Friday, February 29, 2008

My So-Called Life

I've always been curious about My So-Called Life. The television series gave Claire Danes her first big role and it received a heap of critical praise for its realistic depiction of the lives of teenagers. But the show apparently never found an audience and was canceled after the first season. Until the advent of DVDs, and the release of practically every television program that ever aired, you couldn't watch My So-Called Life. It acquired an almost cult-like status.

My curiosity about the show was piqued even further when I realized that one of the creative forces behind the series was none other than Winnie Holzman, the woman who wrote the book for the wildly popular musical Wicked (a Gratuitous Violins favorite). In my eyes, that just about makes Ms. Holzman a goddess.

So I was eager to plunge into some of her other work, to see, perhaps, whether I could discern the faintest glimmers of Wicked's cast of teenage characters in Holzman's earlier attempt at bringing the anxieties of adolescence to life. (Holzman also wrote for other television series, including The Wonder Years and thirtysomething.)

The 19 episodes of My So-Called Life aired from 1994-1995 on ABC. The series starred a red-haired Claire Danes as 15-year-old Angela Chase, going through all of the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. In some ways it's a typical series - Angela is beginning to distance herself from her parents, she has a pesky younger sister (Lisa Wilhoit), a geeky next-door neighbor whom she can't stand (Devon Gummersall), a new set of friends who don't quite meet with parental approval (A.J. Langer and Wilson Cruz) and a boy she has a crush on, (Jared Leto).

The show, which takes place in a fictional suburb of Pittsburgh, is more serious and realistic than the usual teenage fare. It's absorbing and well-done, but I can see why it wouldn't be everyone's taste. There's a dark, almost gloomy tone to My So-Called Life. Its depiction of issues such as adultery, drug and alcohol abuse, homophobia, school violence, censorship and homelessness make it vastly different from series that portrayed adolescence in a more fun-filled, nostalgic light. This is not Happy Days or Beverly Hills, 90210.

Danes is wonderful in the series. She's blossoming right before her parents' (and our) eyes into a beautiful young woman, but she's still very much the moody, insecure teenager, fighting with her parents, trying to act grown up, trying to attract the attention of a boy she likes, taking risks she shouldn't be taking.

Her parents, played by Tom Irwin and Bess Armstrong, don't always understand what their eldest daughter is feeling, but they know that something is changing. There's a scene where Irwin sees Danes coming out of the shower draped in a towel and tells Armstrong that she shouldn't be parading around the house like that. We kind of understand. While Irwin is quiet and understated, Armstrong is sometimes a little too shrill and annoying for my taste.

To me, the other standout performance in My So-Called Life is Wilson Cruz as Enrique "Rickie" Vasquez. Cruz, an openly gay actor, drew on some of his own life experiences to create a thoughtful and sympathetic portrait of a teenager coming to terms with his sexual orientation. When Ricky does finally come to accept who he is, it's one of the most powerful and inspiring moments in the series.

There are theater connections to My So-Called Life in addition to Holzman and Wicked. The show featured two members of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater Company, Irwin and Jeff Perry, who had a recurring guest spot as a teacher. Perry is currently on Broadway with the Steppenwolf ensemble in the hit play August: Osage County. I saw the show in November, but I didn't actually recognize Perry in the series until I was listening to the audio commentary and heard Danes and Holzman mention his name. So that was a nice surprise! Cruz has played the role of the drag queen Angel on Broadway in Rent. And Danes made her Broadway debut last fall as Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, a performance that I'm sorry I missed.

While the stars of My So-Called Life have moved on to other projects with varying degrees of success, Langer, who played Danes' rebellious, wild child friend Rayanne Graff, has probably moved furthest from her role in the series. She's now Lady Courtenay, married to Lord Charles Courtenay, son of the 18th Earl of Devon.

Now that I've watched My So-Called Life, it's easy to spot some of the same themes and characters that Holzman wrote about so believably in Wicked - teenage cliques, Elphaba's anxiety at feeling different and not fitting in, a desire to rebel.

In a 2005 article in The Advocate, Holzman's daughter, Savannah Dooley, describes her mother's work on the book for Wicked this way: "It is rich with her trademarks: a story about an outsider, fully realized characters, and some subversive political commentary."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Wedding Singer

When it comes to musicals, I definitely have a weakness for pop scores like Wicked and Hairspray. I've been listening to the Broadway cast CD of The Wedding Singer for months now, and the Tony-nominated score seemed to have some of the same quality, so I was really looking forward to seeing the show on tour. I finally had a chance last weekend.

The story pretty much parallels the 1998 movie with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. (And it's just about the only Adam Sandler movie I can stomach). Robbie Hart is the New Jersey wedding singer whose fiancee dumps him at the altar. He falls in love with a waitress named Julia Sullivan, who dreams of having her own storybook wedding, if her fiance would only pick a date. She's engaged to a hard-charging, obnoxious Wall Street type named Glen who doesn't pay enough attention to her and pretty much takes her for granted.

The musical does a good job of capturing the 1980s with a sense of humor - there's big hair and pastels, cell phones with giant battery packs. New Coke is touted as the next big thing, and the idea that anyone would pay $3 for a cup of coffee is dismissed as total lunacy.

The music, composed by Matthew Sklar, is incredibly catchy. Chad Beguelin who coauthored the book with Tim Herlihy, has written some very witty lyrics, especially in songs like "It's All About the Green" and "It's Your Wedding Day." And I loved, absolutely loved, the bar mitzvah numbers - "Today You Are A Man," and "George's Prayer."

It was great to finally see the songs performed live that I'd been listening to on my iPod for so long. I'm just sorry that one of my favorites - "Pop," didn't make it on tour. And the cast seemed to rush through some of the tunes that I remember being sung at a slightly more leisurely pace on the CD.

One thing you don't get by listening, of course, is seeing how the songs are staged. I'm not sure how much of Rob Ashford's Tony-nominated work choreographer Chris Bailey used in the tour, but it was terrific. Every song had its own distinct style, and they were all pretty exciting. "Saturday Night in the City" was suitably raunchy, and "It's All About the Green" had more of a traditional Broadway, button-down feel that you'd expect in well, a Wall Street office.

After Curtains, this is the second Rob Ashford show I've seen, and I think I'm becoming a fan. I can't wait to see what he does with Cry-Baby, which begins previews on Broadway next month. (If you count Kevin Spacey's dancing in the Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea, it's actually the third).

Unfortunately, Merritt David Janes' portrayal of Robbie was a little bit of a weak link in the cast. He tried hard, and he's likable enough, but he just left me feeling kind of blah. Robbie should be charming in a goofy kind of way. But to me, Janes didn't exude much charm. It was a little hard to see why Julia, played by Erin Elizabeth Coors, was attracted to him to the point where she'd give up the comfort and security she'd have with the upwardly mobile Glen.

