The Year of Living Cinematically

Same as every other year: all films were watched in their entirety and all films that I’d never seen before have been marked with an asterisk.

The Naked Gun 2 1/2 (1991) 1/9
The Monster Squad (1987) 1/23
*The Exorcist (1973) 3/5
My Fair Lady (1964) 4/13
Sense and Sensibility (1995) 4/15
*Bound for Glory (1976) 4/16
The Money Pit (1986) 4/16
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) 4/18
Hawaii (1966) 4/18
*Stormy Weather (1943) 4/21
Grey Gardens (1975)
*State Fair (1933)
101 Dalmatians (1961) 5/1
Separate Tables (1958) 5/3
The Graduate (1967) 5/14
*Spotlight (2015) 5/16
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) 5/18
10 (1979) 7/1
Howards End (1992) 8/26
The King and I (1956) 8/31
*Bay of Angels (1963) 9/1
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) 9/1
State Fair (1945) 9/2
*Olly Olly Oxen Free (1978) 9/3
South Pacific (1958) 9/3
Carousel (1956) 9/3
*Three Smart Girls (1936) 9/11
*A Delicate Balance (1973) 9/16
Halloween (1978) 10/31
Howards End (1992) 12/7
Christmas Vacation (1989) 12/22
Scrooged (1988) 12/23
A Christmas Story (1983) 12/22
Elf (2003) 12/24
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) 12/28

My Year in Show Music

Last year, I made the conscious decision to keep a log of the albums (cast recordings, movie musical soundtracks, solo albums, live concert recordings, etc) that I listened to in their entirety. I decided to do it again in 2016. Each recording is linked to its own page on castalbums.org (a site I highly recommend for serious collectors of theatre music). An asterisk indicates a recording I listened to for the first time).

