My WiFi was out at my apartment, so I couldn’t stream Season 2 of Orange is the New Black.

Instead of sulking about not being able to see what’s up in prison this season, I’ve decided to type up a “shows I’ve seen in the past few weeks” blog while most everything is still fresh in my head.

It’s been busy few months and I’ve seen some AMAZING shows.

Since I last posted about theater, here is what I saw…

The Cradle Will Rock – one night only performance at the Jacobs

So, a few months ago I got an email saying that Patti LuPone and a bunch of the 1981 cast of The Cradle Will Rock (and a few newcomers) would be doing a one night only performance of the show in May. I bought my ticket about 15 minutes after receiving said email. The Cradle Will Rock is a politically-charged musical about unions. The songs are catchy, the jokes are still relevant and PATTI LUPONE. (When you have the opportunity to see LuPone on stage, you take it. Got it?) I saw a staged version of this show at the New York City Center last summer, but was thrilled that I’d get to see it again. (I highly recommend the movie The Cradle Will Rock – Tim Robbins’s 1994 film about how the musical came about in the first place. It’s wonderful.) The show was solid and I was so glad I went. (This was the fourth production I’ve seen LuPone in now… love her.) I was mostly really glad for the kid I was sitting next to. He knew nothing of the show, but was a huge Patti LuPone fan and had just finished his first year of musical theater school. My heart was swelling for him and it was my hope that he enjoyed himself. (He did.)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch – presently playing at the Belasco

Holy shit. This was the single most amazing musical theater experience of my life. If NPH didn’t win the Tony, I was going to lose faith in the theater community. (He did win. And rightly so. Same with Lena Hall’s Best Featured Actress in a Musical and Best Revival. ALL DESERVED.)

I still cannot properly express how blown away I was by this show. I had seen the movie ages ago and knew what the general gist was, but I purposefully didn’t listen to the soundtrack or read any reviews before I saw NPH KILL IT as Hedwig.

The basic plot of the show is that it’s Hedwig’s concert and he explains through/in between songs how he came to have his angry inch and go from a young gay man in East Berlin to the cross-dressing songstress in America. The cast is Hedwig, his present boyfriend/backup singer, and a four-man band. The end. NPH is on stage for pretty much the entire show and he owns that stage and everyone in the audience. As Hedwig, he interacts with the crowd, performs in tall heels, dons some cray cray outfits and wigs, and goes through a beyond gut-wrenching arc all in 100 minutes. NPH is not just a showman, he’s a damn good performer, actor and all-around entertainer. He has mastered the comedy and tragedy of Hedwig’s story and if you aren’t gobsmacked after seeing that show, then you did something wrong.

My jaw was hanging open the entire time and I found myself wishing I could just feel that way forever. I was so moved. So entertained. So enriched. Seeing Hedwig was a defining moment for me and I wish everyone could experience that kind of theater-going magic at least once in his/her life.

NPH is exiting the show in August and will be replaced by Andrew Rannells. I need to see this show again, and I need to see Rannells as Hedwig.

This show is definitely not for everyone. (There’s a lot of swears, references to homosexuality, lap dances, lewd humor and all around not-PC stuff. It’s glorious.) But if you want your cage rattled in the best way possible, I very much urge you to see this show.

Matt Doyle at 54 Below (two nights only)

Awwwww, precious. Matt Doyle is precious. My favorite theater buddy and I bought tickets for this months ago and we were so glad we did because Matt Doyle is a joy to watch in person. This was the first time I saw him perform any of his original music, so that was a lot of fun. The whole evening was just very enjoyable. Matt Doyle (as that is what I’ve called him to his face, so that is what I will forever refer to him as – first and last name, thankyouverymuch) is a very talented singer and he’s just a goofy little dude who seems to really love getting to perform with his friends. My favorite part of the night was when he and another cast member from Jasper in Deadland sang “As Long As You’re Mine” from Wicked. Loved. It.

Rocky – presently playing at the Winter Garden

HOLY SHIT, GO SEE THIS SHOW.

I’m not kidding. You should totally see this show.

And you’re probably thinking, “Rocky? Like, that boxing movie is on Broadway? And it’s a musical?! What the damn hell?”

See, that’s exactly what I was thinking. I was like, “Man, this is probably going to be really dumb and cheesy.” I mean, I saw Rocky when I was younger and was like, “Man, that is really cheesy.”

But guess what? THE MUSICAL IS FRIGGIN’ AWESOME.

