Broadway


Spider-Man on Broadway

The upcoming Broadway Musical - Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

When considering this new musical, which isn’t really being billed as a musical as much as a technical extravaganza with music, there seem to be two sides of the same coin.  People think it will be one of the best and most revolutionary (technically speaking) shows to hit Broadway since Phantom of the Opera OR that it will be a complete flop in every sense of the word.  My opinion?  I not-so-secretly want it to reach opening night and be the biggest mess of a show because I think the idea is kind of absurd. Regardless of my desire to see it fail (its opening date being postponed by 10 months made my inner devil smile) I’m obviously still intrigued by it, and any show opening means hundreds of people being employed, which is good.  The intrigue is step 1 to this shows financial success, something this show MUST have if it is to survive especially as it has Broadway’s most expensive budget (upwards of $48 million) and a rumored weekly running cost of well over $1 million.

A Broadway show about Spider-Man sounds like there’s no way it could be good but when Julie Taymor (the woman responsible for “The Lion King” on Broadway) is directing and the music is being done by U2‘s Bono and Edge, it appears that this show would HAVE to be good (I actually like the rock-feel the 20 or so seconds of music on the website has).  So why does Broadway need this show?  In my opinion, whether Turn Off the Dark is a good show or not won’t matter in the beginning.  Yes this show needs to play to a sold-out house at the Hilton (one of, if not the biggest house on Broadway) for over a decade to even recoup its initial investment.  And yes, the chance that all the bad press leading up to its supposed November 2010 opening may be creating an unfair negative bias against the show in the critics’ eyes and minds.  The fact remains that Spider-Man on Broadway will be the “biggest” show to ever be on Broadway and that will draw people to the Box Office.

People who can afford to do so will snap up tickets quickly to this show because they want to confirm that the show is either amazing or awful.  Even if word spreads that it is bad people will still want to know how they managed to create such an iconic comic-book universe live onstage.  Not only will NYC residents who already see theatre purchase tickets but theatre-goer naysayers will go in the hopes that it is a mess of a show and they can say “see, I told you so.”  Comic-book “nerds” will wait in line for tickets simply to see their hero fly through the theatre battling the Green Goblin.  Tourists will pay to see it based on name recognition alone and, assuming the marketing/advertising team does their job well, families, specifically men and their sons, an often forgotten and underrepresented demographic for Broadway, will flock to it simply because they will finally have a show that they can enjoy apart from The Lion King.

Whether Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark is a masterpiece or a piece of garbage remains to be seen.  My own feelings aside, its presence alone on the Great White Way will revolutionize not only how theatre-goers see theatre but also who incorporates Broadway into their entertainment psyche.  Furthermore it will change how producers and directors attack a show.  This show is clearly a risk (hopefully not a costly one) but if it does pay off I believe we will definitely see a new type of Broadway musical; a bigger type of Broadway musical especially once the economy reaches pre-crash levels and people become comfortable in spending money again.  If Spidey is successful, hopefully it will give creative teams the courage to helm shows (both adaptations and original works) that are truly dazzling and over the top while keeping the integrity of story-telling and originality.  In a few months we shall see if this absurd idea (IMO) coupled with this incredible creative team can become the greatest show to come along in many a moon… Or perhaps the Hilton will sit empty until the next revival of Ragtime

So I wasn’t going to post until I finished my Addams Family post and my blog is generally supposed to be only about entertainment (generally/only.. He writes but doesn’t know grammar, does he?) but given the location of the tonight’s Times Square Scare this warrants a post. I find it rather comical yet scary that I found more information about what was going on in Times Square from Twitter posts, Facebook comments and text messages from friends. Furthermore, some of the information I discovered from say CBS.com was incorrect.  They reported that because of the events “Broadway shows like Lion King have cancelled performances.” Now, compared to the actual event this isn’t really THAT big of a deal. I assumed this was correct since it came from, ya know CBS!!!!  But the truth is that the show started an hour late.  I was working at Come Fly Away (in the Marquis Theatre, dead center in the middle of the chaos) and we started at 8:33pm.  Yes we were late and almost half of the audience didn’t show up but we still had a show as did everyone else I’ve heard.  Shows outside of the blocked off area (i.e. Mary Poppins, Million Dollar Quartet, Everyday Rapture & Hair) started on time though.  Had I been watching the news and had a ticket to Lion King I wouldn’t go to the theatre if I was told the performance was cancelled but if I knew it was going to begin late then I would’ve still attempted to go.  The Box Offices are going to be crazy tomorrow morning!

