Love This Moment


Friday, June 20, 2008

New York

Hey everyone. So I just got back from New York and I thought I'd throw out a couple of reviews of the shows I saw, just so y'all can get more of a feel for what is going on right now in the theatre world. I know some of you also made it to Broadway this summer, so feel free to email me your reviews and I'll post them as well.

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (Broadway Musical Revival)
This was such a moving experience. I really felt like the performers and artists involved were communicating with us. You could tell they were very passionate about the message they were trying to send. I'll have to admit the first part was a bit slow and hard to get into, but as soon as Daniel Evans sang "Finishing the Hat," his emotional commitmet pulled me in and I never looked back. British actors Evans and Jenna Russell turned in absolutely gorgeous performances as George and Dot. Their listening and reacting were superb, and when Russell was fighting back tears during "We Do Not Belong Together" just so she could get the notes out, it was one of the most honest and real theatrical moments I've ever witnessed. In the second act, Evans pulled out an impressive American accent and characterization, and I, for the first time, felt like I understood why Sondheim wrote the second act of this show to take place 100 years after the first act. The show really made me think about why we are artists and the sacrifices we make to give something lasting to the world. Do we really understand the importance of what we do? The set design turned George's indoor studio into the creations in his mind using projections and digital animation. It was amazing. The supporting cast were all phenominal (Michael Cumpsty's 'traditional artist' Jules got me so mad I almost yelled at him during the show), but Russell and Evans were absolutely superb in what were probably the two most emotionally demanding and difficult roles I saw the whole trip. Loved it.

XANADU (New Broadway Musical)
This was definitely the goofiest show I saw. The whole play makes fun of the horrid 1980 film 'Xanadu' while also poking fun at modern-day musical theatre. Cheyenne Jackson used his vocal inflections to hilarious effect as the discouraged sidewalk artist who is inspired by an ancient Greek muse to open a roller-disco. The muse is forbidden by Zeus to fall in love, and when she does, she is banned from inspiring artists ever again, thus making 1980 the year in which "all art stopped being insightful and all musical theatre will have to draw from is old singer's radio songbooks and movies...not to mention the spectacle-centered mush that will forever be known to earthlings as Andrew Lloyd Webber." The satire was not only hilarious but a little bit thought-provoking, especially for us artists attempting to affect the world in these creativity-starved times. My favorite part, though, was an older actress named Jackie Hoffman who played one of the muse's 2 conniving older sisters. She used her face and characterization to 100% comedic effect every time she stepped on stage. I found myself just waiting for her to come back on stage. She was fabulous. Hers was probably one of my favorite comedic performances I've ever witnessed. Overall, Xanadu was very good, a lot of fun, and even a tad thought-provoking, but not my favorite show of the trip.

A CHORUS LINE (Broadway Musical Revival)
This is probably my favorite musical of all-time. I saw this revival last year when I was in New York, so this experience was a little less impactful. I must also say that the cast seemed quite low on energy and passion-less during the first part of the show. The dancing was of course phenominal and the story was still touching and thought-provoking, especially to performers and artists (hmmm...are we sensing a trend here?) Charlotte d'Ambroise as desparate dancer Cassie was underwhelming once again (I had hoped when I saw her last year, she was just having a bad night). The number "Music and the Mirror" is not a highlight of the show as it should be. Her singing and dancing were not fabulous. I was, however, moved by her acting as she tried to connect in some way to Mario Lopez's director Zach. Lopez was not giving her much to work with though. Although Lopez's dancing was surprisingly good, his acting seemed like he thought he was in an episode of "Saved by the Bell" rather than a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece of live theatre. There were some fun characterizations from Jeffrey Schecter, Jessica Lee Goldyn, James T. Lane, Heather Parcells, Katherine Tokarz, and Kevin Worley as Mike, Val, Richie, Judy, Kristine & Al (respectively). Understudy Jessica Lea Patty was disappointingly flat as Sheila, and none of the other performers seemed to really be dedicating themselves 100% to their characters. The highlight of the evening was Bryan Knowlton's delivery of Paul's famous monologue. Knowlton was extremely impressive as he seemed to emotionally connect to Paul's story in a way I've never seen done before. At the end of his piece, there didn't seem to be a dry eye in the place. Overall, I still love the show, but this time it was missing that special spark...

