Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Theatre Etiquette Time

Okay, I've held off long enough.  Theatre etiquette time.

A few folks have told me that the name of this blog would suggest someone who will only see shows at the Fox or "highbrow" intellectual stuff.  Nope.  Don't get me wrong, I love the Fox -- it's an absolutely beautiful space, but good heavens it's big.  (That's what she said…)  I like small theatres.  I want it in my face.  (That's what she said…)  And as far as intellectual shows go, I'm still waiting for someone to explain Bertolt Brecht to me.  I mean, I think I get it, but the only Brecht show I've seen was a tad over my head, and not the greatest production in the world, so I left the theatre a little confused.

Anyway, a more appropriate title for this blog could be "St. Louis Theatre Etiquette Police".  When my friends suggested I start a blog, we thought it would mostly consist of a little good-natured berating of St. Louis audiences for their random atrocious behavior.  Little did I know I'd actually start kind of reviewing shows, which I have fallen in love with doing, but tonight, I feel compelled to call out some stuff.

Here we go.

So, you turned the ringer off on your phone.  Yay.  Good for you.  BUT -- if you take it out and mess with it during a performance, it's:

1.  Distracting to your fellow audience members.

2.  Annoying to the performers.  Yes, they can see your stupid illuminated face in a darkened theatre.

3.  Just really kind of rude.  You can text your buddies at intermission.

Also-
Please don't leave during the curtain call.  This is your chance to show the cast members and orchestra how much you appreciated their performance.  I can't tell you how many times I've been to a show at the Fox where there's been a mad dash for the exit at curtain.  Dude -- your Buick isn't going anywhere, and there's gonna be traffic regardless.  Don't be a dick.

Another thing-
It's okay to laugh during a show.  There seem to be so many unresponsive audiences here, I'm beginning to think it may be a St. Louis tradition to take a quaalude before a show.  Alice Ripley once told me (That's right…  I'm talking about the Tony winner.  We chatted while I was at the stage door to get an autograph for my NEXT TO NORMAL playbill in NYC.  WHAT?!) it's nice when the cast gets some reaction from an audience.  After all, they're laying it all out there for us, right?  Even if it's uncomfortable laughter, any reaction is better than dead silence, unless there's some intense shit happening onstage.  Then dead silence lets them know you're paying attention…  and not checking your phone for the time.  Again, illuminating your stupid face in a darkened theatre.

In addition-
It might be a good idea to read a little synopsis of the show before you see it.  If I had a dollar for every parent I saw with small children in tow who walked out of AVENUE Q because they were shocked at the adult content.  Really?!?  They were like, "But it has puppets in it!".  Uh, yeah.  Puppets having sex.  And a song about internet porn.  Unless you're a die-hard theatre lover who's up for anything, read a review dumbass.

And lastly-
As the tagline for this blog suggests, the Overture is part of the show.  It gives us a little preview of the music we'll be treated to during the performance.  I for one enjoy listening to it -- having it serve as a time when I can get my mind ready to take the ride.  So when it's playing, please shut your pie hole.

Okay, one more thing-
And this is one of my favorites -- the show has started.  Shut the fuck up.  A brief comment to your neighbor is one thing, but carrying on a conversation during the show is another.  And for some of you Muny folks -- I didn't pay to hear YOU sing along.

This shit drives me crazy.  But needless to say, these are just my opinions and observations, but let's hope I don't have to bring this up again, k?

Thank you, goodnight, and go see a show!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

AS BEES IN HONEY DROWN • Stray Dog Theatre

Who wouldn't want a shot at fame and fortune?  Nowadays, when our culture is drenched with glamour-seekers and reality tv show celebrities, this Douglas Carter Beane comedy about the takers, and the ones who are taken, is right on time.

Evan Wyler (a wonderful Martin Fox with the cutest head of curly hair you've ever seen) is a young, hot, flavor-of-the-month novelist, having his picture taken for a magazine, when he first meets Alexa Vere de Vere (an impressive, once you settle in to her, Sarajane Alverson).  She presents herself as a record producer who would like for Wyler to turn the story of her life into a screenplay.  She's a fast talking socialite seething with the guise of wealth and glamour, and poor Evan falls for it hook, line and sinker.  After paying him one-thousand bucks as an advance, Evan follows her around to document her life, and ends up falling for the facade she presents along the way, paying for things with his credit card, and sleeping with her.  Oh, did I mention Evan is gay?  Yeah.  Alexa's got some mojo, and Wyler and Alverson have amazing chemistry that's incredibly believable onstage.

