Steely Dan Still Reelin’ in the Years

Spent Friday evening at the Beacon theater on Broadway over on the West side.  The theatre is gorgeous and we had great seats, second row balcony, dead center.  As has been Steely Dan’s custom for their last two tours each night of the seven they spent in New York was geared around one of their albums.  This night was billed as Royal Scam and Twenty-first Century Dan (meaning Two Against Nature and 2003’s Everything Must Go).

I’ve been a Steely Dan fan since way back.   I fell in love with the album Aja my freshman year in college and never looked back.  So it seems natural that I’d also fall in love with a guy crazy for Steely Dan.   He’s subsequently introduced me to all of their albums (and much to my surprise several favorite songs were actually Dan songs—like Reelin’ in the Years).  Anyway, add to this story the fact that my daughter now knows the lyrics and background stories on every single song Donald Fagan and/or Walter Becker ever wrote and we’ve been come a family of Steely Dan fans.

photo by MSG

The concert hall was packed, everyone waiting with anticipation for Steely Dan to begin, which made it a little difficult for the very talented opening act because everyone was talking.  In some ways it felt more like a bar than a concert hall.   But hey, such is the life of opening acts.

Despite the elegant interior of the hall, nothing much has changed when it comes to concert goers.  Granted, the room was filled with gray-headed people—most of us with wrinkles to mark the years, but still, the majority of folks arrived late, around nine, anticipating the actual start of Steely Dan.

The concert opened with a jazz piece that introduced the band—highlighting the brass section in particular (a trumpet, trombone, tenor sax and baritone sax).   And then guest guitarist Larry Carlton  (who played with the group in the 70’s).  And finally the two men who will forever be Steely Dan—Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.   The crowd went wild and the concert began.

The music was broken into three “sets”.  The first being a complete rendition of Royal Scam including my favorites; Kid Charlemagne and Haitian Divorce.   Fagen’s voice was a little hoarse in the beginning.  Possibly a cold.   But by the second set, the microphones had been adjusted and he’d warmed up, the resulting sound much better.

For the second set of songs, they concentrated on albums Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go.  Playing among others, the title songs from each and my favorite, Cousin Dupree.  By that point the audience was totally into the performance and many were on their feet.

The last set, and definitely the most high energy, consisted of favorites from across the years, including Josie (with a fabulous piano solo to open), Peg, and Reelin’ in the Years.   The show stopper was a rocking rendition of Bodhisattva.   And then they finished off the night with Pretzel Logic, leaving us all  satisfied,  yet still wishing for more.  All in all—a fabulous way to spend a Friday night in New York City.

New Broadway Season Commencing to Begin

Even with several closings announced recently, including the Addams Family, the coming of fall generally marks the opening of a new Broadway season.  And there are several things upcoming that I’m looking forward to.

First and foremost the new production of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell at the Circle on the Square Theatre.  One of my all-time favorite musicals, the show, based on the gospel of Matthew features wonderful songs like Day By Day, By My Side, and Stand Back Oh Man.   It’ll be interesting to see how well it holds up, but for people like me it will if nothing else, be a wonderful blast from the past!  Opens Oct. 13.

Next up, Harry Connick Jr.  is back on the boards in a new production of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.  Reconceived by Tony-winning director Michael Mayer, with a new book by Peter Parnell, the musical will feature songs from Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner.  I loved the movie with Barbra Streisand and adore Mr. Connick.  He was fabulous in Pajama Game.  So I’ll be interested to hear more. Opens December 11 at the Saint James Theatre.

Also coming—Porgy and Bess with the amazing Audra McDonald and David Alan Grier (First preview Dec. 17, Richard Rogers Theatre).  Bonnie and Clyde (the musical) opening December 1st   at the Shoenfeld Theatre.  A new musical, Lysistrata Jones, at the Walter Kern Theatre, Nov. 12 about a losing basketball team and the players girlfriends who hold their favors waiting for a win.  Other Desert Cities, with Stockard Channing and Judith Light—Jon Robin Baitz’s drama about a wealthy Republican family attempting to kick sand over its past at the Booth Theatre Nov. 3. And a new production of Private Lives, with Kim Cattrell, one of my favorite Noel Coward plays (Nov. 17, Music Box Theatre).

