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Christian Borle, Anthony Rosenthal, Stephanie J. Block

Christian Borle, Anthony Rosenthal, Stephanie J. Block

I think I have seen every incarnation of Falsettos starting with In Trousers to March of the Falsettos, Falsettoland and the first Broadway production back in 1992. I have lived this show, performed in this show and am still moved and touched by this devastatingly real story. Falsettos shines just as brightly in 2016. It takes the mark of a score that weaves it’s ways into your soul, a book that knows how to speaks with honesty and a director who allows the show to live on it’s own merits to do that. William Finn (music, lyrics and book) and James Lapine (book and director) have created a show that is very different and a lot that is the same.

Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells

Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells

Set in 1979, Falsettos follows Marvin (Christian Borle), who is trying to maintain a family with Trina (Stephanie J. Block) his ex-wife, their 10-year-old Jason (Anthony Rosenthal) who he left, to live as an openly gay man for his lover, Whizzer (Andrew Rannells). The four have tense family meals and life is one big trial. Marvin urges Trina to see his  longtime psychiatrist, Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz), who falls for Trina almost instantaneously. Trina admits that “I’m Breaking Down” in the wonderfully comic tour de force moment by the fabulous Stephanie J. Block. Upset by his morbid and dissatisfied father Jason acts out. Marvin and Trina urge Jason to see Mendel, but he refuses until Whizzer tells him to go. Jason seeing how much Mendel loves his mother, tells Mendel to marry her. When Marvin finds out he is none to thrilled, partly because his relationship with Whizzer has failed. The relationship is never really healthy with the two liking rough sex, fighting to make-up and disagreeing for the sake of an argument, but that is what they both are into. As all of Marvin’s relationships are in tatter he realizes he can still make amends with Jason in “Father to Son.” He explains he will never be perfect, but he loves him, no matter what, and Act One ends.

Stephanie J. Block, Brandon Uranowitz

Stephanie J. Block, Brandon Uranowitz

I have to stop here, because the one thing that bothered me was the orchestration by Michael Starobin and the slowing down of the original tempo’s. Where Falsettos had a drive and a urgency, this version is sedate and sounds almost tinny. They have changed some of the keys and there is an odd speaking to the first line of the song. They improve for the most part in the second act. Allison Frazier contributed to the original orchestrations and her musicality is missing here. I found myself wanted that driving sound that makes what is coming more maddening. Ironically it is David Rockwell’s set that is a huge cube that breaks away into building blocks, that brings back that sense of fragility and sense of constantly having to readjust your life to the flow. There is even a shifting Manhattan skyline, brilliant.

Back to Act two and time has passed by two years. Trina and Mendel are married and along with Marvin are planning Jason’s Bar Mitzvah, which of course Jason does not want. Marvin wants his next-door lesbian neighbor Cordelia (Betsy Wolfe) to cater the affair. Her lover Dr. Charlotte (Tracie Thoms) is seeing a mysterious illness wipeout young men, “Something Bad Is Happening” (one of the weird key changes I was talking about.) At a baseball game for Jason, Marvin and Whizzer get back together but soon Whizzer comes down with the mysterious illness and ends up in the hospital. Marvin, Whizzer, Dr. Charlotte and  Cordelia reminisces in “Unlikely Lovers,” as Jason decides his Bar Mitzvah will be held in the hospital to include Whizzer. In the end no matter how hard we try we lose family members in the end.

Mr. Borle is not as confused or neurotic as previous Marvin’s, but he brings so much to the table that his Marvin is a fully rounded out human being. We see his adoration and need for Whizzer, his guilt at hurting Trina, his feeling of betrayal, yet his gratefulness for Mendel and his love for his son, but mostly we see his heart. Mr. Rannells, is charming, good looking in a Colgate kind of way and sings well. Stephanie J Block brings the comedy bore put of heartache to this piece. Where Borel is the heart, Block is the grounding. As Mendel, Brandon Uranowitz is the surprise here. I was not a fan of his when he did American in Paris, but he has changed my mind. His character is nerdy neurotic, yet warmly funny and convincing. He is the best Mendel I have seen. Stealing the show is 12 year-old Anthony Rosenthal who brings so many dimensions to the confused and exasperatingly smart Jason. When he sings “another Miracle of Judaism,” you wish you could make his prayer come true.

