Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Welcome back, suckers. As we all know, I am quickly spiraling into an all-out Hair obsession. It's been a while since a show affected me as much as this one. I've only ever had two obsessions in my life, and two is enough for anyone. My Spring Awakening days were bad, folks. I would stay up at night and just listen to the CD on repeat for hours. It stayed like that for an entire summer, and I can honestly say I've never been so happy in my life. Spring Awakening will always be my favorite, the closest to my heart. But the Spring is over. (Ironically, there was a snowstorm the night the show closed. How deliciously appropriate. I got sick from that. This was back in the day where you could cough or sneeze without someone thinking you have the swine flu.)

It's been a fun three days. I've had flowers woven into my hair, danced on a Broadway stage, and watched a bunch of hippies list the names of more drugs than I knew existed. But it's not a perfect piece, as I'm starting to realize. The trip sequence in the second act drags on. Gavin Creel is absolutely nothing special. Dear Allison Case, I would take it as a great personal favor if you could learn to act without using your hands. Love, Me. I stand by my belief that the show should end in a blackout, not a fadeout. And, um...that's it.

Anyway, I've spent the past two days scouring Youtube for Hair-related videos. That is Symptom No. 1. Other symptoms include irritability, nausea, and vomiting. I am aware that they are also side effects of "Zoloft and Paxil and Buspar and Xanax, Lexapro, Klonopin, Ambien, Prozac..." I cannot help it if I am listening to Next to Normal at the moment. But whatever. Anyway, I am slowly learning cast names and faces, though there are like twenty-nine in all. My favorite cast member used to be Allison Case. However, it only took two days for the cutesiness to get a little grating. (For the record, not all redheads are fun to be around. I know a few who are pretty damn annoying.)

That said, I have two favorite cast members so far.

My first favorite is Will Swenson. His performance as Berger ranks as the best performance by a guy that I've ever seen. (Suck on that, Boyd Gaines!) Come to think of it, Berger may be one of my favorite theatre characters, right up there with Sally Bowles and Mrs. Lovett. Wow. Who'da thunk?
This wild-haired, flower-holding, pregnant-woman-playing lassie is Kacie Sheik, and she is my second favorite. She plays Jeanie, the hippie who, and I quote, "got knocked up by some speed freak." One of my favorite moments in the play was when she found out Claude had been drafted. Immediately, she turned around to hug Crissy, and the look on her face was one of fear and devastation. Marvelous. She is also the younger sister of Duncan Sheik. Her brother wrote the music for Spring Awakening. She is related to the man who is responsible for My Junk, Touch Me, and The Bitch of Living. Your argument is irrelevant.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Let the Sun Shine In

As Barbara Fordham would say, "STOP THE MOTHERF*CKING PRESSES!" Okay, so Barb never actually says that, but it sounds like something an embittered woman who has a suicidal father, drug addict mother, and a husband who left her for one of his students would say. Anyway, it's appropriate for the situation.

Yesterday I saw Hair. Today I am still seeing Hair. I see it, hear it, breathe it. I even remarked to the very confused and possibly alarmed Lenora, "Your napkins remind me of flower children." (In my defense, said napkins were green with purple flowers. I mean, come on.) The show was utterly transcendent. Like nothing I've ever seen before in my life. Sitting in the second row of the Hirschfeld, I experienced an incredible range of emotions - amazement, hope, raucous joy, anxiety, and terror. It was the single most intense afternoon I've ever spent in a theatre. Okay, let's clear this up now: Yes, there is both male and female full-frontal nudity. Yes, John Stamos was there. I care about neither. (Although, the fact that Audra McDonald was there was pretty awesome. But we'll get to that later.) I cannot describe the power of the show. There's a scene toward the end of the first act where all the men burn their draft cards while everyone else pounds on the floor and chants. Gradually, the chants rose to a horrible, hellish, prehistoric-sounding screaming. I felt pinned to my seat. I had no idea what to do. I didn't even know how to process what I was seeing. Out of nowhere, the woman who was sitting behind me started calling out, "STOP! STOP!" and crying. Looking around, I saw that she wasn't the only one screaming. It was then that I noticed I had my own hand clapped over my mouth. I tried to find a Youtube example of what this insanity was like. The closest thing I could find was this. Idina taking Tonya Pinkins' Tony is one of the greatest robberies in history.

