Archive for the ‘Show Review’ Category

 

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I have a confession. I have sinned against Dionysius and Stephen Schwartz. I openly and loudly sang during the performance of Pippin. I loudly and joyfully applauded during musical performances and hooted and hollered between numbers. Once was a mistake, twice was a choice. When Adrienne Barbeau said “Sing along” I listened. I followed her directions to a “T”…after all, I am a trained professional. What makes my sin even more grievous is that I know what it feels like to be on stage, in the moment, only to be stopped by rude or obnoxious audience members. As such, I vowed at the age of 8 to NEVER be that person.

In an effort to be the ideal theatre patron I have developed a bit of a ritual that I stick to when attending a show:

  • First, I conduct research of the show before I go to see it. I try to know, at least, a synopsis of the show before the curtain opens.
  •  Second, I am in my seat promptly when the house opens and I have consumed the amazing, mouthwatering, probably really bad for me, cashews before the house lights dim. I sit quietly and with an open mind waiting for first measure of music to fill my soul.
  •  Finally, I quietly, and inwardly, applaud the musical numbers so as not to break the momentum of action on stage. I laugh at the appropriate moments, and stand for the entire cast during the curtain call.

Last night was very different for me, because, damn it all to hell, I was forced out of my ritual while watching Pippin at DPAC!

After seeing this show, I am torn. I don’t know if I should be praising Stephen Schwartz as a musical genius or if I should be singing the praises of Diane Paulus for the revival and new concept for Pippin.

Director Diane Paulus’ revival of this modern classic has brought Pippin into the present time. She has successfully adapted the show to audiences that are more attracted to spectacle than they are with the plot and the subsequent meaning of the lines. She has created a world that allows characters to interact with audiences who, instead of witnessing the actions, become a part of it. Her new direction adds a combination of raw athleticism, musical talent and a dash of fascinating technology to the original choreography of the late Bob Fosse. Throw in some magic for good measure and you have the stunning staging of Pippin.

Even though the show is written in such a way that modern amenities are available, the storyline of this brilliant musical takes places during the Carolingian Renaissance,

Picture this; the stage is engulfed in an epic battle scene between the Catholic Army of Charlemagne and a group of Non-Believers. Instead of violence of sword and shield this fight is contested through acrobatic feats and other daring moves using hoops large and balls as large as a person. Teams of acrobats were climbing up a red pole that was symbolic of soldiers being cornered. Those same acrobats would perform a maneuver that saw them sliding down the pole at full speed only to stop themselves inches from the ground. The maneuver left the audience loudly gasping and in awe. Once the battle is over, we are left with a distraught Pippin and the illusion of a talking man whose head has been magically separated from the rest of his body.

Kyle Dean Massey plays the title role of Pippin and will not disappoint you in his performance. Every note, laugh, smile, dance move, and breath he takes draws an audience into his internal struggle between good and the perception of evil.

The Leading Player was portrayed by the understudy of the regular owner of the role Sasha Allen, who was out due to injury, Lisa Karlin stepped in and played the role for the DPAC audience. I will admit I was a bit disappointed in learning that I wouldn’t see the originally cast Lead Player. But, holy flying acrobats, Lisa Karlin was AMAZING. If she was that amazing, it makes me wonder if Sasha Allen is as commanding of the stage or was she merely brought in for the namesake. With every line delivery, movement, and song Lisa Karlin takes over the entire stage, demanding the audience to watch every magical move she makes.

Stephen Schwartz has created a masterpiece that literally and figuratively supports the idea that theatre is merely a memory. It is there for the moment, but must move on, leaving us with only the emotions that we felt during the performance. In this day and age we can go onto Google or YouTube and watch the videos of the performances, but that will never replace the joy and raw emotions that are felt “in the moment.”

Schwartz has helped to teach me, with Pippin, that theatre can be an alternative to life. It can serve to blanket us from the unwanted. It allows us to leave our lives of anger, frustration, sadness, and disappointment behind as we travel to a place where none of those things matter. If only for a few hours, the world that exists in our imaginations can be allowed to take place before our eyes…on stage.

 

Wicked

In 2003, the musical Wicked premiered at the Gershiwn Theatre on Broadway. From the start, this show was a success. It quickly became a true phenomenon of fan dedication with crowds filling the theatre on Broadway, and many others all around the world, steadily for the past 12 years. In 2004 the show was honored with three Tony Awards and with 7 other nominations. The Durham Performing Arts Center is the latest in a very long line of venues to play host to this juggernaut of stage success as they welcome the Munchkinland Tour to their stage for 2 weeks of shows.

My tour of Munchinkinland began under the watchful eyes of a dragon that was omnipresent throughout the show. A giant map of The Land of Oz was projected on the screen. I studied it closely and I memorized all the local attractions listed. I even deciphered the map legend.

From the program, I reviewed the bios of each member of the cast so that I knew who I would be traveling with. My excitement grew to the point where it bordered on frustration that the show would not begin when I wanted it to.

Having been a fan of the original Broadway production, I had set some very high expectations for the performance that I was about to see. On the other hand, I knew going in that I wouldn’t be hearing or seeing the originals that I have pictured every time one of those memorable songs comes across my Pandora station. To be honest, of course I would have preferred to see Kristen Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, and Joel Gray in the performance. But I put that aside in hopes of seeing the beginnings of a new generation of Broadway caliber performers; I was not disappointed.

Each actor that took the stage brought new, fresh qualities to characters that I already loved. Carrie St. Louis, Laurel Harris, and John Davidson took on the roles of Elphaba, Glinda, and Oz respectively. As high as my expectations were, I didn’t leave wishing I could erase the performance from my memory. Quite the contrary, I played their scenes over and over in my head all the way home. Now, with an even more enhanced love of the characters and story.

It is very difficult for any actor to step into the character shoes of a previous actor. Harris and St. Louis had some very large character shoes to fill. Each woman brought their own interpretation of the character’s personalities to their respective roles. While they were not able to change the music or movements, the two added their own original characterizations and vocal tones that garnered them a much deserved standing ovation for their phenomenal performances. While the performance of John Davidson did not jump out at me in a positive way, he also did not take anything away from the show; his performance was solid.

