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The Mayor of Times Square With Broadway Producer Extraordinaire Hunter Arnold

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Hunter Arnold is a Producer of a plethora of Broadway Tony Winners and hits including Kinky Boots, Dear Evan Hansen, Pretty Woman, the current Broadway musicals Hadestown, Some Like It Hot… the Neil Diamond musical A Beautiful Noise… and the Play, Pictures from Home at Studio 54 with Nathan Lane, as well as upcoming shows like Back to the Future and Once Upon a One More Time.    

What struck me at first glance, when interviewing Hunter on The Motivation Show podcast, is his relative youth for a Producer with so many great Producing credits under his belt.  He was far from the crusty, controversial image one may imagine from watching shows/invoices like The Producers.  He is in fact, quite charming and next-door neighbor-like friendly   It was clear to me, though quite a savvy businessman with a great eye for money making shows…money alone is far from his overriding goal when selecting what to produce.  His obvious passion for theatre, and his desire for equal access to talented people of all types and stripes, comes across with sincere conviction.  Hunter picks shows he loves and believes in first.   What fascinated me is his unwavering belief in and mission to create more diversity on Broadway.  So much so that Hunter admitted he would even take a calculated risk, and put his money where his mouth is, to ensure that his vision comes full circle.

We also discuss what influenced him early on to love theatre and eventually become a prolific Broadway Producer. How the pandemic changed things and how he did and does maintain optimism when things looked so bleak.

Most of us have been led to believe that only one in four or five shows turn a profit.   If so, wouldn’t that make a Producer eccentric…or a gambler that would make craps players in a casino seem mild in comparison? Hunter actually reveals that though the math is partly true, there is a whole other tier of profit potential that even a Broadway bust, with it’s poster infamously hanging on the wall of flops at Joe Allen’s, can take advantage of.  If you are a Theatre/Broadway fan, or you just happen to be someone with access to a whole lot of disposable bucks, don’t miss this interview with Hunter as he takes you behind-the-scenes of the risky, exhilarating, up and down, topsy turvy world…yes all of that…of ole Broadway…and I promise you a Yankee Doodle of a time listening!   You can listen to The Motivation Show podcast interview on any of your favorite podcast listening platforms or just click here to listen on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/5dPrB2lr0B9GE1A4UWyNmW.

You can email Eli at motivatea2z@gmail.com.

Eli Marcus is the Chief Marketing Officer of NYC’s largest circulation Visitor Magazine, City Guide, where he holds the distinction of affectionately being known as “The Mayor of Times Square” for his tenure as the longest serving hospitality professional in all of NYC. Eli is also the inspirational host of The Motivation Show podcast (ranked in the top 1% of podcasts in the world by Listen Notes) where he interviews famous Motivational Speakers, Celebrities, NY Times Best Selling Authors, Health Experts, Mega-Successful Entrepreneurs & more! Listeners can hear Eli on Apple Podcasts, IHeart Radio, Spotify, Google Podcasts or any podcast listing app or just click here: https://open.spotify.com/show/3NVmTDAvGbzooN8TCW7tuN As the former CEO of The Seminar Center in NYC, he has produced events for a Who’s Who of Celebs, best-selling book authors, experts, etc. They included: Michael Jackson at Carnegie Hall, Mark Victor Hansen, Iyanla Vanzant, Davy Jones, Les Brown, Don Miguel Ruiz, Judy Collins & hundreds Here is a video of Eli speaking https://youtu.be/6xtVGmb0Pf8.

Broadway

“The Heart of Rock and Roll” Does Exactly What It Needs To Do Joyfully 80s Style on Broadway

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Hey, Bobby!” she calls to snap him out of his constant, adorable daydreaming. But it’s a different Bobby than the one who’s having a birthday over at Company, and it’s a whole different beast of a show, to be honest, as The Heart of Rock and Roll, the new jukebox musical comedy, inspired by the iconic songs of Huey Lewis and The News, drives forward with appealing delight. It’s a feast of fun and frivolity, setting itself up in 1987, as this Bobby, played charmingly by the wonderfully gifted Corey Cott (Broadway’s Bandstand), has his musical mind wandering all over the place about the future. He’s forever daydreaming of a way to climb that corporate ladder and make a name for himself after giving up his nighttime dreams of being a rock and roll star.

