Saturday, December 27, 2008


Wow, it's been quite a time for things I love in theater. Really. There is so much to talk about.

My favorite thing of the last few weeks was the Vanities delay statement. It was great to hear that the production was "being rescheduled for later this season out of responsibility to the investors at this complicated economic time, which makes it very hard to support a new musical on Broadway." I would have preferred: "due to the fact that, currently, while it is fun, this doesn't seem like a Broadway show, we've decided to hope and pray and then maybe we will come to realize that this is an off-Broadway show if a musical other than Altar Boyz or Forbidden Broadway could exist off-Broadway, but, since it is virtually impossible to survive off-Broadway, we'll probably scrap the whole idea." As someone who has seen it, that would have been my dream statement (well, a better written, more coherent version of that), but, alas, maybe we will see it, though hopefully the writing will be tighter than when I saw it previously.

Not since A Class Act.... Rock of Ages. 'nuff said. Actually, I'll say this: I wish everything success, so I hope it has a low running cost.

Pal Joey is a good show. And I appreciate the critics mentioning that. I often think people blame the show when it is the production's fault--I thought that a lot about the recent Sweet Charity, (though I loved Applegate) the production made the show seem worse than it is and so people said the show was just out-dated. I disagree. So I do like critics talking about an underlying show in a positive light. But... umm... poor Roundabout... "Glorious songs" (or whatever) only sells to people who would have been attending anyway.

I understand that theater shows need to attract all kinds of audiences, but I wish some of them would pick a tone, a style and, I don't know, maybe really focus in on main characters. There are so many random things going on in Shrek, I walked out thinking the creatives must have been high. And--is there any need for Broadway jokes coming out of the mouth of a small town kid from Indiana in 13? (That is where he moves, right? Indiana?) I mean, I personally love randomness in life in general (I use the word "random" all the time--my mother even used it in her post as sort of an ode to me), but I think it takes away something from the quality of a show. Would In My Life have been better without the lemon subplot? I don't know... when your show is going to be ridiculous no matter what, you might as well go all out... but, in general, some judicious editing is often wise.

Can they just stop giving these? Please? And, of course, Aiken is not nearly the worst of them, but he was the last straw in my mind. Can there be criteria beyond performing once on a stage and eating/drinking there? I mean, it's there place, so they totally should hang up their patrons, as they please, but, maybe I just want no coverage of it whatsoever. Because, when people cover it, it somehow makes it seem like a respectable honor. I think it used to be actually. Ah, how times have changed.

I am actually going to stop now because I want to sleep. Next week I am going to write a happier post (I hope). Meanwhile, two closings things... First, please go see Striking 12 if you never have. Lastly I want to take a moment to say something about the passing of Eartha Kitt, who was one of my father's very favorite performers. Eartha was one of those people who was exactly what you thought she would be like--a real personality. She was always very nice to me, even when I bombarded her with news questions. And she had such a presence on stage, even when she was not actually doing very much. You never lost Eartha on a stage. Of course, the news was mainly about Pinter this week (and, you know, that little holiday we had), but the loss of Eartha is a significant one in many ways. She was an old time perfomer--always giving the audience what they wanted. She never wanted to move on from the purring, she knew what people came to see.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mama's Talkin' Loud

I have much to write about some of the happenings in the last few weeks… But that will wait until I post again later this week. (The delay will be good because I have yet to see Shrek and I will probably want to comment on the reviews/show.) Right now I am going to turn over the blog to my mother. This may be the only time this ever happens, so let me introduce her to those of you who do not know her. I have a Jewish mother (complete with baking skills) who lives in the suburbs and loves theater. An example of how this played itself out in my childhood: I was raised to believe Harvey Fierstein was really, really famous and amazing. You get the idea. In many ways she is my litmus test for how the non-tourist audience of her ilk will react to something. I take her to almost all Broadway shows; she knows virtually every press agent by face. And she loves to talk about the theater—my friends want her to start her own blog! Based on what I have said about her, you might imagine that she is a big Mandy Patinkin fan. So when I was invited to see one of his shows at the Public, I knew she would be the one who would have to comment on it. We saw Dress Casual on Saturday night (it is playing in rep. with two other Patinkin concerts: Mamaloshen and Celebrating Sondheim). I will say that, in my opinion, if you like Mandy, this is definitely for you, if you don’t, you will likely not be converted. But I will let her say the rest on this topic and, as a special bonus, she will also discuss Billy Elliot just because she wanted to do so. (My disclaimer is of course that the thoughts below are not my thoughts and I do not endorse them, I'm just giving them space.)

Jill David speaks:
“I must start by saying that I am a huge Mandy Patinkin fan so there is definitely some prejudice involved here. Going to the Public is always somewhat of an experience because their organization is somewhat sporadic. For example, the ushers seemed to have no idea of the seat locations so people were put in the wrong seats and then had to move climbing over many more people than necessary

To the show. Dress Casual was the one show out of the three that has no song list because, we are told in the playbill, it changes all the time.

Lights fade, stage black. Lights come back on to reveal the star in the middle of the stage in black t-shirt slacks. He immediately launches into song – “Children and Art” - from Sunday in the Park with George, with Mandy playing all the parts in different voices. It seems to go on forever. But his immense talent is evident. The show continues and the pace picks up, thank G-d. The songs are interspersed with amusing anecdotes from the past. He tells a story about Joseph Papp and launches into a Yiddish song, "Yossela,Yossela," that, as far as I am concerned, would be worth the price of admission. Mr. Patinkin is not only a singer with an unbelievable range, but a wonderful actor. He not only sings the songs but acts them out. The show lasts over 2 hours without an intermission but you will not get bored (if you make it through the first song). Take my advice and do not miss it.

A show you can and should miss is Billy Elliot. If this is the Broadway musical of the season, Broadway is in really big trouble (having nothing to do with the economy). The book, adapted from the hit movie Billy Elliot, has potential. The score is totally non-memorable. The first act is interminable and totally random. The second act is better, perhaps because it is so much shorter. I know that the critics gave this show good reviews. I don’t get it. Maybe they think that if something is a hit in England it has to be good. NOT.”

Monday, December 01, 2008


Did anyone else not understand Michael Riedel's Friday column? I mean, I am the queen of not believing the reasons given in press statements for actors being out, shows being delayed, shows being cancelled, etc. So I am all for his sentence about the theater press buying things too easily -- though for me the problem is less things being accepted too easily and more reporters printing things whether they accept them or not--but that isn't relevant here.

What I am saying is his whole claim in the first few sentences is that it wasn't the economy that torpedoed Guare's play at the Public and so it's stupid that people printed it was. Then later on he says it was the economy. See, here is the issue, yeah, they pissed off Carole Shorenstein Hays, which, well, isn't smart. BUT, in another economic climate, they would have gotten away with it. Just like there are randomly people who want to produce August Wilson plays (a fact I often don't get), there are usually people that love George Wolfe enough to support his stuff. Just not now. So, okay, while they didn't lose Hays because of the economy--I am sure she has lost some of her money recently but nowhere near enough that this would put a dent in her savings--the economy did in fact screw them in the end.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

So I've gotten some flack for not posting in awhile, but I must say, there has sort of been nothing exciting going on. I've been busy working and nothing has screamed "blog about me." But, I have to talk about American Buffalo...

Though first i want to praise one of my favorite Broadway performers--a girl who should work way more than she does--Meredith Patterson. Longtime readers of this blog know I've been a fan of Meredith's since she was Peggy Sawyer on Broadway. I desperately wanted her to be the lead in Never Gonna Dance, but that didn't work. And there have been other roles in recent years I could have totally seen her in and, instead, we got people who weren't as good. I saw White Christmas in LA because of her and I saw it here tonight. I know she doesn't have the flashiest role, but I hope people spot that she is completely in period and doing great work. She is consistent throughout and has the right style. seriously.

Now onto American Buffalo. Usually when shows open and close they don't have stars in them, so it's somewhat less embarrassing. Like who even remembers who was in that musical at the Circle in the Square? But this was a big Mamet revival, directed by the respected Robert Falls, with three different named stars in it. And actually that last thing was part of the problem--this show had the most random cast on Broadway. Honestly. It was hard to believe. I loved it so much because if you told non-theater people about the casting they didn't believe you. My friend Barbara's only reaction was: "WHAT?" And so there were only two alternatives--it could have been a genius stunt that surprised everyone or not. And I was hoping it would work somehow, but, no, it didn't. They were acting in 3 different shows. John Leguizamo was pushing SO hard, Haley Joel Osmet wasn't pushing at all and Cedric the Entertainer was somewhere in the middle (or maybe at different points on one poll and at different points at the other). More than that though--can someone explain to me the play? What was the point of reviving it? Anyone? I just don't get it. I mean, I'm not a huge Mamet fan, but, if it's enjoyable, it's enjoyable. I don't get this play. What is the point? Why have we sat there? I really want comments from fans.

