Archive for the ‘THEATRE REVIEW’ Category

“The Lion King”—touring company review   Leave a comment

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In 1997 “Disney’s The Lion King” opened on Broadway instantly making every adult a  kid with its opening number and just as it did then, and still does, the show did the same thing last night at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. Twenty-two years later, the highest grossing Broadway production of all time, as the animals from an African Savannah march down the aisles to Pride Rock on the stage to see the new lion cub, Simba, and the first song, Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Circle of Life”, transports you to a magical world.
 
With a book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi and additional songs by Lebo M., Mark Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin and Hans Zimmer the production belongs to Julie Taymor who directed, did the costumes, masks and puppet designs along with Michael Curry and Richard Hudson who did the scenic designs. The choreographer Garth Fagan, watched over by his associate Marey Griffith, while John Stefaniuk continues as Taymor’s associate director. For those who may be unaware of what lighting can do to bring magic to the stage the design by Donald Holder shows in scenes that draws gasps from the adults and squeals of joy from the children.
 
All the dazzling production aspects of the show make it a spectacle but wouldn’t mean a thing without the 11 musicians led by conductor James Dodgson or the over 50 cast members who tell and/or sing the life story of Simba the cub. Whether as individuals or in ensemble numbers it would be unfair to say anyone was a standout as they all were.
 
Take a kid and both enjoy the magic of theatre.
 
1st act is 1 hour and 8 minutes  An intermission runs 20 minutes and the last act is 55 minutes.
 
 

Lion King cast May 9 2019

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“Anastasia”–touring company review   1 comment

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One of the joys of theatre-going is the occasional surprise that makes you hold your breath and feel as if you are the only one experiencing what is happening on stage and tonight, at the opening of “Anastasia” at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, it happened when Beth Stafford Laird, as the title character, sang “In My Dreams”. I don’t know if the other over 2,000 people in the audience even knew that she was an understudy for the lead who couldn’t go on tonight but it didn’t make a difference because we all fell in love with her. Playing Anya, who may or may not be the only surviving member of her Russian Imperial Romanov family consisting of her father, mother, 3 sisters and a brother all who were killed by the Bolsheviks when she was 17 in 1917.
 
We follow her life when she is found in 1927 as a woman who has no recollection of her previous life and is making a living sweeping the streets in St. Petersburgh. There have been many rumors that the youngest daughter had survived and many were impersonating her in order to cash in on the riches her grandmother the Dowager Empress, now living in Paris, has.
 
Two con men audition many girls to be Anastasia, finally deciding that Anya has ‘something’ that will work and they go about teaching her, yet there is something in Anya that makes her believe she really is the granddaughter of the Empress.
 
Based on two movies, one an animated film, it is an easy enough story to follow and has many stereotyped characters but Beth Stafford Laird makes you believe in her so the story works. It certainly helps that she has a voice that reaches up to the rafters but you also see her gain strength as she believes in herself more and more.
 
Tari Kelly and Edward Staudenmayer take stock musical characters and bring them the freshness and fun they require while Stephen Brower as one of the con men, and a love interest for Anya, has a strong voice and an earnestness the role requires. Jason Michael Evans has a very underwritten role that leaves you wondering whether he is an alternative love for Anya or villain out to get her.  His singing of 2 solos, plus duets and ensemble pieces, soars over the auditorium. Joy Franz as the Dowager Empress shows the steel and softness the woman is called upon to show to whomever she is facing.
 
The book by Terrence McNally, the music by Stephen Flaherty and the lyrics by Lynn Ahrens do their job but words must be said about the projection designs by Aaron Rhyne that have set a high standard for part of theatre productions today.  The musicians under the direction of Lawrence Goldberg give the singers a chance to be heard by not overwhelming them but underscoring them.
 
I walked away from this production hoping that Beth Stafford Laird will be returning to Fort Lauderdale soon in another show!
 
