Archive for CTG

Blast From the Past: Pippin and Minsky’s

This blast from the past comes from 2009 Feb-18.  This had a lot of typos in it… it probably still has some, but I hope it is now readable.  Re-reading this, I’m disappointed that I haven’t heard anything else form “Minsky’s”  I really enjoyed the show, and while it needed some work, I wanted to see it go on and be a success.

Two Theatre Reviews
On Sunday, I had a day of major musical productions. SO, here are my long involved reviews.

Minsky’s, The New Musical Comedy
Minsky’s is still being worked on. The program included a revised song list, and a new cast member. The song stack (as it was on Sunday) was:

Workin Hot (Billy and the Girls)

Cleopatra (Girls)

Happy (Billy)

Someone (Mary, Billy, Doctors)

Keep It Clean (Girls)

Bananas (Girls)

You Gotta Get Up When You’re Down (Maisie, Ensemble)

Ees Like That (Billy, mary)

God Bless the USA (Maisie, Scratch, Ensemble)

Every Number Needs a Button (Buster, Maisie, Billy, Scratch, Ensemble)

Act II

Tap Happy (Buster, Mary, Ensemble)

Bananas (Girls)

I’ve Got Better Things to Do (Billy, Waiters)

Red Hot Lobsters (Girls)

Home (Maisie, Ensemble)

I Want a Live (Jason, Beula)

Workin Hot/Cleopatra/Bananas (Girls)

Nothing Lasts Forever (Billy, Company)

Home (Billy, Mary)

The basic plot is Billy Minskey, and his choreographer Maisie trying to save his burlesque theatre from the”clean up the city” ploys of politician Randolph Sumner. Meanwhile, Billy has met a beautiful girl on the street — who he later learns is Sumner’s daughter. Hilarity ensues.

The play has a script by Bob Martin, Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Susan Birkenhead with direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw. All these folks, and the cast are have done some really really good work. The show isn’t hit material yet — but it has many of the traits that could make it one. First off, the script is funny, full of corney jokes, romantic moments etc. The songs are catchy and funny. So, what is the problem with the script.

There are some minor structural problems. The first two songs are diagetic (meaning they are songs in which the characters in the real world would be singing). Because this is not one of the shows over all where people on sing when people in the world sing, they really shouldn’t have 2 numbers prior to someone “breaking out into song.” It would be really wonderful if the show could start with Billy, alone on stage, giving us a taste of “Happy,” perhaps while putting the Ghost light away. (the ghost light is a light left on on stage over night for safety and tradition reasons — and the show ends with Billy setting the light, but most audience members have no idea what it is.) Then launching into the the first seen (which otherwise is very good).

The next major scene is set in two shrink’s offices where Billy and Mary express their need for love (in a hilarious scene and number). Outside on the street Billy and Mary meet, and Billy discovers who daddy is. Back at the theatre Sumner threatens to close down the theatre, and Billy cons him into thinking that the stage hand is Billy Minskey, and the real Billy wants to help shut down the theatre.

The company retires to the Cafe to plot and plan. Billy has a great plan, but first he has to protect Mary, and prevent her from interfering. Back at the theatre, they shows Sumner their new “patriotic number,” which he loves. He poses for a picture with the girls, who quickly move their props revealing that they are topless. They send the photo off to the paper, do a great but misplaced number), Mary shows up, having figured out what happend and hits Billy.

OK, the emotional/plot high point of the act is the boob shot, and Mary hitting Billy. Separating them by a number (even as fantastic as “Every number Needs a Button”) kills the ending. They really ought to re-write, to make “Every Number” the second to last number as the group prepares to doop the Councilman. Then the patriotic number, boob shot, Mary hits Billy, short one line tag of “Every Number” and Curtain — this would be a far stronger act I ending.

Act II, opens with a ok number that has no business in the show. “Tap Happy” has no connection to the plot. At one point it is implied that it is a rehearsal number from the burlesque, yet the crew is dancing along. What this number should be is about the fall out from the photo being splashed over the press. Concretely getting the plot moving again from the first moment. Also, while the cast is wonderful singers and dancers, this tap number is not that impressive compared to the rest of the dancing in the show — and a weak Act II opener is killer.

