HERE'S WHAT'S NEW:

VOTE NOW! WHO ARE THE HOTTEST CAST MEMBERS IN ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE?? CLICK THE ICON AT THE TOP OF THE LEFT COLUMN BELOW! AND DON'T FORGET TO SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SURVEY AND CLICK "SUBMIT"!!!

IF YOU LIKE WHAT YOU SEE PLEASE TELL YOUR FRIENDS - TWEET USING @JKsTheatreScene!

I hope you'll come back for frequent visits, to see new reviews, to share opinions, to take a survey (or two), and to celebrate the shows and show people that have made the TheatreScene!

Jeff

Friday, February 23, 2018

THE FRIDAY 5: Top Disney on Broadway Shows

In honor of Disney's Frozen, which began previews this week over at the St. James, this week's Friday 5 is all about my 5 favorite Disney stage shows.

I've seen 10 Disney Theatricals production, including all that have played on Broadway, as well as High School Musical and On The Record.  I like them all to varying degrees and for a wide variety of reasons, so picking my top 5 wasn't all that easy, though my number one was an easy choice.

THE FRIDAY 5:
MY FAVORITE DISNEY SHOWS

5. TARZAN


I'm betting many of you think I'm nuts. But I loved this show.  The opening 15 minutes are still the most exciting thing I think I've ever seen, with it's life sized sailing ship bouncing on storm-tossed waves, to an explosive shipwreck, with constantly changing perspective, and ending with Josh Strickland's jaw-dropping entrance. It also co-starred two of my absolutely favorite actresses, Jenn Gambatese and Merle Dandridge, and featured one of my favorite scores ever, by none other than rock legend Phil Collins.

4. PETER AND THE STAR CATCHER


I'm a sucker for creative minimalist staging, and anything remotely related to the Peter Pan mythology, and those show did both spectacularly.  I laughed, I cried, and I was mesmerized from start to finish. Add to that star turns from three of my favorite Broadway actors - Adam Chanler Berat, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Tony-winner Christian Borle, and I was in theater geek heaven!

3. ALADDIN


Aladdin is one of my favorite Disney films, and frankly, I was worried about how it would translate to the stage - particularly after not so great reviews pre-Broadway. But I was happily surprised.  I loved all the additions to the score, really enjoyed the staging, loved the flying carpet magic and especially the costume extravaganza of two huge production numbers!  And how could you not love the sly and cuddly James Monroe Iglehart in his Tony-winning performance as Genie?

2. THE LION KING


If my number one choice was based solely on innovation and creativity, this stunning piece of theatre that goes so far beyond the film, would surely be it.  Julie Taymor's vision and the stunning Elton John/Tim Rice/Hans Zimmer/Lebo M. score are nearly flawless, and there was something about seeing that show in the equally stunning New Amsterdam Theatre that was pure magic.  And is there any better single opening number than "Circle of Life"? I was reduced to tears of joy every time I saw it - which is an embarrassing number of times.

1. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST


Beauty and the Beast, the mother ship of Disney Theatricals delivered on every level. It brought the animated classic vividly to life in such spectacular fashion, and added to it with new songs and creativity.  I saw the 4th preview at the Palace Theatre and kept saying aloud, "I can't believe what I'm seeing!"  "Be Our Guest" was better live than as a cartoon, and the Beast's transformation was so shocking, it elicited a collective gasp from the audience that threatened to suck the scenery right off the stage.  The original cast was perfection, with the chemistry between Susan Egan and Terrence Mann could be felt all over the cavernous Palace. It saddened me to see a reduction in quality following its move to the Lunt-Fontanne, but the original production was superb.

Will Frozen bump one of these off the list? I'll let you know when I see the show in early May!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

THE BROADWAY OLYMPICS: Event 5: Escape to Margaritaville

The 2018 Winter Olympics are winding down this week, but the Broadway Olympics are just getting started! So far you've awarded medals to cast members from Prince of Broadway, The Band's Visit, Once On This Island, and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical. Now it's time to give the gold, silver and bronze to the cast of Escape to Margaritaville, and they will be competing for qualifying medals in 6 events: Leading Actor, Leading Actress, Featured Actress, Featured Actor, Male Ensemble and Female Ensemble.  Your job is evaluate each cast member's "heat quotient."

This survey will open in a new window! Check out the cast photos under the show logo, then click below to get the window. There are 26 actors in this show, so keep scrolling and submit your entry!

A few things to consider:
  1. No, you don't have to have seen the show to vote!
  2. Yes, this is like the old "Hot or Not" contests. We are looking for the best of the best of the Broadway musical season. Consider their overall "HEAT": charisma, talent, presence, performance (current and/or past)and, yes, looks. Do you think they have a great future ahead on stage?
  3. No, you do not have to answer for each cast member. Vote for as many or as few as you like!
  4. In categories with 3 or fewer candidates, all medals may not be awarded.
  5. Yes, the survey is secure, and NO, your information is not being collected.
MOST IMPORTANT: YOU HAVE TO CLICK THE SUBMIT BUTTON AT THE END FOR YOUR VOTE COUNT!





