Dear Evan Hansen…

…it turns out it’s going to be a pretty damn good show!

DearEvanIn this era of, “take a moderately successful movie, throw in some stunt casting and turn it into a musical,” I search for those ever more rare gems that are original works for the stage. Friday night, in Dear Evan Hansen at Arena Stage, I hit that even rarer theatrical Grand Slam, original book, original lyrics, original score and…AND, it was really, really good! I went into this show blind, I knew nothing about it except it was directed by Michael Greif (i.e. Next to Normal, Rent, that fact alone is sufficient to get my posterior into any theater seat!) I was rewarded with a wonderful and moving evening of theater. It’s one of the reasons I try and encourage people to take a theatrical risk here and there, if you always default to the known quantity how are you going to discover something new, something potentially great? With all the truly exceptional shows I’ve seem multiple times (and will see again), Cabaret, Next to Normal, Les Mis, Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…the second or third time around are never as good, you can never recapture that moment of discovery.

But, before I get totally side tracked, let me get back to this show.

Dear Evan Hansen, I don’t want to give too much away, covers a not uncommon and universal topic of the outcast teenager and explores too often relevant affects social media can have in both aggrandizing and ostracizing people, especially teenagers. The story revolves around two teenage boys, Evan Hansen and Conner Murphy, both social outcasts who could not be more different, yet shared many similarities. Both had no friends, both were being medicated, both had less than ideal family lives and both felt trapped, with little concept of escape.

Minor spoiler alert here.

These characters were never friends until one commits suicide; after that they develop a pretty strong bond. Their first song together is easily my favorite song in the show. You’ll have to trust me this posthumous relationship just works. The suicide comes out very early in the show and if I’m going to recommend you see this show, which I am doing, I feel an obligation to mention it. Everyone I spoke to at intermission and after the show mentioned someone they knew who committed suicide; which plays right into the premise of the story. We all have some internal need to connect with a tragedy, especially suicide, and if this is a tender topic for you, perhaps this show is not for you. I think it confounds us, this act, where the perpetrator is the true victim, yet so many can suffer the affects and also feel victimized. The core of the story revolves around how the families, schoolmates (after all he had no friends before he died) and complete strangers (enter the social media aspect) react to the tragedy; the recriminations, the search for consolation, the need to place blame and the search for absolution.

Lest you be concerned, this show does not devolve into some sort of Wagnerian death cycle. Rather, this complex topic is explored with honest forthrightness and just the right touch of humor and is in the end an uplifting story. A coming of age story. A story that says it does get better, you’re not trapped.

The music and lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, which lean not unpleasantly toward the modern rock opera style, have gained neat purchase in my not-so-sub-conscious and are a great compliment the book by Steven Levenson. I’m mildly frustrated not to have a song list to reference and even more perturbed that a soundtrack is likely nowhere in the near future. The song “Sincerely, Me” (no idea if that’s the actual title) is easily my favorite song and establishes the relationship between Conner and Evan; it’s actually quite funny and helps to set the balance between the drama and comedy. The poignant sister’s song, “No Requiem,” questions why everyone is mourning someone they did not know and did not like and she resolves that she will not feign grief for someone who made her life difficult, despite the fact that she is quite obviously grieving. There were so many good songs!

What’s most impressive about this show is how complete it feels. I know they’ve been work shopping it for a while but the Friday night performance was the first preview performance and if they were that good on the first night think what they’re going to be like in a a couple of weeks when they’ve really settled into their roles. Sure there weren’t a few things here and there, the first number was a little wobbly, there was one duet with Conner and Evan where the actor’s dynamics seemed a little off; some minor audio issues, mostly when the sister was singing; but really that’s just being a picky. The positives of the show far outweigh any first performance wobbliness. I am very tempted to go back towards the end of the run and see where they are then, it can only get better.