Anyway, a great plot devise is entered into when Sumner and Mary decide to infiltrate the burlesque both dressed as chorus girls. Billy recognizes them, casts them and prepares to set up Sumner again. Billy heads back to the cafe where Mary tries to find out what illegal acts are going on, and Billy sings a song of sacrificing his chances of love to save the show and the jobs of all his employees. This scene is fine, but the fact that it is at the cafe smacks of “we built this expensive set for act I, and so we need to use it a second time.” There is no reason for this scene not to be backstage at the theatre. The scene change (which is fairly quick) kills the momentum at a moment where the show needs to move along — unless the writers can find a good reason to leave backstage, they shouldn’t go anywhere.

Back at the theatre more rehearsals are continuing. Here is a great scene where they work out a pie in the face scene with Sumner (in drag) keeps getting hit with a pie in the face. The cast slips fake information to the Sumners that a stripper will be appearing on stage (Stripping is illegal). Sumner passes the info to the cops. Billy’s show is saved. With rumors of a real stripper, he is sold out for the first time in months. Meanwhile, two minor characters have a brilliant number about hating theatre, with the world’s funniest dance break (which has to be seen to be believed)!

Back on stage Mary discovers that Billy recognized her, and that there is no stripper. Her dad is about to be humiliated again. Billy explains he has to take care of his people, even if that means giving up the woman he loves. Just as Mary begins to understand, she finds out that an illegel act is about to happen, and under age girl is about to perform (Billy doesn’t know his new dancer is under age). Mary attempts to save the day by knocking out the dancer and doing the number herself. But she doesn’t know the choreography and ends up becoming flustered and taking all of her cloths off.

Now an illegal act has been committed, and Billy is arrested. In a (not great) courtroom seen, their is an argument about if nudity is illegal, and Sumner ends up not pressing charges. Finale, short reprise, Billy and Mary set the ghost light end of show.

The court room scene is weak, as is Mary’s breakdown leading her to strip undermines her character. She needs to save both Billy and her father in one very clever move. Cut the court room scene (which is way to reminiscent of Hello Dolly) and move into the finale.

The other thing is that Mr. Nicholaw needs to bring in another pair of eyes. There is a bit too much (or unmotivated) dancing in a few numbers (Every Number needs a Button, Tap happy and Nothing Lasts Forever to name three– simplify and tighten!)

As to the cast, Christopher Ritzgerald, and Beth Leavel as Billy and Maise are knockouts! Also great is George Wendt as Sumner (although, I’d love it if he had a song, or part of a song or something — I mean it is a musical — but don’t try to musicalize the pie in the face scene because it is perfect as it is). Katherine Leonard as Mary is good, but they need to strengthen her character a bit to make it the stand out role the actress deserves. There were some mic/sound problems during the performance, especially with Gerry Vichi as the shows comic. He always sounded over miced and like he was speaking from in side a cave. Also as the two who want out of theatre, Rachel Dratch and John Cariani were hysterical. A last shout out to Paul Vogt, in the very funny role of Billy’s stagehand who “impersonates” Billy.

The show is funny, the score is good, if they can fix the structure, and strengthen the characters a bit it should be a good old fashioned heart warming dirty little musical

Pippin

Pippin (Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Roger O. Hirson) has gone through the script revisions since I’ve worked on the show a few years ago. The other cool thing with this, is as a co-production with Deaf -West was simultaneously spoken and signed.

First some comments on the revised script. Schwartz has replaced the lovely, but never quite successful “Welcome Home Son” with a better (for the show) number called “Back Home Again,” which has a vaguely calypso flavor (similar in style to “Generations” from Schwartz’s Children of Eden). “War is a Science” had some lyrical revisions (beyond those revisions heard in the William Katt touring production that was video-taped for television). This production cut a lot of the dance music (I especially missed the “Manson Trio” section of “Glory” and most of the “Orgy” music from “With You”) I hope these music cuts were production cuts and that they are left in the show for future productions. Also cut was “Extra-Ordinary.” Looking at the program, I understand that scene 7 is very very music heavy, and cutting the song gives it only slightly more music than the next longest scene but I feel that “Extra-Ordinary” is important to setting up Pippin’s transformation from jerk to actually ok guy. Lastly the one verse reprise of “Corner of the Sky” by Theo that ended East-West Player’s production. Brilliant, chilling, amazing, I’m so hopeful that it will be in the performance script!