The man has traded in his family heirloom, an electric guitar, for a seat at the corporate table. But first, he has to navigate himself off of the conveyor belt line, working for a cardboard box company struggling to make ends meet. Bobby has some big ideas that he wants to deliver to his boss, the “Hip to Be Square” Stone, playing lovingly by John Dossett (Broadway’s War Paint), and his tense corporate daughter, Cassandra, who’s as tightly wound as one could be. Played adoringly by the wonderful and talented McKenzie Kurtz (Broadway’s Wicked; Frozen), Cassandra is one unique creation. She has given up her independent dreams of making it big on her own in the big city to return home after the death of her mother and help out her grieving father and the family business. And to no audience members’ surprise, these two opposites are as blindly attracted to each other as two souls can be, and they can’t seem to fight “The Power of Love.” And we know right from the get-go that we don’t want them to.

Corey Cott, McKenzie Kurtz, and the Company of Broadway’s The Heart of Rock and Roll. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The Heart of Rock and Roll is exactly what you would imagine a musical comedy inspired by the songs of Huey Lewis and The News would be. It’s not breaking any new ground here, nor is it reformating or reinventing jukebox musicals. Many have called it the ‘first AI-invented musical’ as it checks all the boxes, moving like a well-timed machine through the framework of a well-intentioned musical. And I get why they say that, but as tenderly directed by Gordon Greenberg (RTC’s Holiday Inn) and inventively choreographed by profoundly good Lorin Latarro (Broadway’s Tommy), the show is definitely a whole lot more fun and enjoyable than many others who have tried and failed in the same format. It has a tender heart and a great comic backbone that never disappoints. The songs are as engagingly head-bopping as you remember, and performed with enthusiasm and love by a cast of pros that never let the piece falter or stall. The story is a rom-com joyride, fulfilling all the requirements of a feel-good jukebox show, but dressed up in the 80s, with costumes designed perfectly by Jen Caprio (Broadway’s Spamalot), a solidly functional set by Derek McLane (Broadway’s Purlie Victorious), well-formated lighting by Japhy Weideman (Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen), a solid sound design by John Shivers (Broadway’s Shucked), and layered with a few other popular themes around dreams, fulfillment, and family. That’s what gives it the Heart that they all keep singing about.

It’s a magnificent cardboard dance and ride on a well-tuned conveyor belt that soars into your heart and soul like your favorite soda pop, thanks to the music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Brian Usifer (Broadway’s Book of Mormon) led by musical director Will Van Dyke (Off-Broadway’s Little Shop of Horrors). The book and story by Jonathan A. Abrams (“Juror No. 2“) with an assist from producer Tyler Mitchell (“Lucky Number Slevin“) is as charming as it is fun, filled with so many musical moments that make you sit up and take notice, especially when Bobby’s best gal pal, Roz, played to the heavens by the miraculous Tamika Lawrence (TNG’s Black No More), strides onto the stage. She’s one of the best things in this show filled with many best things.

Corey Cott, Raymond J. Lee, John Michael Lyles, and F. Michael Haynie in Broadway’s The Heart of Rock and Roll. Photo by Matthew Murphy

The Heart of Rock and Roll isn’t reinventing any kinda wheel, but there is enough playful energy flying forward from the cast that even though we see the ending pretty early on, we also want to enjoy the ride like that roller coaster we keep going on over and over again. Cause it’s just a whole heap of fun. The side kicks; Bobby’s former band mates: F. Michael Haynie (Broadway’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as Glenn, Raymond J. Lee (Public’s Soft Power) as JJ, John-Michael Lyles (Broadway’s A Strange Loop) as Eli; and Casandra’s old school friends: Zoe Jensen (Broadway’s Six) as Paige and Josh Breckenridge (Broadway’s Come From Away) as Wyatt, all perform fabulously playing their parts with a wink and smile as they systematically deliver all the goods required. Orville Mendoza (CSC’s Pacific Overtures) as businessman Fjord, is a riot and delivers the ridiculous with the biggest Swedish wink you could give, and Billy Harrington Tighe (Broadway’s Pippin) as Tucker does a fantastic job playing the old boyfriend from Cassandra’s past who represents everything we don’t want for her. As written, it’s the perfect balance of sleaze and charm that makes us understand why she would have dated him before when she was at school, but also makes us want her to forget all about him and focus her eyes on Cott’s Bobby, cause that the ending we truly want.

The Heart of Rock and Roll does not disappoint, not in the slightest. It’s warm-hearted, well-played, beautifully performed, fantastically charming, and full of fun, without ever trying to be of a higher frame than it needs to be. I’m not surprised it didn’t garner a ton of nominations this award season. It’s not that kind of show, but don’t be fooled by this. It’s pretty much one of the funniest fun musical rides on Broadway. It doesn’t pretend to be ‘high art’ but doesn’t really need to be for us to laugh and cheer for these two to finally give it all up for Love.