Robbie's bandmates, Sammy (played by Rhode Islander Justin Jutras as a rough-edged Joisy boy with "Flock of Seagulls hair") and George (John Jacob Lee, sweetly channeling Boy George) were hilarious. Coors was good as the young woman who wants so much to get married, she overlooks some of her fiance's more irritating qualities. I liked her voice, too. And Mark Raumaker as Glen was perfectly self-absorbed and arrogant.

The Wedding Singer opened on Broadway on April 27, 2006 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre and ran for 285 performances, closing on Dec. 31. It was nominated for five Tony awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography and Best Actor in a Musical (Stephen Lynch as Robbie). The touring production runs through June 22.

After months of listening to the music, I think The Wedding Singer did a pretty good job of living up to my expectations. The songs are great, the choreography is wonderful, and there are some truly witty characters and moments. While it might not have the emotional depth of Wicked or Hairspray, it's a very fun show.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Masoret, Masoret!

I read a story in The Forward last week about a production of Fiddler on the Roof in New Delhi, India, a place where there are very few Jews, and very little familiarity with Jewish culture or history.

But despite those barriers, and the difficulty of translating the songs into Hindi, the musical still resonated with the audience. “The character is so universal, he could be an Indian for all that it matters,” Rakesh Gupta, who played Tevye, told writer Ben Frumin. “It’s a very Indian thing,” Gupta said. “The problems being faced by Tevye, the problems being faced by the family about traditions, these challenges are faced by all people, all families. It sounded very familiar.”

The story about Fiddler on the Roof in India resonated with me because 10 years ago last month I saw the show for the first and so far only time, in Tel Aviv, in Hebrew, with Israeli actor Chaim Topol in the role of Tevye the milkman.

Topol has had quite a career with Tevye. He starred in the role in London's West End in 1967, then was nominated for an Oscar for the 1971 film version, and 20 years later, received a Tony nomination for the Broadway revival. (Topol is pictured at top, from a 2005 production in Sydney, Australia.

When I say I'd never seen Fiddler on the Roof before I saw it in Israel, I mean never. I'd never even seen the movie. (Yes, I know, you're shocked. I was probably the only Jewish person who'd never seen it). In fact, I was proud of my ignorance. I guess I was under the mistaken impression that the story of Tevye and his family romanticized the harsh lives of Jews in Czarist Russia in the early 20th century. I didn't want any part of it.

I've always joked that living in Israel was like being in an alternate universe. Saturday is the weekend and Sunday is a regular workday. Hebrew is written from right to left, instead of left to right. And in Israel, my natural resistance to Fiddler on the Roof evaporated. Even though I wasn't a regular theatergoer, as soon as I saw an ad for the show in the newspaper, I wanted to go see it.

Granted, I couldn't understand most it, although I picked out words and phrases and bits of dialogue. You have no idea how quickly people speak in their native language. Luckily, I went with two friends, both more fluent in Hebrew than I was. They sat on either side of me and would occasionally whisper key plot points. (If any children are reading this, I'm not condoning our behavior. I don't think we disturbed anyone, but I certainly wouldn't do it today.)

And I'm not ashamed to admit that I was wrong about Fiddler all those years. I loved it. It was a thrilling experience. I was in tears at the end, when Tevye's daughters go their separate ways and the Jews are forced by the Russian authorities to leave their homes in Anatevka. And masoret, masoret! (Hebrew for tradition) was ringing in my head for days afterward. There is one difference between the Hebrew and English versions. Instead of "If I Were A Rich Man," Tevye sings "If I Were A Rothschild."

I think the connection I felt was similar to Steve on Broadway's experiences watching Wicked in Germany and Japan. The essence came through, even if I couldn't understand every word. I just wish I'd had the same level of familiarity with Fiddler that Steve had with Wicked. It definitely would have helped.

I knew enough of the plot and I'd heard enough of the songs over the years that Fiddler on the Roof wasn't entirely unfamiliar. And certainly, I knew the history behind the story. But about six months later, when I finally saw the movie, I realized how much I'd missed. I missed some of the subtleties, some of the funnier parts.

I'm sure there are some musicals I wouldn't want to watch in a foreign language. Believe me, it can be pretty difficult to sit for two hours listening to words you don't understand. But if you have an inkling of the story, if you've seen the show in English, it's a pretty interesting experience.

Sure, seeing Fiddler on the Roof in Israel, with an overwhelmingly Jewish audience, helped cement the connection. When you're in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is only an hour away, when you see some of the Israeli soldiers who keep you safe on a daily basis in the audience, you realize how different your world is from Anatevka. It made the experience very powerful.

In any language, the music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, along with Joseph Stein's book, are truly memorable. The themes, of a close-knit, devout community fighting oppressive outside forces, of a family's struggle to maintain its traditions, of the sometimes rocky relationship between parents and children, are universal. When I saw The Color Purple on Broadway last summer, it reminded me a little of Fiddler on the Roof.

Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway in 1964 and played for 3,242 performances. When it closed in 1972, it was the longest-running musical in Broadway history. Alisa Solomon, a professor at Columbia University who's writing a book about Fiddler on the Roof, tells the Forward that there have been "thousands of productions in dozens of languages." Here' s a sample of Fiddlers from around the world.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sher excitement

The New York Times had nice package of stories yesterday in its spring theater preview. There was also a great profile by Alex Witchel in the magazine of director Bartlett Sher.

I didn't know that much about Sher, and what I thought I knew turned out to be wrong. I thought he was British, because I knew there was a British actor named Antony Sher, and I figured they were brothers. Well, he's not and they're not. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. (I did learn that his name is pronounced sheer, he grew up in California, his parents went through a nasty divorce, and as a child, he broke an unusually high number of bones).

Currently, Sher is in rehearsals for Lincoln Center's revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacfic. I'm thrilled that I'll be in the audience next month for South Pacific, which begins previews on Saturday and opens April 3.

It'll be a trio of firsts: the first-ever Broadway revival of the show, plus my first time at Lincoln Center. And while I grew up watching Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals like Cinderella, Oklahoma and The King and I on television, this will be my first time watching one on stage.

Brendan Lemon, the New York theater critic for the Financial Times, is writing a backstage blog for South Pacific on the Lincoln Center Web site. In his latest post, on Feb. 20, he says that the show is now in "tech hell," with working days lasting until nearly midnight.

For me, what's most interesting is the extent to which the creative team is going to make South Pacific historically accurate, and Sher's comments on what the musical offers to an audience that, by and large, no longer remembers World War II.

In the midst of scene analysis, dance and movement work, the cast has been given a short history lesson on the war in the Pacific, Lemon writes. They've heard from professional historians and veterans of World War II.

Sarna Lapine, the assistant director, is South Pacific's unofficial on-site historian. "For the current assignment, I spent four days in Washington doing research primarily at the Naval Historical Society. I talked to people from the Marine Armory in Brooklyn, who've helped us find people to help instruct the cast in things like how to handle a weapon."

