musical theatre

Why the NBC’s “The Sound of Music” Won’t Suck (As Told Through Julie Andrews GIFs)

When I first learned that karaoke contest winner Carrie Underwood was going to play Maria in a new televised version of The Sound of Music, I was none too pleased.

Not only is Carrie Underwood a karaoke contest winner pop star, she is a country pop star at that. Her cutesy twang might fly for an Oklahoma revival, but The Sound of Music is a whole ‘nother story. And we’d have to be subjected to a live telecast, with no opportunity for dubbing or a gentle autotune?

I’ll see myself out, thank you.

I mean, network and cable television already air the 1965 film multiple times a year. And no one can sing on the hills better than Dame Julie Elizabeth Andrews.

Come to think of it, I’m sure Julie Andrews would be available to reprise her role. She’s been ready to kick Mary Poppins’ ass for years now, so why not tackle The Sound of Music while she’s at it?

Then I saw the new teaser trailer for The Sound of Music, Live!

And found several surprises.

The supporting cast includes Broadway royalty such as Queen Audra Mcdonald, Archduke Christian Borle, Countess Christiane Noll, and Princess Laura Benanti. And then there’s the actor playing Captain Von Trapp: Stephen Moyer.

I have no idea if he can sing, but I am more than willing to find out.

Even Ms. Underwood sounds less twangy than I’d thought she would.

While nothing can compare to the original, I think we are in for a musical treat come December.

Big Fish on Broadway

Big Fish is one of, if not the most anticipated musical of the season, and with good reason. While I wasn’t a big fan of the 2003 Tim Burton film, its fantastical, never subtle but often poignant plot about a man’s larger-than-life stories and his son’s refusal to accept them, even at his father’s deathbed, seems rife with great musical moments. For sure, this needed to be a musical that would outdo its predecessors in all ways. It would need great production value, it would ring true with observations on life and death, and it would have at its center a simple, yet emotionally fraught relationship between father and son.

Then it was announced that this father and son would be played by Norbert Leo Butz and Bobby Steggert, respectively, and well, it seemed like the heavens had finally shined down upon me and my Broadway fantasies.

Bobby Steggert and Norbert Leo Butz strike a generation gap

Obviously, I set exceptionally high standards for this show and it shouldn’t come as a surprise when they’re nowhere near met. But, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one feeling let-down when by the end of intermission, which arrived at the end of an arduously long first act, I noticed more than a few empty seats in my area.

Now, I should state that the production was in late previews when I saw it, with about a week and a half before yesterday’s opening. So some things might have changed.

But what baffled me most was how the core of the show, the relationship between father and son, can be so dull and boring. Allow me to recap. Throughout Will Bloom’s life (Steggert), his father Ed (Butz) has told him stories about the wild adventures of his youth. The stories involve a bayou witch revealing to him the way he dies, his work at a traveling circus led by a werewolf ringleader, getting shot out of a canon across Alabama State, and saving the town from a friendless giant.

Now an adult, Will is about to get married and become a father himself while his father is suddenly diagnosed with cancer. He searches for the truth about his father’s legacy before he passes it onto his own children.

Sounds great, right? Sounds like tons of father-son arguments, some heated debates, some mysterious clues, right? Sounds like an enormously emotional journey for both father and son to go through together, with so much lifelong anxiety built since childhood, that the show’s happy ending will be one grand cathartic tearjerker, right?

It’s none of these. (Well, I did cry a little at the end, but I’m sure exhaustion was a part of it). Unlike the film’s father-son relationship, there are no hard feelings between the two. In fact, hardly does Steggert even raise his voice, which, honestly, is what Steggert does best. A show with Bobby Steggert in which Bobby Steggert doesn’t have a least one scene of screaming, crying, blubbering, angry frustration is not a show to me. This Will is bland. You would never know there was anything abnormal in this relationship. Even when Will actually gets off his newly-married-and-therefore-presumably-quaint-and-lazy butt and searches for what he assumes is his father’s mistress, he does so with calm, patience, and neatness. There’s nothing at stake in this relationship. The only time we see Will and Ed face each other in a tense way is in a dream sequence set in an old Western saloon, in which Will shows up in a really awful cowboy get-up and challenges his father in a dream duel. Not only did I find the dream sequence kind of embarassingly bad, it was also out-of-touch with the musical because WILL DOESN’T ACTUALLY CHALLENGE HIS FATHER TO MUCH OF ANYTHING. Which means that the ending, when son finally reconciles with his father’s storytelling in what would be a beautifully touching scene means very little. Because very little actually changes. A story needs some kind of dramatic tension if you actually want to resolve that dramatic tension.

