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Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 5/20/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"I hold Broadway to a lower standard than I do Off-Broadway. Not in terms of polish but in terms of originality."
-- Ben Brantley
The grosses are out for the week ending 5/20/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (27.8%), PORGY AND BESS (23.4%), ANYTHING GOES (14.1%), WAR HORSE (13.0%), CHICAGO (12.5%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (12.2%), MAMMA MIA! (12.2%), MEMPHIS (11.2%), WICKED (11.0%), JERSEY BOYS (8.1%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (6.9%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (6.3%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (6.2%), VENUS IN FUR (5.6%), SISTER ACT (5.4%), END OF THE RAINBOW (3.8%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (3.6%), MARY POPPINS (3.4%), ROCK OF AGES (3.4%), ONCE (3.3%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (3.3%), EVITA (3.0%), GHOST (2.5%), GODSPELL (2.5%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (2.4%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (1.9%), THE COLUMNIST (0.4%), THE LION KING (0.3%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN (0.2%), NEWSIES(0.1%),
Down for the week was: NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-5.8%), DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (-5.1%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (-3.7%), THE LYONS (-1.1%), CLYBOURNE PARK (-0.8%),
Posted on: Monday, May 21, 2012 @ 03:32 PM Posted by: Michael Dale
Chlamydia Dell'Arte: A Sex Ed Burlesque & The Broadway Musicals of 1975
The admirable mission of Gigi Naglak and Meghann Williams, writer/performers of Chlamydia Dell'Arte: A Sex Ed Burlesque, is to remove some of the awkwardness in open discussions about human sexuality by treating intimate issues with humor. Their modestly produced show, which just completed a week-long run at Los Kabayitos, is obviously built to travel, coming to Gotham via stints in Philly and DC, and the amiable pair pulls off their mission with endearing enthusiasm.
Twelve quick vignettes – sketches, songs and dance pieces – alternate with video segments of the two as stuffy schoolteachers and others of a group of women individually responding to questions addressing topics like their definition of sex, how they learned about sex and how they, as adults, have taught their children about sex.
With no director or choreographer credited, I would assumed that Naglak and Williams managed those task themselves, and perhaps the show would best be viewed as a promising work in progress that could use further guidance.
Much of their humor is of the sophomoric, one-joke variety. Naglak dances as a ballerina clad in white, who expresses joy and relief when her period visibly arrives. The two of them play cooking show hosts who, after a few too many glasses of wine, start demonstrating on a dildo their favorite way to eat chocolate frosting. Naglak, standing behind an artificial lower torso, discusses birth control options with her talking vagina. Sketches of this nature might seem a little crass coming from men, but perhaps women might find these lowbrow depths refreshing coming from other women.
But lowbrow is actually highbrow in another sketch where they play out Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene as two horny adolescents masturbating, a concept that makes complete sense when you figure that Shakespeare’s youthful lovers are more realistically a couple of kids who barely know each other at the beginnings of their sexual awareness. Another clever sketch begins with a slideshow detailing important information about STDs which is upstaged when the two start performing a strip-tease down to pasties and g-strings; a smart comment on how thoughts of sexual health get shoved to the side when encountering titillation.
Other vignettes include Williams’ monologue about a woman’s obsession with being perfectly shaved for a date, a song explaining the difference between transsexuals and transvestites and a fan dance performed by Naglak. Most were pleasant, but lacking in comedic sharpness beyond their initial ideas.
There was a talkback after the performances I attended, where Naglak and Williams chatted about their experiences regarding sex education and of the evolution of their show. Speaking off-the-cuff, their remarks were far more interesting and humorous than most of the material they performed. If the pair can inject the evening with more of the honest, realistic humor displayed in the talkback, Chlamydia Dell'Arte could prove more worthy of its admirable intentions.
Photo of Gigi Naglak and Meghann Williams by Lauren Schwarz.
Broadway musicals were in a crazy state of flux by 1975. That newfangled idea of attracting new audiences through well-produced television commercials was turning shows that might not have lasted long through traditional publicity into multi-year running hits (That year The Wiz was rescued from a quick closing by its commercial.), but the new audiences attending those shows were venturing into a theatre district overflowing with porno houses, hookers and three-card monte con artists. Those in the know knew it was dangerous to hang around Times Square after the shows let out, but good luck riding the subways at night.
Two of musical theatre’s most notable director/choreographers helmed their greatest achievements, though Michael Bennett’s optimistic salute to the unknowns who chase their dreams, A Chorus Line, was stealing headlines from Bob Fosse’s first post-heart attack creation, the comically cynical Chicago. Rock composers were trying to replicate the success of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, but The Rocky Horror Show failed to find an audience and theatre-goers preferred Shenandoah, a traditional book musical with an anti-war message, over The Lieutenant, a rock opera about the My Lai massacre that lasted a week on Broadway but was admired enough to pick up Tony nominations for its book and score. Goodtime Charley tried to replicate the success of Pippin with its stylistic telling of the story of Joan of Arc, but the decision to focus on the less interesting character, the dauphin Charles, doomed the effort of an attractive and clever Grossman and Hackady score.
The days of jukebox musicals were yet to come, but audiences seeking some fine old material were found at the revue Rodgers and Hart and the bio-musical, Me and Bessie (featuring songs made famous by Bessie Smith). And Scott Joplin’s score for his 1910 opera, Tremonisha, only recently discovered at the time, made its Broadway debut and even picked up a Tony nomination.
For the 1975 edition of Town Hall’s Broadway By The Year series, host and creator Scott Siegel concentrated on the more recognizable songs of the day; both those that were being heard on Broadway for the first time and those that were already American Songbook classics that lured audiences into new shows.
A new feature to the series was large chorus of performers made up primarily of talent in the early stages of their careers. The Broadway By The Year Chorus opened the show with two of the indispensible moments of 1975 Broadway, A Chorus Line’s “I Hope I Get It,” segueing into “One,” staged by the evening’s choreographer, Vibecke Dahle.
Speaking of A Chorus Line, there was quite a bit of chucking from the audience when it became apparent that Ashley Brown, known primarily as Broadway’s original Mary Poppins, was about to perform “Dance 10, Looks 3” as her first solo of the evening. Her saucy rendition of Marvin Hamlish and Ed Kleban’s tribute to the career-enhancing benefits of plastic surgery was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, as was her emphatic belting of “I Am My Own Best Friend” and her tender “Be A Lion.”
While I will always be opposed to using the watered-down radio lyrics for Rodgers and Hart’s “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” over the overtly sexual ones written for Pal Joey, if it must be done that way it’s fortunate to have Lari White performing them; replacing the droll lustfulness of the original with luscious waves of lush romanticism. The Grammy-winning country artist – who has a real flair for musical theatre – was, of course, a natural for selections from Shenandoah, including a lovely “We Make A Beautiful Pair” and leading the chorus in a rousing “Freedom.”
Cabaret artist Carole J. Bufford has quickly become a rising star among the nightlife set and her ravishing interpretations of “Blue Moon” and the Bessie Smith standards, “You’ve Been A Good Old Wagon” and “After You’ve Gone” display captivating interpretive skills and a professional polish well above what would be expected for her youth.
The above three ladies united for “At The Ballet,” demonstrating Kleban’s extraordinary character-developing skills.
Bob Stillman’s airy vocals gave a period feel to “All I Care About” and warm sentimentality to “The Only Home I Know.” The difference between his voice and the deep dramatics of Patrick Page’s enhanced the already sharp comedy of Kander and Ebb’s “Class.” Page’s grave earnestness was put to fine use for the year’s most controversial song, Shenandoah’s anti-war anthem, “I’ve Heard It All Before” and the fun campy quality he brings to his current gig as Spider-Man’s Green Goblin cropped up when he donned a corset and feather boa to lead the chorus in a pairing of “Sweet Transvestite” and “Time Warp.”
The concert’s director, Scott Coulter, made a solid guest appearance for an inspiring “If You Believe,” as did Kristin Beth Williams for “All That Jazz” and Nadine Iseneggar, performing Michael Bennett’s original choreography for “The Music And The Mirror.”
With Ross Patterson in his usual position leading his Little Big Band, the evening ended with the full company’s “What I Did For Love.”
Photos by Genevieve Rafter Keddy: Top: Carole J. Bufford; Bottom: Oakley Boycott, Patrick Page and Emily Iaquinta.
Posted on: Monday, May 21, 2012 @ 07:49 AM Posted by: Michael Dale
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 5/13/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"They still had the Lord Chamberlain, so we had this idiotic censorship. We were allowed three Jesus Christs instead of 10. Why three were OK, I don't know."