Lapine adds that she showed the script to her brother Seth, a Marine Corps major who's served in Iraq, and the two have discussed it in detail. "In many ways, he's been the most valuable resource I had as I went about trying to help everybody understand what it's like to be in the Navy -- an organization with so many rules and regulations."

For his part, Sher believes that South Pacific has a great deal of relevance for Americans in 2008. "I would say that, more than any single piece I've ever worked on, as an American artist I have been impressed by the depth and resonance and contemporary intelligence of the piece."

While race, and racism, play a big part in South Pacific's story, Sher focuses more on what he views as the central difference between America in the 1940s and America in 2008.

"In order to understand the world of South Pacific," he says, "you have to have an innate understanding of national sacrifice. You have to realize that as a nation in the 1940s we were all involved in the same struggle. We were all connected to the same thing. And the one thing we know now is that we are never connected to the same thing. We have almost no idea that there's a war going on, we don't feel connected to it, we don't feel any sense of shared sacrifice - none of it."

I think Sher brings up a fascinating point. South Pacific ran on Broadway for 1,925 performances, from 1949 to 1954. Memories of World War II were still fresh in people's minds, and it was a war that touched every American.

I haven't seen any of the plays, and very few of the movies and documentaries, that have been written about the war in Iraq. For most Americans, they have a very different feel - of outsiders looking in. I'm not sure that any work today - whether it's for the theater, movies or television - could create the same shared experience that the audiences for South Pacific had a half-century ago.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dennis Letts

I was so shocked and so saddened when I found out this morning that Dennis Letts died on Friday from cancer at age 73. Steve on Broadway has written a thoughtful, moving appreciation of Letts, pictured above at right with his son Tracy.

It's a bit of a strange feeling to think that someone I saw on stage at Broadway's Imperial Theatre just a few months ago has passed away.

Letts portrayed family patriarch Beverly Weston in Tracy Letts' play August: Osage County, and he only had one scene. But it's the first scene, and it sets the tone for the entire evening. I can still picture him sitting in a swivel chair, interviewing a young woman who will be taking care of his cancer-stricken wife. While Letts' time on stage wasn't long, he was a deeply felt presence throughout this amazing 2 1/2-hour drama.

In hindsight, what was even more amazing about Letts' performance is that he was diagnosed with cancer in September, but chose to go with the rest of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company when August: Osage County made the move from Chicago to Broadway. I had no idea that the powerful actor I was seeing on stage was so ill. There was nothing in his portrayal that gave me a clue.

My thoughts are with Letts' wife and sons, and with his family in the wonderful Steppenwolf troupe. I will always feel tremendous admiration for his decision to keep working, and so privileged that I had a chance to see him on stage.

In a statement reported in the Chicago Tribune Tracy Letts said, "his choice to persevere with the New York production in the face of his devastating diagnosis is a testament to his love for the project and the people involved. “Dad had a full and fascinating life, and 'August Osage County' was the cherry on top.”

Dennis Letts' love for the project - and pride in his family - was always apparent.

In an article on, he wrote about the secrets of his success in life: his marriage to novelist Billie Letts, his three sons, "all good men, all funny, all so bright they make your hair hurt." Letts, who turned to acting after a career as an English professor in his native Oklahoma, said, "I'd already had a great run as an actor. Then came Steppenwolf and August: Osage County and an entirely new magical experience."

In November, he told a reporter for the Tulsa World: "Hey, you're talking to a fellow who's gone from Tishimingo Community Theater to Broadway. That's quite a step. And I'm in a great play my son has written. I'm the luckiest man alive."

When August: Osage County came out in paperback a few weeks ago, I bought a copy. Before I started to write this post, I picked it up to read Dennis Letts' part, but I got a little choked up at the dedication. It says simply: For Dad.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fighting hate

The Web site Good as You prides itself on using humor and irreverence to document bigotry against gay and lesbian people. "Our tone is light, but our message is firm: We will not sit back and be led to a society that favors discrimination over diversity."

As you read through the stories of preachers who seem to have forgotten The Golden Rule and organizations that purport to "defend" the family while attacking some families, it's easy to feel numbed and helpless. But one item this week disgusted me to the point where I felt compelled to do something. The American Family Association has revealed its "The Top Ten Pro-Homosexual Sponsors on Television."

I don't even like mentioning the organizations' name, and I hesitated to write about this because I don't want to give them and their hate-filled campaign any further publicity. But if there's anything that the history of the 20th century has taught us, it's that we can't be silent in the face of hatred. Bigotry doesn't go away simply because we ignore it.

While the AFA and their supporters certainly have the right to their opinion, I have the right to oppose them. I hope that everyone who reads this will exercise their First Amendment rights and do what I've done: use the links so thoughtfully provided by this organization to send these companies letters of support.

So far, I've e-mailed the CEOs or left comments on the Web sites of several of the companies on the list. I told them that I use their products or services regularly and I watch the shows that they sponsor. I thanked them for their continued support of television programs that include gay and lesbian characters. I encouraged them to continue to stand firm against bigotry and for a more inclusive vision of America.

I'm under no illusion that my e-mails will have much an impact compared with the mountain of hate mail these companies will probably be getting. Unfortunately, it's usually the haters who speak the loudest and seem to command the most attention. The rest of us read what they've done, shake our heads and move on.

Sure, it's easy enough simply to be disgusted and dismiss the whole thing as lunacy. But you know, sometimes it's not enough to be disgusted and dismissive. A sense of outrage is like a part of your body, you have to exercise it to keep it healthy.

Friday, February 22, 2008


After last year's A Moon for the Misbegotten, it's possible I'll have another chance to see Kevin Spacey on Broadway.

Spacey, Jeff Goldbum and Laura Michelle Kelly are getting rave reviews in David Mamet's six-hander Speed-the-Plow at the Old Vic Theatre in London. Spacey and Goldblum play Hollywood producers and Kelly is Goldblum's secretary in this caustic, satirical look at the inner workings of the movie business.

Spacey, the Old Vic's artisitic director, wants to bring the production to Broadway. But the New York Post's Michael Riedel reports that Mamet has given the rights to producer Jeffrey Richards, who presented a revival of Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross in 2005.

The British critics, who haven't always been kind to Spacey during his tenure at the Old Vic, seem to be giving this production pretty high marks. As a big fan of Mr. Spacey's, I'm extremely happy for him.

In The Times, Benedict Nightingale writes: "Imagine a game of ping-pong played with several balls, some filled with hand-grenades, and you’ve the way Spacey and Goldblum manage a swaggering, streetwise poetry that overlaps, breaks off, explodes. The speed is tremendous: less a run than an Olympic sprint over hurdles, with double-somersaults in between. It’s as expertly acrobatic as the Cirque du Soleil — and funnier than anything their clowns have recently concocted."

Two of my favorite London theater bloggers, the very witty and erudite West End Whingers, call Speed-the-Plow a hit for Spacey. "The dialogue is very witty (Mamet at his best) and when Goldblum and Spacey are on the stage together it’s often quite mesmerising (not a word you hear on these pages very often)."

