Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Prior to seeing How to Succeed on Broadway, I’d read both good and bad reviews of the show. People who believed that Daniel Radcliffe was not talented enough to portray the lead role J. Pierrepont Finch. Others who thought he did a great job. Others believed the show “dated” and not worth the time. Because I tend to keep bad reviews in the back of my head more often than good reviews, I went into the show with a bit of wariness.

I bought the tickets anyway because I am a fan of fun, colorful musicals. I also wanted to see the show because I remember watching Night Court with John Larroquette as a child, and was anxious to see him playing Mr. Biggley. And because Mary Faber (of American Idiot fame) was in the show and I never got to see her in all of the times I saw American Idiot. And I won’t even lie, I wanted to see Daniel Radcliffe on stage (yes, I bought into stunt casting).

I had pretty great seats for this show. Second row of the mezzanine put my friend and I closer to the stage than the orchestra seats that were left for the performance when I saw the show. The show itself was exactly what I thought it would be. It was comedy with song and dance and a lot of fantastic color. The costuming of the show was amazing. The colors really fit the mood of the show. They were bright and with the colorful lighting of the show, they really added as much character to the show as the actors themselves.

At the beginning of the show, J. Pierrepont Finch is a window washer with a self-help book. The title: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. And Finch sets out to follow the steps in the book. Throughout the show, with lots of comedy and grace, the charismatic Finch works his way to the top and out of disaster after disaster.

After talking his way into a job in the mail room, Finch quickly catches the eye of Rosemary Pilkington, secretary. Rosemary was played by Rose Hemingway, and in my opinion was the true star of the show. She gives her character such honesty and you love her from the beginning. One of her songs that seems “dated” by today’s standards, but fits perfectly with the time period of the show is “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm.” Rosemary sings of her desire to be nothing by a housewife to Finch, even if he works long hours and ignores her. But as she sang that song, I almost wanted to go back in time and be that housewife.

When Finch befriends J.B. Biggley, president of the company, he spends all of his time researching Biggley in an effort to make Biggley love him even more. Biggley, was played with great comedic timing by John Larroquette. One of my favorite comedic numbers in the show was “Grand Old Ivy,” that was Finch and Biggley singing about the college that Biggley had attended and that Finch had convinced Biggley he had gone to as well. It was probably my favorite number that was done by leads in the show.

I should also mention two numbers that were ensemble numbers. Both were done in the first act and were hilarious. The first, “Coffee Break,” was a hilarious homage to that illusive break that most people crave (although some might crave their smoke break even more). The second was a very sexist (but truly hilarious) number called “A Secretary Is Not a Toy.” It was basically 1960’s version of sexual harassment training with song, dance, and comical visual aids.

Overall, this show was very much worth seeing. It’s a comedy. A parody of the time and the “typical” office of the time. The coloring, the music, and the dancing were very much like Promises, Promises (which I saw last year). It’s not deep. It’s not serious. But it is seriously funny and lighthearted.

As for the criticisms I read about Mr. Radcliffe, they were, in my opinion, not valid. He did a good job. Is he the most talented person to ever grace the stage? Probably not. But he was good. The stories I read about all the extra time and effort he put into the show seem to be true and they paid off. I enjoyed seeing him on stage. And he has a killer American accent.

Should you go see it? If you’re looking for a fun way to kill a few hours (and a lot of money), I say do it. You’ll leave smiling.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures

The first show I saw while on my trip to NYC was honestly not one I would have gone to if my friend hadn't wanted to attend. I like happy. I like funny. I'm not a huge fan of depressing shows. I've seen some I liked, don't get me wrong. But in general, I'd rather see something with song, dance & sparkles instead of something that makes me want to go home and die when I'm finished seeing it because I'm so depressed.
Because of this, a Tony Kushner play was not exactly at the top of my list of shows to see. Especially since i knew it was nearly four hours long. And the title alone was impossible to remember (and has conveniently been shortened to #IHo on Twitter). But, my friend wanted to go see The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, which was playing at The Public Theater.

Truth be known, I was a fan of several of the cast members, as well as a fan of Michael Greif, the director. So I went. With only a few jokes about how depressing it was going to be. I am the first person to admit when I'm wrong about something (at least when it comes to theatre), and I was WRONG about this play. It was pretty darn amazing. It was funny, relateable in many ways, and yet got the very serious point across well.

I won't ruin the whole plot of the show, but it was basically about a family living in Brooklyn. The mother passed away years ago. Gus Marcantonio, patriarch of the family and lifelong fighter for union rights, had tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide the year before. Since that time, his activist sister Clio has been staying with him. At the beginning of the show Gus has called all three of his children together to tell them that he wanted to try to end his life again, but that he wanted their approval (or permission?) to do it first.

