Come What May (Stage Thoughts: Moulin Rouge)

moulin-rouge-poster‘Moulin Rouge,’ now playing at The Al Hirschfeld Theater, was my birthday gift to myself. The ticket price was steep, but I know my self-worth and I more than deserve it. I knew the show wasn’t going to be deep, more fun that’s trashy and easy to digest. I confess remembering that I liked the film version, but honestly, don’t remember too much from it besides the fact that it starred Nicole Kidman.

Boy was I surprised. This was excruciating and difficult for me to enjoy. The book, by John Logan was paper-thin, akin to the Italian operas that inspired it. But I could have easily forgiven that if the music was palatable. but hell, this is a musical, and this show seems to have hastily compiled every disposable pop hit they could find from the past couple of decades. I have heard enough of these songs while riding in Ubers and picking produce at the supermarket, so forgive me if I don’t want to hear them on Broadway forcibly shoehorned into scenes. Songs are mixed and mashed for no reason – just when one grooves into a song, it’s cut mercilessly for another one. I despise pointless mashups.

The cast is competent enough, but I thought Karen Olivo was seriously miscast. Her Sabine is a force, for sure (with a grand sparkling entrance) but you never believed for a second that her character will waste any time for a twinky songwriter from Ohio. Yes, Aaron Tveit as Christian looks good on stage and sings effortlessly, but his Christian seems more scared of Sabine than in love with her – they have the chemistry of two dim bulbs. Poor Danny Burstein tries so hard to bring humanity to the role of emcee/engineer Harold Zidler, but you can only color cardboard various shades of brown.

The show reminds me of something you would see in a Vegas lounge show, or a cruise ship. That’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world, but this is the-a-teh. And I know that the show is polarizing, as I see the young lady next to me sobbing at the tragic ending (oops, I hope I didn’t spoil it for you) If I have to say one good thing about it, then sure I would probably commend its set design (pictures can be taken before the show, perfect for your Instagram feed!) but the heart set looks like it was stolen from Follies’ ‘Loveland,; so… Happy Birthday to me!

Up On the Roof (Film Thoughts: Fiddler A Miracle Of Miracles)

MV5BMDIxMzEwZjEtMmExMS00OTZkLTljOTktYmJjYTQ2Mzg4Nzg2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODAzODU1NDQ@._V1_I knew the songs from ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ before I knew the show. I was very aware of the popular songs out of context, and to be honest, I kind of did not like them, from the vantage point of their 60’s pop arrangements. When I met Sheldon Harnick, I told him I loved ‘Fiddler,’ everyone in our circle kept on telling him how much they loved ‘Fiddler.’ (I was the non-conformist who told him my favorite was ‘The Rothchilds’)  It was only when I started getting deep into musical theater research   that I truly appreciated “Fiddler,’ the show, and, really, I hadn’t seen any production of it since the 1990 revival. (I hadn’t really grasped the depth of ‘Matchmaker Matchmaker’ as a aong until I saw it on stage) When I started collecting cast recordings, I was amazed by how many recordings the show had and I devoured each one.

So it was wonderful to finally see Max Lewkowicz’s ‘Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles,’  as I had been looking forward to seeing it for weeks. A friend of mine saw it and couldn’t contain his raves.  And he is right, this film delivered for me in so many ways, a rare treat for a theater geek like me. It certainly showed how the musical became so beloved, and how it connected with a lot of people (Someone described it as ‘very Japanese,’)  I loved how Lewkowicz traced the musical’s origins:  Sholem Aleichem’s short stories and Chagall’s paintings,  to its troubled out-of-town tryouts that made director Jerome Robbins ‘bludgeon’ the show to to the version that ran on Broadway for eight years. The documentary also touched upon how Robbins was a terror director, although the Master himself Stephen Sondheim in here also says doesn’t know a more creative person than Robbins. These are the kinds of anecdotes that make me live life better. I wish there were more, even as the film packs a lot of them.

After seeing the film, it inspired me to play the original Cast Recording again, and it even gives these songs more texture for me. I know all theater lovers will see this film, but I hope it casts a wider net pulling in people into rediscovering the show.