The first bit of information came from word-of-mouth, which is to be expected.  However, there was no news on any of the mobile-friendly sites I visited (NY1.com, CBS.com, etc) until after 9pm.  Why did it take so long for the news to catch wind/post on this event? I ask as a serious question, not to be snarky…  I’m thankful that no one got injured but information is key.  Several friends said they heard explosions and saw smoke and one friend told me they saw propane tanks.  Now, I know the news clearly isn’t supposed to start a panic by reporting this and by the time you read this I’m sure Times Square will be up and running again, but if it APPEARS that a bomb-related explosion went off alongside the building I work in, I’d like to know why, what, when, where, how and I want to know it quickly!  I was not allowed out of the hotel for over an hour and I know this is going to anger me for saying this later but I spent $7.34 on a Snickers bar and a Naked Juice because that was all the Marriott had open! $3.50 for a bag of chips!! Are they cereal??!!??!!

Ahem! A man from Japan told me a few months ago that NYPD are extremely well trained. I was born here so I wouldn’t know the difference between them and any other Officers but tonight really showed how effective and efficient they are.  Blockades were up and police presence was OBVIOUS! You were NOT going where they didn’t want you to go and that made me feel safe.  At 9:20pm I saw a group of about 7 people be asked to show their tickets just to be allowed to pass through the barricades to go see Addams Family.  Its annoying in the moment to be told you can’t get food because of a situation unknown to you but it is meant to keep us safe and I appreciate it.

Soo, from what I’ve gathered from Facebook, Twitter and text messages (not from any official news site so cross-check the info) is that a small car bomb did go off and an explosion was heard and smoke was seen.  Shortly thereafter a second explosion was heard.  At this point defensive actions were put in place by the NYPD and Times Square was effectively rendered a temporary ghost town.  Apparently the bomb itself did not go off so perhaps it failed?  I’m not sure.

I say all of this to say that some people refute the usefulness of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.  Tonight, they gave me more accurate information than CBS did, who, btw, is still reporting that Lion King cancelled their show.  I do not think that the major news stations are any less valuable but I do think that sites such as Twitter can be a very valuable to them.

Who would have thought today, May 1st, probably the most gorgeous day in NYC so far this year would be marred by such a senseless act; if indeed it was a bomb, which it appears it was.  Now that I am home (the subways were running fine with extra police presence) I’m going to sit down with a bowl of pork fried rice and watch South Park’s “Medicinal Fried Chicken.” I encourage you to do the same!

The cast of American Idiot

“I want to be an American Idiot…” 

Standing Ovation

Let me begin this review by saying, yes this show is similar to Spring Awakening in a few ways.  Let me also say that I saw Spring Awakening after it won all the Tony’s (choreography, really?) and after all the hype; I was not won over. I liked Spring Awakening enough to not feel like I’d wasted money on my student rush ticket and not having seen Rent (I know, I know) I just didn’t get they hype. While I didn’t mind the whole “they’re using hand mics” thing, I felt the choreography (I love ya Dr. Jones but…) was awkward and kind of spastic. And this was during the season of Legally Blonde (jump rope choreo!!) and Mary Poppins (Step In Time… ENOUGH SAID!!).  What show am I reviewing again?  Ah yes, American Idiot, which, as I’m sure you know, opened last night at the St. James Theatre.  Being a fan of Green Day I was excited when I heard this show was happening (even more so because Rebecca Naomi Jones is a family friend).  My first trepidation came when the theatre was announced.  The St. James is a 1709 seat house that I still fear a show with such a specific audience will not be able to continuously sell out for very long, but here’s hoping they do and for years to come. 