And coming later this season, new musicals—Ghost, Big Fish, Nice Work if You Can Get it with Kelly O’Hara and Matthew Broderick, and Rebecca—the Daphne du Maurier classic (not sure how I feel about that exactly).  And also the return of Evita and  Funny Girl.

So lots of excitement over in Time Square.  Hopefully, I’ll be front and center at some of them—and of course I’ll be reporting back here!

The Importance of Being Earnest

For most of the time I was growing up, we spent our summers in Creede.  An old mining town in southwestern Colorado, it is now days noted for its fly fishing, and somewhat surprisingly for its repertory theatre company.  And since I have loved the theatre from the time I could first recite a line, I was delighted whenever my parents took us to see a play there.

And of all the plays I saw over the years, by far my most favorite was a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.  As the years have passed, my passion for the play has not diminished.  I have seen several other versions and always laughed just as loudly at the antics of Algernon, Jack, Cecily, Gwendolen and the inestimable, Lady Bracknell.

I even suffered through the movie (okay, Rupert Everett is in it, so there really wasn’t much suffering).  So you can imagine my joy when the Roundabout Theatre announced a new production of Earnest.  And to make it even juicer, internationally acclaimed actor Brian Bedford was slated to both direct and act—playing the part of Lady Bracknell.

Needless to say I was among the first in line to purchase tickets.  And when the reviews arrived—most of them stellar—I was even more excited.  There’s something wonderful about a favorite play. Seeing it again is like visiting old friends.  Sometimes with new faces, but nevertheless people you already know and love.  That said, there is also the anticipation that maybe this time somehow the magic will be lost.

Fortunately for me, the production at the American Airlines Theatre was superb.   And I fell in love with Wilde’s comedy of errors all over again.  Every word is brilliantly written (Wilde is one of my absolute favorite writers), and in the hands of this cast, they literally sing out across the stage.

Santino Fontana (most recently at the Roundabout in Sunday at the Park with George) played Algernon with just the right glint in his eye.  Although he lacked the suave sophistication that Everett brings to Wilde’s characters (he was also in a wonderful movie adaptation of the Ideal Husband) he still captures the essence of the character with a wry playfulness that endears him the audience.

David Furr playing the role of John/Earnest Worthington was spot on as the stick-in-the-mud dying to break out and totally infatuated with Gwendolen.  Both Jessie Austrian and Charlotte Parry playing the women with whom John and  Algernon besotted were well-cast.  The scene with the tea and sugar cubes was excellently choreographed and wonderfully played.  Especially when it finally culminates with the two women on the steps, arms linked, casting “the look” over their shoulders at their befuddled gentlemen friends.

And of course there’s Lady Bracknell.  I was honestly afraid that Mr. Bedford would overshadow the rest of the cast.  The character has that potential all by herself.  Add to that an actor of such superior caliber and the potential is there.  But instead, Bedford simply inhabits Bracknell, breathing life into her effortlessly. Although each and every word and gesture was letter perfect and there were definite moments when he stole the show, he was still very much part of the ensemble, which made for a wonderful performance overall.

The scenery was whimsical and yet accurate to period.  The costumes were fabulous.  Especially Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell’s.   And yet, it must be said that in the end—it was all about the writing.  And of course—The Importance of Being Earnest.


So our latest venture on the boards involved the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, home to among others, A Streetcar Named Desire and an Ideal Husband, and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.  I confess that we probably wouldn’t have seen the play at all if it hadn’t been for a friend who raved about it.  And am I ever glad she did.

