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Shrek Surprises with its Stellar Silliness, Sincerity, and Song

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Once upon a time,” as the story goes. But I must tell you, with all honesty, that I never really imagined spending the time to sit through this big splashy commercial Broadway musical, especially when it debuted live on Broadway. It opened years before I started writing reviews, and the idea of paying Broadway ticket prices for a musical such as this was unthinkable. I guess you can call me some kind of a musical theatre snob, as The Band’s Visit and Hadestown are my eternal go tos, but ya know, I think I was wrong about this show. I reluctantly hate to admit it, and in the immortal words of the titular green character, “being liked is overrated“. This is ‘The Story of My Life‘ though. So streaming Shrek The Musical for free on YouTube (see link below or click here) over one year into a deadly pandemic, I have to say that I had a pretty darn good time diving into that Road Trip ‘Travel Song‘ adventure. Who coulda known it?

Now, is this a product of a theatrical starvation due to lockdown? I’m not so sure, and I’m also not so sure I would have enjoyed shelling out over a hundred dollars for a Broadway seat, nor would I have enjoyed the side eyed stare (glare?) I would have received from my theatre buddies if I had proposed the idea back in 2008 when it first opened at the Broadway Theater. Who’s to say? But I needed a sign, I guess, because, once again, as the great green ogre says most wisely, “people hate the things they can’t understand“, and understanding how a great funny animated film about an ugly ogre and a transforming princess could become, like so many other shows fail to do, a great and fun stage musical, well, at the time, that was a hard strange overly large ugly green pill to swallow (but now I sorta wish I had tried).

Crossing that bridge over fiery lava together, Shrek The Musical found its way, maybe not entirely, but the chemistry of its crew, and the tall tale storybook journey is “yeah yeah” fantastic. Growing wildly out of the 2001 DreamWorks mega-hit film, the show finds the pathway to something that is surprisingly fun and generous of spirit. It growls out a dynamic theatricality that is most entertaining at every turn of the revolve. Filled to the rim with honest funny characterizations and moments, the film-to-stage adaptation never fail to amaze and joyfully enlighten. They all, from top to bottom with bravado, let their Freak Flag fly with a fierce confidence that is infectious all because of the show’s ultra-fine talented cast and crew made up of true spirited professionals of the game. The marquee names give it a solid stamp of comic and vocal approval that never fades or fails to entertain. Brian d’Arcy James (Broadway’s Something Rotten!) is as magnificent of a Shrek as one could ever hope for, finding charm and force within his large green frame,. He manages to find his way home through balancing the grunting brute and the teddy bear blush magnificently. But it really is the stupendous Sutton Foster (TNG’s Sweet Charity) as the cursed Princess Fiona who floats out the funny with every turn around the tower. Her mousy dance number is every bit of parody perfection, like much of the show, finding effervescent joy and connection in the absurd and stupid. She, with d’Arcy James, give Shrek The Musical the perfect energetic ‘Morning Song‘ glory engagement, filled with clever connection and some peppy playfulness that, blended together, never fail to conquer our hearts and our fears with every belch and fart. ‘This is How a Dream Comes True.

The rest of the cast, including Christopher Sieber (Broadway’s The Prom) as Farquaad and John Tartaglia (Broadway’s Avenue Q) as Pinocchio are hands down, knees to the ground, fantastic and funny, and my nose won’t grow for saying that out loud. Daniel Breaker (Broadway/Chicago’s Hamilton), who came into the part after its trial run in Seattle, is high spirited perfection in the magnificently talky role of Donkey. He never fails to find the exact emotional stance and back legs to stand on, even when being a ridiculously needy ass. His ‘Make a Move‘ alongside those delectable Three Blind Mice is ‘Donkey Pot Pie‘ delicious, finding all the funny that can be had inside an emotional lesson that sings true and is hoofed strongly. Twisting the heart strings around each and every one with impeccable ease, the band of storybook outcasts and fairy tale oddities find camaraderie and attachment in a surprisingly authentic way, even while making faces, bickering, and farting at one another. It’s truly something surprisingly entertaining to witness. No need to ‘Build a Wall‘ to keep this high level of frivolity out. 

