Tuesday, June 28, 2011

CCP's Chicago Cast List

So, I'll admit it... I have some insider knowledge on an upcoming production at the Cumberland County Playhouse. July 21st, is opening night for CCP's production of Chicago. And, man, am I excited about it! I've never seen this play, but the movie has been a favorite of mine for years. The movie had an amazing cast and I loved the story as well as the music.

When I found out that the Playhouse was going to do Chicago this year I was ecstatic. I keep wanting to see Chicago on Broadway, but no one ever seems to want to go with me. Apparently everyone's already seen it but me. Go figure.

Not long ago, John Fionte, who will be directing the production, stumbled across my blog. We got to talking about Chicago and he was kind enough to let me know when he got the show cast, so I could get a sneak peek into what's coming up. Thanks John!

Velma and Roxie. Oh, our two leading ladies. I've been told that they will be played by Joann Coleman and Ali Gritz, respectively. When I saw them in Little Shop of Horrors, cast as part of the singing trio, I loved them. I have no doubt that they have been cast well for Chicago.

Amos Hart, Roxie's husband will be played by Daniel Black. Smooth talking attorney, Billy Flynn will be played by Britt Hancock. I've seen both of them in several productions at the playhouse. Also well cast. I actually had a discussion with a friend of mine several months ago that I thought Britt Hancock would play a fantastic Billy Flynn. Who called it?? I did! :)

Rounding out the main cast are Lauren Marshall Murphy as Mamma Morton and K'ieu Quillar as Mary Sunshine. I've seen Lauren in several Playhouse productions and always enjoy her performances. Quillar is new to me. I don't believe I've ever seen her in a show before.

The rest of the cast are almost all familiar names to me, with only a few exceptions. The Merry Murderesses of the Cook County Jail are Nicole Begue-Hackman as Liz, Lindy Pendzick at Annie, Wesley Webster as June, Caitlin Schaub as Hunyak, and Jensen Crain as Mona.

The rest of the cast are as follows:

Sgt. Fogarty/Martin Harrison = Greg Pendzick
Kitty/M.C. = Regina Villaruz/Debra Graham
Fred Casely = Michael Ruff
Harry/Judge = Nathaniel Hackman
Aaron = Keith McCoy
Court Clerk = Chaz Sanders

Men's Ensemble
Nathaniel Hackman         Keith McCoy
Greg Pendzick              Austin Price
Michael Ruff                   Chaz Sanders
Derek Wagner

Women's Ensemble
Eleanor Aiken       Nicole Begue-Hackman
Jensen Crain        Erin Curry
Debra Graham       Lindy Pendzick
Caitlin Schaub      Regina Villaruz
Weslie Webster

I am betting on a top-notch production and I can't wait to see the final production. Stay tuned to this blog. I may have some other snippets of information from this production. Maybe even an interview. :)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Company at the Movie Theater

Back in the fall buzz got started online of a four day revival of Sondheim's Company at the New York Philharmonic. Almost immediately the announced the lead would be played by Neil Patrick Harris. Later, more of the star-studded cast was announced. This cast would make a Hollywood buff want to head straight to New York, but made a Broadway lover, like myself, excited just as much. With stage veterans like Patti LuPone, Aaron Lazar, and Katie Finneran along side of Hollywood big-names like NPH, Jon Cryer, Stephen Colbert, and Martha Plimpton, I would have loved to have been close enough to New York to have seen this show. It took place in April of this year. Of course, I wasn't there (curses!).

But, it seems that more and more Broadway productions are realizing that not everyone can make it to New York. Just a couple of months ago it was announced that the production had been filmed and would be shown in movie theaters. Other shows like Memphis and The Importance of Being Earnest have done this as well. Both of those productions I missed because the showings are at so few theaters (and I live in the middle of nowhere).

I got lucky with Company. It showed at a theater only an hour from my house. My friend and I went, and coughed up the $18 to see it (waaayyy more than your standard movie ticket, but whatever). I'm glad I did it though. I had never seen a production of Company before and I loved it! I laughed almost all the way through and was amazed at the singing and dancing skills of some of the Hollywood actors. I mean, who knew Stephen Colbert could sing & dance?? Or Jon Cryer for that matter. Not me.

