So I managed to score a balcony seat about half an hour before the final performance of The Wild Party at City Center last night. I was far away but I was only there for the music and the acoustics were great. I knew about many of the changes but I was trying to keep an open mind.

Let me start by saying that Steven Pasquale was a perfect Burrs. PERFECT. He was vocally stunning and even from far away, I believed all of his choices. My other favorite was Miriam Shor as Madeline True. So fantastic. Joaquina Kalukango had a great voice as Kate but I didn’t like her acting choices. Brandon Victor Dixon as Black made great choices but his riffing was too non-stop and out of the ordinary. I guess I just wasn’t used to his scatting as opposed to Taye Diggs’. 

Then there’s Sutton Foster. Broadway royalty, I know. Whatever. I was sitting next to a Sutton fanboy and it was almost unbearable. Anyways: She could only sing about 1/3 of the score and there were parts where she couldn’t even be bothered to try to belt it. And she is definitely not a blonde and the wig looked awful. Her acting choices were fine though, maybe I’d even say good. 

Now to the changes: There were so many lyric changes for NO REASON WHATSOEVER. They changed the entire refrain (not to mention title) of “Come With Me” to “You and Me.” It was so pointless. 

And the beginning? Awkward. SO awkward. What I gathered from it was that it opened at one of Queenie’s vaudeville acts and then it went to her and Burrs’ apartment. I don’t know. I could be completely wrong. I don’t under why they’d cut Queenie Was a Blonde and Out of the Blue. They’re two such important songs to the exposition of the characters and setting up the plot. I mean “Queenie was a blonde” is the first line of the poem that The Wild Party is based on. I could only imagine how confused the people were around me who had no familiarity with the show at all. 

Overall, I enjoyed it for what it was – a great score with a few great performances. I’m glad I saw it. It was kind of neat to think that we were watching it in the building above the theatre where it was originally staged 15 years ago.  Maybe next time though they can cast a Queenie who can sing the score in it’s entirety… Just a thought. 

Review: ‘The Wild Party,’ With Sutton Foster as a Louche Jazz Baby

I’m supposed to go see this tomorrow but I’m rethinking it now. Is it really worth my $25 to see a show that’s been so massively gutted of arguable important songs? I know The Wild Party from it’s 2000 staging cast recording, which is one of my top 10 favorite scores ever, and from working on it in college. I listened to the score over and over and over. I love it. 

I’ve only scanned this review, but I heard last night from Kristen that they cut Out of the Blue, Queenie Was a Blonde, all of the I Want songs, and Lippa wrote a terrible new song for Foster that, I think according to the New York Times review, was called “Happy Endings.” This sounds like it’s suffering from the same thing that High Fidelity on Broadway suffered: adding a happy ending to a show that’s not supposed to have a happy ending. Kristen has corrected me. This is not the case. Good.

Everyone’s saying Sutton Foster is miscast. No surprise there. It seemed that way from the trailer that came out. I don’t really like Steven Pasquale, as talented as he might be, but people are saying he’s very good. Kate is black – which doesn’t make sense for the songs she sings (the south will rise again? really? you want that?!). And the dude playing Black never stops riffing. 

I have no idea if I want to experience this show without those vital songs. But do I want to miss a trainwreck production of this show? Probably not. I’ll probably go. People are saying they cut those songs because Foster has had bronchitis and can’t sing back-to-back 11′o’clock numbers like that. To that I say: Fire her, or she should’ve stepped down. 

Alternatively: throw Julia Murney some cash to play Queenie. Like god and Andrew Lippa intended. 

Review: ‘The Wild Party,’ With Sutton Foster as a Louche Jazz Baby

What’s thirty? Just, you know, the end of youth.

It was August 24th, 2001, two-ish weeks before 9/11, when I was offered tickets to see the off-broadway production of Jonathan Larson’s tick… tick..BOOM! I was 15 and seeing Rent more often than not. My cousin, who lived on Christopher Street in Sheridan Square at the time, let me stay with her and walked me up West 4th Street, teaching me how to find my way around the crazy maze that is that West Village.

I made a sorta-last minute decision to buy tickets for Kristen and myself to the Encores’ staging of it which opened tonight. And I’m very glad I did. It was a trip down memory lane and I still remembered almost every word. The staging was almost the same as the also very minimalistic production at the Jane Street Theater.

Leslie Odom Jr. (now of Smash fame, though he was actually in Rent long ago) took on the role of Jon’s best friend Michael. He acted the part excellently and sounded great. Karen Olivo absolutely brought the house down with the 11 o’clock number “Come To Your Senses,” although she was primarily playing Jon’s girlfriend Susan.

