The Broadway Musical Blog – Musical theater news and gossip from the Great White Way

Dishing out daily (or almost daily) Broadway musical news and gossip. The companion site to The Broadway Musical Home (broadwaymusicalhome.com), a directory of Broadway musicals with the story, songs, merchandise, video clips, lyrics, tickets, rights & awards for almost 200 shows.

Archive for November, 2010

The reviews for Elf are in…

The reviews for Elf are in and the critics were largely nonplussed. Everyone agrees that though the actors give it a valiant effort, Sebastian Arcelus just can’t quite fill Will Ferrel’s shoes and the rest of the cast simply isn’t given much to work with. They do what they can with it though, the choreography is a fun Broadway throwback and the script stays true to the movie, with a couple of fun additions. The music is forgettable, but what were you expecting? It’s a holiday show – on par with White Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas – created for those who have made it a tradition to see such shows this time of year. So if you’re looking for silly holiday fun…Elf just might fit the ticket. If you’re looking for a really fantastic new musical, seems you may want to look elsewhere.

Here’s what the critics had to say:

Variety

Happy enough for families, savvy enough for city kids and plenty smart for adults…Nicholaw’s staging successfully retains the many charms of the movie, and his choreography is filled with delightful touches…Librettists Thomas Meehan (The Producers) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) retain the spirit and cheer of the film while cannily punching it up…The efforts of Nicholaw, Meehan and Martin compensate for a less-than-overwhelming score from Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin; their work is only slightly better than on their earlier attempt, The Wedding Singer. Read the full review

The New York Times

The latest seasonal stocking stuffer and pocket picker…tinseled in synthetic sentiment, performed with a cheer that borders on mania, and instantly forgettable…The score is generic, true, but it is also polished, hummable-tune laden and professional. Mr. Beguelin’s lyrics, at their best, have a bright comic zest and are well-matched to Mr. Sklar’s gently swinging music…The director, Casey Nicholaw, coaxes fine work from the performers, who do their chores with unfailing commitment. Read the full review

New York Post

A giant spoonful of uncut sugar…The screen Buddy was played by Will Ferrell, who brings a naughty, slightly sleazy quality to everything he does. Here, we get the sunny, milquetoast Sebastian Arcelus. He’s appealing and works very hard, but lacks the gleefully anarchic strain that made Ferrell’s Buddy such a cathartic force of nature. But then, everything has been toned down several notches. Book writers Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and Thomas Meehan (Hairspray, The Producers) can’t seem to tell the difference between childlike and childish. It’s all very tasteful and safe, when the show should conjure semi-lawless energy…Luckily, the main cast members are easy to like…Too bad they all feel underused. Read the full review

Entertainment Weekly

A surprisingly diverting confection that’s a sleigh-length ahead of recent seasonal fare on the Great White Way…Relative newcomer Sebastian Arcelus has the right blend of antic innocence for the role, though his modest singing voice and lower wattage suggest he’s less an above-the-title leading man than an apt choice for a made-for-DVD Elf sequel. Composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad Beguelin…offer a stockingful of pleasantly melodic tunes…Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin’s book remains mostly faithful to the movie while adding a few humorous modern flourishes…A modest show with modest charms, but director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw keeps the production humming along. Read the full review

USA Today

Director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw and his game, nimble cast allow us to enjoy the ride, however predictable. The players aren’t helped much by the formulaic songs of Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin. Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin’s libretto isn’t long on surprises, either — there are the usual cheeky pop-culture references and ingratiating nods to tourists and locals — but it provides some easy, breezy laughs. Read the full review

The Hollywood Reporter

Flavorless candy…A pedestrian show that broadens the material to be more specifically kid-friendly, rendering it innocuous in the process…Nicholaw has a better feel for period styles than he does for contemporary cute, and the writers struggle to make the mostly second-hand jokes land. Their efforts are given little support by a mediocre score…With few exceptions, the sound-alike numbers blend into one, and the lethargic dance interludes provide minimal elevation. It’s all pleasant, but generic…The cast does what it can with the wan material. Read the full review

Time Out New York

Fair-to-middling musical…It is not the fault of this Elf’s star, the hardworking Sebastian Arcelus, that he lacks Ferrell’s unique earnest-ironic comic charisma; but without it, Buddy is just an overeager naïf in green tights, and the plot’s corn doesn’t pop. Directed and choreographed with routinized showbiz gumption by Casey Nicholaw, the show provides little chance for anyone to shine…Earns dutiful applause but no Christmas cheers. Read the full review