LEADING ACTOR: PAUL ALEXANDER NOLAN
LEADING ACTRESS: ALISON LUFF

 FEATURED ACTRESS: LISA HOWARD, REMA WEBB

FEATURED ACTOR: ERIC PETERSON, DON SPARKS
FEATURED ACTOR:ANDRE WARD

 FEMALE ENSEMBLE MEMBER: TESSA ALVES, SARA ANDREAS
FEMALE ENSEMBLE MEMBER: TIFFANY ADELINE COLE, MARJORIE FAILONI
 FEMALE ENSEMBLE MEMBER: SAMANTHA FARROW, ANGELA GROVEY
 FEMALE ENSEMBLE MEMBER: KEELY HUTTON, RYANN REDMOND
FEMALE ENSEMBLE MEMBER: JENNIFER RIVA

 MALE ENSEMBLE MEMBER: MATT ALLEN, STEVEN GOOD
 MALE ENSEMBLE MEMBER: ALBERT GUERZON, JUSTIN KEATS
 MALE ENSEMBLE MEMBER: MIKE MILLAN, JUSTIN MORTELLITI
MALE ENSEMBLE MEMBER: JULIUS ANTHONY RUBIO, NICK SANCHEZ
MALE ENSEMBLE MEMBER: IAN MICHAEL STUART, BRETT THIELE

Start the pop-up survey by clicking the START SURVEY button above the cast photos. And don't forget to click "SUBMIT SURVEY" at the end, after you complete the whole poll.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

LOGOS: Escape to Margaritaville

Another element of my blog that I'm happy to relaunch is my series that looks at different show logos.  Longtime readers know that I love the art of Broadway logos nearly as much as I love the shows they are representing, and I am always interested in how logo works as an advertising and merchandising tool. The marriage of art and commerce is fascinating.

A new musical began previews at the Marquis Theatre last week - Escape to Margaritaville - and that's the first logo I'll be looking at.

THE TITLE


As presented, this is the perfect antidote to a cold, icy winter, as well as a welcome respite any time of year for the tired, overworked professional, anything that evokes the tropical, laid back ways of a tropical retreat, and it certainly works to promote a show with "margarita" in the title.  In other words, it would work any time of the year for pretty much any tri-state local or out of town tourist.  And the colorful title, in a beautiful blend of sunset hues, in a font that evokes old Key West, succeeds in every way.  Add to it, the clear blue ocean color of the confident tag lines, and this one's a real winner.  It lets us know, all by itself, that we are in for not only a tropical, relaxing musical, but a lifestyle change!  Clever, confident and totally cool! 

THE ARTWORK


No matter which way the logo is presented (though I prefer it horizontal - like I'm seeing it while laying on a hammock hanging between two palms) the artwork is as lovely and well thought out as the title. The guitar - musical, simple, and again, laid back.  The image in the shape - a tropical scene of sun drenched beaches, leaning palms, the clear water and gentle waves, a distant sail boat floating carefree on the waves. Perfection in one all-encompassing picture.  It works on every level.  You can get what its all about in a quick glance, but it draws you in easily, and (as it happened to me while writing this blog entry) you find yourself drifting into the scene, imagining yourself in the picture. 

It makes me want to see this show. And that's a big thing because I am not a Jimmy Buffet fan. I have nothing against him, mind you.  His is just not the kind of music I am drawn to.  I think it is interesting that the tagline isn't something like "The Jimmy Buffet Musical" and that there's no mention (or a picture) of a parrot or Parrotheads. Fans know it is his by the word "Margaritaville," title of one of his biggest hits.  

I think it is wise not to have put him in the title for a couple reasons. First, this is a jukebox musical with an original, fictional story, not a bio-musical like Beautiful or the Marquis Theatre's last tenant, On Your Feet! Second, the tropical angle is an easy sell for all the reasons I mentioned above, but not everyone is a Buffet fan. And it gives his real fans a sense of being "in' on the whole thing - because they "get it."  

This one is so terrific, I may buy a showcard whether I see the show or not!

Logo Grade: A+

Monday, February 19, 2018

REVIEW: Chess

Review of the Sunday, February 18 matinee performance at the Eisenhower Theatre at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Starring Raul Esparza, Ramin Karimloo, Karen Olivo, Ruthie Ann Miles, Bryce Pinkham, Sean Allan Krill and Bradley Dean. Book by Danny Strong. Music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. Lyrics by Tim Rice. Musical Direction by Chris Fenwick. Orchestrations by Brian Usifer. Choreography by Lorin Latarro. Direction by Michael Mayer.  2 hours, 45 minutes, including intermission. show closed Sunday evening, February 18, 2018.

