Theatre Review “Pippin” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, MO

Pippin
June 30th, 2015
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Mo.

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

How have I never heard of “Pippin”? Even musicals I don’t like, I’ve heard of or I’ve unfortunately seen. The name Pippin conjures up the British boy, Pip, from the TV show “South Park”. So maybe my brain is simply confusing the misfortunes of a TV show character with this musical, because that’s the only thing I could think about before the curtain came up. It’s a shame too because my brain should only think of this musical when hearing “Pippin” from now on. “Pippin” is undoubtedly the best musical, show, and stage production I have ever seen at Starlight.

“Pippin” is a difficult story to unravel. It has so many layers, but the revelations and showcase of each individual layer is what makes this musical a joy to watch. So without giving too much of the story away, “Pippin” obvious follows the tale of a boy named Pippin. He is the noble son of King Charles. He’s frustrated because nothing in life that’s holding his attention or giving him a thrill. He’s the next in line to the throne and there are plenty of different paths for him to choose.

I know, it doesn’t sound like the most exciting or original of stories, but this is a story that’s told through a narrator, or as the bill calls it, the leading player. This person serves the narrative, the fourth wall breaking (to be fair, there’s a lot of fun breaking the fourth wall in this), and the magical guide for Pippin on his life. Sure Pippin’s pulled this way and that way, but the leading player serves as a compass for Pippin. Without the leading player, he may as well settle into being a knight, or a ruthless king, or a wandering hedonist.

“Pippin” goes against every musical convention I’ve come to expect. Most don’t acknowledge or much less tell the audience what to do. OK, maybe “Spamalot” does, but “Pippin” plays with the idea that this is a story in a very meta way. It acknowledges there’s a script, there’s a story, there’s a climax and that there’s an inevitable end, but in a way that both serves the fact that this is a musical and serves the fictional world of Pippin.

It could easily be convoluted, but it’s handled very well and clearly. As for the meaning or theme, it’s definitely in the eye of the beholder. I have my own, just like I’m sure many others will. “Pippin” is a critique against trying to find greater meaning in life when the real meaning can easily be right in front of you. It likes to say that it’s easy to lose focus of what makes us happy and it’s hard to simply accept what makes us happy. In a melancholy way though, there is no escape from this never ending process for humans and may just be part of our worldly experience.

As for the performances, they were stellar. The stunts performed in this production would put the Ringling Brothers out of business. The tricks and sleight of hands were unexpected, never cheap, and inspired child like magic in some of the oldest of those in attendance. The music is funky, with a big band twist, it’s also symphonically generic, but in a good way, and at times it has echoes of aged top 40 pop music. No moment is wasted and no ensemble set piece ever feels forced.

“Pippin” is a tony award winning musical, and for good reason. It’s easy to see why something so intricate and grand would be hard for high schools, small community theaters, and others to try and replicate. After watching this wonderful production, I can’t imagine watching it on a smaller stage or within the confines of a smaller production. Just like an eye popping summer blockbuster, “Pippin” must be experienced on a big stage with the best of the biz.

Theatre Review “Once: The Musical” Tour – Kansas City, MO

Once: The Musical
June 17th, 2015
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
Kansas City, Mo.

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

A few years ago I was given the chance to watch the movie “Once”. I had never heard of it and I didn’t know a single thing about it. From the first song of the movie, I was hooked and within its 85 minutes, I fell in love. Now, fast forward to the present and I, once again, had no idea that there was a stage adaptation of this movie and that it was wildly popular ever since the first curtain call on Broadway. I know that a transition from film to stage is difficult, so I quelled my expectations. Luckily they were exceeded.

Just like the movie, “Once” follows a scruffy faced street musician, who works at his dad’s shop repairing household items. The repair business is a simple side project to his passion. He performs soothing toe tapping songs and soulful songs about love loss. His name? Not necessarily given. He’s simply known as Guy, but he represents so many disenfranchised musicians hoping to make it big, his story is fairly common, so his name isn’t required.

Whilst performing, he’s approached by Girl, who, for lack of a better word, is a girl. She eagerly plays piano alongside him and they quickly connect through their tune, “Falling Slowly.” He’s obviously smitten, but she isn’t as interested. She has a kid, lives with her family, and has a husband. She also notices that all his music, which comes from the heart, is linked to a girl in his past. Girl knows that Guy can still go back to that long lost love, and she doesn’t believe he should go chasing after her.

So it comes down to if they hook up or not. And obviously I’m not going to tell you because that’s part of the charm of this production. The story mainly stays intact and hovers closely to its source material. Certain aspects are changed because you don’t have the luxury of having multiple, expansive scenes. The only problem is the characters. The characters have been tweaked a bit to be more humorous and more relatable.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a nagging aspect in the back of my mind because these are two characters that I remember fondly for the story that they tell. When some jokes are thrown in to help break up the tension between the two, it feels out of place. The other characters that provide comedic relief also provide some cheap laughs that don’t fit in with the musical as a whole.

But what makes “Once” truly outstanding is the cast and crew. This is a musical that requires our singers to play instruments, interact, and constantly be moving. The choreography to change sets within the confines of a stage while swinging instruments to and fro is perfect. So every bit of praise that I have goes to the people who helped bring “Once” to life. And despite my disappointment with their characters, I’m very pleased with how well they handled the material.

