At Large Elsewhere: Stage-Rush TV Edition

In the last post, I mentioned toward the end that I made an appearance on Jesse North’s Stage-Rush TV (my 2nd!) co-hosting the 70th episode of his weekly web series about the goings-on in New York theatre, especially Broadway. This time around we talked about what shows I was looking forward to, as well as Kate Baldwin’s album, Sister Act and some of the Broadway grosses. Be sure to stick around to the very end.

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“How to Succeed” on Broadway

The team behind the upcoming 50th anniversary revival of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying has just unveiled the show’s first TV commercial. The production will star Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame and John Larroquette, who’s been making me laugh since his four-time Emmy winning turn on Night Court. Further casting has yet to be announced.

I have to admit it, I just love this show. Period. It’s got a funny libretto; an incisive, episodic satire of mid 20th century big business. Frank Loesser’s score is a delight (his lyrics are especially sharp). I keep both Broadway cast albums on my ipod at all times. The original production was a huge success, running 1417 performances and winning the Best Musical Tony and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, ever rare for a musical. The show was directed by co-librettist Abe Burrows and choreographed by Bob Fosse. Robert Morse, headlining as window-washer turned executive J. Pierrepont Finch, won a Tony and later recreated his role in the enjoyable if less edgy 1967 film adaptation. Charles Nelson Reilly also went home with a Tony as Finch’s nemesis Bud Frump. Rudy Vallee was the boss, Ruth Kobart his stern yet operatic secretary. The 1995 revival starred Matthew Broderick, who also won a Tony, and Megan Mullaly, running 548 performances with voice over narration by Walter Cronkite. Both productions played at the Richard Rodgers (née 46th Street) Theatre.

A few years back, another revival happening within this relatively short time period might have seemed unthinkable, but 15 years seems like eons when compared with Gypsy, La Cage Aux Folles and Ragtime. I’m really hoping the show does exceedingly well, but I do wonder if the recent revival of Promises Promises might have a curbing effect on How to Succeed. Both shows, while vastly different in tone and style, have a many parallels about 1960s corporate ambition and gender roles in the workplace. There’s no question in my mind that H2$ is a far superior show, a tongue-in-cheek satire whose book remains quite funny. Promises, Promises doesn’t have as strong a score, in spite of its Bacharach-David hits and Neil Simon’s book has been much criticized this time around.

I compare the two shows for two reasons. First, they are landing on Broadway within a year of each other.  Second, both productions share similar producers and more importantly, the same director/choreographer. Comparisons will be inevitable, especially since Promises, Promises was moved from its specific setting of 1968 into 1962, which puts it within the era of How to Succeed, in terms of visual look and period context. The critical reception of Promises was about as exciting as a root canal. While negative reviews haven’t curbed the box appeal (thanks to stars Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth), it does make me a little nervous what will happen with H2$. (Word of advice to Ashford – trust the material, don’t interpolate and remain true to the show’s time period. It isn’t broke. Don’t fix it).

Radcliffe may be a little younger than the usual Finch, but I think he and Larroquette are excellent choices for their respective parts. I’ve enjoyed seeing and hearing Radcliffe talk about the desire to theatre, as well as his enthusiasm at seeing the revival of Sunday in the Park with George. It seems that unlike most child stars, he’s quite intelligent, well spoken and interested in challenging himself and seems en route to a long career on both stage and screen.

The show starts previews on February 27 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Opening night is set for March 27.

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The Broadway Thriller

Does anyone remember the Broadway thriller? It was a popular genre around the middle of the 20th century, with entries that were both good and bad. Audiences would be thrust into a situation that was as terse and tense as the most popular Hitchcock film. One of the most popular was the British import Angel Street, which famously ran on Broadway for 1295 performances, about a woman in a fog-bound Victorian London being driven to madness in her own home. It’s best remembered from its Oscar winning adaptation Gaslight, which was also the play’s original title (and was the second major film adaptation in four years).