Grade: B+

Chess the musical, like chess the game, seems to have an infinite set of moves to play. While it's no surprise that the score (by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice) remains the star of the show, the stunner is that this latest gambit was charged with crafting a decent book to match, this time by Danny Strong. Looks like there is a solid show there, one with considerable (and timely) bite. It's still not there, but it's the closest I've seen yet.

Don't get me wrong.  The show remains problematic on all fronts, including the score.  Songs have been added, cut, revised and/or rearranged.  I won't quibble with the numerous lyric changes over the most recent versions, with one exception.  "Someone Else's Story," if the team insists that it stay with Svetlana, then it must feature lyric changes - as it stands what she sings makes no sense, no matter how wonderfully delivered.  And if they must continue to rearrange the order of the songs, they really need to be mindful of where we are in the story. Case in point, "Heaven Help My Heart," a number for Florence, happens way too early in the story, and as currently played, she's not ready at that early point to declare life-changing love. She's too strong to drop everything and fall head over heels.  I'm fully on board with all the tinkering they want to do as long as it serves the story and characters. But let's face it, "Someone Else's Story" best fits Florence as she confronts her professional and romantic entanglements upon meeting Anatoly, just as "Heaven Help My Heart" would be better suited to a torn and hurting Svetlana.

Ramin Karimloo and the Chess Company
Strong's book, with its much clearer connection to actual historical events, has upped the stakes and created a (mostly) on-the-edge-of-your-seat political thriller.  And while the characterizations of the government players can be a little heavy handed, perilously close to stereotype, it is also alarmingly close to current events, both in terms of U.S./Russian relations, but also the whole idea of a madman with his finger caressing the nuclear button.  Perhaps the strongest facet of this element of the book is that both sides are the "bad guys" though it looks to the world like a them-or-us situation.  In today's world, we can see the no-win scenario brought by both sides, even as our own leaders try to shove a them vs us conflict down our throats.  Who knew there'd be a sort of comfort and nostalgia in a musical's portrayal of Cold War brinkmanship? But here we are.

It's the KGB (Bradley Dean) vs the CIA (Sean Allan Krill)
As to the production at hand, a semi-staged concert, it is mostly good news.  Given that format, director Michael Mayer has created a solid presentation, wisely focusing more on performance than actual staging. The musical direction (Chris Fenwick) and orchestrations (Brian Usifer) are strong.  Kevin Adams, as usual, has done a nice job with lighting, and David Rockwell's set with Darrel Maloney's projections add to the rock concert feel of the evening and add a sense of period and place at the same time. On the other hand, the costumes designed by Clint Ramos, range from serviceable - you can only do so much with men's business suits - to distracting and unattractive - Florence's dress is a hot mess, and Svetlana is in a Russian Red dress that looks like something the mother of the bride might wear. 

And there is the generally poor (I'm being kind here) sound design by Kai Harada which is a muddled affair, with the orchestra overpowering the soloists many times, and rendering the ensemble largely incomprehensible throughout.  I wondered how anyone who wasn't already familiar with the lyrics, or wasn't close enough to read lips, would be able to follow the story.  To be fair, this is not a problem for just this production.  It is a consistent issue at the Kennedy Center.

Karimloo and Ruthie Ann Miles
Finally, Lorin Latarro's choreography was a very weak link. Primarily, the dances were way too big for the small space the ensemble had to work with.  There were all kinds of leaps and spins, lifts and splits, but none were able to be fully executed because there were too many people in too little space.  More than once, I worried that there'd be a midair collision or two.  As a result, many times the effect ended up being an unwitting tribute 70's cruise ship shows.  That said, the ensemble itself, was very good.  And they are all, um, physically fit (you rock that gym bod, Adam Halpin!), put to its best use in the once good complete number, "One Night In Bangkok."

How wonderful for us that this amazing score was delivered by a first-rate principal cast.  With this more prominent emphasis on the covert "diplomacy" between the KGB and the CIA, both Bradley Dean and Sean Allan Krill shone, managing to bring comedy and a dark sense of foreboding every time they took center stage. Bryce Pinkham was a true standout as the narrator/Arbiter, with razor-sharp timing and a piercing stare. One of the biggest hands of the afternoon went to his "Arbiter's Song." Everything about his performance was excellent.

Face Off: Anatoly (Ramin Karimloo) vs Freddy (Raul Esparza)
As much as I love and respect Ruthie Ann Miles, she wasn't really up to even the limited demands of the role of Svetlana.  Apparently struggling with some sort of cold, she sounded nasally and her delivery of every line and song was pretty one-note. She managed tears during "Someone Else's Story," but the emotion didn't register even to those of us in the 3rd row.