1/2 – Bye Bye Birdie [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
1/2 – The Apple Tree [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
1/5 – Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 [Original Cast Recording]
1/7 – Ragtime [1996 Toronto Cast Recording]
1/8 – Marin Mazzie: Make Your Own Kind of Music [Live at 54 Below]
1/10 – Kean [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
1/19 – Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown [Original London Cast Recording]*
1/20 – Hello, Dolly! [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
1/25 – The Hunchback of Notre Dame [2015 Studio Cast Recording]*
1/27 – Doctor Zhivago [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
1/28 – Plain and Fancy [Original London Cast Recording]*
1/29 – The Light in the Piazza [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
2/4 – Grease Live! [Television Cast Recording]*
2/4 – Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown [Original London Cast Recording]
2/9 – The Golden Apple [First Full-Length Recording]
2/11 – The King and I [The 2015 Broadway Cast Recording]
2/14 – Robert and Elizabeth [Original London Cast Recording]
2/15 – Cats [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
2/18 – Cole: A Musical Tribute to Cole Porter [Studio Cast Recording]*
2/22 – Tony Yazbeck: The Floor Above Me*
2/23 – The Secret Garden [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
2/23 – The Secret Garden [Original Australian Cast Highlights]
2/23 – The Secret Garden [Original London Cast Recording]
2/27 – First Daughter Suite [Original Cast Recording]*
2/29 – Giant [Original Cast Recording]
3/14 – Regina [1958 NYCO Cast Recording]
3/15 – My Fair Lady [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
3/18 – Fiddler on the Roof [2016 Broadway Cast Recording]*
3/19 – Hamilton [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
3/20 – 110 in the Shade [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
3/23 – She Loves Me [Original London Cast Recording]
3/25 – Gigi [New Broadway Cast Recording]
3/26 – One Man, Two Guvnors [Original London Cast Recording]
3/28 – Mrs. Henderson Presents [Original London Cast Recording]*
3/30 – Kinky Boots [Original London Cast Recording]*
4/1 – The Bridges of Madison County [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
4/5 – The Light in the Piazza [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
4/11 – Eubie! [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
4/12 – Spamalot [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
4/12 – Mary Poppins [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]
4/13 – It Shoulda Been You [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
4/24 – Carnival [Original London Cast Recording]
4/25 – When Everything Was Possible: A Concert with Comments*
4/27 – Carousel [1962 Studio Cast Recording]
4/28 – Gypsy [The 2015 London Cast Recording]
4/29 – Alfred Drake and Roberta Peters Sing the Popular Music of Leonard Bernstein
4/29 – Bright Star [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
5/3 – The Most Happy Fella [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
5/6 – Something Rotten [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
5/10 – Hamilton [Original Broadway Cast Recording – LP Edition]
5/11 – Paint Your Wagon [Encores! Cast Recording]*
5/12 – West Side Story [Original Broadway Cast Recording – LP Edition]
5/16 – Do I Hear a Waltz? [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
5/20 – The Saint of Bleecker Street [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
5/24 – Mame [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
5/25 – The Robber Bridegroom [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
5/26 – On Your Feet! [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
5/26 – She Loves Me [2016 Broadway Cast Recording]*
5/27 – Paint Your Wagon [Encores! Cast Recording]
6/1 – Waitress [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
6/1 – Call Me Madam [Original London Cast Recording]*
6/2 – Paint Your Wagon [Original London Cast Recording]
6/3 – Tuck Everlasting [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
6/3 – Songs from The Lion [Original Cast Recording]*
6/3 – Sara Bareilles: Songs from Waitress*
6/3 – She Loves Me [2016 Broadway Cast Recording]
6/3 – The Color Purple [New Broadway Cast Recording]*
6/4 – The Color Purple [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
6/4 – The Color Purple [New Broadway Cast Recording]
6/9 – On the Twentieth Century [New Broadway Cast Recording]
6/17 – Emily Skinner & Alice Ripley: Unattached [Live at Feinstein’s 54 Below]*
6/29 – The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
7/7 – Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown [Original London Cast Recording]
8/5 – Funny Girl [2016 London Cast Recording]*
8/15 – Patrice Munsel: Unpredictable*
8/21 – Darling of the Day [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
8/24 – Bright Star [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
8/25 – Wonderful Town [1958 Television Cast Recording]
8/26 – Barbra Streisand: Encore Movie Partners Sing Broadway*
8/28 – Rothschild & Sons [Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording]*
8/28 – The Rothschilds [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
8/29 – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers [2015 Studio Cast Recording]
9/1 – South Pacific [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]
9/1 – Meet Marvelous Marilyn Maye
9/1 – Fiddler on the Roof [New London Cast Recording]*
9/2 – Show Boat [1988 Studio Cast Recording]
9/4 – The Wild Party [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
9/4 – The Wild Party [Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording]
9/7 – Liza Minnelli Live at the Olympia in Paris*
9/7 – The King and I [1997 London Studio Cast Recording]*
9/9 – The Robber Bridegroom [2016 Cast Recording]*
9/9 – The Robber Bridegroom [2016 Cast Recording]
9/9 – The Robber Bridegroom [2016 Cast Recording]
9/10 – Little Mary Sunshine [Original London Cast Recording]
9/13 – Sunset Boulevard [American Premiere Recording]
9/17 – Far From Heaven [Original Cast Recording]*
9/20 – The Robber Bridegroom [2016 Cast Recording]
9/21 – Disaster! [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
9/27 – State Fair [Original 1962 Motion Picture Soundtrack]
10/18 – The Apple Tree [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
10/26 – Simply Heavenly [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
10/27 – Sunday in the Park with George [2006 London Cast Recording]
10/28 – Bye Bye Birdie [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
10/28 – Bye Bye Birdie [Original London Cast Recording]
11/2 – The Color Purple [New Broadway Cast Recording]
11/4 – Kristin Chenoweth: The Art of Elegance*
11/11 – Hamilton [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/23 – Half a Sixpence [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/25 – Ragtime [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/27 – Half a Sixpence [The New 2016 London Cast Recording]*
12/2 – Carmen Cusack: If You Knew My Story [Live at 54 Below]*
12/2 – The Hamilton Mixtape*
12/2 – Hairspray: Live! [Original Television Soundtrack]*
12/16 – Falsettos [2016 Broadway Cast Recording]*
12/24 – She Loves Me [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
12/26 – Song of Norway [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]*
12/28 – Irene [1973 Broadway Cast Recording]
12/31 – Bright Star [Original Broadway Cast Recording]

At Large Elsewhere: The Podcast Edition

I’ve done a lot of interesting things as a result of writing this blog. I’ve been interviewed by major newspapers and I’ve been seen on videos for Stage Rush and Patty and Emily, but until this past week I had never been on a podcast. My friend Kevin David Thomas his collaborator Robert W. Schneider invited me to be a guest on their essential podcast Behind the Curtain to celebrate the theatre luminaries we lost in 2016.

You can listen here at their website:

Or on iTunes, where you can also subscribe and rate.

 

She Loves Me – Menier Chocolate Factory

“My kingdom for a revival of She Loves Me!” is a thing I once tweeted. I fell in love with the original Broadway cast recording in high school, but it would be years before I would get to see it onstage. That chance arrived in 2013, when Ted Sterling presented a 50th anniversary concert at Caramoor. Cut to 2016. Exactly four years to the day after sending out this desperate missive, I was at the fourth preview of an enchanting revival at the Menier Chocolate Factory (and the second major production I’d seen this year).

