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: “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. 

PROGRESSIVE MUSIC TITANS DREAM THEATER RELEASE MUSIC VIDEO FOR DEBUT SINGLE “INVISIBLE MONSTER” FROM THE UPCOMING ALBUM A VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE WORLD

Watch the Video For “Invisible Monster” HERE: 

THEIR 15th STUDIO ALBUM SCHEDULED FOR WORLDWIDE RELEASE ON OCTOBER 22nd NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER HERE:

Part 1 of the In-Depth Behind The Scenes Interview About The New Album Can Be Seen Here:

As anticipation grows for the release of their 15th studio album, GRAMMY-nominated and millions-selling progressive music titans Dream Theater are releasing the music video for the first official single “Invisible Monster.” The song comes from their upcoming InsideOutMusic / Sony Music album A View From The Top Of The World scheduled for release worldwide on October 22nd. The new track clocks in at 6:27 and showcases the musicianship and creativity that has garnered the band fans around the globe. The video for the song was directed by William “Wombat” Felch (Mudvayne, HellYeah, Crobot, Static-X, Nefariant) and follows the story of an artist’s internal struggles as the band is showcased performing the track. The piece of art created by Felch in the video now lives inside DTHQ. The video for the song can be seen here: https://youtu.be/s0Wmg7Tq4Pk.

“It was written after we’d written a bunch of material. A lot of the music was super energetic and upbeat tempo-wise. Mike suggested we do something a little different though. So, we started working on a more mid-temp song. The hook, riff, and melody changed so naturally. I equate it to ‘Pull Me Under’ back in the day where we’d just start playing, something would come out, and we’d be like, ‘Whoa, that’s cool’. There’s a serendipitous moment where it happens. Lyrically, it’s about how anxiety plagues people. It’s like there’s an invisible monster beating you. You don’t see it, but it’s haunting you all of the time,” explains John Petrucci.

Dream Theater recently released an in-depth behind the scenes interview about the making of A View From The Top Of The World. The interview is a 3-part docuseries hosted by ProgReport Editor In Chief Roie Avin as he interviews the band about creating the new album. The interview takes place at the band’s new headquarters DTHQ – the space where the band recorded their latest album. Part 2 of the interview will be released on September 29th and the final part will be out on October 10th. The first part of the interview is now live and can be seen here:  Also, an animated video for album opener “The Alien” (viewed over 1.4 million times) that clocks in at 9:32 was released last month and can be seen here: 

A View From The Top Of The World is now available for pre-order in various configurations including a limited Deluxe Box incl. Gatefold 2LP (180g bright gold vinyl) with exclusive alternate cover, limited deluxe 2CD+Blu-ray Artbook with exclusive alternate cover, Zoetrope Slipmat, Beanie, Enamel Keychain, 8 x Artcards, Poster, Hand-Numbered Certificate of Authenticity in a Lift-off Lid Box. The album is also available in a limited Deluxe 2CD+Blu-ray Artbook, Special Edition CD Digipak, Gatefold 180g 2LP+CD+LP-booklet. The Blu-ray contains a 5.1 surround sound mix with full album animations, plus ‘Digging For A Spark – A View From Inside DTHQ’, a specially filmed documentary that gives a glimpse behind the scenes of the band’s new home-base and the making of the new album. The album is also available for pre-order digitally and fans that pre-order the digital version will receive an instant download of “The Alien.” A View From The Top Of The World was produced by John Petrucci, engineered and additional production by James “Jimmy T” Meslin and mixed/mastered by Andy Sneap and available for pre-order here:

Dream Theater – comprised of James LaBrie, John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, John Myung and Mike Mangini – was in the middle of a sold-out world tour in support of their last release Distance Over Time and the 20th anniversary of Scenes From A Memory when a Global Pandemic brought the world to a stop. The musicians found themselves at home with LaBrie in Canada and the rest of the group in the States. As fate would have it, they’d just finished construction on DTHQ (Dream Theater Headquarters) —a combination live recording studio, rehearsal space, control room, equipment storage, and creative hive. With LaBrie in Canada, he initially wrote with the band via ZOOM on a monitor in DTHQ. In March 2021, he flew down to New York, quarantined, and recorded his vocals face-to-face with Petrucci. The album ultimately threaded together lean and uncompromising hooks with tried-and-true technical proficiency.

