Theater Review: “Pretty Woman: the Musical”

 

 

  • PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL
  • Music Hall – Kansas City, Missouri
  • December 6, 2022

 

WELCOME TO HOLLYWOOD!

 

Hundreds of newcomers receive this greeting daily.  For some new arrivals, it’s the beginning of fulfilling a dream.  For Vivian Ward (Jessie Davidson), it’s a daily reminder of the life she now leads.  A daily reminder that she has yet to find her prince. Yet?

 

There have been so many musicals in the pipeline recently – coming soon, shows based on “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and “The Nutty Professor” – and some are, to be polite, not very good.  So please take this as a great compliment when I say that “PWTM” is much better than I expected.  Based on the 1990 film that unleashed Julia Roberts on an unsuspecting world, “PWTM” is a very funny, and well produced, show that is carried squarely on the shoulders of the writers and the performers.

 

For those of you who may not be aware of the story, it’s the tale of Vivian, a working girl trying to drum enough business to help pay the rent.  A chance meeting with Edward Lewis (Adam Pascal) leads her to an arrangement she cannot turn down.  However, as things progress, unemotional business begins to take a backseat to actual feelings, as two lonely people connect.

 

Adam Pascal has one of the most powerful and recognizable voices in musical theater history (again, for those of you who don’t follow theater, he was Roger in the original production of RENT, as well as in the film).  Pascal gives Edward a sense of decency that helps make the character likeable.  Ms. Davidson also works some magic in making Vivian a true heroine of the story.  It’s hard to create a fairy tale out of cutthroat businessmen and prostitutes, but together Pascal and Davidson pull it off.  They are assisted greatly by a strong ensemble cast, including Jessica Crouch as Vivian’s roommate, Kit; Kyle Taylor Parker, as the overzealous greeter, proved an audience favorite.  And I want to give a special shout out to Trent Soyster as the limber and mischievous bellboy Giulio.

 

A fun night at the theater, PWTM is playing in Kansas City through December 11th.  For information on this stop of the tour, or upcoming shows, please click HERE.

HAMILTON: Be in the Room Where it Happened

The wildly popular, award-winning musical Hamilton returns to the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando, Florida for an almost one-month run from October 26-November 20. Hamilton is the story of America in its infancy, told by America now. With a score that seamlessly blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B, and Broadway, Hamilton tells the story of the birth of America through the eyes of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers. With book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton has won multiple Tony®, Grammy ®, and Oliver Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Having the opportunity to see Hamilton live for a second time with the touring cast, I was nervous it wouldn’t pack the same punch as the Broadway version. My nerves increased a bit more when I noticed that three (3) of the main characters – Eliza Hamilton, George Washington, and Hercules Mulligan – were all being played by understudies, and it was only the second night. Once the show began, however, I quickly realized that it was silly to worry as every actor on that stage brought the themes and story to life in a way where you felt the real emotions. By the end I had changed my tune to “Understudies: They get the job done.”

Each of the 34 songs (you read that right, 34 songs) were written in a way that it enhanced the story being told and eliminated the boring stereotype that tends to come with a historical narrative. In addition, Dr. Phillips Center used Gala Pro – and app which provides captioning on your personal mobile device – for this show, which allowed individuals with hearing impairments the ability to read and understand the, at times, very fast lyrics. For a show that celebrates diversity and the strength it brings to us as a country, it was great to see it was accessible for those with hearing impairments as well.

Tickets are still on sale for the remainder of the Hamilton run at Dr. Phillips Center, and before you think to yourself “What’d I Miss,” I highly recommend you find the time to “Take a Break” and see this “Non-Stop,” inspirational musical before it plays “One Last Time” on November 20th. I promise you that you will walk out of the theater “Satisfied.”

SIX: The Musical You’ll Lose Your Head Over

The 23-time award winning musical SIX brings its Euphoric Celebration of 21 st century girl power to the Dr. Phillips Center Broadway series in Orlando now through October 9 th . Re-writing “herstory,” the SIX wives of Henry VIII go from Tudor Queens to Pop Icons in this non-stop, 80-minute concert-style show that will keep you dancing and entertained the entire time.


Having the opportunity to see SIX for the first time on its opening night in Orlando was phenomenal. There weren’t any set changes or costume changes (okay, maybe one costume change) leaving the music and story of the show as the main characters. The diverse cast of women who played The Queens – Khaila Wilcoxon as Catherine of Argon, Storm Lever as Anne Boleyn, Jasmine Forsberg as Jane Seymour, Olivia Donalson as Anna of Cleves, Cassie Silva (alternate) as Katherine Howard, and Gabriela Carrillo as Catherine Parr – not only exuded confidence in their period-inspired pop star attire, but also kept the energy high with their amazing vocal talents and dedication to telling the stories of these women. Feeling

inspired and empowered as I left the theater, I wanted nothing more than to listen to The SIX: LIVE ON OPENING NIGHT Broadway album as I couldn’t get enough.

