Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fantastic Fall? Or Faulty Fall?

I am currently flat broke. I love New York and I love to go see as many shows in the city as I can, but I’ve been so broke lately that I don’t see myself making it back for a couple of months at least. Maybe longer. Usually I feel like I’m missing so many things that I want to see. Currently, there are only two shows that I’m super excited and wish I could see. Newsies and Peter and the Starcatcher. Both are high on my “to see” list, and I’m truly sad I won’t get to see Jeremy Jordan before he leaves to film Smash full time.

I’ve been looking at the shows opening in the next few months, all the way through the end of the year. There are a quite a few. Sadly, I’m not truly excited about any of them.

Here’s a rundown of everything opening thru December…


Currently in previews; Opening September 10th

"From the slums of London to the heights of Hollywood, is the showbiz Broadway musical about the silent film legend the world couldn’t stop talking about - Charlie Chaplin. The brand new 22-person musical reveals the man behind the legend, the undeniable genius that forever changed the way America went to the movies."*

Okay, this show makes me slightly curious, just because I've always been fascinated with old movies and silent films. But I've heard nothing about it, so I'm just not sure. Nothing good, nothing bad...just nothing. So I don't know if I should be excited about it. Personally, that doesn't seem like a good thing when it comes to PR. But what do I know?

An Enemy of the People

Previews: September 4th. Opening September 27th.

"When Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Boyd Gaines) discovers toxic contamination in the water used at the local baths, he expects to be hailed as a hero. But since the baths are the town's main source of revenue, the community fights to silence him…and Dr. Stockmann learns that there are forces more powerful than truth. An incisive tale about the high price of free expression, An Enemy of the People makes a timely return to the New York stage in this bold new version by one of Britain's most exciting young writers, Rebecca Lenkiewicz."*


Previews: September 13th. Opening October 4th.

"Grace asks, 'Are we in control of our lives or is there something else at work?' With a grippingly innovative dramatic structure, Grace follows a wide-eyed young couple (Rudd & Arrington) as they start a new life in sunny, promise-filled Florida, with big plans to open a chain of Gospel motels. An agitated neighbor (Shannon) and a caustic exterminator (Asner) complete the eclectic foursome as destinies collide in this intensely entertaining and suspenseful journey to the edge of your seat."*

So, the fact that Paul Rudd and Ed Asner are in this show might actually make me want to see it. But the religious aspect of it makes me wonder if I would actually like the show. I suppose that with a name like Paul Rudd on the bill, they have a decent chance of filling seats. Still, not overly enthusiastic.

Cyrano de Bergerac

Previews: September 14th. Opening October 11th.

Roundabout bills the 1897 verse classic this way: "A enduring masterwork with some of the wittiest lines ever written for the stage, Cyrano de Bergerac is a clever and touching story about the power of love, the art of wordplay and the joy of finding what you've always wanted right under your nose. Cyrano's a nobleman with a head for poetry and a nose for miles. All of Paris adores him except for his true love Roxanne, who can't see past his all-too-prominent facial feature. Instead, she falls for a handsome young cadet named Christian. But when Christian admits he's tongue-tied with Roxanne, Cyrano gives him the romantic words guaranteed to win her heart. With Christian's looks and Cyrano's language, it's a foolproof plan! Or is it?"*

Wow. Just reading this synopsis kind of makes my head hurt. Perhaps because it's a "1897 classic"? If I lived in New York, I might see this. Roundabout has the great HipTix program, so I wouldn't have to pay much. Outside of that...probably wouldn't make a trip for it.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Preview: September 27th, Opening October 13th.

The acclaimed new production about the clash between a husband and wife, and their late-night cocktail guests, seen in 2010-11 at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago and Arena Stage in Washington, DC, comes to Broadway 50 years after its debut there.*

Sigh. Another revival. Where's the originality people? Where??


Previews: October 3rd, Opening November 8th.

The new production of the Tony Award-winning musical — about an optimistic Depression-era orphan and her billionaire adoptive daddy — is inspired by the Harold Gray comic strip "Little Orphan Annie." *

Um...the ONLY show I'm super excited about that's opening in the fall. Honestly, you can see a production of Annie on any given weekend in about a million community/regional/children's theatres across the nation. But this production has one thing that the others don't: Katie Finneran. I saw her in Promises, Promises and fell head over heels in love. I'd see almost anything that she was in. So, while Annie itself doesn't make me jump, Katie Finneran is enough reason to go see this show.

