Nominated for nine Tony Awards, Marianne Elliott’s revival of Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical, Company, is the talk of the town. Elliott’s production reimagines the show’s main character, Bobby, as a 35-year-old woman (Bobbie, played by Katrina Lenk), bringing an entirely new dynamic to this beloved show. And PBS’s new documentary, Keeping Company with Sondheim, takes viewers behind the scenes of this innovative revival. Featuring loads of footage from various productions of the musical and a host of interviews with the cast and creative team of the current revival, Keeping Company with Sondheim delivers an intriguing glimpse at the creation of this production as well as an emotional love letter to the late, great Stephen Sondheim. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll be wowed by all the talent on display.Continue reading
Category Archives: musicals
REVIEW: “Reopening: The Broadway Revival” (Great Performances)
For a year and a half, Broadway was dark. There were no shows, no audiences, no live theater at all. Until the fall of 2021, where almost as quickly as it shut down, Broadway came roaring back to life. But how do you even go about reopening a Broadway show after all of that time? PBS’s latest Great Performances documentary, “Reopening: The Broadway Revival,” answers just that. Featuring rehearsal footage from several shows and a host of interviews from Broadway actors and creators, “Reopening” follows a handful of Broadway musicals from their initial closure in March 2020 to their grand reopening in the fall of 2021. It’s an uplifting, hopeful watch – even if it never quite goes into as much detail as you might like. (4 out of 5 wands.)
Great Performances: Reopening: The Broadway Revival
Go behind the scenes of Broadway as shows reunite, rehearse and re-stage for their long-awaited reopening nights while the theater industry learns how to turn the lights back on after its longest hiatus in history due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
REVIEW: “Ever After: Forty Years of Musical Theater and Beyond, 1977-2020” by Barry Singer
Covering forty years’ worth of Broadway shows in a single book is a monumental task. Covering forty years’ worth of Broadway shows in less than 500 pages is a nearly impossible task. And yet that’s exactly what Barry Singer’s Ever After: Forty Years of Musical Theater and Beyond attempts to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really hit the mark. For those hoping for a glimpse behind the scenes of their favorite musicals, Ever After isn’t the book for you. It’s less of a historical account and more of a collection of reviews. In that context, it’s not too bad. However, the first half of the book is particularly hard to power through and the book’s general lack of depth hinders much of the enjoyment. (3 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: I received a review copy of Ever After from the publisher. All thoughts are my own.
Ever After: Forty Years of Musical Theater and Beyond, 1977-2020
Written by Barry Singer
Before Ever After appeared in 2003, no book had addressed the recent past in musical theater history—an era Singer describes as “ever after musical theater’s many golden ages.” Derived significantly from Singer’s writings about musical theater for the New York Times, New York Magazine, and The New Yorker, Ever After captured that era in its entirety, from the opening of The Act on Broadway in October 1977 to the opening of Avenue Q Off-Broadway in March 2003. This new edition brings Ever After up to date, from Wicked, through The Book of Mormon, to Hamilton and beyond. Once again, this the first book to cover this new, pre-pandemic age of the Broadway musical.
REVIEW: “In the Heights”
There’s something special about big movie musicals. The way the music, visuals, performances, and spectacle all mesh together—there’s just nothing like it. Even when they’re bad, there’s still some joy to be found in them. In the Heights is one of those musicals that’s been begging for a film adaptation since it first debuted. It’s just so joyous and full of energy, with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (Hamilton) trademark earwormy music and a lovely, heartfelt story. It’s no wonder fans have been waiting a decade for this movie. And thankfully, after a period of development hell that saw the film pass between producers and studios, In the Heights finally has its film adaptation—directed by Jon M. Chu and written by Quiara Alegría Hudes (the musical’s original writer). And it’s good. Honestly, as a fan of the stage version, I can’t imagine how it could be much better. In the Heights is unabashedly a musical. It’s filled with breathtaking beauty, realistic characters, and so much charm. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll feel a part of a community. It’s everything I could’ve wanted and more. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
“In the Heights“
Written by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
The creator of “Hamilton” and the director of “Crazy Rich Asians” invite you to the event of the summer, where the streets are made of music and little dreams become big… “In the Heights.” Lights up on Washington Heights… The scent of a cafecito caliente hangs in the air just outside of the 181st Street subway stop, where a kaleidoscope of dreams rallies this vibrant and tight-knit community. At the intersection of it all is the likable, magnetic bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who saves every penny from his daily grind as he hopes, imagines and sings about a better life. “In the Heights” fuses Lin-Manuel Miranda’s kinetic music and lyrics with director Jon M. Chu’s lively and authentic eye for storytelling to capture a world very much of its place, but universal in its experience.
