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. 

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

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!)