From the performances themselves, there is no way to find one musical number that stands out on its own. Each song is beautifully written by Stephen Schwartz and performed with such conviction by all cast members. That being true, one number in particular brought me to tears.

For Good is a gut wrenching song that describes a moment that all of us can relate to; thanking a dear friend that has created the biggest impact in our lives. The lyrics “Because I know you, I have been changed for good” describes my small obsession with this musical. The tears that I shed during this song were close to sobbing like a little girl who has found lost her puppy.

Costume Designer, Susan Hilferty is a genius! The spectacular costuming brings to life the odd, magical, mysterious, illusionary characters from the land of Oz. Hiferty uses strange angles of hair, crazy uneven hemlines, over the top colors, and cute preppy clothes to create distinct visual personalities of each character.

Nowhere is the impact of the costuming more apparent than with Elphaba and Glinda. As the play opens you soon feel the anguish of a person who is different, who doesn’t fit in, and who is a social outcast. In the world of Oz the costumes feed the irony of what is “normal” and what is not.

Set Designer Eugene Lee creates a beautiful city that all audience members wish to travel to. Each scene change was a flawless transition that offered audiences a spine tingling representation of what the other side of the rainbow could be. There is never any doubt about where you are, and there is never any doubt about how this musical ties into the Wizard of Oz storyline.

Kenneth Posner served as the Lighting Designer. The scenes featuring Shiz University, Ozdust ballroom, the vacant castles, and the cornfield are beautifully illuminated by a phenomenal light design. The lighting also is a crucial element in creating the most spectacular of all scenes; Elphaba’s first flight during the song Defying Gravity.

James Lynn Abbott brings a new and fresh dance arrangement to the tour. The unique and innovative dance moves are reminiscent of Bob Fosse, with leaning poses and no straight lines. The well-choreographed dancing number Dancing through Life is fun and carefree, clearly demonstrating the laid back and fluid movements of Fieryo.

There are a lot of thought provoking ideas woven through the story and in the way they are presented:

What is normal?

How can you truly interpret someone’s actions?

One must listen and watch to have a true understanding of what is going on around them.

Don’t pass judgment, because things aren’t always as they appear.

The most unlikely combination of personalities can result in a most rewarding relationships.

Stephen Schwartz weaves subtle hints throughout the script and music that creates the bond between Wicked and The Wizard of Oz. Secrets are shared that only a Wicked audience will learn. Several audience members let out a collective “Ah” when the biggest secret was revealed at the end of the show. It is awesome that a new group of “Wicked Geeks” were born last night

All things considered, the night lived up to every expectation I had. Well except for one…I wanted to be cast as Glinda the Good Witch so I could wear that amazing gown

Peace, Love, and Broken Legs

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The stage musical genre has crossed paths with popular music on a few occasions over the last 30 or so years. When that inter-mingling of styles occurs, it is often met with praise and varying degrees of success. Mamma Mia, from Abba, was a resounding success on Broadway and as a touring show. American Idiot, by Green Day, was also a success, albeit a more subdued one; finding most of its acclaim as a tour after a short Broadway run.

The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is the latest entry into the world of stage musical by an artist, or artists, known more for their work on other types of stages. Which artists have taken the leap into the world of Broadway theatre now? Stephen King, John Mellencamp, and T Bone Burnett. These three men; King, Mellencamp and Burnett, have combined their distinctive talents to venture into a world where none of them can claim any past experience or success.

The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is described by Mellencamp and King as a “haunting tale of fraternal love, lust, jealousy and revenge.” The trio, including Burnett, called the show a “southern gothic, supernatural musical.”

The show has just begun a national tour that will cover 20 dates coast to coast. On November 14th the show made its 4th stop in Durham, NC at the wonderful Durham Performing Arts Center. When the curtain opens at DPAC, the cast was met with a nearly packed house that was curious to see what King, Mellencamp, and Burnett had done.

The story, as written by the master of the genre, Stephen King, is full of emotion that rarely, if ever, transitions to anything even close to “happy.” The story is full of anger, hatred, remorse, sadness, and ultimately vengeance.

When I walked into the theatre and got my first look at the stage I knew that this show was different. On stage there was a single old style microphone on a stand, front and center, with a spotlight shining down on it. There did not appear to be any tradition set pieces at all; merely a semi-circle of older style wooden folding chairs. To the left was a section of the stage set up with instruments waiting for musicians to pick them up and put them to work. To the right was a table with a set of common items that were to be used to produce specific sound effects to add to the story. There was a backdrop hanging from floor to ceiling at the back of the stage with the image of a creepy looking old shack of some kind. Overall, a truly minimalist approach to a set design that was very reminiscent of a 1940s radio broadcast studio.

As the show started my initial thoughts of, “this is different” were immediately affirmed. A harsh red light blanketed the stage as Jake La Botz performed the opening number, It’s Me. Drastic swings in the light design took the place of set changes. The ghosts were always bathed in a heavy white light with the living were all drenched in sepia tint that aged them.

Once the music starts, you find yourself on an emotional roller coaster of a story that takes you up and down and pays off at the end with a set of twists that will leave you with a nearly dislocated jaw. Each set of brothers would hit you with lines and lyrics filled with high energy based in anger and hatred. Each of the female characters would bring you emotionally down with songs and lines riddled with such depression and despair. To balance the angst and dreariness, The Shape and The Zydeco Cowboy would interject unexpected laughs in the middle of it all.

The cast itself was also a bit of a roller coaster when it comes to their individual talents and how they were used. Billy Burke and Gina Gershon are both powerhouses on stage when comes to delivering the emotions of their respective characters; Joe and Monique McCandless. But, they are also, clearly, not stage singers. Neither of them delivers a musical performance that is going to make you want to cover your ears to spare them from harm, but they are also not anything you will look back on and think of as something noteworthy.

A similar, albeit reversed, statement can be said for each set of brothers in the story; Drake and Frank McCandless (Joe Tippett and Lucas Kavner) and Andy and Jack McCandless, (Travis Smith and Peter Albrink). These four men all deliver solid performances vocally in song, but their spoken elements often come off as insignificant.

