Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My First Korean Musical - "Hero The Musical"

I've seen Chinese opera, Japanese kabuki theater, and now Korean musical theater. And you know what, Hero The Musical - currently playing a limited run at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center - is grand.

Fortunately, I received a mini education in Japan-Korea relations from a colleague before seeing the musical; therefore, I appreciated the history and intensity of this Korean musical even more.

The hero referred to the in the title of this musical is An Chunggun, a 30 year old general in the Righteous Army. An Chunggun and his comrades plot, pray for courage and assassinate Japanese leader Ito Hirobumi. An Chunggun and three of his comrades are then captured and tried in a Japanese court. In one of the most intense and passionate scenes in the musical, An Chunggun proclaims the atrocities that Japan has inflicted on the Korean people before he is sentenced to hanging not as a prisoner of war as he wished but a common criminal. At the end of the musical, the audience learns that An Chunggun's remains are in an unknown location in Japan and have never been returned to Korea.

While there isn't a live orchestra (recorded music is utilized) and reading English supertitles is necessary since the musical is performed in Korean, if you are a history buff and have an interest in East Asia, patriotism, resistance movements and/or multiculturalism, Hero The Musical is for you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" - From Cambridge to Broadway (Part I)

As I was strolled through the theater district on Friday, I noticed the The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess marquee at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. The "re-imagined" musical now playing in Cambridge begins previews on December 17th and officially opens on Broadway on January 12, 2012.

After Stephen Sondheim blasted this "re-imagined" Porgy and Bess in a letter to The New York Times earlier this month, there has been a lot of buzz about this musical, and now according to a New York Post
article, NY critics are racing north at hurricane speeds to Cambridge to review the production.

Now, Porgy and Bess is not without controversy. Many consider the original folk opera racist due to its images of impoverish hot-tempered gambling pimping, drug-taking African Americas singing in dialect (did I miss any stereotypes?). While stuck indoors this weekend (no thanks to the destructive Irene), I watched a DVD of the opera as conducted by The London Philharmonic and curiously titled The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess. Initially, I cringed at the dialect and was reminded of the
Black Heritage Trail tour I recently took while in Boston. The tour, which I highly recommend, includes a period in Boston history when black schools were forbidden to teach grammar. Why? To perpetuate the kind of dialogue featured in Porgy and Bess?

After a short period of time however, I loss myself in the intensity and passion of the opera.

So now we await what the critics have to say about the Diane Paulus production. However, what they and non-fans of the opera will not be able to criticize is that Porgy and Bess, first performed in Boston before it opened in NY over 75 years ago, is historic and has produced memorable music which have been made even more famous by Jazz greats.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Quote From NY Times Article by Katori Hall

From The New York Times article - Road Back to Russia, Paved With a Play - by Katori Hall, author of The Mountaintop, which I have tickets to see in October. Can't wait.
Like most playwrights I hate talkbacks with a passion that can burn a hole through hell.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene Darkens Broadway

Due to Hurricane Irene and the closing of the NYC mass transit system, Broadway is dark this weekend.

Notice posted at TKTS booth in Times Square.

Notice posted outside the Imperial Theatre where Billy Elliot is playing.

With record rainfall, floods and uprooted trees, hopefully, the worst is behind us and everything can get back to normal.

News reporters in Times Square

Young man playing baseball in Times Square near TKTS booth early Sunday morning as rain and heavy winds subside

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Shocking Ending

In John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves, the talentless Artie Shaughnessy dreams of becoming a famous songwriter in Hollywood. When things don't work out...instead of returning to his mundane life as a zookeeper...we have a shocking ending.

In Karoline Leach's Tryst (which I observed from one of those horrible side seats at the Irish Repertory Theatre), conman George Love continues his hustle by wooing and marrying hat maker Adelaide Pinchin. The plan - after the honeymoon of course - is to then steal her money, run off, and move on to the next pathetic woman to rip off. However, the plan changes when Adelaide realizes what is going on, calls him out on his ploy, and then...we have a shocking ending.