Pill, his oldest son, has been living with his long time partner Paul out of state after Pill was caught cheating on Paul. Empty is Gus' only daughter and in the middle of her own problems. Empty's ex-husband, Adam is living Gus' basement, while Empty is trying to deal with her partner Maeve is pregnant with their child. Youngest child, V is the only child who has been actively around since their father's last suicide attempt. He and his wife Sooze and their children live down the street, so V has been present when his other siblings have not. Each of the family members are fighting their own demons, and then they are trying to deal with the looming question of how and if they should make peace with their father and his decisions.

Stephen Spinells & Michael Esper. Taken from webage of The Public Theater

One of the most spectacular things about this show was the set. Designed by Mark Wendland, with lighting by Kevin Adams, this was one of the coolest sets I've seen in a while. Most of the show takes place in the living area of Gus Marcantonio's home. It is mentioned several times that the home was passed down for several generations, and the set makes it hold the appearance of a well lived in, older home. There are bookshelves filled with stacks of books, old family photos, and the paint and color scheme of a home that has most certainly been lived in for a long time. Other scenes were just as aptly done, my favorite being a scene in which Pill, Paul, and Pill's lover, Eli are outside near a subway stop. It was simple, yet perfect for the scene. It allowed you to focus on the actors and not the surroundings.

The cast was as close to perfect as you could get. In fact, it's hard for me to pick one actor that outshines the rest. Instead, I'll just pick a few that touched a chord with me. I loved seeing Stephen Spinella in the role of Pill. He's dealing with so many things in his life, including the fact that he loves his partner Paul, but has been cheating on him for years. Normally my head would go straight to "what a jerk!" with someone who had been cheating on their significant other. But Spinella made Pill a character that you connected with, even if you don't understand why he does the things he does.

Michael Cristofer in the role of Gus Marrcantonio was a wonderful thing to behold. This man is so conflicted about how to make his family understand that he simply doesn't want to live anymore. His individual conversations with his children seem to be his way of not only making his peace with them, but making his peace with himself. Cristofer's Gus makes it well known that he adores his children and his decision to end his life has nothing to do with anything they have or haven't done.

And of course, I have to mention Michael Esper in the role of Eli, Pill's lover. Anyone who knows me (or reads my blog) knows that I love Esper. After all, I did see American Idiot six times. This role was so different, and yet very much the same. Eli is young. He's living a life many would not approve of (slightly on the outskirts of society like Will in American Idiot?). But he has a heart. And Michael Esper makes sure that you know it. There was a point during the show that I wanted to walk up on stage and give him a hug. Not because he was Michael Esper, but because I truly felt like Eli needed a hug.

In between all of the drama and craziness of the story (if I just told you all the details you'd swear it was an episode of Jerry Springer) you begin to realize that this family is just like your family. Your family has issues. They fight at Thanksgiving dinners and family holidays. They laugh together. They drive each other crazy. And you also become very glad of the comedic touches that are woven throughout the story. I believe Kushner did a great job of writing a play that has enough comedy that you don't leave feeling hopeless or sad.

This show is only running through June 12th. Although I realize I don't have a great deal of readers (and even less in the NYC area), I highly encourage anyone who can get there to go. It's worth it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


So I just got back from a whirlwind, probably once in a lifetime trip to New York City. I go as often as I can, but I never stay for more than a few days. Basically, I can't afford to stay very long. NYC is expensive.

But this year I have several things to celebrate/numb the pain for (my 30th birthday *cringe*, having lived well with diabetes for 25 years *yay!*, and my 5 year anniversary at my job *ug*) so I splurged. I spent 6 days in New York (Brooklyn, to be more specific) and got to do some pretty amazing things while I was at it.

Of course, me being me, I saw 5 shows while I was there. And I'm proud to report that I have good things to say about all of them. Also, a plus toward my New Year's Resolution, I saw 2 original shows. And for the first time in my Broadway going history, I officially saw more straight plays than musicals while I was there. Kind of a shocker if you consider the fact that I am a musical junkie.

Here are some things I learned while on this trip to New York:

1.) Rush tickets are HARD to get (at least to the shows I wanted them for).

2.) Brooklyn is a long way from mid-town Manhattan

3.) Apparently it likes to rain several days in a row in New York. That's never happened to me before. It also made me realize I need to buy some rain boots.

4.) Theatres can be freakishly COLD sometimes. Even in May.

5.) Everyone knows someone from Tennessee. Or Texas.

Obviously, show reviews will be coming over the next several days. It may take up to a couple of weeks to get them all up because I'm busy. But I'll have them up as soon as I can get them written. I promise.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Open Letter to the Broadway Community (and Nick Adams)

Very recently a bill was passed in Tennessee that made it against the law to use the term "gay" in the classroom. I was slightly surprised at this, but what I was appalled by was the harsh & horrible way some members of the theatre community responded.