She Loves Me is the ultimate charm show: a perfect confection of musical comedy writing that is romantic without being sentimental, witty without being self-aware, and heartwarming without being cloying. Based on the Miklós László play Parfumerie (source material for the films The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail), it’s about two coworkers are carrying on a profound correspondence by letter, not knowing that they work together — and loathe each other. Bock and Harnick’s score is one of the greatest in musical theatre. The songs are so character specific and integral to the plot that they don’t work as well without the context of Joe Masteroff’s expert libretto. The show is also blessed with one of the strongest second acts of a musical ever, with what I call The 11:00 Stretch from “Vanilla Ice Cream” to “Twelve Days to Christmas.”

She Loves Me has never become a household title, though it remains a cult favorite. Its original production was eclipsed by flashy blockbusters like Hello, Dolly! and Funny Girl, running only nine months in spite of good notices and direction by Harold Prince. Every subsequent high-profile production has either been a financial failure or a limited engagement at a non-profit theatre.

My hat is off to director Matthew White, who pitches his production at a perfect pace. First and foremost, he trusts the material (even if saddled with the mostly-inferior 1993 revisions). He emphasizes the humanity of these characters, with profoundly funny and moving results. Secondly, his focus never strays far from the economic and political uncertainty of 1930s Europe. Finally, he uses the space with such economy and invention that it becomes impossible to resist the show’s intoxicating charms.

Mark Umbers and Scarlett Strallen play the feuding co-workers and would-be lovers. These two don’t just bicker, they hurl insults at each other like grenades. Their chemistry is sublime; combusting with euphoria in the one-two punch of “Vanilla Ice Cream” and “She Loves Me” in the second act. Umbers is immensely likable as the bookish and shy clerk, bringing out colors in the text that I’d never noticed before. Strallen, blessed with a lovely soprano, gives what feels like a close approximation of what Julie Andrews might have done with the part.

Katherine Kingsley is quite simply the best Ilona I’ve ever seen, combining expert comic timing with pathos. Kingsley’s real-life husband Dominic Tighe plays her Kodaly, the likable cad. They have a playfulness that most paired in the roles don’t have, and Tighe’s “Grand Knowing You” is an absolute riot. Alistair Brookshaw puts a new spin on weary, reliable Sipos, whose neuroses over job security wreak havoc on Georg’s life. Cory English plays the haughty head waiter with a mix of droll comedy and surprising warmth. Callum Howells is an endearing Arpad (and has the most charming Welsh accent) and Les Dennis (Mr. Maraczek) is particularly moving in his “Days Gone By” reprise. A favorite among the game ensemble: Aimee Hodnett. Ms. Hodnett’s nosy shop customer lived for the workplace drama at Maraczek’s, and I lived for the grace notes she was adding on the periphery.

Jason Carr’s new orchestrations sound better than the synth-heavy charts used in 1993. MTI should consider licensing his treatment for school, amateur and chamber productions. Catherine Jayes leads the band and conducts the show with sensitivity and depth. Paul Farnsworth’s jewel box of a set effectively uses four small turntables for transitions in and out of the shop. Farnsworth’s costumes are even better: his attention to period and character is beyond reproach.

She Loves Me runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory through March 4. No word yet on whether or not there will be a West End transfer. To the powers that be, I can only say: Don’t let it end, dear friends.

A New Old World Revisited

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Late in the second act of The Light in the Piazza, Margaret Johnson tells Signor Naccarelli “There is no survey of the facts like time.” He doesn’t understand what she means, but in the years since the show’s premiere I’ve come to appreciate what she was saying. Piazza opened on Broadway at Lincoln Center Theater on Monday, April 18 2005. I was in the house that night and fell hard and fast for a complex, character-driven musical for grownups. I’ve never had quite so visceral a reaction to any other show before or since.

The musical garnered favorable notices, and went on to win a whopping six Tony Awards (out of 11 nominations), extending its limited engagement four times, and airing as part of Live from Lincoln Center on PBS. Time has proven kind to the show. There have been many regional productions, the cast album is popular among musical theatre fans, and songs from the score are being sung to death in classes and auditions everywhere.

I first took notice of The Light in the Piazza in early 2003, when I saw a news article announcing that Victoria Clark had been cast for the world premiere at Seattle’s Intiman Theatre. Unlike most 19 year olds, I was familiar with the 1962 film adaptation of Elizabeth Spencer’s novella (because of its star Olivia de Havilland). The story involves Margaret Johnson, a wealthy southern matron and her beautiful daughter Clara, who are vacationing in 1950s Florence, Italy. Clara was injured in a childhood accident involving a Shetland pony, leaving her mentally and emotionally stunted. When love blooms between Clara and the handsome Fabrizio, Margaret steps in to try and stop them.

