Review: Come From Away

The day after my birthday in April, my parents and I celebrated by seeing the matinee of the new, immensely popular Broadway musical, Come From Away, with book, music, and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. I’d been watching this piece come to life through a friend’s Instagram posts and I thought it looked cute, but I wasn’t really dying to see it. But once my parents heard about it and it’s popularity spiked just before their opening night, I finally stopped finding reasons to not get around to see it and I’m certainly glad I did.

A lot of the music sounds very Once-esque, which I was immediately annoyed by (despite being a big fan of Once because that is music for Once and not this, etc. etc.) but I warmed up to this folksy music as well as the rest of the score over the next 100 minutes. (Yes, it’s 100 minutes, no intermission. #best)

I’m pretty resistant to anything and everything that co-ops 9/11 which is probably responsible for some of my resistance to sit down in the Schoenfeld, but Come From Away doesn’t do that. They barely mention what happened and they never say “9/11” explicitly. It’s purely about humanity and this tiny town in Newfoundland named Gander and how it’s citizens come together to host these ~7,000 strangers who are stranded there for a week-ish) by this catastrophic event.

The cast is amazing – filled with some of my favorites from my teenage years as a Renthead, among others – Rodney Hicks, Kendra Kassebaum, Chad Kimball, Jenn Colella, etc. The cast uses very subtle costume adjustments to change characters in an instant when they flip-flop between planes (people were trapped on the plans for 28 hours!). I’m pretty sure this is no easy feat and I’d 100% screw up what character I was when if I had to do that.

My favorite subplot line was the one about the SPCA director in Gander, Bonnie Harris (played by Petrina Bromley) and how she basically forces her way into the cargo holds on the planes because she has the foresight to suspect that there are animals onboard and they need to be taken care of (#squee!). She’s right. There were 19 animals on all the planes – something like 7 cats, 9 dogs, and one pair of rare Bonobo monkeys, among others, all of whom she takes care of while they’re there. This obviously warmed my heart. She deserves a medal.

There are many other touching and tear-jerking story lines which I won’t give away, but you should get yourself to the Schoenfeld and see this heartwarming little show as soon as you can (if you can, because tickets are selling out at each performance).

Groundhog Day, in Previews

And Rewind.

Last weekend I won the digital lottery for the new Broadway musical, Groundhog Day, and J and I went. He liked most of what he’d seen of the movie and I wanted him to see Andy Karl onstage since we’d watched him on Law & Order semi-recently. This is a transfer from London and they know how to make a pretty good musical, so my expectations were decent.

The music is catchy and the lyrics are feisty in a way that only Tim Minchin can be and I enjoyed the first 15 minutes. Then the day restarted and I suddenly, “Oh my god, is this the entire musical? How does it ever proceed forward from this one day? What have I gotten myself in to?!”

To be clear: I’ve never seen the movie before and I only knew vaguely what the premise was. This was my fault completely.

BUT. They do a fantastic job of rewinding the day each time and it doesn’t feel monotonous at all. The set worked perfectly (no first preview difficulties luckily) and it really keeps the show moving along. Without those turntables, the show would be 4 hours long. A couple of the songs get dark a darkly comedic way, and a couple of the songs could be completely cut (the first song of the second act, for starters).

Andy Karl plays this role perfectly. We feel his angst at his situation which eventually turns to morbid joy, which turns out to be hilarious. Barrett Doss, his costar, is lovely, too. I think Raymond Lee, as one of the town yokles at the bar, was the only other cast member to really stand out. He’s hilarious.

It was about 2 hours and 45 minutes long, which is long, but it never dragged. Like I said, they do a really good job at keeping the pace pretty consistent. We both walked out of the theatre having really enjoyed ourselves.

It was definitely not a wasted night at the theatre and I wouldn’t have been too sad to have been forced to relive it at least one more time.

Significant Other

Despite my better judgment, I went to see Significant Other, the new play by Joshua Harmon that recently transferred to Broadway from Roundabout, this past Sunday with my significant other, my best guy friend, and his significant other. I saw this shortly after I met J in 2015 while it was off-Broadway and it hit me hard in the emotions. I walked out of the Laura Pels thinking Gideon’s character surely killed himself after the lights went down. And to be honest, I kind of wanted to kill myself after the lights went down on Sunday afternoon, regardless of my relationship status. My friends concurred.

