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A Sign of the Times Off-Broadway Dreams of the Dawn of a New Day

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It’s the dawn of a new day, says A Sign of the Times, the latest jukebox musical that opens itself up to a sweet nostalgia of American postwar at the New World Stages off-Broadway. It’s overflowing with well-known songs from the 1960s, beautifully performed and glowing, with melodies made popular and iconic by Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, and Lesley Gore. With such a strong playlist at its core, the new musical, created by producer Richard J. Robin (Memphis) with a somewhat contrived book by Lindsey Hope Pearlman (MacGyver the Musical), tries valiantly to stitch together the tale of a young woman, Cindy, played with wide-eyed determination by Chilina Kennedy (Broadway’s Paradise Square) who is trying with all her might to find a different way of living outside the heteronormative Ohio small town community she rings in the new year with. It’s a well-formulated beginning, possibly because of the fine crew surrounding her, especially her two gal pals, portrayed wonderfully by the very talented and funny Alyssa Carol (Broadway’s Bad Cinderella) and Maggie McDowell (Broadway’s Kinky Boots) giving it their all. The two are conflicted, wanting her both to stay and marry her handsome, epic raspy-voiced boyfriend, Matt, played deliciously croon-worthy by Justin Matthew Sargent (Broadway’s Spider-Man…) giving off a dreamy Luke Perry/Dylan vibe in abundance, but they also would love for her to get out of Ohio and follow her photographic dreams in the big city of New York. Like any good friend would.

J Savage, Alyssa Carol, Justin Matthew Sargent, Chilina Kennedy, and Cassie Austin in A Sign of the Times. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

But the well-strummed “I Only Want to Be with You” proposal, delivered smoothly by Sargent’s Matt, is not enough to hold down the “Who Am I?” questioning for Cindy, and off she goes on an awkwardly tight bus ride to the Big Apple in hope that “Round Every Corner” there might be some morsel of career success. It’s an empowering first chapter to Cindy’s adventure, even with the all too true and too funny apartment hunting shenanigans. Packed in with it all also comes about every culturally significant political movement that existed in those formative years, passively aggressively shoved into this tale of a time and a place in our cultural history. None of which have gone away. It’s a grand attempt, overflowing with issues and meaning, as this musical tries its best to give us another shiny and splashy Hairspray. That comparison, I know is an ‘apples to oranges jukebox’ one, but that show, back in its day, magically and deftly found its way to encapsulate segregation and racism in 1962 Baltimore with originality and musical gold, but unfortunately, with this show’s heavy-handed book, A Sign of the Times doesn’t hold its shape as strongly as that aerosol can of Ultra Clutch was made to do for those dos. Even with all of these stellar songs and performances brought to life at New World Stages.

But the cast of pros can not be held back by this book, as each and everyone delivers those iconic songs with charm, vitality, and style on a slick stage design by Evan Adamson (Le Petit Theatre’s A Christmas Carol) with expert lighting design by Ken Billington (Broadway’s New York, New York), determined and fun costuming by Johanna Pan (Barrington’s James and the Giant Peach), and a solid sound design by Shannon Slaton (Broadway’s Melissa Etheridge: My Window). Their voices ring out infectiously strong, leading us through the chance encounters and “Count Me In” moments that basically “Rescue Me” and everyone around them, particularly Crystal Lucas-Perry (Broadway’s Ain’t No Mo’) as the aspiring singer/quick-change artist Tanya, who even though she was under-mic’d in the first act, still managed to captivate, even when given dialogue that was as corny as Corny Collins. “Something [does] Got a Hold on Me” when she starts to sing, so “why am I dreaming about something else?“.


