Friday, September 30, 2011

Anything Goes

Anything Goes, at Broadway's Sondheim Theatre
Gratuitous Violins rating: *** out of ****

Set aboard an ocean liner sailing from New York to London, the Tony-winning Broadway revival of Anything Goes has a boatload full of colorful characters, a comical plot involving romance and mistaken identity and some dazzling choreography.

But what really makes this 1934 musical sparkle is Cole Porter's delightful score. It brings you back to a time when the popular music of the day came from Broadway.

Just look at a partial list of the songs in Act I: "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top," "Friendship," "It's De-lovely" and "Anything Goes." Some musicals don't have that many memorable numbers in the entire show.

It doesn't matter that they don't always have much to do with the story, the lyrics are so witty and the tunes are so catchy. (Most of the songs were composed while Porter was a guest at Newport's Rosecliff mansion, which I visited two years ago as part of a birthday surprise thrown for me by my dear theatre blogger friends!)

The characters in Anything Goes are pretty broadly drawn and the cast plays them to the hilt. They all made me laugh: Adam Godley as the British Lord Evelyn Oakleigh; John McMartin as Wall Street tycoon Elisha Whitney; Erin Mackey as debutante Hope Harcourt and Kelly Bishop as her mother, Evangeline, determined to marry off her daughter to Oakleigh; Joel Grey as small-time gangster Moonface Martin and Jessica Stone as his sidekick Erma; and Colin Donnell as Whitney's assistant Billy Crocker, who's smitten with Hope.

A highlight was seeing Grey onstage. His chilling performance as the emcee in movie Cabaret is something I've never forgotten. At 79, Grey knows how to get the most out of every line and every mannerism and facial expression in a way that never seemed over the top. His rendition of "Be Like the Bluebird" was mesmerizing.

Then there's Tony winner Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney. Foster brings a great comic touch to her duets with the suave Donnell in "You're The Top" and the charming Grey in "Friendship." But to me, she didn't exude the toughness or brassiness you'd expect from an evangelist turned nightclub singer. I've seen Foster in three musicals and I know I'm in the minority but I haven't warmed to any of the characters she's played.

I had a few other qualms about Anything Goes.

There are two Chinese characters that made me cringe. (The actors, Andrew Cao and Raymond J. Lee, made the best of the situation.) Some of the jokes went on for too long. And while Tony winner Kathleen Marshall devised a terrifically intricate tap dance for the title song, it also seemed to go on and on. I didn't find her work particularly inventive.

Still, I had a good time. This is a highly polished and entertaining production from the Roundabout Theatre Company. Despite showing its age a bit, Anything Goes remains buoyant. And you know I'll be picking up the cast recording!

Monday, September 26, 2011

25th annual Broadway Cares Flea Market

After spending a week obsessively checking the forecast on my iPhone, Sunday turned out to be a beautiful sunny day in New York City. It was perfect weather for attending the 25th annual - and my first - Broadway Flea Market.

This year, the Flea Market and auction raised a total of $547,658 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which supports organizations around the country that provide services for people with HIV/AIDS, as well as other critical health issues.

Tables for many Broadway and some off-Broadway shows, as well as organizations like TDF, Broadway Impact, Dancers over 40 and Actors Equity, were set up along 44th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. The Flea Market also spilled over into part of Times Square. You could find old Playbills, cast recordings, books, posters, show jackets, costumes, baked goods and just about any kind of Broadway-related tchotchke imaginable.

I wish they'd been able to spread out even more because it became harder and harder to get to the tables as the day went on and the crowd grew larger. Although I guess they like to keep these things in relatively compact areas and there are several Broadway theatres on 44th Street, so it makes sense.

I had planned to attend one of the autograph sessions with Broadway actors that they held throughout the day but the lines were just too long. I wanted to spend my limited time browsing. I did spot Tony nominee Rory O'Malley, from The Book of Mormon, a musical I hope to see someday, if I can ever get a ticket! Hope he's still in it when I do!

One thing I'll keep in mind for next year is that you really have to spend some time digging through the tables. You can't see everything with a cursory look and when I read about some of the things other people found, I realized that I missed a lot! I'm also going to bring more money. While you can use a credit card, cash is faster and easier.