I ended up with front row tickets for myself and my sister and they were the greatest seats ever. We were nice and close to the stage, and then we were friggin’ ring-side for the epic fight between Rocky and Apollo Creed that happens for the last 20 minutes of the show. (The ushers literally escort the center orchestra seated people from their seats in Rows A-F [“the Golden Circle” seats] to bleachers on the stage and then they assemble a boxing ring in the middle of the audience! And since we had left orchestra seats, we were ring-side! We got high-5s from Paulie! We were literally right by Rocky’s corner. IT WAS EPIC.)

So the show itself is literally the plot of the first Rocky movie and it totally works as a musical because Rocky is a really vulnerable and likeable character. Throughout the course of the show, I found myself caring a lot about Rocky and literally rooting for him by time his big fight happens. (I was standing and cheering loudly for Rocky. Like, I was actually on my feet and yelling, “COME ON, ROCKY!” like I was at a real fight. I CARED, OKAY?)

For me, the show worked because of Andy Karl (who plays Rocky). I was familiar with Andy Karl from his role in Legally Blonde: The Musical (he played the UPS guy, Kyle), but now he will forever be Rocky to me. He had the low voice going. The shrug-my-shoulders-cuz-I-know-I’m-a-goof-but-I-got-feelings-too. His cute little sweater he wore in the Thanksgiving scene (SWOON). How he talked to his turtles (“Yo, turtles.” SWOOOON). Not to mention him in his wife-beater and boxing shorts. (Damn, son.) Andy Karl definitely has the acting chops and singing chops to lead that great ensemble and his Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical was well deserved. (There was no way in hell he was going to win… let’s be real. But he totally earned that nomination and rightly so.)

After the show, we were able to meet most of the cast at the stage door. We chatted with Margo Seibert (she played Adrian and was really great – I love her voice and she had some really tough ballads that she nailed) and Terence Archie (Apollo Creed). We were also able to talk to Andy Karl and get pictures with him. We told him we were fans since Legally Blonde and he mentioned his stylus line and joked that he was still wearing tight shorts. Everyone was super nice and seemed very appreciative of the good reception they were getting from the audience.

I would love to see this show again and be a part of the Golden Circle. I had the chance to get Golden Circle tickets, but my sister and I would have been separated for the whole show and we wanted to sit together. If I go by myself later on, I’ll take advantage of the special seats.

Rocky turned out to be one of my favorite shows of the season (along with The Bridges of Madison County, Twelfth Night and Hedwig and the Angry Inch). I was just so surprised by the amount of heart and spirit this show had. I seriously thought it was going to be dumb, but I was so, so wrong. Go see Rocky. It’s a lot of fun and a really unique theater-going experience.

(Also, if there ever were going to be an X-Men musical, Andy Karl would make the PERFECT Wolverine. Just sayin’…)

Newsies – playing at the Nederlander

I saw Newsies when I first moved to NYC (when Jeremy Jordan was just finishing up his run as Jack Kelly), so I was glad to see it again with Corey Cott in the lead. My, he gets a bit intense. I still loved the show. Newsies is one of my favorite Disney movies of all time and I love the stage adaptation because it’s a real crowd-pleaser (what with all the dancing, a better female character/love interest who actually serves a purpose to the plot instead of feeling like an afterthought, and how the songs are more powerfully presented). I was grateful to have a balcony seat this time so that I didn’t miss anything (especially during “Once and For All”). Newsies is just super fun and the ensemble is fantastic. So many cute dancing boys. So. Many.

If/Then – playing at the Richard Rogers Theatre

My sister won us lotto tickets for this show, so not only were our tickets $25, but they were FRONT ROW. (For the record, my sister’s name was the first drawn in the lotto, so not all lotto tickets are front row. We just happened to luck out big time.) I was super excited to see this show because I had never seen Idina Menzel perform in person and one of my friends had really hyped up the plot and the music. I walked away feeling blown away by Menzel (holy hell, woman), but completely underwhelmed from the show itself. You know how people have been saying that it’s basically Sliding Doors the Musical? Well, it really is. And though I could relate to the over-arching questions of “What happens if you make this choice over that choice? And how does that affect you in the long run?” I couldn’t really relate to the protagonist because she was nearing 40 (I just turned 30), she was having relationship problems with a boyfriend and best friend (I’m presently very single for reasons), and she was having issues with her career (I don’t have a career right now because I’m still working toward getting my first book published. And dog walking is not a career. Not for me, anyway.) The songs were all right, the ensemble was good, but I just was not super moved by this show. I think my friend hyped it up too much and I walked in with too big of expectations. Menzel deserved a better show than this for her return to the stage. I mean, I’m glad I saw it, but there were a bunch of other shows this season that actually struck a lasting chord with me. I’ll remember this show for seeing Menzel belt out her solos from feet away. I’ll remember stuff like Rocky and Hedwig for how they touched my heart and made me feel the gamut of emotions.

