A Decade in Review

As we approach the end of 2010 as well as the first decade of the 21st century (There’s no such thing as Year 0 in our calendar), I’ve been looking back on the ten years of theatregoing I have had and have compiled a list of some favorite moments:

January 9, 2001 – It was my third Broadway show, but the sublime revival of Kiss Me Kate was the first show in NY that made me feel as though I were ten feet in the air. Stylish, elegant and irrepressibly funny, I went with my high school AP English classes (one section was reading The Taming of the Shrew). Starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie (whom I adored from the original cast recordings of Ragtime), the revival (at the Martin Beck). I can remember every detail. We gathered after school, caught a train and headed right to TKTS (my first time at the booth) then dinner at TGI Fridays. I sat with my favorite English teacher, Fran Schulz, and we just laughed and laughed. We were breathless by intermission and practically needed oxygen by the end of act two. It’s become the standard by which I judge all musical comedy revivals. The London company was preserved for PBS telecast and DVD, but that incarnation doesn’t live up to my memories of this enchanted evening.

July 9, 2002 – Noises Off! I didn’t think I’d see the revival, which had recently won a Tony Award for featured actress Katie Finneran. However, while roaming the local mall on school break with a friend, I saw there was a contest for free tickets to the production. For the hell of it, I just put my name on the piece of paper and tossed it into this vat of thousands of slips. You can imagine my surprise when I got a phone call telling me how to arrange my free tickets. Knowing that the revival’s original cast would be departing, I arranged for the final week of their run. I’m glad I did; it was one of the most hilarious productions I’ve ever seen. It was my first time seeing Patti LuPone, Faith Prince, Richard Easton and T.R. Knight onstage. On top of it, it was also the first time I stage-doored a production and as a result I fell in love with Katie Finneran, who showed me great personal kindness and graciousness in a brief moment. Noises Off was the funniest production I’d seen until The Norman Conquests in 2009.

November 27, 2003 – Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim. I’ve long been a huge admirer but had never seen her perform live. Then I received word that she’d be in my very town while I was on Thanksgiving break. I had the CD of the 2001 Carnegie Hall concert, which featured Malcolm Gets. However, in Peekskill, it was just Barbara and her three man band. I sat in third row center and just basked in the performance. Her nuance with the lyrics, her warmth and humor, the depth of her feeling as she delved into the lyrics. The pinnacle, though, was hearing Cook sing “Ice Cream” her trademark number from She Loves Me. In the original key, no less. Chalk that one up to musical theatre zen.

May 27, 2004. I’ve talked about this day before, as it remains one of the most important of my life. Without the final performance of Gypsy with Bernadette, I wouldn’t have such marvelous friends like Noah and SarahB (and the extended family as a result). It was my first time at a Broadway closing (I’ve now done 14) and it was the first time I ever went backstage at a Broadway house. It was also the first time I saw Bernadette onstage, and in spite of what you see in print these days, her performance was well received by critics and audiences alike. And she should have won the damn Tony.

April 18, 2005. My first opening night. The Light in the Piazza at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. (To date I have done 7 opening nights). It was the start of an obsession with a superlative musical, which I ended up seeing 12 times throughout its run. There have been many other important theatregoing experiences of my life, but none that have been this magical. Victoria Clark’s performance as Margaret Johnson was one for the ages, and Kelli O’Hara was equally sublime as her daughter. Adam Guettel’s score was one of the best of the decade and it’s a shame we haven’t yet heard anything new from this brilliant composer/lyricist.

December 4, 2007 – August: Osage County opening night at the Imperial. I’d never gotten more dressed up or cared more about my appearance than this particular opening, as I was a guest of Noah. Because of the union strike, the opening had been delayed and by my great good fortune I was allowed to attend. It was a lot of fun standing in the lobby with Sarah, Kari and Sally people watching people as the stars made their entrance into the lobby. But what was even more amusing was the fact that there were celebrities who were there because they just had tickets for that performance – and celebrities who brought celebrity friends as plus-ones. But nothing prepared me for the searing power of Tracy Letts’ play with a dynamite cast including Deanna Dunagan, Amy Morton and Rondi Reed. After the second act, I was in need of air. Saw this three and a half hour play 7 times.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007. My first post-Tony performance. We were in attendance after Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson won Tonys for their brilliant work on Grey Gardens. I had seen and loved the show earlier in its Broadway run, but the audience at this show made it something to behold. The applause at the top of the show threw the actresses off of the pre-recorded track (charmingly saved by Wilson) and Ebersole received the only second act standing ovation I’ve ever seen upon her entrance as Little Edie just before stopping the show with “The Revolutionary Costume for Today.”

