Into the Woods

We had the amazing opportunity to see Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park thanks to a wonderful friend who couldn’t go and gave us her tickets.

First off, the night couldn’t have been better—the temperature was wonderful and setting Into the Woods in a park is brilliant.  Second, the set itself was amazing.  A series of “trees” set with stairs and risers that rose all the way to a bower at the tippy top.  So there were always levels in the choreography and that added a lot to the mystical feeling of the woods.

I’ve never seen Into The Woods Before, so have nothing to compare it to.  But I loved the difference in the tones of the first and second act.  The first (by Sondheim’s own definition) was farcical. Very funny. And the second was much more sobering (melodrama according to Sondheim) but still at times quite funny.

Donna Murphy as the witch was amazing.  Her voice is so powerful and she physically embodies each character she plays. (We first saw her in Wonderful Town.)  The costumes was really powerful as well.  Especially hers.  Although there are two places where the wardrobe malfunction I read about in the Post could have happened, thankfully for us, and Donna Murphy, it didn’t.  The song Last Midnight was marvelous and Children Will Listen was so beautifully done, even the crickets (a nice touch—by nature) shut up.

Amy Adams was also good as the Baker’s wife.  Not as strong a singer, but a delightful soprano and she definitely carried her role.  The Baker (Denis O’Hare) was also good.  Although for his big number, No One is Alone, his voice couldn’t quite keep up with Cinderella (Jessie Mueller, who was absolutely marvelous.  We’d seen her in On A Clear Day).  However, the Baker’s missteps, didn’t hurt the song.  It was still so moving and powerful.

Gideon Glick who played Jack (of Beanstalk fame) was delightful, but for his big song (Giants in the Sky) he wasn’t up to the task, sadly.  And so we lost a little of the power of his triumph.  Still, he was really good otherwise and so it still worked for me.

photo of the cast from

My favorite in the entire cast (except maybe Donna Murphy) was Sarah Stiles who played Red Riding Hood.  She was hysterical.  (We also saw her in Putnam County Spelling Bee and I think in Avenue Q—although she might have been gone by the time we saw it).  She has a great voice and uses it to full capacity. And the scene with her and the wolf had me laughing out loud (which I don’t do often).  The wolf (played by Ivan Hernandez, also Cinderella’s prince) was so good—and reminiscent of a 1980’s romance hero.  Which made it all that much more funny.  The song Hello, Little Girl was wonderful.

The set was fairly simplistic electronically speaking, none of the technological pyrotechnics you so often see these days, which for the most part was charming and added to the dreamlike quality of the narrator’s story.   I did think that the beanstalk was a bit hokey. But Glenn Close’s voice as the giant was a nice touch.  And there are a few things that I’ll leave as a possible surprise…because it’ll be more fun that way.

The real star of the show though, was—as it always is with Sondheim—the music and lyrics.  Music most specifically.  It was haunting, memorable, intricate and everything we love about Sondheim.  In short, possibly my favorite of his.  Although I would probably say that about whichever I’ve just seen.  If you have the chance this month enter the lottery or head to the park in the early hours to stand in line for tickets.  Or like me—maybe your fairy Godmother will bestow them on you.  Anyway you choose, it’s well, worth it.

Delacorte Theatre, Central Park.  Tickets are free but must be obtained in advance.  Runs through August 25th.

Sister Act

So my daughter wanted to see Raven Symone in Sister Act.  She’d watched Raven on television when she was little, so it was fun for her to see her all grown up.  I was a little more hesitant.  I loved the movie with Whoopi Goldberg so was less certain that I’d like the musical.  Still, Ms. Goldberg played a big role in bringing it to Broadway, so I figured it would be a fun afternoon.

And I was right.  While it definitely doesn’t fall into my top ten (or even twenty) musicals, it was a lot of fun.  And Ms. Symone was a delightful Delores.  She had the requisite twinkle in her eye.  But even more impressive were her supporting cast members, including, Carolee Carmelo, Sarah Bolt and Marla Mindelle.

Ms. Carmelo played the mother superior and had an absolutely wonderful song in Here Within These Walls.   And Marla Mindelle brought down the house with The Life I Never Led.   And the nuns, with the assistance of Delores, finding their voices in Raise Your Voice filled the theatre with laughter and made everyone smile.

Lady In The Long Black Dress was also an enjoyable number.  Sung by a trio of thugs working for the man chasing Delores, the song is about how the trio is going to seduce their way into the convent.  And although the constant poking fun at the late seventies and early eighties got a little old, it worked nicely for this song.

The Broadway Theatre is quite large.  Much more so than most of the theatres in New York.  It definitely makes for a less intimate experience.  We also saw The Color Purple there, and I felt then, as well, like I was in an auditorium rather than a theatre.   But all in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the musical, and had a lovely afternoon with my daughter.

Sister Act closes Aug 26th.

Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway.