Corey Cott, McKenzie Kurtz, and the Company of Broadway’s The Heart of Rock and Roll. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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Broadway’s Revival of “The Wiz” Delivers the Touring Goods Without Inspired Elevation

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There’s a strange wind in the air blowing into NYC’s Marquis Theatre a production of the famed musical, The Wiz, aimed at recapturing the family-friendly aura that lives to this day swirling around it. I’ve only really seen, in its entirety, this 1975 musical when it was produced “Live!” on television in 2015 (beyond YouTube clipsfrom the famous movie adaptation starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, just to name a few). “The Wiz Live!,” was an enjoyable, star-packed swirling that had more highs than lows, if I’m remembering correctly, so when this current revival gets its groove started, all in black and white, I was feeling the excitement build with high hopes for an electrifying colorful adventure. Courtesy of director Schele Williams (Broadway’s The Notebook), we are greeted with a heartfelt introduction of their Dorothy, played by Broadway newcomer, Nichelle Lewis (national tour of Hairspray) and her loving Aunt Em, portrayed strongly and gently by the very good Melody A. Betts (Broadway’s Waitress). “The Feeling We Once Had” connects, offering hope, home, and compassion wrapped up in their warm embrace. And then the faulty Tornados roll in as the shift to color rushes forward and all hell breaks loose.

Wayne Brady in The Wiz. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Starting out on the road in late 2023, this production of The Wiz tries to harness that wind and pull us into the colorful and hopeful idea that this production, designed by Hanna Beachler (Marvel’s “Black Panther“) with lighting by Bryan J. O’Gara (Broadway’s Thoughts of a Colored Man), costumes by Sharen Davis (HBO’s “The Watchman“), sound by Jon Weston (Broadway’s Parade), and video/projections by Daniel Brodie (Broadway’s Motown), is trying for. Unfortunately for Broadway audiences, the show feels somewhat limited, unpacked from a truck and quickly carted in with hopes of impressing. That’s not to say that the production lacks appeal, as it is, thanks to the projections and colorful costuming that attempt to be visually creative, many of the moments don’t feel as well constructed as any other show made and created for a specific Broadway stage. The units are chunky and compact, representing structures that would easily roll out and roll onto any stage anywhere across the country. It’s an odd sensation, when one is used to seeing Broadway productions that carry an organic rooted energy created just for that stage. But there is no surprise here, because that is exactly what this production is; a touring show that is making a stop in a Broadway house. And there is no crime in that. Just, maybe, some disappointment for those of us who are used to something else; something more refined and deeply seeded.

Deborah Cox, Nichelle Lewis, and the cast of The Wiz. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

You look like a gold angel,” Dorothy cries out to Gilda, played by the very talented understudy Judith Franklin (Broadway’s Tina…) stepping in for an absent Deborah Cox (Broadway’s Jekyll & Hyde), and we secretly wish the visuals were as gloriously golden as Lewis’ Dorothy sees surrounding her. Lewis is charming and engaging as the lost young girl trying to reconnect with and remember the warmth and value of “Home“, even if her vocals are a little bit less than dazzling. Choreographed strongly (yet somewhat straightforwardly) by Jaquel Knight (Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies“), the three traveling characters that join her on her quest deliver the goods with zeal and talent, giving the show an added burst of excitement that radiates out into the audience with something akin to glee. The Scarecrow’s “You Can’t Win“, performed endearingly by Avery Wilson (“Grown-ish“), astonishes, even if the fancy footwork is repeatedly invoked throughout the show; the Tinman, devilishly portrayed by the charming and handsome Phillip Johnson Richardson (Berkeley Rep’s Goddess), finds authenticity and connectivity even under all that makeup by Charles G. LaPointe with his seductive “Slide Some Oil to Me“; and the Cowardly Lion, portrayed a bit reductive by Kyle Ramar Freeman (Broadway’s A Strange Loop), gives it their all as the “Mean Old Lion.” The four are on track, easing on down the road with an optimistic cadence to find the lost thing that they each feel they are missing. They place all their hope on that big Technicolor Wiz, played solidly by Wayne Brady (Broadway’s Kinky Boots) who will magically grant them their wish and desire; that is unless the Wicked Witch of the West, Evillene, the most evil sister of the witch that Dorothy’s house did a number on, played big and loud by Betts (who was so warm and kind as Aunt Em) doesn’t get them first with some silliness around “Poppies” and a “Kalidah Battle.