Now, back to Ed Bloom. The show is largely a display of Ed’s stories, which means that there are plenty of costume changes, scene changes, and lots of production going into making everything look as real and fantastical as possible. The show succeeds on this front. All the costumes are excellent (much is being written about the witches who blend into trees), the sets are gorgeous (for the most part: sometimes the stage projections feel more like they came out of a video-game than a fairytale), and there’s a lot attention to detail in the show’s countless settings.

Kate Baldwin, Butz, and a stage full of daffodils. DAFFODILS, MISS PIGGY!

Norbert Leo Butz is a force of nature (might as well come out and say it) and what his character lacks in… well, character… he makes up for in raw energy. It’s pretty impossible to take your eyes off him, even amidst his lush surroundings. Yet, while his stories are fun and all, they fall flat because there is no character-focused motivation. We don’t actually learn anything from these tales besides “Oh, Ed Bloom is such a romantic!” or “Ed Bloom, your such a hero!” Actually I’m pretty sure that is the extent to the morals of these stories. One way we could be more invested in the stories is that we could have more doubts about their truthfulness. That tension between what’s fact and what’s fiction is something that would give insight into both Will’s and Ed’s personalities, as well as reflect on the effects of/motivations behind storytelling. Another way to give the stories more meaning is to have them perhaps mirror some of the issues Will or old Ed is dealing with, so that the past generation is in conversation with the present. Another way would be to amplify Will and Ed’s problems with the stories and with each other, with the effect of making us see Ed’s tales from both Ed’s optimistic standpoint and Will’s more cynical point of view.

But there’s none of that. No tensions. No motivations. No change. Hardly a character development. Poor Kate Baldwin gets to dress up like a school girl. All this accumulates into stagnant storytelling, making even Ed’s exciting feel tired, frivolous, and dispensable. Wow, is that how we’re supposed to get insight into Will’s cynical POV?

Now, if you’d like to see a musical number better than anything you’ll find in Big Fish and that is loosely linked to daffodils (as in, daffodils are mentioned twice in the whole song) watch this

NYMF Round-Up Part 3!

NYMF is winding down, but the festival still has some great new musicals performing until it ends Sunday, July 28th. Here are two that brought me back to my school years in all the best ways:


Crossing Swords is a musical retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac set in the fall of 1969, as the boys of St. Mark’s join the girls of St. Anne’s to put on a production of—you guessed it—Cyrano de Bergerac. Sir (Steven Hauck), the stuffy math teacher at St. Mark’s, grudgingly chaperons his students Jeremy (Lyle Colby Mackston) and David (Marrick Smith) over to rehearsals led by Miss Daignault (Linda Balgord). Jeremy wants to play the lead, while David wants to be closer to his “Roxanne,” a girl named Nicky (Ali Gordon). Jeremy offers to be David’s “Cyrano” and help set the pair up, all while hiding his own crush on David. In the process, the teens (and teachers) learn about life, identity, and the different forms that love can take.

At first, I turned a skeptic eye to the Cyrano story being retold through a high school production of the play. But Crossing Swords charmed me much in the same way as the 2008 film Were the World Mine did. (Were the World Mine has a similar premise: just replace Cyrano with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.) The musical beautifully captures the awkwardness and innocence of adolescence, especially when David and Nicky practice their stage kiss for the first time. And Jeremy, David, and Nicky, despite their passions, are not the sardonic, alcohol-drinking, heavily sexualized teens that are featured in most teen-centric stories today. Their heartfelt coming-of-age story, while nostalgic, was a refreshing one to see. The teachers, too, have something special to offer, as Sir and Madame Daignault are dedicated to their students’ development, even though they clash on the exact methodology.

Marrick Smith (David), Lyle Colby Mackston (Jeremy), and Ali Gordon (Nicky) in Crossing Swords - Photo by Seth Walters.jpg
Marrick Smith (David), Lyle Colby Mackston (Jeremy), and Ali Gordon (Nicky) in “Crossing Swords.” Photo by Seth Walters.

Crossing Swords director Igor Goldin gives the production a seamless staging. He also brings wonderful performances out of the cast, who all approach their roles with naturalism and sincerity. The songs, written by Joe Slabe, have a gentle, almost pensive quality to them. The book, also written by Slabe, ties it all together with poignancy and a fair bit of humor. (One choice line, uttered by Sir: “Childhood theatrics are tantamount to child abuse.”)  The piece is so well-crafted that it doesn’t need historical references to the Stonewall riots and the moon landing. Crossing Swords already takes you to a time of its own, where love can be lost—and remade—again.

Favorite songs: “Let Me Be Your Cyrano,” “Heart on My Sleeve” (that has a melody I’m still humming), and “Very Good with Words.”