Associated Press

Who needs Will Ferrel?…[Elf] stands on its own with great sets and design, a funny adapted script and a collection of hardworking actors…a tight, polished, expensive-looking affair that has enough jokes for adults and enough special effects for kids. And The Rockettes have some serious competition this Christmas season…Nicholaw’s choreography is a throwback to classic Broadway, sometimes with a twist. Read the full review

Bloomberg News

Parents hoping to avoid trendy seasonal cynicism may be tempted to lay out $137 apiece for orchestra seats. Be warned: Your children over 8 years old will never forgive you. The Magic Flute at the Met is sterner stuff, no joke…The mischievous wit for which Thomas Meehan (The Producers and Hairspray) is known seems to have been rubbed too smooth by his co-writer, Bob Martin…the tunes are instantly forgettable and you can predict every rhyme a mile away…Casey Nicholaw, the director-choreographer who brought a fine retro stylishness to “Drowsy Chaperone,” does well here with a limited company…The dancing hardly breaks new ground, but at least the seamless non-stop busyness on stage diverts us from the gooey goings-on. Read the full review

Backstage

Too sweet and a big mess…too much of the show is overly familiar…Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography aren’t particularly fresh…Even the design elements are halfhearted. The usually imaginative David Rockwell has provided cheap-looking sets for this flimsy Christmas card…Most of the songs sound like every Christmas tune you’ve ever heard. It’s only when they are called upon to depict an emotion other than holiday cheer that they really cook. Read the full review

Have you seen the show? What did you think?

The reviews for Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown are in …

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown opened on Broadway last night … and ouch. It seems the more known entities a production has, the more willing the press is to slaughter it in reviews. Like The Addams Family, which was similarly panned after opening, critics found the material simply didn’t live up to its potential and universally bemoaned that a cast and creative team so good could have failed so entirely. Scott gets lost in the lead role, LuPone has poor material to work with, Mitchell gets the worst songs … only Laura Benanti seems to have been worthy of anyone’s praise – finding oodles of comedy in the role Pepa. Jeffrey Lane seemed fearful to change anything from the screenplay and the result is a weak copy with “latin Muzak” songs plugged in, accompanied by ADHD-inducing stage effects and projections. But as Promises, Promises and The Addams Family have proved, bad reviews don’t necessarily mean bad box office results…and with names like these, the show just might survive beyond such a massive press slaughter.

Here are the critical reviews:

The New York Times

Yes, attention-deficit disorder, the plague of American schoolchildren, has now claimed one of Broadway’s own. Packed with talent and creativity, and a cast and crew bristling with Tony Awards, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” is nonetheless a sad casualty of its own wandering mind. Directed by Bartlett Sher (who did so beautifully by “South Pacific”), with a book by Jeffrey Lane and songs by David Yazbek, this tale of mad love in swinging 1980s Madrid feels hopelessly distracted from beginning to end. It keeps changing directions the way a teenage girl changes clothes before a first date. Read the full review

New York Post

Admittedly, the film hasn’t aged well, and Lane should have followed its stylish, oddball spirit rather than its letter. As it is, the biggest change is Ivan’s increased presence, which is a terrible decision. This thing is called “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” for good reason. Luckily, the show also has serious assets. Chief among them is Benanti, who brings the slightly dim, skimpily dressed Candela to outrageous, hilarious life. Benanti milks the lamest lines to the max, whips up laughs out of thin air and slays with a song, “Model Behavior,” that consists of a series of frantic phone messages delivered at lightning speed. Read the full review

Backstage

It took me a while to understand my disappointment in Lincoln Center Theater’s musical adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar’s 1988 film “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” now at the spectacularly restored Belasco Theatre. There had been much to enjoy: Jeffrey Lane’s frequently funny book, David Yazbek’s perfectly professional Latin-infused songs, a stellar cast at the top of its game, and Bartlett Sher’s fluid staging that combines with a highly imaginative physical production to capture Almodóvar’s idiosyncratic visual style and editing rhythms. Yet the show hadn’t jelled. Eventually, a light dawned. “Women” is what composer Mary Rodgers calls a “Why?” musical. It has no compelling reason to sing; it’s just the original property with songs dropped in. Read the full review