Mr. Finn’s shows are mostly sung through so that the dialogue that is said is poignant. Finn speaks through his lyrics, which are crisp moments of real heart. Together with his melodies Finn’s score sticks to your soul like embedded thorns of wisdom. Lapine’s direction takes on a new dimension. Most of what was happening here was ground breaking back in 1979, when this whole cycle started. People were just starting to die and nobody knew why. What I couldn’t have known at the beginning, was my life would become a part of this story. 27 years later I am taken back to when I first discovered William Finn and Falsettos and my joy, love and appreciation has not changed.

If you want to be moved this is the show to see and discover.

 Falsettos: Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St.

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

Broadway

The Outsiders Musical Perfection Heartache and Longing

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I have not read 1967 S.E. Hinton’s novel or seen Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film of The Outsiders, so I really did not know how much of an impact this show would have on me. Part of this was due to the amazing performance by Ponyboy (Brody Grant). Grant is a star, making us fall in love instantaneously with the vulnerable, sensitive, romantic boy, who is so out of place in a world that is divided by class and what side of the town you live.

Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy The Outsiders

Danya Taymor, takes on this coming-of-age drama making you feel every nuance and angst of being a teen stuck in their turn of the wheel that life throws at them.

Here Ponyboy reflects on his life, as he narrates this 1965 musical set in Tulsa, Oklahoma that ends in tragedy. Ponyboy’s parents are dead, so eldest brother Darrel (Brent Comer) has taken on the job of raising his two younger brothers, Ponyboy and Soda (Jason Schmidt). Darrel is frustrated because he is losing his youth and Ponyboy feels the brunt of his dissatisfaction.

The town is overrun by the affluent teens, known as the “Socs” (short for “Socials” – economically advantaged teens). They harass, bully and assault the greasers (economically disadvantaged teens) who have to cross through a park to get home. When Ponyboy and his best friend Johnny (Sky Lakota-Lynch)  catch a movie at the local drive-in, the cutest girl in the school Cherry Valance (Emma Pittman) and Ponybody talk. Her boyfriend Bob (Kevin William Paul), takes none to kindly to their budding friendship

Pony and Johnny have missed their curfew and Pony’s older brother, strikes him. He runs off to the park with Johnny. While there they are attacked by Bob and the other Socs. Johnny is beaten and Pony is almost drowned in the park’s fountain, until Johnny stabs Bob, killing him.

An older local boy Dallas (A wonderful Jason Boone), the one who gave Jonny the knife to defend himself gives them money for food and a loaded firearm. They flee and hide out in an abandoned church to lay low. Dallas visits ready to run away with them, but the boys want to return and take responsibility. In the meantime the church, gets set on fire with children trapped inside. The boys all rescue them but are burned, with Johnny breaking his back when a part of the structure collapses on him. Ponyboy reunites with his two older brothers in the hospital and then returns home. Their heroic deed makes the front page of the local paper. At this point the two sides rumble for control of the park.

The greasers win, but others pay the price and the show is definitely has a four hankie ending.

Photograph: Courtesy Matthew MurphyThe Outsiders

There are moments that are definitely like West Side Story, but it is done amazingly well by choreographers Rick and Jeff Kuperman, that these teens constantly seem in flight. The street fights enhanced by sudden blackouts by Brian MacDevitt’s lighting and sound by Cody Spencer are a marvel to watch.

Jason Schmidt and Brody Grant Photo by Matthew Murphy

The script by Adam Rapp and Justin Levine, is truthful, relatable and heartbreaking.

The score, by the folk duo Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) and Levine (who is also credited with music supervision, orchestration and arrangements) keep a country sound that fits this show to a tee. Plaintive, longing and full of hope, we feel these teens emotions down to the pit of our stomach. Songs like “Tulsa 1967,”“Runs in the Family,””Stay Gold,” “Great Expectations” and “Little Brother” show us the world and the emotions that hold these teens captive.

The cast is seriously spectacular with youth, vitality and energy galore. They leap and fly across this set. For many of them this is their Broadway debut. The three orphaned brothers are excellent with a sense of commodity and tenderness.

Photograph: Courtesy Matthew MurphyThe Outsiders

The wooden set by AMP featuring Tatiana Kahvegian keeps us feeling the cage that seems open yet so confining. The elements are all here thanks to Hana S. Kim’s projections, as well as special effects by Jeremy Chernick and Lillis Meeh.

