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.

 

 

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.

 

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. 

Theatre Review “Tootsie: The Comedy Musical”@ Dr. Phillips Center – Orlando, FL

FAIRWINDS Broadway in Orlando Presents:
Tootsie
November 2–7, 2021
Walt Disney Theater

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

November 2nd was a big day in Orlando, FL at the Walt Disney Theater at Dr. Phillips Center. It was the return of Broadway to the stage. “Tootsie” is the first Broadway in Orlando production since the pandemic shut everything down. It was a glorious return to the stage at the Walt Disney Theater. The place was packed and the audiences were ready to enjoy some fun Broadway theater. Let’s just say that “Tootsie” did not disappoint its audience.

If you are saying to yourself, “Tootsie”, isn’t that the 1982 movie with Dustin Hoffman…and the answer is yes. They made a musical about it. The show premiered on Broadway in New York back in 2018 and I have to admit it really worked as a musical. The songs were funny and laugh out loud at parts.  In case you are not familiar with the movie the play features a 40-year-old failed actor Michael Dorsey (played by Drew Becker) who plays decides to cross-dress as “Dorothy Michaels” to land a role in a an upcoming musical sequel of “Romeo and Juliet”.

Drew Becker was phenomenal playing both roles with ease and nailing every second of it. In “Tootsie”, the director is played by Adam Du Plessis and he also steals the show with his fantastic dance skills. Props also go to Ashley Alexandra for winning our hearts as Dorsey’s love interest. Payton Reilly honestly, annoyed the hell out of me playing Dorsey’s ex-girlfriend but definitely saving the day was Jared David Michael Grant, playing Dorsey’s best friend. Him and Drew Becker has great chemistry and it really connected on the stage.

The play does have a solid score by 2018 Tony-winner David Yazbek (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). The song were really fun like I mentioned and definitely had the lady sitting behind me belly-laughing. The show is playing at the Walt Disney Theater from November 2-7, 2021 and if you can get tickets, I would highly recommend. In a time when everyone is worrying about the news, work and struggles of life…it is good to get out and laugh once in a while and “Tootsie” definitely helped in that department!

Theater Review: “Godspell” – Kansas City

  • GODSPELL
  • Starlight Theater
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • June 22, 2021

45 years ago tonight, the musical “Godspell” opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theater.  It had been performed in workshops and on the road since 1971 so this year actually marks the show’s 50th Anniversary.  What a great show to celebrate the return of live musical theater to Kansas City.

Most people know the show thanks to the song “Day by Day,” which was a hit on the radio in the summer of 1972, but may have never seen the show.  The story basically tells the story of Jesus, from beginning to end, in song and with a surprising amount of humor.  Obviously the show has been “punched up” since 1971, and jokes revolving around COVID, Netflix and the Kardashians hit their mark.  There’s even a brief mention of one of the “other” biblical musicals, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” which, along with “Jesus Christ Superstar,” completed the Biblical Musical Trifecta!,

With a musical score by Stephen Schwartz, who also created “Pippin” and “Wicked,” the show is an ensemble extravaganza, with each cast member creating their own identity.  What made the show special was that every actor on stage had Kansas City roots.  The entire cast was brilliant but I’d like to give special mention to Eric Geil (Jesus), Patrick Lewallen (Judas) and Shon Ruffin (Shon), whose amazing voice reminded me of the great Nell Carter. 

As usual, Starlight was most accommodating to the audience, with a beautiful night to go along with a beautiful presentation.  “Godspell” continues its run in Kansas City through Sunday, June 28.  You can buy tickets HERE.

Quite simply, “Godspell” is a blessed return to musical theater!

Theatre Review “Mean Girls” @ Dr. Phillips Center – Orlando, FL

“Mean Girls” is a musical based on the 2004 movie that was written by Tina Fey. The musical premiered in Washington, D.C. in October 2017 and opened on Broadway in April 2018. If you are thinking “Seriously they made a musical for Mean Girls?”, this show has no shortage of talent from the award-winning creative team, including Tina Fey (30 Rock), composer Jeff Richmond (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), lyricist Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde) and director Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon). This show is packed with energy and devilish humor that will leave you howling.

