Turn and face the strange.

This review is extremely late and probably totally irrelevant, but here goes. After the aforementioned Meatball Chowdown earlier this month, Matt invited me to a press performance of Lazarus, the new David Bowie musical at NYTW. The entire run was sold out and Cristin Milioti and Michael Esper were starring in it, as well as Michael C. Hall. Based on the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, which Bowie starred in, it’s about an alien who comes to earth to get water for his dying planet.

Or so the short summary on IMDB says. I didn’t really get that from the show that I saw. To say it was odd and confusing is an understatement. There was a young girl in it, who kind of narrated Newton’s, the alien who fell to earth’s, venture and the actress who played her, Sophia Anne Caruso, was amazing. I can’t wait to see what she does next. Michael Esper played Valentine who’s in a somewhat tempestuous relationship with Elly (Cristin Milioti). Newton is played excellently by Michael C. Hall, who also happened to be my first Emcee in Cabaret in 2000. #throwback

I don’t remember much of the score or any more of the plot. It was really odd. It was really fun to watch and you can tell everyone up there is having a great time. Since the run sold out, I guess that’s what’s important (probably not, but let’s say yes for the time being). 

Do I think this’ll transfer? No. If it does, producers will have learned nothing from last season’s The Last Ship which everyone thought would do fantastically because Sting’s name was attached to it and, spoiler alert, it closed rather quickly. 

I loved seeing Cristin Milioti and Michael Esper onstage though. As always. 

American Idiot, at my alma matter; 11.21.15

Matt, my American Idiot and Green Day partner-in-crime for life, alerted me a few weeks ago that Pace University, the school I graduated from, was staging American Idiot this week and we bought tickets. I’m not sure how I missed this bit of information because I’m part of the Pace Performing Arts group on Facebook and maybe I’m on some kind of list serv for the department, but it seems I totally zoned out on this fact.

The Schimmel Theatre at Pace was built to mimic the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center so it’s very large and we made sure to get there when the doors opened to get good seats. We ended up securing seats in the fourth row. We’d kind of wanted to be in the front row, but friends of the cast had commandeered those first. We spotted Leslie McDonel, the director and original cast member, there of course Gerard Canonico, another original cast member, was also in the lobby when we arrived. As you can see, we were excited:

image

My friend Andrew and his girlfriend joined us minutes to showtime and we took in the set, which looked like a smaller version of the one designed for Broadway, and took (what are probably illegal) photos and settled in for the next 90 minutes. 

image

The short version: We really, really enjoyed ourselves. These guys did an amazing job. I missed the anticipation of the curtain rising at the beginning, for sure. They had some great graphics that they used – stills from the republican debates and the like – and they used a bunch of soundbites from Trump. Ian Fairlee, who played Johnny, had a very strong voice that was totally reminiscent of John Gallagher Jr.’s more often than not. He made a few different choices as far as his portrayal and they all worked. For the first few songs they had him in a sweater and all I could think was “oh god, I hope he gets to take that off soon.” (He did.) David Park, who played Will, also had a really nice voice and made great choices as far as his character. He really pulled off the man-bun spectacularly too. As the much, much more bro-y version of Tunny was Connor Antico. He also had a great voice which started off sounding like a member of a boy band but got grittier as the show went on. McDonel made the decision to make Tunny and total and complete bro was much different than what we’ve seen on Broadway and on tour, but it worked. Matt and I always judge a Tunny by how long and strong he can hold his high note at the end of Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Well, we high-fived each other when Antico held onto it strongly to the point where we were wondering if it was a recording. 

Mary Claire Miskell, an original cast member of Broadway’s short-lived 13, played Whatshername, was really excellent. She embodied the character’s free spiritied-ness in a much younger (obviously) way than Rebecca Naomi Jones did. Marissa O’Donnell, seen on Broadway in Shrek, portrayed a heart broken and frustrated-as-fuck Heather. Her voice is beautiful but for me, in a rock musical, started out a bit too beautiful, but as the show rocked on, she found her vocal grittiness.  The last stand-out was Jamal Christopher Douglas as St. Jimmy. This was an interesting choice that McDonel made for this character, as it’s general played by a strung-out-looking skinny, somewhat jovial white dude. Douglas was anything but – he’s muscular, scary, and imposing. He had the presence of a drag queen, at some moments, but in a way that completely worked. It was just nothing like what we’d ever seen in past incarnations (that would include Berkeley, Broadway, Equity tour, non-Equity tour, etc). It feels silly not to give a shout-out to the last featured actor onstage, Sarah Hamaty, the Extraordinary Girl, who was great, but the character comes in so late that it always seems like barely a featured player.  Hamaty has a great voice and did her best with the movement in the song given that they obviously couldn’t suspend her from the ceiling. 

