Music Box: Nobody Beats “The Wiz”

The Wiz NBC


Too many changes pissed me off: Ne-Yo is bad enough, but Ne-Yo writing an original song FOR this? Ugh. Removing “I Was Born On The Day Before Yesterday” and replacing it with a song not even good enough to make the cut of the dreadful movie version, called “You Can’t Win”? Feh. (Though, I do know it was originally written for the stage, but never used.) Queen Latifah and Mary J Blige? As much as I love them, ubiquitous. Enough. Now I’m not really adverse to change, but sometimes I’m guilty off being too much of a traditionalist, particularly when it comes to something I cherish. Oh well. Sue me. 

Still, my anticipation was – and is – very high, as THE WIZ was the very first Broadway musical I ever saw, and it remains an indelible part of my very heart. And then I saw this. Now, I’m a religious-free man, but…oh my god. Oh. My. God. OH. MY. GOD!!!!! This sent tremulous shivers pirouetting down my spine.

OH MY GOD. December 3rd can’t get here fast enough.


Music Box: Hamilton the Musical – History Is Happening In Manhattan

Hamilton Banner Home Made

 


I’m dazed. Literally.

I first saw the off-Broadway production back in February, at the Public, as a birthday present to myself. It was a staggering achievement then, but even more so now.

 

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Every so often a work of art descends upon us from the heavens, via the musical theater gods – so breathtaking, towering in its scope, vision and execution – to dazzle us, to thrill us, to exalt us, to inspire us, to perplex us, to educate us, to illuminate us, and ideally, to transform us. Welcome to that pantheon, Hamilton.

Believe the hype. It’s one of the – if not THE – greatest musical I’ve seen in a decade or more, and ranks with the mightiest of all time.

 

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Below is a clip sent to various networks and outlets to use as promos – a partial of “Yorktown (World Turned Upside Down),” which excludes the into, and it’s thrilling. I’m going back in a few months, and I’m sure to make various visits over the next few years:

 

 

 

Legacy: Elaine Stritch Everybody Rise!

Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch 1925 ~ 2014


How do you mourn a legend who’s lived more than you and me combined? At the ripe old age of 89, the great Elaine Stritch has taken her final bows. To see her in a show was to expect the expected AND unexpected, and to bear witness Broadway royalty non pareil. I’m thrilled, delighted, and now nostalgic that I was able to be a mortal spectator over the years – in the astounding “Eliane Stritch At Liberty,” over a dozen years ago, and more recently as Angela Lansbury’s replacement in the revival of “A Little Night Music.” And, I can still, forevermore, as Colleen Donaghy on “30 Rock,” my already worn out copy of the making of the Original Cast Recording of “Company,” and countless YouTube treasures.

Rest in peace and respect, Elaine. And everybody rise…rise…RISE!


Recording her legendary “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Sondheim’s “Company”:


On The Rosie O’Donnell Show from the 1990s:


“I’m Still Here” at the White House:



The full “At Liberty”:


 

Music Box: Idina Menzel Live At Radio City Music Hall

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Idina Menzel lives in a musical kingdom where she rules as the Queen and her uber-fans are of many facets – her disciples, her defenders, her watchdogs, her court jesters, and her steadfastly dedicated army. Dare, if you will, to publicly state that the Emperor has no clothes, and you will be harangued, and scolded, and her votary will wish you banished to the tar pits of another land.

Yeah, they’re nutty like that.

I’ve often taken to Twitter and FB to complain (ok, mock, really) Menzel’s status as a theater (and gay) icon. Loathing the bloated, yet seemingly beloved, Wickedit’s always been a curiosity that so many have elevated her to the status that she thrives in (more recent examples include her “screeching” at the Oscars and her “Live: Barefoot At The Symphony” PBS special and album). But I live with someone who adores her, so, as a good boyfriend/partner/whatever – and thanks to my work connections – I was able to finagle two free tickets to her sold out Radio City Music Hall one-night only event. (As an example of that snark, here’s what I posted once the tix were secured: I was just comped 2 free tix to Idina Menzel’s Radio City Music Hall concert on June 16th. Lucky me. I get to endure 2 hours of shrieking. All for Rob. What a man suffers through for love. #‎HeyItsFree #‎IHaveAHeadacheAlready.Yeah, I know – no boundaries.)

Now, to be fair, and completely honest, I’ve always liked Menzel as an actress and a personality, where, whenever interviewed, she was lovely, earthly, un-manufactured, if you will, despite her vocal “styling” seldom pleasing my ears. (Of course I never meant the literal definition of “screech” or “shriek” in my description. It was always colloquially.) Her high belts were, and remain powerful, yet always thin – often bordering on shrill, rarely full, or robust. Every power note hit often results in a tinny tone, resulting in her wavering off-course, missing the landing. Her propensity to slur many of her words together leaves some lyrics indecipherable. When she hits her highs in head register, it always bamboozled me at the almost biblical reaction of the audience. (Although, I’ve always admitted that her tone was gorgeous when she sang in chest register.) Though such gut reaction is a personal emotion and cannot be negated by snark (especially mine), like the aforesaid emperor, I’ve sat in abstract awe at the rapturous response, always wanting to bellow, “She’s naked!!!!!”