March 27, 2008 & April 4, 2008. Two glorious revivals of American musical classics opened: Gypsy at the St. James Theatre, South Pacific at the Vivian Beaumont. I was in attendance for both and just adored both productions. I’m of the school that loved both Bernadette and Patti, so comparisons are a moot point there. However, this second revival was aided considerably by the sublime Tony-winning performances of Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines. Over at Lincoln Center, Bart Sher directed what is probably the best production of a musical I’ve ever seen. Superbly cast, thrillingly sung and acted – and that orchestra of 30. I couldn’t ask for a better week at the theatre (interspersed between the two were favorite flops Juno and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue/A White House Cantata).

May 11, 2008. Two-fold. Brunch at Joe Allen’s and No No Nanette at City Center Encores. Each in itself was an event worth rejoicing, but the combination made it a day for the ages. It was the first gathering of the Bloggers Who Brunch (as I like to call our gatherings). At that point, I had only been blogging for seven months and it was the first time I was aware that there were other people whom I didn’t know that were reading what I had to write! It was the start of many wonderful friendships that I continue to cherish wholeheartedly. The afternoon was spent SarahB in my first visit to the TLC before we took in the fabulous production of Nanette, which is still the best of the best when it comes to the Encores productions I’ve seen – and the only one I think deserved a Broadway transfer. The performances were all top-drawer (esp. Sandy Duncan and Beth Leavel), the choreography was sublime as were the costumes and orchestrations and… well everything. The evening ended at Seppi’s afterward with many of the folks from brunch, all of us smiling and singing “I Want to Be Happy” until the wee hours.

March 15, 2009. I had seen Angela Lansbury make her Broadway return in Terrence McNally’s Deuce opposite Marian Seldes and I would see her sublime portrait of Madame Armfeldt in the revival of A Little Night Music. But there was something extra-special about her Tony-winning performance as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit. I never would have imagined Lansbury would have such a Broadway renaissance, but am so grateful to have been here to witness it. As Arcati, Lansbury was an utter delight and continued to become even more entertaining as the run progressed. She nailed every laugh, gesture and indignant expression. And watching her improvise her spirit dance around the Condomine living room was worth the price of admission. This opening night was like something out of a 50s movie: tie and tails, elegant evening gowns and a party at Sardi’s. We maintained our own mad-cap party of sorts on the street and gleefully applauded the Liz Ashley as she got into her car (“I’m not in the show!”)

May 16 & July 26, 2009 – The Norman Conquests. I had been out of the country for the birth of my nephew when the announcements and the marquee went up and was a little surprised to see the play’s logo at Circle in the Square upon my return. I confess, I knew very little about Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy of plays. But on a whim, I decided to take in a Saturday marathon of all three. It would become one of the most personally satisfying theatrical experiences of my life. A brilliant ensemble, impeccable direction by Matthew Warchus made these plays the funniest dramas or the saddest comedies I’ve ever seen. I was aching with laughter. I loved it so much, I had to be there for the final marathon which only cemented its place in my estimation. The ensemble was brilliant, but Stephen Mangan’s turn as Norman remains a personal favorite of all time.

September 18, 2009. I only knew of The Royal Family from its place in theatrical lore, but was excited to see the play at Manhattan Theatre Club. Sarah and I attended this early preview and were in awe. Jan Maxwell owned the stage as Julie Cavendish, in a sublime study in comedy. I also just adored Rosemary Harris as the aging matriarch, whose eleven o’clock moment took my breath away both times I saw the show. But more than the production itself, it was the way it made me feel – I loved the Cavendish dynasty and reveled in their love of all things theatre and would have loved to have been a member of the extended family.

December 12, 2010 – The final performance of The Scottsboro Boys. The performance was brilliant, as I knew it would be. However, it was the audience that surprised me this time. Before the show started, the audience gave composer John Kander a spontaneous full-house standing ovation – a gesture I’ve never seen in my ten years of theatregoing. At the curtain call, Kander toasted the late Fred Ebb, librettist David Thompson toasted the real-life Scottsboro Boys and director/choreographer Susan Stroman toasted the entire audience.