-- Uta Hagan
The grosses are out for the week ending 5/13/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: GODSPELL (17.9%), MAGIC/BIRD (14.6%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (12.0%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (11.1%), SISTER ACT (8.4%), PORGY AND BESS (7.2%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (6.8%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (5.7%), ANYTHING GOES (5.0%), END OF THE RAINBOW (3.8%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (3.8%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (3.2%), GHOST (2.6%), ROCK OF AGES (2.4%), THE COLUMNIST (2.3%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (2.2%), ONCE (2.2%), NEWSIES (1.6%), MEMPHIS (1.5%), LEAP OF FAITH (1.2%), JERSEY BOYS (0.7%), DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (0.7%), WAR HORSE (0.4%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN(0.1%),
Down for the week was: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-8.9%), MAMMA MIA! (-7.6%), WICKED (-4.8%), MARY POPPINS (-4.2%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-3.1%), CLYBOURNE PARK (-2.4%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (-2.0%), EVITA (-1.2%), THE LYONS (-0.8%), VENUS IN FUR (-0.8%), CHICAGO (-0.8%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (-0.2%),
Posted on: Monday, May 14, 2012 @ 03:47 PM Posted by: Michael Dale
Triumphant Baby & The Columnist
Match.com ain’t got nuthin’ on New York’s cabaret scene, where composers, lyricists and performers are constantly on the lookout for perfect mates; whether for a lifetime commitment or just a brief, but mutually satisfying, fling.
Back in 2006, musical theatre collaborators Joe Iconis and Robert Maddock had some highly successful dates with singer/actress Lorinda Lisitza. And while the trio hasn’t been exclusive in the ensuing years, their affair, a fascinatingly diverse song cycle called Triumphant Baby, was remembered by voters who presented the show with a Nightlife Award (for the performer) and a Bistro Award (for the writers).
And if there were awards for revivals of cabaret shows, I’m sure Triumphant Baby’s return engagement at the Metropolitan Room would be in the running for a couple of more trophies. Iconis’ broad-ranging styles of music and Maddock’s colorful, poignant and character-specific lyrics vividly architect 13 diverse ladies – some comic, some tragic, often maddening – which the chameleon-like Lisitza, under Brad Oscar’s direction, brings to life in a musical theatre acting tutorial that charms and thrills.
Perhaps the signature tune of the show, thanks to YouTube exposure, is “Yolanda At The Bottom Of The Stairs,” a folksy, Eastern-European number where Lisitza plays a woman taking revenge on the tart who messed with her man with goulish expressions and a goulash accent. (“I settled the score with one little shove / And sending you to kingdom come is what I did for love.”) The comic number is perfectly placed at the end of a musical triptych that begins with the singer’s husky country vocals for “Almost,” about a woman’s disappointment in never getting quite what she needed from her relationship and segues into a fragile-to-brassy performance of “One Step Closer To Crazy.”
She switches to the kind of airy head voice typical of ingénues in early movie musicals for the devastating ballad, “The Kind That Falls,” where Lisitza chillingly portrays the 1930s wannabe starlet Peg Entwhistle, who jumped off the Hollywood sign to her death instead of facing her failed movie career.
The show’s title song is an immensely catchy bubblegum anthem where the singer cheerfully tries to pick up the spirits of a loved one (“You’ve got crippled viewpoints and morbid quotes / But I’m coming at ya with root beer floats.”) and while Iconis pens another hummable hook for “Popular Opinion,” Maddock supplies a harsh commentary on the public’s yearning for dirt on the people they’ve lifted into celebrity.
Other highlights include the mischievously sexy “Just As Long As You And I Are In Cahoots,” “Eddie Got A Color T.V.” (a comical ditty about a wife trying to seduce her husband away from the tube) and “Camden County Penitentiary,” sung from the perspective of a woman who suddenly has no idea where her life is going because her husband is never getting out of jail.
With the composer at piano, Mike Perry on guitar and mandolin, Matt Wigton on double bass and background vocals by Tanya Holt and Liz Lark Brown the evening’s spirited arrangements are just as diverse as the material. Triumphant Baby is a classy, ebullient affair matching exceptional material with an exceptional singer/actress.
I guess there’s something about John Lithgow that smells of fresh newsprint. After playing fictional gossip columnists in both Sweet Smell of Success and Mr. and Mrs. Fitch, he now takes a crack at the real thing in David Auburn’s portrait of the powerful Washington journalist Joseph Alsop, The Columnist.
It’s a lifetime thick with newsworthy material. A Washington bon vivant and closeted homosexual, Alsop was a champion of FDR’s New Deal, an enemy of both McCarthy and the Communists and a close friend of JFK, but his support of Nixon’s aggressive policies in conducting the Vietnam War made him seem out of touch by the 1970s. But Auburn’s episodic approach makes the evening more of a highlight reel. Though his dialogue is sharp and his scenes provide punch, they never coalesce into a satisfying play.
But it’s the kind of role that Lithgow can devour with relish and his excellent performance – boastfully dapper and elegant, hiding a fragile, suspicious interior – keeps the evening humming. And electric sparks do fly when his uneasy relationship with his sometimes-partner journalist brother (the also excellent Boyd Gaines, making the most of a second banana role) starts boiling over.
Director Dan Sullivan’s sturdy production has some fine supporting work by Margaret Colin, as the woman who agrees to play beard and be his wife, Grace Gummer as the rebellious stepdaughter he tries to mold in his image and Brian J. Smith as an attractive young Communist whose one-nighter with Alsop threatens the journalist’s career.
Joseph Alsop’s life and career provides enough fodder to make The Columnist interesting, but Auburn adds little more to make it work as drama.
Photo of John Lithgow by Joan Marcus.
Posted on: Monday, May 14, 2012 @ 02:31 AM Posted by: Michael Dale
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: It's Delightful Down At City Center
Any lingering suspicions that the rarely revived Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is just some dusty old relic with little to offer modern audiences but a few classic songs and the novelty of being the vehicle that turned a little-known Carol Channing into an overnight sensation can be trampled into dust – preferably by choreographer Randy Skinner’s frenetically Charlestoning ensemble – by director John Rando’s simply sensational Encores! concert staging; a dizzy whirl of highly polished musical comedy hijinks packed with show-biz savvy performances.
There were certainly more sophisticated musicals on Broadway when Gents opened in December of 1949 (South Pacific and Kiss Me, Kate to name a pair), but this was an era when talented writers took mindless fun seriously. Based on Anita Loos’ novel chronicling the 1920s gold-digging adventures of Miss Lorelei Lee, the book (presented here in David Ives’ concert adaptation) is collaboration between the source’s author and the prolific Joseph Fields. After making his Broadway debut with the period piece, High Button Shoes, Jule Styne’s sophomore effort was full of the brassy verve the composer would be known for, and Don Walker’s colorful and energetic orchestrations sparkle under Rob Berman’s baton. Leo Robin contributed abundantly clever, sometimes playfully naughty lyrics; not just for evergreens like “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” “Bye Bye, Baby” and “I’m Just A Little Girl From Little Rock,” but for novelty gems like “Keeping Cool with Coolidge,” “It’s Delightful Down in Chile” and the health-nut anthem, “I'm A'tingle, I'm A'glow.”
“How are you going to replace such-and-such?” is the cry heard whenever a show so closely associated with a star performance is planned for a remounting, and anyone starring in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes not only gets (unfairly, of course) compared with Carol Channing’s legendary spoof of kewpie doll cuteness, but with Marilyn Monroe’s steamier version of the character in the film version.
But Megan Hilty, aside from having established herself as a cracker-jack singing stage actress, is also a closer to fit to the Lorelei Lee Loos had written to begin with. While certainly curvier than the classic flapper, Hilty’s diminutive height and sweet, apple-pie looks serve as Lorelei’s weapons of choice for catching presumptuous businessmen off-guard until they’re deluded into thinking it was their idea to shower her with expensive jewelry and tokens of devotion.
The plot, in case such things matter to you, has the lovely Miss Lee on a cross-Atlantic cruise with her dear friend Dorothy, a flirty flapper who doesn’t give a fig for a guy’s bank account. While Dorothy is rather regulated to feeding the star straight lines for much of the show, Rachel York displays irresistible jazz-age ebullience whenever she’s plunked in the middle of Skinner’s dancers to belt out a number while surrounded by some of the best choreography in town; particularly when those dancers are an ensemble of stripped-down fellas playing U.S. Olympic athletes on their way to the games in Paris.
Though Lorelei is engaged to Gus Esmond Jr. (a finely mellow-voiced Clarke Thorell) , the heir to a button-manufacturing fortune, she fears that he’s dumped her after finding out about her semi-sordid past in Little Rock. (Makes you wonder if she ever babysat for little Nellie Forbush.) Using her own twisted logic to conclude she’s been jilted, Lorelei sets her charms on a rising zipper manufacturer and physical fitness fanatic (a hilariously energetic Stephen R. Buntrock).