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In 1966, Lee Remick starred in one of my favorites: Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark, about a blind woman who is terrorized by drug smugglers. She is unknowingly in possession of a doll that is filled with heroin and they torment her viciously. However, the woman uses her strengths and instincts to put up a valiant fight. In the Broadway production and in its subsequent film adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn, as the story progressed to its climax, the lights in the theatre were brought down to the lowest legal allowances, allowing the audience to further understand the protagonist’s plight. I was rewatching the film recently and there is one really, really BIG scare toward the end of the film. Even though I’ve seen it before, it still got me!

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London is currently seeing a revival of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap about an author who is desperate for another hit and considers murdering another writer to steal his play. The original production was a Broadway blockbuster. The show ran for four years on Broadway, with featured star Marian Seldes appearing in every single performance. A 1982 film adaptation followed.This was slightly different as it mixed elements of dark comedy with the suspense and plot twists.

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There have been others, of course. Kind Lady, Sleuth, Dial M for Murder and The Bad Seed are some others that have played on the audience’s fears. (On the other end of the spectrum there was Children! Children! starring Gwen Verdon in her only non-musical outing on Broadway. That one opened and closed the same night). But it seems that nowadays that there isn’t much place for suspense on Broadway. I’d like to think this isn’t the case, but have there been any successful plays in recent memory that have also been notable thrillers? A revival of Wait Until Dark bombed in 1998 due to the miscasting of Quentin Tarantino as the main villain. Angel Street was last seen on Broadway in a 1976 revival. But perhaps the London Deathtrap may transfer to NY? I personally wouldn’t mind having the bejesus scared out of me at a Broadway show. How about you?

Broadway Injuries

Broken bones on Broadway aren’t a new phenomenon. It’s not a pleasant thing by any means, but in live performance there is the potential for injuries and illness, one of the few unfortunate aspects of the experience. There are explicit union instructions and regulations in place to help protect actors. For instance, whenever stage combat is required – whether it’s blow by blow or a sword fight – actors are required to attend what is known as fight call. It takes place about an hour before the show and involves the actors in the scene reviewing the fight choreography in slow motion, then a second time in regular motion. When I was in college, there was a specific flight call before a dance event for a main dancer to test the harness which would be sending him soaring through the air as a part of the choreography.

It was revealed in Michael Riedel’s column on Friday that actor Kevin Aubin of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark broke both of his wrists at a recent event for ticket brokers and group sales representatives. The show’s technical display is among the most complicated and expensive in the history of live theatre. It makes for additional fodder in the press, which has had a field day because of the show’s troublesome gestation and expense. Everything about the show is under the microscope and The environment staging of the show, which required the gutting of the Foxwoods Theatre, has been promoted as one of the most dazzling technical displays of our time. Most shows in general involve a traditional proscenium staging. Director Julie Taymor and her team have created some eye-popping effects, with actors flying out from all areas of the theatre. Riedel takes his requisite glee at these troubles, but raises the legitimate question as to whether or not the safety of the audience has been taken into consideration as well.

While everything in plays and musicals is carefully planned and executed – particularly dances, stage combat and aerial maneuvers, sometimes things go wrong. There have been cases where actors have wandered too far downstage and fallen in the pit. When Lisa Kirk did it in 1947’s Allegro, she got up without missing a beat and received a big laugh. She almost lost her job recreating the moment at the next performance. At that same performance, one of the dancers from the show got his tap caught in the stage track, tearing the ligaments and tendons in his legs. He had to be carried into the wings screaming. When a dancer fell offstage in Anyone Can Whistle in 1964, the pit musician on whom he fell died. In Mary Martin’s autobiography, she talked about taking flight in Peter Pan and due to the rudimentary technology would find herself being flown into sets and walls. Barbara Cook decided not to come to Broadway in Carrie when the malfunctioning set almost decapitated her on opening night.

One of the great disappointments is arriving at the theatre to discover that the star will be out. Gwen Verdon, the Tony-winning above the title star of Redhead, was well aware of this. When she was forced to miss the August 1, 1959 performance due to a severe sprain, the star came to the theatre and made the understudy announcement herself: “I’m sorry for the accident, but at least this will give me my first chance to see the show. I hope you’ll stay and see it with me.” She then made her way to a seat on the aisle and sat with the audience for the evening. According to Peter Filichia’s cast album liner notes, “only a handful did.”

