Friday, March 27, 2015

Saying Goodbye To Winter In Manhattan

Is there anything more invigorating than a couple of days in Manhattan?
Yes, a couple of days to enjoy fine lodging, the arts, culture, music, people-watching and dining. And is there anything better (or more liberating) than the joy of exploring it all on foot amidst sun and blue skies?
OK, so it was a bit chilly at times but like the New Yorkers all around us we just bundled up a bit and walked a bit faster. Walking down Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue from the upper east side to midtown, the sun bathed everyone at an angle that proclaimed: "Take heart, spring will be here before you know it." And indeed, we're getting more and more daylight as the days go on.
Anyway, here are some photos that chronicle our welcome to February in the world's most exciting city:

Our midtown home-away-from home: The beautifully restored (and upgraded) lobby and Round Table Restaurant at the legendary Algonquin on 44th St. Steps from Broadway, Fifth Avenue and the city's most popular attractions, this storied hotel is now part of the Autograph Collection of esteemed addresses.

Lunch at SnAKS on the 5th floor at Saks Fifth Avenue.  We enjoyed the trio beef sliders and the chopped salad. Delightful!

The lights on the bare trees on Sixth Avenue near Fox News headquarters and a gayly decorated store window as Valentine on the upper east side.

Dinner at one of our favorite spots, Redeye Grill on 7th Avenue at 55th. One of the greatest seafood eateries we know: The spectacular lump crabcake on a bed of spinach with three glorious premium shrimp and the luscious grilled plump scallops. We added a side of rice pilaf -- seasoned brown rice with crunch nuts. Extraordinary!

Then it was off to City Center, a spectacular attraction that recently underwent a $56 million  redo and update. Here we saw a delightful revival of the 1959 musical FIORELLO! chronicling Fiorello LaGuardia's rise to power from 1912 to 1933 when he became Mayor of New York.

The next day was spent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art enjoying  the treasures of  this most-visited gem including the new Matisse exhibition, a display of Faberge eggs and other creations, manipulated photography in the digital age and the irresistible Sleeping Eros (above) from the Third Century, BC. 

BTW: Lest you think dining or lodging at The Algonquin is cost-prohibitive, think again. Look at the special menu (now in effect) above. The dining room also features a special Valentine's menu,

Review: 'Little Me' Evokes Comedy's Golden Age

When did comedy become mean and petty?
You know what we're talking about.
What passes for comedy today is ruthless, crude and relentlessly profane. And it's all laced in brutal cynicism. It's all so smug and dismissive that they had to coin new words (or resurrect old ones) to describe it. They call it smarmy or snarky. But in fact much of it is just plain smutty.
Bottom line: It's so predictable, so unimaginative, so presumptuous that it ain't one bit funny.
That's why there's really no original musical comedy on Broadway anymore.
Well, thank goodness for faithful revivals. And thanks to Neil Simon and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh who took a witty book by Patrick Dennis and in 1962 turned it into the madcap Broadway musical Little Me starring Sid Caesar, Virginia Martin, Nancy Andrews and Swen Swenson.
Little Me was fashioned for the extraordinary talents of Sid Ceasar -- a Borscht Belt veteran, saxophonist, world-class double talker and comedy king of prime time TV in the 1950s and early 60s.
Caesar was the master of live sketch comedy -- quick vignettes that often featured pratfalls, sight gags, wisecracks, satirical takes, fast talking characters and even pantomime. With a small reparatory company of performers and a first-rate team of writers Caesar triumphed over anyone and everyone in his path.
He was a veritable force of nature.
But he could also be inattentive (perhaps ADHD) and rambunctious (maybe bipolar).
So, Little Me was constructed as a series of sketches built around comedy and music with Caesar playing seven roles with multiple stage accents and frequent costume changes as he depicted all of the heroine's husbands and lovers. In short, the show was segmented into chapters depicting memorable events in the life of the fictional "great star of stage, screen and television, Belle Poitrine."
We saw the original Little Me in tryout in Philadelphia and we can tell you that Broadway has never seen anything like Sid Caesar before or since. He was nothing less than incredible as Noble Eggleston, Pinchley, Val Du Val, Fred Poitrine, Otto, Prince and Noble, Jr.
Though Little Me has been revived twice on Broadway, its revival runs were both relatively brief and we never saw it again -- until about a year ago.
That's when we headed up to Manhattan for the very limited run of the deluxe concert version of the show presented as part of City Center's wonderful Encore! series.
Little Me is as zany, outrageous and laugh-out-loud funny as any musical comedy you will ever see. Fast-paced scenes are paired with tuneful music, Bob Fosse choreography and witty lyrics and dialogue  and the show at City Center remained fresh and hugely entertaining with stars Christian Borle, Judy Kaye, Rachel York, Harriet Harris, Tony Yazbeck, Lewis J. Stadlen, Robert Creighton, Lee Wilkof and David Garrison. Borle was indefatigable in the role originated by Caesar and he led a wonderfully talented cast.
And oh, those songs! One great number follows another: The Other Side of The Tracks, Be A Performer!, Real Live Girl, I've Got Your Number, Little Me and Here's to Us. Plus, The Rich Kids Rag is one of the most inventive dance pieces ever conjured up by the great Bob Fosse.
Little Me is a smart, silly, sendup of every endlessly huckstered, ego-centered, selectively recalled celebrity memoir you've ever read.
But, here's the thing: It's not mean. It's not crude. And it's not always predictable. Even when it's poking fun at some trend or fashion or group, it's still affectionate. And even when it's making up names and places (like Belle Poitrine and Venezuela, Illinois) it delivers a double or triple laugh if you catch the  finer details. And just when you think you know what's going to happen next, it surprises you.
This is original comedy delivered with style, class and wit.
Thank goodness it's still being produced and there's still an audience for it.
And let's hope we don't have to wait another 50 years to experience it again.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Has The World Caught Up To Sondheim, Finally?

We've always wondered when the world would catch up to Stephen Sondheim.
We wondered in 1970 when we sat breathlessly as we watched Sondheim's landmark musical Company on Broadway. Some called it the first "concept musical," which it was. But others saw it as a fractured précis on marriage and many were turned off by it.
We wondered again in 1971 when his grand opus, Follies dazzled Broadway but still only succeeded in achieving cult status.
Things looked better when A Little Night Music arrived in 1973. The musical that gave the world Send In The Clowns proved to be a solid crowd pleaser but a later movie version of this hit failed miserably.
The same thing happened again in 1979 with Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, a grisly tale of revenge and murder. It ran for more than a year on Broadway but the 2007 film adaptation was no great shakes at the box office.
Sondheim's work has been called an acquired taste. His music challenges audiences and forces them to listen, to pay attention, to think. This often requires requires some closer inspection and even reflection. What you find at 60 is different from what you see at 30. Call it pentimento. So, these musicals have not only endured but have flourished again and again as they are interpreted and reinterpreted, examined and re-examined.
But they never quite seemed to achieve mass-market status.
And the process of adapting these shows to the screen has been fraught with peril precisely because such complex material resists framing. As Sondheim himself has observed: Movies are photographs; the stage is larger than life." And, if nothing else Sondheim is a creature of the stage. To him, music is inherently theatrical. It's based on character and story and drama. That's the way he hears it. That's the way he writes it. And yes, it's bigger than life. That's why we go to the theater in the first place.
Could anyone possibly understand this and transform a Sondheim musical to the screen without trivializing it or turning it into nothing more than a star-vehicle (at one extreme) or making a mere film of the theatrical production (at the other)?
Finally, we have an answer to that question.
Now, more than six decades after Sondheim first started writing musicals the answer is "Yes!" and the person's name is Rob Marshall. Finally, Rob Marshall has come along and transformed one of the best Sondheim musicals ever (1987's Into The Woods) into one of the best movie musicals ever and one of the best pictures of the year.
But let's give credit where it's due. Marshall basically reinvented the movie musical when he gave us the blockbuster Best Picture of 2002, Chicago.
Marshall has proved that he knows how to make a movie musical for the 21st century.
But Into The Woods is a mammoth undertaking -- a retelling of Grimm's Fairly Tales with Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel all thrown together in one story as you've never seen them before. That requires not just talent but financial heft.
Fortunately, Marshall's been backed by the big bucks of Disney which resisted the temptation to load this fantastical story with too much fantasy and too much high tech.
The result is that Into The Woods, the movie is surprisingly faithful to Into The Woods, the stage musical (which we saw with the original cast on Broadway) as it manages to naturally morph onto the Big Screen with both daring and aplomb.
This film preserves intimacy where needed without compromising grandeur. It telegraphs a powerful message without destroying the essential story. It soars musically with alternate dashes of wit and danger without becoming a dark opera.
Yes, we would have preferred Bernadette Peters as the witch, a role she originated on stage. But Meryl Streep does a fine job, as always. And the rest of the cast is first-rate as well with particular accolades to James Corden, Emily Blunt, Tracey Ullman, Chris Pine, Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone.
Of course we're sorry that one of our favorite songs (Running Away) has been dropped but other music has been added. And one can quibble with the shows preachy nouveau family message in the final moments.
But, all in all this is a magical film with wondrous music and a mesmerizing journey -- a journey all about life, discovery, fear, temptation, longing, loving, growing and letting go.
And it works for nearly all ages because it takes elements of timeless tales and turns them into an exciting story that you will never forget.
Don't miss it!