And then there was Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jon. Sort of a big deal has been made in the theatre world lately about him paying tribute to Jonathan Larson and I get it. They’re both young composers who wrote ground-breaking musicals. Yes, I get it. So I was expecting a stellar performance, and emotionally and acting-wise, it was. Miranda was great on that level. Vocally? He was mediocre (at best). He got through In The Heights because it was mostly rap but how can you take over a role originated by the vocal brilliance of Raul Esparza and have virtually no upper register or any ability to hold notes for any sustained period of time? He was vocally disappointing. He also wore a beanie which was confusing because in all of the photos that I’ve ever seen of Jonathan Larson, he did not, ever wear a beanie. 

ttB! struck a new chord with me because I was 15 last time I saw it and now I’m less than two years away from being 30. It’s also largely about the really tough choice to pursue your dreams or abandon it in favor of a stable and oftentimes boring career. Anyone who works in the arts can tell you that you don’t do it for money, you do it for love, because we don’t make a lot of money (unless you’re Sondheim, Webber, or David Stone, of course). I also didn’t understand this quote when I was 15, but I understand it fully now:

It’s hard for people born after 1960 to be idealistic or original. We know what happens to ideals. They’re assassinated or corrupted or co-opted. It’s 1990 for God’s sake. It is not an exciting period. It is not a period of ferment. It’s fucking stodgy is what it is – conservative, complacent, obtuse and unimaginative. Or, to put it another way: George Bush is president of the United States.”

This was a lovely, emotional trip to an old favorite of mine that resonated with new meaning almost 15 years later. Totally worth the $27. 

It plays through Saturday – get your tickets now!

The Encores productions at City Centers have done loads to open me up to new theatre. In 2001 I saw HAIR, starring the likes of a pre-Wicked famed Idina Menzel, and also Luther Creek and Kevin Cahoon. I was also exposed to the likes of Kismet in 2006 and Follies in 2007.  Suffice it to say, I owe a great deal to Encores’ producers.

I had purchased a $26 balcony ticket for the final performance of Merrily We Roll Along just to be in the house, hear the music, and feel the energy. When I arrived with my friend (who’d just gotten off a 15 hour flight from India), he realized he’d been given an extra ticket so I was upgraded to row H in the orchestra. I was thrilled. We also happened to be sitting next to Joe Mantello, which I was more stoked about because of his performance in last seasons heart-wrenching production of The Normal Heart.

The lights eventually dimmed and the audience cheered from the moment the curtain rose and revealed the minimalistic set with the orchestra on top.  I’d only heard a few songs from Merrily before (whatever was in Side by Side by Sondheim) but I knew it was about three writers and I liked the premise alone with that minimal knowledge.

Sondheim shows are happy.. but only when they start at the end and work their way backwards chronologically, which is exactly how Merrily went. We followed the story of three friends whose friendship had deteriorated over the course of a couple of decades backwards to see exactly how they met.  It was truly heart breaking to see how they ended up, but even more so when you witnessed what a happy and hopeful beginning that they had.

My favorite in the company was Celia Keenan-Bolger, who was perfectly cast as novelist Mary Flynn. Colin Donnell sang exquisitely as Franklin Shepard, and Lin-Manuel Miranda surprised a lot of us by handling the role of Charley Kringas with expertise and humor. Not being a singer by nature, a Sondheim score could have been the end of him but he pulled off the difficult score. My favorite number that he sang was Franklin Shepard Inc.  The audience errupted when he sat down in his studio seat in exasperation for the final beat. Rounding out the six leads were Adam Grupper (as Joe Josephson, Franklin’s producer), Elizabeth Stanley (as Gussie Carnegie, Franklin’s second wife), and Betsey Wolfe (as Beth Spencer, Franklin’s first wife), each of whom were exceptional vocally and performance-wise.  The ensemble, which was quite large, were each and every one entertaining.

We had a few drinks after at the after party and congratulated the cast members that we saw. Stephen Sondheim himself even made it to the party, but only at the very beginning and only to sign something and then he disappeared.  Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Rebecca Luker, Danny Burstein, and Kevin Cahoon, among others were also in attendance.  

The low-key party was fun, but the highlight of the night was certainly the show itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if Merrily transferred but honestly, the show as touching as it is, is very insider-y and only very specific groups of people would appreciate it (probably most of those in attendance last night). Maybe Roundabout will pick it up sometimes. Until then, we will all just have to roll along.