The simple, uncomplicated plot leaves lots of room for terrific supporting performances. There’s the beautifully singing Aaron Lazar playing a potential mate for Dorothy who unsuccessfully tries to keep his champagne-loving mom (Deborah Rush) sober, Simon Jones and Sandra Shipley as a fun-loving codger and his stern wife and Stephen Boyer and Brennan Brown as thickly-accented French lawyers.
The knockout specialty act comes in the second half in one of those plot twists that leaves the characters watching a nightclub floor show. Phillip Attmore and Jared Grimes exude period Harlem elegance as a tap-dancing pair performing gasp-inducing footwork to “Mamie is Mimi.” When they’re joined by Megan Sikora, as an up-and-coming showgirl, the place goes nuts with excitement.
With so many dynamic supporting turns, a less-than-stellar star could get lost in the shuffle, but Hilty firmly dominates every moment she’s on, playing Lorelei more realistically than Channing and earning big laughs with thoughtful deliveries of lines like, “Arkansas is where I was reared.”
The trick comes when she has moments “in one” and lets her guard down by confiding in the audience as a hip-swiveling, curve-wiggling doll. Costume designer David C. Woolard pours her into a sparkly number for the signature tune, “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” which she delivers with the kind of panache that turns a musical moment into an intimate expression of joy between performer and audience. What Hilty communicates, by solidly taking center stage in determination to “be a star,” is that the song is not just a funny celebration of wealth, but a sincere message that, with a little guts and confidence, a kid from nowhere can reinvent herself as anything she wants. This weekend, Megan Hilty might just be reinventing herself from a dependable musical theatre professional, to a glittering Broadway star.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Clarke Thorell and Megan Hilty; Bottom: Rachel York and Company.
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Posted on: Friday, May 11, 2012 @ 07:15 PM Posted by: Michael Dale
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 5/6/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"Laughter is much more important than applause. Applause is almost a duty. Laughter is a reward."
-- Carol Channing
The grosses are out for the week ending 5/6/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: ONCE (9.5%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (4.5%), CLYBOURNE PARK (1.6%), EVITA (1.5%), NEWSIES (1.2%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (0.7%), JERSEY BOYS (0.6%), THE LION KING (0.6%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (0.2%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN(0.1%),
Down for the week was: GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (-24.1%), GHOST (-16.9%), DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (-16.0%), GODSPELL (-14.8%), MAGIC/BIRD (-13.4%), THE LYONS (-13.3%), LEAP OF FAITH (-12.4%), THE COLUMNIST (-11.1%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (-10.3%), ANYTHING GOES (-9.6%), SISTER ACT (-8.8%), CHICAGO (-8.5%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (-6.9%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (-5.5%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (-5.3%), MARY POPPINS (-5.2%), PORGY AND BESS (-4.6%), WAR HORSE (-4.4%), VENUS IN FUR (-4.1%), MAMMA MIA! (-3.5%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-2.7%), MEMPHIS (-2.7%), WICKED (-1.9%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-1.8%), ROCK OF AGES (-1.5%), END OF THE RAINBOW (-1.1%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (-0.3%), SEMINAR (-0.2%),
Posted on: Monday, May 07, 2012 @ 03:40 PM Posted by: Michael Dale
One Man, Two Guvnors & The Lyons
Broadway audiences can be forgiven if they don’t quite recall being introduced to James Corden six years ago as one of The History Boys’ ensemble of Oxbridge hopefuls, but in Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors, the loveable harlequin makes an unforgettable sophomore appearance, taking center stage in an uproarious evening of slapstick, music and comical hijinks.
I say “harlequin” because Bean’s sparkling script is based on Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’ arte classic, Servant of Two Masters, relocated to 1960s Brighton so that the colorful mod styles strike the contemporary eye as humorously as the traditional commedia styles would in the 1700s and a gender-bending aspect of the story fits snuggling into the era’s unisex fashions.
The complicated plot – an excuse for pratfalls, running gags, lowbrow antics and a bit of audience involvement – concerns Corden’s hungry, cash-poor Frances Henshall unwittingly accepting employment by both a snooty dolt of a gangster (Oliver Chris) and the sister of a man the dolt murdered (Jemima Rooper), who is disguised as her brother. The fact that the brother was promised to marry a young heiress (Claire Lams) who is actually in love with an aspiring actor (Daniel Rigby) adds a twist, as does the involvement of Suzie Toase as a hot bombshell accountant who stirs up another sort of hunger in Frances.
Like Zero Mostel in …Forum and Jim Dale in Scapino, Corden is the fast-talking, film-flaming eye of the hurricane, setting all the stock characters – joyously played by a rip-roaring company under Nicholas Hytner's crackling direction – in motion while taking audience members into his confidence. I’m sure physical comedy director Cal McCrystal has a lot to do with keeping company members unharmed while diving into hilarious and fast-paced routines. Particularly in a kitchen scene where Frances is quickly trying to consume as much as possible while serving meals for both his guvnors, while being assisted by an elderly, jittery waiter (Tom Edden in a marvelous second-banana turn).
Early arrivals are entertained by a four piece band called The Craze, playing British pre-invasion style skiffle tunes. The boys make regular appearances throughout the evening, keeping the mood light while giving the audience a bit of a breather; a necessity for the many who are sure to be left breathless from laughter.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: James Corden; Bottom: Oliver Chris, Tom Edden and James Corden.
After a successful run at the Vineyard, Nicky Silver's hilarious verbal smack-down, The Lyons, arrives on Broadway a little leaner and perhaps even a little meaner. The acidic humor is no less funny than it was before, but some minor (and one major) revisions have strengthen the relationship between the two acts, making it a stronger, more effective piece.
When we first meet Rita Lyons, she's sitting in a hospital room casually thumbing through a furniture catalogue, asking her husband, Ben, who lies in bed, dying of cancer, to help her come up with ideas for redecorating the living room after he's gone.
"You could feign interest to be polite," she insists, reacting to his weakly growled, profanity-laced responses.
Don't look for the affection that lies beneath the anger. Whatever may have once been there is now buried under decades of spite and disappointment. But the pitch-perfect performances of Linda Lavin and Dick Latessa help make the evening fly. Lavin's meticulously subtle way with Silver's most hurtful remarks give the impression that Rita believes herself to be administering tough-love nurturing. When her husband expresses disappointment in the way his life turned out, she matter-of-factly explains to their daughter, "He's a very half-glass-empty kind of person, but by most people's standards he's had a very full life."
While Ben could easily come off as little more than a funny curmudgeon, Latessa shows the empathetic sadness of a man whose dreams never came true, even as he's bidding a deathbed farewell to his son, Curtis, with sentiments like, "My life is one long parade of disappointments. And you're the grand-fucking marshal."
Curtis, played with proper balance of smugness and creepiness by Michael Esper, eventually becomes the focus of the piece, beginning with an encounter with a handsome and charming actor/real estate agent (Gregory Wooddell) and ending with tensions between him and a no-nonsense nurse (Brenda Pressley). Kate Jennings Grant, whose lengthy second-act opening monologue is the most extensive cut from the previous run, makes the most sympathetic impression as their divorced, recovering alcoholic daughter, Lisa.
While the play may not go deeper than giving a glimpse at how bitter, self-involved parents begat bitter, self-involved children (but with an optimistic finish), the clever dialogue, director Mark Brokaw's crisp production and a terrific cast make the surface especially shiny.
Posted on: Monday, May 07, 2012 @ 01:53 AM Posted by: Michael Dale
A Midsummer Night's Dream & An Early History of Fire
The lunatics, lovers and poets merrily charge onto the stage in full force in Classic Stage Company’s raucous and witty, sexy and sensual mounting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Director Tony Speciale’s playfully romantic staging of Shakespeare’s tale of earthbound lovers fleeing to the woods to escape an arranged marriage, only to find themselves mixed up in the petty squabbles between a royal faerie couple, features a completely winning ensemble and entrancing visuals.
Set designer Mark Wendland tilts a mirrored wall above a dark squishy playing surface (which eventually gets covered by a thick storm of red rose petals), allowing Andrea Lauer’s colorful costumes (a combination of vintage circus, fetish gear and Halloween getups) to create kaleidoscopic images.
Leading the festivities are Anthony Heald and Bebe Neuwirth, who first appear as a courtly Duke Theseus and his reluctant bride-to-be, Hippolyta, who displays her displeasure with subtle, looks-that-can-kill mannerisms. They double as faerie king Oberon (sly, crafty and dressed in a sort of post-apocalyptic biker gear) and his sensuous wife Titania; a role that has Neuwirth looking stunning in little more than a black bustier.