Staying On Times Square And Dining Nearby

While we were in New York recently we stayed right on Times Square at Marriott's Renaissance Times Square hotel and we were delighted with our stay. 
The hotel could not have a more perfect location. But, beyond that, the staff is friendly and helpful, our room was spacious (with a king size bed and large bath) and beautifully appointed and the hotel's extraordinary R Lounge at Two Times Square boasts panoramic views of Times Square and the theatre district.
Rising 26 stories above Times Square (we stayed on the 20th floor) this full-service hotel has the soul of a boutique hotel with beautifully crafted interiors by renowned designer Jordan Mozer. Distinct among hotels in New York, it features completely redesigned guest rooms with hardwood furniture, luxurious bathrooms and state-of-the-art technology. 
Only steps away from midtown's famed entertainment, attractions and Fortune 500 headquarters, guests can enjoy cocktails or a snack at R Lounge, before venturing out to Rockefeller Center or the theater district. With a AAA Four-Diamond rating and a prime location on Broadway and Seventh, we have to agree that this luxury hotel is the epitome of an urban oasis.
We dined a couple of blocks away from the hotel at a restaurant we've often passed by but never tried: Cafe Un Deux Trois, a spacious French bistro that attracts a big crowd.
What attracted us was the $30, three-course, pre theatre dinner menu. Here is one our entrees (talapia) shown exactly as it was presented to us:
The service was prompt but the entrees (the other one was chicken cordon bleau) were only lukewarm and the food service staff seemed to have little time to indulge any comments, requests or chit chat. The place has been at the same location for decades and was very crowded on Friday night, so it does have a following. But, in the end we're afraid this was a case of  "you get what you pay for, sorta."
For breakfast the next morning we ventured over to T45, the bright, sleek American diner inside the brand new Hyatt Times Square on 45th St. near Broadway.
Thank goodness Hyatt has finally come to the Times Square area. This  was long overdue. The 54-story hotel is a new generation of Hyatt. Each floor contains only 11 larger-than-usual rooms (averaging 364 square-feet), all featuring floor to ceiling windows. Guests are greeted and comfortably checked in via iPad, as a wave-like undulation of bronze and walnut draws your eyes around the sleek, oasis-like lobby.
The George Wong designed T45 Midtown Diner on the ground floor serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, including takeout service so whenever the mood strikes, you can order ready-to-go meals and snacks – either on the hotel's app or by phone-- and (if your a guest of the hotel) have your food delivered straight to your room. 
Of course, there's plenty of space to dine-in (with big, comfortable booths and soft tones throughout) and that's what we decided to do. Hyatt says the diner is designed to "reflect the energy of Broadway, complete with a theatrical back wall of moving lights." Cool! The young and eager-to-please staff is friendly and very accommodating. 
We must warn you, however: A very nice American breakfast for two here will set you back $50 or more. We did check the lunch menu though and found it to be quite reasonable and much more price competitive. 
Anyway, our breakfast was wonderful: Fresh hot coffee, two eggs with bacon, home fries and toast exactly as we ordered them and a huge bowl of delicious, steel-cut oatmeal perfectly cooked. Below, the photos of the diner itself and our entrees:

Suffice it to say we definitely will be returning to T45, especially for lunch. 
BTW: Hyatt's new Bar54 at the top of the hotel will open on February 14 and it promises not only spectacular views but specialty cocktails, fine wines and gourmet small plates where guests can mingle around cozy fireplaces, indoors and out. We're told this hot new nightlife destination is already being acclaimed as an exciting addition to Times Square’s bar scene.

Orso - One Of Our Favorite Broadway Eateries!

If you've been to Broadway more than a few times you probably know about New York's Restaurant Row.
Restaurant Row, on 46th Street between Broadway and 9th Avenue, describes itself as "the quintessential example of everything that makes the Crossroads of the World unique." Every restaurant here is convenient to almost every theater on the Great White Way.
There are nearly 30 eateries on Restaurant Row covering every possible cuisine and encompassing whatever dining atmosphere suits your taste. And these places can be jammed before and after showtime so it's wise to plan ahead and make reservations as well.
Among all these dining spots and watering holes a few definitely stand out.
One of them is surely Orso.
We dined at Orso during our most recent Broadway outing and we were very pleased.
Orso is at the beginning of The Row (closer to 8th Avenue) and next door to the favorite haunt of actors, Joe Allen.
You step down a few steps from the sidewalk to enter Orso's long, narrow, almost grotto-like atmosphere. A small bar sits to your right and then a few rows of tables in two cozy rooms. 
Service is prompt, friendly and helpful.
And while Orso's menu changes from day to day, you will find soups, salads, flatbreads, pizzas, pastas,  fish, chicken and beef dishes along with tempting desserts. Entrees range from $14 (a small pasta Bolognese) to $34 (oven-roasted quail stuffed with sausage).
But let's show you the restaurant and the food (just as it was presented) so you'll know exactly what we're talking about.
No flashy entranceway. This place is so well-known it doesn't have to brag or go out of its way to announce itself.

The mixed greens (above) and the arugula salad (below). Lovingly prepared, fresh and crisp.

The seared halibut topped with grapefruit slices over a bed of risotto with peas and lemon zest (above) proved to be a delightful medley of flavors.  The halibut was among the best we've ever tasted. The grilled swordfish (below) with pan roasted vegetables, lemon, olives and capers delighted a discriminating seafood enthusiast.

Regrettably, we did not have time for dessert but (as you can see) our meal at Orso was very memorable -- and for all the right reasons.
We will be back!
Photos copyright 2013 by Dan Cirucci.

Jersey Boys - You Certainly Won't Be Drowsy!