If I had to give one complaint, it would be that the show itself was not long enough. When The Queens sang “for five more minutes we’re SIX,” I felt a tinge of disappointment as it was as if the show just hit its peak and then it ended, leaving me wanting more. Would this keep me from seeing the show again, ABSOLUTELY NOT! Just ask my husband who I have been begging to go see it again with me before its final curtain on Orlando 9th .

Kansas City Theater Review: “Sister Act”

 

  • SISTER ACT
  • STARLIGHT THEATER – KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
  • AUGUST 16, 2022                

 

Over the past couple decades there have been a number of Broadway musicals that have been based on popular films.  “Hairspray,” “The Producers,”  “Beetlejuice,” “Rocky,” and “Young Frankenstein” are just a small fraction of the shows that have hit the Great White Way – with new productions of “The Nutty Professor” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” currently previewing in smaller cities.  Some have gone on to Great success, while others have faded away.  One of the better ones has just arrived in Kansas City.

 

Based on the very popular 1992 film that starred Whoopi Goldberg, “Sister Act” is the story of lounge singer Delor1s Van Cartier (an excellent Tamyra Gray), auditioning to perform in a club owned by her gangster boyfriend, Curtis (Benjamin H. Moore) on Christmas Eve 1977.  However, despite her obvious talent, she is told she is “not ready” to play the club yet.  This does not phase Deloris, whose dream is to be a star.  She knows she has the talent and the desire.  She just needs the opportunity.  When Deloris accidentally walks in on Curtis and his henchmen immediately after they have killed someone, she runs to the police, who decide that the best thing to do is to hide Deloris where no one would think to look for her.

 

Smartly written, with a great score by multiple Oscar-winner Alan Menken and Grammy award winner Glenn Slater, “Sister Act” is a combination of laughs and music.  Ms. Gray brings a belter’s voice and a Catskill veteran’s comic timing to the role of Deloris and genuinely makes it her own.  Other outstanding turns by Mr. Moore, Anne Tolpegin (Mother Superior) and Susana Cordon (Sister Mary Robert) are accompanied by a supporting cast that keeps the show moving swiftly. 

 

If there was one drawback to the evening, it was one that had nothing to do with the performances.  In each city, local “celebrities” appear on stage in the silent role of the Pope and on opening night we were treated to Kansas City Mayor Quentin Lucas in all of his Papal glory.  Unfortunately, due to some local political issues, some idiots in front of the stage felt the need to stage a protest, causing security to escort them out and taking the fun out of the closing number. 

 

That aside, I highly recommend you catch “Sister Act” when it comes to your town.  It is, dare I say, a divine evening at the theater.

 

“Sister Act” runs through Sunday, August 21 at Starlight Theater in Kansas City. 

Kansas City Theater Review: “Anastasia”

 

  • ANASTASIA
  • Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri
  • August 11, 2022

 

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been obsessed with the fall of the Romanov dynasty in Russia. Whenever I see works for fiction and literature ignoring the facts, I simply assume it’s a day and go back to the books I have on my shelf like Edvard Radzinsky’s The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II.

 

It’s doubtful that anyone who watched the Starlight Theater’s current production of Anastasia expected a history less. Thankfully, the touring play consistently delivers eye candy worthy of a Faberge egg.

 

The musical from writer Terrence McNsally, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens (the trio behind Ragtime) draws its inspiration from 1997 cartoon, so the visual pizazz is to be expected. Thanks to a series of backdrops and projection, the play can change location and time as easily as movies can.

 

The history be damned tale starts in 1917 St. Petersburg, just before the Russian Revolution and quickly moves ahead a decade where the renamed city Leningrad is abuzz because the heir to the Russian throne , the Grand Duchess Anastasia might still be alive.

 

The play never answers how she survived when the rest of her family perished, but the ambitious Deputy Commissioner Gleb (Ben Edquist) sees her as a threat to the fragile order of the new Soviet Union. Meanwhile, two struggling con artists Dmitry (Sam McLellan) and Vlad (Bryan Seastrom) think they can convince the still-grieving Dowager Empress (Gerri Weagraff) that just about any woman living in the streets of Leningrad could pass as her missing granddaughter.

 

The search for the proper imposter proves more difficult than anticipated even though Vlad himself has spent decades posing as an aristocrat. Their most promising candidate is a street sweeper named Anya ((Kyla Stone), who takes to Vlad’s instruction with astonishing ease. Ironically, the ruse may be easier for her because she’s an amnesiac, so the invented history might actually be true.

 

Because she projects the right blend of innocence and latent sophistication, Stone effortlessly anchors this current touring production. Her clear, confident singing voice certainly doesn’t hurt.

 

The late McNally has retooled the storyline of the animated movie in a manner that is both more logical and entertaining. The less said about the cartoon’s version of Rasputin, the better. Gleb makes a lot more sense as an antagonist and Edquist has just enough charm to make viewers tolerate how slimy and single-mined he can be.