The Heiress

Previews: October 7th, Opening November 1st.

The durable 1947 play about plain Catherine Sloper and a family home with a good view of Washington Square is based on the Henry James novel "Washington Square." The play tells of Catherine being pulled between her cold father and a warm and handsome suitor who may be motivated by greed.*

1947? Another revival. Honestly, I like all kinds of shows, but I'd like to see something written in the last 20 years. Or even 30 years. Please?

Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson

Previews: October 13th, Opening November 15th.

Kathie Lee Gifford penned the show's book and lyrics, collaborating with composers David Friedman and David Pomeranz. The story of the 20th-century evangelical superstar Aimee Semple McPherson — the American religious leader who staged provocative illustrated sermons, fed the hungry and famously vanished.*

This is interesting. I know very little about it, but the synopsis catches my attention, and I'm intrigued by the Kathie Lee Gifford thing. It could be a hit...or a complete flop. I'm curious to see what people have to say about this one.

Glengarry Glen Ross

Previews: October 16th, Opening November 11th.

Al Pacino will play Shelly Levene in a new Broadway production of David Mamet's acidic comic-drama about desperate real-estate men. The show follows the cutthroat world of real estate where salesmen (in a Chicago office) are vying for the best leads to make the biggest sales.*

David Mamet and Al Pacino. Those names will probably get people in the seats. It might even get me in a seat. If I was already in New York.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Previews: October 19th, Opening November 13th.

Tony Award winner Chita Rivera will step into the world of the British Music Hall this fall for the first Broadway revival of the Tony Award-winning Rupert Holmes musical.*

With a cast that has Chita Rivera, Jessie Mueller, Will Chase & Stephanie J. Block, this show might actually do okay. While a tourist may not know all the names, anyone who follows theatre would. Again, a show that I'm not overly excited about, but the casting might make me buy a ticket.


Previews: October 30th, Opening November 18th

The musical, based on the classic Daphne du Maurier novel, "is the story of Maxim de Winter, his new wife [simply, 'I,' as in the first-person] and Mrs. Danvers, the controlling and manipulative housekeeper of Maxim's West Country estate of Manderley — where the memory of his first wife, the glamorous and mysterious Rebecca, still casts a shadow." Having premiered in Vienna in 2006, Rebecca features original book and lyrics by Michael Kunze, music by Sylvester Levay, English book adaptation by two-time Tony Award winner Christopher Hampton (Sunset Boulevard) and English lyrics by Hampton and Kunze.*

Okay, I know there are people excited about this one. Really. But I don't get it. Perhaps because I haven't read the novel? Or maybe that the story just sounds kind of boring? I'm not sure.

The Performers

Previews: October 23rd, Opening November 14th

The Performers, according to press notes, "is a romantic comedy about two high school friends — and the women in their lives — who reconnect at the Adult Film Awards in Las Vegas. When the night takes an unexpected turn and relationships are threatened, Chuck Wood (Henry Winkler), the hardest-working man in the business, steps in to lend a hand. Sex, love and Barry Manilow intersect in this comedy about the ups and downs and ins and outs of love."*

Yup, I think I might like this one. It sounds interesting. And Cheyenne Jackson is in it.

Dead Accounts

Previews: November 3rd; Opening: November 29th

Here's how the new dark comedy is billed: "Jack's unexpected return throws his family into a frenzy, and his sister Lorna needs answers. Is he coming home or running away? Where is his wife everyone hates? And how did he get all that money? Theresa Rebeck’s new comedy tackles the timely issues of corporate greed, small town values, and whether or not your family will always welcome you back… with no questions asked."*

Ms. Katie Holmes is returning to the stage after splitting with her husband. The fact that she's America's darling right now is going to sell tickets. Also in the show: Norbert Leo Butz. And it's written by Theresa Rebeck. This will make the theatre junkies happy. Personally, I'd see it just to see Katie Holmes. I lived thru Dawson's Creek the first time. I can't help myself.