While preparing for a trip with her to L.A. he discovers that his credit card is maxed out, and Alexa has gone bye-bye.  In an effort to track her down, Evan meets many of the people Alexa has left in her wake, and gets himself a little sweet revenge.

Martin Fox (Evan Wyler)
and Sarajane Alverson (Alexa Vere de Vere).
Photo credit: John Lamb.
This is a great show, well directed by Gary F. Bell.  The supporting cast members are as strong as the leads, pulling double duty in multiple roles, and sucking you in to every one of their incarnations.  The creative team come together to realize this play in every aspect -- lighting, sound, set and costumes (Tyler Duenow, Justin Been, L.D. Lawson and Gary F. Bell respectively).  Another thing, their interval music choices always seem so right on the money to me.  Adds a lot to the evening.

I have to say, it's so nice to come back from a wonderful trip to the Big Apple, to a city with a rich load of theatre itself.  I think many of us theatre lovers take it for granted.  Don't.  We're very lucky here in the "Lou".

Check it out!  It's playing until the 18th.


AS BEES IN HONEY DROWN

Written by Douglas Carter Beane
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through December 18 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, final Saturday performances are at 2pm and 8pm

Cast:
Sarajane Alverson (Alexa Vere de Vere), Martin Fox (Evan Wyler), Stephen Peirick (Man 1), Kevin Boehm (Man 2), Bess Moynihan, (Woman 1) and Anna Skidis (Woman 2).

Creative: 
Costumes by Gary F. Bell; set design by L.D.Lawson; lighting by Tyler Duenow; sound design by Justin Been; light and sound board operator, Justin Been; stage manager, Justin Been.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK (Preview) • Foxwoods Theatre



This is one of those shows that I wanted to see primarily just so I can say that I'd seen it.  I had to stand in the cancellation line for about an hour, and snatched up a ticket from a "broker" for a hundred bucks.  But hey, that's why I go to the big city.  It was actually sold out for the entire weekend, so I'm glad I got in.

Readings for this musical began in 2007, and even though it's not set to open until February 7th, it's already achieved historic status for a couple of reasons.  For one, the brains behind this one, Julie Taymor (or Julie "Paymore"), well known in theatre circles for THE LION KING and all of its associated spectacle, has already spent an estimated $65 million on this puppy -- the most expensive Broadway show in history.  It costs about a million bucks in operating costs a week.  Also, SPIDER-MAN (penned musically by U2's Bono and The Edge) ran out of money last year, had to cancel the first originally scheduled previews a couple of times and push back the opening, and there have also been a few broken bones, literally, along the way.  The night I saw it one of the female leads, Natalie Mendoza, was out because she had suffered a concussion after being hit in the head by a rope backstage.  In Taymor fashion, this show was meant to be a theatrical spectacle, with around 27 flying sequences.  The rigging devices for these sequences are similar to the "four point" wire systems that are used for those "eye in the sky" cams you can spot at football games and stuff.  They've actually renamed the traditional "Dress Circle" seating area of the Foxwoods theatre the "Flying Circle".


Photo by Jacob Cohl
I went in expecting to see a theme park, and that's exactly what I got.  From what I can recall, this show pretty closely mirrors the original Spider-man story that follows Peter Parker (Reeve Carney), the local punching bag, who's in love with the girl next door, Mary Jane (Jennifer Damiano).  You remember how it goes -- after being bitten by a spider, these abilities emerge, and Parker goes from weakling to local menace to crime fighting hero.  One of the new characters, Arachne (very nicely performed by understudy America Olivo), was included by Taymor, in an effort to further mythologize (<-- nope, not sure if that's a word) the Spider-man tale.  According to Greek Mythology, Arachne was a weaver of the old world who, because of her talent and ego, incurred the wrath of the goddess Athena.  They had a "duel at the loom", Arachne won, her work was destroyed, but Athena felt pity for her and made Arachne the world's first spider.  Cool.  I love mythology and had never heard that one before.  Anyhoo, along the way, Spider-man's other "Sinister Six" enemies are featured in a fashion styled runway show -- everyone from Carnage to the Lizard.
Photo by Sara Krulwich
The New York Times
Many NYC theatre folks have blasted this show for its weak book, but as far as I was concerned, it follows the Spider-man story closely enough, gives you a butt-load of eye-candy (if this isn't nominated for a Tony Award for set design, I'll be surprised) and is completely  enjoyable -- as long as you don't go in expecting Shakespeare or anything.  The set is very reminiscent of those pop-up books that immediately conjure up that comic book feel.  The Sinister Six are clad in oversized costumes that in contrast, make Spider-man look pretty sleek and hot.