So, this one-act new pop-punk musical (as Charles Isherwood penned it) is directed by Michael Mayer and is the stage version of Green Day’s multi-platinum 2004 album of the same title about angsty youth looking for a way out of their less than entertaining suburban surroundings.  As the curtain slowly rises an “overture” of George W. Bush quotes is heard about being with us or with the terrorists.  The youthfully exuberant cast stands silently onstage in front of a wall of newspaper clippings and TV screens which throughout the show display images pertaining to each song.  From one cast member hanging upside down from chains next to the car on the wall to the trio of best friends (John Gallagher, Jr. as Johnny, Michael Esper as Will and Stark Sands as Tunny) singing about living in suburbia and wanting to get out, the opening number (“American Idiot”) quickly informs the audience of what kind of show they are about to watch.  The rest of the story basically follows the three friends as Johnny heads to the big city, falls for a girl and drugs, loses the girl, cleans up, realizes he still isn’t happy and heads back home; Will must face fatherhood but finds his priorities aren’t where they should be and loses his girlfriend (played by Mary Faber, last seen in Avenue Q) and his child; and Tunny who decides to enlist in the army, is shipped off to Iraq, is injured and returns back home, not lauded as a hero but is reunited with Johnny. 

The original LP “American Idiot” told a story from beginning to end so the show’s book, written by Michael Mayer and Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong is not the show’s strongest point and is used rather sparingly but is effective in furthering the storyline already embedded in the songs.  The show is mostly sung through and those not familiar with the band or even the music might find the story a bit tough to follow but will probably still be able to understand the general plot.  Fans of the band will hear favorites “American Idiot”, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, “21 Guns”, and “Time of Your Life”.  The music itself has been arranged for the stage by Tony award winner Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and in many cases has only enhanced what Billie Joe and his band mates have already created.  Those of the faint of heart should be weary of sitting too close to the stage for there are points in the show when the bass becomes a little much but it all adds to the ambiance of the show. 

The choreography, by Steven Hoggett, did remind me of the choreography in Spring Awakening but here, in most cases, it blends smoothly into the characters and in several instances is poignant and telling of the emotional distress of those performing it.  The stage direction and scenic design (Christine Jones) utilizes the stage, on which the eight piece orchestra sits, in a very well thought out way, a staircase upstage left that one musician and several actors use throughout the show.  Even some of the TV screens can be removed to reveal a room or banner behind it.  A scaffold set piece transforms into a bus and is driven off stage in an almost awe-inspiring way.  Lighting, done effectively here by Kevin Adams, is not so traditional in that it is telling of the emotion on stage in a different way than normal and the projected images that appear towards the end of the show are graphic and in conjunction with the choreography bring everything to a moving breaking point. 

Now onto the performances.  John Gallagher, Jr. I’m sure feels comfortable in this show not only because he was in Spring Awakening but also because he himself is a singer/songwriter.  He not only embodies Johnny in everything he does but his choices, from his speech to his facial expressions, his body movement to the way he tugs his hair, the lyrics he sings seem to be spontaneously resounding around the house and not something he does eight times a week.  The performances for the most part are very organic, something this production depends upon, and Gallagher, Jr. does not fail to deliver.  Stark Sands (Journey’s End) as Tunny and Michael Esper (A Man for All Seasons) as Will have smaller parts but are equally as adept at delivering the necessary emotion.  Sands’ number with the Extraordinary Girl (a song called “Extraordinary Girl), who is played by incredible newcomer Christina Sajous, was my favorite number in the show, and is a hallucination Tunny has while in a hospital, the entire number being performed as a beautiful aerial ballet.  While some feel that this number comes a bit from left field and I must admit that when Sajous first begins to descend from above, I thought “oh, come on” but once the song begins you understand why it is there.  Rebecca Naomi Jones (Passing Strange) plays Whatsername, Johnny’s love interest.  Her character arc is probably the most clear of any of them and Jones pulls it off effortlessly, in both her choices and her crystal clear voice.  Tony Vincent (Rent) as St. Jimmy, Johnny’s angry manifestation, is perfect as a drug pushing manipulative Marilyn Manson esque presence.  Even the ensemble, which is made up of a varied group of performers, each bring an energy that is infectious and moving, making some wonder how they can do it eight shows a week. 

