Monday, May 17, 2010

We've moved!

Hey Rushers! Stage Rush has moved! Didn't you know? This site is no longer active. For all your Stage Rush features and news, please visit www.stage-rush.com.

Thanks!
Jesse North

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stage Rush TV: Episode 13



Talking points:
What do you think, Rushers? Have you seen Red? What did you think of Christopher Oram’s set? Did you find White’s Lies as embarrassing as I did? Leave your questions, thoughts, and suggestions in the comments!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Broadway Brain: 'Red' set designer Christopher Oram doesn’t like color

Few artists get the chance to recreate artwork that has had an effect on their own craft. British set designer Christopher Oram, who is nominated for a Tony for his work in Red, got to do just that with the Mark Rothko murals intended for (yet which never became a part of) New York’s Four Season’s restaurant. The play features Alfred Molina as the American painter who squares off with his young assistant (played by Eddie Redmayne) over the elements of art, as well as the struggle for student and teacher. The minimalist production, which is up for seven Tony awards, including Best Play, rests on the shoulders of two actors and the massive canvases on display in Rothko’s Bowery studio. In a phone interview from London, Oram (who pulls double duty as the show’s costume designer) told Stage Rush about the building sets in one week, the luxury of being picky about projects, and keeping tabs on a show once it’s opened. 

What were your thoughts or reaction when you found out you were nominated?
Very excited. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I don’t consider my work to be flashy like [the work that the Tonys tend to recognize]. What I do is make the play work, and that’s good enough or me. When it gets recognized, that’s good for me too. 

What does the Tony nomination mean to you?
I haven’t done a good amount of work in United States. To work on Broadway is a major achievement, as is to be recognized at this high level. The play itself has been successful in connecting with audiences. I believe in it, and in the writing. When it was offered to me, I felt it was an important and exiting play and wanted to be a part of it very much. As a set and costume designer, you read a new play and you try to asses if you like it and if the audience will like it. It’s difficult with new works, because with works of Shakespeare, you know there will always be an audience for it. Red is unique and has no history as a piece. You’re looking to create an audience for it that will be interested in the subject matter. It’s great to find a play that makes a connection. 

What are some of the responsibilities of set designing?
Design is a discipline and it covers everything about the piece. These days, there are fewer boundaries to each person’s work. The crossover between lighting affects video designers, which affects set designers. I worked very closely with Red’s lighting designer, Neil Austin. The description of Mark Rothko’s studio was key about how he controlled life. I knew I had to have close dialogue with Neil about how I would design the space, how he would light the play.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Stage Rush TV: Episode 12

 

Talking points:
  • Tony nominations announced: predictability and disappointment
  • Collected Stories: another well-developed Donald Margulies relationship
  • Stuffed and Unstrung: foul-mouthed, hysterical puppets without a script
  • Enron’s producers act hastily and close the show
  • Broadway grosses 
What do you think, Rushers? What are your reactions to the Tony nominations? Do you think the Best Score category should have been eliminated this year? Do you think Memphis is a worthy opponent for Fela? Do you think the producers of Enron are acting too fast by closing the show? Leave your thoughts, questions, and suggestions in the comments!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

2010 Tony Awards: Nominations & Reactions

Well, here they are folks. And just like Christmas morning, we’re excited about some things, and disappointed about others. Check out the list of the 2010 Tony Award nominees below, where you’ll also find what predictions of mine were incorrect (not too many!) and my take on the categories.


Best Play
In The Next Room (or the vibrator play) by Sarah Ruhl
Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts
Red by John Logan
Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies

Predictable category. Tonys got it right. Note though how few nominations Next Fall received, including getting shut out of the acting categories.


Best Musical
American Idiot
Fela!
Memphis
Million Dollar Quartet 

My wrong guess: Everyday Rapture 

Surprised Million Dollar Quartet made it in here, particularly with so few nominations. At least it wasn’t The Addams Family.


Best Revival of a Play
Fences by August Wilson
Lend Me A Tenor by Ken Ludwig
The Royal Family by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber
A View From The Bridge by Arthur Miller


Best Revival of a Musical
Finian’s Rainbow
La Cage aux Folles
A Little Night Music
Ragtime

Monday, May 3, 2010

2010 Tony Awards: Nominee Predictions

It’s been a Broadway season dominated by straight plays and Hollywood names adorning marquees. It’s also been a weak year for the original musical, with only two entries (The Addams Family and Memphis) having original scores. Nevertheless, the Tony nominations are upon us. Before Lea Michele and Jeff Daniels announce the 2010 Tony Award nominations Tuesday morning over a live webcast on the Tony website, check out Stage Rush’s predictions on which names will make the cut and will be seen at Radio City Music Hall on June 13. 