Two stories in one, Arcadia is a masterpiece in storytelling.  “In  April 1809, … a gifted pupil, proposes a startling theory well beyond her comprehension.  Two hundred years later, two academic adversaries are piecing together puzzling clues, curiously recalling those events of 1809.”  Now first off, as
indicated by my three time travel novels, I’m a sucker for stories spanning time.  And this one is so beautifully done that at times it literally took my breath away.

The play first opened in London in 1993 directed by Trevor Nunn.   This outing the director is David Leveaux, a five-time tony nominee, including Fiddler in the Roof and Nine.  And he does a superb job, the choreography of past and present ever growing closer as the two stories intertwine.

photo: Carol Rosegg

Bel Powley and Tom Riley are especially wonderful as the gifted student Thomasina and her tutor Septimus.  Septimus in particular captured my heart, with his seemingly stoic take on life and the simmering heat just below the surface.  And his pivotal role in the drama/comedy is the lynch pin that holds everything together.  A lesser actor than Riley would have been a disappointment.    Margaret Colin (who for me will always be Jeff Goldblum’s girlfriend in Independence Day) was solid as Thomasina’s mother.  And the rest of the seventeenth century players provided pertinent background characters.

In the present day (1993 actually), the two battling historians played by Billy Crudup (immortalized for me in Big Fish) and Lia Williams also performed admirably.  Crudup as a blustering overly zealous academic was a delight.  And Lia as a woman looking for her next story rang true for me as a writer.  And playing off of each other they were wonderful.  But the real highlight of the modern day cast was the amazing Raul Esparza (whom I discovered last year in Mamet’s Speed the Plow).  Playing an aristocratic math geek he was so good you almost wanted to hear the lines again.  And in a wonderful surprise, I was treated to Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer, whose older sister Mamie I fell in love with this spring watching Off the Map.   I predict great things for both girls.

Photo: Jim Spellman/WireImage

The setting was simple, but deceptively so.  In a drawing room at the country estate of the Coverlys, bits and pieces of the past slowly begin to occupy the same space—a turtle, an apple, a computer, and even a journal, with pages being turned simultaneously in both time periods with a synchronicity that was truly amazing.  I don’t want to spoil the story, because that’s half the fun.   But believe me when I tell you that the ending is so bittersweet and beautiful that if even if you aren’t one to cry easily, you’ll be tempted.

Eight more weeks.  I urge you to go.  Go.  GO!

Off With Her Head!

As I said earlier, it’s a new season on Broadway, which means lots of new openings.   We recently went to see a preview of the musical, Wonderland.   Now I should state right up front that I’m an unabashed Alice fan.  I fell in love with Alice in Wonderland as a kid, and then even more so with Alice Through the Looking Glass when I was a bit older.  And I’ve never stopped loving the wildly nonsensical world of Lewis Carroll.

I adored Tim Burton’s vision of Alice.  The casting, the story, the special effects, all of it lived up to my vision of the book.  Carroll would have been honored.   So it was with much excitement that I sat down to see Wonderland, book by Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy and music and lyrics by Jack Murphy and Frank Wildhorn.

The opening montage, the original drawings coming to life against a scrim were fabulous.  And roving quotes from the book made it all that much more alluring.  Equally provocative was the overture.   The audience tittered (and probably twittered) and quieted.  The curtain pulled back to reveal, not a rabbit hole, but a New York Apartment.

The story, a modern day version of Alice’s descent into Wonderland complete with a faulty elevator, is simple.  Alice (Janet Dacal), a newly separated single mother, has just moved to a new apartment.  The stress of everything has left her exhausted and as she falls into a restless sleep, a white rabbit appears, and well, except for the elevator, you know this part of the story.

The bright colors and brilliant set pieces for Wonderland set the tone for a rousing first half where we meet many of our favorite characters, some of them old friends and some slightly reimagined.  The rabbit, although earless, is priceless as he rushes around avoiding the words “I’m late, I’m late”.  (Disney copyright, don’t you know).   And E. Clayton Cornelius is wonderful as the Caterpillar.   As is Jose llana as El Gato (a slightly altered version of the Cheshire Cat).