Most shows deal with injury on a regular basis, which is also why some of the bigger dance shows have the confetti of understudy inserts in the Playbills. Sprained ankles, tumbles and falls are a part of the dancer’s life, most vividly brought to life by the character Paul in A Chorus Line. There have been many occasions where stars have gone on in spite of their injury, the audience none the wiser. (Carol Channing once performed Hello, Dolly! on tour from a wheel chair following a foot injury). However, there are many instances where that’s just not possible. Karen Olivo was forced to withdraw early from West Side Story after breaking her ankle. Fela! was forced to cancel a performance last fall when there were too many injuries and the understudies weren’t ready to go on. More recently, an actor in the Donmar revival of Passion suffered an eye injury when a pistol containing blanks misfired during a performance.

The most recent incident that made major headlines involved actor Adrian Bailey while the veteran was appearing in The Little Mermaid. The Disney musical was choreographed on heelies and with an intricate design. While running through various scenes before the show, the actor fell through a trap door in the set which sent him falling forty feet to the stage. Mr. Bailey suffered two broken wrists, a broken foot, several broken ribs, a fractured sternum and also broke his back and a shattered pelvis. His medical injuries required extensive surgery and rehabilitation. A lawsuit against Disney was filed and is currently in litigation.

As for Spider-Man, this production is going to be unlike anything we’ve seen before. According to producer Michael Cohl, safety is a top priority. That said, from a physical element, everything that is done in the theatre will have to meet city and state regulations. While I know the intent is to wow the audience with its spectacle, I do hope they remember the safety of their actors, and in this case, the paying audience as well.

“She Loves Me”: An Appreciation

When people find out that I’m an avid theatergoer or that I know a lot about musicals, I get asked “So, what’s your favorite?” It’s not the easiest question to be asked, and the same goes for favorite book (East of Eden? To Kill a Mockingbird?) or movie (The Third Man? The Godfather?). I really don’t know and hate having to make a decision. I try whittling it down and leave myself several options as that remains more indicative of range, taste and interest. However, there are my “top three” that I use as a quick answer: The Light in the Piazza, She Loves Me and Sweeney Todd.

Piazza stems from an intensely personal experience with the show, which I saw 12 times in its original Broadway run. Sweeney Todd is one of the most brilliant and audacious ideas I’ve ever seen executed in a musical, and I got to see it on Broadway in its acclaimed 2005 revival. It’s a slightly different story with She Loves Me: I’ve never seen it live. I’ve watched the 1978 BBC-TV version and I own two versions of the libretto – the original 1963 text and 1993 revision. I have the four English language cast albums, the Viennese cast, two instrumentals plus a live recording of the 1977 Town Hall revival with Madeline Kahn and Barry Bostwick and the composer demo. A few weeks ago I picked up an original playbill at the Broadway Flea Market.

The musical, with a sublime score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and a sharp, near-perfect libretto by Joe Masteroff, opened on Broadway in 1963. It was Harold Prince‘s first original directorial project. (He stepped into the troubled A Family Affair after the original director didn’t work out). Officially based on Miklos Laszlo‘s play Parfumerie, you might recognize the plot from the various films inspired by the same source: The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime and You’ve Got Mail. A guy and a girl fight and bicker every time they see each other (in all but You’ve Got Mail, they’re coworkers) and unbeknownst to them they are smitten pen pals who meet through a lonely-hearts ad.

For the musical, Barbara Cook and Daniel Massey were hired to play the at-odds lovers Amalia and Georg. Julie Andrews was originally sought, but due to some filming requirements she was unavailable. She told Prince that if he could wait, she’d do it, but he was adamant about getting the show up and moved on. Rounding out the cast were Nathaniel Frey (who was also part of Prince, Bock & Harnick’s Pulitzer and Tony-winning Fiorello! four years prior), Jack Cassidy, Barbara Baxley, Ludwig Donath and Ralph Williams. Carol Haney provided the musical staging.

