Monday, April 4, 2016

2014 in a nutshell

Did you miss me?  Anyway, here's a brief rundown of most of my 2014 theatre viewing.  Short and sweet.

Mothers and Sons (Bway - Golden, May 8, 7pm) - Tyne Daly can do no wrong, but I'm sure even she is sick of getting typecast in "nightmare mother" roles. The play poses interesting question of what constitutes family in these days of shifting definitions, but seems like a draft rather than a finished product.
A Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder (Bway - Walter Kerr, May 14, 8pm) - Nice to see legit singing back on Broadway. Clever staging, great performances, a dry, almost British comic sensibility, site gags a-plenty. Not earth-shattering, but an enjoyable evening of theatre.
If/Then (Bway - Richard Rodgers, May 29, 8pm) - Idina Menzel is in incredible voice, sounding better than ever (including Wicked). The dual story lines, while not necessarily confusing, seem a bit contrived. Especially the whole *spoiler alert* plane crash. Weird set design that basically cuts the stage height in half, with no apparent pay-off visually. Tom Kitt knows how to write a driving pop ballad. See it for Menzel's performance.
Holler if Ya Hear Me (Bway - Palace, Jun 5, 8pm) - Unlike every legit reviewer on the planet, I actually enjoyed this show. It wasn't perfect by any means. But I found the earnest, yet wildly shifting tone - one minute hardcore street, the next minute a J-Lo music video - enough to keep me interested. Tupac's music and lyrics are worth a listen.
Lady Day (Bway - Circle in the Square, Jun 7, 2pm) - Audra is a goddess and I just needed to see the show for a third time.
Piece of My Heart (OB - Signature Center, Jun 26, 7:30p) - I had no idea that Bert Berns was behind so many hit songs of the 60s. The book is a little rough and the criminally under-used Leslie Kritzer needs more to sing, but you can't beat the score of pop hits.
Violet (Bway - AA, Jul 5, 2:00p) - Sutton Foster is just about perfect and the score is one of Tesori's best. Ensemble cast is uniformly excellent. Glad to have caught this production as a Broadway revival isn't likely again anytime soon.
This Is Our Youth (Bway - Cort, Aug 30, 2pm) - An usher randomly offered to move Trish and I to front row seats, so we got plenty of up-close time with Kieren Culkin and Michael Cera. Solid production, well-cast.
Found (OB - Atlantic Theater, Sep 21, 7pm) - Went in cold and thoroughly enjoyed this quirky musical full of unexpected wit and charm about the pitfalls of success. Always nice to see colleague Orville Mendoza on stage. The show is unique and idiosyncratic, so sadly it probably won't be a hit with the masses.
On The Town (Bway - Lyric, Sep 27, 8pm) - Huge-scale Broadway revival of the Bernstein/Comden/Green musical about sailors on shore leave in the 1940s. Cried when they played the National Anthem to open the show and everyone stood up and sang. I'm sucker for sentimentality. Athletic choreography, virtuoso dancing, huge ensemble, full orchestra, Bernstein score. What's not to like?
The Last Ship (Bway -Neil Simon, Oct 6, 8pm) - Haunting, tuneful score by pop icon Sting in a gorgeous production with a stunning final tableau. And Rachel Tucker should be a star in America (not just in her native Ireland/UK). I honestly don't understand the bad reviews.
On The Town (Bway - Lyric, Oct 23, 7pm) - With another large-scale Broadway revival highly unlikely within my lifetime, had to make a second visit.
Side Show (Bway - St. James, Oct 1, 8pm) - I'm definitely a fan of the much-maligned original production. I found this re-imagined "revisal" less affecting than the original, but appreciated the more realistic approach to the staging and make-up. And you really can't beat the score chock full of driving power ballads. What can I say? I'm a child of the 80s. It's near impossible to match the balls-to-the-wall original performances of Ripley and Skinner, but Erin Davie and Emily Padgett are worthy successors.
Fortress of Solitude (OB - Public, Nov 8, 8pm) - Wonderful score, inventive staging, the always charming Adam Chanler-Berat heading a top-notch Broadway caliber cast rocking a nostalgia-driven period pop and R&B driven score. Hope to see a move uptown in a bigger production that I think would only elevate the piece given the scope of the material.
You Can't Take It With You (Bway - Longacre, Nov 13, 7pm) - I have just three words - James Earl Jones. Annaleigh Ashford is pretty spectacular, too. Nice to see this chestnut lifted out of high-school-production purgatory and given a full-scale Broadway production.
Honeymoon in Vegas (Bway - Nederlander, Nov 20, 8pm) - Jason Robert Brown just can't catch a break. As always, a fantastic score saddled to a problematic book that maybe clung too literally to the source material. Honestly, I found my 2014 sensibilities unable to fully warm to the idea of betting your spouse in a poker game. But always great to see one of my old Grease tour castmates, Gaelen Gillilend, in yet another Broadway show (yes, I will continue to name drop!).

