Having a successful older sibling can be both a point of pride and a burden.
For Musicals in Mufti, at the York Theater on E54th and Lexington,despite its excellent and clever name and long history (they’ve staged 100 productions to date). the better-known City Center Encores! series is that more prominent sib.
Like Encores!, Musicals in Mufti takes a bookish approach to musicals of seasons past. The average production is only some 11 performances long, and the actors are in street dress, often carrying the texts of the musical they are performing with them.
Me and Ella, written and performed by Andrea Frierson, closed at the York Theatre on July 23rd
It is a reading or a concert version of a classic work, not seen on Broadway for some time. The upcoming summer production at the York is Jerry’s Girls, running from August 5th through the 13th, a tribute to the women of the Jerry Herman repertory, featuring songs from Hello! Dolly,Mame, La Cage Aux Folles, Milk and Honey, Mack and Mabel, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, and Dear World.
In the original 1985 Broadway run of the revue at the St. James, featured Chita Rivera, Leslie Uggams and Dorothy Loudon.
For more information about Jerry’s Girls in the Musicals in Mufti summer series, please visit the York Theatre website.
Nativist sentiments are often rooted in the stories of European conquerors who obliterated and enslaved native populations, and then high-handedly saw themselves as the rightful owners of the lands they seized.
This is the story of Puerto Rico as depicted in Temple of the Souls, part of the New York Musical Festival and playing at the Acorn at Theatre Row. Puerto Rico, named for the golden riches the Spanish found in the port of this island, was once such a promised land; its indigenous inhabitants, the Taino Indians were defeated by the invading Spaniards. Time has melded the heritage of the isle so that most Puerto Ricans recognize themselves as descendents both of the Spanish and the Taino.
Temple of the Souls is an exploration of this history, filtered through a love story–actually several love stories. Amada (Noellia Hernandez), the daughter of one of the conquistadores, Don Severo (Danny Bolero) falls in love with Guario (Andres Qunitero), a Taino she meets in the rain forests on a fiesta day. They are the Romeo and Juliet figures in this musical. Amada’s “nurse” is Nana (Lorraine Velez in a truly earnest performance) who has kept a secret all these many years.
The music, by Dean Lanon and Anika Paris, with lyrics by Paris and Anita Velez-Mitchell, is affecting. Paris, Velez-Mitchell along with Lorca Peress, who also directs the proceedings, are responsible for the book.
Temple of the Souls is a sometimes erratic work that does not always hit its mark. It aims to elucidate the story of a country and its peoples with warmth and understanding. It’s sincerity is indisputable; its artistry is less marked. The plot and its intermingling of past and present is more intriguing in concept than in execution.The cast, mostly Equity, are all good, some even excellent.
NYMF is an annual event. It is a showcase for new musicals in development. Some make it to off- or off-off-Broadway, a few to Broadway houses. Just getting into the Festival means they have been percolating for some time.
Myth making is history’s fake news, but all good fictions share a grain of truth.
Kristen Childs’ Bella: An American Tall Tale, at Playwrights Horizons through July 2nd. Directed by Robert O’Hara (auteur and director of Bootycandy (Fall 2014) also @PHnyc) and choreographed by Camille A. Brown, is a big new exuberant musical in which the cowboy truths are told from the African-American perspective. Childs’ Bella is a legend-making story, relating history through fantasy.
Bella (Ashley D. Kelley) is young and on the run. Her naiveté, like that of Voltaire’s Candide, is infectious as is her giggle. She leaves Tupelo after a confrontation with a plantation owner, Bonny Johnny (Kevin Massey) that has put a price on her head.
Bella, one of a long line of strong women, is sent off under an assumed name by her mother (Kenita R. Miller) and her aunt Dinah (Marinda Anderson); her grandmother (NaTasha Yvette Williams) urges her to remember who she is. She is also aided by the spirit of an ancestor her grandma (also played by Williams) invokes.
It’s nearly 1880, and Bella heads out to reunite with her Buffalo soldier, Aloysius (Britton Smith.) Kelley’s charm, by the way, is as big as Bella’s fabled behind.
Bella meets various larger-than-life characters on her way. As is her custom, Bella weaves ever taller fables about their fates. These include a Mexican caballero named Diego Moreno (Yurel Echezarreta) and a Chinese cowboy, Tommie Haw (Paolo Montalban).
