The Woodsman @ New World Stages

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First of all, this was way more gorgeous that I ever could have anticipated. Second, who knew that a play with barely any words at all, AND puppetry, could be so moving? Staged for the third time, now at New World Stages, The Woodsman is as unique of a theatrical experience as you could hope for in New York these days. I was invited to see it last Monday night and I was so excited, especially when @endotique agreed to come with me.

The Woodsman tells the story of how the Tin Man (of Wizard of Oz fame) came to be. But this isn’t another Wicked by any means. The wonderful ensemble cast of Strangemen & Co. tell this incredibly moving story with a violinist, very minimal singing, puppetry, manmade sound effects (the fire crackling, the crows, etc), and mime. The most words, which are few anyways, are during the prologue to set the scene and how the land east of Oz was ruled by the Wicked Witch of the East and things were less than awesome. 

There really aren’t words to explain how amazingly done this show is, so you just have to go see it.

Afterward, we were invited to stay for a chat with a lot of the cast moderated by Cheryl Henson of The Henson Foundation (third from the right). 

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James Ortiz (third from the left), who played the Tin Man (aka Nick Chopper) and helped develop the show from it’s inception, talked about his love for the original Oz stories and how their ensemble made all of the puppets themselves. The cast told us how the show is always evolving and they’re very good at listening to each other’s breath and taking cues from that since there are oftentimes no words. 

I can’t express with words sufficiently how awesome this little play is, so you just need to see it for yourself. Buy tickets

Some cool theatre news…

Josh Radnor and Laura Benanti will star in the revival of She Loves Me. That’s exciting – they’re both great onstage! Hopefully Radnor can sing? 

Do you like The Last 5 Years? Of course you do. You’re not stupid. A couple of songs from the film version were released. Read about it here. Adam Kantor and Betsy Wolfe, who starred in The Last 5 Years at Second Stage, will reprise their roles in San Francisco for three nights

John Cameron Mitchell is starting this week in the title role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This is, by far, the most exciting to happen to Broadway since… well, it’s been a while. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s newest musical, Hamilton, started previews at The Public tonight. Apparently it’s amazing. I hope I can score tickets somehow. 

And Clinton the Musical is coming to the stage off-Broadway at New World Stages. I’m very excited for this one. Will it be amazing? Probably not. Will it be a helluva good time? I’m predicting YES. 

I think that’s it for tonight. 

Last week I saw the just-opened production of Heathers (a musical version of the movie) and I have to say I loved it much more than I ever though I would. I tried watching the movie a few months and I got through maybe 20 minutes of it. I thought it was pretty stupid. I also admittedly like Jawbreaker better (a nineties version with pretty much the same plot). 

As soon as the lights went down at New World Stages, the energy in the room was on full throttle and we were all into it. it was upbeat music, hilarious dialogue, fun choreography, and a cast with a bus-load of energy. 

Albeit it being maybe 20 minutes too long (2 hours and 40 minutes is a little excessive), I enjoyed everything about this musical. it’s really hard to dislike a show when the audience and the cast is equally as excited and pumped. The score is fun and 80’s-ish and everything you’d expect from a musical based on the movie Heathers. The cast gives it everything they have, and the storyline is pretty much true to the movie (except, as my friend informed me, the ending is happier – but come on, it’s a musical!).

I really enjoyed Barrett Wilbert Weed as Veronica and Alice Lee, Jessica Keenan Wynn, and Elle McLemore were all equally as fantastic (and bitchy) as the three Heathers.

All of your favorite lines are intact, don’t worry. Christian Slater was in the audience that night and we heard he really enjoyed it afterward too. Sometimes you just need to go see a fun musical and Heathers is definitely that musical.

Tickets were provided by the production. Opinions are all my own. 

I had argued that it wasn’t a good idea to bring Bare back to New York, at least not in a very, very expensive way. I knew the writers had good intentions, but really, this revival was unnecessary as last year’s revival of Rent. I saw the third-to-last performance last Saturday and although I did enjoy watching it, the one word that absolutely describes it is contrived

The popular jock and the nerdy gay boy get into a relationship? Check. The jock is insecure with himself and sleeps with the stereotypical slutty chick? Check. The stereotypical slutty chick ends up getting pregnant because, of course, they didn’t use a condom? Check. The typical nice high school guy gets screwed over when trying to court the stereotypical slutty chick? Check. I can’t think of one scenario in Bare that I hadn’t seen played out somewhere else before last Saturday. The high schoolers were all caricatures of every type you’d expect.

That said: I enjoyed myself. The set was super cool, some of the music was melodic, the cast was great. and I felt like I was experiencing part of musical theatre history. This show had high hopes of getting to Broadway in 2004 before the Dodgers went broke (and apparently it was a completely different show back then – maybe less contrived?). I had many friends who’d loved it, though I’d never had the chance to see it. 

Alex Wyse was completely fantastic as Peter, and Jason Hite was good as Jason (although his voice got a bit whiny at times). I enjoyed seeing Missi Pyle onstage. This was also my first time seeing Gerard Canonico in a non-ensemble role and he was quite great. He has a great voice, and he moves really well (I completely missed this someone in American Idiot).  