Oh, speaking of Mamet, I enjoyed Speed-the-Plow well enough, but.... Did anyone else realize it's like $1.46 a minute if you sit in the orchestra (in non-premium seats)? Because, I feel like in this economy, I want more for my $1.46 a minute. I want dancing and/or big sets and/or free food and/or Shirley MacLaine.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Green Monster

I know what you are thinking--this is the wrong Wednesday. Well, last week I had internet issues... and then holiday prep. hit... so you are getting this Wednesday. Happy New Year to my fellow Jews.

It's good because it's just in time to comment on the Chestor Gregory Shrek casting change. Now, let me tell you--they had a hard time casting that Donkey. I had a friend who was in time and time again. For a long time they just couldn't find the exact right person. I was hoping when the news of Gregory came out that they had finally found him, but, I guess not. Is it his fault? Maybe. I don't know. I will say that the whole Jason Moore thing always made me nervous, as I believe I've said here previously. Yeah, Avenue Q is good, but I've never been sure how much of that credit he should get. It never seemed like he was the huge driving force behind the concept; at the time it was happening less was said of him than, let's say, Rando during Urinetown. BUT, nevertheless, after the success of Avenue Q, Moore began hot. Then he directed Steel Magnolias which, um, wasn't well directed. And, yet, people continued to think highly of him. He escaped heavy criticism. Even those that admitted to me they felt the revival was poorly directed thought that he was still a good musical director, it was just that particular show was difficult. I want Shrek to succeed because I want all theater to succeed and I like Brian d'Arcy James, but, still, I wasn't sold on Moore. Now, with the casting and costume changes and the addition of Rob Ashford, I wonder what other people are thinking about Mr. Moore. Of course, I hope these changes are the sign of a smart director. The addition of Ashford makes it seem like, if they are, it's not Moore, but, I do think it is wise to make changes. I am all for changing what doesn't work--to me, that is the purpose of a tryout. I've never understood why shows go out of town and then make only tiny changes even if they aren't very good. Why did Cry-Baby not come up with a big opening number after La Jolla? Why do so many shows keep leads that aren't good? Is it just the money issue? Isn't it better to pay out an actor than have your show do worse because of him/her? (Note that I am speaking generally and not of Mr. Gregory.) I mean, I guess it is a win/loses thing when it comes to all changes, but, I tend to think most are worth it. I am not investing though.

Speaking of which--who is investing now? The recession hurts all of theater, but it particularly hurts riskier ventures. Which is sad. But true. So, I fear we won't be seeing a lot of adventurous things having commercial productions in the neat future. Stay tuned though, I suppose.

And I leave with a "thank you" for the comments below and for the emailed good wishes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hello, all

Those of you who know me, know that the reason this blog has been on hiatus is that, shortly after my father's death, one of my closest friends, Al D. Rodriguez, was diagnosed with cancer. With the stress and sorrow of it all, it just didn't seem important to keep up this blog. But, I just got back from his memorial service, and someone there reminded me that Al loved this blog. So I am going to try to bring it back. On Wednesday, we'll have the typical Cara theater musings, but, for today, I am going to paste a note I sent to my email list a week after Al's death.

Note that since this email, the foundation has been established. The the Al D. Rodriguez Liver Foundation now exists. If you want to donate, you can make a check out to the foundation and send it to Carlos R. Ortiz / 166 East 35th Street apt. 11G / New York, New York 10016.

Here we go:

Those of you who know me well know that, with the losses of my grandfather and father, this has been an extremely tough year for me. Through all of it, my dear friend Al Rodriguez was there for me. He was one of the best people I ever knew. Last week at this time he took his last breath--less than six weeks after he was diagnosed with liver cancer. On our last night out, Al told me that, if he survived, he wanted to help educate people who did not have medical insurance, did not have a regular doctor and did not know that they could have a silent killer inside them. A foundation that will bear his name is being established with that aim. In the meantime, in his honor, I send this email:

Al never took a drink and was asymptomatic until right up until his diagnosis. His cancer was likely caused by Hepatitis B, a virus that can be prevented by vaccination. It is transmitted through contact with infectious blood, semen and other body fluids. Many of you may have gotten the vaccine in your infancy, but, if you have not, I urge you to look into it. In New York City, there is a way to get a vaccinated for free: . If you are suspicious of the vaccine--some believe it has bad side-effects--I recommend you at least get screened for the virus, so you know if you need to do frequent liver cancer checks. (There is no vaccination for Hepatitis C, which also causes cancer, but there is a screening test.)

I know this all seems like a "this will never happen to me" thing. If I had read it a few months ago, I think I would have hit delete. But, on this day, I urge you to take a minute to make sure you are being careful.

The major thing Al taught me was to take care of your friends--so many times this year I got caught up in stupid things and forgot to be there for him. He never held it against me, but I know I need to do better in the future. And this is how I'm starting. I think he would have wanted it that way. So, please head my advice and pass on the word in his memory.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Blue Skies

OK, I know, I know, I never got back on a regular schedule... It was all Tony stuff, all the time and I just didn't have anything to add. You know why? I didn't have any passionate attachment to any of those shows/performances. It was such a blah year for me. I don't think I'm alone.

Anyway, so it looks like we're in for the Broadway return of Diana DeGarmo, who I like and thought was a great Penny Pingleton. No, she's not going back to Hairspray. She's going to Hairspray producer Adam Epstein's other show, Godspell. So, that makes like her, Gavin Creel, Telly Leung, and, oh wait, I stopped caring already. That was quick.

Now, I know Broadway is Raul Esparza crazy. But am I the only one who thinks Leap of Faith needs a bigger star? Now, by that, I don't necessarily mean a television or film star... But somehow I want a bigger star, someone who commands the stage no matter what. Someone who you are always watching. I'm only always watching Raul when he's being out-of-control... I say this because the material isn't amazing enough on its own, it needs a big star. It's the kind of thing that person is really going to need to sell the hell out of... I hope Raul is that person, but I'm not yet convinced. There is nothing new about that, but I was just thinking about it.

I do hear Allison Janney is now singing better, so that's good for all those of you out there who, like me, are Dolly fans.

What can I say about Legally Blonde the television spectacular? It's really something. I like all the "a broadway actress has to bring it all the time" talk. Has anyone ever seen multiple Jessica Boevers performances in the same show? Because, let me tell you....

OK, sleep. More regular posts in the future. I promise.

Monday, June 02, 2008


Well, I've been on hiatus more that a few weeks... It took me a long time to get back into the swing of things and I apologize for that. Thank you all for your well wishes during my time away. Don't expect much from this first musing, but I'll be back to full force soon.

While I was gone, the Summer Play Festival announced its lineup and both my favorite composer, Joe Iconis, and favorite playwright, Billy Finnegan, have shows in the festival. Congratulations to the both of them. I want to encourage everyone to see Joe Iconis' The Black Suits (and you will then know it is not financially unproducable off-Broadway, no matter what evil people say) and Billy Finnegan's Esther Demsack. Those of you who are longtime readers of this blog, know I've previously excerpted another play of Billy's, that's how much I love him. So, you know, go support him.

Also, while I was out, news broke that NY Times main theater guy Campbell Robertson is going to Iraq for the summer. Apparently it is more action-filled than the summer NY theater-scene. This came as news to me.

So, this week, I saw three shows: Top Girls, Saved and In The Heights. I don't know how many of you have seen Saved yet, but it has three lyricists and yet features lyrics like "Refugees from a refugee camp" and ""Life is screwey, you do what you can/grab onto a life buoy..." In The Heights you all know about, so moving on.

Top Girls... I don't know if I've ever written here that Top Girls is one of my favorite plays. I love it! And I was so happy to finally see this production! I was surprised when MTC first announced it last year because I know that some of their subscribers have in the past complained about weird things and, um, this is Caryl Churchill, but, MTC actually did it, so let's also applaud that right away. Sadly, some Tony voters in the audience didn't share my enthusiasm and there were a handful that left after Act I. This really pisses me off for many reasons, one of which is that Tony nominee Martha Plimpton has her juciest stuff in the second and third acts. So, basically, if you leave, you're not seeing the main part of her performance. That's shady. Of course, as is well known in the community, many Tony voters don't go to half the nominated shows (despite the fact that they are supposedly not allowed to vote in a category where they have not seen everything), so I know someone out there is totally thinking: "Well, at least they went..." But, no. It still sucks, whether they saw some of her performance or not. If you are a Tony voter, you should be able to sit through an entire show, unless you're physically ill. To not sit there shows disrespect to the nominated performers. Now, there is some argument that if only the show is nominated and you hate it in the first act, you might as well leave because you know there is no way you are voting for it. But, in a case where there is a nominated performer, unless that performer REALLY rubs the voter the wrong way in Act I, that voter really needs to stay for the rest of the show. This is especially true when, as is the case here, that nominated performer plays a different character in the rest of the show. I mean--do I really think that the people who left thought, after the first act: "martha gives the worst performance ever and no matter how genius she is in the coming acts I'd never vote for her?" NO! So, basically, the people who left, unless they were actually ill, are just shady and disrespectful.

