Friday, August 31, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Christine Andreas

It was so exciting that Christine Andreas toured with The Light in the Piazza. While I have only heard Andreas on the OBCR of The Scarlet Pimpernel, I am fully aware that she has done some pretty significant roles on Broadway since the 1970s. I love her voice on The Scarlet Pimpernel, a sort of blending of the beautiful belt of the 80s and 90s with the soprano vibrato of the 50s and 60s. The effect is very beautiful and radiates the agony Marguerite experiences throughout the entire show.

For The Light in the Piazza, she embodied Margaret Johnson, the genteel Southern lady dependant upon her husband, now struggling with make some very difficult decisions on her own. For all the struggles that that character faces, Andreas made them so real and made the audience feel her pain in making them. She also had the look of genteel Southern beauty and wealth, and she spoke the character with a light Southern accent that seemed so natural. More importantly, that beautiful soprano wrapped around all those lush Adam Guettel melodies effortlessly and so incredibly beautifully.

For many people in the theatre the day I was there, to them she was probably a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice singing some beautiful songs, but for me, after hearing her on The Scarlet Pimpernel so many times, it was a chance to see a Broadway star like we don’t often get to see on tour. It was exciting, and I’m so thankful she toured.


Video Clip:

the Broadway Mouth
August 31, 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Leslie Hendrix

I’ve rarely been disappointed by an understudy. The thing is, when you go see a show, you want to see the people who are supposed to be in the show, even if that person doesn’t have a famous name. You get used to rolling with the punches because even actors deserve lives outside their jobs, so you are happy with the fact that you are at a Broadway show, seeing all these great people.

Sitting down to see the Susan Stroman revival of The Music Man, I didn’t think much about understudy Leslie Hendrix going on as Mayor Shinn’s wife. But let me tell you, she was flat out hilarious. Hilarious! You could tell she had done her work on the character, and she went all out with Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. Nobody told Hendrix she was playing a supporting part because every moment she was on stage, Hendrix was the full embodiment of that character in every single way.

My favorite memories of her spectacular performance were everything after the Grecian urn bit. She played Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn as if she thought she was doing Medea, and it impacted everything the character did thereafter. When running around as part of the melee, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn ran around like she was a grand dame of the theatre giving the performance of her life. She delivered her lines like that. She glanced like that. It was hilarious, nothing short of hilarious, and I ate up every minute of her performance.

When I came back to see the show again (interestingly enough I happened to get the same exact seat—second row orchestra, center aisle on house right), another talented actress played the part. Leslie Hendrix played that part like she was the star of the show. This other actress hardly registered on the stage. I knew it was unlikely I’d get to see an understudy twice in a row like that, but how I hoped!

I would love to see Leslie Hendrix in another major role on Broadway. What a gifted, under-utilized performer. She deserves so much more!

Getting to Know You Interview: We want to get to know Leslie Hendrix!

the Broadway Mouth
August 30, 2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bottom Line: Returning to a Show = Pleasing the Fans

I would love to be able to see Idina Menzel play Elphaba. I’d love to see Matthew Morrison as Link. I’d also love to see Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy Turnblad.

With the recent return of Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp to the cast of Rent, there’s been chatter about some perceived fall from whatever perceived pedestal for these two very talented actors. I think that’s so dumb. Big Broadway stars who originate roles in shows often have a big following of Broadway fans. This mentality that it’s a step down to go back into a show after two or three or ten years makes no sense.

I would die to see Heather Headley play Aida again—on Broadway, at a dinner theatre, a community theatre, in her living room. I don’t care. That was an amazing performance. If a star wants to return to a show, what a better way to pay respects to your fans. Just look at the numbers Rent has posted since Pascal and Rapp returned. They are making thousands of fans so happy every single night. How can anyone possibly be critical about that?

Personally, I wish more stars would do it. I understand that doing a show for a year or two is going to have its limits in return appeal, but if that performer feels able to come in and give 100% to that character, then if anything, to honor their fans they should do it!

I do get frustrated when, in interviews, people say things like, “I’d never return to that show,” which can easily be interpreted as “I’m too good for that now” even though it’s probably more likely, “I don’t know if that excites me again because I already did 620 times and by that time, I couldn’t Shipoopi (or insert any other potentially tiring song/dance in there) one more time.”

