Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Waitress Was Not Exactly What I Ordered

I have things to say about Waitress on Broadway.  All of which I'm worried will make it seem like I absolutely hated it.  When in reality, I actually quite enjoyed it.  It's just that I have questions.  I wanted to love it, but that just didn't happen.  And when the lights came up, and my Broadway buddy was wiping away tears, I was emotionally confused.  I cry at everything, (in fact, I accused her of having a cold-dead heart when she failed to shed a single tear at Falsettos) and yet I couldn't understand why a single person would even tear up, let alone cry at the show I had just seen.  It's all a conundrum I'm still trying to process.

First, above all else, why in the world did they make Earl such a quintessential bad guy? And why did they cast the positively lovely Will Swenson to play this awful excuse for a human being?  The character didn't elicit a single redeeming quality the entire 2 hours.  At no point did I see why Jenna fell in love with him in the first place.  It's also hard to see why, in his most awful moments, not a single person in the diner stood up to him.  The character was so terrible that Will Swenson - who had acted his heart out the entire show - barely gained applause at the curtain call.  I know that that is the mark of a good actor -  the audience being unable to separate the actor from the character, but I have to think that's rough to absorb each night.

Then there was the story itself.  I'm OK with the plot line.  I knew what I was going to see.  I had seen parts of the movie, and pieced together the story. However, there was no warning that it may not be suitable for younger audiences. I'm no prude, and yet there was foul language, and some pretty risque sex scenes.  Both were played for drama and comedy, yet there were some young girls in the audience ready to see Sara Bareilles.  I'm sure their moms didn't appreciate having to explain away what they were seeing. 

The music itself was great.  It worked well to propel the story along, though I'm not sure the little details were fleshed out as well as they could be.  At some point, something fairly major happened that hinged on a plot point I had completely missed, because it was mentioned in a throw-away line, an hour before. A small nod to that particular fact would have been helpful to at least throw into one of the songs.  The choreography was also a little confusing. I've since read that in the movie, the pies that Jenna makes give those eating them the same feelings she's having as she's baking them. That particular detail was missing in the stage show, however I'm pretty sure that's what some of the choreography was trying to convey. Every once in a while, the stage would go black except for a spotlight on Jenna.  She would then bake up some fancifully named pie in her head.  But that's just a guess on my part.

Now see?  You've listened to me vent for the last few paragraphs and I do seem fairly down on this show.  But I promise there are good things.  For instance, Sara Bareilles was fantastic!  She was the perfect Jenna - warm, funny and seemed to be having the time of her life on this stage.  Her voice has always been beautiful, but it really seemed to come alive singing the songs she wrote for this show.  I can't imagine why she's leaving in a few weeks, but after seeing Betsy Wolfe perform, I have a feeling she'll be fabulous too as the next Jenna.

Chris Diamontopoulos was also fabulous as Dr. Pomatter.  He was equally dreamy and adorably awkward.  He was the exact opposite of Will Swenson's Earl, which is exactly what he was supposed to be.  My only slight complaint (sorry, this must be said) was that his lab coat was about 3 sizes too big for him (just an annoyance on my part).  Other than that, I could see why Jenna would fall head over heels for his kind and cute OB/GYN.

So there you have it.  It's not that it was terrible.  No show on Broadway is ever terrible. These artists have beautiful voices and are full of all sorts of talents.  I thoroughly enjoyed my 2 hours, just like I thoroughly enjoy all of my time in a theater.  It's just that I was left with a few more questions than answers.  However, seeing just how fantastic Sara Bareilles was with the part, makes me want to go back just to see how different (or alike) Betsy Wolfe's Jenna will be.  And any show I can see myself visiting again, can't be all bad. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Art in the Arts: Lights of Broadway Show Cards

A few of my faves.  You can't tell, but the Times Square card is gold embossed - so shiny!
One of the best things about the arts community, is that there are so many creative pursuits within it.  Each artist has their own specialty, so there really is no limit to the art these people can create.  Basically, art begets art, which is a fabulous prospect in today's less-than-beautiful times.  