Every trip to the theatre is a memory for me, some good and some bad. (The Philanthropist, Bye Bye Birdie, The Ritz, Next Fall… but why dwell on the negative?) So here’s to the next decade and all the wonderful theatre it will bring.

Coming Soon!!

When Grey Gardens opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre in 2006, it established itself as the only Broadway show ever based on a documentary. Winning Tony awards for its stars Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson, the musical had a 306 performance run before it closed prematurely due to much-publicized poor producing. Thankfully, Albert Maysles, who created the original documentary about Big Edith and Little Edie Beale, brought his video camera around to document the gestation of the musical through its Broadway opening in a new film called Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway. This documentary is set to air on PBS as a part of its “Independent Lens” series next week. For those of us in NY with Channel 13, it airs on Tuesday, December 23 at 10PM. The channel 21 airings on WLIW will be on Wednesday, December 24 @ 9AM, 3PM and 8:PM and Thursday, December 25 @ 1AM. For those of you around the rest of the country, be sure and check your local listings at the PBS website.

Barbara Walsh Goes to East Hampton

Barbara Walsh is poised to take on the dual roles of Big Edith and Little Edie Beale in an upcoming production of Grey Gardens at the Studio Theatre in Washington DC this fall. For one thing, I’m thrilled that this brilliantly realized musical has started to take on its regional life post-Broadway (where its run was cut woefully short by allegedly poor producing). Though it will be a daunting for any actress to fill those roles so brilliantly characterized by Tony winners Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson, the show provides choice roles for its leading ladies. (Wouldn’t it have been something to have seen Angela Lansbury tackle Big Edie?)

Anyhow, the musical (with book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie) will run November 21-December 21. I have heard of Walsh for years. She is well respected for her turns in the original Broadway casts of Falsettos, Blood Brothers and Big, and most recently as Joanne in the John Doyle revival of Company. I’m a latecomer to the Barbara Walsh admiration society as I only saw her for the first time this past May in Inner Voices at the Zipper Factory. Needless to say she lives up to the hype: she is a superlative actress of incredible sophistication, nuance and wit. She won raves from fellow blogger Sarah for her performance as Desiree in the Baltimore Center Stage production of A Little Night Music this previous spring.

Prior to this engagement, she will be performing in concert at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on Monday night and then in the the NYMF production of About Face. So if you haven’t had a chance to appreciate this talented singing actress, there is ample opportunity and little room for excuses. I’m very curious to hear and see what she will bring to the Edies.


Has anyone ever seen a real showstopper?

Terry019 opened up this thread on All That Chat today and I had to share:

“Has anyone ever seen a real literal show-stopper? The only one I’ve seen in many years of going to the theater was the very short-lived “1600 Pennsylvania Ave”. It followed a number performed by Patricia Rutledge where she sung at once as both Lucy Hayes and Julia Grant. She then exited (her scene finished)and the actors assembled for the next scene. The audience however would not stop screaming and applauding. They tried to continue the show but the audience would have none of it. Finally, Ms. Rutledge returned, in a robe since she had obviously changed out of their costume and received the audience’s adulation. It was only then that the show continued. That was a REAL show-stopper. Anyone else have an experience like that?”

As much as I love hearing about my favorite show-stopper, alas I wasn’t alive to see it. In my theatre-going experiences, I have seen numbers stop the show, in varying ways, sometimes that extra burst of applause that keeps the praise going just a little longer than usual to the audience out of their seats going nuts sort of deal. Or sometimes, a great star appears onstage and that in itself is cause for the audience to erupt in an overwhelming display of vocal affection. The first memorable experience with a showstopping moment was the day my life changed forever. That was May 30, 2004 at the Shubert Theatre, where Bernadette Peters was playing her final performance in the Gypsy revival. Sondheim got entrance applause during the overture as he ducked into his seat. The overture got a standing ovation – and that itself should have warned for the Vesuvius to come minutes later. People were anticipating the moment. And there she was, in the back of the house shouting out “Sing out…” I didn’t hear the Louise. I don’t think anyone did. People rose as she walked down the aisle of the theatre, with the same reverence one would give at a commencement or wedding. Except we were loud, and there was no stopping us. They finished the scene and Bernadette had to wait until we were ready to let her go on. And that boys and girls was the first time I saw a show legitimately stopped. There were several other moments that very day, especially the “Turn.” Now, the theatregoing experience remains ranked high on my list of events, but it was because of that show I met Noah, and indirectly how I met Sarah, two of the great theatregoers whom I admire and respect greatly. Let’s face it, if it weren’t for BP, I wouldn’t be typing this blog at this very minute, because Sarah and Noah would never have convinced me to do it. So for that, one must be grateful to the kewpie-diva supreme.

