I’m writing these words fully aware that there is no opinion I can express in the ensuing paragraphs that will ever have any effect on anyone’s decision whether or not to buy tickets for Manilow On Broadway. I don’t mean that in a self-effacing manner. I’m also sure that no one ever looked at an ad for Barry Manilow’s current concert engagement at the St. James and thought, “Hmm, this looks interesting but I want to see what Ben Brantley says about it before buying tickets.”
Certainly the woman sitting next to me in the 4th row center of the orchestra section didn’t wait for the critical consensus, telling me she had seen every performance of the run thus far and had every intention of seeing every remaining one.
Like Cirque Dreams and Forever Tango, this is one of those shows I really have no business reviewing (Some would say the same about me reviewing Chekhov, but that’s another matter.), but it’s playing on Broadway so as a New York theatre critic I’m granted a pair.
A former accompanist for Bette Midler at the Continental Baths, Manilow secured his place in American pop culture by writing classic television jingles like, “I am stuck on Band-Aid, 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me,” and “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there,” but will be forever remembered for recording pop standards (both self-written and by others) like “Mandy,” “Copacabana,” “It’s A Miracle,” “I Write The Songs,” “Could It Be Magic” and “Can’t Smile Without You.”
At 69 years of age, the energetic Manilow looks and sounds pretty terrific. Backed by Ron Walters, Jr.’s onstage band and vocalists Kye Brackett (who staged the evening) and Sharon Hendrix, he looks out at his fans with nostalgic warmth, like a disco-era saloon singer, and happily croons all the standards they came to hear. When he uses “Looks Like We Made It,” to celebrate his return to Broadway (He won a special Tony for his 1977 engagement.), he notes that the “we” includes the fans that have supported him throughout his career. And he seems truly honored to be here, indulging in a chorus of “Give My Regards To Broadway” and expressing how excited he is to be on the same stage as the original productions of Hello, Dolly!, Oklahoma! and The Producers.
Speaking sentimentally of his Jewish upbringing in Brooklyn, he comes off as a real mensch with a sense of humor about himself. When he bumps his hips to the music or gives a few pelvic thrusts, it’s with an attitude that seems to ask, “Remember when this was sexy?” (From the squeals of the crowd you can tell they still think it is.) At one point, after belting out a high note, he accented the moment with a Harpo Marx gookie face, laughing at the greater effort he has to give now.
While I don’t doubt his sincerity when he speaks of his fellow New Yorkers who suffered as a result of storm Sandy and the neighbors who came to their aid, it may not be the best idea to honor them with “I Made It Through The Rain.” Nevertheless, I’m sure many find the moment deeply touching. This is a love-in and the audience members, all of whom receive free glow sticks with their Playbills, spend the night loudly cheering, singing along, snapping photos and standing up to sway with the music; all with the star’s approval and encouragement.
Photos by Walter McBride.
Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.
Posted on: Sunday, February 10, 2013 @ 02:36 PM Posted by: Michael Dale
I hear the reason the Broadway revival of Pump Boys and Dinettes was postponed is because director John Doyle has been having trouble coming up with a concept that includes having the characters play musical instruments.
Posted on: Friday, February 08, 2013 @ 11:57 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Bad Pun Alert
Reading about the new Lanford Wilson revival makes me wonder if the weekly grosses for the last Stephen Sondheim Broadway revival were known as Follies' Tally.
Posted on: Friday, February 08, 2013 @ 01:19 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 2/3/13 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"I have only one bit of advice to beginning writers: be sure your novel is read by Rodgers and Hammerstein."
-- James A. Michener
The grosses are out for the week ending 2/3/2013 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (4.1%), MARY POPPINS (3.2%), THE HEIRESS (3.2%), ONCE (1.7%), PICNIC(1.6%),
Down for the week was: CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (-17.1%), ANNIE (-13.4%), THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (-8.2%), ROCK OF AGES (-6.6%), CHICAGO (-3.8%), THE LION KING (-3.5%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-3.2%), JERSEY BOYS (-2.9%), WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (-2.9%), MAMMA MIA! (-2.5%), CINDERELLA (-2.2%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-1.5%), NEWSIES (-1.3%), WICKED (-0.6%), THE OTHER PLACE (-0.4%),
Posted on: Monday, February 04, 2013 @ 05:24 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
In musicals like Fiddler On The Roof, She Loves Me and The Apple Tree, the team Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) once graced Broadway with scores that found poetry and elegance in the lives of everyday people. But nowhere is that more apparent than in the boisterously fun and heavily New York accented, Fiorello!, a celebration of the early career of Fiorello LaGuardia, the city’s enormously popular 99th mayor.
