Stephie From The Block (Television/Stage Thoughts: Stephanie J Block Live From Lincoln Center)

 

maxresdefault

I love theater. I love theater music, I love theater performers – the belters, the Ethel Mermans. So it’s no surprise that I loved ‘Stephanie J Block Live at Lincoln Center.’ This episode, taped last Dec 22, showcases one of the best voices on Broadway these days (she will be playing Cher in ‘The Cher Show’ opening soon on the boards) and this shows off her wonderful belting voice. I once saw her on a touring production of ‘Anything Goes,’ on the same production where Sutton Foster won a Tony, and the great thing about Block in that production was that I forgot about Foster’s performance, because Block made the role her own. Here, in this concert, she sings ‘Defying Gravity, and gosh darn you will ask ‘Idina who’ after hearing her version. I am not saying her version is better than Idina’s but you will definitely her version is different – and works just as well. And the thing I really appreciate in this show is how I saw a different side of Block – she has a sparkling sassy personality that you will want to just embrace. No wonder she is such a beloved figure in the theater community. For me, my two favorite numbers of hers here are the most personal ones for her  – when she sings about her husband in a medlette of ‘My Man/The Music That Makes me Dance,’ and when her husband, Sebastian Arcelus, duets with her with the gender-bending version of ‘Move On.’  This show made me miss New York.

The Chase For Emotions (Stage Thoughts: Chasing Mem’ries, Geffen Playhouse)

1498239703_info_image_ChasingMemries-206x270‘Chasing Mem’ries’ has been describes as ‘a different kind of musical.’ (Look at the poster – it’s even written there) But about fifteen minutes into the show, you realize this is not really a musical. This is a play with music, and well, the music could not be better, as they are songs with lyrics by the husband and wife team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

Tyne Daly is Victoria, whose husband of many years has just passed. It is the day of his funeral service, and instead of going down and facing the people who have come to pay respects for her husband, Victoria holes herself up in the attic to look at things her husband left behind. Their son is there, and (as a ghost) his husband is as well. We see her go through the physical things, and at the same time has to deal with all the emotions running through her.

Daly is sensational here, playing a woman she plays best – a tough but sweet no-nonsense woman relatable to a lot. Written by Josh Ravetch, the play is somewhat derived from Mr. Ravetch’s life experience, and the character is fleshed out realistically that you can sense that Victoria is real, and on Daly’s hands, become even more real. I love her singing here – more of an actress who sings and not the other way around – and her subtle delivery give more weight to the lyrics – more showy singing, for example, would make the number more sappy than they already are. By the time Victoria goes through a breakthrough, we feel we have gone with her on the same journey.

This is a small play, though. At ninety minutes, you really do not get (and expect) more than what you get. My favorite moment was revisiting ‘The Trouble With Hello Is Goodbye.’ I spent the hours after playing versions of the song in loop from Spotify.

Window Waves (Music Thoughts: Waving Through A Window Remixes)

dear-evan-hansen-waving-through-a-window-remixesI cannot remember a song from a Broadway show released a single from its cast album. And even more interestingly,  a mini album of three songs remixed by various DJs was released. From ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ its most popular song ‘Waving Through A Window’ got a Tony Moran Remix, which is my favorite from three.  It’s your typical club mix – house but not too heavy, and most appealing to me, you can sing along to the lyrics. Actually even on the two other remixes, by DJLW and Ludato and Joseph Duveen, the lyrics are always present and none of these three tracks are inaccessible. So the question is: who will want these in their lives. Loyal fans of the show would (and there are a lot of  them) For others, your mileage may vary.

Barbra At The Mall (Stage Thoughs: Buyer and Cellar, Wesport Country Playhouse)

1700982I saw a preview of ‘The Government Inspector’ and realize the one of my favorite actors nowadays in Michael Urie.  he can do no wrong – from Ugly Betty, Younger, and of course, Buyer and Cellar. This made me realize I never wrote about the Wesport Playhouse production that was shown on PBS earlier this year. I saw the Off-Broadway production when it first came out, and wanted to see if there were any different from this regional theater run.

It’s pretty much the same great play as I remembered (the only thing I noticed is that Alex More has a different shirt, still the same red pants though) And Urie, as Alex, seems even better in the role – he gives a more lived-in performance making his performance more textured – truly one of best stage performances in recent years. He never resorts to making the performance stereotypical, knowing when to hold back so Alex More doesn’t become cartoon. He is hilarious on the funny parts, and adding pathos to the more serious ones.  Of course, it helps a lot Jonathan Tollin’s writing is so smart. A lot of major Barbraphiles may take offense on some what may  feel like ‘takedowns’ on her,  but deep inside, you know that he is a major fan of her, you feel the love there.

This is a great souvenir for the play, and I am very glad it exists.

Girls Gone Wild (Stage Thoughts, The Girls, Phoenix Theater)

The-Girls-12007

In one of Charles Isherwood’s Facebook’s postings, he recommended ‘The Girls’ as the one show to see if you ever found yourself on West End, and I remember liking their performance at The Oliviers early this year. So when I was at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square, I asked the very knowledgeable clerk there what she thought of the production. I told her that it was either this or the new London production of ’42nd Street with Sheena Easton. (My baby takes the morning train)  She told me ‘The Girls’ s an original London musical and is not playing anywhere else. She made sense, and went ahead and purchased tickets.