But we all get the chance to change our mind, particularly when we are young. My gosh, I’d hate it if someone recorded all my words from when I was twenty-five and threw it back in my face. I’ve certainly grown up since those years, and Broadway performers deserve the right to go through their own experiences without being judged. What matters most is that they are able to come in now and give a spectacular fan-pleasing performance.

I also really don’t like the mentality some people have as far as status and the roles you accept. A great role in a great show is a great role in a great show no matter how many other people have played it. I can understand Kerry Butler, who has now had leads in a number of shows, not wanting to return to a supporting part in Hairspray because of the effect it could have on their career. But I love how Marin Mazzie takes great roles, even if she’s not originating them. I love Marin Mazzie, and I would have loved to have seen her in Man of La Mancha. Personally, I have no interest in Spamalot, but I would eagerly see it to catch Marin Mazzie doing what she does so amazingly well. Good for her! And even better for us.

A great performance is a great performance. If you can give a great performance and give your fans a memory to last a lifetime, is there anything better you can do?

the Broadway Mouth
August 29, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Craig Bierko

It’s always difficult to tell when someone’s left Broadway for good or when they’ve only been absent because there haven’t been offers. For Craig Bierko, I’m hoping it’s only a pause.

People criticized Craig Bierko for his Harold Hill in Susan Stroman’s spectacular production of The Music Man because it was said he sounded like Robert Preston. For the record, you really can’t control the sound of your voice, and it always seemed so stupid to me that people would criticize him for having a great voice with similar qualities to Robert Preston. It’s not like he was a mimic intentionally pirating another performance.

What’s important was that Craig Bierko made the part wholly his own. His Harold Hill was set apart by youthful charm that not only sold the lyrics but sold the subtext as well. With that big friendly grin and those innocent eyes, it’s no wonder he was able to take River City for such a ride. Craig Bierko commanded that stage and gave his audience a performance more than worthy of standing on its own two feet.

I was happy to see that he landed another Broadway lead with Thou Shalt Not. While that show was not destined to be a grand showcase for this talents (I never saw it, so I can’t really comment first-hand), I hope that there will be another chance soon for Bierko to win our hearts on stage.

Unofficial Website:

the Broadway Mouth
August 29, 2007

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Keith Byron Kirk

It was quite the one-two punch to see Keith Byron Kirk as Jim Conley in the Parade tour, then to see him only a few months later as one of the leads in the tour of The Civil War. If you’ve got the “Freedom’s Child” scene from The Civil War as aired on The Tony Awards, you know what a powerful voice Kirk has, which is equaled by his presence on stage. When the light shone on Kirk, you couldn’t take your eyes from him.

His Jim Conley, on the other hand, was uncompromisingly unappealing, unquestionably guilty, and impressively cunning in his ability to manipulate the circumstances and prejudices at hand for his own purposes. Often, the least appealing characters in musicals—villains and rogues—tend to be the least remembered for the simple fact that you don’t like the characters themselves, no matter how skillfully played they are. But Kirk really dug in on this character and performed him all out, and he was amazing.

After a run in For the Glory in Gettysburg, someone on All That Chat said Kirk is currently an understudy in The Color Purple in Chicago. It’s always great to see worthy talent getting worthwhile work. Hopefully when the show makes the rounds for the rest of the country, Keith Byron Kirk will be performing regularly.


Note: In the clip below, you’ll see Keith Byron Kirk singing at the end.

the Broadway Mouth
August 28, 2007

Monday, August 27, 2007

Online Bootleg Footage: Toward the Future, From the Past

For the article “Equity Nixes Pirated Plays on YouTube” by Nicole Kristal:

First of all, I want to tell you about a gift God has recently bestowed upon mankind. It’s called black electrical tape. For those of you into sports, there’s black hockey tape. If you’re going to go through the risk of videotaping a show, which could result in some pretty hefty fines, find some black tape and stick it over the red light.

I can understand Lea Salonga’s frustration. In a darkened theatre, a small red light would be more than slightly noticeable and would become a significant distraction. As an actor, you need to be able to focus on your character and not be caught off guard by talking children, ringing cell phones, or little red lights.