Where the cast gathers steam is in the supporting cast members. Kylie Brown, who plays Anna Wicklow, delivers a vocal performance in A Rose for Poor Anna that will make you sit up in your seat and listen. Jake La Botz as The Shape is dynamic in the way he takes over the stage and in the dark gravely vocals that he pairs perfectly with his songs It’s Me and Lounging Around Heaven. The absolute strongest performer has to be Eric Moore, who plays Dan Coker. His soulful solo, Burn This Cabin Down, at the end of Act 1 completely steals the show.

The trio of unique talents that is King, Mellencamp, and Burnett have created a story, a story-telling style, and music that is different and refreshing. They have started out on a venture that could possibly open them up to new avenues to showcase their individual talents. Is this show going to garner any of them even a sniff at a Tony Award? Not even close. What it will get them is night after night of packed houses of audiences that walk out of various theatres impressed by and shocked at what they have just experienced.

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By Alisha Zygmuntowicz

When the movie Dirty Dancing came out in 1987, I was starting my sophomore year of college. I found myself drawn to Baby Houseman’s idealism and desire to make the world a better place. Fast forward twenty-seven years and I find myself reminiscing of how carefree my life was and how anxious I was to get my grown up life started, much like Baby. As I was preparing to attend Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage at DPAC, I was thrilled with the prospect of getting to see the story unfold in person. Eleanor Bergstein, the screenwriter for the film and book writer for the musical, was able to enhance the original movie experience by adding “more Baby and Johnny scenes, more about the family, more songs I couldn’t afford the last time, and, most exciting of all-more dancing.” She recognized the audience’s desire “to step through screen and be there while the story was happening.” She hit the target.

Dirty Dancing opened in November 2004 at the Theater Royal in Sydney, Australia and toured throughout Australia and New Zealand, boasting eighteen months of sold out performances. A new performance followed in March of 2006 at the Theater Neue Flora in Hamburg, Germany. The production was a huge success achieving the highest advance in European history. In October of 2006 performances opened on London’s West End and become the longest running show in the history of Aldwych Theater, closing in July 2011. It went on to tour UK for an additional two years. The world tour has performed on stages from Toronto, Canada to Cape, South Africa. DPAC is the stop after the official opening at The National Theater in Washington D.C. for the current US tour.

The story follows Frances “Baby” Houseman’s family vacation in the Catskills the summer of 1963. You experience a love story, sexy dancing to everything from rock and roll to R & B, and the clash of two very different worlds. Baby is drawn in by the Kellerman’s staff’s boisterous after hour’s activities and the resort’s dance instructor, Johnny Castle. As she becomes involved in their personal lives, you see her idealism and naivety drive her choices. She falls in love, fights with and grows closer to her family, all while learning to dance to help out the female dance instructor, Penny.

As the first act opened I found myself absorbed by the music. The echo of This Magic Moment sung by Jennlee Shallow is still in my mind, where I am sure it will stay for a while. The music, as iconic as it is for the movie, was chosen by Eleanor Bergstein before writing the story so it fit the stage even better than it did the screen.

Much like Baby, played by Jillian Mueller, I was enthralled by the dancing. To add to the overall nostalgia of seeing the dance routines was Mueller’s striking resemblance to Jennifer Grey’s as Baby in the original film. Johnny and Penny, portrayed by Samuel Pergande and Jenny Winton, made ballroom dancing look as easy as walking for you or me. The ensemble’s dirty dancing in the staff quarters was raunchy but fabulous.

To add to her uncanny resemblance to Grey, Mueller portrayed the role of a girl blossoming into a woman, pushing the limits while seeking her father’s approval in a way that would have made even the toughest of movie fans happy.

Doug Carpenter, portraying Billy Johnny’s cousin, caught my attention as well as the rest of audience’s attention in the second act. His performance of In The Still of The Night was stirring. The audience cheered with the “No one puts Baby in the corner” line. Shallow and Carpenter stole the final act with The Time of My Life confirmed by the standing ovation during the final bows.

An aspect of the show that I truly appreciated was the clever set changes, props and projected backgrounds. Positioning the orchestra above the stage moved them from an unseen support role to at times a more central focus to add to the flow from scene to scene. The props used were just enough to set the scene and not distract from the actors; a bed and chair in Johnny’s room, barn doors, stairs and small stage for the staff quarters. The projected backdrops completed the scene.

Another positive was the lighting. The design kept you focused on the action, created the ambiance of the scenes. At the end of Act 1 the lights moved to the audience, it was like starlight moving across the crowd, a nice touch.

Throughout the show, the crowd was absorbed and engaged erupting into applause at all the big scenes in the story; Carpenter’s In The Still Of The Night, Rice’s Lisa’s Hula, and the unforgettable line “no one puts Baby in the corner.” Carpenter and Shallow also got a huge applause at the end.

In the end, I left DPAC feeling that this was a wonderful show that left me wanting to see it again, soon. It allowed me to leave real life for two hours and get lost in wonderful music and dance.

DD

 

 

 

 

 

 

getRoad

When I go to the theatre for a show I arrive with a set of expectations that comes from decades of Broadway show patronage. I expect to see a show that has an established story; musical arrangements that progress and add to the story are also a must. I also appreciate a well thought out visual experience made by dynamic sets and lighting. The most important aspect of the experience has to be the performers that take the stage. A good cast can bring even a mediocre show up to new levels, most of the time.

My most recent Broadway show experience was with Mamma Mia at DPAC. The show is the product of playwright Catherine Johnson with music composed by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of the 70s and 80s Pop group Abba. The show is comprised of the international chart topping music of the band. Since the show debuted on London’s West End in 1999 it has gone on to be performed around the world to much fanfare and acclaim even receiving 5 Tony nominations in 2002. In 2008 the musical was adapted into a feature length movie starring Amanda Seyfried.

As I waited for the show to start, I found myself “people-watching”. I surveyed the audience as they came in and attempted to figure out just who they were. I saw, numerous young fans that I called Teenie Boppers, a few fans that felt the night was right for full length feather boas, and I was even graced by the presence of a local drag queen. To call the audience an eclectic mix would be an understatement, maybe that should have been a warning to flee.

