Posted in A Gentleman's Guide Audra McDonald, Bryan Cranston, Bryce Pinkham, Carole King, Hugh Jackman, Idina Menzel, Jefferson Mays, Jessie Mueller, Kelli O'Hara, Neil Patrick Harris, The Tony Awards, Tyne Daly

Give yourself a BEST for a great Tony Ceremony

(L-R) Jefferson Mays as Henry D’Ysquith, Jennifer Smith, and Bryce Pinkham as Monty Navarro in a scene from 2014’s Tony winning Best Musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Walter Kerr Theater.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

The 2014 Tony Awards show walks away with a BIG Best! Imaginative, creative, entertaining–this was a Tony telecast that reflects the best of the theater it is honoring.

The June 8th broadcast of the 68th Tony Award presentation showcased future Broadway, and shows not in contention like “Cabaret” and a song from the 10th anniversary of “Wicked.”

Hugh Jackman’s skills and charm were so effervescently on display at the ceremonies. He sings, he dances, he patters, he flirts, he raps, Hugh Jackman is really a superhero. We are grateful that while he kicks butt as Wolverine, his heart belongs to Broadway, and on June 8th, he gave it full-out.

The deserving Jessie Mueller won as Best Actress in a musical for her portrayal of Carole King in “Beuatiful…” and had a chance to sing with King at the Tonys! I did not see this award coming, not because Jessie Mueller is not terrific, but because I was self-bamboozled into believing that “If/Then” would not be left out to dry. My prediction for a win for Idina Menzel did not come to pass, and I was also wrong about “Act One” getting the Best Play win.

“If/Then,” despite Menzel’s fans, will probably not survive their complete lack of Tony cred. “Act One” has announced it’s final week closing on June 15th, despite the set designer Beowulf Boritt’s 2014 Tony Award for Best Scenic Design of a Play.

During the broadcast, “Bullets Over Broadway,” which also had no wins, and was not nominated in the Best Musical category, and “Rocky” (ditto) each had their shining moments showing off their best stuff on the big Radio City Music Hall stage. “If/Then” depended on a solo from Idina Menzel to pitch their show, and I’m afraid that wasn’t compelling enough to give it the oomph it needs to keep on chugging on the Great White Way, though they are still selling through October 12th.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”— no surprise there with 10 nominations– got the big prize: It is officially the Best Musical of 2014 with “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” getting Best for Revival of a Musical.
Neil Patrick Harris, amazing as always, won as Best Actor in a Musical.

Also unsurprising was Bryan Cranston’s win for Best Actor in a Play for his performance as LBJ in Robert Schenkkan’s “All The Way,” which edged out the aforementioned “Act One” as Best Play of 2014.

Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” still has not won a Tony, and the Best Play Revival went to “A Raisin in the Sun.” Sophie Okonedo, playing Ruth Younger in the revival, won as Best Featured Actress in a play, an award that Audra McDonald got in the 2004 revival.  McDonald won her 6th Tony on June 8th for embodying Billie Holliday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” 

Posted in Bridges of Madison County, Jason Robert Brown, Kelli O'Hara, Marsha Norman, Robert James Waller, Steven Pasquale

Let’s cross that "Bridges…"

Marsha Norman has fashioned an appealing drama  with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown from Robert James Waller’s over-the-top romance for the musical version of “The Bridges of Madison County.” In this open run at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, Kelli O’Hara plays the Iowa housewife, Francesca, with Steven Pasquale as the itinerant photographer, Robert Kincaid.

Kelli O’Hara as Francesca and Steven Pasquale as Robert Kincaid in “The Bridges of Madison County,”
at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in an open run.  Book by Marsha Norman, adapted from Robert James Waller, music
and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Robert Kincaid has lost his way, looking for the last of the covered bridges he was sent by National Geographic to photograph. Francesca Johnson takes him to it, and asks him to stay for dinner.

Caitlin Kinnunen as Carolyn and Hunter Foster as Bud in
“The Bridges of Madison County.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

Her family, Bud (Hunter Foster) and the children, Michael (Derek Klena) and Carolyn (Caitlin Kinnunen) have gone to the Indiana State Fair so that Carolyn can compete with her prize steer, Stevie. As Francesca tells Robert, they will have a better time without her looking at prize pigs and large zucchini squash.

Hunter Foster as Bud and Kelli O’Hara as Francesca in
“The Bridges of Madison County.” Photo by
Joan Marcus.

She married an American soldier in Naples right after the war when they were very young, came to Iowa, made a home for herself but isn’t completely comfortable as a farmer’s wife.

Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale in a scene
 from “The Bridges..” Photo by Joan Marcus.

There are many seriously powerful voices singing Jason Robert Brown’s lovely songs. In addition to the excellent leads, there is Cass Morgan as Marge whose torchy “Get Closer” is very close to a show-stopper. Katie Klaus as the State Fair Singer and Whitney Bashor in a flashback to Robert’s ex-wife lend voltage in their roles. Michael X. Martin is very natural as Marge’s down-to-earth husband, Charlie.

It’s only fitting that such an operatic love story should get the full operatic treatment Brown gives it. “The Bridges of Madison County” is melodramatic and overwrought, but its cast remain cool-headed and dry eyed, even if we cannot.

Suggestion of a setting drops from rafters– the outline of a roof, window frame, doorway– and the ensemble doubles as stage hands, pulling up fences, moving in the kitchen table– in Michael Yeargan’s imaginative design for “The Bridges of Madison County.”