Natalie Mendoza (Arachne).
Photo by Sara Krulwich
The New York Times
I also got to see a little of the technical issues that have been big theatre news lately (which I was secretly hoping for).  There was a pre-show announcement from one of the producers letting us know this was only their 6th preview, and there may be times when they may have to stop the show.  It happened twice.  One stoppage had the Green Goblin suspended over the stage for a few minutes, the other before Arachne made her entrance from the balcony.  I had a center balcony seat, and it was kinda cool because to my left along the railing was this landing pad of sorts for many of the aerial entrances and exits.  I admit, all of the rumored technical glitches are part of why I wanted to see this one, but I'm so glad nobody got hurt.  It was a little nerve-racking, because every time somebody went up or came in with wires, I had a pit in my stomach, but it was very exciting.  This show will either be the biggest flop, or the biggest money maker in history.

Here's a piece that was featured on CBS's 60 Minutes.
Enjoy!





Photo by Jacob Cohl
SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK

Book by Julie Taymor & Glen Berger
Music/lyrics  by Bono and The Edge
Directed by Julie Taymor
Foxwoods Theatre, 213 West 42nd St. New York, NY
open run | tickets: $67.50 - $140
Performances Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, Wednesdays, Saturdays at 2pm, Sundays at 3pm

Cast:
Reeve Carney (Peter Parker - Spider-Man), Jennifer Damiano (Mary Jane Watson), Natalie Mendoza (Arachne), Patrick Page (Norman Osborn - Green Goblin), Michael Mulheren (J. Jonah Jameson) , Ken Marks (Uncle Ben), Isabel Keating (Aunt May), Jeb Brown (Philip Watson), T. V. Carpio (Miss Arrow), Mat Devine (Vladimir Kravinoff - Grim Hunter) , Gideon Glick (Giachomo Fortunato - Jimmy-6) , Jonathan Schwartz (Professor Cobbwell) , Laura Beth Wells (Emily Osborn) , Matt Caplan (Flash Thompson) , Dwayne Clark (Robbie Robertson), Luther Creek (Kenny McFarlane), Gerald Avery (Fritz von Meyer - Swarm) , Collin Baja (Cletus Kasady - Carnage) , Emmanuel Brown (Maxwell "Max" Dillon - Electro), Brandon Rubendall (Dr. Curt Connors - Lizard), Sean Samuels (Swiss Miss) and Christopher W. Tierney (Sergei Kravinoff - Kraven the Hunter).

Creative:
Choreography by Daniel Ezralow; set design by George Tsypin; lighting design by Donald Holder; costume design by Eiko Ishioka; sound design by Jonathan Deans; projections design by Kyle Cooper; hair design by Campbell Young Associates; make-up design by Judy Chin; aerial design by Scott Rogers; aerial rigging design by Jaque Paquin.

UPDATE 1.14.11
Remember when I said this show wasn't scheduled to open until February 7th?  Well, make that March 15th.  Crazy.


UPDATE 2.7.11

Okay so, although SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK isn't scheduled to open until March 15, theatre critics have been chomping at the bit to get their reviews in on this show.  There's typically an "understood agreement" that shows are not to be reviewed by critics until right before the official opening, but seeing as how this show has practically had the longest preview period in history, tons of publicity due to the delays, accidents, and not to mention the fact that it's been pulling in about a million a week -- in previews mind you -- the reviewers said, "Screw this. We're reviewing this $65 million dollar puppy on its previously scheduled opening date of February 8."
The NY Times' Ben Brantley weighs in...  ouch...


UPDATE 3.19.11
June 14th.  That's the latest scheduled opening night for SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE MADNESS.  That makes 6 delays in a show that costs more money than any other Broadway show in history.  2010 Tony possibilities for this show are now off, and remember, SPIDER-MAN has been in the making since 2002, with readings starting in 2007 and previews that began in November of 2010.  No other show in history has had such a long preview period.  Why are things still so effed up?  Many think it's Julie's ego, and the fact that she thought she had a diamond on her hands, when she really had a very expensive turd.  Seriously, the making of this show is arguably more compelling than the show itself.

Photo by Sara Krulwich, The New York Times
Now I'll admit, when I saw the show in December, I was pretty enthralled.  The reason?  Well, the flying was pretty cool, but at that time, there was already so much talk about this show, I felt like I was witnessing something that would wind up in the Broadway history books.  No doubt it will, but for all the wrong reasons.  The NY critics who broke with convention and went in to review it, even though it was in previews (over 100 and still counting…), trashed it. 