From upbeat anthems like “Apex Predator” and “I See Stars” to the songs that show the difficult side of being a female like “What’s Wrong With Me,” the music never stopped. The female leads in the show, especially Mary Kate Morrissey (Janis), Danielle Wade (Cady), and Mariah Rose Faith (Regina George), all had unique singing voices that were nothing short of impressive. In addition, the show decided to use digital screens for quick set changes which led to seamless transitions when changing from classroom to classroom and location to location in the middle of a song. The comedic timing in the show, especially by Karen – played by Jonalyn Saxer, kept you laughing throughout the entire show. There was even a scene with the Lion mascot that had the audience laughing so hard some were in tears. Overall, the show captured the life of a teenage girl in a way that had you sympathizing, laughing, and swaying along to the amazing music.

Official Premise: Cady Heron may have grown up on an African savanna, but nothing prepared her for the vicious ways of her strange new home: suburban Illinois. Soon, this naïve newbie falls prey to a trio of lionized frenemies led by the charming but ruthless Regina George. But when Cady devises a plan to end Regina’s reign, she learns the hard way that you can’t cross a Queen Bee without getting stung.

The show is playing at the Walt Disney theater from February 25–March 1, 2020. If you are able to get tickets, this is a show that is not to be missed. Overall this musical is just plain fun. You find yourself smiling and laughing till it hurts. Due to the success of the musical production it was recently announced that a film adaptation of the musical was being produced. So expect more of “Mean Girls” in the coming years!

Theatre Review “Disney’s Aladdin” @ Dr. Phillips Center – Orlando, FL

“Disney’s Aladdin” is one of my favorite movies and it is also one of the only Disney plays that I haven’t seen on Broadway. It opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on March 20, 2014 and since then has become the 11th highest-grossing Broadway production of all time (as of May 2019), grossing over $400 million…and still going strong. The show is currently running from January 22nd through February 9th at the Dr. Phillips Center and it is a MUST SEE for the whole family.

Official Premise: From the producer of The Lion King comes the timeless story of Aladdin, a thrilling new production filled with unforgettable beauty, magic, comedy and breathtaking spectacle. It’s an extraordinary theatrical event where one lamp and three wishes make the possibilities infinite. Aladdin features all your favorite songs from the film as well as new music written by Tony® and Academy Award® winner Alan Menken (Newsies) with lyrics penned by the legendary Howard Ashman (Beauty and the Beast), Tony Award winner Tim Rice (The Lion KingAida), and book writer Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer). Directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Casey Nicholaw (The Book of MormonSomething Rotten!), this “Fabulous” and “Extravagant” (The New York Times) new musical boasts an incomparable design team, with sets, costumes and lighting from Tony Award winners Bob Crowley (Mary Poppins), Gregg Barnes (Kinky Boots), and Natasha Katz (An American in Paris).

Orlando native, Michael James Scott, played the role of the Genie and easily stole the show. Michael isn’t new to playing this role after though after being apart of the original Australian Cast (2016-2017), as well as taking on the U.S. National Tour (Jan-Aug 2018), took over the West End (Aug 2018-Feb 2019), and Broadway (Feb-Sept 2019). So as far as I am concerned Michael James Scott is the Genie. I literally loved every second he was on the stage. Such energy and such love for his craft.

Speaking of returning cast Jonathan Weir, who played Jafar in the original US tour cast as well taking over the reigns on Broadway. There was no shortage of talent on this stage. Jonathan was a riot with his companion Iago, played by Reggie De Leon. Together they both commanded the stage. Jonah Ho’Okano, who plays Aladdin, is also fresh off the boat from playing the lead in the Disney Cruise Line version of “Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular”. So he is also no stranger to the character.

The costumes are outstanding. There are so many quick changes that will leave you amazed as to how it is done. The colors are just so vibrant from the costumes to the set, which are also super elaborate – especially the Cave of Wonders. I absolutely loved the Cave of Wonders set. It was stunning and so well put together. Also “Whole New World” song was super impressive with the flying carpet, which I have no idea how it was done. This was a really beautiful moment of the evening.

Since this show running for a few weeks at Dr. Phillips Center, there are still plenty of time to get great seats for upcoming shows and Media Mikes had the tips for you to experience this amazing show. There are still great seats available for the following shows on Wednesday January 29th-Friday January 31st and from February 4th through Saturday February 8th. If you can make any of those shows, I cannot recommend any more to not miss this show. I had a smile on my face from the moment it started until the moment it ended. Definitely some magic happened at Walt Disney Theater.