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Smorgasburg virgins

For Trish's Last Supper (or in this case, Last Brunch) before getting Snatched, we decided to pop our Smorgasburg cherries and meet the Westfield, NJ contingent in über hip Williamsburg for a bacchanalian day of excess. Here's how the day progressed in pictures!

After a fairly painless subway ride, including a transfer to the dreaded L train, Trish and I emerged in NYC's hippest borough, Brooklyn. We strolled toward the waterfront, throwing death stares at the cute brownstones and chic apartment buildings reserved for goatee sporting, skinny-jean wearing, gluten-free, pretty people.

We arrived about 20 minutes before 11am - just enough time to cruise the vendors (many still setting up) and plan the day's caloric intake. The Guerrero-Cook crews were still stuck in cars somewhere in NY traffic, so we grabbed a bacon pretzel from the bitchy gal manning the Bronx Baking Co.'s tent and started our first round of munching. Since the pretzel was so delicious, we decided not to let that bitch's attitude dampen our enthusiasm or appetite.

Grilled maple bacon stick anyone? We made it about halfway around the ring of food tents before giving in to a gooey, sweet slab of pork belly from Landhaus

You can never have too much pork belly, right? (Someone needs to cross-stitch that on a pillow) Next stop, Bite Size Kitchen for crispy pork belly and braised duck leg buns. From behind, we overheard two pretentious, twenty-something gals straight out of Girls, snootily turn their noses up at these buns because, "Oh, we make those at home." From the look of their manicured hands and expensive-though-made-to-look-vintage clothing, there is no way those girls have made homemade anything, ever.

Having completed our initial exploratory loop, it was time to cleanse our palates with dessert. We ended up sharing a fluffy, yeast-raised, dulce de leche and almond doughnut from Dough. These little diabetes bombs give Doughnut Plant a run for their money. Heresy, I know.

An hour later and the Jersey crew still hadn't arrived.  So we grabbed a fried chicken and bacon biscuit (somewhat disappointing following all our decadent pork belly treats) and relaxed at a picnic table overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Up until now, we had been taunting our car-bound friends by texting them these pictures as we cruelly described each scrumptious bite.

I'm usually not one to shy away from excessive bitchiness, but even I started to feel guilty as the time passed and our companions continued to sit in food-free torment on the highway. So after this picture, we decided on a food porn moratorium until after their arrival.

Just passed our table, Trish spied a long line forming by one tent. Without even checking out the offerings, we got in line. Whatever is under that blue tent better be worth the wait or this bitch may just cut you.

With the line barely moving, Trish went on reconnaissance to make sure we weren't wasting our time. Ramen burgers! Score. But it was now close to noon and there was a noticeable increase in foot traffic. We decided to split up. Trish made a beeline for Might Quinn's where another long line was forming. She hooked us up with some pork BBQ and brisket sandwiches.

After about 20 minutes, I finally made it to the front of the line and purchased my $9 (!!) burger. Sadly, the product didn't live up to the hype. I mean, it's a burger wedged between two slabs of greasy ramen noodles. Didn't taste bad per se, but really nothing special. We ended up taking a few bites and tossing the rest. No use wasting precious stomach space.

The Philippines is representin' in Brooklyn. Though I'm sure they are delicious, we didn't try their lumpia because we were suspicious of the pretty plating and garnishing. We're used to seeing those little critters piled up haphazardly in a foil tray, ghetto style.