Crystal Lucas-Perry and Chilina Kennedy in Off-Broadway’s A Sign of the Times. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

There is also the political activist/protestor and Tanya’s handsome man, Cody, played solidly by the well-voiced Akron Lanier Watson (Broadway’s The Color Purple revival) who tries to engage us and her with the cause. On the other end of that police baton, there is a slimy advertising executive Brian, played true to form by Ryan Silverman (Broadway’s Side Show), who uses his power and privilege to woo the determined Cindy. Yet, even with all those red flags flying, she continues to hold on to her dream of being a photographer, even as we watch her fall for this creepy businessman who charms her into not seeing the ugly blending of professional and personal that is rampant in their workplace and in his demeanor. It’s a stretch of the “Gimme Some Lovin’” imagination to believe Cindy, let alone the more worldly Tanya, can not see clearly through his harassment schtick from that first walk home, but I guess we can relax through this two-and-a-half-hour show knowing that it has to come eventually in this “Five O’clock World” gone wild.

Not even when the old Ohio boyfriend, Matt, whom we are all starting to warm up to a bit more with each Brian/Cindy “Call Me” moment, calls himself asking her to take the “Last Train to Clarksville” before he heads off to Vietnam after getting drafted, does Cindy falter in her dream of photography career success. But it’s hard to quibble about too many hot topics for one show when the cast is having so much fun kicking up their heels to the strong choreography of JoAnn M. Hunter (Mirvish’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) and her “The Shoop Shoop Song” energy. The playfulness shines when used in the right moments, exemplified in the “The ‘In’ Crowd” party, hosted by the wildly fun, pop artist, cheekily named Randy Forthwall, played joyfully by Edward Staudenmayer (Broadway’s Girl from the North Country) who also adds that same flair to a dozen other minor roles. It is exactly the formula this show needs a whole lot more of and is the bus ride that could bring it success.

Edward Staudenmayer, Melessie Clark, Lena Teresa Matthews, Alyssa Carol, Erica Simone Barnett, Kuppi Alec Jessop, and Crystal Lucas-Perry in Off-Broadway’s A Sign of the Times. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Director Gabriel Barre (Broadway’s Amazing Grace) does his best to keep the engine running, but sometimes he stalls it with a few heavy-handed approaches to some bigger issue moments, like Tanya’s “Society’s Child“. It’s touching but somehow too light and in need of a stronger punch, but I also have a feeling that Lucas-Perry could have handled that one all on her own without the dramatization playing out awkwardly over to the side. Yet, once again, the music is what delivers the energy and charm of this piece “Downtown” for our pleasure under the direction of music director Britt Bonney (Broadway’s Camelot) with music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Joseph Church (Broadway’s The Lion King). But as with many jukebox musicals, the songs are the gold here, even when the lyrics only fit marginally into the storyline. The belting and the wildly colorful embodiment of the period are exactly what the piece needs to take it to the finishing line. Not the clumsy overwrought storyline and dialogue, checking as many boxes as one could hope for, that stops it in its soundtracks.

Trying hard to be a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people, Off-Broadway’s A Sign of the Times does find its way to be filled up with a ton of 1960s musical delights, performed wonderfully, all lined up in a row. Unfortunately, it is also a show with a storyline spit out by a computer program to cover all the issues of the time and place (and beyond, maybe “ten years ahead of wherever“) shoved in between and inside the cracks awkwardly. It never really finds its way into the well-balanced heights of its counterpart Hairspray, but it does entertain you well when it embraces the music it wants to share with us. Brad Peterson’s projection design (Off-Broadway’s Broadway Bounty Hunter) tries his best to add dimension and the weight of the decade with his projected photographs of activists and social movement moments, but the energy of the music presented here is really what drives this musical to its destination.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Dance

Get Scottish and Join in The Celebrations With The Tartan Day Parade

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NY has been celebrating Scotlands heritage and culture with Tartan Week. This festival runs till the 7th with the Tartan Day Parade, which is held on Saturday, April 6 from 2-4pm on Sixth Avenue between 44th and 55th St.

Before the parade you can get Kilt Fittings with Geoffrey Tailor and 21st Century Kilts. Appointments required. Email howie@21stcenturykilts.com to schedule.

