Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Grey Gardens Is A New And Stunning Piece of Theatre

Wondering what new Broadway Musical might pique your interest this season? Think about Grey Gardens. I highly recommend this new and original musical.

It's based on the true-life stories of Jackie Kennedy Onasis's aunt and first cousin, both named Edith Bouvier Beale, who were socialites of the Hamptons in the 1940's and 1950's. Through a series of misfortunes, the glittering A-listers wound up eccentric and impoverished living in squalor in their once palacious home, Grey Gardens. Living with dozens of cats who see the house as a 28-room litter box, several rabid racoons living in the attic who are fed cat chow and Wonder Bread regularly, and precious little operating plumbing, the pair are eventually ordered by the East Hampton Health Department to clean up or get out. Niether happened.

Act 1 is the setup for Act 2, the real meat of the show where Christine Ebersol plays "Little Edie" at age 56. The tension and co-dependance between her and her mother, played by Mary Louise Wilson, is what comedy and drama are all about. The performances are magnificent, the set is a wonder, and the score has many "wow" moments in it.

Much of the dialogue and scenes come directly from the 1975 documentary film of the same name made of the Beales by doc-filmmakers, the Maysle Brothers. Renting the film is a good idea before seeing the show. Full of background, it will enhance your theatre experience.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Eartha Kitt Is Back On Broadway

Last night I saw 79-year-old show business legend Eartha Kitt in the first public preview performance of a sometimes zany, other times thought provoking new off-Broadway musical, Mimi Le Duck. To see Eartha Kitt make her entrance, waiting for the reveal behind a red silk curtain on a wheeled platform, wearing a tight floor length red velvet dress with a tall oiseau-like headdress was worth the price of admission by itself. The enthusiastic audience agreed.

Miss Kitt growls, and purrs, and has impeccable diction. She always delivers a song that is branded with her unique style. As Madame Vallet, the proprietress of a small Paris hotel, she sings two numbers. One is pure camp as she shows her "gams" and gives advice to Miriam, the Idaho Mormon housewife who fled to Paris from a life of boredom and predictability, and tells her to do whatever you do, but remember It's All About always "making it hot." But what really stops the show is Miss Kitt's introspective ballad Everything Changes, a song in which she looks back on life, youth and opportunities. There's nothing like a woman with tracks on her voice, her face, and her life to give a song like this heart. It's sure to join the ranks of Follies' I'm Still Here and Ballroom's Fifty Percent. You read it here first.

The cast of eight is a heavy hitting group of seasoned Broadway veterans. In the title role is Annie Golden, who sheds her life of gray and seeks life's colors to reawake her soul. It is the story of a woman who has the courage to radically change her life. She is up for the transformation delivering her songs with conviction and a superb range of emotion and vocal control. The end of Act 1 finds Mimi, formerly Miriam, singing a duet with her husband Peter (Marcus Neville) who has come from Idaho to take her back. Together they realize they don't want to lose one another, but can't "go back" and they sing Is There Room? Stunning end to Act 1.

For a first night preview there were a few to-be-expected mechanical kinks, prop mishaps, and the like. But the performances were strong and the show carried us along right to the end with the finale/reprise There Is Room.

Although Eartha Kitt is the name that got us there, she, along with Annie Golden, the strong cast and sometimes really wonderful music by Diana Hansen-Young (lyrics) and Brian Feinstein (music) will keep us coming.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Chorus Line: Untouched Perfection

A Chorus Line - The Revival opened on Broadway last week and I was there. With the first notes of the piano and "From the top. 5, 6, 7, 8!" the audience cheered and clapped and sat back in a personal time warp. The marquee reads: "This show is dedicated to anyone who has ever danced in a chorus or marched in step ... anywhere." - Michael Bennett, 1975. And so the tone of this production is set. It marches in step, perfectly.

The setting is the same: "1975, A Broadway theatre." Marvin Hamlisch didn't change a single note. Only one small paragraph was deleted from the book. The choreography was recreated by the same co-choreographer who assisted Michael Bennett. The sets, lighting and costumes? Untouched and recreated exactly as they were by the same designers. A Chorus Line is a living, breathing museum piece of Broadway history.

Having seen the original 30 years ago, and of course knowing every note, lyric, and line recorded for the original Columbia Masterworks LP, I felt like I was with old friends. I'm older, they're not. The direction for this revival cast was surely, "do it exactly as you are told, exactly as it was, exactly as you hear on the Original Cast recording." The cast obliged and recreates this show with deft accuracy.

I love the show, the music, and the often heart-breaking true stories portrayed by these kids. I still laughed, cried, and thrilled to the dancing and the spirit of the gypsies that fills the theatre. Paul's story, the drag queen who worked in the asshole of show business, brings audiences to tears every time. Morales' story in Nothing still enrages. What I Did For Love relates to everyone who has ever loved anything.

There is a however. I knew exactly what I was going to see and hear. There were no surprises. Like looking into a well-worn family photo album, I got the warm and fuzzy, but not the knock out punch I used to experience. For new audiences I highly recommend this production. It not only has great performances, it is Broadway legend and perfect in every way.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

"I don't like interviews, but I liked tonight..."

When you do a weekly radio show it's always interesting to see who will actually pick up the telephone and call you while you're on the air. Tonight's Broadway Bound show included a 40-minute segment with an interview I did with Tony-winning Broadway orchestrator William David Brohn (see post 9/5/06). My interviews are as much, if not more, music than conversation. The interview supports and introduces the music. The music supports the interview.