I'm tired now. That is enough for my return entry.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Due to a death in the family, this blog is on hiatus for a couple of weeks.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Is dealing with drama out-of-town. She'll post Wednesday.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Inside My Mind

Some quick hits:

Now that A Tale of Two Cities is apparently happening, I guess I have to stop calling it "Masada, The Second." Oh, well.

The big question of the week to me is: What will Glory Days do to the Tony race? It's out-of-town reviews were not like 'this is the best thing ever.' But, yet, it will almost surely earn a Best Musical Tony nom. How about the actors races? One lead, one featured? I'd bet book and score, because we like to support young-uns. So, that's a lot of noms.

Gavin Creel in Godspell. Wow, that's the most exciting choice ever. (Sarcasm.) I mean, I like Gavin, I do, but I was hoping for someone a) with some outside name recognition or b) someone very different. Maybe that is just me. I know people love Mr. Creel.

Is anyone else not at all surprised at the Rent extension? I mean, nothing closes in June. Don't be ridiculous. So when I heard about the ticket rush for the "final" performance I was like--"UMM.. that's so not the final performance!" I mean, come on. Why are you spending $7000 for a ticket to a performance in June? (Yes, I know--why are you spending that much for a performance anytime?!? but, that's another story.) I mean, they are letting people exchange tickets for one final to the other... This is "subject to certain restrictions," but it's still nice.

Poor Mask. All these years and still not great. I saw the long ago concert and I liked the score, but it wasn't a show and the score didn't go with the book. The composers held out for tons of money and some other drama stuff and so for years no one would do it. Now, someone finally has and the critics don't like it. Is it a surprise a show has been sitting around for years and still hasn't been improved? I wish it was, but it's not. (NOTE: I did get two emails from non-theater people who saw a photo from the show and had to email. So, maybe there is an audience for it, regardless. Though I'm not sure these people who actually attend.)

I believe I've written here before that I LOVE Pamela's First Musical, the book. So please go see the BC/EFA benefit of the musical. Support it, applaud loudly and then one day maybe we'll see a fully staged version of the musical. I've been waiting...

Who is Sam Thielman at Variety and why is he incompetant? I mean, normally I tend not to blame the journalist because it could be the editor. But, in this case, I doubt it is the editor. First he wrote Julia Murney was part of the current cast of Wicked (umm... no) and then, in another story, he wrote this sentence: "Williamstown Theater Festival has announced the rest of its '08 lineup: a new production of Christopher Durang's "Beyond Therapy" with Kate Burton will be directed by Les Freres Corbusier A.D. Alex Timbers at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, opening July 8." Well, yeah--the Williamstown cast will also be seen at Bay Street. But... what is the quoted sentence missing? Umm... maybe the Williamstown dates? Any mention that it will also be at Williamstown? I'm just saying...

That's it. Rest time.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

You Could Be Dancin', Yeah...

I don't have much to say tonight (I am a little exhausted), but I do want to talk about Dancin'. I'm surprised not more has been made of this huge step into commercialism by Roundabout.

I know previously I've discussed my support of Roundabout doing random money-making things. Because, in general, I think people that put on big shows should be entitled to make money to support them. Roundabout has many times previously taken a show that commercial producers just couldn't manage to get on and done it. One past example is The Pajama Game. Another example is the upcoming Pal Joey. But Dancin' is a little different.

Back in the fall when news surfaced of this Dancin' it was to be a commercial Broadway revival with a Toronto tryout. For whatever reason, that plan did not work out. So now we have a Roundabout production at Studio 54 produced in association with Greg Young, Elaine Krauss, Dancap Productions and Richard Levi. It is of course standard procedure to list the commercial producers, as these are the people that are hoping the show is a huge hit and they can move it and capitalize on its hit status. So, the deal is, for those of you who know nothing about the industry, it takes a lot less money to get something on at a non-profit because of a lot of factors, especially LORT actor contracts which allow for lower salary minimums. Like, they knew Love Musik was iffy commercially. So the commercial producers put it on in association with MTC in the hopes that people will love it and they'll be able to move it. If it is not well-loved (which was the case with Love Musik), the commercial producers lose a lot less money than they would have if they put it directly in the Belasco. But this is all usually (with some exception) done behind-the-scenes. It's not something you would know unless, well, you knew.

The Dancin' announcement has something markedly different about it-- the statement "that "A national tour of DANCIN' will open in the fall of 2009" following the Roundabout mounting. That makes it clear that this is a commercial endeavor right from the get-go. Of course, I'm sure if it is a bomb, the tour will be scrapped. But its announcement says something.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

RIP Curtains

Well, Curtains will end its New York run on June 29. It will have run almost a-year-and-a-half, which is a healthy run... but it has yet to make back its $10million capitalization and it is doubtful that it will.

There is an odd thing about Curtains--it was a show that lasted a while, had a great lead who won a Tony, was fun, and yet never had a tremendous amount of buzz. (Despite a very committed press agent.) To me personally, before it came, there was a certain excitement about seeing a new Kander & Ebb musical. But that excitement never reached the masses. That's not to say the show didn't sell at all--it's still around, which is saying a lot... But it was never a show that a great amount of people were like "We MUST see this."

Why not? You know, when Curtains opened, it had that old-fashioned feel and I thought it would attract people who wanted to see that sort of thing. It had great dance numbers. The song Thataway, which was catchy. Two strong lead performances, one by a television name. So it had things going for it... (And it's hard for me to say that about anything with Karen Ziemba in it.) But, most of all, it should have had going for it the Kander & Ebb label.

There are very few musical theater songwriters who are famous. Kander & Ebb are famous. The general public doesn't know that in addition to hits they've made flops. They just know their names and thus associate them with hits. But, even Kander & Ebb apparently don't have names that are marketable enough to sell a show with a named star automatically. (Yes, I am sure their name sold some tickets, but not an astounding amount by any means.) Which leads me to think--is there any songwriting team who could truly sell tickets to a contemporary, non-theater savvy audience? If someone uncovered an unheard Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, would it sell enough tickets in advance to really build up super-buzz? I don't think so...

Now--the second part of this inquiry is... Is that sad? Part of me thinks it is. Part of me wishes tons of people rushed out and bought tickets to see a new Charles Strouse musical. But, the other part thinks--maybe shows should stand and fall on their own. But that's never the case. Every show brings with it the reputation of not only its songwriters, but its stars and creative team. So it's never just about the plot and the quality. And, thinking about it that way, it does make me sad that the general public no longer supports certain songwriters. It shows a lack of respect for theater history, in a way. Then again, we all know so few people care about theater in general anymore. It doesn't really surprise me that you can't continually fill a theater with Kander & Ebb fans. You can fill a theater with Julia Roberts fans, but, she's not a theater person. And that says it all.

It's late. I'm tired. I've lost track of where I was going with this. Musings for the night over.

Monday, March 17, 2008

I get my coffee...

Greetings from Long Island, where I am dealing with yet another family situation. My life is exciting, isn't it?

In The Times article about Young Frankenstein today, Campbell Robertson doesn't discuss my favorite point: That all the new commercials prominently display the phone number, which is 1-888-Mel-Brooks (or 1-888-Mel-Broo), seemingly saying, "Hey, you may hate Young Frankenstein, but remember who wrote it! You love Mel Brooks!" That number might have been around before the bad reviews, but never have I seen it so much...

Anyway, the biggest news of the past week (the news I ignored on Wednesday) was the "huge success" of In The Heights. I have yet to see it on Broadway and I'm excited to one day do so... I hope all its problems were fixed in transfer. But I want to take a look, as I often do, at how spin frequently takes over from fact.

I was out Sunday night and I kept getting calls about the "rave" Times review for the show. Sample caller: "Cara, did you read the Times review? It's so good..." Then, when I got home, I did read the review. (I try not to read reviews before I see the production, but, because I saw this off-Broadway, I figured it was semi-safe.) Am I the only one who didn't read it as a rave? I mean--here is what I got from it: this guy is great, his music is top-notch and the choreography is interesting, but the story isn't good. That to me isn't a rave. That's like: go see it for this guy and his tunes, but the show needs work it didn't get in the transfer. Now, it does say "go see it" but it's still not a rave, in my mind. Yet the spin is so "RAVE." That's all I hear. I'm happy to hear that people are excited about something--especially something that can bring in a new audience--but I often wonder why spin takes over on some shows and doesn't on others. The same thing happens out-of-town--I think I mentioned before that for a while the buzz was randomly that Cry-Baby got across-the-board GREAT reviews, when, in fact, that isn't true. And, again, if the people are excited, I'm excited about that excitement, but.... I'm confused by it as well.

