Saturday, March 30, 2013

What's Next in Rush and Lottery Policies

Rush policy for cheap tickets to see shows started with RENT. Jonathan Larsen wanted students, artists, and other people who would not be able to afford to see a show at full price to be able to have the chance to see a show. The first two rows of seats were reserved for people to be able to show up early (and sometimes the day before) to wait and then be able to purchase these seats affordably. Later on the show changed to a lottery policy as there were so many people willing to stay all night out for the show.

Rush and lottery policies have evolved since then. Some theatres reserve the first two rows, others give whatever seats are left in the theatre. Some have a rush policy. Some have a lottery policy. Some are specific to students with a student ID. It depends on the theatre and it depends on the show. It seems that the most popular shows (like Book of Mormon, Wicked and Annie) stick with a lottery policy. It’s a gamble, depending on the show. If you want a guaranteed seat it may not be the smartest move for you.

American Idiot had a lotto policy when it was on Broadway for the first two rows, but also had a “lotto losers” policy that sold other seats in the theatre for slightly more than the lotto seats if you didn’t win the lottery. I tried to lotto several times for American Idiot and never got it, but always managed to get other seats under the lotto losers’ policy.

Honestly, lotto and rush seats are the only way that I get to see as much theatre as I do. I can’t afford full priced seats regularly. Actually, I can RARELY afford full priced seats. I don’t fault theatres for needing to make enough money to run a show. It’s an expensive business. But people who are like me, or in an even more difficult financial situation than I am (I’ve got it okay), still have the right to see a show. Lotto and rush policies help out.

To my knowledge, the only show in Broadway that doesn’t have a rush or lottery policy is The Lion King (correct me if I’m wrong, please) and I think that’s horrible. Honestly, I’d love to see The Lion King, but there’s no way I can afford to see it in New York. And with no lotto or rush policy, there’s no way I’ll be seeing it anytime soon (unless someone wants to buy me a ticket).

But recently there have been two shows open that have taken a whole different stance on the rush policies. Cinderella and Matilda have been two of the most talked about “family friendly” musicals to open this spring. Both are shows I’d love to see. Neither are shows I’ll be seeing anytime soon. But are student rush only, which means I’m out. But that’s not what makes me the most sad about the policies for this show.

Both Matilda and Cinderella have a student rush policy for Monday through Thursday performances only. Matilda has also tacked on that said students can only get 2 tickets per 30 day period (something that I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing). But the Monday through Thursday thing is ridiculous.

First off, a student is typically in school during the week. Which means that unless they skip classes during the week, it’s going to be difficult to rush the show. Even if they attend school in New York. Secondly, what about those students who don’t live in New York? Perhaps they live close enough to take a train or a bus in (or even fly in for the weekend).  But then they can’t student rush the show on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

I understand that both shows are selling extremely well. I understand when a show is selling that well that they want to make as much money as possible. But why should the rush or lottery policy be made so difficult? Especially for students? I’m not sure what’s worse: Not having a lottery or rush policy at all, or having one that’s nearly impossible for a patron to access.

I don’t have all the answers. I’m not a producer, or a business person. But I would think that the more accessible that you make your shows, the more likely you are going to attract lifelong patrons. People that will pay full price when and if they are able at a later time. If your show is selling so well, why not have an open lotto for a set number of seats each performance? They don’t have to be front row. But it equalizes availability to everyone. Or even if you want it to be a student rush lotto (something I don’t think has even been done yet) to make it specifically students, let them come on the weekends. When, you know, school is out.

Do you have an opinion on rush or lottery policies? Do you think this new trend for shows is something that will continue to happen? 

You can find rush and lotto policies listed on each show’s website or on for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark

The alternate title of this blog post is "Never Say Never." I said I'd never see Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. In fact, I wrote all about it in my very first blog post on this blog. My words...I ate them. That being said, they didn't taste nearly as bad as I thought they would. I suppose they might have if I'd actually liked the show. Then my words might have tasted slightly bitter. But, truth be known, I didn't like the show.

