Wednesday, December 23, 2009


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Monday, November 02, 2009

Neil Simon out; Elvis In?

Does that subject header make sense? It does when you consider that the closing of The Neil Simon Plays means that (unless things change) this spring the Nederlander will be occupied by Million Dollar Quartet, a musical featuring actors playing Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley that most of you probably forgot was announced for a Broadway berth. And if you think this post is about how in recent years we've seen both Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley musicals bomb on Broadway, that will have to be saved for another time, because this post is about the much more interesting failure of The Neil Simon Plays.

I read Patrick Healy's analysis of the closings in The New York Times and was left with the feeling that what he was saying was that it is generally impossible to produce a Neil Simon play today. That is unless it features marketable "stars," which the recently shuttered production of Brighton Beach Memoirs was lacking. I think that is crap. Yes, it doesn't help Neil Simon that many of his lines have become cliched or at the very least seem tired in 2009. But, still, I think there are many people who want to enter into the theater to the warm embrace of a time gone by. So why then do I think Brighton Beach was such a failure?

Well, I think a lot of it has to do with marketing. The ads were not good and I do not believe there was any sort of direct mail campaign. This is a show that needed flyers in the suburban JCC. It didn't have them there. The ads should have really promoted the titles and had quotes about the brilliance of the plays. This art was hopelessly old-fashioned and made it seem like the two shows were playing on the same night. And if the producers wanted David Cromer to be the "thrilling" part of the mounting (though I am not sure how that would possibly make sense), they should have said "an all new production from the acclaimed director of..." I mean, something. It was also unclear from the ad what show was playing when. My mother, for example, asked me if Brighton Beach was closing next month, as she had heard on the radio that Broadway Bound would be opening then.

You can say this all didn't make a difference--but that is foolhardy. Shows are made by marketing. For a smaller scale example, look at Altar Boyz. Yes, it got good reviews, but so have some other off-Broadway shows that failed. The reason it succeeded was the marketing, making it sexy and young and utilizing a street team element to make its fans seem more involved. If the ads had just had the title treatment and one Times quote, I don't think Altar Boyz would still be playing. Look at Jewtopia--crappy show, but great title and great marketing. Posters everywhere. I remember going to the clubhouse at my grandparents' development and seeing a small Jewtopia poster and a bunch of flyers. There should have been Brighton Beach $25 off coupons in that same place. People that live there would have totally gone to see Neil Simon. But did those people even know Brighton Beach Memoirs was open? If they are like my grandmother, they might have read the Newsday review a week late, the same day the closing was announced.

Now, I am not criticizing the press campaign, as there was a good amount of press (brought to you mainly by press agent Jim Byk, who I believe I've said here is one of my three favorite sources for musical theater history information). But, when you have a star-less Neil Simon play, target marketing is essential. It gives people who read a sort of positive review, extra incentive to go see the show. That $25 off flyer means something to people going to the JCC in Rockland County. These aren't people who know they can go to Broadwaybox to get a discount code. These are people who want to see the colorful flyer--they want it where they go to the gym or to play cards or they want to get it in the mail. The review or the David Cromer feature in The Jewish Week might not get them to call for tickets, but something targeted to them might just do it.

Do I think a better marketing campaign would have made Brighton Beach a hit? No, I am just listing factors that I think would have helped get us at least to Broadway Bound. And what of Broadway Bound? I have to say, I feel like I've seen Brighton Beach Memoirs 100 times (which cannot possibly be true), but I was excited to see Broadway Bound, which I am much less familiar with. Am I similar to the majority of audience goers? Probably not, so I am not saying Broadway Bound standing alone would have been a hit. But I do think, as stated above, the whole roll-out concept caused confusion. I also think it actually dampened excitement rather than heightened it. Case in point: my friend's parents wanted to see one of the Neil Simon plays, but they were waiting for the Broadway Bound reviews to get excited enough to buy a ticket for one. They knew in this time of economic uncertainty, they could only go see one of the shows and so they were just sitting back and waiting. I mean, let's face it, The Neil Simon Plays are not like the Coast of Utopia trilogy. In the case of Coast, you had a long gap and a subscription base and you also had a fascination element: people who saw one Coast of Utopia entry and loved it felt it necessary to see the others. This was not the case with Brighton Beach and Broadway Bound, even though they are two plays featuring the same family and are in that way more tightly connected than the three Coasts, they have different titles and seem to stand alone. After all, they were not written to be all done at once. Love of one might mean you would be more likely to buy tickets to the others, but there wouldn't be a compelling need. We all know what happens in them.