Best Play
In The Next Room (or the vibrator play) by Sarah Ruhl
Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts
Red by John Logan
Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies 


Best Musical
American Idiot
Everyday Rapture
Fela!
Memphis


Best Revival of a Play
Fences by August Wilson
Lend Me A Tenor by Ken Ludwig
The Royal Family by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber
A View From The Bridge by Arthur Miller 


Best Revival of a Musical
Finian’s Rainbow
La Cage aux Folles
A Little Night Music
Ragtime

Friday, April 30, 2010

Review: Everyday Rapture

We all know that Broadway and hamminess go hand in hand. One is just a part of the other as peanut butter is to jelly. Yet the level of obnoxiousness that Sherie Rene Scott reaches in her one-woman show Everyday Rapture is downright off-putting. 

As a last-minute replacement for Lips Together, Teeth Apart, (the play that Megan Mullally unprofessionally ditched), causing the show to cancel) the Roundabout Theatre Co. rustled up Everyday Rapture, which performed at the off-Broadway Second Stage Theatre last May. Written by Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott, the one-woman show (with backup vocalists and a brief character role, so… kinda sorta) focuses on Scott’s journey from oppressed childhood in Kansas to her self-proclaimed semi-stardom on Broadway. 

Most know Scott from her Tony-nominated turn in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and for playing Ursula in the Broadway production of The Little Mermaid. In addition, she and her husband Kurt Deutsch founded S-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records, which is one of the largest Broadway record companies that publish cast recordings. Scott is by no means short of talent or artistic ability. That’s actually not my issue with Rapture—it’s the manner in which the material is presented.

Stage Rush TV: Episode 11


Talking points:
What do you think, Rushers? Were you one of the lucky audience members to experience Green Day at American Idiot? Were you in the audience during either of the two performances that Charlotte Maier went on in God of Carnage last February? Can you believe the amazing view Charlotte has of the Imperial Theatre from her dressing room window? As always, leave your thoughts and questions in the comments!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Understudy Hall: ‘Carnage’’s Charlotte Maier doesn’t need vomiting lessons

Imagine being trained to do a job and then having to wait a year to apply it. That’s how long Charlotte Maier had to wait to unleash Annette’s projectile vomit and tackle her on-stage husband as Veronica as the female standby in the Tony-winning play God of Carnage. The life of a standby (different from an understudy, in that there isn’t even an ensemble role to play) is a true waiting game. Yet in between mystery novels and balancing her checkbook backstage, Maier says she’s received master classes in acting by observing the actors she covers. 

A Chicago native, Maier began her career at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She moved to New York and started a family while appearing in Broadway plays in understudy and standby roles since 1993. She has acted in films with Steve Martin, Sandra Bullock, and Drew Barrymore, and Carnage marks her tenth Broadway production. The producers of Carnage announced Monday that the Tony winner for Best Play would close on June 27. Of this news, Maier remarked that the cast and crew felt lucky to run for a season and a half—a rare feat for a straight play. “Now we pass it on to the next cast in the next city.” Despite this news, Maier remains grateful—and why shouldn’t she? She learned how to vomit with the use of a hose. 

How many times have you gone on in Carnage?
Twice. Fifty-two weeks had passed and I knew I was going to go on for Christine Lahti, but Annie Potts had broken her rib in the show somehow. So Thursday night, February 11, I went on for Annie after being with the show for a year. Two days later, I went on for Christine. Didn’t go on before and haven’t gone on since. 

What was that first performance like?
That’s the part of Annette, the one who throws up. Technically speaking, that’s a very difficult part. For the vomit trick, you’re hooked up to a hose and there’s a hookup in the couch. I had never had a rehearsal doing that. 

***VIDEO AFTER THE JUMP: Charlotte Maier talks vomiting sensations and James Gandolfini's cast gift that got mysteriously destroyed.***

Friday, April 23, 2010

Review: American Idiot

Michael Mayer has a knack for making us remember some of our worst memories. In Spring Awakening, he helped us recall our yearning teenage years. Now in American Idiot, he reminds us of the uncertain and melancholy times that followed 9/11. Mayer’s marriage of visionary theatrical direction and Green Day’s passionate music make for a haunting and indelible production. 

It’s hard to believe the last show that played the St. James Theatre before American Idiot was Finian’s Rainbow. Although a stellar production, it couldn’t be a further cry in style and tone from this musical by Green Day. That’s just the point—everything is a far cry from this production. American Idiot adds a new layer onto the ever-growing popular genre of rock musicals. This is a punk rock opera. 

Simple in story to allow for even greater conceptual depth, American Idiot follows three greatly unsatisfied suburban youths who flee their hometown for a less-restrained life in the city. But the three friends’ plans quickly fall apart. Will (Michael Esper) remains at home because his girlfriend is pregnant, Tunny (Stark Sands) joins the army and is deployed to Iraq, and Johnny (John Gallagher Jr.) becomes swept up in a whirlwind of drugs. The three men’s downfalls are spurred by political disillusion, media saturation, and lack of faith in society’s day-to-day rituals. 