Let me start at the beginning: How I ended up seeing a show I swore I'd never see. Blame it on my American Idiot addiction. Jake Epstein, who played Will in the first national tour of American Idiot, plays Peter Parker/Spider Man for weekend matinees right now. He's been doing this for a while. And I LOVE my Idiots.

So, I broke down. I took a very quick weekend trip (only 1 night) to the city and a friend and I rushed for tickets to Spider Man. Truth be known, other than the occasional report about the status of the Julie Taymor court case, I've not heard much about the show in a quite some time. In a way, that gave me hope. I knew there would be no doubt that I'd love seeing Jake as Peter Parker, but I didn't know much else, and I took it as a possible "no news is good news" thing. Or at least that I was going in with expectations that weren't that high for the show itself, so I figured that I'd probably come out thinking "Oh, well it wasn't as bad as I thought."

I wish I could say that was the case. First off, let me give my compliments to the cast. They do a terrific job. With what they have to work with. Jake Epstein as Peter Parker/Spider Man was fun. Vocally he does a fantastic job (no surprise there). The lovely Rebecca Faulkenberry played Mary Jane Watson and I truly enjoyed her performance. I expect to see some great things in her future as well.

First off, I understand that there were all KINDS of safety issues with this show, which is why the flying in the show was nowhere near as spectacular as I expected. I'm GLAD they toned it down. We want our actors and actresses safe and in one piece so they can continue to do what they love and so that we can continue to enjoy their performances. That being said, because they flying wasn't as spectacular as I'm guessing it was in the beginning, the book, songs, ad overall show needed to be stronger.

Listen, I'm not a comic book person. I've never seen the Spider Man movies. I don't follow stuff like that, but I should have been able to understand a little bit of what was going on. In essence, not a whole lot made sense. From what I could tell, Peter Parker and his family live in New York. The scientist Norman Osborn (who later turns into the Green Goblin) works in a lab with his wife Emily and that lab is also in New York. So can someone explain to me why Peter Parker's aunt & uncle, along with Norman Osborn and wife Emily ALL had southern accents?? I mean, besides my own southern accent, I've rarely heard one in New York.

Also, I never really understood the purpose of the character Arachne. I get that she was supposed
to be Peter Parker's spidey-guide, but she didn't seem to do much. And the school bullies never seemed to serve a purpose. I know they were put there to show that Peter Parker (pre-spider bite) was weak and nerdy and picked on. But nothing ever really happened to them. The characters were completely flat and never had any kind of purpose to the story in my mind.

Those book things aside (perhaps someone can tell me I'm wrong and that those things were what happened in the actual comic books; like I said, I'm not knowledgeable when it comes to this stuff), I was very disappointed in the music. Bono and The Edge wrote it for cryin' out loud! Their music is catchy...normally. It's good...normally. They're FAMOUS for a reason, right? Well, I sure hope they don't quite their day job because not a single song was memorable. Not one. In fact, I tried to think of some of the lyrics while I was sitting here writing this, and not one comes to mind. There was a lot of rhyming going on in it. And a lot of off beat lyrics. And by off beat I mean literally off the beat, not "odd."

Costuming. Oh my. Comic book themed again? I get it. I do. Spider Man is a comic book character. But the costumes were just weird. The "bad guys" had costumes that didn't seem to be anything other than over grown Halloween costumes. Most of the ensemble had costumes that were "matching" but not matching. But not in a good way like in Wicked at the Oz Dust Ball Room. More like Glee season one when they all tried to dress similar but different...or basically...cheesy looking.

I appreciate all kinds of choreography. I do. But this choreography looked like something that a community theatre person might put together. In some ways, I've seen BETTER choreography in community theatre. The two people they had doing choreography seemed to be more into modern dance, which is typically a GREAT thing. But this was just jerky movements and robot looking actions that looked like they hurt.

