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:

 

 

 

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).

Music Box: Buckley’s Boulevard

Betty Buckley as Norma Desmond

I saw Glenn Close as Norma Desmond in the original Broadway production of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s flawed, erratic and overtly dismal SUNSET BOULEVARD the week it opened back in November 1994, and, despite her undeserved Tony Award win, it was not a very good performance (I saw her twice in the role just to verify/refute my initial reaction). They had to lower the key for her limited range, rearrange the score, and, more often than not, Close seemed lost in the grand spectacle of the staging, something she wasn’t used to as a more intimate stage actress. The show was beneath her skills as an actress. It needs to be said that Close was only one of two actresses nominated as Best Actress in a dim year for musicals (the other being Rebecca Luker for SHOW BOAT) and Broadway overall, so her Tony wasn’t unexpected.

Cover of PATTI LuPONE: A MEMOIR

How Close garnered the role is legendary in itself…I just finished reading an advance of Patti LuPone’s autobiography, PATTI LuPONE: A MEMOIR (release date is September 14 – if you’re a theatre buff, PRE-ORDER IT! It’s craaaazy!), who reiterates the horror that was the experience of the show – especially the back-stabbing and the mendacity attributed to the producers and, especially, Webber himself. The chapters of LuPone’s book were a mesmerizing read.

Once Close left the role, in stepped Betty Buckley – and I was astonished at what she was able to do bring to it. She resurrected Norma back to life. Long a Broadway legend for her supernatural voice, Buckley’s performance was stunning, each song a show-stopper.

According to LuPone, she was treated like garbage by Weber and his evil minions – and Broadway will never know what they missed in a Patti “Norma.” There are some YouTube clips posted of her performances that give us a minute taste of what this incandescent lady might have accomplished had she been given the chance.

And here’s a mere taste of what I experienced with Buckley in the role.  I’m not sure if this was from the London production, or from Broadway – I downloaded this clip from YouTube, and the poster didn’t say.  The audio was low, so I encoded it at a much higher rate.

To witness Buckley on stage is to be beholden to one of the greatest forces of nature…an unparalleled gale force.  From her Grizabella in CATS, to her staggering Emma in SONG & DANCE (she replaced the great Bernadette Peters), I’ve been enchanted by them all.  I was there opening night for the much-maligned CARRIE too, and, while the show is legendary for all the right/wrong reasons, I’ll never forget Buckley as Margaret White.  I adored her in the short-lived TRIUMPH OF LOVE in 1998, and of course in THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD a decade earlier.

Betty Buckley can easily brilliantly interpret even the most monumental banalities.  Like an Andrew Lloyd Webber score.

Music Box: Levi’s Million Dollar Charm

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Went to see the Tony-nominated Best Musical MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET last night, thanks to a co-worker’s extra ticket. It wasn’t a perfect production, but it was enjoyable on the jukebox musical genre level that’s sadly permeated Broadway in recent years.

A semi-fictionalized account based on the iconic photo of Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis (above) during an impromptu recording session one afternoon at Sam Phillips’ Sun studio in 1956, the show’s main saving grace came in the form of singer/songwriter Levi Kreis.  In a performance that could have teetered toward cartoonish buffoonery, which would have been easy within the conventional storytelling mechanism of the book AND the fact that he portrayed Jerry Lee Lewis, Kreis infused the show with unabashed energy, charisma and an astonishing musical dexterity. He was a powder keg exploding – his Tony Award was well deserved.

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