Would stars of helped? Yes, of course. Would more street marketing have helped? Yup. Would it have helped if the production was amazing? Uh, huh. And what else? Tons. Many things went wrong to lead to the failure of Brighton Beach Memoirs, not the least of which was a poor choice of venue that I think made the play seem even smaller than it was meant to be. Because of these numerous factors, it is unfair to imply that today's modern audiences simply don't want to see a Neil Simon play.

Monday, October 26, 2009

You are Pretty Enough for All Normal Purposes

Or so a line in Love, Loss and What I Wore says. But my question is more: Are you well-mannered enough for all normal purposes? But more of that later. First, I want to point out the fact that I have seen 8 Broadway shows and 3 off-Broadway shows in the last month and my two favorite have been off-Broadway (one of them being Love, Loss and What I Wore, the other being Circle Mirror Transformation). Now, don't get me wrong, we all know I LOVE my Broadway, but, I'm just sayin....

Anyway, I thought I'd do a random thoughts post. For those of you who are new to the blog, know that I do these from time to time to get out many of the theater-related things on my mind in one shot.

1) It continues to bother me that choreographer Sergio Trujillo begins some of Playbill bios with: "Broadway: Jersey Boys (2006 Tony Award, 2009 Olivier Award); Next to Normal, Guys and Dolls, All Shook Up." Note to people reading this: Sergio Trujillo has never won, or even been nominated for, a Tony Award. He was nominated for an Olivier Award, but he lost out. He puts this in his bio because the show won, but, um, yeah, that is not how people usually do it when they are choreographers and did not even contribute to the given show one big dance number. (And, yes, I refuse to count that finale number.) It is possible Mambo Kings would have brought him a nomination, but we know what happened there.

2) So, most people know my feelings about eating in the theater. (See, the story of mine I am most proud of: .) At the time that story ran, back in 2007, the Shuberts were holding strong as a theater chain that did not allow people to eat at their seats. They continue this, in theory. There is a sign up at every Shubert theater that says you cannot bring beverages back to your seat. It says nothing about food, but, I understand the idea they are trying to convey. However, I was in front of the bar 2 minutes before Oleanna started and I noted the person behind the bar selling a giant pack of Twizzlers to someone, not telling this person that the candy could not be eaten during the show. Now, you may say: "This poor girl doesn't need to tell the customer that--he should know." But the days of Miss Manners are behind us. If you sell a giant pack of Twizzlers two minutes before the start of a show without an explicit warning--where do you think that guy is eating those Twizzlers? And, indeed, all during this play people were chewing around me. Please make it stop. Please. I beg of someone.

3) I can't really comment on the God of Carnage cast in any great detail--because, well, what can I say about the new cast that the grosses won't? BUT, I do want to note that with Annie Potts coming to Broadway, the Great White Way has now officially welcomed all the Designing Women. That includes Meshach Taylor, who you may (or may not) remember was a bizarre stunt-cast for Lumiere alongside Toni Braxton's Beauty. So, welcome, Miss Potts. I have always wanted to work in an industry that embraces ALL Designing Women and Golden Girls.

4) No one really talked about who, in my opinion, loses out most by eliminating first night press from the Tony voting list: the lighting designers and orchestrators. Those of you who are confused by this statement--let me explain. The majority of the Tony voting public doesn't usually pay attention to such things--if the show is a hit, the just let those people share in the credit. I doubt people really thought Peter Kaczorowski's lighting in The Producers was stunning--but was there a doubt he would win? And how many people don't really understand the difference between the score and the orchestrations? The voters who had a tendency to take notes on such things were the critics. And now even their vote is gone, giving way to the sweeping mentality of the masses. Sad.

5) I haven't been reading the message boards and I didn't get through all of the reviews---does anyone else think that, in Memphis, Chad Kimball is doing Christian Slater's voice?

6) Sitting there watching Bye Bye Birdie I thought many thoughts. I think the first was: "Wow, this may well be much worse than Pal Joey." But somewhere along the line I started thinking about how much money it cost to present the catastrophe on display. Then my mind immediately jumped to the LORT contract, which allows non-profits to pay actors less for something like the first few months of a Broadway production (I think it varies by house, but I'd have to verify). This hasn't been covered much--but we're about to approach a time when 7 Broadway houses will be filled with such productions. Think about it: Roundabout has 3 theaters, MTC has one, Second Stage will be at the Hayes and the Beaumont makes six, but I am also adding 1 more to represent whatever Broadway house has an LCT production while South Pacific is still in residence at the Beaumont. Now, before you argue that it is actually 6 because South Pacific is off of LORT, I am just saying that 7 theaters will be filled with productions that, for at least a certain amount of time, will be entitled to discount pay rates. Does anyone else think this is going to be a growing problem for actors in years to come? I can see the contract negotiation difficulties now.

