Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Addams Family @ The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

They have been known to be creepy and kooky, but musically inclined?  This is another thing the Addam’s can add to their list attributes in The Addams Family the Musical now lurching its way on Broadway.  This classic comic strip, which as seen life in almost every other form of media from television to the big screen, has the audience snapping in time to the familiar theme song, that brings a smile to everyone’s face before the curtain has even risen.  Unfortunately, the smiles do not last forever as a simple plot and less then memorable songs begin to take over.  However, even with these creative issues, one cannot help but sit through all of the craziness and kookiness without having a great time.  This shows manages to transport its audience into the world of the Addams in such a way that dying flowers, crawling flowers, and hairy cousins are simply beautiful.

This undead, upbeat musical follows the tell tale heart of Wednesday who has fallen in love with a "normal" boy, named Lucas, inspiring her to invite him and his parents over for dinner.  But this isn’t the only thing that is changing and the Addams are not quite sure what to do about it: Morticia fears of growing old, Gomez’s baby girl is slipping through his fingers, Pugsley is losing his sister, and Grandma is just going crazy.  Not to mention that Lucas’s family has their own separate set of issues – his father is money hungry and his mother only speaks in rhymes.  When these two families come together, it will ultimately be up to Uncle Fester to keep love alive and spirits high.  And, Fester has do it all while dealing with relationship problems of his own – his love is just too far away . . . like in outer space . . . as in, the moon.  In this original story, the Addams are put to the test to see if their family is strong enough to defect the dreaded coming of “true” love.

This classic; with countless movies, shows, and cartoons to document their crazy antics can be hard to live up to, but the cast did more than live up to their great name – they killed it. Rachel Potter (making her Broadway debut) portrays Wednesday Addams – a death obsessed, black colored wardrobe extraordinaire with the hormones of a teenage girl in love.  Potter’s performance of Wednesday was perfectly intricate and relatable, with a phenomenal voice that could wake even the stiffest corpse. Wednesday’s moments with Lucas Beineke, played by Jesse Swanson (Spring Awakening), were wonderfully charming, reminding the audience of the golden years of reckless, teenage love. Roger Rees (televisions Cheers and The West Wing) brings lightness to the classic character of Gomez Addams. His wit and comedic timing kept the audience laughing all throughout the play.  However, even more impressive, was the precious father-daughter moment between Gomez and Wednesday.  Rees portrayal of the protective father, learning to let go, tugs on the heart strings and shows a refreshing, emotional side to the character of Gomez.  Bebe Neuwirth (televisions Cheers and Frasier) encompassed the mysterious, sultry, and inexpressive Morticia as only Bebe Neuwirth can.  Providing balance to the chaotic happenings on stage, Neuwirth’s unique voice made the character her own with her signature peculiar sensuality, perfect for the role.  Adam Riegler’s (Shrek the Musical) performance as Pugsley adds that little bit of mischief to keep things interesting in this gothic family affair.  Riegler adds laughs and momentum to the play, delightfully portraying the fears of impish little-brother-losing-big-sister with off-beat sincerity, carried by his acting and vocals, setting the standards for a whole new generation.  The narrator of this zany show is none other than Uncle Fester, played by Brad Oscar (Tony nominated for The Producers).  With his cute mannerisms and huge heart, Oscar works his way into the hearts of the audience as only Uncle Fester could.  And how could this family be complete without Lurch, played by Zachary James (South Pacific). His silent, but deadly comedic timing was spot on as the stern and stoic butler, using his body and facial expressions to deliver some of the strongest moments within the production, adding another hilarious layer to this already six food deep comedy.

The music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (revised ...Charlie Brown) might not burrow themselves into the audiences’ head right away, but after some time, songs such as When You’re an Addams and Pulled, worm their way into your heart.  Lippa takes into account the careful details of each characters’ personality, with teeny-pop tunes for Wednesday and love ballets for Gomez; bringing a rounded feel to the well loved family.  As for the choreography, done by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys and Memphis), these toe taping numbers range from subtle to all the way to the extravagant; with the opening of the show the Addams ancestors are called on to celebrate the “great cycle of life and death”, but who would have ever guessed that would include Bunny Hopping!  With a set and direction done by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch (the team behind Off-Broadway’s Shockheaded Peter), the two deliver the wow factor to this show, building up a mansion of a character all its own.  The stunning illusion of different rooms, doors, and locations were represented by moving couches, staircases, or even the main curtain; making for a very clever and excellent opportunities for our lovably dark characters to make special appearances. The costumes, also done by McDermott and Crouch, rip the family right from the pages of the classic comic strips, staying true to what it means to be an Addams.  The puppetry also created a very unique atmosphere to this show.  From Cousin It, a Venus Fly-trap, the octopus living under the stairs, the list goes on, showing the creative versatility that is Basil Twist (work can be seen through such companies as Lincoln Center and The Los Angeles Philharmonic), adding the black cherry to the top of a dark chocolate Sunday.