One of these pursuits is the Lights of Broadway show cards, created by Squigs Robertson.  These trading cards are basically baseball cards for theatre nerds, however the design of each is about 100 times better than any old-fashioned baseball card.  Squigs designs and illustrates each of these works of art by hand.  If his whimsical artwork looks familiar, it's because you may have seen his designs around online.  For each new show that opens, Squigs lovingly creates a one of a kind design in his own style. These illustrations of shows, as well as his drawings of artists, arts journalists, production people, and beyond, together make up the individual sets of Lights of Broadway cards. 


A whole set dedicated to Dear Evan Hansen.
The cards started selling in 2015, and really hit their stride in 2016 at BroadwayCon.  For the event, Squigs created a few Con-exclusives, which made the Light-Catchers (what we collectors are lovingly called - seriously, have you ever heard a cooler fan name?!) very, very happy. 


Squigs!  The artist himself at BroadwayCon
The cards are sold in packs of 5 and each new season brings a new release.  I was intrigued by the idea at first, but wasn't sure there was a need.  However, after buying one set, I was hooked on trying to collect as many as I could.  In one instance, I was told by a cashier at Theater Circle that there was a way to cheat.  In other words, I could see what was in the package before buying it.  After thinking about it, I decided that's so not the point. When you were 6 years old, the fun of opening a box of cereal was always seeing what surprise was hidden inside.  That's exactly the case with these trading cards.  Unwrapping and exploring what you've just bought is the fun part.

For theatre nerds, these cards present a way to share their love for artists or specific shows with their friends and family.  And for artists, this venture shows that there's always a different way to go about art.  If you're interested in the theatre, but have no musical talent, that's fine.  You can bring something else to the community you love.  As long as you're passionate about your ideas, there will always be a place for you in the arts.

Editor's Note: 
Some of you may be wondering what  to do with these cards once you've purchased them. Well in that instance, Squigs' team has you covered.  On the Lights of Broadway website, you can find an official binder to keep the cards safe, as well as other fun add ons for your cards.  Another fun idea I've noticed is having artists sign their cards at the stage door.  I haven't tried this yet, but what an awesome keepsake to celebrate a show or artist you love.


Both this card, and the Falsettos one below were BroadwayCon exclusives.  Aren't they fun!?
And lastly, since I'm a Project Lifer and a Scrapbooker, I just need to say that the cards make the perfect addition to albums when you're documenting trips to New York or to the theatre. That's my favorite thing to do with them.  These cards are sprinkled throughout my albums. When you have such great art, you just need to display it somewhere that everyone can see!


Lights of Broadway Show Cards can be purchased online or in New York at Theatre Circle and One Shubert Alley.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mendel Sings it Out

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Brandon Uranowitz - who played Mendel in the Falsettos revival - at 54 Below.  At the time, I believe I said I'd never left a concert happier.  He is a phenomenal performer, who absolutely nailed his first solo performance. He was excited to be there, and was surrounded by friends who were there to cheer him on, which I'm sure made the night a bit easier. He was unbelievably funny and I'm not sure I've ever laughed so hard in a show.  Not to blather on, but I loved it.

So when it was announced that he would be reviving his show for one performance only, this month, I was first in line to buy tickets.  This time I would bring my Broadway buddy with me, who has had to listen to me gush about it for the last few weeks.  The addition of Carmen Cusack, Zachary Prince and Andrew Rannells, at the last minute was just icing on the cake of an already much-anticipated evening.

Well, after seeing him again, I need to reiterate the man is an absolutely brilliant performer. Again, I left the venue with a giant smile on my face.   Just as he did in February, he chose to celebrate the music of William Finn, who wrote Falsettos, A New Brain, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, among others.  Both Brandon Uranowitz and Bill Finn are natural storytellers, which means they are the perfect pairing. Brandon's ability to tell stories and meld in the music of Bill Finn so seamlessly is quite impressive. Finn's music tends to be snarky and funny with a just the right bit of sadness thrown in.  And Brandon's stories of his life and what's happening in the world right now, were the perfect additions to these beautiful and complex songs. 