First off, let me say that I don't think this bill is right. I think it its ridiculous. Secondly, let me say that this bill was NOT something that was voted on by the public. It was presented, voted on & passed by elected officials.

I have lived in Tennessee my entire life, but I am a lover of theatre & the arts. I do my best to get to New York to see shows whenever I can afford it, but the fact remains that money is tight and a majority of the professional shows I see are tours.

Nick Adams, upon hearing of the newly passed bill, decided to call for a boycott of all tours coming to Tennessee. When I read his tweet my heart broke. I'm a fan of Nick's, but I feel the need to point a few things out to him, along with anyone else that might decide that he is right.

My first point has already been made: the public did NOT vote on this bill. It is also important to point out that most people in Tennessee simply cannot afford to take a trip to New York to see a show. Then add in the fact that most of the people who would have voted for that bill (had the public been given the chance to vote on it) couldn't care less if a show like Priscilla: Queen of the Desert or anything like it came to Tennessee. I'd even venture to say they'd be thrilled if it didn't.

In fact, the people you would be hurting would be people like myself, who live for a small chance to see a live performance.

You'd be hurting the young people who live in the state who might be struggling with their sexuality & need someone to relate to. What happened to "It Gets Better"? You'd rather never come to Tennessee & let those young people feel even more abandoned than they already do?

Take a page out of the Civil Rights Movement. People faced that. They went to the problem & made a statement. They sat down in the "Whites Only" restaurants & sat at the front of the bus.

The only thing that those of us living in Tennessee can do is vote at the next election. But the members of the theatre community, you have the opportunity to do more. Perform shows that break stereotypes & educate people. And shouldn't you be trying to educate people who may not have a chance to be educated otherwise?

Don't boycott tours to Tennessee. It isn't the way to fix the problem. It only punishes the innocents.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tuesdays With Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie was a book written a few years ago. I remember it being such a big deal. Hearing about it on the news and on best seller lists wasn’t uncommon. However, even though I’m a reader, I never read that one.

So going into see a play based on the book (which was based on a true story), I wasn’t exactly sure what I had to expect. Other than what I’d heard about the show, of course. Several people had already told me that I needed to see the show.

In fact, I had one person tell me he saw it twice, and was thinking about seeing it a third time. And of course, I read the fantastic review by Jeffrey Ellis on BroadwayWorld.com. Being forewarned, I took some tissues in my purse. I’m glad I did. I needed them.

If you don’t know the premise of the story, let me give you a basic rundown. Mitch Albom gets close to his undergrad sociology professor and promises, upon graduation, to stay in touch. But he doesn’t. Many years pass and Mitch grows up to be a self-centered, career driven journalist who doesn’t seem to do anything but work.
One day he sees a special on Dateline that has his old professor on it. Morrie had Lou Gehrig’s disease. He’s dying. In an effort to make himself feel better, Mitch goes to visit Morrie. Over time, these visits become a weekly occurance and Morrie teaches his last class to Mitch. They cover love, life, death, family, and many other topics.

You’d think that a 90 minute play, with no intermission, that consists of only two characters on stage (a third is a nurse, who has no lines) could be boring. It wasn’t. Turns out the people I’d talk to, and Jeffery Ellis, who recommend it in his review, were right: I did need tissues.

Morrie was played by the amazing John Fionte. I can honestly say that his performance was one of the best I’ve seen. Ever. In any theatre, including on Broadway. He was nearly perfect in his role as the ageing man living with years of knowledge and dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease. At the different stages of the disease, Mr. Fionte changed. Although I don’t know much about Lou Gehrig’s, I get the feeling that his visual progression of the disease was right on.

Mitch Albom was played by Daniel Black. He was the perfect opposite of Fionte’s Morrie. He did a fantastic job of starting out the self-centered, work driven journalist who was trying to sooth his guilty conscious. And he seamlessly transitioned to a younger person learning from his mentor, and beginning to understand the real meaning of lives.

I wish that I could put into words how magnificent this show was. But I honestly don't think that I have the ability to do so. All I can say is that it was a truly moving experience for me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hollywood in Paris

Cumberland County Playhouse in Crossville, Tennessee has a pretty amazing education program. I’ve seen many of the children in productions at the playhouse, and I wish I had lived close enough/had enough money/had the knowledge to have taken advantage of the program when I was younger.

Every year they do their spring recitals and as a season ticket holder, I got to go this year. It’s the first time I had ever been to anything like it. The theme for this year was Hollywood in Paris. And while most of the performances were dance performances, there were some musical theatre performances as well.

