Most musicals have the same boy meets girl, boy gets girl narrative.
The Book of Mormon as a far from the traditional Broadway musical as one can get. Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (aka the guys behind South Park), The Book of Mormon is about two Mormon missionaries who travel to a village in Uganda to convert the locals. Elder Price (Dave Thomas Brown) is confident and secure that he will be able to complete his mission. Elder Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand) has the required enthusiasm for the job, but his social skills are not quite up to par as his partner.
When they get to Uganda, Elder Price and Cunningham are surprised that the locals are not exactly warming up to their message. In addition to deal with an AIDS crisis, famine and oppression, they also have a local warlord on their tail. Can they convert the locals or will they fail?
I was surprised about this musical. I knew that it was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I also knew that the humor can only be described as potty humor. While the first half was a little slow, the second half not only sped up, but also had the audience in stitches at certain moments.
It’s not the traditional Broadway musical, but that’s fine. But it’s also the type of show that certain audience members would find offensive.
Do I recommend it? Yes.
The Book of Mormon is playing at the Eugene O’Neill Theater (230 W 49th Street in New York City). Check the website for showtimes and tickets.
Sometimes, fate surprises us. We learn and grow in the most surprising ways.
In the play The Band’s Visit (based on the film of the same name) a band from Egypt is scheduled to play at the opening of an Arab Cultural Center in Israel. A mistake is made and they take the bus to the wrong city. The locals take them in for the night. The leader of the band, Tewfiq (DARIUSH KASHANI) beds down for the night with Dina (KATRINA LENK), the owner of a small cafe. What starts out as a night of hospitality turns into a friendship and a conversation about being human and the experiences we have.
I loved this show. It absolutely deserved the 10 Tony Awards that were conferred on the show by the Tony voters. What makes the show interesting is that it has the running time of a play (about 90 minutes), but it has the narrative structure and character arc of a musical (using song and dance to tell the story). I read somewhere that the show stands out because it speaks to the heart and the intelligence of the audience, instead of appealing to the audience’s baser instincts when it comes to Broadway shows.
But what makes the show stand out for me is the fact that it speaks to the idea that even when two groups of people who are known not to like each other, individuals on opposite sides of the conflict can find common ground and perhaps friendship.
I absolutely recommend it.
The Band’s Visit is playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater at 243 W 47th Street in New York City. Check the website for ticket prices and showtimes.
Two thoughts come to mind when it is announced that a musical based on a story that is not a musical will soon be on stage. One thought is that the producers have chosen a known work with a dedicated fan base, who can spread the word and reduce the work of the publicity department. The other thought is that the producers took the easy way out, choosing a known work instead of taking a chance on a work by a writer whose name is not as well-known.
I saw Cruel Intentions: The Musical earlier today. As with the 1999 film of the same name, the story is set in New York City. Sebastian Valmont (Constantine Rousouli, taking over from Ryan Phillipe) and Kathryn Merteuil (Lauren Zarkin, taking over from Sarah Michelle Gellar) are rich step-siblings. They make a bet that Sebastian can seduce Annette Hargrove (Carrie St. Louis, taking over from Reese Witherspoon), the virgin daughter of their school’s new headmaster. If Sebastian wins, he gets to sleep with Kathryn, the one girl who is out of his reach. If Kathryn wins, she can claim ownership of Sebastian’s car, his pride and joy. It seems like a simple task, but by the time the game of seduction and lies is over, nothing will be the same.
Based on the book Dangerous Liaisons, the show is a ton of fun and extremely enjoyable. True to the film incarnation, with a singable soundtrack straight out of the 1990s, the show is one of the best I have seen in a very long time.
I absolutely recommend it.
Cruel Intentions is playing at (Le) Poisson Rouge (158 Bleeker Street, New York City) until March 16th, 2018.
War is never as simple or clear-cut as it appears to be. Those lucky enough to return home in one piece may appear to be fine, but the reality is often quite different.
In the new Broadway musical, Bandstand, Donny Novitski (Corey Cott) has just returned from World War II. A musician before the war, music is the only thing that quiets the dark memories of his war-time experience. When he hears that NBC is holding a contest to discover unknown bands, he jumps at the chance to enter. But while he is putting his band together, Donny has another task to strike off his to do list: checking on Julia Trojan (Laura Osnes) the widow of one of his friends who was killed in the war. Julia is a singer, but only sings in church. Donny convinces her to consider the idea of joining his band. Music maybe the one thing that heals their broken hearts, but do they have the drive and the talent to actually win the contest?
I saw the show the other night and I walked out singing the songs. It’s one of the best new musicals that I’ve seen in a long time. My original impetus to see the show was that I love swing and big band music. I enjoyed it because there was a level of realism, especially when it comes to the agony of war and the PTSD that many soldiers have to deal with then they return home. The show is funny, charming and very entertaining. I also find it impressive that the actors are playing their own instruments instead of pretending to play prerecorded music.
I absolutely recommend it.
Bandstand is at the Bernard B. Jacobs theater at 242 W. 45th Street in New York City.
In 1992, a little movie hit theaters. Newsies was the story of the 1899 Newsboys strike. While the movie was not quite the hit with critics, it became a cult favorite. In 2012, Newsies premiered on Broadway and became a smashing success.