This production used new orchestrations for 7 members were fine. My only major complaint is in “I Guess I’ll Miss The Man.” It started off accapella (beautiful), and gradually a guitar came in (although I would have liked it as a piano to tie in with the orchestrations in the finale). Then more instruments added in, and it would have been nice to keep it with only on instrument.

Production wise, Tobin Ost’s sets and costumes were nicely integrated (although perhaps not the direction I would have gone with it.) Donald Holder’s lights were great, however the calling of the cues during “On The Right Track” was terrible: ruining the choreography by completely distracting the audience.

The leading role of Pippin was (litterally) split between Michale Arden and Tyrone Giodano. The production used a very heavy Magic metaphore for the production. When the “cast” “discovered” that Pippin was deaf, the leading player “sawed him in half” and created a singing half that spoke Pippin’s lines. The two Pippins had similar, but slightly different objectives and goals through out the play, first revealed in scene 4, and brought to a head in the Finale! Amazing!

Anthony Natale was subbing for Troy Kotsur as the King. His voice was provided Dan Callaway. I want to give a toss out to Callaway. When Natale miss-spoke (miss-signed?) one of his lines, and Callaway delivered the line as signed instead of as written — it is wonderful to see an actor completely in the moment and not just doing the show by rote. (By the way, Natale was excellent and if I hadn’t done the show twice I probably wouldn’t have caught the missed line).

Ty Taylor as the Leading Player was great, supportive, evil, oozing sex. Sara Gettelfinger as Festrada and James Royce Edwards as Lewis were fine, but were costumed and directed without the usual (or in my opinion requisite) sex-appeal. In fact sex seemed to be largely lacking in this production, which I felt was a huge problem (more on that later). Catherine (Played by Melissa van der Schyff) was the best Catherine I have ever seen (and I thought the actress I saw last summer in the role was fabulous). She demonstrated a keen understanding of the complexities of the role, and has a great voice. (Her sexiness was also stripped from her role). Lastly, Harriet Harris as Berthe. I don’t know what is wrong with this role. It should be funny, cute, and sexy. It has been forever since I have seen it pulled off. She was fine, but I didn’t buy that she had had sex with her leather clad and harnessed boys that hung out under her skirt.

Director/Choreographer Jeff Calhoon (who did such a remarkable job on Big River) seems to have set out to make a family friendly Pippin and I ask “Why?” Taking the sex out of Pippin seems to make it, well empty. Pippin is about a young man exploring many of the vices of life, and then discovering that a simple family is more fulfilling than the sin. The war bit was silly, and without all the dancing, not as horrific as other productions. The sex was almost non-existent. Revolution/Politics fine I guess, but it didn’t have the scumminess of politics that is often presence. And without Extra-Ordinary, home life didn’t quite have the turn around that helps really drive the point home.

I don’t want to see a clean Pippin, nor do I want to see a Pippin that cuts most of the dance. Overall, I recomend seeing the production — especially for the cast. But this Pippin fails to have the depth of depravity to lift Pippin out of.

By the way, between shows I saw my friend Trevor who was on dinner break from teching LA Operas Ring Cycle, and my former co-worker Richard. Its great seeing friends when I go to the theatre.

Blast from the Past: Curtains

This is my review of the pre-broadway, out-of-town tryout of “Curtain” by John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Rupert Holmes.   This was before it went to New York (and probably before the show was locked.)  It ended up running 15 months, so my prediction wasn’t far off.  The original review was posted 2006 – August –  02.

Last night (August 1, 2006) I saw “Curtains” at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. The show is being presented in Los Angeles prior to a planed New York run, and as such it should be noted that changes may exist between the performance I saw and any subsequent performan ce.

For More …

First off, the play is a very enjoyable night at the theatre. I don’t remember having as much fun since I saw “Drowsy Chaperone” at the Ahmanson seven months ago. What is also evident from the performances is the cast is loving being on stage in the show. (Additionally as there was no traffic I made it to the theatre very early and several lof the cast were having dinner in the courtyard outside the theatre, they were discussing the usual issues of a show — missed costume changes, late entreneces etc. but they were so excited about the work they were doing. Having seen several shows recently where the cast was simply walking through the show, it is delightful to see one where they are truly excited.)

