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Theatre News: Renee Taylor, Ana Villafañe, The Tony’s Go On Twice, Herb Alpert Award and The Liz Swados Project

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Don’t forget the interview with Renee Taylor for the Lambs on May 27th at 7:15pm. Here’s the link to register in advance.

Renee Taylor
Renee Taylor photo by: Jeremy Daniel

Ana Villafañe, star of On Your Feet! recently hosted a special virtual dance rehearsal with a young performer and fan from The Bronx, who has been working on a dance routine to Gloria Estefan’s “Get On Your Feet.” It resulted in some incredibly touching moments as Ana shared words of encouragement with the young woman, named Jahliely, and shared experiences of struggle and self-doubt as a performer overcoming obstacles.

Ana Villafañe
Ana Villafañe

The rehearsal was another installment of the virtual talent show rehearsals by The Garden of Dreams Foundation. The Foundation hosts an annual talent show at Radio City Music Hall for 100 incredibly talented kids who come from partner organizations like Make a Wish, Dept. of Homeless Services, etc. and have faced unimaginable obstacles ranging from chronic illness to homelessness and poverty. Because this year’s Talent Show had been postponed for now, Radio City Music Hall has been finding ways to keep the kids engaged and uplifted with virtual rehearsals like this one with industry mentors who the kids admire and look up to.

Jahliely was one of this year’s talent show performers, and has faced a number of health struggles in her young life in addition to cyber bullying. Having the chance to perform for someone like Ana was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Ana Villafañe, Jahliely

Broadway On Demand, the newly launched streaming platform for theater devotees, with support from the Co-Producers of the Tony Awards: the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League, is proud to announce that it will host a specially created, never-before-seen event in celebration of the Broadway community, the Tony Awards®, and the global impact that Broadway has as a cultural touchstone around the world on Sunday, June 7 at 6:00 PM ET exclusively on TonyAwards.com and BroadwayOnDemand.com. 

The one-hour event will bring the entire theatrical community together on what is still the industry’s biggest night. The evening will be Directed by Tony Award nominee Lonny Price and written by Tony nominee Karey Kirkpatrick, Steve Rosen, David Rossmer, Kate Wetherhead and Lauren Yee. Musical Direction & Supervision is by Grammy Award® winner Jason Howland with Choreography by Sarah O’Gleby.

The entire evening will serve as a fundraiser for both the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League, with support for The American Theatre Wing’s Education and Professional Development initiatives that provide crucial programming for theatre’s next generation of artists, creatives, and arts administrators and The Broadway League Foundation’s efforts to train young artists around the country and introduce them to careers in theatre.

Broadway.com, the theater world’s premier content provider, will pay tribute to the Tony Awards® with a special benefit, “Show of Shows: Broadway.com Salutes the Tonys, on Sunday, June 7 at 7:00 PM ET. The free online event will air on the same night that the now-postponed 2020 Tony Awards were originally scheduled to be held.

“Show of Shows: Broadway.com Salutes the Tonys” will benefit the two theatrical organizations that co-present the Tony Awards: The American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League.

“Show of Shows” will support The American Theatre Wing’s Education and Professional Development initiatives that provide crucial programming for theatre’s next generation of artists, creatives, and arts administrators; and The Broadway League Foundation’s efforts to train young artists around the country and introduce them to careers in theatre. 

Broadway.com has produced numerous online charity events in recent months, including the acclaimed “Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration” for ASTEP, benefit readings of Michael Urie in Buyer & Cellar and Terrence McNally’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart for the Broadway Cares COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund, and the return of “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” which raised over $700K for The Actors Fund.

The Herb Alpert Foundation and the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) have awarded the 2020 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts (HAAIA) to five exceptional mid–career artists. Now in its 26th year, the annual award provides five unrestricted $75,000 grants to independent artists working in the fields of dance, film/video, music, theatre and visual arts. The recipients will be honored at a virtual ceremony hosted by Herb Alpert, his wife Lani Hall Alpert and the Herb Alpert Foundation.

The Dance panel has selected choreographer Karen Sherman for her genuine, transparent, vulnerable work and the ways she summons the real into existence. They value her sensitivity in grappling with issues of power and belonging, and how she poetically and wittily brings forth the unseen, taking risks to create a necessary theatre for this time.”