The 68th Annual Tony Awards Dress Rehearsal – Radio City Music Hall

Yes, I was lucky enough to see the Tonys Dress Rehearsal for a second year in a row. (PINCH ME. HOW IS THIS MY LIFE?) This was the reason my sister came to visit me – because I had tickets to watch Hugh Jackman rehearse his hosting duties. And trust me, NO ONE knew what the hell he was getting at when he hopped in. NO ONE. What a waste of an opening. (NPH’s opening last year was epic. EPIC.) And while on a whole this year’s Tonys rehearsal was not as exciting as last year’s, it was still really cool to see. I mean, we got to see performances from all the nominated New Musicals and Revivals. (I was so sad that the Violet performance focused mostly on the church part… that’s, like, not even a majority of the show.) It was cool to see Sting perform, even though I’m not really looking forward to The Last Ship. (We saw Sting perform twice, as they had to run that bit again at the rehearsals. TWICE THE STING, FOLKS.) It was also AMAZING to see Jennifer Hudson. Holy shit. I mean, I was a little disappointed that we weren’t going to see Jeremy Jordan, or any of the actual cast from Finding Neverland, but JENNIFER HUDSON. That woman takes you to Church and back every time she sings. I had goosebumps. It was also cool to see Alan Cumming perform with the Cabaret cast even though that show wasn’t really nominated for anything. But, Alan Cumming as the Emcee is iconic, so that was awesome. It was fun to see what presenters actually showed up to practice their lines. I was most excited to see Audra McDonald, Matt Bomer, Zachary Levi, Patricia Clarkson, Bradley Cooper, Zachary Quinto and Vera Farmiga. I was bummed that neither Clint Eastwood nor Tina Fey were at rehearsals.

As much as I love Hugh Jackman, I hope NPH hosts next year.

The Tony Awards Gala – The Plaza

Let me be perfectly clear: I did NOT attend the Tonys Gala. I worked at the Tonys Gala. (I took tickets at one of the entrances.) A friend got me involved with this gig and I will be forever grateful to her because it was so much fun! And while I will not divulge whom I saw and/or took tickets from, I will say that it was a really lovely time. The people I took tickets from were very nice and it was fun answering questions or helping people with directions when needed. If you’ve ever worked at a retail establishment as a greeter that was basically what I was doing. (I would ask people for their tickets and then told them to have a nice night. The end. Regardless who I was taking tickets from, they got the same greeting and smile as everyone else.) In addition to the people attending the gala being friendly, I also got to work with a nice little group of fellow ticket-takers/direction-givers. It’s amazing how much fun you can having while you’re working so long as you’re working with the right people. During our shift, we got to walk around the gala for a few minutes and grab a soda and some snacks. I felt wholly out of place in my $8 dress from Target, but no one treated me like I was less than. When me and the person I was working with left for the night, someone else working at the gala (who was not a part of the group we were working with) offered to hail us a cab like he had been doing for gala guests. I smiled at his offer, but said “No thank you” and crossed the street to wait for the subway to take me back to reality.

I don’t know if I’ll get to do this again next year, but I sure hope so. I very much love and respect the theater community and it was a real privilege to get to help out on a night that celebrates Broadway because Broadway has meant (and still means) so much to me.

Much Ado About Nothing – playing as part of Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte in Central Park

Shakespeare in the Park is one of my most favorite things about living in New York City. It’s FREE theater performed by wonderful ensembles of actors. I was fortunate enough to score a pair of virtual lottery tickets for the 6/14 show and it was amazing. My favorite theater buddy and I thoroughly enjoyed the three-hour romp of love, betrayal and shenanigans. (If you think about it, the plot is terribly sexist and a majority of the characters are horrible people, but it’s Shakespeare, so we are groomed to think his work is the bee’s knees.)

I haven’t seen or read Much Ado in about a decade, but vaguely remembered the plot and main characters. Having taken a Shakespearean Comedies course in undergrad, I am very familiar with the “rules” of what makes this story a comedy. And while there were dozens of laugh-out-loud moments (holy shit, Hamish Linklater as Benedick repeatedly made me laugh so hard that there were tears in my eyes), there were also other key aspects of Shakespeare’s comedies… like weddings. And mistaken identities.