I don't think I've ever been so utterly enveloped in a production. Part of this may have been due to the fact that I was sitting in the second row, but I'm not so sure. To give you an idea of just how much this show affected me, let it be known by all that I actually danced at the end. I was one of the hundred or so people who were piled onto the stage at the end to dance during curtain call. I DON'T DANCE. Never. Except for this one time. I just kind of awkwardly stood there until two of the tribe members (and it's a TRIBE, not a chorus, thanks) started twirling me around. It was then that I noticed the ultra-talented Audra McDonald peering out from the wings. Wicked fans take note: THAT is talent. Riding an elevator and screeching like a scorched cat while waving around a broomstick is not.

My new aspiration in life is to see a matinee of Hair over the summer and then go lie in the grass in Bryant Park for the rest of forever. Aiming high here.

But the show is just indescribable. Will Swenson is a revelation. (That probably isn't the best word in this situation, but whatever.) Gavin Creel was great. Special honors must go to Allison Case, Kacie Sheik, and Caissie Levy. Miss Levy accomplished the considerable feat of getting me to like Easy to Be Hard. Her heart-breakingness in the scene where Berger rips the shirt she got him in half really made me hate Berger. Come on, people. The guy's a jerk. Tony for Will Swenson! He exuded a sort of repulsive sexiness that was perfect for Berger. Wow. The fact that I just used the phrase "repulsive sexiness" kinda makes me hate myself. Moving right along.

I haven't seen a cast have this much fun or work so well together since the OBC of Spring Awakening. Throughout the show all I could think was, "It's gonna be insane when they play Bryant Park." In case you don't know, concerts in Bryant Park every Thursday have been the highlight of my summer for two years now. If Hair is scheduled for the week I'm in Disney, I will just be emotionally shattered. If this little infatuation blooms into an obsession of epic proportions, I may just find myself on a plane back to New York. But not really.

Let it never, ever be said that I'm not a Spring Awakening fan. I love it to death, and nothing would make me happier than to see it on Broadway again someday. (Okay, the chance to play Sally Bowles might make me happier.) But it was getting old and tired toward the end. Hair is new and vicious and brilliant. It just grabs you by the throat. When Spring Awakening finally bit the dust, I stomped and cheered and screamed my lungs out. I thought I would never scream like that again. I was wrong. Yesterday afternoon, I found myself twirling around on the stage of the Hirschfeld, giggling and screaming. It was a Rose's Turn moment, give or take a hundred people.

I am now putting in another Tony bid: Diane Paulus for Best Director of a Musical. This show has been seamlessly put together, with only a slight drag during the trip sequence in the second act. Oh, that reminds me. Yes, this show glorifies drug use. The horror. The sheer, unmitigated gall! Everyone knows hippies drank Kool-Aid and munched on Vienna Fingers! Yeah, they smoke pot. So does Michael Phelps. (While we're on the subject, can I just point out how much I love the smell of the fake cigarettes used in the theatre? It's a smell I've come to associate with August: Osage County, since I certainly inhaled enough of it during my time with the Westons. And of course, anything associated with August has a pretty positive connotation in my mind. Except for, ya know, child molestation and drug addiction. Although I have come to appreciate plate smashing.)

The show is made up of so many bizarre, intense, electric moments. I have to say, one of my favorite weird ones was watching Caissie Levy during the trip sequence. She threw herself down on the steps in front of our row and pretended to die, flopping around like a suffocating fish. Shut up. It works if you see it.

Side note: Allison Case is just about the most adorable thing since the whirling dervish. I don't even know what a whirling dervish is. She plays the wounded, disillusioned Crissy, and the cutesiness works very well, without becoming Dainty June-ish or Karen Weston-ish. For the record, I find Karen Weston to be the most annoying character in theatre history. Oh, Lord. Look how long I've rambled for. It's starting already. I'm past the point of no return. The next time you see me I'll be burning a draft card, wearing daisies in my hair, lounging in the grass, and marching around beating a handmade drum. Of course, I may not live long enough for this new obsession to flourish, since the swine flu is clearly going to kill us all. NBC said so. NBC knows everything.
Before I go, may I please point out that this show has the most chilling finale I've ever seen in my life. The Tribe sings Let the Sun Shine in, and eventually the band slowly fades out, until they're a capella. Still singing, they file down the aisles, leaving the stage empty except for Claude's body. Cue slow fadeout. It's wonderfully effective. So if you're considering going to see Hair, GO. You won't regret it. Or at least check out the website.
And, since I promised berri I would work her into this post, she says hi. You're welcome.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tony Time!

