Archive for November, 2009
Fela! opened on Broadway to fairly positive reviews yesterday, the show’s producers, Jay-Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, have brought some name recognition to a largely unknown and lively group of artists, most of whom transferred over from the Off-Broadway version of the show.
The critics all agree that Fela! offers up something new – though whether those audiences will love the offering or not is up for debate. Here’s what they said:
NEW YORK TIMES
Anyone who worried that Bill T. Jones’s singular, sensational show might lose its mojo in transferring to Broadway can relax. True, this kinetic portrait of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a Nigerian revolutionary of song, has taken on some starry producers — including Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith — and shed 15 or 20 minutes since it was staged Off Broadway last year. But it has also acquired greater focus, clarity and intensity. In a season dominated by musical retreads and revivals, “Fela!,” which stars the excellent Sahr Ngaujah and Kevin Mambo (alternating in the title role), throbs with a stirring newness that is not to be confused with novelty. Read the full review.
The political messages do not detract from the terrific work by the cast, the overriding musicality and outstandingly sensuous dance performances. “Fela!” is a unique Broadway experience that leaves the audience on their feet and wanting more. Read the full review.
Fela!‘s choreography is … livelier and more sophisticated. Executed by a dynamic cast, it’s the perfect companion to Kuti’s supple tunes and pulsing grooves, served with virtuosity by a band conducted by Antibalas’ Aaron Johnson. Delivering exuberant storytelling through song and dance, Fela! achieves something closer to the essence of great musicals than many more conventional shows have of late. Read the full review.
Will the average Broadway matinee lady be comfortable participating in a practical demonstration of how to tell time with her ass? That’s exactly what takes place in “The Clock,” a particularly frisky sequence of “Fela!” in which the entire audience is on its feet learning from the able-bodied dance corps what Swiss-movement booty work is all about. And it’s just one of countless ways in which Bill T. Jones’ wildly loose-limbed journey into the throbbing heart of Afrobeat breaks bold new ground in musical theater. Read the full review.
The Shrine may have gotten a lot bigger, but the religion of Fela! has not grown less electrifying. Just over a year after Bill T. Jones and Jim Lewis’s musical about Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti had its cramped premiere Off-Broadway at 37 Arts, it’s now blasted into the Eugene O’Neill, where its creators – and its superstar producing team, which includes Jay-Z, Will Smith, and Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith – are intent on proving that a bigger hall is just as apt a venue for its political-party aesthetic. They got it half right. Read the full review.
In both incarnations, the music is at once hummable and subversive, driving and spellbinding.
I’m thrilled from the very start of Michael Mayer’s collaboration with Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, Friday night at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The opening notes of the show’s eponymous song – accompanied by aggressive headbanging from leading man John Gallagher Jr. as Johnny, aka “Jesus of Suburbia” – rip through the 600-seat Roda Theatre, and everyone sits up a little straighter.
Much, but not all, of this audience – nine weeks into the run, as the show enters the final days of its final extension in Berkeley – have come because they’re either fans of the band or have heard the buzz about how great this show is (the San Jose Mercury News calls it “the hottest show of a searing fall theater season”). There are teenagers in fingerless gloves sitting next to early-60’s couples who are there as part of their subscriber packages, but the latter are the minority; this is a young crowd. So when those first notes blast out across the theatre, we know what we’re in for.
The music is loud. Berkeley Rep offers earplugs in the lobby – a concession, I suppose, to subscribers who might be used to a more traditional brand of theatre – but I eschew them. There is no question that this music – on stage or through headphones – is meant to be heard at maximum decibels.
Because I know the “American Idiot” album so well (in addition to Green Day’s newer “21st Century Breakdown,” from which an additional four songs are culled for the show), I expect it to take some getting used to to hear voices other than Billie Joe’s on these particular melodies and lyrics. But Gallagher has a similar grittiness to his voice, and his delivery is so perfectly rebellious, that it proves easy to put Billie Joe’s image on the back burner, and buy into these as our protagonist’s original and mutinous thoughts.
American Idiot is a sung-through musical – very little dialogue is used outside the songs. At first, I don’t love the effect; it makes the few spoken lines seem somewhat awkward, as if they have been added only to fill in gaps in the exposition of the music. In addition, I worry that patrons who are not already familiar with Green Day might miss a lot of the context; the lyrics come fast and furious, and without previous knowledge of the words, I can imagine that a lot could go over an audience member’s head.
But then I have a little revelation about this show.
American Idiot is not like other musicals. In fact, the more I think about it, the more it doesn’t really strike me as “musical theatre” at all.
I’m going to venture to say that American Idiot is a brand new form of theatre: the long-form, live-staged Rock Music Video.