Poor productions, poor writing or a combination of both? I am not sure, but the shocking endings in The House of Blue Leaves at the Walter Kerr Theatre and Tryst at the Irish Repertory Theatre just did not add up for me. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Standard Curtain Time? Wait, I Have to Check the Schedule

What is up with the crazy evening curtain times now on Broadway? Remember when Broadway was dark on Monday, then Tuesday's curtain time became 7PM and the rest of the week through Saturday was 8PM with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.

If you are a New Yorker and say you work (so that you can afford your theater habit), there used to be sufficient time to have a decent but quick sit down meal before a weekday night at the theater. Now, I find myself inhaling cups of soups or swallowing chunks of Starbucks cookies for sustenance before the theater because I have no time to eat with the non-standard curtain times. A friend of mine pulled out a PB&J sandwich during intermission at a recent show because he simply did not have time to eat beforehand and knew that he would be disrupted by hunger pains during the performance.

Now, you have to check the schedule before you make dinner or other plans because the show that you are going to see may not have a standard start time. Shows now play on Monday nights. Check out Chicago, Phantom, and Priscilla. Some shows start at 8PM on Tuesday and others at 7PM. Spidy is right in the middle at 7:30PM. Thursday night, well, let’s pull up the schedule. The Book of Mormon and Jerusalem start at 7PM. Billy Elliott and Spidy start at 7:30PM and maybe the show you are going to see starts at 8PM.

But you better check or you may miss the opening act.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tales and Lessons From "Patti LuPone: A Memoir" Part II

Patti LuPone gives us the behind the scenes stories of her amazing career in the theater in her aptly titled memoir - Patti LuPone: A Memoir. Two stories I found interesting were Evita and Sunset Boulevard. As a side note, this fall, Ms. LuPone reunites with her Evita costar on Broadway in An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Pantinkin.

When I think of Ms. LuPone, I automatically think musical theater star. Therefore, it was interesting to read that in Evita, Ms. LuPone had the most difficult time singing the score and a member of the chorus actually had to help her with her vocal technique.

On top of the issues with her voice, during rehearsals, she constantly had people comparing her to Elaine Page who played the role in London. Also, she had an alternate who hoped she would fail.

In LA, she opened to bad reviews and was on the verge of being fired. However, Hal Prince had faith in her. In San Francisco, while her alternate received good reviews, Ms. LuPone received more bad reviews.

In NY, she opened to bad reviews. However, the cast worked harder and eventually turned audiences around. Through word of mouth and marketing, the show was a success though Ms. LuPone continued to struggle with her singing. She won a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical and after her contract with the show ended and she moved on. 

Sunset Boulevard

I will try to simplify the drama behind Sunset Boulevard, which covers 2+ chapters in Ms. LuPone's memoir. Plagued with rumors from the start, Sunset Boulevard turned out to be one of the worst experiences in the theater for Ms. LuPone. What should have been initially a rehearsal turned out to be some sort of workshop performance in front of the theater community. Luckily Ms. LuPone's performance was a hit and she was verbally offered the role of Norma Desmond. Shortly after, rumors (possibly planted by Mr. Weber's company) started flying around in the press about who would play Norma. Finally, Mr. Weber announced that Ms. LuPone would. Contractually, Ms. LuPone was to play the lead in London and then in NY on Broadway. She however would not perform in LA, which was scheduled to open prior to the NY opening. Strangely, the lead there would be Glenn Close.

After Sunset Boulevard opened, the London press was favorable; the US press however did not think that Patti LuPone's Norma Desmond was crazy enough. After the bad US press, Webber’s company was afraid to have Ms. LuPone play Broadway but instead of “manning up” and buying her out of her contract, they started a web of childish rumors. While Ms. LuPone was miserable during this period in London, Ms. Close was getting good reviews for her performance in the LA run. One day, Ms. LuPone viciously learns that she had been in effect fired when a gossip column revealed that Ms. Close would play Norma on Broadway. To add insult to injury, in a later letter to Ms. LuPone, Webber had the gall to suggest that she take over Ms. Close's role in the LA production. Ms. LuPone finished out her London run, for which she was nominated for an Olivier award (she lost), returned to the US and took a much needed vacation. The amount of the breach of contract settlement was not disclosed.