In 2006 a musical opened on Broadway called The Drowsy Chaperone.
The show was a love letter to musicals of the Jazz Age but it also examined the effect that Broadway musicals have on their most ardent fans. It featured a clever set-up and an ingratiating show-within-a-show. With an original story and original music, the show won raves from the New York critics and delighted discerning theater-goers. It went on to win Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Book of a Musical. And justifiably so.
But The Drowsy Chaperone did not win the Tony for Best Musical.
That year the Tony Award went to a show that was a love-letter to a rock 'n roll group. The show also examined the lives of the group members and the effect that the group and its music had on the fans. The show was called Jersey Boys.
I loved The Drowsy Champerone on Broadway. It was one of the funniest, most inventive Broadway musicals I've ever seen.
But I'd never gotten around to seeing Jersey Boys -- until last night when I caught a national touring production in Philadelphia.
Unless you've been living in a cave for nearly five years you know that the Jersey Boys of the title are The Four Seasons and later (and more specifically) Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. So, the music is the music of The Four Seasons and the story is a story of four Jersey Italian-American street kids who began singing on a corner under a street lamp.
To call the characters stereotypes would be an understatement. To call the whole narrative an extended show business cliche would be nothing less than accurate.
So, why does Jersey Boys succeed? Why is it still a hot, hot ticket on Broadway? Why is it still drawing huge audiences and making big bucks while The Drowsy Chaperone has long since closed? Why has it become an international sensation?
Four main reasons:
1) The music: These songs are pre-certified, solid gold hits. Whether you were an original Four Seasons fan or not (I was not) the music endures. It's been pounded into you. The songs are simple, catchy and (now) evocative. You can't get away from them.
2) The staging: The first act of the show moves like clockwork. And since you're expecting a jukebox show, the story not only surprises you but it delays the recognizable songs so long that by the time the cast delivers the first big hit number, you're craving it so bad you can't wait to start clapping and cheering. By the time the first act ends with blinding white hot lights and a full stage reversal, you've been stunned into submission.
3) The singing. The productions of this show are very well-managed. So, the four lead character/singers are really good singers. Really good. In Philly the role of Frankie Valli is played by Joseph Leo Bwarie and he is sensational. Who knew there were so many guys who could sing and feign really good North Jersey accents? And who knew there were so many little guys who could reach those Frankie Valli high notes? Beyond that, Bwarie gives depth and strength to the Valli character. He takes a role that could have been a paper cutout and makes it so real, so three-dimensional that you're sure you know this guy or knew someone like him somewhere along the way.
4) The generational thing. The generation that embraced The Four Seasons never really had a show of their own quite like this. Many of them were part of an in-between generation. They got lost somewhere between Elvis (the earlier days or rock 'n roll) and The Beatles (the later, more socially-conscious days). They had nothing to cling to -- no show, no anthem, no legacy, nothing beyond nostalgia. Now, they have it. And they love it. They keep coming back to see Jersey Boys again and again. They can't get enough of it.
I never knew the story of The Four Seasons. In fact, I was surprised that this show even had a story. And I guess I never understood how important this music was (and still is) to huge numbers of people.
I sort of expected the show to be a rapid-fire series of songs strung together by a bit of patter here and there. But that's not what it is at all.
Instead, it's a sort of pop morality tale.
Still, it's not a profound story. And the Joizee stereotypes and Italian-American stereotypes don't help to make the libretto any more meaningful or memorable. Regrettably (except for the more well-defined characters of Frankie and Bob) they trivialize an instructive, real-life journey.
But, no matter. In the end, the music, the singing, the staging and the generational pull clearly triumph.
Jersey Boys demands your attention.

What Our Reviews Are Really All About

A friend has asked why I'm not more critical on restaurant reviews and other reviews.
Well, let's start with my restaurant reviews.
To begin with, I tend to gravitate toward restaurants I like or places that I think I'll like. I want to share what I think is the best with our readers. If I like it, I want to share it with you.
I like informal restaurants and classic American fare. And you all know by now that I love steak, pasta, burgers, shakes, pizza, classic Chinese food, crabcakes, lobster and martinis, among other treats.
Sometimes I'm invited to review restaurants that I haven't been to before or I'm introduced to a place by friends or others. In those cases, I see myself as a guest and I try to act and respond accordingly.
When I have criticisms I try to be helpful and offer constructive suggestions. I don't like to pile criticism on top of criticism, gripe on gripe. There's no fun in that and it's not very nice.
I'd always rather focus on aspects of the dining experience that I enjoy. So, if I focus on the ambience and service but hardly mention the food, you'll know that I wasn't bowled over by the food.
Recently though, I had a not-so-memorable experience at a new Philadelphia restaurant near Rittenhouse Square called A. Kitchen. We went there for lunch and found the setting to be fresh and sleek but rather bare; the welcome near non-existent; the food forgettable, paltry and overpriced and the service cursory. I hate having to say this but right now I simply cannot recommend this restaurant. When something like this occurs, there's really not much to write about.
With respect to theatre in general and Broadway musicals in particular I try to be instructive, informative and helpful in my comments. I try to put the show in context and be as balanced and objective as possible. But, I'll admit it: I'm a Broadway musical junkie. And I'm quite easily seduced by a real Broadway show. So, I sometimes get carried away. But I'll also warn you as to the elements in the show and tell you that if you don't like a particular subject or a certain actor or a particular style of music you probably won't like the show. We can't all have the same interests, the same tastes and the same likes.
As for movies, I gravitate toward old-fashioned narratives. I'm interested in the characters and the storyline and I'm easily won-over by small, meaningful movies and independent films. So, you won't find me reviewing lots of violent or hi-tech or action or SFX movies.
Again, I want to share what I like with you. And I like movies, actors and stories that are mindful of the tradition of movie-making -- that evoke the classics, but in a new light and with new attitudes and new things to say. Not long ago, The King's Speech was that kind of film and it justifiably garnered most of the awards.
I hope this explanation is helpful to you as I begin to review a whole new batch of dining experiences. movies, theatre, art, travel, etc.
And, as always I welcome your comments, suggestions and observations.

Now Starring On Broadway - A Dining Discovery!

During a recent trip to Manhattan we made a delightful discovery: a lovely, inviting, moderately-priced restaurant in the heart of the theater district with fine, fresh food, inventive dishes and excellent service.
And there's more: The place is intimate, tastefully decorated and conducive to good conversation. Plus it boasts an excellently stocked bar and serves up the best (and among the largest) martinis we've enjoyed in a long time.To top it all off, it's Italian. Can you beat that?!?
By now you're probably wondering: What's the name of this place anyway and exactly where is it?
Why should we tell you? We don't want throngs headed there. We want to make sure we're able to get a reservation and walk right in next time we go to Broadway.
Well, there you are -- it's near Broadway.
OK, OK . . . dear reader. Since you're reading this blog in the first place and since we appreciate that and since we want you to know (as we do) that going to the theater and dinner on Broadway needn't break the bank, we'll tell you.
But before we do, we must acknowledge that it was a dear friend who told us about this place. The friend wishes to remain anonymous but please know that we're simply passing this along.
We didn't actually make the discovery, Our friend did.
Anyway, the restaurant is Scarlotto and it's at 250 West 47th between Broadway and Eighth.
The chef at Scarlotto is Roberto Passon, formerly of La Zie and Zoccole. According to AOL City Guide he is "known for turning humble comfort dishes like spaghetti and meatballs and macaroni and cheese into elevated cuisine."
Indeed, that old secure favorite spaghetti and meatballs is on the menu. But we opted for the gnocchi sorrentina, the tagliarini bolognese, the sea bass with broccoli and roasted potatoes and the red snapper marinated in herbs and garlic sauteed mixed vegetables. The pasta dishes were priced at $12 and $13 and they were plentiful entrees. The fish dishes were priced at $23 and well worth it. We combined these with mixed greens ($7) or caesar salad ($8) and were deliciously satisfied.
And yes -- the vodka martinis were delightfully smooth.
It's been said that "a subtle confidence accompanies the comments on [Passon's] dishes, and you know without a doubt that he does believe in them."
Our feeling is that he has every right to believe in them as they are "perfecto!"
You can be sure of this: We will be returning to Scarlotto -- and soon!

Welcome To Our Big, Bright New Broadway Blog

Hi, everybody!
Welcome to Dan On Broadway -- the new center of all the best that Broadway has to offer with our own reviews, tips, observations and insights on The Great White Way and everything that makes it tick.
Here you'll find all of the best material from our hugely successful Dan Cirucci Blog and a whole lot more.
We'll tell you about ticket bargains and dining deals, what shows we consider "musts," where to stay, what to do and how to navigate the most famous street in the world's most exciting city.
We bring decades of experience to this assignment and we guarantee that you'll learn lots about Broadway, its leading players, its movers and shakers, its history and its enduring appeal.
We've lots to offer here and we'll be adding new items every day.
So, stay with us and don't hesitate to switch back and forth between the Dan Cirucci Blog and Dan On Broadway.
We'll be growing at a pace that matches the frenetic energy of Broadway.
Remember: There's only one Broadway and there's only one Dan On Broadway Blog!

Rousing 'Show Boat' Took Capital By Storm!

Show Boat has been called perhaps the most influential musical of all time.

When it opened in 1927 it was the first Broadway score ever to have a coherent plot and integrated songs. Based on the big, sweeping novel by Edna Ferber, Show Boat is the story of the Hawks family and their showboat troop of actors aboard the Cotton Blossom floating theater. But it's also in many ways the story of American from the post-Reconstruction period up into the 1920s.

We saw the landmark Harold Prince production of Show Boat on Broadway in 1994 and ever since then we've longed to see it again.