The track listing for A View From The Top Of The World is:

1) The Alien (9:32)
2) Answering The Call (7:35)
3) Invisible Monster (6:31)
4) Sleeping Giant (10:05)
5) Transcending Time (6:25)
6) Awaken The Master (9:47)
7) A View From The Top Of The World (20:24)

L to R: John Petrucci, Mike Mangini, James LaBrie, John Myung, Jordan Rudess Photo Credit: Rayon Richards

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!

DREAM THEATER to Unleash New Live Release “Distant Memories” – Live In London on November 27

Concert Event Recorded in February 2020 Now Availablefor Pre-Order in Audio and Video Formats Here:https://dream-theater.lnk.to/DistantMemoriesLive 

Video for Live Version of “Pale Blue Dot” from theCritically Acclaimed Distance Over Time Can Be Seen Here:https://youtu.be/jsRT8ee97eo

Two-time GRAMMY-nominated and millions-selling progressive music titans Dream Theater are back with the latest live installment to their impressive thirty-one-year catalog of releases. Scheduled for release on November 27th, the band is set to unleash their ninth career live album Distant Memories – Live In London. Recorded at their sold-out show at the Apollo Theatre in London, the live release documents the band’s popular world tour in support of their latest critically acclaimed studio album Distance Over Time and the 20-year anniversary of their seminal concept album Metropolis Part 2 – Scenes From A Memory. Fans can check out the live version of “Pale Blue Dot” from Distant Memories – Live In London here: https://youtu.be/jsRT8ee97eo.  

“Whether you had a chance to see this tour in person and want to relive what was hopefully an awesome concert experience or enjoying the performance on video for the first time, Distant Memories – Live In London very accurately and very beautifully captures the energy and excitement we all felt together at the Apollo this past February,” explains guitarist John Petrucci. 

Distant Memories – Live In London is the band’s first since 2014’s Breaking the Fourth Wall. The new live release will be available in various configurations including digital only, a 3-CD and 2 DVD multibox, a 3-CD and 2 Blu-Ray digipak with slipcase, a limited deluxe 3-CD + 2 Blu-Ray + 2 DVD Artbook and a limited 4-LP and 3-CD box set. The video components will also feature a Behind The Scenes look at the band as they get ready for the shows. All formats of Distant Memories – Live In London are now available for pre-order here: https://dream-theater.lnk.to/DistantMemoriesLive.

The tracklisting for Distant Memories – Live In London is:

1.   Untethered Angel

2.   A Nightmare to Remember

3.   Fall Into the Light

4.   Barstool Warrior 

5.   In the Presence of Enemies – Part 1

6.   Pale Blue Dot

7.   Scenes Live Intro

8.   Scene One: Regression

9.   Scene Two: I. Overture 1928 

10. Scene Two: II. Strange Déjà Vu 

11. Scene Three: I. Through My Words

12. Scene Three: II. Fatal Tragedy

13. Scene Four: Beyond This Life

14. Scene Five: Through Her Eyes

15. Scene Six: Home 

16. Scene Seven: I. The Dance of Eternity

17. Scene Seven: II. One Last Time

18. Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On 

19. Scene Nine: Finally Free

20. At Wit’s End 

21. Paralyzed (Bonus Track)

Photo Credit: Nidhal Marzouk L to R: John Myung, Jordan Rudess, Mike Mangini, James LaBrie, John Petrucci

The world has now had a chance to experience the latest release, Distance Over Time. After landing at the #1 spot on the iTunes Top Album Chart the day it was released, the album has gone on to be an instant classic among fans and critics alike. The album landed at #5 on the Top Current Album Chart and debuted at #24 on the Billboard 200. It also found a home at #2 on the Hard Music Chart and #3 on the Rock Chart. The band also garnered over 10 million total streams for Distance Over Time through release week, a career high for the band in the streaming age. 