Not a jukebox musical; not even an adaptation (any more than Lady Gaga’s new video is an adaptation of her hit single “Bad Romance”). This is the artists’ own fleshing out of their vision – but instead of being done on-screen, it’s brought to us live in-person: loud and unapologetic, completely impossible to tune out or otherwise ignore (even if you don’t catch every word.)
I’m watching Gallagher and his castmates, but I am also taking in a remarkable set, soaring up stories into the theatre’s fly system. A huge, flat back wall is papered with newspaper headlines, advertisements and propaganda all in black and white; nearly 30 televisions are scattered at random on all levels, showing animation, commercials, old TV-show clips, Bush-era news items, and violent explosions. The band (not Green Day themselves, kids) is onstage amongst the actors, with musicians on several levels of a fire-escape-ish scaffolding reminiscent of Collins’ Christmas tree in Rent. Half a car, one actor, and later a shopping cart, hang from the rafters. There is so much to look at that I’m at once overwhelmed and mesmerized, which I suspect is exactly the intention of the designers.
From the breathtaking set and lighting design, to an exhaustingly full-body commitment from Gallagher, to a strong supporting cast (it’s a pleasure to see Spring Awakening alums Gerard Canonico and a hardly recognizable Brian Charles Johnson in the ensemble, plus the bewitching Rebecca Naomi Jones from Passing Strange as the leading lady “Whatshername”), there is little I’d have changed. I was rapt from start to finish, wishing from the first number that I’d be in Berkeley long enough to see the show again.
In addition to Gallagher and Jones, I must single out Tony Vincent as St. Jimmy, a striking and unusual actor who brings Jimmy to life as one part Vampire, three parts Hypnotist, and altogether scary/beautiful. Jimmy is Johnny’s bad influence, the devil on his shoulder, who introduces him to heroin; it’s not entirely clear if he actually exists or if he’s a kind of “Brad-Pitt-in-Fight-Club” manifestation of Johnny’s battle with his own dark side. In any case, I find it impossible to tear my eyes away from Vincent, with his half-shaved head and alienesque ultra-long arms; not to mention a voice that peels through the Roda Theatre with a clarity that would enthrall even the most skeptical gray-haired matinee lady.
There is some tweaking to be done before the show comes to Broadway. I’m thinking specifically of a high-wire hospital dance in which Johnny’s buddy Tunny (Matt Caplan), injured at war, hallucinates an “Extraordinary Girl” in Middle Eastern dress (the flying struck me as just a little too “Princess Jasmine on a Magic Carpet”).
But overall, American Idiot is a force – exhilerating, thought-provoking, and powerful. As Passing Strange (also a Berkeley Rep original) brought us Broadway’s first Live Concert/ Storytelling hybrid, American Idiot breaks ground as the first live-action, album-length Music Video to hit the Great White Way.
There’s no date announced yet for the Broadway incarnation of the show, and its New York home has not yet been revealed (although I’m hearing buzz that Jujamcyn Theaters is interested, which means it will likely end up at the St. James, the Walter Kerr, or the Eugene O’Neill). But the show is coming to Broadway, which means you’ll have no excuse to miss it.
Trust me, you’ll want to see American Idiot. And just think – someday, you can tell your kids you were there when Green Day broke theatrical ground.
The last time Ragtime appeared on Broadway, a whole new theater was built to house the gigantic production. This time, the show comes from a much humbler place and the critics couldn’t be more complimentary – its fresh, relavant and powerful.
Here are what the major publications had to say:
NEW YORK TIMES
The judiciously pared-down production that opened Sunday night at the Neil Simon Theater is a sprinting sylph compared to the opulence-bloated show that went under the same name a decade ago. … Warmly acted and agreeably sung, this “Ragtime” travels light. And if it still sometimes feels like an animated history lesson, delivered by a liberal but square teacher a shade too eager to make the past come alive, the show now neither drags nor sags under its big themes. Read the full review.
The show’s themes and characters are introduced lickety-split in a thrilling combination of song, story and movement that goes a long way toward explaining what musical theater is all about. … There’s not a wasted moment in her production, which is a blessing considering the scope of the lengthy story these creators are trying to tell: a new American century getting ready to explode and make its mark on history. Read the full review.
The score…is hardly A-list, but the songs are well-crafted and on occasion are genuinely soulful. And Terrence McNally’s book tugs at your heart and conscience with such artful aggression that only an ogre could resist the urge to weep at some points and smile at others. In this new Kennedy Center-based production, which opened Sunday, those assets are exploited by a supple cast under Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s vibrant direction. Read the full review.
No word has been more bandied about in American life the past two years than change. And no show investigates the nuances of that word as it relates to the American Dream — conveying hope, opportunity and success, but also the ugly flipside of pain, division, confusion and violence — more masterfully than “Ragtime.” The 1997 musical not only feels trenchant and timely, but its multistrand story is delivered with fresh clarity and emotional immediacy in director-choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s elegant revival … This is big-brain, bold-strokes musical-theater storytelling at its most vibrant. Read the full review.
