Friday, December 21, 2007

Let It Snow On Stage - A Christmas Theatrical Marathon - Reviews

Radio City Christmas Spectacular - Radio City Music Hall - New York
Cirque du Soleil's Wintuk - Madison Square Gardens Wamu Theatre - New York
Dr Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical - St. James Theatre - New York
White Christmas The Musical - Sony Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto

I love Christmas time! I love the gatherings, the food (boy do I love the food and the January scream when I jump back on the scale is enough to prove it), the twinkly lights and I actually love the snow (and boy did we get lots of it here in Toronto this week)! I can skip the malls at this point, and I don't need gifts (I'd rather spend more time sitting, eating and chatting with you all than running around a mall looking for something to give you in the 2 remaining minutes I have left to see you. At this point, I only buy gifts for the kiddies) but strangely enough, I've never really seen the Christmas movies (I've never seen White Christmas and I only saw It's A Wonderful Life two years ago when everyone at work was shocked I hadn't seen it yet and forced me to watch it) or done those Christmacy theatrical events like the whole British pantomimes or the Radio City Rockettes.

So it never occurred to me I was doing a bit of a Winter/Christmas show marathon when I got tickets for the (limited Christmas season engagements of:) Radio City Christmas Specatacular starring the Rockettes, Cirque du Soleil's new winter themed Wintuk, Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Who Stole Christmas! The Musical, and White Christmas The Musical all within one week (and the three shows in New York were back to back to back). I think I'm pretty Christmased out at this point.

Basically, apparently I'm just not into leggy women dancing in a line, because the Rockettes kinda bored me. Cirque du Soleil creates a good appetizer course with Wintuk that's great for the young and newbies but might disappoint more experienced Cirque fans. The Grinch stole the Christmas spirit right out of the television special, but luckily, White Christmas (pictures from the San Francisco 2005 production) puts it all back in into a wonderfully old fashioned musical that managed to warm my heart underneath all that falling snow (and yes, snow fell around the theatre, in fact, all four shows had some sort of falling snow/confetti).

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, a special 75th Anniversary special edition apparently this year, was still way too touristy cheesy for me. I enjoy cheese, but it kind of left me bored actually. Apparently, the Rockettes are just not my thing. (Radio City Music Hall on the other hand was SPECTACULAR and I'm definitely glad I finally visited).

Strangely, the religious portion of the show, the infamous Nativity scene, now with live animals! an actual camel! was actually one of my favorite parts (um, I'm "catholic" but I'm kinda anti-religion, probably because I went to Catholic school and became jaded) though maybe because "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" was performed during that section and I love that song (despite disagreeing with all the words).

The toy soldiers was really cool to see in person, and the dancing and kicking of the Rockettes was cool the first while but after a while it just seemed to touristy cheesy for me and I ended up looking around at the theatre itself instead of what was on the stage (seriously though, no wonder Rosie forced the Tony's to present in there, it's AMAZING!).

Wintuk was a bit like Cirque du Soleil light. A great version for kids and Cirque newbies, but will probably not be as impressive to those who have seen some of their other shows. It's again, a more back to basics circustry buried amongst the most narrative of tales (which for Cirque, still means nothing since it's still really odd and surreal) that has giant dog puppets for the kids but the Wamu Theatre's low ceiling limits the scope of this Cirque show. Still, the bike tricks and a few others were still impressive and I still loved the set with the ramps and hills and undulating shiny panels toward the sides.

The whole show follows a boy, Jamie, as he yearns for snow in New York City, and eventually is carried off to the north by some shaman, along with large dogs, some shadowgirl and um... yeah, there were giant birds, giant ice monsters and talking lamp posts all in an attempt I think to utilize the puppetry department as they thought "hey, it's a family show, we can use all these puppet tricks to amuse the kids". Sadly, it was mostly unnecessary since the best part of Cirque still comes down to the tricks, but the narrative in the show probably took far too much time (or more than other shows at least).

After having already seen Cirque's Koozå and another Montreal circus troupe the 7 fingers' Traces (opening in New York at the New Victory Theatre in Feb 2008), Wintuk just seemed slightly lesser than the other two shows. While Koozå is a back-to-basics show for Cirque, and Traces is performed entirely by a young 5 person cast in a simple, grounded street level way, Wintuk uses much of the same simpler circus tricks that are still awe inspiring, I just wish there were a few more in the show, and the loss of anything high (due to the low ceiling in the venue) also hurt the show.

