In case you missed my first edition of these notes, I’m not much of a critic, and you can now even see this numerically at Show Score. These are mostly just intended to be some more of an extension on what I can write on twitter.
This is the bluegrass musical written by Steve Martin (book, yes the famous Steve Martin) and Edie Brickell (music). I had already seen this one early in previews but after Carmen Cusack was interviewed by Seth Rudetsky last week, and sang, I ran across the road from Sirius XM studios and bought a rush ticket. I think much of the buzz has been around her performance, as she’s appearing on Broadway for the first time after having been on the West End for the bulk of her career (in all the leads). She really has a beautiful voice, although I’m also very partial to Paul Nolan, who I’ve seen in Dr Zhivago and twice in Daddy Long Legs.
The plot has been called out by many reviewers, and while it could be seen as contrived, it’s also very romantic. I cried quite a lot the first time so it was nice to go a second time to just enjoy the music and let the performances wash over me.
Wall to Wall Stephen Schwartz
This was an incredible event, I am writing this the day after and I’m still thinking about all the wonderful performances. It was a free concert given by Symphony Space (Broadway and 95th), over 8 hours, during which audience members were free to come and go. My friend Iris and I were willing to sit for the full 8 hours, and she notes we felt a little superior to the many who only showed up for the final 3 hours.
There were approximately 98 performers given a biography in the programme, and at least a hundred more members of the various choirs who performed as the ensemble for many pieces.
It was presented as three segments, with each segment broken up into smaller pieces, such as three songs from a musical he wrote, or three songs he composed as standalone works. Many were performed by actors who had been in Broadway productions of the musicals, eg Patina Miller, Kyle Dean Massey, Rachael Bay Jones, Erik Altemus, and Tovah Feldshuh performing songs from Pippin; Hunter Parrish from Godspell; Patti LuPone from the Baker’s Wife.
I’ve been lucky enough to see three of the Schwartz musicals on Broadway since 2009, so it was lovely to have tastes of all of them again in this format. I note that I didn’t even like Godspell much as a show (am very atheist) but I really like the songs.
Some of the names I didn’t recognize but was really impressed by were Merideth Kaye Clark (a former Elphaba http://www.meridethkayeclark.com/), and Joshua Colley (a 13-14 yr old boy with a huge voice, I looked him up and I did see him do this hilarious skit last year for Les Mis’ Easter Bonnet https://vimeo.com/125850012 and you can see him in the upcoming Little Mermaid at Hollywood Bowl, as Flounder).
I will be remembering this night for a long time. If you’ve never listened to Children of Eden, give it a whirl, it’s been a long time since a NYC production from what they said.
Pump Boys & Dinettes
We trekked out to Papermill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ to see this one sunny Sunday afternoon. All I really knew was that Debra Monk and her friends had found it difficult to find jobs so wrote a show for themselves, which took off and has been very popular over the years (I possibly read that in Dames of Broadway, which is a great book of interviews regardless). I appreciate that kind of drive for creating own work which similarly led to the web series Submissions Only.
The only cast member I’d knowingly seen before a few times was Alysha Umphress (On the Town) who generally blows me away, and she did again here, she has a powerful but beautiful voice. On reading the playbill I was thrilled to see that the other female lead, Julie Foldesi, whose character is Prudie (cool name!), wrote most of the music for the beloved web series Submissions Only.
The show itself is very gentle, and has an easygoing pace, with each song generally on one simple concept such as the one the Dinettes (diner girls) sing about their desire for good tips. It’s all very wholesome and feelgood, and I left with a warm feeling in my heart, and my belly, thanks to the $1 slice of peach pie at intermission.
Bright Star cast sing Jeff Blumenkratz
This was a gorgeous benefit concert at Birdland. Nearly the whole cast sang one song each from the songbook of their fellow cast member, Blumenkratz. He plays the hilarious, dry, and, although it’s not explicit, gay character Darryl in the show.
My favourites were the songs from his song cycle “Month Upon a Time”, of which about three were included in the setlist. Emily Padgett sang miserably about drinking through June weddings. April was about tax, and August about a guy who is very sceptical about going to Burning Man with a new boyfriend.
As for the leads, Paul Nolan sang a touching song about a man living through the end of apartheid in Johannesburg, and Carmen Cusack sang in a very cool jazz style. Apparently Alysha Umphress, who was sitting near me in the audience (see above for her current show) has an album out of songs including that one so I mean to look that up.
