent sub-par look at the glamourous life circa 1920 “Magic in the Moonlight” had a very strong performance by Colin Firth. And it’s always the younger woman/older man scenario, but at least focusing as much of this film on the young Jesse Eisenberg, the edge is slightly off that scenario, but only slightly. But it doesn’t last for long. Before it’s back to the Carell/Kristen plot-line. Ho-hum.Or rather ho-humbug.

Eisenberg, an actor I’ve always had trouble liking, is appealing in this, and more amourously aggressive than I can ever remember him being.

Kristen & Jesse 1

But try as they might, he, Carell and Stewart and all of the rest of this capable cast, just can’t rise above this bland, bland script.

I felt like I knew what lines the characters were going to say before they spoke them. Parker Posey, here a bubbly, throw-away blonde, is pretty much just window dressing. Corey Stoll is snidely effective as Eisenberg’s gangster brother.Blake Lively is, well, lively.

The only one who really broke through for me was Sari Lennick of the Coen Bros. “A Serious Man.” As Eisenberg’s hyserical, kvetchy sister-in-law and Stoll’s wife.

The biggest,.most consistent laughs in the film, and there are some, not much, but not enough, the most laughs come when Stoll’s character has killed some hapless or irritating sap, and throws the bodies into a ditch as a cement mixer pours cement on them in clearly a New Jersey setting.

Santa Loquasto has designed “Cafe Society” to a fare-thee-well and legendary lenser Victorio Storaro has shot it magnificently. It couldn’t look more glamourous, or be so empty. What a shame!

Do something NEW Woody!!! Surprise us!!! Don’t bore us…All our lives are too short for drivel like this.

#Woody Allen #Cafe Society #Kristen Stewart #comedy #Hollywood

Will Drama Desk Winners Repeat at the TONYs?

Jessica & Cynthia 1Will Drama Desk Winners repeat their triumphs at the TONYS? Probably. This year, especially. I think so. Above are pictured the two Best Actress winners. Jessica Lange for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and British newcomer Cynthia Erivo who is starring in “The Color People.” Lange won for Best Actress in a play and Erivo won for Best Actress in a Musical. I think these two ladies are Won and Done. At the Tonys.

Also poised to repeat at the TONYs are their two male counterparts in Drama Desk triumph Danny Burstein in “Fiddler on the Roof” and Frank Langella in the French play about an Alzheimer’s victim “The Father.”

I think all four of these powerhouse thespians can rest assured the Tony Voters will like them, really like them,too. The Tony Voters  do look increasingly to the Drama Desk winners to narrow their playing field, as it were.

This year, though, the theatrical phenom “Hamilton” is nominated for more TONYs than any other production in Broadway history. But in these four leading categories I don’t think it will register as it is likely to do in others. “Hamilton” won nearly every award in the book LAST year when it was eligible for the Drama Desks(and also the Outer Critics Circle and the Obies) because it played Off Broadway first at its’ historic run at the Public that launched it to Broadway.

And although two of its’ leading men author/actor Lin Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odon are both nominated for Best Actor in a Musical, I think they will cancel each other out, leaving the way for the popular veteran Danny Burstein to triumph for his joyous Tevye in “Fiddler.”

In other news, I think juggernaut “Hamilton” may find itself stopped at the TONYS. Although it was nominated for a historic 16 awards, I think it’s going to register much, much less than that.

The only acting award I think is a surefire win for “Hamilton” is the charming young African-American actress Renee Elise Goldsberry, who won the Drama Desk last year for Best Featured(or Supporting) Actress in a Musical.Renee Rlise Goldsberry 1

And on the Drama side, the powerful performance of veteran Jayne Howdeyshell from the Best Play Drama Desk winner “The Humans” could score in Supporting, which is where the TONYS put her and co-star Reed Birney, although they are both leads. “The Humans” also won for Best Ensemble at the Drama Desks, a special category that the DDs always give, but the TONYs do not.Jayne Houdyshell Humans 1

“Hamilton” will win Best Musical for sure. But the TONY voters are notorious for spreading the wealth around, and I think they will do that this year, too, in spite of “Hamilton” perceived dominance.

#Drama Desk Awards, # Hamilton, # Tonys, #Jessica Lange, #Cynthia Arivo, #A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, #Color Purple, #Best Actress in a Leading Role, #Danny Burstein, #Frank Langella, #Fiddler on the Roof, #The Father, #Lyn-Manuel Miranda, #Renee Elise Goldsberry,#Jayne HowdyShell #The Humans

Dreamy, Hypnotic, Superlative!Original Cast CD of “Bright Star” Is All That and More!

Bright Star 1Carmen Cusack2Four Stars!+++ This year’s Outer Critics Circle winner of Best Musical “Bright Star” now has its’ Original Cast CD available and it’s a beauty!Dreamy, hypnotic, superlative, this gem of a recording captures everything that is great and swoon-worthy about this stupendous, original show. Music and lyrics by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, who are now my favorite Bway duo. And their great leading lady, Carmen Cusack’s magnificent voice wails, swoops and soars into Bway history as she makes her astounding Bway  debut.

Country and Western, too, since “Bright Star” is first and last a bluegrass musical. I have to admit to not being a fan of this well-worn genre, but now I am! That’s how transportative the music of “Bright Star” is! And if you’re already a country and western afficionado, well, “Bright Star” will be right up your Nashville alley!

The story of a young woman in the earlier part of the last century living in the rural South and trying to find herself, and love, in a society that can only be called repressive, I am so glad to report that “Bright Star”s trills and thrills have all been carefully and lovingly recorded for posterity, and you’ll be able to listen to its’ musical joys over and over again. As I’m doing right now.

It’s the soundtrack of a life and starts with the killer “If You Knew My Story” which introduces the full throated Ms. Cusack right at the top of the show, wailing in her husky, mesmeric contralto and leaning against the porch post of her A-frame shack that’s about to spin her and us into Musical Comedy history.Bright Star 3

The level of achievement of all involved is so high, it’s breath-taking. I cried my way through the first act the last time I saw it, and I can’t help listening to Carmen Cusack’s  rueful, country wail without thinking of the tragedy that awaits her stalwart, brave character.

And did I mention that Steve Martin and Edie Brickell Bright Star 2wrote this wonderful, catchy, plaintive music that never veres far from the banjo Martin is so proud of playing at the drop of a hat. “Bright Star” justifies this mystifying transition of his. From stand up comic to great Bway composer. I want to go out and buy all their CDs  now. I’m a fan. And “Bright Star” Original Cast will make you a fan, too.

Carmen Cusack is not alone in her musical whirl. Paul Alexander Logan and A.J.Shively also shine as the young men in her life, and all sing like there’s no tomorrow.

“Way Back in the Day”, “Bright Star”, “The Sun Is Gonna Shine Again”, “I Am Blinded” and “At Last” all soar and are so darn catchy, you’ll be humming all of them in your head til the cows come home. And this is from a critic who was born and raised in the Bronx!

# Bright Star CD

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