The jewel box of a show opened to rave reviews at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre where it ran for 302 performances and folded at a loss, overshadowed by bigger musicals that year. It was nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Musical, but only took home one award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Cassidy, as the lothario). Its original London staging, which featured some changes for the British audiences, lasted 189 performances. Andrews was set to reclaim the role that was almost hers in a film adaptation opposite Dick Van Dyke. However, when film musicals started falling out of favor toward the end of the 1960s, those plans were scrapped.

In spite of its financial failure, the show remained a favorite of musical enthusiasts. The show was revived by Roundabout in 1993 in a highly acclaimed production starring Boyd Gaines (who won a Tony) and Judy Kuhn. The show was popular enough to warrant a commercial transfer, moving to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre for an extended run of 354 performances. However, it once again closed in the red. The Roundabout revival crossed the pond for its first London revival earning Ruthie Henshall an Olivier. The production ran a year, but it too lost money.

So the show doesn’t guarantee coin, but it is, in my estimation, one of the most perfectly constructed musicals ever written and is hugely popular with colleges and regional theatres. I am particularly taken with the characters and how real and three-dimensional they seem, especially George and Amalia. We have a glimpse into two musical theatre characters who aren’t the juvenile and ingenue singing stock platitudes about falling in love. Instead we see two real people, lonely yet lovable, singing of their insecurities and fears and the discovery of falling in love. This charm pervades the other characters; even the cad is somewhat lovable. Out of the numerous variations of Lazslo’s play, this is my favorite (though I enjoy the Lubitsch touch on The Shop Around the Corner).

I first discovered the score in high school, borrowing the original cast CD from the library. In an unusual move for a cast album, MGM Records gave the score a 2-LP set, allowing the entire score to be preserved. This original cast album is one of my all time favorites, with definitive performances and sumptuous original orchestrations by Don Walker, whose charts expertly evoke an Eastern European sound and style. The comic numbers are genuinely funny and honest and Amalia’s ballads are among the best musical theatre material ever written for a soprano. The OBCR is one of those albums I would take with me to that proverbial desert island; one of my holiday traditions is to play the cast album every Christmas Eve (which is the night of the show’s climax). It also preserves one of the most satisfying finales in musical theatre history.

The song that first stood out to me on that first listen turned out to be the most famous song from the score: “Ice Cream.” I’ve cited it before as an example of what I call “Musical Theatre Zen” but it bears repeating that it’s one of the loveliest theatre songs ever written. Amalia, thinking she was jilted by “Dear Friend” (who is naturally Georg, who helped ruin her evening by showing up as himself and antagonizing her), is home sick from work. George comes to apologize, get her to go to work and brings her a carton of vanilla ice cream to cheer her up. Renewed and refreshed, she sets about writing another letter, but is now distracted by this new admiration for her former enemy, culminating on a joyous mock cadenza with high B natural. It came full circle for me in 2003, when I sat third row center at Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim at the Paramount Center for the Performing Arts in Peekskill, NY. Cook, then 76, sang the song and stopped her show with a flawless interpretation – and in the original key too. (This song and “Tell Me I Look Nice” which was cut out of town made Sondheim’s list of songs he wished he had written).

I’d love to see a NY revival of the musical. Even though it was last seen on Broadway in 1994, I think audiences would once again welcome the show with open arms. A current Chicago production once again brought the piece raves. It would be nice to see this charming musical brought back to Broadway for another generation. Or just for me.

“The Scottsboro Boys”: A Story to Tell

This is hands down the best TV commercial for a Broadway show I’ve seen in quite a while. One of the topics Stage Rush’s Jesse North and I discussed after the first preview of The Scottsboro Boys (but not on-air) was the show’s marketability. With a tough storyline, hard-hitting concept and all around edginess, this isn’t your ordinary, everyday family/theme park musical. The show’s team has done exemplary work on this 30 second spot. Needless to say, one look at this commercial and I want to see it again. Also, the original off-Broadway cast recording was released by Jay Records this week and is a must-have.