Not to take anything away from the rest of this excellent cast but the core of the show are Ben Platt and Mike Faist as Evan and Connor, respectively. I suppose casting Mr. Platt could be considered “stunt casting” (personal per peeve) but as I am totally unfamiliar with the Pitch Perfect-verse it concerns me not at all. Plus, young Mr. Platt has some serious theater cred, most impressively having recently played Elder Cunningham (Book of Mormon) on Broadway, and he has an actual theatrical resume. Mr. Faist, likewise, while young is building an significant resume and his turn as Connor is quite impressive. I might actually prefer it to Mr. Platt’s performance, but that’s a fine hair to split. The two actors have great chemistry as their characters depict the opposite sides of the “outcast” coin. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t give special praise to Rachel Bay Jones, who’s “Mother’s Lament” (see without a song list I make up my own names) had me in tears, it was a powerful performance of a very poignant and truth filled song.

Finally, this post would be incomplete without the cherry topper of the evening, while loitering after the show, thanks to the quick eye of new friend, I was able to get Michael Greif’s autograph! No disrespect to the lovely actors but that just really made my day! It’s a pretty rare opportunity.

I sincerely hope this makes it way to Broadway, and I’m quite willing to forego the opportunity to see Clueless the Musical or Fight Club: the Rock Opera, to see something like this instead.

Galavant – A Fairy Tale Musical

Obviously ABC is attempting to cash in on the relative success of the “Once” franchise and the “Glee” trend of making musicality on TV acceptable. The more I watch this clip the more I want to see the show. It helps that they’re not taking themselves seriously at all, and that there’s a distinct touch of Python to the whole thing. I give serious credit to anyone who had the courage to pitch this show and to the people who approved it. It may be an abysmal failure, I mean has there been a successful musical TV series? “Glee” really doesn’t count, it’s not truly a musical; “Smash” started out strong but faded fast; even the star power of Hugh Jackman couldn’t save “Viva Laughlin;” anybody remember “Cop Rock?” Plus, it’s nice to see something new on TV that isn’t another CSI-esque drama or rom-com sit-com.  This could be the only good three minutes out of all 8 proposed episode but it looks just ludicrous enough to work, at least in the short term. Coming up with decent musical numbers week after week is going to be difficult; although, Mr. Menken is certainly prolific. I will be totally annoyed if there’s only one or two musical numbers per episode, that is not a musical; in a hour format, a minimum of 4 is what I would require.

The plot seems pretty standard, but then again it is a Fairy Tale, there are standard tropes one must hit in a good fairy tale. They have a handsome prince, check: damsel in distress, check; evil but not particularly dangerous villain, check; thwarted romance, check; galloping horses, check; but at the same time they’re poking fun at the genre as well. We will have to wait and see if this will be a fun bit of escapism or just bad. Either way I’ll be tuning in, assuming it doesn’t play against Sharknado III.

It starts January 4th, put it on your calendars.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HebCU8X34JE

The River – Broadway Fall 2014

HughJackmanNot that I ever need a reason to go to NYC to see a show but there are a few sure fire ways triggering the ticket hunt and trip planning. One of those triggers is Hugh Jackman returning to Broadway! He’s starring in a new play called The River, click here for the article in Playbill, by Jez Butterworth. No idea what it’s about, sometime it just doesn’t matter, there are those performer I go see just because I’m compelled to, Alan Cumming, is another one. If he’s on stage with-in driving distance I’m there! Previews start Oct. 31 and it’s a limited 13 week engagement, I’m going to be all over those tickets the second they go on sale.

This will actually time out perfectly with another play that’s opening in October, Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, I’ve seen it performed once and wouldn’t mind seeing again performed by the caliber of actors that they’ve cast including Cynthia Nixon, Maggie Gyllenhaal and the oh so adorable Ewan McGregor making his Broadway debut.

15 Shows Not to Miss – D.C. ’14-15 Season

The majority of the local theaters have released their 2014-15 line up and after careful perusal I’ve come up with a list of, I won’t call it “must see” shows, let’s call them “shows of interest”. Don’t be fooled into thinking these 15 shows are the only ones I’m going to see, oh no, there are plenty more I will go see and others that will remain on my radar but having given myself the task of whittling the season down to a group of shows that I think have great potential this is what I’ve come up with. I pick the shows based on a variety of factors including of course personal taste, the actors, writers or directors attached to the project, or subject matter. Sometimes purely on a whim, so you can see it’s a very scientific quantitative process.