Progressive metal pioneers Dream Theater— James LaBrie (Vocals), John Petrucci (Guitars), Jordan Rudess (Keyboards), John Myung (Bass), and Mike Mangini (Drums) — share a unique bond with one of the most passionate fan bases around the globe as evidenced by their two GRAMMY® Award nominations and 15 million records sold worldwide. The 1992 opus Images & Words received a gold certification and landed on Rolling Stone’s coveted “100 Greatest Metal Albums of All-Time.”Guitar World placed the follow-up Awake at #1 on “Superunknown: 50 Iconic Albums That Defined 1994.” 1996’s A Change of Seasons notably soundtracked NBC’s coverage of Downhill Skiing at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Fans voted the 1999 Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory the “Number One All-Time Progressive Rock Album” in a 2012 Rolling Stone poll. Not to mention, it ranked as the “15th Greatest Concept Album” by Classic Rock.  2009 saw Black Clouds & Silver Linings crash the Billboard Top 200 at #6 as A Dramatic Turn of Events [2011] and Dream Theater [2013] maintained a three-peat in the chart’s Top 10. Consequence of Sound dubbed 2016’s The Astonishing“An absolutely unique experience.  Beyond three platinum and two gold videos, the group was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2010. On its 14th full-length and first release for InsideOutMusic / Sony Music, Distance Over Time, the band recharge the brotherhood that has kept them creating music together for over 30 years. It’s Dream Theater at their most dynamic, direct, and definitive.

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.

Theater Review: “Dear Evan Hansen”

  • “Dear Evan Hansen”
  • The Music Hall – Kansas City, Missouri
  • October 15, 2019

I’m going to borrow Anna Kendrick’s introduction of “Dear Evan Hansen” at the 2017 Tony Awards to describe the show best: “A letter never meant to be read that tells a lie never meant to be told.” Exactly.

Evan Hansen (an AMAZING Stephen Christopher Anthony) is a young man about to start his senior year in high school. We meet him sitting in his room, his arm in a cast from a tree-climbing accident, working on a letter…to himself. Evan has had some issues in his life and part of his therapy is to write himself a positive letter each day. But he’s not feeling positive. Evan is shy and quiet and friendless. He lives with his hard working mother – when she’s not working she attends classes to be a paralegal – and feels all alone in the world. He writes his letter, but it’s not positive. And when it’s finally read, it changes Evan’s life in ways he never intended.

Winner of 6 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, “Dear Evan Hansen” is a show that will make you examine your life and the choices you made in it. Taking place on an almost bare stage with an abundance of video screens, “Dear Evan Hansen” shows the impact a simple misunderstanding can make in a world dominated by social media.

The cast is superb. Mr. Anthony repeatedly brought the audience to tears with his portrayal of a boy who wants desperately to be loved and accepted. The supporting cast is equally strong. As Evan’s mother, Jessica E. Sherman portrays a woman who only wants the best for her son but can’t find the way to tell him. Her love is obvious to everyone but Evan and you can feel the pain she feels by not being able to communicate with Evan. Take away the music and this show would have won a Tony for Best Play.

But the music is there and it is amazing. With so many Broadway shows using either popular tunes or adapting from films, it’s a treat to see an original show with an original idea. If you want to see Broadway at it’s best, you can’t go wrong with dropping “Dear Evan Hansen” a line!

“Dear Evan Hansen” runs in Kansas City through October 20th. For information on the show and other upcoming tour dates, click HERE.

Kansas City Theater Review: “Hello, Dolly!”

