In the words of Stephen Sondheim…

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“I’m still here.”

I have not abandoned this blog, I promise. It’s been a crazy start to the year, with family trips, surprise party planning, movie making, and job stress.

But now family trips are over, party was a success, movie has been made, and job stress has subsided. So: Craziness over.

Now I just have to refresh my memory of the 4 episodes I watched back at the end of January. There will be a new post by this weekend, I promise!

In case you forgot, we will discuss:
Episode 9: Farmer Ted and the News
Episode 10: Have I Found a Guy For You
Episode 11: You’ve Got a Friend
Episode 12: It Was Fascination, I Know

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My pop culture summer, part 1

Well folks, the eve of summer is upon us. To my mind, it has already passed. How was yours? Mine…wasn’t terriffic. I am looking forward to a new season and am determined to make fall fun. But whatever else I can say about the summer, I have to admit, it was pretty kick ass in terms of pop culture. I saw 4 shows (3 musicals, 1 play); saw my boys play in Chicago; discovered some new bands and podcasts; read great books; went to a great film festival; and even had time to watch (or re watch) some TV. So it wasn’t all bad.

Below is the first installment of my best of summer pop culture picks. Feel free to share yours in the comments!

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“Want something. Want SOMETHING.” Six reasons Company will rock

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This weekend, I have the awesome pleasure of seeing a concert version of Company at Lincoln Center. This would be exciting enough. What makes it thrilling is the star-studded cast, including Neil Patrick Harris as Robert, Stephen Colbert as Harry, Patti LuPone as Joanne, Katie Finneran as Amy* and Christina Hendricks as April.

*Confession: I didn’t know which role Katie Finneran was playing until about five seconds ago, and a little thrill went through me when I pictured her singing “Not Getting Married”.

So, I know the whole thing on Broadway right now is stunt casting to sell tickets. Sometimes this works (see: Kelsey Grammer in La Cage Aux Folles); sometimes it doesn’t (see: The entire cast of 2009’s Bye Bye Birdie revival with the possible exception of John Stamos, who can at least carry a tune, GINA GERSHON.) But I have a good feeling about Company. First of all, it’s a scaled down concert version, second it’s only for a couple of days, and third everyone associated with the project can actually sing. 

I give you exhibits A-F:

A: Neil Patrick Harris might be known to you as the womanizing Barney on HIMYM or (if you haven’t watched TV since 1992) the kid doctor on Doogie Howser, but in addition to being a great comic actor, he’s also a fanfreakingtastic singer with a lot of stage experience. Here he is as the emcee in Cabaret: 

And he’s already proven he can sing Sondheim. Here he is playing Tobias in a concert version of Sweeney Todd along side Ms. LuPone:

(On a totally superficial note, I am usually a scruffy hair kinda gal, ala Tim Riggins, but the buzz cut really works for him, no?)

B: I’ve been a fan of Katie Finneran’s since she played the uptight sister of Jayne in the short-lived series Wonderfalls, but I think the theater loves her even more. She’s a two-time Tony winner, her most recent win last year for Promises Promises. I didn’t get to see it, but everything I read said she stole the show.

She was lovably neurotic in Wonderfalls; this can only be a good thing for playing Amy.

C: Christina Hendricks! I cannot WAIT to see her recite my favorite monologue in all of Broadway, and think her voice is a great match for “Barcelona.”

In my head, Christina Hendricks can actually play the accordion.  And also, I miss Mad Men, and really don’t want to wait a freaking YEAR for new episodes. Sigh.  But that’s for a different post.

D: Stephen Colbert! Stephen Colbert! I am most excited about seeing NPH, but Stephen Colbert is just more icing on the cake. And for some reason, I am itching to see him sing “Sorry Grateful.” Like Christina Hendricks, his voice seems so well-suited for this song. Hopefully this will not be interrupted by people taking their seats and loud children, like it was in my stress dream a few weeks ago. (Yes, I had a stress dream about Company. I dunno, guys. Ask my subconscious.) Anyway, if you watch The Colbert Report, you should know that Stephen has a pretty good set of pipes. I cannot freaking wait to hear them live. This isn’t able to embed, but click here to see Stephen sing.