***VIDEO after the jump: Green Day makes a surprise appearance and performs at the April 22 performance. Here, they perform their classic hit “Basket Case.”***

Stage Rush TV: Episode 10




Talking points:
What do you think, Rushers? Are you beaming that Brian d’Arcy James will be coming back to Next to Normal? Did you see him in the show’s off-Broadway run? What did you think of the four shows I saw this week? Did Million Dollar Quartet make you leave smiling? Did you find Everyday Rapture to be a bummer, like I did? Have you been to an At This Performance concert? As always, leave it in the comments!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review: Million Dollar Quartet

The fact that two musicals have opened on Broadway this season that focus on 1950s rock and roll in Memphis speaks greatly to the current creative drought in musical theater. Or maybe it speaks to the gatekeepers of Broadway and their resistance to take creative chances. Either way, Million Dollar Quartet, trailing the first rock and roll musical of the season—Memphis, is a play-it-safe show that employs some incredibly smart strategies to escort its audience out of the theater grinning. These choices, I’m sure, will make the production a commercial success. 

The story takes places over the course of just a few hours on December 4, 1956 at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. The true backstory is that Sun Records founder Sam Phillips has invited Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis for a recording session. It would be the only time these four rock and roll gods would ever play together. Eighty percent of the show is this jam session with some light (and I do mean light) banter and relations between the musicians. For the show’s only dramatic backbone, Phillips, who has recently sold Presley to RCA to keep his fledgling record company afloat, is preparing to resign Cash for another three years. What Phillips doesn’t know is that Cash is on his way to break the news to him that he’s already signed with Columbia Records. 

The main aspect of this show is the simulated performances of these rock and roll greats, and that part is right on the money. The four actors who play Presley, Cash, Perkins, and Lewis (Eddie Clendening, Lance Guest, Robert Britton Lyons, and Levi Kreis, respectively) are the show’s orchestra. Their instrumentals and vocals are incredibly strong. Their performances of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Hound Dog,” and “See You Later Alligator” are fire-breathing rock and roll spectacles. Quartet holds up as well as it does because of the acute musical talent of these performers. It doesn’t have a lot else to ride on.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Understudy Hall: 'At This Performance': Spring 2010

Before the actors took the stage for the penultimate performance of the spring series of At This Performance concerts Sunday night, Musicals Tonight! artistic director Mel Miller delivered the bittersweet introduction. “These are among the most talented and underappreciated performers on Broadway,” he said. And therein lies what is so brilliant about this concert series that features Broadway understudies—for this night, the spotlight is on them; they are the headliners. Little white slips of paper be damned!


Sunday night’s lineup featured actors currently appearing in The Addams Family, Hair, Lend Me A Tenor, The Phantom of the Opera, and the recently closed Ragtime. Each performer took the stage, looking thrilled to be there, and ebulliently performed their prepared numbers. A barebones stage allowed the audience to focus solely on these (most likely, new) performers’ talents. Singing with only a piano accompanist (Eugene Gwozdz), the setting had an “audition feel” to it, which felt relevant to these performers’ stories. 

Frank Mastrone sang a hyper-emotional “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. Mykal Kilgore performed an octave defying “Aquarius” from Hair (he understudies the female role of Dionne?? Interesting!). And Mamie Parris gave a heartbreaking rendition of “Back To Before” from Ragtime. In addition to impressive vocals, many of the actors’ performances displayed infectiously likeable personalities. Briana Carlson-Goodman of Hair performed a comedic song from a musical workshop she was involved with, where she sings of her love for her piano accompanist, and Lend Me A Tenor’s Donna English displayed a multitude of hilarious facial expressions during “The Killer Soprano,” a song featured in Forbidden Broadway. 

Setlist:
Briana Carlson-Goodman (Hair, u/s Sheila and Chrissy)
“Easy To Be Hard” and the in-love-with-accompanist tune 

Donna English (Lend Me A Tenor, standby Maria and Julia)
“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” and “The Killer Soprano” 

Mary Illes (The Phantom of the Opera, u/s Madame Giry)
“Yes, It’s Love” and “Go Little Boat” 

Morgan James (The Addams Family, u/s Wednesday Addams and Alice Beineke)
“Pulled” and “Ohio, 1904”

Mykal Kilgore (Hair, u/s Dionne)
“Aquarius” and “Don’t Let The Sun Get You Crying” 

Frank Mastrone (The Phantom of the Opera, u/s Monsieur Andre and Piangi)
The dress rehearsal of ‘Hannibal’ (from Phantom), “Bring Him Home” and “Those Were The Good Old Days” 

Anastacia McClesky (Hair, u/s Dionne)
“White Boys” and “Stormy Weather” 

Mamie Parris (Ragtime, u/s Mother)
“Back To Before” and “Perfect” 

The spring dates of At This Performance (which also takes place in the fall) has been playing on scattered Sunday and Monday evenings since February 28. Today is the final performance, and tickets can be purchased for $25 online or at the box office. Further information can be found at musicalstonight.org.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Review: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Being that I was an AP History student in high school, I’m embarrassed to say this: going into Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, I couldn’t remember a thing about this particular president. It’s a good thing there’s nothing like a loud rock musical to pound the facts into your head. 