“Anastasia” will be playing at the Broward Center until May 5. The show runs 2 hours and 35 minutes with a 20-minute intermission.
 
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“School of Rock”–touring company review   Leave a comment

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The “School of Rock” is the tale of a loser who bluffs himself into an upscale school as a substitute teacher and turns the kids into rock stars.
 
Before the show starts we hear the recorded voice of Andrew Lloyd Weber, who wrote the new music with Glenn Slater writing the lyrics, assures us on tape that the kids are really playing their instruments and do they play them. Mystic Inscho owns the electric guitar while Cameron Trueblood seems to have learned from the masters how to beat the drums. Julian Brescia works magic on the keyboards, Leanne Parks plays a bass almost as big as she is and each time stops the show with her solos. Arianna Pereira and Alyssa Emily Marvin as back up singers are soon joined by Camille De La Cruz who is a shy girl until she belts out an “Amazing Grace” and then she owns the stage.
 
They are joined by other students such as Sami Bray who becomes the band’s manager because she knows she is the smartest kid in class while Sammy Dell, the gay kid, is the costume designer, Jacob Moran is made the security guard and Gabriella Uhl becomes a roadie because all the kids in the class have to become a part of the band.
 
I don’t know how old the kids are in real life but on stage they are in the 4th grade which would make them be 9-10 years old and I suspect a few may be in their early teens but it makes no difference as they definitely know what they are doing!
 
How do adults compete with such talented kids? As best as they can and Merritt David Janes, as the fake teacher, does everything possible from jumping up on tables, rolling all over, singing, playing guitar and he stays just a step ahead of the kids. The other adults really don’t have that much to do with the exception of Lexie Dorsett Sharp, the principal of the school, who finds her youth again in a plaintive ballad “Where Did The Rock Go?”
 
Aside from the aforementioned ballad the kids sing a beautiful song “If Only You Would Listen” which not only delves into who the kids are but what all kids want to say to their parents. The three rock songs, two by Webber and Slater “Stick It To The Man” and “You’re In The Band” plus the “School Of Rock” by Mike White and Sammy James Jr., from the film of the same name which the show is based on, exemplifies the music the show is about.
 
The sets, costumes, lighting and direction are all first rate with the choreography basically the kids and Janes jumping up and down but that’s what rock is all about, including the audience swaying back and forth and clapping along with a couple of the songs. The only thing missing was people lighting lighters or turning on their phone flashlights!
 
Show is 2 hours and 40 minutes including a 21 minute intermission and a rocking encore!
 
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Posted April 10, 2019 by greatmartin in ENTERTAINMENT, THEATRE REVIEW

“Dear Evan Hansen”–Nation Tour Review   Leave a comment

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You hear a lot about the 1% wealthy and the 99% rest regarding money but the same figures could be applied to anyone who has ever gone to high school with the figures being 1% who were happy and 99% rest of us.  In “Dear Evan Hansen” we deal with 5 teenagers in the latter category.
 
Evan Hansen’s father left 10 years ago and his mother Heidi is going to night school to become a paralegal and works during the day as a nurse’s aide leaving little time for her son. Evan sees a therapist regarding his social anxiety who assigns him to write letters to himself and this leads to the story.
 
Ben Levi Ross is phenomenal as Evan Hansen with a voice that filled the Broward auditorium and hanging on to every word when he went soft. As his mother, Jane Pfitsch, moving throughout, really got the tears flowing with “So Big/So Small”. Along the way we meet and get to know 4 other teenagers from Connor, played by Marrick Smith, who is an addict and bother of Zoe, (Maggie McKenna), along with Alana, (Phoebe Koyabe) and Jared (Jared Goldsmith), who offer some comic relief but are just like Evan, wanting to be heard and seen through any means. The other two members of the cast are Aaron Lazar and Christiane Noll as the parents of Connor and Zoe.
 
All 8 actors have perfect voices, move fluidly around the stage and are so subtle in their actions you forget they are actors! As heralded as the original New York production was/is I would match this cast against them and it would probably become a tie.
 