There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about this show. Pulsating with the emotion of being trapped inside your class, all I could think about were those artistic, intelligent kids with dreams that are crushed before they even begin.

The Outsiders: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W 45th Street.

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Vanessa Williams & Bebe Neuwirth Announce the 2024 Drama League Award Nominees

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This morning Vanessa Williams and Bebe Neuwirth announced the Drama League announced their  2024 award nominations honoring Broadway and off-Broadway productions for Outstanding Production of a Play, Outstanding Revival of a Play, Outstanding Production of a Musical, Outstanding Revival of a Musical, Outstanding Direction of a Play, Outstanding Direction of a Musical, and the much-coveted Distinguished Performance Award. Honoring Broadway and Off-Broadway achievements,

Bonnie Comely

President Bonnie Comely was on hand to introduce the two presenters at the official announcement held at Lincoln Center’s New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which was streamed live online by BroadwayWorld.com.

And the nominees are:

Outstanding Production of a Play
The Comeuppance
Flex
Grief Hotel
The Hunt
Jaja’s African Hair Braiding
Mother Play
Oh, Mary!
Patriots
Prayer for the French Republic
Stereophonic
Wet Brain

Outstanding Revival of a Play
An Enemy of the People
Appropriate
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
Doubt: A Parable
The Effect
Mary Jane
Our Class
Purlie Victorious
Uncle Vanya
The White Chip

Outstanding Production of a Musical
Buena Vista Social Club
Dead Outlaw
Harmony
The Heart of Rock and Roll
Hell’s Kitchen
Illinoise
Lempicka
The Notebook
The Outsiders
Suffs
Teeth
Water for Elephants

Outstanding Revival of a Musical
Cabaret
Gutenberg! The Musical
Here Lies Love
I Can Get It For You Wholesale
Merrily We Roll Along
Monty Python’s Spamalot
The Who’s Tommy
The Wiz

Outstanding Direction of a Play
Tara Ahmadinejad, Grief Hotel
Daniel Aukin, Stereophonic
Sam Gold, An Enemy of The People
Rupert Goold, The Hunt
Rupert Goold, Patriots
Jamie Lloyd, The Effect
Lila Neugebauer, Appropriate
Lila Neugebauer, Uncle Vanya
Sam Pinkleton, Oh, Mary!
Eric Ting, The Comeuppance
Whitney White, Jaja’s African Hair Braiding

Outstanding Direction of a Musical
Saheem Ali, Buena Vista Social Club
Sarah Benson, Teeth
David Cromer, Dead Outlaw
Rebecca Frecknall, Cabaret
Maria Friedman, Merrily We Roll Along
Des McAnuff, The Who’s Tommy
Leigh Silverman, Suffs
Alex Timbers, Gutenberg! The Musical!
Alex Timbers, Here Lies Love

Distinguished Performance
Betsy Aidem, Prayer for the French Republic
Shoshana Bean, Hell’s Kitchen
Gabby Beans, Jonah
Joshua Boone, The Outsiders
Ali Louis Bourzgui, The Who’s Tommy
Steve Carell, Uncle Vanya
Jenn Colella, Suffs
Danny DeVito, I Need That
Caleb Eberhardt, The Comeuppance and An Enemy of the People
Alex Edelman, Just for Us
Cole Escola, Oh, Mary!
Eden Espinosa, The Gardens of Anuncia and Lempicka
Paapa Essiedu, The Effect
Melissa Etheridge, Melissa Etheridge: My Window
Laurence Fishburne, Like They Do in the Movies
Josh Gad, Gutenberg! The Musical!
Eli Gelb, Stereophonic
Brody Grant, The Outsiders
Jonathan Groff, Merrily We Roll Along
Dorian Harewood, The Notebook
Willam Jackson Harper, Primary Trust and Uncle Vanya
Amber Iman, Lempicka
Eddie Izzard, Hamlet
Nikki M. James, Suffs
Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, Spamalot
Jessica Lange, Mother Play
Kecia Lewis, Hell’s Kitchen
Nichelle Lewis, The Wiz
Maribel Martinez, Bees and Honey
Rachel McAdams, Mary Jane
Lindsay Mendez, Merrily We Roll Along
Tobias Menzies, The Hunt
Cynthia Nixon, The Seven Year Disappear
Eva Noblezada, The Great Gatsby
Kelli O’Hara, Days of Wine and Roses
Leslie Odom, Jr., Purlie Victorious, A Non-Confederate Romp Through The Cotton Patch
Patrick Page, All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented The Villain
Nicole Ari Parker, The Refuge Plays
Jim Parsons, Mother Play
Sarah Paulson, Appropriate
Sarah Pidgeon, Stereophonic
Aubrey Plaza, Danny and The Deep Blue Sea
Maryann Plunkett, The Notebook
Daniel Radcliffe, Merrily We Roll Along
Gayle Rankin, Cabaret
Andrew Rannells, Gutenberg! The Musical!
Eddie Redmayne, Cabaret
Conrad Ricamora, Here Lies Love and Oh, Mary!
Corey Stoll, Appropriate
Michael Stuhlbarg, Patriots
Jeremy Strong, An Enemy of the People
Zenzi Williams, Jaja’s African Hair Braiding
Kara Young, Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through The Cotton Patch
Jehan O. Young, The Cotillion