Then I start looking at things like lighting and sets. Again, a big disappointment. You could tell that they were trying for a comic book feel throughout the entire show. And to a degree, they did that. It just didn't translate very well to the stage. When Peter Parker started fighting a giant blow up doll that was supposed to be a wrestler....yeah. It was bad. The one time that I WAS impressed with the set was toward the end of the show when Spider Man and the Green Goblin were fighting each other on the side of the Chrysler Building. They actually made it look like you were looking down from the top of the building, complete with the cars driving by on the street below (which was actually the back of the stage) and the building sticking out toward the audience. That was pretty fun to see and an impressive view.

I want to say, again, that I appreciate what the cast does. You put into a show what you can. You work with what you're given. And they did a good job with the material that they have. I'm overjoyed that I got to see Jake Epstein playing a lead role on Broadway. I just wish I could have left that show saying that I had misjudged it. But I didn't. I don't have any idea how it's still open right now. I don't wish anyone out of a job. I'm glad it's putting people to work, but if this is what stays open for long periods of time on Broadway, I worry about the future of the Broadway theatre.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kinky Boots

Over the weekend I made another one of my famous weekend trips to New York. I was only in town for a day, but had just enough time to see two shows. One was already set in stone (I’ll be writing about that one soon). The other was a tougher decision. There are so many things that had just opened or that were in previews that I truly wanted to see.

I ended up making the decision to rush for tickets to KinkyBoots, which is still in previews. I knew some people who’d already seen it earlier in previews, and even someone who’d seen it during the out of town Chicago run. I’d heard good things. Add to that one of my favorite “Idiots,” Stark Sands, being in a lead role and music written by the amazing Cyndi Lauper, a book by Harvey Fierstein, and direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell and I knew it was going to be a “must see” for me. 

I know you gamble with rush seats. Sometimes they’re great. Sometimes not so much. Rush seats for Kinky Boots (at least the ones that I got) were considered “partial view,” but I honestly didn’t miss much. In fact, I was so close to the stage that at the stage door Stark Sands told me he saw me in the audience! If those aren’t good seats, I don’t know what are.

Kinky Boots is based on a movie that is based on a true story (a la Catch Me If You Can??). Charlie Price is the son of a shoe maker. Or at least a person who owns a shoe making factory. Charlie’s father wants nothing more than his son to take over the business and Charlie simply wants to get out of town with his girlfriend. When Charlie is called back to his hometown to take over the shoe factory he realizes that the factory is dangerously close to closing and leaving the entire staff without jobs.

Through a silly mishap Charlie meets Lola, a fabulous drag queen who’s heel Charlie has broken. Charlie offers to fix Lola’s shoe and in the process finds that there is a whole niche market for shoes for drag queens….or Kinky Boots. Of course there are bumps along the way, including Lola dealing with the small town (and sometimes small minded) people in Charlie’s factory town, and a lack of funds to keep the factory afloat while they try to save it.

It’s no secret that I went to see Stark Sands and I LOVED his Charlie. Sands did a wonderful job of trying to accept his fate in a small town, even after leaving (in a different but similar way to his character Tunny in American Idiot) and returning again. Vocally, he does a great job with the music of the show. It is definitely more pop/rock than typical “musical theatre” but it works for Stark’s voice.

Billy Porter is amazing as Lola. Honestly, I didn’t know who he was when I first heard about the show. He’s got a lifelong fan in me now. Vocally, he’s amazing. Porter’s acting is beautiful, more than once he brought a tear to my eye. And even though I could tell there were a few rough spots (he’s been singing HARD, and was on vocal rest at the stage door), he was so much fun to watch, especially in his back and forth transformation between Lola the drag queen and her less flamboyant counterpart, Simon (also, props to the make-up person who had to change that make-up multiple times during the show!).

Some other standouts in the cast included the lovely Annaleigh Ashford and Daniel Stewart Sherman. Ashford played factory worker Lauren who develops a crush on Charlie. She gave Lauren an awkward, yet charming aspect. Her major solo number, “The History of Wrong Guys” got some of the most laughs of the show and it one of the songs I can’t seem to get out of my head. Sherman played rough and tumble factory worker Don, who doesn’t get pushed around and at times does most of the pushing himself. Don learns a lot, and teaches a lot at the same times. Sherman had the ability to turn a character that could have easily been the “bad guy” into someone that you still cared about at the end.

