Tuesday, March 28, 2017

'Madcap,' You Say? Oh, That Would Be An Understatement!

Cole Porter and Jimmy Durante?
What could they possibly have in common?
Porter was all savoir faire while Durante was strictly hardscrabble. Cole was Indiana, Worcester and Yale while Jimmy was the lower east side, vaudeville and the school of hard knocks.
But Porter, a consummate Broadway baby, knew talent when he saw it. And, when it came to knockin 'em dead on stage comically, nobody topped Jimmy.
Of course, even a premiere tunesmith like Porter had to defer to the Schnoz when it came to putting over a song. So, when Durante took a featured role in Porter's 1930 screwball musical The New Yorkers, Durante's songs were written by Jimmy himself and performed with his irrepressible sidekicks Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson.
And Jimmy's big number, The Hot Patata still holds up quite well, thank you. How do we know? Well, because it's just been preformed on stage  by Kevin Chamberlin in homage to Durante as part of the New York City Center Encores production of The New Yorkers featuring an all-star cast and a loving recreation of some of the wildest, most effervescent moments of musical comedy you will ever see.
How clever and carefree is The New Yorkers? Well, when two lovebirds come in out of the rain he asks: "Are you wet?" And she answers: "Wet? Wet? I'm so wet if a breeze came through, I'd ripple!"
The show is full of wiseguys, winks, gangsters, soot-em-ups, molls, pratfalls and double entendres. And any attempt to figure out the plot would elicit nothing more than a robust belly laugh.
It's all been so lovingly reimagined by Encores that you'd hardly know that whole parts of The New Yorkers went missing and that researching the production took the Encores team from UCLA on one coast to Penn State on the other and lots of places in between.
And just because it's madcap doesn't mean it wasn't (or isn't) meaningful.
In fact, Porter broke new ground in this outing with his haunting Love For Sale, sung by a lady of the night and later banned on the radio. Among the other Porter gems beautifully delivered by the Encores ensemble, we enjoyed several that we had never hard before (including Where Have You Been? and The Great Indoors) as well as Let's Fly Away, I Happen To Like New York, Go Into Your Dance, Take Me Back to Manhattan and I'm Getting Myself Ready for You. Many of these songs were later covered by the king and queen of Cafe Society, Mable Mercer and Bobby Short.
Songs inserted in this new production from other Porter musicals include Night and Day, Most Gentleman Don't Like Love, You've Got That Thing and the pre-rap, patter triumph Let's Not Talk About Love, awesomely delivered by Arnie Burton. Of course, jokes and songs about alcohol, and how far people will go to get it, such as Drinking Song and Say It With Gin, reflect the musical's origin from the Prohibition period.
And the whole thing was inspired by those great Peter Arno New Yorker drawings and the magazine itself which was just beginning to emerge in the 1930s.
Are you still interested in the plot? In a nutshell: Wealthy New York socialite Alice Wentworth has a romantic interlude with Al Spanish, a nightclub owner and bootlegger. During their time together, they escape from the police and go to the bootlegging factory, among other adventures. Jimmy Deegan and his buddies Ronald and Oscar aid in their escapades, invent a new alcoholic drink, murder Feet McGeehan (several times!) and assist with the gangland wedding of Al and Alice.
And all of this provided a tear-up-the-stage excuse for the great Encores orchestra and the cast starring Tam Mutu, Scarlett Strallen and Kevin Chamberlin (directed by John Rando) to do their thing with immense affection, high spirits and kudos all around.
If you missed this Encores outing you owe it to yourself to visit City Center Encores pronto and sign up for future productions. You won't be sorry!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

It Was An Unforgettable Time For All . . .

Here's our review from The Bandstand's 2015 debut at Paper Mill Playhouse: 