Robert, played by Neil Patrick Harris, is 35 and lives in New York. He's surrounded himself with friends that are all couples, while he himself is still single. The entire show is about his interaction with the couples and showcasing both the bad and good parts of marriage.

I was blessed enough to see Katie Finneran in her Tony Award winning performance in Promises, Promises last year. She stole the show in the performance and did a darn good job in her role in Company as well. It was great to see her again. Like always, she made me laugh more than I can imagine, especially during her number "Getting Married Today" where she sings about her reluctance to get married to long time boyfriend Paul (played by Aaron Lazar).

Martha Plimpton (formerly of The Goonies and more recently of Raising Hope on Fox) and Stephen Colbert played a couple of which one is on a diet and the other "on the wagon" when it comes to drinking. Of course, Bobby comes over hilarity ensues when both Plimpton and Colbert's characters fall off their perspective wagons and end up in a pseudo-karate match (since Plimpton's character is studying karate). It's obvious to Bobby that this couple drives each other crazy.

Perhaps the biggest laugh was a scene in which Robert visits with Jenny (played wonderfully by Jennifer Laura Thompson) and David (Jon Cryer...need I say more) and they all smoke pot together. Seeing the relationship between David and Jenny was interesting, even through the laughs.

Patti LuPone's presences as Joanne in this show was so fun. I loved the character of Joanne and I loved the two big songs that LuPone got to sing, "The Little Things You Do Together" and "The Ladies Who Lunch." Someday I hope to actually see her on Broadway.

Robert's random three girlfriends, Marta, Kathy, and April made for some good laughs. April (played by Christina Hendricks) the airhead stewardess made for some great laughs and one liners. Marta (played by Anika Noni Rose) had some fantastic monologues, including one about New York that I WILL find and memorize some day.

The original showings were supposed to be for 4 days between June 15th and June 21st. Of course, it's past that time, so typically it wouldn't have done anyone any good to read my thoughts on the show. But "due to popular demand" it extended for dates from June 23rd thru June 26th. Sadly, it's no longer at a theatre close to me. But someone else might have the chance to go see it. I encourage you to do so. You can find theaters where it is showing listed HERE.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I Might Be Too Nice

I was watching a youtube video this morning called Theater Talk. It was a group of New York theatre critics talking about this past season of shows. I decided a few things about myself as I was watching it. First off, I'm too nice to be a theatre critic. Really. I find it very difficult to find mean or unkind things to say about any show. In fact, there's only been one show I've ever been to in my life that I didn't really like (I didn't blog about it) and it was just the acting that caused all of my feelings about the show to be unkind.

Secondly, I don't go to shows expecting one thing and getting something totally different. A lot of people (critics especially) were highly unimpressed with Catch Me If You Can. You can tell by my review that I loved it. I didn't go in expecting anything other than colorful sparkly fun. And that's what I got.

I do know this about myself: If I think I'll hate it, I don't go. My prime examples of that are Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark and Book of Mormon. Really, I wanted the Tony awards performance of The Book of Mormon to make me change my mind about the show. It didn't. So maybe it isn't that I'm not mean. Maybe it's that I'm smart enough to avoid the shows I know I'll hate.

All I could think about while I watched this video this morning was Taylor Swift's song Mean. Cause I really kind of feel like these critics are just looking for something to pick on sometimes. Don't expect a show to be something it's not. If it's meant to be fluff, and they do a good job at making it fluff, then don't bash it for being fluff. You don't yell at a cat for being a cat and not a dog. It doesn't make any sense.

So, I guess that means being a theatre critic when I grow up (?) is out of the question. No one would hire me cause I'd give nothing but good reviews. If you want to watch the above mentioned video, I've posted the clip below.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Little Shop of Horrors

Over the weekend I went to see Little Shop of Horrors at the Cumberland County Playhouse. I'm going to sum it all up in two sentences: This show was every bit the cheesy B-flick that the movie version was. And that is a good thing. :)

The movie version came out in 1986. A cult classic, I saw it growing up and remember laughing all the way through it. As far as I can remember, it was also my first introduction to Rick Moranis. It's cheesy, ridiculous, and not the least bit scary. The Playhouse's version of the musical is also cheesy, ridiculous, and not the least bit scary. It's a spoof from start to finish and you can't help but laugh. When I left, my face was a little sore from smiling so much.

