Category Archives: Theatre

Grease: Live! ( A Review. )

Another Network has taken their turn at the MUSICAL NAME: LIVE! television event.

NBC has done three so far: The Sound of Music, Peter Pan and most recently, The Wiz. Most will agree, each attempt got better, with The Wiz being pretty top notch. But, tonight, there was a live musical on FOX. They did GREASE: LIVE! And, how did they do? Did they crash and burn or rise above?

I tried to rally my friends and family to watch this with me. But, I was told, “No way! Did you see Sound of Music? It was AWFUL!.” They didn’t want to take a chance.

So, after a birthday party that evening, I grabbed some popcorn, accessed my DVR recordings and pressed play.

GREASE

What the production did well:

The Overall Presentation: Unlike NBC, FOX used multiple sound stages. This allowed for better camera movement, and gave the actors more space to work with. Instead of static camera shots, we were skipping along with the actors, moving along with them from the school yard to the diner. It was different and it worked.

The Casting: While it took NBC a few tries, Fox got casting right on their first attempt. Every actor could sing, dance, and act. No one fell short. One might wander about actors in their late 20s to early 30s playing teens, but they pulled it off. None of the actors looked 30 and you could tell they did their best to play teens and not a “30 year old playing a teen.” I was most impressed with Julianne Hough, who had the naive, delicate Sandy down pat.

Sandy

The Music: All the favorite tunes from Grease are here, with one addition, that I could tell. “All I need is an Angel”, was written for the character of Frenchie, and it was a beautiful song. It added to the story, fit the vibe of the other songs and was catchy.

The Audience: NBC has lacked a live audience for all three of its musicals. An audience is critical for performers, and GREASE: LIVE pulled it off nicely. Audience members sat in bleachers, in “the school yard” or “in the cafeteria.” The audience was able to give energy to the performers, while doubling as student extras. It was genius.

The Costumes/Lighting/Sets: Top notch on all three fronts. Colorful costumes, beautiful sets, and lighting that really made you think Sandy and Danny were at a drive in. Holy cow.

What the Production Could Have Done Better:

Going out to Commercials: Right before a commercial break, Mario Lopez would suddenly appear. Almost always right near the actors, telling us we were watching LIVE and that we’d be right back. This kind of took me out of the story and ruined the illusion. The opening number, sung by Jessie J, also seemed out of place to me. I would have preferred if they had gone the NBC route and played it straight the whole way through.

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Technical Trouble: The performance nearly went off perfectly, except for the majority of the high school dance sequence. Audio got terribly scratchy and we even lost audio for about five seconds. Now, mistakes will happen. But, it was just too damn bad it had to happen during the dance.

Aaron Tveit: Okay, okay… don’t get it wrong. Overall, Aaron was phenomenal in the role. He was a great Danny. The problem I had was there are parts in the story where Danny’s physical appearance comes into play. He’s supposed to be good looking, yes, but not muscular. Sandy starts dating Tom, a jock– and Danny tries out for some sports teams to impress her. I was laughing during these parts because, Aaron is in great shape. His biceps were bulging like nobody’s business. So, when Danny can’t throw a basketball or gets taken down by a wrestler, it’s a little comical. I’m sure there could have been some slight script adjustments to account for Tevit’s physique.

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Final Thoughts:

Overall, this was a fantastic production. Very few issues. For a “first try”, FOX nailed it and hit a home run. NBC might want to get worried now, because, there’s a new actor in the audition room.

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Images from Fox.com

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The Wiz, Live! (a Quick Review.)

For the third time, NBC has brought a musical into our homes, LIVE. And like Dorothy’s three clicks of her heels, the third time has seemed to be the charm, as The Wiz, Live! Was a triumph, to say the least.

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Right away, the giant LED screens provide an elegant, yet drab background of the Kansas farm. You know you’re in for a fun ride, once we arrive to Oz.

The book (the script) is new here, with Dorothy struggling with wanting to go “back home” to Omaha. She doesn’t like her new school and thinks Aunt Em works her to the bone. Aunt Em loves her anyway, and tries to tell Dorothy home is not a place, but where you are loved. Dorothy’s parents are gone, but Em does the best she can. And before we know it, a Tornado whips up Dorothy and her house and, you know the rest!

Here’s my quick review:

  • Amber Riley was just perfect as the bubbly Addaperle, whom welcomes Dorothy to Oz. Props to the costumers who put her in blue, this is a nod to the original Oz book.

