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

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Medium: Blood, Sex, and Tears – The Queer Theater of Little Shop of Horrors

Originally published on Medium.

I found myself with an unexpected case of “the feels” last night at Little Shop of Horrors at Encores! Off-Center, so I sat down to word-vomit a bit on Tumblr to see if I could make some sense of the show. I received an enthusiastic response, so I thought I would clean my words up a bit and share them here.

Ellen Green and Jake Gyllenhaal in Little Shop of Horrors. Photo: Joan Marcus

Ellen Greene and Jake Gyllenhaal in Little Shop of Horrors. Photo: Joan Marcus

Little Shop feels like a show I’ve known my entire life, but I know that’s not true, because I remember that my first encounter with the show, which like most people my age and younger, was an encounter with the movie. The film premiered in December of 1986, when I was almost nine years old. I loved monster movies but was scared of horror movies, so I think I skipped this one in the cinema until someone could assure me it wasn’t gory. I know my older brother had seen the stage production and loved it — although that might have been later. Memory is funny. I remember him telling me about the end, where vines from the plant descended from the rafters over the entire audience, and I was enrapt with the magic of theater, even though it was only theater of my imagination. Continue reading

The Sondheim Review: Mixing Things Up

Artists from various musical disciplines re-imagined songs from Sunday

Originally published in The Sondheim Review.

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Jonathan Larson’s tick, tick… BOOM! occupies a special branch on the Sondheim family tree. Stephen Sondheim holds a God-like (albeit offstage) position in the creative development of the central character, Jon, buoying the struggling songwriter’s sinking confidence with a well-timed phone call. The show is also notable for its loving tribute to Sunday in the Park with George’s title song, re-imagined as a meditation on brunch through the eyes of a harried waiter. The themes of mentorship and derivation in Larson’s musical inspired young composer Ben Wexler to create the Sondheim REMIX challenge in conjunction with a revival of tick, tick… BOOM! at New York City Center’s Encores! Off-Center series (June 25-28, 2014).

Writers, producers, and performers were invited to take a piece from Sunday “and remix it. Make it yours. Sample it. Adapt it. Run with it.” The range of submissions represented world music, spoken word poetry, electronica, folk, and rap, each demonstrating Sunday’s power to transcend cultures and generations. Continue reading

The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: More Loesser Than You Can Handle

Originally published on The Craptacular.

Loesser

With two of Frank Loesser’s biggest hits returning in the form of simultaneous all-star concerts, last week New York experienced a rare treat for Classic Broadway lovers and the ClaBro-curious alike. Wednesday – Sunday, Encores! gave us the quasi-operatic romance The Most Happy Fella with Laura Benanti, Cheyenne Jackson, Shuler Hensley, Heidi Blickenstaff, Jay Armstong Johnson and… yeah, basically everyone The Craptacular has ever written about. Then, on Thursday, Carnegie Hall exploded with the musical comedy excitement of Guys and Dolls, starring Nathan Lane in the role that made him famous, along with Patrick Wilson, Sierra Boggess, Megan Mullaly, John Treacy Egan, Len Cariou and Judy Kaye.

Frank Loesser was unique among Golden Age songwriters for a number of reasons: his earliest hit songs were written for the movies, marrying his lyrics to tunes by Jule Styne, Hoagie Carmichael, Burton Lane and others. In the mid-1940s, he began writing his own music, leading to his first Broadway show, the hit Where’s Charlie, and his Oscar-winning song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” (Please, if you want to debate the perceived rapey-ness of this song, do it in the comments of someone else’s post.) Continue reading

The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: Little Me

Originally published on The Craptacular.

Little Me

This week, Encores! kicks off its 21st season with Little Me, a jazzy musical comedy — emphasis on comedy — which features a hysterical book by Neil Simon specifically crafted around the talents of original star Sid Caesar, who played seven different roles in the show. Christian Borle steps into all of those roles for the Encores! production, but before the curtain goes up at City Center, let’s take a look back at the history of this show.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to impress/bore your friends/enemies at parties/piano bars with Broadway trivia, Little Me is right up your alley. Based on a book by Patrick Dennis — who you might remember as both a character in Mame and the author of, Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade, the novel it’s based on – Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen, and Television Belle Poitrine as told to Patrick Dennis. (Does that make Little Me an unofficial sequel to Mame?) The novel, a satire on the self-indulgent celebrity autobiography that has never gone out of style, was built around a series of humorous photographs taken by Cris Alexander. You might remember Alexander as Chip in the original production of On The Town, or for his roles in the original stage and film casts of Auntie Mame. Continue reading

The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert

Originally published on The Craptacular.

Encores!

Love Broadway musicals but hate having to sit through all that talking between the songs? You’re in luck. In the next couple of months, you can catch the New York Philharmonic doing Sweeney Todd in Concert, Lincoln Center hosting Titanic in Concert, Carnegie Hall offering Guys and Dolls in Concert, and 54 Below with concert revivals of Smokey Joe’s Cafe and Side Show on deck. But most importantly, the 21st season of Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert kicks off with Little Me the first week of February. Believe it or not, once upon a time, concert productions of older shows didn’t fill our concert halls and nightclubs. There was the occasional Kern or Gershwin show dusted off at Carnegie Hall or the Library of Congress, and starry casts came together for special events like Follies in Concert, but they were just that—special events. Continue reading