Taylor Mac makes for a stuffy Egeus, whose disapproval of his daughter’s choice of a mate sets the plot in motion, but spends most of the evening as a madcap Puck, parading an outlandish wardrobe (like a pink elephant suit and an outfit that makes him look like a human peppermint stick) and sneaking in asides to the audience.
Halley Wegryn Gross steals the young lovers’ scenes with her very funny bubble-headed Valley Girl take on Helena, with Christina Ricci providing a sweet Hermia. Jordan Dean (Lysander) and Nick Gehlfuss (Demetrius) play their suitors as a pair of lusty, beefcake frat boys. When tensions rise among the quartet, fight choreographer Carrie Brewer stops the show with a hilarious bout that would make pro wrestlers take notice. Even Oberon and Puck stop what they’re doing to take in the match from a pair of beach chairs while munching on popcorn and slurping soda through a straw.
But when the comic antics temporarily cease, the young lovers – all of whom have stripped down to pure white underwear – fall asleep sleep entwined in one another, reflected on the mirror as a beautiful vision of innocent affection.
The same kind of transition occurs when the troupe of amateur actors performs The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding. Steven Skybell’s wonderfully hammy Nick Bottom makes outlandish melodrama out of Pyramus’ death scene, but it’s followed by David Greenspan, as the serious-minded Francis Flute, playing Thisbe’s final monologue with quiet, delicate sincerity that pulls at the heart.
The combination of wacky humor and soft, lovely moments make this Midsummer particularly dreamy.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Anthony Heald and Taylor Mac; Bottom: James Patrick Nelson, Chad Lindsey, Bebe Neuwirth, Rob Yang and Erin Hill.
It’s rarely a good sign when you open your program and find that a new cast list has been pasted over what was originally there. David Rabe’s An Early History of Fire doesn’t prove to be the exception. What might have been intended to be a look at small-town America’s transition from the cozy 1950s to the heated 60s turns out to be as aimless as its ensemble of characters.
The first act kept reminding me of the 1955 Oscar winner, Marty. College dropout Danny (Theo Stockman) is back living with his gregarious German immigrant father (Gordon Clapp) and a life of little more than hanging out and getting drunk with his ambitionless childhood buddies, who are wary of the new girl from the rich part of town that he’s been seeing. Karen (Claire van der Boom), has been encouraging Danny’s dreams of being a writer, introducing him to the works of Kerouac and Salinger and to the creativity-inspiring effects of marijuana.
Benji's (Devin Ratray) ex-girlfriend Shirley (Erin Darke), who eventually went on to turning tricks, is a more comfortable fit for Danny’s gang; although the frustrated Benji is considering paying for a sexual reunion.
Though the play displays Rabe’s established talent for working class character dialogue, the plotless evening rambles on pointlessly, despite the respectable efforts of director Jo Bonney’s ensemble. When one character starts a conversation by wondering aloud how Elvis Presley will eventually die – a line that received a good deal of audible disapproval the night I attended – it feels like the talented playwright is grasping at anything to try and make this one work.
Photo of Theo Stockman & Claire van der Boom by Joan Marcus.
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Posted on: Wednesday, May 02, 2012 @ 03:08 AM Posted by: Michael Dale
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 4/29/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"Don't live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable."
-- Wendy Wasserstein
The grosses are out for the week ending 4/29/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: VENUS IN FUR (9.7%), CHICAGO (6.9%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (6.5%), MAMMA MIA! (5.8%), SEMINAR (5.5%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (5.4%), SISTER ACT (5.3%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (4.0%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (3.9%), ROCK OF AGES (3.6%), ANYTHING GOES (3.6%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (3.5%), THE COLUMNIST (2.7%), PORGY AND BESS (2.1%), EVITA (0.4%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING(0.2%),
Down for the week was: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (-17.6%), THE LYONS (-11.5%), LEAP OF FAITH (-8.6%), MEMPHIS (-8.3%), WAR HORSE (-6.2%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (-5.8%), END OF THE RAINBOW (-5.2%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-4.9%), GODSPELL (-4.2%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-4.1%), CLYBOURNE PARK (-3.9%), JERSEY BOYS (-3.3%), WICKED (-2.7%), MAGIC/BIRD (-2.6%), MARY POPPINS (-2.5%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (-2.5%), NEWSIES (-1.6%), GHOST (-1.5%), DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (-1.4%), ONCE (-0.8%), THE LION KING (-0.4%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN (-0.1%),
Posted on: Monday, April 30, 2012 @ 04:13 PM Posted by: Michael Dale
Clybourne Park & The Sound of Music
It took two years, a Pulitzer Prize and an Olivier Award-winning London production before happening, but Bruce Norris' searing satire, Clybourne Park, has finally made the six-block transfer from Off-Broadway’s Playwright’s Horizon to Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre. The original ensemble of director Pam MacKinnon’s excellent 2010 production has been reunited for the playwright’s scathing telling of the racial integration of a Chicago neighborhood, as seen through the history of one very significant home.
Borrowing slightly from A Raisin in the Sun, Norris opens his play in 1959 in a cozy suburban home that those familiar with Lorraine Hansberry's classic will eventually recognize as the place the Younger family will soon call home. As explained in the original, it's in a white neighborhood and for some reason or another (which Norris expands on) it was being offered at a bargain price.
The couple on the way out is Bev and Russ (a gruff Frank Wood and a distressfully perky Christina Kirk, both outstanding) who get paid a visit by Karl Lindner (Jeremy Shamos), the Raisin character who tried to buyout the Youngers in order to keep his community racially segregated. Unsuccessful at that attempt, he now tries to guilt Russ into going back on his deal by complaining about what it would do to property values and, in one of the play's funnier moments, even tries to use Russ and Bev's maid and her husband (Crystal A. Dickinson and Damon Gupton) as examples of how black people just wouldn't be happy in their community.
The second act takes us to the year 2009 and it seems the Youngers were suburban pioneers, at the head of a surge that turned Clybourne Park into a thriving black community. But the neighborhood has seen better days and this time the bargain hunters are a white couple (Shamos and Annie Parisse) coming in as part of a gentrification movement. Their rebuilding plans are a cause of concern to a black couple (Dickinson and Gupton), particularly the wife, who says the buildings of the community are symbols of an important time in the area's racial history, meant to be preserved as is.
Both acts begin innocuously enough, but MacKinnon and the playwright build scenes to inescapable tones of verbal violence, presenting moments that are simultaneously hilarious and cringe-worthy, while clearly marking shades of difference between black/white communication divided by half a century. The changing dynamics between the characters played by Shamos, Dickinson and Gupton are especially telling and are played with intriguing subtlety and precision.
Clybourne Park packs a wallop to both the gut and the funny bone and is clearly one of the best and most enjoyable new plays New York has seen in several seasons.
Photos by Nathan Johnson: Top: Christina Kirk and Frank Wood; Bottom: Damon Gupton, Annie Parisse, Crystal A. Dickinson and Jeremy Shamos.
I always feel sorry for the guy who plays Rolf in any production of The Sound of Music. He sings a perfectly charming duet about adolescent affection in the first act and in the second act his character commits a brave act of compassion that saves the day, but at curtain call he usually gets no more than friendly applause because, no matter how cute the seventeen going on eighteen year old may be, the musical theatre fangirls just ain’t gonna squeal for a young Nazi. So let me begin with an appreciative pat on the back for Nick Spandler.
In fact, back pats all around for the fine company behind Carnegie Hall’s benefit concert performance of The Sound of Music, directed by Gary Griffin. Rob Fisher conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, playing those glorious Robert Russell Bennett orchestrations for one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most beloved scores.
Using David Ives’ concert adaptation of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s book, room was made for “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good,” both penned for the film version with Rodgers supplying lyrics for his own melodies. The latter replaced the stage version’s “An Ordinary Couple,” a song that make more sense for the characters but frequently finds itself ousted for the movie’s ballad. (“Something Good” is a lovely song, but its references to Maria’s “wicked childhood” and “miserable youth” contradict what the character had been saying up until that point.) The concert also added an overture to the evening, using the film’s opening medley of classics.
Laura Osnes, who has played Nellie Forbush on Broadway, recently starred in the Encores! concert of Pipe Dream and was just announced to play the title role in a Broadway bound Cinderella, adds another R&H heroine to her resume. Her very youthful Maria, seeming just a tad older than the eldest of the von Trapp children, was delightfully bursting with optimistic vigor, singing with a beautiful sweetness that never went too sugary. Her counterpart, Tony Goldwyn, is not a particularly expressive singer, which took some of the heart out of his “Edelweiss,” but his Captain von Trapp made a nice transition from a deeply lonely man to one who can learn to love again.