The Guerreros, Cooks and Nadeaus finally arrived and we spent the rest of the afternoon taking turns guarding our picnic table and hording food.

The End

Thursday, April 17, 2014

AUDITION HELL PART 2: Do you hear the people sing...

1 < > 3

Audition Hell: A recollection of my very worst audition experiences. You're welcome! 

Remember way back in 1996 when there was that big uproar at Equity because Les Mis was going to fire most of the existing Broadway company? The production team thought the cast of the already 9-year-old show was suffering from long-run-itis and they wanted to inject the company with some fresh blood (not to mention that many of the actors cast in their 30s were now in their 40s and still playing students).

Like every other singer/actor within a 1000 mile radius of NYC, I signed up for the ECC. I showed up and waited all day to get my 30 seconds of face time with who I assumed was some lowly intern made to sit through a day of Les Miz auditions as part of some sick casting agent hazing ritual. But lo and behold, a few days later I received a callback for that upcoming weekend at the historic 890 Broadway building (once owned by Michael Bennett).

I should have known something was up due to the odd scheduling and audition location. But I was young and stupid. I showed up at the audition set to sing "No More" from Into the Woods. I know, horrible choice, but in my youthful arrogance I thought I was going to wow them with my cerebral choice of Sondheim.

Anyway, the monitor approached me and the two other people who had been called during my time slot. He handed us a sheet of paper and said, "Here's who's in the room today." It read:

Cameron Mackintosh, Producer
John Caird, Director
Claude-Michel Schonberg, Music
Alain Boublil, Book

There were more names, but I had tunnel vision and everything around those names was just a blur. One of my audition companions appropriately uttered, "Holy shit!" under her breath. And I nearly did wholely shit my pants on the spot. This could possibly be the single most important audition of my life.

I entered a cavernous room with the world's longest table set-up. There were literally dozens of people sitting behind it all smiling politely at me. Standing and leaning against the piano was a distinguished gentlemen who appeared to be reading my resume.

"Hi Fausto. I'm John Caird. How are you today?"

I almost soiled my panties a second time. He then proceeded to ask me questions about my family, about my schooling and other random personal questions. After what seemed like hours (probably 2 minutes tops), he asked me to sing.

I showed the accompanist my cuts, walked back to my spot, nodded and listened to the intro.

"No more ques-(voice cracks)-tions, please..."

Yes, in front of the entire Les Mis creative team I did the one thing I have never, ever done during an audition (before or since). It wasn't even a high note. But it was too late. I was mortified. I completely lost focus and could only think about that one splattered note through the whole audition. In my defense, I was only a few years out of school and didn't have the experience or emotional fortitude to just shrug it off and I'm sure it showed.

I finished my song and Mr. Caird gave me a polite "thank you."

Holding back tears I fled the building dejected.  At the time I thought my professional life was over, so I just went home to cry and eat Ben & Jerry's.

Epilogue: Since that first fateful audition, I eventually got my shit together and was called in several times for Les Mis (including a couple of times specifically for Marius).  I never booked it, but I guess that splat wasn't as horrible as I thought.  Either that, or casting agents have very short memories.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Italians, Asians and White Bitches...

Who said there isn’t any diversity on Broadway?

Here’s a down and-dirty re-cap of a few shows I failed to review earlier this year.

Bridges of Madison County
Schoenfeld Theatre
Tuesday, January 21, 8PM

The movie version is a guilty pleasure of mine, having bonded with my now sister-in-law, Val, while watching a rerun on TV and weeping uncontrollably as we watched Meryl agonizingly clutch the door handle of her truck while both of us screamed at the TV, “Go! Go with Clint!”

Perhaps it was our youthful idealism (or I’m now just a jaded, old bitch), but seeing the same scenario play out onstage nearly two decades later, Francesca’s choice doesn’t seem all that complicated to me. Stay with your loving husband (yeah, he’s boring, but you chose him) and children, or drop everything for the hunky drifter you’ve known for all of four days.