The book was written by Steven Levenson and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, which will bring you to tears, provide a few laughs and, maybe, realize how hard this world is for a teenager. Pasek and Paul also wrote the music and lyrics for “The Greatest Showman” and listening to the “Dear Evan Hansen” broadcast album, which won a Grammy, is as moving as the stage production. You will be humming many of the songs after hearing them either on the stage or the album.
 
Talking about the stage production between the Scenic Designer, David Korins, and the projection designs by Peter Negrini portray the world of technology that we, and especially teenagers, are caught up in today. Pardon the pun but the  Lighting design by Japhy Weideman is spot on and impressive.
 
This is definitely a show for all teenagers to help them realize that they are not alone, not invisible and for all adults who may have forgotten the pain of being a teenager.
 
“Dear Evan Hansen” is playing at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts until April 7. With a 20 minute intermission, the show is 2 hours and 45 minutes.
 
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Posted March 28, 2019 by greatmartin in THEATRE, THEATRE REVIEW, Uncategorized

“Waitress”–review of touring company   1 comment

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With music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles along with a book by Jessie Nelson based on the movie by Adrienne Shelly “Waitress” will be celebrating the start of its 4th year on Broadway this April.

A story about an abused waitress who finds herself pregnant doesn’t immediately shout ‘musical comedy’ but there is plenty of comedy, along with drama, in this show. Jenna ( Christine Dwyer) finds an outlet in her job at Joe’s Diner with friends Becky (Natasha Williams) and Dawn (Ephie Aardema) where she works as a waitress and a baker, in the latter job making 27 delicious pies with wicked names. As an escape from her abusive husband Earl (Matt DeAngelis) she hopes to win $20,000 in a pie contest in a nearby county.

Her OB-GYN Jim Pomater (Steven Good) is new in town and his wife is doing an internship at the local hospital. He and Jenna, though basically decent people, give in to their feelings and he betrays his wife.

We, also, meet the diner’s owner played by Richard Kline and cook played by Ryan G. Dunkin. Dawn meets Ogie (Jeremy Morse) via the Internet and they play off each other so perfectly you know there is going to be a ‘happily ever after’ for them.  By the way (Morse) singing and dancing “Never Getting Rid Of Me” is a show-stopping number the audience loves. Rheaume Crenshaw as Nurse Norma adds to the professional cast along with the ensemble and we certainly can’t forget Hailey Belle Malvin who is making her musical Broadway debut, having been discovered in Miami!

Director Diane Paulus and choreographer Lorin Latarro worked very closely together giving the cast intricate scenes that depend on split timing while scenic designer Scott Pask keeps the sets moving as the songs, dance and story goes from the diner to Jenna’s home, the doctor’s office and the hospital. Conducter Lilli Wosk, with the musicians on stage are as much a part of the ensemble as anyone on stage.

The music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles are tuneful, meaningful when need be and funny, moving the show along, telling about the characters and adding to the thin story.

The #metoo moment in the show gets an impressive reaction, deservingly, from the audience as do the performers when they take their bows.

“Waitress” is a warm, funny and moving musical that tackles a lot of problems still be faced today.

“Waitressruns 2 hours and 35 minutes with a 20-minute intermission

 

“Les Miserables”–touring review   4 comments

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“Les Miserables” opened on Broadway in 1987 winning 8 Tonys including best musical and score. It has had 2 successful revivals in New York and has been touring all over the USA for years while, opening in London in 1985, it has become the second longest running musical in the world.

The touring company opened at the Arsht Center in Miami last night and showed why this sung through musical soars with the right cast and they were on stage singing the emotional and beautiful score with such songs as “I Dreamed a Dream”, “Who Am I” and “A Heart Full of Love”.

“Les Miserables” is the story of Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell) who we meet being released from prison after 19 years having been arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving daughter and then 14 more years for trying to escape. He has been paroled under the watchful eye of Inspector Javert (Josh Davis) who he eventually eludes and we follow the paths of these two men and the people who they meet and become involved with.