I ended up spending $51. Here's a picture of my haul. (It doesn't include the very tasty homemade cookies from the tables for Wicked and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which I consumed immediately, and a raffle ticket for a chance to win tickets to 5 upcoming Broadway shows.)

My favorite purchase was a Desperate Housewives script autographed by Debra Monk, who had her own table of stuff she was selling. I'm a big Desperate Housewives fan and I love Monk from the musical Curtains. I'm planning to get the episode on dvd and watch it while I follow along! Or I may just sit with it in Starbucks and pretend I'm an actress learning my lines.

Also, my advice is if you see something you like and it only costs a dollar, buy it because it may not be there when you come back. The Fiddler on the Roof magnet and HAIR Summer of Love 2011 pass were only $1 apiece and they're great souvenirs from two of my favorite musicals.

And if anyone at BCEFA is reading this, two things I could have used at the Flea Market were food and water.

Except for Billy Elliot's grandma's sausage rolls, most of what I saw were cookies and cake and brownies. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!) They were delicious but I had to leave the Flea Market to get something more substantial, which I didn't want to do. And if anyone was selling water, I didn't see it.

It would have been great if the How to Succeed crew had whipped up some pancakes and waffles to go with the bottles of maple syrup autographed by Daniel Radcliffe! (And they're wearing little blue bow ties just like the ones Dan wears in the show. Adorable!) Or maybe souvlaki from Mamma Mia! or Memphis barbecue. I would even have tried a Vegemite sandwich from Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Anyway, I'm so happy I could be a part of another Broadway tradition. I bought some great souvenirs. I had a great time meeting up with some of my fellow bloggers and people I follow on Twitter. It was the perfect way to cap a wonderful weekend in New York City.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Candide, at Boston's Huntington Theatre Company
Gratuitous Violins rating: ***1/2 out of ****

I know that everyone goes to the theatre with their own expectations but for me, above all, I love a good story.

And Candide, at the Huntington Theatre Company, is an exuberant, inventive and melodic story about a young man's adventure-filled journey through life. There are so many twists and turns, memorable characters and shifting locations that I was enthralled.

Plus the score, by Leonard Bernstein, is glorious. I listened to the overture while I was driving to work and I had it in my head all day. Maybe it's the trombones and trumpets that give it a little added pizzazz but it's a thrilling piece of music. I even detected a few notes that sounded like West Side Story!

Geoff Packard is very appealing in the title role - youthful, eager and a bit naive. He's living in luxury on the estate of a baron in Westphalia when he gets a little too friendly with the baron's daughter, Cunegonde, a sweet and feisty Lauren Molina. As as a result, he's thrust out of paradise into the harshness of the real world.

But Candide perseveres - through war, an earthquake, a shipwreck. He travels from Europe to the jungles of South America, to real places and imaginary ones. He finds and loses Cunegonde more than once. All of this sorely tests the optimistic philosophy imparted by his tutor, Dr. Pangloss, that everything happens for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

Now you might think that all of this would be a bit dreary - there's a scene set during the Inquisition with the line "what a day for an auto-da-fe." But director Mary Zimmerman, who penned a new adaptation of Voltaire's 18th century satire, brings out the humor and sharpens the wit. She also keeps things moving. I never felt it dragged over the 3-hour length.

The supporting cast is terrific, too.

Cheryl Stern was perfect as the Old Lady who may be descended from Polish royalty but now, down on her luck, casts her lot with Cunegonde and Candide. Her solo number, "I Am Easily Assimilated," in which she regales them with her very involved life story, was hilarious. Eric Lochtefeld was great as Cunegonde's snobbish and slimy brother Maximilian. And Larry Yando's Pangloss was a wonderful sendup of academia.

Daniel Ostling's set design also plays a big role in highlighting the theatricality of the work.

When Candide is banished from the baron's home, he finds himself in a large wood-paneled room without any apparent entrance or exit. Then doors and windows open, characters appear, furniture is moved in and out. It's a stunning transition. Molina sings one of the musical's best-known songs, "Glitter and Be Gay," stepping out of a bathtub. My favorite touch was a flock of small, woolly red sheep that Candide stumbles upon.

Apparently, Candide, an operetta first performed in 1956, has always been considered something of a problem child. The Huntington program credits the book to Hugh Wheeler and the lyrics to Richard Wilbur with additional lyrics by, among others, Stephen Sondheim, Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker.

