Thoughts on “Big Fish” the 2nd preview, 05/03/13

Big Fish BroadwayThe second preview of an out-of-town try-out is a special thing for a few reasons. First, you get to see part of the process happening right in front of your eyes, and you also are seeing a production that is so fresh that you are seeing characters on stage finding new moments in the show as they go. It’s exciting, and clearly people want to see it; the show was sold very well.

But, with a second preview, you also are seeing a lot of things that desperately need to be fixed. I just wish that Big Fish didn’t flounder as much as it did. With the level of caliber that production has, I expected more.

The artistic team is genius – directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman (The Scottsboro Boys and The Producers), music by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family and The Wild Party) and book written by John August (original screenplay writer for the movie of Big Fish), which is supported by some of my favorite Broadway actors in the business — Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin, and Bobby Steggert. This show has the talent behind it to be seriously good, and I think that’s why the show has some fantastic producers behind it, who are clearly throwing a lot of money at this pre-Broadway production.

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Theatre Review: “The Book of Mormon” (tour) @ Pantages Theatre, LA, 11/02/12

A year and a half was just the right amount of time before seeing The Book of Mormon musical again. If you’ve read my initial review of the production in previews back in February 2011, then you’ll know how much it negatively affected me. I still remember walking out of the theatre, flabbergasted by what I had seen and trying to put it all into words. I immediately sat down and typed my thoughts and feelings which soon became one of the most read, commented and talked about reviews I’ve written since I started this website in 2009.

One might ask, why would I go back to see a show that I had such a negative reaction to, but I did for two reasons: 1.) the unique circumstances surrounding the last time I had seen it definitely created some of the initial upset (which I’ll explain in a moment) and 2.) my best friend from high school, Jacob ben Widmar, is in the touring cast and I’ve yet to see him in a Broadway/tour/regional production since we were in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, back in high school.

The first time I saw The Book of Mormon I had (one week prior) seen the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Ruined at Berkeley Rep – a show that directly deals with the serious problems of women in Uganda. It was one of the most inspiring theatrical moments of my life. I walked out of the theatre wanting to help these women. It moved me greatly and seeing The Book of Mormon days after seeing this production was not the best idea. Even now, I still have a hard time with this part of the musical. I still don’t think that genital mutilation and rape is funny, in any type of way. The humor is wrapped in the usual raunchy South Park fare and I caught myself giggling every once in awhile, but mostly because I felt extremely uncomfortable, especially when a sold-out audience is riotously laughing throughout. That’s part of the brilliance, but also an annoyance – all at the same time.

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Theatre Review: “The Lion King” @ SHN Orpheum Theatre, 11/08/12

The Lion King – what else is there to say about this show that hasn’t been said before? It opened on Broadway fifteen years ago on October 15, 1997 at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Fifteen years… millions of audience members, thousands of reviews, and still last night’s Wednesday evening performance in San Francisco was sold-out. Well played, Disney. Well played.

Since opening, it’s changed theatres on Broadway (from New Amsterdam Theatre to the Minskoff Theatre), opened on the West End and Las Vegas, and there has been multiple national/world tours. There has been seven cast albums in seven different languages (most recently the 2011 Spanish cast). In April 2012, it was reported that The Lion King is the highest grossing musical of all time: $853.8 million. It is currently one of the highest grossing musicals on Broadway each week — easily making the million dollar club. The Book of Mormon is its current rival for top box office grosses.

So, how was the show last night? After all of these years, is it still worth it to see it?

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Theatre Review “Nice Work If You Can Get It” @ Imperial Theatre, 06/21/12

It’s no surprise that Nice Work If You Can Get It did not win the Tony Award for Best Musical this year. It’s a silly, fun, traditional Gershwin musical (a la Crazy For You) but with little substance or even a moral attached.

The tag-line should be: “Hijinks endlessly abound.”

Literally, they are endless — never stop. Ever. No, seriously. They keep going and going and going. For real, though.

The first thing the producers should do is fire Matthew Broderick who plays the love interest Jimmy WInter. Yes, he’s probably a huge part of what’s selling the show, but I’m sorry to report, he’s terrible. His performance wasn’t even salvageable. The dance between Kelli O’Hara (Billie Bendix) and Matthew Broderick at the end of the first act was one of the worst dance breaks that I’ve ever seen on the Broadway stage. It was a brilliant dance arrangement by the 18-piece orchestra, but it was so painful to watch. Even the music that Broderick sang fell flat and almost unlistenable. I was very unimpressed.