Perhaps there is a bent to support new artists in the theater? A Catered Affair won the majority of San Diego critics awards over Cry-Baby yet the NY buzz on that was much softer on that out-of-town. Of course the reasoning could be that Cry-Baby is THE NEW JOHN WATERS MUSICAL and A Catered Affair is a musical version of a movie I did not remember seeing... But, the reasoning could also be based on the fact that (despite this being Bucchino's first Broadway show) Cry-Baby seems like it has a hipper team attached to it... And we like to support hip teams more... (Someone is going to point out that Cry-Baby is more of a big crowd-pleaser and so the positive reviews of that were more like 'this is great fun!' and that is natural based on the subject matter... but I contend there is more to it.)

I believe the desire to support young theater artists is a perfectly valid one. So I am not attacking it. And I'm not saying that's the reason for overly-positive spin reviews of certain shows receive. I'm just saying that is one possible theory behind it. I'm sure there are many more... (Thus ends the disclaimer portion of the evening.)

Now I need to get something to eat. Until Wednesday...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dear Little Girl

I’m very excited I got back just in time for news to surface of the return of They All Laughed!, er, “The Untitled Gershwin Project.” It was back in 2001 when I first saw this show. It was already on at least its second director—right before Goodspeed, Christopher Ashley had to step in for a then-hot John Rando.

The show was tremendously troubled—it was somewhat enjoyable, but very slight and confused. Though for years after I kept hearing about rewrites and new readings. Joe DiPietro was working away on it. But, honestly, I never thought we’d see it again. I maybe blame Drowsy Chaperone for this Gershwin return, because Drowsy made people think an old-fashioned musical could sell. (Now, note, I personally never thought Drowsy was an old-fashioned musical, but I’m talking about other people’s conception.) Before that, the last new, old-fashioned musical was maybe Never Gonna Dance… and we know how that turned out.

Anyway, so it’s back. Now, interestingly, Christopher Ashley is out, Kathleen Marshall is in. And the show is, in theory, heading for a December Boston tryout in preparation for a Broadway bow next year. Original producers Jonathan Pollard, Dena Hammerstein and Bernie Kukoff have been replaced by another three, Scott Landis, Emanuel Azenberg and Ann Marie Wilkins.

Will we ever see it? Well, Azenberg is a big name, so that adds some weight to the whole thing. I’m not holding my breath or anything, but, that’s something. But the bigger question is—if we see it, why? We all know how DiPietro’s last big Broadway attempt at taking on an old catalog, All Shook Up, went. (Note that Ashley directed that one.) Plus, Broadway has seen a Gershwin revue before. Well, actually, one concert-like revue, Fascinating Rhythm, and one new musical incorporating old songs, Crazy For You. Just as Crazy For You was loosely based on Girl Crazy, They All Laughed was loosely based on Oh, Kay!. So do we really need it?

I mean, I’m all for supporting brilliant musical comedies. I’m a musical girl. But, let’s face it, we know this isn’t going to be genius. The most we can hope for is fun. And, if that’s all it’s about, isn’t Crazy For You a safer bet?

Just musing… I will of course be excited to see the new They All Laughed. I like fun and hopefully it will be that. That being said, I don’t know if I’d mount it for $12 million, but, then again, I live in a tiny studio apartment, so, it’s not like I’m mounting anything for $12 million.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Cara is again not available to post tonight. She will return Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A.C. Slater's full name? Anyone?

I am back... and would like to extend my own personal welcome to Mario Lopez. When are we getting Tiffani Amber Thiessen and Mark-Paul Gosselaar? Oh my god, why did they not do Barefoot in the Park?

So I got back on Monday, but I haven't had much time to catch up on the gossip, as I've been catching up on, I don't know, actual work. Thus this will be a more general topic.... Secrets of a Soccer Mom. Clearly, this is going after the Menopause the Musical audience.... but does it really have the name to capture them?

It's a marketing issue, I believe. Because Menopause had a genius title--like I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. But Secrets of a Soccer Mom could be ANYTHING. It could be about affairs, ala Desperate Housewives. But it's not. It centers on mother's talking about their lives at a soccer game. How do you make that seem interesting in marketing materials? Because there is an audience out there for it--it's the Menopause audience. But you have to know how to target them.

This is what Ken Davenport and his team does so well--target his audience. There is a crowd for Altar Boyz, Awesome 80s Prom and My First Time, but all three of those titles easily could have bombed. The reason they succeed is because of the way they come across, which is young and fun. And the right people got that message.

So let's first look at the Secrets website. First of all, on the flash it says "under the expert direction of Judith Ivey" credited to The Times and on the inside is a quote from the Times that says "the knowing direction of Judith Ivey." But, moving on. The champagne and theatre boutique is a clever ploy. The website is in general cute, which keeps the focus on that this is a comedy. So that's all good--but they need to get people to the website or the theater. It's not like everyone is just going there randomly.

My friend's mother lives in the NJ suburbs and belongs to a community group that sees theater. I saw her at a party a couple of weeks ago and I asked her if she was going to see Secrets of a Soccer Mom , but she hadn't heard of it. Now I'm sure they've done press and ads in The Record and Star Ledger... So why hadn't she internalized any of it? She is the audience... And I don't know the answer. Is it maybe that there needs to be flyers at the supermarket? This seems like a show perfect for train station and supermarket cart promotion. How about ads in the Pennysaver? Is anyone with me? That's really the audience that needs to be pitched and pitched again. I mean, my friends aren't going... It's all about these soccer moms. And these are busy women--you need to keep pushing for them in places you know they'll be.

Anyway, so I have no idea what I was thinking of that, but there you go. It will be interesting to see this in the long-run. We all know the audience is there. They have nothing else to go to. But we don't know if they'll come in droves to the Snapple Center. Stay tuned.

Sunday's post will hopefully be less random. Now I'm off to watch Project Runway.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Cara is still dealing with a family emergency. She should be back by Wednesday.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Cara is out of town due to a family emergency.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Come my little friends

So, Oscar night... Why did they have Amy Adams sing the boring song and Kristin sing the more fun one?

Anyway, let's talk about Campbell Robertson's "james earl jones curses" story. Why do more people notice it now than when Ned Beatty did it? Is it indeed, as the end of the story says, that it might be "the shock comes from watching the actor known from "On Golden Pond," "Star Wars" and CNN get so down and dirty?" Or is it a color thing? After all, those are the options.. and there are options...

One way of looking at why people didn't notice it from Beatty, is Beatty seems like he often does yell and scream and curse. Whereas I don't see James Earl Jones cursing. Mostly because James Earl Jones is more classical and mannered. Beatty seems like he could be a scrapper--so it wouldn't stick out when he did it.

The other way of looking at it, is because this is an all-black cast, people notice it because they think it is the producers' attempt to make the show more hip and urban. I know people who buy this reasoning. But, let me tell you, the only people who notice it and would have this viewpoint are theater people. Because it wouldn't really make sense for the producers to do this purposely--for people who are used to hearing curses and don't know Cat on a Hot Tin Roof--they won't notice them. Would a younger crowd really be more likely to recommend a show because people curse in it? I suppose you could argue that it makes the show seem more current and therefore younger folks would be happier with it, but, well, that's not true. Cursing isn't really a current thing. And, again, I don't think most younger people will notice them. Now, sure, you could argue that while they wouldn't stick out, they'd add to an edgy feeling, but I just don't buy it. If the play is going to seem dated, it's going to seem dated with or without salty language. (I've never used the phrase 'salty language' before and it feels very sailor--I love it.)

So, yeah, I'm backing the "James Earl Jones doens't seem like he would curse" approach. And I'm also fine with the curses... I don't think they add that much, but they don't bother me either. There are certainly shows with more!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

22% Cara

I am sick and have two stories due tomorrow. In other words, this isn't the time for post. But I love you all. Well, that's probably not true. But, whatever.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

No Habla Espanol!

I just got back from Feeling Electric, er, Next to Normal. I really liked that young girl.

That observation is not related to anything else in this post.

So Celia fascinates me. I haven't discussed it on here before (I mean, since the post when I got home from it and shared with all of you the life lesson that when you sing your skin color changes) because I had pitched a story about it and I don't like to talk about story topics on here because, you know, conflict.... Anyway, now that Variety has written it, I feel free.