American Idiot will undoubtedly be loved by some and quickly dismissed by others.  Due to its built-in audience of the younger generations, older people may be turned off by the angst on stage and the subject matter but this show definitely delivers 95 minutes of intense and thought-provoking theatre; or at least I believe so.  Yes, the book is sparse and the characters are more archetypal rather than specific people, but they are supposed to be more representative of a larger group.  Even if you cannot personally identify yourself with any of the characters, in these times, post Bush administration (which you obviously lived through), it is hard to not know anyone who was in some way affiliated with the military, was affected by the war, or was/has a tormented youth living under their roof.  The music draws you in and if you let it, it will make you think about your surroundings, familiar and foreign, long after the house lights have come on and you’re walking down 44th street humming “Nobody likes you, everyone left you, they’re all out without you, having fun!”

The Official West Side Story 2009 Revival Title Card

The Official West Side Story 2009 Revival Title Card

“Could it be? Yes it could. Something’s comin’, something good!”

Fervent Cheer/Standing Ovation

So although it took me two weeks to finally find the time to write this rather long review of West Side Story, currently playing at the Palace Theater on 47th and Broadway, I must say that I’m glad it took me so long to get to it. As time went on there was more and more about this show that I found that I remembered and liked – something that usually does not happen. I saw it the day after it opened and the house was packed full; sold out with standing room on the Orchestra, Mezzanine AND Balcony! Phew! Also, I must premise this review with the following: this current Broadway revival is the only production of West Side Story I have ever seen. I have never seen the movie or any regional production of the show. I have seen clips of Debbie Allan in 1980 performing “America” so I went into this production with her dance ability on my mind. Now on to the review…

The “Prologue” and the “Jet Song” started off the show with some very intricate steps and great formations. There was no real Overture so we were thrown right into the show. I was really excited once the curtain rose and seeing Cody Green (Movin’ Out & Grease) as Riff lead the Jets in their dance was very intriguing to me. Though there was one ensemble guy who was a split second behind everyone else but it wasn’t too distracting. By the end of the “Jet Song” though I felt there was some spark that was missing; perhaps some innate feeling of raw passion. Yes, you call can dance… Very well… Now give me a little something more. Enter Matt Cavenaugh (Grey Gardens) as Tony singing “Something’s Coming.” Great voice. Crazy vibrato! His vibrato was out of this world and a touch distracting at first. It wasn’t that he couldn’t control his voice; that’s just how his voice is. It worked perfectly though once joined by his Maria (getting to that in a bit). Matt hit a note at the end of the song though that was just incredibly high and incredible period!

Next we meet newcomer from Argentina Josefina Scaglione as Maria and Karen Olivo (In The Heights) as Anita. Josefina seemed to understand the earnestness and innocence of Maria that I found very charming. Karen, who I LOVED in In The Heights, was very funny and found a very good balance between the humor and maturity of the character, especially since she becomes a maternal figure to Maria as the show progresses. The “Dance at the Gym” came next, probably the most recognizable scene/song aside from “America.” The Adult Male is what the character is called I suppose was a little too cheesy to my liking but luckily he wasn’t on stage for very long before the phenomenal dancing began. Joey McKneely really recreated the incredible Jerome Robbins choreography very well. The Dream Ballet, while simple was very charming and beautiful to watch.

The ever famous, and often auditioned, “Maria,” followed by “Tonight,” was very pleasant to listen to. Both Matt and Josefina have great voices, both chock full of vibrato, which apart sounds a little overkill but together is gorgeous to hear; very operatic.

NOW!!!! “America!” George Akram as Bernardo was good but it seemed to be kind of a thankless role. I didn’t really remember the character much after the show but I suppose it isn’t the largest role. Regardless, he and the other Shark males were funny in their bantering with the girls and though they delivered a lot of their lines in Spanish, the general idea wasn’t lost. Once the song started and Karen Olivo opened her mouth it was almost as if the Gods themselves descended upon the stage and were performing (overkill?). She has such an incredible voice that she really gets to showcase in this scene and coupled with her acting ability, if she doesn’t get at least the Tony nomination, I will relinquish any dream of making it on Broadway or in Hollywood! Her dancing isn’t amazing and wouldn’t be even if I didn’t have Debbie Allan on my mind, her other skills more than make up for it. That and although she is not the strongest dancer she never looks like she’s trying and never breaks character. The tempo of the song is slowed down a bit and while I wanted it to be a bit faster, I’m assuming they slowed it down for Karen’s benefit and if that was beneficial for her, than I’m all for it. It brought down the house anyway, so it achieved its purpose.