If the family is looking for a creepy-crawly comedy of a musical, be sure to skulk, lurch, or even zombie your way on over to the Lune-Fontanne Theatre and pay a call on, “The Addams Family.”  Snap! Snap!
Review By: Morgan Mack & James Russo

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Born Yesterday @ Cort Theatre

Girl meets boy with money. Boy with money wants girl to get smart. Girl meets another boy with brains. Girl is now smarter that boy with money. Ladies and gentleman, you now the entire plot line to Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday. However, do not take this brief synopsis in the wrong way, this starry new revival is fills the Cort Theatre with class and humor on a nightly basis. This new revival of Born Yesterday delivers big laughs and, even better, a bright new Broadway star – Nina Arianda, who tackles the role of “the girl” with style, ease, and masterfulness that is without a doubt worthy of every nomination (from the Outer Critics to the Tony’s) that she has received!
Set in Washington, D.C. in the year 1946, this comedy tells the story of Harry Brock, a millionaire land fill owner who has just rolled into town to settle some back handed business. He brings with him his sidekick, cousin Eddie Brock, and lady friend, Billie Dawn. Waiting to greet him into town is his lawyer, Ed Devery, and Senator Norval Hedges. It soon becomes clear that Billie, who is an ex-show girl, is not fit to really socialize around the elite government officials; therefore, Harry comes up with a scheme. Paul Verrall, a journalist set out to correct the politics of America, is hired to educate Billie so that she may not stand out like a sore thumb – which would draw attention to the fact that Harry is in town only to deal with Senator Hedges who he is bribing to pass bills. As fate would have it, Billie’s education quickly takes off, power in Harry’s business unknowing increases, and control over Harry begins to take root. This piece, set to prove the problems facing the government today, is a hilarious look at how no one is as “dumb” as they look.

Featuring some well known celebrities to play the leading men, the revival of Born Yesterday made the bold choice of casting new comer Nina Arianda (soon to be seen in the upcoming feature film Tower Heist) as the female lead – Billie Dawn. Arianda delivers a truly masterful performance that has already won her and Outer Critics Circle Award. In a role that goes from light at heart to serious, dumb to genius, and comedic to dramatic to comedic again, Arianda moves through the piece with such ease and grace leaving the entire audience in absolute awe of her. She lays it all out on the stage – holding nothing back and giving everything to her fellow performers. It is clear that this is just the beginning of an extremely successful career for Arianda. Playing the hot headed Harry is SNL and According to Jim’s own Jim Belushi. While starting out a little rough around the edges, Belushi quickly smoothes out his performance by the end of Act I to deliver a very funny performance. While the portrayal of this character is not too far off from the character Jim in According to Jim, Belushi knows the comedic style that works for him and surely what works well for this piece. Playing the wise tutor is Robert Sean Leonard, known for playing Dr. James Wilson on the hit television series House M.D. Lenard delivers what can only be described as a quite performance in this role. Most of his lines are passed by, emotions are overstepped, and jokes are lost. Thankfully, there is a very gifted ensemble behind him making up for all lost humor. Frank Wood (Broadway’s Side Man and Spring Awakening), Terry Beaver (Broadway’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo), and Michael McGrath (Broadway’s Memphis and Spamalot) as the lawyer, Senator, and cousin respectively, all mesh together in fabulously to bring the simple comedy of playwright Garson Kanin up to its full potential. Even Patricia Hodges (Broadway’s A Man for All Seasons), who plays the Senator’s wife, brings the ensemble together nicely delivering nonstop laughs throughout her extremely memorable Act I scene.
Led by director Doug Hughes, this production flowed beautifully. The fast tempo and colorful movement truly allowed the humor of the piece shine through. It also helped that Born Yesterday features a slew of top notch designers that allow 1946, Washington, D.C. to be fully realized. With a design by John Lee Beatty (currently represented on Broadway with Good People), the scenic elements were truly stunning. The rich blue walls, golden staircase, and crystal chandelier – along with glasses constantly filled with booze – transported the audience into a high class hotel room that only royalty could (and Harry) could possibly afford. Also, Catherine Zuber’s (currently represented on Broadway with How to Succeed...) glamorous costume design is Tony Award nominated, and rightfully so. With high class suits and elegant dresses, Zuber leaves the cast looking top notch. Topping off the whole thing is the work of composer David Van Tie (Broadway designs include Doubt and Arcadia) who created an upbeat and wonderful original score for this revival.