I admit, I went to DPAC as a Mamma Mia virgin, I had never seen the stage version or even the movie. I knew the ABBA songs; my mom would sing them while working around the house during my childhood. What I did know, I liked the songs and I loved theatre. There was a great potential for me to have a good night.

As far as the show goes, I had a hard time with it. As I have felt with other shows like this, American Idiot comes to mind; it felt much more like a rock concert than a Broadway show. The story seemed like it was a bit underdeveloped with some details overlooked. The lack of emphasis on actual story led to some awkward moments. She mails letters to her dads to invite them to her wedding the day before the wedding? Wait Huh?

Much like you would expect at a live rock concert, the volume of the music was set at a level that was bordering on “too damn loud”. It was a reprieve for the show that the audience knew all the words to the songs and sang along, because hearing the singing voices of the actors onstage was not possible. At the start of Act II the music hits so fast and so loud. It is unpleasantly alarmed you and pins you in your seat as you try to figure out if someone messed up or if that was supposed to happen.

In contrast to my auditory experience, the visuals were quite nice. The lighting design was simple yet effective. A very simple Greek style beach inn is the only set piece used. The revolving set pieces help travel between interior scenes, courtyard scenes, and straight to the front door of Donna’s Inn. Well-choreographed set changes utilized the ensemble to help the transition from scene to scene. Simple white stucco walls, small rust stains from metal meeting sea breezes, and a beautiful teal backdrop completed the set. A huge moon was projected to appear and fade giving us the appropriate time changes.

The cast had its highs and lows as well. Chelsea Williams carried the role of Sophie well. Her performance of “I Have a Dream” was impressive. Donna, played by Georgia Kate Haege had a decent singing/acting moment halfway through act II. Her performance of “Slipping Through my Fingers” in Act II had me thinking I was actually in a Broadway show, if only for that moment. The roles of the male characters would have to be the lows. Michael Colavolpe, who played Bill Anderson, had this creepy quality to him that really just made him hard to enjoy.

I know I’m not alone in this opinion, but I believe that the reason this show does well in so many different locations is merely because the audience is coming to an ABBA rock concert. There is a very shaky plot that attempts to weave the songs together, but it was clearly evident that this was just for show. It is impossible to have the words of the songs match 100% to the plot that we are provided. To me, that detail just kills the idea that this show is a true Broadway show. I can hear the audience at the water cooler at work saying, “I went to this ABBA concert” and a Broadway play tried to break out.” DPAC was able to bring a concert to North Carolina that many seemed to enjoy, but is it a true Broadway musical just because there are lines that attempt to connect the songs together? I don’t believe so.

 

Ace-Young-and-Diana-DeGarmo-Joseph-and-the-Amazing-Technicolor-Dreamcoat-Tour-Poster

 Ace Young as Joseph and Diana DeGarmo as Narrator. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat National Tour 2014. Photography by Daniel A. Swalec

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat National Tour 2014. Photography by Daniel A. Swalec

 

As the audience waited in great anticipation for the 2 millionth visitor to enter DPAC last night, I quietly sat in my seat. I sat mesmerized by a smoke screen shielding the view of center stage; behind it was the colorful production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  As the 2 millionth visitor award was presented, I watched a lifeless smoke stack begin to take on recognizable shapes; shifting shapes from giant ships to trains to crayons.  The journey through the biblical story of Joseph and his 11 jealous brothers begins with a simple alarm clock, jolting Joseph out of bed.

When I found out that the roles Joseph and The Narrator would be played by the husband and wife team of Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo I was anxious.  I found solace in the thought that, “If their fellow American Idol alumni Clay Aiken, Fantasia, and Carrie Underwood can do Broadway…so can Ace and Diana.”  I was half right, sorta kinda.

Diana DeGarmo brings a high energy character to life on the stage, keeping us informed of the story through her narration and song. However, I do question the use of a handheld microphone for her character. Yes, it gave her a prop, but it reminded me of when she competed on American Idol.  I wish she could have had both hands free to use to interact with the cast. All things considered, Diana DeGarmo is the anchor of the cast; she also carries the duo of leads onstage with a powerful personality, energetic smile, and phenomenal voice.

Ace Young has his strengths and weaknesses; he is an amazing dancer, but only an average actor. That dichotomy made me question the casting of him as Joseph.  He would have been able to “rock out” in one of the brother roles.  It is easy to see him as the lead in Rock of Ages or maybe even Roger from Rent. That being said, I don’t believe Ace’s style of singing was what Sir Webber had in mind for Joseph. His voice was once described by, former American Idol judge, Simon Cowell as “nasal”. I have to agree, he voice sounded very nasal in all of the songs he performed.

Andy Blankenbuehler takes the beautiful music from Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics of Tim Rice and creates a new production for the Broadway Tour.  His directorial concept takes the Book of Genesis story from clothing of the biblical times to clothing of the modern age.  Mix in some amazing Technicolor lighting, simple yet wesome moving set pieces and the journey is set. And thank you Andy for making the opening overture not boring and the curtain call the most amazing one I have ever experienced!

It is impossible to write about the show without mentioning the high energy choreography.  For the final number of Act 1, I felt that I was watching a high impact jazzercise video. I found myself I was waiting for Richard Simmons to prance on the stage to begin Sweatin’ to the Oldies.  Heck, I wasn’t even on stage and I was out of breath and sweating from their routines!

The words on this page will never be able to do justice to the set and lighting design.  Such great detail was put into the backdrop. Much thought was put into the multiple uses of the muslin curtains hanging from the fly system.  The quick transitions from one scene to the next were flawless and created beautiful scenes.

Although the characters of the 11 brothers are inherently bad because of their actions in selling Joseph into slavery, I still I fell in love with each and every one of them.  I wouldn’t mind if those cast members had a spin-off musical entitled 11 Cool Brothers and a Dude with a Coat.  The contrasting styles of song that each brother brings are unique; the audience is left wanting to hear more of their tales.  From back-woods country, to Parisian flair, to the Reggae beats; we witness the unique contrasting personalities that the family members possess.