Those who only know The Sound of Music from the film version might be surprised to see what a sympathetic character Elsa Schraeder is on stage. Though Brooke Shields may lack the soprano necessary to ace the character’s songs, she did an excellent job at playing her unusual conflict; as a woman who has risen to the level of corporate president in the 1930s, her achievements are to be admired, but despite her love for the captain and her real affection for his children, the political differences between the two in regards to dealing with the Nazis is what breaks up their engagement.
Patrick Page proved a perfect match for the comical role of Austrian bureaucrat Max, who prompts the von Trapp children to form a singing ensemble for his own benefit, and mezzo Stephanie Blythe was warm and majestic as the Mother Abbess who inspires Maria with “Climb Every Mountain.”
The musical highlight of the evening was sung by the women of the Mansfield University Concert Choir. As the chorus of nuns, they were staged in several corners and levels within the Carnegie Hall seating areas for their opening “Preludium.” The beautiful a capella sounds coming at the ear from various heights and distances was thrilling to hear.
Posted on: Monday, April 30, 2012 @ 01:37 AM Posted by: Michael Dale
A Streetcar Named Desire & Evita
In every previous Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, a white Blanche DuBois has complained that her sister Stella’s white husband Stanley has “something downright bestial about him.” She refers to him as “sub-human” and “ape-like.” And depending on her co-star’s performance, audience members might have agreed with her to some extent.
But in director Emily Mann's new production, when a light-skinned black Blanche says such things about a darker-skinned black Stanley, describing him as, “like one of those pictures I've seen in anthropological studies,” the words, unchanged from the original, are likely to strike more sensitive nerves in audience members who have encountered such racism in the fifty-five years since they were first uttered on stage, and the classic play’s clashing of class and culture is no longer, as far as audience sentiment is concerned, a fair fight.
Blair Underwood’s Stanley (the surname Kowalski and all references to his being Polish have been dropped) absolutely has his brutish, violent streaks, but his clean-cut, well-chiseled appearance and casual physicality paints him as more of a jaunty bad boy, as outwardly pleasing as Terence Blanchard's lively New Orleans jazz score; music that emphasizes the more inviting side of the French Quarter.
In a production being advertised with the slogan, “The American classic never looked this good,” the sexier qualities of Mann’s cast steadily rise to the surface. Heck, this is a Streetcar where even the Mitch is good-looking.
Daphne Rubin-Vega, an actress who never seems to have any trouble with roles that require her to smolder, shares a dangerously dynamic chemistry with Underwood as Stella; making her an earthy woman who derives sexual excitement from her husband’s behavior, but who recognizes the need to protect her sister from him.
As played by Nicole Ari Parker, the southern belle Blanche isn’t exactly a faded one. The significant moment when a bare light bulb shines in her face to reveal how she really appears exposes her as being pretty damn attractive. Fortunately, the actress credibly brings out Blanche’s delusional instincts as survival tools and, for a brief period, has an attentive ear in Wood Harris’ ambitious, but not quite comfortable in his skin, Mitch.
The individual parts glide smoothly in Mann’s smoky and stylish production. Instead of making a bold statement with racially inclusive casting, this Streetcar, by simply being sturdily played, allows certain nuances to strike differently; staying true to Williams’ text while feeling somewhat refreshed.
Photos by Ken Howard: Top: Blair Underwood; Bottom: Daphne Rubin-Vega and Blair Underwood.
If the notion of a kinder, gentler Evita seems a bit perplexing to those who associate the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber popera with high tension, high belting and high theatrics, they can rest assured that director Michael Grandage hasn’t exactly turned the old gal into a Disney princess. But by casting the two leading roles with an actress who does not possess the traditional fiery belt and an actor whose charisma isn’t served with a side-order of revolution, this new production places more emphasis on the beauty and intricacies of the composer’s best work while, unfortunately, revealing the thinness of the libretto.
Much has been made of the fact that a full-fledged Argentinean, Elena Roger, now takes on the title role. Her accent does stick out from the rest of the company, a constant reminder of the fact. Roger has her fine acting moments and even better dancing ones (Rob Ashford’s dramatic choreography is one of the production’s best features.) but her airy singing voice fails to generate much excitement. She pushes her voice in forced declaration of Eva’s “star quality” and her “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” softly whimpers. By no fault of the actress, this just seems a case of a director’s interpretation placing the wrong person in the role.
Ricky Martin’s Che, now assigned to be an amused everyman instead of an incensed stand-in for Che Guevara, narrates the piece in an entertaining style that suggests Pippin’s Leading Player. Taking his cue from his entrance song, “Oh, What A Circus,” he invites us to indulge in the corrupt spectacle from the safe distance of time, a least once admitting that he himself finds the anti-heroine’s spell hard to resist.
Thus, without political tension thickening the air, Rice’s narrative gets boiled down to the uneventful sequence of Eva sleeping her way to the top, helping Juan Peron win a not quite legitimate presidential election (though the scenes of thuggishness have been eliminated), and have her ups and down as first lady before dying.
But Michael Cerveris digs deep into the relatively small role of Juan Peron, making him an elegant, loving husband who masterfully plays the caring leader to his constituents. Max von Essen livens up the proceedings with his comic take on Eva’s first romantic pawn, heartthrob balladeer Magaldi.
New interpretations of popular favorites are certainly welcome, but Grandage has softened Evita into a well-sung history lesson that frequently loses its pulse.
Photos by Richard Termine: Top: Michael Cerveris and Elena Roger; Bottom: Ricky Martin, Michael Cerveris and Elena Roger.
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Posted on: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 @ 06:20 PM Posted by: Michael Dale
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 4/22/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
“Shakespeare - The nearest thing in incarnation to the eye of God.”
-- Laurence Olivier
The grosses are out for the week ending 4/22/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (20.6%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (11.3%), LEAP OF FAITH (8.2%), THE COLUMNIST (7.6%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (3.8%), CLYBOURNE PARK(3.1%),
Down for the week was: HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (-35.0%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-22.1%), MAMMA MIA! (-21.0%), ANYTHING GOES (-20.0%), SISTER ACT (-19.7%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (-18.1%), MARY POPPINS (-15.8%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (-12.2%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-11.5%), ONCE (-11.2%), GODSPELL (-10.3%), WAR HORSE (-10.1%), MEMPHIS (-10.1%), MAGIC/BIRD (-9.8%), JERSEY BOYS (-8.4%), ROCK OF AGES (-7.0%), PORGY AND BESS (-6.2%), SEMINAR (-6.0%), THE LYONS (-6.0%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (-5.2%), CHICAGO (-4.6%), EVITA (-3.9%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-3.5%), WICKED (-3.0%), GHOST (-1.9%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-1.7%), END OF THE RAINBOW (-1.5%), VENUS IN FUR (-1.5%), NEWSIES (-1.4%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (-1.0%), THE LION KING (-0.5%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN (-0.2%),
Posted on: Monday, April 23, 2012 @ 03:42 PM Posted by: Michael Dale
The Best Man & The Mikado
Remember when political conventions were fun? When the delegates gathered into town, not to perfunctorily declare a pre-determined winner, but to debate through multiple votes, late night deals and maybe a few protest rallies to come up with a nominee?
As much as we demand transparency and honesty in government, Americans still can’t resist the theatre of juicy political scandals and reports of back room bargaining. Gore Vidal’s 1960 drama, The Best Man, permits us a peek at the seedier side of presidential politics before giving us some hope that decency may stand a chance. As the old saying goes, things haven’t changed much and every so often a line flies out of director Michael Wilson‘s gripping, starry production that if you didn’t know better you’d swear must have been added to give the play a contemporary jolt.
John Larroquette gives a stately and sardonic portrayal of William Russell, a liberal candidate who heads into his unnamed party’s convention leading the race over conservative adversary Senator Joseph Cantwell (a slick and charismatic Eric McCormack). Russell could win on the first ballot unless ex-President Arthur Hockstader (a robust and commanding James Earl Jones, looking like he’s having a splendid time) decides to throw his support in Cantwell’s direction. And while an unseen third candidate stands little chance of victory, his delegates, if released, could also become a deciding factor.
Both Russell and Cantwell have skeletons in the closet; issues that would be more acceptable to many Americans today, but would certainly keep a candidate out office fifty years ago. When one candidate threatens to release evidence against his opponent, the other must consider if he should counter with newly discovered knowledge about a long-ago event – a real doozy for 1960 – that could sink the man’s entire career.