Now, the Washington National Opera has mounted a full, lavish production at the Kennedy Center's Opera House with a cast of 100 and we've had a chance to experience this new production which runs through May 26 only.

If you're used to Show Boat as a Broadway show, be forewarned. Though nearly all of the music and dialogue are intact (along with the storyline) and though you will recognize all of the characters, this production of Show Boat is operatic in scope and scale. So, the songs are sung in the more formalized operatic style. It doesn't have the brassiness or the added pizazz of a Broadway production. But the legendary songs of Show Boat--like "Ol' Man River," "You Are Love," "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," "Bill," and many more-- are performed the way the composer intended, with a full orchestra and robust chorus and there is no discernible amplification in the Opera House.

With opulent costumes, big voices and a huge stage and cast, this production is truly grand.

And though you will not find the depth of acting that you may find on Broadway, the characters are vividly drawn. Great baritone and soprano voices predominate.
Show Boat is an experience like no other!

Originally published 5/9/13

Remembering Julie Harris - A True Legend!

On Broadway, a bright shining light has gone out.
Julie Harris has died.
She was simply born to act.
And she was justifiably one of the most honored performers in Broadway history.
Her roles ranged from the flamboyant Sally Bowles in "I Am a Camera" to the reclusive Emily
Dickinson in "The Belle of Amherst." She was 87.
We had the good fortune to see her in "The Belle of Amherst" at the McCarter Theater in Princeton. It was a performance we will never forget -- a one-woman tour de force in which Harris commanded the stage every minute and gave new meaning to the term "suspension of disbelief." She was Emily Dickenson.
Harris died at her West Chatham, Mass., home of congestive heart failure, actress and family friend Francesca James said.
This great American performer and beloved Broadway star won five Tony Awards for best actress in a play, displaying a virtuosity that enabled her to portray an astonishing gallery of women during a theater career that spanned almost 60 years and included such plays as "The Member of the Wedding" (1950), "The Lark" (1955), "Forty Carats" (1968) and "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln" (1972).
She was honored again with a sixth Tony, a special lifetime achievement award in 2002.
Her record has not yet been equaled.
Audra McDonald has five Tonys, and Angela Lansbury has four Tonys.
Harris slowed down in recent years. She suffered a stroke in 2001 while she was in Chicago appearing in a production of Claudia Allen's "Fossils." She suffered another stroke in 2010, James said.
She also starred in the long-running TV show Knots Landing as the free-spirited Lilimae Clements, Valene’s mother. She played Lilimae from 1980-1987.
Harris leaped to fame at age 24 playing a lonely 12-year-old tomboy in “The Member of the Wedding.” She repeated the Broadway role in the 1952 film version. She was also James Dean’s romantic co-star in “East of Eden.”
As a young woman, Julie Harris declared in high school "acting is my life." She had the good fortune to be blessed with a natural talent, to recognize that talent at an early age and to embrace it, cultivate it and make it her life's work as she shared it so generously and lovingly with others over so many decades, so many performances and so many treasured moments.
RIP, Julie Harris.

Originally published 8/15/13.

Broadway's New Dimension - The Illusionists!

In 1974 a charming young entertainer named Doug Henning defied critics and traditionalists alike when he opened The Magic Show on Broadway with music by Stephen Schwartz and unrivaled feats of illusion and escape performed by Henning himself.

We were fortunate enough to experience Henning's performance and were not in the least bit surprised when his show proved to be an overwhelming success running on the Great White Way for four and a half years and earning a Tony Award for Henning himself.

Well, it's only taken 40 years but escapism, illusion and even card tricks are back on Broadway once again. But this time it's all wrapped in a bright, shimmering, fast-paced, hi-def, hi-tech package called The Illusionists and instead of one trickster at the center of the action we now have seven.

And this time, no one is calling it a magic show.

Because in 2014 we understand that this is all really an illusion and and we accept it for what it is. But, guess what? We still find it hard to figure our how all this is done, right before our eyes. We see it, we study it and we're still stumped. And thankfully, absolutely no on in The Illusionists is telling us how it's done or even giving us a hint. And that's just fine with us and the rest of the audience.

The Illusionists has gathered together the world's greatest masters of the art with one purpose only -- that we might bear witness to the impossible. And that's exactly what happens on stage at the magnificent Marquis Theater and even in the audience, especially when random audience members are called up to participate in the action.

The seven stars of the show, each a master in his own field, are:

· The Manipulator, Yu Ho-Jin. Considered a rising superstar in the world of magic; Yu Ho-Jin was recently named the 2014 “Magician of the Year,” by Academy of Magical Arts and was the first Asian to win the Grand Prix at the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques, also known as the “Olympics of Magic.”

· The Anti-Conjuror, Dan Sperry. Described as Marilyn Manson meets David Copperfield, Dan combines the art of magic with the macabre and is one of the top-10 most Googled people, thanks to a legendary “America’s Got Talent” appearance.

· The Trickster, Jeff Hobson is the epitome of glamour and showmanship. Don’t be fooled by his innocent appearance; Jeff has audiences laughing long after the curtain goes down.

· The Escapologist, Andrew Basso. Italy’s star escape artist, Andrew considers Houdini his hero and is fast becoming one of the world’s most popular illusionists. He is the only person in the world to perform Houdini’s famous Water Torture Cell with absolutely no covers.

· The Inventor, Kevin James, known for innovative illusions, is an inventor, comedian and collector of the strange and unusual. Kevin is one of the most prolific inventors of magic in the world and has created some of the most celebrated illusions of the last century.

· The Warrior, Aaron Crow, a strong and silent type specializing in weapon magic, has mastered some of the most dangerous acts without saying a single word. Belgium’s international magic sensation, a first place finisher at the World Championships of Magic, he uses swords, paintball guns and powerful crossbows to keep fans on the edge of their seat.

· The Futurist, Adam Trent, shatters stereotypes and brings a new generation of magic to fans fusing technology illusions, dancing and comedy with classic techniques.

The Futurist uses a huge digital screen and a clear plastic attache case to step in and out of an imaginary world in a way that will have you scratching your head in wonderment. The Warrior does things with a bow and arrow that will cause you to worry about the fate of his audience participants. When he isn't plasying with fire, The Inventor has a penchant for bifurcating the human anatomy. The Esacpologist (from Italy!) will have you counting the seconds as he dangles in a vertical tower of water. The Anti-Conjurer seems creepy and bizarre but he's like an eccentric neighbor who enjoys playing with birds, both real and imaginary. The Manipulator will use his long, elegant fingers to defy sight and leave you wondering how something so seemingly simple as a card trick can be so incredible. And  The Inventor will keep you laughing and guessing as he moves the whole show along gleefully.

All together, it's a unique Broadway experience with wondrous sets, ingenious lighting, surprising  costumes and choreography, a cast of 18 and a killer band. And, one more thing: This is a show for the whole family. There's nothing here that will embarrass or offend but plenty to dazzle, defy and delight.

Yes, Broadway has come a long way since The Magic Show. And there's ample evidence of that in The Illusionists which is nothing less than a global phenomenon, proving that what we once used to call "magic" can be hip, hi-tech and happening all at the same time. It is a miracle of wizardry.

The Illusionists – Witness The ImpossibleTM plays a strictly limited six-week engagement through January 4, 2015 as part of a 30-city U.S. tour.

Tickets for The Illusionists – Witness The ImpossibleTM are on sale at

CURRENT TOUR DATES (more to come)
Broadway’s Marriott Marquis Theatre, November 26, 2014-January 4, 2015
Washington, DC – The Kennedy Center, January 6 – 11, 2015
Dayton, OH – Schuster Center, January 13 – 14, 2015
Providence, RI – Providence Performing Arts Center, January 16 – 18, 2015
Indianapolis, IN – Old National Centre, January 20 – 25, 2015
Charlotte, NC – Knight Theater, January 27 – February 1, 2015
Schenectady, NY – Proctors Theatre, February 17 – 22, 2015
Philadelphia, PA – Academy of Music, February 24 – March 1, 2015
Rochester, NY – RBTL’s Auditorium Theatre, March 3 – 5, 2015
Buffalo, NY – Shea’s Performing Arts Center, March 6 – 8, 2015
Chicago, IL – Cadillac Palace Theatre, March 10 – 22, 2015
St. Paul, MN – Ordway Center for the Performing Arts – March 24 – 29, 2015 Dallas, TX – Music Hall at Fair Park, April 7 – 19, 2015
Detroit, MI – Fisher Theatre, April 28 – May 10, 2015
Tampa, FL – Straz Center, May 26 – May 31, 2015
Houston, TX – Jones Hall, June 2 – 6, 2015
San Jose, CA – San Jose Center, June 9 – 14, 2015
Seattle, WA – The 5th Avenue Theatre, June 16 – 21, 2015
Salt Lake City, UT – Capitol Theatre, June 23 – 28, 2015

How 'Most Happy' Triumphed In Longed-For Revival

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barder of Fleet Street is undoubtedly Stephen Sondheim's masterwork.
And when it opened on Broadway in 1979 it not only engendered limitless praise but also frequent comparisons to grand opera.
In fact Sweeney Todd is today regarded by many as an opera.

