Monday, August 20, 2007

How Many Musicals Can I See Before I Start Singing In My Real Life?

Curtains - Al Hirschfeld Theatre, Broadway
Rent - Nederlander Theatre, Broadway
Xanadu - Helen Hayes Theatre, Broadway
Seussical - Lucille Lortel Theater, Off-Broadway
Altar Boyz - New World Stages, Off-Broadway
Legally Blonde - Palace Theatre - Broadway
High School Musical 2 - The Disney Channel/ Family Channel
Spring Awakening - Eugene O'Neill Theatre, Broadway
A Chorus Line - Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, Broadway

Let's say 9. 8 Live shows in New York and 1 on TV (2 if you actually count the repeat Pop-Up version of the original High School Musical I ended up sitting through as well). Generally speaking, all were at least good and entertaining, not a bum in the mix, at least nothing was like a Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Or Grease, which got slammed in the reviews.

So let's get started, this is going to be a long one.

I caught Curtains first. The new-even-though-one-is-dead Kander and Ebb musical (Cabaret, Chicago) that stars Tony winner David Hyde Pierce (Frasier). It was cute, slightly amusing and mostly forgettable. Another one of those trifle musicals like The Drowsy Chaperone but I think I liked that one a bit more.

The cast was great and filled with Broadway veterans like Debra Monk (Grey's Anatomy, Fraiser), Karen Ziemba (Contact), Edward Hibbert (Frasier, The Drowsy Chaperone)(and so great in everything he does even though it's the exact same role everytime) and Ernie Sabella (The Lion King) (what, no Fraiser?) . Though Ernie Sabella seemed to be in all of 3 scenes. Nice gig. Leader of the pack David Hyde Pierce was great, but, no way in HELL was he better than Raul Esparza in Company who SHOULD have won the Tony. So yes, Raul, you were ROBBED. In fact, Jonathan Groff of Spring Awakening should file a police report as well.

I haven't seen Rent in 9 years and the last time I saw it, Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal were still the leads in Rent in London. I saw it for the first time 10 years ago on Broadway with most of the original cast (though Marcy Harriel had taken over from Daphne Ruben Vega as Mimi). So now that Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal are back as Mark and Roger, I just HAD to see it again, but apparently so did everyone else since the show went from half capacity to 100.5% again. (Plus there popular stay has now been extended to Oct. 7)

Luckily I got my lottery tickets from the first row and I could mesmerize in my nostalgic love for this show. At least until the other performers came on and all I could think was, well, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, and Taye Diggs cannot be replaced because what was on stage were only poor carbon copies (I thought Jay Rodriquez in the Toronto production was a better Angel, and who would later turn gay and become a Queer Eye) as Josh&Josh so succinctly put it. The Xerox phenomenon you might say. Still, everytime Rapp and Pascal were on stage, the original electric effect took hold, from "One Song Glory" to "What You Own", it was AWESOME, and helped soften some of the clunkier moments in between, that haven't aged as well as Adam or Anthony have (hey, I have to say that because that just means I've aged as much as well). Tamyra Gray wasn't half bad by the way.

All I can say about Xanadu is that there is nothing gay within the actual story, but it may be the gayest musical I've ever seen live. I say that as a good thing. Again, another cute, fluffy, frothy little musical that may be forgettable by weeks end but is still a lot of fun to watch. Cheyenne Jackson as Sonny sure helps and Kerry Butler is simply irresistible as Clio/Kira and her "Australian" accent cracked me up everytime. Their voices are superb (Kerry has always been a favorite since I heard her AMAZING voice on the Hairspray Original Broadway Cast Recording as Penny Pingleton) and their chemistry is super sweet (even though the hunky manly Cheyenne is a big 'mo in real life, which makes it all the more fun and sexy and hilarious). Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman finally get their shining moments in a big glossy show and are just a treat to watch as they vamp and camp their way through the show.

I'm not sure its $110 fun but then again, I'm cheap and I would never say anything is $110 worth of fun. Still, Xanadu is actually good entertainment for the whole family despite my initial shock of seeing so many kids in the audience. Your kids may just coming out with some campy (read: gay) wholesome quips coming out of their little mouths.