On April 6 @ 10:00 am11:00 am Kick-off Parade Day with the Kirkin o’ the Tartan service and pre-parade brunch. The service is a pan-denominational Christian blessing of the tartans of the clans, celebrating Scotland and Scots in America. A time-honored free event for the entire family. The Service will be followed by the pre-parade brunch. Afterwards, all are welcome to march. The Brick Presbyterian Church 1140 Park Avenue.

From 10:30 am12:45 pm Pipes and Drums on the Fountain Terrace at Bryant Park Fountain Terrace. Hear the sound of some of our leading Pipe Bands as they prepare for the 26th Annual New York Tartan Day Parade. This event is free for all to enjoy.

 NYC Tartan Day Parade, 6th Avenue 6th Avenue. The 26th annual NYC Tartan Day Parade on Saturday, April 6, 2024 – NYC’s biggest annual display of Scottish culture.For over 25 years, NYC Tartan Week has been celebrating Scottish-American heritage by providing meaningful connections through the celebration of Scottish heritage in NYC.
 NYC Tartan Week Sunday Brunch at The Tailor Public House 505 8th Avenue. Join the New York Caledonian Club on the final day of NYC Tartan Week 2024 for their annual Sunday Scottish fry!

This year’s parade will be led by Scottish actor of Mission: Impossible fame, Dougray Scott. The NYC Tartan Day Parade is the largest annual Scottish gathering in NYC. See 3,000 bagpipers, Highland dancers, clans, and Scottish dogs march up Sixth Avenue in this free celebration.

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Dance

The Boy Band Project Brings a Great Show and Brings Back Nostalgia Of a Simpler Time

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Having interviewed The Boy Band Project, I went to see their show at City Winery, where they have a residency. I had heard they were good, but was happily surprised at how good. The Boy Band Project transports you back to a time when the boy band phenomenon dominated pop culture. For 90 minutes you get unsurpassed vocals, synchronized choreography, and chart-topping hits by NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, Jonas Brothers, One Direction, and more of the popular guy groups from the ‘90s.

Each boy band memeber is an archetype with founder, producer and choreographer Travis Nesbitt as “The Boy Next Door”

Travis Nesbitt

Chris Messina as “The Sporty One”

Chris Messina

Jason JP Johnson as “The Sensitive One”

Jason JP Johnson

Jason JP Johnson

and Jesse Corbin as “The Bad Boy”

Jesse Corbin

They all give their heart and soul with tongue-in-cheek humor, flawless harmonies, high octane moves, bulging muscles, tight ends and Broadway caliber talent. These boys will have you remembering a time when life was all so much simpler.

Expect to hear NSYNC’s “Tearin Up My Heart”, “This I Promise You,” and of course “Bye Bye Bye”, Backstreet Boys’s “Everybody,” “I Want It that Way,” “Quit Playing Games” and “All I Have to Give”,  New Kids on the Block’s “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” and “Step by Step,” BBMak’s “Back Here”, Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” and One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Story of My Life”

The vocals were stellar, but what really makes this show is the choreography, which uses jumps, spins, turns, kicks, back bends, pelvic grinds, crotch attention and lying and crawling all over tables with wildly applauding fans of all genres, ages and genders.

Never having been into this craze, if I had known how hot and sensual it was, I would have paid more attention.

The Boys will be back at City Winery, 25 11th Avenue (Pier 57),  April 20 and 27, May 11 and 25, June 15 and 29th.

All video and pictures by Magda Katz

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Dance

Illinoise: A Joyous Dance of Yearning, Loss, and Acceptance

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A theatre/dance production based on Sufjan Stevens‘ 2015 album has opened up at the Park Avenue Armory and plays through March 23. Making this music come excitingly alive is director, choreographer and co-writer, Justin Peck, along with co-writer Jackie Sibblies Drury with phenomenal musical direction and supervision from Nathan Koci, music arrangements and orchestration by Timo Andres, sound design by Garth MacAleavey.