Special Awards
Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater – Jonathan Groff
Founders Award for Excellence in Directing – Schele Williams
Contribution to the Theater – Jessica Lange
Gratitude Award – Kandi Burruss

The nominations announcement begins a month of celebrations leading up to the 90th Annual Drama League Awards, which will be held at the Ziegfeld Ballroom (141 West 54th Street, New York City) on Friday, May 17, 2023 at 12:00PM. Tickets and tables to the star-studded luncheon are available for purchase at dramaleague.org/2024-awards or by calling The Drama League event office at 212.625.1025.

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Theatre News: The Heart of Rock and Roll, Gutenberg! The Musical!, The Who’s Tommy, Jelly’s Last Jam, Follies,

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Tonight The Heart of Rock and Roll opens at the James Earl Jones Theatre. Two nights before there was a celebration performance with Huey Lewis with The News, Jimmy Kimmel, Cyndi Lauper, Casey Cott, Rosanna Scotto, Ben Vereen, Lorna Luft and more.

Cyndi Lauper and Huey Lewis

The Heart of Rock and Roll, stars Corey Cott, McKenzie Kurtz, Josh Breckenridge, F. Michael Haynie, Zoe Jensen, Tamika Lawrence, Raymond J. Lee, John-Michael Lyles, Orville Mendoza, Billy Harrigan Tighe and John Dossett.

The Original Broadway Cast Album of Gutenberg! The Musical! featuring GRAMMY® Award winners and Tony Award® nominees Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells will be released digitally on Friday, May 3 and physically on Friday, May 17 from Center Stage Records and Yellow Sound Label. The album will also feature comedy legend Mel Brooks in the role of the ‘Guest Producer.’

The Museum of Broadway will host original Broadway cast reunions for The Who’s Tommy on April 22 at 2pm and Jelly’s Last Jam on April 26 at 2pm. Each reunion will include a panel featuring multiple cast and crew members from the original Broadway productions.

For one night only—on Thursday, June 20, at 8:00 p.m. at Carnegie Hall Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. Directed and presented by Transport Group Artistic Director and five-time Drama Desk nominee and two-time Obie Award winner Jack Cummings III with musical direction by Joey Chancey.

The cast of Follies includes Broadway stars Julie Benko (Funny Girl), Mikaela Bennett(Renascence, BBC Proms West Side Story), Michael Berresse (Tony nominee, Kiss Me Kate), Alexandra Billings (Wicked), Klea Blackhurst (Everything the Traffic Will Allow), Harolyn Blackwell (Candide, Porgy and Bess), Stephen Bogardus (Tony nominee, Love! Valour! Compassion!; Falsettos), Norbert Leo Butz (two-time Tony winner, Catch Me If You Can, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), Len Cariou (Tony winner, Sweeney Todd), Carolee Carmello (three-time Tony nominee, Parade; Falsettos), Jim Caruso (Liza’s At The Palace), Nikki Renée Daniels (Company, The Book of Mormon), Christine Ebersole (two-time Tony winner, Grey Gardens, 42nd Street), Katie Finneran (two-time Tony winner, Noises Off, Promises, Promises), Santino Fontana (Tony winner, Tootsie), Alexander Gemignani (Tony nominee, Carousel; Sweeney Todd), Miguel Gil (Kimberly Akimbo), Olivia Elease Hardy (Kimberly Akimbo), Erika Henningsen (Mean Girls), Grey Henson(Tony nominee, Mean Girls, Shucked), Fernell Hogan (Kimberly Akimbo), Jennifer Holliday (Tony winner, Dreamgirls), Rachel Bay Jones (Tony winner, Dear Evan Hansen; Here We Are), Isabel Keating (Tony nominee, The Boy from Oz), Adriane Lenox (Tony winner, Doubt), Norm Lewis (Tony nominee, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess), Ryan McCartan (Heathers), Donna Murphy (two-time Tony winner, Passion, The King and I), Thom Sesma (Pacific Overtures, Man of La Mancha), Barbara Walsh (Tony nominee, Falsettos; Company), Nina White (Kimberly Akimbo), Jacob Keith Watson (Merrily We Roll Along, Carousel), and Karen Ziemba (Tony winner, Contact).