The shows are NOT in any order of preference, besides chronological, and if you want to see their full season offering for any of the theaters just click on their name, trust me there’s A  LOT I’m leaving out and quite a bit more probably worth seeing so you should explore a little on your own as well.
** means it’s a World Premier, we have more than a few.

  1. Sunday in the Park with GeorgeSignature Theatre
    August 5 – September 21, 2014 – Okay, this is one of those shows I’m going to go see because I feel I should. I have at best a rocky relationship with Mr. Sondheim, really his shows aren’t for everyone. Sometimes I like them, sometime I hate them, sometimes I just don’t get them. But Sondheim is kind of Signature’s groove and it’s kicking off their 25th anniversary season, so I’m betting they’re pulling out all the stops.

  2. TPTSA_-LittleDancer_400x400Little Dancer** – Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater
    October 25, 2014 – November 30, 2014 – Written by the Ton Award winning team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (think Ragtime, among many others) and directed and choreographed Susan Strohman. Yeah, I’m going to go see that. It’s a fictionalized account of the girl who posed for the iconic “Dancer” sculpture by Degas.

    3. A Festival of Radical New Theatre From Moscow – Woolly Mammoth October 25–November 9, 2014. Over 75 Russian artists will descend on Woolly Mammoth to present four new works from distinct companies representing the cutting edge of Moscow’s theatre scene. Sadly, just as I was getting ready to upload this post I learned that due to the current tensions between the US and Russia this production has been canceled. It does not look like the Moscow Theater companies are going to be able to get funding and permission to travel here. I’m terribly disappointed as this sounded like a unique opportunity.
  3. The TempestShakespeare Theatre Company
    December 2014 – This show wasn’t part of my original list simply because I’ve seen The Tempest more than a few times (as I am a STC subscriber I am seeing it regardless) but I am recommending it quite simply on the strength of the director Ethan McSweeny. His production of Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2012 is at damn near (if not at) the top of the list of all-time favorite shows at STC.
  4. Famous Puppet Death ScenesWoolly Mammoth Theatre Company
    December 9, 2014–January 4, 2015 – A collection of twenty-two scenes of famous puppet deaths; that is the description. I have no idea what’s it’s going to be like but the title is enough to tweak my interest.