Lolas “Angels” were all so beautiful that I couldn’t help but be a little jealous. In fact, having not looked at the Playbill prior to the show, I even wondered if some of those Angels were women dressed up as drag queens. Nope. All six of them were men. I thought this was one perfect example of the amazing costume design for the show as well. All of the costumes were good, but who doesn’t like to look at lots of glitter and sequence and feathers? The Angels and their costumes (and Lola, of course) were the most beautiful chance to appreciate the costuming.

So, Cyndi Lauper wrote the music of this show. As with most pop stars that write musicals, I expected it to either be really really great or really, really bad. Turns out it was pretty darn great. Nearly all of the music is catchy and has you wanting to dance in your seat while you watch. I already mentioned “The History of Wrong Guys” but there were several other songs that were more than fun. “Sex Is in the Heel” performed by Lola and the Angels was the kind of song that does nothing but make you want to laugh and dance all at the same time. “

I loved seeing the friendship between Lola and Charlie develop, and it did so much of this in “I’m Not My Father’s Son.” You see these two totally different people who seemingly have nothing in common realize that they are more alike than they ever could have imagined.

Billy Porter’s stand out moment, however, was the touching “Hold Me in Your Heart” near the end of the second act. Not only was it a beautiful song, it was also the time that you could most fully appreciate the amount of vocal talent that Billy Porter has. Quite frankly, he was AMAZING.

In the end, this show is about acceptance of where you can from, acceptance of what you are, and acceptance of people who aren’t always like you. It’s safe to say I truly enjoyed myself on Saturday afternoon. And if my opinion alone isn’t enough for you, let me just tell you that the audience on Saturday was LOUD. I mean the kind of clapping and yelling that had the actors pausing to let it die down before they continued on. If that is any indicator of things to come, I think this show will be around for a while. I’ve not been in such an enthusiastic audience since the closing of the first national tour of American Idiot.  

There are a few things in the show that I think they could have changed, but overall, it’s a fun show to take your friends to see, and something that you won’t regret paying to see. In fact, I might just go see it again if I have time when I’m in New York next time. I guarantee you’ll walk out humming the songs, and wishing you had a pair of thigh high stiletto boots.

Just a note that Kinky Boots can be found on twitter, facebook, instagram, and youtube and there is a free download of the mp3 of "Sex Is in the Heel" available on their website. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

American Idiot - Second National Tour

Last week the second national tour of American Idiot made their short stop in Nashville at TPAC. In what I found to be an odd decision, the show was only there for three days (Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday) in the middle of the week.

Being the “Idiot” that I am, I ended up with tickets for all three performances, and took the week off work so that I could be there. I wanted to support the show, see what the new cast was like, and add to my “Idiot” ticket collection.

I also understand that I really, really loved both the Broadway cast and the cast of the first national tour. Before I saw the first national tour of American Idiot, I was paranoid. I couldn’t see how they could top the Broadway cast that I came to love so much. I went into that first show very wary of what was coming. I was not only pleasantly surprised by what happened, I came to ADORE the first national tour cast and put a lot of time and money into traveling to see the show in the first half of last year.

Everyone told me there was no way that I would like this tour because I was biased to the first national tour cast. While I wondered if it were true, I wanted to give this cast an honest chance. I kept reminding myself that I was just as worried when the first tour cast came around and ended up loving the show.

As I sat in the very back row of TPAC and waited for the show to start my heart began to pound. I was so excited. It had been 240 days since I’d last seen American Idiot. I missed my show. I missed the emotions that it invoked in me. I missed the rage and love. When the curtain came up and the show started it was apparent almost immediately that this wasn’t what I’d known before.