It was a real privilege to see this cast. I saw Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe in last year’s performance of The Comedy of Errors and was thrilled to be able to see them on stage again. There were other familiar faces in the cast as well, like John Pankow (Ira from Mad About You), Pedro Pascal (he’s on that Game of Thrones show) and Brian Stokes Mitchell.

Yes, you read that right… BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL.

My heart stopped when he first walked out on stage. I knew he was in the show, but there’s a difference between knowing someone is in a show and actually seeing him/her acting right in front of you. Brian Stokes Mitchell is one of those performers who has forever been on my list of people I need to see perform in person at least once in my life.

And, man, did he not disappoint. It was brilliant to see him on stage, and his character even SANG for a few moments throughout the play. I was dying. DYING. (You don’t get it… I’ve listened to him and Audra sing “Wheels of a Dream” from Ragtime for almost 20 years now and his voice is just so prominent and the epitome of musical theater greatness.) But then… then…

So, we waited around after the show because my friend wanted to meet Pedro Pascal (she watches GOT, but I do not). We did get a chance to chat with him for a few moments and I took a picture of her and him after he signed our programs. We were really hoping to chat with Hamish Linklater, but we saw him quietly duck out with a child in tow, so we didn’t say anything because it is wholly rude and inappropriate to approach an actor when he’s in parent-mode.

The crowd at the stage door dispersed after Pedro Pascal was done taking pictures and whatnot, but my friend and I hung around because we saw Brian Stokes Mitchell behind the gate, meaning that he was still there and hadn’t left yet. I was flummoxed – like, does the younger generation of people not know who Brian Stokes Mitchell is and his importance in the New York theater scene?

One of the ushers asked my friend and I if we were waiting for someone in particular and I said that I saw Mr. Mitchell behind the gate and we were hoping to maybe say Hi. The usher immediately said “Oh! I’ll go tell him! Hold on.” And then the usher disappeared behind the gate and a few minutes later, BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL WALKED TOWARD US.

He was so nice and friendly! He was surprised that my friend and I waited for the chance to speak with him and I nervously rambled that we have been fans for a long time and that it was a real pleasure to see him perform. He talked with us for about five minutes, asking us questions about how we liked the show, where we were from, if we were theater people, etc… He even wrote little messages in our programs and was really just very kind. My heart is still on the verge of explosion because I honestly did not expect to ever get a chance to see Brian Stokes Mitchell in person, let alone talk to him for a few minutes. What a classy dude. And that voice. Dear lord, that voice. All day today I have been whispering “Brian Stokes Mitchell” to myself and laughing because meeting him was a real thing that happened.

But the show – go see the show. The whole cast is really spectacular and the show itself is just so entertaining. Watching Shakespeare being performed is so much more fulfilling than just reading it. It’s so much easier to understand because of the body language being used, and the inflection or peoples’ voices. I am continually amazed by Hamish Linklater’s epic commitment to his role. There’s a reason he was nominated for a Drama Desk award for The Comedy of Errors last year. I would not be surprised if he gets nominated for Much Ado next season. His physical comedy is masterful, but he’s also very skilled at the more vulnerable and heartfelt content.

If you live in NYC, there is no reason for you not to partake in Shakespeare in the Park. Tickets are FREE. If you don’t want to wake up early and stand in line for tickets, then just do the virtual lottery.

So, yeah… that’s what I’ve been up to (theater-wise) the past couple months. I’m seeing tick… tick… BOOM in a couple weeks, but don’t really have solid plans besides that. I do hope to see King Lear at Shakespeare in the Park, and maybe a Broadway show or two. We’ll see!

Have a good one

This afternoon, I had a chance to see the Off-Broadway musical Little Miss Sunshine at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre.

 

Based off of the 2006 film of the same name, Little Miss Sunshine is the humorous, and at times heart-breaking, tale of the Hoover family’s weekend trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Redondo Beach, California so that nine-year-old Olive can compete in a pageant she qualified for while visiting relatives. What’s special about this family is that none of them are special in that they are dysfunctional and unglamorous just like the rest of us. Two parents, two kids, a formerly suicidal gay uncle and grandpa who abuses drugs travel in a barely running VW van on a long road trip. The dad is unemployed and desperate for a book deal for a 10-step motivational plan he keeps using on anyone who will listen. The son has taken a vow of silence until he can get into flight school. The daughter wears glasses, has a bit of a tummy, and is the antithesis of any girl you see on that Toddlers and Tiaras show. We laugh with them because we can relate to them. We laugh at them because it’s easier to laugh at their hardships than deal with our own.