Re-Imagined “Camelot” Comes to Kansas City

CAMELOT
June 9, 2015
Starlight Theatre
Kansas City, Missouri

Our score: 3 out of 5 stars

Of all the “classic” Broadway musicals I’ve wanted to see, none ranked up as high on the list as “Camelot.” I don’t know if it was because my mom always played the album (she LOVED Robert Goulet) or if it was because I knew that it had been President John F. Kennedy’s favorite show. Coincidentally, Kennedy had been a classmate at Harvard with the show’s author and lyricist, Alan Jay Lerner. And while I’m not going to rave about this production, I’m glad I saw it.

The show opens with King Arthur (Adam Grabau) chatting with his friend and mentor, Merlin (Mark Poppleton). Arthur is about to wed, sight unseen, the Lady Guenevere (Mary McNulty) in an effort to bring peace to the kingdom. They meet cute and both are happy to learn that the other is quite attractive. The marriage goes well but Merlin is lured away. Five years later Arthur has decided to let more than sword fights and battles rule the kingdom. Convinced that things can be worked out with words, he invites other Knights to sit with him at his Round Table. Among those Knights is the French Lancelot Dulac. While his boastful tone upsets some, Arthur finds it refreshing. And after Lancelot bests Arthur’s three best Knights, even bringing one back from the dead after killing him, Arthur is convinced that Lancelot is his champion. Guenevere also sees something in Lancelot. Awkward!

Well presented, though if the press information is to be believed, quite scaled down for the “Game of Thrones” set, this production of “Camelot” posts three great leads and an incredible selection of music. It also features a scaled down (5-piece) orchestra (I think Munch’s Make Believe Band at Chuck E. Cheese has more members) which was sometimes very hard to her over the strong vocals. The three leads do well both in character and in song. Poppleton turns up again as King Pellinore and gives the show some much needed comic moments. In the second act we meet Mordred (Kasidy Devlin), foretold by Merlin as someone Arthur should distance himself from. Unfortunately he is more annoying than evil. If the Knights of the Round Table were the Sweathogs, Mordred would be Arnold Horshack.

This is the final stop of the current tour but if it picks up again later this year you should give it a look if you can.

“Camelot” runs at Starlight through this Sunday, June 14.

Theatre Review “Million Dollar Quartet” Kansas City, Missouri

“Million Dollar Quartet”
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
May 22, 2015

Our score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

On December 4, 1956 the stars aligned as they never would again. That day, Carl Perkins and his band walked into Sun Records, located at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, with the intent on recording a new hit. Carl’s choice of song was a rocking version of a song called “Matchbox.” Sun’s owner, Sam Phillips, had his latest act, a young boy named Jerry Lee Lewis, sit in to play piano during the session. Later that day, Johnny Cash rolled in to see Perkins (though in his autobiography Cash maintains that he was the first one there that day). Even later, the studio is graced by Elvis Presley and his current girl. As the musicians relaxed they began what turned into a (46) song jam session. Rumor is that Phillips called a friend at the newspaper, who came by and captured a legendary photo of the session. The next day that photo appeared in the paper, dubbing the boys the “Million Dollar Quartet.”

Heavy on classic songs and buoyed by the energy of it’s cast, the current touring production of “Million Dollar Quartet,” which played at Starlight this weekend, is a show that will have you out of your seats and into your dancing shoes. The enthusiasm is brought on by the strong performances of the cast. As Carl Perkins, Gabe Bowling carries the bulk of the musical load, with his outstanding guitar playing and vocals. He gives Perkins a small chip on his shoulder, one brought about by Presley having sung “Blue Suede Shoes” (which Perkins wrote and which was his first big hit) on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Scott Moreau does a fine job mimicking Johnny Cash’s musical style, though his vocals seemed uneven on some spots. As Presley, young Jacob Rowley nails the King’s vocals and mannerisms perfectly. I was shocked to learn that he is only 19 years old. For someone who wasn’t born until almost two decades after Presley passed, his performance was amazing. The highlight performance, for me, Colte Julian as the precocious Jerry Lee Lewis. Playing the piano in Lewis’ patented “let it all hang out” style, Julian hit all the right notes, both musically and with a great sense of humor. In a non-musical role, Bryan Langlitz, as Sam Phillips, keeps the show moving through his narration.

Where as a lot of the music sung during the original get together was Gospel (both Presley and Cash were very spiritual and released several successful albums in their career) the show is made up of familiar songs from all of the artists. That the music is being played live (all of the performers play their own instruments) makes the show even more exciting. The backing band (stand up bass player Chuck Zayas and drummer Patrick Morrow) keep the beat moving throughout. If you’re in the mood for some good, old-fashioned rock and roll, I urge you take in the “Million Dollar Quartet.”

The show heads to Tulsa, Oklahoma for shows beginning on May 26th and then continues throughout the summer. For more information head to http://milliondollarquartetlive.com/tour-info.html

Theatre Review: Original Hedwig’s Final Weeks on Broadway

I’ve never been so cold. I’m standing outside a Broadway theatre on a snowy March night, and I’m from Texas. I can’t feel my face.