The Storybook cast in Broadway’s Shrek The Musical.

When Words Fail‘ to fail, the book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire has all the right gears for this multifaceted storybook tale to soar, expanding on the main characters’ backstories to pack a more emotionally festive punch. The demons of abandonment and the terrors of engagement, both real and fairytale imaginary, are layered on one and (almost) all, making the heartfelt message of where true beauty and love really lie obvious and clear. It works wonders, and delivers the motto loud and strong. The upbeat feisty score by Jeanine Tesori supplies the crew with some pretty amazingly fun songs to sing and hoof to, moving the piece along with a Yellow Brick Road speed. ‘I Think I Got You Beat‘, like so many of the numbers throughout the show, gifts the characters with echos of classic musicals and themes that make us all smile and nod. They aren’t classic superstar songs, but they sure do sell the green stuff with aplomb.

The Broadway show, back in 2009, received twelve Drama Desk Award and eight Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical and acting awards for d’Arcy James, Foster and Sieber. No surprise there now that I got to stream their performances 12 years after the fact, and thanks to the festive staging by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford, and the strong designs of Tim Hatley, I found myself laughing completely out loud, in ways that I never would have imagined. I guess that ‘I’m a Believer‘ now in Shrek The Musical, especially as that classic Neil Diamond tune plays us out through the proverbial virtual doors. It truly rocks and shakes the foundations of all that I think I know about Broadway shows right off that high tower and into that wonderful fairy tale swamp. Click on the link below, even if you..(sing it, Brian-) “thought love was only true in fairy tales“…. Cause you’re wrong. Dead green wrong.

For more from Ross click here

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

Broadway

The Heart of Rock and Roll Meets The Press And Huey Lewis Sings For Me

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Yesterday morning The Heart of Rock and Roll, the new musical based on the soundtrack of Heuy Lewis’s mega hits, met the press corp. In the opening address’s I learned that Heuy Lewis, is now deaf.  In learning that, I wanted to know what soundtrack was now playing in his head. In getting to interview Mr. Lewis I was allowed one question and when I asked, not only did I learned the answer, I was sung to. 

For this video, we started off with that interaction and segue into what happened earlier. With director Gordon Greenberg, introducing John Dossett, McKenzie Kurtz and the cast Josh Breckenridge, F. Michael Haynie, Zoe Jensen, Tamika Lawrence, Raymond J. Lee, John-Michael Lyles, Orville Mendoza, Billy Harrigan Tighe, Mike Baerga, Tommy Bracco, TyNia René Brandon, Olivia Cece, Taylor Marie Daniel, Lindsay Joan, Ross Lekites, Robin Masella, Kara Menendez, Joe Moeller, Jennifer Noble, Fredric Rodriguez Odgaard, Michael Olaribigbe, Kevin Pariseau, Robert Pendilla and Leah Read singing the title song The Heart of Rock and Roll. 

The music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Brian Usifer, musical direction by Will Van Dyke, and the innovative choreography by Lorin Latarro really stood out.

We then in this video interview director Gordon Greenberg, to learn more about what looks to be one fabulous show.

More tomorrow with Corey Cott and the cast and creatives.

The Heart of Rock and Roll, the new musical inspired by the iconic songs of Huey Lewis and The News, will open on Broadway at The James Earl Jones Theatre (138 W 48th St, New York, NY 10036) on Monday, April 22, 2024.

Video and picture by Magda Katz

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Maria Friedman Wow’d in Legacy For Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS

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Last night was a night to remember, when three-time Olivier-winning actor Maria Friedman, gave a one-night-only benefit concert at the Hudson Theatre. The concert served as a benefit for Broadway Cares, The Stephen Sondheim Foundation, and The Marvin Hamlisch International Music Awards. Friedman is currently represented at that theatre as the director of the current revival of Merrily We Roll Along.