My friend Noah Himmelstein attended one of the early Broadway previews and called me afterward to tell me I had to see it. He told me I should sign up for the LCT student rush program and insisted I avoid any samples of music or preview clips before seeing it. I was staggered when I was able to score a $20 to the show’s opening night (my first).

My professors excused me from all my classes that day, and I decided to spend my afternoon roaming about midtown, before heading to the Beaumont Theatre (another first for me). I people-watched in the lobby as John Lithgow, Helen Hunt and Maggie Gyllenhaal walked by until it was time to settle in to my rear loge seat.

As for Adam Guettel’s score, it was love at first measure. The moment I heard that first harp gliss, I knew deep inside that I was going to love what I was about to hear. My most vivid memories of opening night are the rousing ovation Victoria Clark received for “Dividing Day,” observing the pair next to me clutching each other and weeping as Kelli O’Hara sang the title song, and how the applause would not subside until Adam Guettel, Craig Lucas and Bartlett Sher took a bow. My immediate reaction was to call Noah on my way out of the lobby, telling him it was the greatest musical I’d ever seen. He read me Eric Grode’s rave review from Broadway.com over the phone. When we hung up, I dreamily roamed about the plaza at Lincoln Center (almost bumping into Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer).

To say that the musical consumed my life would be an understatement. It was all I could talk about for the remainder of its run. I talked about the show at length with anyone who would listen (I’m still occasionally apologizing to my closest friends). I even bought the cast album the day before its official release at Colony Records, and it didn’t leave my CD player for five months.

Then came the repeat attending. I was living in New Paltz, NY at the time, going to college and working at the campus library. Sundays were my day off so I would take an early Trailways bus into Manhattan, pick up at a ticket at TKTS and spend my afternoon being transported to 1953 Florence. I was at the final performances of Mark Harelik and Kelli O’Hara, the Live from Lincoln Center telecast and the highly emotional closing performance. In all, I saw the original Broadway production of The Light in the Piazza twelve times. I only wish I had gone more.

Before it was officially announced, I found out that there would be a 10th anniversary reunion concert when one of the cast members posted his regrets that he couldn’t be there. It took some sleuthing, but I was able to figure out that it was indeed happening in April at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. (It’s actually the 11th anniversary, but that’s a minor point). The moment tickets went on sale, I tried to get LincTix but was told “We’re sorry there are no tickets available.” I tried again and got the same message. So I panicked and bought a full-price front row center seat in the loge. No regrets.

Appearing in the concert were original cast members (in alphabetical order) Michael Berresse, Sarah Uriarte Berry, David Bonanno, Victoria Clark, Patti Cohenour, Beau Gravitte, Mark Harelik, Jennifer Hughes, Felicity LaFortune, Matthew Morrison, Kelli O’Hara, Adam Overett, Joseph Siravo, and Diane Sutherland.

On the day of the concert I could hardly contain my excitement. I was doing something I never thought I’d get to do again: to hear this score sung by this cast in the same venue. As people gathered in the lobby I was flooded with so memories: people watching the first nighters by the understudy board, or trying the show’s signature cocktail on my 8th trip (it wasn’t great). I remember browsing through the cast albums at Tower Records or books at Barnes and Noble (both long gone), or just happily roaming the LC campus. Everywhere I looked the night of the concert, I saw friends, including some I had seen the show, the most poignant of all being Noah.

The orchestra, led once again by Ted Sperling, was onstage, centered between upstage pillars of the massive set for The King and I. It was a delightful surprise to hear the complete overture, which was abridged during the show’s preview period (but recorded in its entirety for the cast album).

The actors had chairs and music stands lined up towards the lip of the main stage area and performed the show mostly off-book in the thrust space. The cast was, if anything, better than they were ten years ago; deeper, richer. There was a magical combination of nostalgia and muscle memory. They hit similar marks from the original staging with just a few props. Certain line readings brought familiar laughs. They even went so far as to recreate the breathtaking hat trick that incites the love story.

Victoria Clark, who won a Tony for the original production, is still a tremendous force as Margaret, the guarded, patrician mother. Her beautiful dramatic soprano is the perfect complement for the charming, complex woman she created years ago, and dare I say it, she looks even better now than she did then. The show has inexplicably never played London, and I think it’s time that both Piazza and Ms. Clark made their West End debuts.

Kelli O’Hara was something of a revelation to me, which is a bit surprising considering I saw her in the original production seven times (and I thought her spectacular then). She was freer and funnier; more at ease with making Clara’s pain and confusion more layered and more deeply felt. Her soprano is in peak form and her upper register is flourishing. The evening showed just how much Ms. O’Hara has grown as an artist and a leading lady in the past decade. Her rendition of the title song was a bona fide showstopper, as though everything she had ever done in her entire career had built to that one flawless moment.

