Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bring It On @ St. James Theatre

Elle Woods had law school and Lysistrata Jones had basketball, but the gang currently at the St. James theatre has … cheerleading! That is right, the hit films in the Bring It On franchise have been retooled, reworked, and re-mastered by some of Broadway’s finest to create the next cheese ball comedy that is hard to resist! This quirky cast of characters cheers and flips their way into the hearts of the audience! Is Bring It On: The Musical the next “best” musical? No. But, is it fun, full of energy, extremely witty, and well worth the price of admission? Hell to the yes! This Broadway underdog is pure fun!
Forget everything you know about the Bring It On film series because this musical is completely different … except for the cheerleading, of course.  Meet Campbell, a senior high school student who has recently been given the coveted position of cheer captain.  Everything is going her way – she is popular, has a hot boyfriend, and is leading the squad to victory. Before she has time to blink, however, her dreams are crushed when she is suddenly relocated to a different school; and, not just any school – it is Jackson High! Enter Danielle – the “it girl” at the rough and tough Jackson (where everything is reversed).  Soon, it becomes clear that these two girls from completely different worlds will have to join forces and become friends.  Through all of the backstabbing, laughs, lies, love, and flips, Campbell and Danielle will soon learn just what it takes to get through the dreaded high school years.
This crazy talented ensemble is forced to go where no ensemble has gone before – they not only sing, act, and dance, they have to lift, flip, and fly through the air.  Leading this ensemble are Taylor Louderman (Muny’s Legally Blonde) and Adrienne Warren (Apollo/U.S. Dreamgirls tour) as Campbell and Danielle respectively.  These two women work wonders together on stage with their strong dance moves, sweet voices, and killer comedic chops.  Louderman takes center stage from the beginning to the end doing a lovely job of separating Campbell, a popular blonde, from all of the other popular blondes surrounding her.  Warren gives rough and tough Danielle tons of heart – making her the character that the entire audience can relate to.  Surrounding these two are a series of strong female performances from Kate Rockwell (Hair) and Janet Krupin (’s The Click Clique) as the popular girls that everyone loves to hate to Elle McLemore (television’s The Middle) as the newcomer to the squad with that “killer instinct” to Ryann Redmond (Playwright Horizon’s Children of Eden) as Bridget, the girl who might be a bit over-weight, but still knows her way around a dance floor.  Believe it or not, there are males in Bring It On: The Musical too.  Jason Gotay () takes on the role of Randall, Campbell’s extremely attractive mentor.  While Gotay is sweet, his performance falls a bit flat, allowing the rest of the ensemble to wash him out – a quality not too good for a leading man.  However, Gregory Haney (Memphis) and Neil Haskell (9 to 5: The Musical) have plenty of time to take some of the spotlight away from the girls.  Haney leaves a lasting impression as La Cienega, the cross-dressing dance crew diva; he is smarty, funny, and absolutely perfect for this break out role.  Haskell takes on Campbell’s hunky boy toy Steven; he is hilarious and is given the chance to show off all of his So You Think You Can Dance moves.  As a whole, this ensemble gels very well together, and knows just how to deliver the material handed to them by some of Broadway’s best and brightest.
What does Avenue Q, Next to Normal, and In the Heights all have in common?  Well, all three have Tony Awards, and now they all have each other.  Director and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (choreographer of the upcoming Annie) brings together a top-notch creative team to ensure that what many were speculating to be a flop, is in fact a sure fire hit!  A show like this needed both an “all-American Broadway” feel and a “hip-hop” beat; therefore, Blankenbuehler enlisted not one or two musical geniuses, but three: Tom Kitt (Next to Normal), Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), and Amanda Green (High Fidelity).  Together, these three come together to create a diverse score that is refreshing, up beat, and just plain old fun!  Don’t get to crazy; of course, some of the songs are weak-ish and could use some improvement; however, overall, the score is a crowd pleaser.  Adding to the fun is libretto writer Jeff Whitty of Avenue Q fame.  Whitty’s work is … well … witty.  It is extremely funny, but the whole time is leading up to a moral that all can relate to.  Blankenbuehler does not hold back on his design team either enlisting the help of scenic designer David Korins (the recent Godspell revival), costume designer Andrea Lauer (American Idiot), and lighting designer Jason Lyons (Rock of Ages).  All three work extremely well together to bring the feel of both stage and arena together into one.  Much like the score, this design is a beautiful fusion.  Blankenbuehler does a lovely job of staging this new musical and giving it the high-powered dance and cheer moves that it needs!
Bring It On: The Musical will probably never sweep the Tony Awards; however, it does something that few musicals are doing these days – giving the audience permission to forget about their lives and just have some plain old fun at the theatre!  The ensemble is full of energy, the score and libretto are swell, and the design is fantastic – making this a wonderful new musical that the entire family can enjoy! Bring the kids, bring the wife, bring the husband, and (most importantly) bring it on!

