Jesus Christ Superstar

So with Easter only a week away, it seems the perfect time of year to see Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway.  The Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice musical was considered innovative when it opened almost forty years ago.   And I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this newest incarnation, a reimagined version coming out of Stratford in England via La Hoya in California.

When I was in the seventh grade our choir director played the album for us.  And I was transformed.  I grew up listening to the soundtracks from various musicals and loving every one of them, but this was something different.  A musical that spoke my language.   It was sparkling, dynamic and reintroduced me to a story I’d grown up with  in a way that made it current—something that resonated with me in a way old Bible stories had never done.  Like Godspell, it transformed the past into a beating heart I could understand. Something real.  Tangible.

And all that from an album!  Imagine what it would be like to see the real thing?  Only of course as a teenager in Dallas (at the time) I didn’t really have much of a chance to head for New York and Broadway.  Fast-forward to 1977 and I was there.  But unfortunately Jesus Christ Superstar wasn’t on our itinerary.  In the meantime though, I bought the album and celebrated the music.

Fast forward again to 2012 and the Broadway revival.  This time, I’m living in the city and counting the days until tickets go on sale.  But in the back of my mind, I’m a little worried.  I’m a lot older.  And I’d seen the revival of Godspell and failed to find the enchantment I’d seen all those years ago, even though I still loved the music.   But I’d also revisited A Chorus Line (a musical that was on that 1977 itinerary) and it was every bit as wonderful as I remembered.  I still had hope.

So tickets in hand, we presented ourselves at the Neil Simon Theatre last week, settled into our seats, and with great anticipation, awaited the opening of the show.   And I have to say that from the first electrical notes I was transported.  Not only to my youth, but deep into the story of the end of Jesus’s life on earth and the disappointment  and disillusion that plagued his friends and followers at the end.

Although I found the electronic signs distracting, the rest of the set was wonderfully created and used to full advantage.  And the costumes, while certainly not truly period, evoked the essence of the characters who wore them, coming together to create a well-rounded essence of both place and time.

Josh Young as Judas, opened with the stunningly powerful Heaven on Their Minds.  The energy level in the theatre rising with every chord and note.  He was particularly strong I thought in both the opening and in Judas’s death.   Although I wasn’t as connected in the end when he sang Superstar, but I think that was more the costuming which jumped to modern clothes in electric blue (including shoes) and was quite distracting.

Paul Nolan, playing Jesus, was excellent as well.  I found his Jesus much more on the mark than Hunter Parrish’s Jesus in Godspell.  Nolan’s voice was strong and filled with emotion, particularly singing Gethsemane.  And the ending with the cross, had me reaching for my husband’s handkerchief.  It was beautifully played.

Chilina Kennedy played Mary with a wily grace that put one in mind of a ballerina.  She was both earthy and ethereal, the combination the perfect embodiment of both Mary’s past and her involvement with Jesus and his disciples.   Everything’s Alright was a lovely balance between her voice, Nolan’s and Young’s.  And the chemistry between the three was palpable.  And I Don’t Know How To Love Him carried Mary to a completely separate place as she grappled with loving (probably for the first time) a man she knows she can never have.

Tom Hewitt, playing Pilot, was marvelous singing Pilot’s Dream.  And Bruce Dow almost brought the house down as Harod singing Herod’s song.   The rest of the cast provided the perfect backdrop.  From the ensemble in the crowd scenes to the men portraying the disciples.

All in all it was a wonderful performance.  I had thought that at the very least, I would be able to sit back, close my eyes, and listen to the marvelous music.  But instead, thankfully, I was carried back to Jerusalem and final days of Jesus Christ–who most certainly was a Superstar!

Happy Easter everyone!  If you get the chance.  Go see the musical.

Jesus Christ Superstar, Neil Simon Theatre, 250, West 53nd Street. 877-250-2929

Other Desert Cities

So last week I was lucky enough to get to see Other Desert Cities at the Booth Theatre.  Stockard Channing and  Rachel Griffins, both praised in the original cast have departed, but their replacements are every bit as wonderful.