Chronicling the childhood and political rise of Andrew Jackson, our country’s seventh president (I learned this from the show!), this creation of Alex Timbers (book writer and director) and Michael Friedman (music and lyrics) is a random, wild-child piece of genius. Billed as an “emo rock musical,” Andrew Jackson strips the characters of any dense, political verbiage and colonial form. Instead, a rock star ensemble screams a hilarious rock score of the president that is both adored for being a “people’s president” and loathed for genocidal acts against the Native Americans. 

Timbers, Friedman, and the rest of the creative team have dedicated themselves to the show’s “look,” and it’s that commitment that makes Andrew Jackson such a standout piece. Upon entering the theater, the audience’s experience begins. Scenic designer Donyale Werle and lighting designer Justin Townsend have strung distressed gold and red chandeliers on the ceiling, extending over the audience to the back row. Single-color decorative string lights pass over the chandeliers, and long neon bulbs (a la Kevin Adams’ designs for Spring Awakening and Passing Strange) hang on the sidelines. I felt as if I had walked into a grungy New York rock hall. The stage bears the same rock-grunge motifs, as well as wilderness clutter, to reflect Jackson’s Tennessee upbringing. There are so many details to look at on the stage that it’s frustrating to realize you can’t catch them all.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Stage Rush TV: Episode 9

Whisper House's Holly Brook introduces!



Talking points:
What do you think, Rushers? Have you seen Andrew Jackson? Does it deserve to get an open-ended off-Broadway run? Did you pay for better seats to Anyone Can Whistle than I did? Do you think I’m right about the people who are buying tickets for American Idiot? Leave it in the comments!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ensemble Watch: 'Chicago,' Part 2

In this second part of Ensemble Watch, Melissa Rae Mahon and James T. Lane of Chicago discuss stunt casting, learning numerous versions of choreography for numbers, and perform their favorite dance steps from the show.

(If you missed Part 1, catch it here)



Did what Melissa and James said about knowing numerous versions of musical numbers surprise you, Rushers? How do you feel about some choreography being "watered down" for certain stars?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Review: Anyone Can Whistle

Since I was a fool and missed Raul Esparza’s last mind-blowing on-stage pairing, it was even more exciting to see him co-star in a musical with Broadway’s leading lady, Sutton Foster. That man is a fantastic dramatic actor, but he really needs to do more musicals. 

The show is City Center Encores!'s production of Anyone Can Whistle. This is a rarely performed Sondheim show, and it's got a collect-'em-all factor for fans.

To summarize this play would be missing the point. If you don’t understand it (which I didn’t), there is still fun to be had. But for a primer, it's about a plotting mayor, played by Donna Murphy, who rules over a destitute town. A rock starts spouting water and people flock to the town to see it and the “mayoress” charges them for it. Suddenly, Raul Esparza arrives to sort out the town crazies and the mayor is out to arrest Sutton Foster for questioning the validity of the lucrative miracle.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Stage Rush TV: Episode 8

 

Talking points:
Please leave your thoughts, questions, suggestions in the comments!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ensemble Watch: 'Chicago,' Part 1

Kicking off Ensemble Watch, the series that highlights ensemble actors in Broadway's hottest companies, Melissa Rae Mahon and James T. Lane dish on life in the classic musical Chicago and how they stay fit for those revealing costumes.



A sneak peak at Part 2.



Rushers, have you seen Melissa open Chicago? Did you catch James when he was in A Chorus Line? Are you surprised that these two didn't describe a rigorous workout routine for the show? Leave it in the comments! Be sure to check back at Stage Rush for Part 2 of my interview with Melissa and James!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Stage Rush TV: Episode 7



Talking points: 
Have you seen Bryan Fenkart go on for Huey in Memphis? Have you won the American Idiot ticket lotto yet? Do you plan on trying your luck at it? Do you think Hunter Foster should not have taken a non-singing role in a Broadway musical? Please leave any questions or suggestions for topics in the comments!

‘Million Dollar Quartet’ previews songs at invited jam session

Attention classic rock and roll buffs! The closest you’re going to get to seeing Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins creating music history together is by watching the video below. On Thursday, the new Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet (currently in previews, opening April 11) played a handful of numbers from the production to an invited crowd at the Nederlander Theatre.

The musical spotlights the December 4, 1956 recording session at Sun Records studios, organized by Sam Phillips (Hunter Foster) that brought together Cash (Lance Guest), Lewis (Levi Kreis), Perkins (Rob Lyons), and Presley (Eddie Clendening). 