The evening will feature the original Jonathan Tunick orchestrations played by a thirty-piece orchestra, and will also feature a selection of Michael Bennett’s original choreography restaged by original cast member Mary Jane Houdina.

This unique concert series features a different lineup of performers for each song, rather than a role portrayed by one actor for the entire evening. Additionally, in lieu of the musical’s book scenes, backstage stories and anecdotes from the creation of the original production are woven between songs.

The evening will be hosted by Kurt Peterson, who originated the role of Young Ben in the 1971 Broadway production, as well as licensing executive and theatre historian Ted Chapin, whose memoir Everything Was Possible is taken from his daily diaries during the pre-Broadway run of Follies, on which he served as intern during his senior year of college.

Follies, book by James Goldman, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, produced originally on Broadway by Harold Prince, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, premiered on Broadway on April 4, 1971, at the Winter Garden Theatre in a production directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett, with choreography by Bennett.  The winner of seven Tony Awards, seven Drama Desk Awards, and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for best musical, Follies developed almost immediate cult and legendary status following its closing on July 1, 1972, after playing 522 performances and 12 previews.  Scores of revivals followed on Broadway, in the West End, in regional theaters, and throughout the world.  This concert is presented by special arrangement with Cameron Mackintosh.

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The Glorious Corner

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G.H. Harding

A TARNISHED TIFFANY — CBS is having a tough month. First, their much-ballyhooed Billy Joel concert -the initial showing- was cut off abruptly while Joel was doing “Piano Man” no less. It was re-run Friday to somewhat meager numbers and, also Friday, CBS canceled their show So Help Me Todd, which was a breath of fresh air in the TV-world. Last year, its debut year, it was a rave and a ratings winner.

CBS has several new shows set for September and the ratings for Todd had fallen dramatically. Now, not that network apparently cares, but there’s been an outpouring of both sympathy and bewilderment for the cancellation and downright hate, if you will. The show starred Marcia Gay Harden and Skylar Austin and was totally unique.

Roger Friedman disparaged the cancellation as well and said it was a perfect Sunday night show – although it would have kept getting pushed back by virtue of CBS-sports.

It was a totally brilliant and innovative show about a mother and a son working together and not always in harmony. An episode Dial M For Margaret (directed by Robin Givens no less) was simply brilliant. To be candid, I think CBS stepped it again – last year it was their canceling East New York with Jimmy Smitsbut stay tuned … sometimes the cancellations are un-canceled and it could just happen with SHMT.

Tiffany no more.

HEART ON — (via Ultimate Classic Rock) Heart kicked off their Royal Flush tour on Saturday at Greenville, South Carolina’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena with support from Cheap trick.

In addition to classics like “Magic Man,” “Straight On” and “Barracuda,” Heart also performed a few of Nancy and Ann Wilson’s respective solo songs, plus covers of Led Zeppelin and David Bowie.

The Royal Flush tour marks Heart’s first extended trek since 2019 and will keep them on the road, primarily in North America, through late September. The rockers will also head to Europe in June and July with Squeeze opening select dates, and they’ll support Def Leppard and Journey on a handful of stadium dates in July and August.

It’s been a turbulent decade for Heart, who haven’t released a studio album since 2016’s Beautiful Broken. Ann and Nancy Wilson put the band on hold that year after Ann’s husband was arrested for allegedly hitting one of Nancy’s children during their 2016 tour.