A Pullman Porter whom Bella calls Mr. Porter, and who is actually called Nathaniel Beckworth (Brendon Gill), is her protector and confidante on the train ride west.
The Western setting is a natural for the rough and tumble (and rugged) entertainment Bella: An American Tall Tale gives us.
The music and lyrics (along with the book, all from Ms. Childs’ creative imagination) propel the plot, as they should in a well-ordered musical. Ms. Childs’ provides the vocal arrangements with orchestrations by Daryl Waters; the band is under the musical direction of Rona Siddiqui. Hoedown and hootenanny further serve to tell this whopping yarn. Ms. Childs’ songs range from funny/silly to interpretive to poignant.
Camille A. Brown’s terrific choreography, executed beautifully by the exceptional cast also furthers not just the plot but helps define the characterizations.
Kenita R. Miller as both Bella’s mother and the very proper Miss Cabbagestalk whom Bella meets on her journey, is outstanding. In all fairness, the entire cast, many in multiple roles, is superb. Olli Haaskivi does a nice turn as a stuttering circus announcer (and a bandit named Scooter). Jo’Nathan Michael and Gabrielle Reyes (as Mr. and Mrs. Dimwiddie respectively) do a wonderful bit when they step out of the chorus to play a couple who narrates in awe what they have just seen.
Robert O’Hara directs the spirited tale with vigor and originality. The actors give voice to Kristen Childs’ vision of the adventures of Bella Patterson, or is Johnson. The costumes by Dede M. Ayite are inspired and inspiring. The seemingly simple set (by Clint Ramos) gives color to the staging and is evocative.
Black history is an unacknowledged footnote to the history we’ve been taught in school. It’s good to see it be the main event as it is in Bella: An American Tall Tale.
For more information and tickets for Bella: An American Tall Tale, please visit the PHnyc website.
Matilda, before it became a Broadway musical (since closed after a long run), was first a book then a movie. Roald Dahl won the 1988 Childrens Book Award for this novel of triumph over adversity. As with other Dahl stories for children, the protagonist is precocious and the plot is wry.
The film of Matilda features Danny DeVito, who also directs, along with Rhea Perlman, Mara Wilson, Embeth Davidtz, and Pam Ferris. Now this inspiring family favorite returns to the big screen in stunning HD with Academy Award-nominated composer David Newman’s score played in sync by a full symphony orchestra.
For the world premiere of Matilda Live in Concert, Newman will conduct the Houston Symphony on June 9th in Houston’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillon in The Woodlands.
After 11,000 performances, a musical drama could be forgiven if it began to show some wear. In theater time, a run of more than 25 years is a very long lifetime.
The Phantom of the Opera, in its 27th year on Broadway, at the Majestic Theatre, hasn’t aged, or rather it has aged well. This is not a show resting on its laurels. Or on its worldwide success in tours all over the US, in Stockholm or Budapest or Istanbul, among the many places it has found a home.
Despite the myriad other accomplishments of his career, Phantom may prove to be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s crowning legacy. It was a breakout hit from its opening night at the Majestic in 1988, where it walked away with 7 Tony Awards, including for Best Musical, Design and Direction.
The music, by Webber with lyrics by Charles Hart, breaks over you in tidal waves of emotion. It’s lush and romantic, familiar yet very strange. Webber along with Richard Stilgoe (who has also provided some of the lyrics) fashioned the story from Gaston Leroux’s gothic novel, “Le Fantome de L’Opera.”
The Phantom of the Opera creates a world of its own; it emerses us in it. Through our willing suspension of disbelief, we descend into this netherworld of fantastical creatures and objects masterminded by the fiendish Phantom (James Barbour.) The story takes us into a Paris opera house haunted by a frighteningly demanding ghost. The Phantom’s obsession with a young soprano, Christine Daaé (Kaley Ann Voorhees) overwhelms him. She mistakes the monster for “the Angel of Music” her father promised to send her. At first, she is deceived by the Phantom’s exacting taste and guided by his instruction. When a childhood love, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Jeremy Hays) becomes a patron for the Opera House, the Phantom’s jealousy has diabolical consequences.
There are many pleasures in revisiting Phantom, not the least of which is seeing the excellent cast and operatic staging. Hal Prince directs the players, while Gillian Lynne provides the musical staging and choreography. The production is designed by Maria Björnson.
The large ensemble proffers many delightful performances, with Michelle McConnell as the diva, Carlotta Giudicelli, the Phantom shuns in the opera within the musical, just one of many.