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“Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit & The Biggest Flop”

In Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit & The Biggest Flop of the Season, critic/columnist/author Peter Filichia took it upon himself to examine the Broadway musicals of the last half century, putting together his personal list for the biggest hit and flop of each year. Now, that’s not to say his list is a best and worst sort of deal; he’s more interested in which show was the biggest success or the biggest fall from grace.  He offers analysis of the shows, plus some unique perspectives on the material. On some of the biggest hits of all time, he offers some suggestions that might have made the show better. There are a couple of hits that he clearly has little love for, as well. With financial success as the most critical factor, it’s much easier to pinpoint the break-out hits of the season than failures. In dealing with the flops, he also takes into consideration critical response, award recognition, and most importantly, expectations.

From 1959-2009, he gives us glimpses not only into the good and bad, but also into the shifts in sensibilities and styles over the years. Also, Filichia spices up his conversation by following the traditional definition of a Broadway season June 1 to May 31 – not the Tony season, which means that some Best Musical winners end up in a face-off.

A couple quick examples: I found myself nodding in agreement with Peter’s assessment of 1776, for which he makes an incredible valid argument that it has the greatest libretto of all time (and gives his reasons why it trumps Gypsy in his estimation, too). On the other hand, I wasn’t as enthralled with 1969-70’s greatest hit, Applause, which he listed certain attributes to defend it in comparison to the film. (Not saying he prefers the show, but just pointing out certain strengths). But I think we can both agree it’s not an especially revivable property (After that Encores! concert, I wouldn’t mind if I never saw it again). It’s his opinion, for sure, but his statements are valid and he is able to back them all up.

He goes into the some greater detail with the flops, running the gamut from The Pink Jungle, a camp mess starring Ginger Rogers and Agnes Moorehead that folded out of town to 9 to 5. Frankly, it is usually more interesting reading how it all went wrong than right, which is part of the appeal for flop enthusiasts like myself. There are even a couple of shows listed here that I knew nothing about, particularly one that closed before rehearsals even started. More shows fail than succeed, and therefore there are some years where he weighs several different options before settling on his final choice. There are also some interesting correlations as creative staffs find themselves with the biggest hit one season..then the biggest failure some time later. (There are also three musical sequels on the list). Stephen Sondheim isn’t represented in the biggest hits column, but has three shows in the failure column. As a consolation, Peter allows the composer/lyricist the final word. And, yes, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue makes the cut, and not without the requisite praise for Patricia Routledge’s “Duet for One.”

The book makes for a rather quick, engaging read, each show receives similar treatment to the flops in Ken Mandelbaum’s Not Since Carrie, a compilation of essays. It’s well-researched, but I know for fact that Peter has seen many of the shows he talks about himself. His recall is impressive and can pretty much remember every single show he has seen. There are a couple of small errors here and there but nothing extraordinary (if Applause Books wants to hire me to proofread, I’m available). If you read the book, I also encourage you dropping Peter an email; not only is he incredibly gracious but he gladly welcomes the conversation (We’ve been in contact for over eight years now, starting when I was a freshman in college!).

And finally, whether or not he chose Prettybelle or Lolita My Love as the biggest flop of 1970-71, well, I don’t want to spoil everything…

New Music

Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve been generally underwhelmed by the new Broadway musicals. But taking a look at the new musical line up for 2010-2011, my interest is rather piqued. The pedigree is varied, and the ideas ranging from fascinating to bemusing. It’s just shaping up to be a memorable year all around (plays, revivals, star vehicles, etc). I’m not going to talk about the shows that will be built around pre-existing music (Rain, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) or the revivals (How to Succeed, Anything Goes). But here are some thoughts on new musicals scheduled to open this year:

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – I’m not really what anyone would deem an emo kid, however, I have a weakness for U.S. History and especially for musicals which involve historical figures and presidents (1776, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Assassins). From the Public comes this fascinating idea of telling the story of Andrew Jackson, one of our most rogue presidents (whose inauguration makes keggers look like high tea in comparison) with a rock score. I wasn’t too impressed by the press event performance, but that hasn’t curbed my interest in seeing the show when it starts performances (I tend to trust the Public Theatre’s judgment). It appears that Benjamin Walker is giving the performance of a lifetime as our nation’s 7th President. My copy of the cast album, which I won on a whim via a twitter contest, should arrive shortly. The show opens Oct. 13 at the Jacobs.