  • HELLO, DOLLY
  • Starlight Theatre – Kansas City, Missouri
  • September 26, 2019

This has been one of the best seasons I’ve ever attended at Starlight and their final production of the season was no exception.  It gave audiences a chance to revisit one of the most popular shows off all time, “Hello, Dolly.”

The show revolves around the life of Dolly Levi, played brilliantly by multiple Tony-award nominee Carolee Carmello, a widowed master-of-all-trades whose main endeavor is match making.  She is currently meddling in the relationship between Ambrose kemper (Colin LeMoine) and his beloved Ermergarde (Laura Sky Herman).  The young ladies uncle, the very rich Horace Vandelgerder (and equally excellent John Bolton) does not feel Ambrose is a suitable suitor.  But when Dolly sets her mind to things…

A fun show with some spectacular dancing, “Hello, Dolly” is just coming off a recent Broadway engagement, with the dynamic Bette Midler, that won 4 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical.  The original production, which debuted 55 years ago, took home 10 Tony Awards.

The fun in the show is infectious, thanks to the amazing cast.  When I  mentioned that I was seeing this production, I was asked if Betty Buckley was playing Dolly.  She wasn’t.  And, as much as I love Betty Buckley (I saw her on Broadway in “Sunset Boulevard”) I’m so glad I was able to see Ms. Carmello in the role.  Armed with a beautiful voice and great comic timing, she had the audience in the palm of her hand from her first appearance on stage.  Mr. Bolton, who I saw on Broadway two decades ago in the musical “Titanic” has just the right amount of bluster to make Vandergelder lovable.  The chemistry between the two is very visible.  Supporting cast members, including Kansas City native Daniel Beeman (Cornelius) and Analisa Leaming (Mrs. Malloy), also give strong performances.  And the “background” performers – townspeople, etc – are among the best dance ensembles I’ve ever seen.

“Hello, Dolly” runs at Starlight through September 29.  If you don’t get to see it there, I urge you to see it when it hits your town.  For tour information, please click HERE

Kansas City Theater Review: “CATS”

  • CATS
  • Starlight Theater, Kansas City, Missouri
  • July 9, 2017

Back in the early 80s, when I was still trying to make a living as an actor, I spent many a day going on auditions. Any time I saw a casting call for a musical production, it always included four words: “Bring music. NO “MEMORY.” Which was kind of upsetting because, even today, I can sing the hell out of that song!

Opening on Broadway in 1981, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “CATS” won 7 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. And rightly so. Based on T. S. Elliot’s book “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” the show tells the story of a group of felines who meet once a year at the Jellicle Ball. One by one they tell their story, each one more fantastic then the previous.

The production at Starlight was fantastic. As the curtain rose, a bright moon hung over original production designer John Napier’s iconic junkyard set. Character after character took to the stage (and wandered among the audience), some of whom you know by name. My favorite “cat” has always been Rum Tum Tugger and, as portrayed by Mcgee Maddox, he was truly the cat of the walk. Other stand outs in the cast included Timothy Gulan, who plays three characters, including Gus the theater cat, TionGaston as Mistoffolee and Caitlin Bond as Victoria. Ms. Bond has the most stage time in the show and proves herself to be an amazing dancer. And of course, you can’t ignore Keri Rene Fuller, who has the role of Grizabella. It is she who sings “Memory” and her rendition, especially in Act II, brought tears to my eyes, rivaling previous renditions by two theater legends, Elaine Paige and Betty Buckley.

Two notes here for those seeing the show at Starlight. First, pay attention to the license plate nestled in the junkyard. The letters N A P are for set designer John Napier. The number 11A marks which show it’s from. 11A is modeled after set 11 with one big difference. It’s inflatable, making it easier for touring versions of the show to set it up. Second, this is one time where the video monitors on the top sides of the stage are useful, the close-ups provided allowing the audience to see the small and subtle facial expressions of the characters.

“CATS” was advertised as “now and forever” and, after running for 18 consecutive years (it is currently the 4th longest running show in Broadway history) that wasn’t far off. “CATS” runs at Starlight through July 14th. For tickets to this or later performances, please click HERE.

