Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ASTEP's New York City Christmas at Joe's Pub

Wherever Raul Esparza goes, I go.

That’s why I was at Joe’s Pub last night for New York City Christmas, a holiday concert featuring some big Broadway stars and benefiting Artists Striving To End Poverty. It was the second incarnation of the concert, which was held for the first time last year at the Zipper Factory (why is that place closed??). Due to the success of last year’s concert, ASTEP produced a recording of the songs performed on Sh-K-Boom Records (actress Sherie Rene Scott is a co-founder), and they decided to do it again this year.

It was a well-paced, dimple-ridden evening, with enough belts and laughter to last the entire year. Big names like Chester Gregory, Sierra Boggess, Sherie Rene Scott, and Orfeh filled the room with fantastic renditions of classic Christmas tunes. Lesser-known names like Lindsay Mendez and Tyler Maynard (both who appeared last year) held their own among the marquee fixtures, and looked ebullient. Mendez, who I want to see more of, two years in a row has made one of the most lasting impressions.
The evening was hosted by Harriet Harris (photo embedded, because I feel she’s one of those actors whose face everyone knows, but few people can attach a name to), who has the ability to induce hilarity with any word she says. Referring to cellist Summer Boggess (Sierra’s sister) who was part of the band, “Summer’s on the cello. I just had to find a way to work that in there and say that,” cooed Harris. But I also have to give huge credit to keyboardist Lynne Shankel, who unofficially co-hosted the event. She served as MC last year, and in addition to being wildly charming, she helped organize the concert (along with ASTEP founder Mary-Mitchel Campbell) and is astonishing with how wide her talents stretch. Where can I see more of her? Does it have to be once each December?

And now we come to Mr. Esparza. Last year, he debuted a mid-tempo, Spanish-guitar arrangement of “O Holy Night,” in which he sings the first verse in English and the second in Spanish. It is a searing performance, memorable in every way, and redefines the classic song. For me, he can do no wrong, and the way his performance makes my mom feel—“I want to claw the skin off my face!” You know, in a good way.

Below is the video of his performance from last year’s concert. I chose to enjoy this year’s without the confines of a lens. I hope you’ll understand.

All I can say is I hope this becomes a Christmas tradition, just as TBS’s A Christmas Story marathon and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

Friday, December 4, 2009

Fuerza Bruta

Going to the theater should always be an “experience.” That’s pretty much the whole point. Bells and whistles aren’t needed to create that experience though. An amazing night of theater could involve two great actors, a riveting script, and no set at all—a bare bones production. That said, some people (admittedly myself) are too quick to write off big-budget or flashy productions. This thought was going through my mind as I attended the visual orgasm that is Fuerza Bruta at the Daryl Roth Theater last night.

The show is flashy. Flashy, glittery, loud, wet, upside down, and in your face (or down your throat, as I experienced with the confetti). Fuerza Bruta (meaning “brute force” in Spanish) is an optical spectacular in the vein of Cirque du Soleil that doesn’t really have a story (unless your imagination is on overdrive, which it should be) and surrounds the audience, forcing them to interact. If the thought of audience participation makes you clench, you have no choice at Fuerza Bruta. Yes, a few audience members do have advanced participation, in that they hop on platforms and groove with the actors, subsequently being smashed over the head with confetti-filled pizza boxes—not everyone has to do that. But in terms of audience participation, every theatergoer must participate in that the group has to be constantly moving, as the “stage” (there really isn’t one) keeps changing shape and direction. Massive (and I mean massive) treadmills, platforms, aluminum foils sheets, and ladders are wheeled out into the performance space. If you choose not to “participate,” then you might find yourself road kill.

Keeping that in mind, it struck me how inappropriate this show could be for someone elderly or disabled. You have to be able to move around easily and not be inhibited by tight spaces. There are. no. seats. at this show—you stand for a full 70 minutes. Furthermore, it could also be inappropriate for someone dressed nicely! I, for one, usually dress for the theater. Unless you have deep, prior knowledge of this show, the only warning you get about the water that’s flung is when you arrive and collect your tickets, as there’s a slip of paper handed to you. (I suppose you’d receive the notice if you had your tickets mailed to you in advance, but I received my tickets at the performance and… here at this blog, we don’t do tickets in advance.) No, Fuerza Bruta is not Splash Mountain, but it’s not exactly the place for a silk tie, either. (Coat check services are available, but for $2, which I think is ridiculous. Besides, you'll need the protection!)

"Fuerza Bruta": The Twittercast

Last night was an official Twitter Night at Fuerza Bruta, and unlike Hugh Jackman and Patti LuPone, the producers encouraged the audience to tweet and take pictures (minus flash) throughout the entire performance. Stage Rush was there, tweeting away like a maniac and stepping on many people's feet. It was a really unique experience to report during a show, but it was a ton of fun and, for me, brought out a completely different and new angle of theatergoing.