The Scottsboro Boys – This is the one that keeps popping in my head first. It’s got a score by Kander and Ebb, their last to be performed, book by David Thompson and direction/choreography from Susan Stroman. The subject matter is rather serious stuff, but having listened to the score I’m fascinated and riveted (and “Go Back Home” is one of the loveliest ballads I’ve heard in a while). The production makes use of minstrelsy as a concept/framing device. Word of mouth is extraordinary. Reviews are also quite positive, even the negative notice in the NY Times further fueled my interest. The show opens Oct 31 at the Lyceum.

Women of the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown – Lincoln Center has assembled an all-star lineup here and is easily one of the most buzzed about new shows of the season. Now, an all-star lineup doesn’t guarantee success (Paradise Found, anyone?) but it certainly makes it something to look forward to. Lots of favorites in the cast: Patti, Stokes, Benanti, and leading lady Sherie Renee Scott singing a score from the highly underrated David Yazbeck under the direction of the estimable Bartlett Sher. Even if the show weren’t something to anticipate, the musical is housed in the newly renovated Belasco Theatre and I am chomping at the bit to just be inside. Opening night is scheduled for November 4.

Elf – Though I love me some Christmas and even have a Broadway playlist of Christmas related songs on my ipod, I am not a big fan of Christmas shows and spectaculars. This has always been the case; I’ve never been engaged with them as a kid, preferring concerts and meditative services to razz-matazz. Wild horses couldn’t draw me to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. However, I love Christmas movies and Elf, in particular, is a recent favorite. It’s funny and charming without being overly saccharine. I’m curious how it will adapt, especially because Ferrell is such a huge part of why the film works, but I’m ready and willing to give this one a try. Plus it’s got George Wendt as Santa, which to me seems inspired. The show opens at the Hirschfeld on November 14. Limited holiday engagement closes January 2.

SpiderMan: Turn Off the Dark – I’m tired of conjecture and innuendo; I just want to see the show and draw my opinion from that. It will be visually stunning, that’s always a given when Julie Taymor is involved. The curiosity is whether or not the script and score (by Bono and the Edge) have the substance required for a memorable evening. Then again given the hefty price tag and the names involved, this one could very well be Broadway’s answer to the Hollywood summer blockbuster. The debut performance on GMA the other day didn’t really impress me, especially in regards to star Reeve Carney. I understand it was a concert performance, but he was incredibly lacking in charisma. Peter Parker doesn’t exactly cry out for a Robert Preston type turn, but I hope Carney has the energy and wattage to carry the $50 million show. The long-delayed show will officially open December 21 at the Foxwoods (nee Hilton).

The Book of Mormon – I’ll never forget how surprised I was by South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut which was one of the funniest, most irreverent and cleverly written musical comedies in recent memory. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are now trying Broadway, with the assistance of Avenue Q Tony-winner Bobby Lopez on the lyrics. Parker and another Avenue Q alum Jason Moore will direct. Joseph Smith establishes the Mormon religion while contemporary missionaries go to Uganda. Hijinks ensue. Given the reputations of everyone involved, it’s bound to be tuneful, offbeat and an equal opportunity offender. I’m game. The show opens at the Eugene O’Neill on March 24.

Sister Act – I wish I could say I were more excited for this, but I’m not. I’m a big fan of the film and nuns in general; I remember being amazed when I was in third grade seeing groups of nuns going to the movie theatres. But I was even more amazed at how fun and enjoyable the film was. The novelty of the film’s score, taking popular Motown songs and adapting them for a religious context, is what really gave the film its charm. Alan Menken and Glenn Slater have provided a new score which doesn’t serve the film as well as one would hope. It’s got slick, entertainment value but none of that charm (and Slater’s lyrics in general tend to be rather mundane). However, there is something about this show that excites me: the truly fabulous Patina Miller. She starred in the show in London and appears to be destined for stardom. No word on whether she is coming to NY, but I hope that is the case. However, Jerry Zaks is taking over the reigns for Broadway, so we shall see how it all turns out in the end. The London production closes Oct. 30. The new musical is rumored  to replace Promises, Promises at the Broadway Theatre, with previews starting in March. Opening night has yet to be announced.

