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How many of these shows have you seen? There are tickets available for most. However, if seeing is not in the picture, hearing certainly is. The featured original cast albums of the season’s new shows allow you to enjoy the experience of shows you’ve seen or whet your appetite for those you hope to see.
Last year, there was the landmark and Pulitzer-winning Hamilton. People were saying, “How could the 2016-2017 season top that?” There may not be another Hamilton, but there’s plenty of excitement and diversity in a season of distinguished musicals. The Broadway League, the national trade association for Broadway, has released end-of-2016 – 2017 season statistics. It was the highest grossing one ever. Attendance reached 13,270,343 with a gross just short of $1.5-billion. This tally is only legit box office prices, which include premium sales.
“The variety of Broadway musicals and plays continues to attract enthusiastic audiences,” says Charlotte St. Martin, League president. “It’s been a season filled with creativity, innovation, exciting debuts, and thrilling comebacks. There’s nothing like live theater and no better way to see it than on Broadway.”Of course, you want to see the blockbuster hits, but until you can grab tickets these bargain-priced original cast albums are a perfect way to at least enjoy aspects of the in-person experience.
Anastasia by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Broadway Records; 25 tracks):
Christy Altomare (a Sophie in Mamma Mia) is amnesiac orphan Anya, hoping to find family, who’s spotted by bungling conmen Derek Klena and the always- delightful John Bolton (A Christmas Story; Dames at Sea) wish to take advantage of her likeness to Russia’s Grand Duchess Anastasia, thought to be the only survivor of the execution of Czar Nicholas and family. She’s so authentic that even the skeptics, including the Dowager Empress, radiant Tony-nominated Mary Beth Piel (Tony nominee, King and I). Book by Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally, loosely based on Don Bluth’s 1997 animated film [and includes Oscar nominated "Journey to the Past” and five other film tunes]. Highlights: Original songs “In My Dreams,” “My Petersburg,” “Everything to Win,” “Journey to the Past.”
Bandstand by Richard Oberacker and Rob Taylor (Broadway/Yellow Sound Records; 18 tracks):
Returning WWII vet, a singer/songwriter, Corey Cott in a tour-de-force portrayal, forms a band with fellow vets to seek the golden prize: Hollywood fame. But haunted by memories of his downed pal, he meets his young widow, Tony nominee Laura Osnes (Bonnie and Clyde), who reluctantly joins the band. There’s instant attraction until a shattering dark secret is revealed. Great onstage band, and hot, pulsating Big Band-orchestrations by Tony-nominated Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen. Tony winner Beth Leavel (Drowsy Chaperone) co-stars. Tony-winning choreography by director Andy Blnkenbuehler.Highlights: “Just Like It Was Before,” “Love Will Come and Find Me Again,” “Everything Happens,” “This Is Life,” “Welcome Home.”
A Bronx Tale by Alan Menken and Glen Slater (Ghostlight Records; 19 tracks):
Move over Manhattan Heights, we’re now on the stoops of rough and tumble 60s Bronx, where crime does pay, in this adaptation of Chazz Palminteri’s 2007 streetwise one-man play (also a 1993 film) about the influences on a boy. It’s Dad vs. Crime Boss, Richard H. Blake and DD nominee Nick Cordero (Waitress, Bullets over Broadway scene-stealer) with traces of Newsies, Wise Guys, and Jersey Boys doo wop.Highlights: “Belmont Avenue,” “These Streets,” “I Like It,” “Out of Your Head.”
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman (Masterworks Broadway; 19 tracks):
Chocolate-covered whimsy, readapted [for no reason] from the hit West End production, based on Roald Dahl’s novel and featuring songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley from the 2005 film. Christian Borle, with John Rubenstein, and Emily Padgett (Side Show revival). Considering Wittman and Shaiman are Tony-winning composers of Hairspray, it’s sad that nothing’s here/hear to really thrill you; but it’s a family show and, even without spectacular sets and energy, it’s packin’ ‘em in.
Highlights: “What Could Possibly Go Wrong,” “If Your Father Were Here,” “The View from Here.”
Come from Away by David Hein and Irene Sankoff (Musical Company; 25 tracks):
The sleeper musical of the season turned into a Tony-nominated Best Musical and one with huge audience appeal. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, 38 planes enroute to the U.S. with 6,579 passengers were forced to land at Gander, Newfoundland’s former military base for a week due to air space closure. In a variety of motifs [folk reels to lush ballads], we meet unprepared locals who must rise to the occasion. And they do it well. Winning cast of townspeople and passengers includes Tony Jenn Colella, as American Airlines’ first female pilot, Chad Kimball (Memphis), Joel Hatch, Rodney Hicks, and Q Smith.Highlights: “Welcome to the Rock,” “Lead Us Out of the Night,” “Me and the Sky,” “Stop the World.”