When you read this story, you are almost tempted to not attend another Webber musical.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tales and Lessons From "Patti LuPone: A Memoir" Part I

Patti LuPone's showstopping performance of Rose's Turn in Gypsy is one of the most memorable evenings I have had at a musical on Broadway; she was absolutely amazing. I like this New York Magazine photo diary of her Gypsy final performance day.

While Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was a flop, I liked her quirky performance as Lucia. After reading her memoir, I understand why she took the role. She never turns them down!!! During Nervous Breakdown's run, Ms. LuPone took a break from the show and performed her own show at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in NJ; once I found out here the heck the center was, I crossed the river to get more of this Broadway diva. While it is unlikely that I will ever return to BerPac for any event, I was happy to listen to Ms. LuPone for the evening.

As you can see, I am a fan of Ms. LuPone and had heard about her diva reputation but did not quite know how she acquired this reputation. Therefore, reading her memoir aptly entitled Patti LuPone: A Memoir was enlightening.

The most fascinating parts of the book are her encounters with Andrew Lloyd Webber during Evita (the show that launched her as a theater star) and later in Sunset Boulevard. Also, the lessons she learned during her lifetime career in the theater, the erratic nature of her relationship with Kevin Kline, her marriage finally at age 39 and having her first and only child at age 41 are interesting.

I could probably go on for a week about Ms. LuPone's career. But today, I will run through a few lessons from her memoir and then tomorrow - Evita and Sunset Boulevard!!

Lessons Learned
During her memoir, Ms. LuPone says that the lessons learned in the theater are deep and whether good or bad, each show teaches a lesson. Here are a few lessons she pointed out: 

  • The less you care, the freer you are.
  • ...when you swallow your pride, you often choke on it.
  • Sticks and stones, sister. Here, have a Valium.
  • There are moles in Broadway houses. No one knows who they are but things that only people working on the show would know get printed in the most vicious ways.
  • Don't believe your own press. Somewhere, give it time, there's a banana peel with your name on it.
  • Remain open.
  • ...nothing is impossible-that diligent work, patience, and trust are the only things that will see you through to the very end of any journey. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Quote From "Master Class" by Terrence McNally

Master Class Act II -- Maria Callas: 
A performance is a struggle. You have to win. The audience is the enemy. We have to bring you to your knees because we're right...Dominate them...Art is domination.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Shed a Tear for a "War Horse"

If you were to describe the stage production War Horse to me, I would probably have a hard time envisioning it, even after seeing productions such as The Lion King and Avenue Q. However, what Lincoln Center and the National Theatre of Great Britain have developed is pure genius.

A young boy (Albert) bonds with a horse (Joey) - depicted by a puppet controlled by three handlers. Joey is sold to the cavalry and Albert joins the army, determined to find his beloved horse. From the production notes, we learned that 1,000,000 English horses were shipped off to France during World War I but only 62,000 survived.

Will Albert and Joey survive barb wire, machine guns and war tanks and be reunited? Oh, just lose yourself in this engrossing epic and find out. In the midst of warfare, War Horse is a grand production that touches your heart, and if you are not careful it may just make you shed a tear.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ouch, Sondheim Says Don't Mess with a Classic

I am heading up to Boston later this month for a long weekend and have been going back and forth about whether I should see the "re imagined" production of Porgy and Bess which begins previews tomorrow at The American Repertory Theater (ART) in Cambridge. Since it is "re imagined" and will be coming to Broadway eventually, there was no great urgency on my part to spend one of my precious Boston evenings to see this production right now.

However, when I noticed Stephen Sondheim's letter in the NY Times, I had to sit back down at my desk and read it. Ouch, Mr. Sondheim really takes issue with the changes that Diane Paulus and Suzan Lori-Parks are making to this American classic (which is already controversial for its portrayal of African-Americans). I am not against re-imagining any classic. However, the updated version has to be clever and yes, superior to the original. If not, why bother; it simply falls flat. 