 

  • Wow, the Scarecrow (played by Elijah Kelley) was funny here. I loved how he was trying to rush Dorothy along once they met Tin Man. And, let’s give praise to Elijah’s singing as well as that great back flip he landed!

 

  • Shanice Williams was a fabulous Dorothy. The new book gave Dorothy some spunk. Her line to the crows, “I already killed a witch this morning, and I wasn’t even mad at her!” was great and she delivered it well.  Also, this is almost silly to say, but come on, we know her singing was OFF THE CHARTS. Man, that version of “Home” was just beautiful. Judy Garland has some competition there.

 

  • I hate to bunch them together, not because they weren’t fantastic on their own, but I loved the Tin Man and Lion. Ne-Yo had a distinct accent and fantastic movement. David Alan Grier made the Lion his own and his comedy shined through.

 

  • One of the most chilling moments in this show was new— when Dorothy is trying to find the yellow brick road, and her dead mother calls out to her. Her mother is trapped in a tree, and to get her down, the mother advises Dorothy to give her the magic silver shoes. Of course, we find out “mother” is really a creature of the forest, trying to trap Dorothy, who is saved by the Tin Man. This was just a brilliant moment and I can see it being used in other productions.

 

  • The Emerald City being set up as a nightclub was interesting. I loved the dancing once we got inside. Just wonderful.

 

  • Queen Latifah. What can I say? Having a female Wizard works here, and she was just great all around. Although, I didn’t like how it is she, and not Dorothy, that help the three friends realize they have brains, a heart, and courage. Dorothy needs to always be the one to tell her friends they’ve had what they sought after. The Wiz is a fake, how does she know?

 

  • Mary J Blige had me worried in press footage. She didn’t seem evil, at all. But, I was happy to see she was screeching and stomping, in brilliant fashion. Not just a singer saying lines, she was acting. Her melting was great, and the purist in me loves they actually threw water on her, and not Glitter.

Now, onto some negatives:

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  • Uzo Aduba was alright. She came across as “the wicked’s glinda”, you know, kind of flighty, silly. And look, I know singing is tough, but she was flat here and there. But, what was very off putting was her hair. Now, here me out. In press footage, Glinda had blond curly hair, to go with her her gold dress. But, Uzo came out in what I think was her actual hair, with little gold jewels in it. It’s not that it looked “bad”. But I’m wondering if getting her in that dress was taking to long and they scrapped the wig. Her look definitely seemed unfinished.

The Wiz Live! - Season 2015

  • Toto. Oh, man, Toto. Where was he? NOWHERE. He came and barked at the farm hands and seemingly missed the tornado. I absolutely hate a production that ignores Toto. And The Wiz, Live! Took it to a new level. He didn’t even go to Oz. Well, that’s a new one.

 

  • Lastly, after Dorothy sang ‘Home’ and returned home, we literally saw her in Kansas for 5 seconds. The production still had twenty minutes left. We needed a ‘moment.’ Aunt Em rushed to hug Dorothy and Toto, who we hadn’t seen in three hours, jumped in Dorothy’s  arms and… that was it.

Overall, this production was magical. This certainly was the best of the three and it being about Oz was a treat for me, since that’s one of my favorite things. (See what I did there?)

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PETER PAN, LIVE! A Short and Sweet Review.

This time last year, 18 million people sat down to their televisions to see Carrie Underwood in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, LIVE! And, here we are again, but it’s PETER PAN, LIVE! With Allison Williams.

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I gave a quick review of the former production, so, I figured I could do the same this year. Short and sweet.

  1. The set was beautiful. Very colorful and large. Very “story book.”
  2. My breath was taken away when Peter made his entrance. Flying effects were on point.
  3. Not a fault of the NBC production, but I felt most songs were forgettable. However, the music itself makes a great score.
  4. Allison Williams did a fairly good job, in both acting and singing.
  5. Christopher Walken seemed to go in and out of character. His Hook was silly. However, the Disney Hook is silly most of the time, so maybe that’s what he was going for.
  6. Taylor Louderman was an extremely melodramatic Wendy. Very Broadway. I would have liked her to tone it down just a tad during the few serious moments.
  7. Tinkerbell was nifty. Props to actors knowing where to look and for cameramen moving perfectly for Tink’s path.
  8. Melisa Joan Hart was a hoot in those Walmart commercials. My favorite one was where she laughs as her children play with some toys. “Yes, these are bow and arrows! Like the one Wendy got shot with!”