Musicals about (or set in the period of) World War II?
Well, we suppose the most notable was South Pacific. The now landmark musical debuted in 1949 and vividly depicted the struggles and culture clash faced by those who fought the good fight against the Japanese in the Pacific theater.
South Pacific sort of defined the war musical, if there is such a thing. Because, honestly -- how can you really make a musical about war?
One approach is to incorporate the music of the war era. And certainly, WWII gave us plenty of great music -- music that uplifted our spirits, tugged at our heartstrings, reaffirmed and strengthened our patriotism and helped us to remain optimistic during some very dark days. That's the approach that was taken by Over Here, the Andrews Sisters musical that premiered in 1974 and helped launch the careers of John Travolta, Treat Williams, Ann Reinking and Marilu Henner. Over Here concerned the plight of those who faced the war from the homefront and worked hard to find ways to support the troops.
And then there's the recently-revived On The Town, the Comden and Green musical that tells the story of three American sailors unleashed for their 24-hour shore leave in the Big Apple where they find adventure, love, and frequent occasions to break into catch songs such as "New York, New York." It's like three WWII stories in one, all covered in the course of a single day.
Each of these musicals had their own "hook" -- their own raison d'etre: East vs. West and intolerance; the war years at home and the pathos of an ever-so-brief reprieve from the war.
But what about the real cost of WWII -- the real injuries, trauma, upheaval and nightmarish struggles faced by returning military? What about the aftermath of the war and it's impact on the lives of those who came home and on those that they returned home to? What about that?
The new musical The Bandstand, running now through November 8 at the storied Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn [NJ] asks that question and attempts to tell that story through the plight of six just-back-from-the-front WWII vets and a Gold Star widow. With dashes of irony, relived memories and even humor, we see that these vets have real problems. One is hyperactive, another is probably an alcoholic, still another is hooked on pain killers and yet another is obsessive-compulsive. But somehow they manage to come together via their love of music to form a successful band with the gal (Julia) as the lead balladeer and sometimes songwriter, collaborating with the group leader, a guy named Donny from Cleveland.
At the heart of this new outing are the show's very appealing and rapidly-rising Broadway stars, Corey Cott and Laura Osnes. Osnes gained Tony nominations for her work in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella and Bonnie and Clyde while Cott won plaudits for his recent star turn in Gigi and his stint in the long-running Newsies. When Cott and Osnes are combined with the irrepressible Tony award winner Beth Leavel (as Julia's mother) and a fine ensemble cast, we have all the makings of memorable musical magic. Osnes shines in several numbers including Love Will Come and Find Me Again and Welcome Home while Cott burnishes his leading man credentials in Donny Novitski, Right This Way and Give Me A Reason. As for Leavel she's superbly on-point with two incisive numbers, Men Never Like To Talk and Everything Happens. She's a Broadway veteran who knows how to enrich every scene she's in.
In fact, Cott, Osnes and Leveal are the best reasons for seeing this show as all three stars contribute 1000 percent plus to the effort.
And the story (with a strong second-act) is helped by some unexpected twists and turns and a surprise ending that refuses to trivialize or patronize. It helps that the show is held together by a real, plausible narrative even when it may seem to lack a bit of snap.
With music by Richard Oberacker and book and lyrics by Oberacker and Robert Taylor, The Bandstand is a daring attempt at dramatizing and musicalizing the aftermath of a big, messy deadly war without becoming dark or worse yet, moribund. The Paper Mill deserves mucho credit for mounting this show which, for the most part succeeds.
And, after all in the post-Vietnam, post-gulf war era with what we know about PTSD and other maladies of war, shouldn't we be aware enough, mature enough and concerned enough to welcome the examination of such a topic which (save for a film like The Best Years of Our Lives) hasn't really been illuminated?

Miss The Circus? Now, You Don't Have To!

The producers of the world’s biggest magic show, The Illusionists, have teamed up with the award winning puppeteers from War Horse to present a thrilling turn of the century circus spectacular. Discover this brand new stage show, CIRCUS 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus, as it sets to captivate audiences of all ages this spring! Tickets on sale bit.ly/1903TMSG

Friday, February 17, 2017

Coming: High Theatricality, 'Whimsy And Heart'

CLICK HERE for more information.

If You Haven't Yet Seen It, Here's Your Chance!

Paper Mill Playhouse (Mark S. Hoebee-Producing Artistic Director, Todd Schmidt-Managing Director), recipient of the 2016 Regional Theatre Tony® Award, is pleased to announce casting for the smash hit musical Million Dollar Quartet with book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, original concept by Mr. Mutrux, inspired by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. Directed by Tony Award nominee Hunter Foster and with music direction by James Barry, the 8-member ensemble will feature James Barry as Carl Perkins, James Loughlin as Sam Phillips, Scott Moreau as Johnny Cash, Jake Rowley as Elvis Presley, David Sonneborn as Fluke, Bligh Voth as Dyanne,Sam Weber as Brother Jay, and Nat Zegree as Jerry Lee Lewis. J.P. Morgan is the Major Sponsor ofMillion Dollar Quartet.

Performances are set to begin Wednesday, March 29, 2017, for a limited run through Sunday, April 23, 2017 at Paper Mill Playhouse (22 Brookside Drive) in Millburn, NJ. Million Dollar Quartet will be performed at Paper Mill Playhouse eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Performance schedule: Wednesday at 7:30pm, Thursday at 1:30pm and 7:30pm, Friday at 8:00pm, Saturday at 1:30pm and 8:00pm and Sunday at 1:30pm and 7:00pm. Tickets are on sale now starting at $32. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973.376.4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at www.PaperMill.org. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Groups of 10 or more can receive up to a 40% discount on tickets and should call 973.315.1680. Students may order $20 rush tickets over the phone or in person at the Paper Mill Playhouse box office on the day of the performance. Paper Mill Playhouse's 2016-2017 season is proudly sponsored by Investors Bank.