In case you missed it, here is my Twittercast from last night. I have not corrected any of the grammar or spelling errors, as they reflect the chaos and rapidity of the scene. (Although let's all take special note of the most awesome typo in tweet #14: "catboat" box. Could that possibly have meant to be "cardboard?)

1. This place is like a club. And $2 coat check? No bueno. Do we have to rush the coat check??
2. Show wasn't started yet, but it's CREEPY in here! I feel like something's gonna fall from the ceiling!
3. My companion, @LizzLovejoy, thinks a bomb is going to go off and that this "show" is just a distraction.
4. "I think we made a wrong turn and walke into a gay club." - @LizzLovejoy
5. Jess: No, Fuerzabruta means "brute strength" in Spanish. Liz: Exactly.
6. Woman next to me is wearing a SARS mask. http://twitpic.com/s1b7r

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Fela!"'s Missed, Genius Rush Opportunity

Fela! is a wildly unique and outside-the-box-thinking Broadway production. I thought so and so does just about every major theater critic. And with 86 percent of its tickets sold last week, it's a fair hit. But I just read a fantastic gem of an idea New York Magazine delivered in it's final paragraph of their review for Fela! that would have been a ridiculously exciting and original rush concept. Here's the block quote from reviewer Dan Kois:
Given the concert conceit of Fela!, and the audience participation that its stars encourage, I wish they’d just ripped the first ten rows out of the orchestra and sold those spots for ten bucks to music lovers. It probably would’ve violated a fire code or some union contract, but it also might’ve helped the energy in the crowd match the exceptional energy onstage.
First of all, the $10-general-admission-pit rush idea is brilliant. It made me excited just to read and consider the notion. I can just imagine how much fervor that would draw out of fans, or rather how much more enthused it would make theater goers about the show. People would feel rabid about this show, like they feel about the Hair revival, spurred on by the nightly invitation for the audience to come dance on stage. A $10 price would be perfect to not only match up with the fact that there would be no seat, but also to reflect the atmosphere and realism of the story's setting. It certainly didn't cost $85 to get into Fela's Shrine nightclub.

Kois's idea of ripping out rows of seats is definitely radical, and I am kind of on board (although I don't want to damage the beautiful Eugene O'Neill Theatre). That, however, would be a massive undertaking and an extra cost to Fela!'s backers to restore whenever its run ends. But who are we kidding? Jay-Z and Will Smith have the money—let's make this happen! (Not to mention we'd also have the newest chamption for Cheapest Rush Ever! ...Fine, there was also this one.)

Photo: Monique Carboni

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Next to Normal, #6

Two months ago, I winced at the news that Next to Normal was axing their general rush policy and starting a ticket lottery. For the obvious reasons, you can control a rush—how ambitious you are depends on you—but a lottery is completely up to chance. If you’ve planned your day around seeing a show, do you really want to leave it all up to chance? (And if your response to that is, “Buy a ticket!,” why are you reading this blog?)

So yesterday, I ventured to 45th St. to try my hand at Next to Normal’s fancy new lotto. I entered my name at 6 p.m. and retreated from the 45-degree drizzle to the covered passageway at the Marriott Marquis. One Scrabble victory on my iPhone later and it was time to report back to the Booth Theatre for the drawing. Since Next to Normal has a bit of a Broadway monopoly on Monday nights as most other shows are dark, I expected a larger crowd. By shrewd estimation, I counted 25 to 30 people. The theater representative announced there were 26 seats up for grabs—more than the usual 18 I’ve heard for this show. Maybe not enough people know about the Monday night performances.

The names kept being pulled and none were mine. Particularly grating was the fact that most of the winners only wanted one ticket (like me), so more names being called that weren’t mine was even more torture. The theater rep announced there was only one seat left. Just under the wire, he pulled my entry! I was definitely amused by the timing.

Being the last name called, I missed out on the front-row seating. But this being my sixth time seeing the show, a different perspective is always interesting. I was the last seat in the left box. At first I groaned at the extreme side view, but being that I was the furthest seat back, I was practically sitting in the mezzanine and had a fine view. Besides, with a slight lean over the right pole, no one’s head was in front of me. (I could also see director Michael Greif sitting in an aisle orchestra seat taking notes. Would love to know what ended up on those index cards!)

Of course, a lottery is only satisfactory if you win it. But victory aside, the lotto is still two tickets for $25 each with great seating. Next to Normal is still one of the best rush deals on Broadway.

Lottery: A