Clybourne Park

So, Clybourne Park won best play at this year’s Tony Awards.  And I was lucky enough to have had the chance to see it.   Playing at the Walter Kerr Theatre, I’m delighted to say that I was in full support of the win. And that’s with a lot of other fabulous plays in the running.  Some of which I’ve already talked about here.

Written by Bruce Norris, Clybourne Park is a stirring dark comedy that weaves a story around the people occupying a house in both 1959 and 2009.  The biting play examines difficult subjects with both poignancy and wit. Neighborhood identification and race are key components of the play.  But it is the characters that make the sometimes difficult topics resonate.

In 1959, the house is occupied by a middle-class white couple who have recently survived the death of their son.   As they pack up their house, intending to leave their painful memories behind, their neighbors drop by with concerns about the people who have just bought the house.  Present also are the couple’s maid and her boyfriend, bringing a subtext to everything that’s said, and finally building to an expected but still heartrending climax.

The second act opens in 2009.  The neighborhood is “reemerging” and the white couple buying the house meet resistance from the neighborhood coalition who very much want to retain the flavor of the old neighborhood.  Again tension underlies laughs, as we see the situation from the reverse side.   And face the reality that although fifty years has passed not all that much has really changed.

The cast was marvelous, especially Jeremy Shamos and Annie Parisse.   In particular in the first act, when Ms. Parisse’s character is deaf, the added layer of subtext is particularly well-done.  Christina Kirk and Frank Wood were also excellent.  Mr. Wood in particular plays physical comedy very well.  Rounding out the cast were Crystal A. Dickinson, Damon Gupton and Brendon Griffin.   Mr. Gupton was superb in both acts.  And he gave his character both emotional depth and believability.   The scene where Ms. Dickinson and Mr. Gupton carried the trunk was marvelous on so many different levels.

It isn’t easy to write about difficult subject matter.  And it’s even harder to make what can be uncomfortable at the same time funny.  And Mr. Norris is successful in both making us laugh and making us think.  Bravo!

Clybourne Park, Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street.  (212) 239-6200

Seminar (Redux)

As you already know, I saw Seminar with my daughter when Alan Rickman was in the play.  And it was fabulous.   But, as you probably also know, my husband did not make the performance and so he still very much wanted to see it.   To that end when Rickman left and Jeff Goldblum—who I also love—joined the cast, it seemed like the perfect way for me to see it again, this time with my husband and mother in tow.

I’m not big on revisiting something I like.  Especially if there have been major cast changes.  And in this case not only was Alan Rickman gone, but also the actors playing Kate and Martin, both of whom I thought were excellent—particularly Lily Rabe as Kate.  In the new version, the role of Martin had been taken over by Justin Long (yes, Mac guy) and Kate was played by understudy Christina Pumariega.   I’ll also admit that I always hate seeing that little slip of paper in the Playbill saying that a major cast member won’t be performing.

But in this case—all my worries were for naught.  Jeff Goldblum was wonderful.  A completely different interpretation of the role from Rickman’s.  And I have to say I thought a better one.  Definitely funnier.  And wonderfully off-beat.  Somehow this Leonard made more sense in the context of the story.  Rickman played him as tortured and somewhat cruel. Enigmatic which was by no means a mistake.  He was excellent in the role.  But Goldblum’s slightly jaded, definitely off kilter Leonard was more vulnerable somehow, and I actually could see him taking the journey revealed to become the man he was more so than I did with Rickman’s version.

And Justin Long was absolutely wonderful.  While I thought Hamish Linklater was strong in the role, Long was so much better.  There were more layers to the performance.  And his physicality playing against Goldblum was superb.  Maybe it was just the two of them together.  But I was totally impressed.  (As I have been in his movie appearances, particularly the last Die Hard.)  He also walked a tightrope between repression and vulnerability.  And he almost perfectly captured the obtuse reactions of a man missing the woman standing right in front of him—until it was too late.

Lily Rabe, the first Kate was absolutely pitch perfect.  I’ve enjoyed her in several Broadway performances and think she’s definitely an actress to watch.  Christina Pumariega, as an understudy (replacing Zoe Lister-Jones), was someone you wanted to cheer for.  I mean, who doesn’t love the underdog.  And she didn’t disappoint.  While her performance didn’t have the complexity of Lily Rabe’s, it was spot on perfect with comedic timing.  And if you’d missed the little white slip of paper, you’d never have known she was the understudy.

All in all, I actually enjoyed this performance more than the first. Both Jerry O’Connell and Hettienne Park were still playing the same roles from the original cast.  And as is often the case, they had settled into their roles nicely.  Hettienne still hitting the perfect notes for her character Izzy and O’Connell seeming more relaxed and natural in the role.  I appreciated his character much more this time. Whether it was his acting or the shift in the tone due to Goldblum’s interpretation, I can’t say.  But I highly recommend it.

Theresa Rebeck, who brought us SMASH for NBC, has written a poignant, funny story about writers and their fears both real and imagined.  It’s worth an evening at the theatre.  In my case—twice.

Seminar, Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street

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)


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, .