“Is this ridiculous?” I ask the fellow fan next to me, referring to the rose I’m holding for the show’s star.

“Nope,” she says.

She gets it. We’re Hedheads, and we’re here getting frostbite for the same reason: to see the queen. John Cameron Mitchell, the co-creator and current star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is due to exit the Belasco Theatre stage door any minute.

Diehard fans and critics alike are practically yelling at you to go see this show before his run ends on April 26—and with good reason. Seeing him perform is pure magic, at once vulnerable and sardonic, witty and sexy. He is so genuine and raw on stage that distinguishing new jokes from improvised quips is next to impossible in one viewing. (“You’re seeing the original cast,” referring to Mitchell’s/Hedwig’s knee brace, is my new favorite.) But there’s more to Mitchell’s Hedwig than his brilliantly moving and funny performance and Stephen Trask’s phenomenal music. There’s a reason some fans are crossing continents to see him do this.

I’ve attempted to explain the significance of the queen’s return to people who know nothing about the show: This is different than any other actor playing Hedwig because when you watch the others, you’re watching a performance; when you see Mitchell, you’re seeing Hedwig, the character, in real life. It’s as if the 2001 film was a documentary and now you’re going to a real, live Hedwig and the Angry Inch concert.

For those unfamiliar, the musical is less a traditional play and more a rock concert with monologues in between songs. An overarching theme about the search for one’s missing “other half” is beautifully woven into both the lyrics and Hedwig’s tragicomic backstory. Somewhat paradoxically, watching Mitchell play Hedwig almost undermines the show’s closing message of finding wholeness within oneself, because fans leave feeling like we’ve found our other half—right there, on stage, spitting on us and shouting in German.

The knee brace Mitchell is sporting is starkly apropos, becoming another sad-yet-humorous aspect of Hedwig’s story. Although the sight of it tugs the heartstrings, one of the best things about the brace might be the way it further blurs the line between Mitchell and Hedwig—in a way, she’s realer than she’s ever been.

Basking in the glow of his inimitable performance, I’ve never been happier to freeze my toes off.

John Cameron Mitchell can be seen through April 26th at the Belasco Theatre with Darren Criss scheduled to take over Hedwig on April 29th.

Theatre Review “Slava’s Snowshow” Orlando FL, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

Tuesday, February 17, 2015–Sunday, March 1, 2015
Walt Disney Theater
120 minutes (2 hours)

“Slava’s Snowshow” is like nothing I have ever seen before on the stage. I have seen a dozen of the Cirque du Soleil shows and since Slava is the original Cirque du Soleil clown, I knew sort of what to expect. Still I haven’t been to a show that literally it has almost been a week since I saw it and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. This award winning international clown show has been touring for 20 years and I hope it goes for another 20 years. Even though this is a circus show, it is really magical. The set is extremely simple yet so effective. There is so much done with so little. The colors are so vibrant and the use of music blends in so beautifully.

Since this show is called “Snowshow”, I also expected the use of snow but never like this. Watch the 30 second clip below to just get a glimpse of what you can expect. You literally have snow exploded at you like a avalanche and it is breathtaking. Before the break, there is also a part with a spider web that takes over the entire theater. Words connect explain how terrifying yet at the same time exhilarating experience it was. to top it off it end with dozens of balls flying into the audience and the kids went crazy for that!

This was the first time that I got to visit the brand new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando, FL and it is a marvel it is own. The parking situation is not great at all though and the staff was also quite nasty and rude. I don’t just mean one person either, I mean every single employee that we encountered was unpleasant. Luckily it got overshadowed by this amazing show. If it comes to your city, I highly recommend.

Theatre Review “The Book of Mormon” Kansas City, Music Hall

When I lived in Baltimore it was easy for me to make the 3-hour drive to New York City to see the next great musical. “Phantom of the Opera.” “Les Miz.” “Miss Saigon.” It opened and I was there. Not so easy to do when you live in Kansas City. Which means I had to wait four years to see “The Book of Mormon.” And it was well worth the wait.

The show tells the story of two young Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda to help convert the local population into joining the church. Things are tough in Africa, with the villagers dealing not only with the AIDS crisis but a terrible thug dictator who insists that all women be circumcised. If right about now you’re questioningly thinking to yourself, “this is a BROADWAY musical,” I should point out that the show was created by the team behind “South Park,” Trey Parker and Matt Stone, as well as Robert Lopez, who created the Tony Award winning Best Musical “Avenue Q,” which is best remembered as the show that beat “Wicked” for the award. Mr. Lopez also recently won an Oscar for co-writing the song “Let it Go” from “Frozen.” The book is outrageous, and exactly what you would expect from the three authors. As for the songs…there’s a reason that the animated film “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” is often referred to as one of the best Broadway musicals that never made it to New York. The tunes are catchy, the lyrics infectiously funny. The audience loved every minute of it, with the highlight coming during the song “I Believe” when the singer exclaims, “And I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri,” which is where Kansas City sits.

