Tuesday, October 10, 2017

No Pale Tale: Vivid Legend Comes To Life

It's been called a combination of West Side Story and Jersey Boys.
But it's more like Saturday Night Fever with a bit of Hairspray and a dash of Memphis thrown in.
It's a coming of age morality tale with a strong narrative set to music.
And on December 1, A Bronx Tale, The Musical will likely defy the odds and celebrate its first anniversary on Broadway.
Here's a show that received virtually no award nominations and only mixed reviews from the critics and yet it has survived more-nominated and more-heralded shows that opened around the same time. How and why did this happen?
Well, this is a strong, story-driven show that draws you in with a compelling central character whose drive and yearning and hardscrabble natural instincts keep you watching and cheering him on even when he makes the wrong decisions.
We never saw the movie, A Bronx Tale or the one man show performed by the tale's author Chazz Palminteri. So we knew nothing about the show going in.
And in the middle of the first act we began to wonder if the tale itself would be done in by too many wise-guy stereotypes and a bunch of caricatures instead of fully-formed personalities.
But as the story unfolded, piece by piece, complete with unexpected twists and turns, we found ourselves not just fully involved but downright seduced. A Bronx Tale really is that kind of show. Taken from the streets, it becomes real enough to be credible and aspirational enough to get you rooting for it.
Bobby Conte Thornton as Calogero, the central character.  is full of fury, anguish and raw ambition in an absolutely standout performance. As the young Calogero, Will Coombs makes a stunning Broadway debut. And Nick Cordero (as Calogero's adopted and questionable mentor) is so full of testosterone and swagger that he'll surprise you when he offers his one-time protegĂ© his final words of wisdom. Cudos also to Richard L. Blake for his poignant performance as Lorenzo; to Lucia Gianetta for her sensitive turn as Rosina and to Christianna Pitts in her memorable Broadway debut as Jane.
The songs in the show (by the prodigious Alan Menken with Glenn Slater) are alternately witty, instructive and thoughtful. These include the opening number, Belmont Avenue, the clever Nicky Machiavelli, the tender Look to Your Heart and the finale, The Choices We Make.
The three-part revolving set by Beuwulf Boritt is perfect and the costumes by the great William Ivey Long are spot on, as is the choreography by Sergio Trujillo.
The whole thing is lovingly directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zacks who have been more than faithful to this autobiographical journey created by their pal, Chazz.
A Bronx Tale is all in the family and that family includes not just the row home, the stoop, the street, the neighborhood and all of the Bronx but the yearning heart inside each and every one of us.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Yes, It's Official: Broadway Has A NEW Dolly!


Peters' costar in the role of Horace Vandergelder will be Broadway veteran Victor Garber.
Peters begins her run in “Hello, Dolly!” Jan. 20 prior to an opening night set for Feb. 22. 
Midler plays her final performance in “Dolly!” Jan. 14; there will be no performances between then and Peters’ start date.
This is an EXCELLENT choice!
Bravo to the show and its producers.

Friday, August 25, 2017

It'll Be Here Before You Know It!

See the Frozen cast together in costume for the first time!

Frozen will play its out-of-town tryout at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts August 17 – October 1, 2017. Tickets for performances in Denver are on sale now. For information on the Denver engagement visit DenverCenter.org. Tickets for Broadway performances will go on sale later this year.

Visit http://frozenthemusical.com/ for more information.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Young Talent Takes On ALL The Roles!

OK, so here's a New Jersey kid named Robbie Angarone playing eight different parts from Les Miserables.
This young man has talent and a real passion for the musical stage.
It's absolutely wonderful to see a young person who's inspired by and enthused about Broadway.
Thanks, Robbie!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

And Now, Two 'Lost Women' Find Audiences . . .

Two lost women are lighting up stages just a few blocks from one another on Broadway this summer.
Though they come from opposite sides of the world, both seem trapped and confused. Both are searching for greater freedom and greater meaning in their lives.
And both tales that form the basis for the musicals about them are swiped from the movies. One story is loosely based on history, the other is fiction. One story is set amidst the grandeur of Moscow and Paris in the early part of the 20th century. The other is more modern and is set in small town America.