The musical’s book, by George Abbott and Jerome Weidman, while a fine example of muscular musical theatre character-driven craft, may not live up to the show’s high pedigree as a Pulitzer Prize winner (The Pulitzer Advisory Board rejected the Drama Jury’s strong recommendation to award Toys In The Attic.) and a Best Musical Tony winner (It tied with The Sound of Music to win over Gypsy.), the score is a ravishing example of Golden Age Broadway at its best.
In a rousing Bowery waltz, a distracted group of party officials compare their regular card game with their assignment to find a candidate willing to run for office against an unbeatable opponant: (“Politics and poker / Shuffle up the deck and find the joker.) In a lively Charleston, fans of candidate Jimmy Walker reference the hit song he wrote to voice their support: (“Hey Jim, we promise on voting day / We will love you in November as we did in May.”) In a furious march, a chorus of women factory workers strike for a decent living wage: (“Must we sew and sew solely to survive / So some low so-and-so can thrive?”)
Working with a condensed version of the book by the co-author’s son, John Weidman, the Encores! concert staging of Fiorello!, the musical that premiered the series 20 years ago, glosses over the weaker elements and sparkles with old-fashioned moxie. Director Gary Griffin’s uncomplicated staging leaves plenty of room for the actors to perform out to the audience, Alex Sanchez’s choreography explodes with period exuberance and Irwin Kostal‘s original orchestrations burst with tradition Broadway style as played by the 28 musicians following Rob Berman’s baton. This is a brash musical that doesn't need an elaborate production to come out big.
Since the actor playing the title role in Fiorello! must resemble the husky and diminutive real life fellow, the show offers some of musical theatre’s character men a rare opportunity to play a romantic lead. The terrific Danny Rutigliano, accustomed to getting laughs in supporting roles, is a gritty, determined sparkplug in the role that won a Tony for unknown Tom Bosley.
But playing Fiorello LaGuardia is a bit of a mixed blessing. Like Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, the title role has curiously little to sing. (Tellingly, Bosley’s Tony was for Best Supporting Actor.) In its original form, he didn’t sing at all in the second act, but in later productions a musical soliloquy, made up of snippets from the rest of the score much like Gypsy’s “Rose’s Turn,” was added to the second half. Perhaps this is because the character’s rise from benevolent lawyer helping the poor to Republican congressional candidate who miraculously defeats the corrupt Tammany Hall Democrats to become a mayoral hopeful, is more of a backdrop for the main romantic story; how his secretary carries a torch for him even while watching him court and marry another woman.
That secretary is also an unusual romantic lead for a Broadway musical as she sings no love ballads; but Erin Dilly is a bit of a sparkplug herself, charming in her two numbers about romantic frustration. The lush and lovely singing is left to Kate Baldwin, possessor of one of Broadway’s most beautiful and expressive sopranos, playing the labor leader who appreciates LaGuardia’s heroism – both in civic duty and on the battlefields of Europe – enough to accept his marriage proposal. The evening’s most entrancing moment comes when she’s left alone on stage to sing the captivating “When Did I Fall In Love?” The lilting melody contains the unusual sentiment of wondering, “When did respect first become affection? / When did affection suddenly soar?”
Cigar chomping Shuler Hensley gives gravel-voiced color to his role as an old-time political tough-guy campaign manager, leading his cronies in the aforementioned “Politics and Poker” and the classic comic romp, “Little Tin Box,” which spoofs the excuses made by Tammany Hall cohorts caught taking kickbacks.
One of those cohorts is a hard-nosed policeman (Jeremy Bobb) who manages to win the heart of union seamstress Dora (a wonderfully goofy Jenn Gambatese) who insists “if he'd get an honest job I would marry him” in another classic song from the score, “I Love A Cop.”
Adam Heller knocks out some good laughs as LaGuardia’s overworked employee and Emily Skinner is a knockout in her one scene, playing a Broadway star who belts out a number supporting the man they called “Gentleman Jimmy.”
