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.

“Valium is my favorite color. How’d you know?”

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Last month, I had the pleasure of seeing Next to Normal at the Booth Theater in New York. I haven’t written about the show, mostly because I can’t say much without spoiling it for future theater-goers. My friend and I went in knowing very little about the show, and that’s the way to see it.

Here’s what I can tell you: The show is about a woman named Diana struggling with depression and mental illness, and how this affects her family. Her husband just wants things to be normal, loves his wife unconditionally, and is frustrated that she is unable to return to her former self. Her daughter is a perfectionist, eager to get a scholarship to college and flee her family. Her son is, as Diana puts it, “a little shit.” Throughout the show, Diana goes through a variety of treatments; some help, some don’t.

Despite the depressing plot, it’s actually a very funny show. Diana, who knows she is sick, has a sarcastic self-awareness. Likewise, her daughter Natalie has inherited Diana’s quick wit.

It’s also sad, and the most heartbreaking character of all is Diana’s husband, Dan, played to perfection by J. Robert Spencer. There’s been a lot of hoopla about Alice Ripley’s performance. And yeah, she’s very good. I can see why she won the Tony this year. But to me, the real hero in this ensemble is Spencer. I’m not an actor, and I wouldn’t presume to know anything about playing a character struggling with depression. However, it’s one of those roles that garners attention. It’d be easy for the person playing the foil to be cast aside. Spencer does not let this happen. He holds his own against Ripley, and gives one of the best, most convincing performances I’ve ever seen. Watching Dan struggle to keep his family together broke my heart. And, without giving too much away, there is a scene in the second act between Dan and his son, Gabe, that brought me to tears. (See picture above) In fact, I still get teared up listening to it on my iPod.

Those kids were cute on the Tony Awards, and I’m dying to see Billy Elliot, but Spencer was seriously robbed this year. He should have won.

And really, that’s all I can say about the show. Everyone should go see it. It’s heavy, but not in-your-face. It will make you think. It will move you. But, much like Rent (also directed by Michael Greif), it leaves the audience feeling hopeful, and ready to live life to the fullest. (Cliche? Maybe. But it’s true.)

Oh yeah, and the music is incredible. I can’t get the score out of my head.

Here’s a little taste – here is one of my favorite songs from the first act. 

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go listen to the cast recording for the second time today.

Blog potpourri

* I’m putting together a Michael Jackson mix, and in doing so, stumbled across some long forgotten, but great, songs. Like “Childhood,” which, apparently, is from the Free Willy 2 soundtrack. Do y’all remember Free Willy 2? Yeah, me neither. I know I saw it, because I LOVED the first movie. Cried my eyes out . Also, fun fact: I went to see Free Willy on my first ever date, in sixth grade. My date cried, too, but tried to hide it. Anyway, check it out. Doesn’t this song break you heart a little? I’m sure he wrote it with that intention, but still – he’s so earnest. Plus, there are strings.

Other gems include “Ben”, “She’s Out of My Life”, “Dirty Diana” and a breathtaking “Ain’t No Sunshine.” I’d kind of forgotten how much I liked the King of Pop back in the day.

* Also being played on my iPod lately: The cast recording for Curtains. Freaking brilliant, people. I now totally regret never seeing this show when it was on Broadway. And I knew about it, too! I distinctly remember talking to my dad about the new Kander and Ebb murder mystery musical. Anyway, a friend gave me the cast recording several months ago, and I only recently started listening to it. It took a few listens, but now I can’t get enough. It’s funny, it’s catchy, it’s romantic, it’s sad. And, sure, it’s no Cabaret, but what is? I love David Hyde Pierce’s wistful song, “Coffee Shop Nights,” but the real gem on this album is “I Miss the Music”, a song about writing a song without a partner. Written by John Kander after Fred Ebb’s death. I can’t listen to it without tearing up. But, there’s also some hilarious numbers, and some that are pure joy, such as “Show People.”

Wasn’t that fun?

*I finished the Great Frasier Rewatch much, much faster than the Great Cheers Rewatch. I actually am not going to say how quick it took me to finish 11 seasons of TV, but needless to say…it was quick. Totally enjoyable from start to finish. I don’t remember the last time I laughed out loud at a show so consistently. Yesterday, I started listing my favorite episodes, for a top 10 countdown, and ended up with, uh, 42. No, I’m not kidding. Obviously I’ll have to trim the list down. I almost feel like there should be two different lists: 1.) Favorite episodes, 2.) Niles. Though, as I said before, Jane Leeves is totally under-appreciated. Or at least, I didn’t appreciate her when the show was on. My god, she’s funny. OnceI can narrow down the list, I’ll do a post on my favorite episodes. In the meantime, here’s a video someone made highlighting the hilarious Daphne Moon.

* Lauren Graham’s new movie, The Answer Man, comes out in DC next week. Who’s coming with me? Anyone? Anyone?

*On that topic, I still haven’t seen 500 Days of Summer. Or The Hangover. Or any new movie since Away We Go. P.S. John Krasinski + beard + glasses = HOT. I finally get the attraction.