Wonderland – I don’t like to think of myself as a negative person. Cynical on occasion, yes. But let’s just say I’m for the most part cautiously optimistic. This is a show I just have no interest in whatsoever. Of all the new musicals opening this year it’s the one I’m least interested in seeing. Frank Wildhorn just doesn’t do it for me. Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Civil War and Dracula are all lackluster musicals and his track record – even though he managed to have three shows running simultaneously  – is quite disappointing. The musical is a revisionist take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But like I said, I’m cautiously optimistic and perhaps my instincts on this will be wrong. The musical opens April 17 at the Marquis.

Yank! has been pushed off for a year to overhaul its libretto, which I think is for the best. The show has promise but in its off-Broadway berth, I felt it really need work. Bobby Steggert remains attached, with David Cromer now directing (which should prove interesting). Love Never Dies is postponed again indefinitely. For now. It continues to run in London, though most people I know disliked it immensely. The score is drab; the title song sounds like the theme to The Apartment and its story is in a word, pathetic. Work continues on the show in London and plans for a Toronto run are underway. Broadway isn’t in the sights at the moment, but something tells me that unlike Whistle Down the Wind, this show may see the light of Broadway.

The Time Machine

My buddy Steve is asking folks about the original casts they would have liked seeing on his site. (Be sure to drop over to vote in his poll!) This was originally going to be a post on his comments, but after a while I realized it would be obscene to post this, so I moved it here:

It seems every so often there is a show or a production that entices me to wonder what it was like to be in the house. When I talk to older theatregoers I always ask them about their first show and their favorite show (depending on the time we have). I’ve never been anything but fascinated by the responses I get. And I find I’m always saying, “Gosh, I would have loved seeing that!” So I made what I call my “Time Machine” list. Whenever there’s a new one I just add it to this mental list. It’s ever growing, because the more I read and the more I learn the more fascinated I become. There are countless shows that come to mind as something I would have liked seeing – and almost all of them are original casts.

Even now, I tend to have a preference for original stars. There have been a couple of times where I’ve let some shows pass me by because I wasn’t really interested in the new cast members. If original cast members return for the close, it usually sparks up on my radar again. Case in point: David Cromer in Our Town (which I saw last night, more on that later) and Harvey Fierstein and Marissa Jaret Winokur in Hairspray (I went the day before the show closed). So if there’s a chance to see the originals, yeah I’m there. Are there productions where I would have preferred seeing the originals? Yes: Proof and The Producers. But here’s a short list of some of those shows that were on the boards before I was born that I would love to have seen:

Follies – Of the original Sondheim-Prince collaborations this is the one I’d want to see most, in fact I’d love it if City Opera were able to bring this production back to life in its repertory (they already have Prince’s Sweeney Todd, which along with Pacific Overtures has been preserved for posterity. I’ve watched those brief video highlights from the dress rehearsal which only makes me want to see it more. It is the sort of production that would be unthinkable today and fiscally impossible. It seems that Prince never expected to make money off of this show – and he didn’t. The show closed after 522 performances, losing its entire investment. But oh those costumes, the scenery and the staging. Michael Bennett’s “Who’s That Woman?” is considered by many to be the greatest production number. Ever. That original cast is well-remembered and likely never to be forgotten.

Gypsy – Merman. Lansbury. Daly. It’s one of the of best musicals of all time. Ethel Merman with Jerome Robbins’ original staging (and a smash like none other)? I’d probably be agreeing with Walter Kerr’s assessment that it’s “The best damned musical I’ve seen in years.” The part was tailor made to her talents. Criticisms from the creators be damned, it’s Ethel Merman in her last original role on Broadway belting it like no other and being challenged like she had never been before. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I like to think Lansbury was the best from the evidence I’ve seen – balls-to-the-wall, riveting and simultaneously gutteral and alluring. Daly is a superb actress and her cast album doesn’t give her performance its due. I’ve seen a bit on youtube, but I would love to have been in the St. James when she bent over and attacked the stage during “Rose’s Turn.”