Fiorello! is the type of show that Encores! was created for; a fun evening giving actors a chance to shine in a musical that in today’s economic climate wouldn’t attract enough ticket sales to last long on Broadway. Maybe because it’s just too good.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Danny Rutigliano and Company; Bottom: Jenn Gambatese and Erin Dilly.
Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.
Posted on: Sunday, February 03, 2013 @ 07:45 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
The women who took over the American workforce during World War II were abruptly expected to quit once the boys started coming home. And while many looked forward to settling down with a traditional Mr. Right and staying home to raise 2.7 babies, there were others who were torn between the safety of normalcy and their yearning for something more dangerous and adventurous when William Inge’s Pulitzer-winning Picnic premiered on Broadway in 1953.
Like those Chekhov dramas that the author called comedies, very little and a whole lot happens in Picnic, as much of the play is spent introducing us to relationships that have been simmering long before the curtain rose. Director Sam Gold’s grounded and sensitive production benefits from an excellent ensemble of veteran actresses who beautifully balance the humor and sorrow of this delicate piece and a realistic set from Andrew Lieberman that allows the audience to peak through windows into bits of more private moments.
The action fully takes place in adjoining back yards of two homes in a rural Kansas town – even the title event occurs offstage – on a hot September Labor Day. In one home Flo (Mare Winningham) has been left by her husband to raise their two daughters alone. 18-year-old Madge (Maggie Grace), who’s expected to snag a husband and settle down before her privileges as the prettiest girl in town diminish, sells beauty aids at the local dime store while entertaining longings to escape the confinements of small town life. Her brainy adolescent sister Millie (Madeleine Martin) is a sarcastic tomboy who dreams of moving to New York to make good on her artistic talents. She mocks Madge’s physical charms while secretly envying the attention she attracts.
Renting a room from Flo is unmarried schoolteacher Rosemary (Elizabeth Marvel) who claims to love the independence granted her by the single life. Her gentleman friend, Howard (Reed Birney) seems in no hurry to be in a committed relationship.
Next door lives Helen (Ellen Burstyn), a widow left alone to take care of her never-seen mother.
Sparks start hitting the dull everyday sameness of these women’s lives when Helen hires handsome young drifter Hal (Sebastian Stan) to pick up some extra money doing yard work, which he frequently does shirtless, displaying an impressive physique. While the other women go giddy over Hal’s attractiveness, Madge is drawn to him because she sees in him someone who, like herself, is valued only for beauty. Complicating matters is that Hal’s old chum is Madge’s fiancé, Alan (Ben Rappaport), a nice, financially well off guy who doesn’t seem concerned with anything about his bride-to-be beyond her looks.
While Winningham lovingly shows Flo’s concern over her oldest daughter’s future and Martin is excellent as the ignored teen with the drive to make something of her life, the production’s only flaw is the lack of chemistry between the young couple. Grace has the looks and coltish presence to make Madge believably desirable but her conflicting emotions regarding taking the safe route with Alan or plunging into dangerous waters with Hal seem only rudimentarily explored. Likewise, Stan struts with runway model confidence but we lose the inner workings of Hal. Their lack of chemistry together leaves the central drama hanging.
Marvel, however, sets off numerous sparks in her boisterously comic performance, especially in a second act scene where, fueled by alcohol, Rosemary comes to realize that she really does want to get married. Her desperate pleas to Howard to marry her, pitifully low in self-esteem, are played with such agonized force that the scene is difficult to watch. Gold stages the moment’s end with chilling sadness. It is unquestionably the dramatic acting highlight of the Broadway season thus far.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Mare Winningham, Maggie Grace and Sebastian Stan; Reed Birney and Elizabeth Marvel.
Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.
Posted on: Saturday, February 02, 2013 @ 04:26 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 1/27/13 & Theatre Quote of the Week
“Movies will make you famous; Television will make you rich; But theatre will make you good.”