Associated Press

Almodovar’s movie — a Spanish-language masterpiece that was in part a homage to the screwball American comedies of the 1930s and 1940s — has now been adapted for the American stage with non-Spanish actors using Spanish accents. That’s a lot of filtering — even with the filmmaker’s blessing and advice. It seems as though the cast is working from a faded copy of Almodovar’s singular vision, like a photocopy of a photocopy that has lost its crispness. That’s not to say there aren’t some pretty songs by David Yazbek (“The Full Monty,” ”Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”), among them Scott’s salty-sweet “Lovesick,” LuPone’s mournful ode “Invisible” and Mitchell’s velvety-smooth “Microphone.” Read the full review

USA Today

As the show’s central neurotic, Sherie Rene Scott inspires neither laughter nor empathy. Scott plays Ivan’s mistress, Pepa, whose search for him after he ends their affair propels the plot; her dry manner only emphasizes the hollowness of the character as defined here. No one is helped by Yazbek’s songs, which sound like Latin-flavored Muzak. LuPone’s Invisible follows a monologue that becomes, in her hands, the show’s dramatic high point. You half-expect her to launch into one of her showstopping arias, but all she gets is a loungey trifle. Read the full review

Variety

The recipe for gazpacho is scrawled large across the curtain at Lincoln Center Theater’s “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Like the dish in question, the new Almodovarsical is refreshing, peppery and palate-cleansing, but it is still, in the end, cold tomato soup — invigorating and highly spiced, but not satisfying enough for a full meal or a full evening’s entertainment. Tuner is blessed with some delicious performances and any number of items of interest, but the result can be summed up as women (and men) on the verge of a coherent musical. Read the full review

Talkin’ Broadway

The only performer allowed to have legitimate fun, and thus the only one who’s any fun to watch, is Laura Benanti… Whether trying to get Pepa on the phone (in an epic, pointless number called “Model Behavior”), vamping a couple of prying detectives, or even just absorbing the effects of that drugged soup, Benanti alone balances the joy of living with the aggravations of daily life. In doing so, she embodies Almodóvar far better than anyone else involved. The delight Benanti takes in being oblivious to the crumbling world around her is precisely the quality every character needs to have, but that Lane and Yazbek’s writing essentially prevent. In the goopy gazpacho of this musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Benanti is both the sugar and the spice. Read the full review

Washington Post

In the rapid-fire patter of the song “Model Behavior,” Benanti scampers across the stage like a scandalized squirrel, dashing from phone to phone and contemplating the magnitude of her carnal folly. It’s the one interlude in which the musical, featuring such other solid Broadway citizens as Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Sherie Rene Scott, fully lives up to its namesake, the breakout 1988 film extolling womanhood in extremis that put Almodóvar’s cinematic flair on display. Much of the rest of the time, the show — directed by Broadway whiz Bartlett Sher (“South Pacific”) — resorts to flashy projections and blatantly stagy gimmicks to shore up the weaknesses in character development and musical numbers. Read the full review

Wall Street Journal

To turn so fully realized a work of cinematic art into an equally successful musical demands that it be subjected to a complete and thoroughgoing imaginative transformation. Otherwise, the new version will seem superfluous—which is what’s wrong with the stage version of “Women on the Verge.” Instead of breaking new creative ground, Mr. Lane’s book tracks Mr. Almodóvar’s setting and plot slavishly, salting his script with unfunny one- and two-liners that serve only to dilute the crisp, elliptical dialogue of the screenplay. As for Mr. Yazbek’s songs, they’re as forgettable as Muzak in a noisy restaurant, with dull music and even duller lyrics (“Tell me when did the wires get crossed / Tell me where the connection was lost”). Read the full review

Did you see the show? What did you think?

The People in the Picture, starring Donna Murphy, is a new addition to the 2010-11 Broadway season

The latest entry into the next season on Broadway is that of The People in the Picture, a brand new musical, which will make its world premiere at The American Airlines Theatre this spring without any sort out-of-town tryout. But unlike Women on the Verge, the other new musical to open sans-tryout this season, The People in the Picture is not based on well-known source material.