One of the things that's always impressed me about Spacey is his absolute devotion to the theater. Here's his description of the difference between plays and movies: "Movies sometimes affect people. But the theatre is real and it’s tangible. The theatre is one of the most thrilling and memorable experiences that an audience can have."

According to Riedel, David Mamet is heading to London soon to see the show, which runs through April 26. Spacey is "close to Mamet and has plenty of critical ammunition with which to make his case. He can also point to his box office: Speed-the-Plow, a source reports, is the hottest ticket in London right now." I'm crossing my fingers that he succeeds.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Little House, big plans

I'm hoping to make my first visit to the Land of 10,000 Lakes for the world premiere of a new musical based on the Little House on the Prairie books. I haven't heard much about the project since it was announced in November by Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater. But apparently, things are moving right along. In fact, they may be moving in an unexpected direction.

The Guthrie's artistic director, Joe Dowling, said last fall that the producers were looking at a national tour after the show's premiere. I wonder if things have changed? In an article earlier this month in the Newark Star-Ledger, Michael Sommers writes that the Little House musical is coming to Broadway in the fall. It seems a little soon for a Broadway debut, but who knows?

I found a logo for the show on the Guthrie's Web site - and I kind of like it. The stalks of wheat and cursive script give it a bit of an old-fashioned look. It's a nice contrast with the more modern typeface for "on the prairie." Together, they project a sense that this is a combination of something old and something new. And the beautiful but slightly ominous reddish-brown sky evokes the wide-open spaces of the 19th century American West.

Here are photos from an open call for auditions held earlier this year at the Guthrie that attracted 125 girls and a much smaller number of boys. Most of the girls said they'd come because they were huge fans of the books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

While the Guthrie doesn't list an opening date yet, I did find one on the Web site of director Francesca Zambello. Her calendar lists Little House from Aug. 15. I'm not sure whether that's the date of the first performance, but it's entirely possible. The show is scheduled to be staged at the Guthrie's McGuire Proscenium, and there's nothing else on tap for that venue after July 11.

Here's how the project is described on the site of lyricist Donna di Novelli: "Set on the vast plains of the American West, Little House on the Prairie is the story of one girl’s struggle with the wildness in her soul. Both girl and land fight against the forces that seek to tame them in this epic story of Western migration." I love epics stories, so it sounds promising.

In addition to Zambello and di Novelli, other members of the Little House creative team include Rachel Portman, an Oscar winner for Emma, who is composing the music, and Rachel Sheinkin, Tony winner for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, who's writing the book.

Portman is British, and Zambello is an American who grew up in Europe. I don't know where di Novelli and Sheinkin are from, but from their biographies, they seem very much Ivy League-educated New York-centric artists.

When Joe Dowling announced the musical, he said, "The work of Laura Ingalls Wilder has a deep and powerful connection to the people of the Midwest. This musical fits perfectly within the Guthrie's goal to develop new work that speaks directly to this community."

Maybe I shouldn't worry about this, but I am a little concerned that none of the four seems to have a "deep and powerful connection" to the region where the story takes place. On the other hand, writers write, actors act and composers compose movingly all the time about people, places and events that don't seem connected to their lives.

Of the four, Sheinkin is the only one whose work I know. I saw Spelling Bee on tour last fall, and I loved it. It's a sweet musical that treats the joy and pain of growing up with humor and sensitivity. Sheinkin did a wonderful job developing the characters of the elementary school spellers, so I'm really interested to see what she'll do with a group of 19th-century adolescents.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Richard III

The last time I saw Shakespeare on stage was two years ago, when I went to Trinity Repertory Company's production of Hamlet. To prepare, I bought a copy of the play that had the traditional version on one side of the page, and a modern English translation on the other side.

While the antiquated language, with its puns and poetic quality, might have been child's play to the groundlings who attended performances of Shakespeare's plays in Elizabethan England, it wasn't exactly music to my 21st-century ears. So I was glad I read the play beforehand. I would definitely have been lost without it.

This time, for Trinity's Richard III, I didn't do any preparation, except for quickly scanning a summary of the plot. I'd seen Al Pacino's documentary Looking for Richard, in which Pacino, accompanied by some well-known fellow actors, talks about putting on the play and takes us through the story. I figured that would be enough. Sometimes it was. But at other times, I admit the words went right over my head.

The two-tiered set, designed by Michael McGarty, certainly put me in the right frame of mind. Most of the action in Richard III takes place on two huge, jagged gray concrete slabs, with a small crevice running between them that I was constantly afraid the actors were gong trip over. The stone slabs give the production a dark and gloomy look and set the tone for what we're about to see: a cold, hard and brutal story of a grab for political power.

The play starts off with soldiers carrying rifles and dressed in modern camouflage fatigues running onto the set. Shots ring out and there's lots of hand-t0-hand combat. It's all carefully choreographed by Craig Handel to the sounds of the Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire. The scene is noisy, fast-paced, and when I think about, disturbingly thrilling. I'm fairly certain that real battles aren't nearly as neatly choreographed.

But that's only the beginning of the carnage. As we watch Richard, Duke of Glocester, scheme to make himself king he orders the killing of anyone who stands in his path, including his brother the Duke of Clarence, played by Stephen Berenson, and the two young sons of another sibling, King Edward IV, played by Johnny Lee Davenport. I've never seen so much killing in so many different ways on stage. People are shot, stabbed, strangled and that's not even the worst of it.

Brian McEleney does a superb job as Richard. He's described by Shakespeare as a hunchback, but in this production director Kevin Moriarty makes Richard's deformities the result of battle scars. He limps around on stage, with his leg in a brace and his arm in a sling. You know just from looking at Richard that he's not someone you want to cross. He sports a severe crew cut and there's no hint at all of softness in him.

Richard does his best to be charming and mask his true intentions. He walks into the audience to shake hands, hugs his two nephews, pretends to be pious. It seems to work for the people around him. But to me, he's still pretty creepy. There's something about his manner that you just don't trust. McEleney does a lot with his eyes, letting you know that it's all an act.

As thrilling as it was to watch McEleney become more power-mad, some parts of Richard III did drag a bit, especially in the 90-minute first act. The scene where Richard charms Angela Brazil's Lady Anne, getting her to marry him despite having been responsible for the deaths of her husband and father-in-law, seemed to go on too long. It was hard to keep all the kings, queens, princes, lords and ladies straight and figure out how they were related to one another. And some of the dialogue seemed to get lost, especially if the actor's back was turned.

For me, there was a point when he truly became a monster, and no twinkle in his eye could salvage it. Richard sends one of his henchmen to kill the little princes, imprisoned in the Tower of London, in a scene that is unbelievably disturbing. It would have been easy enough to have the killing take place completely off stage and have someone simply report back to Richard that the deed had been done. But Moriarty doesn't spare us. He lets us see Richard for who he is - totally amoral.