Let's start with the better of the two which is the new live adaptation of the 1997 animated film, Anastasia based on the tale of the lost child (Grand Duchess Anastasia) who presumably went missing after the royal Romanov family was killed off during the Russian revolution.
The producers of this musical faced a daunting challenge as many aficionados of the animated form regard the 1997 film as the best animated movie ever made. Also, the 1956 live action film with Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner and Helen Hayes wasn't exactly chopped liver. It garnered a best actress Oscar for Ingrid Bergman and won numerous other awards.
In this Broadway version a young woman who may or may not be the last surviving child of the Russian royal family joins two con men to reunite with her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, while the villain Gleb seeks her death, hoping to complete the assassination of the royal family.
We never saw the widely-heralded animated film so we really can't make a valid comparison. The new Broadway version keeps six songs from the movie but adds 16 new pieces, making this a very musical undertaking.
About midway through the first act, however,  you may find yourself wondering why anybody thought that a musical set in Russia (and depicting the bloody revolution, no less) might be a good idea. Pretty much the whole first half of this show is very Russian, which is to say very grim, very sad, very gloomy. Communism ain't pretty, folks -- and there's just no way to make it colorful, glamorous, romantic or appealing. Still, when the would-be Anastasia (Anya/Christine Altomare) sings the beautiful and haunting In My Dreams, there's a sudden glimmer of hope amidst the grime. And the compelling Ramin Karimloo as Gleb has such stage presence and such a magnificent voice that he will captivate you as he alternately pursues and remains fascinated by Anya. Karimloo's delivery of a number simply called Still is particularly notable in the first half as is an inventive traveling sequence that moves pretty much the entire cast from Moscow to Paris.
And then as act two opens we get a rousing song about the ever-alluring city of lights. It's called Paris Holds The Key (To Your Heart) and now, everything is bright and vivid and beautiful and enchanting.
Well, it all  comes none too soon as by this point we are literally starving for some reverie. And we get it when the vivacious Caroline O'Connor arrives as Countess Lily and she literally brings down the house with Land of Yesterday and follows that with The Countess and the Common Man in which she teams up with John Bolton as Vlad. Suddenly, we're witnessing a veritable tour de force.
Anastasia runs two hours and 25 minutes and at times it can try your patience. But the performances are first-rate, much of the music is noteworthy, the sets and costumes are inventive when they're not downright lavish and, finally, there are those five magic words: saved by the second act!
Now, here's an important postscript: The mass grave near Yekaterinburg, Russia which held the remains of the Tsar, his wife, and three of their daughters was revealed in 1991, and the bodies of Alexei Nikolaevich and the remaining daughter—either Anastasia or her older sister Maria—were discovered in 2007. Anastasia's possible survival has been conclusively disproved. Forensic analysis and DNA testing confirmed that the remains are those of the imperial family, showing that all four grand duchesses were killed in 1918. Several women falsely claimed to have been Anastasia; the best known impostor is Anna Anderson. Anderson's body was cremated upon her death in 1984, but DNA testing in 1994 on available pieces of Anderson's tissue and hair showed no relation to the DNA of the Romanov family.
But, back to Broadway and . . .

On to another show . . . 
A few blocks away at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre we finally got around to seeing Waitress, the musical version of the 207 movie about Jenna, a poor white waitress and pie maker who toils away in a small southern town. Jenna is stuck in an unhappy marriage to Earl, who's a real jerk. And Jenna is hoping for a way out but she doesn't even seem to know where to begin.
Anyway, she starts squirreling away money, and hoping to win a pie-baking contest so, with the prize money, she'll have enough cash to leave Earl and start a new life elsewhere. Ya see, Earl can't seem to hold a job and he basically lives off Jenna.
But before Jenna  even begins to develop an escape plan, right from the start, she finds herself pregnant. She doesn't really want to have the baby but she won't get an abortion, either. 
It's hard to figure out how Jenna got into such a fix -- something that is never really explained. But there is ample evidence that Earl is abusive and there's the suggestion that Jenna's mother also suffered abuse at the hands of her father. Plus Earl claims that he was there for Jenna when he mother died and she had no one.
Well, there's no doubt that Jenna bakes phenomenal pies at Joe's diner. She also listens to old Joe's wisdom, tolerates her sour boss Cal and is friends with Dawn and Becky (her fellow waitresses). It's all rather dreary. But then Jenna begins an affair with the handsome new doctor in town -- her doctor, the one who will deliver her baby. As the pregnancy advances, life with Earl gets downright dangerous, a way out becomes less clear, and Jenna has to come to some sort of determination about her affair with the doctor, the pie contest, the new baby, her marriage, etc. Whew! What choices does a waitress really have, after all?
OK, so we didn't see the show with Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller who originated the role of Jenna. And we didn't see it with Sara Bareilles who stepped in to replace Mueller and who also wrote the music and lyrics. We suppose one has to account for that. But the show's current star, Betsy Wolfe came off as shrill. 
We did enjoy Drew Gehling as the doctor, Joe Tippit as Earl (a very tough role and he nails it with surprising subtlety), Larry Marshall as Joe, Caitlin Houlihan as Dawn and, in a real standout performance, Christopher Fitzgerald as Dawn's suitor, Ogie. Fitzgerald stops the show and brings things back to life more than once. Thank you kindly, sir!
Still, Waitress strikes us as a tiny little musical trying to fill a big Broadway stage. It's what they sometimes call an "intimate musical"when they don't want to offend. It's a little bit Pump Boys and Dinettes and a little bit Little Shop of Horrors and a little bit The Last Five Years that adds up to not much of anything.
There's a small band on stage and the musicians sort of interact with the players from time to time. The music sounds cheap and the songs are over amped so it all comes across as tinny. Plus, the show itself has some really raunchy moments. Not very much to like, huh?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Oh, The Icons, The Legend, The Truth - Backstage!