Jon Robin Baitz’s play, set in Palm Springs, is a family dramedy with all the right ingredients.   The story starts of almost innocently and builds to an amazing climax with all emotions laid bare.  The five person cast consists currently of Lauren Klein as the matriarch of the family.   Stacy Keach as her high profile husband.  Elizabeth Marvel as her troubled daughter.  Judith Light as her screwed up sister.  And Justin Kirk as her son.

Opening on Christmas day in 2004, the story centers around the homecoming of Brooke (Elizabeth Marvel) and the ensuing drama that unfolds around her decision to publish a new book.  As is often the case with families, the past in this play is as relevant as the present and both seem to overshadow the future.

The first act sets the stage for the revelations of the second with ultimately everything stripped to the bone.  The family’s secrets revealed.   And it is a journey that the writer has crafted carefully.  Peeling the onion slowly as we build to the climax.

Highly recommended, I particularly enjoyed Ms. Light and Ms. Klein’s performances.  Although the ensemble was marvelous and the piece would not have been the same had any of them been lacking.  Definitely a wonderful way to spend an evening on Broadway.

Booth Theater, 222 West 45th St, (between 7th Ave & Broadway)

Shatner’s World (we just live in it)

This Valentine’s Day I had the delightful opportunity to attend the first night of previews for William Shatner’s limited-run one man show.  And I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I mean first of all it was Captain Kirk.  CAPTAIN KIRK!  And second of all I’ve always had a weak spot for intelligent, quick-witted men.  And at 80, William Shatner still has that twinkle in his eye.

And with a career that spans Canadian theatre, the days of live television, the creation of iconic characters like Kirk and Denny Crane, and a most interesting take on “singing” Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, there are definitely stories to be told.

Accompanied by video and photographs, Shatner, a commanding presence and voice, holds court for just under two hours, keeping the audience alternatively laughing and listening—sometimes so closely, you could have heard a pin drop.   Sound problems (not unheard of on a first preview night) were dealt with handily and with humor.  I feel like I know Peter the sound man.  And Shatner’s ability to react to whatever happened, made the evening feel more intimate than had it gone perfectly.

As a child who grew up on the space program and Star Trek (yes, I even own the new rebooted edition) I particularly enjoyed the parts of the evening that pertained to these subjects, but also found the stories of Shatner’s life and exploits charming and funny as well.  If you’re looking for a tell-all, this isn’t it.  But if you’re looking for a man who has led a fascinating life predicated with saying ‘yes’ to new challenges—or if you just want to see Captain Kirk—this is a great show.   

Shatner makes no apologies for who he is.  And I, for one, am better off for having been inside his world—even if only for an evening.

Shatner’s World, Music Box Theatre, 239 W 45th Street (thru Feb 24th).


There is something magical about Stephen Sondheim’s musicals.  And Follies, playing a limited run at Marquis theatre was no exception.   I went because I am a huge fan of Bernadette Peters.   Having seen her in A Little Night Music, I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to see her again.

But beyond just hearing Peters sing, I also experienced a wonderful production with a story centering on how our past affects not only our present but our future.  The stories of Sally and Buddy and Phyllis and Benjamin serve as the center of a delicious confections that includes one of the best groups of supporting actors I’ve seen gathered for a single performance.  Every number was an absolute delight.

Peters frazzled Sally was the perfect foil to Kirsten Scott’s elegant (and repressed) Phyllis.  Peters first act number (a wild combination of truth and lies) In Buddy’s Eyes was flawlessly performed with her trademark ability to transcend the music and communicate instead the emotion at the heart of it.   Scott’s Could I leave You in Act 2 had similar power and in many ways was one of the strongest moments in the musical.