Kyle Ramar Freeman, Nichelle Lewis, Phillip Johnson Richardson, and Avery Wilson in The Wiz. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

With a fun score by Charlie Smalls and a book by William F. Brown, this show, when it first came to Broadway won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and ran for 1,672 performances. It broke new grounds on Broadway, yet this current iteration, with additional materials by Amber Ruffin (“A Black Lady Sketch Show“), doesn’t exactly live up to the hope of its ancestors, feeling a bit tired from the road upon its arrival. The creative team didn’t seem to adjust or elevate the scene for Broadway, delivering a touring production that is good but not Broadway remarkable. The performers work hard against the flatness of the video projection screens that should enhance, not take over the visual landscape, yet here they carry the weight as the clunky set pieces just roll in without much delight attached to them. The choreography being the real star of this revival is energetic and psuedo-exciting, even in its straightforward approach to the material. Luckily the dancers deliver the goods with gusto. The ballads, like “Home” find their way through the meekness of the production, giving us the feelings, but as a whole, I’d stick to rewatching the Live! TV version or even the campy film version. There’s more to be dazzled by there on the screen than in this Broadway theatre.

Nichelle Lewis and Melody Betts in The Wiz. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

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New Dramatist Annual Spring Luncheon Brought Out The Best Of Broadway

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New Dramatists, Tony® honor recipient Tony-nominated director Michael Greif (Days of Wine and Roses, The Notebook and Hell’s Kitchen) and the nation’s premier playwright development laboratory, hosted their Annual Spring Luncheon Tribute yesterday on Tuesday, May 14 at the New York Marriott Marquis (1535 Broadway, between 45th and 46th Streets).

Michael Grief, photo by Magda Katz

Michael Grief, photo by Magda Katz

Michael Grief, photo by Magda Katz

A beloved theater community tradition, the afternoon featured several performances and tributes, including a spoken tribute by Brian D’Arcy James of Days of Wine and Roses; a musical performance by cast members from Hell’s Kitchen;  John Cardoza, Jordan Tyson, Ryan Vasquez and Joy Woods from The Notebook; among others. Tony Award-winning producers Kevin McCollum and Stacey Mindich serve as honorary co-chairs for this year’s luncheon. At this year’s luncheon, New Dramatists will present its inaugural Konecky Award to Concord Theatricals. Named for New Dramatists’ beloved Board President Isobel Konecky and her husband, renowned entertainment attorney Ron Konecky, TheKonecky Award recognizes those in the theatre and entertainment industry, who serve the field with passion, dedication, excellence, and leadership.

Attending the event was Betsy Aidem (Prayer for theFrench Republic), Shoshana Bean (Hell’s Kitchen), Francis Benhamou (Prayer for the French Republic), Ali Louis Bourzgui (The Who’s Tommy), Will Brill (Stereophonic), John Cardoza (The Notebook), Chuck Cooper (Trouble in Mind), Brian D’Arcy James (The Days of Wine and Roses), Brandon Victor Dixon (Hell’s Kitchen), Christine Ebersole (War Paint), Eden Espinosa (Lempicka), Eli Gelb (Stereophonic), Jonathan Groff (Merrily We Roll Along), Grant Gustin (Water for Elephants), Nikki M. James (Suffs), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Mother Play), Kecia Lewis (Hell’s Kitchen), Casey Likes (Back to the Future), Alison Luff (The Who’s Tommy), Isabelle McCalla (Water for Elephants), Lindsay Mendez (Merrily We Roll Along), Maleah Joi Moon (Hell’s Kitchen), Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog), Justin Peck (Illinoise), Sarah Pidgeon (Stereophonic), Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer (Spamalot), Daphne Rubin-Vega (A Streetcar Named Desire), Amy Ryan (Doubt), Lea Salonga (Here Lies Love), Corey Stoll (Appropriate), Shaina Taub (Suffs), Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Doubt), Jordan Tyson (The Notebook), Ryan Vasquez (The Notebook), Joy Woods (The Notebook), Doug Wright (Good Night, Oscar) and so many more.

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The Glorious Corner

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G.H. Harding

SANBORN RIP — I was absolutely devastated to loss another friend Monday, musician David Sanborn. Still reeling from the loss of Sam Rubin, I just could not believe the news when I heard it.