When Fantine (Mary Kate Moore) sings the previously mentioned “I Dreamed A Dream” you won’t hear a sound in the theatre while you will hear sobs here and there as (Cartell) touches hearts with “Bring Him Home”.  “Soliloquy: Javert’s Suicide” and “Stars” are sung with such power and feeling by (Davis) you see a completely different man on stage in each song. “Master of the House” a duet by Thenardier (J. Anthony Crane) and his wife (Allison Guinn) are way over the top very funny performers while Marius’s (Joshua Grosso) rendition of “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables” is definitely a tear jerker!

Both the young Cosette (Vivi Howard) and the Older Cosette (Jillian Butler) shine in their own songs while Eponine (Paige Smallwood) not only soars and stops the show singing   “On My Owns” but adds her voice to 7 other songs whether duets, trios or group numbers. In addition, Matt Shingledecker as Enjolras, a student leader of the revolution, leads the ensemble in a rousing “The People’s Song”.

The songs mentioned, and the rest of the score, by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer need and get the singers and cast their music needs and deserves.

There are a few scenery aspects in the touring show that are different from the original Broadway production but they take nothing away from the show. The costumes, makeup, lighting and sound all add to the 1815-1832 France we see on stage. The show is directed by Laurence Connor & James Powell and the orchestra is conducted by Brian Eads.

As you walk up the aisle of the theatre don’t be surprised to hear yourself humming, or even singing out loud, the anthem of the show, “Do You Hear The People Sing”.

 

Posted February 6, 2019 by greatmartin in ENTERTAINMENT, THEATRE REVIEW

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas”–theatre review   Leave a comment

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Last week at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts we saw “Hamilton”, a musical for the 21st century, and this week we saw “White Christmas”, a musical that represents all that made theatre-going so much fun in the 20th century, at the Adrienne Arsht Performing Center in Miami.
 
Based on a 1954 movie musical it was adapted for the stage in 2000 with the book by David Ives and Paul Blake that makes all that was corny in the film fun on the stage. There is the ‘Let’s put on a show in the barn’ gimmick along with a misunderstanding between one of the lead couples not to mention jokes like, “We fight. We don’t have sex. It’s like we are married!”, which still gets laughs.
 
It has the music of Irving Berlin, 18 songs that have become classics, including the title tune which is the biggest selling record of all time. Just as important is that it has a cast that is looking as if they are having as much fun as the audience.
 
Listen to Kerry Conte sing a sultry “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” while Sean Montgomery counterpoints with “How Deep Is The Ocean”. Try not to tap your toes while Jeremy Benton and Kelly Sheehan dance and sing, along with the chorus, “I Love A Piano” and, if you are old enough, try to not think of Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly as they dance to the choreography of Randy Skinner.
 
Can you decide who does “Sisters” better first sung by Kelly Sheehan and Kerry Conte or the version by Sean Montgomery and Jeremy Benton subbing for them?
 
When the audience is invited to a sing-a-long of “White Christmas” you can tell they have been doing it under their breath because they just let it out with a sigh. When Karen Ziemba sings “Let Me Sing And I’m Happy”, those who know her, you are just waiting for her to break out dancing. More than one person had a tear in their eye during “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep”.
 
The final curtain call number “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm”, with costume, scenic and lighting designs in harmony along with the cast, and ‘snow’ falling on stage and in the auditorium puts everyone in that Christmas card we all want to be a part of every Christmas.
 
“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” is a gift to us all and not too late to give it to others. Get lost in a musical from yesteryear, laugh at the old jokes, sit back and watch the cast of 27 along with the 16 musicians and imagine yourself on the stage and when you get outside waiting for your car smile as a group of theatergoers start singing “White Christmas” and others join them.
 
“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” runs 2 hours plus a 15 minute intermission.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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