I know, it’s a romance and Steven Pasquale, I mean Robert, is super tasty, but in this case the pragmatist in me over-rides my hormones. Maybe that’s why I don’t quite buy the “soul mate” argument in this case.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Bridges (the musical). The score is gorgeous, and filled with JRB’s trademark soaring folk-pop ballads along with some more – dare I say – sophisticated writing for Kelli O’Hara’s lovely legit soprano. Sadly, I think her wonderful performance might get passed over once again at this year’s Tonys for bigger names and showier roles – always the bridesmaid. Oh well, at least she doesn’t have to compete against Audra.

Steven Pasquale is the reason the wife-beater t-shirt was invented. What a voice. And did I mention he’s hot?

My main quibble is with the show’s structure. Opening up the story gives too much time to secondary characters. I wanted to stay with Robert and Francesca. Their attraction is obviously sexual at first. But when/how does it become emotional? What’s Robert’s story (other than having an ex that left him a guitar that he can’t play)? They have sex and all of a sudden they’re in love and want to run away together? There are just so many details of their relationship I wanted to explore, but instead we get a random chorus member clogging at the state fair.

Kung Fu
Signature Theatre
Tuesday, February 18, 7:30PM

Bruce Lee’s story is fascinating and definitely worth telling, but this play suffers from multiple personal disorder. It’s sometimes a by-the-numbers biopic, sometimes a campy homage to Lee, and sometimes a visually stunning father-son dance fantasy.

That said, Sonia Tayeh (one of my favorite SYTYCD choreographers) is a goddess. Her choreography and movement (along with fight director, Emmanuel Brown) are the real stars of Kung Fu. Any time the piece moves – that includes the intricately choreographed set changes – I was engaged. The book scenes seemed like filler to get us to the next production number.

The cast, too, is uniformly excellent with Cole Horibe, a SYTYCD finalist with no previous acting credits, giving a respectable NYC stage debut. Though his thick, cartoonish accent – which I guess the real Bruce Lee may very well have possessed – often took me out of the moment. What he lacks in subtlety, he more than makes up for with his dancing, martial arts expertise and six pack.

New World Stages
Sunday, March 30, 7:30PM

Heathers is maybe the gayest thing to hit NYC theatre in years. It’s a camp musical based on a camp film full of campy performances and campy catch phrases featuring shirtless young studs. Bring on the gays! I’ll also wager the producers hope to snag nostalgia driven forty-somethings (like me) longing to feel cool and relevant. Though the homo sub-plot, snicker-inducing at the time the movie was originally released, now seems positively quaint.

Heathers is a tad darker than the same songwriting team’s last stage effort, Broadway’s Legally Blond, but it covers similar ground. I was actually hoping the satire would be darker, more on the level of their earliest commercial work, Bat Boy. Oh well, at least we get a fun evening filled with the zinging one-liners that made the movie an instant classic. I mean, has any movie graced the English lexicon with a more memorable exclamation than “fuck me gently with a chainsaw”? Methinks not.

The score is efficient and pleasant enough, with the obligatory high belting to signify emotion. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just so, well, obvious. That said, I found “Blue,” sung by Kurt and Ram about a certain condition of the male genitalia, hilarious. Yes, my sense of humor is about on the level of a 10-year-old. And I’m sure the bullied Martha’s moving 11-o-clock number, “Kindergarten,” will be so overdone at auditions and cabarets over the next year that I’ll grow to hate it.

The cast is young and pretty and sing beautifully and loudly.

The unit set looks like the interior of a space ship from a bad 70s sci-fi movie (except in violet and pink hues) and at no time even remotely suggests any of the settings within the show.

The direction was adequate but pedestrian – basically moving traffic on an off the stage.

As a whole, the show felt like a Broadway musical banished to an off-Broadway house. The material and story cried out for a bigger venue and large cast.

At the performance I attended, the audience was peppered with annoying superfans that squealed and screamed at every familiar line or scene.

But did I enjoy myself? Yes.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

My review of Lady Day or "I didn't think I could possibly love Audra more"

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
Circle in the Square
Thursday, March 27, 8PM

Warning: This is a completely biased review from an unapologetic Audra-obsessed fanboy.  Do not expect impartial criticism.