E: Patti LuPone. To be honest, I am nervous to see Ms. LuPone live, because she kinda scares me a little. Okay, a lot. Woman is a diva. Woman has ever RIGHT to be a diva, but still. I just don’t want her yelling at me. Or anyone else. So everyone seeing the 8 p.m. show this Saturday, respect the LuPone, ok? This is from the Sondheim birthday concert last year, and I love this because you can just tell she has been waiting YEARS to sing this song. And sing it she does. And sing it she will on Saturday.

No, she’s not Elaine Stritch, but who the hell is? No one will ever sing it like her, and Patti does a pretty good second. Also, I respect that she puts her own spin on it, and doesn’t try to be Stritch.

F: NPH has some big shoes to fill with “Being Alive”. Raul Esparza blew the lid off of it in the 2007 revival. And as much as I love NPH, I am not expecting this to be the powerhouse Raul made it. However, it’s still one of the best songs Sondheim ever wrote, and maybe even one of the best songs ever written.

Excuse me, the room just got a little dusty, I need to wipe my eyes.

This weekend can’t come soon enough, y’all.

The best of times is now: Our weekend with DHP

After six visits over the past two years, New York officially peaked for me last weekend. I suppose it’s possible to top the awesomeness/epicness of Oct 22-24, 2010, but it’s going to be damn hard.

This was actually over a year in the making. Summer 2009, Nicki and I met in New York for a trip to see Next to Normal. At some point, our mutual love of David Hyde Pierce came up, and we decided then and there that when he came back to Broadway, we would go see him.

Let me pause here and say that in case you don’t know who he is – and if you are reading this blog there’s a slim chance you don’t – he is best known for playing Niles Crane on my beloved Frasier, but he’s also a kick-ass and Tony-award winning stage actor, recently seen in Spamalot and Curtains (he won the Tony for the latter) as well as a ton of other stuff pre-Frasier. You can also check him out in the super twisted but hilarious film  Wet Hot American Summer, as well as Down With Love, A Bug’s Life, the weird yet intriguing Wolf, and the promising yet-to-be-released The Perfect Host (playing at a film festival near you). And if that’s not enough for you, check out the newest audiobook of The Phantom Tollbooth, which he not only narrates but also plays every single character.  (A mighty task as the book has at least 30 distinct characters.)

Flash forward a year, and it’s announced that Mr. Pierce is indeed returning to the boards for a limited run of the 1991 David Hirsen play La Bete. I don’t think it’s what we were expecting, but hey, it was a play, it was on Broadway and it had DHP, so we were there.

We got tickets way in advance. A few days later, I found out that Mr. Pierce would be participating in the 92nd Street Y Broadway Talks series the day after we were seeing him in La Bete. Obviously, we needed to see this as well. And so it turned into a “DHP-themed weekend.” Continue reading

Short takes

  • Sorry, Jon Cryer. But REALLY? WTF, Emmy people? If NPH had lost to Rainn Wilson or one of the 30 Rock guys, I’d understand. But John Cryer??  Other than that (and Dexter‘s snub…again) I was pretty okay with the outcome of the Emmys. If Drew Barrymore couldn’t have won for playing Little Edie in Grey Gardens, then Jessica Lange was a good choice. And, obviously, NPH rocked it as host. Can he just host everything now, ever?

I mean, really. And I don’t even think I need to mention Dr. Horrible hijacking the ceremony. Awesomesauce.

  • Speaking of Dexter, I’ve seen the season 4 premiere. Without giving anything away: YOWZA! It’s a doozy, and it’s wonderful, and I’m so glad it’s back. Or will be, officially, on Sunday. Also, note to viewers: This season promises to be creepier than the last two. I got used to being able to watch it alone in the dark. Umm, maybe don’t do that this season. I had to take my teddy bear with me for protection to the kitchen and bathroom after watching it alone, in the dark, in my room, at night.
  • For anyone in the DC area: The National Book Festival is this weekend, on the mall. And before you scoff, let me tell you that both Mr. John Irving and Ms. Judy Blume will be there. I’ll give you ladies a moment to calm down, because JUDY BLUME! I feel like I owe it to my former pre-teen self to go. She did after all, write one of my favorite books of all time.  
  • Glee continues to be fantastic. Did everyone see last night’s episode? I have three words: “Yes, we cane.” Brilliant.
  • Both HIMYM and Big Bang Theory had delightful premiers. And umm…excuse me for a minute while I reveal my inner fangirl: ROBINANDBARNEYOMGSOCUTE! There. Also, I’m still laughing at the emoticon jokes from Big Bang.
  • So, in other words, yay fall TV!