McDonel borrowed probably 1/3 of the original choreography from Broadway and the new choreography fit in just fine. Her direction is a new and smaller space was effective and visually beautiful. The band was on the top level of the stage and killed it. The lighting was extraordinarily effective and it was great to watch these students masterfully pull off a show that is so near and dear to our hearts. Standing ovations were given at the end and Good Riddance was, of course, the encore. 

image

Afterward we stayed around for a bit to tell a bunch of the cast congratulations and they did “our” show proud.  I ran (okay, walked) up to to Connor Antico after, tapped him on the arm, and said, “You fucking killed that high note, man. SO Awesome! Congrats!” or at least it was some iteration of that. He really shattered our expectations and probably even showed Stark Sands up (sorry, Sands). We spoke to Ian Fairlee and Jamal Douglas, too, before I said goodbye to my Idiot friends and headed home.

American Idiot has two shows today (Saturday) and two tomorrow. Click here for more information. If you’re a fan of the show, go check it out. 

Bon Voyage to The Last Ship; Sting Musical Sets Closing Date on Broadway

I remember at my last job we all thought this was the almost-guaranteed-shoe-in-for-Best-Musical. It apparently had book issues in it’s out of town try out in Chicago but supposedly it’d been fixed.

I managed to score comps in November and after a speedy trip to the Edison for dinner, Kristen and I settled in at the Neil Simon. We sat in the mezzanine for the first act and it was half empty. We moved down to seats on the side in front row at intermission. 

I liked The Last Ship a lot. The score was fantastic – unlike Bono, Sting can write great music for the stage. But the book still had massive issues. It didn’t resonate with me why it was such a big deal to stick it to the man and build one last ship. I suppose that because of that, I couldn’t really empathize with the characters and get involved in the show.

I loved the set though, and the lighting. And Michael Esper? Of course. He was fantastic. As per usual. Also amazing was Collin Kelly-Sordelet as Michael Esper’s teenaged son. He was jaw-droppingly amazing as he should be since he attends Juilliard. Fred Applegate, Rachel Tucker, and Aaron Lazar (who I haven’t seen in anything since 2006!) were also fantastic. 

I also really loved the choreography and the “movement” provided by the lovely Steven Hoggett. We guessed before looking in the Playbill at intermission that it was Hoggett – his style of movement is SO distinct. 

So, who’s up for Best Musical now? Finding Neverland? Fun Home? Waitress has been delayed as far as I know. We shall see. 

Bon Voyage to The Last Ship; Sting Musical Sets Closing Date on Broadway

The day after These Paper Bullets, my friend Kristen and I went to see a matinee of Manhattan Theatre Club’s newest production at their off-Broadway space, Tales from Red Vienna by David Grimm. I jumped at the chance because… well: Nina Arianda. What was the surprise second best part? Michael Esper. I’d totally forgotten that he was doing a new show, so that was pretty rad too. 

The play is about a woman (Arianda) who’s husband is assumed to be dead after he’s unheard from in two years after World War II and like many women (apparently) during that time, she turns to prostitution to pay the bills. Her world is turned upside down when she is set up by a friend (more like a frenemy) with the man (Esper) who happened to have been her first customer. 

It was interesting and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed Arianda way more in Venus in Fur, but I suppose I have to succumb to the fact that not every piece Arianda works on will be Venus in Fur. Esper was, of course, fantastic. he’s actually such a brilliant dramatic actor – something that never would’ve been apparent if you only knew his work in American Idiot

Would I recommend this just to see Nina Arianda and Michael Esper? Probably. Just go. 

Lots of people laugh at the top of the first act of The Lyons. Half of those people are laughing at the ridiculousness of what Linda Lavin says, while the other half are laughing because they had, or have, a Jewish grandmother exactly like Rita Lyons. I knew nothing really had changed about the script, but I was excited to see The Lyons again after it was announced that it was transferring from it’s small stage at the Vineyard in Union Square. 

The Lyons is about absolutely nothing other than a dysfunctional upper-middle class family in which all of the members are dysfunctional in their own unique ways. Is it entertaining? Oh, yes, you will keel over laughing. Linda Lavin and Dick Latessa, as Rita and Ben Lyons, bicker and you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity. Have you ever wanted to hear Dick Latessa yell “motherfucker”? Well, then this is your show. Rita is redesigning their living room while Ben is in a hospital bed dying from cancer when their two equally as dysfunctional grown children show up. 

