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Take Broadway Home! – Tony-Winning & Nominated Musicals


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.”

TakeBwayHome2Come 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.


July '17 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 


For his final masterpiece, French director Robert Bresson adapted a Tolstoy short story about forgery and transformed it into an austere, straightforward, ultimately soul-crushing dissection of how a single act can spiral into an orgy of death and destruction.
Made in 1983, it has a timelessly haunting quality that only Bresson could have created; running a precise 80 minutes, it demands repeat viewings, even if it is one of the most downbeat films ever made. Criterion’s hi-def transfer looks immaculate; extras are a 1983 Cannes press conference with Bresson and his cast and James Quandt’s interesting but sometimes silly A to Z video essay on the master.
Feed the Light
Inspired by stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Swedish director Henrik Moller made this extremely unpleasant and disturbing tale about a determined young mother tracking down her abducted young daughter by her former husband to an eerie institution that really test her mettle.
Actress Lina Sunden’s gusty performance in the lead gives Moller’s B&W feature debut a shot in the arm that helps gloss over the film’s dramatic deficiencies. There’s nice use of color for the final shot. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras include an on-set featurette and Moller interview.

Doberman Cop

Japanese horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa made his best-known film Pulse in 2001: it’s a creepy drama that was prescient in its focus on how the internet and social media divide and conquer society, a harrowing premise for an ingenious thriller.
Director Kinji Fukasaku’s 1977 Doberman Cop mixes yakuza, American cop movies and martial arts into a strangely entertaining brew with terrific action sequences that appear whenever the plot turns ho-hum. Both films have superior hi-def transfers; extras include interviews, video appreciation and making-of documentary of Pulse.
Running on Empty
(Warner Archive)
A fascinating subject—ex-radicals, on the lam from the feds, try and build a family and new lives—is compromised by Naomi Foner's superficial script (which somehow earned a 1988 Oscar nomination and won a Golden Globe), substituting sentimentality and contrivance for three-dimensionality and taut drama.
Sidney Lumet's direction is solid, and his cast, especially River Phoenix as the restless teenage son, Martha Plimpton as his restless girlfriend and Christine Lahti as his restless mother, does what it can, but the messy script (and a miscast Judd Hirsch as the restless father) moots any chance at an intelligent and insightful character study. The hi-def transfer is clean if not overly sharp.
The Tunnel: Sabotage—Complete 2nd Season 


In their second go-round, British DCI Karl (Stephen Dillane) and French investigator Elise (Clemence Poesy) find themselves tracking down a particularly insidious terrorist group that begins with a Eurotunnel kidnaping and a shocking crash of an airliner by jamming its onboard computer.
What starts provocatively and thrillingly turns, about halfway through, anticlimactic: after the main villains are taken care of, the drama becomes diffuse and wanly limps to the end. But Dillane and Poesy are a still-formidable team, and Elise’s new relationship—which may or may not impact a future season of the show—is an intriguing wrench thrown into the works. There’s an excellent hi-def transfer; extras include a making-of and interviews.
DVDs of the Week
My Mother & Other Strangers
Set in a northern Irish village during World War II, this absorbing Masterpiece mini-series follows the interactions of the locals—the men, their wives and children—with the Americans in their midst from a nearby army air base.
Although the plotlines approach soap opera, the drama is always watchable thanks to the sterling cast, which is led by a luminous Hattie Morahan as the mother of three and faithful wife who takes a shine to the U.S. commander. Extras comprise on-set interviews.
(Sony Pictures Classics)
Joseph Cedar’s low-key comedy about a minor Manhattan operator who hits the big time after an unknown Israeli operative he connects with becomes prime minister is really just a remake of Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose, with Richard Gere subbing for Allen’s small-time talent agent who loses his biggest client.
This one-joke movie is stretched painfully thin, and Cedar’s ostentatious visuals are a desperate attempt to bring variety into an essentially static and repetitive story. Still, Gere is very good in an atypical role. Extras are a post-screening Q&A with Cedar and Gere and red-carpet interviews.

Weekend in the Berkshires—“Children of a Lesser God,” John Mellencamp, Natalie Merchant