After all the controversy, I decided that I should see this production starring the talented Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis and witness first hand the journey from Cambridge to Broadway. Unfortunately, tickets are now sold out for all the days that I will be in Boston. I guess controversial press is good for ticket sales.

Stay tuned. I will be watching the journey from the sidelines.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rejoice, Nina Arianda is Coming Back to Broadway

I was so upset when I learned earlier this year that I missed last season's Venus in Fur at the Classic Stage Company. I had just discovered the playwright - David Ives - after experiencing The School for Lies and Nina Arianda after seeing her impeccable performance in Born Yesterday.

Well, rejoice, Venus in Fur, which received rave reviews Off Broadway, is coming to Broadway in October for a limited run. And so is Ms. Arianda - this time along with Hugh Dancy, the other actor in this two character play. Based on an 1870 erotic novel, this play in a play is a battle of the sexes and is suppose to be hysterical, sexy and intense all at the same time.

This upcoming Manhattan Theater Club production gets a spot on my theater Wish List for the fall. I can't wait to see it!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Teresa Butz's Murderer Sentenced to Life Without Possibility of Parole

At the end of his 2011 Tony acceptance speech, Norbert Leo Butz now starring in Catch Me if You Can on Broadway until September when the production closes, remembered his sister, who he thinks of every night.

Teresa Butz and her partner Jennifer Hopper were peacefully sleeping in their Seattle home in summer 2009 when a deranged and mentally disturbed murderer entered their home and sexually brutalized them repeatedly. Mortally wounded, Teresa Butz distracted the murderer by diving out of a window so that her partner could escape.

Yesterday, the murderer - Isaiah Kalebu - was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murder. He also received an additional sentence for the rape of both women. The death penalty was not sought due to Kalebu's history of mental illness.

While this sentence will not bring back Teresa Butz, hopefully Norbert Leo Butz will have some solace tonight as he remembers his sister, and Jennifer Hopper (now 38 and still unable to sleep alone) continues to try to move on.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Playlist Addition: Music from "The Book of Mormon"

So, I have been rocking my special 1.99 album download of The Book of Mormon. While I love the whole album, I find myself playing the following tracks over and over. Therefore, I am adding them to my Broadway Playlist.

1) Turn It Off 

This song is a good example of using humor to bring up a sad matter. Just repress your feelings and do not deal with issues. Simply "turn it off like a light switch." Sad!

2) I Believe

Well, I blogged about God changing his mind about about black people after the Tony telecast. Now let's see, 
"Ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America" 
Garden of Eden is in Mississippi
Did I miss any? 

3) Joseph Smith American Moses

I love this song because it wraps up the show. This tune is not much better than Hasa Diga Eebowai but it is hilarious as hell - just as it was to watch. A culmination of the book according to Arnold. Funny, funny, funny!!!

I have to give a special mention to Man Up - which is what I feel like telling the House as they work through the debt ceiling. Also, I was reminded of Two by Two when I spotted two pairs of Mormons in Wildwood NJ on my way back to the city from my Cape May Rachel Crothers getaway. Finally, I just couldn't add Hasa Diga Eebowai to the list; if I can't play it in front of my mother, it doesn't go on the list. E9GHGRQXKJR3

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Side Seats at the Irish Repertory Theatre

I had the unfortunate pleasure of sitting in one of those horrible side seats at the Irish Repertory Theatre in Chelsea during a recent performance of Tryst. You don't feel like you are experiencing the theater; you feel like you are merely observing it - like you are peering at the performance from backstage. You are never acknowledged by the actors, not even during the curtain call.

At Tryst, I pretty much felt like one of those people on the right in Paula Poundstone's hilarious airplane stand up comedy routine from way back. Check it out on (roughly 6 minutes into the clip).

It is amazing how your seat can change the whole experience of the theater. I saw this first hand most recently in Tryst and The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Star is Not Performing Tonight. Damn!!

