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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

 

 

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

“Hughie” First Big Disaster of Bway Season. Not Surprised It’s Closing Early.

Hughie“Hughie” is the first big disaster of the Broadway season, closing early it will have lost its’ entire 3 million dollar investment. One wonders what they spent the money on? The set? Well the set was grand! Set and costume design by Christopher Oram, and kudos to him for one of the best, most evocative renderings of a Time Square hotel in sad, ghostly decline that I have ever seen. Oram is ably abetted in his decaying spookiness, by lighting designer Neil Austin. Can’t remember such a good use of green lighting and green neon to boot.

I wish I could say the same about actor Forest Whitaker’s embarassing, one-note performance. He wandered about the stage, and that was about all he did. Whitaker, Academy Award winner for “The Last King of Scotland,” seemingly has never appeared onstage before. And knowing that, I wondered about the wisdom, and hubris, of attacking what is basically a one-man show, as his Broadway debut.

And the one-act play of Eugene O’Neill’s is as barely there as Whitaker’s vaporous performance. O’Neill is not helping him at all and there’s no drama whatsoever. Flat, flat, flat.Erie Smith(Whittaker) is a small time gambler, down on his luck, and the late former night clerk, Hughie, was his only friend.

And poor Frank Wood, as the NEW night clerk of the decrepit hotel, is trapped there, seeming to fall visibly asleep, as he is stuck listening to Erie Smith’s(Whitaker) ENDLESS monologue of his late friend Hughie, who was the night clerk before Wood’s character got the job. I ended up feeling sorry for night clerks.

But that’s because Wood an esteemed Tony-winning stage actor is very, very good in the little he has to do. And you keep wishing the play was more about HIM. And the characters he’s seen in his life. He admits to being a lifetime night clerk. And the weariness and boredom of his job is palpable. Because he’s had to listen to one loser spilling his guts to him after another, midnight after midnight.

Basically, Erie Smith is a bore. And he bored me and obviously, he’s boring audiences, because they are not coming. And it’s closing early. That doesn’t happen much anymore on Broadway. Investors are so careful, if not parsimonious with what they sink their cash into that shows are previewed and tried out to death. Guess this one wasn’t.

It was barely an hour, but it felt like years. Stick to films, Forest. He’s a great film actor, but onstage, he’s a bore.

National Society of Film Critics Names “Spotlight” Best Film

Spotlight 4The National Society of Film Critics perhaps the most esoteric of the awards-giving critics groups have named “Spotlight” the Best Film of the Year. It also won Best Screenplay. Already way out ahead of every other film this year, “Spotlight” just solidifies its’ lead and is making this year’s Best Picture race seem more like the year “Slumdog Millionaire” trounced everything in its’ path and won every award heading up the ultimate, the Oscars.

Surprisingly, the overlooked Michael P. Jordan won Best Actor for “Creed”.Michael P. Jordon 1

It’s also interesting to note that Geza Rohrig came in second place for “The Son of Saul.” I still think he’s going to get nominated by the Academy for Best Actor. Only Leonardo Di Caprio and Eddie Redmayne are the locks in that category. Anything can happen. Especially with the critical and box-office strength “The Big Short” is showing. Although the National Society didn’t give it anything. Although it came in third for Screenplay behind the winner “Spotlight” and the stop-action animated film by Charlie Kaufman.

Best Actress went to Charlotte Rampling who really needed this boost for “45 Years.”Charlotte Rampling 1 Best Supporting Actress  Kristen Stewart for “The Clouds of Sils Maria.” Second place went to Alicia Vikander for “Ex Machina” solidifying her march to TWO possible nominations as I’ve noted in the previous post.Ex Machina 2 Supporting for “Ex Machina” sexy, manipulative robot Eva and in Lead for “The Danish Girl.” The Awards Coronation of Vikander is well underway.

And Best Supporting Actor is once again Mark Rylance for “The Bridge of Spies” for his comical/sad/shifty Russian spy, who also doubles as a painter. Rylance a four-time Tony Award winner is beginning to be the assumed front-runner for the Steven Spielberg Cold War spy thriller.