First I want to state a correction to something in the story. Gordon Cox (or some copy editor) wrote that the show played one English performance per week when it began... It was actually two. This makes a difference because it makes the leap to three seem, well, less dramatic.

Now moving on... The reason I am fascinated by it is it's showing that there is a market for commercial productions in Spanish. Puerto Rican Traveling Theater has done the 6/2 spanish/english divide before, but, to the best of my knowledge, there has never been a major commercial production to do it. (Maybe some historian can tell me of one....) Does anyone remember Latinologues? That Broadway show toyed with doing all-Spanish performances but the producers were unsure of whether the formula would work. Celia clearly proves it does.

Will we be seeing more of this? Should In The Heights maybe do some Spanish nights? (If Spelling Bee can do "gay" night...) I think so. Clearly there is an audience who wants to come see Spanish-language shows. Because, I actually disagree with the Variety story in this sense... My friend at New World Stages has long said that the English nights are half empty. Now half-empty is of course better than the 90% empty I'm sure many other shows are, so, there is that... but, in general, people aren't really flocking to the English nights. I'm actually not sure why they added another one, other than the fact that maybe they were hoping that with their new legit press agent and more mainstream press, they would need another one... But, regardless of this detail, no one would dispute that the reason Celia is still running is the Spanish nights. People flock to them. So why wouldn't other shows do it?

This is not the case where the musical was so amazing it worked in this one case. This musical is bad. Sure, the music is familiar and that helps... But I truly believe most of it is people craving this type of thing. I'm not, but, my cravings so don't matter. If they did, I'd run out of here right now to get waffle in a bag.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pipe cleaner ears?

Michael Riedel ended today's column by stating: "Let's hope that when they do find a Shrek, they don't put him in a green foam-rubber suit." Which leads me to the question--what do we want Shrek to look like? Ideally?

I don't know how many of you remember the Seussical costume debacle... During the press "sneak-peak" of the show pre-Boston, the team showed off drawings of Catherine Zuber's over-the-top costumes. She was creating some kind of fantastical world with giant costumes. Then the actors put the costumes on and, well, no one liked this ridiculous world... I think one of the actors said to me at the time something like "I feel like I'm a stuffed animal on parade." That sounds good to me, but, it wasn't meant in a good way. A few days into previews in Boston, word was out that Zuber was canned and William Ivey Long was in. (There was then an incident when Long told the cast to go out and buy their own yellow suits instead of wearing Zuber's old costumes.")

And so, from this little drama, I suppose we can say that big foam costumes are indeed bad in the eyes of many. But what is good? How do you bring a cartoon to life? The non-literal Little Mermaid costumes have been attacked. So can you only go the way of The Lion King? Do we think Shrek should look like The Grinch except with ogre ears?

I mean--this is one of the natural difficulties inherent in these things.... And how can you overcome it? I honestly don't know. There is something to be said for reinvention, but clearly that has recently gone awry... There is also something to be said for wanting the figure onstage to look exactly like the image in your heard, but, then again, a giant foam ogre would look cheap and cheesy. Can there ever be a perfect medium? The Lion King has been praised for its look, but it is questionable whether that model will work time and time again.

Now, while many people think the score and the book are the most important parts of a musical (as they should), in the cartoon-to-stage projects, I think the costumes might be the most important thing to get right. You go too literal and you'll be berated. Too experimental and children will cry. Screw up the look and your book and lyrics won't matter much...

So, I look forward to seeing what they'll come up with at the end. As we know from Seussical, there is no way to tell now what will be up on that stage come fall.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Who is that masked man?

I love how some things never in theater never die. They just keep coming up and up again. Like Lone Star Love. Is that over for good now? Maybe this last time buried it… maybe…

But this week we had Zorro, another one of my favorite “oh, it’s here again” musicals. Of course there were those dueling Zorro musicals in the late 1990s that did actually get done somewhere (I think). But then does everyone remember back in 2001 when Ricky Martin was reported to definitely be starring in the West End production of a different musical production of Zorro? Back then, John Gertz and Adam Kenwright had supposedly asked Robbie Williams to write the music. Remember?

Well, I’m just not sure if this is the same Zorro. I guess it is because Gertz and Kenwright were involved back then and they were involved now, as per Variety. So this is like the 5th team they’ve tried to get together? There was a reading of what I think was this version of the show last year in New York. The biggest name involved is now The Gipsy Kings.

But here is what confuses me—according to Playbill and a bunch of other sources the musical is based on Isabel Allende’s 2005 novel about Zorro. Now, other sources just have Allende “presenting” it. The show’s website doesn’t list her as a member of the creative team at all (though it does say she is producing the musical) and Stephen Clark is listed as the sole librettist and lyricist. (Note that at some point a few years ago Clark was on board just as lyricist and The Clearing scribe Helen Edmundson was writing the book—I don’t know what happened there.)

So does this mean everyone who is reporting that the musical is based on her novel is just suffering from sloppy reporting? Because then that clearly means this is all too confusing for the majority of people to follow. Well, it’s in these cases we’re lucky that like 200 people follow the theater this closely. No one will be confused because 20 people knew all this confusing background crap. Theater fans might remember the Ricky Martin thing, but probably not anymore. Though Allende is a best-selling offer… so maybe her fans will pay attention/care…. And therefore I guess there is a real question here.

My main point is—does the world really need this? Is this something they really needed to spend 8 years trying to get off the ground? Really? I hope it’s great, but…. Do we need more than one big budget musical with a masked man as its titular character? I know I don’t.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Short One...

This post is delayed, but it's still sort of going to suck. Sorry. Other things on my mind.

But I do want to talk for a few lines about this week's big off-Broadway news. So off-Broadway shows rarely, rarely recoup. We all know that. I can't tell you how bored I am with that subject. This week though, the production announced that Altar Boyz recouped. YAY! That's exciting. Now, here is what I find odd... I like Ken Davenport, I really do, I'm a big supporter. He was my star guest recently even. And so I am thrilled he is doing so well, but, umm, well, we got 3 releases on the same day each saying one of his shows recouped. Ummm... Did they all recoup the same time magically? Like no shows ever recoup, but not only did all three of his recoup, but they did it at the same time? Like triplets? Like a happy family? Or is it that they were holding onto the individual recoupment information until they could make a big splash? I think that. Anyway, this aspect of it made me laugh.

But let's just look at the Altar Boyz aspect--this is, again, great news. Most casual observers thought Altar Boyz was a hit a long time ago. That's the odd thing about theater--if the show runs over a year, people act like it's a hit, but often even those shows (and we're talking about both on Broadway and off) never make money. So, not that there are many non-theater savvy people reading my musings, but, if anyone stumbles across them, I want you all to realize that even longs runs don't necessary mean profits. Look at Jekyll & Hyde -- 3 1/2 years and what to show for it? Like--wouldn't you all think Naked Boys Singing recouped forever ago? But, no...

So, there you go, just a couple things to think about. Though there is no more exciting a topic that Corey Haim's Variety ad. So just think about that. For days.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Stay Tuned...

I rarely do this, but I must change my blogging schedule... New post tomorrow! So check late, late tomorrow or, actually, Friday.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Brain

Last week was a horrible, horrible week in my life. I can't even describe on here how bad it was. And yet the Young Frankenstein coverage made me laugh.

Sillerman and Brooks are doing a '$450 sucks' promo tour it appears. And the media is encouraging it. Now here is why this makes me laugh: they are all saying that the ticket price caused the backlash that led to the bad reviews. It's like: "If we hadn't done this, people would have focused on the art and that would have helped us a ton." Umm... actually... No. There still would have been ridiculous expectations attached to it and the product would still be just plain old ridiculous. They should be happy for any talk that takes away focus from the show.

And I love how in Variety, Gordon Cox writes about Sillerman: "his humility is refreshing." Umm... this is not refreshing, this is a desperate attempt to make it seem like the show is good. I mean, again, basically what he is saying is: "Sure, I screwed up, but without that, you'd think this was good... You were just trying to kill it because of me... and that's not fair..." That's not any better than the: "The audiences love Urban Cowboy" push.

Has it ever occurred to anyone that a real industry backlash would include a lack of coverage? When in fact this show gets more coverage that any other? And, let's rewind... Remember when The Producers set a high ticket price post-reviews and a bunch of the coverage hinted that, while rich people/tourists may spend the extra money to see the ultra-hyped show, the industry would turn on it. And yet that never happened--it was a Tony darling. Because, the truth is, if you have a good show, the industry will forgive your greed. There might be a slew of bad coverage, but, then, with a good show, all is forgiven.

When you have an Odd Couple or a Young Frankenstein, sure, you're in trouble, but you're in trouble whether you had a ridiculous price or not. It's true that people may expect more the higher the ticket price (like they expect more from on Broadway as opposed to off-Broadway), but critics aren't paying... And they may think: "Should a person really pay $450 for this?!?!" but if it's really good, they forget about that part because the $450 isn't coming out of their pockets.