The younger prince, played on the day I saw the show by Max Theroux, is strangled. And he does a great death - his body immediately goes limp. It's over quickly. But the older prince, played by Chris Lysik, is murdered in a way that's a little more drawn out. It's done on the second tier of the stage, in a corner, with Lysik lying down, so we don't see his face, or actually see the killing. But we do see the murder weapon and we hear it being used against a small child, and it's very hard to take. Even though we know, of course, that it's not really happening, it's still sickening to imagine.

After the death of the princes, when Richard is finally crowned and makes his appearance as king, he's bathed in blindingly bright lights. It's quite an effect. But this moment of triumph is also the beginning of the end. He becomes increasingly isolated. He confronts Phyllis Kay's Queen Elizabeth, the widow of King Edward IV, and demands to marry her daughter. Kay is terrific as one of the few people who will not be bullied by Richard. She's repulsed and helps to raise an army against him. Before the climactic battle, he has a nightmare in which he's confronted by the ghosts of all those he's killed, and utters one of the play's most famous lines: "My kingdom for a horse."

One of the most fascinating parts of watching Richard III is how you almost become immune to the killing - there's so much of it. Plus, in the beginning, it's easy to be seduced by Richard, easy to believe that violence was simply how power got transferred in his time. Maybe he was no more evil than the kings who preceded him.

In the beginning, we're almost taken in by what Trinity Rep's artistic director Curt Columbus calls Richard's "gleeful villainy." Columbus says that the play "lures us over to the 'dark side,' at least vicariously, and provides us with the thrill of acting without conscience, without thought to morals or consequences, in a world that is shaped by power."

By the end, no one is taken in. While Richard III is an extreme example of absolute power, I think it does have something to say to a modern audience. We may not face evil on Richard's level, but we do have to be wary of political candidates who simply tell us what they think we want to hear.

Monday, February 18, 2008

In the pipeline for 2009

I'm looking forward to the first time I see a show on tour that I first saw on Broadway. It'll be fun to compare the two versions. I'm not sure when it'll happen or which one it'll be, but at least there's a starting date for the tour of my first Broadway musical, Curtains.

Thanks to a link on the Broadway World message boards, which I check regularly throughout the day, I found the site for the Avid Touring Group. It lists the North American tour as beginning in September 2009. No word yet as to where it'll kick off, but I'm hoping it'll be Boston's Colonial Theatre, where the backstage murder mystery takes place.

Other touring productions on Avid's fall 2009 roster are two current Broadway comedies: The 39 Steps and Is He Dead? It'll be interesting to see how they do, because they're not musicals and they're not plays that are terribly well known.

I saw The 39 Steps last fall, during its pre-Broadway tryout in Boston, and I loved it. But I'm not sure how well it'll do on tour. A large part of the humor comes from knowing the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie that it re-creates. On the other hand, the show is pretty inspired. It does a lot with four actors and a few props. There's a lot of physical, slapstick humor that I think would be pretty hilarious even if you've never seen the movie.

I haven't seen Is He Dead?, a long-lost play by Mark Twain about a struggling artist who fakes his death to drive up the price of its paintings. It's gotten good reviews, but I think a lot of those are based on the comedic talents of its star, Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz. Avid lists the show as being "in the pipeline."

One show that I'm hoping will come my way this fall needs no introduction. It's the musical Happy Days, based on the hit tv series. Happy Days begins its 1950s nostalgia-laden tour on Oct. 31 at Southern California's La Mirada Theatre. Shouldn't it be launching in Milwaukee?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Your buddy Barack

Ok, I think people might be going overboard with the whole cult of Obama thing. Yes, Barack Obama's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is inspiring. It's great that he's gotten so many people, especially young people, excited about politics. But I wonder whether the fervent tone of some of his supporters will end up hurting rather than helping him.

Jake Tapper at ABC News wrote earlier this month that some supporters use practically messianic language to talk about Obama. And Slate political correspondent John Dickerson wonders whether Obama has gotten too hip for his own good. It's a good question. Can you be too cool to be president?

I guess believing in Barack is no different than the enthusiastic college students who went "clean for Gene" in 1968, or being "madly for Adlai" in the 1950s. Still, it's the religious overtones that make Obama worship a little disturbing.

Here's a recent example of the lengths to which Obamamania has gone. It's a pretty mild example, but combined with Barack-as-Messiah, I think it's part of a troubling trend. (Thanks to Fimoculous for the tip). It's called Barack Obama is your new bicycle and it's pretty funny. Well, at least to me it's funny - and strangely addictive. Judge for yourself. Just keep clicking. Apparently there's no limit to what the junior senator from Illinois will do for you. No task is too small - or too repetitive, since the list seems to repeat itself quite often.

It's cute and harmless enough. And wouldn't it be great if he really did send me flowers or dedicate a song to me or remember my birthday! And if he posted a comment on my blog, well, that would be pretty awesome. I think it pokes fun more at Obama's supporters than at the candidate. The problem is, things like that make me wonder whether he runs the risk of becoming a parody of himself.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Two of a kind?

I had to chuckle at the e-mail I got this morning from Telecharge. Here's how it started out: "Since you loved August: Osage County, here's a great deal on another MUST-SEE Broadway hit!

Full of anticipation, I scrolled down, only to find that it was an ad for Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll, including this quote from the New York Times' Ben Brantley: “Tom Stoppard’s dazzling whirligig of a mind is in full spin in this exciting new play of immutable passions.”

I know everyone has different tastes, but it's hard for me to believe that anyone could compare the two.

Without a doubt, Rock 'n' Roll was one of the biggest disappointments of my short Broadway theatergoing career: disjointed, with little believable emotion and few characters I really cared about. I'd hardly call it exciting. And I didn't find playwright Tom Stoppard's use of rock music all that effective.

On the other hand, Tracy Letts' August: Osage County is one of the most thrilling experiences I've had at the theater: brimming with emotion, realistic situations and fully fleshed-out, believable characters that hit close to home. It's a great story with witty dialogue and it's got amazing performances by members of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

And I don't quite see how you could label Rock 'n' Roll a "Broadway hit." It seems like a little bit of creative writing to me. According to Playbill, Rock and Roll took in $283,207 at the box office last week, while August: Osage County took in $535,598. And in December, producer Jeffrey Richards reported that August: Osage County had a $3 million advance - one of the largest for a straight play in recent history. In January, the play extended for five weeks, to April 13.

But, everyone has different tastes. Maybe some people who liked one will like the other. I'm sure there are Rock 'n' Roll fans who have a different opinion of August: Osage County. It's just great that there are so many plays to choose from this season.

And I'm still glad I saw Rock 'n' Roll. The more theater you see, the more you realize what you love, what you like, and what leaves you wondering what all the fuss was about.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

America's new top dog

Some things to be happy about today:

Tina Fey will host the first post-strike Saturday Night Live, on Feb. 23. As a big fan of 30 Rock, I'm very excited. Ben Silverman, the co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, told The New York Times, “It’s a political year, so we want to jam it with ‘SNL.’ We hope to have as many as six or eight more this season.” And according to TV, there are plans to shoot five or six more episodes of 30 Rock, to air in April and May.