That's it for today. As always, feel free to post or email comments. I leave you with another quote from Love, Loss and What I Wore: "If you wear them again tomorrow, everyone will think it’s the new trend. That’s how trends start, you know?"

Friday, September 25, 2009

Horror at Home

Seven years ago I attended a play at the Julia Miles theater called Carson McCullers (Historically Inaccurate) by Sarah Schulman. It was embarrassing for everyone involved, especially Jenny Bacon who had to get down on her knees and say strongly "but I'm a boy!" Years later author Sarah Schulman would write a letter to those involved in another one of her horrible plays that shouldn't have been produced (which received horrible reviews, of course) saying basically "the male critical establishment is trying to get me down" and I would think two things 1) how can i get involved in the lynching? and 2) i think Linda Winer is a woman. But, regardless, I share this with you because i have often thought back to how uncomfortably bad that play was. And it was co-produced by Playwrights Horizons, who has produced some good stuff over the years but also some really, really horrible stuff, as I suppose can be said of any company, though they've seemed to have more than their fare share of the horrible. As much as I have disliked some of the stuff Playwrights has put on since then, I believe they've finally outdone themselves in the embarrassment department with THE RETRIBUTIONISTS.

Yes, I know, I had heard it was horrible before I saw it. Why then did I see it? Well, because my mother likes supporting jews. She had read about it and wanted to see it and I, ever the good daughter, told her we would go. And during it, as to make me feel better that I was missing a party to sit through this thing, she said multiple times: "I still say the idea what good."

But, let's talk about how we get from what was an interesting idea for a play (I agree), to what is onstage now at Playwrights. No one is ever going to convince me that was a good script from the start--the underlying script was hackneyed and contrived and had so many things thrown in that I began to think Daniel Goldfarb was at one point inspired by Dr. Evil and Threesome. BUT I don't blame a reader thinking that the script had some potential and, with more development, could have been good(ish). I do blame someone for thinking it was ready to be produced on a major off-Broadway stage. That said, with a better production, more things could have been worked through in rehearsals. The play could have at least been somewhat refined. But, instead, all four leads were bad. I have heard Cristin Milioti is talented and maybe the others are somehow too (though I have more doubts about the rest of them), but then they were all miscast. Something. I can't tell you. The acting of the leads was just atrocious--the lead girl, Margarita Levieva, was particular bad, she even had a fake evil "ha" laugh at one point. Seriously. She did it in earnest. Adam Driver, playing a supposedly charismatic leader, had no charisma and grabbed around a train window. You can't do that--there is supposed to be a wall there! Come on! I fear Leigh Silverman may have just not worked with any of them. Like, maybe she showed up once, gave some minor notes and then said "do what you want. make a show." I can't think of any other reasoning behind the embarrassing thing I sat through. A good 20 people left at intermission. Four more came back but then couldn't actually get through the second act. Someone behind my loudly groaned twice--not because of a lesbian kiss or anything but because of the horrible performances and dialogue we were being bombarded with.

This performance I attended was being taped for the archives. Maybe it will show up in a "what not to do" class--I'm not sure what other function it would have. But I will say: shame on everyone involved. I think part (and just part) of the reason this play was done without requiring further pre-production development is that it is about jews and many jews go see things about jews and so those things tend to sell more tickets ahead of time. It's one thing to greenlight a comedy for those reasons, but to do it with a Holocaust story is tasteless.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

West End Girl

Let us all take a minute to applaud those involved with 39 Steps. Who ever thought it would have lasted this long? Seriously--it was an impressive feet to keep it chugging along. The producers clearly kept the break-even low and the press reps. did a great job getting Times stories. It's one of those rare transplant success stories. Everyone involved deserves our congratulations.

This leads me to my next topic, inspired by a recent Ken Davenport post on his blog. (Who, unrelated to what I am writing about now, has as his top post something that begins with: "Have you ever wondered where it all began? What started the discounting phenomenon? And more importantly . . . who started it?" all questions I can answer unequivocally with a "NO.") Ken posted an article that came to his attention from the London Evening Standard about how many people are investing in theater in London. Because, in times of recession, investing in theater is apparently not as risky as some other things. By some other things--does he mean the lottery? dog-fighting? buying art by someone selling in union square not because you like it but for investment purposes? Anyway, moving on, this raised a good point--that investing in theater in London is i think a better bet than investing in it here. Lower start-up costs and lower break-evens are among the factors that are involved. I remember watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in London with its 20 kids and thinking "we'll be lucky to get 10 in the States" and, indeed, the show cost more to mount here, but had less people involved. (Though please no one correct me on the 2 to 1 ratio because I'm just making that up and it may be exaggerated, as is my license.) But I wonder has anyone really done a side by side comparison? Profits for plays with under 5 actors on Broadway vs. profits for plays with under 5 actors in the West End? Because they do always seem to have more crap moving in and out there. I suppose if someone had attempted a study, we wouldn't necessarily trust their results. This is because they don't officially report grosses there, so an examiner would have to rely on producers' words, not always the most trustworthy things. But it's an interesting question... The article says only 1/3 of shows there lose money, which seems to me to be very low. I don't know. Ken?