Kansas City Stage Review: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – the Musical

  • “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
  • The Kauffman Center – Kansas City, Missouri
  • January 21, 2020 

Oh, how sweet it is! Filled with colorful costumes, magical set designs, and wonderful songs that will put a smile on your face, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” now performing at the Kauffman Performing Arts Center in Kansas City, Missouri, is a terrific musical the whole family can enjoy. Based upon the 1964 children’s novel of the same name by British novelist Roald Dahl (1916-90), “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was first adapted for the silver screen in 1971 and then again in 2005 before premiering as a musical in 2013 in London.

 The musical version takes us to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory where, after being shut up for 40 years, the legendary chocolatier (Cody Garcia) decides to venture out into the real world to find an heir. Disguised as a chocolate shop owner, Willy ends up befriending, in a small way, a local boy named Charlie Bucket (Ryan Umbarila). Charlie lives an impoverished life just down the block with two sets of grandparents, who never leave their bed, and his widowed, overworked mother. 

Charlie is a dreamer to the tenth degree and so, it’s only natural that he becomes enamored with the idea of getting a Wonka chocolate bar in order to get a golden ticket. The five lucky recipients of which will get to go on a tour of Willy’s factory with the chance to win a lifetime supply of chocolate. Of course, the whimsical and quirky Willy has other plans. Charlie ultimately proves himself to be a good-hearted lad, especially when compared to the other four children who reveal themselves to be brats, each meeting their own unique, laughable fate during the tour. 

The first half of the show contained a couple of heartfelt moments between Charlie and his Grandpa Joe (Steve McCoy) that pulled at the heartstrings. Umbarila had an overall nice stage presence but was overshadowed a bit by McCoy’s charismatic delivery of his comedic lines. Despite Charlie’s underdog nature, the most fascinating character remained Wonka himself. However, his portrayal during the first act was a little flat, which was accompanied by a sluggish pace even with a few entertaining dance sequences. 

The true highlight of the night’s show was the second act. It was fun, lively, colorful and thoroughly entertaining. Garcia delivered a superb performance down the stretch run with a portrayal that was reminiscent of a blend between Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp. Supported by a solid orchestral performance, the musical’s second act was punctuated by well-choreographed Oompa Loompas who generated the biggest laughs of the night. 

In the end, don’t wait for a golden ticket in a candy bar to see “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” because it will be gone before you know it. 

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” runs in Kansas City at the beautiful Kauffman Center through January 26th. For tickets in KC or for the rest of the tour, click HERE.

Theatre Review “Escape to Margaritaville – The Jimmy Buffett Musical” @ Walt Disney Theatre – Orlando, FL

Escape to Margaritaville is a musical that was first performed in 2017 in New Orleans and premiered on Broadway in 2018. The show features music and lyrics by legendary singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett and is based on a book of the same name by Emmy Award® winner Greg Garcia (My Name is Earl, Raising Hope) and Emmy Award® nominee Mike O’Malley (Survivors Remorse, Shameless). The show features both original songs and Jimmy Buffett classics, including “Fins,” “Volcano,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, “A Pirate Looks at Forty” and many more.

The show focuses on Tully Mars, who works as a singer at run down hotel on a small island in the Caribbean called Margaritaville. He is always meeting new girls but never has any intention of keeping relationships after the tourists leave…that is until he meets Rachel. She comes onto the island with her friend for a Bachelorette party and a mind focused on her career. With the help of Tully, Rachel lands on island time and the two fall in love…but what happens after her trip comes to an end. Can the couple stay together or is it just another week long fling?

FAIRWINDS Broadway in Orlando Presents Escape to Margaritaville – The Jimmy Buffett Musical is playing at the Walt Disney Theatre at the Dr. Phillips Center from November 12-17, 2019. This is a show that I have been waiting to see since it first premiered in New Orleans in 2017…and I was not disappointed. I consider myself a Parrothead and I have seen Jimmy Buffett live as often as I can. There were a few of us “crazies” in the audience tonight, I caught eye of a lady dressed in a cheeseburger costume. This is not your typical play audience. The songs screams to be sang along to and the the music makes you move around in your seats. It should not be taken seriously. It is cheesy, dumb and self aware of how silly it is in certain parts. I had a lot of fun with this show and it is definitely a fun time to be had.