Audra and Billie
I don’t care if the nominating committee can’t decide whether Lady Day is a “musical” or a “play with music.” Just hand Audra her sixth Tony. If I had my way, I would institute a “Best Performance by Audra McDonald” category and she could win a Tony every year. We can then debate the flawlessness of each performance in whatever show she’s currently appearing.

As a confirmed Audraphile, I admit even I had my doubts. Audra’s voice is perfection, but I just couldn’t imagine Audra’s soaring legit soprano attempt to take on Billie Holiday’s iconic songs and performance style.

What Ms. McD accomplishes transcends mere mimicry. She's dampened some of the glorious bloom and lushness of her soprano voice in order to inhabit - not just imitate - Holiday’s iconic sound, style and manner.

It’s unfortunate the book scenes don’t match the quality of Audra’s performance. They are uneven and sometimes unnecessarily meandering. But Audra manages to enthrall with even mediocre writing. There is an immediacy and desperation in her performance that only heightens the tragedy of Holiday’s short, demon-filled life.

The intimate Circle in the Square is the perfect venue to see Audra up close and personal. And even as a boozed-up, heroin addict, Audra’s still radiant. Though I suspect if she ever played a homeless, scarred leper I’d still find her radiant.

Did I mention I’m obsessed with Audra?

Props to the excellent onstage jazz trio whose talents are equally responsible for the style and sound of the show.

Friday, March 21, 2014

“It has some nice tunes, but the story…”

The Threepenny Opera
Thursday, March 20, 8PM

Now read the title of this review again, but with a thick Jewish accent.

…thus proclaimeth the elderly gentlemen sitting in front of me to his wife and their companions as the intermission house lights came up.

He probably expected a jolly romp a la Guys and Dolls after his wife sold him on the show by telling him, “It has that Frank Sinatra song ‘Mack the Knife’ in it.” I’m not sure “Brecht” and “jolly” should ever be associated together in the same sentence.

I’m actually a Threepenny virgin, so I was very much looking forward to the Atlantic’s revival (not to mention the $20 ticket price!). The production, still in previews, is a bit uneven and the talented cast is still struggling to find a cohesive style. Nevertheless, there are several great performances and a few striking stage moments.

I’ll admit, after the opening 10 minutes I was thinking, “This is going to be a very long night.” The famous opening song is a meandering mess with the ensemble wandering and writhing around the stage aimlessly.

The show finally gains some traction with Polly’s entrance. Once again, Laura Osnes proves she’s not just another pretty reality show victim but a bona fide actress. She captures the presentational style of the piece while still managing to connect emotionally with the audience. Her “Pirate Jenny” and “Jealousy Duet” with Lucy (Lilli Cooper) are show highlights.

There’s a lot of crotch grabbing, simulated sex, and even some full frontal nudity, which, I guess is part of the Epic theatre’s “shock” value. It didn’t really bother me except during Jenny’s song where poor Sally Murphy was upstaged by background actors simulating fellatio and demonstrating the reverse cowgirl position. Though Murphy emoted center stage with nipples poking through a sheer bra and in a bright spotlight, I never gave her a second glance.

Michael Park is a credible Macheath, though I wanted him to be a bit edgier, darker – more dangerous. He’s almost a bit too “clean.”

Mary Beth Peil is a droll Mrs. Peachum. She would have made a fantastic Lovett in her day.

F. Murry Abraham has great stage presence, but seems like director/choreographer Martha Clarke hung him out to dry. He spends most of his songs wondering the front lip of the stage, directionless. He was not helped by some really obvious lighting queue gaffes that left him treading water in near darkness.

The three act musical takes a brief intermission in the middle of Act II. The second half of the play seems much more stylistically coherent than the clunky first half, though it could be a fault in the writing/translation.

As always, lobby eavesdropping prior to the show proved almost as entertaining as the stage performances. You would think a mother taking her adolescent children to a show would do a little research. "There's nudity?" she surprisingly asked the usher after reading a warning at the box office window. I'm sure she had no idea the show is about murderers and whores.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bullets Over Broadway on Broadway

Bullets Over Broadway
St. James Theatre
Saturday, March 15, 2pm

When this shady old bitch was in college some 20 (gasp) odd years ago, Bullets Over Broadway was required Friday night drunken dorm viewing for any aspiring theatre dork/queen. So you can imagine the show boner I popped when Woody (pun intended – hehe) Allen announced he was prepping Bullets for a musical stage adaptation.