Best Director was also surprisingly Todd Haynes for “Carol.” It also won Best Cinematography for the great Ed Lachman beautiful 16 mm. lensing of this Patricia Highsmith lesbian love story.Carol 3

Live Blogging the Tonys! Tommy Tune’s Acceptance Speech! Breaking News!

Tommy Tune

BREAKING:

TOMMY TUNE’S

10th TONY ACCEPTANCE SPEECH

 

DELIVERED LIVE FROM RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL

MOMENTS AGO

AT THE 69th ANNUAL TONY AWARDS

UPON THE ACCEPTANCE OF TUNE’S

2015 LIFETIME ACHEIVEMENT AWARD

 

“Right now I’m thinking of Texas in the 50s. You see, my father’s great dream for me was the same as every Texas father’s dream for their first born son – they wanted us all to leave Texas, go to New York, and dance in the chorus of a Broadway show. And I did it and I loved every single time step. Especially tonight – this is a great honor. My father thanks you, my mother thanks you, my sister Gracey thanks you, my brother Peter also, and I want to thank each and every one of you who through the years have either attended or contributed to my Broadway offerings. They would not have worked without you. We know that Broadway has a universal mystique, and I am proud and humbled to be part of our Broadway universe. It is vast and inclusive and I believe that all of it, ALL OF IT, is simply an expression of love. What I did for love. What we do for love. On with the show.”

In a few minutes, Alan Cumming and Kristen Chenoweth will start co-hosting the Tonys. I don’t know how I feel about them, singly, or together.

 

 

Tony Predictions 2015. “American in Paris”& “Curious Case…”Will Sweep

Elephant ManMirren AudienceTony 2015And the Tony(s) will go to….Most likely,to the most liked “An American in Paris” the tony (pun intended)  re-imagining of the great Gene Kelly/Leslie Caron cinematic starrer of 1951,directed by Vincente Minnelli, it won the Best Picture Oscar & many  others and I think this million-dollar box-office bonanza for Broadway will make Tony voters vote for it. And I think it’s got legs.

It will sweep its’  Best Actor in a Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Robert Fairchild and Max Von Essen in, too. As well as Best Director of a Musical and Best Choreographer. Christopher Wheeldon has brought ballet to Broadway in a way that I can’t really remember. And Fairchild has a growing well of buzz about him. Doing the seemingly impossible and making you forget Gene Kelly in the same part, if only for a moment. When he won the Drama Desk Award earlier this week, in this same category, he thanked Gene Kelly, which I thought was a nice, classy touch.

The fact that Fairchild is a ballet dancer who has suddenly turned into a Broadway triple threat here, singing and acting, too, well, it’s catnip to the Tony voters. It doesn’t hurt that his beautiful ballerina sister Megan Fairchild is kicking up her talented heels as the leading lady Miss Turnstiles in “On the Town” a few blocks south on Broadway, too.

Broadway stalwarts Michael Cerveris in “Fun Home” and Brian D’Arcy James in “Something Rotten” will likely be seen as having other chances. And who can believe the full-throated, full-throttle D’Arcy James as an Elizabethan LOSER? But I think he’ll lose here. And I think “Something Rotten”( to the core) will be just too low-brow for the middle-brow Tony Voters. And Fairchild is the astonishment of the season.

The Drama Desk gave “Rotten” only one award for Christian Borle in Featured Actor. And he was very good, perhaps the best thing in “Rotten” as a rock-star Shakespeare. But Borle has already won a Tony (for “Peter and the Starcatcher” a few years back), leaving the excellent Frenchie, Max Von Essen, who isn’t French, to build his own Stairway to Paradise in that category.

Best Actress in a Play and Musical are slam-dunks for Dame Helen Mirren for “The Audience” and the very popular Kristen Chenoweth for over-exerting herself to the max in “On the 20th Century.”

Best Play will be British import “Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time” which will sweep all its’ many nominated categories Best Play, Best Direction of a Play. Best Lighting, Best Sound Design, Best Dog…(sorry, I REALLY didn’t like this dogs’ lunch myself. It gave me a headache. But that’s the sign of a true predictor. You can see what’s going to inevitably win and predict what you see, even if it made you feel like taking a Xanax, desperately…)

“Fun Home” may get Best Music and Best Book of a Musical for Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, respectively. “An American in Paris” is re-cycling mucho Gerswhin, so is not nominated in the Best Music category, which maintains that the music be original. And nobody liked Craig Lucas’ book for “American” and everybody likes Lisa Kron’s inventive work for “Fun Home.”