The cast was outstanding, with Billy Harrigan Tighe and A.J. Holmes excelling as Elder’s Price and Cunningham. The supporting players were equally good. The show was one of the most original I’ve ever seen, much deserving of the nine Tony Awards it won. Where else can you see Jesus Christ, “Star Trek’s” Lieutenant Uhura and Yoda all in the same musical number? No where else…that’s where! The show is so good that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actually runs ads in the Playbill. If that’s not a divine blessing from Heavenly Father, I don’t know what is.

“The Book of Mormon” continues in Kansas City at the Music Hall through March 8th.

Upcoming Dates
CHICAGO – now through May 17
MADISON, WISCONSIN – March 10 – 15
SAN FRANCISCO – April 15 – June 27
MILWAUKEE – May 19 – 31
BUFFALO – June 2 – 7
WASHINGTON D.C. – June 16 – August 16

“Chicago” Kicks off the Season in Kansas City

“Chicago”
January 20, 2015
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
Kansas City, Missouri

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

The term “Straight from Broadway” is often used when a popular show hits the road. But in the case of the touring production of “Chicago,” which opened at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts this week, it’s more than just an expression.

“Chicago” tells the story of two women, Roxie Hart (Bianca Marroquin) and Velma Kelly (Terra C. MacLeod), who are currently facing a day in court for murder. The married Roxie killed her lover, as did Velma. To make it interesting, Velma also killed the woman involved with her lover…her sister. Both have employed the smooth talking attorney Billy Flynn (John O’Hurley) to represent them. Let the fun begin!

Originally directed and choreographed by the late, great Bob Fosse, “Chicago” enjoyed a nice two-year run when it opened on Broadway in 1975. The show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards but won none, having opened the same year as the Pulitzer Prize-winning juggernaut called “A Chorus Line.” The show was revived on Broadway in 1996 and is STILL playing now, making it the 2nd longest running musical in Broadway history, behind “The Phantom of the Opera.” Featuring a brilliant musical score by Kansas City native John Kander and his lyric writing partner, Fred Ebb, the performance put on tonight was easily one of the best ever to play Kansas City.

The three leads are spot perfect in their performances. Both ladies have played their roles for quite a while and their familiarity with the characters makes their work seem effortless. The same with O’Hurley. Here’s where the “Straight from Broadway” comes in. Less than 48 hours before taking the stage tonight, Mr. O’Hurley was taking his final bows on the stage of the Ambassador Theater in New York City, where he just concluded a six-week run in “Chicago” on Broadway. His Billy Flynn is oily when he needs to be but also shows an unexpected bit of heart as well. The three are surrounded by a supporting cast that hits all the notes and nails all of the steps. I’m sure Bob Fosse was looking down and smiling tonight.

If your only knowledge of “Chicago” is the Oscar-winning film, I urge you to see it live on stage. You won’t be disappointed.

“Chicago” runs at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday, January 25.

UPCOMING DATES
January 27 – February 1, 2015 San Antonio, Texas
February 3-4, 2015 Gainesville, Florida
February 6-7, 2015 Clearwater, Florida
February 10-15, 2015 Washington D.C.

Theatre Review “A Christmas Story, The Musical” Orlando Repertory Theatre

A Christmas Story: The Musical
November 10 – December 28, 2014
Orlando Repertory Theatre
1001 East Princeton Street
Orlando, FL

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

You know those flyers that you get in the mail and just throw away cause they are usually garage? I think I will be taking a closer look at them now. I received one a few days again and it was holiday themed, my favorite holiday, so I decided to give it a look. In there I found an advertisement for the Orlando Repertory Theatre (The REP) presenting a production of “A Christmas Story, The Musical” based on the story by Jean Shepherd with book by Joseph Robinette, and words and music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. I have seen this production before and have been dying to see it again since. Now I had the chance!

Official Premise: A Christmas Story, The Musical is the classic account of Ralphie Parker’s hilariously desperate quest to ensure that the most perfect of gifts ends up under his tree this Christmas – a Red Ryder® Carbine-Action BB Gun! All the cherished moments are here – the Old Man’s leg lamp, the tongue-on-a-flagpole, the bunny suit, the Santa slide, and all of Ralphie’s extravagant daydreams! Enjoy the perennial favorite in a new way with this Tony-nominated Best Musical.

Turning a classic movie like “A Christmas Story” into a musical was definitely a definitely task I am sure. The songs are good. I have to admit though. I have the soundtrack but it has never been a must-listen for me. “Counting Down to Christmas” is a catchy one. “What A Mother Does” is sweet and had the wife sniffing a little bit. “A Major Award” is definitely a real hoot.  The cast for this production was also good. Highlights for me were Clifford Lyons as Jean Shepherd, Candace Neal as Mrs. Shields, and my favorite Sage Starkey as The Old Man. At first I thought that Sage was too young to play the Old Man, to be honest, but once he stepped on stage, I knew he was going to nail it. Gavin would have been proud!

I thought the production itself was very well done. It really represented “A Christmas Story” very well. It also felt very festive. I have seen many plays in my time and they could have gotten away with much less here. They really had great sets and really get design for this one. I also love the range of these actors. The dialogue and songs were perfectly balanced throughout the theater. I was seeing in Row I, if I remember correct, closer to the top of the theater, centered, and we really enjoyed the entire presentation of the play. I have seen shows at Bob Carr Performing Arts Center and sat 10 rows from stage and couldn’t hear them as well as this theatre.