The concert closed with a duet between Blumenkratz and Edie Brickell which was an unexpected treat!
I saw this in previews thanks to the $20 special they had a few weeks earlier. This also meant we were high up but it was a good, unobstructed view.
Terrence Mann was delightful as the villain, and seemed to be enjoying it a lot.
The lead Sarah Charles Lewis was actually an 11 year old playing an 11 year old, and she was quite perfect in the role, spirited without being annoying. Andrew Keenan-Bolger already has so much of my affection for creating, co-writing and directing Submissions Only and the Jack & Louisa novels but regardless, he brings a lot of poignancy and heart to the story here as his character, Jesse Tuck, spends an eternity on the brink of, but never reaching, manhood.
The subliminal message that women should have a family was a little awkward as single woman in my 30s, but I think it is outweighed by the important message that life is a series of stages, and it would be very boring otherwise. I can’t think of anything worse than being stuck as a 17-18yr old, when I think of how ready I was to move on to a career by the fourth year of university. The novel was written in 1975, and was set before WWI after all. The ballet towards the end was a little less subtle than I might have liked but it still had me in tears.
The music overall is quite beautiful, especially Carolee Carmello who shines as May Tuck.
She Loves Me
This was the 4th time so, again, it’s pretty obvious how I feel about it. We had Jane Krakowski’s understudy, Alison Cimmet, and she didn’t put a foot wrong. She didn’t pull the crazy tricks involving the splits, but I think Jane is pretty crazy for doing what she does in the first place! It was a little uncanny how similar their voices were in places. I was also pleased that the rush ticket holders in the rear mezz (of which I was one), were moved up to an empty row much closer to the front of the mezz (4th row). I was amused to be seated between two extremes, an elderly lady who dozed through much of Act 2, and a boy under 10 who seemed bored and fidgety.
A lovely surprise at the end of the BCEFA fundraising was when Gavin Creel, speaking for an absent Scott Ellis, introduced Harold Prince (the director of the original Broadway production in the 60s). The audience and cast alike were all thrilled.
I’m also thrilled that they have just been announced to be recording a cast album, which I was slightly concerned about due to the two existing Broadway cast recordings. I also saw Zachary Levi speak with Seth at Sirius XM, and he seemed so happy to be in this show, it was quite infectious.
I am Anne Hutchinson/I am Harvey Milk (Strathmore Theater, Bethesda MD, near Washington DC)
If you’re reading this without knowing me personally, then you should firstly know that I’m a die-hard Kristin Chenoweth fan, I’ve seen her all over the US and the world, so of course I would trek a mere couple of hours to see her (twice) in a brand new piece (Anne). I’d already seen Milk at Lincoln Center in 2014. Both pieces are from the genius brain of Andrew Lippa.
I am Anne Hutchinson is the story of a female puritan in the 1630s, who was trying to step out of her “place” to teach and provide her opinions on religion, which was all considered to be a man’s job. Although I’m not religious, it’s also an important story about a very early feminist pioneer who wouldn’t just stay in the kitchen with her (many) children, so I definitely appreciated the highlighting of her life this way.
Lippa’s composition in both pieces was intended for himself, and Kristin to sing, so it all suits both their voices wonderfully. I have always especially loved Kristin’s high soprano, and it’s put to use constantly in both of these pieces. He plays the villain to her Anne, being Governor Winthrop, and the title character in Milk, to her various female roles.
There were also 16 young men in both pieces, acting as the crowd, the congregation for Anne (with signs designating them temporarily a women), and the disco-dancers in Milk (one of my favourite parts, Friday Night in the Castro, enhanced here over Lincoln Center by the use of an enormous disco ball which must have been about 6 feet across). The show was more fully staged than the Milk production in NYC, and they were acting and dancing in almost every scene.
The Alexandria Harmonizers, 150 men, played the additional voices for Milk, and they were glorious. Not like your standard choir, they put all the emotion and energy into everything they sang. We sat next to one of their wives at one of the shows and she said they’ve been practising like crazy.
Note: Laura Benanti sang the world premiere of Milk in San Francisco, several years ago, as it didn’t work for Kristin’s schedule at the time and it was recorded, so anyone can listen to that piece in full.