  5. Diner**Signature Theatre
    December 9, 2014 – January 25, 2014 – Apparently Cheryl Crow has finally gotten the news that it’s cool for popular musicians to score musicals (if it’s good enough for Bono…) Yes, it’s based on a movie, which I generally revile but you throw in Barry Levinson and top it off with Kathleen Marshall directing. Yeah, I’m going to see that. Actually, that directors the caliber of Strohman and Marshall are here in DC for pre-Broadway tryouts is just plain cool.
  6. TPTSD_Gigi_400x400GiGiKennedy Center Eisenhower Theater
    January 17, 2015 – February 15, 2015
    Apparently in its 1973 Broadway run it ran for a disappointing 103 performance. I’m excited to see if the “reimagined” show can do better. Directed by our own Eric Shaffer, yet another pre-Broadway bow here in DC.
  7. King Hedley IIArena Stage
    February 6 – March 8, 2015
    I have not seen a play by August Wilson and I feel that is a major gap in my Theater CV, thankfully Arena Stage is allowing me correct that over site. I believe it’s part of his Pittsburgh cycle of plays. About a man trying to re-establish his life after being in prison.
  8. Kid Victory**Signature Theatre
    February 17 – March 22, 2015
    See, a lot of World Premiers and I assume this is also a pre-NYC try out. The now Ebb-less John Kander partners again with Greg Pierce. The premise of the show sounds a little bit odd, a boy who turns up after disappearing for a year and the drama that follows. For me if it’s a brand new never seen before show, I’m going to go see it, out of curiosity if nothing less.
  9. The MetromaniacsShakespeare Theatre Company
    Spring 2015 – This is the third and sadly last in the series plays that David Ives has translated for STC and I have yet to see anything with his name on it that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed.  And last year’s Heir Apparent, ‘bout made me pee my pants it was so funny.
  10. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and SpikeArena Stage
    April 3 – May 3, 201 – This is one of those shows that got away, I missed it on Broadway and was so excited when I heard Arena was producing it. It is a satire of several of Chekovs work, the most obvious is Uncle Vanaya which I saw a few years ago so now I feel I would “get it;” plus it got great reviews and scored a small boat full of awards including a Tony.
  11. Zombie: The American**Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
    May 25–June 21, 2015 – It’s safe to say the WMT is doing its fair share in keeping the fringe alive. This play includes, a gay President, civil war, African invasion and Zombies in the white house. Who wouldn’t want to see that?!?
  12. Silence! The MusicalStudio Theatre
    It’s a satirical musical about the movie Silence of the Lambs. A satire about movies being turned into musicals. It’s practically tailor made for me.
  13. book of mormon 2The Book of Mormon  – Tour – Kennedy Center Opera House 
    Jun. 16 – Aug. 16, 2015 – If you didn’t get tickets last year it should be easier now that the blush a bit off the bloom. This is still a huge seller on Broadway and tickets must be purchased way in advance. The show is hilarious and funny and sweet and did I mention funny and under it all, kind of has a point to boot. Well worth the cost of the ticket. Go see it.
  14. Once – Tour – Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater
    Jul. 7 – Aug. 16, 2015 – This is a very grown up musical, no jazz hands, no 11 o’clock number, just some very good acting, singing and kind of grown-up story line. It’s sweet and funny and poignant and doesn’t at all have the ending you expect of a Tony Award winning musical. And the music beautiful.
  15. Synetic Theater –’14-15 Season
    I’m cheating here, I’m seeing all of their shows this year and I think you should too. If I had to pick I would say Much Ado About Nothing and Beauty and the Beat (non-Disney version I’m sure), but I’m kind of dying to see what Hunting Cockroaches is all about.

Bonus Show – Cabaret Signature Theater
This is one of those shows I’m always likely to go see, even though no production will ever measure up to the 1998 Revival starring Alan Cumming. But I’m curious to see what signature does with it.

 

Cabaret – Opens Tonight!

It was totally unplanned but it turns out the tickets I have to see Cabaret are exactly 30 days from the opening night! I know it’s a meaningless coincidence but I like those types of happy accidents. I will in the interim pay absolutely no attention to any reviews, it is my habit once I’ve bought tickets to a show to avoid other peoples opinions lest they start to tinge my own.

The best to the cast tonight!

Cabaret Sneak Peek!

Cabaret_Rehearsal06_605x329Tonight on the Tonight Show Alan Cumming and the cast of Cabaret are going to be performing the opening number from Cabaret! If you want a sneak peek tune in! I myself am a bit torn, I am staying away reviews and opinions on the show which is in previews now and will be opening shortly; it’s a personal preference, i really don’t want other peoples opinions impacting my enjoyment of the show in the moment. If I had any concerns that Mr. Cumming was going to be anything less than awesome the recent rehearsal photos allayed most of them.  Even with his natural gray and in a t-shirt he easily embodies the MC. I am now a scant 6 weeks away from Broadway Show-stravaganza 2014 and I’m very excited! More on that the other shows besides Cabaret I’m seeing.

Cabaret_Rehearsal04_605x329jpg

Musical to Movie Trend Continues

So I see this article in Playbill.com today bout Broadway musicals being translated to film and well…I’m simultaneously excited and dismayed. Some I knew about, some are news to me but here are some highlights and more importantly my opinion on them.

Opening this year:

Jersey Boys – Won’t go see, I’m still holding a grudge. Don’t ask.

quvenzaAnnie – Might go see it just be cause they’ve cast Quvenzhane Wallis (freaking adorable) but I’m so over Annie. Maybe I’ll take the nieces/nephews to see it.

Into the Woods – I’m enjoying the tradition of having a musical movie at Christmas time + Christine Baranski this I will definitely go see.