A Christmas Story: The Musical

Previews: November 5th; Opening: November 19th

"This classic holiday tale centers on a mischievous, bespectacled boy, Ralphie, who dreams of getting a BB-gun for Christmas," according to press notes. "In the weeks before the big holiday, Ralphie, his friends and his family get into all kinds of situations— including run-ins with a bully with 'yellow eyes,' a tongue stuck to a flag pole, a bar of soap in the mouth, a garish leg lamp, a major award and a Chinese Christmas dinner."*

Hmmm… this show has been playing in Nashville every Christmas for the past few years. I’ve not seen it, but…. I’m afraid it’ll ruin one of my favorite Christmas movies. Just by the "brand name" alone, this show shouldn't have any trouble selling to the holiday tourists.

Golden Boy

Previews: November 8th; Opening: December 6th

Lincoln Center Theater presents this revival of Clifford Odets' play. According to LCT, "Golden Boy is the story of Joe Bonaparte (to be played by Seth Numrich), a young, gifted violinist who is torn between pursuing a career in music and earning big money as a prize fighter."*

Tony Shalhoub, Danny Burstein. These are the names I recognize. The storyline sounds interesting to me. Slightly Billy Elliott-esque perhaps?

Elf: The Musical

Previews: November 9th. I couldn't find an opening date.

Based on the film of the same title, the musical returns for a holiday engagement.*

Ug. The first time wasn't bad enough? I didn't see it. I didn't want to see it. I still don't.

The Anarchist

Previews: November 13th; Opening December 2th.

Set in a female penitentiary, the two-woman drama by David Mamet casts LuPone as Cathy, a longtime inmate with ties to a violent political organization, who pleads for parole from the warden, Ann, to be played by Winger.*

Debra Winger, Patti Lupone will sell these tickets. I'd see it.

My overall opinion for the fall on Broadway is that it's just kind of boring. There are very few original shows. And it seems to me that they are either selling a brand (A Christmas Story, Elf: The Musical, Annie), or they selling a person attached to said show (Pat Lupone, Paul Rudd, Katie Holmes). I still say I want something that excites me. Something that makes me say, "I HAVE to get to New York so I can see this show before it closes!" Perhaps the Spring will bring me something. Maybe.

Until then, I think I'll save my money until after the New Year and try to make a longer trip to New York. Unless the city itself calls my name too loudly and I can't stand to be away any longer.

*All the summaries were taken from on THIS page.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge

Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge opened at Cumberland County Playhouse Thursday night. As excited as I was about this show, it was the second time in two days that I’d seen it. I was blessed to be asked to come to the final dress/preview of the show on Wednesday night by director, John Fionte. Myself, along with two other CCP patrons, were able to sit in on Wednesday night AND tweet (and take some pictures) about what we were seeing.

This was my first “tweet event” and I was glad to be a part of it and really glad I got to see the show before it opened. If you’d like to see what was tweeted (including a tweet from one of the show’s writers), you can click HERE, or search #goldenboytweets on Twitter.

Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge is a comedy and a tragedy all at the same time. The story centers on Maggie McFarland and her life as the daughter of moonshiner JM McFarland. Taking place over two days, Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge looks at the relationship between Maggie and stranger Clayton Monroe. Set in 1930s prohibition Appalachia, this show is full of music that sounds like bluegrass in tune, but takes on an edgier feel when you listen to the lyrics of many of the songs.

Choreographer Donald Frison has given the show a feel that boarders somewhere between a standard musical and a rock musical (a la Spring Awakening) that both works for the show, but isn’t anything like you might expect. Perhaps the most visually captivating moments of the show is the opening number, “Way Out Back and Beyond,” due in major part to the choreography. Lighting, designed by Sandra “Sam” Hahn, helps to set the mood throughout the show, as well as casting a “golden” hue overall, helping the audience to understand the older time period that they are experiencing.

Anna Baker gives the role of Maggie a mixture of youthful exuberance and jaded disenchantment. Baker’s voice is beautiful and one of my favorite numbers of the show was the Act 2 opener “Grist for the Mill.” A large part of my love for that song was how wonderfully it was performed by Anna Baker.

Greg Pendzick plays Clayton Monroe, the golden boy with a dark past that turns Maggie’s world on end. Clayton Monroe changes in so many ways through the show and Greg Pendzick does a fantastic job of showing the transition of Clayton’s personality and why the character changes the way he does.

Luther Coffey, played by Austin Price, is Maggie’s “intended.” Austin Price tackles this role with massive amounts of comedy, but it seems to work for the character. There are times when the comedy would seem over the top, but you know that if Luther Coffey were a real person, he’d be acting the same exact way. His crowning moment in the show would be his “First-Class Ticket” number, as he begs Clayton to leave town.