Still, the messenger on the bike, the ragdoll, and the construction worker balancing on the balls and spindles was incredible and again, incite the same, "oh, I've seen that" initial response until it hits you "how the heck did they DO THAT?" and your mouth drops open.

I'm going to be a total Grinch but the musical Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical was mildly entertaining at best and completely saved by Patrick Page and Rusty Ross' performances as The Grinch and his dog Max. Whenever the Who's were on stage, I just wanted The Grinch to come back. I started seeing his point. I'm not sure that was the message intended to be sent.

The most memorable song "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" was from the original televised version as all the others were pretty forgettable. The sets popped out and were bright and cheery yet lacked a certain magic. There's a certain warmth to watching the original animated cartoon version on TV but the musical on stage lacked a certain depth, and felt more distant and cold despite being live in front of me. It seemed a bit too calculated and by the book and lost that flair that makes Dr. Seuss such a treat. I guess I should have known the whole affair was just some cash cow for the producers but it had a pretty good team behind it and a good cast (I felt bad for Hunter Bell who was an ensemble Who but I guess trying to get [title of show] onto Broadway doesn't actually pay the bills), but in the end, it was just another corporate attempt to cash in on our nostalgia. (On something completely off topic, since star Patrick Page is married to Trading Spaces' reinstated host Paige Davis, would she become Paige Page?)

Luckily, I came home to Toronto to watch the touring version (well, seems like every year they have 2 productions that camp out in different cities, this year is Boston and Toronto, previous cities were San Francisco, Los Angeles and Detroit) of White Christmas The Musical. The old fashioned musical put back the warm and fuzzies that I yearn for around the Christmas season back inside me and while it's not perfect, it was still pretty wonderful led by an amazing performance by local Kate Baldwin (who has been with the show since the San Francisco debut) and my favorite A Chorus Line boy, Tony Yazbeck (unfortunately, the production photos here do not have him featured).

I actually came partially because I found out Tony Yazbeck had joined the cast for the Toronto run and he's one of the many in the cast of the A Chorus Line revival that I'm now rooting for (and it was great that he was included within the central cast of this past summer's Gypsy with Patti LuPone and Boyd Gaines). He joined Shannon O'Bryan, Graham Rowat (LoveMusik) and Kate Baldwin (Throughly Modern Millie)(all in image above) who were with the show since the 2nd Tour began in San Francisco in 2005 (the 1st cast is in Boston right now headed by Bryan Darcy James). Tony plays Phil Davis opposite to Graham Rowat's Bob Wallace who meet the Haines sisters Judy (Shannon O'Bryan) and Betty (Kate Baldwin) who over the course of some comedy of errors, pair off in love at an inn in Vermont (again, the story was all new to me and since I haven't seen the movie, I can't say how closely it sticks but I thought the story was cute enough).

It was old fashioned, the dancing was great, and Kate Baldwin (who in real life is married to her co-star Graham Rowat and both come from around the greater Toronto area apparently (well, Peterborough but close enough in world terms)) is spectacular! I've never heard of her but she SHOULD be a star on Broadway, with an incredibly crisp, smooth and warm voice (everything something like White Christmas would ask for) and a genuine womanly presence that doles out wit, sass and smarts without being sharp or "feminist". It gave me goosebumps in the Donna Murphy/Christine Ebersole region as I watched Kate Baldwin's Betty sing and dance around her little miscommunicated romance with Rowat's Bob (who himself has a great deep voice which would be great in any other show but against his real life wife's talent, seems almost pedestrian by comparison).

And as for my beloved Tony Yazbeck, who was so great as Al last year in ACL, was amazing. I knew there was a reason he stood out amongst an already fantastic cast, but his dancing was crisper than most around him, his voice is INCREDIBLY SMOOTH and sultry and he can be really funny, making him a triple threat to look out for. I'm not sure if Shannon O'Bryan was sick last night but again, her voice was pretty good on any level of judgement but seemed to fall under the radar when paired up against Yazbeck.

White Christmas the Musical, filled with songs by Irving Berlin really can't go wrong, and while there are still some clunkier moments that don't shine as bright, or bask in the coziness of the story, as a whole, it's good enough to warrant the trek through the snow to see White Christmas.

Here are more images of all the shows:
Radio City Christmas Spectacular Picture Gallery:

Cirque du Soleil's Wintuk Picture Gallery:

Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Who Stole Christmas! The Musical picture gallery:

White Christmas The Musical Picture Gallery:

1 comment:

Dave Richards said...

Nice blog and great pictures!