Meanwhile, the wives of the candidates are trying their best to impress the party’s grand dame, played by Angela Lansbury with a delicious mixture of elegance and shrewd cunning. Kerry Butler’s game-playing Mrs. Cantwell sports a sexy drawl and a clingy wardrobe while Candice Bergen’s socially awkward Mrs. Russell – playing the supportive wife despite difficulties in her marriage – blurts out honest observations that are sure to draw applause from audiences.
Solid supporting turns are contributed by Michael McKean as Russell’s capable campaign manager and Jefferson Mays as a nervous citizen whose word could affect the entire election. There’s even an appearance by New York City’s former first lady Donna Hanover, playing a reporter.
While designer Derek McLane’s versatile set smoothly gliding from festive convention locations to hotel suites, Wilson’s edgy mounting smoothly glides from sharp satirical moments to frustratingly realistic ones. This one’s a landslide victory.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: James Earl Jones and John Larroquette; Bottom: Kerry Butler, Eric McCormack and Angela Lansbury.
Perhaps there are funnier shows than Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, and perhaps there are shows with more beautiful music. But it’s my conviction that you’re not going to find a funnier theatre piece with such beautiful music, nor a lovelier score matched with such a hilarious text.
The Collegiate Chorale’s concert performance of the 1885 classic, in collaboration with the American Symphony Orchestra and under Ted Sperling’s baton, certainly stressed the enchanting choral qualities of selections like “Miya Sama” and “Braid The Raven Hair” and, with limited space to work with, a terrific cast of Broadway favorites managed to fit a feast of humor onto the lip of Carnegie Hall’s stage.
Christopher Fitzgerald, a superior musical comedy clown who, in another era, might have taken a few jobs away from Eddie Cantor, was an impish delight as Ko-Ko, the humble tailor of a long-ago Japanese village who, by the plot’s twisted politics, winds up being appointed Lord High Executioner. His rendition of “I’ve Got A Little List,” a comic patter naming the people Ko-Ko would like to see upon the chopping block, which is traditionally updated to include topical references, contained expected mentions of the Kardashians and Facebook fanatics, but ended cleverly with a criticism of comics who milk their bits, testing the conductor’s patience.
Victoria Clark’s eccentric Katisha was played out like a madwoman, with the actress seeming to improvise funny bits with her wildly-teased out hair. It’s remarkable how Jason Danieley and Kelli O’Hara could both sing so gloriously with their tongues held so firmly in their cheeks as lovers Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, though O’Hara played it straight for a sterling performance of “The Moon and I.” In the title role, Chuck Cooper matched his hearty vocals with mischievous giggles.
With fine support by Jonathan Freeman as a snobby Pooh-Bah and Lauren Worsham as a snarky Pitti-Sing, the only negative about this concert of The Mikado is that it wasn’t a fully mounted production playing on Broadway.
Photo of Christopher Fitzgerald, Jason Danieley and Kelli O'Hara by Erin Baiano.
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Posted on: Thursday, April 19, 2012 @ 01:59 AM Posted by: Michael Dale
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 4/15/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"I love that moment just before the curtain goes up. Whether I'm sitting in the audience or standing backstage. It's full of expectation. It's a thrill that's unequaled anywhere."
-- Joel Grey
The grosses are out for the week ending 4/15/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: THE LYONS (24.3%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (14.9%), PORGY AND BESS (14.2%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (12.5%), ANYTHING GOES (12.2%), GODSPELL (11.8%), MEMPHIS (10.7%), MAGIC/BIRD (8.2%), THE COLUMNIST (7.7%), ONCE (7.2%), JERSEY BOYS (7.2%), MAMMA MIA! (6.0%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (5.4%), END OF THE RAINBOW (5.4%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (5.1%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (5.0%), GHOST (4.9%), CLYBOURNE PARK (4.4%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (4.3%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (2.0%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (2.0%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (1.8%), ROCK OF AGES (1.5%), SISTER ACT (0.9%), WAR HORSE (0.7%), NEWSIES(0.1%),
Down for the week was: LEAP OF FAITH (-5.0%), SEMINAR (-4.8%), CHICAGO (-3.8%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-3.7%), DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (-3.5%), EVITA (-2.1%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (-2.0%), MARY POPPINS (-0.8%), VENUS IN FUR (-0.2%),
Posted on: Monday, April 16, 2012 @ 08:51 PM Posted by: Michael Dale
Peter And The Starcatcher
Last season’s debate over whether the Best Play Tony should be awarded for the quality of the written text or for the production as a whole – set off by the nomination and subsequent victory of War Horse – is likely to be brought up again if the raucously funny and surprisingly tender Peter And The Starcatcher is included among this year’s nominees.
Rick Elice's text, based on the same-named novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson – a prequel to J. M. Barrie's tale of Peter Pan – is just as good a comedy as War Horse is a drama, but helping to make the genial silliness palatable (there are corny puns aplenty and a couple of bodily function bits) is the brilliantly fun staging by co-directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, that tells a spectacular fairy tale story though wonderfully clever low-budget theatrics.
13-year-old Molly (a very proper Celia Keenan-Bolger), the daughter of "starcatcher," Lord Aster (Rick Holmes), while on board the good ship Neverland, attempts to rescue a young orphan who will eventually be named Peter (scrappy Adam Chanler-Berat) from being sold into slavery, while keeping close guard of a large trunk that contains, as her father says, "the greatest treasure on earth." (In order to keep her mission secret, the two of them communicate in the language of the dodo bird.)
But there is piracy afoot, particulary in the show-stealing antics of Christian Borle, who sports a thick, black soup-strainer as the villainous Black Stache. His maniacally hammy performance, reminiscent of Groucho Marx in his side-splitting wise-cracking and mock-balletic physicality, frequently threatens to pack the rest of the production in a valise so he can carry it home with him. (At one point he charges onto the stage upon hearing that a crocodile has been seen chewing the scenery: “Not during my scenes!.”)
Set designer Donyale Werle frames the stage in a beautifully golden, classically Victorian proscenium arch, but underneath, the play’s many locales are achieved impressionistically, with the help of Jeff Croiter's distinctive lighting. In some instances, a long rope held just right is all that's needed to create an assortment of places.
Act II opens with Borle leading the almost entirely male company, dressed in Paloma Young’s makeshift mermaid outfits highlighted by shiny vegetable steamers that add sparkle to their breasts, in a nutty music hall number that suggests the lunacy yet to come.
When the story resumes, the shipwrecked characters are now on an island where the inhabitants' leader (Teddy Bergman) barks out orders that sound like the specials at an Italian bistro. This half reveals the secrets behind why Peter never grows up, where Tinkerbelle came from, how Captain Hook lost his hand and other details of Barrie's classic characters. It all makes perfect sense and is really quite touching, particularly in the performances of Bolger and Chanler-Berat, who compete for leadership while escaping danger, but who also grow to admire and respect each other while feeling the first tingles of adolescent affection.
Peter and the Starcatcher makes for an excellent piece of family entertainment. The youngsters will enjoy the physical comedy and there's a strong central female character. And there's verbal wit a-plenty for the adults. While set in the early 20th Century, there are scattered modern references used as punch lines (Stache describes Molly's trunk as, "Elusive as the melody in a Philip Glass opera."), but the wackiness of the evening embraces such anachronisms just as naturally as audiences will be embracing Peter and the Starcatcher.
Photos provided by O&M Co.: Top: Adam Chanler-Berat and Celia Keenan-Bolger; Bottom: Matt D'Amico, Rick Holmes, Isaiah Johnson, Adam Chanler-Berat and Christian Borle.
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Posted on: Monday, April 16, 2012 @ 02:40 AM Posted by: Michael Dale
Magic/Bird: High Flying, Adored
“Are you the great white hope?” a Boston sports reporter asks the Indiana-grown college star newly acquired by the home team; a player expected to help his suspiciously pale-hued group of teammates win basketball championships.
Larry Bird didn’t join the Boston Celtics to prove that white guys can compete with the overwhelmingly black majority of NBA players, but in the racially divisive climate of 1980’s Boston, the team’s largely white fan base and reputation for preferring to seek out white talent over black definitely stood out.
Likewise, Earvin “Magic” Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t expect to become the straight face of AIDS, but the 1991 discovery of his being HIV positive – a star athlete and family man who claimed no history of homosexual activity – shocked, depressed and, hopefully, educated those who disregarded the epidemic as a “gay disease.”
These two issues continually linger in the background of Eric Simonson’s solidly meat and potatoes sports drama, Magic/Bird. Teaming up again with director Thomas Kail, who did such an excellent job with Simonson’s Lombardi, the playwright effectively contrasts the public, professional and private lives of the two men whose dominating play and heated rivalry fueled a newly passionate interest in the National Basketball Association that has been credited with keeping the league from going bankrupt.