Meh. I wanted to like it much more than I did. This material comes from successful film version (which I loved)  and it also had a straight play version, which I didn’t see. I mean, I imagined the musical to be somewhat of a Golden Girls kind of comedy. But seriously it had quite a few golden moments. This incarnation of the material focuses more on the back stories of these women before posing nude for the calendar. The first act was so generic I was beginning to think I wasted my time picking this show – though I did like ‘Yorkshire,’ the opening choral number. I wanted to like the score, written by Gary Barlow with Tim Firth.  Half of it was appealing but really, the whole show sounds like one whole song, and I though some numbers were useless and was done so each character gets a solo. Things pick up on the scenes where they photograph their calendar entries, but they were close to losing me halfway through the show.

And I Cannot Really Tell You (Stage Thoughts, Dreamgirls, The Savoy Theater)

DreamgirlsOn my recent visit to London, the one show I really wanted to see was Casey Nicholaw’s production of ‘Dreamgirls’ at The Savoy Theater.  I have never seen a proper production of the show, and this particular production has been revered and slated to be moving to Broadway later this year – its first Broadway revival ever. After purchasing tickets, I fully immersed myself into the cast recording, and based on that alone, had several questions. Firstly, why does Deena here have a really weak singing voice, especially along side Amber Riley’s.  I mean, is this an obvious directorial choice? Also, I observed that Amber Riley’s performance seems a little too clean, based on the cast recording anyway. But I still was so looking forward to seeing the production, and to say I was excited would be am understatement.

Enter a horrific experience getting in from Heathrow – long lines at passport control, an Uber ride from hell, and found myself rushing to theater late. And adding insult to injury, realized that Amber Riley was on vacation that week, so I was doubly crestfallen. But make no mistake, Marsha Wallace, her understudy, did a more-than-competent Effie.

So what did I think of the production? Nicholaw is more than competent as well, and I loved several directorial touches (There’s a ‘reveal’ in ‘I Am Changing’ that made me utter ‘wow)  Gregg Barnes’ costumes do wow, and the lighting by Hugh Vanstone, set by Tim Hartley impress. But they impress, at times, just for the sake of. I did not find a lot of synch because each item is to sleek, too shiny, too polished. I always imagine Michael Bennett’s staging – all sleek towers that ebb and flow, and the only thing I can wonder is if he would approve of the modernness of this production.

Plus. this seems too influenced by the movie version. The addition of ‘Listen’ never did anything for me, and here as performed as a duet by Effie and Deena, still seem lifeless – all sound no fury. And the super amplification doesn’t help it. And while we are on the subject of Liisa Lofantaine as Deena, I was still bothered by her sometimes pitchy singing. As an actress, she was fine, but I honestly had cringey moments while listening to her singing.

As for my disappointment on not seeing Riley? When I was on TKTS booth in Leicester Square the next morning, the very knowledgeable young lady recommending shows told me that she thought Amber Riley was much too young to essay the role of Effie, and felt her performance hollow. Well, maybe I am just being bitter but perhaps in this production, it really doesn’t matter which Effie you see in the role. Even in her viral performance singing ‘And I Am Not Telling You,’ I felt disconnect with her character. Of course, I cannot definitely say that because I did not see her performance, but it did make me pause.

Human Kindness Is Overflowing (Stage Thoughts: Come From Away, Gerald Schoenfeld Theater)

poster_cfa-show 361x517 Show PageThe Tony’s Telecast (aka Showqueen Superbowl) is tonight and for Best Musical, it comes down to Dear Evan Hansen vs Come From Away. They are said to be battling neck and neck. If I were to choose between the two, my vote would probably go to ‘Come From Away.’ Written be Irene Sankoff and David Hein and directed by Christopher Ashley, this show is small, homey, and comfortable, but shows kindness bigly and hugely.  It is set on 9/11, in Gander, Newfoundland where planes landed after air space got closed that Tuesday. This musical, with songs also by Sankoff and Hein, shows how the people of Gander and their neighboring villages welcomed these thousands of people with open arms, providing shelter, clothes and feeding them those days before the air space reopened. It also shows the interpersonal relationships between the stranded passengers, how love formed, and for some, how love dissipated.

It’s a touching show, and damn it if I didn’t end up with tears in my eyes. I am always wary of anything that ‘exploits’ 9/11, but this is a story of any tragedy. The catalytical conflict could have been anything, and it just happened to be 9/11. I was there in New York City that day and at times feel protective of it, and this musical stirred a lot of the emotions I felt that day. The music is down to earth and folksy, but it has a sense of humor that was unexpected and effective. I was a little wary of the score but liked some of the songs, especially Jenn Collela’s song about how the world changed its innocence that day. (The score reminds me a lot of ‘Once’) The messages ring truer today, as we struggle to keep xenophobia in check. I know I am rooting for Collela tonight, but the whole ensemble is fantastic as well, and Chad Kimball has that star quality that I couldn’t help but follow my eyes to wherever he is on stage – that’s a star if there ever was one. I know this show is a hot ticket nowadays, but I hope it does more – enlighten people on their bias and prejudices. If one bigot from a red state learns a lesson from this show each night, then that’s already an achievement far greater than a Tony Award.