 

The romance between Anya and Dmitry feels as if it were copied and pasted from another musical. It’s more fun to watch the wily Vlad woo a countess (Madeline Raube) than it is to watch the leads discover each other.

 

The weather on Tuesday night was pleasant, but occasionally motorcycles reminded me why the outdoors and musicals may not be the best of combinations.

 

At the same time it was rewarding to see the play in the Swope Park surroundings where the scenery could compete with the images on stage.

 

 

Interview with “The Propaganda Poet,” Bear Wolf

 

 

Bear Wolf is many things.  A teacher.  A musician.  A writer.  And, most importantly – to me anyway – my brother.  He has spent the summer on the road, sharing his talents and promoting his new book of poetry -.   He joined me recently during a stop outside of Philadelphia.

 

Michael Smith:  Tell us a little bit about your tour.

 

Bear Wolf:  So I have many performing personas and I’m out on the road right now supporting a book and CD of my poetry.  I go by “Propaganda Poet” for my poetry.  The tour started out in New York City at the Nuyoricans Poets Café where I was part of an event called “Two Venues, One Mic.”  It’s really a great idea where two different poetry venues simultaneously have two curated open mics.  Each venue has their ZOOM hooked as well so when one venue is featuring live readings the other venue is watching on the big screen.  It goes back and forth.  This edition was with a venue in Japan.  We were simultaneously doing poetry with a venue in Japan.  They’ve done Paris.  They’ve done London.  The next one they’re working on is in Italy.  Because of having a lot of my stuff on line over the past couple years I’ve been able to share my work with people from all over the country.  Putting this tour together was pretty easy since I already knew a lot of the people involved.  I’ve done a few shows in New Jersey as well and now I’m on my way to the AWP Writer’s Conference in Philadelphia to perform with another group of poets that I’ve met on line.  Then it’s on to a couple of Busboys and Poets spots in Baltimore and Washington D.C., which is a chain of venues that are being revitalized now that everything is opening up again.

MS:  What is the name of your latest book?

 BW:  My book is called “2020 D/Vision.”  It’s my response to the pandemic.  Not just the COVID pandemic but all of the other pandemics we’re dealing with like racism and systematic oppression and the American Dream that is not fully attainable for everyone because we don’t all start from the same spot.  For the past two years Mother Earth has essentially sent us to our room.  While I was there I contemplated and wrote a couple of books.  “2020 D/Vision” is available on Amazon.

 

MS:  So what exactly goes on at a poetry recital?  In my mind I’m picturing the movies of the 60s that had the hip poet up on stage snapping his fingers and addressing the audience.  Or Mike Myers in “So I Married an Axe Murderer.”  What does it entail?  Do you just go up on stage?  Do you have music in the background to set the mood?

 BW:   The sweet thing about open mics is that you really never know what’s going to happen.  It’s pure creativity across the board.  The one I did last night in New York City had comedians, musicians, poets…it’s actually very much like you’re picturing; the old beat poets of the 60s and 70s in Soho and San Francisco.  This art has just carried on.  Artists who are not recognized on a large scale can still go up there and do their thing.  And it’s really supportive.  Even the on-line open mic community is very supportive. 

 MS:  What are the crowds like?  Pretty packed?

BW:  Their very well attended.  People are really hungry to get out of the house now.  They really contribute to the atmosphere.  And it’s a wide spectrum of poetry.  You get social justice poetry…erotic poetry.  It’s really one of the best and broad cultural things you can experience. 

 

MS:  Does your CD feature you reading your poetry?  Music to read your poetry by?

 

BW:  It’s both.  It’s called “Haiku, Tanka & Senryu, Oh My!”  A friend of mine, C.K. Shmallowell, composed some great electric dance music, but with a jam-band feel to it.  He gave me the audio tracks and I re-mixed them and put the poetry on top of them. 

 

MS:  What’s next?

 

BW:  This is my second tour this year.  Earlier I did a tour of the South.  And I just completed a CD of covers and mash-ups where I mixed my poetry in as well.  It’s my first attempt at doing everything.  Drums, guitars, vocals.  The whole nine-yards.  It’s going to be available on Soundcloud.  I just finished my next book called “Word Tornadoes.”  That manuscript is under review.  My ultimate point with all of this is to get to a point where this is all I do.  I can put together workshops and lessons and basically be a freelance teacher.    I want to get the message out that poetry is alive and well and thriving.   

 

TO PURCHASE A COPY OF“Haiku, Tanka & Senryu, Oh My!”   CLICK HERE

TO PURCHASE A COPY OF “2020 D/VISION” CLICK HERE

Interview with Broadway Across America Midwest President Leslie Broecker

When I asked to speak with Leslie Broecker I was told we’d get along as she was a fellow “theater nerd.”  What an understatement.  The President of Broadway Across America Midwest, Ms. Broecker lives and breathes theater.  When we spoke she had just spent a whirlwind week in New York City, seeing EIGHT Broadway shows in seven days.  Thank goodness for matinee’s. 