Prior to this, I have never visited the Orlando Repertory Theatre. Following this, this theatre is going to be in my spotlight. From the moment the wife and I stepped into this theatre, we both just looked at each other and said “Wow!” I loved the vibe of the theatre and I love how intimate it felt. I also appreciate that in addition to productions, The REP conducts community engagement initiatives and the REP Youth Academy provides classes and workshops for children, along with professional development opportunities to classroom teachers. I will be returning to this theatre in the very near future. And if you are looking for a way to get into the holiday spirit, you have your answer right here!

A Christmas Story, The Musical runs Saturdays and Sundays from November 10 – December 28, 2014 at 2pm and 5:30pm. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for students, seniors (55+), and members of the military with valid ID, and $12 for the youth (ages 3 to 17). All performances of A Christmas Story, The Musical take place at the Orlando Repertory Theatre at 1001 East Princeton Street, Orlando, FL 32803. Tickets may be purchased online, over the phone, or at the Box Office. Please visit www.orlandorep.com or call 407-896-7365 for more information. Don’t miss it or you might shoot your eye out!

Event Review “Disney On Ice Presents: Frozen”

“Disney On Ice Presents: Frozen”
Feld Entertainment
Amway Center
Orlando, FL
September 4th-7th, 2014

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Feld Entertainment returns“Disney on Ice” to the Amway Center this month with the instant classic and record breaking film “Frozen” taking center stage. “Frozen” came out nearly a year ago and has not cooled down since. People really love this film. Everything about it from its characters to its music. What little girl doesn’t go crazy when “Let it Go” comes on the radio, including my own two year old daughter. Disney and Feld Entertainment really brought the magic again with this new show. It was truly one of the best Disney on Ice shows that I have seen in recent years and will leave every single “Frozen” fan 100% satisfied.

The show kicks off with our hosts Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and a few familiar faces such as Disney Princesses Snow White and Rapunzel as well as characters from favorites like Disney∙Pixar’s Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Disney’s The Lion King. The focus of the show is the celebration of love and friendship and it really hits home. What I really loved about this show is the fact that it was decided to focus on “Frozen” entirely. When I have seen past shows of Disney on Ice, they have split the bill between various different set but this one is almost a word for word adaption of “Frozen” but on ice. They changed a few things here and there and re-ordered a few of the songs but it works extremely well and the audience was going absolutely crazy for it.

Official Premise: Enter a fantastical winter wonderland beyond all imagination at Disney On Ice presents Frozen! The heartwarming, Academy Award-winning tale you love is now LIVE and skating into your town. You’ll be magically whisked away into the wintery world of Arendelle, where you will be dazzled by amazing special effects and astonishing skating. Sing and dance along to inspiring songs, including “Let It Go.” Join royal sisters Elsa and Anna, the hilarious snowman Olaf, Kristoff, his loyal reindeer Sven and the mystical trolls as they journey to discover that true love is ultimately the most magical power of all!

I have been to plenty of rock concerts and it is funny to say but when Anna and Else hit the ice, they were like rock stars. No joke, these girls were screaming like their lives depended on it. It really brought the energy up in the venue. I should also point out that this was only a preview night, the attendance was very exclusive and the audience was less than half capacity. But still, this event reached some very high decibels. Also one of the best feeling as a father is looking over and seeing my two year old daughter going crazy with her favorite songs, dancing and singing along! Disney and Feld Entertainment continue to bring the magic to their audience and if you have chance to see this show, I would highly recommend it. “Frozen” fan or not, it will melt and at the same time warm your heart right up.

Click here to purchase tickets to “Disney On Ice Presents: Frozen” during it’s visit to the Amway Center

Theater Review “Ghost: The Musical” Bob Carr Performing Arts Center – Orlando, FL

“Ghost The Musical”
Bob Carr Performing Arts Center
Orlando, FL
May 13-18, 2014

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

“Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers is probably one of my all-time favorite long songs. I remember watching the film “Ghost” as a kid (probably too young to even get the film) and I fell in love with that song. The film is such a classic and whew knew that it could ever be turned into a Broadway play. Leave it up to the amazing, Bruce Joel Rubin (original writer of “Ghost”), who gave the words to “Ghost: The Musical” and the very fresh pop/rock score delivered by Grammy winner Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and Glenn Ballard (writer of Josh Groban’s “Believe” and Alanis Morisstette’s “You Outta Know”). The show is such an experience, that is the only way I am able describe it. It is exhilarating and also at the same time exhausting. They not only capture the essence of the original film but also improve it to make this one of the best plays that I have ever seen on the stage.

We all know the story but just in case you don’t, here is official premise: “‘Ghost: The Musical’ follows Sam and Molly, a young couple whose connection takes a shocking turn after Sam’s untimely death. Trapped between two worlds, Sam refuses to leave Molly when he learns she is in grave danger. Desperate to communicate with her, he turns to a storefront psychic who helps him protect Molly and avenge his death”. What I love the most about this play was that my wife hadn’t seen the film in years and yet she enjoyed it just as much as myself who had just watched the film again to refresh earlier this week.