Cast as Seymore and Audrey, real life couple Greg and Lindy Pendzick played their roles to near perfection. Lindy's Audrey had that endearing, Betty Boop-like charm, while Greg's Seymore was perfectly awkward and adorable. The girl group trio of Chiffon, Ronnette and Crystal were played by Leila Nelson, Alison Girtz, and Joann Coleman. Girtz and Coleman were making their Cumberland County Playhouse debut, but both came to the show with an amazing resume. All three of the actresses were fantastic, and their costumes were my favorite in the entire show.

Cumberland County Playhouse's go-to man for comedy, Jason Ross, played numerous roles, including abusive dentist/boyfriend, Orin. As always, his knack for comedy was amazing. He could lay it on thick and have you rolling in the floor with laughter in no time flat.

The voice of Audrey II, the giant man-eating plant was Michael Ruff. His voice was fantastic for the plant. The puppeteers were Austin Price and Chaz Sanders and I have to say, they did a fantastic job as well. Audrey II was amazing and hilarious.

The set was as colorful as the costumes, with Mushnik's flower show edged in 1950s pink, and the backdrop a cartoonish version of Skid Row. Both were fun and fit the feel of the show well.
One thing I really noticed about the show was the young audience. The past several times I've seen shows at the Playhouse I could have been the youngest person there by several decades. This audience was younger by far. Sure, there were older people there as well, but I saw several people around my age, a handful of teenagers, and some families. It's a fun show and I think it is more attractive to a younger audience than the more classic, older musicals.

Check out the video below (found on the Cumberland County Playhouse's facebook page) for a scene from the show. And then go buy tickets! The show runs through August 6th.

Friday, June 10, 2011

My Fair Lady

Well, I managed to do it again. I waited to see a show until it's closing night. Which is a total shame, because My Fair Lady, at the Cumberland County Playhouse, was beautiful and so much fun. I would have seen it again, and probably taken several more of my friends and family, had I seen it sooner.

As a little girl, I grew up on the movie version of My Fair Lady. Rex Harrison & Audrey Hepburn? Yes, please (and yes, I am aware that she was not the singing voice in the movie). My Fair Lady, along with The Sound of Music, probably qualify as my favorite musicals of all time. So to say I was excited when I found out that the Playhouse was doing a production of My Fair Lady is a slight understatement.
However, the show opened in early April and since that time I've had two trips to New York, a trip to the mid-west for a family function, my birthday, my sister's birthday, Mother's Day, and a million other things going on...which lead to me only seeing the show last night. But in a way, I think that was a good thing. I believe that most actors put more into the last show because that's the end. That's saying goodbye to a character they've nurtured and created for weeks or months. A last hurrah, of sorts.

Needless to say, I loved the show. For those of you who don't know the story, it's a basic rags to riches story. A rich man makes a bet that he can turn a poor, ill-spoken flower girl from the streets into a true lady. And how many teen movies have we seen with a very similar plot line? I think every teen movie from my high school and college years followed that same plotline. The difference: this one includes song, dance, and British accents.

The scenery was beautiful. I've come to expect nothing less at the Playhouse. But the true winner on this show was the costuming. Maybe it's because I'm partial to the dress of that time period, but I truly think the costumes helped make the show top notch. My favorite costumes were the in the scene from the horse races at Ascot. They were so much like those from the movie; everyone in black and white.

Jason Ross played a fantastic Henry Higgins. His comedic timing never fails and it was no different with this show. Nicole Bégué Hackmann played Eliza Doolittle. She was beautifully crass when needed and amazingly elegant as her character progressed. And her singing voice is nothing short of perfection. I love to hear her sing. In every production I've seen her in, her voice has caught my attention, sometimes even before the character has.

The Cumberland County Playhouse has a fantastic group of regulars as well. Many of the ensemble members are often leads in other shows. It is great because you have top notch actors even in the ensemble cast. They had some amazing dancing in this show as well, helped in large part I'm sure, by choreographer Leila Nelson. One of the best numbers in the show was "Get Me To The Church on Time." I loved all of the dancing in this number.