 

Michael Smith:  First off, please tell our readers what you do, how long you’ve been doing it and how I can apply for your job when you decide to retire?

Leslie Broecker: (laughs)  Absolutely you can!    I’ve been here 35-years.  I started in the marketing department but I’ve loved theater my whole life.   Really my passion has been in radio and television production, especially radio.  And so I worked with the local Broadway series in Louisville (Kentucky) on some of their radio buys.  That’s how the local company hired me as their marketing director.  The company became so successful that it grew into Cincinnati, and then Columbus and Indianapolis.  Ultimately our partner, which was Pace Theatrical Group, purchased our company and that is how Kansas City became part of my responsibilities as well.

 

MS:  How do you go about choosing what shows go to which city?  Is it just a national tour of certain shows or do you pick specific shows for specific cities?

 

LB:  The tours are tailor made for each city.  It’s a jigsaw puzzle of what shows are available, what dates are available in the theaters and then trying to marry those.  We are very reliant on our neighbors and friends that present in other cities in order to make routing reasonable and responsible.  We need to have decent jump cities that are not too far apart.  We’re all tied together.  Most of our shows close on Sunday night.  Then they have to break down, move and be ready to go by curtain time on Tuesday.  It’s all very calculated.  That’s the unsexy part of it.  The other way we choose shows is that we survey our subscribers and single-ticket buyers and group clients and see what’s on their list.  What do they want to see?  We not only survey about shows that are current and will go out on the road, but also about shows that are in development so we can have a voice in what is created for the future three or four or five years down the road.

 

MS:  I was in the film marketing and promotions business for 20-years and had to deal with not only first run theatres but second run and discount houses.  If a show is currently on Broadway, is there a time limit before it can tour?

 

LB:  That’s a great question.  There’s not.  But I think the comparable analysis might be that when a show goes on the road, they first thing they want to do is play in markets that can sustain it for a long period of time.  So many shows that come off Broadway will go and sit in Chicago or Boston or L.A. or even the Kennedy Center (Washington D.C.)  Then they begin to look at the next markets.  Where can they play a few weeks instead of several months?  That includes cities like Cincinnati, Ft. Lauderdale, Denver.  Markets that can support the shows for two weeks.  And where Kansas City fits in is where most cities are, a one-week grouping.   The way you stand in the pecking order is that shows want to play where they will be successful.  People love theater in Kansas City, and we can do many week’s of shows.  Kansa City usually lands on the first or second year of a tour going out, which is really great.  Other cities, like Indianapolis, are on the third or fourth year of a tour.  Kansas City is way up there for getting in line for the best shows as fast as they come out. 

 

MS:  When Ellen (McDonald, my local rep) and I spoke about this interview she said you were kind of a theatre nerd.  You are so much more so I have a couple questions.  What was the first show you saw?

 

LB:  “Hello, Dolly.”

 

MS:  With Carol Channing?

 

LB:  No, that was a local production.  My first Broadway show was “Barnum,” with a then unknown Glenn Close and Jim Dale.  How about you?

 

MS:  My first show, that I wasn’t a part of, was “A Chorus Line,” which I saw here in Kansas City with a then unknown Bebe Neuwirth as Cassie. 

 

LB:  You just gave me goosebumps.

 

MS:  My first Broadway show was “42nd Street,” with Jerry Orbach.

 

LB:  That was a pretty good starting point, definitely. 

 

MS:  What is your favorite show, if you can have one?

 

LB:  That’s like having to pick between your children.  I will say that the first show I worked on was “Hello, Dolly” and that made such an imprint.  I was able to present “Hello, Dolly” eight or ten times with Carol Channing and we became friends.  That’s my favorite show.  The book is incredible, the music…there’s not a bad number.  Well, maybe “Ribbons Down Your Back” is a little slow (now THAT’S a theatre nerd!) but the show is awesome.  And then to be friends with Carol….we spent many times together beyond “Dolly.”  I brought her in a couple of times to do some fund raisers and things in the second half of her life, which was amazing. 

 

MS:  I’m guessing the answer is “no,” but is there a show you’ve wanted to see but never have?

 

LB:  Hmmmmm….no I can’t think of one.    Oh wait!  There’s a show by Kander and Ebb called “70, Girls, 70.”  I’ve seen a lot of community productions but I’d love to cast it on Broadway.  (NOTE:  “70, Girls, 70” premiered on Broadway in 1971 and ran for 35 performances.  It was revived in London in 1991, where it played for several months.  However, there has never been a Broadway revival.  Until now?

 

MS:  In the last 10-years, there have been countless musicals based on popular films.  Why do you think that is?

