I remember liking the late Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick…Boom! very much when it originally opened off-Broadway. The material (1990) actually predated Rent, and was originally conceived as a long, autobiographical performance piece for him to perform solo, about the frustrations and occasional rewards of being an aspiring musical dramatist in New York City. After Larson’s untimely and ridiculously ironic death before Rent’s first preview, the material was repurposed as an actual book musical for a cast of three (adaptation of the libretto by David Auburn): one actor to play Jon, plus two more to play his girlfriend who wants to get married; his best friend, a former actor who gave it up for corporate perks; and various others. It was awfully well done in 2001 and moderately successful (for my money even a better show than Rent); and the Keen Company revival, currently playing and extended through most of December, is done just as well, under the direction of Jonathan Silverstein, with a cast that includes Nick Blaemire as Jon, plus George Salazar and Ciara Renée.
Curiously, though, I liked it less. As a piece of material, that is. I’m further away from the youthful arrogance that allows you, as an aspiring artist, to disdain the civilian world and view the artistic muse as an implicitly makes-you-superior calling, and I somehow found it grating and a little whiny. Actually a lot whiny. And I think it taints the enterprise just a bit, as does the big power-ballad from Larson’s never-produced musical Superbia—the authentic, real-life work-in-progress at the center of Jon’s career—because the book problems providing the context we are never shown were sufficient to make the song itself dramatically stagnant on its own terms. So while it’s a showcase for the actress, of sorts, it doesn’t actually do the job it’s supposed to: Show us how gifted our struggling artist hero really is.
Happily, the other songs do that (also implicitly), and though mileage may vary in terms of how the material itself strikes you, it’s rather like Rent in that the insistence of it makes you pay attention. And that seems to be enough.
I wish insistence were enough to give Holiday Inn, the Roundabout Theatre’s stage iteration of the Irving Berlin film musical, similar dynamism, but the production at Studio 54 suffers from the maladies that usually characterize such transpositions. The characters in film musicals of the pre-1960 era were artifacts of Princess musical thinking; they may have been involved in show business, or been among the royals of society, or been just simple folk from down on the farm, but in essence, they weren’t especially larger than life; the were stock light comedy types playing out trivial (I highly enjoyable) romantic comedies. You hired (or indeed wrote he roles for) big-screen musical stars to fill them out—in the case of Holiday Inn, Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby—and they were all about charm, production values and the score. Which could be very effective on film, with the magic of the camera and the intimacy of the close-up.
But such structures, if they don’t exactly fly in the face of theatrical musical theatre, certainly enter it handicapped. Stage musicals tend to be created around larger-than-life characters because their bigness complements the heightened reality of the form; that’s why hit shows survive for years after the stars have left; the characters themselves are star enough continue the heavy lifting. And there’s no camera angle to make things more interesting or more intimate; just, always, the same full proscenium perspective. The staging has to do all the heavy lifting.
Now you can compensate, or try to, with equivalent stars and a brilliantly witty rewrite. Most of the time, though, the lead roles are assayed by highly talented utility players (by which I mean you can count on them for a certain level of clean, brisk efficiency), who may have proved themselves in other circumstances playing layered characters—but who aren’t themselves innately “big” enough to elevate a part that’s a generic trope (here we have Bryce Pinkham and Danny Rutigliano in for Crosby and Astaire)…and the writing is likewise only as efficient as it needs to be to convey the narrative in stage terms. Acting tends to be energetically oldschool, choreography tends to be snazzy, set is attractive, technical stuff is clean-clean-clean…it’s all well-packaged and it has everything but a palpable soul, a real beating heart.
And that’s kind of the Holiday Inn experience on Broadway. The songs are lovely and well-sung, the company is talented and amiable, the story—well, I was going to say zips along, but actually it doesn’t; it meanders a little, but at least it does so quickly—and nobody can say that director Gordon Greenberg doesn’t run a tight ship. The question is, with so many more memorable cruises out there, is this the one on which you want to book passage?
Countdown to Christmas: For The Dancer and Theatre Lover Chita Rivera
2o days to go! Every year people panic to find the perfect gift. We at T2C have been collecting idea’s all year long to bring you the perfect gift guide at all price levels. When you’re at the end of your rope trying to find the perfect Christmas present this year, come to this guide for some great suggestions.