I want to start by saying that Gideon Glick is brilliant as the protagonist Jordan, a late twenty-somethings city-dweller. He gives a flawless performance of an extremely flawed character. He has genius comedic timing and I was exhausted watching him exert himself onstage for two and a half hours(ish). I would watch this guy read the phone book because he could make it entertaining. He has monologues that are pages long but he makes it look effortless.

Sas Goldman, who plays the first bride of the night Kiki, reminded me in a weird way of Tracee Chimo in Bachelorette. But in a totally good, weird way. Lindsay Mendez plays a wonderful best friend to Jordan, Laura, who gets caught up in wedding madness when she finally gets engaged. She was able to be strong even when hurt by Jordan’s page and a half tirade on the evening of her bachelorette party. And, last but not least, Rebecca Naomi Jones is the hilariously dark Vanessa who gives no fucks about anything until the day of her wedding.

The men in this show are not at all the focus. Hence why two actors play all six male characters (in addition to Jordan). John Behlman and Luke Smith both do a lovely job playing the various boyfriends and husbands and coworkers of the four main characters.

Because of its incredibly depressing tone, and it’s suicide-inducing ending, I’m not sure it’ll find it’s audience on Broadway, but I know that a lot (most) people could probably relate to Jordan’s feeling of being alone and feeling hopeless. There are lots of parts to make you laugh, and many to also make you feel all the feels. Like any good play should.

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

This musical has seen many stagings: Ars Nova (more of a reading, really), Kazino in the meatpacking district), a lot on 8th avenue, ART in Boston. And now it’s finally, finally on Broadway. Cheap tickets have been hard to find so Kristen and I jumped on $40 tickets that NYU offered her for a student night recently. We found out Josh Groban was out when we arrived but quite honestly, I didn’t care. Josh Groban is really just a non-theatrical version of Josh Young anyways, right? Right.

I sort of remembered the story when I saw The Great Comet in 2013 and Kristen had read the book, so we had an idea of what was going on. 

Let me start by saying that the star of this production is not anyone on the stage, it is the stage, and theatre, itself. I would love to see the budget for the theatre renovation because it is spectacular. In this new staging, they tried as hard as they possibly could to not let the show get lost in the space. They made as many opportunities as possible to get the actors mingling with the audience.

And you definitely want this cast to mingle with you. They are fierce. A lot of them are from the 2013 production and they are all so very talented. Lucas Steele was out, but I think I enjoyed his understudy, Josh Canfield, even more as the pompous asshole Anatole. Scott Stangland was on as Pierre for Josh Groban and he gave a lovely, really nuanced performance.  

The story is kind of ridiculous, though. Natasha meets Anatole and falls for him immediately, not seeing that he’s a complete douche? Come on. And the ‘Great Comet’ is mentioned only in the last 15 seconds of the show. It’s kind of ridiculous. There’s also a LOT going on – because it’s a Russian novel, so, yeah: dense. But as hard as they try, the show gets lost in a theatre as “big” as the Imperial. We sat in the front-rear mezzanine for the first act and it fell flat. When we moved down the second row of the front mezzanine, it became a little bit more exciting.

To that end: this show is beautiful, as is the cast and the score. I just wish it were in a different theatre.

The Only Way to Fill the Palace…

Is magic. Literally. 

Last Friday night, I went to see The Illusionists at the Palace Theatre. I’ve seen so many shows at the Palace over the last couple of decades because the place is so friggin’ huge that nothing can fill it. I mean, take a walk down from the balcony and you’ll feel like you’re walking to the bowels of the Titanic. It’s insane. And sitting in the balcony? You’ll get vertigo. But all that aside, I was interested in seeing The Illusionists to see what exactly they’d show me. 

I assumed the theatre would be mostly empty because The Illusionists isn’t even a real Broadway show and who the hell is coming to see this?! Turns out: everyone is coming to see this. Well, probably mostly tourists, but the theatre was 80% full at least, and this is a really hard thing to do for most shows that are in that theatre. 

I knew it’d basically be a magic show and not an actual Broadway show. I knew the skeptic in me would basically look for the first opportunity to say, “Oh I can see the string that it’s hanging on,” but whatever. I’m a New Yorker, what do you expect?

I have to say I was most impressed with The Clairvoyants, Thommy Ten and Amelie Van Tass, and The Daredevil, Jonathan Goodwin. I am still dying to know whether or not The Clairvoyants acts were set up but if they weren’t, they were really impressive. Impressive like picking a random person out of the audience, guessing they had a cell phone and what color and service provider they used. 

