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Showing posts from 2017

Great Comet: On Engaging Staging

I made a post last month with some of my thoughts about the new Broadway musical Natasha, Pierre, And The Great Comet Of 1812, based on the cast recordings and my research into the show. Now, having seen it live, I have a few more thoughts.

There's been a lot written about this musical already, so I'm going to keep the review part of this short. We already know that this is a well-written music with great music. The cast album is out. It's not up to me to tell you whether you'll like the music.

Josh Groban left the show on Sunday, and the Pierre I saw was Dave Malloy, the librettist and composer, who originated the role off-Broadway. I am generally opposed to writers and composers originating roles in their own works (cameos excepted) as a matter of principle, just as it's generally considered bad form for directors to cast themselves. That said, despite being in the title of the musical, Pierre is actually a fairly minor role, hardly featuring in the plot at all u…

Bastard Jones: A Quippy Comedy

Currently playing at The Cell Theater in Chelsea is Bastard Jones (official site), a new musical by Marc Acito (Allegience) and Amy Engelhardt. It is based on Henry Fielding's picaresque novel, The History Of Tom Jones, which might be described as Don Giovanni meets Candide.

One of the comic highlights of the show came before the first (technically non-existent) curtain, when Rene Ruiz, who would later assume the character of Partridge, gave his variation on the standard "turn off your cell phones" announcement. Throughout the performance, Ruiz acted as an emcee and stand-up comic, delivering comic asides and puns to the audience, commenting on the action throughout. One-liners like "I'd swear off drinking, but it's not polite to swear" abound. (When he later entered the story at the end of Act I, he added made-up Latin phrases to his list of comic devices.)

As the action begins, Tom Jones, the illegitimate ward of a squire, is a notorious womanizer, wh…

Novel Narration: How Broadway's Russian Novel May Be An Oratorio

After my last post speaking rather negatively about one of this season's most highly-acclaimed musicals, I thought I'd better make up for it by extolling the virtues of another one. But rather than more or less parroting what all the other reviews say, I hope to contextualize in the frame of a classical oratorio. And this blog post will be short.

Much of the praise for Natasha, Pierre, And The Great Comet Of 1812 cites its highly innovative and immersive staging. It is perhaps more often described as an "experience" rather than a "musical." The corollary to this is that I have heard it criticized as being too complicated, difficult to follow, and not having enough hummable tunes.

I will not justify that hummability criticism with a response. I thought Sondheim smashed that argument into the ground.

The funny thing is that I don't find Great Comet complicated at all. I had to look it up on Wikipedia (it does tell you to do your research in the opening nu…

The Sorrows Of Young Evan: How Broadway's Biggest Hit Might Be A 1774 German Novel

Note: This blog post is lengthier than usual. Read it when you have time.

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"Thwarted happiness, confined activity, and unsatisfied wishes are not faults of a given period, but the problems of every single person, and it would be a bad thing if, once in his life, everyone did not have a period in which he felt that Werther had been written exclusively for him."

So said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe regarding his 1774 epistolary novel, The Sorrows Of Young Werther, about a young artist who goes to a quaint little village, falls in love with a woman who does not love him back, wallows in self-pity for a little while, and then shoots himself with her husband's pistol. It became wildly popular, regarded as one of the most significant and influential works in romantic literature (a movement which Goethe later derided as "everything that is sick") and served as an inspiration for many subsequent works. It also lends its name to a sociological phenomenon.

Today, there …

Sunset - A Close Hit

Maybe it's a bit late in the run to do a review of Broadway's limited run revival of Sunset Boulevard, but I saw it yesterday, and wanted to write one. (Honestly, mostly because I wanted to document the lighting and the orchestrations, as well as a few individual elements I thought were interesting. Not so much a review as a list of things that struck me.) I'll go through the various production elements increasing order of amount of things I have to say about it.

First, let's get the cast out of the way.

Glenn Close was, of course, the star as Norma Desmond, but if you're at all interested in Sunset Boulevard, you've already heard all about her. What surprised me was how restrained the audience was. There was no applause on Close's first entrance, at the top of the stairs. Instead, the audience waited until she had placed her foot on the stage proper. (It was pointed out to me that this was because it was only when she finished descending the staircase that…

Sunday, Sondheim, And Spoilers

When Sunday In The Park With George premiered in 1984, it received mixed reviews from critics, lost every Tony award to La Cage Aux Folles except for scenic and lighting design (the advantages, I suppose, of being a musical based on a painting with a song even titled "Color And Light"), and though it ran for about a year and a half, closed at a net loss. It did win a Pulitzer prize, but while it has an obvious appeal to artistic snobs, it doesn't seem to have much to offer the average Broadway audience.

Since then, it has become revered as one of the greatest works by one of the greatest composer-lyricists ever to write for Broadway. Its most recent revival, currently on Broadway, was adapted from a sold-out concert performance at City Center, and since opening at the Hudson Theater has received rave reviews. And deservedly too. Jake Gyllenhall is not as good a singer as Mandy Patinkin, but he still plays the part exceptionally well. Annaleigh Ashford is a weaker Marie t…