This was the kind of night you pray about. It was an exquisite pleasure watching someone who understands lyric, musicality and how to keep an audience in the palm of their hand. The performance, titled Legacy: An Evening With Maria Friedman and Friends, focused on the works of Stephen Sondheim, Marvin Hamlisch, and Michel Legrand, as Ms Friedman personally and professional had close relationships with all three artists. Craig Horsley will be writing a review of this outstanding musical night of nirvana.

As I watch enrapt in this performance I remembered six years ago I interviewed Ms. Friedman and saw her sing the definitive “Losing My Mind” from Follies, prior to last night, so I went in search of this. We discussed her show which was about to play at 54 Below, which had played a sold-out London run earlier that year. The show explored the work of composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and composer Leonard Bernstein. We also talked about her staging of the U.S. premiere of her acclaimed 2012 London revival of Merrily We Roll Along which was currently at the Huntington in Boston, MA starring Eden Espinoza, Damian Humbley and Mark Umbers and a production of Bernstein’s Mass which she had hoped was coming soon.

Friedman made her Broadway debut in 2005 starring in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White, but she’s spent the majority of her stage career in London’s West End. Among her major roles there was Dot in the first London Sunday in the Park With George, Mary in Merrily We Roll Along, Fosca in Passion (Olivier Award), Sukie in The Witches of Eastwick, Roxie in Chicago, Mother in Ragtime (Olivier Award), Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and Golde in Fiddler on the Roof. She also played the Narrator in the screen version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Mother Abbess in the U.K.’s The Sound of Music Live!

Thank-you Ms Friedman for a night that will long stand in my memory.

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Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Sarah Paulson in Appropriate

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Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Appropriate not only got a second extension, but transferred  theatre. Slated to close March 3 at the Hayes Theater, Appropriate will now play a 13-week engagement at the Belasco Theatre, with performances beginning March 25. The strictly limited run will continue through June 23. The reason for the transfer was Paula Vogel’s Mother Play, was already slated to perform.

To read T2C’s review of Appropriate  click here and here.

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Broadway To Honor Hinton Battle

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Broadway will honor the memory of Hinton Battle, the three-time Tony Award-winning singer/ actor/ phenomenal dancer who was trailblazing. Mr. Battle passed away on January 30, 2024, at the age of 67. On March 12, 2024, the Committee of Theatre Owners will dim all the lights of all the Broadway theatres in New York for one minute at exactly 6:45pm, in his honor.Hinton Battle won three Tony’s and made his Broadway debut at 18,  playing the original Scarecrow in The Wiz.

You can see our tribute here. He was one of the great ones.

 

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Theatre News: Here We Are, Water For Elephants, Tuesdays with Morrie, The Tempest: A Surround Sound Odyssey, FIVE: The Parody Musical, Forbidden Broadway

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Producers Tom Kirdahy, Sue Wagner, John Johnson, and The Stephen Sondheim Trust announced today that the critically acclaimed world premiere production of Here We Are, the new musical from David Ives and Stephen Sondheim that debuted at The Shed’s Griffin Theater in 2023, was filmed by the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive (TOFT) at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and added to its collection. The complete show was filmed by TOFT in December of 2023 and is now available and free to view by anyone with a library card.

 Here We Are is directed by two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello, and features Francois Battiste, Tracie Bennett, Bobby Cannavale, Micaela Diamond, Amber Gray, Jin Ha, Rachel Bay Jones, Denis O’Hare, Steven Pasquale, David Hyde Pierce, and Jeremy Shamos.

The musical features a book by Tony Award nominee David Ives, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and is inspired by two films, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Exterminating Angel, by Luis Buñuel.

Here We Are opened on October 22, 2023 at The Shed and performed its final show on January 21, 2024.

Water For Elephants is announcing their Tent Talkback Series with members of the creative team following selected Saturday matinees between March 2 through April 6, at the Imperial Theatre (249 West 45th Street).  Creative team members will include book writer Rick Elice and composers and lyricists PigPen Theatre Co.  The Water For Elephants Tent Talkback Series will be a moderated 15-minute discussion about the creative process and development of the show and commence at the conclusion of selected Saturday matinee performances.