Of things in development:

My Fair Lady – with Colin Firth and Carey Mulligan AND screen play by Emma Thompson. This I would see but the last update was 2011 so I’m not holding my breath.

Guys and Dolls – Not really a favorite musical then you go and cast Channing Tatum? Really? I’m not sure the co-casting of Joseph-Gordon Levitt is enough to overcome that for me.

Gypsy – Directed and staring Barbara Streisand – I’m pretty sure I would be obligated to see this. We don’t like to be on Mrs. Brolin’s bad side, and really that’s kind of perfect casting.

Jekyll & Hyde – A pretty bad musical but if they cast David Hasselhoff again, I’d pay money to see that! I love a comedy.

hughjackmanOkay, here’s a big teaser again, they better no be jerking me around on this one. A new movie version of South Pacific starring Hugh Jackman. That is really, really good casting, I always had issues with darling Mr. Jackman as Valjean but I think he would make an awesome Emil De Becque, it’s a much better vocal range for him. Of course…of course then they have to go and propose Justin Timberlake as Lt. Cable, really? How about the oh so talented and adorable Aaron Tevit, tell me he wouldn’t be a great Cable?!?

Other notable possibilities include In the Heights, Wicked and Spring Awakening, three great shows I pray they don’t screw up! Click on the link for the full article.

52 Weeks…52 Shows

2014-calendar-2I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions but this year I hit on one that I really think I can keep and one that I’m willing to invest time and energy to achieve. I was organizing/cataloging my playbills (yes, I’m a geek) and I realized that last year I had seen 39 shows and the year before 45 shows and being that close to 1 show week is just too tempting. That’s my goal for this year, 52 shows, that’s just 13 more shows than last year.

There are rules:

  1. I can count each show only once. This is important since I will go see shows more than once. If I really like a show and I think someone should go see it I will take them to see the show. While I have no compunction about going to a show by myself most people seem to need a companion.
  2. If it’s two different productions of the same show they count as separate shows. For example I saw the Ford’s Theater’s production of the musical Violet in January and I’m seeing and unrelated separate production on Broadway in May. Both will count.
  3. All live productions count regardless of the quality of the production; regional, Broadway, Off-Broadway, Community Theater, ballets, concerts, symphonies, musical reviews etc. all count. If it takes time and effort to go to it applies.
  4. Theater screenings of staged shows as presented by NT Live and other distributors count. They typically cost at least $20 to see, about the same cost as a community theater show, they are in a theater (or cinema) and typically have very limited engagements; usually only a handful of screenings are shown. So there is cost and effort comparable to going to live theater.
  5. DVDs of stage productions do not count; if I can watch it in my sweat pants (and those who know me know I don’t even go to community theater productions in sweat pants) it just don’t count.
  6. I am going to blog something about each show, even if it’s just a blurb about liking/loving/hating the show. This is my biggest challenge, finding the time to write something.
  7. I am going to see a total of 52 shows but I don’t have to see 1 show each week. Frequently I see two (or more) shows in a week or weekend.

I reviewed the calendar of show I already have scheduled and I’m pretty well on track. Starting the 10th week of the year I’ve seen nine shows and I have a total of 25 shows scheduled by the end of June that’s pretty close to the 50% mark. Now even I don’t (often) schedule more than 6 months in advance but there are at least half a dozen more shows that I know I’ll go see and the local theaters are just releasing their 2014-15 seasons offering and tickets don’t go on sale for a while.

The list of shows that I’ve seen or have scheduled to see are below. You’ll see my Broadway Show –stravaganza in May, more on that later but that’s 8 (possibly 9) shows in 6 days. If anyone has suggestions for shows to add to the mix let me know. I’m always trawling for something new to see.