Others that followed, Hugh Jackman’s “Once Before I Go” in The Boy From Oz, “La Cage Aux Folles” and “I Am What I Am” in the revival of La Cage Aux Folles. Brian Stokes Mitchell’s “This Nearly Was Mine” at the Carnegie Hall South Pacific (what you’ve seen on TV and heard on record is cut down considerably from the lengthy ovation he received that night). At the closing performance o The Light in the Piazza, several numbers got extended applause including “Statues and Stories,” “Il Mondo Era Vuoto,” and “Dividing Day” (with an emphasis on the latter). Christine Ebersole’s entrance as Little Edie at the top of Act Two in Grey Gardens brought about an immediate standing ovation until Ebersole’s hands-on-hips pose broke and she covered her mouth from the emotional response she had. When it died down, someone shouted out “We love you” and completely as Little Edie, she countered with heartfelt “Oh – and I love all of you too.” and immediately continued into “The Revolutionary Costume for Today.” Audra’s “Raunchy” at a Saturday matinee of 110 in the Shade brought the proceedings to a screeching halt; “Totally Fucked” at Spring Awakening; and it goes without saying Patti LuPone as Rose last summer at the City Center and on her opening night at the St. James had a couple of showstopping moments, including the “Turn.” Paulo Szot’s “This Nearly Was Mine” on the opening night of South Pacific. Juan Diego Florez’s “Pour mon ame” from La Fille du Regiment; Emily Pulley’s “Duet for One (The First Lady of the Land)” at A White House Cantata. And most recently, Beth Leavel’s “Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone Blues” at Encores! No, No, Nanette.
The only time I’ve seen that sort of reaction at a play was the opening night of August: Osage County after the second act button. The roaring of approval from the audience continued after the house lights had come up after intermission. I’ve never had that experience at a drama before, and doubt there are many plays that offer a moment of such adrenalized electricity.

What are yours, folks?

The most played songs on my iPod.

It’s very late and I’m waiting for my laundry to dry and since I have not yet seen Sweeney Todd (curses), I needed something to fill the void, so I decided to play around with my iPod/itunes. I was curious to see what my top 25 playlist consisted of, so I thought I’d share:

1. “Not on Your Nellie,” Darling of the Day, OBCR (Jule Styne-Yip Harburg). Patricia Routledge‘s rousing music-hall eleven o’clock showstopper. It’s a sheer delight from start to finish. In part because of this, and also the next entry, Routledge has become a heroine of mine. And a master class in musical comedy genius. I highly recommend the rest of the cast album. 109 plays (yeah, I’ve listened to it a lot…).

2. “Duet for One (The First Lady of the Land),” 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (Leonard Bernstein-Alan Jay Lerner). Patricia Routledge once again snags this spot with her spirited rendition of this nine minute showstopper in which she portrays both Julia Grant and Lucy Hayes while discoursing on the election controversy that led to the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes. A complete marvel of craft in both performance and writing. 60 plays.

3. “You’ve Got Possibilities,” It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman, OBCR (Charles Strouse-Lee Adams). Linda Lavin stopped the show with this cleverly written song in which her character tries to seduce Clark Kent. 46 plays.

4. “Sez I/If It Isn’t Everything,” Donnybrook, OBCR (Johnny Burke). Peter Filichia referred to this in an article as the greatest opening number you’ve never heard. I will not disagree. The only fitting description I can use would be to consider it a feisty Irish cousin to “Waitin’ for My Dearie” and “Many a New Day,” Joan Fagan nails this energetic number out of the ballpark. Now if we could only get a CD release. 44 plays.

5. “The Golden Ram,” Two by Two, OBCR (Richard Rodgers-Martin Charnin). Okay, so I’m a huge fan of Madeline Kahn. Extraordinarily huge. This brief exercise in coloratura hysterics is the only cast album which showcases Kahn’s soprano at its peak (she had vocal problems the day On the Twentieth Century was recorded, though apparently no one in the production team cared). She caps the number with a full-out high C. 44 plays.