However, the showstopper, and I mean that in a literal sense, was Who’s that Woman, a company number lead by Terri White.   If you see this woman’s name in anything… GO.  She’s fantastic.  I’ve heard of showstoppers my entire life.  Can even reel off a number of the ones that were exactly that in their day.  But I’ve never been present for one.  And it was truly a treat.   Ms. White was amazing and held the audience in the palm of her hand.  Other members of the cast were equally delicious, including Elaine Paige, playing Carlotta and slaying the crowd, as well as Jayne Houdyshell and Mary Beth Peil.

Although the younger cast was also superb, the old gals had them in spades.  And I can’t remember a musical where I’ve so looked forward to the next number.

And beyond the music, the staging itself was truly magnificent.  The shades of the women as young girls (the play is set in the crumbling ruins of what was once a theatre housing the Follies—and the reunion on the eve of its destruction of many of the former performers, including Sally and Phyllis) that still haunt the theatre are beguiling and spellbinding and when they become shadows of their older selves as in Who’s that Woman, it is sheer magic.

All in all a wonderful night at the theatre.   Unfortunately, Follies closed its limited run on January 22, but if there’s a cast album…buy it!

Follies, Marquis Theatre


Okay first I have to say that I have loved Alan Rickman since the first time I saw him in Truly, Madly, Deeply.  And he’s only gotten better and better and better.  So the chance to see him on Broadway was a dream come true.  Second off, my husband also loves Alan Rickman, but still managed to forget that we were going to the theatre, so I wound up seeing the play without him (but with my daughter which was every bit as wonderful).

And the play (as well as the man) did not disappoint.  In fact, unlike several star turns I’ve seen of late, I was impressed with the quality of the entire cast.  Comprised of only five people it was great fun to watch four of them spar with each other as Rickman served as instigator.  Particularly wonderful was Lily Rabe, whose character pulls the audience right into the class with her.   I’d seen Rabe (who is Jill Clayburgh’s daughter) in Steel Magnolias a few years back and was delighted to have the chance to see her again, but her performance definitely outshone any preconceived notions I might have had.  She’s a delight.

Hamish Linklater who’s pivotal role is understated throughout was no less enjoyable to watch.  He was so believable as a writer and student, I almost forgot at one point that I was watching a play.  He superbly embodied both the of the fragility of writers and the idealism of students.  Supporting characters played by Jerry O’Connell and Hettienne Park were also excellent and rounded out the cast nicely.

But the center of the piece obviously was Rickman.  He has aged gracefully (as I fear I perhaps have not) and still has that magical voice that rivets you to your seat even when he’s speaking expletives.   The dichotomy of his character was well written and even better acted.  And I so enjoyed every minute he spent on the stage.  Although I’ll admit to one moment where I broke from the play wanting him to say “Potter” just once.

The play, a world premiere, written by Pulitzer Prize nominee Theresa Rebeck is about four aspiring writers taking a private seminar conducted by a world renowned writer

(Rickman).  It is by turns hilariously funny, vicious, sexy, witty and poignant.  The story and its characters weave to a bittersweet conclusion that leaves the audience satisfied but still thinking.

Well-acted and well written, I highly recommend it.  I may have gone to see Alan Rickman, but I came away loving the play.

Seminar, Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St. between Broadway & 8th Ave

On A Clear Day

Recently went to see a preview of On A Clear Day at the St. James Theatre.  Starring Harry Connick, Jr., the revival is more of a redux, as the story has been reimagined slightly, with the focus now being more on Dr. Mark Bruckner than on Daisy Gamble.

Originally, a starring vehicle for Barbara Harris on Broadway and Barbra Streisand in the movie version, this time out, Connick is clearly at the center of the piece, although the ensemble cast is excellent and fills things out nicely.  In this version, Daisy is now David, played with breezy ditz by David Turner (who was absolutely marvelous).  And his long past self, Melinda Wells, now a singer from the 40’s, is played by Jessie Mueller.   In the original, both Harris and Streisand played both parts.  But in splitting David/Daisy and Melinda into two unique characters—who are able to occupy the stage at the same time, I found the story much more haunting.