-- Terrence Mann
The grosses are out for the week ending 1/27/2013 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: ANNIE (15.8%), WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (10.9%), JERSEY BOYS (9.8%), THE HEIRESS (8.6%), NEWSIES (6.4%), THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (6.0%), THE OTHER PLACE (4.7%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (4.5%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (4.5%), ONCE (3.6%), WICKED (2.9%), ROCK OF AGES (2.7%), MARY POPPINS (2.0%), THE LION KING (1.0%), CHICAGO(0.1%),
Down for the week was: CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (-8.7%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-6.9%), PICNIC (-4.7%), MAMMA MIA! (-1.7%), EVITA (-0.8%),
Posted on: Monday, January 28, 2013 @ 10:41 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Carole J. Bufford's Body and Soul
The difference between enjoying a good nightclub singer and being completely enthralled by an exceptional cabaret artist can easily be recognized onstage at The Metropolitan Room as Carole J. Bufford – who cannot possibly be as young and relatively inexperienced as her brief resume indicates – displays the interpretive skills, stage savvy and snazzy audience rapport that stirs buzz and excitement long after the servers have been properly tipped. In a time when New York has sadly been losing some of its more prominent cabaret venues, a performer like Bufford makes you think of the hot spots to come where she’ll no doubt be headlining.
I first became aware of Ms. Bufford at one of Scott Siegel’s Town Hall concerts, where her thrilling performance of “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man Of Mine” progressed from a sweetly affectionate love song to a defiant declaration challenging anyone who would dare question her right to be devoted to whomever her heart chooses. Her fresh and unexpected interpretation and her gripping execution received roars of approval from the seasoned subscribers.
That selection is just one of the many highlights of Body and Soul, a collection of varying songs of love and lust, conceived and produced by Siegel. With chameleon-like skills, the slender, bobbed-haired, impishly youthful performer displays superior musical theatre acting technique, both physically and vocally, that subtly transforms her into the world of each song; most strikingly apparent when she follows a vicious, powerfully merciless interpretation of “Cry Me A River” with a fragile, painfully still and vulnerable rendering of “Cottage For Sale.” As with the rest of her program, like her sardonically inquisitive and wounded “What Is This Thing Called Love?,” both songs are infused with a subtext that stretches beyond the surface content of the music and lyrics.
The excellent arrangements are by music director Ian Herman, who, at piano, is joined by bassist Matt Wigton, but there is no stage director mentioned, making me think that either some talented sole is being cheated out of a credit or Ms. Bufford has a remarkable sense of what looks and sounds good on her; bringing polished, period honky-tonk authenticity to the nearly 100 year old “Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home?,” steaming up the joint with a hot and bluesy “Low, Short and Squatty” and easing classic elegance into the evening’s title tune.
Though her voice plays it straight for the Sherman Brothers’ “Good Time Girl,” a warning for soldiers to keep it clean while overseas, her expressive eyes reveal more playful thoughts. Her sweet, ingénue-like delivery of Earl Brent’s “Say That We’re Sweethearts Again” gets maximum comic mileage out of its violent lyric depicting outlandishly low self-esteem.
But whether she’s flirtatiously growling through a hot swing arrangement of “Your Kisses Kill Me” or softly devoted in an endearing “Fade Into You,” what remains constant is the intelligence with which she colors every lyric, bringing interesting new shadings to old standards and making less-familiar numbers pop out at the audience.
Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay Ms. Bufford at this time is to say that she’s the kind of young, unknown performer that makes a critic want to review his assessment of her work a few extra times to make sure his effusive praise wasn’t overdone. But who knows, perhaps one day people will speak of Carole J. Bufford’s appearances at The Metropolitan Room the same way they now speak of appearances by certain young singers that were once seen at The Blue Angel, Les Mouches and the Continental Baths.
Photos by Lynn Redmile.
Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.
Posted on: Sunday, January 27, 2013 @ 08:46 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Don't Cry For Me, Cinderella
There is no truth to the rumor that at tonight's closing performance of Evita, Ann Harada played Peron's Mistress and sang "Why Would A Fellow Want A Girl Like Her?"
Posted on: Sunday, January 27, 2013 @ 01:37 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
It Takes A Woman
Posted on: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 @ 12:05 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
What? No Understudy?
So I arrive at the St. James tonight and they're passing out notices saying the performance is cancelled because Barry Manilow has bronchitis. And I'm thinking, somebody should just call Mandy Patinkin. He'd be over in ten minutes and do the whole show in Yiddish.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 @ 11:28 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
About Michael: After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in
dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular
audience participation murder mysteries (try
improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours
of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical
ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once
housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all
been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his
name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who
wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th
Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The
Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring
free live theatre to underserved communities, and
dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing
cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an
email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first
Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows
Michael can be seen at Shea Stadium pleading for the
Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals
and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared
celebrities making their stage acting debuts by
starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.