Originally meant for kids, Seussical was being presented by TheatreworksUSA for FREE (how can you beat?) in a new reworked version that pared down the original problematic musical into a 90 minute show in one act. Never having seen the original, I would still recommend a further edit or rejigging, particularly to the middle sections and with only 2 main stories of Dr. Seuss being used, I'm surprised they went with the Getrude McFuzz story since its a lesser known one, and to be honest, not that engaging to me. What did work was when Horton hears a Who, particularly Michael Wartella (above centre) as Jojo the little Who, who was fantastic in the role that is our eyes and guide to the fantastical world of Seuss.

On the whole though, the musical was a wonderfully imaginative celebration of the wonders of the imagination through the essence of Dr. Seuss. The glorious music and score were from Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (who wrote one of my favorite musicals ever, Ragtime), and the dancing is joyous and the most simplistic use of props and settings make the entire experience a lot of fun.

I finally had the chance to see Altar Boyz after it has already run in New York for 3 years and to be honest, I thought the whole boyband spoof had already been done to death (in the already funny 2gether and the lol-til-I cried-my-eyes-out Boygroove). Apparently spoofing boybands never gets old because Altar Boyz, which takes it to a religious level, was far funnier than I had anticipated and watching the 4 Gentiles and 1 Jew boys sing and dance was silly entertainment that made me almost squeal like a teenage girl groopie.

What didn't make me want to squeal was the thought of seeing Legally Blonde when I got sick later in my week in New York. But damnit if Elle Woods and company didn't try the darndest hardest to make me love them by the end of the show, the sugar laced musical was a big empty calorie that tasted oh-so-good. Okay, we aren't talking Shakespeare or Spring Awakening here but the movie was fun and frothy and so is the musical. Laura Bell Bundy as Elle isn't Reese Witherspoon but it was still the sort of the brainless tooth-decaying musical I needed at the time so I had a good time in the end.

My only major disappointment was that the David Rockwell designed sets seemed uninspired and flat and looked like a cheap touring production set amongst the grand stage at the Palace Theatre.

From the big screen to the stage, I go back to the small screen, as High School Musical 2 finally premiered! WOO!!! This really deserves its own post (which I still might) but while I felt it wasn't as zippy as the first, because it was trying to fit in a bit more story and a bit more character development, there were still some moments of genuine (and genius) cheese (the Baseball number, Troy running through the winds on "Bet On It") and I still loved the whole darned thing. I could get nitpicky, like the clunky dubbing of the songs, that there should have been one more big number with the whole cast at the end, or that Ryan really needed another duet with someone (Troy? Gabriella? Anybody?), but I'm already humming the songs in my head and ready for another repeat viewing. I'm sure I'll blog more on this again.

Speaking of repeats, I ended the week off with my two faves, Spring Awakening and A Chorus Line. Now, ACL has already replaced half its cast and unfortunately, some of it shows. With so many talented performers in New York, is it really that difficult? Does that explain why the initial auditions were so long and hard? Luckily, most of my faves from the original cast, Natalie Cortez as Diane, Paul McGill (below) as Mark and Jessica Lee Goldyn as Val, were still in it. I enjoyed seeing Krysta Rodriguez as Bebe and seeing her sing and dance for once, after being relegated as the understudy and chorus member on the side stage seats in Spring Awakening for so long.

As for Spring Awakening? After seeing former favorite Rent earlier in the week, I can now confidently say (though I already declared it 8 months ago anyways) that Spring Awakening is my favorite musical ever that I've seen live (and while I'm not sure if the advertising for A Chorus Line, as the Best. Musical. Ever. is entirely correct, it sure comes close as it moves ahead of Rent as well).

Though I think Spring Awakening will survive its cast changes a little better, I'm still a bit worried since it will begin next week as Gideon Glick (above with my sister) leaves, though I have a little hope after seeing Matt Doyle (below) as Otto and Gerard Canonico as Moritz could fare so well in those roles.

I thought I may have been overdoing it seeing Spring Awakening for the 5th time in 8 months but the moment the lights dimmed and Lea Michelle got up on that stage and the band started playing, I knew this really was a special show. (I know the actual poster is available online but here's the photo where my sister cut off John Galagher Jr.)

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