So many of the songs in this show are classics, such as "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "Wouldn't It Be Lovely." I found myself mouthing the words of the songs during the show. I had to remind myself that the actors could see me (I was in the second row) and that I probably shouldn't be moving my lips. No worries of me singing, however. I would never be that rude. And I've been known to throw a death glare or two when I've heard other audience members singing during a show.  

Honestly, the only thing I'm kicking myself is for not seeing it sooner. It was beautiful from start to finish.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Supporting the Arts

In the economic downturn of the past several years many things have suffered. People have less money and less ability to go enjoy the arts. Especially theatre and live music. I've been very blessed that I've somehow managed to be able to see more than I did before. I'll admit that finding the money hasn't been easy, and I've gotten some good deals and great blessings that have helped along the way.

My obsession with theatre has exploded in recent years, leading to my starting this blog. One of the things that has made it easier and cheaper for me to see shows has been the Cumberland County Playhouse. This tiny theatre that is about an hour from my house, has been open since 1965. The professional productions have been a blessing for me.

Speaking as someone who sees professional shows a LOT, Cumberland County Playhouse puts on some top notch productions and have some amazing actors in house. This was the theater that I saw my first play in as a child. Many local school groups travel to CCP each year. In these groups are children who may never see another play or musical in their lives. In these groups could be the next generation of Tony winners or the next fine arts journalist or critic. Or they could just be like me, a theatre lover who likes to blog.

But the Cumberland County Playhouse is in trouble. They are suffering financially and sent out a message to their e-mail list and on their facebook page last week pleading for help. Without a significant change in ticket sales and/or donations, the Cumberland County Playhouse faces closing its doors after 46 years.

This would be a devastating blow to the community and the strides to bring more culture to this area. Not to mention the blow it would be to me, personally. The Playhouse gives me my theater fix since I live so far away from New York City.

I know times are tough. I know not everyone can afford to help. But if you can afford to go see a show, please go. If not, donate something. Even five or ten dollars can help. We need this theatre open. They need our help, in whatever way you can give it. To order tickets or donate over the phone, you can call 1 (931) 484-5000. If you want to buy tickets or donate online (via debit, credit, or paypal), visit their website HERE.

Please don't let this amazing theatre close its doors. Please take the time to help keep the arts alive on the Cumberland Plateau.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Catch Me If You Can

On Wednesdays , at the Times Square Visitor Center, Seth Rudetsky records his weekly radio show for Sirius/XM On Broadway. He has different Broadway starts and others connected with theatre come in and he will interview them and sometimes you can hear previews of music from new cast recordings.

The Wednesday of my trip to the city, Seth had Aaron Tveit, lead in Catch Me If You Can, along with the two creators, Terrence McNally and Marc Shaiman on his show. And I was there. To be honest, although
Catch Me was on my radar, I didn’t have it in my plans to go see. Time and money were both issues, and this show had taken a backseat to others.

At the Wednesday recording of Seth’s show my opinion changed drastically. Aaron sang two songs from the show, “Seven Wonders” and “Goodbye”. After hearing Aaron sing these songs I had to see this show. Even after seeing the show, these songs are two of my favorites from the production.

If you know the movie Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, you pretty much know the plot line of this musical. In case you don’t, it is based on the true story of con-man Frank Abagnale, Jr. who ran away from home at the age of 16 and had written bad checks of over $2.5 million, as well as impersonated a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer by the time he was 21 years old.

I saw the movie when it first came out, and I had been following the development of the musical version since
I had seen Tveit in Next to Normal a few years ago. I was interested to see him on stage again and I knew I loved the movie. A musical version made me slightly wary, though.

The musical basically followed the same story as the movie version. However, there was lots of song, dance and color. Which I count as a wonderful thing. My seats at the show were amazing. With a discount ticket code, we got front row Mezzanine seats. Once again, the theatre was small enough that we were extremely close to the stage. I loved it.