But 23 years before Sweeney Todd Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella debuted on Broadway with a sung-through score containing an astonishing 25 songs, lush underscoring and sung-recitative pieces that also led to comparisons with opera.
Though Sweeney and Most Happy couldn't be more different (one is largely grim while the other is ultimately joyous) both musicals touch on operatic themes: envy, desire, lust, regret, revenge, life and death, love and hate. And both musicals demand large casts and big voices.

The Most Happy Fella is Frank Loesser’s most ambitious and romantic musical. With a cast of 38 and an orchestra of 38 it's lush and full-throated. It tells the heart-stopping story of an aging Napa Valley farmer, the young, lonely waitress who becomes his mail-order bride, and the restless, handsome ranch hand who turns her head. Though many might regard them as stereotypical the characters in this story are so vivid and so endearing that's it's easy to be seduced by them. And the heart of Most Happy is ever-hopeful.

This show is full of memorable solo numbers, clever duets, funny ensemble pieces and rich, vibrant choral singing -- the kind of rapturous singing we seldom hear on Broadway anymore.
Loesser’s score displays an astonishing range – ardent operatic numbers stand side by side with Broadway show-stoppers, including “Somebody Somewhere”, “My Heart Is So Full of You”, “Big D” and “Standing on the Corner.” Loesser said "I may give the impression this show has operatic tendencies. If people feel that way - fine. Actually all it has is a great frequency of songs. It's a musical with music."

We're so glad we finally had a chance to catch up with The Most Happy Fella this weekend on Broadway as part of City Center's beloved Encores series. The cast (Laura Benanti, Heidi Blickenstaff, Brian Cali, Bradley Dean, Shuler Hensley, Cheyenne Jackson, Zachary James, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Jessica Molaskey and Kevin Vortmann) was superb in what is Encores' most extravagant undertaking this season.
Though this was a limited run, we urge you to try to catch a performance of The Most Happy Fella somewhere along the way as various theater and opera companies seem to be reviving it regularly. Indeed, though the original production of The Most Happy Fella ran for 14 months on Broadway it seems it's actually been running somewhere or another for nearly 60 years.
Interesting footnote: The original 1956 production was financed by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

Are There Any Real Divas Left On B'way?

I'm not one to use the word "diva" without good reason.
But Broadway legend Bernadette Peters truly is a diva in the best sense of the word.
Broadway has been Bernadette's life.
She made her stage debut at nine in This is Goggle, a comedy directed by Otto Preminger that closed during out-of-town tryouts before reaching New York. She first appeared on the New York stage at age 10 in the New York City Center revival of The Most Happy Fella (1959). At 13 she appeared in the role of a "Hollywood Blonde" and was an understudy for "Dainty June" in a touring company of Gypsy. Upon graduation from high school, she started working steadily, appearing Off-Broadway in the musicals The Penny Friend (1966) and Curley McDimple (1967)and as an understudy on Broadway in The Girl in the Freudian Slip (1967). She made her Broadway debut in Johnny No-Trump in 1967 and next appeared as George M. Cohan's sister opposite Joel Grey in George M! (1968), winning the Theatre World Award.
The rest is a series of Broadway triumphs: Dames at Sea, Mack and Mable, On The Town, The Goodbye Girl, Sunday In The Park With George, Song And Dance, Annie Get Your Gun, Gypsy and Follies. Every time she steps onto a stage the gal who was born Benadette Lazzara in Queens gives the performance of her life.
We've seen Bernadette in concert and in the musicals Sunday In The Park With George, The Goodbye Girl, Annie Get Your Gun and Follies. We can't think of a better way to spend an evening (or an afternoon, for that matter) than watching and listening to Bernadette Peters.

One Of The Best Show Biz Bios Ever!

In 1964 British entertainer Anthony Newley brought a musical to Broadway called The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd.

Newley wrote the book, music and lyrics for the show and he starred in the show and directed it as well. In other words, he pretty much had complete control over every aspect of his creation.

That's something that dancer, choreographer, director and sometimes actor Bob Fosse always wanted. Something he always fought for.

And the funny thing about the title of Newley's show is that it perfectly encapsulated Fosse's view of show business. He loved the show but hated the business.

He had no time for what he perceived as the phonies, the dilettantes, the ass-kissers and the money-gubbing bastards who populated the world of entertainment from Broadway to Hollywood and beyond. And like many entertainers he had a love/hate relationship with his own craft.

Fosse's background was acnhored in the dark, dying days of burlesque and the seedy world of one-night stands, dingy bars and dives that reeked of stale beer and tobacco. He grew up in Chicago and performed in such venues since he was a kid. And within that past Fosse suffered a trauma from which he never fully recovered.

Bob Fosse smoked too much, drank too much, took too many drugs, slept with too many women, made too many demands, suffered too many manic and depressive episodes, threw too many tantrums and hurt too many people (including himself) to survive very long. But in the process he created some great works and won some important accolades both on Broadway and in Hollywood. And even though Fosse barely reached his 60th birthday in 1987 his influence is still felt throughout the world of entertainment.

In fact, a Fosse show or movie is playing somewhere or other all the time. Right now, for example two Fosse shows (Chicago and Pippin) are big hits all over again on Broadway and Fosse's film of Cabaret is considered the benchmark for all modern movie musicals.

Yet, Fosse would be the first to remind you that Bob Fosse did not so much invent a new genre as reinvent one. All of Fosse's heralded tricks and twists and turns and jerks and tics were adapted from the tried and true, razzle-dazzle world of vaudeville.

Every bit of of this is entertainingly chronicled in Sam Wasson's big, new biography simply entitled Fosse. This is one bio that's both definitive and deliciously seductive.

Wasson spent three years researching and writing this book and it shows. It's a masterful production - one worthy of Fosse himself. But fortunately the chronicle of Fosse's life is much more organized, deliberate and rational than the life itself. Not that the book is in any way boring -- not by a long shot.

This is an exhilarating read -- thorough, engaging, visceral and passionate.

The author immerses himself in the world of Fosse and backs it all up with candid interviews, anecdotes, insights and details never before revealed.

This book also lifts the lid off the brutally competitive and challenging world of Broadway and Hollywood and starkly unearths all the phonies, has-beens, wannabes and BS artists that populate that world. It also details the unending toil, raw vulnerability, constant insecurity, relentless obsession and naked ambition behind the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd.

After you read Fosse you'll never see a Broadway show or a watch a movie quite the same way again. You'll know, you'll understand and even if you're laughing through the whole performance, you'll still comprehend (if not feel) the anguish that went into it.

Wasson has given us a ravishing story that's worth your attention -- a story you'll never forget.

New 'Gigi' Production Opens On B'way 4/8

Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi.

