Billboard: ‘Grease: Live!’ Freshens a Favorite With Mix of Old and New

Originally published in Billboard.

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Kether Donohue, Julianne Hough, Carly Rae Jepsen and Elle McLemore during the dress rehearsal for “Grease: Live!” airing live on Jan. 31, 2016 on FOX. MICHAEL BECKER/FOX

 

Fox made a bold step into the live television musical arena tonight with Grease: Live!, a technically ambitious production that upped the ante set by NBC’s recent shows by adding multiple soundstages, exterior shots, and a live audience.

Unlike NBC productions including The WizGrease: Live! was based primarily on the 1978 film version of Grease, with story structure, sets, and even a significant portion of the script coming from Bronte Woodard’s screenplay (based on Allan Carr’s adaptation) rather than Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey’s script to the 1972 Broadway musical on which it was based.   Continue reading

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It’s dlevy!: David’s Favorite 2015 Theater

Originally published on itsdlevy.net.

I’m not sure how many shows I saw this year, and I didn’t keep good enough record to count. Suffice it to say, I saw a lot, but not everything. Therefore, I’m not in a position to tumake a “best of” list or anything of the sort. Instead, I present to you a list of my favorite theater from 2015, in alphabetical order.

Last year, I listed a top 13, with one honorable mention plus three additional shows I had loved enough in previous years to see for a second time during 2014. This year’s list includes 15 shows, two of which were return trips, plus two honorable mentions, so I guess I have a fairly consistent amount of love in my heart available for great theater.  Continue reading

250 Word Reviews: On Your Feet: THE STORY OF EMILIO & GLORIA ESTEFAN

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

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ON YOUR FEET:THE STORY OF EMILIO & GLORIA ESTEFAN
(Broadway: Marquis Theatre)

One gets the feeling about halfway through the first act of On Your Feet that were you to quiz the cast where the song they were performing takes place, most of them would fail. The cynic in me says it doesn’t matter: the Latin rhythms (provided by a band that includes six members of the actual Miami Sound Machine), spiffy pastel costumes (by ESosa), and energetic dancing (courtesy of Sergio Trujillo) are entertaining enough that we can set dramaturgical demands aside and enjoy the concert. But while Alexander Dinelaris’s book aspires to be more than a greatest hits revue, it’s only intermittently successful. Jerry Mitchell’s nebulous direction does it no favors, and the show trips over itself to fit in most of Estefan’s hits while charting the rise of her career against the destabilization of her family. The latter gets shortest shrift, despite Eliseo Roman, Andréa Burns, and Alma Cuervo all making the most of two-dimensional characters. Genny Lis Padilla, as sister Rebecca, doesn’t even get that much, existing somewhere between prop and backup singer.

Regardless, the show lives and dies on the strength of Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra as Gloria and Emilio. Villafañe perfectly embodies the Estefan we remember from the 80s: beautiful, strong, and with a voice that never falters. Segarra cuts a striking figure, but his breathy singing never quite makes it past the lip of the stage. Regardless, the show should please Gen X’ers who longed for a Jersey Boys of their own.

Production photo by Matthew Murphy: Ana Villafañe as Gloria Estefan with ensemble.

250 Word Reviews: Dames At Sea

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

Dames At Sea

DAMES AT SEA
(Broadway: The Helen Hayes Theatre)