Yesterday, Newsies hit the big screen for a three night only event. Leading the cast is four of the original Broadway performers Jeremy Jordan (Jack Kelly), Kara Lindsay (Katherine), Ben Fankhauser (Davey) and Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Crutchie). Backing them up are Newsies veterans, from both the Broadway production and the touring production.
As a fansie, I couldn’t be more thrilled that the show was filmed for the big screen. I have been a fan for many years. It just reminded me why I love this show. While there were minor changes to the dialogue, 98% of what was on stage is on-screen.
I absolutely recommend it.
Newsies, The Musical will be in theaters tomorrow, February 18th and Wednesday, February 22nd. Check your local listings for theaters near you.
In 1988, filmmaker John Waters introduced audiences to a new film and a new heroine. Hairspray is the story of far from modelesque 1960’s teenager Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) whose dream is to dance on the local teenage dance show. What starts out as one girl’s innocuous dream represents a larger goal of diversity, respect for others who are different and self-love.
From there, the movie became a hit Broadway musical with Marissa Jaret Winokur, and a movie musical starring Nikky Blonsky. Last night, Hairspray evolved again to become Hairspray Live on NBC. Stepping into Tracy’s buffont hair was newcomer Maddie Baillio.
I have mixed feelings on this production. What keeps this piece relevant and will continue to keep this piece relevant are the issues that lie just below the surface of the narrative. The problem was that it felt like a high production or a community theater production with a much larger budget and a cast of actors that many of us know and love. While the casting was perfect, especially with Harvey Fierstein once again stepping into the shoes of Edna Turnblad after doing it on Broadway, something was just off for me. There was something missing that I get from live theater that I did not get from this production.
Do I recommend it? Maybe.
Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing Fiddler On The Roof for the second time.
Based on the stories by Sholem Aleichem, Fiddler On The Roof is the tale of Tevye (played in the current production by Danny Burstein), his family, his world and how both are changing.
Here are my reasons to see Fiddler On The Roof, if you have not seen it already.
- You don’t have to be Jewish to get the story. Tevye is a husband and father just trying to get by and do right by his family. We can all relate to that.
- It is the story of clinging to traditions in the face of adversity and change. In our increasing secular and technology driven world, it becomes harder to keep to the traditions of our family and our culture.
- There is a strong element of feminism running through Fiddler. Tevye has no sons and five daughters. In that community and that time, young people did not marry for love. They married because the town matchmaker chose their spouse and the father agreed to the match. His three eldest daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava choose their own husbands. If feminism is defined as a woman choosing to live life on her terms and if her only choice is marriage, then choosing of one’s spouse based on affection and mutual interests (as opposed to social status or income) is a feminist act.
- This is the story of refugees. At the end of the musical, the Jewish citizens of Anatevka are forced out of their homes and out of the shtetl they have called home for generations. The addition of the red parka worn by Burstein at the beginning and the end of the piece highlight how relevant this story still is. Nearly every day, we open the newspaper or turn on the evening news and hear about stories of refugees leaving heir homes due to persecution or war.
- Fiddler On The Roof is the penultimate act for a world that ceased to exist 70 years ago. A generation after Fiddler ends, communities like Anatevka will be decimated and her Jews slaughtered by the Nazis.
- Chava’s marriage to Fyedka. In some parts of the world, a mixed marriage is still considered controversial.
- For audience members who, like myself who are Jewish and can trace their ancestry to Eastern Europe, it is a snapshot of the world our ancestors knew.
- Sunrise, Sunset. There is no more universal song from Fiddler than Sunrise, Sunset. When we are parents, as much as we want to do for our children, we have to recognize that they must grow up and live life on their own terms.
This production is wonderful. I highly recommend it and I also recommend that anyone interested in seeing Fiddler On The Roof should get tickets immediately as the show closes on Dec 31.
Fiddler On The Roof is at The Broadway Theater, 1681 Broadway, NY NY 10019.
The story of the underdog can be appealing to audiences. Those of us who feel downtrodden, ignored and used will often turn to fictional characters for support and inspiration.
In 1988, filmmaker John Waters introduced audiences to 1960’s teenager Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray. Tracy is a pleasantly plump young lady whose sole wish is to dance in the local teenage dance show. In her drive to become a regular on show, Tracy not only changes the look of the dancers, but the color of the dancers. Subversive, campy, but with a strong message of diversity, inclusion and respect for all, this film spoke to audiences. In 2002, Hairspray hit the Broadway stage and became a mainstay in New York until it closed in 2009.
In 2007, a film musical, based on off the Broadway show hit theaters. Let’s just say that it was mostly flash and pop and lost the message of the original film.
In just under two weeks, NBC will be airing Hairspray Live.
We will know soon enough how it holds up to its predecessors. The thing that strikes me is that it still feels very timely, nearly 30 years later. We are still a nation and a culture who judges women based on their looks and discriminates based on color. Hairspray is a reminder that change is possible, if we are bold enough to step up and speak out for what is right.
Hairspray Live will be airing on Dec 7, 2016 on NBC at 8/7c.
Life, as we all know it to be, throws shit at us sometimes.
We have two choices. We can let the shit get to us or, as they say in Fiddler On The Roof, we can celebrate and chant “To Life!”.