Children of a Lesser God
Written by Mark Medoff; directed by Kenny Leon
Performances through July 22, 2017
John Mellencamp
July 1, 2017
Natalie Merchant
July 2, 2017
There’s so much to choose from while in the Berkshires—music, museums, theater, ballet, historic sites, shopping, restaurants—that it’s impossible to do more than a few things on a weekend trip. This time around it was Children of a Lesser God in Stockbridge, and John Mellencamp and Natalie Merchant concerts at Tanglewood.
Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff in Children of a Lesser God (photo: Matthew Murphy)
Most people remember Children of a Lesser God from the 1986 movie version, which won an Oscar for Marlee Matlin in her sensational debut as a feisty deaf woman who falls in love with the hearing teacher wanting her to read lips and speak, while she stubbornly remains in her sign-language world. Despite its creaky dramaturgy, Mark Medoff’s earnest drama nevertheless works strongly in Kenny Leon’s thoughtful staging on the Berkshire Theatre Group’s stage.
Medoff tackles the themes of miscommunication and the physicality of love between people from (literally) two different worlds: James Leeds and Sarah Norman are shown sympathetically but realistically, rough edges and all. As embodied by Joshua Jackson (whose James is full of vigor and charm) and newcomer Lauren Ridloff (who has an appealing stage presence and dramatic heft as Sarah), our protagonists are a worthy adversarial couple.
Director Leon navigates this relationship sensitively, even if he is occasionally tripped up by Medoff’s central conceit: James repeating whatever Sarah and the other deaf characters sign becomes wearying after two-plus hours. (I don’t remember it being that annoying in the movie.) Still, with two excellent actors at the center—a revelatory Jackson in a demanding role, and a sensational find in Ridloff—Children of a Lesser God is emotionally satisfying theater.
                                   *                                     *                                      *
The Tanglewood experience is one of the summer’s finest. Sitting on the lawn for a concert under the stars can’t be beat—especially when you can bring anything onto the grounds for a picnic, which people do: tents and tables, lawn chairs and coolers, hors d’oeuvres and main dishes, wine and beer, fruits and desserts. Add to all of that the most casual vibe of any outdoor amphitheater.
Tanglewood concerts by John Mellencamp and Natalie Merchant were prime examples of still-relevant music of artists unworried that their most popular days are behind them. (But don’t tell that to the thousands who showed up both nights.)
John Mellencamp at Tanglewood (photo: Hilary Scott)
John Mellencamp—who has remarkably morphed from an arrogant young cock-rocker named Johnny Cougar into one of our most perceptive and sympathetic chroniclers of ordinary American lives—played a lean, dynamic 90-minute set that included several of his biggest hits along with more politically charged recent material, like the stand-out trio of songs from his latest album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, which he recorded with Carlene Carter, who opened the show.
The lovely harmonizies of Carter and Emmylou Harris—whose fine 45-minute set followed Carter’s—joined Mellencamp for the stately “My Soul’s Got Wings,” and Mellencamp sang a powerfully raspy “Easy Target,” the most trenchant of his current political songs. He even broke out a rousing “Pop Singer,” his 1989 hit about how much he hates being a hit-making jukebox. So it was no surprise that, when it came to “Jack and Diane,” Mellencamp basically told the audience he hates singing it but knows everyone wants to hear it—so he did a solo acoustic version, letting the enthusiastic crowd take over for the “Oh yeah, life goes on” chorus.
But he’s not averse to all of his hits—he and his crack band (including his MVP violinist Miriam Sturm) cranked out hard-hitting renditions of “Pink Houses,” “The Authority Song,” “Paper in Fire” and, for his lone encore, “Cherry Bomb,” which immaculately closed the show.
Natalie Merchant at Tanglewood (photo: Hilary Scott)
Natalie Merchant’s enduring solo career began nearly a quarter-century ago, after she left 10,000 Maniacs, and her latest tour—subtitled “3 Decades of Song”—features many songs of more recent vintage, wildly appreciated by the Tanglewood.
Of course, she did play tunes from her multi-million-selling solo debut, 1995’s Tigerlily: “Carnival,” “Wonder,” “River” and an unbearably emotional rendition of “Beloved Wife,” which was nearly ruined by some in the audience who felt the need to shout out during the song’s many quiet moments. But Merchant and her band—which featured a superb string section that provided lush but not overbearing accompaniment to these singular story-songs—showed their musical mettle right from the starkly beautiful opener “Lulu” from her eponymous 2014 album.
As for political commentary, Merchant waited until her second set—sans intermission, the show spanned 25 songs and a generous 2 hours and 45 minutes—when she introduced the biting “Saint Judas” with the quip that it’s “for all the racists and bigots in Washington D.C.”
For someone who writes and sings many minor-key, downbeat songs, Merchant has always been a buoyant performer: yes, her delightfully daffy dancing, spinning, hand gestures and arm-flailing are still very much in evidence. (By the encores, she had literally kicked off her shoes to run barefoot from one side of the stage to the other.) And she pointedly saved her most joyous songs for the end: a jubilant “These Are Days” gave way to the ecstatic singalong “Kind and Generous,” the perfect summation of another perfect Tanglewood evening.
Children of a Lesser God
Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, Massachusetts
John Mellencamp
Natalie Merchant
Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts

The Chilling & Beautiful Onegin

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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