From the moment the play starts, you are wowed with amazing visuals projected at the stage. You feel like you are being swept through New York City. This video presentation is used throughout the show along with amazing light, smoke and strobe light effects. There is one particular scene that really blew me away, which takes place on a subway car that left me speechless. I have seen many different plays at Bob Carr Performing Arts Center and none of them have ever been like this. I felt like I was literally sitting on Broadway watching this performance. It was so solid and well done that I haven’t stopped thinking about it since and have already looked up tickets for another showing.

Since this show is a musical, I was very interested how they were going to tell the story of “Ghost” through music. Right from the “Overture”, I fell in love with the songs (and even purchased the soundtrack). I loved the spin that they put on “Unchained Melody” and of course it is also cued through the entire show. I cannot get the track “Here Right Now” out of my head. I have had it on repeat. “More” is a tale about the life in NYC really hits home with my having lived and worked there for many years. “Are You a Believer” was a highlight of the show and literally had me rolling in my chair.

Steven Grant Douglas gave life (or after life) to the role of Sam Wheat. He was very strong and easily the best acting performance for the show. Katie Postotnik plays Molly Jenson and this girl can really sing. She nails the song “With You”. I could see her on the stages of Broadway since she really has the chops, so she takes the best singing in the show. Last but certainly not least everyone’s favorite Oda Mae Brown (who won Whoopi Goldberg an Oscar for from the film) is played by Carla R. Stewart. Let me tell you this woman had the audience in tears, laughing that is. She was the perfect comedic relief for this film and was hit for hit with each of the jokes. Put these amazing performance together with a wonderful production and you have a guaranteed hit with “Ghost: The Musical”, do not this miss on the stage!

“Ghost: The Musical” will be at Bob Carr Performing Arts Center from May 13th-18th. If you miss it in Orlando, be sure to check it out on the rest of its US National Tour below:
WORCESTER
HANOVER THEATRE
JUNE 5 – JUNE 8

HARTFORD
BUSHNELL
JUNE 10 – JUNE 15

MINNEAPOLIS
ORPHEUM THEATRE
JUNE 18 – JUNE 23

LOS ANGELES
HOLLYWOOD PANTAGES
JUNE 27 – JULY 13

COSTA MESA
SEGERSTROM CENTER
JULY 29 – AUGUST 10

LAS VEGAS
THE SMITH CENTER
AUGUST 12 – AUGUST 17

Theatre Review “Jersey Boys” Bob Carr Performing Arts Center – Orlando, FL

“Jersey Boys”
Bob Carr Performing Arts Center
Orlando, FL
April 15 – 27, 2014

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

“Jersey Boys” premiered on Broadway back in 2005 and won a Tony for Best Musical the following year. I have seen many Broadway shows growing up and living in New York but I never did see “Jersey Boys”. Luckily living in Orlando, FL now I am still able to see Broadway quality shows at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center. “Jersey Boys” is the latest show making its limited engagement during its national tour at this theatre.

I have always been a huge Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons fan and have seen them many times live over the years. I thought it was time to catch this show to see what all the fuss was about, especially being a huge fan of the music already. Well I didn’t just enjoy the play I absolutely loved it. I found myself moving my feet along with music and singing under my breath (sometimes louder)…and I wasn’t the only one.

Now obviously, I can’t compare the performances to the Broadway cast since I have never saw it but if I could I am sure that this National tour cast would really give them a very strong run. I was extremely impressed with Hayden Milanes in the role of Frankie Valli, that with an “I” not a “Y” because everyone knows “Y” is a bullshit letter. The guy has a voice of angel (sound familiar?) and really nailed this role. Nicholas Dromard was perfect as Tommy DeVito and really had the audience by the balls like woman type number 1 (or was it number 2?)

Quinn Vanantwerp was funny, charming and very charismatic. I really enjoyed his performance of Bob Gaudio. I am sure Bob himself would be impressed. Last but definitely not least Adam Zelakso playing Nick Massi was the quite one but delivered a surprising end performance and I am glad he didn’t start his own band. Adam will also be appearing in Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of this play, though in a different role, which comes in this June in theaters (and I will be first in line for this movie). I also never knew that THE Joe Pecsi was involved with crew, you learn something new everyday.

Let’s get back to the music now. Oh the music…so many amazing tracks sung during this show. If you are a Frank Valli and the Four Seasons fan how can you not be screaming along from your seat to hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like A Man”, “Sherry”, “Earth Angel”, “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)”, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, “My Eyes Adored You”, “Rag Doll” and “Bye Bye Baby”, which like always hits me very hard. Such beautiful music. Such wonderful talent. This is a show that is not to be missed.

“Jersey Boys” will continue at Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre through April 27th, 2014 (click here for tickets) and see below for future dates from the National tour.