One of the fascinating things about seeing and performing in live theatre is the ability to escape reality, and Joseph helped create that parallel universe.  Random singing, dancing, flashy costumes, and an Elvis sighting help me forget that I was sitting in Durham, NC and transplanted me to ancient Egypt.  I’ve known the music, known the story, but had never experienced a live performance of Joseph and the amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  I’m truly glad that I went and witnessed this Webber classic.

 

 

american_idiot_2014_green_day

What do you get when you mix punk rock with Broadway? That question sounds like the setup of a cheesy joke that you might hear on an elementary school playground. Taking the question at face value, it couldn’t sound much more ridiculous as a premise. The two styles of performance art are almost never mentioned in the same breath. The audiences of each style also could not be any more different either. All that being said, What DO you get when you mix punk rock and Broadway?

I went into DPAC with a set of expectations for the show that were rooted in my love of Green Day and my inexperience with Broadway. I was of the mindset that the music from Green Day’s American Idiot album would be watered down or otherwise dulled to make it fit Broadway. I knew that Billie Joe and the guys all got music credits for the show, but I felt that there was no way that the power and angst of such an angry album could be turned into a musical and still retain its original traits.

I had also been told by others who are more versed in the world of Broadway that this show was, “not going to be very good.” That sentiment was followed up with, “it’s a concert pretending to be a musical.” Needless to say, I was not expecting very much as I sat in my seat waiting for the show to start.

When the show begins, the first of the senses to be engaged is your hearing. Before the curtain goes up you can hear the sounds of someone aimlessly channel surfing. The sounds are of the nightly news, cartoons, reality TV, and anything else that can be found. Whoever has the remote control is clearly bored and searching for something to excite him.

Once the curtain rises your sense of sight is then aggressively engaged. The set is almost more than you can take in at a glance. There is the façade of a building complete with a functioning fire escape. Mounted to the façade are 20 or more television screens of varying sizes all jumping from image to image. There are lighting trusses that are aimed directly at the audience that are flashing with colors that complement the sounds and images on the screens.

The cast is seen milling around the stage almost aimlessly. Center-stage sits a bed with a young man sitting on the edge; he appears to be the channel-surfer. After about 10 more seconds of surfing, the man on the bed jumps to his feet and the band immediately starts playing some of the hardest punk rock you will ever hear.

The young man, Johnny, is now jumping around the stage thrashing like he is in the most intense mosh pit ever. The lead guitar is screaming, the bass guitar thumping, the drums are thunderous. The music is as hard and as intense as any concert that you would ever want to go to. The screens that are built into the set are all showing images that are almost too fast to appreciate. The light effects from the trusses are as intense and rapid fire as the music, almost blinding to the unprepared. All of this stimulation bombards you before you ever hear the first lyric.

Once Johnny belts out those first lyrics, “Don’t want to be an American idiot” you realize that this Broadway musical has some very real edge to it. As the rest of the cast joins in on the performance of the song you feel the power and angst of the music. Each delivers their individual part with strength and a rage. The ensemble takes the stage and begins a set of choreographed moves that is probably more appropriately called, synchronized moshing and head-banging.

After the first musical number was complete all of my fears about a dulled or weakened American Idiot were gone. The first number was no fluke either, the remainder of the show ran with the same intensity and power all the way through. Songs that were favorites from the album like; Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Know Your Enemy, 21 Guns and Holiday are performed in a way that added to the songs and, dare I say, improved on them. Songs like Are We the Waiting, Give me Novacaine, and Letterbomb were given real emotional depth that will be hard to forget as well.

The central lead of Johnny was played by Alex Boniello. He was making his tour debut on this particular night. That should mean there is some drop-off in ability since he is an understudy right? Dan Tracy was in the role of Tunny and Casey O’Farrell played Will. The central cast was rounded out by Olivia Puckett as Whatsername, Mariah MacFarlane as Heather, Carson Higgins as St Jimmy, and Taylor Jones as Extraordinary Girl. All of them gave justice to the music they were performing and stayed true to Green Day’s work.

As amazingly powerful as the music is, American Idiot is a show that relies more heavily on seeing the story instead of hearing the story. Hearing the music of the show on its own can tell a story that is at times compelling and emotional, but on its own is shallow. The light design by Kevin Adams, scenic design by Christine Jones, video/projection design by Darrel Maloney, and choreography by Steven Hoggett add a visual experience that makes the story feel significantly deeper than what the lyrics of the music provide on their own.

The light design invokes so much emotion as you hear the music that it accompanies. As the colors change and the strobes flash you are given a sense of what the song wants you to feel through the eye. During the song Give me Novacaine, the lighting is dimmed and a strobe is used to compliment the choreography meant to depict Tunny, Dan Tracy, being severely wounded in battle. As the scene comes to its completion and you see Tunny being carried from the battlefield a feeling of fear and loss is hard to escape.

The scenic and the video/projection design complement each other in a way that makes the world on the stage feel huge. The building façade that is primary set piece, with the embedded TV monitors, is dynamic and moving when it needs to be active and engaging. The same backdrop effectively portrays a rundown apartment, peaceful suburbs and a violent warzone, at times simultaneously. When the physical structures on stage were not able to support the song effectively, dynamic projections took over. During Holiday and Boulevard of Broken Dreams, the projections that are used give the stage performance a truly cinematic feel. The building façade that was so engaging and powerful seconds earlier was virtually invisible and subservient to the projection of a city street or skyline.

Another area where the show really makes a mark is in the choreography, blocking, and physical acting. None of the choreographed movements or routines are overly complicated, or even rhythmic. What they are is eye-catching and emotional. As you watch each cast member move about the stage you can see the anguish, anger, and frustration that each character feels. The realism that is used is also a major point in the overall visual impact of the show. The two sex scenes will the cross the line for some viewers and the blunt depictions of heroin use will also catch some off-guard. But as a whole, when the musical and visual acting components are working together the story is instantly deeper and richer.

My original question was, “what do you get when you mix punk rock with Broadway?’