Typical funny man, Jason Ross, tackles a whole different type of role in Golden Boy. Ross plays Leroy, a quite scary, slightly deranged law man with a hidden agenda. While there are times the character is funny, it’s not Jason Ross in his typical comedy. I loved seeing a different side of Ross, and I hope to see more of this type of role for him in the future.

Cast of Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge, taken from the
CCP facebook page

Lauren Marshall played local widow Hazel Grubbs. Widow Grubbs is essentially the character that glues the show together. Looking out only for herself, Widow Grubbs plays every character in the show to get herself ahead. Lauren Marshall makes Hazel Grubbs a lovable character, when it could be easy to hate her.

Rounding out the cast are Daniel Black as JM McFarland and Douglas Waterbury-Tieman, Colin Cahill, and John Dobbratz who double as part of the orchestra and locals in the small community in West Virginia, and the final two members of the orchestra, Drew Robbins and Tony Greco.

In all honesty, I think “unexpected” may be the whole theme of this production of Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge. Unexpected storyline, unexpected choreography, unexpected ending.

If you’d like to read more about the show, you can find the official press release for the show HERE. You can also read my interview with director John Fionte HERE. Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge runs through October 26th in the Adventure Theatre at Cumberland County Playhouse. If you see it, I promise you won’t be disappointed. You can get tickets on the CCP website, or by calling 931-484-5000.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge: Interview with Director John Fionte

Next Thursday night, Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge opens at Cumberland County Playhouse. This Appalachian twist on Playboy of the Western World was written by Cara Reichel and Peter Mills. Set during the Great Depression, this show is sure to please a wide variety of audiences.

This is the first production of the show outside of New York, making it special to Cumberland County Playhouse’s New Works Director, John Fionte. John was kind enough to answer a few questions about the show, despite his hectic schedule!

What brought Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge to your attention?
The Playhouse asked me to attend the National Association for Musical Theatre's Festival of New Works last October. "Golden Boy" was presented as part of the festival. Jim was aware of the show and had spoken to the authors' agent about it a couple of years before, so he asked me to pay particular attention to the show.

What was the first thing that caught your attention when you saw the show performed in New York? Peter Mills' brilliant score. The music grabbed me immediately, which surprised me since I'm not a particular fan of bluegrass. But this music is just so irresistibly good, I simply can't imagine anyone NOT liking it. And the lyrics are equally brilliant... and wickedly funny.

How does it feel to have the regional premier of a new show?
I'm truly thrilled to be the first director aside from the "Golden Boy's" co-writer Cara Reichel to stage this remarkable musical. We have a long history of fostering and developing new work here at CCP, and it's always wonderful to watch an audience react to a brand-new show for the first time.

What influenced your design (costumes and sets) for the show?
Well, certainly the fact that the show is an adaptation of "Playboy of the Western World," which is a deeply Irish play. The Cumberland Plateau is a part of rural Appalachia,a region fiercely proud of its rich musical heritage... and of the Scots-Irish roots of its culture. Peter Mills' compelling score celebrates both the contemporary bluegrass musical idiom, along with that music's deep Celtic roots. And while it's not particularly present in "Playboy," Synge was part of an Irish literary tradition that was steeped in a sense of enchantment, of magical realism. I've tried to bring a sense of that to "Golden Boy." Pete and Cara have written a play that's an intricate blend of the traditional and the contemporary, so I've tried to give equal weight to both of those things in terms of the production. The choreography, staging, design aesthetic... all those choices are filtered through a contemporary eye. The look of CCP's "Golden Boy" is as similar to "Spring Awakening" or "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" as it is to "Smoke on the Mountain" or "Big River."

Do you have a favorite moment, or musical number from Golden Boy?
I love virtually every moment of the show, Cara! If I were forced to pick one, I'd have to say that there's a moment of transition in the finale that never fails to give me chills. And to describe it any more would be to completely spoil the surprise. :)

What kind of audience do you hope the show attracts?
Obviously, as the company's Marketing Director, I hope the show will appeal to the broadest audience base possible! "Golden Boy" has a lot of elements that will appeal to fans of "Smoke On The Mountain"... onstage musicians, bluegrass-influenced music, a rural, period setting. But I also think that because of its contemporary sound and humor, it will appeal to a broader audience as well. Especially a younger one.