Anyway, I just love the promo tour. I'm truly sorry I missed the Arts & Leisure panel. While it was going on I was in CA watching Tonya Pinkins perform to an audience of 30. Not as fun, I assure you.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Step Up!

That title has nothing to do with anything other than that the commercial for the movie was just on.

I'm so sorry I missed the Jerry Springer protesters. I hear they were really something. Please share stories if you have them.

For this blog post I am going to do a little something different. I had for some unknown reason never read the comments to my post about the possible quality differences between Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway. And I wanted to really respond to them.

First, RLewis said "we're all in this together - each have their trash and treasure, so why the competitiveness?" That I will respond to... I don't think there should be competitiveness. I would never boycott one. And i'd never say to someone: "I don't see [blank] because theater is better [blank]." But clearly people do say stuff like that, as evidenced by that woman saying it to me. Personally, I'm really excited about the next show at The Mint. I'm more excited about that then Passing Strange. (Have I ever said on here that I have NO IDEA what Passing Strange is about? Because I really don't... help? anyone?) I know that seems weird for such a Broadway baby, but, there you go. Rlewis is right... support all theater. Go see what sounds interesting. Blah. Blah. Blah.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT! I promised it and here it is... The second comment box was actually asking a question: Why is off-Broadway so much more expensive than off-off-Broadway? I have my own theories, but I figured I'd go out of the box and ask an expert: the Barnum of off-Broadway (as Campbell Robertson labelled him), Ken Davenport. I think the beginning of his answer talks about the off-off/off difference and then he moves on to the off/on difference. So you get a little bit of everything. So, for the first time ever, I turn the blog over to an industry person: "I don’t believe actual base salaries are problematic off-broadway. The only problem with labor are some of the 'extras' (benefits, etc.). These get a little out of control for something so small. Most of it is in the design . . . especially lighting. And all of the extras associated with that. When you add moving lights to an off-broadway production, you don’t only add moving lights. You add a programmer, you add a lot of maintenance, etc. Theater costs (rent) and advertising are the other major expenses that drive up the costs. While some publications like to think they are doing their part in reducing costs by offering “small theater rates” or “off-broadway rates”, these rates are in no way in proportion to the actual difference in potential revenue from a Broadway show to an Off-Broadway show. It’s well over $2k to pay for a 1/4 color ad in Time Out. Do you think any Off-Broadway show is selling over $2k worth of tickets per week from one 1/4 color ad in Time Out? Yet, if big budget for an Off-Broadway show is only $10k/week, that means 20% of it just disappeared in that one ad. And do you think 20% of a show’s audience per week is from Time Out? No."

There you go. I am officially refusing to discuss Mermaid on this blog (for the time being at least), so on Sunday you'll be in for more musings, non sea creature related and hopefully non crap related.

Monday, January 28, 2008

So Much Better?

I was going to talk about the whole Live Nation sell-off, but I just feel I can't add anything to that conversation really.

So I am going to talk a little about the search for the next Elle Woods. Like for Grease: You're The One That I Want, the point in my mind is not really to find an unknown talent, it is to get publicity. Therefore, like Grease, Blonde actually sort of hopes to cast a pro. The casting people are again encouraging Broadway vets to audition and go through the whole training thing as if they needed it. So basically they are televising a search to find a new Elle Woods, which is what they are doing, so that is okay. But they are not televising a search to find a great unknown.

That being said, they may end up with an unknown. After all, despite some competition from experienced NYC theater people, we have Max and Laura. And then the question becomes--how much training will someone with no real stage experience need to be able to perform the role of Elle Woods 8 times a week? That role is harder than either Grease role. And I feel like even if they get someone GENIUS--someone way better than the original star (and there is a possibility that will happen)--there may be a big stamina problem.

That is a concern. The other thing I will bring up is less a concern more a curiosity: How much will this help? It is going to be tricky to tell. When do we judge from? When the show starts airing? Before that even because of the publicity the ads will bring? Will we have to wait until a new Elle goes in? Because then we're getting into the difference I previously discussed between people buying tickets to Grease after they saw ALL of that promotion vs. people buying tickets to Grease to see Max and Laura--my feeling was more people fell into the first group than the second (even though there were plenty Max and Laura supporters out there).

The most interesting thing to me would be if we could see if the broadcast vs. cable difference mattered. That is a good question. But we're never going to be able to answer it--there are too many variables. We don't know how Grease would have done without its big talent search--so we have no baseline for that show. We will be able to tell ratings, but that is also sort of not comparable in many respects. So, alas, this whole thing will just end up being boring for me. Will I watch? Of course. I'll feel the need. I hope I enjoy it, though I'm not getting my hopes up.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The saddest thing in life is wasted talent

When Playbill first reported that eligibility decisions would be made on January 17, I wrote it down like any oddly obsessive theater freak. This weekend, when there was still no word on what those decisions were, I asked around, with the majority of people I asked assuming that the meeting had been postponed. But it had not been postponed, it’s just that no one had reported the results. Please take a moment to absorb that and then to laugh.

Done? Ok, moving on. This week there were a bunch of stories announcing decisions—on the websites and in Variety. They reported about the August actresses—a decision I’m happy about—and a bunch of other actor things. But they missed the major story, that A Bronx Tale is somehow eligible for Best Play.

Is He Dead? is also eligible for Best Play, but that is not perplexing to me. Sure, some thought it would be a revival because Mark Twain wrote it and he, well, has been dead awhile. But it was just discovered and no one had ever heard of it, so, I can see the Best Play thing. Not so much for A Bronx Tale. I believe the decision about A Bronx Tale proves how the rules are so vague and hard to understand that we maybe should bother trying.

1) Why is A Bronx Tale not Special Theatrical Event?

Anyone? I have written before about how weird I think this category is. See:
The rule states: “A "Special Theatrical Event" shall be any production in an eligible Broadway theatre that is, in the judgment of the Tony Awards Administration Committee, a live theatrical production that is not a play or musical.” So, basically, it says it is about the people in that room. But, we, as fans, have hoped that it would be about more than just that—that there would be some kind of pattern to the decisions. As I said in that previous post, that has not come to pass. Basically, as I said in that last post, in the past it has appeared that productions that could possibly be considered iffy get whatever they request. Some productions, like Bridge & Tunnel, wanted Special Theatrical because they knew that was a guaranteed win. Others that were borderline have chosen to be a play or a musical in order that their cast and creative team could be nominated. In this case, now Chazz Palminteri has a good shot at a Best Actor nominee... But I don't think this was a strategic choice by the Bronx Tale team--I think it is more likely that A Bronx Tale simply forgot to ask to be Special Theatrical Event. Or the other possibility is that there simply won’t be enough Special Theatrical Events to have a category and, knowing that, the Tony peeps opted to make it a play rather than toss it a Bridge & Tunnel-esque random special award or exclude it from any chance at anything. Both of these explanations I offer are reasonable. Not fair, but reasonable. So, let’s move on to my second, more major issue with this ruling…

2) Why, if A Bronx Tale is not a Special Theatrical Event, is it being considered a NEW play and not a revival?

Really, this is where I lose it. I am sure someone reading is going to think: “Well, because it was never on Broadway before.” But, um, remember that good ol’ classics rule. This rule states: “A play or musical that is determined by the Tony Awards
Administration Committee (in its sole discretion) to be a "classic" or in the historical or popular repertoire shall not be eligible for an Award in the Best Play or Best Musical category but may be eligible in the appropriate Best Revival category, if any, provided it meets all other eligibility requirements set forth in these Rules.” That rule is the reason Broadway productions of shows like Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and Little Shop of Horrors have been considered revivals in recent years. Both of those had only been off-Broadway in the past, but both had movies and were considered in the “popular repertoire.” Sounds like A Bronx Tale, no? Now, someone out there is going to argue that “historical or popular repertoire” means a show that has either been done a lot in the past, or is currently done a lot, throughout the country and A Bronx Tale isn’t that. That is about the only argument you can come up with to explain why this is not a revival. It’s not a horrible argument either, it’s just one I worry about. This is 100% a very familiar title. It’s just as, if not more, familiar than Frankie and Johnny. So—if we’re saying it’s not familiarity, if it instead has to be something that tons of people do… That is a fair interpretation of that wording—but who draws the line? Because it’s often pretty clear if something is famous or not… If we asked 100 people on the street would the majority know what the hell we were talking about? But, when you say it needs to be done in places across the country. How many places? Is there a cut-off line? And maybe that is indeed what they are basing it on (if there is any thought that goes into these decisions) -- Three Days of Rain was considered a revival a couple of years ago – which is a show that has no movie and no huge widespread title familiarity, but is done by a good amount of regional theaters. How many? Well, I guess enough for it to be considered in the “popular repertoire.” I mean—is anyone else seeing how ridiculous this is? I could go on and on with examples and counter-examples and maybe come up with some reasoning behind the choices, but, eventually, it’s just going to be pointless. Actually, I think we’re already there.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Every Little Thing

I was interviewing a theater fan today--an elderly, affluent woman--and she said something interesting to me. She said that she generally doesn't go to Broadway shows and attends very few off-Broadway shows, tending to focus more on off-off-Broadway because "more good shows happen there."