The new production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s beloved Oscar and Tony Award-winning film and stage musical Gigi will open on Broadway on Wednesday, April 8 at the Neil Simon Theatre (250 West 52nd Street). Previews will begin on Thursday, March 19. Tickets go on sale on Friday, January 23 at 10:00 AM online.
Gigi stars Vanessa Hudgens, who will make her Broadway debut in the title role, Tony Award-winner Victoria Clark (The Light in the Piazza, Sister Act, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella) as Mamita, Corey Cott (Newsies) as Gaston Lachaille, three-time Tony Award-nominee Dee Hoty (The Will Rogers Follies, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, Footloose) as Aunt Alicia, two-time Tony Award-nominee Howard McGillin (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Anything Goes) as Honoré Lachaille and Steffanie Leigh (Mary Poppins) as Liane d’Exelmans.
Gigi, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, features a new book adaptation by Heidi Thomas (BBC/PBS’s “Call the Midwife”) and is choreographed by Emmy Award-winner Joshua Bergasse (On the Town, “Smash”) and directed by Eric Schaeffer (Follies, Million Dollar Quartet).
The production is playing a pre-Broadway engagement in the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (David M. Rubenstein, chairman, Deborah F. Rutter, president) in Washington, D.C. Previews begin tonight, Friday, January 16. Opening night is January 29, and the production runs through February 12. Tickets for the Kennedy Center engagement are available at
The cast also features Cameron Adams, Kathryn Boswell, Max Clayton, Madeleine Doherty, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Hannah Florence, Alison Jantzie, Brian Ogilvie, James Patterson, Justin Prescott, Jeffrey C. Sousa, Manny Stark, Tanairi Sade Vazquez, Richard White, Amos Wolff and Ashley Yeater.
Scenic design is by Tony Award-winner Derek McLane, costume design is by five-time Tony Award- winner Catherine Zuber, lighting design is by four-time Tony Award-winner Natasha Katz and sound design is by Tony Award-nominee Kai Harada. Hair design is by David Brian Brown. Make-up design is by Jon Carter. Musical director is James Moore. Orchestrations are by August Eriksmoen. Vocal and incidental music arrangement is by Matt Aument. Dance music arrangements are by Sam Davis. Music coordinator is John Miller. Casting is by Tara Rubin Casting, CSA. Production management is by Juniper Street Productions. Production stage manager is Bonnie Panson.
Based on the 1944 novella by Colette, Gigi was first adapted for the Broadway stage by Anita Loos in 1951, with an unknown Audrey Hepburn in the title role; then, following their success with My Fair Lady, Alan Jay Lerner (screenplay and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music) adapted the material for the 1958 movie musical, winner of nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film, directed by Vincente Minnelli, is widely considered the last great MGM movie musical, and is beloved for its wit, charm and sumptuous costume and production design. Gigi includes such numbers as “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” “I Remember It Well” “The Night They Invented Champagne” and the Oscar-winning title song, “Gigi”. Gigi also won the Tony Award for Best Score in 1974.
This new adaptation of Gigi will feature all of the songs from the movie, including two songs, “The Parisians” and “Say a Prayer for Me Tonight,” that were dropped from the previous stage version. The production also includes four songs written and added to the stage score by Lerner and Loewe in 1973, “Paris is Paris Again,” “I Never Want to Go Home Again,” “The Contract,” and “In This Wide, Wide World.”
Gigi will be produced on Broadway by Jenna Segal, Segal NYC Productions, Ilya Mikhailovic, Eion and Mia Hu, Darren P. Deverna/Jeremiah J. Harris and Merrie L. Davis. General management is by Foresight Theatrical.

A Cabaret That Chills More Than It Thrills

In 1966 when producer/director Harold Prince decided that he would turn the play I Am A Camera (based on Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin) into a musical he knew he would face special challenges.
This tale of late-1920s Berlin presaged the Nazi takeover of Germany and the Holocaust that followed, not to mention World War II itself. An era tinged with drugs, booze, sexual promiscuity, decadence and the first whiffs of one of the most brutal regimes the world has ever known did not easily lend itself to adaptation as a broadway musical.
But Prince was a daring visionary and he brought on board two young songwriters, John Kander and Fred Ebb to set the piece to music along with newcomer Joe Masterhoff to write the book.
Prince understood that the Golden Age of Broadway musicals pretty much ended with Rodgers and Hammerstein and that Broadway was still trying to discover exactly what came next. How far could he push the envelope in redefining a Broadway musical?
Cabaret was initially a dramatic play preceded by a prologue of songs describing the Berlin atmosphere from various points of view. As the composers began to distribute the songs between scenes, they realized the story could be told in the structure of a more traditional book musical, and they replaced some of the songs with tunes more relevant to the plot. Isherwood's original characters were changed as well.

The director's staging deliberately caught audience members off guard and was designed to unsettle them from the getgo. As the audience filled the theater, the curtain was already up, revealing a stage containing nothing but a large mirror reflecting the auditorium. There was no overture; instead, a drum roll and cymbal crash led into the opening number. The juxtaposition of dialogue scenes with songs used as exposition and separate cabaret numbers providing social commentary was a novel concept that succeeded in startling the audience. But as they gradually came to understand the difference between the two, they were able to accept the reasoning behind them.
Cabaret charted a bold new path for musicals.
And it went just far enough to capture hosannahs from the critics but not so far that it scared away audiences and box office revenue. The production ran for 1.165 performances, winning eight Tony Awards including best musical, original score, featured actor, featured actress and choreography. Of particular note was Joel Grey's definitive performance as the Master of Ceremonies of the Kit Kat Klub, a role he later repeated in the film version of the musical and in the 1987 Broadway revival of the show.
Then, in 1993 something big happened. 
Sam Mendes directed a new production of the show for the Donmar Warehouse in London's West End. It starred Jane Horrocks as Sally Bowles, Adam Godley as Cliff, Alan Cumming as the Emcee and Sara Kestelman as Frau Schneider.
This was a much darker, more sinister Cabaret.
The most significant change was the character of the Emcee.
Where Grey was impish and even somewhat charming as the Master of Ceremonies Cumming was more dominant (both in stature and presence) and more menacing.
The role, as played by Joel Grey in both prior incarnations, was a largely asexual, edgy character dressed in a tuxedo with rouged cheeks. Alan Cumming's portrayal was highly sexualized, as he wore suspenders (i.e. braces) around his crotch and red paint on his nipples. The cabaret number "Two Ladies" was staged with the Emcee, a cabaret girl, and a cabaret boy in drag and included a shadow play simulating various sexual positions. This more bisexual, explicit approach was all new.
The score was entirely re-orchestrated, using synthesizer effects and expanding the stage band, with all the instruments now being played by the cabaret girls and boys. The brutally satiric "Sitting Pretty", with its mocking references to deprivation, despair and hunger, was eliminated entirely, as it had been in the film version, and replaced with "Money". "I Don't Care Much", which was cut from the original production, was reinstated, and "Mein Herr" and "Maybe This Time", from the film adaptation, were added to the score.
Staging details differed as well; instead of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" being performed by a male choir, the Emcee plays a recording of a boy soprano singing it. In the final scene, the Emcee removes his outer clothes to reveal a striped suit of the type worn by the internees in concentration camps; on it were pinned a yellow badge (identifying Jews) and a pink triangle (denoting homosexuals). Other changes included added references to Cliff's bisexuality and a brief scene where he kisses one of the Cabaret boys
Cumming loomed over the entire production as a sort of angel of death with a stark white face and raccoon-like eyes. He rarely left the stage and in the course of his performance he unveiled and/or flashed nearly every part of his anatomy.
This is the production that was brought to Broadway in 1993 and won a Tony as best revival of a musical while Cumming garnered a Tony for his performance.
And this is the production which is now back on Broadway with Cumming repeating his performance as he celebrates his 30th anniversary in the theater. This dark and deeply disturbing rendition of Cabaret is the production that we saw last week at Studio 54 (re-chritstened the Kit Kat Klub) and it is not something we will soon forget.
Cumming has totally redefined the role of the Master of Ceremonies. He clearly dominates the show and has committed to the role into March, 2015 when this current run will end. He's present in nearly every scene, sometimes just on the sidelines but always there.
As Sally Bowles, the Oscar-nominated Michelle Williams gives us a portrayal that is at once frighteningly hard-edged and destructively vulnerable. It's no small accomplishment. When she finally gets around to singing the title song she nearly spits out the words; it's pure defiance.
To complement the leads, Linda Emond, Danny Burstein and Bill Heck give us sensitive, three-dimensional performances that help to soften the blow of this relentlessly noir musical.
A full, 20-piece orchestra knocks out the numbers in Cabaret, pumping everything up while lithe and muscled bodies move about freely, even venturing into the audience. There's now a desperate eroticism to Cabaret which also includes fetishism and even suggestions of sadism and masochism. At its core it attempts to capture the nihilism of prewar Germany.
And while America may have seen the 1920s as giddy, breezy and refreshingly experimental, that was not the case in Germany. Oh no, there's no playfulness here -- and very little pliability, either. This is a broken, brittle atmosphere.
Yes, it was time for Cabaret to grow up and get real. This is, after all the 21st century and the events being depicted will be a century old before we know it. So, we've had plenty of time to reflect.
And that's precisely why we're not so sure the production really has to be quite as explicit as it is. Nor does it have to be quite so heavy-handed in terms of its redefined politically-correct message. 
Which is to say: You had us at "Wilkomen," Cabaret.
We get it.
We understand.
And when we leave the theater, we can still feel a chill even on the hottest day of the year.
In the end that's a testament to the fact that these are breathtaking performances in a remarkable piece of theater. And it's a blessing that the songs remain irrepressibly hummable, too. 
Originally published 9/7/14

Broadway's Love Affair With 'Pippin' Continues

When the musical Pippin first opened on Broadway in 1972 it was a sensation.