* I need a good book. I’m currently very uninspired by my collection. I keep on starting one book and stopping it a few days later. I think this is because a few months ago, I read Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo. It was wonderful, and set the bar very high for my next Great Read. So far, nothing has measured up. I hope I find one by this time next month – I need some beach reading.

* I have no desire to see the Harry Potter movie. But I do think Daniel Radcliffe has gotten kind of cute as he’s gotten older. (Even though I can’t see him without remembering him flinging a condom, ala Extras.) Which is worse?

*Found out today the new season of Dexter starts September 27th. Bring it!

* How did I find that out? By reading about the Dexter panel at Comic Con. Yep, it’s that time of year again. And yes, once again, I failed to make it to the Fandom Mecca. Someday, dear readers. Some day…

Huey, MJ, Paul, and Frasier (Together at last!)

Helloooo Internets! Did you miss me? Did you even notice I was gone?

Evidently I took a non-planned hiatus. Last week was my busiest work-week of the year, and this week – well, my brain turned into mush and I haven’t had the energy or desire to post anything. But don’t worry, I’m slowly returning to form.

Some things:

– Last week, I went to see Huey Lewis and the News at Wolf  Trap for my mom’s birthday. Did you know that the world is crazy for Huey Lewis? Because it is. I had no clue, and was totally unprepared for the madness that ensued. Everyone rocked out. People my age were rockin’, people my parents’ age were rockin’, and even this tiny man who could have been my grandfather was dancing in the aisles. Really world? Really? To be fair, I’m not a huge fan of Mr. Lewis. I mock shouted “I loved you in Duets!”*  when he came out, because that’s really the only thing I like about his career. Evidently, I am in the deep minority. When they finished “Power of Love” in the middle of the show, I turned to my Dad and asked “But what are they going to close with now?” I was also imagining myself hitching on to the back of a pick up truck so I could skate to school faster, but that’s neither here nor there. So Internet, you’ve been warned: The world LOVES Huey Lewis. *shrug* (Despite my complete neutral attitude toward Huey, the night was fun. My mom had a great time, and I enjoyed the people-watching opportunity.)

* Have you all seen Duets? If not, you totally should. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies. And the reason that, no matter how many Planet of the Apes, Lady in the Waters, or Fred Clauses he makes, I’ll always, always love Paul Giamatti. Don’t believe me? Do yourself a favor and watch this. Oh, man, I’m tearing up just linking you to that.

– I am also pretty neutral on Michael Jackson’ s death. Sorry. I am old enough to remember when Dangerous was released (and to absolutely love it), but I’m not really old enough to remember the madness that was Thriller, and moon walking, and all that. I mostly remember when the media started reporting on all his eccentricities, the weirdness with Macauley Culkin, and his pet monkey. When I heard of his death, I was definitely shocked, but also, felt a sense of relief for him. The last 15 years or so haven’t been great ones for Mr. Jackson. So, rest in peace, sir.  Thanks for “I Want You Back”, which has one of the best openings to a song ever.

– Tomorrow, I’m going to New York with Nicki for the weekend. We’re going to see Next to Normal. Other plans include Central Park, and the Brooklyn Bridge. I’ve never been to New York when it’s been both a.) warm and b.) nice. Work with me, universe. (Note to my readers: If you don’t hear from me in a few days, check the papers. I might have gotten caught in Alice Ripley’s path. No, my fear from her Tony acceptance speech has not subsided.)

– I made an executive decision a few weeks ago to stop my Cheers re-watch. I had maybe four episodes to go, and I just…couldn’t finish. It was too sad. (Go with me here – this was the first show I ever loved and lost. I still remember that night, and the Bob Costas special, and Diane coming back, and then leaving, and Norm telling Sam that the meaning of life is love, and Sam straightening the picture of Geronimo and turning off the lights for the last time. I couldn’t say goodbye to it again.) Instead, I started my Frasier re-watch, which is immensely entertaining. And, it’s not that I forgot how funny David Hyde Pierce is, but I hadn’t seen the show in ages. Oh, my god, you guys. DHP is a freaking genius. Seriously. He is. You know who else is hysterical? Daphne. I totally didn’t appreciate Jane Leeves when the show was on the air, and I’m so glad I do now. She can tell a story like nobody’s business. I didn’t watch much of the final years – I was in college, and all of my TV attention (that’s not an exaggeration – really – all of it) was devoted to Buffy and Angel. I’m sure that, like any show that lasts over a decade, it loses some of its luster. But, man oh man, is this show brilliant. Super smart, super funny, with super-talented people in front of and behind the camera.

Last night, I watched “Ham Radio”, from the fourth season. I don’t think I’d seen it since it aired, but once the shenanigans began, it all came back, and I remembered watching this with my family, all of us howling. In light of all the tragedy that’s gone on lately – the Air France crash, the Metro accident, the random deaths of four or five celebrities – here’s something to cheer you up. Two things for you to know: 1.) KACL puts on a radio play for its 40th anniversary and 2.) “Multiple murderer.”

 

 

Don’t you feel better now? Have a good weekend, y’all.