So, was this a better production than last years? I’d say it was. Not that “Music…” was bad, but you could agrue last year’s lead needed some acting classes. Sure, “Peter Pan” had sort of the same wonky feel. But, NBC fixed what went wrong last year and overall, I’d say this was very enjoyable and more whimsical.

As it stands now, NBC is planning to air a LIVE play next year. I believe it will be 12 ANGRY MEN. My hope is they reconsider, and do another family friendly musical. While many people want to hatewatch, I think it’s important the LIVE Musical become a Holiday tradition.

Might I recommend GREASE, CINDERELLA or THE WIZARD OF OZ?

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The Wizard of Oz (Andrew Lloyd Webber Version) Review

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When I heard that someone had decided to ‘rework’ THE WIZARD OF OZ, I was abhorred. The classic tale of the lost farm girl in a magic land has been around for 75 years, and has still held up. But, it was  inevitable that eventually, someone  would take a pen or a piano and put their magic touch on this fantastic established work.

Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams, this THE WIZARD OF OZ may have “Over the Rainbow” and “We’re off to see the Wizard”, but you’re not going to see the classic film brought to life on stage. You’re going to see something that isn’t quite right— something that’ll leave you feeling uncomfortable instead of enchanted.

The Acting:

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Danielle Wade, who won the role of Dorothy through a reality TV competition, is deserving of the ruby slippers. This girl has a stunning voice. While there are elements of Garland’s Dorothy, Wade makes the part her own and is probably the best actress I have seen as Dorothy. When ‘Over the Rainbow’ finally arrives, time slows, and you are reminded why you came to see this show.

Jamie McKnight is the Scarecrow. He’s likeable and has new material to work with. His singing is great and he’s limber. The only thing is with the new material, Jamie decided to yell a few lines as to appear childish. I didn’t much care for the yelling.

Mike Jackson is one of the best Tin Men I’ve seen. He nails the compassion down pat and is an excellent tap dancer. I never really liked the Tin Man much. But during this show, I was almost always finding myself enjoying his acting out of the three friends.

Lee MacDougall is a fine actor and does the part of the Cowardly Lion justice, but there are issues here that I’ll discuss later.

Jacquelyn Piro Donovan is a funny witch, making us laugh with some good one liners and has a pretty good cackle.

Robin Evan Willis is a fantastic Glinda and has an angelic voice.

The show follows the same basic plot of the classic film. But, some songs are emitted, new ones are added, and all the dialogue is new. You’ll hear the classic, “I’ll get you my pretty” and “There’s no place like home,” but, for the most part, you’re going to see a slightly more spunky Dorothy, an extremely stupid Scarecrow and a very unwelcome characterization of The Lion.

Let’s talk about the new songs first.

The Songs: 

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The first new song is ‘Nobody Understands Me”, a catchy tune Dorothy sings. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry just don’t understand Toto is in danger, and in my opinion, is the best new song. While not particularly needed, it is catchy and reiterates Dorothy’s feeling of not being heard.

The second new song is ‘Wonders of the World’, sung by Professor Marvel. The song is meant to give The Wizard something to sing and reenforce the idea that there is something better than Kansas. But, perhaps just a fault no person can escape, the scene is something you NEED, but it’s never entertaining. I will say the new script brings more humor along with The Wizard, so it’s not as boring as it has been in other productions.

After ‘Wonders’, we hear what we are familiar with… “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”, “If I only Had…” “The Merry Land of Oz” and so on. But, when the Wizard demands to be brough the Witch’s broomstick, we have a song… “Bring me the Broomstick.” This is the one addition that absolutely needs to be thrown in the trash. It’s not a fun song and it slows the story down to a halt.

Next, right before Dorothy is captured by the Wicked Witch, The Witch sings ‘Red Shoe Blues’, a drab, lounge-ish tune about how the slippers will make her powers stronger. The song is okay. But it’s nothing special. Some shows have had the Witch sing ‘The Jitterbug’, which is a nice fit and frankly, a much better song.

The last song that is added is “Already Home” sung by Glinda, just before Dorothy clicks her heels. This song is actually pretty good. The melody is magical and the lyrics are quite clever.

Home is a place in your heart/ Every Journey take you back to where you start.