Tent Talkback Series Schedule

Saturday, March 2, matinee performance

Saturday, March 9, matinee performance

Saturday, March 30, matinee performance

Saturday, April 6, matinee performance

Water For Elephants is based on the critically acclaimed and New York Times Bestselling novel by Sara Gruen. The new musical has a book by three-time Tony Award nominee Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, Peter and the Starcatcher), a soaring score by the acclaimed PigPen Theatre Co. (The Tale of Despereaux) and is directed by Tony Award nominee Jessica Stone (Kimberly Akimbo).

The cast stars Grant Gustin (“The Flash”, “Glee”) in his Broadway debut, Isabelle McCalla (The Prom, Shucked), four-time Tony Award nominee Gregg Edelman (City of Angels), Drama Desk and Outer Critic Circle Award nominee Paul Alexander Nolan (Slave Play), Stan Brown (“Homicide: Life in the Streets”), Joe De Paul (Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion), Sara Gettelfinger (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and Wade McCollum(Wicked) and features Brandon Block, Antoine Boissereau, Rachael Boyd, Paul Castree, Ken Wulf Clark, Taylor Colleton, Gabriel Olivera de Paula Costa, Isabella Luisa Diaz, Samantha Gershman, Keaton Hentoff-Killian, Nicolas Jelmoni, Caroline Kane, Harley Ross Beckwith McLeish, Michael Mendez, Samuel Renaud, Marissa Rosen, Alexandra Gaelle Royer, Asa Somers, Charles South, Sean Stack, Matthew Varvar and Michelle West.

After losing what matters most, a young man jumps a moving train unsure of where the road will take him and finds a new home with the remarkable crew of a traveling circus, and a life—and love—beyond his wildest dreams. Seen through the eyes of his older self, his adventure becomes a poignant reminder that if you choose the ride, life can begin again at any age.

The award-winning Sea Dog Theater’s production of Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom, based on the book by Albom, directed by Erwin Maas (NY Times Critic’s Pick for Poison and A Kid Like Rishi), starring Tony Award winner and Emmy nominee Len Cariou (Sweeney Todd original cast, CBS’s “Blue Bloods”) and three-time NYIT “Best Actor” nominee Chris Domig.Tuesdays with Morrie runs March 1 – 23 in a limited engagement at St. George’s Episcopal Church (209 East 16 St.) Opening night is March 7.Two post-show talkbacks are scheduled during the run. On Monday, March 4, Len Cariou and Judy Kaye will discuss working with Stephen Sondheim. On Monday, March 18, Len and Abigail Hawk will discuss working on CBS’s “Blue Bloods.”Tuesdays with Morrie is the humorous and poignant story of career-obsessed journalist Mitch Albom, who sixteen years after graduation serendipitously learns that his former sociology professor Morrie is battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease. What starts as a simple visit, turns into a weekly pilgrimage and the last class in the meaning of life.Featuring vocalist Sally Shaw. Original music written and performed on piano by Chris Domig.

The Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC, Executive Director Khady Kamara Nunez and Artistic Director Bill Rauch) announces complete casting and creative team for An American Soldier at the new performing arts center at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.  An American Soldier will premiere in New York during AANHPI Heritage Month with performances starting May 12 through May 19, 2024.

An American Soldier will feature principal cast members Hannah Cho, Alex DeSocio, Nina Yoshida Nelsen and Brian Vu. Ensemble members include Ben Brady, Cierra Byrd, James C. Harris, Shelén Hughes, Joshua Sanders, Christian Simmons and understudies, Misoon Ghim, Luke Harnish and Angela Yam. Photos of the company are available here.

An American Soldier features scenic design by Daniel Ostling, costume design by Linda Cho, lighting design by Jeanette Yew and multi-media design by Nick Hussong, joining the previously announced creative team members Huang Ruo (composer), David Henry Hwang (libretto), Carolyn Kuan (conductor), and Chay Yew (director).