Orlando, FL
April 15 – 27, 2014

Knoxville, TN
April 29 – May 4, 2014

Cleveland, OH
May 6 – 18, 2014

Sioux Falls, SD
May 21 – 25, 2014

El Paso, TX
May 28 – June 1, 2014

Fort Worth, TX
June 3 – 15, 2014

Tucson, AZ
June 17 – 22, 2014

Costa Mesa, CA
June 24 – July 13, 2014

San Jose, CA
July 15 – 20, 2014

Tempe, AZ
July 22 – August 3, 2014

Los Angeles, CA
October 1 – 19, 2014

San Diego, CA
October 21 – 26, 2014

Sacramento, CA
November 5 – 22, 2014

Reno, NV
November 25 – 30, 2014

Theater Review “War Horse” Kansas City, Missouri

“War Horse”
April 1, 2014
Music Hall
Kansas City, Missouri

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

It was an incredible evening in Kansas City this week when the Tony Award winning play “War Horse” rode triumphantly into the Music Hall for a one week engagement.

Based on the popular children’s book of the same name by Michael Morpurgo (adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford, the play was also the basis for the very successful Steven Spielberg-helmed film from 2011.

The play begins in August 1912 in England. A horse auction is about to commence. In a bidding war between the Narracott brothers – well-to-do Arthur (Andrew Long) and down-on-his-luck Ted (Gene Gillette). As the two go at it, they drive the price to more than three times the usual. Ted wins but he must spend the mortgage money on the creature. What’s worse, while Ted was looking for a plow horse, he has come home with a hunter. He entrusts the care of the horse to his son, Albert (Michael Wyatt Cox). Albert names the horse “Joey,” and with love and kindness, the two bond. Soon, young Joey is a majestic steed…rearing up in joy when Albert is near. It is a bond that will continue to hold, even when separated by war.

Winner of 5 Tony Awards (and a special Tony for it’s remarkable puppetry), including Best Play, “War Horse” is a show that you will remember forever. Not only for its great cast and outstanding set design, but for the amazing work of the South African Handspring Puppet Company. What they have created is nothing short of miraculous. Life size horses gallop and play on the stage, guided not only by the puppeteers inside the creation but the one guiding the head as well, capturing the very essence of movement and grace. With the “handlers” dressed as others in the cast, they blend in so nicely that one can easily begin to believe the horses are real.

As the story progresses over six year, Joey learns to do things he wasn’t intended to and uses those skills to not only help himself but to save the lives of those around him. He is truly the star of this production and I can’t tip my hat enough to the artists that bring him, and the other horses, to life. The human actors also do a great job. As Albert, Cox displays just the right amount of wide-eyed innocence that is slowly lost as he goes off to battle in an effort to search for his friend. Both Long and Gillette portray the conflict between the two Narracott brothers sharply. Yes, there is some anger and animosity there, but underneath there is love. Others who deserve special notice include Maria Elena Ramirez as Albert’s mother, Andrew May as a German officer who soon understands the horror of war and Caden Douglas as the hard charging Captain Stewart. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cast that brings Joey to life: Jon Hoche, Brian Robert Burns and Jessica Krueger. Bravo!

“War Horse” continues in Kansas City through April 6.
UPCOMING DATES
April 8        Orpheum Theater               Omaha, Nebraska
April 22     Capitol Theater                    Salt Lake City, Utah
April 29     Popejoy Hall                         Albequerque, New Mexico
May 6          Bass Concert Hall               Austin, Texas

Theatre Review “Once” National Tour – Orlando, FL

“Once” National Tour
January 28th – February 2nd
Bob Car Performing Arts Centre
401 West Livingston Street
Orlando, FL 32801-1413

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Before “Once” was such a big deal and became an Academy Award winning film (for Best Song “Falling Slowly” in 2007), I was already a huge fan of the film and its music. When the show was produced as a stage play on Broadway, I thought that it couldn’t have made a better fit for that format. And not surprisingly it ended up winning eight 2012 Tony Awards including Best Musical. Living here in Orlando, FL sometimes it can be harder to catch Broadway’s best but luckily we have the treasure that is Bob Car Performing Arts Centre, which delivers the best of Broadway right in the center of city of Orlando. When the national tour dates were announced for “Once”, I couldn’t have been more excited.

I have had the privilege of interviewing both leads in this touring play, Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal (click on their names for respective interviews). They are really talented and do great justice to this beautiful piece of work. They add something special and unique to each of the songs, which I instantly fell in love with. I have been listening to the “Once” soundtrack consistently since 2007 and only to be slightly replaced with the 2012’s Broadway Original Cast Recording. So I am not only a fan but I feel like this music speaks to me on a much deeper level. When I was listening (and singing along) during this play, I feel like they really nails these tracks and delivered the soul that would be expected from Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.

“Once” is quite the stage experience and features a very impressive ensemble of actor/musicians who play their own instruments onstage. The supporting cast to this play are also outstanding and really wrap up the show with a red ribbon. High regards go out to Evan Harrington, who plays Billy, for a particularly great performance. Prior to the show starting, you were able to get up on stage and walk around to feel like you are a part of the show. The cast then came out and started just riffing and playing fun music for the audience to enjoy. Ray Bokhour, who played Da, had a really beautiful and touching go at the song “On Raglan Road” and hang the audience near tears. When the show did start it blended in so well from the pre-show that if you didn’t know the music, you wouldn’t have even realized it started.