ALTAR BOYZ (Off-Broadway Musical)
Well, I don't think I've laughed that much in a long time. What a fun show! The show is basically a concert put on by a wannabe Christian boy-band whose mission is to lift wandering souls through their hip-hop, funk music. With songs like "Jesus Called Me On My Cell-phone" and "God Put The Rhythm In Me" the show was hilarious, but not really irreverent because of the earnestness (a word?) with which the boys performed the songs. The show even ended with a touching final number that sent a great message. Go figure. I must admit that I booked this show because I wanted to see Neil Haskell (one of my favorite dancers from last year's "So You Think You Can Dance") perform live. He was pretty good as the tough-guy band member Luke. He was a great dancer, but some of his acting was a little awkward. Ryan J. Ratliff was hilarious as the effeminate band member Mark. He had great comic timing and commitment. I also really liked understudy Joey Khoury as Jewish band member Abraham. He was surprisingly honest and real which added a great dimension to the show. The choreography was great and the show was fun to watch.

IN THE HEIGHTS (New Broadway Musical)
"HOLY CRAP!" I think I said that out loud after the cast finished their showstopping number "96,000" part-way through the first act. When the show was over, I was speechless. I was absolutely bowled over by the energy and spirit of this show. I don't know that I can say enough good things about it. The set, lighting, costumes, sound and choreography all were phenominal representations of life in a New York latin community called Washington Heights. The latin & hip-hop flavored music written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also starred in the show) has been stuck in my head ever since. I love it! I also loved the cast. Their performances were extremely personal and connected with me as if I had known these characters for a long time. Miranda was both fun and sympathetic as the central character Usnavi, and his 17 year-old cousin Sonny (played by an extremely funny and energetic Robin DeJesus) were probably my two favorite characters. Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia, and Andrea Burns and Janet Dacal as the salon ladies were also extremely believable and fun to watch. Christopher Jackson, Mandy Gonzalez and Karen Olivo (what a voice!) were also very good. The ensemble was equally energetic and pulled the show up to an awe-inspiring level. The only low spots were mother and father team Carlos Gomez and (suprisingly) Priscilla Lopez. Something just wasn't right about their emotional commitment. The plot was also a little formulaic and the script a bit cheesy, but those slight faults were easily forgiven by the end of the show. The show had everything. It even gave me some interesting things to think about as far as relationships, community, and following your dreams. Hmmm... Absolutely loved it. My favorite show of the trip.

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (Broadway Play Revival)
This was not a great experience. This was mostly the fault of the audience, however. I do not understand what was going on. The audience (who seemed to be there because of the movie-star status of the actors rather than for the theatrical value of Tennessee Williams' award-winning script) was extremely disrespectful. Extremely. It was frustrating. I almost screamed. They laughed at every inappropriate time. They thought Terrence Howard attempting to beat his wife was funny. They thought Phylicia Rashad breaking down and bawling because her husband had cancer was hilarious. They thought James Earl Jones approaching his son about rumors of his homosexuality was absolutely riotous. I am positive Tennessee Williams was crying in his grave. With that said, it was kind of hard to really grasp the issues being brought up by this production as it was difficult to hear with constant chatter and food-wrappers making noise the whole show. I felt bad for the ators, who seemed to be trying very hard to do the show justice. Anika Noni Rose was fabulous as Maggie (the "Cat" mentioned allegorically in the title) and Phylicia Rashad was extremely believable as the aging matriarch of the family. Even Terrence Howard, who started off slow and monotonous, really came into his own in the second act. I was impressed. James Earl Jones, though, was phenominal. I think everyone needs to go see Mr. Jones perform live sometime before they die. He is an absolute legend of emotional power. His performance blew me away...even though the audience didn't seem to understand a word he was saying. Debbie Allen's direction was pretty bad. Some awkward staging and weird lighting design didn't help the audience understand anything. So overall, although I was extremely frustrated at the overall experience and don't think I understood fully what the show was supposed to have communicated, I was enlightened by seeing four very talented actors share their gift with me.

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