Joel and Ethan Coen are going to make a movie of Michael Chabon's novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union, a murder mystery set in a fictional Jewish homeland in Alaska. Ok, that book has been sitting in my to-read pile for far too long. Now, I really have to get cracking on it. I hope this revives efforts to film one of Chabon's earlier novels, the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

In a boost to underdogs everywhere, last night an adorable beagle named Uno became the first of his breed to win best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City. His handler, Aaron Wilkerson, said afterward, "He's my best friend."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Freedom to Marry

We love one another more than anything in the world and want nothing more than to share that love with one another, and know that we are each protected and recognized as each others' spouse. We don't need the validation of the government to make our love or relationship real, but we do need the recognition of the government to protect our rights.
Jeffrey Brunelle

Today is Freedom to Marry Day. Freedom to Marry is a gay/straight partnership working for marriage equality across the United States. Every year, the organization holds a week of activities designed to engage Americans in the movement for fairness and equality. On its Web site you'll find stories from families relating how marriage discrimination affects their everyday lives.

On May 17, 2004, same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. In the Bay State, MassEquality works to promote and defend marriage equality. On that organization's Web site you'll see the flip side. You'll find hundreds of stories from gay and lesbian Massachusetts residents, such as Jeffrey Brunelle, talking about what being able to marry has meant to their everyday lives.

Too often, the subject of gay marriage is used as a wedge issue by politicians to divide us, or as a way for hatemongers to stir up fear. We don't hear enough about the very real love stories of ordinary, everyday Americans, the men and women whose relationships truly embody family values.

As someone who lives next door to Massachusetts, knows many people there and goes there all the time, I can tell you that there is nothing to fear. No heterosexual marriages have been harmed. Nothing has changed in the state, except that having the right to marry has made our gay and lesbian friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members feel happier, more secure and better protected. And that only strengthens our society, just as the ending of legal discrimination against African-Americans did nearly 50 years ago.

There is nothing I could possibly write, no argument I could make, that would be as poignant, as clear, as eloquent, as these stories. So please take five minutes to read a few of them.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Three for three

So, a couple days ago I said I was salivating at the thought of seeing Hair in Central Park this summer. I wish I could say the same about these other projects, but my feelings are decidedly mixed. Here are my thoughts, along with some ideas for alternatives. Any producers reading this, you know where to find me.

Gone with the Wind: Am I the only one who thinks that a musical version of Gone with the Wind, which opens in London's West End in April, is a supremely bad idea? I'm sure director Trevor Nunn's intentions are good. But the depictions of black people in the 1939 movie are stereotypical and offensive, and I don't see how they'll be any better on stage. The thought of singing and dancing slaves makes me cringe. And casting Jill Paice as Scarlett O'Hara only confirms my queasiness. She was wonderful in Curtins as the sweet ingenue. But this article in Playbill refers to Scarlett as a "steely Southern belle." Paice just doesn't strike me as steely enough.

My alternative: You want to make a musical out of a classic movie, how about my favorite movie of all time: Casablanca. It's arguably just as well known and beloved as GWTW, and it has some of the same elements: a love story set against a wartime backdrop, strong male and female lead characters, memorable supporting roles. Plus, the 1942 film has an element of suspense and this time, our hero and heroine are on the right side of a moral issue.

Shrek: I'm kind of ambivalent about the musical version of the 2001 animated film centering around a large green ogre, which begins previews at The Broadway Theatre on Nov. 8. Although it probably doesn't matter what I think since I'm about 40 years older than the target audience and I don't have any small children to bring. On one hand, I think it's great that another movie, oops I mean musical, is opening on Broadway that's geared to young children and their parents. One of the great things about Broadway is the range of entertainment for all ages. On the other hand, I saw the first Shrek movie and I don't remember being all that bowled over by it. The only character I really liked was Eddie Murphy as the donkey. Now if he were going to be in the Broadway musical, I'd buy a ticket.

My alternative: Disney's One Hundred and One Dalmations. The 1961 classic has a love story, a great villain in the appropriately named Cruella De Vil, and a cute floppy-eared supporting cast. Plus, the male lead in the movie, Roger Radcliffe, is a professional songwriter. How perfect is that for a musical! I'm not sure how they'd get 101 dogs on stage. I admit that's a major stumbling block. Dancers in doggie suits probably wouldn't cut it. Maybe they could go the route of the horses in Equus and wear abstract wire Dalmation heads. Or maybe Julie Taymor could whip something up, a la The Lion King.

Yentl: A musical version of the 1983 Barbra Streisand movie about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to study in an Eastern European yeshiva is being considered by husband-and-wife songwriters Marilyn and Alan Bergman. I guess this is more in the Shrek category. I'm not opposed to it, I'm just not all that excited about it. And haven't we seen this before? It's like Fiddler on the Roof meets Shakespeare in Love. But do we need another Fiddler when the first one is still perfectly fit?

My alternative: What I'd really like to see is a musical that looks at contemporary Jewish life. So I'm recommending the very funny 2006 chick-lit novel by Laurie Gwen Shapiro called The Matzo Ball Heiress. The heroine, Heather Greenblotz, of Greenblotz Matzo, tries to save the ailing family business by pulling her quirky, far-flung and emphatically secular relatives together for a Passover seder to be broadcast on the Food Channel. Complications ensue, but needless to say, by the end she finds the kosher man of her dreams.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The A to Z of me

Modern Fabulousity did this meme first, and then Steve on Broadway. They were both interesting and fun to read, so I figured I'd add my 2 cents. Without further ado, here are the ABCs of Gratuitous Violins:

- Age: Approximately two months younger than Kevin Spacey - if he's telling the truth about his age.
B - Band listening to right now: Original Broadway cast recording of Hairspray. What can I say? I just can't stop the beat.
C - Career future: Hopefully, to continue having a career.
D - Dad’s name: Herbert.
E - Easiest person to talk to: Steve, of course!
F - Favorite type of shoe: Mizuno running shoes. I'm breaking in a new pair right now. While I don't run, I do walk a lot, and I overpronate. Mizuno shoes have a thick, sturdy sole and they're very comfy.
G – Grapes or Grapefruit: Grapefruit, definitely. White, not pink, with a sprinkling of sugar.
H – Hometown: Providence, Rhode Island. But my spiritual home is Manhattan.
I – Instrumental talent: Uploading songs to my iPod. That's really my only musical talent.
J – Juice of choice: Orange, with or without pulp.
K – Koala Bear or Panda Bear: Koalas are cute, but there's something about pandas. Plus, I've never seen a koala, but I saw a panda once, at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and it was adorable. I remember it was sitting up straight, just like a little furry person.
L - Longest car ride ever: Providence to Syracuse, N.Y. (I'm obviously not one for long car rides).
M – Middle name: Iris.
N - Number of jobs you’ve had: 11. Including: Babysitter (I'm a girl after all), library aide, jewelry factory piecework, assistant in the public affairs office of an agency of the Defense Department, selling newspaper subscriptions over the telephone, work/study in the history department in college, news editor in college, yearbook editor in college, English teacher in an elementary school in Israel, reporter, copy editor. Best: Current job. Worst: Tie between jewelry piecework and selling newspaper subscriptions over the phone.
O - OCD traits: Reading over my blog posts to check for typos.
P - Phobias: Heights, although I'm fine in airplanes. Also, mice. I'm not afraid of them in the abstract, only in the concrete.
Q - Quote: "Someday we'll look back on this and it will all seem funny," from "Rosalita," by Bruce Springsteen
R - Reason to smile: My first trip to Broadway in 2008 is coming up next month!
S - Song you sang last: "Manchester, England" from Hair.
T - Time you wake up: 7.5 to 8 hours after I go to sleep.
U - Unknown fact about me: I'm physically incapable of snapping my fingers. I can't carry a tune, either. I'm not sure about this, but the two things might be related. I guess I'll never get cast in West Side Story.
V - Vegetable you hate: Peas. Although lima beans would be a close second.
W - Worst habit: Checking my statcounter to see how many more hits I have now than I did five minutes ago.
X - X-rays you’ve had: Teeth, foot, little toe, ankle. But there have been some occasions when I've thought I should have my head examined.
Y - Yummiest food my belly likes: Mmmm, carbs.
Z - Zodiac sign: Taurus.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I'll still drink to that

I love honesty and I love Honest Tea. But my favorite independent beverage maker is going corporate. The Coca-Cola Co. has bought a 40-percent stake in Honest Tea for $43 million, and after three years, it has an option to buy the rest of the company.

When I read about it, I felt kind of sad. I've been a huge fan of Honest Tea and its line of lightly sweetened drinks almost since the company's inception 10 years ago, and I don't want this deal to change things. Moroccan Mint is my favorite, but I've tried and loved many of the other flavors, including First Nation Peppermint and the sadly discontinued Gold Rush Cinnamon. I like the fact that they're low calorie, not loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners, and they actually taste like tea.

Cofounder Seth Goldman writes on the company's Web site that he was always searching for the perfect thirst quencher after a run or a game of basketball. But most drinks he tried were either too sweet or too tasteless. During a Coke vs. Pepsi case study in business school, he found out that he shared a passion for the idea of a less sweet yet still flavorful beverage with one of his professors, Barry Nalebuff. Together, they started Honest Tea in Bethesda, Md., in February 1998, to fill the niche between overly sweetened drinks and bottled water.

On his blog, Goldman explains his rationale for partnering with Coca-Cola. The company has reached a point where it needs Coke's nationwide distribution network if it's going to continue to grow. "Despite our 66% annual compound growth rate (70% in 2007), we still aren’t reaching all the people we want to reach."

Goldman pledges that the company will remain true to its efforts to support sustainable agriculture, use suppliers that respect individual workers and their families, and promote better-tasting, healthier beverages. The partnership with Coke, he argues will help further those goals.

"When we buy 2.5 million pounds of organic ingredients, as we did in 2007, we help create demand for a more sustainable system of agriculture, one that doesn’t rely on chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

"But when we buy ten times that amount, we help create a market that multiplies far beyond our own purchases. When we sell 32 million bottles and drink pouches with less than half the calories of mainstream alternatives, as we did in 2007, we help displace 2,400,000,000 empty calories. That’s important, but when we sell ten times that number, we help lead a national shift toward healthier diets."

There's a pretty interesting discussion about the deal at Seth's blog. I'm a little surprised by some of the reactions. While most of the comments are supportive, some customers have mixed feelings. They fear that a small company will lose its soul when it's swallowed up by a behemoth. Some people are angry, and a few have even said they won't be drinking Honest Tea anymore.

Since Seth and Barry are still going to be running the company, I trust that Honest Tea will be the same great-tasting beverage it's always been and remain true to its corporate values. I don't have a knee-jerk reaction that big corporations are intrinsically bad. I'm hoping Coke's distribution network will help make my favorite beverage more widely available. And who knows, maybe some of Seth and Barry's philosophy will rub off.

I agree with this comment from Ian: "The POINT of being a company like Honest Tea isn’t to only reach the people that already think like you - it’s to change the minds and behavior of those people that DON’T think like you."

Friday, February 8, 2008

I believe in Claude

I've rarely felt this excited about a movie or a television program, but I'm pretty much salivating at the thought of seeing Hair this summer in Central Park with Spring Awakening's Jonathan Groff. It runs from July 22-Aug. 17 as part of the free Shakespeare in the Park program.

Groff will be reprising his role as Claude from last summer, when Hair played for three nights in Central Park's Delacorte Theater to commemorate the musical's 40th anniversary. The show premiered at the Public Theater on Oct. 17, 1967, before moving to Broadway's Biltmore Theater on April 29, 1968. The original "tribe" included Diane Keaton, costar of Annie Hall, one of my favorite films of all time.

I've never seen a show in Central Park, I've never seen a show from the legendary Public Theater, I loved Spring Awakening when I saw it last summer, and for some reason, I've always loved Hair.

Maybe it's my inner flower child speaking, or the fact that although I lived through the 1960s, I was too young to enjoy them. So I've always had to experience the decade vicariously, through music, theater, movies and literature.

I saw a touring production of Hair in Syracuse, N.Y., many years ago, I've seen the movie, I've even been to Manchester, England, and I was excited to be in the very same Biltmore last April, to see LoveMusik. (Ok, maybe LoveMusik wasn't so thrilling, but to be in the same theater where Hair played was a thrill!)

There's some great footage in the series Broadway: The American Musical of Hair on the Great White Way. After seeing the actors coming out into the middle of the startled audience, I decided that if I could go back in time and see one show during its original run, I would choose Hair. It just looked like so much fun.

Sure, the book, by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, about a tribe of hippies living a bohemian life in New York in the 1960s and opposing the war in Vietnam, is hopelessly dated. And long hair isn't exactly a sign of political rebellion anymore. But the songs, with lyrics by Rado and music by Galt McDermot, are terrific. "Aquarius," "Manchester, England," "Hair," "Let the Sunshine In." Need I go on? Here's an interview with McDermot that aired on the American Theatre Wing's Downstage Center program in which he reminisces a little about the show.

I didn't realize this, but Hair was the first off-Broadway show to transfer to Broadway. It seems almost impossible to believe that there was a time when that didn't happen. Now, shows seem to do it routinely. Last year, it was Spring Awakening and Grey Gardens. This year, In the Heights and Passing Strange are making the leap.

It's only fitting that one of the stars of Spring Awakening will be starring in this production of Hair. Like Spring Awakening, Hair has a rock 'n' roll score, a youthful cast and yes, nudity. While those things don't have have the same capacity to shock audiences as they did 40 years ago, I actually think the two shows have the same vitality, the same sense of electricity.