 

LB:  I think it’s similar to films being based on books.  There’s a following.  Producing on Broadway is incredibly risky and I think the foundation of a successful film gives a safe jumping off point.  I wish there could be 20 new musicals and 20 new plays a year, but creativity comes in little spurts.  If you’re lucky you’re blessed with a Sondheim, who could spit out a lot of those.  But it’s tough to come up with that success.  I’m no wiz on why that is but my guess would be that it’s a little bit safer ground.  I mean a show like “Hadestown,” the Tony Award winning musical, is hugely popular on Broadway but not many people know about it outside New York.  It may take a couple of years on the road for people to really discover how great a show it is.

 

MS:  Finally, any hints at what may be coming our way next season?

 

LB:  We’re actually just starting on next season.  We will be hopeful and looking for shows like “Frozen” or “Moulin Rouge.”  This year’s Tony Awards will help decide what shows are recognized and could do a tour.  One show I’d really like to do there is “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

 

MS:  With Richard Thomas?

 

LB:  Yes.  You know, there’s a cool casting twist in the show.  I can’t remember her name, but the little girl who played Scout in the film….

 

MS:  Mary Badham

 

LS:  …there you go.  She’s in this production.  She’s the nasty, racist neighbor…

 

MS:  Miss Dubose?

 

LB:  …yes.  You’re good.

 

MS:  It’s my favorite novel ever.

 

LB:  I’m working hard to get that as well.  The pipeline is full.

 

MS:  Great to hear.  Maybe you’ll bring “ROCKY” to town.

 

LB:  Yeahhhhh, I don’t think that’s gonna happen.

 

MS:  I guess I’ll wait for the local dinner theater production.

 

LB:  (laughs)  Perhaps. 

Theater Review: “aint too proud” – Kansas City

 

  • ain’t too proud; THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS
  • Music Hall, Kansas City, Missouri
  • June 21, 2022

 

My new definition of irony:  while going to see “ain’t too proud” I was telling my wife about the members of the group.  I rattled off Melvin Franklin, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Dennis Edwards.  I told her there was one more but I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name.  Now I’ll never forget it.

 

The show opens outside the historic Fox Theatre in Detroit and we meet Otis Williams (played brilliantly by Marcus Paul James).  Otis talks about his young life and his dream to put together a singing group.  Through trials and tribulations he puts together a group of amazing singers.  A chance meeting with Berry Gordy (Michael Andreaus), the founder of Motown Records, and a group name change, and the dream comes through.  But unfortunately, not all dreams are good ones.

Bursting with over 30 classic songs, and featuring Tony-award winning choreography, “Ain’t Too Proud” is that rare look at success, that also includes the pitfalls that come with it.  Whether it’s something petty, like trying to solve an issue democratically, or serious, like deciding to kick a member out of the group, the road to success is seldom smooth.

 

As the story moves forward we not only meet the Temps, but also get acquainted with other musical legends like Smokey Robinson, the Supremes and Tammi Terrell.  The performances are amazing, with the vocals being backed by a first-rate orchestra.  It’s not the Funk Brothers, but they do their memory proud. Special shout out to the bass player who, on songs like “Ball of Confusion” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” laid down the groove.

 

The Temptations remain  among the greatest and most popular musical groups of all time.  The story of how they achieved that acclaim, and the obstacles they did their best to overcome, is one that needs to be experienced.

 

“ain’t too proud” continues at the Music Hall in Kansas City through June 26, then continues on through August 2023.  For information on when it’s coming your way, click HERE

Theater Review: “Hairspray”

Starlight Theatre
Kansas City, Missouri

With one of the most energetic productions you could ever hope to see, “Hairspray” is a beat you just can’t stop. Currently playing at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri, the national tour of the hit Broadway musical, which won eight Tony Awards in 2003, is a delightful show overflowing with wonderful dance choreography, terrific vocals, and a timeless story about the power of love.

In 1988, the first incarnation of “Hairspray” was released in movie theaters with Ricki Lake in the lead role as Tracy Turnblad. Crafted by director John Waters, the film’s screenplay was based upon a 1950s and 1960s era Baltimore dance party television program called the “Buddy Deane Show.” That real life program served as the inspiration for the fictional “The Corny Collins Show,” an equally popular show in our story set in June 1962.

An overweight high school girl named Tracy Turnblad (Niki Metcalf), who gets in trouble at school for having “inappropriate hair height,” dreams of being on the dance show. So, it’s no surprise that she begs her shy, overweight mother, Edna (Andrew Levitt) for permission to go to an audition being held for a newly opened dance spot. Edna refuses out of fear Tracy will be ridiculed because of her weight. However, Tracy gets permission from her happy-go-lucky father, Wilbur (Christopher Swan) who is always encouraging her to pursue her dreams.