My amorous mood was shattered once producers announced they would use pre-existing period songs instead of creating an original score. My beloved Bullets was to be adapted into another awful jukebox musical tourist trap a la Mamma Mia. Don't speak. Please, don't speak.

The interpolated songs are fairly logically integrated into the plot and are newly arranged with some updated lyrics that lend (some) specificity to their placement in the show. There are, nonetheless, several instances where the shoe-horn effect grinds this otherwise solid stage adaptation to a screeching halt.

I don't know what kind of incriminating photos the producers are holding against Karen Ziemba, but I'm thankful it's forced her to accept what amounts to a glorified featured ensemble role. Regardless, she manages to transform the pleasant yet pointless "There's a New Day Comin'" into a reasonably inoffensive second act opener. Though I suspect the number was added to accommodate her luxury casting. And the thoroughly anticlimactic finale (“Yes, We Have No Bananas”) seems like a non sequitur, a place holder until the creative team can come up with an appropriately glitzy replacement.

The rest of the score is good to serviceable, mostly a means for the cast to show-off vocally or give Stro a reason to inject some leggy showgirls into the mix. It's all entertainingly performed and staged, but any one of the songs could be randomly cut and you'd really not miss it much. 

The flashy but tasteful art deco-inspired set is a marvel of designer ingenuity, with a remarkable amount of different locations suggested by a minimum of set pieces.  The second act rotating stage-within-a-stage embellished with chorus girls in tableau is the kind of staging inventiveness we expect from the prop-happy choreographer that brought us Crazy For You.

The show looks great, all the performances are solid and the choreography is vintage Susan Stroman - though nothing quite reaches the eye-popping excitement of her best work (i.e. "I Got Rhythm" or "Little Old Lay Land"). Still, the show never felt more than "pleasant" to me.

Keeping with my boner metaphor, I think the show shoots it's proverbial wad too soon. Near the beginning of the show, the wannabe actress, Olive, has an outrageous number called "I Want a Hot Dog for My Roll" (insert bat over head). Anyway, it has the audience roaring. Unfortunately, nothing that follows tops it. The audience keeps waiting for the 11 o' clock number that never comes.

Nick Cordero's Cheech is the highlight of the show and a shoe-in for a best supporting actor Tony nom. Mazzie looks and sounds gorgeous, but would have benefited from an original song that might better exploit her huge range and personality. Zach Braff is adorable with a pleasant enough singing voice, but the character doesn't really register much amidst all the other big personalities surrounding him. Helene York is an audience favorite, but seemed to go for the obvious choice - ditzy slut with nails-on-a-chalkboard voice. I think a much more interesting choice would have been to temper her a bit, make her more subtlely manipulative with maybe a hint of Bettie Boop. Then again, what do I know? Woody's a gajillionaire and I answer phones.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Back-to-back “Rocky”s

Rocky the Musical
Winter Garden Theatre
Thursday, Feb 13, 8PM &
Friday, Feb 14, 8PM

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Rocky franchise but the mere thought of a new Ahrens & Flaherty score is enough to get me drooling in anticipation. That, and the fantasy of A&H writing a new Witches of Eastwick musical starring Audra (in the Cher role), Carolee Carmello (in the Sarandon role) and Kate Baldwin (in the Pfeiffer role). Never gonna’ happen, but a girl can dream.

Tonight’s performance was the first official preview since last night’s performance was canceled due to electrical issues caused by all the salt and melting snow.
In a brief pre-curtain speech, director Alex Timbers explained that the two huge metal beasts humming outside the theatre on Seventh Avenue are actually industrial generators. That’s right, ConEd, a little electrical issue isn’t gonna’ stop Philly’s finest from making his Broadway debut.

Timbers also warned that the show might be stopped at any moment to ensure the actors' safety given the technical demands of the massive multiple moving set piecess. I briefly envisioned Rocky Balboa flying Spider-Man-style above the stage, whacking into the side of the proscenium and then slowly sliding down the side of the stage.