Not because it broke new ground for its genre, though it did.

And not because all the critics loved it, because they didn't. Nor did audiences immediately flock to see it.

No, Pippin triumphed the old-fashioned way. The show earned its nearly five-year run through hard work and smart, innovative, relentless marketing.

Pippin was not only one of the first Broadway shows to advertise on television but it also presented the first TV commercial that actually showed scenes from a Broadway show. That was an audacious gamble by the producers.

The Pippin commercial ran for 60 seconds and showed original star Ben Vereen and two other dancers in an instrumental dance sequence called "Glory." The commercial ended with the tagline, "You can see the other 119 minutes of Pippin live at the Imperial Theatre, without commercial interruption."

Because it's not a traditional or "formula" musical, Pippin has always been a show that had to seek its audience.

But now, 41 years later everything has changed.

This time, Pippin is one of the hottest tickets on Broadway. It's sold-out night after night, and with good reason. Pippin is that rare find: A sometimes disturbing musical of real substance that it also funny, whimsical, dazzling and hugely entertaining.

The story revolves around the son (Pippin) of the real-life, Middle Ages emperor Charlemange and his search for a life of meaning. Of course, it's only very loosely based on history.

The infinitely charming (but often clueless) Pippin wanders through his own story with the help of a cynical, manipulative coach/narrator (the Leading Player) and her dexterous chorus. Along the way he tries life as an erstwhile student; as a warrior in his father's army; as an unabashed hedonist, as pretender to the throne, as grandma's favorite and as a simple farmer.

Pippin fumbles and stumbles and takes longer than you might expect to find his way. And all of this unfolds in a circus atmosphere filled with mischief, magic and incredible acrobatics the likes of which Broadway has not seen since Cy Coleman's Barnum or Billy Rose's Jumbo. We guarantee you -- the feats of daring performed on the stage will astound you.

This American Repertory Theater (ART) production of Pippin directed by Diane Paulus has rightfully been called "a Pippin for the 21st century" and that's certainly evident in everything the production has to offer. Like Bob Fosse's other masterpiece, Chicago this is a show that was way ahead of its time. Now, updated and resonating with the cool irony and familiar ennui of 2013, the show has an instant appeal that spans generations and rouses audiences with an irresistible combination of form and substance.

You'll see flashes of Company (a young man's search for meaning), Cameot (a royal struggle) and even Monty Python (the ribald, bloody humor) in this Pippin. But this remains a thoroughly original concept beautifully realized.

As Pippin, Kyle Dean Massey demonstrates an enigmatic appeal that makes you root for him even when his character is exasperating. As the Leading Player, Clara Renee is commanding, feisty and always surprising. As the emperor, Terrance Mann is appropriately regal -- in a burlesque sort of way -- striking just the right tone. As Fastrada, Charlotte D'Amboise is delightfully cunning. And as Pippin's grandmother, Annie Potts stops the show with her rousing number No Time At All.

But the truth is that the entire cast is splendid and we urge you to see the show for this is the new gold standard.

So, in the end exactly what is Pippin in search of?

What does this young man want?

What is the musical all about?

Well, there's a helluva lot of razzle dazzle at work here -- we can tell you that.

But for the ultimate answer, you'll have to head on over top the Music Box Theater on Broadway.

Do it!

Why Elaine Stritch Mattered - And Not Just To Broadway!

One of Broadway's brightest lights dimmed recently, then flickered and has now faded altogether.
Elaine Stritch has died.
Elaine Stritch who taught us all about The Ladies Who Lunch while she tartly asked "Does anyone still wear a hat?" in Stephen Sondheim's Company.
Elaine Stritch, who coaxed us to Sail Away (and did, indeed wear a hat) in Noel Coward's musical of the same name.
Elaine Stritch, who gloriously reinterpreted Jerome Kern's Why Do I Love You? in Hal Prince's brilliant production of Showbaot.
Elaine Stritch, who originated (and created the definitive version) of the show-stopper, Zip in Pal Joey.
Elaine Stitch, who made us never forget Bongo, Bongo, Bongo (I Don't Wanna Leave The Congo) in Make Mine Manhattan.
Elaine Stritch who wowed Broadway in one of the greatest one-woman shows ever, Elaine Stritch, At Liberty.
Elaine Strtich the actress. Elaine Stritch the comedienne. Elaine Stritch, the singer and cabaret doyenne. Elaine Stritch, the tell-it-like-it is, hard-to-fool, sharp-tongued realist who still made us laugh and still conjured up collective regrets and still nailed the 11 o'clock show-stopper or the classic lump-in-the-throat number.
Elaine Stritch who naturally commanded the spotlight.
Elaine Stritch, The Broadway Baby who could pivot on a dime from pathos to guffaws.
That Elaine Stritch -- the one-and-only -- is gone.
What a glorious performer she was! What a trouper! What a relentless (though nonetheless unfinished) perfectionist!
What a joy it was to see her live in Elaine Stritch, At Liberty and Showboat and Company.
She has appeared in numerous stage plays and musicals, feature films, and many television programs. She was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1995.
Elaine Stritch made her professional stage debut in 1944 and her Broadway debut in the comedy Loco in 1946. Notable Broadway credits include her Tony Award nominated roles in the original production of William Inge's 1955 play Bus Stop, Noël Coward's 1961 musical Sail Away, Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical Company, which includes her performance of the song The Ladies Who Lunch, the 1996 revival of the Edward Albee play A Delicate Balance and her 2001 Tony Award winning one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty.
In the 1970s, she relocated to London, starring in several West End productions, including Tennessee Williams' Small Craft Warnings in 1973 and the Neil Simon play The Gingerbread Lady in 1974. She also starred with Donald Sinden in the ITV sitcom Two's Company, which ran from 1975 to 1979 and earned her a BAFTA TV Award nomination. It was there that she married her great love, John Bay.
After John Bay's death from brain cancer in 1982, Stritch returned to America, and after a further lull in her career and struggles with alcoholism, Stritch began performing again. She appeared in a one-night only concert of Company in 1993 and as Parthy in a Broadway revival of the musical Show Boat in 1994.
In 1996 she played Claire in a revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, with Variety writing: "Equally marvelous is Stritch, with a meatier role than her recent foray as Parthy in 'Show Boat.' To watch her succumb to the vast amounts of alcohol Claire ingests, folding and refolding her legs, slipping – no, oozing – onto the floor, her face crumpling like a paper bag, is to witness a different but equally winning kind of thespian expertise. It's a master class up there." 
She won an Emmy Award in 1993 for her guest role on Law & Order and another in 2004 for the television documentary of her one woman show. From 2007 to 2012, she had a recurring role as Jack Donaghy's mother, Colleen, on NBC's 30 Rock, a role that won her a third Emmy in 2008.
She appeared in the Broadway revival of the Sondheim-Wheeler musical A Little Night Music from July 2010 to January 2011, succeeding Angela Lansbury in the role of Madame Armfeldt, the wheelchair-bound mother who remembers her life as a courtesan in the song "Liaisons". The AP reviewer of the musical (with the two new leads) wrote "Devotees of Stritch, who earned her Sondheim stripes singing, memorably, The Ladies Who Lunch in Company 40 years ago, will revel in how the actress, who earned a huge ovation before her very first line at a recent preview, brings her famously salty, acerbic style to the role of Madame Armfeldt."
Elaine Stritch performed a cabaret act in New York City at Cafe Carlyle of the Carlyle Hotel, where she was a resident, since 2005 until she left New York in 2013. Her first show at the Carlyle was titled At Home at the Carlyle.
Last year Elaine Stritch officially announced her retirement and she moved back to Michigan, where she was born and raised. This coincided with a new documentary, Elaine Stritch, Shoot Me. The film won many accolades for its honest portrait of this great American legend.
Originally published 7/17/14.