6. “Another Hundred People,” Company, OBCR (Stephen Sondheim). One of the most ingenious orchestrations ever given a theatre song, Pamela Myers‘ definitive rendition is always something I listen to with earnestness and appreciation. From the melody, to the lyric, to the context, it is one of the most satisfying moments in a musical (and subsequent album) that Sondheim has given us. 44 plays.

7. “Come You Men,” A Time for Singing, OBCR (John Morris-Gerald Freedman). Granted the running time is brief (1:20), which probably led to numerous plays over the previous months; but the song itself is the stirring opening to the cast album of this devastatingly short-lived musical adaptation of How Green Was My Valley. This track is an a capella chorale in the Welsh tradition that is incredibly stirring and melodically gorgeous. 44 plays.

8. “A Time for Singing,” A Time for Singing, OBCR. Tessie O’Shea gets great material in this show, but her rousing and spirited rendition of the title song will send you to hit the repeat button again and again. A jubilant waltz, the song also takes on for me, a personal philosophy of what the singing in a musical can do. Hear the words of the first verse, and you’ll understand. Another LP album that needs a remastered CD release. 38 plays.

9. “The Girl Who Has Everything,” Grey Gardens, OBCR (Scott Frankel-Michael Korie). When I first saw this musical, it was on Broadway, where this number had replaced the song “Toyland” featured on the original cast recording from Playwrights Horizons. When the new album came out, this soaring operetta waltz, which took on considerable gravity within the show’s context, was oft repeated, especially for the stunning vocal flourish with which Christine Ebersole ended the number. 37 plays.

10. “The Revolutionary Costume for Today,” Grey Gardens, OBCR. I would consider this the finest list song Broadway has had in years, if not decades. The list espoused by Little Edie in this act two opening showstopper is a feat of expository writing in an opening number. (I consider GG two linked one-act musicals, since the styles are so very different). You receive so much about setting, time and character in just the words, and even the amusing “Da-da-da-DA-dummm.” which fills the pauses between songs. Genius. 37 plays.

The rest of the top 25: “We Need a Little Christmas,” Mame OBCR (Jerry Herman); “Turkey Lurkey Time,” Promises, Promises OBCR (Bacharach-Hal David); “I Was a Shoo-In,” Subways Are for Sleeping OBCR (Styne-Comden & Green); “It’s Enough to Make a Lady Fall in Love,” Darling of the Day OBCR; “Mame,” Mame OBCR; “Home Sweet Heaven,” High Spirits OBCR (Hugh Martin-Timothy Gray); “Raunchy,” 110 in the Shade, New BCR (Harvey Schmidt-Tom Jones); “Let’s See What Happens,” Darling of the Day, OBCR; “Rehab,” Back to Black, Amy Winehouse (not everything is theatre 24/7…); “Ice Cream,” She Loves Me, OBCR (Bock & Harnick); “Carnegie Hall (Do-Do-Re-Do)” On the Town, 1960 studio cast (Bernstein-Comden & Green; God, that ride-out!); “Thank God I’m Old, Barnum, OLCR (Cy Coleman-Michael Stewart); “Fable,” The Light in the Piazza (Adam Guettel); “For Once in My Life,” Stevie Wonder (see Winehouse); “And This is My Beloved,” Kismet, Lincoln Center revival CR (Borodin; Wright & Forrest).

Theatrical Highlights of the Year

1. Follies. February 12, 2007 @ the City Center. A star-studded, riveting performance of a landmark musical; possibly the ultimate in cult status. Donna Murphy and Victoria Clark were at the top of their game. The rest of cast rose to the occasion, save for Christine Baranski‘s psychotic and off-key rendition of “I’m Still Here” which still stopped the show. It was a real treat to hear the score unadulterated and with its complete original orchestration. An event that was not to be missed and woefully went unrecorded. Saddest part? The rumored transfer never came to fruition.

2. Coram Boy. May 17, 2007 @ the Imperial Theatre. A delightfully and unapologetically Dickensian romp through plot machinations and melodrama that made for an inventive evening at the theatre. British actress Xanthe Elbrick successfully played an aristocratic adolescent male in the first act and a cockney orphan of 8 in the second, earning the Theatre World award and nominations from all the awards committees. Jan Maxwell, as a self-preserving feministic accomplice to the villain, delivered a fully layered and realized performance, also worthy of much praise. Ran for 30 performances, becoming one of the most expensive flop plays in history. Deserved better reviews and audience for its theatrical inventions and concept.