I did not have a strong desire to see the revival of Anything Goes. However, after writing my post on what hot on Broadway, seeing the multi-talented Sutton Foster perform on the Tony Awards telecast and reading Patti LuPone's memoir, I thought that I would check it out.

I queued up for an hour in the sun outside the Stephen Sondheim Theatre and secured a $30 evening rush ticket in the very last row of the nicely renovated 1000+ seat theater. Have you checked out the ladies room at this theater - multiple stalls, minimal wait!!!

It was a busy day for me, but I hastily slurped down a Starbucks iced coffee, spotted a very dapper looking Dr. Cornel West entering the theater, and settled in my seat with just a few minutes to spare before the start of the performance. I opened my Playbill only to see that Sutton Foster would not be performing and instead her understudy - Tari Kelly - would be.

Deflated, I wondered if I had somehow missed this information in the lobby. Tempted to walk out of the theater pissed off that I could have sold my ticket outside, I found some comfort in seeing that other theatergoers were just as disappointed. Imagine if you were a tourist and this was your one chance to see the award winning actress. At least the 79 year old Joel Grey was still performing, and heck, this may be everyone's last opportunity to see him perform.

Well, the show went on. When Ms. Kelly made her entrance, there was no noticeable applause. The show was as expected - wonderful singing and dancing. The toe tapping performance of Anything Goes, the last number of the first act was spectacular like I suspected it would be and as it was on Tony night. Joel Grey was comical. And the production was grand. After the finale, Ms. Kelly and the rest of cast received enthusiastic applause from the audience.

However, with a dated story and stereotypical images of Asians, I must admit that I highly doubt that I will see any future revivals of this 1930s Cole Porter musical comedy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I Can't Wait to Get to "The Mountaintop" - Part II

Samuel L Jackson, the Hollywood action hero known for screaming about snakes on a plane somewhere will play Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Katori Hall's The Mountaintop, which begins previews next month on Broadway. Why not an actor such as Jeffrey Wright who has more recent stage acting experience. Also, we know that Mr. Wright can play Dr. King from his very credible performance in the HBO film Boycott. I wonder if last year's Lincoln Center's fiasco of a production - A Free Man of Color - had anything to do with it.

Will Mr. Jackson make us believe that he is the humanized Dr. King? After seeing him in Rodrigo Garcia's wonderful film mother and child I have some hope that he just might be able to play a non-action hero with some dignity.

Let's move on the role of Camae, the maid who delivers room service to Dr. King's motel room on the eve of his death. The character, named after the playwright's mother (the inspiration for The Mountaintop) is supposed to be mysterious. Mysterious how, I don't know and I can't wait to find out!!!

There was some drama behind the drama about who would play Camae. In the end, the role went to Angela Bassett, not Halle Berry, who could not take it for personal reasons related to the custody of her child. While Ms. Berry holds an Academy Award (for her role in Monster's Ball), Angela Bassett, only a nominee for her portrayal of Tina Turner in  What's Love Got to Do With It, is the far superior actress, even though I sometimes think that she overacts. Just my thoughts - I know many will disagree.

From everything that I've read about the role of Camae, the character seems to be a younger woman. Lorraine Burroughs who played the role in London is 30. I wonder if the veteran 52 year old Ms. Bassett and the action hero Mr. Jackson (no spring chicken at 62 - Dr. King was 39 at his death) will take the play in a completely different direction.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I Can't Wait to Get to "The Mountaintop" - Part I

I love the irony of the scene in the film Lady Sings the Blues where Diana Ross playing Billie Holiday is incredulous that she has to leave Harlem and tour all over just so that she can perform right in her own backyard.

This is sort of how I feel about Katori Hall's The Mountaintop. Inspired by her mother not being able to see what would be Dr. Martin Luther King's final speech, Katori Hall, a young playwright from Memphis, wrote The Mountaintop as a tribute - as an opportunity for her mother to meet and speak to Dr. King in 1968. According to an NPR interview, she sent the play to various producers and was pretty much rejected. How dare she push boundaries and humanize such a hero.