1

  Twelfth Night   Synetic Theater   Jan. 17

2

  Peter and the Star Catcher   The Kennedy Center   Jan. 28

3

  Violet   Ford’s Theatre   Jan. 31

4

  Mother Courage and Her Children   Arena Stage   Feb. 4

5

  The Importance of Being Earnest   Shakespeare Theatre   Feb. 9

6

  Romeo & Juliet   Broadway Screening   Feb. 14

7

  Coriolanus   NT Live Screening   Feb. 18

8

  We Are Proud to Present….   Woolly Mammoth   Mar. 3

9

  Hamlet…the Rest is Silence   Synetic Theater   Mar. 14

10

  Hexagon*   Montgomery College Cultural     Arts Center   Mar. 15

11

  Camp David   Arena Stage   Mar. 21

12

  Arguendo   Woolly Mammoth   Apr. 5

13

  Henry IV – Part I   Shakespeare Theatre   Apr. 13

14

  Three Penny Opera   Signature Theatre   Apr. 27

15

  Henry IV – Part II   Shakespeare Theatre   May 11
  Broadway Show-stravaganza!

16

  Cinderella   Broadway Theatre   May 20

17

  Bullets Over Broadway   St. James Theatre   May 21

18

  The Velocity of Autumn   Booth Theatre   May 21

19

  Allegiance   TBD   May 22

20

  Hedwig and the Angry Inch   Belasco Theatre   May 23

21

  Les Miserables   Imperial Theatre   May 24

22

  Cabaret   Studio 54   May 24

23

  Violet   American Airlines Theater   May 25

24

  Totalitarians   Woolly Mammoth   June 7

25

  Private Lives   Shakespeare Theatre   June 22

 

Sound of Music – Live!

The Sound of Music Live! - Season 2013Don’t forget to tune into this to night on NBC! I plan to watch while enjoying a nice Cabernet, because I like wine with my cheese. I will admit that ever since I heard they had cast Carrie Underwood as Maria I have been dubious about the production and then casting Stephen Moyer as Capt. VonTrapp didn’t exactly reassure me. Of course with the addition of skarsfgardVampire Bill (Mr. Moyer’s role on True Blood for the HBO-less) I’m half  hoping for some gratuitous sex or violence. At there very least there needs to be a cameo of Vampire Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) as a Nazi, that would be priceless!

Granted, I could be wrong; there is some hope in the supporting cast. Christian Borel as Max, Laura Benanti as the Baroness and Audra McDonald as the Mother Abbess are all excellent choices and they bring a certain Broadway cachet with the them. From The Sound of Music Live! - Season 2013what I’ve seen of previews and rehearsals they are doing a straight-up traditional version of the show, they are after all trying to create a new “American Family Classic” I’m not sure what kind of twist one could put on the Sound of Music but I’d like to see someone try.

The snippets of singing I’ve heard from Carrie Underwood are perfectly lovely, perhaps a little too perfectly lovely?? You know what I mean. But we’re going live folks!!!! so anything can happen!!!!

Don’t get me wrong I genuinely hope that they succeed but I’ve learned with non-stage productions of musicals it’s best to go in with lower expectations! Tune in and see what happens!

http://www.playbill.com/news/article/185136-The-Sound-of-Music-Live-With-Carrie-Underwood-Stephen-Moyer-and-Audra-McDonald-Presented-on-NBC-Dec-5?tsrc=hph

If/Then – New Musical

940x525_IFThen_NationalTheatre

UPDATE: You can also get tickets from Goldstar.com; the prices aren’t much better but the handling charges are less.

http://www.goldstar.com/events/washington-dc/ifthen-1

So this is exciting! The pre-Broadway world premier of a new musical by the same team that created “Next to Normal”  (the show that is firmly ensconced in the number 2 position of my all time favorite musicals) is going to be here to D.C! It’s also staring Idina Menzel which really pushes the show toward the must see category. And the most exciting part? It’s NOT based on a movie, or even a book or a play or a still life with fruit. It’s a new show created for the stage! Who knew people still did that?!? (yes, that was sarcasm)

Anyway, it’s pre-viewing here in D.C. at the National Theatre (Nov. 5th to Dec. 8th) and ticket are now on sale for those with the pre-sale code which is N2N; click  here for the link. Be forewarned for they have a ridiculous $17 dollar per ticket “fee” so if you’re near downtown save yourself some money and get tickets at the box office. The show is headed for a March 2014 opening on Broadway.

 http://ifthenthemusical.com/