The latest in the saga is that a few weeks ago, Julie Taymor was sent packing.  For the last few months, she has reportedly refused to institute any of the changes suggested that would make the book more comprehensible (especially the second act).  Although she'll remain director in title, the day-to-day operations will be taken over by BOY FROM OZ director Philip William McKinley.  The producers have also brought in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a playwright and comic-book writer, to serve as script doctor.  Also, writing pop songs is not the same thing as writing songs for a musical, and although Bono and the Edge are still in the picture, a musical consultant has been brought in to re-arrange the rather pedestrian musical numbers.

Meanwhile, the costs keep soaring, and word is that ensemble members are starting to get really annoyed and exhausted from the constant rehearsals.  Some want out.

There are plans to close down the production for about 3 weeks to rehearse the newly installed revisions to the book.  The new date when preview performances will resume is May 12th.

It never stops over there at the Foxwoods Theatre...

BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON • Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

When you first walk into the 1078 seat Jacobs, you're met with a theatre that has been adorned with fairy lights, stuffed moose heads, bears and a horse hanging upside down over the orchestra seats.  There are portraits of dead presidents all over the place, and all kinds of assorted stuff on the stage.  This visual onslaught perfectly sets up BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, an "emo" rock musical that looks at how this roughneck frontiersman wound up in the White House.

This cheeky in-your-face downtown musical, recently brought uptown, examines the controversial seventh president of the United States, during a time when the country was in its adolescence -- in the language and music of today, with Jackson being portrayed as an irresistible tight jeans wearing rock star type.  "Old Hickory"'s life is presented in a series of scenes (by a narrator in a motorized wheelchair, infatuated with Jackson) that come off more like skits, with songs like "Populism, Yea, Yea!" and "Ten Little Indians", performed with boundless energy by the young cast and the onstage 3 piece band.  The highlights of Andrew Jackson's life (played by a very compelling Benjamin Walker), include him being orphaned early in his life, his military career, his rise to power as the people's president, and his infamous forced relocation of Native Americans.  There are tons of anachronisms and parallel lines drawn in the show, like when Jackson, dripping with sexual energy, tells us about his "stimulus package".

The cast of
BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON
Many think this show is a little too clever and smug for its own good, but I thought it was refreshing to see this kind of thing on Broadway.  Even though a couple of people walked out halfway through the show (it runs about 90 minutes with no intermission), I thought it was fun and different.  There were younger folks in front of me that were eating this show up with a spoon, so although it may not fit the mold, it's something that could bring new audiences into the theatre, which to me is a good thing.  It's nice to be reminded that the path of a president doesn't really change much, regardless of what century you're in, and the mixing of a 19th century president presented in modern terms works, and makes you think about the state of the nation, and where we've come from after you leave.

The Hanging Horse
Unfortunately, BBAJ will be closing on January 2nd.  Maybe its vibe plays better off-Broadway than on, but it's cool and hip, even though it may exaggerate the truth at times.  I'd still prefer a history lesson like this one as opposed to the crap I endured when I was in school.


BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON
Book by Alex Timbers 
Music/lyrics by Michael Friedman
Directed by Alex Timbers
Bernard B Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th St. New York, NY
through January 2 | tickets: $51.50 - $131.50
Performances Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 7pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm

Cast:
Benjamin Walker (Andrew Jackson), James Barry (Male Soloist/Citizen/Phil), Darren Goldstein (Andrew Sr./Calhoun), Greg Hildreth (Red Eagle/University President), Jeff Hiller (Cobbler/Messenger/John Quincy Adams/Tour Guide/Florida Man), Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (Keokuk/Van Buren), Cameron Ocasio (Lyncoya), Bryce Pinkham (Black Fox/Clay), Nadia Quinn (Toula/Female Ensemble), Maria-Elena Ramirez (Rachel/Florida Woman), Kate Cullen Roberts (Elizabeth/Erica), Ben Steinfeld (Monroe), Emily Young (Female Soloist/Announcer/Naomi) and Kristine Neilsen (the Storyteller).

Creative:
Writer & director, Alex Timbers; music & lyrics by Michael Friedman; choreography by Danny Mefford; scenic design by Donyale Werle; costume design by Emily Rebholz; lighting design by Justin Townsend; sound design by Bart Fasbender; music director, bandleader, Justin Levine; stage manager, Jamie Greathouse.
Musicians:
Justin Levine, Charlie Rosen and Kevin Garcia.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN • Belasco Theatre

In all honesty, I'm not sure how objective I'm going to be able to be on this one (seeing shows in NYC always kinda clouds my objectivity), but I'll do my best.