Dames at Sea first delighted audiences in 1966 with its low-budget, can-do spunk. A gentle spoof of 1930s movie musicals, the show prefigured the nostalgia crazy of the 1970s and introduced the world to Bernadette Peters as the ingénue-who-becomes-a-star, Ruby. Now making its Broadway debut, the show’s been gussied up with fancier sets (by Anna Louizos) and costumes (by David C. Woolard) and a major infusion of tap dancing by director/choreographer Randy Skinner, the contemporary master of the form. Can this extra dose of razzmatazz make up for the lost intimacy and proximity to its antecedent? Only intermittently. Eloise Kropp, this production’s Ruby, is a fine singer and dancer, but she lacks “it.” Thankfully, Lesli Margherita as overbearing diva Mona is full of “it,” and she walks away with every scene she’s in. The rest of the tiny cast get the job done, but the show is so light and frothy it leaves little lasting impression. The book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller are heavy on references that will be lost on contemporary audiences and surprisingly light on jokes. Jim Wise’s melodies do the heavy lifting; audiences are sure to hum the tunes for weeks. Some of the show’s old-fashioned features, like the song “Singapore Sue” (despite its uncredited new lyrics) and the decision to cast only white people, might have better been left in the past. Ultimately: a fun but inconsequential diversion of just about two hours, but who wants to pay $155 for that?

Production photograph by Jeremy Daniel. Pictured (l-r): Danny Gardner, Mara Davi, John Bolton, Eloise Kropp, Cary Tedder, and Lesli Margherita.

It’s Not Where You Start: You Must Love Me

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

Don’t freak out, this isn’t a post about my love life. At least, not my romantic life. This is about my first love: musicals.

Within my general obsession with musical theater, there are a few areas I find particularly interesting, all of which can be grouped under the rubric of transformations. I am fascinated with the way stories are told and retold, and few storytelling arenas are as obsessed with retelling as musical theater.

I love to read/watch the books, plays, and movies that musicals were based on to see how the composers, lyricists, bookwriters, directors et al applied their craft. For example, my already huge admiration for Oscar Hammerstein II grew exponentially after reading Edna Ferber’s original novel Show Boat. The way that Hammerstein transformed the central metaphor of the book — Magnolia’s relationship with the Mississippi River — into the central metaphor of the show — Magnolia’s relationship with the musical stage — is genius.  Continue reading

Camp vs. Kitsch: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…

Originally published on Camp vs. Kitsch.

Comic book movies have been so hot lately, it’s easy to forget that they haven’t always been so. But, like anything with devoted fans, even the acknowledged worst of the worst — in this case, that is undoubtedly Howard the Duck — have their staunch defenders. You have to understand, part of the horror of the Howard movie is that the comic book on which it is based is pretty much a work of genius. I know, if you’ve only ever seen the movie, that claim is hard to wrap your mind around. But it’s true. Don’t believe me? Go look. There’s a cheap, $15 “Essential Howard the Duck” paperback available now with most of the original Howard appearances all in one, black and white book. There’s also a hefty, hardcover color Howard Omnibus that’s worth checking out if you’re either loaded or a patron at a well-stocked library.

The film, which starred a punked up Lea Thompson and the voice of Broadway actor Chip Zien (better remembered as the Baker in the original cast of Into the Woods), has so many head-scratcher moments, but nothing tops the grand finale Howard the Duck musical number…

Sing it, Lea!
What could possibly go head to head with this unredeemable kitsch? It would be tempting to throw up a clip of the 60s Batman television show, particularly one with a deliciously camp guest star like Liberace or Ethel Merman. But since part of my mission here is to share some of my private Camp obsessions, I feel obligated instead to share a scene from It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman, the musical based on the Man of Steel, from the songwriters who brought you Bye, Bye, Birdie. The show, which ran on Broadway for a few months in 1966, is nowadays remembered as a pretty entertaining campfest that unfortunately just missed the moment when campiness was in for superheroes.

For reasons that just don’t make any sense to me, the show was resurrected as a late night television movie in 1975, done on an incredibly low budget with horribly “updated” orchestrations. I haven’t seen the whole broadcast (although it’s on my list for a future trip to the Paley Center), but what I have seen is mostly disappointing because it sucks a lot of the fun out of the songs. (The original cast album of the Broadway production is a lot of fun.)

Anyway, I couldn’t find this number in its entirety on YouTube, but I think the clip of David Wilson singing “Pow! Bam! Zonk!” gives you enough of a taste of the show…

Pow! Bam! Zonk!

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