I want to point out that the sound at the Dr. Phillips Center was on point and the music was perfectly balanced. I remember seeing shows on the Bob Carr Theater and if you were too far back it was very hard to hear. The sets were simple but definitely delivered the vibe of Jimmy Buffett and his lifestyle. The bar set was my favorite. I loved the new originals songs as well. They blended well with the classics. If you are a Jimmy Buffett fan, this is a must see for any Parrothead. But don’t worry even if you are never heard half these songs before, like my fiance, you could still enjoy the show. My fiance is new to the music of Jimmy Buffett music and she still enjoyed the show just as much as I did. So if you can don’t miss this show. Grab a margarita and kick back and relax!

Act I
“License to Chill”
“Fins”
“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”
“Ragtop Day”
“It’s My Job”
“Why Don’t We Get Drunk”
“Three Chords”
“We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About/The Natives Are Restless”
“Son of a Son of a Sailor”
“My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink and I Don’t Love Jesus”
“Medley: Coconut Telegraph/Last Mango in Paris/Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes”
“Margaritaville”

Act II
“Volcano”
“Grapefruit—Juicy Fruit”
“He Went to Paris”
“Cheeseburger in Paradise”
“Tin Cup Chalice”
“Love and Luck”
“Come Monday”
“A Pirate Looks at Forty”
“One Particular Harbor”

Theater Review: “The Simon & Garfunkle Story”

  • THE SIMON & GARFUNKLE STORY
  • The Kauffman Center – Kansas City, Missouri
  • October 22, 2019

For the curious, the best selling album of 1967 was “More of the Monkees.” I’ve got it. In 1969 it was Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Got that one too. AND I’ve got the best selling album of 1970, as well as 1971 and 1972. That album is Simon & Garfunkle’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and it is one of the almost 30 songs showcased in the new show “The Simon & Garfunkle Story.”

As the show opens we meet Paul Simon (George Clements) and Art Garfunkle (Andrew Wade), two school chums who enjoy singing together. They open the show with “The Sound of Silence,” the first of their many successful hit singles. Paul and Artie take turns telling their story, going back to when they recorded the song “Hey, Schoolgirl” under the name Tom and Jerry (a bit of trivia I already knew). As the stories are told, they are highlighted with a video display of the various time and era being recalled.

Both actors were outstanding. Mr. Clements was not only in great voice, pretty much nailing Simon’s sound, he also showed himself to be an excellent guitar player. Mr. Wade appears to be channeling Art Garfunkle, seemingly being able to mimic his stances and cadence with ease. He also has the unenviable task of trying to pay tribute to one of the greatest voices in music history, a task he undertakes, and completes, perfectly.

Andrew Wade (l) and George Clements bring the music of Simon & Garfunkle to life. (photo credit: Lance Peters)

The first act concentrates on their earlier music (“I Am a Rock,” “Homeward Bound”) while the second act take the audience through their greatest period, from “The Graduate” to the end. While it was great hearing all of the songs featured (both hits and album cuts), the highlight for me was when Mr. Wade brought the house down with an amazing rendition of one of the greatest songs ever written, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The two stars are backed up by an amazing group of musicians who each contribute a highlight or two to the show.

Artie and Paul the way I remember them. (photo credit: Lance Peters)

I’ve been lucky enough to have caught Paul Simon in concert a few times. Sadly, I never got to see him live with Art Garfunkle. Until tonight.

“The Simon & Garfunkle Story” is currently on tour. For information on where you can catch it, click HERE.

SET LIST: The Sound of Silence, He Was My Brother, Hey, Schoolgirl, Bleecker Street, Kathy’s Song, I Am a Rock, Richard Cory,, Somewhere They Can’t Find Me, The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine, Patterns, For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, Homeward Bound, Scarborough Fair, The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin Groovy), Mrs. Robinson, A Hazy Shade of Winter, Voices of Old People, Old Friends, Punky’s Dilemma, America, Fakin’ It, Cecilia, Keep the Customer Satisfied, The Only Living Boy in New York, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover/You Can Call Me Al/Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, Late in the Evening, Baby Driver, Bye, Bye Love. ENCORE: Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Boxer.

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