Brother and sister Lisa Lyons and Curtis Lyons, played respectively by Kate Jennings Grant and Michael Esper, each have their own problems, including alcoholism and compulsive and delusional lying. 

Their lives have all crumbled by the end of the second act, except for Rita’s, and we’re left with Rita proclaiming, “You can wish me bon voyage, or you can go fuck yourselves.” Motherly love at it’s best, indeed. 

Performances are fantastic throughout. Esper is pitiful, humorous, and creepy (though not all at the same time), Grant is a frantic mess, and the two supporting characters the nurse and Brian, the real estate agent, played by Brenda Pressley and Gregory Wooddell are comical and sad respectively. 

It goes without saying that Linda Lavin and Dick Latessa are masters of their crafts and therefore own the stage with ease. The Lyons is hysterical and appalling at the same time, on any sized stage. 

Yesterday I saw the matinee of Assistance at Playwright’s Horizons. Admittedly I went to see it because of Michael Esper being part of the company and secondly because Assistance is written by Leslye Headland (who wrote the epic play Bachlorette, which premiered at Second Stage’s uptown theatre in 2010). The play told the story of an assistant with hopes of being promoted over the course of 3 years, his assistant, and the couple of interns they have over time. Each of them also go crazy from the stress as time progresses. The play is constructed in an interesting way – you go from scene to a monologue (usually a phone call) and to another scene a year or so later.

At the top of the play, Nick (Michael Esper) has been promoted from first to second assistant when Vince (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) has been made director of another department within this huge company (owned by a tyrant of a boss, though we never find out what the company actually does). The new second assistant, Nora (Virginia Kull) is nervous but a year later we see that she’s become equally as strung out as Nick.  

Bobby Steggert has a small part as another one of the assistants in the company, Justin, and his biggest moment was his phone call with his therapist where he loses it entirely. Heather (Sue Jean Kim), the intern that lets the bosses expenses become outstanding leading to his AMEX being shut off, has another great phone call during which her complete breakdown occurs after she’s been fired.  

Assistance’s ending is the most surprising part of all. Let’s just say there’s a 4-minute tap number with water thanks to the last intern, Jenny (Amy Rosoff).

I really enjoyed Assistance overall. As an assistant who is sometimes stressed out I could definitely somewhat relate to the story. That being said, this also made me thrilled not to have a high-strung boss who makes my life hell. The cast was thoroughly fantastic. As per usual at Playwrights Horizons, the set was detailed and beautiful.   

If you need some reminder of how good you have it at your job, Assistance is the play for you. Assistance is playing at Playwrights Horizons through March 11th. Click here for more information. 

Pinch me.

I was convinced I was being punk’d until I finally saw my name on the list inside the door of The Studio at Webster Hall. The Studio is a small underground bar that holds around 300 people. Did I really see my favorite band in a venue that wasn’t big enough to fit my graduating class from high school? Yes. Was I really three people from the stage the entire time? Yes. Did I survive the roughness up front of some obnoxious fans and almost get kicked in the face by Michael Esper? Mhmm. I was there.  

I usually never line up outside venues before concerts but since The Studio was so small and I was excited, I decided to get there early. I expected nearly every one of the 300 people to get there extremely early, but only about 60 did. I arrived down on East 11th Street around 7:15pm after grabbing dinner and cash and a little while later my friend Ben met me, and later Andrew and his brother joined us. There were several other concerts at Webster Hall that night and whenever someone asked us, “Who are you on line for?” and we’d reply, “Green Day!” They’d always respond with a look of shock and say, “Green Day?! They’re playing here?! No way!” The guys in front of us found out that Green Day was planning on doing 25 new songs and then a set of greatest hits.  I was stoked (and nervous that I’d be out until 4am, but more excited, really). I also found out via the fantastic people of Twitter that a band (called No-No Spot) comprised of Gerard Canonico, John Gallagher Jr., and Michael Esper (as well as a fantastic guitarist named Aaron Lee Tasjan) would be opening.

As expected, the guys rocked it out. Esper is a fantastic guitarist and I always love watching him jam. Esper and Gallagher split the vocals on the songs for the most part. Canonico is a fantastic drummer, too (which we already knew). Tasjan was also awesomely fun to watch.