Edna’s world changes forever after her arrival at the television studio where Corny Collins (Billy Dawson) hosts his show. She swoons over teen heartthrob Link Larkin (Will Savarese), gets in the crosshairs of the show’s racist producer Velma Von Tussle (Addison Garner) and her prima donna daughter, Amber (Kaelee Albritton), and sees firsthand the ugliness of racism, which ultimately pushes her to be an agent for change.

Metcalf is nothing less than a pure bundle of delightful energy while on the stage. Her vocals were spot-on all the while she was seemingly forever dancing across the entire Starlight venue. Still, the most memorable moments of the opening night performance came first during a duet between Levitt and Swan. Their characters are suddenly destitute, but they express with humor and love how they can never part from one another in the sweet song “You’re Timeless to Me.” It easily produced some of the night’s biggest laughs. The moment that completely stole the show, though, came when Sandie Lee as Motormouth Maybelle, a confident and strong-willed downtown record shop owner and host of “Negro Day” on “The Corny Collins Show,” belted out “I Know Where I’ve Been.” After lots of humor, it was a starkly serious moment in the production as Motormouth sings about the struggles against racism. It was powerful and soul stirring. If it had been at the end of the show, it would have brought about a standing ovation from the audience. Lee’s voice was superb and the emotions she put into the song struck a chord with everyone there.

Overall, “Hairspray” provides a rousing night of entertainment for all.

“Hairspray” will run through June 12th at Starlight Theatre.

Theater Review: “Jesus Christ Superstar” – Kansas City

 

  • JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
  • The Kauffman Center – Kansas City, Missouri
  • March 29, 2022

 

I have a very special place in my heart for the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.”  I’ve had it since I was 13 years old when, while visiting my grandfather – who I called Bapa, which is now how my grandchildren refer to me – in Florida, I asked to go see the movie, which was playing at a nearby theatre.  A quick phone call to my parents to make sure it was ok with them, and off I went.  For those of you who may not have seen the film, I won’t let on how it ends.  Let’s just say the ending haunted me on the way home and evolved into a long conversation with my Bapa.  Years later I had the opportunity to see the show a couple of times with both Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson, who played Jesus and Judas, respectively, in the film.  I was a guest backstage when I met both of them.  I told Ted Neeley about my conversation with Bapa and his thoughts and kindness will remain with me for the rest of my life.

 

Rolling into Kansas City this week is the 50th Anniversary Tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and it is a fine addition to the show’s great history.  A totally sung dramatization of the last week of Christ’s life, this production is very barebones, with an almost empty stage.  Also, while normally presented in two acts, there is no intermission here.  It’s a quick 80 minutes or so, but if you like to stretch your legs you’re out of luck.

 

The cast was excellent, both vocally and physically.  There is a lot of dance and movement here and nobody missed a beat.  Vocal standouts include Omar Lopez-Cepero (Judas), Jenna Rubaii (Mary) and Alvin Crawford (Caiaphas), whose amazing baritone shook the house.  The score is one of the best ever written and the orchestra, perched high above the stage, was outstanding.  Even the guys in the sound/light area could be seen grooving to the music.

 

The show continues in Kansas City at the beautiful Kauffman Center through Sunday, April 3rd.  If you’ve never seen the show, I urge you to take a chance.  If you have, see it again.  You won’t be disappointed.

Theater Review – Mean Girls: The Broadway Musical” – Kansas City

 

  • MEAN GIRLS
  • The Music Hall
  • Kansas City, Missouri

 

“Mean Girls” captures the pitfalls of trying to fit in
Since its release as a feature film in 2004, “Mean Girls” – starring Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, Amanda Seyfried and Lindsay Lohan – has achieved and maintained a cult following during the years since its moderately successful theatrical run. Nowhere was this more evident than on Tuesday night at the Music Hall in downtown Kansas City, Missouri where an abundance of teen to twentysomething women were dressed like characters from the Tina Fey-written comedy.
Based partly on the 2002 book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” by Rosalind Wiseman, “Mean Girls – The Broadway Musical,” also written by Fey with music by Jeff Richmond and lyrics by Nell Benjamin, begins with North Shore High School students Janis Sarkisian (Mary Kate Morrissey) and Damian Hubbard (Eric Huffman) breaking the fourth wall with powerful voices to invite us on a “cautionary tale.”
As in the original film version, young Cady Heron (Danielle Wade) moves from Kenya to Chicago with her parents when her mother gets a new job. Being the new girl in a large high school, Cady has a hard time fitting in, something anyone who was a teenager can identify with. She is helped, though, by Janis and Damian, a pair of loners who take her under their wing. The song “Where Do You Belong?” punctuates the process of finding out which clique she belongs to and is a poignant reminder about what those days were like.
As belted in “APEX Predator” by Morrissey, the one group they don’t want Cady to join is a trio of girls known as “the Plastics.” Consisting of the most feared girl in school Regina George (Nadina Hassan), her keeper of secrets Gretchen Weiners (Megan Masako Haley), and the stereotypical dumb blonde Karen Smith (Jonalyn Saxer). They are intrigued by Cady and she is invited to join them for lunch, something that never happens to anyone else in school.
Janis sees this set of circumstances as a means to get revenge on Regina for a past transgression. So, she convinces a reluctant Cady to spy on Regina for her. Mix in competing affections for a dreamy boy named Aaron Samuels (Adante Carter) and the stage is set for a chaotic series of events that cause nothing but heartache and ruined friendships. However, can simple, heartfelt apologies overcome the emotional damage and allow them to accept each other’s differences?
Overall, the production value was what you would expect from a Broadway touring show – nothing but solid. Good performances were sprinkled throughout the well-written show, highlighted by Morrissey who dominated the stage with her power vocals. Additionally, the entertaining Hubbard played off her with ease as the duo shared the best onstage chemistry of the entire cast. The other cast member who often stole the show was Saxer who absolutely nailed the role of Karen and generated some of the night’s biggest laughs.
Whether it’s in Kansas City or some other city on its current tour, “Mean Girls” makes for a fun night of entertainment.
“Mean Girls – The Broadway Musical” will run through March 20th at the Music Hall.