If you had to describe the show in five words, what would they be?
Hilarious. Tuneful. Smart. Edgy. Rockin'.

Cast of CCP's Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge
Personally, I'm really excited about this show. John's enthusiasm for the show, just makes me all that much more excited. Also, as a social media type person, I'd like to let you know about some of the things that CCP has going for this particular show AND in general.

Cumberland County Playhouse can be found on Twitter HERE (@CCPlayhouse)

CCP's production of Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge can be found on Twitter HERE (@CCPGoldenBoy)

The Cumberland County Playhouse blog is located HERE

CCP's production of Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge has a blog located HERE

Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge opens August 23rd and runs through October 26th. Tickets are available by phone at 931-484-5000 or on the CCP website by clicking HERE.

Another little "suprise" is also available. If you have a twitter account, have a blog, or a tumblr account, you are invited to a preview of Golden Boy on Wednesday, August 22nd at 7:30. Send me a tweet, email, or comment here if you are coming, and let me know where I can "find" you online!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Once: A New Musical

Back in January I wrote about several different shows that I wanted to see in the spring. Sadly (or not, depending on how you look at it), I have not been able to get back to New York since last October. The first national tour of American Idiot kind of took over my life and sucked away all my money (not that I would have traded the experience for anything).

That being said, I've been wanting to see Once since it was off-Broadway. Since it made my Spring Wish List, I knew I had to get to New York to see it...after all, SUMMER is nearly over!

I pulled a crazy trip to New York this weekend, in which I didn't sleep in a bed for over 48 hours, got very little sleep in general, and only spent 11 hours in New York City. I missed my city. It was nice to be back. Even if it was for such a short amount of time.

This show has been so popular that it was nearly impossible to get discounts, even when it opened. After winning the 2012 Tony for Best Musical, discounts pretty much disappeared. It shows up occasionally at TKTS, but I wasn't about to risk not getting a ticket after that crazy trip, so for the first time in nearly 3 years, I paid full price for a ticket to see a show on Broadway.

Let me just say's worth it. I have not seen the movie on which the musical is based, so I have nothing to compare it with, but I do believe it is one of the most beautiful pieces of theatre I've ever seen.

The show, set in Dublin, is about two characters known only as Guy and Girl. Guy is a broken-hearted Dublin native, and Girl is a Czech immigrant. Their story is as much about the love and power of music as it is about the love between the two characters themselves.
Visually, this show is stunning. The set is simple and intimate, much like the show itself. Scenic design by Bob Crowley and lighting by Natasha Katz married perfectly, helping to shift the mood and emotion throughout the show. The back wall of the set was covered in old mirrors, but instead of distracting from the action on stage, it helped enhance what was happening. One point that I remember vividly, Guy has his back to the audience watching Girl as she plays her piano. I could see him, perfectly reflected in one of the mirrors. As I watched his expression in the reflection, I couldn't help but think how perfectly it set the mood of the scene, and how beautifully it had been done.

Guy, played by Steve Kazee, is heart-broken and ready to walk away from his guitar and his music forever when Girl walks into his life. Played by Cristin Milioti, Girl is a Czech immigrant with a love for music and a broken vacuum cleaner. But most importantly, Girl recognizes the talent and soul in Guy’s music and does everything she can to keep him from walking away from his music and from giving up on love.
Kazee brings both chills and tears when he sings. I am quite positive that everyone in the theatre could feel the emotion rolling off the stage when Kazee sang. Milioti’s Girl is funny, sweet, driven, and serious. After all, as she says many times, “I’m always serious. I’m Czech.” Together, they have an on stage chemistry that reaches all the way to the back of the theatre and makes you root for the happy ending that could be.
The rest of the cast is equally as talented and amazing. Each actor has created amazingly in depth characters, while also playing instruments to give the show its music. There is no separate orchestra, only the actors themselves. One of my favorites was Paul Whitty, as music shop owner Billy. He had some of the best one liners in the show and was a constant source of entertainment while he was on stage, even though his character was very serious. Two other sources of great talent, and wise characters, were David Patrick Kelly, playing the role of Da, and Anne L. Nathan as Baruška.
This is not to leave out any of the other amazing actors in the show. Each one brought life and depth to this beautiful story. Each one brought amazing musical talent to the stage. I’d list them all, but this post might go on forever.
 I do feel the need to point out the beautiful choreography in the show. There is no dancing, so it’s actually listed as “movement” in the playbill. Each scene change, each moving of set pieces, every step during the songs were beautifully choreographed. Most notably during the song “Gold,” which closes out the first act, but in many other times during the show, you see the grace and thought out actions that are taking place on the stage. The movement was done by Steven Hoggett, who happens to be the same person who choreographed American Idiot.
I could tell you the entire storyline, but for those of you who don’t want to know all the special parts, I’ll just say this: Once took me through a spectrum of emotions, each one more powerful than the last. It made me want to pick up the fiddle I got for Christmas 3 years ago and actually learn how to play it. It made me want to love. It made me want to cry. It made me want to laugh. It DID make me feel. And isn’t that what good theatre is supposed to do?
I could go on and on about how great the show was, but instead I’ll just note that it was announced on Monday, after I had seen the show on Saturday, that Once has already recouped it’s investment. To put that into perspective for you, in 21 weeks, this show has earned back all the money that people put into it to get it going. It was also noted that Once recouped faster than any other musical in the past decade. There’s a reason for that.
Please go see this show if you get the chance. It’s worth the money. It’s worth the time. It’s worth the trip, if you must travel. You won’t get big and elaborate, but you will be moved.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Nutty Professor: A New Musical