The Film/Video panel honors artist and filmmaker Sky Hopinka for his remarkable approach to storytelling, at once personal and mythic; for his ability to join the aesthetic and the political, and to engage with questions of ecology and dispossession. They were moved by his visual aesthetic that refuses to objectify people or land, and grounds characters and stories with feeling and soul.”

The Music panel celebrates trumpeter, composer, producer Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah for his originality and artistry, for the inventive ways he decolonizes sound and uses the past to move us forward. His immersive and compelling music makes magic, stretches conventions, has a powerful, visceral impact on listeners, and builds bridges and community.”

Theatre-maker Phil Soltanoff was chosen by the Theatre panel for his phenomenally, seriously playful and rich imagination, for the masterful ways he conveys story through silence and physicality, as well as for the beauty, elegance, and timelessness of his innovations. They are relieved that he – “the Real Deal with experimentation in his DNA” – is taking his gifts to the next generation throughout America.”

Artist Firelei Baéz was named the Visual Arts prizewinner for the fearless, subversive beauty of her expansive, color-saturated, highly patterned and ornamented paintings, for the immersive and layered visual and kinesthetic experience of her ambitious room-sized and public installations, which both subtly and rigorously interrogate history, transporting us to a powerful future that embodies an alternate past.”

Among the 125 past winners of the Award are artists – Carrie Mae Weems, Vijay Iyer, Taylor Mac, Arthur Jafa, Suzan-Lori Parks, Julia Wolfe, Meshell Ndegeocello, Michelle Dorrance, Tania Bruguera, Kerry James Marshall, Lisa Kron, Okwui Okpokwasili, Sharon Lockhart, Ralph Lemon, and Cai Guo-Qiang.

Ghostlight Records has announced that The Liz Swados Project is available on digital and streaming formats today, Friday, May 22. The Liz Swados Project – a newly-recorded tribute album to the visionary artist – features an epic tribe of diverse performers, composers and lyricists, who have been influenced and inspired by Swados as a performer, composer, lyricist, teacher, and trailblazer. The all-star cast of luminaries from Broadway, downtown and beyond, including vocalists Starr Busby, Sophia Anne Caruso, Damon Daunno, Amber Gray, Stephanie Hsu, Jo Lampert, Alicia Olatuja,Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Grace McLean, and Ali Stroker, in addition to songwriter/performers The Bengsons, Heather Christian, Michael R. Jackson, Taylor Mac, Dave Malloy, Shaina Taub, and the late Michael Friedman, among others. The album – featuring the world premiere recordings of 14 songs – is produced by Lauren Fitzgerald, Kris Kukul and Matt Stine, with Kurt Deutsch and Roz Lichter serving as executive producers. Kris Kukul, Ms. Swados’s longtime music director, provides orchestrations and arrangements. Preston Martin serves as choir manager. To stream or order the album click here.

A moving music video for the song “We Are Not Strangers,” with a prescient and timely message for a nation separated by quarantine, is performed by Heather Christian and features several of the album’s performers participating from home.

The Liz Swados Project celebrates the Swados legacy with songs from 10 of her works for the stage sung by some of the most influential performers and composers in theater today. In the words of the late Michael Friedman, who studied under Swados, “Liz is in the DNA of my work.” You can hear her influence in the work of this new generation of theatrical music makers, all of whom honor her with their recordings of her songs. Each artist performs a selection in their unique style, ranging from Vaudeville-tinged chamber pop, contemporary blues, and haunting art songs, to raw indie rock, spare classical ballads and sweeping middle Eastern-inspired choral pieces.

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

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Theatre News: The Drama League, Once Upon A Mattress , Swept Away, Chita Rivera Awards and Moulin Rouge!

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The Drama League announced the winners of the 2024 Drama League Awards. The event hosted by NY1 reporter Frank DiLella, was held at The Ziegfeld Ballroom (141 W 54th St, New York, NY). Sarah Paulson wins Distinguished Performance Award. Hell’s Kitchen wins Outstanding Production of a Musical. Stereophonic wins Outstanding Production of a Play. Merrily We Roll Along wins Outstanding Revival of a Musical. Appropriate wins Outstanding Revival of a Play. In the directing categories, Daniel Aukin took home the Outstanding Direction of a Play award for Stereophonic and Maria Friedman took home Outstanding Direction of a Musical for Merrily We Roll Along.