This review is going to be of all three nights, and I’ll be more specific if I need to be.  For those who don’t know the story (you read my blog and you DON’T know??), American Idiot is the tale of three friends who grow up in suburbia and do their best to escape their small town life. Set at the turn of this century, with 9/11 and the time surrounding it as the backdrop, the characters are stuck in a place where they don’t know what they want or believe. Each of the friends ends up taking a different path with different results. We watch their paths as they grow apart, grow up, and come back together.

There are a few shining stars in the cast. The role of Heather, a girl who finds herself pregnant with her boyfriend’s baby, was played on Tuesday and Wednesday by understudy Chelsea Turbin. She was such a bright point in the night. Vocally, she’s one of the best on stage, in my opinion. On Thursday night, Kennedy Caughell was back in her role as Heather. That night my friends and I had scored seats on the second row, so I was really able to see her acting and I have to say I was blown away with how much I felt like she fleshed out the character of Heather, even with no lines. Her physical acting told you everything you needed to know that was going on with that character.

Casey O’Farrell played slacker Will who ends up stuck in his hometown after finding out his girlfriend Heather is expecting. It was nice to see a Nashville native on the TPAC stage. O’Farrell was one of the more talented actors on stage, though there is little acting for Will to actually do. I always feel like that actor doesn’t get to fully realize the character because he basically just sits on the couch and gets high for the entire show. That being said, there were some AMAZING couch shenanigans going on Thursday night with Will and two of his friends. Anytime you can sit close and watch stuff like that happen is fun. I really enjoyed that part of the show.

Alex Nee played Johnny (a.k.a. Jesus of Suburbia) who leaves his home, finds the love of his life, gets hooked on heroin, and loses his girl before returning home. There were some times that I thought Nee had made some hilarious acting choices for the character of Johnny. Enough to make myself and my friend laugh loudly. In many ways he chose to act the character much in the same way that former Johnny, Van Hughes did. May of the same little mannerisms and quirks were there, but Nee still did his own thing enough that I appreciated it.

Johnny’s lady love, only known as Whatsername, was played by Alyssa DiPalma. I love that character and I always look forward to seeing what people make out of it. I thought DiPalma did a good job and I liked some of the costuming changes that I noticed. And then some I was a little confused by, but I’m not the costume designer, so whatever. I just don’t think I’d ever seen a Whatsername with so little clothing! Still, DiPalma did a wonderful job and was a real standout during the rousing anthem “Letterbomb.”

Tommy Hettrick played Tunny, a friend who leaves town with Johnny and ends up joining the military. Tunny is injured in battle and ends up meeting a woman (his military nurse) that we know as Extraordinary Girl. Extraordinary Girl was played by Jeanna Rubaii. Rubaii was a vocal standout during the show as well. And the flying during the “Extraordinary Girl” number was beautiful, as always (but even better during that number was the hilarity happening on the left side of the stage on Will’s couch).

Overall the ensemble is respectable, but I won’t lie: I wonder if they really understand the show. I didn’t see the connection with the lyrics that I would have liked to have seen from a majority of the cast. The choreography is all there. It’s done with well with as much emotion as I think they were able. But the emotion is such an important part to this show, that I didn’t feel the connection that I’ve felt every other time I’ve seen the show.

I don’t lie: age ain’t nothin’ but a number. But you have to have some life experience to be able to draw on the emotional depth that exists in this show. If you don’t, it easily becomes a glorified Green Day cover show. You can tell these actors are putting everything they have into the show, and for that, I give them applause. This show is physically demanding and terribly difficult to keep up with night after night (and for this non-equity tour, sometimes 11 shows a week!). That can’t make it any easier to pull off.

But bottom line, some of the talent is lacking, some of the acting leaves something to be desired. And on Tuesday night, the sound system was all screwed up (that problem was corrected by Wednesday). Will I go see the show when it comes to Knoxville at the end of April? Probably. But it only leaves me longing for the show I know, love, and miss. 

As a side note: a HUGE shout out to the two ladies who did an ASL interpretation of the performance on Wednesday night. They were fantastic! I'd never seen an ASL performance of the show, so it was a fun thing to watch. I wish I'd been able to tell them that (perhaps they'll read this!).