Sunday, July 25, 2010

Million Dollar Quartet @ Nederlander Theatre

What happens when four music legends come together for a night of memories, loyalty, and rock n’ roll? Well, the new Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet happens. Filled with old time classic hits like “Hound Dog” and “Great Balls of Fire,” this show is a fun look back at the birth of rock n’ roll.

Currently playing too sold out audiences at the Nederlander Theatre, Million Dollar Quartet tells the true story of what happens on December 4, 1956, when Sam Phillips brings together Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley for one night only at the legendary Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Throughout the course of the night we see Sam Phillips (Hunter Foster) desperately try to hold his studio together by bringing in four singers who would eventually go on to great stardom. First, we met Jerry Lee Lewis (Levi Kreis), a young piano player who has recently recorded his first album with Sun Records. There is no doubt in Lewis’s mind that he is going to be the next big rock n’ roll star. Soon after, Carl Perkins (Robert Britton Lyons) enters desperate to find another hit after losing “Blue Suede Shoes” to none other than Elvis Presley. Johnny Cash (Lance Guest) enters third with a huge secret that will endanger the future of Sun Records. Lastly, Elvis Presley (Eddie Clendening) joins the group and brings along his girlfriend Dyanne (Elizabeth Stanley). Throughout the course of the night, we watch as friendships are tested and great rock n’ roll is recorded. All of which concludes with an after-show concert featuring hits from all four super stars.

Million Dollar Quartet is an all around entertaining show with some minor flaws. These said flaws have absolutely nothing to do with Levi Kreis’s wonderful interpretation of Jerry Lee Lewis. Kreis delivers one of the best performances to hit Broadway in a long time (hence why he won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical). Kreis commanded the stage with his wonderful acting chops, spot on comedic timing, and thrilling piano skills (including playing it backwards). He had perfect chemistry with the other five performers on stage. Kreis’s performance is one that is not to be missed by anyone! While Kreis is a hard act to follow, Hunter Foster does a fantastic job portraying studio owner Sam Phillips. While true Broadway fans know Foster for his great singing chops, Foster delivers a completely song-less performance that relies completely on his strong acting skills. Foster does an outstanding job from start to finish delivering a performance that is worth a Tony Award. Robert Britton Lyons and Lance Guest, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash respectively, hold their own on stage with Kreis and Foster. Lyons delivers a non-stop high energy performance that concludes with him rocking out on top of a bass. Guest delivers a perfect laid back performance that resembles Johnny Cash perfectly. Both Lyons and Guest bring down the house during their after-show performances. The weak link, however, eventually came with Eddie Clendening’s portrayal of Elvis Presley. Clendening failed to deliver the proper energy that was needed when playing “The King of Rock n’ Roll.” Most of his lines were muffled and un-understandable with his songs falling flat and lacking any energy. This is one case where I would have preferred to see the understudy Erik Hayden (who is a seasoned actor who has appeared in many Broadway touring productions). Elizabeth Stanley, who portrays the fictional character of Dyanne, has a lot working against her. She is the only fictional character in Million Dollar Quartet, has a weak leading man, and has a painfully boring introduction song; however, through it all, Stanley delivers a truly beautiful performance. She is heartwarming and fierce at the same time. With a wonderful voice, she commands attention every time she is at a microphone (and, the audience gladly gives her their attention). With a cast of six, five are stunning and absolutely perfect for the roles that they are playing.

Most of the flaws came in the technical aspects of the show. A great story, memorable songs, and wonderful acting cannot be the only highlights of a show. In order for a show to be all around wonderful, it requires spot on design and direction, and, unfortunately, Million Dollar Quartet failed in this area. The scenic design by Derek McLane was visually stunning and extremely impressive (especially when an entire set gets lifted into the air). However, Sun Records was made to look way too modern. With red leather paneled walls, McLane lost sight that this play takes place in 1956 (not 2010). Throughout the play, the characters go back and forth between inside to studio and outside the studio requiring a change in lighting. Unfortunately, lighting designer Howell Binkley took the idea of night to far leaving the actors in a mist of blue light every time they were supposed to be outside (leaving the scenes extremely dark). At some points in the show, the character Sam Phillips has to talk into a microphone from inside the studio recording booth, leaving it up to sound designer Kai Harada to insure that the audience can still hear him. However, almost every time this occurred, the line was completely lost in static or simply not heard at all. While I hold these professionals responsible, it is also the fault of director Eric Schaeffer for not correcting these problems (along with the many staging problems that he had). As a whole, Million Dollar Quartet failed in the technical side of theatre.

Overall, Million Dollar Quartet is a very entertaining show that will surly delight fans of the 50s and 60s rock n’ roll generation. And, for all of the Broadway and theatre fans listening, Million Dollar Quartet is a show to see for one very big reason, Levi Kreis’s absolutely stunning performance.