A gentleman called on the air tonight the minute the interview segment was over and said he doesn't like it when I do interviews because it interrupts the flow of the music. "But tonight I liked it. It was very interesting and it had a good balance of music and talk."

How 'bout that? I will always strive to be better than the last time.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Producers: Still great after five years.

A couple of nights ago I finally got around to seeing The Producers on Broadway. You know, the show that earned more Tony Awards (12) than any musical in history, the show based on the hilarious 1968 Mel Brooks film, the show that made Broadway simply gah-gah over Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, the show that opened in April of 2001 and hasn't let up, the show that spawned a new movie musical of the same name -- that show.

Did you ever see something hyped so much you really don't want to follow the crowd? I'll admit some of that was at work for me. But, good seats at a discount price came my way and off we went to see what the hype was all about. I have to say I can't recall laughing so hard that I was gasping for breath lest I pass out. The performance was all-Broadway at its best. Mel Brooks wrote this one and the jokes are all Brooks. The full 26-piece orchestra, becoming a thing of the past since the new 2004 contract with the Musicians Union calls for minimums of only 14 or 15, is in great form to support the hilarious song and dance antics on stage.

And what antics: little old ladies dancing with walkers, Nazi Stormtroopers in Rockettes-like choreography, tit jokes, ass jokes, and old-fashioned slapstick made this evening a non-stop exercise in the art of laughing and cheering.

At the head of the cast, as "the producers", are John Treacy Egan and Hunter Foster. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick were legendary in this role. Egan and Foster are the new legends giving spectacular performances with comedy, singing, and character acting just oozing out of their large (Egan) and small (Foster) bodies. Both men have been in the show for some time.

Others in the cast have also been there for many years and have honed their roles with minute details that make their performances truly unique. Still others are new to the cast and perform with all the energy of an opening night.

Never a down moment, never a time to slip into a short nap, The Producers continues to pack a bang for the buck and then some. It is Broadway in every way with sets, costumes, lighting, and chorus boys and girls dazzling the audience at every turn. The true test of a great musical comedy is whether or not my partner, John, laughs and stays awake. High-five on both counts!

Don't miss this show. Every now and then, the hype is actually true.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hooked on HAIR: My First Broadway Show

Seth Rudetsky's book, The Q Guide To Braodway [9/10/06 post], made me think. Everyone remembers their first Broadway show, the one they actually saw on Broadway. Well, for me it was Hair. The music was all over the radio by cover artists: Good Morning Starshine by Oliver (#3 Pop); Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In by the Fifth Dimension (#1 Pop); Easy To Be Hard by Three Dog Night (#4 Pop); Hair! by the Cowsills (#2 Pop). When's the last time a Broadway show generated four top-5 hits?

The year was 1969. Tickets for Hair were about $12 and a bunch of us drove from Connecticut to see this "Tribal Rock Musical" that had no article in front of the title. People were uncomfortable calling it just "Hair," they wanted to say "The Hair." You had one-word titles like Oklahoma and Fanny, but they were proper nouns. Hair was a common noun, it needed an article, dammit! Like the content of the show, even the title was groundbreaking.

I remember the house lights dimming, my heart pounding, and then "when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars" started I was hyperventilating. How can those people, my same age, be up there, singing into microphones with an on-stage rock band? This is Broadway, the province of My Fair Lady, Funny Girl, Dolly, Fiddler, and my first love, South Pacific. Didn't matter. I knew that our generation had done something really wonderful. We were changing the establishment at every turn. Hair was part of it with its themes of war-protest, sex in all forms is OK ("just as long as you don't hurt anybody"), black boys are delicious, white boys are too, the air is polluted and we better do something about it, naked bodies are beautiful, our drugs are different from our parents', and let the sun shine in on the new world. Talk about a revolution.

The music went from rock-hard loud to ballad-sweet soft. From Donna the 16-year-old virgin, to the heartbreak of losing Frank Mills before you ever to get to know him. From Easy to Be Hard in this world full of “no” to hope for a better tomorrow when we all Let the Sun Shine In (note that shine is a verb here and not part of the noun sunshine). And then there was the shockingly wonderful black girls singing about their sexual desire for White Boys and the white girls wanting some chocolate flavored Black Boys. Not only were they blurring the race lines, but they were blatantly blurring the roles of males and females.

I walked out of the theater absolutely stunned by what I saw. It was a life-changing event. Two hours that validated my thoughts, my generation, my dress, my music, and me. I will never forget it. I was hooked on Hair -- and Broadway -- for life.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Just Published: The Q Guide to Broadway

Seth Rudetsky, a very taleneted Broadway conductor, sub, fundraiser guru, radio host, and all-around insider is obsessed with all things Broadway. His first book, The Q (as in Queer) Guide to Broadway has just been published by Alyson Press. Seth's writing style is easy, coversational, and informative with lots of spice.

The Q-Guide tells the ordinary Broadway fan how to find cheap tickets, what the lingo is all about, some whys and wherefores about the industry, lots of great recommendations to build the "must have" Broadway Cast CD Library, and oodles of stories about the personalities. The book is not a history of Broadway, it's here and now. For fun, there are five quizzes about Broadway lore and facts to test your pre-existing knowledge and send you googling to learn more.

Written with a gay sensibility, Seth's new 174-page book is a one sitting cover-to-cover must read for the Broadway fan and the insider as well.

Alyson Press; The Q Guide To Broadway by Seth Rudetsky.