Yes, 'Kinky Boots' Still Delights Theatergoers

Glitter and glitz have always been staples on Broadway.

So too have flash, dazzle, bright lights and high-kicking choreography.

It's all part of the Great White Way.

So no one should be surprised to find all that in a new Broadway musical even if it is embodied in half a dozen real, live drag queens. After all, this is a Harvey Fierstein musical and Fierstein specializes in his own style of "dress up" roles from Torch Song Trilogy to La Cage Aux Folles to Hairspray.

Now, Fierstein has written the book for Kinky Boots, a new show with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. The show is based on the 2005 British movie of the same name.

Well, Broadway is awash in movie-inspired musicals right now and this continues the trend with a story about a drag queen who comes to the rescue of a man who, after inheriting his father's shoe factory, needs to diversify his product if he wants to keep the business afloat. Thus, Kinky Boots.

The show has kept the basic story which incorporates unexpected twists and politically-correct lessons about diversity, tolerance, being yourself and pursuing your dreams.

This is a high-energy show throughout but at it's core it's all propelled by one man: Billy Porter as the flamboyant drag queen cabaret singer, Lola. Billy Porter is electrifying and he's giving the performance of the year in this show. He acts, sings, dances, leaps, growls, shouts, struts, saunters and simmers his way to incandescent stardom here. Make no mistake about this: Billy Porter deserved the Tony Award for his performance. He alone is reason enough to see the show.

But this should in no way take away from the performance of the boyishly charming Andy Kelso who gives us an endearing turn as the son (and accidental businessman) who tries to save his father's shoe factory. In fact, the show reaches its soulful core when Billy and Stark sing "I 'm Not My Father's Son." Amidst much shrillness, this song gives the show an emotional depth of meaning that's sometimes lacking elsewhere. It's absolutely beautiful -- a poignant, heartfelt ballad you won't soon forget.

And let's not overlook Jeanna De Waal as Lauren who performs a virtual one-act play when she sings "The History of Wrong Guys," a song nearly ever woman can relate to. It's a tour de force.

At several points during the show the applause is gleeful and sustained.

The music and lyrics from Cyndi Lauper are the best that Broadway has heard in some time. But sadly, the sound seems not-quite-orchestral-enough for Broadway. Curiously, it's often loud and tinny at the same time. There are moments that cry out for a sound that's more lush but it's just not there.

Director/Choreographer Jerry Mitchell has given us soaring inventive moments (most notably a nice bit of business on several conveyer belts) that are sometimes reminiscent of the great Tommy Tune. It's fun to see this kind of eye-popping movement on stage once again.

And all this brings us back to where we started: Razzle-dazzle as defined by vivid hues, flamboyant costumes and ultimately, the kinkiest boots you ever saw. Yet, since all of this happens in a dingy little factory in the industrial town of Northamptom, the show is sort of schizophrenic. It swings back and forth between glitz and grime, sequins and soot. And that's the struggle here. Maybe there's a bit too much Billy Elliot and not enough La Cage.

Not to worry, this still head and shoulders above most of the shows that opened on Broadway this year. And, the talent here is hugely impressive with fresh, new music and choreography and a heart-tugging story that does manage to win you over when it isn't so obviously preachy.

So, does all that makes Kinky Boots (which has garnered six Tony awards) Broadway's sentimental favorite to run indefinitely? It would certainly seem so.

These boots are made for gawkin! Go ahead and gawk.

Remembering The Great Mike Nichols . . .

The Broadway community mourns the loss of acclaimed director, producer, writer, and performer Mike Nichols, who passed away on Wednesday evening at age 83. 
The marquees of Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed in his memory on Friday, November 21st, at exactly 7:45pm for one minute.

Mike Nichols was among the most celebrated people in the history of show business, one of only a handful of people to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award®. Mike Nichols has won more Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Play than any other individual. 
His six nods were for Barefoot in the Park (1964), Luv and The Odd Couple (1965), Plaza Suite (1968), The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1972), The Real Thing (1984), and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (2012). He has also won in other categories for directing the musical Monty Python's Spamalot (2005), and for producing Annie (1977) and The Real Thing (1984) under the company he founded, Icarus Productions, making it a total of nine Tony Award wins. He also received eight additional nominations.

Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of the Broadway League, said, "Legendary director Mike Nichols shared his distinct genius for storytelling through the worlds of stage and film. Throughout his celebrated career in many mediums that spanned decades, he was always in awe of the thrill and the miracle that is theatre. In addition to his numerous honors, including nine Tony Awards, he won over audiences with his passion for art. His notable presence in our industry will be deeply missed. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and fans."

Nichols started out on Broadway as a performer in An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May, which he co-wrote with May. The show premiered in 1960 and ran for 306 performances. His full Broadway biography can be found on The Internet Broadway Database ( here.

He made his cinematic directorial debut directing Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and later won the Academy Award for his direction of "The Graduate."

Among his upcoming projects, Nichols was slated to helm a screen adaptation of Terrence McNally's Master Class starring Meryl Streep as Maria Callas.

Nichols was born in Germany in 1931. He is survived by his wife, Diane Sawyer; his three children Daisy, Max and Jenny; and four grandchildren.

Originally published 11/10/14.

'She Loves Me' Headed Back To B'way In 2016

Laura Benanti
Roundabout Theatre Company (Todd Haimes, Artistic Director) announces a new Broadway production of She Love Me, starring Tony winner Laura Benanti (Gypsy, Nine) as “Amalia” and Josh Radnor (Disgraced, “How I Met Your Mother”) as “Georg”, directed by six-time Tony nominee Scott Ellis. This classic musical comedy features a book by Joe Masteroff, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock. In a special celebration of Roundabout’s 50th Anniversary season, She Loves Me returns to Broadway in a new production led by Roundabout’s Associate Artistic Director Scott Ellis. Scott directed Roundabout’s ten time Tony nominated revival of She Loves Me in 1993, which marked the first Broadway musical in the company’s history and launched the Musical Theatre Program at Roundabout. Highlights from Roundabout’s Musical Theatre Program include Cabaret, Nine, Assassins, Violet, The Pajama Game, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Sunday in the Park with George, Anything Goes and Broadway’s first revival of On the Twentieth Century opening
this spring.
She Loves Me will play a limited engagement on Broadway in the spring of 2016.
The full cast, creative team and dates will be announced shortly.
Roundabout Theatre Company welcomes back celebrated Broadway performer Laura Benanti after her acclaimed performance in Roundabout’s 2003 Broadway production of Nine and Josh Radnor, who starred in a special one-night only gala reading of She Loves Me in 2011. Roundabout Associate Artistic Director Scott Ellis has directed numerous productions for the Roundabout stages, most recently the 2015 production of On the Twentieth Century and the 2012 production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
She Loves Me is a heartwarming musical comedy classic about finding love the good old-fashioned way. It follows Georg (Radnor) and Amalia (Benanti), two parfumerie clerks who aren’t quite the best of friends. Constantly bumping heads while on the job, the sparring coworkers can’t seem to find common ground. But little do they know, the anonymous romantic pen pals they have both been falling for happen to be each other! Will love continue to blossom once their identities are finally revealed?
The celebrated score features favorites such as “Vanilla Ice Cream”, “A Romantic Atmosphere”, “Dear Friend” and “She Loves Me.” The musical is based on a play by Miklos Laszlo, whose well-known romantic story was the basis for the 1949 James Stewart film “The Shop Around the Corner” and the 1998 Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan film “You’ve Got Mail”.
She Loves Me benefits from Roundabout’s Musical Theatre Fund with lead gifts from The Howard Gilman Foundation and Perry and Marty Granoff.
Musicals at Roundabout are supported with generous gifts from: The Bok Family Foundation and Cynthia Wainwright and Stephen Berger.