Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A year already? Holy beejeezuses

I still don't know where I got the name of the blog.  But hey, it sticks, right?
 That's right! One year! And a day! 

One year ago plus a day, I started this little blog. Now it has become more than what I expected.  Granted, I don't have a HUGE following, let alone any following, but I know people read it and tell me about it. That's enough for me.  I never really expected it be just what it is now; just a little something to do on the side where I can not only share my thoughts, but hear what others have to say as well, whether about my posts or the show I review. It's been a great experience.

What I have gained is a ton of perspective and a new appreciation for theatre in general. As an actor, I felt that I never really understood what it was like to truly be a patron. I have seen a lot of shows, but writing about it has been fun, challenging, frustrated and above all, freaking wonderful.  I admit, I haven't been keeping up with it lately, especially in the last few months. When I first started writing, it was 2 or 3 shows a month. Now it seems because of the craziness of my current schedule, I can really do once a month, or every few months.  I feel that needs to change, or at least, I need to make more of an effort to see a show.

I have written about 18 reviews, which is not so bad, considering how many things I have going on in my life.  I think I can double that by the fall, if I really buckle down. I read some of my early work and I have to admit, I am improving little by little in my presentation of my thoughts and views.  It's a little improvement, but it's enough to make me feel really proud of the work I put it. Yes, I realize that I am really patting myself on the back and yes, it sounds a bit self-serving, but to be honest, I never thought I would be keeping this going for a year, let alone a few months. I am just super happy that I came this far.

It's been a lot of fun doing this and I think if I make more of an effort this year, I can get back to the point where I will be going to more shows and really experience what the Boston theatre scene has to offer, big and small.
Stay tuned.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Lacking Grandeur and Real Go Go Go: Newton Country Players Present "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Music by
Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics by
Tim Rice

Michelle Leibowitz

Music Direction 
Karen Winkler

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are household names in musical theatre, each having written and created the most fantastical and wonderful shows.  Lloyd Webber has written music for some of the most recognizable shows, including "Evita" and "Phantom of the Opera." Rice has written lyrics for a few Disney movies, including "Aladdin" and "The Lion King." "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" was a collaboration of the two in the 70s, having worked on "Jesus Christ Superstar" together as well.  "Joseph" has been produced thousands of times since its inception by schools and theatre companies alike. Recently, Newton Country Players presented their production.

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is based on a story from Genesis. It tells the tale of Joseph, who was the one of 12 sons of Jacob. Joseph had the ability to interpret dreams and soon discovers that he meant to rule over his brothers.  He is also given a coat of many colors as a sign of his father's favoritism. Jealous, his siblings sell him into slavery in Egypt. He must rely on this wits and abilities to make the best of the situation, which ends up taking him on a most unexpected journey.

The show has little to no spoken dialogue, therefore having music and singing driving the show. The score is catchy and fun, but Newton Country Players does not take advantage of this as much as they could. Granted, they have created a very energetic and good times on the surface, but its not nearly as grand as it could've been. The production fell short as it lacked many key elements to really make a memorable theatrical experience.  

Doug Hodge's Joseph never really stands out amongst the sizable cast.  Needing to really carry the show, his Joseph was not at all engaging, and he almost feels detached from everything that is going on around him. He truly lacked the charisma needed for the character.   The role of the Narrator had been split into three characters.  Lisa Huntington, Kadie Greenfield and Cathy Merlo have shared duties of the character, which didn't really translate that well to the stage.  Their performances were uneven, as some were stronger than others in some moments during the story.  It really took away from the show as it never created a lasting, much needed, powerful impression. There was a significant lack of chemistry between many of the main characters as well.  However, Joseph's 11 brothers did give a fun and enjoyable performance as a unit, especially during the big numbers, including "One More Angel In Heaven" and "Those Canaan Days". However, the rest of the cast, looked like they were just going through the motions.  A few did look like they were having fun, but it was not enough to create a strong production. It had potential to be more. 

Michelle Leibowitz had taken on the roles of director and choreographer, trying to balance both jobs.  As a director, she had made unusual choices, including spliting the aforementioned Narrator into three characters. This potentailly bold choice, again, didn't work as it was inconsistent and hurt the production. Her choreography choices were repetitive and lacked real originality.  Her staging was typical and she did manage to utilitize thespace appropriately. However, sometimes when something needed to be the focus of attention, ie the Phaorah, his placement raised the questions why he was not the main attraction and why was he not center stage?  She also utitlized five featured dancers, but their placement and usage was often distracting, taking away focus during scenes.  Karen Winkler's music direction was decent enough, but she and the orchestra would overpower the actors on the stage.  This was in conjunction with many sound issues that plagued the production as well.  This a rock musical, but there is no reason that the actors could be louder and the orchestra could pull back more.  Liz Peer's costumes were clever in their presentation, having everyone in collage-like tee-shirts as a base, but there was no consistency. Many characters were given lavish and fun costumes, whilst others had jeans and dissimilar footwear. It was distracting.  The set and lighting design lacked any real creativity. There were sandstone steps that were created, but the set almost looked unfinished. Granted, when Act 2 came along and the back pillars were switched from confusing stained glass windows to the Pharaoh's palace, the use of images from Boston and Massachusetts was very cute. However, the lighting design never went beyond lights on and lights off.  The story and big dance numbers were begging for different colors and gobos, but nothing was used and the whole look of the show was very flat.