All in all, the trouble here is you just can’t top the original. Music or songs. The original music is classic and no song will ever top ‘Over the Rainbow.’ These new songs can stand on their own, but don’t match the creativity of the work done by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg

The Script: (Called the Book for stage shows) :

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The new book is where the real problem is. Some editions are welcomed:

Dorothy isn’t entirely a ‘damsel in distress’ and has some spunk, the Wizard is really funny, and there is some nice banter between The Witch and Glinda.

You’ll also see that the Scarecrow is extremely stupid here. He can never remember what it is he wants from the Wizard. This was different, but it leads to a lot of comedy from the actor playing the Scarecrow, and he had me laughing.

But, there is one characterization brought on by new lines that is absolutely tasteless. In this production, the Cowardly Lion is gay.

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He never directly states it, but ‘jokes’ are said to humor us:

“I’m a proud friend of Dorothy’s”

“The Lion Sleeps tonight”

“I’m a Lion in Winter!”

You could argue there was some “hint” in the original the Lion might in fact have been gay. The word “Sissy” is in his song, and he does get a perm at the Emerald City… Those two things are from the original. But here, the entire character of the Lion is built around his purposed homosexuality, even being told by an Emerald City Guard, “My wife runs the spa! You’ll love it!”

During “If I only Had the Nerve” when the Lion Sings, ‘I’m just a Dandy Lion”, he leans on the Tin Man’s shoulder and the Tin man slowly backs away.

In a time when gays are struggling to earn the right to marry and face constant discrimination, why must we play up the stereotype? And in THE WIZARD OF OZ, no less. Judy Garland was a gay icon, (hence, ‘friend of Dorothy’s) and many gays identify with her journey. The fact that Webber and Sams felt the need to write the Lion this way is beyond me. Sure, maybe it gets a laugh. But it’s deplorable. This is the major problem with the production and I strongly suggest a re-write.

The book also has a completely messed up change. When Dorothy is saying good bye to her three friends, just before she returns home, she says to the scarecrow, “I think I’ll miss you most of all.” It’s a tender moment. But, NOT HERE.

“Hey, we were with you too” says the Tin Man.

“Yeah, Thanks a lot!” pipes the Lion.

The couple sitting in front of me looked at each other at this moment, and the woman made an expression like, “What the hell was that?”

Again, this was an attempt at humor, but it falls flat. It makes the Tin Man and Lion look like assholes, and in THE WIZARD OF OZ, the only person you want to hate is the Wicked Witch.

Speaking of the Witch— In Kansas, when Miss Gulch arrives, you’ll soon realize she doesn’t have a basket on her bike. She threatens Dorothy that she wants the dog destroyed and she’ll “be back in one hour” with the order from the sheriff. But, after she rides off, Dorothy runs away immediately.

The fact that Toto is never torn away from Dorothy’s arms changes the narrative completely. Having Miss Gulch threatening her just isn’t enough. Having Toto placed in the basket and seeing Dorothy cry is the strongest element in Kansas. But here, Toto is never taken from Dorothy. It’s something that needs to be there.

Another thing about Toto, which I’m not sure is written in the book or some kind of animal trainer decision—

Where’s Toto? 

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Toto is absent from the stage. A LOT. Now, I’ve seen productions with stuffed animals and I’ve seen productions with real animals on a leash. The dog playing Toto was extremely well trained. He’d sit on a stool for a few minutes or he’d run away, right on cue. When he wasn’t sitting or running he was on a leash. But, the strange thing was, Toto was often taken off stage and absent for long periods of time.

In Munchkinland, The Wicked Witch arrives— and little Toto is MIA. This is usually where Dorothy scoops Toto up and hugs him for dear life… and we all know the Witch will get Dorothy and “her little dog too”. Well, Toto magically ran on stage about 15 seconds before the Witch was to threaten to get the little dog.

I feel there was something more here, because, at Emerald City, Dorothy is told “No dogs allowed!” when she tries to go to the Wizard’s throne room. Toto was then taken off stage and absent until midway of the Haunted Forest scene.

If you want to give the animal a break, I have no problem with that. But, when you give the animal a break needs to be decided carefully. Toto has GOT to be with Dorothy during the Munchkinland sequence… he can’t just run on before the Witch is suddenly to mention him. The amount of breaks ‘Toto’ had made it seem like Dorothy didn’t care about her little dog at all. I mean, it just didn’t make sense.

This show has promise. But, in its current state, it comes off like a work-shopped musical. It needs a major overhaul.

Final Verdict: The production looks nice: beautiful sets, costumes and some CGI effects for the Tornado. But, while the production is visually appealing, its book has got some serious diarrhea.

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