The play would eventually be produced outside the US - in the UK.  First the play performed in a small unsubsidized 65 seat theater and then the West End. In a surprise upset, it would beat out the likes of Jerusalem for an Olivier award.

Now, The Mountaintop is coming to Broadway next month - with two of the hottest African-American stars from Hollywood. I guess that's what it takes sometimes to play in your own backyard.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What, a Rap Guide to Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution

I took my seat in the front row of the Soho Theater. A mature and responsible looking DJ Jamie Simmonds spun beats at a DJ station comprised of hybrid of Mac notebook and what appeared to be turntables on the right side of the stage. As I made myself comfortable in my seat, two not so young women annoyingly strolled in with cocktails wearing summer dresses designed to display their multiple tattoos. I repositioned myself hoping that they would not spill the drinks as they giggled at each other. Obviously, I had not evolved to the point where I found them amusing.

Back to the stage. A photo of Darwin was projected on the left side of the stage and in the middle was the following quote, I believe, from Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species:
Whoever is led to believe that species are mutable will do good service by conscientiously expressing his conviction; for only this can the load of prejudice by which this subject is overwhelmed be removed.
This was my introduction to The Rap Guide to Evolution, a lecture like rap performance with audience interaction created and performed by Baba Brinkman using the history of rap to explain Darwinism.

The production is worthwhile to see and I get using music to explain theories. I was glad to see that it did not sidestep controversial theories such as mankind being descended from Africans and appreciated the audience Q+A at the end of the show and the concept of performance, feedback, and revision.

However, with the popularity of Malcolm Gladwell's books and Freakonomics, I would have preferred perhaps a more academic or social discussion on the topic of Darwinism and Creationism. I can't tell you how I perked up when data tables were projected on the stage.

But I guess that it then would not be theater and what Mr. Brinkman - a rap artist and scholar -  is all about.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Backyard Tour: Half Day Trip to Jazz Concert at the Louis Armstrong House Museum

On Saturday, I finally made it out to Corona Queens for my first visit to the Louis Armstrong House Museum for a tour of the house and to enjoy an afternoon jazz concert in the house's garden. 

Not recalling whether I've ever set foot in Corona Queens, the neighborhood was easily accessible by the #7 Train. Once you arrive, you get the sense that you are in Latin America.  However, by the time you reach the house, a short walk from the subway station, you are transported back in time.  

According to the tour, Louis Armstrong (1901 - 1971) was born dirt poor in New Orleans. When he went to see the simple house in Corona, he told the driver that he must have made a mistake because the house he pulled up to was extravagant compared to anything he ever grew up in.

The house is femininely designed because that stuff was all left up to his fourth wife Lucille. However, Louis' den is all him, trimmed in wood with recordings and a music player which looks like it belongs in a museum - oh wait, it is a museum.

The Grand Street Stompers, who performed on the day of my visit, were very good as they jammed to classics such as Stardust. 

If you are a jazz fan, then the Louis Armstrong House Museum is definitely worth the trip to Latin America - eh-hem I mean Corona Queens. If you can manage to go when they have one of their special events in the garden, then even better.  

Photos are not permissible inside the house of the Louis Armstrong House Museum (LAHM). However, here are a few from outside. 

1) The plaque commemorating the designation of the Louis Armstrong House as a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

2) The entrance to the visitor center and gift shop at the LAHM. 

3) A photo of the simple brick house in Corona Queens. 

4) Jazz vocalist Tamar Korn taking us back with her retro voice. The day of the event was also Ms. Korn's 30th birthday.  

5) Gordon Au and the rest of the Grand Street Stompers. 

6) The Japanese style garden sans jazz fans and the Grand Street Stompers. 

7) Finally, the future home of the museum's archives - across the street from the LAHM. I believe that it is scheduled to be completed in 2013, but from the looks of it, I don't think that  they will meet the schedule. The cool thing is that when the project is completed, all of Louis Armstrong's archival records and personal recordings (now at Queens College) will the housed here for fans to peruse.