As you enter the theatre, you notice the upside-down pine trees and realize nothing is the way we will perceive it. Perched on top of a graffiti-covered wall, above the stage are an eclectic mix of instrumentalists, who double as vocalists, along with three exceptional singers (keyboardist Elijah Lyons and electric guitarists Shara Nova and Tasha Viets-VanLear) whom I cannot say enough about. Their smokey vocals’ raspy qualities are otherworldly. The scenic design by Adam Rigg and lighting design by Brandon Stirling Baker, let us know where we are and where we are going. This is a tale of yearning, loss, and acceptance.

There is no dialogue, so the language is the dance and the lyrics and the rhythms of the songs.

The story follows Henry (Ricky Ubeda), who leaves his boyfriend Douglas (Ahmad Simmons) in the middle of the night and ends up. in what looks like a writers retreat with a camp fire. At the bonfire, those who are there share their stories.

Byron Tittle and Robbie Fairchild Photo Stephanie Berger

As the group gets ready “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” we get with two notably winning performances. First of jazz by Rachel Lockhart and the Byron Tittle taps to perfection and almost steals a show that hasn’t;t even truly begun.

In “Jacksonville” Jo (Jeannette Delgado), comes face-to-face with Christopher Columbus, Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell, and others, as she battles the undead. The masks by Julian Crouch were haunting.

Next was another haunting piece entitled “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.,” danced by Alejandro Vargas and cast. The lyrics will have you quietly wondering what is behind people’s eyes. “And in my best behavior/I am really just like him/Look beneath the floor boards/For the secrets I have hid.”

Then “The Man of Metropolis” had the brilliant Robbie Fairchild as Clark Kent i.e, Superman. Clark and the entire ensemble had shirts with the famous “S,” flapping in the breeze.

Ricky Ubeda, and Ben Cook Photo Stephanie Berger

Finally, Henry tells his story “Decatur.” Here we meet his best friends Carl (Ben Cook) and Shelby (Gaby Diaz). Henry is secretly in love with Carl but Carl loves Shelby. Henry and Carl go on a road trip from Chicago to New York until Carl finds out she has bone cancer and they dance a duet to “Casimir Pulaski Day”. The choreography is so effective at communicating the devastation as Shelby eventually fades. Peck’s ability to transform movement into language is heartbreaking and joyous from moment to moment.

Ricky Ubeda, and Ben Cook Photo Stephanie Berger

Carl is tormented with suicidal thoughts until he leaps into darkness.

Henry learns of his friend’s death, and we are back at the beginning as Henry is leaving for the campfire.  As the other participants console Henry his boyfriend, Douglas, appears and joins the group. At that point everyone celebrates the beauty of life.

Also dancing were Kara Chan, Christine Flores, Rachel Lockhart, Zachary Gonder and Craig Salstein.

Illinoise is 90 minutes if truly remarkable music, dance and storytelling. I highly recommend trying to see it, if you get the chance.

Sufjan released a fantastic new album, Javelin, in October.

 Illinoise: Park Ave Armory, 67 and Park, through March 23

Updated news:  Illinoise is moving to Broadway on Wednesday, April 24, 2024 at 2PM at the St. James Theatre. This will be a strictly limited engagement through Saturday, August 10, 2024

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Cabaret

You Didn’t Have To Drag Me To Drag Me to Joanne’s Where Drag Queens Strut Their Stuff

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Drag Me to Joanne’s has beautiful Drag Queens performing for just the cost of dinner, drinks and tips. Located in Joanne Trattoria, (70 West 68th. This is the family-owned restaurant by Lady Gaga’s parents Joe and Cynthia Germanotta. The space is like a old Italian neighborhood hangout with pictures on the wall.

The bar is right there as you enter.

This leads to the first dinning room which is where I was sat.

This was my table

The second room is a little wider and holds big parties.

Not only will you find hearty, soul warming food, but high kicks, flirty dance moves and double jumping splits that will amaze.