Photo: Michael Daniel

But the real star is costume designer Susan Hilferty (Wicked, Spring Awakening).  From the caterpillars back loaded pants and side-kick legs, to the Queen of Hearts fabulous dresses, the costumes steal the show.    And I found myself looking forward to the introduction of new characters, or new scenes with new outfits.  The March Hare’s dreadlocks, and the Mad-Hatter (again cleverly reimagined)with her bustier and boots were equally outstanding.

Even the introduction of Jack, the White Knight, was cleverly done with a “boy-band” accompaniment to the song One Knight.  The first act was full of the whimsy one expects of Wonderland.  And also true to the story somewhat short on plot.  Still, the music, costumes and sets carried the act, and made it truly enjoyable.

Photo: Michael Daniel

The second act, unfortunately, never found the same beat.  Without the turning point break-out song, like Wicked’s Defying Gravity, the audience was left waiting for the missing beat.  And the show never really found its footing again.  The tone was uneven and while the music was still good, the important moments often inexplicably happened off stage, leaving other characters to fill in the blanks for the audience.

Overall, I hope the production gets a much needed tweaking.  I think the potential for magic is there.  The story, though slight, is compelling.  The actors, particularly Janet Dacal (Alice) and Kate Shindle (The Mad-Hatter)– with hat’s off to Karen Mason as the Queen of Hearts–were wonderful.  And as I mentioned the music was delightful.  The sets and costumes were worthy of Carroll and his world (as was a brief cameo by the man himself).  But I was still left wanting more.

How about you?  How do you feel about Alice and Wonderland?

Catch Me If You Can

So it’s that time of year again.  Spring shows are previewing and we’ve been excitedly hitting the theatres again.    Our first stop this year was Terrence McNally’s Catch Me If You Can at the Neil Simon theatre.

The musical is based of course on the wonderful Tom Hanks/Leonardo DiCaprio movie of the same title.  And I’ll confess I was a little concerned about it being set to music as it were.  But Norbert Leo Butz (in the Tom Hanks role) is one of my most favorite Broadway actors and so I put my doubts aside and headed for the 5th Avenue Theatre.   And boy was I glad I did!   The show is really wonderful.  With the same spirit that made the movie so charming.  The story is basically the same, with only a shift in the way it’s framed to make it work as a musical. 

Aaron Tveit plays the part of Frank Abignale, Jr.   And does so with aplomb.  His charm is palpable and he makes the part his own, even as he’s channeling Leonardo DiCaprio.  And the aforementioned Butz playing Hanratty is sublime, almost Columboesque in his mannerisms and carriage.  Together, the two actors carry the show at breakneck comedic speed.  And watching the development of their somewhat peculiar yet heart-tugging relationship is every bit as wonderful here as it was in the movie.

Tom Wopat and Rachel de Benedet are fabulous as Frank’s parents.  As is Kerry Butler in the role of Brenda.  And the rest of the cast are equally talented.  I particularly enjoyed Brenda’s parents and their antics as Frank comes home with Brenda to meet them, and accidentally becomes a lawyer.  (As well as a pilot and a doctor).

Photo: Curt Doughty

But the real star of the show is the music.  Mark Shaiman and Scott Whitman (of Hairspray fame) grab the audience right from the top with the opening number Live, In Living Color.  And it only gets better from there.   Butz has several show-stopping numbers including  Don’t Break the Rules and the Man Inside the Clues.  And Tveit proves to be as talented as he is charming (even from the mezzanine you can feel Frank’s joy for life and unending need to please his father).  He has many numbers including Live, in Living Color and my favorite, Jet Set.  And Butler’s number Fly Away in the second act is beautifully sung as well.

The sets and costumes reflect the era and the use of the orchestra as a backdrop only adds to the fun.  All in all, Catch Me If You Can is a lovely way to spend an evening.  And I guarantee you’ll emerge from the theatre smiling!

What’s your favorite musical?