In the three times I saw her in Wicked (don’t ask) her act-1 show-stopper, “Defying Gravity,” was bombastic (not her fault), anticlimactic (sorta her fault) and strident (yeah, her fault). Sure, she could’ve had an off-night, but three? I admired her in Rent a few years prior to Wicked (though admired no one from the disastrous filmed version), she was fine in (Andrew Lippa’s version of) the otherwise meandering The Wild Party, and liked her arc in Glee. (Forget about the insults hurled my way when I audaciously, apparently, declared that Lea Michele out sang Menzel on the latter, though Menzel’s performances were always stellar.)

So, night of the concert, I hurried Rob (he didn’t like Wicked either, but he became enamored with Menzel from Glee), packed my earplugs and Advil and hoped for the best.

And while I didn’t get ‘the best,’ I was surprised as anyone that I was besotted and instantly smitten – faults and all – during her Radio City debut. I can’t explain it, really. But after a rough start (that damned “Gravity” song opened the show and was problematic), with every successive word spoken, story strung and song sung, she was kinda sorta magical. As seemingly unrehearsed (she does, after all, perform 8 shows a week in the dreadful If/Then and, I suspect, didn’t get much rehearsal time for this show), scattered, unusual, inconsistent as it all was, to my ears and eyes, this eternalized the charm.

Perhaps I was expecting a banshee jamboree – a nightmare filled with the sounds of dinnerware clattering on the classic Radio City stage, mired in yelps and scowls. Instead I witnessed a woman who was charming, sweet, hilarious (having losing a week earlier to foregone conclusion Jessie Mueller, she gave a fantasy Tony Award acceptance speech, which was lovingly heartfelt and very funny) and totally aware of her fallibility. She cursed at whim, despite the audience scattered with children (thanks to the treacly muck that is “Frozen” – hey, she didn’t ask to be a role model for children – and that damned Oscar winning song), performed a hooker mash-up (“Love For Sale” and “Roxanne”), kept all the “fucking special“‘s in Radiohead’s “Creep,” and, during one of her costume changes where her right breast was partially exposed, before an audience member let her know, said, “Fuck it, they’re real.” Oh, yeah…and she sang her guts out. Sure, bum notes were in profusion but I come to realize that’s part of her métier. And she doesn’t give a shit, and that’s refreshing in a genre stifled with constraint.

Midway through the show, Menzel quoted a recent review, which lambasted her “screechy” tendencies (and for a brief moment, I imagined that she was calling me out – yeah, I know, me. A miniscule, nonexistent blip in the blogosphere. I got over myself swiftly). That this was a preamble to a misguided Ethel Merman tribute almost proved that particular reviewer correct (Menzel is the polar opposite of Merman).

Personal highlights include 2 Menzel concert staples; a haunting, emotive reading of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” which brought Rob to tears, and a song that always brings me to emotional overload, “No Day But Today,” from Rent. Through these performances – as well as “Creep,” and a U2 cover (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”) – Menzel was adamant to break away from that misbegotten role as the Tween Queen thanks to Wicked and Frozen.

If her one night at Radio City proved anything, it’s that she might have finally broken free from such shackles. Despite how many ghastly covers of “Let It Go” the world will be saddled with eternally thanks to YouTube.

Sigh. Let it go, Jeffrey. Let it go.


Wardrobe malfunction:

Both Sides Now:

No Day But Today:

Her faux-Tony Award Winning speech:

Creep:

Take Me Or Leave Me:

Music Box: The Ladies Who Lunch Medley

A Bed And A Chair: A New York Love Story

A Bed And A Chair: A New York Love Story

“A BED AND A CHAIR: A New York Love Affair” was a Stephen Sondheim compilation presented by New York City Center and Jazz At At Lincoln Center, and as longtime Sondheimite, I’m sad to say I missed what promised to be a glorious night at the theater.

Another Sondheim revue, you say? Yeah, I know.

But this one promised to be different, as the over two-dozen Sondheim songs were sifted through jazzy arrangements via Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, who acted not only as musical director of the show, but performed with the Jazz At Lincoln Center orchestra.

And headlining? Only the peerless Sondheim muse Bernadette Peters, and the incomparable Norm Lewis, along with the fantastic Jeremy Jordan and Cyrille Aimée.

AND the show was directed by the brilliant John Doyle, who won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for the genius revival of Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” – with Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone – almost a decade ago, and has also helmed revivals of “Company” and “Merrily We Roll Along.”

Damn! I missed all that?!

But in our modern age of technology where (almost) nothing goes uncaptured, I was hopeful that some denizen in the dark whipped out their cellphone to somehow encapsulate some of the magic.

Thank you, denizen.

One YouTuber by the name of ggjohnson posted two separate clips of “The Ladies Who Lunch,” as performed by all four headliners. This piece, originally by the eternal Elaine Stritch from the classic “Company” (but you knew that already), sprinkles other Sondheim gems throughout the performance – “Agony” (from “Into The Woods”), “Can That Boy Foxtrot” (from “Follies”) and “Uptown, Downtown” (from “Marry Me A Little”/”Follies”) – to create a medley that you wouldn’t think would work, but, together, form a new amalgamation that cabaret performers will replicate for years to come.