While the on-stage interviews seemed forced, the music flowed from these actors like whiskey in a Memphis bar. Much like John Doyle’s recent revivals of Sweeney Todd and Company, the actors in Quartet are the orchestra. These strong-voiced guys played just as well as they sang. (Lyons even stood on a bass, for wild closing-number pose!!) Oddly, Tony-award nominated musical theater actor Hunter Foster is relegated to the non-singing role of Phillips, who (from what I could tell by the preview) acts mostly as a narrator. Seems like a strange role choice for such an acclaimed actor, but I’ll reserve judgment until I actually see the full show. 

Watch the video for a medley of performances, featuring “Let’s Have A Party,” “Wild One,” and “Folsom Prison Blues.” 


What do you think, Rushers? Does seeing these guys jam out make you want to see Quartet? Are you disappointed Hunter Foster won’t be singing in the show? Does watching this video put you in the mood to re-watch Walk the Line at all? (Because it does for me!)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Understudy Hall: ‘Memphis’’s Bryan Fenkart is worth teaching how to dance

While Chad Kimball builds Tony buzz for his exhaustive lead performance as Huey Calhoun in the new musical Memphis, his understudy Bryan Fenkart is making a very visible Broadway debut. Having performed the role a handful of times since the New Year, the New Jersey native is getting his chance to bask in the spotlight of one of Broadway’s flashiest male roles. 

Growing up in Midland Park, Fenkart wasn’t set on acting. He joined his first high school production on the terms of a lost bet. Yet after the interest took, he studied acting at Rutgers moved to New York. With a three-year stint as a doorman for the Times Square comedy club Carolines behind him, the 30-year-old has made his way to a different Broadway venue and is learning the lessons of performance-induced amnesia and even how to dance. Yes, after being cast in the role. 

You’re making your Broadway debut understudying the male lead in a new musical. How does that make you feel?
It is really an honor. I didn’t train in musical theater, but I do love it and everything I’ve seen. Coming in for Memphis, I fell in love with the part of Huey. It’s everything that you would want, as an actor. It’s a very distinct physicality that’s different from my own. It’s got an accent. He’s got a drinking problem by the second act. Even as an understudy, to be able to have the opportunity to do that is a great thing. Also, to have somebody like Chad Kimball do the role and watch him every night is pretty awesome. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he brings to that part. He fully immerses himself in it and I love what he does. To be able to watch that and then change it on my own is pretty awesome.

***VIDEO AFTER THE JUMP: Bryan Fenkart would get "beat up" if he wore Huey's clothes outside the theater.***

Friday, March 26, 2010

Stage Rush TV: Episode 6



Talking points: 
What did you find most surprising about my interview with Lynne Shankel? Have you seen All About Me? Did you think Michael Feinstein held his own, or was he just one of Dame Edna’s props? Please leave any questions or suggestions for topics in the comments!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: All About Me

Not every good idea has to make sense, initially. When I first heard that Dame Edna Everage and Michael Feinstein would be co-headlining a Broadway show, I thought, Who wants to see that? Dame Edna has already had two Broadway shows—isn’t her shtick old? And Michael Feinstein is stuck in the 1930s with his cabaret act—how is he relevant to today’s paying audience? 

Well last night, all these performers had to do to convince me was open their mouths. 

Played by the Australian comedian Barry Humphries, Dame Edna’s comedy is sharper than ever. Her improvised routine of honing in on grinning audience members and humiliating them never gets boring. What’s so effective about her delivery is that Edna never appears to be insulting intentionally—every caustic quip is delivered in a tone that would sound the same if she were saying she loved you. Edna is miraculous, because she is a short-sighted, self-absorbed, politically incorrect  snob—yet you can’t help but love her! She commands the stage of the Henry Miller’s Theatre (soon to be the Stephen Sondheim Theatre) using her usual staples of gladiolas, muscular male dancers, and boas. Edna also looks blindingly glittery in her wild costumes, designed by Stephen Adnitt. One particular bedazzled frock displayed a massive collar that was the Sydney Opera House, with Edna’s head poking out through the middle of the famed building. It was a design fit for Lady Gaga, which isn’t too shabby for the 76-year-old dame. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Broadway Brain: Music director Lynne Shankel risks the Broadway crapshoot, sexifies Christmas

If Raul Esparza is making audiences swoon with a Spanish rendition of “O Holy Night” or a boy band causes an audience to crack up with their humorous religion-infused pop music, it means Lynne Shankel is doing her job. As a music director, Shankel is in charge of shaping a production’s music into the correct tone, style, and interpretation. Having worked on Broadway (Company, Cry Baby), off (Altar Boyz), and on countless concerts at venues like Joe’s Pub (ASTEP’s New York City Christmas) and benefits around the country, Shankel is a go-to musician for producers and performers who want their shows and showcase concerts to hit the right notes. 