By adding the gender issues involved with Mark falling in love with Melinda, through the

David Turner

physical presence of David, who in turn begins to fall in love with Mark, the show has added depth.  It’s an impossible triangle, and one which I think adds resonance to what was essentially a fluff piece before.  (Although, that said, I did watch the movie over and over as a kid.)  To add layers to Connick’s character, the story is framed around the loss of his wife, and the grief and loneliness that result from that loss.  I think it makes Mark’s somewhat callous use of David and his past more understandable.

Set in 1974, the costumes and set seemed to come more from the late sixties, but the colors were fun and provided as a provocative backdrop to the “modern” day parts of the story.   David’s magical touch with flowers remains along with his romance with Warren Smith, played by the charming Drew Gehling.  Added or at least not remembered by me, was a pining colleague of Mark’s, and a wonderful turn by Lori Wilner as Mark’s secretary.

Jessie Mueller

The music, some of it taken from other Lerner fare, is fabulous.  Particularly when Connick and/or Mueller sing.   Ms. Mueller’s voice is really strong, and the audience has no trouble at all buying her as an up and coming singer in the 1940’s; especially in her first number “Open Your Eyes.”  Connick, who seems more comfortable here than he did in the Pajama Game (which was wonderful on all counts by the way), blends into the cast with remarkable ease, and at times you even forget his star power.  But when he opens his mouth, particularly on the first act number, “She Isn’t for You”, and the title piece “On A Clear Day”, it is pure heaven.  His voice, although aging slightly, is still remarkable.  Smooth, easy and sensual all at the same time.

Turner’s “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here” is delightful.  And his physicality throughout the musical is great fun to watch.  The transformation of David into Melinda is both humorous and heart-rending as we begin to see the pain in store for both David and Mark.  A moment in the middle of the play when Mark dances with Melinda (and by default also with David) brought tears to my eyes.  I wanted everyone to have their happy ending.   And yet I knew, it was impossible.

Overall, I thought it was a wonderful show.  And I’ll be honest, based on the changes, I

Harry Connick, Jr.

wasn’t sure I was going to like David as much as I did Daisy.  But the truth is, I liked him much more.  Turner kept David from dropping into stereotype, instead giving the character strength as well as ditz and a charming innocence that pulls the audience in and has them rooting for his happiness.  How I wish Turner could have been Jesus in Godspell, it would have been an entirely different revival.

All in all, it was a wonderful evening at the theatre.  And I highly recommend it.  Sometimes things change and they manage to lose their luster.  Sometimes though, the changes only make everything better.  On A Clear Day falls into the latter category.

On A Clear Day, St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th Street, (212) 239-6200,


When I was young I got the album to a new musical in New York—Godspell.  At the time I about as far away from the big city lights as a girl can get.  But I fell in love with the music and the message.  And played that album (cassette if we want to be technical) over and over and over.  And finally, got to see a performance in Oklahoma City as well as the movie version with a very young Victor Garber (who’d I’d see some thirty years later on Broadway last year in Present Laughter).

The words and music are literally etched upon my heart.  So it was with great anticipation that I went to the Circle on the Square (where I fell in love with The Putnam County Spelling Bee and Jesse Tyler Ferguson) to see the newest incarnation of Godspell.  And while I had a lovely evening and totally enjoyed my blast from the past, I’m afraid I can’t tell you that the new and supposedly improved version lived up to my expectations.

My love affair with Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell runs deep, so maybe I was bound to be disappointed.  (However, as an aside, the first show I ever saw on Broadway was A Chorus Line, in 1977, and when I took my daughter to see the revival a few years back, it was everything I remembered it to be.  Pure magic.)

Anyway, for me in many ways, Godspell, was a spiritual awakening.  And I not only knew all the words to all the songs, I could perform most of them on my guitar and quite often did  (I still have the sheet music in my closet).   I grew up with the advent of folk masses and the initial movement of more popular music sharing space with standard (and quite beautiful) hymns and liturgical music.  It was new and exciting.  And the music from Godspell played a role in all of that.