There are a lot of books out there this year but we highly recommend Chita: A Memoir , the critically-acclaimed book is written by the legendary Broadway icon Chita Rivera with arts journalist Patrick Pacheco. Chita takes fans behind-the-scenes of all her shows and cabaret acts, she shares candid stories of her many colleagues, friends, and lovers. She speaks with empathy and hindsight of her deep associations with complicated geniuses like Fosse and Robbins, as well as with the mega-talent Liza Minnelli, with whom she co-starred in The Rink. She openly discusses her affair with Sammy Davis, Jr. as well as her marriage to Tony Mordente and her subsequent off-the-radar relationships. Chita revisits the terrible car accident that threatened to end her career as a dancer forever. Center stage to Chita’s story are John Kander and Fred Ebb, the songwriters and dear friends indelibly tied to her career through some of her most enduring work: Chicago, The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and The Visit.
Chita’s love of performing began as a child in Washington, D.C., when her mother enrolled her in a local ballet school to channel her boundless energy. Still a teenager, she moved to New York to attend the School of American Ballet after an audition for George Balanchine himself and winning a scholarship. But Broadway beckoned, and by twenty she was appearing in the choruses of Golden Age shows like Guys and Dolls and Can-Can. In the latter, she received special encouragement from its star Gwen Verdon, forging a personal and professional friendship that would help shape her career. The groundbreaking West Side Story brought her into the orbit of Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Hal Prince, and Stephen Sondheim. After Bye Bye Birdie further burnished her rising star, she reunited with Verdon and her then-husband Bob Fosse to work on the film version of Sweet Charity and the celebrated original Broadway production of Chicago.
Chita: A Memoir was published in English and Spanish and the English audio version of the Memoir was recorded by Chita. A Spanish audio version is also available.
“Chita Rivera blazed a trail where none existed so the rest of us could see a path forward. She has been part of some of the greatest musicals in the history of the form, from Anita in the trailblazing West Side Story through Claire Zachanassian in the underrated masterpiece The Visit, over 60 years later. She is a Puerto Rican Broadway icon and the original ‘triple threat.’ We’re so lucky to be alive in the same timeline as Chita Rivera.” — Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“A frank and fascinating memoir from one of the truly great artists of the American Theater. Lots of stories … Lots of insight … and quite a few caustic statements from Chita’s alter ego, Dolores. An illuminating history and a guaranteed pleasure!” — John Kander
Broadway legend and national treasure Chita Rivera, multi-Tony Award winner, Kennedy Center honoree, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom – has taken no prisoners on stage or screen for seven decades. From her trailblazing performance as the original Anita in West Side Story—for which she tapped her own Puerto Rican roots—to her haunting 2015 star turn in The Visit. Chita has proven to be much more than just a captivating dancer, singer, and actress beloved by audiences and casts alike. In her equally captivating and one-of-a-kind memoir, Written with Patrick Pacheco, the woman born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero shares an incomparable life, both on stage and behind the curtain.
By the way this Memoir has won a Gold Medal for “Best Autobiography – English” at the 2023 International Latino Book Awards. https://www.latinobookawards.org/
Click here to buy your copy.
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Spamalot
Here is the amazing cast of Spamalot. Christopher Fitzgerald as Patsy, James Monroe Iglehart as King Arthur, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer as The Lady of the Lake, Ethan Slater as The Historian/Prince Herbert, Jimmy Smagula as Sir Bedevere, Michael Urie as Sir Robin, Nik Walker as Sir Galahad and Taran Killam as Lancelot.
I was so inspired I drew the whole cast.
To read T2C’s review click here.
Ahead of the Broadway Opening of Lempicka The Longacre Theatre Is Showcasing Art Work By Tamara de Lempicka
The Longacre Theatre (220 W 48th St.), soon-to-be home of the sweeping new musical, Lempicka, is showcasing a curated selection of renowned artist Tamara de Lempicka’s most famous works. Eschewing traditional theatrical front-of-house advertising, the Longacre’s façade now boasts prints, creating a museum-quality exhibition right in the heart of Times Square. The musical opens on Broadway on April 14, 2024 at the same venue.
The Longacre’s outdoor exhibition includes works of Self Portrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti) (1929), Young Girl in Green (1927), Nu Adossé I (1925), The Red Tunic (1927), The Blue Scarf (1930), The Green Turban (1930), Portrait of Marjorie Ferry (1932), Portrait of Ira P. (1930), Portrait of Romana de la Salle (1928), and Adam and Eve (1932).
Starring Eden Espinosa and directed by Tony Award winner Rachel Chavkin, Lempicka features book, lyrics, and original concept by Carson Kreitzer, book and music by Matt Gould, and choreography by Raja Feather Kelly.
Spanning decades of political and personal turmoil and told through a thrilling, pop-infused score, Lempicka boldly explores the contradictions of a world in crisis, a woman ahead of her era, and an artist whose time has finally come.
Young Girl in Green painted by Tamara de Lempicka (1927). Oil on plywood.