 

Based on the cast and source material, I had high expectations going into this show and can honestly admit that they were met. Little Miss Sunshine wasn’t flawless, but isn’t that the point? With no act breaks or intermission, we are with the Hoovers every step of the way (or every mile they drive, rather), for better or worse.

 

I wondered how they were going to handle the family being in that VW van for a majority of the musical (for if you’ve seen the movie, you know that the van is a major set piece) and was enamored when six yellow chairs on wheels were rolled around the stage in formation to represent the van (said chairs also were used as chairs and beds). The actors basically Flinstoned themselves about the stage, but it didn’t seem silly – it was practical and believable. Those chairs were the van and those actors were the Hoover family.

 

The cast was very strong. I had seen Will Swenson, Rory O’Malley and Wesley Taylor on stage before, but it was great to see them in different roles than I was used to. I was most excited to see Stephanie J. Block, as she is a performer I had always wanted to see in person but had missed out on before.

 

Swenson and Block played Richard and Sheryl Hoover. They looked like parents – hell, they looked like my parents – and it was easy to believe that they had been together for awhile and were dealing with a lot of crap that adults don’t want to be dealing with on top of having two rambunctious children and live-in family members (her brother and his dad). The stress was written all over their faces, but so was the underlying love that ultimately kept the family together. Both Swenson and Block are strong actors with equally powerful vocals and it was a pleasure to see them act opposite each other. (Throughout the show I wondered why Will Swenson and Matt Bomer haven’t been cast as brothers in something. Someone needs to make this happen. Please and Thank You.)

 

O’Malley played Frank, Sheryl’s gay brother who had recently tried to slit his wrists because of relationship problems. This production delves a little deeper into Frank’s story than the movie did (with the addition of a couple scenes between Frank and his former lover, as well as Frank and his nephew) and the audience understands a little more (if not a little better) about why he did what he did and how he’s doing now. O’Malley was great, but I couldn’t help but think that he reminded me an awful lot of Jesse Tyler Ferguson for some reason… (I’ll blame the facial hair and how they have similar dialogue/lyric delivery).

 

David Rasche, an actor who I was not familiar with, played the grandpa (the role that won Alan Arkin a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in the film). He got a lot of laughs because the character is so inappropriate, but I also appreciated the bits of scenes where he was able to be serious. (I often say how I think comedic actors/roles are at their best during dramatic moments.)

 

Olive and Dwayne Hoover were played by Hannah Nordberg and Logan Rowland, respectively. Nordberg was a delight as Olive. I thought she projected well and definitely held her own on stage among the more seasoned actors. She had a great handle on the comedic moments, but also shined during Olive’s more dramatic scenes. Rowland was great as Dwayne. As Dwayne is silent for half the show, Rowland’s facial expressions and body language were vital in getting that character across and I thought he pulled it off. Dwayne was always one of (if not) my favorite character in the show and though his freak out was a little less underwhelming on stage, it still made an impact.

 

So, I mentioned Wesley Taylor earlier… he had a small role as Frank’s former boyfriend and as a surfer-esque dude who works at the pageant. Let’s just say my body was not ready to see his abs underneath his neon pink polo shirt, but his voice is just as stunning as I remembered it to be. (I saw him in The Addams Family when it premiered in Chicago a few years ago… “I’m Crazier Than You” was on repeat for awhile.)

 

Sadly the Playbill does not list the songs from the show, so I don’t know any of their names (and I’m too lazy to Google it right now…). BUT, I can say that the music was good and if there happens to be a soundtrack someday, I’d totally get it because the voices of these performers are top notch and the lyrics were solid. The group numbers were great, but I was a little Meh about the song Richard sang about his dad. That was just not the best sounding note for Swenson to end with, you know?

 

If you’ve seen the movie, you know that it ends right after the pageant. And if you remember the pageant… well, then you’ll be pleased with how the musical’s pageant ends too. I had a grin on my face that you couldn’t have smacked off.

 

When the show was over, our performance had a moderated Q&A with Stephanie J. Block. (I was unaware of this prior to being seated… there was a note in everyone’s Playbill.) Though she said a lot of “actor-y” things about finding her character and the different productions of the show leading up to this one, I still found it to be wholly enjoyable and informative. It was fun to hear her speak so highly of the show and her cast and it very much seemed that this was a labor of love for everyone involved. (I kind of ran into Block in the lobby after the show. I let her duck out the exit ahead of me and she told me to have a good night, so I told her that the show was great and she thanked me.)

 

If you liked the movie, then you’re sure to enjoy the musical. Little Miss Sunshine is playing at Second Stage Theatre (305 W 43rd St, New York, NY) through December 8, 2013.