But I couldn’t luxuriate in my schadenfreude-induced fantasy for long. The houselights dimmed and the iconic trumpet fanfare (interpolated from the movie) blared through the speakers. The audience expectedly roared its approval. And truth be told, hearing that music coupled with the crowd’s reaction got my adrenaline pumping as well.

The show itself is a fairly straight forward adaptation of the movie by original writer, Sylvester Stallone (with an assist from veteran book writer, Thomas Meehan). The turtles, the raw eggs, the “Yo, Adrienne!”’s and the Art Museum steps are all there – no surprises. 

Straight adaptions usually bother me but perhaps I was feeling unusually sentimental on this pre-Valentine's Day evening, because the shared audience familiarity was oddly comforting. I mean, it’s Rocky after all, not King Lear.

Though the score lacks the sweeping power of A&F’s previous efforts, it possesses a simplicity and sweetness that seems entirely appropriate for these blue collar characters. Though I’ll admit I did find myself waiting for the evening’s “Wheels of a Dream.” Sigh. Maybe I'll get my anthem fix in their upcoming Little Dancer.

The physical design is pretty spectacular with hulking set pieces fluidly (at least at the first preview) moving around and above the ant-like cast. Even a rafter-descending rack of beef sides gets enthusiastic audience applause.

And then there's the climactic final boxing match. Possibly the most exciting 15 minutes of staging I've witnessed in the last 10 years of theatre-going. I won't spoil it, but if a real fight is anywhere near as thrilling as what happens at the Winter Garden eight times a week, count me in for ringside seats at Madison Square Garden.

Of course, I may have been slightly influenced by the unusually vocal audience that seemed made up of the cast's friends and family and comped Equity members. After the show I even ran into an old actor friend who mistook my straight twink theatre companion for my boyfriend. As if. I don't date anyone born after the first Back to the Future movie was released. A lady needs to maintain some standards.

Photo courtesy of
And I almost forgot. Sly himself took a bow after the curtain call to congratulate the cast in his unmistakably slurred Stallone speech. The man does look good, if a bit "pulled."

Déjà vu - Rocky, take 2

With the upcoming President's Day weekend holiday, Juan and Val planned a staycation in the city. And after my freakish raves about Rocky's final fight scene, Val immediately bought us all TDF tickets for Friday night's performance.

Of course, Val hadn't realized it was also Valentine's Day, so instead of spending a romantic evening with Juan, she had to settle for a not-so-intimate evening with me, my "date" Dylan (another voice teacher at the conservatory) and the other 1500 or so audience members at the Winter Garden.

I'm a total musical theatre dork, but even I have never seen the same Broadway show two days in a row. I guess I can now graduate to theatre Queen - with a capital "Q" - which I assume entitles me to a longer red velvet cape and at least an added be-jeweled scepter.

While yesterday's first preview was technically flawless, the second preview - not so much. Several automated pieces malfunctioned and had to be moved manually by stage hands. The actors gamely improv-ed to cover some really awkward pauses and missed scene changes - most notably a missing set of lockers that set up a running gag through the show.

The stage manager then had to stop the show mid-way through act one for about 10 minutes to reset two large moving walls that decided they liked where they were sitting.

An important prop went missing in the second act - the Christmas tree topper that was supposed to be the button of Rocky and Adrienne's big Act 2 love duet.

Oh well, the magic of live theatre!

Other then the technical issues, the show played pretty consistently based on yesterday's first preview. Though Andy Karl seemed much more vocally secure the second night (first performance seemed to suffer a bit from opening night nerves causing some minor pitch issues). The rest of the performances were solid to good.

Rocky certainly is no Ragtime or Once on this Island, but it's a solid evening of fun nostalgia for those of us who can still remember the 80s. It's also the perfect "straight" guy musical (if he can sit still through the more traditional first act). But there's no denying the real star performance in this production - the awesome set and Alex Timber's direction.
"I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing thana hundred people's ninth favorite thing."

Jeff Bowen, Lyrics "[Title of Show]"