The first minute or so of the video fade in and out of darkness, as gg was conspicuously trying to go unnoticed, but even with these minor caveats – and hopefully with the blessing of gg, who owns this footage – I edited both clips together as a whole for a streamlined view of this extraordinary medley.

One part of two, this is a delight to behold. Thank you gg!

Reel Life: The Last 5 Years

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I know – I shouldn’t be so highfalutin because they are totally different organisms – but I’m always a little weary about film versions of beloved musicals not living up to expectations (see Les Miz, Hairspray, The Wiz, the Beyonce-ruined Dreamgirls, and so on). So I’m naturally skeptical about the upcoming The Last Five Years, the film adaptation of the 2002 cult classic about the genesis and disintegration of a marriage. With Book and Score by Jason Robert Brown, the original Off-Broadway production was a show-stopping vehicle for relative newcomers Sherie Renee Scott and Norbert Leo Butz. The film version, currently in post-production, stars the wonderful Oscar-nominee Anna Kendrick and Broadway’s talented Tony-nominated Jeremy Jordan.

And therein lies a quandary. The role of Cathy calls for power, nuance and emotion – all of which Kendrick has displayed in her acting. While she was fine in her minimal singing roles on film (Camp, Pitch Perfect, which has garnered Kendrick an unlikely Top 40 single, Cups (When I’m Gone) I don’t know if she has the lung power – or vocal dexterity – to pull off the necessary transitions the score calls for. It’s not Sondheim, I know, but it sure ain’t the frivolous pop of Pitch Perfect either. Jordan possesses a muscular, powerful range and his persona works on stage, but so far on screen – whether as the angry young man on TVs misbegotten Smash or as Dolly Parton’s allegedly charming nephew in the cringe-fest Joyful Noise – he’s always less-than likeable (blame his roles) and never charming (blame his scripts). But, man, what a voice.

Also, the stage version had a clever, albeit tricky, chronology – the couple’s story was told in reverse of each other. Cathy’s role begins at the end of their marriage, while Jamie’s starts right as the couple’s romance blossoms. There’s rarely an interface between either character (except when their timelines meet, in the middle).

How will they handle this aspect in a big movie? Altering the whole idea of the reverse narrative would be a grave mistake and I can’t imagine how screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (Water For ElephantsP.S. I Love YouThe Mirror Has Two FacesThe Bridges Of Madison County, and the recent HBO Liberace biography, Behind The Candelabra) will adapt that structure to film (LaGravanese is also directing).

As much as I adored the show, the material was stronger as a concept album – its edifice often confused on stage. If LaGravenese remains faithful to the source, the result could be a befuddling clusterfuck on screen. Yet, if he synchronizes the plot line in a more mainstream, diluted approach, how unique would the film be from the thousand other NY-boy-meets-marries-divorces-girl love story we’ve slogged through ad nauseum?

That onus is on LaGravanese. And knowing the scary, passionate obsession of this show’s fan base, one I don’t envy. (But I’m sure looking forward to the result.)

One Million, Five Hundred Seventy Six Thousand Minutes

When I first experienced RENT the week it opened, it was during a tumultuous period of my life, a life-altering turbulence. While the issues of HIV/AIDS and drugs that predominated this modern rock fable loosely based on Puccini’s “La Boheme” weren’t even in the realm of the personal terrain I was sojourning, Jonathan Larson’s score somehow managed to evoke the yearning, the longing, the sadness, the desperation, and ultimately the resolution of my very soul at the time.

I revisited the show over the years and was sad to realize that it didn’t hold up well, and the epiphany that my ties to the original production were based on my life cycle circa April, 1996. While I can still appreciate the vision Larson had embarked upon – and realized – by second viewing a year and a half later, it seemed somewhat passé. A ‘classic’, no matter how aged or of its time, should never feel antiquated and the issue, ironically, was the songbook – while a few memorable ones stand out after all these years (“Seasons Of Love”, “One Song Glory”, and “Without You” hold up particularly strongly), none are archetypal, too many forgettable. Which is problematic in a score with over 30.

RENT finally closed after 12 years, 4 Tony Awards (including Best Musical) a Pulitzer Prize in Drama and a devotional following in September 2008; my fourth and final viewing was in August, a month before final curtain. I was saddened at how lethargic it all was. The strength of the original players wasn’t necessarily their acting, but the power and conviction of their voices and belief in the material. That final cast had none of the these.

Is it too soon to bring back such a hallowed show (its rabid fan base call themselves “Rentheads”) only three years after it closed? Original director, Michael Greif, is directing the revival. Will he modify his own work? Will he remain faithful to Larson’s vision? I guess the Rentheads – and the critics – will have their word soon enough – the revival opens Off-Broadway at the New World Stages next week.

I’ve actually pondered whether or not to revisit the show, but if this promotional video is indicative of what’s in store, I think I’ll pass (though, nothing can be as brain-atrophyingly awful as the film version).