Most of the score is wonderful. There is a wonderful play between the songs of ‘Robbin Hood,’ the play within the play, and the book numbers from “Curtains.” My biggest concern that the act I closer (of both “Curtains” and ‘Robbin Hood’), a song called ‘Thataway!’ is a fairly weak song. The dance and staging save most of the audience from noticing, but as a song, it did not send me joyfully into intermission. My second worry is the opening number, “Wide Open Spaces,’ which is supposed to be the Finale of ‘Robbin Hood.’ Again, the staging is fun, and Eventually the audience figures out that it is supposed to be bad — but I worry that some audience members may be turned off at the very top of the show.

My theatre going partner had issues with the number “It’s a Business,” although much more on the staging than the song. (Debra Monk sings the song, and frankly I’d listen to her sing the phone book if John Kander scored it, so I may be a bit biased.)

The score includes some great numbers, “What Kind of Man”, “He Did It”, “The Woman’s Dead”, “Tough Act to Follow”, and “I miss the Music.” It also includes a song called “Show People” that I swear I’ve heard before with slightly altered lyrics, but I cannot for the life of me place where I have heard it — its been driving me mad since the melody first hit my ears last night (the altered lyrics are along the same lines, more like I’ve heard an earlier draft of the lyrics)

Rupert Holmes’ book is fast moving, intelligent and witty. My biggest concern with the book is that it is theatre about theatre. I worry that many audience members (especially as it attempts to maintain a long run in New York) will not inherently know what Equity is or what an Equity Deputy is or what much of the “stage lingo” is about. The script seems to explain understudy well before the understudy jokes, but several others (like Equity) are not explained. The teenagers behind me were asking questions about that to their chaperone, who also didn’t know the answer.

From a production stand point, William Ivey Long’s costumes are (as always) right on the money. The only exception to this is that Patty Goble (as the dead leading lady) looks more of a “star” than Karen Ziemba as her replacement. (I think it is the red wig that Goble wears — it makes her stand out in the ‘Robbin Hood’ bits visually that Ziemba does not). Ana Louizos’ set makes a nice distintion between “back stage” and “Robbin Hood.” Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting was effective (especially the first entrence of David Hyde Pierce — what a cue, what staging, what moment!). My only suggestion to Louizos and Kaczorowski (and frankly director Scott Ellis) is to take a performance and sit in the upper levels (Our seats were mid lower balcony, and there were some moments in staging, and design that might want to be reconsidered — nothing outrageously awful, but some moments that show cracks in an otherwise carefully constructed evening). William David Brohn’s orchestrations are fine, but nothing special. His work is best during the ‘Robbin Hood’ numbers and merely serviceable otherwise. Rob Ashford’s choreography is great both in ‘Robbin Hood’ and in the book songs. In the book songs, he allows the individual characters to color the choreography, where as in ‘Robbin Hood’ the dancing is tight and together, like a classic Broadway chorus. Scott Ellis’s direction plays up the “romance set during a murder mystery back stage at a theatre” side of the show. I worry that future productions will forget that and emphasize the back stage aspects much to the detriment of the play. (And if I have any suggestions to the Holmes, it would be to play up the characters and the romance a bit more in the script, and allow backstage to be the backdrop and not the focus of the story — and what needs to be included due to plot, have it explained to the audience a bit clearer)

Now to talk about the cast. In a word, Wonderful. Everyone on that stage from the leads to the ensemble are fully developed characters fully commited to the show, and having lots of fun. Their excitement certainly translates across the footlights to those of us in the dark. Patty Goble is delectably horrid as (soon to be dead) star Jessica Cranshaw. Megan Sikora stands out as the producers daughter who wants to be a star more than anything else. Jason Danieley’s big voice and big heart make a big impression. Edward Hibbert steals almost every scene he is in as a conceited egotistical director (By the way, how is Drowsy doing without him — he was a stand out there as well). Jill Paice, as Niki (Pierce’s love interest), is charming and daffy and lovely with a great voice. Our three stars: David Hyde Pierce, Debra Monk and Karen Ziemba sparkle the entire night. (Pierce forgot his Boston accent in a few moments during the show — but I didn’t notice until it suddenly “came back”).

With some minor book revisions, and possibly some song revisions the song should do very well in NYC (probably not the record breaking run of Phantom, but a healthy 18 months or so — more if it can snag a few Tonys (especially for Ms. Monk), and keep (or replace well) the talented and excited cast — there is no room for slackers anywhere in the show).

One final note — David Loud, the music director, has a charming “cameo” as Sasha, ‘Robin Hood’ s musical director — and a delightful solo.