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::