Speaking of things I don't know about, I'm back on sexism. Now Philip Boroff has implied that Charlotte St. Martin maybe gets paid less than Jed Bernstein did because she is a woman. Umm, again, Wellesley girl speaking here, someone who completely believes that women are paid less than men simply because they are women, but, GIVE ME A BREAK! What about the fact that they are both overpaid? What about the fact that she knew nothing about theater when she started? You can say a lot of bad things about Jed, but I feel fairly safe in saying he could name all the Sondheim shows (or would at least recognize their names).

OK, I need to rest from ranting. I will end on a happy note--I am super-psyched to see A Little Night Music. Seriously. Can't wait. I love revivals if for no other reason than i get to hear my friends Billy and Don complaining about what is wrong with the production that wasn't wrong with the original.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I Like to Complain

I refuse to comment on the Avenue Q move, I could, but I could also comment on Jon & Kate and I don't because, it's not worth it for me to add to the discussion. So I told you all that I would comment on the unsurprising rise of Jordan Roth, right? That I can/will do... in brief. I have known Jordan for quite a while. I appreciate his kindness towards me in recent years and the effort he has put in at Jujamcyn re: Givenik (which is a great thing I was very happy to sign up The Al D. Rodriguez Liver Foundation on). But I'm very wary of spin. It's great that a younger person is heading up a theater organization--I hope he is hugely successful. But I did note that the coverage sort of glossed over the "purchase" part of the story and Jordan's less-than-stellar track record as a producer. I didn't even remember he produced The Karaoke Show--and I still don't remember what The Karaoke Show was--until I read his American Theatre Web bio (which says: "He was graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University," which I thought was incorrect but is apparently just a traditional way of writing such things). Anyway, all that said, Jordan is a popular figure in the theater now and I like Jordan and I wish him success. I just like a big picture...Of course, nepotism is in full bloom over at Nederlander and the Shuberts, well, whatevs, so Jordan has a shot at out-shining those groups. If Jujamcyn does great things during his tenure, maybe people will write about him without mentioning his rich parents. One can hope.

So--I know this happened weeks ago--but Kerry Butler only doing 6 performances in Rock of Ages? Come on... And I know Amy Spanger didn't even do that many, but then again she also claimed The Wedding Singer was grueling, so, you can't judge by her. I know that there are those out there that are going to say these songs are super hard to sing, but, yeah, I really don't think that character has as hard a time as Kim in Miss Saigon. I mean, I'd rather people say they are not going to be there than just not show up (like half the other actors in the industry are doing all the time now), but I still wonder what happened to the days the same person showed up and belted out songs eight performances a week. I even think those were the days of less amplification and therefore more belting. But, anyway...

Yesterday, I attended the press conference for the announcement of the winners of the Steinberg Playwright Award (also referred to as 'the mimi,' which I have to honestly tell you kept making me think of Mimi Le Duck and that horribly misguided off-broadway staging of it). Congrats to the three winners, this post isn't about them though. Something happened at the press conference that annoyed me. A journalist (whose work I believe I've mentioned here before in a non-flattering way, but who shall remain nameless now) asked why there had "never" been any female winners of the award. Now, this is only the second year of the award. Last year, it was only given to one person, Tony Kushner, and this year to three. I was so taken aback by this question that I actually turned around and asked someone on the press team to confirm for me that this was just the second year. Eduardo Machado, who is on the award's advisory committee, stood up and gave a great answer about how good playwriting isn't about gender or race. But THEN someone from the board felt the need to get up and justify the fact that there was no woman on the list. This person informed the journalist that the advisory committee had been concerned about this topic and had thought hard about it and consulted the board about this matter. I am all for women's rights--I hope for the day when the Tonys feature as many female authors as male authors. I mean, I am a Wellesley girl. But we're not talking that these people have given 50, or even 10, awards and none have gone to women, we're talking about 4 males. Four. That's not a huge pattern of discrimination. This is like when all those articles about women playwrights came out supporting bad--or at the very most mediocre--plays just because they were written by women. I'm a huge Lynn Nottage fan--I think she is one of the most talented playwrights being produced today. I think Ruined was the best play I saw this year. I hope she gets the Mimi next year, maybe she will. But I don't think the committee should pay special attention to her because she is a black woman. If they don't like her body of work as much as I do, they can give their award to someone else they enjoy more, even if that is a guy. I don't think like Theresa Rebeck deserves this award. And I genuinely don't think it should be discussed in gender contexts at this stage. Yes, there is sometimes a need to look at something and say, "Wow, there have been 67 men and only 3 women recipients, there may be an issue here." If it rises to that degree, then I'd question it. Totally. And there is no bright line rule to when it rises to a degree that is questionable, but I'd have to say that, the Steinberg Playwright Award isn't there yet. Bringing up the gender issue now cheapens the process. It's why when women do achieve things they are often said only to get it because they are female. It's wrong.