There was so much potential for this show, but it never went beyond what was presented on stage.  With a few weak performances, low production value and confusing direction, this production fell short.  The story and score offers so much and all the pieces were there, but the show never brought anything powerful or memorable. Newton Country Player's production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" fails to bring a potentially colorful and magical experience.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Musicals based on Movies: Is this the future of Broadway?

How many of you have been to New York and seen a show?  If you haven't and you find yourself making a much needed trip to the Big Apple, take some time to catch a Broadway musical or play.  Seeing a live theatrical experience is a wonderful thing and the very memory of it, good or bad, will stick with you forever. I remember my first Broadway show: "Cats". Young me loved the dancing, singing and overall feel of the show.  Mind you, I was 10 or 11 at the time, so at that point, anything and everything was pretty fantastic.  Now, I look back and wondered what was so appealing about the show. Despite my reservations about it now, there is no denying that it stays with me. I have seen so many shows since then, but I will never forget the first time I got see a Broadway show. It was magical.

How do you even pick a show? Broadway offers dozens and dozens of shows, some new, some revamped classics, some starring Hollywood actors, and of course, musicals based on movies.  That's right. Hollywood, with all their reboots, remakes and re-whatevers have become a staple of Broadway.  This is not a recent development, as this has been happening for several years. Decades even. Not all the time mind you, but enough to raise some eyebrows. In the last ten years, however, there have been several musicals, based on well-known movies that have been produced for the masses. Some better than others, but whether good or bad, it seems the main function of these shows is to bring in the new audiences. On the outside, it seems like a great business plan.  Produce shows that are based on familiar movies and bring in the people and new generations of fans. But is that really what's happening?  That raises another question.

Turning off original ideas? 
Is creativity is dead on Broadway? In the last 5 years, there have been new shows based on movies, including "Legally Blonde","Sister Act", "9 to 5", "Priscilla Queen of the Desert", "Catch Me If You Can", "The Adams Family", "Ghost" and now there is news for a musical based on "Animal House." The short answer? Yes. However, the long answer may actually be "Yes, but maybe there is a big plan to bring people back and tell them that even though there are shows like these out, maybe they should come and see the other original shows!" I really would like to think that.  I am amazed, shocked, confused and above all annoyed with the dozens of attempts to bring Hollywood to Broadway.  Then again, I am not completely against the idea. I feel torn and split on the matter because if you think about it, despite all the plot holes and annoying songs in "Legally Blonde" the first half hour actually felt like a real musical, something that maybe Stephen Schwartz might have thrown together after he wrote "Wicked".  My apologies to Schwartz fans, but if not him, some other composer. Jason Robert Brown wrote "13" for goodness sakes. My point is that despite everything, it had the potential to be something more and make itself standout.  In the long run, though, I can tell you it did not. It fell right on its pink, glittery face.  On the other side we have "The Full Monty", a movie which I adore.  They completely Americanized the show, departing from the cheeky and dry fun of the original British film. I was shocked and appalled when I heard about it and couldn't believe the very notion.  I did end up seeing the show several years ago and I couldnt have been more wrong. Final verdict? It blew my mind. It had great music, great characters and it did a fantastic job sticking out as its own little production. Its by far one of my favorite shows.  Years later, I even got to perform in a production of it. 

Is this Broadway's version of writer's block? Creativity may not be dead, but its in desperate need of something else.  These are shows that will bring in audiences, but what about original shows that are waiting for their Broadway premieres?

I guess my point in all of this is that I'm not sure where I stand on all this. Like I said. Torn.  Part of me just boils up in anger and frustration because, how dare they? Whoever these producers and writers are, how dare they even try to capture the magic of its originator? Or, I just end up sighing and rolling my eyes. A lot of people I know feel the same way. I saw "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark" last year, and despite its high-flying appeal, it was a terrible show, trying so hard to be something it wasn't. That's when I get angry.  But again, on the flip side, I still try to convince myself that its a good idea, and Broadway is just biding their time, making money to hopefully produce a slew of new shows, giving young artists and writers a chance to share their projects and passions. I do love a handful of musicals based on movies, but I get frustrated when you hear how bad they were. Can we predict the outcome of how bad they really are?  Maybe this will just be a moment in Broadway and theatre history where movie musicals will just be a way of life.  Maybe in another few years, we will start seeing some originality. That is, if new artists are even given the chance.

Final thoughts? I have no idea. Either way, I just don't want to see a musical based on "Ghost Rider."

What do you think?