Equity News: When grassroots organizing meets union negotiations #FairWageOnStage

Originally published in Equity News.

Members of Fair Wage On StageThe grassroots #FairWageOnstage (#FWOS) movement scored a major victory in November 2016 when Equity signed a new agreement with the Off-Broadway League. We asked some of the leaders behind the campaign to share with us how a two-year process of organizing and advocacy resulted in this historic win.

While the motivation to seek fair wages lies in everyone’s need to pay the bills from the work they do, the inspiration for the #FWOS campaign came at a January 2014 Equity Membership Meeting. Following a passionate discussion about the terms of touring contracts, members Carson D. Elrod and Nick Westrate found themselves in the elevator musing, “Why aren’t we New York actors doing what those touring actors are doing?” Continue reading

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CASTALBUMS.ORG: REVIEW: State Fair – Original 1962 Film Soundtrack

Originally Published on CastAlbums.org.

State FairFor years, the 1962 remake of State Fair was considered the worst film in the Rodgers & Hammerstein canon, and were it not for the 1998 animated atrocity committed upon The King and I, it might still hold the title. Yet despite its many shortcomings, chiefly that it’s slow and bloated, it produced an enjoyable soundtrack notable not only for performances by Ann-Margret, Bobby Darin, Alice Faye, and Pat Boone, but also for the couple of new songs Rodgers (post-Hammerstein) added to the score. Now, Stage Door Records has given the original soundtrack album its first CD issue as part of their limited edition Collector’s Series, so Rodgers & Hammerstein devotees should act quickly before the edition sells out.  Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: New solo discs from Cheyenne Jackson and Jose Llana

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

Jose Llana: AltitudeThis summer, two of Broadway’s leading men released new recital discs capturing studio versions of recent concert set lists: Jose Llana‘s Altitude, based on his Lincoln Center American Songbook concert of last year, and Cheyenne Jackson‘sRenaissance, adapted from the “Music of the Mad Men Era” pops concert he’s performed with a number of different orchestras.

Llana’s album is largely a career retrospective, featuring songs from On the Town,Saturn Returns (aka Myths and Hymns), The King and I, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Here Lies Love, with a few additional songs from both Broadway and the world of pop. The songs from On the Town (“Lonely Town“) and Saturn Returns (“Icarus,” “Hero and Leander,” and the title number) are particularly welcome, as neither production resulted in original cast albums and the material highlights what Llana does best: sensitive singing right at the border of art song and pop. Continue reading

HowlRound: Reconstructing and Reimagining: Noah Diamond and the First Marx Brothers Musical

Originally published on HowlRound.

Noah Diamond needed a change. After co-writing and co-producing a series of topical musical comedies with his frequent collaborator (and now-wife) Amanda Sisk, Diamond was ready to shift gears. The typical developmental process for musical theatre doesn’t lend itself to their kind of timely, ripped-from-the-headlines shows, and Diamond was ready to stretch his legs creatively.

Seven years later and ninety years in the making, he prepared the first revival of the lost 1924 musical I’ll Say She Is, which is barely remembered today as the Broadway debut of The Marx Brothers.

Continue reading

250 Word Reviews: War

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

(Off-Broadway at LCT3)

So much of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s latest is summed up in its name, War. The title simultaneously refers to a family at odds with each other, the aftereffects of a grandfather’s WWII military service, and a look at how what was (“war” in German) affects what is. The family in question is anchored by Charlayne Woodard as Roberta, a mother felled by stroke, who speaks to the audience from within the cage of her mind as she tries to piece together who might need her to return to the world of the living. Who needs each other in a family is the bigger question of the play, as siblings (Chris Myers and Rachel Nicks) disagree about their mother’s treatment – and each others’ life choices. Michele Shay and Austin Durant’s appearance as strangers claiming to be hitherto-unheard-of family members in need should complicate the ethical discussion, but the play seems to take clear sides, going so far as to end with a long speech from the elder stranger (Shay) that shows everyone the errors of their ways and knits them into a happy family unit. The play suggests that “need” was never the right frame for asking these questions at all, and beyond need might lay a more potent framework for family.

Strong performances (particularly from Woodard) and a touch of heightened theatricality help War rise above the average American family drama. Director Lileana Blain-Cruz beautifully balances the play’s realism and metatheatrics, drawing the audience into the play both literally and figuratively.

Production photo by Erin Baiano. Pictured (l-r): Charlayne Woodard, Reggie Gowland, Rachel Nicks, Michele Shay, and Chris Myers.

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Paint Your Wagon – Encores! Cast Recording

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

Paint Your WagonPaint Your Wagon is exactly the kind of show Encores does best. It was an early effort by one of Broadway’s most successful songwriting teams (Lerner & Loewe), working in an explicitly American idiom (gold-rush Americana). The show was a moderate success, but the cast album was severely truncated. The film bore little resemblance to the show, nor was it very good. So despite a couple of hit songs (“I Talk to the Trees” and “They Call the Wind Maria“), the show more or less faded into obscurity.

When the curtain rose at City Center in March, 2015 to a gloriously large orchestra (44 musicians!) playing a pulsing overture that immediately evoked the American west, audiences knew they were in for a treat. With a trio of perfectly cast leads — Keith Carradine as old miner Ben Rumson, Alexandra Socha as his daughter Jennifer, and Justin Guarini as the love interest Julio — songs familiar and surprising sprang to life.  Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Three Alfred Drake Reissues

KismetOriginally published on CastAlbums.org.

Alfred Drake is having a moment. Sure, he died nearly a quarter-century ago, but with three of his albums newly available, it’s a great time to be an Alfred Drake fan – or to become one.

Once Broadway’s leading baritone, Drake famously originated roles in Babes in Arms, Oklahoma!, Kismet, and Kiss Me, Kate, recording the latter two twice, with later stereo discs complementing the original monaural versions.

That stereo version of Kismet, a recording of the 1965 Music Theater of Lincoln Center revival, is the first of the Drake reissues, out now from Masterworks Broadway. Drake reprises the role he originated, Hajj, joined this time around by Anne Jeffreys as Lalume, Lee Venora as Marsineh, Richard Banke as the Caliph, and Henry Calvin as the Wazir.  Continue reading