The story starts out with Frank Abagnale being captured by Agent Carl Hanratty. It leads into the first number called “Live in Living Color” and it is every bit as colorful as its name. Throughout the show Tveit breaks the fourth wall and actually talks to the audience. Some people might find that disturbing, but I find it like a breath of fresh air. Frank Abagnale just wants to tell his story to the audience… live in living color. :)

The show immediately jumps back in time to his childhood home where you are introduced to his parents, Frank Sr, played with great gusto by Tom Wopat and Paula Abagnale. Paula was played by Rachel de Benedet, and in my opinion was the most graceful and beautiful dancer in the entire show. As the show progresses, you see the influence that Frank Jr’s father has on him, and the devastation he feels when his parents divorce, leading to his running away and subsequent fall into a life of swindling and impersonating.

When we’re introduced to Norbert Leo Butz’s character, Agent Hanratty, he let’s us in on his personality with the number “Don’t Break the Rules.” It’s fun, cute, and there are dancing men in FBI standard issued black suits. You can’t help but smile. Butz does a great job with becoming Hanratty. You like him, just as much as Abagnale likes him. When Abagnale called Hanratty just to have someone to talk on Christmas day, you knew there would be an interesting relationship between the tow.

I also have to point out that Kerry Butler, as Brenda, had a horrible, but brilliantly dealt with “moment” on stage during the number “Christmas Is My Favorite Time of Year.” She has no lines and only had to walk across the stage at that point in the show. But her shoe got stuck in a crack in the stage. From where I was sitting you could see her jerk her foot a couple of times to try to get it lose and then seen the realization that she was going to have to do something run all over her face. She ended up leaving the shoe and continuing her walk with only one shoe. Luckily, right after that number the curtain came down for intermission. Otherwise, I don’t know what would have happened to that poor shoe.

Coming back from intermission shows Abagnale and Brenda meeting and eventually falling in love, while he is posing as a doctor. This is where the number “Seven Wonders” is in the show. And even as a duet between Brenda and Frank (instead of solo, as I heard Tveit sing it earlier in the week), the song was adorably sweet. Of course, after meeting her family under an assumed name, Hanratty catches up with Abagnale, forcing him to go on the run, and eventually be caught.

Another of my favorite numbers in the show is “Goodbye”, which Abagnale sings toward the end of the show, after he’s captured. It’s a great song that talks about how it is sometimes easier to tell your story YOUR way, instead of the whole truth. Sometimes, it’s just easier to leave the bad parts out.

Overall, my only complaint about the whole show was Kerry Butler’s (Brenda) solo song, “Fly, Fly Away.” She did a fantastic job singing it, the song itself was just a little underwhelming, in my opinion. This show was full of fun and fluff. Not the deepest show you’ll ever see, but if you’re looking for fun and lots of color, dancing, and singing, you can’t miss with this one.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


I have a lot to say in this post and I’m sure it still won’t cover or convey all the things I am thinking or feeling in regards to the play, Jerusalem. I know that it’s been two weeks since I saw the show and in some ways I’m still processing what happened on that stage, in that theatre that night. If you don’t feel like you want to take the time to read my ramblings, just read this: I’ve never been so moved by a straight play in my life. I’ve never had that many emotions. I’ve never left a theatre so unsure of my feelings about a show. And you MUST see it if you have the opportunity.

My friend and I rushed this show to get cheaper tickets. It was a show that we knew a little about, but the biggest kicker for me was the fact that John Gallagher, Jr was in this show. Having seen him in American Idiot four times, I was anxious to see him in something different. I’d also heard wonderful things about Mark Rylance in La Bete.

Let me first mention the set. The curtain came up and I was immediately in a forest. There were actual TREES on this stage. And real grass. And even a cage with actual live chickens. Even though this play is set in the English country-side, I swear I’ve been to very similar areas on my Tennessee mountain, complete with broken down trailers, couches, and old car seats sitting in front of a fire pit.

There are three acts to this play. The first act, in many ways is solid comedy. At first intermission, I wasn’t really sure where the show was going. It was funny, and you were getting an idea of what was going on, but it hadn’t really come together yet. The second act begins to sew more and more pieces together. It was still comedic. But you were beginning more and more things happening that were leaning hard to the serious side. By the third act I was entranced. As was the entire theatre. It was silent. I was still. My eyes never left the stage and I was slightly afraid to blink in case I would miss something.