Hello, darlings! The Tony nominations are getting announced in two weeks. This is the first season I've actually followed religiously, and I'm a solid supporter of several candidates. Before we get into my picks, let me say two things. One: I thoroughly enjoyed the Guys and Dolls revival. Sue me. Second: Happy 60th birthday, Patti LuPone! I'd say you don't look it, but, do. Now, on to my predictions! I'm only gonna post certain categories, and I'm not going anywhere near the plays. My condolences to the real nominators who have to sift through the plethora of plays, play revivals, and play performances this year.

Alrighty. The ones in italics are the ones I'm backing, and the ones in boldface are who I think will actually win it.

Best Musical:
Billy Elliott
Next to Normal
9 to 5

Best Revival of a Musical:
Pal Joey
West Side Story
Guys and Dolls

Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical:
J. Robert Spencer as Dan in Next to Normal
Craig Bierko as Sky in Guys and Dolls
Kiril Kulish, Trent Kowalik, and David Alvarez as the Billys Billy Elliott
Brian d'Arcy James as Shrek in Shrek
Gavin Creel as Claude in Hair

Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical:
Alice Ripley as Diana Next to Normal
Allison Janney as Violet in 9 to 5
Kate Jennings Grant as Sarah in Guys and Dolls
Josefina Scaglione as Maria in West Side Story
Sutton Foster as Fiona in Shrek

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical:
Christopher Sieber as Lord Farquaad in Shrek
Aaron Tveit as Gabe in Next to Normal
Greg Jbara as Dad in Billy Elliott
Will Swenson as Berger in Hair
Marc Kudisch as the evil, misogynistic boss in 9 to 5

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical:
Karen Olivo as Anita in West Side Story
Haydyn Gwynne as Mrs. Wilkinson in Billy Elliott
Megan Hilty as Doralee in 9 to 5
Stephanie J. Block as Judy in 9 to 5
Jennifer Damiano (Shut up. It's a hard role.) as Natalie in Next to Normal

There you have it, folks. My narrow-minded, I-like-who-I-like, can't-see-past-the-end-of-my-nose list! Now, a lot is at stake here. The predicted best supporting actress category is pitting three of my favorites against each other. For the record, I'm talking about Olivo, Hilty, and Damiano. I'm too smart to be a Stephanie J. Block fan. My ultimate dream would be for Next to Normal to take Best Musical and turn those pretentious tu-tu wearing toe-steppers over at Billy Elliott on their heads. But I'm not delusional. I'm predicting a very likely if not totally deserved sweep from Elton John and his corporate darling. Best Actress is tricky, too. I've been a Sutton Foster fan for a while, but I just don't think she was that good in Shrek. I enjoyed Kate Jennings Grant's performance very much, and I think Allison Janney might take it, but make no mistake, children: I am a Ripley fan -a 'no she is not a crackhead,' 'her voice is unique not wrecked,' and 'yeah, so what if I saw SIDE SHOW?' fan. She deserves this Tony. Despite the wonderful reviews, Next to Normal probably will not last for a very long time. Although it deserves many awards, it probably won't hit it big at the Tonys. If it only takes home one Tony (and I'm sad to say that might be pretty likely), let it be Best Actress. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of Stephen Sondheim. Amen.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Lesson Well Learned

Here's the thing, folks: There are some shows which high schools should just not be allowed to do. Off the top of my head, I can think of:

Sunday in the Park With George
Sweeney Todd (although it was an absolutely BRILLIANT high school production that introduced me to this one)
Les Miz

But there's one show that tops all, one sacred book and impeccable score that should never never never be slaughtered by teenagers attempting to screech like Idina Menzel: GYPSY. Let me tell you something: I am not the biggest Gypsy fan. I don't think it's "the greatest musical ever." I've already told you I bestow that honor on Sweeney Todd. But I'm not that ignorant. I am fully cognizant of the fact that Gypsy is a great show, even though it's not perfect. We all know that I didn't really enjoy LuPone Gypsy. After yesterday, LuPone Gypsy is lookin' awful good. Yes, I did indeed pay seven dollars to watch one of the greatest musicals in history get slandered by a shrieky Rose, a wooden Herbie, and a Louise that could not have been trying harder to be Laura Benanti. Let's see if I can list my grievances with this production:

1. There is no Mrs. Weber. Sorry, but it's true.
2. The dog's name is "Chowsie" not "Chowskie," thanks.
3. It's Rose, not Rosa.
4. By all means, let's only use the left side of the stage!
5. Screaming at Rose during his final scene does not make up for the fact that Herbie can't act.