Bottom Line: This wonderful musical based on the classic novel by E.L. Doctorow gets a much deserved, stirring revival. Read the full review.
Have you seen the show? Add your review to the comments below!
It was all a publicity stunt – Dame Edna and Michael Feinstein are appearing together in All About Me
If you’ve been following the wonderfully ridiculous banter between Dame Edna and Michael Feinstein, you may have had the sneaking suspicion that some sort of publicity stunt was in the works. If so, congratulations. You were so right.
Feinstein announced on the Today Show on Nov 12 that he and Dame Edna would be appearing side by side in a show titled All About Me to be penned by none other than Christopher Durang.
Something about the over-the-top Dame Edna, dubbed Australia’s First Lady, appearing with five-time Grammy nominee, Michael Feinstein, a definitive crooner, tickles my funny bone a little bit.
And with Durang on board, who knows where this little show will go!
With all that personality, humor and beautiful music, I’m thinking this is going to be a wonderful, campy gem.
Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark is gearing up again this time with a lead actor and producer
It’s official – Reeve Carney, the lead singer of the band Carney, will be playing Peter Parker (ie. Spideman) in the upcoming Broadway mega-spender Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark.
Why cast such an unknown in the lead role? Director Julie Taymor said they wanted a “Peter Parker who could really act and sing, but who still brings a kind of performance that could be new to Broadway audiences. We wanted something a little more authentically rock and roll.”
And to help with that rock and roll vibe, Michael Cohl, a rock concert promoter with ties to the Rolling Stones and U2, is stepping in as lead producer, hoping to stop all the speculation that the show would never make it to opening night.
The show, which is reputed to have spent $52 million to date, will open in 2010 at the Hilton Theatre in New York.
American Idiot will be making its way to Broadway
On November 9, the producers for American Idiot announced Equity Principal Auditions for a Broadway run of the nearly sold-out Berkley Rep production. According to spokesman Michael Hartman, “there is a Broadway future for the show, but at this time no dates or theatre are confirmed.”
RUMOR: Ashlee Simpson may star in Chicago on Broadway
Multiple sources are reporting that Ashlee Simpon-Wentz, the former Melrose Place star, will be playing Roxie Hart in Chicago on Broadway for a six week run this December. Though she did play the role on the West End, her Broadway appearance has not been confirmed by any official sources.
A bittersweet anniversary on Broadway for Shrek
On November 8, the cast of Broadway’s Shrek celebrated one year on Broadway, but the festivities were somewhat bittersweet. The show, which was nominated for 8 Tony Awards, will be closing January 3 after playing 441 performances and 37 previews. The national tour will launch at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre for a limited engagement, running from July 13 – September 5, 2010.
Title battle – Dame Edna’s It’s All About Me vs. Michael Feinstein’s All About Me
I don’t know if you’ve been tracking the hilarious banter between Dame Edna and Michael Feinstein, who have very similarly named shows headed to Broadway this fall. Of the mishap, Edna said “It’s All About Me is my title. While I was saddened to hear that Mr. Feinstein did not heed my sage advice to change the title of his show, I’m overjoyed to hear that he at least took my suggestion to open his show after mine. I’m sure Mrs. Feinstein is very proud of her son.”
Broadway Stars on TV this month
A number of big tars will be appearing on television in the next few months. Check out the list below:
“The View” ABC, daytime
- Wednesday, Nov. 11: Finian’s Rainbow
- Thursday, Nov. 19: John Stamos
“Jimmy Kimmel Live” ABC, late night
- Tuesday, Nov. 17: John Stamos
“The Today Show” NBC, 7AM ET
- Wednesday, Nov. 18: Liza Minnelli
Billy Elliot The Musical will welcome two new boys into the rotation of the title role! The lucky two are Dayton Tavare, who played Billy in Sydney and Melbourne, and Liam Redhead, straight out of Canada’s National Ballet School. Both boys were chosen from more than 1, 500 who auditioned for the role. They will become the 6th and 7th Billys to join the cast.
Tommy Batchelor will play his final performance as Billy on Broadway on Friday, December 11th. As previously announced, he will be staring as Billy in the Chicago production, which begins performances on March 18 at Chicago’s Ford Center for the Performing Arts before embarking on a multi-city tour.
Million Dollar Quartet, the show about the legendary night when icons Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Prestley joined together for a Rock and Roll jam session has been playing to packed houses at Chicago’s Apollo Theatre.
Producers have now officially announced that the show will play at Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre (the former home of the week-long run of Brighten Beach Memoirs) with an opening set for April of 2010.
Eric Schaeffer (who co-directed the Chicago production) will direct, assisted by musical director Chuck Mead. Million Dollar Quartet features a book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux.
Casting for the Broadway production will be set at a future date.