Is that true? More theater certainly happens off-off-Broadway than on Broadway and so, yes, I suppose it probably is true that more good theater quantity-wise happens there. But if we were to base it on percentage—would it be true? I think not.

Though, of course, this gets into who is judging what a good show is. Certainly, this is in the eye of the beholder. Some people think Cyrano was brilliant—I was bored by the pretty, lifeless production. So I wouldn’t put it in my “good” slot, but others (Ben Brantley) might. This woman may have thought THOM PAIN (Based on Nothing) was the best play ever, then there is me.

That being said, if we took a critical tally of all reviews and gave each production a final letter grade based on the tally, we’d find out that percentage-wise, off-off-Broadway does not beat Broadway in terms of quality. Of course this undertaking would require more effort than anyone would want to commit unless they were getting paid for it.

There are many variables that might lead me to be wrong—for instance, critics and audience members tend to be kinder to things which have a lower budget and require people to pay less. Yet, still I have the feeling that percentage-wise better theater does not happen in miniscule places.

I anticipate that one response to this is to say that Broadway is burdened by commercialism and thus must necessarily be worse than off-off-Broadway, as plays that premiere in a 10-seat theater below a church likely remains truer to its creator’s original vision throughout development. Here is the reason I think that is crap: a creator’s original vision is often sucky. So, yeah, I believe in not compromising due to ticket sales. I couldn’t believe when Dracula made the decision to cut out nudity in order to attract school groups. But just because you’re not burdened by such pedestrian concerns doesn’t necessarily mean your final product will be good.

Now, off-Broadway (with only one “off”) is an interesting issue. In the commercialism light, it is important to note that off-Broadway is not a middle ground—sure it has less commercialism concerns than Broadway, but a hell of a lot more than off-off because of the substantially increased production costs. Additionally, production values generally take a huge step up when dropping one “off.” Therefore while off-Broadway is wedged between these two other large groups, it cannot really be seen as a perfect compromise between them. In terms of quality of shows, I’m really not sure what we’d fine percentage-wise. Again, its lower budget and ticket cost means people tend to be kinder, but ticket costs for major off-Broadway are dangerously close to reaching Broadway range, so how much that has an influence in this case is iffy. There is indeed more off-Broadway than Broadway and so quantity-wise maybe more good shows. But I’m genuinely not sure what we’d find percentage-wise between Broadway and off-Broadway. That being said, between off-Broadway and off-off, I think the former fares better. After all, there is such a gluttony of off-off that it brings the quality percentage number down. Sure, you might be able to get 10 people to watch your Hamlet told backwards in an insane asylum with singing sock puppets, but you’re likely bringing down the off-off-Broadway quality percentage figure.

And now I’m off. I have about 12 emails asking me when I think Color Purple will close to make room for Shrek. How dare these people talk about closing so soon after Chaka Khan makes her Broadway debut? It’s shameful really.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Music Ignites The Night

So, I am sure you were all about the 100th story on theater internet sites that ran today. But, of course, the big news was really the closing of Rent. The news is so big that my regional theater post will have to wait...

I know, we can all say the news isn't so big because, let's face it, this has been years coming. Indeed, I can't count how many times I've heard that Rent was over. But now it finally will be... Though I doubt very much it will close exactly when the release said it will. Regardless, by this time next year, there will be no more Tango: Maureen on Broadway.

I want to use Rent to discuss two distinct problems that befall many long-running Broadway shows:

1) Many people have already seen it.
Yes, well, duh. This is so obvious it is stupid to mention it, but, of course, I must. Once a show has run on Broadway for over 10 years, we all know that a lot of annual tourists or regular theatergoers will have seen it. So that definitely eats into an audience.

2) The show risks becoming less than it once was.
Here is the tricky thing--there are certain shows that are in a way timeless. In other words, these shows will always be interesting to a new crop of viewers. That doesn't mean they'll be open forever, but they have a better chance of lasting longer. Phantom is a big-budget tourist attraction. There are always families wanting to take their kids to see The Lion King. A show like Rent is a harder sell over time. It succeeded originally because it really spoke to a group of people. Those people have seen it, many times probably. And, for a long while, new crops of Rent-heads were born. But now, with more rock musicals littering the stage, the possible future Rent audience is being parred down. After all, shows like Spring Awakening are racier and more now (that show's actual time period notwithstanding). So a big part of what made Rent so popular--its edge and its ability to attract new kinds of audiences to the theater--is now gone. If Rent opened now, it would be less than it was when it opened in 1996. Now, in a way, Rent created its competition. Would there be a Spring Awakening if there was never a Rent? It's hard to say. There may have been another Rent-like show that proved the success of rock musicals not in the Andrew Lloyd Webber vein. But there is also an argument that, without Rent, the crop of musicals today would be very different. Those who hold to this second theory believe that, if Rent opened today, it would still be what it was in 1996 because it would still be revolutionary. To this I have to disagree--even in a sea of Phantom-esque scores, 2008 is not 1996 and Rent simply has lost some of its topic edginess.

All this is not to take anything away from the amazing run Rent has had on Broadway. It influenced a huge amount of theatergoers--way more than The Lion King ever will.

Monday, January 14, 2008

And the winner is... The actress who used to look like Glenn Close

I get to the airport today to find out American Airlines has canceled all afternoon flights to NYC because of the snowstorm. You New Yorkers might be thinking--what snowstorm? That's because there has yet to be one there, yet I'm stuck in LA, having spent three hours at the airport just to come back to the place I have been staying. In other words, I am in no mood to post tonight. (Had the Golden Globes special been even somewhat fun, it might have boosted my spirits but, as I couldn't even sit through 6 minutes of it, I'm still cranky.)

So--Wednesday people. Wednesday, a day when I just may talk about the regional staging of Metamorphoses I saw here. Or at least something about some of theater. I have to live up to the blog title after all.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Near the Sea

So I looked at Variety and saw the headline that said: " Foster joins 'Spider Woman' cast" and I thought "Jodie Foster in a movie version of Kiss of a Spider Woman." But, alas. (I also love how in the story, about the Signature Theater revival of the musical, it says "will play here" as if Variety is associated with a regional location beyond LA and, maybe, NYC, this "here" referring to neither.)

Anyway, I am still in LA. I just returned from attending The Color Purple, so I feel very NYC at least. My email box is flooded from messages of people who have seen Mermaid. Now, in 24 hours we'll know what the "real" critics think. But will it matter? That we won't know for a good while... And there are multiple scenarios to consider:

1) Good reviews = A joyous day
2) Mixed reviews = I'm 100% sure the show will keep on selling (and by mixed I mean mixed major reviews, not like good reviews from two people in Kansas who happen to have stumbled upon a Broadway opening mixed in with bad ones)
3) Bad reviews =
A) Doesn't matter (See Beauty and the Beast)
B) Sales begin to slow down in a few weeks (See Tarzan)

I have this much to say about it: The Little Mermaid is a more appealing title than Tarzan. It's a story of a girl fighting for her dreams. Tarzan is about cultural imperialism. So score one for Ariel.

That being said, if multiple critics say this show doesn't have the heart/integrity of the movie, that might possibly mean trouble. Because--after all--Beauty may have been crappy, but mostly because it was so literal. And that helped it... You know there is this odd thing--people want stage work to be transformative, so they don't want to see the same exact thing that was on the screen. Yet they want to see the familiar--they want the songs delivered how they remember them being. Logically of course these things don't go together, but they do in the practical world. So, what I'm saying is, if bad reviews could possibly have an effect (and that's a big if), I think only certain types of bad reviews would have that effect.

I won't be reading the reviews tomorrow, so no reaction on Sunday. This is because I'm not going until I get back to town and I don't want to have my mound clouded with such things. Plus, I'm on vacation, people. I'm so not keeping up. I logged onto Variety just for all of you.

I'll join you again Sunday on the East Coast, home of the coolest people.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Me Tarzan

Greetings from the Los Angeles, home to an exceptional amount of small theaters. Here the buzz all day was about Natasha Lyonne hitting off-Broadway. OK, not really.