The Kansas City native studied piano performance at the University of Michigan, but much to the chagrin of her professors, she soon drifted from her classical studies and gravitated toward the theatrical. Playing piano in numerous college productions, which involved future Broadway stars Hunter Foster and Jennifer Laura Thompson, as well as Vanities composer David Kirshenbaum, Shankel’s passion for musical theater was established. She moved to New York in 1993 and has been working ever since. 

Shankel kicks off Stage Rush’s Broadway Brain series, focusing on the behind-the-scenes masters of New York theater. The 39 year old opens up about Broadway’s triumphs and disappointments, nursing a show’s score from start to finish, and keeping the creative juices flowing. 

Explaining it to me as if I’m a 3 year old, what does a music director/supervisor do?
The first thing you do as a music director is you work with the cast before you even start with the musicians. You teach them the vocals for the piece. I work on tons of new pieces. When you’re working on something new, it’s not like putting together The Wizard of Oz, where the actors have heard the cast recording and they know how it’s supposed to sound. With a new piece, the score is constantly changing and developing. Even before that, you work with the creative team to develop the piece. For a new show, I develop it through as many readings as we decide to have. Once we get past that point, I work with the composer, director, and choreographer intensely to figure out what the piece is, musically. What is the style we’re going for? From there, we hone in on the vocals and work on not only the sound and the style, but also the interpretation of the lyrics. A big part of what I do is coaching the actors through a song so that it not only has a musical arc, but a dramatic arc as well. Once I get through working with the cast, then it’s time to add in a band. If it’s an original piece, then I also work with an orchestrator, because the music hasn’t been played before. Sometimes there can be a bit of trial and error, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. I work out the dynamics, style, and articulations, so that we have a piece that feels cohesive. Then we get into the theater and it’s a whole other ball of wax with technical elements and conducting the show. 

***VIDEO AFTER THE JUMP: Lynne Shankel describes her strangest day working in the theater***

Friday, March 19, 2010

Stage Rush TV: Episode 5

Duncan Sheik introduces this week’s episode! 



Talking points:
What do you think of the Spring Awakening movie news? Are you disappointed that Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff won’t reprise their roles in the film? Are you still terrified of the prospect of McG taking the wheel, or do you think it will be his ticket to respected filmmaker-dom? Were you as disappointed with The Miracle Worker as I was? Did you fall in love with A Little Night Music? Please tell me in the comments!

Duncan Sheik: Original Broadway cast will not reprise roles in 'Spring Awakening' film

Thursday night, the Grammy and Tony award-winning singer and composer Duncan Sheik performed the first show in his six-city concert tour at the South Orange Performing Arts Center in New Jersey. I caught up with Sheik at the post-concert reception, and with a glass of wine in hand, he discussed some details of the Spring Awakening film adaptation, currently in development. 

For those hoping that Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff will reprise their roles in the film, Sheik said there is no chance of any original Broadway cast members making it on screen. Sheik noted that by the time the film goes into production, the actors would look too old to convincingly portray 15 to 16 year olds. 

Regarding the much-talked-about decision to hand directing and producing responsibilities over to McG, mostly known for action movies such as Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Terminator Salvation, Sheik maintains that the director was adamant about taking on the project. Sheik said McG courted himself and writing partner Steven Sater for 18 months about the project. It was McG’s desire to shoot on location in places like Prague, and to focus on the performances that won Sheik and Sater over. Sheik added that McG has extensive experience with big-budget films, and said he claimed he knew how to make the film look high budget for less. 

Also milling around the reception was Holly Brook, a regular back-up singer and accompanist on Sheik’s tours, who just came off the successful San Diego run of the composer’s latest musical venture, Whisper House. If the musical ghost story makes its way to the east coast, Brook said she would love to reprise her role as the female ghost. While she said she does not yet know of any upcoming production plans, she said one change that would likely be made is to the set design. Brook said that while at the Old Globe, the scenery, which is the interior of a lighthouse in Maine, was a bit complicated and didn’t come across well enough to the audience. Brook added that the redesigned set would probably be more minimalist. 

The concert 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: The Miracle Worker

As a nice last-minute rush alternative upon discovering The Addams Family did not have any rush tickets for their matinee performance, I hopped on over to play the ticket lottery for The Miracle Worker. I had good vibes about this lottery, after being skunked by Addams. 