The sisters mended fences and embarked on the Love Alive tour in 2019, followed by another extended break during which they both released solo albums. However, Nancy Wilson said last June that Heart was working on new material that is “closer to what you would have heard us originally do in the ’70s, late ’70s. So, it’s really fun, it’s just exciting and inspiring.”

Danny Fried

SHORT TAKES — Danny Fried’s Sweet Mary Jane stage-presentation never got off the ground, sadly. What with the proliferation of weed shops and weed culture;it’d would have fit right in …

Johnny Rzeznik

Funny to see Travis Kelce say ‘when her album drops.’ Wonder if he even knew what that meant before he met her … Johnny Rzeznik’s song “Iris” (1998 from the movie City of Angels) has got to be one of the most beautiful songs ever. He teamed up with Daryl Hall for a duet on it for Daryl’s House.Just amazing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPlg6aSFzg0

Hannah Waddingham

Great Hannah Waddingham profile on Sunday’s Willie Geist gabfest. She’s terrific …

Chris Cuomo

Chris Cuomo back on CNN? With different management now in place there, discussions are indeed being held. He was the station’s #1 air-personality. Sorry Anderson. personally, I loved him … Big news from Rascal Felix Cavaliere later this week … Roger Friedman gave a race to Alicia Key’s Hell’s Kitchen musical: ‘Is a High End Jukebox Musical with Soaring Voices.’ Bravo! … Adios to the New York Post’s TV-man Michael Starr who has been there for 29 years. He used to have a daily column in the paper’s heyday called The Starr Report that was sensational; almost like a mini-Army Archerd. PR-pasha David Salidor got Starr his caricature up on the wall of The Palm on 50th street in NYC near booth 24. He’s done a series of books, including Joey Bishop, William Shatner; Don Rickles;  and his next one is on Rodney Dangerfield. Good man!

NAMES IN THE NEWS — Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Ed Steinberg; Peter Brown; Amanda Naylor; Thomas Silverman; Scott Anderson; Lenny Kalikow; Terry Jastrow; Anne Archer; Sam Rubin; Doug Breitbart; Nosia Mamet; Lush Ice; Kent & Laura Denmark; Felix Cavaliere; Dolly Parton; Melissa Manchester; Mark Bego; Lamar Fike; Obi Steinman; and CHIP!

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“The Who’s Tommy” on Broadway Blasts Forward With an Unexpected Tone

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With a sharp u-turn from the future to the past, The Who’s Tommy roars into the Nederlander Theatre with every fantastical visually projected trick in the book, paraded out into war and beyond. It’s the strongest of beginnings, amped up to oblivion with the volume turned up as high as the corresponding visuals. It’s passionate, hyperactive, and jaw-dropping as it parachutes its way into our senses, demanding us to take in the neon frameworks and wicked constructions that fiddle about. Directed with a flair for the intense by Des McAnuff (Broadway’s Ain’t Too Proud), the revival, with music, lyrics, and book by The Who’s Pete Townshend (McAnuff shared book credit), never shifts out of the high gear that it quickly shifts into, roaring forward with a force to be reckoned with, and it won’t back down until we submit to its abstractionisms and complicated storytelling.

Alison Luff (Mrs. Walker), Olive Ross-Kline (Tommy, Age 4), and Adam Jacobs (Captain
Walker) in The Who’s Tommy on Broadway. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Ushered around the stage, designed with intensity by David Korins (Broadway’s Here Lies Love), with pulsating lighting by Amanda Zieve (Old Globe’s Hair), captivating projections by Peter Nigrini (Broadway’s Beetlejuice), and an almost numbing sound design by Gareth Owen (Broadway’s & Juliet), several faceless bodies construct vivid scenarios with a forceful energy worthy of the abstractionisms on display here. Costumed by designer Sarafina Bush (Broadway’s How to Dance…), the robotic units keep the formula moving at a sharp pace, giving off a creepy Squid Game vibe that never lets up. The story flies forward inside the clarifying complication that exists in the brain of young Tommy, the son of a couple thrown apart and together again by war and tragedy.