That said, everyone else in the cast was fantastic! I absolutely loved Kelli O’Hara. She’s gorgeous, sings beautifully and has no problem carrying a show even though her leading man is a complete dud. Kudos to her!

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Theatre Review: “American Idiot” Tour @ San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, 06/13/12

It’s been almost three years since American Idiot started previews at Berkeley Rep, and since then I’ve seen the show six times. I saw it once in previews at Berkeley Rep, three more times after it opened at Berkeley Rep, once on Broadway at the St. James Theatre, and now the first national tour at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco.

I saw the humble beginnings that led to many revisions at Berkeley Rep, the updated and “final” product when it landed on Broadway, and now the cleaner/fresher tour production. I still stand 100% behind my first review of the show.

That being said, I do have a few new thoughts about this particular production.

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Theatre Review: “Carrie” @ Lucille Lortel Theatre, 02/18/12

I can’t even begin to tell you how exciting this new production of Carrie is. Frankly, I was only going because of my morbid sense of curiosity. I wanted to see what MCC Theatre could do with this infamous flop of a musical and guess what: they nailed it.

First off, the story is heart-wrenching. I was expecting this silly horror-infused story, that was full of camp and completely affected, but it was the exact opposite. It pulled at my heart strings in ways I wasn’t expecting. The book by Lawrence D. Cohen, based on Stephen King’s novel, focuses in on Carrie’s tormentors and the horrifying bullying that happens at school everyday. It’s completely heart-breaking.

I was pulled in instantly with the first song, “In” sung by all of the students. The teenage angst was comparable to “Totally F*cked” and “Bitch of a Living” in Spring Awakening, and just as amazing. The vocal arrangements by Mary-Mitchell Campbell were fantastic (especially in this song). The choreography by Matt Williams was just as interesting and angst-ridden.

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Theatre Review: “Bring it On” @ Orpheum Theatre, SF, 12/14/11

With a combined creative team that brought us some of the best musical theatre in the last decade – Next to Normal, In the Heights,  and Avenue Q – you might think Bring it On would end up being another amazing musical theatre masterpiece, but unfortunately this hot mess is nothing but an uninspired mess. It’s like Glee after the second episode. The story meanders but doesn’t give an real insight into any of the characters (I don’t even remember any of their names), the unmelodic music is a mash-up of In the Heights throwaways and through-composed whiny Next to Normal bits and the choreography looks like In the Heights, and yet tries to be something you would see on “America’s Best Dance Crew” but doesn’t even land close to either.

Nothing works, except for the real cheerleaders that are in the production. Continue reading “Theatre Review: “Bring it On” @ Orpheum Theatre, SF, 12/14/11″

Theatre Review: “Follies” @ Marquis Theatre, 10/06/11

At this point, it’s impossible to not have heard or read about the rave reviews of recent revival of Sondheim’s Follies, directed by Eric Schaeffer. The New York Times calls it, “vibrant“ and Time Out New York says, “…this is a show no grown-up should miss”.  It’s a masterpiece of a production. The cast, the orchestrations, and design are all stellar. Currently, it’s playing as a limited engagement and it’s breaking box-office records at the Marquis Theatre. I can’t argue with numbers and the general reaction that everyone has had with the production, but I can say that I walked away not caring as much as I probably should have.

I think the main error was the fact that I wasn’t able to connect to the material as quickly as I needed to. It took me until, “Who’s That Woman”, sung by the unbelievable, effortless Terri White, to actually feel something for the characters. The lack of emphasis of the younger characters at the beginning of the show created a sense that this musical is only for old people. (Obviously, that changed in the 2nd Act, but it was hard to digest at the beginning.)

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Theatre Review: “Newsies” @ Papermill Playhouse, 10/08/11

The energetic newsboys of Newsies are going to help change the Broadway landscape once again (if it does, in fact, land on Broadway this Spring). This show is a major throwback to an earlier era of musicals, and yet it seems completely fresh and unique. I walked out feeling like I’ve seen a old-school 50’s styled musical, but the updated vocal styling’s, choreography, and set design keeps Newsies in the 21st Century.  That is the reason why there is so much hype and excitement surrounding this production. It’s fresh, yet familiar. The creators, Harvey Fierstein (book), Alan Menken (music), and Jack Feldman (lyrics), have done an incredible job recreating this cult movie classic into a theatrical masterpiece worthy of the Broadway stage.

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