The answer:

You get Green Day’s American Idiot, a musical that has all the grit and balls of the hit album that spawned it. You get a show that is almost cinematic in its visual appeal and close to overpowering with its musical punch. You get an emotional roller coaster than travels the spectrum of negative emotions felt by the youth of today. You get shocked and enthralled at the same time.

If you are a “theatre snob” that thinks that the only form of Broadway shows that are worth seeing are golden-age style musicals, which American Idiot is not, then PLEASE carry on with your ignorance. I am begging you, skip this show! The rest of us that are open to seeing and experiencing new things will gladly snatch up that ticket you are leaving behind! I plan to see American Idiot over and over again!

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On Wednesday April 17, 2014, the weather in North Carolina was as inconsistent as ever. Just two days prior, daily highs were in the 80s and all was beautiful. On Wednesday, the highs were in the 50s, and the lows dipped to around freezing; unpleasant to say the least. As odd as it was, the weather was appropriate for the show that was about to start. Just as out of place as a Mid-April freeze in the south, Pro Wrestling Icon “The Hardcore Legend” Mick Foley was about to take the stage at Goodnight’s Comedy Club.

Before the Goodnight’s Comedy Club opened for the night, people from all around the area began to congregate outside the club awaiting their chance to get in to the show. The line to the front door that formed stretched down the block and around the corner of the building. Goodnight’s has had some truly amazing talents take the stage in its history; lines down the block are somewhat of a regular occurrence for the club.

Even if the line itself was not really remarkable; the group of adults that made up the line was very noteworthy. There were a couple of hundred people standing outside in the cool 50 degree air waiting patiently, but only about 10 of them were women. This particular line was not normal for Goodnight’s, as it was overwhelmingly biased to one sex. Upon closer inspection, not only was the line made up of mostly men, the men who were there did not appear to be entirely “normal”.

There were two gentlemen with championship belts draped over their shoulders; I know who the WWE Heavyweight and Intercontinental champions are and neither of them were those two guys. Also a bit odd, a good number were carrying books into the show. Were they expecting the show to be THAT bad? Perhaps the oddest item that was in-hand by a member of the line was a can of Chef Boyardee Ravioli. I guess he must have missed dinner before he had to come to the show. There were even two guys that entered with the crowd that looked strangely familiar, but out of place as well.

At around 7:15pm, the doors opened and the crowd quickly filled the venue. They each took their places in the showroom and anxiously waited for the show to start; title belts, books and the can of ravioli in hand. The host for the night took the stage to get the crowd ‘warmed up’ for the headliner. He told a few stories and made a few funny jokes, but overall he wasn’t needed. This crowd was ready for the main course, appetizers were not required.

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Before the host left the stage he had the responsibility of introducing the headliner for the night. Again, he was not needed. As he began to speak, the sound system began to play a familiar track, a car wreck sound followed by a distinctive guitar riff that seemed to immediately excite the crowd. Before the host could even finish his intro, the crowd had relieved him of those duties; they loudly chanted, “Foley, Foley, Foley”.

Mick Foley made his way through the crowd on his way to the stage similar to the way he used to make his way to the ring during his Hall of Fame career in professional wrestling. However, these days he moves more slowly, he has a very noticeable limp and slouch to his shoulders; the years of brutal bumps and travel have taken a tremendous toll on him. His hair was long and jet black, maybe to cover his missing right ear. He had a thick full beard instead of the scruff that fans were accustomed to. He wore a black pair of Tom’s shoes, black sweatpants, a Cactus Jack t-shirt, and an unbuttoned short-sleeved shirt that featured little pictures of snowmen. The crowd was in awe of this oddly unkempt looking man; “The Hardcore Legend” Mick Foley.

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Once Foley took the stage and grabbed the microphone the crowd immediately quieted down, they were apparently waiting for something specific. He started by giving the audience a couple of ground rules and set some expectations of what was to come. He instructed the crowd to keep a count of the number of times he dropped the ‘F-Bomb’; it was only supposed to happen once. He let everyone know that afterwards he would take questions from the crowd, pledging to answer as many as he could. He did make one unique request of the audience; he asked that no one ask him, “Did it hurt?”

Mick got rolling with his stories at about 8:00pm, the audience hanging on everything he said. He told stories of his time with WWE, ECW, and other organizations. The Undertaker, Brian Pillman, The Steiner Brothers, Kurt Angle, Jeff Jarrett and others notables all were part of his stories. As he relayed the anecdotes of the people from his past, he did it in a way that was funny, but he didn’t take shots at anyone or “settle any scores” on stage. Except maybe for Buff Bagwell; he was the center of one story that may or may not have actually occurred.

One wrestler from his past that Foley seemed to take great pleasure in using as the butt of his jokes was Al Snow. Mick asked the crowd, “What was the main difference between the 100 Year War and Al Snow?” When the crowd was unable to respond, he filled in the blank, “Eventually the 100 Year War was over.”

Jokes like that one gave the crowd a good laugh at All Snow’s expense, but it also allowed Mick the chance to teach the audience members about wrestling, its terminology, and ways of the business. He explained that “over” referred to a wrestler being accepted and popular with the fans. He did things like that to make sure that his show was enjoyable to the wrestling fan and non-wrestling fans well.

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As Foley spoke it was hard to miss the lack of polish or refinement in what he wanted to say. When telling the story of the origins of his “Bang, Bang” catchphrase he failed to really set up the story and appeared to forget the title of a song that played a role in the story. He looked out into the crowd with a befuddled look and said, “You know my career better than I do, help me out!” He was either really lost, or using his “ring psychology” to make sure the audience was fully engaged. Either way, it worked. The crowd didn’t let him down and his stories never really “hiccupped.” In any other setting that type of performance would be fatal for a talent; for Foley, it seemed almost on purpose.

Mick’s shows are not routines; they are actually the exact opposite. The shows are often “one-off” or otherwise customized to the city or area where the show takes place. Mick said, “Whenever I go to a place that has a rich history in pro wrestling, like Raleigh, I tell stories about my times there.” That type of show does not lend itself to being one that can be rehearsed for any real length of time. The spontaneous nature to the flow of stories he told contributed to the unpolished feel, but ended up being very endearing.