The smash-hit musical inspired by the famed recording session that brought together rock ’n’ roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins for the first and only time. On December 4, 1956, these four musicians gathered at Sun Records in Memphis for what would be one of the greatest jam sessions ever. Featuring a score of hits including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Walk the Line,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and more, this thrilling musical brings you inside the recording studio for one unforgettable night.

Original scenic design is by Derek McLane with additional design by Kelly James Tighe, original costume design by Molly Walz with additional design by China Lee, lighting design by Ryan O’Gara, sound design by Randy Hansen and hair & wig design by Leah Loukas. The production stage manager is Frank Lombardi.

James Barry (Carl Perkins/Music Director) returns to Paper Mill, where he appeared in last season’s Pump Boys and Dinettes. No stranger to Million Dollar Quartet, James played Carl Perkins for two years of the first national tour and has been privileged to reprise the role and provide musical direction at several theaters all over the country. Other credits include Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Public and Broadway), These Paper Bullets (Yale Rep, Geffen, Atlantic), as well as work with Berkshire Theatre Group, Chester Theatre Company, Irish Rep, Arden, and many more. James is a New Neighborhood company member. He was in an episode of Difficult People. He made a record of original rock music called Embrace Yourself Tonight, which is available on iTunes, Spotify, and on pink vinyl through Etsy.

Jason Loughlin (Sam Phillips) is making his Paper Mill debut with Million Dollar Quartet. A native of North Carolina, Jason has a BA in Theatre from UNC–Charlotte. Recent credits include Machinal and The Audience on Broadway; War Horse (first national tour); and favorite roles as Elyot in Private Lives(Riverside Theatre), Beau in Sandy Rustin-Fleischer’s The Cottage (APAC), and Berowne in Love’s Labour’s Lost (Boomerang).

Scott Moreau (Johnny Cash). Paper Mill debut. Scott is from Litchfield, Maine, and has a BFA in Musical Theatre from Illinois Wesleyan University. He is pleased to reprise his role from the first national tour, Harrah’s Las Vegas, and the regional premiere at the Ogunquit Playhouse. Selected credits: Johnny Guitar: The Musical (Johnny, Cortland Rep), Ragtime (Willy Conklin, Seaside Music Theatre), Mary Poppins (Mr. Banks, Springer Opera House), HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. His Johnny Cash tribute album was recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis.

Jake Rowley (Elvis Presley) is an actor, musician, singer and songwriter from Nederland, Texas. At just 19 years old, Jake was chosen for a role that he was born to play, that of a young Elvis Presley in the national tour of Million Dollar Quartet. Jake exudes the same raw passion and energy in every performance that drove Elvis himself to the top. The press has even nicknamed Jake "the new Teen King."

David Sonneborn (Fluke). Cincinnati native, longtime NYC musician, and veteran of the Million Dollar Quartet national tour, David currently plays drums or bass in Western Caravan, The San AnTones, Gunsmoke, The Mary Lamount Band, and Teri Joyce and the Tag-alongs. NYMF: God’s Country. Toured nationally in Always,… Patsy Cline.

Bligh Voth (Dyanne). Paper Mill debut. Bligh recently played Dyanne in Million Dollar Quartet at Ogunquit Playhouse, Gateway Playhouse, and on Norwegian Cruise Line. NYC: Readings and workshops at Atlantic Theater Company, Musical Theatre Factory, and Primary Stages. Regional: Signature Theatre: Gone Country, Signature Sings (2005–2009), Ladies Choice; Ford’s Theatre: The Civil War, A Christmas Carol,Parade; Washington Stage Guild: Red Herring; Studio Theatre: Jerry Springer: The Opera, Reefer Madness; Kennedy Center: Blonde Ambish; Totem Pole Playhouse: Steel Magnolias; Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma: Big River. Education: The Boston Conservatory. Bligh hosts the blog/podcast Avocados Are for Rich People.

Sam Weber (Brother Jay) was seen at Paper Mill Playhouse last season in Pump Boys and Dinettes. During that show, his beautiful daughter was born between the closing matinee and final performance! National Tour: Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (Joe B.). Regional favorites: Pump Boys (Eddie, Paper Mill), Buddy(Joe B., Muny, Gateway, MSMT, Casa Mañana, Ogunquit), Million Dollar Quartet (Brother Jay, Ogunquit, Gateway).

Nat Zegree (Jerry Lee Lewis) was nominated for two BroadwayWorld Awards for his performance as Jerry Lee Lewis in the Ogunquit Playhouse production of Million Dollar Quartet, directed by Hunter Foster, for Best Lead Actor and Best Vocal Performance. Other credits include Dear Evan Hansen at the Arena Stage in Washington DC, he originated the role of Ted in Carner and Gregor's new musical, Island Song, and the role of Truman Burbank in Alex Gemignani's musical adaptation of The Truman Show. He released his debut album, Imagine This Season in January 2016.