I can't say how this Candide stacks up against all others since this was the first time I'd seen it or even heard the music. But Zimmerman's production, which premiered at Chicago's Goodman Theatre with some of the same principal cast, worked for me.

In the end, Packard's Candide is more worldly, less naive. He's been on a rollicking, moving, often difficult and immensely entertaining journey.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Broadway wish list: Fall 2011

My 2011-2012 New York theatre season starts this weekend!

I'm even more excited than usual because my first trip of the fall coincides with Sunday's Broadway Flea Market sponsored by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

I've never been to the flea market and this year it's supposed to be bigger than ever, spilling over from West 44th Street into Times Square. I'm sure I'll pick up a Broadway-themed tchotchke or two, all for a great cause. Good thing there's a Bank of America ATM nearby!

Here's what I'm most looking forward to seeing on Broadway:

Relatively Speaking

Two names make this trio of one-act comedies a must-see for me: Woody Allen, who wrote "Honeymoon Motel," and Marlo Thomas, who stars in Elaine May's "George is Dead." (The third, "Talking Cure," is by Ethan Coen.) I've been a Woody Allen fan for a long, long time. (Don't even ask!) And Marlo Thomas, That Girl herself, wow.

The Mountaintop

As soon as I heard the plot of Katori Hall's play, I was interested. It takes place at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on the last night of Martin Luther King's life. I've mentioned before my mixed feelings about Samuel L. Jackson playing Dr. King but I'm going in with an open mind. And I'm excited about seeing Angela Bassett, an amazing Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do With It, as his costar.

Other Desert Cities

Jon Robin Baitz's play about a woman who returns home to visit her parents after a six-year absence sounds like the kind of meaty family drama I'd enjoy. (I'm hoping secrets will be revealed!) And he has plenty of experience in this area - I loved his ABC series Brothers and Sisters. The cast includes Rachel Griffiths, from Brother and Sisters, and Judith Light, who was simply sublime in Lombardi.

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever

I'm not super familiar with this Burton Lane/Alan Jay Lerner musical, which is having its first Broadway revival. I know it involves ESP and reincarnation and I vaguely remember watching the movie, with Barbra Streisand, years ago. Apparently things have been changed around, Streisand's character has been turned into a man. Also, it stars the handsome and talented Harry Connick Jr., whom I've never seen onstage.


Living in a foreign country is an eye-opening experience. I certainly gained a new perspective during the year I spent working in an elementary school in Israel. And I had my fair share of linguistic misadventures. So I'm eager to see this clash-of-cultures comedy by David Henry Hwang about an American businessman trying to launch a new enterprise in China.

Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway

A late addition to my wish list! Yes, I'd rather see Hugh Jackman in a book musical rather than a one-man show. But a couple hours of the man from Oz singing, dancing and telling stories, accompanied by an 18-piece orchestra, sounds pretty pleasant, too. Plus, just looking at the artwork makes me feel kind of tingly. Those brown eyes, that stubble!

There are also several off-Broadway shows on my wish list:

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

I've been an Apple fangirl for decades. If I counted up all of the iMacs, iPods, etc., that I've owned over the past 30 years, I'd probably have to use my fingers and toes. So Mike Daisey's monologue about the Apple cofounder, how his devices shape our lives - and at what cost - is definitely a subject that intrigues me.

Maple and Vine

The premise of Jordan Harrison's play - a group of 1950s reenactors - sounds both bizarre and brilliant. I mean, who would want to return to a decade of suffocating conformity? If done well, this could be the kind of clever, witty and insightful work that I really enjoy. How do you re-enact the 1950s? I'm guessing there'll be some women vacuuming the living room in high heels and pearls.


I thought Jesse Eisenberg was terrific in The Social Network and I'm curious to see how he does as a playwright. In Asuncion, two young men have a chance to demonstrate how open-minded they are when a young Filipina woman becomes their roommate. In addition to Eisenberg, the cast features Justin Bartha, who was hilarious in his Broadway debut in Lend Me a A Tenor.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, were a bit distant to me, geographically speaking.

I'd never spent much time in New York City and although I'd often visited friends in Washington, D.C., I had never been to the Pentagon. (I'm not sure they give tours.) So despite seeing the pictures and TV news footage, I didn't really have a good sense of exactly where the terror attacks had occurred.