The competitive awards were presented by Lear DeBessonet, Alfred Molina, Bebe Neuwirth and Ben Platt.  LaTanya Richardson Jackson presented The Gratitude Award to Kandi Burress; Thomas Schumacher presented The Founders Award for Excellence in Directing to Schele Williams; Daniel Radcliffe and Lindsay Mendez presented The Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater Award to Jonathan Groff; and Jim Parsons presented the Contribution to Theatre Award to Jessica Lange.

Tony Award-winning producers Seaview and Creative Partners Productions have announced that, on the heels of its record-breaking, sold-out run at New York City Center’s Encores! earlier this year, Once Upon A Mattress will open on Broadway this summer at The Hudson Theatre (141 W 44th St). Tony Award winner Sutton Foster (Anything Goes, The Music Man) will lead the Broadway cast, reprising her acclaimed performance as Winnifred the Woebegone, hailed by The New York Times as “perfectly goofy, and imprinted with an ebullient, joyful relish in the very act of performance.” The beloved musical returns to Broadway in a new adaptation by Emmy Award winner Amy Sherman-Palladino (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, “Gilmore Girls”), directed by Tony Award nominee and Drama League Award winner Lear deBessonet (Into The Woods). Previews begin Wednesday, July 31, 2024, with an Opening Night set for Monday, August 12, 2024, for the limited engagement through November 30, 2024.

Following its Broadway engagement, Foster will headline the production in Los Angeles for a four-week engagement at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre from December 10, 2024 – January 5, 2025.

An uproarious update of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princess and the Pea,” Once Upon A Mattress sets an unapologetic free spirit loose in a repressed kingdom, reveling in Winnifred’s ability to charm and transform with willpower, honesty, and a little bit of help from her friends.  Full of gloriously catchy melodies like “Shy” and “In a Little While,” the musical first premiered in 1959, with music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer, and book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer.

The Broadway production will feature Choreography by Drama Desk Award nominee Lorin Latarro (The Who’s Tommy), Scenic Design by Tony Award winner David Zinn (Fun Home, SpongeBob SquarePants), Lighting Design by Tony Award winner Justin Townsend (Moulin Rouge! The Musical), Costume Design by Andrea Hood (Into the Woods), Sound Design by Tony Award winner Kai Harada (Days of Wine and RosesMerrily We Roll Along), and Hair and Wig Design by J. Jared Janas (Sweeney Todd, &Juliet). General Management is by Wagner Johnson Productions. Casting is by The Telsey Office (Bernard Telsey, CSA; Craig Burns, CSA). Orchestrations are by Tony Award winner Bruce Coughlin (The Light in the Piazza), and Drama Desk Award winner Mary-Mitchell Campbell (Company) will serve as Music Supervisor, Annbritt duChateau as Music Director, and Cody Renard Richard as Production Stage Manager.

A special fan pre-sale will begin on Tuesday, May 28, at 10:00AM ET – sign up atOnceUponAMattress.com for early access to tickets. Tickets will go on sale to the general public on Wednesday, May 29 at 10:00AM ET.

Further casting and creative team will be announced at a later date.

The Avett Brothers announced that their new musical Swept Away will begin previews on Broadway this fall at a Shubert theater to-be-announced. An odyssey of “mythic proportions” (San Francisco Chronicle), Swept Away features a book by Tony Award winner John Logan (Red, Moulin Rouge! The Musical), direction by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot) and choreography by Tony Award nominee David Neumann (Hadestown).

After sold out runs from coast to coast, Swept Away storms Broadway this fall.

The Swept Away creative team includes music arranger & orchestrator Chris Miller, music arranger & orchestrator/music supervisor Brian Usifer, music director Will Van Dyke, Tony Award-winning set designer Rachel Hauck, Tony Award-winning costume designer Susan Hilferty, four-time Tony Award-winning lighting designer Kevin Adams and Tony Award-winning sound designer John Shivers.For ticketing updates and more information, visit SweptAwayMusical.com.

Jared Grimes (Funny Girl) will host the Chita Rivera Awards, it was announced today. The 2024 Chita Rivera Awards will be presented on May 20 at 7:30pm at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (566 LaGuardia Place off Washington Square Park), and are produced by Joe Lanteri, Founder and Executive Director of the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation, Inc. in conjunction with Patricia Watt.