When I first heard that someone was turning The Nutty Professor into a musical, I cringed inwardly. I am not about to lie about that. Truly dating myself, the only version of The Nutty Professor that I had seen was the slap-stick comedy version that came out in 1996 starring Eddie Murphy. And to be honest, I never actually sat down and watched that entire film; only bits and pieces of it.

I discovered quite quickly that there had been an ORIGINAL version of the movie in 1963 starring Jerry Lewis, comic extraordinaire. My interest was raised at this point…. I am well aware at how “re-makes” of movies often bare any resemblance to the original versions, so I wondered what the Lewis version was like. I didn’t take the time to hunt it down and watch it, but I kept my eyes on the Broadway world, waiting to hear more about yet another movie-turned-musical.

Finding out that the out-of-town run was going to be in Nashville was pretty amazing. I may be wrong in this assessment, but I don’t believe that I know of Nashville EVER hosting the out-of-town, pre-Broadway run of a show. That on its own made me want to see the show. Add in the fact that the music was written by Marvin Hamlisch and the show was directed by Jerry Lewis, and I was hooked.

A couple of weeks ago the twitter accounts for both TPAC and The Nutty Professor itself, gave out a “tweet seat” discount code for their previews (in TPAC world, that’s simply a discount for people on twitter & NOT actually encouraging tweeting during the show). The deal was great and it was much easier on my budget than paying full price after the show opened. I snapped up a couple of these tickets and one of my dear friends went with me.

One of the very first things I noticed, when the proverbial curtain came up, was how similar in style (set, lighting, costume) the show seemed to be to several other shows I’ve seen on Broadway in the past few years. Catch Me If You Can, Promises, Promises, and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Obviously, all the shows are from the same era, the 50s & 60s, which I’m sure lead to the similarities in color and tone. The great thing about that was that it gave me a feeling of comfort. Like I knew what I could expect from the rest of the production.

The basic run down of the story, if you’re like me and you’d never seen the movie, is Professor Julius Kelp, teacher at Korwin University and his quirky differences. Professor Kelp walks outside the “norm” and pretty much no one likes him. Enter bright young student Stella Purdy, whose dreams are larger than life, and who wants nothing more than to know everything she can. Miss Purdy likes Professor Kelp’s quirkiness and doesn’t mind being a little different herself, much to the dismay of her fellow students.

While the story was building through the first act, I was feeling a little TOO much like I’d seen the show before. I kept waiting for something new to pop out at me, but it didn’t quite happen the way I wanted it to happen, though there were some stand-out moments still present. Stella, played by the lovely and terrifically talented Marrisa McGowan, sings a beautiful number entitled “While I Still Have the Time” that speaks to her wide-eyed innocence as she enters a world filled with promise.

Another great point of the first act was seeing the transformation of Julius Kelp into Buddy Love. Michael Andrew does and amazing job of creating two totally different characters. So different in mannerisms, walk, stature, and facial expressions that it was very easy to forget that it wasn’t two separate people on that stage. Even more amazing: Michael Andrew created two totally different singing voices. As Julius Kelp, he sings “Stella” after meeting the lovely Miss Purdy. Later in the first act, as Buddy Love, Andrew sings “(Hey Is It Me or) Is it Hot in Here” and it’s like a totally different person is singing as well.