I knew right away, once I looked in the playbill and saw that top billing was given to the "Baloon Girl," that this one was gonna be a doozy. I was actually moderately enjoying myself until one moment when the whole thing just came crashing down. Right before the scene before You'll Never Get Away From Me (which is, for the record, under appreciated), six girls dressed as Chinese waitresses scurried out onto the stage. I had a sneaking suspicion of what was going on, but I decided to stay seated and watch what was unfolding before me. And guess what. They started dancing. Now, clearly this was an excuse for the parents in the audience to scream and shout and wave at their daughters on stage. You see them every day, people. Wait until after the freaking show. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. It was utterly ridiculous. If they had pulled this in the Broadway revival, I probably would have walked out. There is no spontaneous dancing in Gypsy. I don't care if one of the dancers was related to the director. There is no spontaneous dancing in Gypsy. Ethel Merman was rolling in her grave. But the real kicker (awful pun intended) came toward the end of the dance. The dancers all lined up and linked arms. Lenora can vouch for the fact that I started gasping, "NO! PLEASE, GOD, NO!" But...they did it. A waitresses' kickline. I can't wait for the day when this school does Sweeney. I'm really lookin' forward to the Throatslitter's Tango, and Mrs. Lovett's Mutilation Mambo.

That's all I have to say about that. God save us from the high schoolers who think acting means talking with your hands and belting as high as you possibly can.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Cake Eaters

Welcome back, suckers. Before we start, I must express my absolute joy at the fact that Next to Normal seems to be getting off to a good start. Sometime soon I plan on paying a visit to the Booth to watch Alice Ripley roll around in bread and lettuce once again. If she does not win the Tony, it will be the biggest upset since The Lion King robbed Ragtime back in '98.
Anyway. Back to the reason I'm here. A few days ago, on some kind of reckless whim, I decided to download a movie called The Cake Eaters from iTunes. I don't know why I bought it. I suppose I had some kind of destructive Sally Bowles moment. I must say, however, that I was pleasantly surprised. Okay, friends. I'm gonna take a pratfall and eat my words here. Notice the girl on the poster. Yes, it's Kristen Stewart, the same girl whose incriminating picture adorns my sidebar, the same girl who autopiloted her way through Twilight. But here's the thing, folks. She didn't suck in this one. When the HELL did this girl learn to act?! I actually saw some genuine emotion here, and I only counted one weird facial expression. She plays a girl with Friedrich's Ataxia, a fatal muscle disease, and her performance was described as "dynamite." Can I just take a moment to point something out, friends? Why is it that playing a disabled person automatically garners you rave reviews? Case in point: Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Main, Donna Murphy in Passion, Kelli O'Hara in The Light in the Piazza, and, fine, I'll admit it: Alice Ripley in Next to Normal. Anyway, the main reason I even downloaded this film was to see Elizabeth Ashley, who's currently over at The Music Box alienating her son and revealing devastating secrets as Mattie Fae in August: Osage County. Note the smashed plates on the floor. I cannot think of anyone better suited to the part of Mattie Fae, and I'm just pleased as punch because now the line, "Mattie Fae, we're gonna get in the car and go home and if you say one more mean thing to that boy I'll throw you out on your fat Irish ass," can be put back in. Sorry, but substituting "scrawny" for "fat" just didn't do it for me. (Oh, and while we're on the subject, I must say that I think it is an absolute travesty that Elizabeth Ashley has never played Joanne. Her Ladies Who Lunch would be MARVELOUS.) Well, if the rumors of an August movie are true, I think we have our Mattie Fae. Also, I stick to my theory that Debbie Reynolds would make an awesome Violet, and Laura Linney an even better Barbara.
So long live August: Osage County, may Alice Ripley get her Tony, and, God in heaven, don't let John Stamos screw up Bye Bye, Birdie.