Sarah Uriarte Berry sounds better than ever, and was on fire as jaded Franca, giving the best performance I’ve seen her give of her first act solo “The Joy You Feel” (for the record, her high F in “Aiutami” was jaw-dropping). I’d love to see Ms. Berry take on The Bridges of Madison County as soon as possible. It was also great to see stalwart Patti Cohenour back on Broadway, even if only for one night. Her soprano is still strong and supple, and it was quite moving to see her wiping away copious tears during “Love to Me.”

Speaking of tears, emotions ran high throughout the night. At any given moment, you could catch a performer welling up whether it was Kelli onstage, Kelli watching Vicki, Vicki onstage, Vicki watching Kelli, etc. The audience and cast were practically ugly-crying as one by the end of “Fable.”

When the lights came up, the person next to me, a total stranger, handed me a tissue without saying a word. It was a profound experience for me; one of the most personal of my life. I was overwhelmed by memories of a very happy, joyous time in my life and was glad to be able to share it with so many friends, old and new.

‘Beautiful’ on LP

81-NypgJeaL._SL1500_ Since the long-playing record went out of vogue, very few contemporary cast recordings have been released on vinyl, the most notable being the original Broadway cast recording of The Drowsy Chaperone and the 2009 revival of Hair. These came courtesy of Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records, who also issued a limited vinyl edition of Beautiful, the hit bio-musical about Carole King currently playing the Sondheim Theatre. These three releases, while conceived as collector’s souvenirs, were in essence leading a return to form, as more musicals seem to be taking part in the current vinyl renaissance.

I’ve never been without a record player in my life, and I listen to LPs whenever I can. My very first cast album was the London My Fair Lady gatefold from Columbia. I was that nerdy child rummaging through boxes at second-hand bookshops and flea markets, picking out the Golden Age records that would start my life-long love of show music. (Spoiler alert: I am still that nerdy child). It’s different from popping on a CD or downloading an album from iTunes. Newer digital technologies are great for convenience, but the act of putting a record on a turntable, lifting a needle to the surface and waiting through those brief pops and crackles for the sound to pour out is a much more visceral, immersive experience. Plus, there’s the added pleasure of looking at the record sleeve and its artwork, allowing for greater appreciation of show logos and designs.

I don’t think Beautiful itself is a particularly great musical, but it is quite entertaining, especially thanks to its leading players. The show chronicles the early life and career of legend Carole King, her collaborator/husband (Gerry Goffin) and friends (songwriting team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil) through the late 50s and 60s, up to her Carnegie Hall debut in 1971. The story is told in a rote fashion, with most of the song cues feeling like elaborate setups for a bizarre game of Name That Tune. The first act spends much of its time showing King and co. at work in the Brill Building, surprising the audience with an “I bet you didn’t know she wrote this one” attitude. The second act focuses on King finding her own voice as a singer-songwriter, though I think the musical ends just as Carole King’s life starts to get really interesting.

What Beautiful had going for it – and this is the most important element of all – was its leading lady Jessie Mueller, who was a sensational doppelgänger for King. I’ve seen Ms. Mueller in almost everything she’s done since arriving in New York (with the exception of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) and she continues to astonish me. Her voice is one of the modern wonders of contemporary musical theatre, seemingly able to sing any role in any tessitura. Onstage and off, Mueller radiates warmth, charm and pluck. (She’s also my choice for a Broadway revival of Funny Girl. In the meanwhile, I look forward to her return in Waitress).

But Mueller was not headlining a solo show. There’s also the delicious pairing of Spector and Larsen as King’s close friends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. They are spectacularly warm, funny second bananas who should be headlining a separate Mann-Weil musical. (Billed as “The Carole King Musical,” Beautiful uses just a little too much of their tune-stack). However, Beautiful is even more enjoyable on second viewing. I went back to see it one more time before Mueller departed, and the issues I had were less problematic to me.

While I have my reservations about Beautiful the musical, Beautiful the cast album is a treasure.  Capturing the best of the show (its songs and performances), it plays quite well on disc, though I am more inclined to revisit Mueller, Spector and Larsen’s contributions than the slavish recreations of ’60s pop hits. As someone who hasn’t taken to the jukebox musical trend, I’m surprised how often I listen to the album, especially Mueller’s dynamic performance of the title song.

The idea to release Beautiful on LP came from marketing whiz Rick Miramontez over at O&M. Many of these were given out as voter swag to members of the various awards groups, ostensibly to capitalize on the nostalgia factor of Carole King among Baby Boomers. The vinyl release also went on sale at the theatre and from Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight’s website. It has since been made available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The CD release liner notes (with lyrics) have been beautifully repurposed for the gatefold interior, as well as the individual record sleeves.