The main love triangle was pretty close to perfection, even with one of the three seriously ill and powering through. Ramin Karimloo was truly fantastic, oozing angst and inner conflict. His soulful eyes and powerful voice (!) were utterly charming, with both "Where I Want to Be" and "Anthem" definite highlights of the afternoon. Karen Olivo offered a fiery, strong-willed Florence that was an effective counterpoint to the gentle bear of Karimloo's Anatoly. She has a powerful voice, and when the two of them sang together, it was a little piece of musical theater Heaven right here on Earth.

Rock Star! Raul Esparza and Karen Olivo
The wildcard of the penultimate performance was Raul Esparza, who, according to the pre-show announcement was suffering with a "severe throat infection" that he was "graciously" going to power through. That announcement was greeted with a collective groan, and I'm sure every fan of Chess thought, "Wow, 'Pity the Child' should be interesting..." I know I did.  Sure, he was raspy throughout, there were no "money notes" to be found, and he frequently auto-corrected down an octave or two.  But let me tell you, it actually added to his performance.  What an actor! And what a true professional.  I'd go as far as to say that his was the best acted Freddy I've ever seen.  I'm sure his throat is killing him this morning, but it was worth it.  And "Pity the Child"? Well, he got a thunderous ovation from the appreciative audience, and a hearty hand from the cast, who took the moment to break from the show and shower him with love.  Nice to see, and one of those this-is-why-I-love-live-theater moments.

So, Chess remains problematic, but this version is definitely a step in the right direction. As the lyric goes, "each game of chess means there's one less variation left to be played." We are now a few  moves closer to checkmate.


(Photos by T. Wood)

Friday, February 16, 2018

THE FRIDAY 5: 2018 Female Performances

It's Friday, and it's time for the 5 things I'm thinking about going into the weekend!

I'm seeing 11 shows between now and the first week of May (Chess on Sunday)! Over the last couple of weeks, I've talked about the theatrical elements and male performances I'm looking forward to the coming months.  This week, it is the ladies' turn.  I know I seem to say this every week, but it is always true: I had a hard time narrowing it down to just five (plus an honorable mention!).


THE FRIDAY 5: 
THE TOP FEMALE PERFORMANCES
JEFF IS LOOKING FORWARD TO 


5. LAUREN AMBROSE - MY FAIR LADY

I've been a fan of hers since the very first scene she was in on Six Feet Under, but the thought of Lauren Ambrose as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady has me excited (and scared).  I had no idea she could sing (YouTube videos reveal that she really can!). I can't wait to see what she brings to this classic. Will she be conventional or do a modern take on the role? Will she erase the memory of the famous Elizas before her or will she join their ranks?  No matter what, hers will be an interesting, thoughtful and probably intense performance. Just the thing I love!


4. HAILEY KILGORE - 
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND

Judging by the critical and fan reaction to Once On This Island's Haley Kilgore, hers is a Broadway debut that people will be talking about for seasons to come.  What kind of musical theatre fan would I be if I wasn't there to witness this diva in the making first hand? It's exciting stuff, indeed!


3. KATRINA LENK - THE BAND'S VISIT

Speaking of star turns, Katrina Lenk has gotten the same critical and public acclaim now for two years in a row! Last season, it was her stunning performance in Indecent; this season it's her portrayal of Dina in The Band's Visit that not only has set the bar for Best Actress in a Musical for 2018, but it seems this turn has achieved "one for the ages" status.  I can't wait to hear her sing "Omar Sharif" live and in person!


2. JENN COLELLA - COME FROM AWAY


It is no secret to anyone who follows this blog that Jenn Colella is one of my favorite performers of all time. She's always the one my eye goes to in every show I've seen her in. Her wide ranging talents, unique presence and remarkable charisma are inspiring to watch. And the chance to see her take on multiple roles in Come From Away is icing on the cake.  Looking forward to my visit to The Rock!



1. LAURIE METCALF - THREE TALL WOMEN


Will she be able to top her masterful Tony-winning performance in A Doll's House, Part II? I don't know for sure, but I can't wait to find out when Laurie Metcalf takes the stage again in Three Tall Women. Truly one of the greatest American actresses working today, I look forward to the privilege of seeing her first-hand once again. 



HONORABLE MENTION: CAROLEE CARMELLO - 
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET


I've seen many a Mrs. Lovett over the years - Sweeney Todd is one of my five favorite shows off all time - but I am really excited to see Carolee Carmello's take on the role.  Always an interesting performer, she seems ideally suited to the part.  Imagine my relief when I found out I wouldn't be missing her, no, I'm going to see one of her final performances instead!

How does my list compare to yours? Let me know! (Twitter: @jkstheatrescene Email: jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com)

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