Around 11:45pm, Green Day took the stage and it got rough down front. There was definitely a large presence of douche in The Studio, but we overcame, I suppose (and pushed back at times).  I was three people from the stage. It was pretty awesome. They were all in costume (BJA was reminiscent as Jack Skeleton, Dirnt was a zombie, Tre was a pink fairy, and I’ll guess that Jason White was a mad hatter) and opened with The Monster Mash (listen here!), which included the insertion of Basketcase lyrics at one point, and beautiful back-up vocals by Rebecca Naomi Jones and Alysha Umphress.  

They played a long list of new songs punctured by two Foxboro Hot Tub’s songs (Stop, Drop, and Roll and It’s Fuck Time) as well as a cover or two. All of the new material was top-notch; I can’t wait to hear what makes it onto their next album.  Everyone in attendance went absolutely batshit when the guys started to play the opening chords for Fuck Time. How can you not love that song? Billie Joe hung from the club’s piping, crowd surfed, and even threw an obnoxious crowd surfer off stage.  

I couldn’t wait to hear what songs they’d choose for their encore of “old” songs. They started off with Murder City, which I’d never heard live (admittedly I haven’t heard MOST of their songs live, sadly) but it’s a track that I love. It was during this song the obnoxious crowd surfer was thrown onstage, knocking over BJA’s mic stand so he stopped singing, but kept playing and the crowd kept up with the lyrics. He picked up right where we left off without a hitch. They played Letterbomb next, which I swore Rebecca Jones would probably get onstage for but alas, she did not. Michael Esper did crowd surf though! As much as I love the all-female girl power orchestration of Letterbomb from the stage, I can’t help but love it more seeing it performed by the guys who wrote it. It’s just such an awesome song.

The other “old songs” included Going to Pasalacqua, Hitchin’ A Ride, Welcome to Paradise (a song they didn’t do at PNC last summer that I was disappointed about – score!), Geek Stink Breath, Paper Lanterns, She, 2000 Light Years Away (I wonder if Adrienne Armstrong ever gets tired of hearing this?), and 1000 Hours (if I missed any, let me know – also click here to see the new song setlist).  They’d had enough around 2am and we dispersed with new faith in good music and the inability to hear anything but ringing in our ears.  I spotted Libby Winters and Theo Stockman also in attendance afterward, as well as Joseph Gordon-Levitt! (Talk about random!)

Needless to say it was an epic night. I got home at 2:30am and went to sleep around 3am (much more easily than I expected since my head was pounding!). It was being digitally recorded (picture and sound) from all angles so I think we’ll see footage on the next album extras.  My photos are almost all blurry or overexposed, but if you want to take a look at the rest, they’re over here.  

In between marching up Broadway and rallying in Times Square on Saturday, I stopped by the Vineyard Theatre with a friend to see Nicky Silver’s new play, The Lyons.  Of course I was drawn to the show because of Michael Esper, but also because the Vineyard is a solid theatre company that I’ve been a fan of since 2004.  

The Lyons beings in the hospital room of a man (played by the incomparable Dick Latessa) dying from cancer and his wife (hilariously played by Linda Lavin), who is trying to decide how to re-decorate their living room even though, as Lavin says, her husband “won’t be around to see it.”  Eventually their two children (Michael Esper and Kate Jennings Grant) arrive and are told the news that their father is dying.  Secrets are revealed, family members are betrayed, and in a shocking turn of events, Lavin has some pretty big news for her children the week after their father dies.  

Some theatre fans could have their dreams fulfilled after The Lyons when they’ve finally heard Latessa exclaim, “motherfucker!” multiple times. The first rate cast gives solid performances all around.  I always love watching Michael Esper in whatever role he takes on, but he was especially breaking in Act 2 of The Lyons.  I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but The Lyons is definitely worth a viewing.  

The Lyons is playing at the Vineyard Theatre on East 15th Street through November 20th. Click here for more information.

(photo via)

February 27th: What the F**k? Three Rock Stars Left “American Idiot”

I haven’t really had the chance to sit down and process Sunday night yet this week.  I’ve been busy, but I’ve also been having trouble finding the words to describe what it was like to be there.  I know there aren’t many people who are going to understand this and I’m probably going to garner a lot of confused looks, but I know at least a few people will just get it (because they’ve already told me so).   