For the play about Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan who gave her the gift of language, about 15 people entered and the attendant announced they’d be selling 10 lottery tickets. Now keep in mind, it was more like 30 people were playing, since most people register for two tickets. I kept positive and was the fifth name called! The lotto attendant directed the winners to line up in the order our names were picked. We did, but upon directing us to line up in the same order at the box office window to purchase our tickets, the attendant walked away and the order disintegrated. A woman who was called after I was zoomed to the front of the line. I suggested that the woman whose name was called first should be the first to purchase her tickets. The woman protested my suggestion, saying that she was waiting to play the lotto since 11 a.m., and should purchase first. I told her that wasn’t the way a ticket lottery works, to which she called me a “ticket Nazi.” So to the box office workers of the Circle in the Square Theatre, this ticket Nazi is telling you that you should keep your lottery more organized in the future. 

Aside from disorganization, The Miracle Worker ticket lottery is a good one. From what the attendant said, 15 people was the most he’d seen play the lotto, and the tickets are $16 a piece, up to two per person. The seats are in the back row of the theater, and that brings me to my first point of review for this show—the scenery. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stage Rush TV: Episode 4



Talking points:
  • The Broadway portion of Las Vegas
  • The Scottsboro Boys has a rush policy, but no rush tickets
  • Evan Rachel Wood backs out of Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark
  • Steven Sater: Spring Awakening film could begin production as soon as fall
  • Broadway grosses

Please leave your thoughts, questions in the comments below!

Review: Next Fall

A quality family drama can be a greatly effective play because everyone in the audience can relate in some aspect. Geoffrey Nauffts’ new dramedy, Next Fall, has many entrance points of reliability. Not everyone in the audience will relate to the homosexual relationship at the center of the play. Not everyone will relate to the various religious stances held by the characters in the play. What everyone will relate to, however, is the common denominator of religion in our lives and how it influences our views. 

Patrick Breen plays Adam, a man approaching the edge of middle age, who is a cynic and holds no stock in religion. Patrick Heusinger plays Luke, a 20-something optimist who never begins a meal without a Christian prayer. The audience is privy to crucial moments in their five-year relationship through flashbacks, while a hospital waiting room stands as the play’s main hub, where Adam and Patrick’s friends and family converge after a serious accident. We see how the two have made their many differences work over the years, and which ones have gotten the better of them. 

Although it doesn’t reach the heights of August: Osage County (the last great family drama to hit Broadway), Next Fall is a poignant, relevant work that highlights some of America’s most pressing issues. Most importantly, it has a lot of heart, and that it is an original piece is incredibly refreshing. 

Friday, March 5, 2010

Stage Rush TV: Episode 3, LA Edition

Coming to you from Los Angeles this week! Please excuse the wind interference—we weren’t aware of it until we had finished (low-cost equipment here). I had a real, live soldier of the Hollywood entertainment industry collaborating with me this week—my good friend Michelle Mogavero . Having a “crew” was very exciting.





Talking points: 

  • Rush FAIL: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno 
  • Upcoming interview with Lynne Shankel, former music supervisor for Company, music director for Cry Baby and Altar Boyz. 
    • ASTEP's New York City Christmas benefit concert
  • Broadway grosses 
Please leave your thoughts, questions in the comments below!

Monday, March 1, 2010

‘Glee’ concert tour: What is it with Lea Michele and May 18?

May 18, 2008. It was a big day for me, as I had seats (excellent ones, might I add) to Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff’s final performance in Spring Awakening. Sitting there in the audience, with an electricity of excitement in the air, I knew it was a very important day in Michele’s life too. What I didn’t know is that this date—May 18—would continue to be a milestone day in her life each time it came around for the next two years running. 

Last year on May 19 (give me a little wiggle room here), the pilot episode of Glee broadcast on Fox after part one of the season finale of American Idol. I couldn’t believe that almost exactly a year ago, I was watching Michele perform live to a packed Broadway house, and now I was watching her in a lead role in a debuting major television series, following the most successful show in America. As everyone knows, Glee became a huge hit and threw Michele into superstardom, as well as earning her a Golden Globe nomination just half-way through the show’s first season. 

Fox announced today that the cast of Glee will be hitting the road for a four-city concert tour, kicking off in Phoenix on… May 18. What other date would it possible be?? 

It strikes me as interesting that on this date for three years in a row, Michele has reached a new pinnacle in her career. From someone who maintains a healthy level of OCD, I think it’s rather pleasant that her career contains such symmetry. And to be embarrassingly honest, I was mistily reminiscent when May 18 hit last year, remembering that incredible last performance at Spring Awakening. Needless to say, I think May 18 is going to be a day that I continue to remember—not to speak of what Michele must think of the date. 

What do you think, Rushers? Did you make the May 18 connection with Lea Michele? Are you buying tickets to the Glee concert tour? Do you cry every May 18? (I’m sure you don’t. Only losers do that.) ::looks around suspiciously::

Friday, February 26, 2010

Stage Rush TV: Episode 2



Talking points: 

We had an awesome amount of comments last week. I loved responding to everyone. Please keep them coming this week. In addition, please ask me any questions you’d like me to address or throw out any topics you’d like me to discuss in next week’s episode. I’m taking your suggestions and I’d love for you guys to contribute to the topics list next week!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review: A View From The Bridge

Pardon the cliché, but today reminded me why in rushing, the early bird gets the worm. Sure, it’d be nice to sleep in a little longer and it would definitely be better to stay indoors another hour on a drizzly day, all to show up at the box office right before it opens and chance your luck. But taking the question of  “am I going to get a ticket?” out of the equation is far more worth it. These are the choices I made when I rushed A View From The Bridge. 