Video of the Day: One of my favorite things ever. Also, I read a rumor that David Hyde Pierce was on the shortlist of people to play Albert in the Birdie revival, and a small part of me died. Honestly, he’s not the right type, physically, and he’s probably a bit too old, but still.  Anyway, this and “Show People” from Curtains are my current go-to songs for a.) getting psyched and b.) making me happy. My favorite part is the terrible dancing combined with the bouncing hair.

Going steady! Going steady!

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This past weekend, Liz and I went to New York to see a preview performance of Bye Bye Birdie. We also ended up going to The Strand, eating at Joshua Tree (hee!), and seeing the madness that is Broadway on Broadway. Needless to say, by the time we got back on the bus Sunday afternoon, we were exhausted.

So, let’s start with the show, shall we? There’s good and there’s bad. I’ll start with the bad, since there’s really only one negative to the show. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty big negative: Gina Gershon. I’m sorry, cast and producers, but your Rosie is terrible. Awful. She might be great in the right role, but this isn’t it. Rule number one when casting a lead in a musical: cast someone who can SING. At the very least, cast someone who knows their limits. (Readers of this blog may recall I saw Guys and Dolls earlier this year. A lot was said about Lauren Graham’s voice. I agree that she is not a singer. However – she knew her limits, didn’t try to stretch them, and generally has great charisma. Is that a biased review? Perhaps. But I also think it’s pretty accurate.)

Earlier that day, we met up with a mutual friend, who said she had read reviews on Broadway.com that were pretty disparaging to Ms. Gershon.  We decided not to pay any attention to that, because after all, it is the internet, and it is message boards, and it is theater, and all three of these things can add up to catty, mean-spirited, and ridiculous behavior.

After Ms. Gershon finished “An English Teacher” (where, in addition to being off key, she went up several times), I knew the posters on Broadway.com were correct.

It’s really a shame, too, because this show could be great. In fact, the rest of the cast is fantastic. John Stamos is very charming, has a pleasant voice, and is the right casting choice for Albert Peterson. (He also wears suspenders in one scene, which is adorable.) He was nervous, and is obviously still adjusting to the role, and to being on stage again, but it’s apparent that after a couple more weeks, he’ll be great. Allie Trimm (Kim MacAfee) has an incredible voice, and is excellent as the young teenager selected to kiss Conrad Birdie goodbye. Nolan Funk, in addition to having a hilarious name, is fabulous as Conrad Birdie. Matt Doyle is adorable, and reminded me that Hugo Peabody is actually funny, not an annoying sap, as I had remembered. Also, even though he only sings in one song, he has a beautiful voice.

And then there’s Bill Irwin, who really is on a different level and needs his own paragraph. He’s delightful as father Harry MacAfee. He tips his hat a few times to Paul Lynde, who originated the role, but for the most part, makes it his own. (Also, sidenote and tip for Gina Gershon: Bill Irwin is not a singer. But he knows his limits.) Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that the director takes advantage of Mr. Irwin’s clowning and physical comedy background.

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Also, he was the only “main” actor who came out after the show. We did the stage door from a distance, happy to observe without actually interacting with any of the actors. Liz because she says she’s afraid of famous people, and me because I don’t want the illusion shattered. (Though, if what we observed was accurate, I had nothing to worry about. Mr. Irwin was all smiles, happy to sign and pose for pictures, and talked with everyone he signed for.) He’s the smiling one in the hat in the picture above.

The highlights:
The Telephone Hour – which is reinvented, but in a good way.
One Boy
Honestly Sincere
Hymn For a Sunday Evening (I forgot to mention that Jake Schwencke, who plays Randolph MacAfee, has a stunning voice at 10 years old.)
One Last Kiss
A Lot of Livin’ To Do
Baby, Talk to Me

Sunday, we woke up early, intending to get downtown early, have brunch and get a good spot for Broadway on Broadway. Well…even with good intentions, it didn’t quite happen that way. We didn’t get on the train until 10, got into Grand Central around 10:40, had to wait in an obsurdely long fare card line, and didn’t get to the concert until just after it started. HOWEVER, it was insanely crowded, so we felt justified in knowing that, had we gotten there an hour earlier, we still would have been stuck in the crowd. All things considered, we had a great view – we could see the screens, and even the stage at times.