When the second act began, I wasn’t sure what my thoughts were on the show. I’m glad I waited to tweet my judgments because the second act is what pulled the show together and made it shine. The story, at its heart, is about accepting yourself for who you are AND not being afraid to be a little different. Julius Kelp needed to see how a change in his personality could take away all the things people DID like about him. Even Buddy Love himself sings a song called “I’m Trouble.” When others start to get annoyed with the Buddy Love that they….loved (sorry for the pun) so much, Julius Kelp gets the chance to see where he is special in his own way.

One of the things I feel that needs to be highly praised for this show is the choreography. Any of the group numbers had some beautiful choreography (reminding me again of the recent revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying). It was classy, graceful and was very aesthetically pleasing. When an entire company is dancing a number, it can be beautiful, or a complete disaster. I really LOVED watching these group numbers. It was something that made the show, especially the second act very much appealing.

As wonderful as Michael Andrew and Marissa McGowan were as Julius Kelp and Stella Purdy…. For me, the stand out performance of the entire production was that of Klea Blackhurst, as Miss Lemon, secretary and assistant to Korwin University Dean, Dr. Warfield. The character of Miss Lemon could have easily become a cliché or a flat character. But Blackhurst takes this role and turns Miss Lemon into a woman of depth and fun. You relate to her. You understand her unrequited love for Dr. Warfield and you want her to win. You cheer her on, even as she rolls around the bust of Dr. Warfield with her where ever she goes. And I couldn’t help but smile as she has her shining moment with “Step Out of Your Shell” toward the end of the second act.

Overall, I think this show has great potential. It’s “classic” Broadway, and while I would probably tidy it up a bit (I could do without the cheerleaders in the first act), I think this show could make a go at a decent Broadway run. This is the kind of show that a classic theatre lover will appreciate, but still has enough glitz and glitter to appeal to a younger audience that might be experiencing live theatre for the first time.

My suggestion: Go see this one in Nashville while you still can. Then you can say you saw it when. The Nutty Professor: A New Musical plays at Tennessee Performing Arts Center thru August 19th. Search around on the internet and you might even stumble across a discount or two. You can order tickets on TPAC’s website by clicking HERE.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Backwards in High Heels

Just last week, Cumberland County Playhouse opened another musical on their Main Stage. Backwards in High Heels: The Ginger Musical is exactly what it says it is. The story of the ever famous, ever elegant Ginger Rogers. The title of the show comes from a quote that Ms. Rogers is famous for (I only found out recently she never actually said it). She does everything Fred Astaire did, “Only backwards and in high heels.”

I’ve always had a place in my heart for the beauty of choreographed dance, but what drew my interest in this piece was the music. Much of music for the show was composed of songs by George and Ira Gershwin. I’m a sucker for the standards, Gershwin in particular. I knew that I would love this show if for nothing more than the music.

I was expecting a show more about Ginger Rogers and her most famous dance partner, Fred Astaire. Instead, I got an intense look at Ginger Rogers and her relationship with her mother, Lela. From the first scene, a fifteen year old Ginger has a spark about her and a need to break away from her small town life. Her mother, Lela, played by Weslie Webster, is raising Ginger, still known at Virginia, on her own. Lela tries to discourage Ginger’s big dreams, but you can tell it’s only because she worries about the hard life that Hollywood would be for Ginger.

The typical “stage mother,” Lela throws herself into her daughter’s career, yet she struggles to stay involved in her daughter’s live as Ginger’s audience and fame grows. Weslie Webster does a wonderful job of bringing the necessary vulnerability to the role, and yet showing what a strong and determined person that Lela must have been.

Jessica Wockenfuss shows enough versatility that she grows from a fifteen year old Virginia Rogers to an Academy Award winning Ginger Rogers, and she does it convincingly. While she both acts and sings with grace, Wockenfuss’ talent lies most prominently in her dancing ability. From her first dance steps on stage, I wanted to watch what she was doing.

Jessica Wockenfuss & Douglas Tieman as Fred & Ginger
Picture courtesy of Cumberland County Playhouse

Playing a multitude of roles in the first act, and Fred Astaire in the second act, Douglas Tieman is also an amazing new talent to grace the CCP stage. A talented dancer, he’s also such a good actor that he convincingly plays several roles, including a lead, and I almost didn’t realize it.