REVIEW: Team Starkid’s “A VHS Christmas Carol”
A Christmas Carol is one of the most well-known Christmas stories of all time.It’s been adapted numerous times—for television, the stage, and the big screen. If you can think of an angle, it’s probably been applied to A Christmas Carol. In that light, I don’t know how novel an idea Starkid’s A VHS Christmas Carol—someone must have done A Christmas Carol in the style of 1980s pop music—but honestly, I don’t care. A VHS Christmas Carol is exactly the kind of thing I wanted this holiday season. It’s an album (and virtual live visual album) that’s packed with catchy, earwormy tunes, energy, and heart. It’s the perfect holiday pick-me-up. (4.5 out of 5 wands)
A VHS Christmas Carol (written by Clark Baxtresser, directed by Corey Lubowich)
Join StarKid for a new holiday tradition blending Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with 80’s music videos into a synth-elating Live Visual Album experience! This reimagining of the classic tale from composer Clark Baxtresser features and all-star(kid) cast serving up vibes from Christmases past, an escape from Christmas present, and a cutting edge blend of live and filmed performances straight out of Christmas future!
REVIEW: NBC’s “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical!”
Everyone is familiar with Dr. Seuss’ classic Christmas story, How The Grinch Stole Christmas. It’s been adapted multiple times for the screen—an animated special, a live-action film starring Jim Carrey, and a full length animated film starring Benedict Cumberbatch. In the mid-2000s, it was also adapted for the Broadway stage by Timothy Mason and Mel Marvin. That production starred Patrick Page (of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark and Hadestown fame) and quickly became a go-to favorite for regional and community theaters. And now, NBC is giving it the primetime TV treatment. Similar to their ongoing tradition of staging live musicals during the holiday season, NBC has decided to broadcast a newly-filmed production of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical straight from London—this time starring Matthew Morrison as the Grinch. While it isn’t live, like the other NBC musicals, it’s still a fully staged production. And, to be honest, it’s so much worse than I expected it to be. Unlike most of the NBC live musicals, which have been plagued by technical problems and questionable casting choices, The Grinch Musical is plagued by a bafflingly bad script, woefully miscast lead actors, and a score that is almost uniformly boring. (1.5 out of 5 wands.)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical! (written by Simon Nye and Mel Marvin; composed by Timothy Mason, Albert Hague, and Dr. Seuss; directed by Max Webster and Julia Knowles)
Dr. Seuss’ beloved book tells the story of a reclusive Grinch (Matthew Morrison) who plotted from his cave atop snowy Mt. Crumpit to steal Christmas from the Whos in Who-ville. Then on Christmas Eve, disguised as Santa Claus and enlisting his loyal dog Max (Denis O’Hare as Adult Max, Booboo Stewart as Young Max) as a reindeer, the Grinch traveled to Who-ville to scoop up the Whos’ gifts and decorations. Much to his surprise on Christmas morning, the Whos were unfazed and celebrated the holiday with a heartwarming display of joy and love.
This musical version, with book and lyrics by Tim Mason and music by Mel Marvin and featuring the hit songs “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas” (by Albert Hague & Dr. Seuss), breathes new life into this timeless story. The lush and whimsical staging by award-winning director Max Webster, directed for television by BAFTA winner Julia Knowles, with additional script material by BAFTA-winning writer Simon Nye and featuring sets by acclaimed designer Peter Bingemann, will set the mood for a beautiful holiday celebration.
REVIEW: “Song of Spider-Man” by Glen Berger
It has been a decade since Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark first began previews, accompanied by endless reports about injured actors and workplace safety hazards. With a budget exceeding sixty million dollars, an endless barrage of reported injuries, and suggestions that the plot was nigh incoherent, the musical had all the makings of a colossal train wreck. And, for a while, it delivered on that promise, with continued reports of technical mistakes and feuding creatives. But, eventually, it just fizzled out. After months and months of previews, the ousting of its director, and endless lousy press, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark opened on June 14, 2011. But what happened? Glen Berger, co-writer of the musical’s script, seeks to answer this in his account of the musical’s creation, Song of Spider-Man. While reading as more of a gossipy, biased memoir than an objective, neutral account, Song of Spider-Man is an entertaining and revealing look at how Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark went from being an anticipated Broadway spectacle to a “sixty-five million dollar circus tragedy.” (4 out of 5 wands.)
Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History (by Glen Berger)
As you might imagine, writing a Broadway musical has its challenges. But it turns out there are challenges one can’t begin to imagine when collaborating with two rock legends and a superstar director to stage the biggest, most expensive production in theater history. Renowned director Julie Taymor picked playwright Glen Berger to cowrite the book for a $25 million Spider-Man musical. Together—along with U2’s Bono and Edge—they would shape a work that was technically daring and emotionally profound, with a story fueled by the hero’s quest for love…and the villains’ quest for revenge. Or at least, that’s what they’d hoped for.