Telly Leung and Lindsey Mendez

So heading out for Circle on the Square I was ready to be taken back.  To a more innocent time in my life when the music and movement were fresh.  And to be fair, in certain moments, I still felt the magic.  But a lot of the time I felt like I’d wandered in to a Gleeified (and I’m a Gleek, or at least I was until this season) version of my show.

The opening, while definitely attuned to a modern world, seemed out of place somehow with the rest of the show.  As did a lot of the modern day references (although I did laugh at several and the cast’s ability to mimic certain personalities was certainly up to Saturday Night Live standards) which seemed to overshadow the message at certain points.  In fact, that would be my most overriding critique—the message was lost amidst attempts to modernize.  The power, except in a few places, was diluted so that the heart of the piece was lost amidst the constantly moving patter.

Telly Leung

As I said, there were exceptions.  And they were powerful.  Lindsey Mendez, singing Oh Bless the Lord My Soul, was absolutely flawless.  She not only has an amazing singing voice but a magnificent stage presence.  And Telly Leung’s version of All Good Gifts was simply spell-binding.  (One of the best moments of the night was a revival of  Learn Your Lessons Well, with a little bit of Pippin thrown in for good measure, just before the beginning of the second act, with Leung on piano singing with Mendez.)  Uzo Aduba gave a much more earthy delivery to By My Side, the result giving it more depth than the original (and as it’s one of my favorite songs, that actually is saying a lot).

Wallace Smith, playing both John the Baptist and Judas was more of a mixed bag.  His opening Prepare Ye gave me goose bumps, his voice powerful and sure.  And the setting with the baptismal “river” was wonderful.  But I never really felt his indecision and pain in betraying Jesus and since that is the pivotal moment between the light-hearted beginning and the dark turn of the ending—it’s a crucial note to hit.   Day by Day, sung by Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, was lost in the choreography and business of the staging.  What is a moving and simple song became overrun by too many other things, although Ms. Parez de Tagle was charming.  Julia Mattison, coming in as an understudy, was also good singing Turn Back Oh Man, but again I just felt as if some of the power of the piece (the dichotomy between her vamp and Parrish’s wistful singing) was lacking.

Hunter Parrish

Which leaves us with Hunter Parrish playing Jesus.  To be fair, I must say that both Stephen Nathan and Victor Garber played Jesus with  soft spoken words and fly-away voices.   So Parrish is following in the same vein.  But the difference for me lies in the fact that both of the former cast members were able to make the transition from the soft-sung folksiness of God Save the People (re-orchestrated in the new version to its detriment, I might add) to the unbridled  power of Alas for You.   There is anger in the latter song.  And we see Jesus as he begins to transform from gentle teacher to the man who will sacrifice all.   And in Parrish’s version we never saw any of that.  In fact, the musicians (placed amongst the audience) overwhelmed him at times.  And without the power of that song, the second act felt flat.

Costuming, by Miranda Hoffman, echoed the original (but without the clown face for Jesus), and overall it enhanced the performances rather than detracting.  There was a funny bit in the opening where Parrish is choosing a shirt and rejecting, among other choices, the Superman T-shirt.

Circle in the Square is a small theatre with seats surrounding the stage.  It provides an intimacy that can’t be obtained on a standard Broadway stage.  And a word should be said about the innovative staging, some that worked (the baptistery river), some that did not (trampolines?).  Overall, I thought it was an innovative use of space, and never once did I feel as if I was behind the action so to speak.  It was constantly on the move and mostly captivating.  The newly added song Beautiful City fit seamlessly although the reprise at the end was frustrating for those of us used to the original and waiting for the reintroduction of Prepare Ye into Long Live God  (it was there just muted by the addition of the new song).

Overall, I think that the power of the musical was lost a little in the attempt to add modern patter and Twitteresque humor.   But the cast was sparkling, with some of them out-singing, or at least equaling the originals.  And I defy anyone not to feel their spirits rise as they’re reminded of the exuberance of youth and the power of believing. 

Godspell, Circle-on-the-Square Theatre, 1633 Broadway, (212) 239-6200, .