Presenters include: Debbie Allen (Fame), Shoshana Bean (Hell’s Kitchen), Corbin Bleu (High School Musical, Little Shop…), Anthony Crivello (Kiss of the Spider Woman), Joel Grey(Cabaret), Huey Lewis (The Heart of Rock and Roll), and Joe Morton (Scandal, ART), Bebe Neuwirth (Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club, Chicago), Kenny Ortega (High School Musical), David Hyde Pierce (Here We Are, Spamalot), Brooke Shields (Suddenly Susan; The Adams Family), Ben Vereen (Pippin), and more.

The evening will feature performances by: Wayne Brady (The Wiz), Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked), Norm Lewis (Phantom of the Opera; Porgy and Bess), and Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon; Old Friends).

There will also be performances from the casts of Suffs, The Heart of Rock and Roll, and The Who’s Tommy.

At the May 20 Awards, Bernadette Peters will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, Phil LaDuca will receive the Vanguard Award, for his outstanding contribution to the international dance community, and Mayte Natalio (Suffs; How to Dance in Ohio) will receive the Douglas and Ethel Watt Critics’ Choice Award.

The Douglas and Ethel Watt Critics’ Choice Award is bestowed by the journalists of the Chita Rivera Awards’ Broadway judging committee, to recognize outstanding work that falls outside the framework of the original categories. It is named for the longtime Daily News theater critic Douglas Watt and his wife Ethel, an original cast member of Carousel and Kiss Me, Kate who later became a producer.

Tickets to the Chita Rivera Awards are available to the general public atwww.ChitaRiveraAwards.com.

Pop the champagne! The Museum of Broadway will celebrate its newest special exhibit celebrating the 10-time Tony Award®-winning Best Musical Moulin Rouge! The Musical, presented in partnership with Chase Freedom and created exclusively for The Museum of Broadway. The exhibit, Moulin Rouge! The Musical: Spectacular, Spectacular, invites fans to step into the world of Belle Époque Paris and experience the splendor, eye-popping excess, and glittering extravagance of the hit show.

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TDF partnership sends 1400 service members to Broadway and Off Broadway during Fleet Week

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For the second year in a row, TDF, the not-for-profit service organization for the performing arts, has partnered with the Community Foundation of New Jersey to help obtain and distribute 1400 tickets to 11 Broadway and two Off-Broadway shows. These tickets will be given at no cost to members of the United States Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Blue Star Families, who will be in New York City during this year’s Fleet Week, May 22 to May 28, 2024.

The 13 shows that service members will see for free are Back to the Future: The Musical, The Book of Mormon, The Great Gatsby, Hamilton, Hell’s Kitchen, The Lion King, MJ, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, The Outsiders, The Play That Goes Wrong, SIX, Titanique, and Water for Elephants.

“This is the second year of our partnership with the Community Foundation of New Jersey, and we are honored once again to facilitate tickets to Broadway and Off Broadway for our service members during Fleet Week,” said TDF Executive Director Deeksha Gaur. “We know from our companion program for veterans that attending the theatre can support healing and help build community.  But most of all, we are thrilled that service members will get to experience the magic and joy of New York theatre at no cost to them.”

The Community Foundation of New Jersey serves approximately 1,160 fundholders—individuals, families, and businesses with philanthropic funds, which they use to recommend grants to worthy causes and communities.

“Funds at the Community Foundation of New Jersey may be used to directly improve people’s lives beyond the usual grantmaking, and this is a great example of that,” said Madeline Rivera, Program Officer at the Community Foundation. “Unique philanthropic ideas like these enable us to have broad impact in areas important to our fundholders.”

Those wishing to donate so that service members can attend future performances should contact Madeline Rivera at the Community Foundation of New Jersey atmrivera@cfnj.org or (973) 267-5533.

The Community Foundation of New Jersey creates and scales custom solutions for purpose-driven individuals, families, and businesses. From creative projects that tackle critical societal or policy issues, to scholarship funds, corporate philanthropy, legacy funds, and donor-advised funds, CFNJ manages nearly every kind of giving vehicle and tailors solutions to meet critical needs. CFNJ’s specialists understand the unique contours of communities and manage the scope of CFNJ investment and grantmaking capabilities with precision. With $790 million in assets, the CFNJ grants tens of millions of dollars each year through its more than 1,100 funds. In 2023, CFNJ granted more than $70 million to nonprofits in New Jersey and beyond.