And Jonathan Goodwin, well, he was absolutely insane. He’s known worldwide as the closest thing we have a real life super hero and for a good reason. He’s an escape artist with a love for Houdini. One of his acts included handcuffing his hands behind his back, holding onto a sharp object with his teeth, while being raised over 3 foot spikes and trying to free himself from the handcuffs. Oh, and the rope that was suspending him over the aforementioned spikes was on fire. 

There was also a short scene by a puppeteer, Justo Thaus, with a marionette doll that was really adorable, and Charlie Frye, The Eccentric, who has a knack for juggling and acrobatics, as well as Dana Daniels, The Charlatan, who loves balancing things (like chairs) on his face. 

I yawned and thought it was super cheesy any time a ball was “floating” in the air (pretty sure it wasn’t) but other than that, I found all of the acts really impressive. Did the show need to be two acts? No. An hour and forty-five minutes would’ve sufficed. But if you find yourself looking to be entertained with an unconventional show in midtown, The Illusionists might just be the ticket you’re looking for. 

Pre-Thanksgiving Fun @ The Cherry Orchard 

I couldn’t think of a more appropriate play to take in before the Thanksgiving holiday than The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. I knew it was be pretty dry, but the cast sounded too great to pass up. I showed up to the American Airlines Theatre last Wednesday around 2pm and took my seat in the last row of the orchestra. 

I read the description in the Playbill, and the breakdown of the family members, so I had some idea of what I was getting into (tl;dr: A Russian family is going broke and losing the estate that they’ve lived on for generations). Sadly, Joel Grey was out that day, but I was still really excited to see Diane Keaton, as well as Tavi Gevison and Celia Keenan-Bolger. Oh, and Chuck Cooper, too. 

The script was as dry and depressing as expected. The sets and lighting were lovely and mesmerizing. The performances were stellar. I can’t decide whether Keaton was great or overacting, because her character is a little delusional and crazy (think: a Russian Blanche duBois) so it was hard to tell. I still enjoyed watching her regardless. Keenan-Bolger and Gevinson were more compelling, though that might be because their characters were just more interesting to me. Then there was Chuck Cooper. who played a Russian businessman who knows the family. I love him in any and everything and he can do no wrong. Philip Kerr, who was on for Joel Grey, was whimsical with great comedic timing. Honestly, I can’t figure out why Grey would take a small, supporting role, but as great as he may be, I enjoyed Kerr a lot. 

Roundabout has put on a stunning production with a stellar cast of a slightly boring Chekhov play. But hey, I knew what I was getting myself into when I took my seat. If you love this kind of play, this is a great production to see. 

Oh, Hello! (aka We Laughed So We Wouldn’t Cry.)

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Little did Kristen and I know that when we purchased our tickets to Oh, Hello! how much we would need a laugh that night. It was the day after the election and we were in shock, like much of the country. I’d been told that it was about two old guys talking about theatre for 90 minutes. I thought this sounded great – like The Drowsy Chaperone minus the plot line with Sutton Foster. Just perfect. 

I have to say, we laughed our asses off. The irreverent, inappropriate humor written by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney was just what was necessary to end such a depressing day. Now before you come at me and ask why it’s OK for a Broadway show to include crude and somewhat-racist humor but not our President-Elect, I’ll tell you: These comedians weren’t (and aren’t) running for president of one of the most powerful countries in the world. Thank you very fucking much.

It’s the day after the election and Donald Trump has just won. LET THAT SINK IN.

I can’t remember any of the jokes now, and I’m pretty sure at least 50% of the show is improvised. They commented on the election apologizing in advance to people who thought they’d have a night of escapism after it, but no such luck. They categorized the audience as theatre nerds, New Yorkers, tourists, and “old men who haven’t admitted to their wives who they’d voted for yet.” They played two old men who shared an apartment on UWS, one of whom is a “Tony Award-viewing playwright.” 

I had no idea that there was a special guest that they interview each night, but there was and it was Geraldo Rivera, who is a friend of Trump’s and it was perfect. 

I had no idea what kind of humor I was getting myself into when I walked into the theatre that night but I’m sure glad I walked in because I needed it. Mulaney and Kroll were fucking incredible at improv comedy, and acting, too. I hope to see them again onstage in the near future. 

This is the one show on Broadway that had me walking away thinking, “You know, I really want to see that AGAIN,” because I’m sure it’s different every night. As are all shows, because that’s what’s so amazing about the theatre. 