Having purchased Beautiful from iTunes, and being quite aware of how it sounded on my iPhone, I was unprepared for the record experience. Mueller’s voice has considerable warmth, but somehow she sounds even warmer here. I stopped what I was doing to hear her sing those first lines of “So Far Away,” and immediately picked up the needle so I could hear it again. Mueller’s voice was made for vinyl. Plus, the LP release comes with a digital download card, so you’ll have the cast recording for your on-the-go needs.

This release was meant as a sort of novelty to cash-in on the show’s nostalgia. However, it seems to have come at a perfect time: sales of vinyls are up (as are sales of turntables). Sh-K-Boom has also released The Last Five Years film soundtrack as a 2-LP. Other musicals (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, School of Rock, If/Then) have released their Broadway cast albums released in the LP format. Word is Hamilton‘s best-selling and brilliant cast recording will be released on vinyl some time in 2016. Plus Masterworks Broadway has teamed up with Analog Spark to reissue some of their classic cast albums. I hope this is an encouraging sign of what’s to come because #yesrecords (and because I require the original Broadway cast recording of The Bridges of Madison County on vinyl).

An Elegy for Angus McIndoe’s

Much to my surprise, and the surprise of many in the NY theatre community, it was announced today that Angus’ Cafe Bistro (formerly Angus McIndoe Restaurant) would close Sunday, January 3 after 14-plus years on 44th Street next to the St. James. In all honesty, I can’t remember the first time I went to Angus, but it feels as though it’s always been part of my theatergoing life. I’m guessing it must have been in late 2007, or maybe early 2008; the details are lost to me. But it quickly became a regular hangout where I spent time with good friends, and where I met so many new and fascinating (and sometimes famous) people.

To be honest, the menu didn’t interest me all that much. They made a decent burger and an even better White Russian, so I was satisfied. The location was insanely convenient, since we were almost always coming from or going to a show. We were allowed to take up residence at our table or the bar for as long as we wanted (most often you’d find us near the large windows on the ground floor).

We got to know the staff that came and went, and they were always happy to see us. Brunches, lunches, dinners, or drinks – most often with theater bloggers; it was a time to savor. There were days, often Sundays, where we would start brunch at some other restaurant, but we eventually made our way to Angus for the afternoon, and sometimes evening. There were also those rare days where we’d start at Angus, go to our respective shows, and then meet back for further hijinks.

And what hijinks they were. Kari Geltemeyer and I spotted Stephen Sondheim grabbing a quick drink after the opening night of Gypsy in 2008. (Why we didn’t think of asking him to join our own opening night party, where we drank and read reviews until they shut down, is beyond me). After the closing of this same production, the cast made its way to Angus to celebrate. I asked Marilyn Caskey (Electra) what it was like appearing in the one-performance flop The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall. She told me I was the first person who had ever asked her about that show in her entire career.

Then there was the raucous night we closed down the joint with the West End Whingers and Baz Bamingoye, all stranded in NY because of that volcano in Iceland. Or after the first preview of Finian’s Rainbow, when SarahB and I were seated by Angus himself. It seemed that everyone we knew or wanted to know was there, as we chatted with Kate Buddeke and Kate Baldwin. Sarah and I were rechristened Elsa and Max that night, as we found ourselves singing “Edelweiss” with cast members from Superior Donuts.

After a pre-show drink before the opening night of Superior Donuts with Steve Loucks, Doug Lyon and Gil Varod, I met Elizabeth Ashley in the entrance alleyway. Though she was by herself, she seemed to be holding court, with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in another. I couldn’t resist myself and said hello, and we got chatting. She asked me my name and shook my hand. We chatted for about fifteen minutes mostly about her career, and it was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. Goodbyes were made when her friend (who happened to be Penny Fuller) showed up.

After the closings of both August: Osage County and [title of show], SarahB and I spent hours having a casual dinner and drinks, chatting and being ridiculous. I recall many other jaunts: after seeing A Little Night Music, Follies, Blithe Spirit — the list goes on and on. Angus was also the spot the Independent Theater Bloggers Association chose to celebrate the life of theater journalist Patrick Lee after his untimely death in 2010.

Following the closing of Mary Stuart, our party ended up at a table adjacent to Janet McTeer and Marian Seldes. Interestingly it was a table of nobodies who reprimanded our fun with a terse “PIPE DOWN, WILL YA!” (They apologized on their way out. As they should). That afternoon was as close as I’ve ever come to a full-on spit take in public.