Founded in 1968, TDF (formerly known as Theatre Development Fund) is a not-for-profit service organization dedicated to bringing the power of the performing arts to everyone. TDF’s mission is to sustain live theatre and dance by engaging a broad and diverse audience and eliminating barriers to attendance. We fulfill our mission with a variety of programs that expand access, cultivate communities, and support the makers of the performing arts.

We are known for our theatregoing programs, including the TKTS by TDF Discount Booths (which celebrated 50 years in Times Square in 2023) and the TDF Membership Program; TDF Accessibility Programs (including open captioning, audio description, Autism Friendly Performances and the Veterans Theatregoing Program); Education programs (serving more than 10,000 NYC public school students annually), and Community programs (serving 18,000 people in the tristate area); as well as the TDF Costume Collection Rental and Research Programs. TDF envisions a world where the transformative experience of attending live theatre and dance is essential, relevant, accessible, and inspirational. To learn more about TDF, go to tdf.org; Facebook/Instagram/Threads: @tdfnyc.

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Summer Listening: Here We Are, Water for Elephants, Days of Wine and Roses, Harmony, How to Dance in Ohio, The Great Gatsby, Lempicka, The Outsiders, Stereophonic and Suffs  

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Today Concord Theatricals Recordings released the original cast recording of Here We Are, on CD and digital platforms worldwide. The album will be available on 2-LP, 180g baby blue vinyl on Friday, September 6. Here We Are (Original Cast Recording) has music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, and music supervision and additional arrangements by Alexander Gemignani, conducting a 14-piece orchestra. The album was recorded and mixed by Ian Kagey and mastered by Oscar Zambrano. The album packaging was designed by Derek Bishop. Complete production credits can be found in the album booklet available for free download HERE.

Stream, download or purchase the album HERE.

The album features the cast of Joe Mantello’s celebrated world premiere production: Francois Battiste, Tracie Bennett, Bobby Cannaval

Ghostlight Records has announced that Water for Elephants: Original Broadway Cast Recording, which preserves the show’s soaring score by the acclaimed PigPen Theatre Co., is available in streaming and digital formats today, Friday, May 17. A CD is being planned for this summer. The show has been nominated for seven 2024 Tony Awards, including “Best Musical.” Produced by Peter Schneider, Jennifer Costello, Grove Entertainment, Frank Marshall, Isaac Robert Hurwitz, and Seth A. Goldstein, Water for Elephants is currently running at the Imperial Theatre (249 West 45th Street). 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 four-time Tony Award nominee Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, Peter and the Starcatcher) and is directed by two-time Tony Award nominee Jessica Stone (Kimberly Akimbo). The album is produced by Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Ian Kagey. Stream or download the album at ghostlightrecords.lnk.to/WaterForElephants

Water for Elephants is currently running at the Imperial Theatre (249 West 45th Street). 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 McLeish, Michael Mendez, Samuel Renaud, Marissa Rosen, Alexandra Gaelle Royer, Asa Somers, Charles South, Sean Stack, Matthew Varvar, and Michelle West.

Days of Wine and Roses written by Adam Guettel, features powerful songs like “Forgiveness” and “There Go I”, performed by Kelli O’Hara and Brian d’Arcy James. Stream the Tony Award-nominated score here.

Harmony has a score by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman. The cast recording was released last August. You can still stream the cast recording here.

How to Dance in Ohio released an original Broadway cast recording on January 19, 2024. To stream the album, which features “Building Momentum,” click here.

The Great Gatsby has a new score by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen, they will release a cast album digitally on June 21, 2024. Ahead of the album’s release, hear a sneak preview of tunes “For Her” and “My Green Light”performed by Jeremy Jordan and Eva Noblezada.

Lempicka has songs that were fabulously sung by Eden Espinosa, Amber Iman, Andrew Samonsky, George Abud, Natalie Joy Johnson and Beth Leavel. The new score from Matt Gould and Carson Kreitzer will be available to stream on May 29, 2024.

The Outsiders new score by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay & Zach Chance) and Justin Levine will be available to stream on May 22, 2024. The songs were written by Academy Award nominee and Grammy Award winner Will Butler. You can get a sneak preview of the song “Masquerade” here.


Well Suffs is the show that will win the Tony for Best Musical and Score. The book, composer, lyricist, and star is Broadway darling Shaina Taub. The cast recording, produced by Atlantic Records, will be available to stream on June 14, 2024.

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“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.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com 

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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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