(Center) Ali Louis Bourzgui (Tommy) and the ensemble of The Who’s Tommy Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

The unpacking is miraculously filled to the edges with disturbing abuse and violent energy inflicted on the innocent. The boy goes blank after witnessing the murder of his mother’s new lover by an unknown father who was thought killed in World War II. The incident sends poor young Tommy into some sort of damaged shock that all the doctors in the world, it seems, can’t nudge him out of. Coined and rubbed together by the music that, to be honest, is somewhat distancing and superficially embodied, in between moments of catchy repetition, the boy is fiddled with and abused, giving the rendering a complicated stance of casual indifference to horrific encounters.

But when the music and performances soar, thanks to the phenomenally gifted cast that never is given a moment of peace and rest inside the frenetic and visually captivating choreography of Lorin Latarro (Broadway’s Mrs. Doubtfire), The Who’s Tommy completely takes you on a journey filled with emotional empathy and complicated connection. It is dutifully delivered most energetically by a cast of pros, particularly the magnificent Alison Luff (Broadway’s Escape to Margaritaville) as the mother, Mrs. Walker; a gifted Adam Jacobs (Broadway’s Aladdin) as the army father, Captain Walker; a sharp John Ambrosino (Las Vegas’ Jersey Boys) as the creepy Uncle Ernie; and a menacing Bobby Conte (Broadway’s Company) as the sadistic Cousin Kevin. Each finds their authentically crafted space within the visually hypnotic chaos to unpack their personal trauma and complications for us all to see (although I must admit I wanted a more punishing ending for the two relatives that inflicted the disturbing abuses on the young, “deaf, dumb, and blind” kid. A sharp look and a downcast shamed eye just wasn’t enough).

But the revival is really all about that kid, Tommy, and the trauma he experiences that first sends him into that self-isolated blank space. And the idolatry he experiences once the mirror is shattered. It’s a darkness that even the well-voiced Acid Queen, played with a fair Tina Turner energy by Christina Sajous (Broadway’s SpongeBob…), can’t turn around. It’s a bit prolonged, this journey filled with repetitive reimaginings, all before he is shattered out by an overwhelmed mother who can’t take it anymore. Played by a trio of fine and determined actors; Olive Ross-Kline (Off-Broadway’s The Waiting Room) as Age 4 Tommy; Reese Levine (Ahmanson’s The Secret Garden) as Age 10 Tommy [alternative performances: Cecilia Ann Popp (CAA’s Willie Wonka) and Quinten Kusheba (School of Rock/Regional) respectfully]; and most impressively, Ali Louis Bourzgui (Goodman’s Layalina) making his Broadway debut as the young adult Tommy; the evolution of the Pinball Wizard stares out at us blankly with a surprising amount of emotional connection and empathy. We feel him, see him, and most definitely want him to be healed by the warmth of maternal touch (and not the touch of that disturbed Uncle). And in that connection, we find the fullness of The Who’s Tommy.

Ali Louis Bourzgui (Tommy) Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

In the hands and body of Bourzgui, Tommy projects himself into our racing hearts, even with the overwhelming reverberating sound that sometimes overwhelms a story that meanders about more than half of the time. The sound echoes throughout, courtesy of music supervisor and arranger Ron Melrose (Broadway’s A Bronx Tale) and music director, Rick Fox (Broadway’s Dr. Zhivago), sharing orchestration credit with Steve Margoshes (Studio 42’s Smokey Joe’s Cafe), and Bourzgui, in a star-making flip of the pinball paddle, fills the theatre with his equal edgy charm and fascinating charisma in a manner that is hard to ignore. He has a voice that surprises and alters our expectations each and every time he is given the opportunity. He doesn’t sound like the others; all expert Broadway singers and dancers who deliver solidly at every turn. But in a way, that is exactly what makes this production of The Who’s Tommy something to lean into. His voice carries the piece to an alternative plane, giving it an expected velvety projection that separates his soul from everyone else clamoring for his attention. It’s compelling theatre, even when blasted by the overwhelming volume and vibrations of the music and sound when taken down a windy road that doesn’t always register. Yet, it takes that meandering, sometimes disconnecting, musical and gifts it into our laps, to either love or to hate. I can honestly understand both reactions, although I mostly leaned towards a “Feel me. See me, Touch me. Heal me.” kinda love. Even if it is surrounded by loud and frenetic chaos and distractions.

Adam Jacobs (Captain Walker), Daniel Quadrino (Ensemble), Alison Luff (Mrs. Walker), Olive
Ross-Kline (Tommy, Age 4), and the ensemble Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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