Kansas City Theater Review: “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical”

  • BEAUTIFUL – THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL
  • Starlight Theater, Kansas City, Missouri
  • June 24, 2019

REVIEW BY J.R. DEETER

An amazing thing happened as I watched “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” this past Tuesday evening at Starlight.  I realized that the songs being played had been some of my favorites, starting from childhood.

  Opening at Carnegie Hall, circa 1971, King (played beautifully by Sarah Bockel) sings “So Far Away,” which takes us back to the beginning of the story of the rise of one of pop music’s icons.  It’s 1958 and 16-year old Carole has found her way to the offices of one “Donnie” Kirshner hoping to sell him a song she has written.  Kirshner likes what he hears and signs her up.  He teams her with an aspiring lyricist named Gerry Goffin and soon the hits begin to flow.  Songs like “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Up on the Roof” and “The Locomotion” are soon climbing the charts.  The partnership soon becomes much more and King and Goffin marry. 

But they weren’t the only ones toiling in the Brill Building.  We also meet Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who created such hits as “Walking in the Rain,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.”   Eventually, Carole and Gerry’s love fades and, when she discovers Goffin is cheating on her, King and her children leave New York for California.  She begins writing new songs, using the highs and lows of her own life as inspiration.  History is made when King, now singing her own songs, releases the album “Tapestry,” still one of the biggest selling albums of all time.  

The performances across the board were excellent, with stand-out work delivered by Dylan S. Wallach (Goffin), Alison Whitehurst as Ms. Weil and Jacob Heimer as Barry Mann.  The musical ensemble was also quite entertaining, portraying such 60’s performers and groups like The Drifters, The Shirelles, Little Eva and The Righteous Brothers.   “Beaufiul” runs at Starlight through Sunday, June 30th.  For information and tickets for these shows, or future performances, please click HERE.

Kansas City Theater Review: “HAMILTON”

“Hamilton”
Music Hall, Kansas City, Missouri
June 19, 2019

Sometimes when you get too excited about seeing a show, you leave the theater wondering what all of the hub-bub was about. I was very fortunate to see “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway right after it opened and I was blown away! On the other hand, my only memory of seeing “Starlight Express” was that I noticed (and intercepted) Andrew Lloyd Webber heading towards the men’s room and got him to autograph my Playbill. It’s been almost 4 years since HAMILTON opened on Broadway and you’ll have to have been on Mars to have not heard about it. So while I was looking forward to seeing it, I went in wondering whether or not my fondest memory would be spotting Lin-Manuel Miranda in the lobby. Happy to announce that I was NOT disappointed.

© Joan Marcus – 2018

If you’re familiar with the name Alexander Hamilton, it’s probably because he’s the face on the $10 bill. In reality, he was much more. As an orphan he traveled to the colonies and earned an education. In his adventures he meets Aaron Burr and their lives continue to intertwine literally to the end. In between he falls in love, fights for Independence and devises a treasury system that is still in use. And the stories and songs behind these achievements make learning as much fun as an old episode of “Schoolhouse Rock.”

Joseph Morales is Alexander Hamilton. © Joan Marcus – 2018

A few years ago, Jimmy Kimmel informed show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda that he was a national treasure. He may have been selling him short. HAMILTON is an amazing combination of sight and sound telling familiar stories in a new way. The cast on this tour is amazing. As Hamilton, Joseph Morales runs the emotional gambit of joy and sorrow. His Hamilton is at first naive, eager to learn but by the end jaded from all he has seen. Marcus Choi is first rate as George Washington, portrayed here not as an independent leader but one who needed help in becoming the Father of our Country. Kyle Scatliffe does double duty as both French General Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. Act 2 begins with what is essentially a rap battle between Jefferson and Hamilton and Mr. Scatliffe caps his words with, quite possibly, the first mic drop in history. But to me the standout performance belongs to Nik Walker, who portrays Aaron Burr. Always seeming to be on the wrong side of major events, Burr holds the distinction of being the only Vice-President to kill a man while in office, sadly an honor that kept him off the ticket when Jefferson ran for reelection. In fact, this show could have easily been called “Burr.” Mr. Walker gives the show an extra burst of energy whenever he is on stage and his performance of the song “The Room Where It Happened” vaulted that song to my list of all-time favorite show tunes.