I had Mom’s Lemon Artichoke Chicken ($35.95), which easily could have been shared.

My guest had the Pasta w/ White Truffle Alfredo (33.95) which was flavorful and satisfying.

Jupiter Genesis

Right now on Wednesdays there are two performances. The first starts at 5:30pm and the second performance starts at 7:30pm. Drag Me to Joanne’s entertains the diners for tips. The shows are about 1 hour and a 1/2 with each performer doing two sets. The show is hosted by the double jointed, balletic and welcoming Jupiter Genesis. Jupiter made her Broadway debut at 12 in the Broadway revival of Godspell with the “Godspell cast of 2032.” Her welcoming persona got the whole room going and feeling that they were in for something special. Her songs “Mambo Italiano” and Lady Gaga’s “Yoü And I,” Right after the first set there is a Gaga trivia contest where the winners take home a gift bag of prizes.

Essence

Every Wednesday you will find two new artists who are just as amazing. For my performers, I was given the highly animated and expressive Essence, who wormed her body like an exotic snake, and the gorgeous fashionista Jazmine. Each one was a star in her own right. Flexible, flirty, with moves that take real dancers to perform.

Jazmine

You can see all 3 perform here.

The show was packed out and I can see why. Where else in New York can you get dinner and a show for just the price of dinner, drinks and tips?

I went on a rainy night and was miserable before I walked in, but left satisfied and happily entertained.

Drag Me To Joanne’s plays every Wednesday, with two performance, 5:30pm and  7:30pm. This is a great place to have a birthday party, bachelorette party and definitely a place to celebrate pride.

Drag Me to Joanne’s at Joanne Trattoria,(70 West 68th.

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Dance

Auditions Are Open For Kristin Chenoweth Broadway Boot Camp

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An open casting call for students currently in grades 8-12 will take place now through March 15, via video audition submissions for the ninth annual Kristin Chenoweth Broadway Boot Camp, to be held in person at the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. This year Ms. Chenoweth and her team of A-list Broadway professionals will collaborate with the students, offering insight into the world of performing arts for aspiring entertainers.

“Last year auditions from all over the world poured in from incredible students who are looking to expand their performing arts talents with some of the most renowned theatrical experts from across the nation,” said Kim Vento, director of the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center. “Each year, the camp just gets bigger and better, and this year will be no exception. I encourage anyone who has a heart for musical theatre to apply.”

Auditions must be submitted through the virtual application link by 5:00 PM CST on March 15, 2024.  Students who are currently in grades 8-12 (2023-2024 school year) are eligible to audition. A limited number of slots are available and the cost to attend the camp is $1100. Students must prepare 2 one-minute vocal musical theatre pieces, a dance combination, as well as a one-minute dramatic monologue for the audition. A performance resume and headshot are also required.

“Ms. Chenoweth has a heart for arts in education, as cemented with the formation of the Kristin Chenoweth Arts & Education Fund,” said Vento, Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center director.“For this camp, we will create a unique opportunity for many high school students to further their creative arts aspirations with these amazing industry professionals.”

Camp will take place July 17-27, 2024, at the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center. During the camp, students will participate in a variety of hands-on activities including acting, dance, staging, singing and will experience incredible team-building opportunities. The week will end with an amazing student-faculty performance called the Kristi Awards.

“I just can’t wait to announce who will be directing our camp, as well as our faculty and some exciting surprises in store for all campers this year,” said Chenoweth. “My most important mission in this life is to inspire–always inspire. And I can promise you that is what we are going to do once again at camp this summer. We are going to inspire ourselves, inspire each other, and inspire others to be better.”

Last year’s camp saw students from five countries and 21 states, learning all about musical theatre while interacting with Broadway professionals powerful small group sessions.

The application will be available online at www.kcbbc.camp and must be submitted by 5:00 PM, March 15, 2024. Information is also available for scholarship opportunities and a link for donors to sponsor a student.  For more information, visit the website or call 918-259-5723.

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