I first met David when he played with The Brecker Brothers band (brothers Michael and Randy, Will Lee, Steve Khan, Don Grolnick, Chris Parker) and we immediately hit it off and became fast-running buddies. David, who had already played with the Paul Butterfield, was on his way to super-stardom: playing with everyone from Stevie Wonder to David Bowie, with his superb sax work. When you heard his work, you immediately knew it was him. Listen to his work on Bowie’s “Young Americans.” Just stunning.


His solo work with equally as stellar. His first solo-album Taking Off was just great. His signature “Chicago Song” was sensational too. I’ll never forget his great work on Lorne Michael’s Night Music show – especially the time he paired up Eric Clapton and Robert Cray. If you’ve never seen this, take a look here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BngAj8xV3Os

He also worked with the late-Michael Kamen (and sting) on the Lethal Weapon soundtrack with Sting. Just exemplary work.

Check out his work with the Letterman band on a show in Vegas with Sammy Davis, Jr.: Sammy Davis Jr. on Late Night With David Letterman in Las Vegas (1987)

He was a lot of fun to hang with. I’ll miss his company – no question. Tremendous loss for sure.

David Salidor and Gene Cornish Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images

SHORTS TAKES — The Rascals’ “Good Lovin'” is in Jerry Seinfeld’s Unfrosted Netflix movie. Unfortunately, the movie’s taking a heavy beating in the media. I don’t think I’ll tune in, but a great music selection for sure … The first full-trailer for Coppola’s Megalopolis has just been released. Its rather sensational. Take a look here from Roger Friedman’s Showbiz 411: https://www.showbiz411.com/2024/05/14/watch-first-full-pre-cannes-teaser-trailer-for-coppolas-biggest-gamble-ever-with-astonishing-megalopolis-images

Alicia Keys announced the album for her play Hell’s Kitchen (13 TONY noms) will be out June 7. Interesting that she said album. Good for her … MTV has canceled their movie awards presentation for 2024. Low ratings the case? I’d bet on it. Also, parent-company Paramount might have a new owner or new owners. Check this out: https://www.showbiz411.com/2024/05/12/mtv-cancels-movie-and-tv-awards-for-2024-skips-barbenheimer-movies-after-2023-ratings-debacle

I started watching the original Let It Be film on Disney and loved it, just as I did when I originally saw it in 1970. As I’ve said before, this original (from director Michael Lindsay-Hogg) would never have come out again if there wasn’t a demand for it. What Peter Jackson did was great, but it wasn’t what The Beatles and Apple wanted. I loved it. Check this terrific article out on it: https://www.soundandvision.com/content/making-beatles-let-it-be-and-peter-jacksons-get-back?fbclid=IwZXh0bgNhZW0CMTEAAR2l_MOZXCWPMg2E5gNKfin7wIVgTKlmRvGWBwOHvqM4B_dphbY2bw-JcoM_aem_AXa5zighOQPj-_fICOPXlPDJP1wXUdXEx82NiZSzlevB … Happy BDay Crispin Cioe ; Jane Blunkell and Gene Cornish.

NAMES IN THE NEWS — Savannah Guthrie; Carson Daly; Paul Pesco;Alicia Keys; Tony Mandich; Judy Libow; Amanda Naylor; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Len Berman; Michael Riedel; Bob Feiden; Sam Rubin; Paul Cooper; Anthony Noto; Ed Steinberg; Richard Johnson; Steve Carrel; Matt Damon; Matt Drudge; Bobby Orlando; Mark Berry; Marissa Armstrong; Heather Moore; and CHIP!

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New Look At The Wicked Movie

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Wicked just dropped a new trailer that shows Elphaba (Cynthia Erivo) and Glinda (Ariana Grande) and what looks to be a spectacular film.

The film is directed by Jon M. Chu, who previously directed Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights, and is written by Winnie Holzman, who also wrote the stage musical.

In the trailer both Erivo and Grande find out they got the roles.Erivo saw Wicked when she was 25 years old and felt like she “was floating on air” and she’d never seen anything like it.“There’s sort of this innate understanding of what it feels like to be someone who’s different,” it’s been a really long journey, and I’m really grateful for it.”  Grande a Broadway baby saw the original cast when she was 10.

We also see Fiyero (Jonathan Bailey) and Glinda in a slice of “Dancing Through Life”. Fiyero and Elphaba are also seen in a sniper of  “As Long As You’re Mine”.

We see Jeff Goldblum, as the Wizard, Michelle Yeoh as Madame Morrible, Ethan Slater as Boq and  Marissa Bode as Nessarose. Also in the cast is Peter Dinklage, Keala Settle, Bowen Yang, Bronwyn James,  and more.

Thanksgiving never looked so good.

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