Just like A Steady Rain, which boasted two huge Hollywood names, people are coming out in droves to see Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber in this revival of the Arthur Miller play. Last week, it sold 102 percent of its tickets! Being that there are only six weeks left to the production’s run and I was well aware of the demand for this show, I decided to be very cautious with this rush. I’m honestly shocked that Bridge has a rush policy at all, with the rate they’re selling. It’s a general rush that goes on sale when the box office opens for $26.50 a piece, up to two tickets.

I arrived at the Cort Theatre at 8:30 a.m. and was the third person in line. The Cort has a nice, large overhang that sheltered us from the rain. Once 9 a.m. hit, the rush line grew fast, eventually adding up to about 30 people. I could tell the rushers that were beyond tenth in line were getting antsy as to whether they would be getting a seat. People even began querying the front section of the line, asking who was purchasing tickets for the matinee or the evening show. It was then that I was content with my decision to get there early, because I knew I was getting a ticket and didn’t have to worry. It was a comforting thought, and made for a very easy rush. The payoff was even larger when I got my ticket, which was for a front row orchestra seat on the aisle of the center section. I thought it was a mistake at first! The idea of seeing Johansson and Schreiber perform that close was incredibly exciting. It turns out, the front row of the Cort is extremely close to the stage, which is also quite high. But luckily, the actors stand further upstage for most of the show, so they were visible. I didn’t need a giraffe neck like I thought, after all. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Understudy Hall: ‘Phantom’’s Jeremy Stolle drives his BMW all over the Majestic

We’ve all done it. We’ve taken our seats in a Broadway theater, opened our Playbills in anticipation of the rising curtain, and groaned when that little slip of paper has fallen out and floated to our feet. The disappointment sets in: one of the lead actors is being understudied. It’s a common occurrence, yet rarely are the stories of these underdogs of Broadway told. We’ve all seen incredible understudies, as well as mediocre ones. But the truth is that without them, the show couldn’t go on. And don’t kid yourself for a second—they know exactly what the audience is thinking of them. Understudy Hall is a series spotlighting some of Broadway’s greatest pinch hitters. Now let’s kick off the series with an actor who is always on call to play one of the most coveted roles in Broadway history. 

Jeremy Stolle has gone months at a time without playing the Phantom or Raoul, the two leads he has understudied in The Phantom of the Opera since he joined the company in October 2007. Most nights, he plays the operatic Passarino in the musical’s haunted Opera Populaire. But during the week of February 15, while the regular Phantom, John Cudia, was on vacation, the 33-year-old California native went on as the tortured genius during the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evening performances. Given that the 22-year-old Broadway mainstay sold over 90 percent of its tickets that week, the excitement of the packed, cheering house should sustain Stolle for the next few months, in case it’s that long till he next dons the mask. 

You’re making your Broadway debut understudying the Phantom and Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera. How does that make you feel?
That feels amazing. I started acting at 15. I wasn’t into musicals whatsoever, and everybody has their one show that they find and they really like, and Phantom was mine. At 15, I really wanted to play the Phantom of the Opera. Ninety-five years later, I’m here as the Phantom of the Opera. I couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t even speak for a good half hour when I got the hiring call. Every day I come to work loving to be here. When it comes to playing the Phantom, I walk down the street with just a little bit of pride about that. 

What does it feel like when you’re in your moment as the Phantom, whether it’s in your favorite scene or taking your final bow?
It feels amazing for me, because I’ve worked really hard at this part. It’s not an easy part. People have ideas about the role, like, “Oh, you’re only on stage for 30 minutes.” It is 30 minutes of full-out sprints. It’s one of the hardest things ever. 

Give me a brief history of your background.
I am from the San Francisco Bay Area. I taught high school for two years; I was a substitute. I taught math, English, and choir. Then I decided that with two bags and a plane ticket, I’d move to New York. 

What is the longest period you’ve gone without performing the role of the Phantom or Raoul?
I’ve never counted, but months at a time. It really depends on the leads. Our leads aren’t flakey at all. We go on occasionally, on their vacations and their sick days. I do get to go on as the Phantom every so often, but I also rehearse the role at the theater during the day a lot. So I’ll have run Phantom six times within a three-month period during rehearsals and then I’ll have done it once at an actual performance. That is to make sure it’s fresh. 

***VIDEO AFTER THE JUMP: Jeremy Stolle unlocks the mystery of the Phantom's never-seen full mask***