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Specific to Raleigh and North Carolina, he told stories about the first place he did his famous diving elbow off of the apron. He shared North Carolina’s role in him no longer having front teeth. Perhaps the funniest story with local flavor was his “Cookie Story.” It involved him and Diamond Dallas Page along with plastic wrap and cookies at a NC hotel that was to remain nameless.

Not all of his show had local ties; it also covered many topics from many eras and places. The crowd learned how he lost an ear in a match in Germany and how the ear ended up in a French referee’s hands. He told the full story of his famous Hell in a Cell match and how he and The Undertaker grew from it. He enlightened the audience as to the legitimacy of the craft that he worked so hard at. He asked, “How many sporting events continue on when one of the participants is totally unconscious?”

After about an hour of continuous storytelling and crowd interaction, the audience had heard tales of Foley’s career that they may not have heard before. For the stories that he told that they did know, he was able to add a new layer of humor and perspective. But, It was time for the “go home” story to complete the evening. At this point, the “F-Bomb” counter was still very much stuck on zero and one particular trademark shtick had yet to make an appearance.

Not one to send a crowd home unhappy, Foley set up his final story of the night by inserting his famous “cheap pop,” it got an immediate thunderous applause by the crowd. He then told a hilarious story involving a beat up yellow Walkman, Tori Amos and Kane. By the end of the story the “F-Bomb” counter read “1” and the crowd was well fed.

After the final story, Mick sat on a stool and readied himself for the Question and Answer portion of the night. He began by inviting a special guest to come up onstage to join him during the segment. Former WCW and WWE Cruiserweight and WWE Tag Team Champion, Shane “The Hurricane” Helms came up onstage to a loud applause from the crowd. The Hurricane immediately cut off Mick before he could get started with the audience questions. He informed Mick that there was someone else in the audience that needed to join them onstage; he called up former WWE Tag Champ Matt Hardy to another very loud round of applause.

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Once the three men were onstage the audience spent the next hour peppering them with questions about their time on the road, their most embarrassing moments, and their funniest stories in general. Mick often would defer to Hardy and Helms to answer questions asked of him to get their perspective before giving his own.

A pleasant, but not surprising, part of the Q&A was the stage command that Hurricane Helms demonstrated. Mick was the star of the show on this particular night, but Hurricane Helms showed that he could probably do a show of his own given the chance. His timing with Foley, Hardy, and the audience was perfect and his delivery of anecdotes was great.

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After the Q&A was over Matt Hardy and Hurricane Helms said their goodbyes to the fans and Mick and went on their way to call it a night. Mick did the opposite of “call it a night”; he went outside to the front of the club where his merchandise table was set up. It was set up to sell pictures and Cactus Jack t-shirts to anyone that wanted.

Mick sat down at the table in near freezing temperatures, visibly in pain, until just before midnight. Remember that 8:00pm start time? Mick proceeded to meet, and take a picture with, EVERY SINGLE FAN that came up to him. He didn’t just sell stuff, sign stuff, pose for pic and then move the fans along assembly line style either. He took the time to chat with everyone and generally carried himself like a person that truly appreciated the fans that were there to see him.

Not to be ignored in all of this is the physical toll on Foley’s body that the night seemed to take. Foley’s wrestling career is known for the large amount of physical punishment he took “fake wrestling”. At the end of his career his body had taken hundreds, if not thousands, of full contact bumps on concrete floors. That and other things that a normal human is not supposed to do helped him to earn the moniker “Hardcore Legend” in 100% legitimate fashion.

During the show, the years of abuse were evident as Mick would have to alternate between walking the stage and sitting on a stool. It was very apparent that he was feeling a good bit of physical discomfort just standing onstage holding the microphone. None of that pain or discomfort seemed to deter him from doing all that he could to give the fans in attendance a good show.

Standing outside in the cold, after every other fan had gone home, Mick was left with his assistant to break down the merchandise table. Despite being “on” for over 4 hours, wincing with every movement he attempted, he stopped, put away the pain, smiled and posed for one last picture with me.

Mick gave me and everyone else in attendance an amazing and truly unique experience and perspective on one of our idols, we should remember this night fondly for years to come. His performance is one that is a labor of true love and 100% “for the fans”.

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Your queen is dead, your king is through, she is not coming back to you…

I traveled to a beautiful city last night; one with beautiful lights, amazing architecture and vivid culture. The city was Buenos Aires, Argentina, during the 1940s and 50s. This is the city and time of Eva Peron, the central figure of the most recent Broadway production to come to DPAC; Evita. This story is a colorful journey of a young actress rising up through the ranks of men, eventually becoming the First Lady of Argentina.

The story opens with a gripping montage dedicated to the life of the powerful figure that is Eva Peron. The scene is reminiscent of the dark streets of France as depicted in Les Miserable; the somber mood is palpable as the death of Peron is announced to her country.

Josh Young, playing the role of Che, stole the show. Young was nominated for a 2012 Tony Award for his performance as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. He portrayed the role of Che with beautiful articulation and intonation; he brought passion and intrigue to the character. Some actors feel success if the audience can relate to the character they have taken on; Young went even farther. I could easily feel every emotion that pours from his soul; the mere look he would display at the thought of Peron told you exactly how much disdain he had for her and the government she represented.

As great as Young’s performance is, the role of Eva played by Carolina Bowman can only be described as adequate. In the scene where Eva steps out onto the balcony wearing that iconic white sequined gown, and delivers the famous “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” Bowman did not disappoint. Aside from that one scene, she appeared to struggle with some of the dynamic shifts from singing with her “chest voice” to hitting the needed note with her “head voice” leaving her sounding unfocused or breathy. Aside from a few touching moments of vulnerability her portrayal mostly fell flat.

Director Michael Grandage is also to be commended for his work with this production. His attention to detail was evident and appreciated. His use of technology from the digital age added a dynamic connection of the opening scene with Che to the closing scene on the balcony with Eva.

Choreographer Rob Ashford added creative blocking and dance moves that easily identified the socio-economic status of each character.  Strong, rigid movements from the elitist military were in stark contrast to the lyrical movements of the lower class.