 

Brit Floyd Creates Magic For the Crowd in Hershey, PA

HERSHEY, March 14, 2022 — Brit Floyd vocalist Eva Avila earned a standing ovation for her thrilling performance of “The Great Gig in The Sky” from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album last night to a sell-out crowd in Hershey, PA.

The energy kept climbing from the start, leading to more standing ovations as Brit Floyd performed the Pink Floyd classics and dug deep in the Pink Floyd playlist to thrill the crowd with their flawless musical talent. Beginning with “Cluster One,” the band treated the audience to “High Hopes,” “Welcome to the Machine,” “Another Brick in the Wall” and more for the first set.

After a 20-minute intermission, the show regained its intensity with “Echoes” featuring organ riffs and Damian Darlington’s magical guitar. Ian Cattell showed his masterful guitar solos and Ryan Saranich’s dramatic saxophone added to the richness of Brit Floyd’s renditions of the Pink Floyd masterpieces.

Images of co-founder Syd Barret beamed on the screen as the band performed “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” Darlington ‘s steely acoustic rendition of “Wish You Were Here” delivered another ovation. The second set ended with a skillful guitar solo in “Comfortably Numb.”

The sound was flawless. Video projections on the immense circular screen and choreographed dancing lights added to the experience. Everyone had a good seat in this small, but impressive theatre built by Milton Hershey in the early twentieth century. From its inception, the theatre was designed to be a beautiful place for Central Pennsylvanians to gather and enjoy a wide assortment of entertainment and Britt Floyd added to Hershey’s vision.

The crowd roared for more and Brit Floyd answered with an encore of “One Slip” and “Run Like Hell.” Many in the crowd asked about Brit Floyd’s performance schedule, as they wanted more.

Walter Zapotoczny is an author, historian, and local Pink Floyd aficionado. He can be reached at [email protected]

Theater Review: Disney’s “Frozen” at The Dr. Phillips Center – Orlando, FL

FAIRWINDS Broadway in Orlando Presents: 

Disney Frozen The Hit Broadway Musical

February 24 – March 6, 2022

Walt Disney Theater

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Ice and cold? In Orlando? And people are enjoying it? That can mean only one thing! Disney’s Hit Broadway Musical Frozen is in town. With 14 performances, of which most of them are sold out, Frozen breaks a record with more performances than any other show in The Walt Disney Theater’s history. 

Based on the 2013 wildly popular animated movie of the same name, Frozen has found a way to capture all the splendor and magic that one expects from Disney for a live audience. Seeing a real-life Olaf and Sven would be a treat in itself, but watching a real-life Elsa summon snow and ice from the palm of her hand or having your heart break as Anna freezes before your eyes, brings a sense of wonderment and excitement that only Disney can bring. 

Caroline Bowman shines as Elsa, emoting beautifully the struggle between wanting to protect your family while also wanting to be yourself.   Alongside her, Caroline Innerbichler mastered the quirky, fun Anna in such a way that made you to be your best friend while also capturing the hearts of all the children (and adults in the theater). Even my 9-year-old bonus daughter left the theater saying she wanted to be just like Anna when she was older. 

You can’t talk about Anna and Elsa, however, without talking about the amazing child stars who captured the youthful excitement and sisterly love of young Anna and Elsa perfectly – Oliva Jones (Anna) and Arwen Monzon-Sanders (Elsa). Their bond on stage, partnered with their ability to bring you in to their world and the emotions they are experience, is far beyond their age. Although Disney did not expand upon their childhood story which was told in the animated film, they did find a way to bring the characters of their childhood to life in a way that kept the spirit of the story alive. 

While it is sad that after its 2018 opening Frozen did not reopen on Broadway after the pandemic, its first national tour is a swirling snowstorm around the nation and a show that is not to be missed. You’ll be singing along to the classic songs from the film like “Let it Go,” while also feeling inspired by new songs like “Monster” which give depth to the storyline. So what are you waiting for? Don’t miss out on, what does Oaken call it?, Hygge and slide over to the Dr. Phillips Center for your tickets now. 