Mixed into the cast was an assortment of very talented people, some new to the CCP stage, and others were staples to common CCP patrons. Britt Hancock takes on a variety of roles, including the first husband of Ginger Rogers, Jack Culpepper. Also in a variety of roles through the show are CCP regulars Austin Price, Daniel Black, Lindy Pendzick and in-house comedian Jason Ross.

One of the guarantee laughs of any CCP production is…well, anytime Jason Ross is on stage. This production is no different. Ross plays a variety of famous women in the show, including Ethel Merman. Strangely enough, while these cameos got plenty of laughs, even from me, they felt slightly out of place in the show. I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to have women (or a single woman) to play these roles instead. Not to say anything bad of Jason Ross and his acting ability, because he shines on stage every time he’s there. I just wonder about the casting choice in general, as it felt a little odd to me.

While I’m sure that book writer Christopher McGovern took more than a few liberties with this portrayal of Ginger Rogers’ life, it was nevertheless beautifully staged and directed by Jeremy Benton. This show is worth the time. The two main stars of the show: First, the beautiful and tumultuous relationship between Ginger Rogers and her mother, Lela. Second, the dancing. Combined, you get a beautiful production and something that will sweep you away to a different time, and isn’t that what any good musical should do?

Backwards in High Heels is on the Main Stage at Cumberland County Playhouse thru November 2nd, so you have plenty of time to catch it. You can buy tickets HERE or by calling 931-484-5000.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

See Rock City

Just a little over a week ago I made my way back to Cumberland County Playhouse to see their most recent play production, See Rock City by Arlene Hutton. This is the second in a trilogy of plays by Hutton, set in the thirties and forties and following the lives of young couple Raleigh and May.

With a small cast of only four actors, it seems fitting that CCP would have the production in their smaller Adventure Theatre. Placing it there lends intimacy to an already intimate play. The set, designed by John Partyka, puts you in the era immediately. Only the front porch of the Gill home is seen, but above the house you see World War II era posters in the background. Add to that the music playing (all from that time period) and the audience has no doubts as to where their mind should be when the production begins.

Raleigh and May are a young married couple, played by real life married couple, Greg & Lindy Pendzick. Greg brings a level of comedy and laughter to the first several scenes of the play that made me wonder if it was going to turn out to be a comedic fluff piece. Sure there were laughs. Good ones. But I wasn’t sure I was expecting comedy. Very quickly, though, the tone of the show changed, becoming a serious piece that examines the time period and life-style of the era and Greg Pendzick added many layers to his character.

Lindy Pendzick’s May is beautifully elegant. She takes the character and makes it entirely apparent why May works, thinks, and acts the way she does. The time in which Raleigh and May live would have the two living opposite lives, but circumstances leave them in reverse of the “typical” roles for the time period.

Throughout the show, you see how Raleigh’s mother has been a hurdle for him, and May’s mother has been a help for both of them. Patty Payne as the all caring Mrs. Gill, May’s mother, is near perfection as she never shoves herself into the relationship of the young couple, yet obviously understand what they are going through and the emotions they deal with. On the flip side, Carol Irvin attacks the role of Mrs. Brummett making what could be a very disagreeable character into one that you simply feel sorry for. That alone is a special talent. Mrs. Brummett is abrasive, rude, and often downright mean. But through it all, Irvin makes you see that she’s living the only way she know how.

Something I found to be very helpful to the understanding of the time period was a section in the program that included World War 2 dates that were relevant to the play. It’s been a little while since I had U.S. History, so some of the information had faded to the back of my mind. While I think understanding of the play would have still been fine, it helped having a quick review when I was skimming through the program before the show started.

This show is more than worth seeing. See Rock City takes you through a wide range of emotions, from laughter to deep sadness. In fact, at intermission, the person next to me looked at me and said “that got heavy quickly.” And so it did. But not to be disheartened, you leave the show wanting to know what happens next to the young couple and having hope that they will come through in the end.

Greg & Lindy Pendzick as Raleigh & May
Picture taken from CCP's facebook page

See Rock City only runs through August 17th, so I encourage you to grab your tickets while you still can. You won’t regret it. You can get tickets by clicking HERE or by calling the Cumberland County Playhouse at 931-484-5000.