With a story and lyrics by Iris Rainer Dart (who wrote the screenplay for the feature film Beeches) and music by Mike Stoller (Smokey Joe’s Cafe) and Artie Butler, the show’s press release describes the show thus:

Once the darling of the Yiddish Theatre in pre-war Poland, now a grandmother in New York City, Bubbie has had quite a life. But what will it all mean if she can’t pass on her stories to the next generation? Though her granddaughter is enchanted by her tales, her daughter Red will do anything to keep from looking back. A fiercely funny and deeply moving new musical that spans three generations, THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE celebrates the importance of learning from our past, and the power of laughter.

It will star Donna Murphy (Passion, The King and I), who will play two generations of women, and be directed by Leonard Foglia. Other casting has not yet been announced.

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of another original musical that premiered on Broadway, and am having quite a hard time coming up with anything. There have been plenty of shows that have gone straight to Broadway, but most have been based on a book, play or movie, and plenty of original musicals have hit the Great White Way, but most have premiered Off-Broadway, on the West End, at a festival or out of town.  Can you think of anything? I know this isn’t the first…

(And yes, I’m humming the song Original Musical from [title of show] right now…)

The reviews for The Scottsboro Boys are in…

Another Off-Broadway transfer, The Scottsboro Boys, has moved to Broadway (after a quick fix-up out of town). The show is stronger than ever and critics are raving about the choreography, score, story and the amazing turn by newcomer Joshua Henry. The Scottsboro Boys‘ minstrel show treatment of very dark subject matter has critics split – some find the pairing genius and while others find the minstrel-show set up lessens the impact or is just outright smug.

Here’s what the major publications thought:

New York Post

A boldly stylized, defiantly razzle-dazzle look at true events…The story has a resounding emotional charge, but we also clearly see the cruel, almost cartoonish absurdity of it all…As grim as its subject is, the show is vibrantly alive…On the surface, The Scottsboro Boys is a hard sell in a Times Square dominated by escapist fluff…Yet this is also a thrillingly inventive and entertaining night at the theater. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be moved. What could be more Broadway than that? Read the full review

Variety

Arguably the finest of last season’s new musicals when it appeared at the Vineyard in March…[it's now] stronger, tighter and even more impactful…Director-choreographer Stroman, working on a far simpler scale than usual, delivers her most creative and effective work in years, and Kander’s music sounds great…Actors appear to be relatively cramped for space, resulting in a suitably claustrophobic feel and a jolt in voltage that helps account for the increased power of Scottsboro in its new home on Broadway. Read the full review

Backstage

Nestled snugly into the Lyceum Theatre, whose musty period interior enhances the show in ways the rather antiseptic Vineyard Theatre never could, this look at a monstrous, racially motivated miscarriage of justice in the Depression-era South, staged in the form of a minstrel show, packs quite a punch. It’s a satisfying finale for the legendary songwriting team…Thanks to some small but smart focusing, clarifying, and tightening of the book and director-choreographer Susan Stroman’s exemplary staging, the show now makes it clear that its purpose is not to tell the personal stories of these men. The musical is about what happened to them, and how that changed America…Here’s to the creative team for insisting on delivering the show it wanted. The Scottsboro Boys sets a high bar for Broadway musicals this season. Read the full review

The New York Times

Mr. Kander and Mr. Ebb have written a zesty if not top-tier score, but the pleasures of a jaunty ragtime melody and a clever lyric are hard to savor when they are presented in such an unavoidably grim context…Although the show’s momentum is hampered by both its essential singularity of tone and the tortuous history of the court cases, the production remains dynamic, thanks in no small part to the dauntless energy of the terrific cast, all fine singers and dancers. But the musical never really resolves the tension between its impulse to entertain us with hoary jokes and quivering tambourines and the desire to render the harsh morals of its story with earnest insistence. Read the full review

Wall Street Journal

It is impossible not to be thrilled by the electrifying craftsmanship…The problem is that all this formidable talent has been enlisted in the service of a musical so smug that I could scarcely bear to sit and watch it…I suppose there are places in America where such a show might still jolt its viewers, but to see The Scottsboro Boys on Broadway is to witness a nightly act of collective self-congratulation in which the right-thinking members of the audience preen themselves complacently at the thought of their own enlightenment…A musical that slathers this terrible tale in a thick coat of musical-comedy frosting that has been spiked with cheap, elephantine irony. I can’t imagine a nastier-tasting recipe. Read the full review

Have you seen the show? What did you think?

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