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Last Smoker In America @ The Westside Theatre (Upstairs)

With the current election race afloat, the entire country is turning to see what the government has to say.  Better yet, the whole country is looking to see if the government says the right things … though depending on the person, those thoughts vary.  There is one thing that is crystal clear, however, about the view currently being taken in the new musical comedy The Last Smoker in America – the govern has no right to stop us from doing what makes us happy, even if that happiness harms us … or do they?  Okay.  So, maybe the point is not so crystal clear.  But, in this uncertainty, this hilarious musical does exactly what it needs to do – make Americans think.  Whether you are pro-smoking or anti-smoking, you are bound to enjoy this fresh, funny, and innovative American musical.
Meet Pam.  Pam is a loving wife and mother.  Her husband, Ernie, dreams of writing the next great rock anthem.  Her son, Jimmy, is a typical teen – lost, confused, into rap and video games.  All in all, Pam is a normal, average, everyday housewife.  Until, new strict laws on the use of smoking tobacco make Pam the official last smoker left in America.  Now, Pam faces the ultimate decision – quit smoking or fight against the powers that be.  One lets her life stay on track; the other lands her in jail.  While she might want to rebel, know-it-all, Jesus-loving, anti-smoke leader, Phyllis is her next-door neighbor.  Between the crazy coming from Phyllis, the concern coming from Ernie, and the teen-angst coming from Jimmy, all Pam could really use, is the one thing that she is not allowed to have – a cigarette.
Four actors dominate the Westside Theatre on a weekly basis, delivering hilarious performances that can knock the cigarette out of one’s very own hand.  Leading lady, Farah Alvin (off-Broadway’s The Marvelous Wonderettes), takes control of the stage from scene one and never lets go!  She is smart, funny, and deeply moving.  No matter what one’s stance on smoking currently is, Alvin makes you forget all about it, and route for her right to light up!  The man of the house is brought to life brilliantly by John Bolton (Curtains).  Ernie may be a fully-grown adult, but he sure does not act like it – Bolton brings all of the youth and energy needed when playing this role, especially while belting out songs in the style of Aerosmith! Rounding out the family tree is Jake Boyd (off-Broadway’s Carrie) as Jimmy.  Boyd does a lovely job of conveying the difficulties of being a teenager in today’s society.  From his insane rap number to his need to wear high-heels, Jimmy is a fun character that Boyd totally tapped into.  Rounding out this crazy talented ensemble is Avenue Q veteran Natalie Venetia Belcon as the crazy ass next-door neighbor, Phyllis.  Whether decked out in her Sunday best, gangster gear, or Irish step uniform, Belcon delivers a truly unforgettable performance!  Her soulful voice carries across the theatre and into the hearts of the audience, even when she is singing lyrics on crack.  Together, these four actors form a tight knit ensemble that lands every joke, hits every note, and delivers each shocking punch!  A true joy to watch on stage!
This wild new musical was conceived by Bill Russell (Side Show) on book and lyrics and Peter Melnick (Adrift in Macao at Primary Stages) on music.  If shock is what this team was going for, then they nailed it!  With each new word and lyric crazier than the next, infused with wild music styles from gospel to rock to rap, The Last Smoker in America might not be mainstream theatre, but it is sure as hell fun and entertaining to watch!  All of this wildness is under the direction of Andy Sandberg (producer of the current Broadway smash The Best Man).  While Sandberg’s direction was not superior, often leading the cast in awkward circles and poses, he did manage to form a fabulous creative team.  Charlie Corcoran (Master Class) delivers a wildly colorful set design that looks both futuristic and hauntingly modern, like this world is not to far away, at the same time.  Lightly this world is master lighting designer Jeff Croiter (Peter and the Starcatcher).  Drawing on traditional lighting, rock concert lighting, and theme park lighting, Croiter creates this brilliant fusion of styles that takes both the set and book to a whole new level.  Also shining is costume designer Michael McDonald (Hair), who has the task of creating hundreds of different looks from 80s glam to gangster to Elvis.  Rounding out the team is choreographer AC Ciulla (Footloose) who proves fun and energetic moves that fill the stage and bring the songs the breath of life needed to make them pop!  This team delivers one crazy, insane, wild night of theatre!
Similar to the likes of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, this brand new musical is shocking, funny, full of heart, and does not give two damns whether or not you agree with its message (as the advertisements say, it’s “unfiltered”).  The Last Smoker in America is an off-Broadway triumph – with great performances and wonderful design – not to be missed!