When I saw Spring Awakening in July, I immediately thought, this is what it must have been like to see Hair in the '60s, when it was new and fresh and unlike anything a Broadway audience had seen before.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Empty seats

Chris Caggiano at Everything I Know I Learned from Musicals follows the Broadway box office the way baseball fans follow box scores, so I can count on him to keep me updated on the latest trends.

I was shocked to read on Chris' blog that attendance at my beloved Curtains fell below 50 percent last week. David Hyde Pierce playing in a half-filled theater? Oh the unfairness! What happened to the other half of the audience? Even more puzzling was the fact that the same week, Mamma Mia! played to nearly 70 percent capacity. Sounds like a case for the character he plays in Curtains, Boston police Lt. Frank Cioffi.

On one level, I guess I understand. As Chris points out, February is the cruelest month on Broadway. It's not a great month for tourism, and tourists fill most of the theater seats. Mamma Mia! has an international reach. It's played all over the world, so the story and music are more familiar to visitors who come from other countries.

I loved Mamma Mia! but Curtains stars Hyde Pierce in his Tony-winning role, and the show still has most of its terrific original cast. It's got a fun murder mystery plot, memorable characters, wonderful songs and great choreography. It deserves a bigger audience, even in the depths of winter.

So to get you in the mood, here's a sweet video interview of David Hyde Pierce answering questions from fans, including the one on everyone's mind: which musical would be the perfect vehicle for him and his Frasier costars Kelsey Grammer and John Mahoney?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I'm it!

Ok, Sarah's done it, Steve's done it. Even though I'm nowhere near as knowledgeable about musical theater as my blogbuddies, and I've only seen a small fraction of the shows they've seen, I'll give this meme a try. I think by the end, I'll have mentioned just about every musical I've ever seen on Broadway!

1. The first musical I ever saw on Broadway was: Whew, glad we're starting off with an easy question. It was Curtains, on April 13, 2007. Who says Friday the 13th isn't a lucky day! The first Broadway musical I ever saw was A Chorus Line, in Boston. I don't remember the year, but I was in college, so it was the late '70s or early '80s.

2. The musical I would most like to see again is: I wish I'd been able to see Spring Awakening from the on-stage seats, sitting right next to John Gallagher Jr. I've only seen Wicked and Hairspray on tour, so I'd really like to see both of them on Broadway someday.

3. The musical I never want to see again is: Probably the one I saw on Sunday, the touring production of Spamalot. Perhaps I've just outgrown Monty Python. Or maybe it's just that I've seen so many musicals over the past year, I have a much better idea of what I like and what I don't like. And I've seen so many that are just so much better than Spamalot.

4. The best performance in a Broadway musical by a woman I've ever seen is There's no way I can pick just one. I loved Patti LuPone in Gypsy at City Center last summer, and Audra McDonald in 110 in the Shade. They have amazing voices. Honorable mentions: Christine Ebersole in Grey Gardens, Laura Benanti in Gypsy and Saycon Sengbloh in The Color Purple. Each one took me on a memorable journey through the course of an evening. Can I go on? Debra Monk's brilliant comic turn in Curtains. I love listening to her in "It's a Business" on the cast recording.

5. The best performance in a Broadway musical by a man I've ever seen is: No contest here. My main man, Tony winner David Hyde Pierce, in Curtains. The singing, the dancing, the deft comic touch. A genuinely talented actor and a genuinely nice person. I loved the casts of Spring Awakening and 110 in the Shade, but there's just something so special about David Hyde Pierce and Curtains. Thinking about his performance as Boston police Lt. Frank Cioffi still makes me smile.

6. The person I wish they never cast was: Roger Bart in Young Frankenstein. It's too bad, because I liked him on Desperate Housewives. But he never made me forget Gene Wilder.

7. The person they should have cast was: I really don't know, but I'm open to suggestions. Matthew Broderick?

8. My favorite Broadway choreography was in the show: Wow, hard to pick just one. Of course, I loved Rob Ashford's work in Curtains and Tony winner Bill T. Jones in Spring Awakening, especially for "The Bitch of Living." But I'm a big fan of Matthew Bourne's choreography in Mary Poppins. I loved what he did with numbers like "Step in Time." And if you've never seen his Swan Lake, rent it on DVD. Such athletic, agile, hunky swans.

9. The lyric/line that always brings a lump to my throat is: There's only one. "For Good" from Wicked always makes me cry. Especially these lines: "It well may be that we'll never meet again in this lifetime. So let me say before we part, so much of me is made of what I learned from you. You'll be with me like a handprint on my heart. And now whatever way our stories end, I know you have rewritten mine by being my friend."

10. The stupidest lyric/line I've ever heard is: Since I've just seen Spamalot, those are the lyrics that are freshest in my mind. Probably something from "You Won't Succeed on Broadway." There are so many to choose from. How about this: "There's a very small percentile who enjoys a dancing gentile." Granted, it makes me chuckle. But it is stupid.

11. The first musical I had to go back and see twice was: Haven't done it yet, but I will next month when I see Gypsy with Patti LuPone. I can't wait!

12. The first musical I ever walked out of was: I've never walked out and I probably never would. I'd be much too self-conscious, unless I were sitting way in the back on the aisle, and I could get up and leave discreetly, without causing a disturbance.

13. The most underpraised and overly deserving show in my opinion is: Ok, these aren't underpraised, but how did Wicked lose out to Avenue Q and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee lose to Spamalot for the Best Musical Tony?

14. The most overly praised and under deserving show in my opinion is: Spamalot. Although I haven't seen Avenue Q. Or Cats.

15. The show tune song I'm most likely to sing while dancing around the house is: Something from Oklahoma or Hair. Even though I don't always feel like it's such a beautiful morning or a beautiful day, I do like singing those lines.

16. If I could recast any role in a current Broadway musical with a performer of the past it would be: Wow, this is a tough one. No one really comes to mind immediately. There are so many actors from the past that I wish I'd had a chance to see on stage, like Marlon Brando. I wonder what Brando would have done with Edna Turnblad from Hairspray, or Jack Lemmon with Lt. Frank Cioffi from Curtains. (Ok, I'm really just kidding about Brando in Hairspray and I don't even know whether Jack Lemmon could sing.)

17. If I could recast a current actor in a Broadway musical that was before their time it would be: Ditto. But since I loved Kevin Spacey's singing and dancing in Beyond the Sea, I'd love to see him do a Broadway musical - past, present or future.

18. The show they should never change a word of because it is already perfect is: Hairspray and Wicked. While I've never actually seen them on Broadway, yet, they're two of the musicals I've enjoyed the most. I wouldn't change anything in either one. And I can't argue with the perfection of Gypsy either.

19. The show I'd most like to get my hands on and rewrite is: Spamalot.

20. The role I was born to play on Broadway is: Wow, I've never thought about it. Perhaps, in a bit of nontraditional casting, Hildy Johnson in The Front Page? There hasn't been a revival since 1987. Get me rewrite!