3. Deuce. May 22, 2007 @ the Music Box Theatre. Terrence McNally‘s second rate play wouldn’t have made my list save for one exception: it brought Angela Lansbury back to Broadway. For that reason alone it deserves much praise in spite of the inherent weakness of the work itself. Lansbury and co-star Marian Seldes were a marvel of technique (with 110 years of Broadway between them) and a chance to see Lansbury back on Broadway (the last time she was in NY was a flop revival of Mame in 1983 that closed when I was 6 weeks old) was worth the price of admission alone.

4. Journey’s End. June 5, 2007 @ the Belasco Theatre. Admittedly, I was severely disengaged with the first act; even to the point of nodding off (though that may have been the free wine from the Theatre World award reception I attended that afternoon). However, the second act put everything into perspective and the last five or ten minutes of the show were among the most harrowing spent in a theatre. The audience was so numb they forgot to applaud. Remarkable work by the ensemble; most notably Boyd Gaines and Stark Sands. Truly an event that should have been seen by more, especially given the inescapable relevance of an 80 year old anti-war play.

5. Grey Gardens. June 12, 2007 @ the Walter Kerr Theatre. Though I’d seen this musical in 2006, this particular performance was the most memorable I attended. It was the first performance following the Tony awards at which Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson took home the Best Actress and Best Featured Actress in the Musical Tony’s. The house was abuzz with fans and newcomers; creating that certain palpable energy that comes oh so rarely in the theatre. Never have I witnessed a star receive a standing-ovation on a second act entrance. I doubt we may ever have cause for that again.

6. 110 in the Shade. July 23, 2007 @ Studio 54. Christine Ebersole’s greatest competition for the Tony award came from star Audra McDonald‘s nuanced portrayal of the love-lorn, insecure spinster Lizzie Curry in this 1963 musical adaptation of Nash’s The Rainmaker (memorably filmed with Katharine Hepburn in 1956). The score by Jones & Schmidt shone, the cast was outstanding and Audra made your heart feel light from the moment she entered to the moment the inevitable rains came. It’s very rare to see a matinee crowd respond with such vigor to a stage musical revival such as I did on this hot July day; but when McDonald finished “Raunchy”, the house erupted as though we were attending a rock concert. It was also a treat to see John Cullum performing as Lizzie’s father and Bobby Steggert‘s comic impression as Lizzie’s not-so-bright yet tender-hearted little brother.

7. Gypsy. July 25, 2007 @ the City Center. Patti LuPone finally got to tear it up as Rose in NY. In spite of the lack of a complete scenic design and a rather bizarre lamb puppet, the production was everything you would hope for in your presentation of this musical; a stellar Rose, a solid Herbie and a heart-breaking Louise. LuPone maneuvered her way through the role with fiery conviction, earthiness and a determination that could put the fear of God into Patton. Her “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” not only foreshadowed the second act “Turn,” but could very well be the most definitive delivery of that song. Laura Benanti was the greatest Louise I have ever seen. Someone so attractive could play awkward teen so well – and have a transformation into Gypsy Rose Lee that was nuanced and damn sexy. Boyd Gaines went above and beyond the call for what is required of Herbie. Tony Yazbeck was a most convincing Tulsa; and one you would think could elope with June without requiring a true stretch of our willing suspension of disbelief. Excited for the Broadway transfer this spring.

8. August: Osage County. December 4, 2007 @ the Imperial Theatre. Tracy Letts‘ new drama is one of the most riveting and enjoyable pieces of theatre to open on Broadway in a few years. A spectacular return to the old-school three-acter, the play explores the dormant volcano that is the Weston family and their myriad of dysfunction. Ferocious performances from Deanna Dunagan as Violet, the combination Mary Tyrone, Regina Giddens and Martha and Amy Morton as her equally volatile daughter anchor this brilliant work. There have been some people who’ve dismissed the critical plaudits and claim the work is an overrated variation on Mama’s Family. Those people are missing the subtextual boat here, especially when you view the dynamite second act; which has some of the best contemporary writing ever presented on a NY stage. Never mind the naysayers, see this play before it closes.

What I want to see next year: Come Back, Little Sheba, Sunday in the Park With George, The 39 Steps, Les Liaisones Dangereuxes, The Country Girl, November, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, In the Heights, A Catered Affair, South Pacific, Gypsy, Show Boat at Carnegie Hall, Billy Elliot, and also Saved! at Playwrights Horizons.