Musicals Adjacent (Movie Thoughts: Bathtubs Over Broadway/Emo The Musical)

large_Bathtubs_POSTERI was introduced to industrial musicals when I started collecting show music. I knew some composers did them to pa the bills, but I was mostly disinterested in them. I preferred listening to the flop shows who actually made it on Broadway. Still, it is great to see that Dava Whisenant has made a documentary partly about them. ‘Bathtubs over Broadway’ is more about Steve Young, a writer who used to work for David Letterman, and his obsession with collecting them. He has a very distinct point of view about it – basically looking for comedy where you least expect it. I would have used a different lens, probably focusing more on how composers and directors juxtaposed these shows versus the real shows they were creating (Susan Stroman touched upon that briefly during her interview) but don’t get me wrong, I found a lot of positive things in the film, it just isn’t totally for me.

71Gz4yrGEWL._SY445_I thought ‘Emo The Musical’ wasn’t for me, either, but anything with the word ‘musical’ will certainly get my attention. Neil Trifett wrote and directed the film, and peppered it with some of the most generic songs that all sound like they were too witty for their own good. I hate to even say that this film is not really a musical by its strictest definition. I was mostly bored by this, if I have to be honest and the best thing I can say about it is that it has a great message.

Broadway Backwards (Book Thoughts: Nate Expectations, Tim Federle)

9781481404129I devoured the first two books about Nate Foster, so for sure I thought I would feel the same about the third (and unfortunately, last) on the series of books about him, written by Tim Federle, titled ‘Nate Expectations.’  When we last saw him, he was starring in a Broadway production of ‘E. T.,’ but the show is kind of floundering, and after it was not nominated for any Tony awards, got a closing notice. So this sends Nate back to Pittsburgh at his old high school, and of course he is somewhat dejected by all this, and has to repurpose and rebrand himself as a student. To be honest, this is the weakest book in the series for me, and it took me a little bit to get back int he groove of it, but it’s still a good and fast read. I still cherish all the Broadway references, of course, and it was a very nice touch for me that his new love interest is Filipino (who cooks him adobo!) I love the fact that his parents are very supportive of his sexual orientation (we knew all of this was coming, for sure) and it was nice to see him close up that way.  I hope Federle revisits him at some point as I would be curious where Nate eventually ends up.

Defying Popular (Television Thoughts: A Very Wicked Halloween, NBC)

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God knows I am not the biggest fan of ‘Wicked,’ but I really cannot escape it. I hear the songs everywhere, and I do have bragging rights of having seen it with the Original Cast – Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth. So why not, it’s Halloween and NBC has a special, /A Very Wicked Haloween’ which celebrates its 15th Anniversary. I mean, you cannot doubt its success, for sure. And it’s still going strong – with sold out audiences all over the world.

This special, though, is a real mixed bag. It’s a real definition of all over the map. Menzel and Chenoweth host it, and they both look good in their white and green outfits, and it is sure nice to see them together. Both their solos, ‘Popular,’ and ‘Defying Gravity,’ were show stoppers. But the rest of the numbers kind of made me cringe. I didn’t really get the Adam Lambert/Ledisi duet of ‘As Long As You’re Mine,’ and I think I am allergic to anything Pentatonix. The much-hyped Ariana Grande number was okay, I guess, but too much pop melisma for me – but then again that defines this musical.  And for ‘For Good,’ which is my favorite song from the musical. it was a nice idea to bring in all the Elphabas and Galindas through the years, but the number was haphazardly presented, with no stage direction at all, and felt messy.

But I am just being a bitchy show queen. I am glad this special exists, and hope they do more of the same.

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

 

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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.

Tucker’s Road (Music Thoughts: On The Road, Rachel Tucker)

51zqPvxhfUL._SS500I know there are big Wicked fans who worship Rachel Tucker (she played Elphaba on Broadway and West End) but I know the kind of big belter voice that is needed to be Elphaba so I could already imagine what kind of voice Tucker has even though I had never heard her sing before.

Sure enough, she has that Idina inspired big throttle, and it’s appealing, for sure. Her album, ‘On The Road,’ is a good listen. It shifts from Broadway karaoke to some inspired tracks. We don’t really need from her a version of Bette Midler’s arrangement of ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ but sure, why not. And her duet with Lee Mead of ‘You Matter To Me,’ is okay, competent for sure, but eh? I actually liked her version of that other Waitress song much better : the tender ‘She Used To be Mine.’ And the song from Wicked she covers. ‘No Good Deed’ works in this context. Tucker’s album has a slight country feel, and that for sure gives it a bit of character  – there’s a great down-to-earth feel to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Castle On a Hill’ here.  All in all, this album will please her fans. For me, it seems just a bit green.