The gregarious, media-friendly Johnson and the introverted, enigmatic Bird only faced each other once in college ball, but media coverage of the two prospects made each fully aware of the other’s challenge to his claim of being the best young player in the game. Joining the NBA in the same season, Johnson was named Most Valuable Player of the playoffs while Bird won Rookie of the Year. They spent the next decade competing for honors and championships, until Johnson’s career ended with his HIV diagnosis (players were reluctant to play with him for fear of contracting the virus) and Bird’s back problems closed out his playing days. They were breifly united as teammates, representing the United States when the Olympic Games opened their basketball competition to professonals.
Simonson’s play, which cleverly opens with the six-member ensemble cast introduced individually like players are before a game, is a loosely-structured duo portrait; a collage of scenes chronicling the hesitant friendship between the two that, because of their profession, could only be fully realized once their careers were over. Kevin Daniels may not exude the magnetic charisma of Magic Johnson, but his grounded performance shows us a young man doing his best to adjust to instant celebrity. Tug Coker’s quiet, thoughtful Larry Bird is the more interesting presence, as the athlete uses cold indifference to avoid controversy and keep himself focused on the game.
The play’s best scene has the two men, at the peak of their rivalry, brought together to film a sneaker commercial near Bird’s Indiana home. When the Celtic invites the Laker to spend a lunch break with him and his mom (warm and funny Deirdre O’Connell) the two, left alone, tentatively bond over their common experiences.
Another terrific scene involves the play’s four other ensemble members. In this one O’Connell tends bar at a Boston pub where a white Celtics fan (Peter Scolari) loudly praises his team for challenging what he perceives as the NBA’s prejudice against white players. His remarks are answered back by a black Lakers fan (Francois Battiste); a resident of Cambridge who won’t support the home team because of their reluctance to look past skin color.
Battiste gets a lot of laughs from sports-loving audience members for his high-pitched impersonation of Bryant Gumbel and Scolari scores with his portrayals of crusty Boston coach Red Auerbach and slick L.A. coach Pat Riley.
Kail’s fluid production smartly employs game footage to avoid some of the awkwardness that inevitably occurs when theatre and athletics try to mix. At the performance I attended, Coker hit all the easy layups he was required to make, but most depictions of actual game-playing involve Howell Binkley’s lighting helping the live action smoothly blend in and out of Jeff Sugg’s media design.
Perhaps Magic/Bird would have been a more interesting play if the issues of racism and HIV were pushed more to the forefront, but as it stands, Simonson offers an appealing duo-character portrait and Kail keeps the drama entertaining until the final buzzer.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Tug Coker and Kevin Daniels; Bottom: Peter Scolari.
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Posted on: Saturday, April 14, 2012 @ 07:10 PM Posted by: Michael Dale
Newsies: Slow News Day
If I said that Newsies hasn’t improved any since its premiere engagement at Paper Mill would you roll your eyes and mumble something about how haters are going to hate?
Ten years from now, after Disney has extended the show’s limited Broadway run for the 37th time, Newsies will no doubt be regarded as the plucky little musical that went against the odds and proved the naysayers wrong; an erroneous point because I can’t think of anyone who would have ever doubted that Newsies would be a huge hit. After all, it has all the ingredients needed for musical theatre success in the 21st Century; attractive young men belting pop anthems and leaping across the stage performing athletic spins and flips.
But underneath the flashy performances of its title ensemble, Newsies is a slow-moving, workmanlike musical that takes an interesting, historic episode in the American labor movement and presents it as the kind of spunky entertainment that takes formulaic aim at the heart without earning any emotional payback through well-crafted storytelling.
As in the 1992 film (a financial flop that has gained a cult following through the years), the score is the work of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman, though new songs have been added and some lyrics have been revised. (If you were of a cynical nature, you might say that just enough revisions were made to claim the score is at least 51% new, qualifying it for Tony Award consideration.) A change from the Paper Mill production has new cast member, the engaging Capathia Jenkins as the helpful Bowery music hall star, given a new song that makes the same non-impression as the character’s previous number.
Bookwriter Harvey Fierstein has made some major changes in the story as originally presented in Bob Tzudiker and Noni White's screenplay, giving the leads more definition, but the show suffers from having too many characters with unnecessary musical moments, taking time away from the main pair and making their love story appear pasted in.
Set in 1899 New York, the plot concerns the thousands of underpaid boys, usually homeless or orphaned, who hawked newspapers on the street. The system set up by publisher Joseph Pulitzer (John Dossett) required them to buy a daily supply in the morning and they would not be refunded for unsold papers. Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan) is a newsie who sings of his dream for a better life in Santa Fe; a choice of location that seems oddly random.
New to the profession are David (Ben Fankhauser) and his little brother Les (Lewis Grosso and Matthew Schechter alternate in fulfilling the show's "cute moppet who says adorably funny things" requirement.), who have been sent to work because of their father's job-related injury. Without a union, he's been unemployed without compensation. They arrive around the time when Pulitzer institutes an increase in the distribution cost the newsies must pay. Inspired by the recent headlines of a trolley strike, Jack and David begin organizing a strike of their own, encouraging newsies from all papers throughout New York to join them. (Historically, this strike would lead to a movement to support the rights of all child laborers.)
Helping their cause with a headline story is reporter Katharine (Kara Lindsay), herself fighting against the gender-related restrictions of the day. Her affection for Jack is fueled by her admiration for his achievements as a self-taught artist (a new aspect to the plot and Fierstein's best addition) and his emerging talent as an influential editorial cartoonist.
The serviceable score alternates styles between period-flavored ragtime and vaudeville and a more contemporary Broadway pop sound that seems jarring in the period setting. (Another jarringly out of period moment occurs when Fierstein has Governor Roosevelt say of Pulitzer, "He doesn't do happiness.") There's a very good musical scene for Katherine, where she tries writing an article about the strike with her mind continually wandering to romantic thoughts of Jack. More character-driven writing like that is severely needed.
Also severely needed it a reason for the musical's many extended dance moments to exist. As in the film, choreographer Christopher Gattelli has the boys breaking into parades of gymnastic leaps and flips but the book never incorporates dance into the story and, despite the impressive athleticism, it grows redundant and tiresome. There's a fine moment where the boys express their unity and anger with Irish folk steps, but the occasional ballet turns seem out of character for this rowdy, uneducated bunch and when the second act opens with a lively tap dance routine, the company starts resembling the kind of poor, immigrant children you'd find on a 1930s MGM soundstage.
While director Jeff Calhoun's company doesn't contain a weak link, the material doesn't provide much opportunity for standing out, either. The company goes through the evening with sufficient skills and charm but Newsies is just too bland to excite. This is one of those cases where a group of talented professionals who have done much better work in the past have simply not hit their marks well. There's a good story in Newsies but perhaps instead of tinkering with improving the source material they might have achieved better results by starting from scratch.
Photos by Deen van Meer: Top: Jeremy Jordan (center) and Company; Bottom: Aaron J. Albano and Jess LeProtto.
Posted on: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 @ 02:59 AM Posted by: Michael Dale
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 4/8/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"One reason we lasted so long is that we usually played two people who were very much in love. As we were realistic actors, we became those two people. So we had a divertissement; I had an affair with him, and he with me."
-- Lynn Fontanne
The grosses are out for the week ending 4/8/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: MARY POPPINS (17.9%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (14.5%), MAMMA MIA! (12.5%), MAGIC/BIRD (10.8%), WAR HORSE (8.3%), SISTER ACT (7.3%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (5.6%), EVITA (3.9%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (3.7%), WICKED (3.2%), CHICAGO (3.1%), GHOST (2.4%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (2.1%), ROCK OF AGES (1.8%), ANYTHING GOES (0.9%), NEWSIES (0.4%),
Down for the week was: SEMINAR (-27.0%), VENUS IN FUR (-17.6%), PORGY AND BESS (-15.1%), END OF THE RAINBOW (-15.1%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (-9.9%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-9.5%), GODSPELL (-6.8%), DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (-5.9%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-5.8%), CLYBOURNE PARK (-2.8%), MEMPHIS (-2.7%), JERSEY BOYS (-2.0%), ONCE (-1.7%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (-0.9%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-0.9%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN (-0.2%),
Posted on: Monday, April 09, 2012 @ 03:57 PM Posted by: Michael Dale
Jesus Christ Superstar & The Morini Strad
In October of 1971, three days after the original Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar began its week and a half of previews, the title song of what is considered to be the world's first rock opera was heard on American television's highest-rated show. No, it wasn't The Ed Sullivan Show, which had ended its run earlier in the year, but the controversial new sitcom, All In The Family.