We recently took a tour of Broadway's most legendary watering hole and eatery, Sardi's.
Sardi's sits on 44th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue just as it's done for 90 years. This classic restaurant anchors Shubert Alley (between 44th and 45th) and welcomes you to the Great White Way as it faces the storied Schubert Theater. In fact, the Sardi's Building (which is not really owned by Sardi's) houses the offices of the Shubert Organization.
Known for the hundreds of caricatures of show-business celebrities that adorn its walls, Sardi's  has played host to all of the greats of Broadway as well as famous names of TV, radio and the movies. These include not just actors and actresses but producers, directors, composers, lyricists, playwrights, choreographers, journalists and many others.
In 1927, recalling the movie star caricatures that decorated the walls of Joe Zelli’s, a Parisian restaurant and jazz club, Vincent Sardi (Sardi's founder) decided to recreate that effect in his establishment. He hired a Russian refugee named Alex Gard born Alexis Kremkoff in Kazan, Russia) to draw Broadway celebrities. Sardi and Gard drew up a contract that stated Gard would make the caricatures in exchange for one meal per day at the restaurant. The first official caricature by Gard was of Ted Healy, the vaudevillian of Three Stooges fame. 
When Sardi’s son, Vincent Sardi, Jr. took over restaurant operations in 1947, he offered to change the terms of Gard's agreement. Gard refused and continued to draw the caricatures in exchange for meals until his death.
After Gard, John Mackey took over drawing for the restaurant but was soon replaced by Don Bevan. Bevan did the drawings until 1974 when he retired, and was replaced by Brooklyn-born Richard Baratz, a banknote and certificate engraver by profession. Baratz, who lives in Pennsylvania, continues to the present day as the Sardi's caricaturist. It's ectimated that there are more than 1,300 celebrity caricatures on display.
But here are a few facts about the restaurant and the caricatures that you may not have known:
  • Originally, the drawings were not very flattering as they were extreme exaggerations of facial types. Many of the actors depicted were not happy with their depictions. So, over time, the drawing have been softened to be more  flattering to the (often vain) celebrities that are enshrined on Sardi's walls.
  • Some of the famous are shown more than once. Since Sardi's has three floors (the main first floor, a second floor bar with tables for dining overlooking 44th St. and Shubert Alley and a fourth floor event space) there are duplicate drawings displayed to fill up all the wall space. But you have to be very perceptive to find the duplicates as they are obviously not placed near one another.
  • The drawings that you see on the walls are not the originals. The originals are kept in a safe place. The caricatures displayed are very fine copies that are really exact replicas.
  • Some drawings have been removed as the display is periodically freshened since new luminaries are added to the gallery while old stars are retired. In 1979, Vincent Sardi, Jr. donated a collection of 227 caricatures from the restaurant to the Billy Rose Theatre Collection of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
  • Not all of the caricatures are autographed. The autographing (by those depicted) started in later years when Sardi's launched dedication ceremonies as each new celebrity portrait was hung.
  • Sardi's is the birthplace of the Tony Award; after Antoinette Perry's death in 1946, her partner, theatrical producer and director, Brock Pemberton, was eating lunch at Sardi's when he came up with the idea of a theater award to be given in Perry's honor. For many years Sardi’s was the location where Tony Award nominations were announced. Vincent Sardi, Sr. received a special Tony Award in 1947, the first year of the awards, for "providing a transient home and comfort station for theatre folk at Sardi's for 20 years." In 2004, Vincent Sardi, Jr. received a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre. 
  • Sardi's is also the venue for the presentation of the Outer Critics Circle Awards, as well as many other Broadway events, press conferences, and celebrations.
  • The third floor of Sardi's houses the restaurant's executive offices. 
  • When Catherine Zeta Jones' portrait was unveiled in a celebratory event at Sardi's, her husband Michael Douglas was a deliberate no show. Douglas' reasoning? This was her moment and he wanted to do nothing to take the spotlight from his wife. Zeta Jones won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance as Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music.
  • Being caricatured at Sardi's is not merely a matter of starring in a Broadway show or being a famous person. That alone will not get you on the wall. You have to be a friend of the restaurant. In other words, you have to show up. You have to dine there.
Now, here are some photos, including a look inside Sardi's fourth floor event space, rarely seen by the common folk. We've also included some celebrity caricatures. See if you can identify each one.