Fade to violins, cue tears. [For more commentary see VP.]

For more information about and a chance to preview the music of “The Bridges of Madison County,” please visit  http://bridgesofmadisoncountymusical.com/.

Posted in Bette Midler, expectations, Far From Heaven, high expectations, Kelli O'Hara, low expectations, Sue Mengers

Meeting or exceeding expectation

Expectations met make for a delightful experience. Who doesn’t like to be right? The satisfaction of seeing a top-quality performance is much greater than that of knowing what’s going to misfire.

Bette Midler stars as Sue Mengers in “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,” at the Booth through June 30th. Photo by Richard Termine.

In “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,” John Logan’s new play at the Booth Theatre through June 30th, the Divine Miss M (and I’ll bet even she’s tired of this moniker attached to everything she does) meets all the highest expectations! Bette Midler makes a divine Sue Mengers, the king-making and contentious Hollywood agent who died in 2011.

Sitting in Sue Mengers’ sumptuous living room, designed by Scott Pask, Midler embodies all the qualities for which Mengers was famous. It’s such a natural performance, Midler just inhabits Sue Mengers. Under Joe Mantello’s direction, Bette Midler’s Sue Mengers is funny, charming, difficult, combative, abrasive irreverent and very entertaining.

The man in the Booth box office warned that there would be no singing in this show, but Bette Midler’s acting sings nonetheless.

“I’ll Eat You Last…” is an intimate and gossipy pleasure.

Julianna Rigoglioso as Janice, Jake Lucas as David and Elainey Bass as Sarah in “Far From Heaven,” Richard Greenberg’s new play at Playwrights Horizons through July 7th. 

Unfortunately, the low expectations we had going in for “Far From Heaven,” at Playwrights Horizons through July 7th, were also exceeded. Richard Greenberg’s book is based on the Todd Haynes motion picture of the same name, with music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, none of which adds much to the rather thin tale.

As “Far From Heaven” opens, Cathy Whitaker (Kelli O’Hara) is a typical and very conventional New England housewife circa 1957, enjoying the beauties of her home and family. Spoiler alert for those not familiar with the film, Cathy’s story can be summed up as: my husband, Frank (Steve Pasquale) is gay and I’m in love with the gardener, Raymond (Isaiah Johnson).

Kelli O’Hara as Cathy and Isaiah Johnson as Raymond in “Far From Heaven.” Photo by Joan Marcus


“Far From Heaven” is an operetta, and the orchestra’s over-playing the singers interferes with the players’ storytelling. The fine cast are excellent; Kelli O’Hara gives a grand performance; Isaiah Johnson as her love interest is superb. Steve Pasquale is a perfectly despicable Frank Whitaker, torn between what he thinks is normal and what he wants. (See an extended review by TB at VevlynsPen.)

For more information about “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,” visit http://www.illeatyoulast.com/. To learn more about “Far From Heaven,” visit http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/

Posted in Gershwins, Kelli O'Hara, Matthew Broderick, musical comedy, new book, old songs

A New Gershwin Musical Is "Nice Work" Indeed

Ira and George Gershwin are the rare pair of musicians who can posthumously launch a Broadway hit.

“Nice Work If You Can Get It,” at the Imperial Theatre in an open run, is a brand-new old musical, reworked by Joe DiPietro (2010 Tony for “Memphis”.) DiPietro’s script was inspired by material from Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse who collaborated on the book for the Gershwin’s 1926 “Oh, Kay!”

In “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Matthew Broderick plays the endearingly inept Jimmy Winter, a playboy on the verge of his fourth marriage. Kelli O’Hara is the tom-boyish bootlegger Billie Bendix.

(To see videos from the musical, click here.) With the police, in the person of Stanley Wayne Mathis as Chief Berry, and Senator Max Evergreen (Terry Beaver) with his prohibitionist sister, Duchess Estonia Dulworth (Judy Kaye) on their trail, Billie and her crew, Cookie McGee (Michael McGrath) and Duke Mahoney (Chris Sullivan) need a place to stash 400 cases of contraband booze. Jimmy’s seldon used Long Island mansion has a cellar that looks to be the perfect spot.

Joe DiPietro toys with the romantic comedy formula so that the expected happy endings offer some neat surprises. And even when you see it coming, the plot is bolstered by a tune aptly plucked from the rich Gershwin canon. “Nice Work…’ is completely adorable. Matthew Broderick’s guileless charm makes you feel at home in Jimmy’s “Ritzy Beach House.”

Kelli O’Hara, last seen as Nellie Forbush in

South Pacific

, is a big talent with a lovely voice and a natural ease on stage. Broderick’s pleasant voice is buoyed by his castmates, many of whom give superb performances.

The gypsies, dancing and singing in support of the main characters, under the direction and with choreography by Kathleen Marshall, are all excellent. The jazz era costumes by Martin Pakledinaz are resplendent and colorful.

Estelle Parsons is very funny in a near-cameo as Jimmy’s mother Millicent Winter. Robyn Hurder is delightful as Jeannie Muldoon, the chorus girl who longs to be the queen of England. Other outstanding members of the large ensemble cast are Michael McGrath whose gangster character goes undercover as the butler. Judy Kaye exercises her full range of voice and comedic skills, and some acrobatics, as the teetotalling Duchess Estonia.

“Nice Work If You Can Get It” …”and you can get it, if you try.”

For more information on “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” please visit their website. /More shortly…..