Every age group and every type of talent was represented. Jazz, modern dance, tap, ballet, creative movement. By intermission, I sent a text to my mom asking her to come with me to see it the next day (Mother’s Day). I wanted her to see how great some of these groups were. Some of my favorite performances were by the pre-ballet class (Oh my, they were so little and so, so cute!), and the class made up completely of special needs people.

But I think my favorite of all of them were the adult tap and the adult hip hop classes. Um, seeing grown women do a hip hop number to Katy Perry’s “California Girls” = PRICELESS. It also makes me want to take those darn classes. And I haven’t had any dance classes unless you count a year of ballet when I was 7, and ballroom dance as my PE credit in college (and with no dance partner, you don’t learn much).

I took my mom back the next day and she was also impressed and loved seeing the children (and adults!) do their thing on stage. It makes me proud that there is the opportunity for these kids to learn and be exposed to the arts. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I think that Cumberland County Playhouse is a true asset to the community and the communities that surround Cumberland County.

So, anyone wanna take a hip hop class with me next year?? Anyone?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Silver Whistle

A few weeks ago I caught another Cumberland County Playhouse show on a closing night (I've really got to stop that. I need to see them sooner!). The Silver Whistle was a straight play. The first I've seen this year, and the first step in meeting one of my New Year's resolutions (to see more plays).

This three hour comedy was full of laughs and great acting (per usual with CCP productions). The show is set in the 1930's in an old people's home that is run by a church. Most of the residents are unhappy with their lives at the home.

Miss Hoadley, played to perfection by Carol Irvin, is a perfectly happy resident...because she consumes large amounts of alcohol (and won't share with fellow residents). Miss Sampler is the resident flirt who is always looking for attention from fellow residents Mr. Beebe and Mr. Cherry. Mrs. Hanmer, played by Weslie Webster (who is no where near as old as the character she played, but pulled it off with great talent), is a classic hypochondriac and continually the pessimist. Miss Tripp is the house mistress left to try to corral this rag-tag group of seniors, all while trying to deal with the Reverend Watson and his constant demands to "cut corners" because of money issues.

Then Oliver T. Erwenter, played by CCP's comedic genius, Jason Ross, shows up on the scene, claiming to be in his 70s and looking many decades younger. Quickly, Mr. Erwenter befriends Mr. Beebe and Mr. Cherry, all while charming the ladies of the house, including Miss Tripp.

In the midst of this, much comedy ensues and Mr. Erwenter helps the residents of the home, as well and Miss Tripp and Reverend Watson learn to find the joys in life no matter your surroundings or circumstances.

Although the entire show was wonderful, the best scene of the entire show was a scene in which Mr. Erwenter, Mr. Beebe, and Mr. Cherry find Miss Hoadley's stash of alcohol and indulge themselves. There were three chairs in the center of the stage and very little dialogue, but it was by far the funniest part of the entire show because of the actors' superb physical comedy. The entire theatre was in stitches the entire scene, and I'm almost sure I saw one of the actors come close to losing it a time or two as well.

The show was great comedy and a fun show all the way around. In general, exactly what I've come to expect from the Cumberland County Playhouse.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Death of a Salesman

First off, my apologies for this post being WAY overdue. The show is closed now. But I still feel like I needed to blog about it.

I love theater. All kinds of theater. But I'll admit this little fact: I prefer musical theater to straight plays. But in an effort to broaden my horizons, I made a New Year's resolution to see more plays. This past weekend was a huge start, since I saw two shows, both of which were plays.

A couple of weeks ago I returned to my alma mater with a friend of mine to see a show put on by their theatre department. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller was a Pulitzer Prize winner and won the Tony for Best Play in 1949.

This show was very, very intense. It was long. Over 3 hours, with 2 intermissions. At this point in my very limited theatre watching career, it was the longest show I've ever seen. And the most exhausting.

The basic plot line is of Willy Loman, who has spent his life working and trying to provide for his family and raise them to the best of his ability. The show goes back in forth in time from when he and his wife bought their home, different times during the lives of his children, and present (well, 1940's) time.

Very quickly you realize that this man is slightly off his rocker. And that he's getting steadily worse. His wife has learned to deal with him, but his children are having issues. His sons are polar opposite, one trying desperately to please his father, the other doing everything in his power to do things that he knows his father will hate.

The lighting in the show was fantastic. It made obvious what time period the main character is in. And although the show was heavy and very serious, there were some comical moments, especially from next door neighbor Bernard and his son Charley. Those comedic moments kept you from becoming far too depressed.

Overall, it was worth seeing. And it was very much something that I'm not used to, which is a good thing because it is helping me to broaden my horizon. Because there's nothing I hate worse than people who won't attempt something new.

*I ushered this show, so I did not pay for a ticket. No one knew I was going to blog about it. No one asked me to blog about it. All opinions are my own.