While I’m glad I got to experience it, I think Bare may have been better left in the time capsule back in 2004, as it was just no longer as edgy as it probably was back then. 

It’s Back.

I’m still trying to process what I saw on Thursday night, August 14th.  Rent, the show that meant the world to me as a teenager, re-opened off-Broadway after a three year hiatus from being performed in New York.  

When producer Kevin McCollum spoke to us during CTI, he told us that since Rent had closed in New York HIV-infection rates and the number of hate crimes had both gone up.  So he thought that New York needed Rent again.  There’s also a huge demand, according to director Michael Greif in a recent interview with TONY, among the 12-16 year old crowd.  The crowd at New World Stages on Thursday certainly proved that was true .  New World Stages had no idea how to prepare for the sheer volume of patrons because it took a long time for them to get everyone into the theatre.

Andy Senor (Jr), a former cast member from the ‘00-’02 years (I think), was present and we nodded at one another solidarity and remembrance of the ‘old days’ but I couldn’t think of anything to say to him so I didn’t approach him.  I could’ve sworn I also saw Kevin Cahoon (another blast from the past, but not from Rent) in the back of the orchestra.  My best friend John and I (we met at the show in 2002) went in with mixed emotions and were literally dumfounded to find that we were seated directly next to two friends from “back in the day.”  They kept saying, “It’s just like the front row!  Exactly the same, but totally different.”  Greif was also seated directly across from us on the aisle, taking notes.  

There was a huge amount of energy when the lights first went down, we were all excited.  John and I held hands, and our breath, as Adam Chanler Berat, dressed in a completely different outfit (sans any scarf) took center stage and began the show. 

There were three costume pieces brought back from the Broadway production and those were the only similarities in this production.  The set looks more like the set for Next to Normal than the original set, and the lighting is much more neon than reddish-orange.  The band now sits upstage on the second level of the set and sounds a bit poppy-er, and the synthesized parts sound a bit crisper.  There’s new choreography.  Bits of the instrumental parts for songs, like Christmas Bells, have been cut.  There are a plethora of productions.  I liked them [the productions] in the first act, but they were a bit much in the second act.  Lastly, the show is set in a specific year.  December 24th, 1991, 9pm.  My thoughts on the cast:

Adam Chanler Berat (Mark): He was fantastic.  I really, really enjoyed his performance.  He has a great voice, obviously.  He was a much, MUCH younger take on the role than anyone I’ve seen before.  I think he’ll continue to grow into the role physically but other than that bit of physicality he was really fantastic.

Matthew Shingledecker (Roger): Wow.  We had no idea what to expect from this actor who was basically an unknown talent but from the moment he opened his mouth, we were won over.  He has a great voice with the perfect blend of rock and musical theatre.  He looks the part and acts it greatly.  Another fun aspect of him onstage?  His pants. His character doesn’t loose plaid pants anymore, he wear skin tight green skinny jeans.  They are really, really tight.  I digress: He was great and I was impressed.

Nicholas Christopher (Tom Collins): He’s the appropriate age for the character, a great actor, very funny, and he has a unbelievable voice.  He also has terrific and believable chemistry with MJ Rodriguez, who plays Angel.

Ephraim Sykes (Benjamin Coffin III): He’s SO young.  He has a great voice and has a good grasp on the roles physicality but he’s SO young.  I can’t imagine any father-in-law allowing him to join the family company and buy an entire apartment building to build into a cyber studio.  He no longer wears a puffy jacket – it’s more fitted.  

Corbin Reid (Joanne Jefferson): She is completely unrecognizable from her stint in American Idiot.  She is great in the role, very mature, but needs to work on her belt a bit more (especially during the end of “We’re Okay”).

MJ Rodriguez (Angel): He has a fantastic voice, and he really acts the role incredibly well.  I’m afraid he might look a bit too old for the role though.  The audience is torn when he loses his battle with AIDS and excited when he arrives onstage again at the end of the show.

Arianda Fernandez (Mimi): I was unimpressed with her voice during Light My Candle, but it got better.  She doesn’t have the belt 100% developed for the material yet but I hope she’ll get there.  For the first time ever, the actress playing Mimi looks her actual age (19).  Her take on the character was spot-on too.  I have to admit though: I missed the character’s blue pants during Out Tonight though.  

Annaleigh Ashford (Maureen): Her Over the Moon was completely fresh, original, and hilarious.  I loved her take on the character.  Her acting fantastic.  I really enjoyed her vocally for the most part too, although I felt she wasn’t powerful enough during Take Me Or Leave Me.  She was definitely not a disappointment though.

Morgan Weed, Ben Thompson, Marcus Paul James, Tamika Sonja Lawrence, Michael Wartella, and Genny Lis Padilla rounded out the cast as the ensemble and were all equally enjoyable and they worked well together to form a family.

I’m not sure when I got older than almost every single actor on that stage, but it was very weird.  All of us in Row M concurred on this fact.  Last time we checked, we were 16 and sitting in the front row at the Nederlander Theatre.

I definitely want to go back and see it once it’s opened and the cast has gotten comfortable.  If you have any kind of a history with the show in it’s original Broadway run, take a chance on this.  And if you have you memory of this show on Broadway, this is an excellent first exposure to it. 

Rent, it’s nice to have you back in New York.