I write to you today having just spoken to someone from American Musical Theatre of San Jose about their production of Tarzan. (Note: I ask him if I could write this post or else it would be too shady to do so. I say this to the people who do speak to me, so they know their opinions won't end up on the blog.) I don't know how many of you read about this--this is the one that was recently announced that is debuting next year at Theater of the Stars in Atlanta and then going to like 5 other theaters. Now, when I first spoke to this person about this production, he said "It's a whole new Tarzan," which meant to me it was actually a new musical version of Tarzan. Like The Wild Party duo or the two Tale of Two Cities. But, no. It's the Broadway score and book with a new production tailored around it. (Direction and choreography is by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, who I think is an odd choice, but I won't delve into that aspect of it now.) This guy said they'd make it "a great show."

Now, as I've said here before, I didn't hate Tarzan. It was exactly what I thought it would be. That being said, it of course was not good. Some of what was wrong was Bob Crowley's fault, sure. But I think you really have to ask yourself--how much of it was his fault? If the characters had done more than stand facing straight at the audience when they sang, the show would have been helped. On the other hand, it still wouldn't have been a great show.

So the question you always have to ask yourself is--is it worth spending the time to change it? Is there only one element that is ruining the show? And often there are pieces that I see that I think, "Well, this had potential and then..." Bright Lights Big City would have been problematic originally no matter what, but the NYTW production really killed it. That was a musical you could see something in somewhere. Tarzan isn't that kind of musical. There is just not that much there the way it was written.

If Lynne Taylor-Corbett did the most genius job in the world, some of the show's problems would go away, but no way all of them would. This guy I was talking to was blaming the failure of the show on Bob Crowley and, um, it's important to realize that Bob Crowley wasn't the only problem. The new songs weren't effective, the book wasn't near good enough. Which doesn't mean it shouldn't be produced anywhere--it's Tarzan, of course it is going to run places. But it's a common mistake to look at a show with potential back in the conception stage and then put the majority of blame on one failed show element. There are some shows that can't be saved exactly as they are on the page. (And, actually, before someone posts this, yes, I am aware Bright Lights wouldn't have been amazing as it was written at the NYTW time, but, that is something that could have been a tremendous amount better had an original director really shaped it. That was a project that would have benefited from collaborative shaping during the inception period.) And I really have to say I'm not sure Theater Under the Stars is going to come up with a much better Tarzan than what we saw. So is it worth the effort of trying? Couldn't you just do our Tarzan without some/all of the flying? (And I only say without flying because the flying took so long to learn and was so set specific.) That's pretty much what I would do. Now, again, it's important to make every show as good as it can be, so I admire them spending the time and effort to really create a new production. I just worry, based on what this guy was saying, that they are expecting too much from this show. There could have been a great show based on Tarzan, it's true. But using this score and book, you're never going to get one. No matter how many of the Phil Collins songs the audience members can sing.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Happy 2008

Have I ever talked on this blog about how big a supporter I am of Striking 12? I so am. Really. I would tell you all to go see it except it's already closed. Alas. As we Jews say, "Next year in Jerusalem," or in this case maybe, "Next year at some off-Broadway space."

Anyway, people who know me know that I would be happy if every show on Broadway was a success. Seriously. Whether I like the particular show or not. As far as I'm concerned, the more success there is on Broadway, the better chance we have of getting people to really care about theater again. No, I don't think the random success of certain shows is what will do it (as the last two posts have made clear), but if we had like 20 hits, that might lead to something. Possibly. Maybe. But, plus, I know a lot of producers who I want them to stay producers and not go bankrupt. And I know a lot of actors and I want them to have jobs. So, yeah, I in some ways support everything. So, people associated with some of the below shows, know that even though I may be mean occasionally, I wish you luck. Truly.

And now onto the next five biggest stories of the year in my mind. I have to say, I actually struggled to come up with this Top 10 list. The strike so dwarfed everything else. But I came up with them. Did I mention they were in no particular order?

6. There Possibly Are No Worse Things Things You Could Do

It depends how you look at it whether the whole reality show thing worked. On one hand, it offered tons of free publicity and Grease sold tons of tickets. On the other hand, Broadway ended up with two crappy leads (one simply mediocre, one completely miscast, totals two crappy in my mind). But what to me was more shocking about this revival is how those leads weren't the worst part of it. Grease is a story to me because it represents a huge failure of Broadway professionals I respect. I mean, I'm a big Kathleen Marshall fan. I was extremely upset when Wonderful Town lost the Tony. But, this, everything was wrong with it--it had no redeeming features. Usually when a show has no redeeming features you can blame some novice behind-the-scenes. Sadly not so much here. People tried to lay it on those kids, but, I'm telling you, even with good leads, the production would still suck. OK, you can argue that everything had to be changed because of what Kathleen Marshall was dealing with in terms of leads, but, I don't buy that. You can't blame Rizzo being dressed like she's in the Hot For Teacher video because Laura Osnes is a Broadway newcomer.

7. Miss Celie's Pants are Filled with Joy
If you had told me when it opened, that The Color Purple would still be running, I would have looked at you like you were crazy. Truly. But the marketing of The Color Purple is so genius it matches Disney in terms of genius. It's not all Oprah either--it's everything. Fantasia. The coverage of the church groups. You know, I'm always telling producers they need to target their audience better. Like, my grandmother's Hadassah group should have known about 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother. Yet is so rarely happens that word gets out to enough of the right people at the appropriate time. But its all worked in The Color Purple's favor. You have to be impressed by that. This year I was sort of in awe of it.

8. Legally Blonde: I'm Serious
I know some of you are out there thinking (if you think in Cara-speak): "Legally Blonde is such a non-story. There has hardly ever been more of a non-story. It's there, it's running, whatever. Is it the MTV thing you're talking about? Because, ok, I'll give you that." Yeah, no. The MTV thing happened and it didn't revolutionize the theater, so, that is not why I write about Elle. I write about the pink lady because I've hardly ever seen an out-of-town tryout help and yet possibly hurt a show so much. So everyone thinks it is going to be mediocre (except I had high hopes because I honestly love the songwriting team) and then it goes to San Francisco, which had been a show killer, and gets good reviews. So people are psyched up. They read about the reviews in the NY Post--they buy tickets. Theater people like me--who read the reviews--tell their friends, "Well, it's actually supposed to be really good." And then, once the NYC theater people see it, they sit there confused. They ask themselves things like: "Why does this have better buzz than The Wedding Singer had?" And people just leave the theater puzzled. Bothered. Bewildered. Not so much bewitched. This confused reaction is the result of the good buzz not matching the product. Whereas, without that hype, the theater folks (and I'm not talking about the teen fans--I'm talking about the critics and such) still would not have liked it, but they would have stared slightly less blankly during it. Instead of being just another candy-colored confection, Blonde became a disappointment post-San Francisco. Does that really matter? Did those reviews really end up altering these reviews? I don't know, maybe not, but I wonder.

9. The Death of Coram Boy
I almost forgot Coram Boy existed. Seriously, I didn't remember until I saw the picture of the girl/boy on this morning. And it's shocking to me that I forgot because when Coram Boy was going on I considered it a huge story. Here is a show that had a 99% chance of losing money, no matter what the reviews were. I mean, it was a straight play with a choir. The paid for a full choir. And oddly they sort of didn't have to--it's not like the choir did that much... They were really something to see, but... OK, I'm getting off track. So the 1st interesting part of the story is that it happened on Broadway intact. No one tried to cheap out. There were 40 people in that cast, way more than a musical these days. Let's take a moment to seriously applaud that before moving on. Moment. Ok. The 2nd interesting part of the story is that Coram Boy was such a miscalculation. I actually liked it--as long as I am sitting through a long straight play, I want it to be interesting to look at and this was that. It was really something to experience. But, that being said, that product was never going to attract a Broadway audience. I guess there was no way to tell that the critics would work against them--it was pretentious and they often like that sort of thing. But what made it so perplexing to me is they were basing the whole thing on the critics. Once they didn't get them, they had absolutely nothing else. There was sort of no giving it the old college try. And in a way I'm all for people admitting defeat--especially when, as in this case, even success probably wouldn't have meant monetary success--but I also admire a Plan B.

10. In the Heights/37 Arts
If I was in a room with two other theater journalists (and of course there are only like seven others) we could totally play "You know your theater complex is in trouble when..." with 37 Arts and be there for a good 20 minutes. You can imagine everything we'd say and so there is no need for me to write it all out. But what remains to be seen is whether the In The Heights move would really rightfully be part of the list. In some ways it has to be: "You know your theater complex is in trouble when you don't have enough faith in it to leave your own show there." In other ways not so much. If the show is a huge hit on the Great White Way, you can say the fact that it was off-Broadway, or more specifically at 37 Arts, was the reason it wasn't sold out previously. If the show doesn't do so well on Broadway, then whatever it was or was not had little to do with 37 Arts. I think that makes sense.