Review By: Ryan Oliveti & James Russo


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lend Me a Tenor @ Music Box Theatre

The new Broadway revival of Lend Me a Tenor, written by Ken Ludwig, is the perfect example of what happens when eight comedic geniuses, led by an all star director, get together to put on a show. Lend Me a Tenor is comedic dynamite that delivers laughs from start to finish. It is a must see production!

Lend Me a Tenor tells the story what happens when the great Italian opera singer Tito Merelli (Anthony LaPaglia) comes to Cleveland for a one night only performance of “Otello.” Through a series of door slamming events, Tito is mistaken for dead leaving Saunders (Tony Shalhoub), the Opera’s General Manager, with no other option other than to put his assistant, Max (Justin Bartha), in as the understudy. What happens next is a series of mistaken identities that is nothing short of hilarious. Who said what to whom? Who slept with whom? Who know what? Julia (Brooke Adams), the Chairman of the Board, claims to have convinced Tito come to the after party. Saunders daughter, Maggie (Mary Catherine Garrison), and the leading lady, Diana (Jennifer Laura Thompson), both claim that they slept with Tito at the same time. The bellhop (Jay Klaitz) claims to have received an order from Tito. On top of all of this confusion, Tito’s crazy tempered wife, Maria (Jan Maxwell), comes back into the picture after having left him in the beginning of the show. So, who was talking to the real Tito and who was actually talking to Max in disguise? Well, you will simply have to go see the show for yourself.

While all eight actors give truly hilarious performances, Lend Me a Tenor is powered by its three leading men. Anthony LaPaglia, known for his run on the CBS series “Without a Trace,” delivers a beautifully funny performance. LaPaglia had a way of commanding attention on the stage that made you constantly want to pay attention to every little thing that he did. Known for being a more dramatic actor, LaPaglia definitely proved that he has a funny side as well; his comedic timing was spot on. There is no better fit for the part of Tito, the hot headed and womanizing Italian, than LaPaglia. Tony Shalhoub, known for his wonderful run on the USA series “Monk,” delivers a non-stop high energy performance. With pitch perfect comedic timing, Shalhoub has the audience eating right out of his hands (with the audience receiving the random bits of plastic food that he spits out into the audience). Shalhoub is a comedic genius that fit the part of the easily angered manager perfectly. Justin Bartha, known for his portrayal of Doug in the hit comedy “The Hangover,” makes his Broadway debut in Lend Me a Tenor. Bartha was absolutely brilliant and held his own amongst the slew of seasoned Broadway greats. His portrayal of the over worked assistant Max was absolutely stunning. Barely ever leaving the stage, Bartha was able to anchor the entire show without missing a beat. With not only great comedic timing but a great singing voice as well, Bartha made his debut with a bang. While it is a man’s show, one woman steals the spotlight every time that she is on stage. This is of course the wonderful Jan Maxwell, a Broadway great who was nominated for a Tony Award for this performance. While Maxwell is only in two scenes, she is so fantastic that she received the loudest round of applause during the curtain call. She is the perfect fit to play the crazy, loud, and jealous Italian wife of Tito. In three words, Maxwell is brilliant.

The technical elements of Lend Me a Tenor were very good, but did have some weak spots. The scenic design, however, was not one of those spots. Designed by John Lee Beatty, the set was absolutely stunning. Designed with stunning detail and precision, it is definitely one of the best sets to hit Broadway this season. Another high point came in the costume design. Designed by Martin Pakledinaz, the costumes held true to the 1930s time period that the play is set in. Together, the set and costumes allowed the audience to travel back to the 1930s and fully enter the world of Lend Me a Tenor. One weak spot came in the lighting design. Designed by Kenneth Posner, the lighting has several dark spots in which the actors would sometimes not be lit. Also, the scenic design featured a huge window, but the lighting designed worked against it by never changing the brightness of the outside city (there was no difference in light weather it was 10:00 A.M. or 11:00 P.M.). However, the audience was willing to look past that because of the beautiful direction of Stanley Tucci, known for his outstanding career in movies and television. Tucci made his stage directorial debut with this production and did a fantastic job. While there were some flaws in his direction (like allowing the actors to sometime talk into walls and break fourth walls that had been established), Tucci did an overall wonderful job with his debut.

Lend Me a Tenor is a wickedly funny show that is a must see for everyone. While it may not sound like the typical show that a college student would go see, I promise that you will not regret it. The humor is extremely current with plenty of sexual innuendos to go around. And, if worse comes to worse, you can at least say that you saw one of the stars of the mega college hit “The Hangover.” Have no fear, Lend Me a Tenor is one of the shows that provide the cheaper rush tickets for students. Run, don’t walk, to see the hit Broadway revival of Lend Me a Tenor (playing at the Music Box Theatre through August 15, 2010).

Review By: James Russo & Ryan Oliveti