And as is par for the course at many 54 Below shows, the main performer was backed and joined by other awesomely talented and lovely performers.  In his first show, I was lucky enough to see Stephanie J. Block join him who was so very wonderful.    Unfortunately, she had prior engagements this time around, though Brandon did have a few other friends join him for the ride.  As a surprise, Anthony Rosenthal - who played his step-son in Falsettos - showed up and sang the Bar Mitzvah song, which was great.  He's such a talented kid, and so excited about musical theater in general, so it's always nice to see him perform. Next up, was Carmen Cusack who was wickedly funny, and sang "I'd Rather be Sailing" from A New Brain. It's such a beautiful song, and the 2 performers duet-ed beautifully. 

He then called Andrew Rannells up to sing "The Games I Play" from Falsettos which is one of my favorites, and is also heartbreaking.  At the risk of gushing again, this man is unbelievably talented and completely brilliant. His performance gave me - and I'm sure others - goosebumps.  Lastly, Brandon and his partner Zachary Prince sang "What Would I Do?" from Falsettos, which was absolutely beautiful. Now, this may be scandalous to say, but their version of this song may be better than the one in the actual show. 

After one last quick, and sassy version of "I Love My Voice", the show was over.  And it was time to leave, with yet another giant grin.  Brandon completely nailed this performance. I only hope he continues to do cabaret, because his voice and his personality were made for this stage!

Editors Note:
Starstruck II: Return of the Awkward

What would a night out be, without some awkwardness thrown in on my part, though?  Yet again, I was starstruck, and yet again, I may or may not have made a fool of myself.  In this instance, lovely famous people were sitting within inches of me.  Literally, right behind me, which I didn't realize until about 5 minutes after they sat down. Therefore, I was no good for the rest of the night.  I was OK with Max von Essen sitting there, but then his lovely famous friends sat with him - including Andrew Rannells.  So yeah, there's that.  Returning to the scene of my last starstruck moment, wasn't exactly the cathartic evening I was hoping for...

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

It's So Nice to Have You Back Where You Belong

For about the last month or so, I've been ever so slightly miffed at Bette Midler.  She and her production of Hello, Dolly! have been taking the spotlight away from my Falsettos team in the Tony race.  I had no doubt that Bette in all her glory, and the unbelievably talented ensemble that make up the cast of Hello, Dolly! were just as fabulous as everyone was saying that they were.  How could they not be?  I just didn't want them to be more fabulous than the Falsettos crew in the eyes of Tony voters, because if it were up to me, that cast and production would receive all of the awards!

However, after finally having the pleasure of seeing Hello, Dolly!, I have to admit that the critics are so very right in their praise of this show.  There must be a better way to describe such a classic production, but the best I've been able to come up with is sparkly.  Each part of the show, from the costumes to the set pieces to the actors, just seem to come alive and brighten the whole theater.  I could almost see the warm glow come over the audience the second the truly Divine Ms. M stepped - or should I say, rode? - onto the stage.   

Because, after all, most of the audience was there to see her in all her diva-ness in this quintessential part.  And from the second her casting was announced, even I found myself dreaming of snagging some tickets just to say that I had seen her in it.  And after witnessing her starry turn as Dolly Levi, I guarantee that everyone in that theater will be reminiscing about seeing her just as theater-goers that witnessed Ethel Merman in the part must have. Bette Midler as Dolly is positively phenomenal.  She has charm, sass, flair and the perfect comedic timing to make her Dolly a lovable force to be reckoned with.  Her rendition of "Hello, Dolly" gained her a well-deserved standing ovation mid-show, but that wasn't even the most impressive part of her performance.  That came, when for a good 3 straight minutes, the only action on stage was Dolly eating by herself, while the rest of the cast looked on.  She had the entire audience in the palm of her hand, and clearly loved every minute of it.