I remember feeling a mixture of relief, sadness, and joy on both Sunday night and then also all day Monday. American Idiot didn’t close on Sunday night, but it sure felt like it should have.  No, not because Billie Joe Armstrong had left the cast.  That was the last thing on my mind.  Armstrong is a fantastic performer and brought the show to a new level and he was fantastic to watch, but I’d been watching these two actors, John Gallagher Jr. and Michael Esper, develop their characters, Johnny and Will, since Berkeley.  And now they’re gone and the show will not be the same.  (I will always remember asking Michael Esper at the party after the first preview how he was going to maintain his energy level 8 times a week and he replied, pointing to the cheese whiz, “This is how! Cheese Whiz!”)  I don’t think either of them will (or should) come back. They’re both extraordinarily talented individuals –actors – who’ve never once had a problem feeding themselves – they have always book gigs, and rightly so.  I arrived on 44th Street as the matinee crowd was disbursing and was able to get a pretty decent shot of Michael Esper, who was one of the only cast members to come out afterward and he signed and took pictures for a good twenty minutes.  


The lottery that night was packed, easily, with 300 people.  I was thankful that I already had my ticket. There was an air of excitement and anticipation around the theatre last Sunday, one that I haven’t felt at the St. James since the first preview or opening night.  I’d venture to say that 80% of the audience was at the theatre that night for those two gentlemen, and the other 20% were there for Billie Joe Armstrong, unaware of what they were getting themselves in to.  I was happy to be in Row A of the orchestra on the right side.  I had a few friends spread around the orchestra and mezzanine, so even though I was sitting by myself, I still felt as though I was in good company.  I was nervous for the amount of screaming there was going to be and betting on rock concert-level screaming. 

I was right. 

From the moment the lights went down the sound cues played, people screamed.  In the early days (meaning Berkeley and previews), the very first moments of the show tended to make me tear up.  This had stopped after the 3rd or 4th time I saw the show, but on Sunday night, they were back.  I didn’t cry, but I had tears in my eyes.  This was it.  After American Idiot ended and Gallagher popped himself up on his bed, he had to wait a good minute before starting for the screaming to stop.  Once he introduced Will (Michael Esper), there was another lengthy applause because this was Esper’s final introduction.  His grin was beaming.  I felt a little guilty when Stark Sands (who plays Tunny and who wasn’t leaving that night) didn’t command as much applause, but I’m sure he didn’t feel bad.  The first bit of improv was during “Jesus of Suburbia” when Tunny “drives” to Will’s (couch) and said “I fucking love you guys!” instead of his usual first line during their first physical interaction. 

From there on out there was a ton of pandering to the both of them, screaming from the audience, but my favorite bit of improv was during Favorite Son.  I like the song Favorite Son from the original album but I really don’t enjoy it immensely onstage so I always revert my attention to Will’s couch, which happened to be directly in front of me.  Instead of rolling up a towel and shoving it down his jeans, as usual, Esper pulled out an actual dildo to the surprise of his two friends and teased them with it.  It was unexpected and hysterical.  The three of them were unable to contain their laughter for the rest of the song.  Armstrong, of course, also received copious amounts of applause during his entrance once the song “St. Jimmy” ended (after which, still in a frozen mostly-black out, he held a little sing-back of one of his usual, “AY-O!”).  The audience was happy to sing back. 

The show didn’t come down again and become exceedingly emotional until “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”  Gallagher took his time moving from lying on the floor to getting to his knees, all while clearing the spit and dirt from his face and out of his mouth before starting (one of) his final letters.  I’m quite certain that as the cast walked out onto the stage that night, they knew what they were looking at in the house – at least in their minds – not the WTC falling on 9/11, or any other horrendous act – they were starring at the end of the era for the show.  Esper strummed so violently on his acoustic that he lost his pick at one point and had to scramble to get another one out of the holder on the back of the guitar.  I thought he was going to snap a string with the way that he was strumming.  He also had tears streaming down his face from the first chord until the end which almost made me tear up again. 

The rest of the show went off without a glitch, a lost high note, or anything else unpleasant.  The audience was on their feet as soon as the curtain was done, before the lights went up, and the flowers flew from every direction of the orchestra.  Armstrong did not make the encore about him leaving the show at all, and if you hadn’t known better, you would’ve thought that he’d be back onstage on Tuesday night.  I don’t know Armstrong, obviously, but it’s little things like that which make me think he’s a great person.

As the audience filed out of the theatre and flooded 44th Street, I felt a sense of relief that it was over.  I was happy to have been there but emotionally wrecked, so the fact that it was over was probably a positive thing.  I stayed within the vicinity of the theatre waiting to meet up with a few friends and just watched, and took a few pictures, of the insanity.  My friends eventually found me amongst the craziness and around the corner we went for drinks.  What we’d just seen was almost-incomprehensible and now alcohol was a necessary evil. 

So, a thousand words later, I think I’m done trying to capture this night through the written word.  Here’s a link to about half of the pictures I took, and click here for the video of the finale.