Steven Hauck (Sir), Lyle Colby Mackston (Jeremy), Ali Gordon (Nicky), Marrick Smith (David), and Linda Balgord (Miss Daignault) in Crossing Swords - Photo by Seth Walters
Steven Hauck (Sir), Lyle Colby Mackston (Jeremy), Ali Gordon (Nicky), Marrick Smith (David), and Linda Balgord (Miss Daignault) in “Crossing Swords.” Photo by Seth Walters.


There’s another little orphan with red hair and a similar name singing and dancing in a show a few blocks northeast of the PTC Performance Space. But Bend in the Road‘s source material isn’t a comic strip. Instead, writers Benita Scheckel (book & lyrics) and Michael Upward (music & lyrics) take on the classic children’s book series Anne of Green Gables.

Bend in the Road follows Anne Shirley, an orphan who is adopted by middle-aged siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. The Cuthberts had expected a boy to help them on the farm, but Anne captivates the pair. While living with the Cuthberts, Anne gets in (and out) of scrapes, makes friends in the town, and finds her place in the world.

L to R: CJ PAWLIKOWSKI as Gilbert Blythe and ALISON WOODS as Anne Shirley in BEND IN THE ROAD at NYMF (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
L to R: CJ Pawlikowski as Gilbert Blythe and Alison Woods as Anne Shirley. (Photo by Carol Rosegg.)

I loved reading about Anne Shirley and her adventures in Prince Edward Island as a child, and equally I loved seeing Lucy Maud Montgomery’s characters being brought to life. Anne Kanengeiser and Martin Vidnovic bring a wonderful sensibility to Marilla and Matthew, and the fourteen-person cast all handle their parts with great aplomb. But a musical about Anne of Green Gables needs a strong Anne, and Bend in the Road has found it in Alison Woods, who carries the show on her small (but very capable shoulders). Woods, who resembles a younger Amy Adams in her speech (and overall adorableness), plays Anne as a real child and not as a caricature, while still imbuing her with a great deal of energy and precociousness.

Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Michael Upward’s music captures the timeless essence of Anne of Green Gables in the tradition of “literary” musicals like The Secret Garden and Little Women. The lilting harmonies transport you to the countryside of Prince Edward Island and are a delight to listen to. I hope that Bend in the Road will continue to have audiences of all ages in future productions.

Favorite songs: “The Lord’s Prayer,” a song between Anne and Marilla that instantly put a smile to my face, and “Walk Like Sisters,” a duet between Anne and her friend Diana.

For our other posts about NYMF this year, check out our NYMF 2013 tag.

Why the “Magic Mike” Musical Adaptation is the Best. Idea. Ever. (NSFW)

News broke this week that Magic Mike (or STRIPPED: The Channing Tatum Story) is being made into a musical. Here are a few reasons why you should put on your recording of Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland’s “Get Happy / Happy Days Are Here Again” and celebrate.

C’mon. Celebrate.

The creative team is, like, really good.

The creative lineup for the musical adaptation of Magic Mike is just as fine as the movie’s original cast. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (Tony/Pulitzer-winners for Next to Normal) are writing the score, while Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is writing the book. All three have exciting new musicals in the latter stages of development. Kitt and Yorkey’s If/Then, starring musical goddess Idina Menzel, is set for a Spring 2014 Broadway debut, while the musical version of American Psycho (book by Aguirre-Sacasa) will debut in London later this year. I see beautiful rock songs about tearaway pants on our future.

The storyline is actually made for a musical.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, Magic Mike follows Channing Tatum as he dreams to start his own business while working as a male stripper to pay the bills. That’s basically the dudebro version of Sweet Charity.

With less Bob Fosse and more… everything.

Meanwhile, he meets a nineteen-year-old kid who’s looking for work, and he helps him get into the stripping business (A Star Is Born redux). Add in Tatum’s love interest, the kid’s sister who wants to keep him safe from the perils of male strippertude (hello, Guys and Dolls), and you have a musical theatre plot combo breaker.

It can have a little more fun than the actual movie.

The film had some great, ahem, dance sequences, but the Stephen Soderbergh-directed piece ventured a little too far into the dark side. Musical theatre is a form that can’t help being comedic, and hopefully, the Magic Mike sequel can have more fun with its subject matter. Which is male stripping. Which is kind of hilarious.

But we all know the most important reason why this musical must be made…

There will be hot naked men to look at.

No offense to The Full Monty, but I especially look forward to a musical that has a ending sequence that looks more like this:

And I’m not alone. The demographics for Broadway audiences tend to run mostly female and mostly gay. Are many lady theatregoers not interested in seeing hot naked men? Of course. Are many gay male theatregoers not interested in seeing hot naked men? I guess. But nudity is still an audience draw, and it won’t be any different when Magic Mike is ready for its Broadway debut. With or without its pants on.

Shirtless Matt Bomer thanks you for your time.

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