While the play itself is slightly dated, this production is fresh and original. With a beautiful design and stunning acting, Born Yesterday is a light a heart comedy sure to please people of all ages. And, if you go for no other reason than to see Nina Arianda, you will have made an extremely smart investment – she delivers a must see performance!

Review By: James Russo and Ryan Oliveti

Thursday, May 19, 2011

INTERVIEW: Kate Shindle From Wonderland

1. You made the move from beauty queen contestant to actress. What was that change like?  Are there any big similarities? Differences?

 I did compete in some pageants, but not that many—I was always a drama geek at heart.  The biggest advantages to that were that it helped pay for my college degree and made me financially independent when I moved to New York.  Also, I spent about 90% of my time as an HIV/AIDS acitivst…once you open your eyes to what’s going on in the world beyond your own ambitions, it makes you a far, far better and more aware artist.

2. While you have been on the Broadway stage several times, you might be most known for portraying Vivienne in the hit musical Legally Blonde.  What was it like working on such a well loved show? 

Legally Blonde was fun.  By far the lightest piece of material I’d ever worked on, and I had a blast.  But Vivienne was a deceptive character to work on…everyone thinks of her as a snotty bitch, but if you don’t build integrity, ambition, a conscience and a work ethic into her from the beginning, the end of the show doesn’t work.  The audience has to see that she has the raw materials to come through for Elle because she thinks what’s happened to her is unfair—even though she doesn’t really like Elle.

3.  Working with the show for the entire run, you had the chance to star on MTV multiple times both in Legally Blonde the Musical and The Search for Elle Woods.  What was it like working with MTV? 

Great.  Crazy.  At the time, there was a huge debate over whether putting a show on TV meant that people wouldn’t come to see it in person…which I thought was crazy.  If Madonna puts out a concert DVD, it doesn’t mean people stop coming to her concerts.  In fact, it makes some people want the live experience more.  The thing about it was that our audience was pretty young, and they didn’t necessarily drive the family vacation budget.  But I think that’s one of the biggest reasons the show has done gangbusters business on tour.  And I loved the way they filmed it; obviously it was very different from the typical stationary-camera approach, but if there’s one thing MTV knows, it’s their audience.  I watched it and thought it looked like the MTV Video Music Awards, which felt like a big success aesthetically.

4. You are now staring in the new Broadway musical Wonderland. What has that experience been like for you so for? 

Putting a new show together is always a roller coaster.  With this one, it’s been a lot of research and a lot of pushing the envelope.  I’ve said a couple of times recently that there have been those people who told me that all that mattered was that I looked hot and sang well; to me, that’s what matters in a concert.  When you’re playing a character as iconic as the Hatter, there’s got to be a lot of creativity and risk.  I’ve tried some things that I know probably looked stupid, but one of the great freedoms has been that the Hatter can look that way.

5. The role of the Mad Hatter is normally played by a male. What made you want to take on this role and go against the norm?

 It looked like a cool opportunity to do something that had never been done before.  I like those kinds of challenges, and they don’t come along every day.  When I went in for my audition, I was hopping around like a frog and catching invisible spiders in the air.  I was really excited to use my body in weird ways, against the grain of what women usually are asked to do in the musical theater. So many times, we’re just asked to be pretty and polished…this seemed dangerous and raw and exciting.  More like Sally Bowles, another character I loved playing.  It just looked like so much fun.

6. What has it been like playing such an iconic role as the Mad Hatter?

 There were times I had the best time of my life; there were times I wanted to quit the business.  Our New York previews, in particular, were very difficult and frustrating.  We got handed an almost entirely new script three weeks before we started performances.  There were some decisions I didn’t agree with.  But in any show, ultimately, the words on the page are sacrosanct, and it’s the actor’s responsibility to try to make them work without commenting to the audience.  On the plus side, I’m always pleased when something I think will never work ends up working after all—and usually, the only way to find out is to completely commit to it and jump off the cliff.

7.  You recently had the chance to star in one of television’s biggest shows, Gossip Girl. What was your experience like filming on the set? 

Well, I was only on set for one day, but I loved it.  I like TV…it’s fast and there’s a certain kind of freedom that comes from having a lot of takes.  That said, they had a very specific look in mind for the character I played.  So I went in to my audition looking pretty glamorous, but I went on camera thinking “wow, I’m probably the only actor in the history of Gossip Girl to be wearing basically no makeup.”  And the cast—I met Leighton and Ed Westwick—seemed really nice. 

8.  As well as being an actress and singer, you are also a published author with several books in the works.  Can you share what those books are going to be about?