Happy New Year to all my fellow jews! I shall be back next week.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I've Missed You All

Well, here I am. My loyal readers know I haven't posted in a very long time--the reason being I simply didn't have the desire to do it after all the loss that happened in my private life. But I have been keeping up.

I've seen a lot recently... And I'll start by commenting on The First Wives Club. I met/spoke to one of the producers of the show shortly before it was announced that they had hired Francesco Zambello to direct. He boasted about the "red hot" director they were in negotiations with. Of course, this is before anyone saw The Little Mermaid. This is when people thought Disney must know something the rest of us didn't about Zambello's ability to direct mainstream musicals. Now--I am going to detour a little bit here. I often wonder why producers continue to think it's easy to direct a musical comedy. I had this argument with some people involved with 9 to 5. Producer Bob Greenblatt only wanted Joe Mantello (who he went to high school with)--Mantello wasn't always eager to do it, but Greenblatt so wanted him. Joe Mantello has done some good things, but, he's not known for his jovial spirit. Why was there this insistence that he would be so great at directing a big budget musical comedy? The same thing with Zambello... She knows how to direct certain things, but I am not sure why anyone thought she would be a huge musical comedy director. I see why Disney hired her--she and her team were known in opera circles for being good with striking visual images and The Little Mermaid was something that seemed to need astounding visuals. We know how that turned out, but it was an attempt on their part to do something creative. That said, why anyone else hired her is a mystery to me. What about her resume screamed Little House on the Prairie? What screamed any mainstream musical?! Even if The Little Mermaid was a hit, I'm not sure anyone would want to be Zambello's Green Bird, but at least if The Little Mermaid was a hit there would be some legitimate reason to support her. Now, there is the theory that goes you have to take a risk sometimes, these other producers were taking a risk on her. But, the thing is, Disney was already taking that risk, so I am not sure I wouldn't have waited to see whether it paid off before taking my own risk on the same person.

OK, back to The First Wives Club. It's not good. There are some good tunes and Rupert Holmes did an okay job, I just can't point to one thing I really liked. It was HORRIBLY directed. Or not directed actually. The producers know this and now Zambello is gone and they plan on mounting the show at another regional with a new director. We'll see if it happens, but that is the plan.

I also finally saw West Side Story recently, which I was super excited to see. I was very grateful to be going. It actually ended up to be only my second experience with a mid-performance stop--it was halted for ten minutes do to technical problems. But I wasn't phased by that and I was happy the whole cast was there. I must admit I had mixed feelings about the language change a few weeks ago. On one hand, I am against compromising a director's artistic vision this late in the game just to pander to audiences. On the other hand, I don't speak/understand any Spanish. Not having seen it when all three songs were in Spanish, I can't comment on that version. (I do hate when people comment negatively on things they haven't seen--my friend Billy knows this more than anyone.) But I will say I find the one song in Spanish sort of bizarre. Why that one? Because it's Maria alone with her friends? But then 'America' too is Jet-less.... I don't get it. And I found it odd. Yes, I know what they were singing, because I know the lyrics to the songs in West Side Story, but I am fairly confident everyone does not. Just printing the lyrics in the Playbill doesn't negate the problem because no one wants to read the Playbill as the show is going on. I know the Spanish is supposed to make it more authentic, but we all know it is not authentic. It's a musical. This goes back to me whole "I don't care if Mama Rose was small in real life" argument.

Is this enough for my return post? I think I'll wait until next time to comment on the promotion of Jordan Roth, which was the least surprising thing to happen since In My Life closed.

I shall end with a very heartfelt thank you to those of you who have donated to the liver cancer charity we set up in my friend's honor. I was going to send you all my own personal thank you notes, but it was not clear which people donated from here and which people donated for another reason.

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.