Theater Review: WICKED – Kansas City

 

  • WICKED
  • The Music Hall
  • Kansas City, Missouri

 

Here’s some musical theater trivia that a lot of people are stunned by.  Did you know that “West Side Story” did NOT win the Tony Award for Best Musical?  That’s right.  One of the most beloved musicals of all time did not take home the big prize.  That honor went to “The Music Man,” also one of the most beloved musicals of all time – and currently running on Broadway starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster.

 

I mention this to not only promote the new film version of “West Side Story,” but to point out that another show whose title begins with the letter W, “Wicked,” also did not win the Best Musical Tony Award.  That year the Best Musical was “Avenue Q.”  The more you know.

 

“Wicked” comes to Kansas City in top form.  The previous engagement for this company was in Cleveland and, due to COVID, seven understudies were given their chance to shine.  At tonight’s performance, everyone was where they should be and the show was fantastic.

 

I’ve seen the show before, and what I like about this production is that not a lot has changed.  I’ve seen some shows where lines and songs have been altered over the years but here the show was presented just as it was when it debuted on Broadway 18 years ago.

 

The cast was in great form as the story of witches Glinda (Allison Bailey) and Elphaba (Talia Suskauer) unfolded.  With  well known songs such as “Popular” and “Defying Gravity,” the audience tapped their toes to every note.  Another standout was Cleavant Derricks as the Wizard.  Mr. Derricks created the role of James “Thunder” Early in the original production of “Dreamgirls” and deservedly won a Tony for his performance. 

 

If you haven’t seen “Wicked,” what are you waiting for?  If you have seen it, see it again.  It is definitely a show that shouldn’t be missed. 

GWAR To Release “The New Dark Ages” June 3rd on CD and Digital / September 16th on Vinyl and Cassette

Partners With Z2 Comics For Graphic Novel “GWAR In the Duoverse of Absurdity”

GWAR is set to release their ambitious new album “The New Dark Ages” June 3rd on CD and Digital, and on September 16th on Vinyl and Cassette via GWAR’s own label Pit Records. Pre-orders are available at: https://gwar.net/collections/the-new-dark-ages

The album concept is tied to a companion graphic novel, “GWAR In the Duoverse of Absurdity,” which will be released by Z2 Comics on June 3rd. In the graphic novel the band are sucked off into an alternate universe to do battle with their evil twins and the specter of rogue technology. On “The New Dark Ages” our heroes floorboard it through a kaleidoscope of hard driving heavy metal, and rock-n-fucking roll, building on their hilarious mythos, introducing cool new characters, and cataloging mankind’s hapless abandonment of their passions, rituals, and beliefs.

The Berserker Blóthar says: “This is the greatest rock record of all time. These are the songs for a new age, a New Dark Age, when men live by the dimming light of a technology destined to betray them. Listen, as we have a rock and roll orgy in the ruins of the world to celebrate humanity’s descent into an age of darkness, disease, ignorance, and death.”

“The New Dark Ages” is available for pre-order on cassette, CD, and multiple different colors of vinyl (whiskey, sunbolt and black/gold marble) and the graphic novel as both soft and hard cover. Bundles are available including ones with Blóthar bobbleheads, and a one of a kind Beefcake helmet. See them all at https://gwar.net/collections/the-new-dark-ages.

You’ve read the album, now hear the book!

“GWAR in the Duoverse of Absurdity” chronicles the epic battle between GWAR and their doppelgangers from an alternate universe the band discovers behind their treasured Magic Mirror. The book uses an innovative storytelling technique that combines words and pictures printed on paper (made from real trees!) in a seamless format we are calling a “graphic novel.” The tale is illustrated by the masterful talents of Andy MacDonald (Wolverine, Dr Strange, Wonder Woman), Shane White (Things Undone, Braun, Endless Summer), Matt Maguire (GWAR) and Bob Gorman (GWAR). Z2 Comics (Judas Priest, Dio, Anthrax) have teamed up with GWAR to produce what will surely be known as the ultimate illustrated saga of the beloved Scumdogs of the Duoverse.

“This was the most utterly engrossing book I’ve ever read! I couldn’t wait until I’d read what was on the page before I was compelled to turn it! This novel has the one element that is missing in so many so-called literary masterpieces: It’s about me!”
-Bälsäc The Jaws ‘o Death

“GWAR has made sure that this story is a full throttle hysterical ride into tipping every sacred cow possible and I consider it an honor to help bring this chapter of the band’s legacy to fetid, pulsing, life.”
-RANTZ HOSELEY, editor Z2

Produced by Ronan Murphy
Album Artwork by Alex Horley

Stay tuned for more news and music from the forthcoming album “The New Dark

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