The Encounter // 10.4.16

Last Tuesday I saw The Encounter at the Golden Theatre on 45th Street. Transferred here directly from London and a tour, I had literally no idea what to expect so I was super surprised to see headphones on every seat when I arrived. Conceived by (and sometimes performed by) Simon McBurney, the first line in his note to the audience in the Playbill is, “We only see the version of the world that we want to see.” How true is that?! Having spent the last week or so reading Gabby Bernstein’s book, The Universe Has Your Back, I was totally onboard with the fact that what we concentrate on is what we manifest and see in our lives. I was into this play so far.

It was a Tuesday night, so Richard Katz was stepping in for McBurney. We took our seats, put on our headphones, and Katz came out and began the show. The first part of the show was was about how our brains assume a lot and fill in gaps with what we think is most logical. There’s a standing microphone onstage which leads directly into our ears, so as he moves around the microphone it sounds like he’s in back of us, or to our right or left, etc. The concept of seeing what we want to see is very Buddhist and I would’ve enjoyed if the entire 90 minutes were about that, but Katz eventually started telling a story.

The story of The Encounter was about an encounter that the protagonist of the story has with a rarely seen tribe in a Brazilian rainforest whom he is trying to photograph. He uses various sound effects and looping machines (which he produces using his own voice or various inanimate objects) to tell a simple story in a very compelling way. I found the beginning part of the story to be a bit slow, but the last half was more entertaining and quicker paced.

Richard Katz is an unbelievable storyteller. I can’t help but wonder how different it would be to see the creator, McBurney, perform the show, too. 

This is an unbelievably creative and unique piece. Clocking in at 90 minutes (no intermission – score!), it’s totally worth seeing. I mean, when else will you be wearing headphones during a show and thus unable to hear a cell phone go off? That alone is wroth the price of a ticket. 

Marie and Rosetta // Atlantic Theatre Company, 9.30.16

Last weekend my friend invited me to Atlantic Theatre Company’s main stage in Chelsea to see Marie and Rosetta. It was about Rosetta Tharpe, a guitar playing musician who brought some swing into gospel music, and when she auditioned Marie Knight, a young singer she saw performing in a church. I was interested mainly because Rebecca Naomi Jones was playing Marie, but I also knew the vocal tour de force Kecia Lewis as Rosetta would not disappoint.

The set was a simple funeral parlor, because black singers in that part of the south weren’t really welcome and they took what accommodations they could get. Through out the 90 minutes, the two performers continually get more comfortable with one another and practice different arrangements of Rosetta’s music. Once Marie sheds her church-girl facade, the two performers sync up and the music flows naturally.

I really loved seeing Jones perform again, having not seen her onstage since Hedwig and the Angry Inch. She’s just such a natural talent. I really enjoyed Kecia Jones, too, with her booming voice. The two were a badass duo.

Marie and Rosetta is playing through October 16th and totally worth seeing, even if you don’t know their music. 

Review: Beautiful

I finally, finally, finally got to see Beautiful last week. The musical based on the life of the incredible Carole King set to her music was an incredibly well written show. I mean: literally there is nothing wrong with it. At all. It was totally entertaining and had all of the feels in it – especially when her marriage was falling apart. But you know what else? I’d seen this show before. It was called Jersey Boys. And Motown The Musical

As well crafted as this musical was (is), I think it is the musical -traw that broke the camel’s back for me as far as jukebox musicals. The formula is stale and I was, at times, a little bored because I was all, “Oh yeah, now comes this part. Oh yeah, insert that song.” 

Carole King’s music is great; though she spent the first part of her career writing for other people. I liked the last sequence of the show, where she started recording music herself, much more than the rest because her solo songs that she recorded herself was much more my style. The music she wrote for other people was pop-y crap. You’ll recognize a lot of it for sure, even if you didn’t know it was King’s music, but her post-divorce music is just better, IMO. 

Chilina Kennedy, who took over the title role after Jessie Mueller’s exit two years ago, was on that night and she was incredible. At least her performance was incredible (I feel like I have to say that because I have no idea how she compares to King herself, because I’ve never seen or heard her perform). It’s always a pleasure to see Liz Larsen onstage, who played Genie Klein, and Scott J. Campbell, from the tour of American Idiot, was awesome as Gerry Goffin.

King’s story sort of reminds me of Adele’s story, too. Break up, write some emo songs, record emo album that becomes a hit. Carole King kind of did the same thing before Adele had ever sung a note. 

The show is formulaic but very enjoyable. The cast is having a great time, as is the audience (there was a middle-aged man standing up in front of his seat and dancing as the curtain went up before Act 2). I’m very glad I saw it and learned about Carole King.