Hunter Foster (Director) is an artistic associate at the Bucks County Playhouse, where he has directedCompany, Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Buddy Holly Story, National Pastime, The Rocky Horror Show, Summer of ’42, and It’s a Wonderful Life, and later this spring will direct a new musical adaptation of the movie Clue. He also has directed at Cape Playhouse, North Carolina Theatre, and Casa Mañana, as well as Million Dollar Quartet for Ogunquit, Gateway, St. Louis Rep, and Westchester Broadway. He wrote the books to the musicals Jasper in Deadland, Summer of ’42, Clyde and Bonnie: A Folktale, and more. Hunter’s Broadway acting credits include The Bridges of Madison County, Hands on a Hardbody, Million Dollar Quartet (as Sam Phillips), Little Shop of Horrors (Tony nomination), Urinetown, and Footloose, among others, and he appeared at Paper Mill in Children of Eden.

Derek McLane (Original Scenic Design). Selected Broadway credits: The Price, Noises Off, Gigi, Living on Love, Beautiful, Follies, Anything Goes, How to Succeed…, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Million Dollar Quartet, Ragtime, 33 Variations, The Threepenny Opera, I Am My Own Wife, Present Laughter. Paper Mill: Ever After. TV: Live broadcasts of The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, The Wiz, and Hairspray, and the Academy Awards (2013–2017). Opera and theater designs in around the globe. Winner of Tony, Emmy, Drama Desk, Hewes, Lortel, Obie awards, and others.

Molly Walz (Original Costume Design) is a New York–based costume designer who hails from Ohio with a degree from Kent State University. Her designs have been seen at Barrington Stage Company, Ogunquit Playhouse, and Orlando Shakespeare Theater, among others.

Randy Hansen (Sound Design). Over a wonderful career, Randy has designed sound for more than 130 musicals and 40 plays. Many memorable moments include working with the opera star Jessye Norman, the Indianapolis and Baltimore Symphony Orchestras, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Having just finished opening a national tour of The Little Mermaid that will tour throughout 2017, he is thrilled to be back at Paper Mill for Million Dollar Quartet. In New York City he was the president of Audible Difference, Inc., a sound design company that over the past 30 years has served the fashion industry in New York and Paris.

Telsey + Company (Casting). Broadway/Tours: Anastasia; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Hello, Dolly!; War Paint; Present Laughter; Come from Away; Paramour; Waitress; On Your Feet!; Hamilton;Kinky Boots; Wicked; Something Rotten!; The King and I; An American in Paris; The Sound of Music. Off Broadway: Atlantic, Classic Stage Company, Labyrinth, MCC, Second Stage, Signature. Regional: A.R.T., La Jolla, McCarter, New York Stage and Film, Williamstown. Film: Miss Sloane, Into the Woods, Margin Call, Rachel Getting Married, Across the Universe, Camp, Pieces of April. TV: One Day at a Time, Time After Time, Hairspray Live!, Conviction, This Is Us, Grease: Live, The Wiz Live!, Flesh and Bone, Masters of Sex, Smash, The Big C, commercials.

Paper Mill Playhouse, a leader in accessibility, will offer audio-described performances for Million Dollar Quartet on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at 1:30pm and Sunday, April 23, 2017 at 1:30pm. Prior to these performances at noon, the theater will offer free sensory seminars. Sensory seminars offer an opportunity for patrons with vision loss to hear a live, in-depth description of the production elements of the show and hands-on interaction with key sets, props, and costumes. There will be a sign-interpreted and open-captioned performance on Sunday, April 23, 2017 at 7:00 pm.

Free Audience Enrichment Activities for Million Dollar Quartet

Conversation Club: Join us Thursday evenings, March 30, April 6, 13, or 20, one hour before curtain for an informal, informative gathering. You'll learn more about the performance you're about to see and perhaps catch a glimpse of the stage being set.

The Director's Viewpoint: One hour before curtain on Wednesday, March 29, we host a pre-show discussion in the Renee Foosaner Art Gallery.

Q&A with the Cast: After the matinee on Saturday, April 22, stick around for a lively Q&A with cast members directly following the performance.

PAPER MILL PLAYHOUSE, a not-for-profit arts organization under the direction of Mark S. Hoebee (Producing Artistic Director) and Todd Schmidt (Managing Director) and recipient of the 2016 Regional Theatre Tony Award, is one of the country's leading regional theaters. Paper Mill Playhouse programs are made possible, in part, by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Paper Mill Playhouse is a member of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, the Council of Stock Theatres, and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.

For additional information, please visit www.papermill.org.