The set-up was that conservative Archie Bunker gets arrested while trying to save his son-in-law Mike at an anti-war rally that had turned violent and he's now sharing a jail cell with a group of hippies listening to Jesus Christ Superstar on their transistor radios.
"You mean you don't dig Jesus Christ Superstar?," asks a cellmate after a furious Archie demands that they turn the music off.
"I dug Jesus way back before you weirdoes turned Him into a superstar," he barks back.
"You condemn this music? This music has brought many young people to Christ."
"Listen here, buddy, Jesus wants you to come to Him on your knees, not wiggling and jiggling until your parts fall off!"
It was a quick exchange played for comedy, but it did address a real issue that was angering more and more as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's creation made its way from concept album to Broadway show. The mere use of rock music in telling the story of Jesus, no matter what the intention, was seen by many vocal religious leaders and their faithful as a disrespectful outrage. And those who looked past Webber's music, certainly the most hard-driving rock score of his career, were frequently unhappy with Rice's libretto, which treats the last days of Christ as an unstoppable climax to a political movement where a sympathetic Judas fears that his beloved friend has placed himself above the message he set out to convey.
Of course, it only takes a few decades for subversive art to be accepted as family friendly, and Jesus Christ Superstar, like rock music itself, is now widely accepted as suitable entertainment for the masses. Which is a bit of a shame, because the audacity of its very existence is what gave the show much of its original dramatic strength. Without the threat of being offensive, or at least revolutionary, the blurry storytelling of Rice's text - which seems to play under the presumption that the audience already knows the plot coming in - and the lack of variety in Webber's score (that second act vaudeville number is such a relief) rises to the forefront. And while the piece can give the customers a swell time just by playing up its potential for rock concert pageantry, a bit more character work is needed to make it do anything more than merely rock hard.
Des McAnuff, whose new mounting hits town after stints at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and La Jolla, is a director whose New York productions have generally succeeded more when stressing rock concert pageantry (Tommy, Jersey Boys) than with character work (How to Succeed..., Guys and Dolls). His knack for kinetic energy is in full force, but the material is frequently overwhelmed by flashy ideas (Jesus being thrust over the audience on a platform with the blazing lights of a cross shining like a Broadway marquee.) and the dazzle of Paul Tazewell's costumes, which range from Vegasy to fetishy.
It's a very well-sung production, though the individual actors achieve mixed results in elevating the evening beyond a loosely-plotted concert. Josh Young rises above, maintaining a high level of charisma while giving weight to Judas' conflicted soul. Paul Nolan seems to be underplaying Jesus a bit too much, saving his emotions for the realization of the inevitability of his fate. It's admirable that Chilina Kennedy's Mary Magdalene is not made to sing "I Don't Know How To Love Him" as "the hit song" but her aimless rendition carries no impact at all.
The dependable Tom Hewitt makes a memorably sturdy impression as the thoughtful Pilate and Bruce Dow's Herod exudes the requisite campiness for his comical number.
Those looking for a bit of harmless Broadway fun should enjoy themselves at this new revival, but Jesus Christ Superstar is really a lot more fun when it doesn't seem so harmless.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Paul Nolan, Josh Young and Company; Bottom: Tom Hewitt.
You might say Erica Morini's life began as a fantasy and ended as a mystery. As a young violinist she made her debut with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1916 at the age of twelve. During her sixty-year career as an acclaimed musician, she played a Stradivarius made in 1727. As she lay in her hospital bed, dying from heart disease at age 91, the exceedingly valuable instrument was stolen from her Fifth Avenue apartment, along with other items, in a crime that remains unsolved.
Playwright Willy Holtzman uses this storied instrument as the connection between his characters in The Morini Strad, a (mostly) two-character play that follows the familiar pattern of intergenerational two-character plays (the colorful and/or crusty older character with a wealth of stories and/or observations finds an excuse to share many of them with a less-interesting younger character), but nevertheless provides sufficient charms for a pleasant interlude.
Mary Beth Peil plays the sharp-tongued and prickly Morini at the point of her life when she's retired from the concert stage, no longer able to perform at the elite level she was known for, and finds little joy in being regulated to teaching lesser talents privately and in master classes.
She intends to sell her trusty Strad, valued at many millions, in order to support her lifestyle for whatever time is left, but a slight imperfection - the result of furious demonstration of proper technique for an uninspiring student - threatens to decrease the instrument's value, so she turns to Brian (Michael Laurence), a luthier whose expertise and discretion in repairing such imperfections is a well-kept secret in her inner circle.
There's not a great deal of initial warmth between the artisan whose job is to replicate a consistent perfection and the artist who uses the result of his work to consistently create a varying perfection. Erica made sacrifices in her life to achieve artistic success while Brian set aside his dreams of being a great craftsman of stringed instruments to support his wife and children with more immediate opportunities making repairs. But, as expected, their professional dependence on one another leads to mutual affection and understanding.
While the play offers little in the way of drama, director Casey Child's company lifts the evening into being a softly played chamber piece. Peil's balances Morini's acidic remarks with the loneliness the woman feels at having outlived both her contemporaries and, in her mind, her reason to be alive. Laurence's Brian is quietly eloquent and prideful for his underappreciated role in bringing great music into the world. Young violinist Hanah Stuart rounds out the cast as an image of the prodigy Erica, playing bits of pieces throughout the play; a reminder of the joy that once was.
Photos by James Leynse: Top: Mary Beth Peil and Michael Laurence; Bottom: Hanah Stuart.
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Posted on: Monday, April 09, 2012 @ 12:04 PM Posted by: Michael Dale
End Of The Rainbow: Clang! Clang! Clang! Went The Subtext
If energy and physical commitment equaled craft and technique, Tracie Bennett's performance as Judy Garland in End Of The Rainbow might be considered one of the great triumphs of the season. But Peter Quilter's flimsy play offers her little in the way of support and director Terry Johnson has her playing more highly strung caricature than character, reducing the enterprise to little more than an endurance test for those at both sides of the footlights.
Commencing in late 1968 London, in set designer William Dudley's overwhelmingly opulent or garish (your choice) luxury suite at the Ritz, the play has a financially struggling Garland arriving for a five-week gig at The Talk of The Town. It's just six months before the troubled entertainer's death became a factor in sparking the gay rights movement and she is newly engaged to musician Mickey Deans (Tom Pelphrey), 12 years her junior (a significant gap in those days), who is determined to keep her away from pills and booze so that she get back to work and start paying her debts. It's hardly a fair fight.
There's great dramatic potential in the relationship between the star and her new playmate, particularly because Deans' treatment of her appears close to abusive at times, though his actions are attempts to keep her from self-destruction. Unfortunately there is no sexual or romantic chemistry between Bennett and Pelphrey and Deans' quick fits of anger carry no sense of danger.
Garland's glib remarks, temper tantrums, vulgar jokes, comments about her ex-husbands (though never any mention of her children) and attempts to charm her way to hidden stashes of pills and liquor are to be expected (though her impersonation of a cocker spaniel was, indeed, a surprise) but the playwright rarely gives us a reason to sympathize with his subject, perhaps assuming we'd walk in with enough love for her to spare him the need.
Thus, on the occasions when the back wall of the room lifts up and we're suddenly treated to music director Jeffrey Saver's six piece ensemble accompanying the star with Chris Eagan's brassy arrangements of classics like "The Trolley Song," "The Man That Got Away" and "Come Rain Or Come Shine," there's little emotional foundation to lift these moments above being more than a novelty act. Bennett is obviously working extremely hard to nail the singing voice and the elaborate physical gestures and to pump as much desperate energy as possible into these showcase moments, but even when we see the star crumbling in front of her British fans mid-performance there is nothing to commit to emotionally.
The only one who manages to generate any legitimate pathos is the fine stage actor Michael Cumpsty, playing Anthony, the music director who is working with Garland for the first time in five years. In the first act, Cumpsty is regulated to being the peripheral gay man who cuts in every so often with a clever remark, but in the second act he's handed the two best-written (and perhaps the only well-written) scenes in the play; intimate moments between Anthony and Garland where he expresses non-sexual love for her, though it seems grounded by the memory of her film images, and the willingness to take care of her for rest of their days. Bennett's reactions nicely convey confusion regarding her character's feelings about the way she's seen by gay men.
If only the rest of End Of The Rainbow had that much heart.
Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Tracie Bennett and Tom Pelphrey; Bottom: Michael Cumpsty and Tracie Bennett.
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Posted on: Tuesday, April 03, 2012 @ 11:10 AM Posted by: Michael Dale