Nik Walker is Aaron Burr. © Joan Marcus -2018

HAMILTON plays in Kansas City through July 7. For ticket information on this stop of the tour and later cities, click HERE.

Kansas City Theater Review: “Rock of Ages”

ROCK OF AGES
Starlight Theater - Kansas City, Missouri
May 31, 2019

My first Broadway show was “42nd Street” in 1981. Yes, I’m old. But I’m also able to tell people that I saw Jerry Orbach on Broadway. And Julie Andrews. And Chita Rivera. But enough about me. I’ve seen plenty of shows in the past three-plus decades but I have never seen anything as fun and exciting as “Rock of Ages.”

Our story begins in the small town of Paola, Kansas. Yes, it’s a real town and, yes, it’s really small. My son’s baseball team used to play there every year and I remember the big hoopla when Walmart showed up! We meet Sherrie (Katie LaMark). She’s a small town girl…living in a lonely world. And her dream is to make it to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. Despite her parent’s disapproval she heads west and ends up on the Sunset Strip. She is soon mugged and is rescued by Drew (Anthony Nuccio). Drew works at the Bourbon Club, famous for helping launch the careers of many a band. Drew gets Sherrie a job and soon….well, you’ll have to see the show.

Drew (Anthony Nuccio) and Sherrie (Katie LaMark) share a dream of stardom.

I’ve been seeing shows at Starlight for years, and this was, by far, the BEST one I’ve ever seen there. I had only seen the film so I wasn’t prepared for my evening at the Bourbon Club. The music is all classic 80s rock and metal hits. Pretty much every band you can remember is represented. Except, ironically, Def Leppard, whose hit song gives the show it’s name. We are told by the Narrator (an amazing John-Michael Breen) that there is no Leppard in the show because the band wouldn’t license their music. Ironic, isn’t it?

The performances were also outstanding. As Sherrie and Drew, LaMark and Nuccio have a strong chemistry and an underlying sweetness that has you rooting for them. Both also have great voices. During “Oh, Sherrie” Mr. Nuccio held one note for an amazing 33 seconds, which brought the already enthusiastic audience to near euphoria. I would love to see him tackle the lead in “Jekyll and Hyde.” And extra credit to Ms. LaMark for dealing with a major technical glitch (her face mic was not working at the beginning of Act II and, with her character having to remain on stage for some time, delivered a strong performance using a hand-held microphone. Also credit to the tech crew because, in the few seconds she was able to go off-stage, the problem was corrected. Fine performances were also delivered by the supporting cast, with many in the audience falling under the spell of Sam Harvey, who plays quintessential (and problem child) front man Stacee Jaxx – which is possibly the coolest rock star name ever. And I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the kick-ass band that provides the music.

John-Michael Breen

I’m saving this paragraph for the highlight of the show – John-Michael Breen. He not only narrates the show but appears as the Bourbon Club’s sound guy, Lonny. Lonny loves three things. Rock and Roll and his Fogmaster 5000 fog machine are two of them. Mr. Breen gives the show the majority of it’s laughs and both the cast and the audience feed off of his enthusiasm. I will definitely keep an eye on his career and hope to catch him on stage in the future.

As I said in the beginning, I’ve seen some great Broadway shows, from “Phantom” to “Les Miz” – from “Cats” to “Spamalot – and “Rock of Ages” has definitely jumped onto my all-time favorites list.

Curtain Call

“Rock of Ages” is only in Kansas City through Sunday, June 2nd. For information on upcoming tour dates, click HERE.