The dancing in “Cool” was nice to look at (again). The Jets can definitely dance but I found myself somewhat disinterested when the Jets were onstage and weren’t singing or dancing. Cody Green is definitely a dancer and an okay singer but not the strongest of actor. I kind of felt at some points that he had cotton in his mouth when he spoke. “One Hand, One Heart” was okay but a bit forgettable. “Tonight” (Quintet) was amazing. I love hearing the entire cast singing together like that and again Karen blew her part out of the water as did Josefina with her final note. “The Rumble” was interesting because a chain-link gate was lowered in front of the stage which I thought would create a bit of disconnect between the audience and the cast but didn’t. It actually drew me in more. By the time the curtain came down I was indeed ready for a break.

Act II opens with “Siento Hermosa” which is “I Feel Pretty” but is now entirely in Spanish, translated by the genius Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator and star of In The Heights). The feeling was there but since I didn’t understand word-for-word what was being said I felt my attention waxing and waning. I didn’t notice until after the show that the English lyrics are in the Playbill. Very smart to do this! “Somewhere” came after this but to be honest, I do not remember it at all! Sorry! Next was “Gee, Officer Krupke,” the different-sounding chipper fun song sung by the Jet guys. It’s the “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” Sondheim number from Gypsy (which I really did not like, but that’s another story) which was funny but seemed a little ill-placed. After I thought about it though, it made sense. They’re trying to deal with having witnessed death.

Now for my favorite song in the show, now also entirely in Spanish (translation in the Playbill), “Un Hombre Asi” or “A Boy Like That” and “I Have a Love.” Karen and Josefina OWN this song. Karen’s voice once again is awesome and she truly delivers the passion and anger, even fire behind Anita’s berating of Maria. The following scene, which is called the Taunt I believe, but I’ll just call it the Rape scene, brought me as close to tears as possible without actually shedding one. Karen’s ear-piercing screams as she’s being attacked by the Jet guys had the entire audience on the edge of their seats. It was so powerful that it made me want to run down the aisle to save her. Once the scene was over I felt though, God forgive me, that the scene would have been 100% instead of 95% had they tossed Anita around a bit more. Just my opinion.

The final scene: Josefina adequately shows her breakdown as she points the gun at the Jet guys as Tony dies. Her cries over his corpse were somewhat effective but not as heart-wrenching as it could have been. Curtain down on a very good revival.

Now I have spent all this time in this hella long review talking mostly about what I really enjoyed. There were some flaws, in my eyes anyway. First, the Jets were not intimidating at all. These are all supposed to be gang members but I didn’t feel they were street thugs. More lunchroom bullies but oh well. They had fast feet and suave snaps but murderers they ain’t. I didn’t feel any of them were very strong actors either, save for Curtis Holbrook who shined during “Gee, Officer Krupke.” The choreography, which is Jerome Robbins’ original choreography recreated, was executed exceptionally well by the Jets, the guys especially, and pretty well by the Shark girls. The Shark guys were good dancers but don’t have much dancing to do outside the “Dance at the Gym.” Arthur Laurents’ direction was a bit patchy but at 91 years old he did a hell of a job. Lastly, I know the quality of the production is in the show itself and not the sets or staging but the sets, the bedroom and bridal shop in particular, were so spare. The stage was bare, except for moving bodies and a bed or table and a sheet that was lowered from the flies, for most of the show. I would have liked to have seen an updated vision of the set, perhaps like In The Heights, instead, but I got over that rather quickly.

All in all I really enjoyed this production of West Side Story. I have been told that it is a very good introduction to the phenomenon that is WSS and was good enough for me to spend $90 in merchandise (the most I have spent so far at a show). I definitely recommend this show to anyone who enjoys theater. It truly is a good show and even if you see it just so that you can say you’ve seen Karen Olivo, that’s a good enough reason. While it may not be cute like Shrek, magical like Mary Poppins or funny and charming like 9 to 5, it is a classic piece revived for an audience that can and really should appreciate it what it is. Even though the material is over 40 years old, many of its themes still hold true today in so many ways. Whether you spend $26.50 for front row lottery (the stage at the Palace Theater is high so beware of these seats if you want to really appreciate the dance formations), $36.50 for standing room or $120 for center Orchestra seats, spend something, if you can, to see this show!