But when charismatic producer Tony Adams died suddenly, the show began to lose its footing. Soon the budget was ballooning, financing was evaporating, and producers were jumping ship or getting demoted. And then came the injuries. And then came word-of-mouth about the show itself. What followed was a pageant of foul-ups, falling-outs, ever-more harrowing mishaps, and a whole lot of malfunctioning spider legs. This “circus-rock-and-roll-drama,” with its $65 million price tag, had become more of a spectacle than its creators ever wished for. During the show’s unprecedented seven months of previews, the company’s struggles to reach opening night inspired breathless tabloid coverage and garnered international notoriety. Through it all, Berger observed the chaos with his signature mix of big ambition and self-deprecating humor.
REVIEW: “Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway” by Michael Riedel
There’s nothing quite like Broadway drama. Between the divas who star in shows and the even bigger ones who write and produce them, there is never a dull moment behind the scenes of a Broadway show. This was especially true during the 1990s and early 2000s—the era of Broadway’s resurgence in American popular culture, which makes this time period the perfect topic for Michael Riedel, longtime theatre columnist for the New York Post, to write about. His latest book, Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway, often reads like more of a gossip column than a historical account, but is a quick, devilishly entertaining read for all Broadway lovers. (4 out of 5 wands.)
(Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.)
Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway by Michael Riedel
The 1990s was a decade of profound change on Broadway. At the dawn of the nineties, the British invasion of Broadway was in full swing, as musical spectacles like Les Miserables, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera dominated the box office. But Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard soon spelled the end of this era and ushered in a new wave of American musicals, beginning with the ascendance of an unlikely show by a struggling writer who reimagined Puccini’s opera La Bohème as the smash Broadway show Rent. American musical comedy made its grand return, culminating in The Producers, while plays, always an endangered species on Broadway, staged a powerful comeback with Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. A different breed of producers rose up to challenge the grip theater owners had long held on Broadway, and corporations began to see how much money could be made from live theater.
And just as Broadway had clawed its way back into the mainstream of American popular culture, the September 11 attacks struck fear into the heart of Americans who thought Times Square might be the next target. But Broadway was back in business just two days later, buoyed by talented theater people intent on bringing New Yorkers together and supporting the economics of an injured city.
Michael Riedel presents the drama behind every mega-hit or shocking flop, bringing readers into high-stakes premieres, fraught rehearsals, tough contract negotiations, intense Tony Award battles, and more. From the bitter feuds to the surprising collaborations, all the intrigue of a revolutionary era in the Theater District is packed into Singular Sensation. Broadway has triumphs and disasters, but the show always goes on.
MUSIC REVIEW: The Network’s “Trans Am”, Tim Minchin’s “Apart Together”, and “If the Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album”
I don’t normally review music here. From time-to-time, I make exceptions, but on the whole, I don’t feel particularly qualified to review music. I don’t write music, I don’t understand how one comes up with the perfect song. Nonetheless, I love music. And, sometimes, there are weeks where multiple albums that I am excited about all release on the same day. And, on those weeks, I feel the desire to take a listen to those albums and talk about them. This week, The Network (a Green Day side project) released an EP entitled “Trans Am,” Tim Minchin released his debut solo album entitled “Apart Together,” and the original Broadway cast of Hadestown released “If the Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album.” So, let’s talk about all of them.Continue reading
REVIEW: “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”
Who doesn’t love a good Christmas movie musical? I certainly do, as do most others, I think. There’s just something about Christmas and musicals that go very well together. So, when I heard that Netflix was making Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, I was interested to see what they’d pull together. The trailer looked like a whimsical delight, filled with gorgeous sets and an all-star cast. And, having seen the film, that’s precisely what it is. While Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey could stand to be about thirty minutes shorter, it’s a bundle of holiday joy packed with fantastic performances, gorgeous visuals, and some pretty solid songs. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.)
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (written and directed by David E. Talbert)
A musical adventure and a visual spectacle for the ages, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a wholly fresh and spirited family holiday event. Set in the gloriously vibrant town of Cobbleton, the film follows legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker) whose fanciful inventions burst with whimsy and wonder. But when his trusted apprentice (Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key) steals his most prized creation, it’s up to his equally bright and inventive granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills) — and a long-forgotten invention — to heal old wounds and reawaken the magic within. From the imagination of writer-director David E. Talbert and featuring original songs by John Legend, Philip Lawrence, and Davy Nathan, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey reminds us of the strength of family and the power of possibility.