Best Revival of a Play I think will be the lush, opulent, but just right, re-interpretation of “The Elephant Man.” Now wowing the West End in London, it also featured sublime support from Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola as well as a dazzling star turn from Bradley Cooper in the title-role.It seems incredible that recent Julliard grad Alex Sharp is going to beat Superstar Bradley Cooper in the Best Actor in a Play race, but he’s won every other award in sight this season for “Curious Case…” Timing is everything on Broadway, and I think that if the sold-out hit “Elephant Man” was still running HERE, Bradley Cooper would’ve won for his tortured portrayal of John Merrick.

There seems to a groundswell that surrounds certain performers as Tony draws nigh(tomorrow night on CBS) and I feel that with Chenoweth, Sharp,  Fairchild, and Mirren.

I also feel that buzz surrounding Annaleigh Ashford for her dreadfully over-done, bad ballet dancer in “You Can’t Take It With You.” Supporting or as they like to say on Broadway Featured actor categories are always tricky to predict. But Ashford seems to have the momentum, inexplicably. to me, at least.

And Best Revival of a Musical is most likely going to be “The King and I”  at Lincoln Center. Well-done and sturdy, it lacks the two leading performances the over-rated and over-cast Kelli O’Hara and the barely understandable Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, playing the King of Siam. But everybody and everything else in it is quite well done.

This means my faves “On the Town” and “Gigi” will come away empty-handed. And so I think, will “Something Rotten” and “Hand to God.” But “Wolf Hall, Pts. 1 & 2” may land its’ solitary Tony win by gaining Henry VIII’s NathaAn American in Paris 1Wolf Hall 1niel Parker a nice, silver trophy to take back to Blighty, when the six-hour two part marathon of the season finishes its’ limited run the first week of July.

So tune in tomorrow night at 8pm to CBS to see how right or wrong I was.

Drama Desk Awards!Alex Sharp Continues to Win Best Actor in a Play!

Alex Sharp 1Young, just graduated (from Julliard), Alex Sharp thanked his SCHOOL! A first, I think at any major awards ceremony tonight, when he continues his probable march to the Tony, too, at the Drama Desk Awards. He won for playing the leading character, who is “on the spectrum” as Sharp put it, or autistic to the rest of you and me for “A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” The challenging British play won big with six awards, winning everything it was nominated for  at the Drama Desks. 24-year-old Sharp also won Best Actor in a Play from the Outer Critics’ Circle.

Considered the most prestigious of the theater awards handed out right about now, the Drama Desk Awards are voted on solely by press. It’s 125 members consider Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway equally in all categories.

Held at Town Hall, the ceremony seemed a little bit glossier than usual, though the winners took forever to get to the stage it seemed.

Both Best Actress in a Play Winner Helen Mirren(for “The Audience”) and Best Actress in a Musical Kristen Chenoweth(for “On the 20th Century” complained of the length of the ceremony, though. Dame Helen said “I’m so hungry I want to eat this!” indicating her well-deserved award and Chenoweth said “I’ve got to pee!”

“American in Paris” won four awards including Best Actor in a Musical for Robert Fairchild, who thanked “Gene Kelly, without whom none of this would be possible.” But “Hamilton” the Off Broadway sold-out sensation won seven Drama Desk Awards, making it the big winner of the night. Lin-Manuel Miranda the author/creator/star won three awards himself personally.

“Hamilton” is an Off-Broadway show, heaving to Broadway, next month. So it won’t figure in the upcoming Tony Awards which only consider theater work done on Broadway. But expect the four major acting winners, who are all in Broadway shows currently running to repeat their triumphs Sunday night at the Tonys. That would be Mirren, Chenoweth, Sharp and Fairchild.

Best Revival of a Play went to “The Elephant Man” whose entire cast is currently in Ldndon, repeating its’ success in the West End. It’s top-lined by three-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Allesandro Nivola.

Best Revival went to Lincoln Center’s “The King and I.” My personal fave “Gigi” won Best Costumes for the great Catherine Zuber.

“Something Rotten” only won one award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical Christian Borle.

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