Hello, Dolly by Jerry Herman (Masterworks Broadway; 16 tracks; 42-page booklet with lyrics):
Tony-winning Best Musical, Revival of Herman’s terrific Tony-winning musical pastiche of Olde New York. Tony-nominated Jerry Zak’s production starring the divine Bette Midler gives razzle dazzle and color new definition. In one showstopping moment after another – whether singing, doing fancy footwork, or eating, Midler proves to be the penultimate entertainer. Warren Carlyle, building on Gower Champion’s choreography, adds zest. Midler is accompanied to Yonkers and the 14th Street Parade and Harmonia Gardens by Tony nominees David Hyde Pierce, and Gavin Creel and Kate Baldwin and a due adding more humor: Taylor Trensch and Beanie Feldstein. At only 53 minutes it doesn’t give the scope of being there. Cuts have been made. But why? [the disc holds 80 minutes]. “The Waiter’s Gallop,” at 2:51, and the Finale at 1:43 are far shorter than the live experience. However, you won’t feel shortchanged on the Overture, “Dancing” at 6:53; or the title song, 6:41. There’s no way to catch Midler’s superlative clowning. Highlights: “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Ribbons Down My Back,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “A Penny in My Pocket” (cut from the original production), title tune, “It Only Takes a Moment.”
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 by Dave Malloy (Reprise; two discs; 27 tracks):Tony- nominated, Best Musical. The complicated story, adapted from a 70-page section of War and Peace, has been turned into a mesmerizing spectacle
starring Tony nominated Denée Benton and Lucas Steele as ravenous lovers,
and Josh Groban [who’s no longer in the show] are at the forefront of intrigue
in a romantic triangle (Pierre is merely an onlooker). You’ll miss Tony-nominated Rachel Chavin’s innovative staging that transformd the Imperial Theatre into a slice of Russia but you’ll get a glimmer of Brittain Ashford’s stunning portrayal of Sonya. Also headlining are Gelsey Bell and Nicholas Belton.
Highlights: “No One Else,” “Dust and Ashes,” “Sonya & Natasha,” “Sonya Alone.”
War Paint by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (Ghostlight; 21 tracks):
Tony-nominated, Best Musical, from the creators of Grey Gardens. Pioneering cosmetic entrepreneurs Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein (Tony winners and 2017 Tony nominees (Patti LuPone, Christine Ebersole) engage in fierce rivalry for dominance from 30s to 60s as they change the face of American women. Act One plods along, but segues into a much more
exciting Act Two and a dynamic finish. Of course, the stars are absolute stand-outs.Highlights: “If I’d Been a Man,” “Face to Face,” “Pink,” “Forever Beautiful,” “Beauty in the World.”
Wait! There’s more: one that played Broadway, one from Off Broadway, and one from London’s West End:Falsettos by William Finn and James Lapine (Ghostlight; two discs, 36 tracks; with 60-page color booklet with lyrics):
This Tony-nominated Revival has completed its limited run but was captured in HD for theatrical release. The production marks the first full recording of this 1992 musical revolving around a neurotic gay man, his wife, lover, son, their psychiatrist, and lesbian friends explores changing relationships in the make-up of modern families. What a cast: Tony-nominated Christian Borle (Tony-winner, Something Rotten), Stephanie J. Block, Andrew Rannells (Tony- nominated, Book of Mormon), and Brandon Uranowitz (Tony-nominee, An American in Paris). Highlights: “Love is Blind,” “This Had Better Come to a Stop,” “Making a Home,” “What More Can I Say,” “Unlikely Lovers.”
Dreamgirls by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger (Sony Music; 28 tracks, two discs:
U.K. debut recording of the iconic 1982 Tony-nominated musical of R&B female trio vying for the big time during the 60s and learning the hard lessons of show business and romance. Olivier-winning Amber Riley (Glee) is The Dreams’ Effie White.
Keep in mind newer shows such School of Rock and the return of Cats and Miss Saigon [both on the road to closing]. There are hot shows from previous seasons – Aladdin, Beautiful, Book of Mormon, Kinky Boots, On Your Feet [closing in August], and Waitress are still going strong, but have available seats. Then, there are the long-running champs: Chicago, Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, and Wicked. Of course, Hamilton is still hot, hot, and hot. All of the current shows have websites with schedules, photos and videos, and links to purchase tickets. And Broadway’s box office treasurers love to have you belly up to their windows. The TDF booths always have surprises posted, and the lines moves quite fast. The Broadway League is not only the co-presenter of the Tony Awards with the American Theatre Wing.
Hee Seo & David Hallberg in Onegin. Photo: Gene Schiavone
A superb season at American Ballet Theater continued for me on the evening of Saturday, June 24th, with the revival of the underappreciated Eugene Onegin choreographed by the now undervalued John Cranko and set to music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, arranged by Kurt-Heinz Stolze. (Interestingly, the music is not drawn from the composer's extraordinary homonymous opera, adapted from the immortal poem by Alexander Pushkin, but from various other works.) Cranko is significant for his wonderful and equally unsung staging of Sergei Prokofiev's Cinderella which had been a fabulous vehicle for the brilliant David Hallberg as the Prince; regrettably, the company's production seems to have been retired although it has gratifyingly been replaced with the even greater version choreographed by the sublime Frederick Ashton. Onegin is also notable for sets and costumes designed by Santo Loquasto.
The cast that I saw was outstanding, led by the incomparable and iconic Hallberg in the title role, revealing his actorly powers as well as his celebrated abilities as a dancer. Principal Hee Seo—who shone this season in Giselle—touchingly excelled as Tatiana.
The secondary cast beautifully complemented the leads, above all with the stellar Jeffrey Cirio as Lensky, elegantly partnered by Skylar Brandt as Olga. The dashing Thomas Forster was effective in the small role of Prince Gremin while thecorps de balletsustained its very fine work throughout this season in the delightfully choreographed ensemble dances.
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