The last time I went into Angus was about a year or so ago. I found myself nostalgic for the many good times I had spent there, but it was different. I didn’t know anyone who was working there anymore. I was still seated near the front window but even the interior had changed. I was later startled to walk by one day to discover the alleyway entrance was now the door to a fish and chips shop. The cafe’s entrance was now in the front, right where our corner roundtable once sat. I don’t know much about the restaurant business, but can’t imagine keeping a restaurant open in a prime area of NYC is an easy task. I’m sorry Angus is closing, but forever grateful for the many, many happy memories I had there with many, many wonderful friends.

The Year of Living Cinematically

Same as every other year: all films were watched in their entirety and all films that I’d never seen before have been marked with an asterisk.

*The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) 1/16
*Into the Woods (2014) 1/24
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) 2/2
*Pride (2014) 2/10
*Birdman (2014) 2/22
*The Great Race (1965) 2/27
His Girl Friday (1940) 3/25
1776 (1972) 6/5
Don’t Look Now (1973) 6/19
Breaking Away (1979) 6/24
A Man for All Seasons (1966) 6/24
The Remains of the Day (1993) 6/25
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) 6/28
*A Hard Day’s Night (1964) 7/4
*Marathon Man (1976) 7/8
*The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) 7/22
*The Strawberry Blonde (1941) 7/23
Waking Ned Devine (1999) 7/24
Sixteen Candles (1984) 8/1
*She’s Having a Baby (1988) 8/3
The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966) 8/6
Topkapi (1964) 8/15
*Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) 8/22
The Enchanted Cottage (1945) 8/23
*The L-Shaped Room (1962) 8/23
*The Moon Is Blue (1953) 8/24
The Magnificent Seven (1960) 9/2
*Centennial Summer (1946) 9/3
The Caine Mutiny (1954) 9/3
*Love Letters (1945) 9/5
Twister (1996) 9/7
*I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) 9/7
*Holy Matrimony (1943) 9/7
Moonrise Kingdom (2012) 9/23
Psycho (1960) 9/23
A Room with a View (1985) 9/29
The Addams Family (1991) 10/7
*Frankenstein (1931) 10/9
*Bride of Frankenstein (1935) 10/10
Addams Family Values (1993) 10/12
Day for Night (1973) 10/13
*The Mummy (1932) 10/16
Oklahoma! (1955) 10/19
My Fair Lady (1964) 10/20
*Dracula (1931) 10/24
*Gremlins (1984) 10/29
The Uninvited (1944) 10/30
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) 10/31
The Monster Squad (1987) 10/31
Halloween (1978) 11/1
In Cold Blood (1967) 11/18
The Bishop’s Wife (1947) 12/22
Christmas Vacation (1989) 12/26

My Favorite Performances, 2015

Kristin Chenoweth, On the Twentieth Century – Very rarely have I seen a marriage of performer and character more perfect than Chenoweth and Lily Garland. Ferociously funny, surprising, and using her multi-octave voice to breathtaking comic effect, she dominated from her entrance as a dowdy rehearsal pianist to her manic, idiosyncratic delivery of “How dare you?” in the last scene, which I found so hilarious, I almost had an asthma attack. A dazzling comic star turn.

Judi Dench, The Winter’s Tale – Shakespeare’s bizarre little play was given a beautiful production as part of Kenneth Branagh’s year-long season at the Garrick. As Paulina, King Leontes’ trusted advisor, Dench swept onto the stage and delivered Shakespeare’s dialogue as if it were as natural as breathing air. Her command and breathtaking control, particularly in scenes where her character is constantly on the verge of getting herself into serious trouble, gave me full-body chills. There’s a certain element of audience affection for a legend involved here, but a performance couldn’t stand on that alone. Dench has prove herself, once again, as one of the foremost Shakespearean interpreters of our time.

Ellen Greene, Little Shop of Horrors –  This summer’s Encores! presentation was more a revival in the religious sense than theatrical, with the faithful coming to worship at the altar of Ellen Greene. It’d been 33 years since Little Shop first opened off-Broadway, but Greene entered in that form-fitting dress, blonde wig and the years faded away. A triumph of humor and pathos, Greene resurrected the non-specific accent, dead-pan wit and heart as big as all out doors. The audience screamed its approval when she entered, and by the time she and her formidable co-star Jake Gyllenhaal finished “Suddenly Seymour,” the entire audience at City Center leapt to its feet for a thunderous standing ovation. During the character’s final scene, I’ve so rarely seen a performer make an audience vacillate between tears and laughter every other line. I rarely consider use the word “definitive,” but Ellen Greene’s Audrey is so perfect and iconic there is just no other term for it.

Matt Henry, Kinky Boots – I hadn’t seen Kinky Boots before its London production (because accents) and I am grateful to have seen Henry’s triumph as Lola (a role which won Billy Porter a Tony). Killian Donnelly slays as Charlie, the proprietor of the boots shop, but the evening belongs to Henry, who is fierce, funny, and moving. Mr. Henry’s flashy, flawless star turn is probably as close as we’ll ever get to Grace Jones in a stage musical.