Mame – Angela Lansbury is required viewing. SarahB and I would take the time machine all the way to Hotel Paradiso in 1957 to Prettybelle in Boston in 1971. But this is the one out of all of them I want to have been there for. Lansbury ir in her Tony winning, take the town by storm tour de force performance? That score, that staging and choreography – and all of New York falling at Lansbury’s gold lame pajama pants. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Lansbury, and forever changed her career and her life (and is the first of her five Tony wins). The cast album remains a desert island selection, but boy I would have loved seeing her with my other favorite Bea Arthur.

My Fair Lady – Lerner and Loewe besting Rodgers and Hammerstein at their own formula? (Well, I suppose it’s debatable, but don’t tell my musical professors that). The musical adaptation of Pygmalion is one of my personal favorites – I played Freddy Eynsford-Hill in my high school production and am quite proud of what I did when I was 17 (and would love the chance to do it again). It’s a shimmering score – Lerner and Loewe’s true triumph. The book is Lerner’s best; none of the shows he wrote before or after ever had a book this strong (of course, he had Shaw to thank there). From the first strains of that overture to the finale, it’s an utter masterpiece. Add to the formula Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison, Robert Coote & Stanley Holloway and I’m done.

She Loves Me – When asked my favorite musicals, I usually give three answers: The Light in the Piazza, Sweeney Todd and this charmer. I saw Piazza on its opening night and have seen various tapes of Sweeney over the years (and was there for its 2005 revival). But I have never had the chance to see this one. It’s original cast album is a sparkling jewel from start to finish. It’s my favorite Bock & Harnick show, with some of their best character numbers which perfectly complement Joe Masteroff’s lovely libretto. Start to finish, nothing but pure love. I listen to this cast album ever New Year and the finale gets me ever time. Barbara Cook’s “Ice Cream” will never be topped.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – One of these is not like the other. It’s of course obvious that I would place this one on my list. The show is a notorious flop with an absolute mess of a book but a stunner of a score. Patricia Routledge, a Tony winner for Darling of the Day (we’ll have already stopped there on the way), gets a mid-show standing ovation for “Duet for One.” I mean, how fascinating is that? She stirs up a bored crowd into a manic frenzy over nine minutes of stage time. Then Routledge leaves the stage until the finale and the audience, though titillated, is already sad to see her go.

South Pacific – If I had to choose one of the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, this would be the one. Yes, it’s my personal favorite of all of them and the revival is fresh in my memory. But can you imagine being there when it was a critical and cultural phenomenon? Four years since WWII ended, folks are still quite well aware of the battles of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, etc and there is still a lot of mourning and remembering. This show opens at the Majestic with that cast – still the only production in the history of the Tony Awards to sweep all four acting categories. Sure, I’ve seen Juanita Hall in the film and Mary Martin in the archival tape of the London production, but it doesn’t beat actually being there.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – I loved the 2005 revival, which I saw twice and of course have seen the Oscar-winning film adaptation. But it wasn’t until I got my hands on the original cast album (you read that right) that I realized what a stunning production the original was. Uta Hagen leads the charge as the definitive Martha; vulgar, hilarious and devastating. The show was revived in 1976 with Colleen Dewhurst, and since I’m a huge fan of hers, I would have like seeing her spin.

Some runners-up: Show Boat (1927), Coco, A Streetcar Named Desire (I’d take in the original with Tandy, national tour with Hagen, the 1973 revival with both Rosemary Harris and Lois Nettleton), Auntie Mame, Inherit the Wind, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Glass Menagerie, The Apple Tree, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, High Spirits, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Ballroom, Nine, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Call Me Madam, Candide, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Kismet, Allegro, Love Life, The West Side Waltz, Carnival, Illya Darling, A Chorus Line, The Music Man, Carnival in Flanders, 1776, A Little Night Music, Grand Hotel, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Mary Mary, West Side Story, Bells Are Ringing, Fiddler on the Roof, and…