The set was extremely simple and has no changes besides the enter/exit of some chairs and music equipment. Pretty much the whole cast is on the cast throughout the whole show playing along with their instruments and adding to each of these wonderful songs. The story itself if you are not familiar follows a Dublin street musician who is about to give up on his dream when he meets a beautiful young woman who encourages him to keep going and do something with his songs. The two get closer overtime and work on their music… but this isn’t your fairy tale romance as events become much more complex in their time together. I cannot recommend this play any higher. It is emotionally gripping and will leave you hanging on to every note of its beautiful music. Congrats to the national tour cast since they simply nailed it.

Click here to purchase tickets during the show’s stop in Orlando and also be sure to check out the schedule for the remainder of the national tour!

Miami, FL (The Adrienne Arsht Center)
Feb. 4 – 9, 2014

Tampa, FL (Straz Center)
Feb. 11 – 16, 201

Fort Myers, FL (Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall)
Feb. 18 – 23, 2014

New Haven, CT (Shubert Theater)
Feb. 26 – March 2, 2014

Atlanta, GA (Fox Theatre)
March 4 – 9, 2014

Pittsburgh, PA (Benedum Center)
March 11 – 16, 2014

Rochester, NY (Auditorium Theatre)
March 18 – 23, 2014

Buffalo, NY (Shea’s Performing Arts Center)
March 25 – 30, 2014

Minneapolis, MN (Orpheum Theatre)
April 1 – 6, 2014

St. Louis, MO (The Fox Theatre)
April 8 – 20, 2014

Des Moines, IA (Civic Center of Greater Des Moines)
April 22 – 27, 2014

Tempe, AZ (ASU Gammage)
April 29 – May 4, 2014

Denver, CO (Buell Theatre)
May 6 – 18, 2014

Las Vegas, NV (Smith Center for the Performing Arts)
May 20 – 25, 2014

Seattle, WA (The Paramount Theatre)
May 27 – June 8, 2014

Portland, OR (Keller Auditorium)
June 10 – 15, 2014

San Francisco, CA (Curran Theatre)
June 17 – July 13, 2014

Los Angeles, CA (Pantages Theatre)
July 15 – Aug. 10, 2014

San Diego, CA (Civic Center)
Aug. 12 – 17, 2014

Costa Mesa, CA (Segerstrom Hall)
Aug. 19 – 31, 2014

Charlotte, NC (Blumenthal Performing Arts Center)
Sept. 30 – Oct. 5, 2014

Theatre Review “Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz” Kansas City, Missouri

WICKED: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz
October 10, 2013
Music Hall
Kansas City, Missouri

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

For those not familiar with the story, “Wicked” tells the story of the witches of Oz before they are visited by a certain little girl from Kansas. The two main characters are Glinda the Good Witch (Hayley Podschun) and Elphaba (Jennifer DiNoia) the “Wicked” Witch of the West. The story begins where the well known story of “The Wizard of Oz” ends, Dorothy has just gone back to Kansas and the Munchkins are singing and celebrating now that the Wicked Witch is finally dead. As the celebration and singing continues a question is put to Glinda as to the actual relationship she shared with Elphaba when they were growing up. We are than transported by way of Glinda’s memory to her school days and her first meeting with Elphaba.

As you can probably figure, Glinda and Elphaba were very different from the beginning. Glinda grew up in a higher class family, which made it quite simple to achieve any dream she had. She just had to ask and it was given to her. Even though Elphaba’s father is the Mayor she has a little tiny problem that keeps her from making friends… she is green! Her sole purpose in life is to take care of her beautiful and normal looking sister, Nessarose, who is confined to a wheelchair. We follow Elphaba and Glinda to “college,” where their disdain for each other grows. As time progresses we watch them deal with their differences, their disagreements, their shared following of sorcery and their shared love of the same boy, Fiyero.

What’s most enjoyable about “Wicked” is that the story continually works in the story of “The Wizard of Oz,” with some twists involved that make all to much sense to the story that we already know. We learn how the scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion all come to be. We learn why there must be good to match evil or, in this case, where there must be evil to match good. What we are all lead to do is to accept the thought that we must unlearn what we already know. You will never watch “The Wizard of Oz” again and feel the same way about any of the characters.

Most impressive of “Wicked” was that the story was all new to me, I went in with only expectations of being entertained and satisfied with the production I saw. What I witnessed was something entirely different. It was an emotional experience that left me drained by the end. You’re not sure if you should choose sides; is there a good and evil in this story? Is it all evil? Is it all good? Do I root for just one character or do I just trust that sometimes there can be two right sides to every story? “Wicked” is a top notch production with great music and a fantastic crew currently running in Kansas City through October 27. It’s a story that you should experience at least once. My only regret about the show is that it has taken me ten years to see it!I

The entire cast of “Wicked” in KC was amazing, with special kudos going to DiNoia and Kansas City native Podschun. Many in the cast had played the same roles on Broadway. I could tell from the beginning that this performance would be like nothing I had seen recently at the theater. “Wicked” was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning three, and boasts a Grammy winning soundtrack of such memorable tunes as the Act 1 finale “Defying Gravity.” If “Wicked” blows your way I suggest you go see it before a house drops on YOU!

There are currently two touring companies of “Wicked” making their way around the United States. This cast can next be seen in Des Moines, Indianapolis and Cleveland. For more tour information http://www.wickedthemusical.com/broadway-tickets