Ruthie Ann Miles, The King and I – Providing formidable support in the court of Siam as Lady Thiang, some of Miles’ greatest moments were her arresting silences. She observed, listened, and absorbed in all her surroundings as the concerned mother of a Crown Prince, but also as the wisest person in the room. Watching her rejoice when her son accepts Mrs. Anna, or seeing her instant grief during the finale, hers was a performance of astonishing complexity. “Western People Funny,” a number that has proven problematic in recent years became, in her hands, a droll indictment of Western imperialism.

Kelli O’Hara, The King and I – A performance of such grace and strength, I found myself weeping with joy the moment she started to sing “Hello, Young Lovers,” and again many more times (most surprisingly “Getting to Know You”). She offers a first-rate rendering of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein score, and brings a staunch feminist sensibility to Mrs. Anna (some of which is due to Mr. Hammerstein, but Ms. O’Hara’s Anna isn’t taking guff from any man). Funny, heartwarming and often quite tender; it’s a performance I want to relive again and again.

Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion – Scheuer wrote and performed this solo bio-musical, which takes us through the highs and lows of his life (thus far). He touches on a complicated relationship with his father, a battle with cancer, but Scheuer’s memoir is inspiring and moving, never maudlin. He’s more of a singer-songwriter (and virtuosic guitarist) than actor, but his enthusiasm and connection with the audience was authentic, sincere and ultimately profound.

Chita Rivera, The Visit – Ms. Rivera headlined this dark, unrelenting weird musical adaptation of the Duerrenmatt play about a revenge-seeking widow. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the show after the first preview, but it kept me up most of the night thinking about. I ended up seeing the show three times (I liked it!), including the closing where Ms. Rivera, one of the legendary pros, went on with laryngitis. She modified what was a mesmerizing performance in the spur of the moment into something transcendent. I knew by the time she got to the end of the first line of her first song that we were in for something truly special. 85% of her singing was sprechstimme, making the moments she could actually sing all the more impactful. The lack of voice only seemed to enhance her performance; everything was more visceral, more haunting and more devastating. Her eleven o’clock number received a 75-second standing ovation. A master class like none other.

Imelda Staunton, Gypsy – This performance so rocked my solar plexus that I flew over to see the show twice more during its final week. Staunton’s Rose is a harrowing, yet irresistible creation with one foot in classical theatre and the other in musical comedy. I have never been so moved by this most classic of musicals. I didn’t think it was possible at this point to surprise me, but within 60 seconds of her entrance, I had gasped aloud in shock.  Staunton’s arc is so complex and fully-realized that it made her performance at the Savoy so unsettling real and perhaps identifiable. Her “Rose’s Turn” was less a mad scene than a journey of harsh self-discovery, and her immediate breakdown afterwards was a like an exorcism. What also astonished me was how her focus sharpened over the course of the run (I’ve seen other Roses who have gone off the rails by the end of their contracts) and made certain moments smaller, more disciplined, and ultimately more impactful and terrifying. The end result was the greatest performance I’ve ever seen in a musical.

Lydia Wilson, King Charles III – Mike Bartlett ingeniously repurposes the history play as futuristic speculation, taking a look at what might happen when Queen Elizabeth II dies and Prince Charles ascends the throne. Anchored with a Lear-like portrait of Charles by the sensational Tim Pigott-Smith, the play offers the blank verse, asides and even the ghost you might find in Shakespeare. What struck me most was Lydia Wilson’s portrayal of sunny Kate Middleton as a privately Machiavellian wife; a performance of such surprise cunning that she would make Lady Macbeth flee in terror. Her feminist soliloquy explaining her actions is one of the high points of this contemporary masterpiece.

The best ensemble I saw (out of so many great ones this year) was the cast of the Tooting Arts Club production of Sweeney Todd, which I saw during its return West End engagement. With the show was pared down to its barest elements, a cast of 8 and an audience of 69 experienced a most intimate, harrowing production of the Sondheim-Wheeler classic in the most apt location: a meat pie shop. We were seated at long tables on uncomfortable benches; there was even an option to eat pre-show pie and mash. Some audience members were pomaded, while others were lucky enough to have their throats briefly kissed by Sweeney’s razor. This conspiratorial atmosphere was so perfect that the audience didn’t applaud until the end of each act; it would have destroyed the magic. Jeremy Secomb, Siobhan McCarthy, Duncan Smith, Ian Mowat, Kiara Jay, Nadim Naaman, Joseph Taylor, and Zoë Doano were exceptional. (PS: you haven’t lived until Sweeney Todd has wielded a cleaver a foot from your head).