Highlights:
In the Heights
Next to Normal (Superboy and the Invisible Girl)
Chicago (All That Jazz – despite the sound issues, they rocked it – and the dancing was incredible as always)
Bye Bye Birdie (One Boy)
Hair (I have no desire to see the show, but that cast can sure sing)
Burn the Floor (anyone want to go? Those dancers are nuts!)
…and probably more, but those are the ones that stuck out.

The show ended with a group sing of New York, New York, and then….

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Crazy confetti! Confetti everywhere! I now never need to go to Times Square at New Year’s. Also, who drops it? Where does it come from? Anyone know?

sarah liz times square

All in all, it was a fabulous weekend. Huzzah for Broadway!

“Broadway lights, and wide open spaces…”

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Who has two thumbs and just scored tickets to Bye Bye Birdie in September? THIS GIRL!

It’s fair to say that I am just a bit excited.

First of all, it’s got a great cast. Sure, you’ve got John Stamos, who I am sure will be an excellent Albert Peterson. But, honestly, I am most excited about Bill Irwin. I love Bill Irwin. I’ve loved him ever since he played The Flying Man, the mute circus performer who wooed Marilyn, on Northern Exposure.*

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A few years ago, I had the privilege of seeing him and Kathleen Turner in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which he won a Tony. Most recently, he was one of the only things I liked about Rachel Getting Married

You might also remember him as the clown on that episode of The Cosby Show where Cliff takes Rudy’s friends out for her birthday.

What most amazes me most about Bill Irwin is the complete and total command he has over his body. It’s just amazing to watch, even when he’s not being a clown or doing acrobatics.  Playing George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, he communicated so much to the audience without dialogue – the way he carried himself, his body language, his face – spoke volumes. (And let’s not forget, The Flying Man had entire conversations with Marilyn without speaking a word.)

It’s rare that you see a performer on TV, stage, or movies who really stands out. Bill Irwin stands out. Without even knowing who he was, I remembered him as the clown on The Cosby Show for years. That episode is a permanant part of my childhood. On a mere two episodes of Northern Exposure, he stood out to me as one of the best characters in the series.

The point is, Mr. Irwin is extremely talented, and I can’t wait to see him sing about Ed Sullivan and go beserk when his meals keep getting cleared away before he’s had a chance to eat.

Here’s another clip of him, playing the fool to Karen Ziemba in a Sondheim Celebration at Carnegie Hall. (I couldn’t find the one where he gets dragged off stage, but this is pretty great, too.)

So, there’s one reason why I’m thrilled about Bye Bye Birdie.The other reason? It’s a great show. It’s the show that introduced me to musical theater, back in 1994, when I was in my community theater’s production. I was a chorus girl, and got to wear a poodle skirt and bounce around the stage singing “Going steady! Going steady!” It was a blast. A few years later, my high school put it on. By then, I was behind the scenes, and ran sound for the production. Again: it was a blast.

Despite being wildly popular in regional, community, and high school theater, I think this is an overlooked production. (Can you believe this is the first time it’ll be on Broadway since its debut in 1960?)It’s a very light show – nothing serious, lots of jokes. But if you actually listen to the score, it’s pretty tight. Think about it: “The Telephone Hour,” “Kids”, “A Lot of Livin’ to Do”, “Spanish Rose”, “Talk To Me” “Put On A Happy Face”, “One Boy”, “Hymn for A Sunday Evening” and (my personal fave) “Rosie”, among others.  Plus, the book is hilarious. There’s a reason the show won a slew of Tonys.

My only concern is critics will write Birdie off as”dated.” Well, sure it is. It’s supposed to be. It parodies a very specific time in America. Hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully critics will love it and Birdie will be the hit of the season.

After all, with all the shit going on in the world right now, this lighthearted, frothy show is  just what America needs.

*For those interested, he did a great interview for American Theater Wing’s Downstage Center podcast  a few years ago. You can find it here.