 One is a fictionalized memoir in the vein of “The Nanny Diaries”…although not about being a nanny, of course.  One is a nonfiction analysis of women, beauty, aging, and identity, among other things.  It looks like I’m in the process of selling that one.  The third is a proposal I’ve been working on for a young adult novel set at a boarding school in New Hampshire.  So they’re all over the map.  And then the articles that have been published are mostly commentary—on the AIDS movement, on what we expect from people who ask us to view them as role models, on my time as Miss America and how that organization is run.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Baby It's You @ Broadhurst Theatre

Take the styles of Million Dollar Quartet and Rain, add the story elements of Jersey Boys, throw in the energy of Mamma Mia, and one gets the new Broadway musical Baby it’s You!, currently playing at the Broadhurst Theatre. Telling the true story of the girl group The Shirelles and their manager Florence Greenberg, this jukebox musical features some of the best songs of the 60s with a new flair. Baby it’s You! is sure to be a hit with the older generation who grew up on such hits as Book of Love, Mama Said, Shout, It’s My Party, and so many more.
In the city of Passaic, New Jersey, Florence Greenberg lived as a house wife to husband Bernie Greenberg, daughter Mary Jane, and blind son Stanley – who happens to be a song writer. It is in this little town that Mary Jane discovers a group of four African American girls – Shirley, Micki, Beverley, and Doris – that perform at her high school. Longing for something more in her life, Florence leaves behind her family and takes the girl group, now known as The Shirelles, to New York City. It is there that Florence sets up a record label of her own and begins The Shirelles rise to stardom. As her success grows, Florence’s relationships begin to spin out of control as she starts an affair with her song writer Luther Dixon, loses contact with her daughter, struggles to get her son a hit record, and separates from her husband. However, through it all, Florence comes out on top as The Shirelles (the first ever all girl group to have a number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 list) pave the way for other all girl groups such as Diana Ross and The Supremes.
Baby it’s You! features an ensemble of extremely energetic and talented actors who are dedicated to bringing this rags to riches story to life.. Leading the pact is Tony Award winner Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone) as Florence Greenberg. Leavel delivers a heartfelt and moving performance that is fully deserving of the Tony Award nomination that she has received for her portrayal of Florence. She is able to make the tough as nails Florence Greenberg absolutely loveable. The audience is behind Florence as she struggles to move to New York and establish a record label, finds a new love, tries to support a family in a different state, and ultimately establish the first all girl group, The Shirelles. The two men in her life are played by Allan Louis (from television’s Grey’s Anatomy and Boston Legal) as Luther Dixon and Barry Pearl (known for playing Doody in the major motion picture Grease) as Bernie Greenberg. These two men provide Leavel with tons of support and attitude; Louis uses his soulful voice to seduce Leavel while Pearl uses his quick wit and sarcasm to give Leavel enough of a reason to get up and leave. Florence Greenberg’s New York family consisted of the four talented girls that made up The Shirelles – played by Christina Sajous (Broadway’s American Idiot) as Shirley, Erica Ash (Off-Broadway’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore) as Micki, Kyra Da Costa (Broadway’s Dreamgirls and Sweet Charity) as Beverley, and Crystal Starr (from television’s American Idol) as Doris. Together, these four women create a sound that is simply divine. Sajous steals the spotlight as the leader of the pack; her crazy good vocals mixed with her strong acting abilities makes her a true stand out in the cast. The rest of the ensemble, however, is wonderful too, as they bring the classic oldie hits into a new generation.
Baby it’s You! was conceived by Floyd Mutrux, who also brought the hit musical Million Dollar Quartet to the Great White Way. While the songs are hits and the actors are top notch, the overall story needed some extra attention. With a book by Mutrux and Colin Escott (also co-author of Million Dollar Quartet), this new musical needs much more focus – does it want to tell a story or be a rock concert? The musical simply wanted to do too much; it wanted to tell the story of both Florence and The Shirelles, have tons of great hit songs, and entertain audiences with a concert style set up. Unfortunately, none of these ideas were fully created. The play moved at a rapid pace, ignoring key relationships between the characters (especially the relationship between the four girls who the play centers around), in order to allow for an entire second act of song after song with minimal story line interruptions. This is a problem that not even the most gifted of actors, like the queen of Broadway herself – Leavel, could fix. With the entire above aside, the musical features wonderful creative work from its costume designer Lizz Wolf (film designs include Rambo and The Expendables) and scenic designer Anna Louizos (Broadway designs include In the Heights and Avenue Q). These two designers worked hard to bring the 60s style and fashion back to Broadway. Their designs are both detailed to make sure that each element transports the audience back in time to experience the birth of The Shirelles.
Baby it’s You! is a nice new musical that is light and heartwarming. While the story behind the people is not as strong as it should be, the work of the cast and designers is worth seeing if you were a fan of this generation. Bringing back such hits as Twist and Shout, Duke of Earl, Yakety Yak, and Soldier Boy, this new jukebox musical will surely have you leaving the theatre wanting to find some old records and rock out!

Review By: James Russo and Ryan Oliveti