Since then, I have spent a lot of time in New York. I've visited ground zero, St. Paul's Chapel nearby, and the fire station closest to where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood. I've been to the Sept. 11 memorial at the Pentagon.

Seeing those places has given me a deeper perspective on the horrific events of that day. I can picture the route people would have taken to get home from Lower Manhattan, covered in ash and with smoke billowing behind them. Pictures of crowds streaming across the Brooklyn Bridge have new meaning because I've walked across that same bridge. I have an idea of the enormous size of the Pentagon. I saw the spot where American Airlines Flight 77 struck the building and how it's been repaired.

But more than that, seeing the tributes - at fire stations to fallen comrades, on the grounds of the Pentagon, at a park just off the ferry on Staten Island - also makes the human toll much more personal for someone like me, who didn't know anyone who perished.

I put together a few pictures I took in Lower Manhattan in 2007 and 2008: on Wall Street, at ground zero, a fire station and St. Paul's Chapel. I'm not really a visual person but they're my small attempt at a tribute to the people who lost their lives 10 years ago today. Rest in peace.

In a couple of weeks I'll be heading back to New York City for a long weekend. I'll take in some of the shows opening on Broadway this fall. A city that I once didn't know at all, and which totally intimidated me, has now become one of my favorite places to visit.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Broadway, a blog, a brother and a birthday

Today is Steve on Broadway's birthday!

Many of you reading this know Steve and even some of you who've never had the pleasure have heard me kvell over him and what a wonderful friend he's been to me.

There's no doubt that Steve's passion for theatre has had an impact on my life, ever since he answered an e-mail I sent him, in 2006, when I was planning my first trip to Broadway to see Kevin Spacey in "A Moon for the Misbegotten."

In the five years before we met, the total number of plays and musicals I'd seen: 1. In the five years since: nearly 150. Before bloggers brunches, before Twitter, he was someone with whom I could share my newfound enthusiasm. And without his encouragement, I wouldn't have started a blog of my own. (The name Gratuitous Violins was his inspiration.)

I'm pretty sure that when Steve answered my first e-mail, saying "I'm delighted you found me," he never expected to get caught up in all of my drama. But he is a good and generous person and a loyal friend, with an amazing capacity to welcome new people into his life.

And having Steve for a friend means you never know when there'll be a surprise just around the corner. Two years ago, he threw me the best birthday party I've ever had. He took a day that I'd been dreading and suddenly made it all seem worthwhile.

Really, there's only one word to describe Steve - he's a mensch. I feel so blessed to have him in my life and I'm so proud to be his adopted Jewish sister. As he marks a milestone today, I just want to say: Happy birthday, Steve! Love you lots!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Real Broadway babies?

Has there ever been an actual Broadway baby? I'm not talking about a talented child performer but a real, live infant in a Broadway show.

I was so taken with seeing a baby in Porgy and Bess at the American Repertory Theater. Simply adorable! Since the musical is moving to Broadway in December, I'm curious about whether New York State has ever allowed a child that young to appear onstage.

Two children alternate in the role, Nile and Mackenzie Lee, the twins of cast member NaTasha Yvette Williams. (I remember her fierce Sofia from The Color Purple.) There's a note in the program that says they appear by permission of the Office of the Attorney General, Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

I've seen plenty of young kids in Broadway musicals: Mary Poppins, The Lion King and South Pacific, to name a few. Usually they've been old enough to walk. I think the youngest was the little boy who played Coalhouse Walker III in Ragtime but he only appears at the very end. For the infant Coalhouse, they used doll. (And they switch to a doll for Porgy and Bess, too).

I did a quick check of the Internet Broadway Database and found that there have been 18 Broadway performers named "Baby," 22 productions with the word "baby" in their title and numerous songs, including "Broadway Baby" from Follies. But I couldn't find any birthdates. And many of the actors date from the early 20th century. Baby seems to have gone out of style as a nickname.

Google wasn't much help when I searched for the youngest Broadway performer. All I could come up with were the youngest Tony winners: Frankie Michaels, 10, for Mame in 1966 and Daisy Eagan, 12, in 1991 for The Secret Garden.

I hope Nile and Mackenzie get to make their Main Stem debut. They'd look great at the Tony Awards wearing this.