For this type of performance to really soar, you also need a straight man who can hold their own in the talent department.  And in casting David Hyde Pierce to play her soon-to-be love-interest, they most definitely found the perfect foil.  He was a droll and grumpy curmudgeon that succeeded in being hilarious and lovable.  I don't think I could ever dream-cast anyone better to play off of Bette's zing, wit and warmth.  He made his character stand out, while allowing Bette to do her thing.  Just like Ms. M, he was brilliant in every way.  As was the rest of this heavy-hitting, super-talented ensemble.

The other standout in this production full of standouts, is the costuming.  Each dress or suit were just gorgeous.  Each were made with rich, vibrant fabrics, that came to life in the lights of the stage.  These period-specific pieces in modern-day color palettes contributed a great deal to the sparkle of this production I mentioned earlier. What could have been a stuffy revival full of large petticoats and tweed morning jackets, became a technicolor masterpiece, in the hands of the very talented costume designers.

In the end, I came away from this show completely in awe of what I saw.  The ability to make a decades-old show feel brand new is truly a feat of talent on the part of the entire production team.   I'm in full agreement with the other critics that if Bette and David aren't awarded the lead actress and actor Tony awards, that the system is rigged.  They blew the roof off the joint, in the truest sense of the words and fully deserve any praise they receive. And maybe if they're awarded those Tony awards, there'll be one left over for best revival for my well-loved Falsettos.  Just a thought...

Monday, May 8, 2017

Best of Baltimore: AVAM


A few months ago, Travel + Leisure Magazine published an article that named Baltimore one of the country's quirkiest cities.  As a native Marylander I'd have to say I agree with that statement.  Baltimore is chock full of all sorts of  weird and wonderful - restaurants, sites, museums, and events, all rolled into one fairly lovely city.


One of the quirkiest museums in town - probably THE quirkiest - is the American Visionary Arts Museum (AVAM.)  In a sea of stuffy, buttoned-up museums, AVAM stands out as one of the only in the country dedicated to self-taught art.  Each piece the museum exhibits is lovingly created by intuitive artists who have taught themselves their craft.


The art is never boring or stale.  These artists dabble in all different mediums - from glass to textiles; from natural pieces to metal.  They realize that art comes in many forms and AVAM celebrates all of them in every exhibit they plan.


As an admirer of AVAM, you would think I've been there quite often, but I haven't.  I'm embarrassed to say I've never been inside the museum.  However, this will definitely change after my wander around their beautiful building this weekend.  The people behind AVAM realize that great art shouldn't be relegated to the inside of buildings.  The outside of great spaces need love too, so they've created a space that's open for anyone to wander through before heading inside. 


Most parts of this huge building are covered in beautiful glass work laid out in intricate patterns.  There are animals made from old junk and musical instruments.  There's a golden hand that's waiting to surprise you around the back of the building.  They even managed to cover some of the street with a mural celebrating diversity.  They left no stone un-turned - or more precisely, no piece un-beautified.


Without even entering the museum, you can see the love of creativity and desire to create that these artists are sharing with the world.  However, I'm sure you and I could delve into a great deal more of this quirky artist's paradise by entering the building.  And I don't know about you, but I definitely plan to do that very soon!

Who can resist a trippy selfie?

American Visionary Arts Museum
800 Key Highway
Baltimore MD, 21230

Friday, May 5, 2017

Starstruck

Who's awkward?  This girl right here...
When I was little, I was called shy.  When I got a little older, I was an introvert.  Now I'd say I lean more to the socially awkward end of the spectrum.  Friends and family tell me this isn't true, but they don't live inside my head and hear the non-stop chatter of hypothetical situations.  Honestly, it's getting a bit loud in here.  I'm perfectly fine with polite conversation. How are you?  How's the weather?  I'm even better if I know one small fact about you.  Oh, you just got back from Jamaica? Tell me all about it.  Oh, you have an affinity for small hairless cats?  Well, I'd love to hear all about that.  (Honestly, I really don't care about the cats so much, but it's something to hold on to.)

However, if I were to be dropped next to you at a wedding and you and I have never met before, you would now be responsible for the remainder of the evening's conversation because I got nothing. I may ask how you know the bride/groom. I'm not that challenged But aside from that, I'd be OK with sitting there quietly enjoying my meal and my cake.  