On October 3, 2011, Chinese-American Army Pvt. Danny Chen was found dead in a guard tower at his base in Afghanistan. Based on his story and the ensuing courts-martial of Chen’s fellow soldiers, this New York City premiere opera tells the powerful true story of a young soldier from Manhattan’s Chinatown who sought to serve his country, only to find his biggest threat was the very people who swore to protect him.

Told through the multidimensional music of Huang Ruo (M. Butterfly, Book of Mountains and Seas) with libretto by Tony and Grammy winner David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly, Soft Power), and directed by Obie Award winner Chay Yew (Cambodian Rock Band, Sweatshop Overlord), An American Soldier is a powerful and unforgettable experience.

Due to popular demand, Knock at the Gate producers Joseph Discher and Sean Hudock announced a two-week extension of their audio immersive streaming production of The Tempest: A Surround Sound Odyssey, now available to stream virtually through Saturday, March 16.

Tickets for the stream are $9.99 and are available for purchase at KnockattheGate.com. The broadcast is available worldwide on all internet connected devices with a dimmable screen and a pair of headphones. Audiences will receive a link and password to access the listening portal prior to the broadcast.

The cast includes Hale Appleman (SyFy’s “The Magicians,” FX’s “American Horror Story”) as ‘Ariel,’ Tony® and Grammy® Award nominee Emily Skeggs (Broadway’s Fun Home) as ‘Miranda,’ Joel de la Fuente (Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle) as ‘Prospero,’ and Derek Wilson (Amazon’s “Gen V,” Hulu’s “Future Man”) as ‘Caliban.’ Rounding out the cast are Michael Daly, Sean Hudock, Greg Jackson, Maurice Jones, Raphael Nash Thomspon, Shane Taylor, Patrick Toon.

Due to popular demand, producers of FIVE: The Parody Musical have put a new block of tickets on sale through April 21. The world-premiere production, initially announced as a limited four-week engagement, will now play an additional 6 weeks Off-Broadway at Theater 555 (555 W 42nd St, NYC). For tickets and further information, visit www.FiveTheMusical.com.

Look out SIX, here comes FIVE: The Parody Musical. Henry VIII and his six wives had nothing on Donald, the 45th, and these five ladies. Poised to make America laugh again, FIVE is an 80-minute, irreverent musical comedy revue starring some of the women in the life of America’s past President. Ivana, Marla, and Melania are joined by crowd favorite Stormy and daddy’s girl Ivanka as they each take the spotlight and sing their hearts out for your vote.

Presented by Five Musical LLC, FIVE: The Parody Musical features a book and lyrics by Shimmy Braun & Moshiel Newman Daphna, music and lyrics by Billy Recce (A Musical About Star Wars, Little Black Book), and direction and choreography by Jen Wineman (Dog Man: The Musical, F#%king Up Everything).

FIVE: The Parody Musical features Anyae Anasia as Ivana, Gabriella Joy Rodriguez (The Color Purple Tour) as Marla, Jaime Lyn Beatty (Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical, Starkid Founding Member) as Melania, Gabi Garcia as Stormy, and Hannah Bonnett (Legally Blonde National Tour) as Ivanka, with a special appearance by drag legend Jasmine Rice LaBeija as Hillary Clinton.

Forbidden Broadway will open on Broadway titled Forbidden Broadway on Broadway: Merrily We Stole a Song. It will begin previews on July 29 and open August 15 at the Hayes Theater. Creator Gerard Alessandrini, a Tony honoree for the musical’s Off-Broadway stagings, will direct the Broadway production and it will play a limited run through November 1.The musical revue will feature a five-person cast, who will be joined weekly by guest stars. The production will parody Back to the Future, Company, The Great Gatsby, Hell’s Kitchen, Into the Woods, Merrily We Roll Along, The Notebook, Sweeney Todd and Water for Elephants. Forbidden Broadway on Broadway is produced by Broadway & Beyond Theatricals (Ryan Bogner, Victoria Lang and Tracey Stroock McFarland) in association with John Freedson and Harriet Yellin.”

 

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