Little Edie to raid London?

As per Liz Smith in Variety:

“THE LONDON production of Grey Gardens is now “on” with a vengeance. Rights reverted from the original Broadway production and came back to the authors and composers. Music man Scott Frankel and star-producer Tony-winner Christine Ebersole took off for London to put little Edie Beale and her adventures on the West End. This musical will be a natural for the Brits who love eccentrics…”

So I guess now that the rights are no longer held by the Gondas, the show can flourish in London as well as on tour (Vicki Clark, are you reading? OK, probably not). It was a shame to see this show fold early, as it was my personal favorite of the 2006-07 season. The score is the best on Broadway since Piazza. The lyrics are outrageously brilliant. The assonance, the diction, the structure and rhyme schemes run the gamut of Cole Porter-Irving Berlin wit in the first act to the sophistication of Sondheim in the second. The care and craft that built this score is beyond mere words I place here in this space. If you look at it, its really a two-hander; each act is its own musical, but together as one emotionally turbulent and ultimately compelling evening.

The first act is fictionalized look at the Beale backstory, trying to give the audience some insight into these two eccentric women and how they ended up in the delapidation documented in the Maysles’ film. Taking cues from the musical icons of the era, we have a lovely pastiche score. “The Five-Fifteen” is one of the greatest opening numbers I’ve heard in years. Particularly it’s insanely catchy vamp (as part of the exit music, I left the theatre humming the rideout). The first act plays out like a Philip Barry dramedy set to music. While not as satisfying as the second act, it’s a clever and inventive way to give the film portion of the musical some context. I can’t imagine many people have seen the brilliant documentary, so it’s necessary for us to learn more about these two ladies than the mere fact that they are Jackie Onassis’ cousin and aunt. Also, in an age when musicals based on films are mere retreads of the films + songs, it was refreshing to see the creative team step back and try something different. (This is, also, the first time a documentary has ever been made into a musical).

The second act is where people have truly been astonished. Christine Ebersole’s performance was astounding. Playing Edith in the first act as a vindictive variation on Auntie Mame (complete with pure, unadulterated soprano tones), she enters the second act set 33 years later as Young Edie, in a complete transformation (to nasal character belt) that in itself usually stopped the show. Following the screenplay from the film, the second act is considerably stronger, even finding a dramatic arc the cinema verite documentary lacks. Ebersole as Edie will one day become synonymous with Martin as Peter Pan and Merman as Rose. It’s the stuff of legend. Mary Louise Wilson as aged Edith is also a marvel. Both actresses inhabit the characters of these women without merely imitating the film (though the physical and aural resemblances are uncanny), finding depth in the scene work and playing off each other (particularly with the delicious insults) like a finely played game of tennis. (After the remarkable critical reception and eventual Tony awards received by these actresses, I really don’t need to expound any further. I also just want to mention William Ivey Long’s indelible award winning costumes here as well).

I saw Grey Gardens three times on Broadway (the second time being the first performance post-Tony where Ebersole got a standing ovation at the top of the second act, something I was unaccustomed to but glad to be a part of). My first experience was through the documentary which, truth be told, stunned me completely. I was left wondering “What happened?” as most people I know feel after watching it. It was alternately hilarious and horrifying. I was first exposed to the score via the Off-Broadway recording. The show premiered at the Walter Kerr shortly afterward in what is the final version. I marveled at how they found the characters through song. “The Revolutionary Costume for Today” is the best list song we’ve had in decades. Not only does it follow the general terms of a list song, it surpasses it through its revelation of character. Little Edie’s philosophies on dress say much more about her opinions and thoughts than almost any other song in the show (save for the devastating “Around the World” and “Another Winter in a Summer Town” later in the second act). It has to be heard to be fully understood and appreciated. (I was thrilled too, to have a final Broadway recording that incorporates the revisions and cast changes made in transferring the show from Off-Broadway to on).

I’m really not going into in depth analysis of the score here, because that in itself would take up several blogs. See the documentary. Listen to the recording. Marvel in the genius. It’s exciting to know that the show will have life past its relatively short-lived and financially disastrous original Broadway run. London, tour, regional? So who cares if the inferior Spring Awakening won Best Musical. Doesn’t mean it was.

Win the revolution with style, kids.