There are just far too many unknowns. And far too many embarrassing things can happen in these situations for my liking. It really is quite like a minefield.  A minefield, everyone else has seemingly mastered while I'm still tip-toeing around the edge.  Now you may think this sounds awful.  It is.  It's certainly not debilitating and I have friends and family that love me, so I'm doing OK.  However, I'm about to tell you how this all gets worse.  This right here, only happens in the presence of normal everyday people.  Peers, work acquaintances, blind dates - that sort of person.  

The craziness multiplies in the presence of the stars - be it local, Broadway, television, authors, or anyone in between.  Pretty much anyone I admire.  People that are on Broadway stages or television sets  or book covers, that wouldn't know me from Adam, but whom I know lots about because they're stars and I read. These are the people, for which the affliction does become overly ridiculous.  Even I know how bad it is in my messed up head.  Yet, that doesn't stop me. I become a crazy person in their mere presence and therefore have a strict no interaction policy. No stage door.  No book signings.  No meet and greets. No Con photo-ops.  Nothing.  I admire from a far so as to not inflict these lovely people with my ridiculousness.  

Also, I really do not want to be "that girl"; the one these lovely people tell their friends about over a nice glass of wine, that stuttered her way through a simple hello and turned a delightful shade of red during the stilted conversation.  "That girl" is the reason I have my strict no interaction rule.  Told you it was crazy up in here.  Anyway, please let me really show you what happens when I don't abide my own rules, in 2 fairly simple vignettes.

1. Stage Door for First Dates starring Zac Levi and Krysta Rodriguez (to name a few)

My best friend loves Zac Levi.  I am a fairly good best friend so we went to see First Dates.  I promised her that I would do stage door with her, if only because she needed a photographer.  I was promised I wouldn't need to make small talk or even speak really.  She had it covered.  These were the terms I agreed to.  While we were waiting for Zac, he stressed to everyone to remember to turn their cameras on.  This is a fairly important piece of information to my emotional well-being at the time of this photo-op. Well, Zac finally gets to us and he's polite and gracious.  Now it's my turn to take the photo.  Of course, my camera which I was sure was on, was not. So there was about 30 seconds of me trying to figure out how to turn the darn thing on - apologizing profusely under my breath, while the bestie chatted away like nothing was wrong.  I finally figured it out and took the picture.  Then, ever so kind Zac, asked me if I'd like a photo.  A normal person would have said sure, even if said normal person didn't really need a photo.  I, on the other hand, said "No, that's ok..." turned around and walked away.  Who does that?  It turns out I do.

2. Studio 54 seeing The Songs of Lewis Flynn with Patti Murin, Nicholas Barasch and Andrew Rannells (to name a few)

This was just last night, so this one is especially raw.  I've been to one other show at 54 Below by myself.  That time, I was seated with 2 other girls who were also there alone, and we chatted all evening.  We were seated to the right of the stage, far away from the area where the stars were hanging out between songs.  It was lovely.  Last night, I was seated at a table all by my lonesome, directly in front of the "star staging area", let's call it.  They were all seated about 2 feet behind me. This, for some reason, stressed me out, which meant I was so much less human than I usually am.  First, I refused to turn around.  I didn't want to risk making a weird face or seeing them do something they didn't want me to see.  Next, I barely ate my dinner and dessert because my stomach was so upset from stress.  Then I dropped my phone which slid all the way down my leg and onto the floor, directly in their walking path.  So I got out of my seat, without making eye contact once, and picked up my phone. Last, as soon as the show was over, I darted to the restroom - without making eye contact again - and then left.  It was awful.  By trying to not be that girl, I probably became that girl.  "Remember that shifty weirdo?  What was up with her?"

Now do you see why I stay far away from these lovely people?  It's just safer for everyone involved that way. Restraint can be a wonderful thing. It's why these fabulous actors are great at what they do.  However, if it gets too far inside your head. It can really mess it up in there. So, don't be like me, dear readers.  Be a normal person - crazy is just too much work...