Based on Pedro Almodóvar's 1988  film of the same name, WOMEN got a lot of negative buzz when it was in previews last month.  Without the benefit of an out-of-town tryout, this show had to work out the kinks in front of a full-price paying New York audience.  Oof!

You've got the main character Pepa (Sherie Rene Scott), a movie voice dubber, who's just been dumped by her longtime asshole boyfriend Ivan (Brian Stokes Mitchell) at the center of the story.  As the plot unfolds, we're eventually introduced to Ivan's bitter first wife Lucia (Patti LuPone) recently released from an institution and looking to get even with Ivan, their son Carlos (Justin Guarini), his passionless fiancée Marisa (Nikka Graff Lanzarone, who I saw in the Starbucks by 45th and 7th), and Pepa's best friend Candela (Laura Benanti), a model who's discovered she may be dating a terrorist.  Then there's this taxi driver who's kind of like the narrator.  Also, there's Lucia's lawyer, and this motorcycle couple who keeps popping up.  All of these people are rolling with love's punches in some way, and once everyone's stories come together, I thought it was a joy to watch -- but it takes awhile to come together.

Sherie Rene Scott (Pepa).
Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
The show is supposed to be a farce, but at one point Pepa makes a winking reference to plot devices and stuff so they can tell you that that's where we are.  I loved it when they did that stuff in URINETOWN, but it bothered me a little here.  My friend said to me after the show, "Once that reference was made, I understood how to watch it, because it didn't initially seem like it would go in that direction."  Now, I'm feeling like if they have to call out to the audience what it is, something's probably a little off.
We both felt there were a couple of things that were a little off about this show, as hard as it tries.  I mean, the first number, "Madrid", tries to set the tone, but with lyrics like, “Madrid is my mama/Give me the nipple, Every day I’m gonna taste it./The tears and the drama/Ten tons of mama-milk and not a drop is wasted”?  Really?  M'kay.  The scenic design and staging step in to do most of the work as far as setting the tone.  I did enjoy most of Yazbek's Latin flavored music, but his lyrics fall short.  With all of the vibrantly colored projections, fast moving set pieces flying in and out, and walkways all over the stage, it is a feast for the eyes, but sadly, you get the feeling they're trying to wow the crowd and make up for weaknesses in the musical's book.  Something about the tone of the piece isn't well maintained throughout, and some of the numbers seemed to come out of nowhere, which is a shame with such a powerhouse cast -- who do the best they can with what they're given.  Scott, the main character of the show, ends up being overshadowed by big numbers like LuPone's "Invisible" (who gets the most emotional song), and Benanti, who steals the show with a hilarious patter song called "Model Behavior" (at 4min. 36sec. in the clip below).  I saw the two of them last year in GYPSY, and it was wonderful to see them again.  I love them so...
Patti LuPone (Lucia)
and Brian Stokes Mitchell (Ivan).
Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
All of the kinks with the lyrics and book may not have been ironed out completely, but I liked it, was very entertained, and walked out of there feeling like I'd seen a big Broadway show, so I'm good.  And yes, I stage-doored like a mofo.
Random Stuff:
So there was a little commotion down on the far end of our row -- some woman got kinda loud with an usher.  Something having to do with the usher shining a light in her face.  The woman got louder and louder and had to literally be dragged out.  Took 'em long enough.  I was starting to get pissed off.  On a happier note, Stephanie J. Block was a couple seats down from us.  If you remember back to my very first blog, you know I love her.  We chatted during the intermission, and I was quite pleased about not embarrassing myself or anything.


WOMEN ON THE VERGE Cast
WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN

Book by Jeffrey Lane
Music/lyrics by David Yazbek
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th St. New York, NY
limited run | tickets: $36.50  - $126.50 
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm,
Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2pm, Sundays at 3pm
Cast:
de'Adre Aziza (Paulina), Laura Benanti (Candela), Danny Burstein (Taxi Cab Driver), Justin Guarini (Carlos), Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Marisa), Patti LuPone (Lucia), Brian Stokes Mitchell (Ivan), Mary Beth Peil (Concierge) and Sherie Rene Scott (Pepa).
Creative:
Source Material by Pedro Almodóvar; choreography by Christopher Gattelli; sets by Michael Yeargan; costumes by Catherine Zuber; lighting by Brian MacDevitt; sound by Scott Lehrer; projections by Sven Ortel; aerial design by The Sky Box; special effects by Gregory Meeh; wigs and hair by Charles LaPointe; make-up by Dick Page; orchestrations by Simon Hale.

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