Mark Rylance plays Johnny “Rooster” Byron, a story-telling, middle aged drug dealer that has a following of teenagers and misfits. Each of his “followers” have their own issues going on and most of them have a safer, more stable existence when they are partying at Rooster’s than they would if they were home. But they all seem to continue to gravitate toward Rooster and his amazingly charismatic personality. The premise of the show, at a VERY basic level is that Johnny “Rooster” Byron lives in a trailer in the English countryside on land that does not belong to him. The local town is trying to forcibly remove him from the area.

Rylance commands the stage as Rooster. It makes me believe that he is every bit as charismatic off-stage as he is in the role of Rooster. His ability to bewitch the audience is amazing. But I’ll be honest, when he came out the stage door, he was so quite, polite and unassuming that if I’d seen him anywhere else, I’d have assumed that he was anyone else in the city, working a “regular” job and going nowhere near Broadway.

I should point out a few other actors in this show. I don’t want to forget what an amazing cast this was. Aimeé-Ffion Edwards played teen runaway Phaedra. She sang most of her lines in the show and had a hauntingly beautiful presence onstage.

Mackenzie Crook played Rooster’s side-kick. Or as much of a side-kick as Rooster would allow. Crook gave the character of Ginger humor and loyalty. He was, in fact, Rooster’s most loyal follower. A true friend? I’d believe so. Crook received a Tony nomination for this role and I feel it was more than deserved.

And I can’t finish this post without mentioning former Idiot, John Gallagher, Jr. as Lee, a young man who has decided to leave England for Australia in hopes of something new. He is most of the reason that I went to the show. I’ll admit that. But the play itself, and Mark Rylance’s superb performance were the reason I fell in love with the show. I recommend it to anyone that wants a solid piece of theatre that will make you think and feel things in ways that theatre rarely does.

This limited engagement has extended through August 21st. Go see it. Part of my New Year’s resolution was to see more plays as well as to see more original works. I was blessed to get both of those done with this wonderful British transfer.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest

Some of you may not know about this cool little program that Roundabout Theatre Company has called Hip Tix. It is for people who are ages 18-35 and you can get great seats to Roundabout shows for around $22. It’s free to enroll. If you live in the NYC area, or if you are planning on a vacation to NY, join! It’s a fantastic deal.

I start this post off with that little bit of information because Hip Tix is how I got my tickets to see The Importance of Being Earnest while I was in New York on vacation. Our seats were in the mid-mezzanine at the American Airlines Theatre, but the theater is small enough that even those seats are fantastic.

I went to see The Importance of Being Earnest knowing nothing about it, other than it was a straight play and a comedy. I have to say right away that I loved it. It was a laugh from start to finish. The show is basically set in England in the 1800’s and follows a couple of men who use aliases to become someone they aren’t. Their reasons are different. But the result is the same. Comedy, confusions, and mix-ups. The show is also very much a lesson in class divisions.

One of the greatest things about this show was that Lady Bracknell was played by Brian Bedford. Brian Bedford also directed the show. He is up for lead actor in a play for the role and I have to say the nomination is well deserved. Bedford gives a classic performance of a stodgy, upper class woman that is dead set against her daughter marrying out side of their own class.

Algernon Moncrieff is a well-to-do spoiled brat that gets a kick out of getting his way. Santino Fontana was fantastic in portraying this character with a sort of innocent, trouble maker persona. Even though you could easily hate a character that was so insistent about getting his way, Fontana made the character completely loveable.

John Worthing is a character who has created a fake brother in order for him to get away with things while he lives as “Earnest” and yet maintain his upstanding persona as John. David Furr was hilarious. He facial expressions were priceless and he, like Fontana, made you love a character that you might just hate because he’s lying so much.

The sets were huge on this set, and even though the show wasn’t extremely long, it required two intermissions for set changes. Pretty elaborate, but the sets were beautiful.

It’s worth seeing. Comedy and fun are throughout the show and it was nice to see another straight play on Broadway. The more plays I see on Broadway, the more willing I am to see them. I’ll admit, this formerly “musical only” girl may just be changing her mind.