Neil Austin’s deliberate light design choices of back and side lighting added sharp angles and strong shadowing. The lighting accentuated the shady personality traits of Eva and Colonel Peron. Austin’s use of the backlighting also led the audience to believe that they were the townspeople, basking in the glow of Eva’s powerful personality.

Christopher Oram served in two major capacities as the set designer and costume designer for the tour. The costumes were incredible, especially the customary white ball gown of Eva’s. Peron’s subtle transition from a young and naïve girl, to the strong and rigid leader is defined through the style, line, and color of each and every costume change.  Those changes were also poignant in the way they occurred… onstage.

An exquisite, yet simplified, set design from Oram gives the audience a unique perspective of the home of the Peron’s. The powerful image of the opulent mansion was understated when you consider the wealth and prestige that the Peron’s embodied. As the scenes change the genius design granted the audience the ability to travel through walls with only the movement of a chandelier.

The performance of Josh Young, the direction of Michael Grandage, the costumes, the lighting, and the set all come together in perfect harmony to bring the story of Evita to life in all its glory. It is not in the repertoire of Andrew Lloyd Webber to disappoint, the fantastic cast and creative team of the tour of Evita do not let us down either.

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Once

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It’s never easy to allow yourself to fall in love, and it is even more difficult to allow yourself to let go of a past love.

The tour of the 8 time Tony Award winning show Once, directed by JohnTiffany, stopped at the Durham Performing Arts Center for a series of 8 shows from January 21st through 26th. The music, script, movements, and the unique addition of live instrumentation combine to form the standing ovation worthy show.

Through the beautiful and complex music and songs of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, Once becomes a beautiful love story created with an entire audience watching.  True inner turmoil, of a love lost, is clearly audible through the gut-wrenching performance of Stuart Ward. His pain is balanced by the compassion and unrelenting support as performed beautifully by Dani de Waal.

(Think pain of The Wedding Singer in the tune of Rent with the hairstyles of Spring Awakening, with the box set of Billy Elliot, and chorus involvement of Chicago.)   

The words of Enda Walsh, coupled with the performances by the amazing cast, bring to life what we all have heard, have said, and remember from friends, family, and ones we have fallen in love with. The Irish brogue, used by the majority of the cast, was beautiful to listen to. Against the norm, their use of the accent remained constant and I found it truly fascinating and awe-inspiring that all the actors were able to maintain their own individual accents even as they transitioned from spoken word to song. However, I will admit I struggled as I adjusted to the halted speech pattern of Girl, who is a young woman from the Czech Republic.

The strong kinetic chemistry between Stuart (Guy) and Dani (Girl) made it easy to hope for the growing relationship of love, against the backdrop of recording an album, that could develop over just a matter of days.

(Cue Romeo and Juliet’s whirlwind romance)

The phenomenal comedic timing of Matt DeAngelis (Svec) left us wanting “more soul and less pants.”

The interpretive movements from Steven Hoggett are a little odd, but I suppose they do illustrate the emotional struggles that Guy and Girl are experiencing. As someone who is more familiar with the traditional style of dance in Broadway productions, this also took some time to adjust to.

The one element of this show that makes it truly unique is in the way the shows utilizes live instrumentation. All Broadway worthy productions make good use of live music, but Once is one of the very few that incorporates the instrumentation into the actual stage performance. Such intimate moments of relationships, of family struggle, heartbreak, and triumph are all performed while playing instruments. During the parts of the show where the characters are listening to “Pre-Recorded” music, via radio or headphones, I found myself searching the stage for the one playing the actual instrument. This dynamic was something that I found to be truly creative and impressive.

To be a triple threat on Broadway is supposedly difficult, but some say it is actually easy to find. You just have to look at any restaurant wait staff in New York City. But, try looking for an actor who can; sing, act, dance, and play an instrument at the same time. What is even more difficult, finding that actor / singer / dancer / instrumentalist and having an entire creative team agree on it. This adds to quality of talent that makes up the cast.

(I do wish I could have been a fly on the wall during rehearsals because the bloopers would have been interesting.) 

Although the set appears minimal, with a simple bar and walls with antiqued mirrors, we are easily transported from location to location with beautifully choreographed set transitions. Phenomenal transitions between scenes were heightened with fast set changes, cool set pieces, musical distractions, and subtle light changes. In stark contrast to other large spectacular productions on Broadway, Once uses eloquent words to draw and keep the audience from looking away instead of flashy special effects.

There was one “Special Effect” that was used that I did find interesting. The Czech family of Girl spoke in English, but creative team also chose to project the Slavic translations behind the bar. It was interesting to “see” the translations of the Czech family on the wall of the bar, in a reverse subtitle kind of way. Not only were we visually stimulated by the images of the foreign words flashing on the wall, but we also had fun trying to figure out which words went with each spoken word.

I have never before been influenced so much by lighting in a show as I was in this one. Subtle changes created a visual cue, dictating the mood that matched the scripted words.  While overlooking the city, sparkling lights appear forming the city skyline of Dublin, Ireland.

(I have no clue where those tiny little light bulbs were located, but they appear and disappeared without a trace. After they were first used, I searched for those things for the rest of the show!)

The costume design was a little awkward due to the undefined time period or season in which the show takes place. It wasn’t until the nauseating twerking that I figured it was present day, either that or the girl had a serious medical problem onstage.

The sound technician had the volume a tad low at times. I’m assuming the sound designer was trying to create a down-trodden mood to compliment the story. Maybe, had it not been the cold and flu season with many audience members struggling to unwrap cough drops at every single “down-trodden” moment, it would have been more effective.

If you can, I encourage you to arrive early to this performance and become part of the bar patrons. You are given the opportunity to walk across the stage, order a drink from the bartender, and stand next to the chorus/band as they present a spirited pre-show. Each performer is highlighted and appears to be having the time of their life dancing, singing, and enjoy the intimate setting with patrons.

I believe we all can relate to musicals, and we all depend on the emotional places that music and song lyrics can take us. In a recent conversation I had with Matt DeAngelis (Svec) he stated that “Once was not a musical, but a play with music.” I thought he was delusional, because how can the show be billed as a Tony Award Winning Musical and not be a musical. Damn it, he was right.