Personally, I’m really torn by the bootleg debate. I don’t think it is ever okay to watch a bootleg instead of paying to see the show or buying the OBCR. This latter point is really important. The fewer OBCRs that get purchased, the more and more shows will go unrecorded—like James Joyce’s The Dead, the revival Follies, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. As it is, if it wasn’t for smaller recording companies of recent years like Sh-K-Boom, we probably never would have gotten Amour, Little Women, or High Fidelity. If we want shows to get recorded, we simply must support those recordings.

As for videotaping, it’s a tough line. It’s a black and white issue in that, because the producers ask that you refrain from it and because it is against the law, it is clearly wrong. It’s a violation of copyright. That’s wrong.

But then there’s the education side of me. An audio recording of a show is an amazing record of those performances, but as I learned from hearing Ragtime for years then seeing it at the Lincoln Center, it is still not a complete record. And the reality is that for many people on this planet, a trip to the Lincoln Center isn’t just a subway stop away.

YouTube and BlueGobo are essential places to learn about the great shows and performances of the past and recent past. Seeing great performances from shows on Broadway through recordings from television appearances and The Tony Awards have been a monumental source of inspiration and education for me. You learn so much not only from the acting performances but in the choreography, the staging, the costuming, the lighting, and the set design, not to mention about concept, tone, or style.

However, those are limited sources. You are limited to marketable moments, often nipped and tucked, from early in the show’s run. For example, the “Painting My Portrait” performance from Jane Eyre that I linked in my Amazing Broadway Performer profile on Marla Schaffel was astounding. No memory can fully hold the power of that performance, which, even with limited quality, was perfectly captured by that bootlegger. I get chills watching that footage. She is amazing. I can’t believe that anyone connected with Jane Eyre wouldn’t want that clip to be available to anyone wanting to know more about that show. No photo or list of award nominations can properly capture the essence of the set and costumes in live performance. If given the choice between rough bootleg footage and a memory wisped away in the wind of time, I can’t believe many performers would not at least appreciate the former.

Plus, there are so many great performances that never get recorded otherwise, such as very talented replacement and tour casts who typically never get the benefit of a full onslaught of media attention, such as Idina Menzel or Maya Days in Aida or Amy Bodnar and William Paul Michals in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Most theatre books don’t even acknowledge these casts, let alone discuss the merit of these performances. Those are great interpretations that deserve to be more than footnotes on or, worse yet, like most tour casts, forgotten altogether.

I can certainly understand that producers of shows currently on the boards or on tour wouldn’t want their shows to be showcased on YouTube because they are selling those moments for premium prices. However, I am shocked that those producers are running from YouTube rather than utilizing it as one aspect of a well-rounded promotional campaign. There’s got to be some way of making these sites work for them. For example, someone uploaded a promotional video from the Wicked tour. Here is a producer-led effort to highlight the best parts of a show in order to sell it. What a great thing to be posted on YouTube! If I was a youngster looking to travel to New York and wanted to know which show to see, I think YouTube would be a starting ground. Plus, kids get so fanatic about their favorite things that these producer-led posted video clips/montages would get MySpace/Facebook linking. When kids are looking at their friends’ MySpace pages, they check everything out. Those high-quality promotional videos would get the show some major face-time.

It’s always hard to tell what the truth is in articles like this. You have one or two people speaking for an entire legion of union members. I can’t believe that there aren’t many Equity actors who don’t appreciate the love and adoration a posting on YouTube means. Most Broadway performers don’t get professional video like Andrea Rivette and Coleen Sexton in Jekyll and Hyde, regular concert appearances like Audra McDonald, or feature film roles like Kristin Chenoweth. It’s also not like anyone posting on YouTube is making any money off these videos. It’s simply sharing favorite moments from favorite shows so that, even when the show has long closed, people can still experience and learn.

I’m just not sure I see anything wrong with that. This “panic because it’s new” mentality could be a case of running from the future, toward the past.

the Broadway Mouth
August 27, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Brian Stokes Mitchell

I don’t know how a theatre can contain Brian Stokes Mitchell. All these years after getting to see him in Kiss Me, Kate, I still remember how his characterization filled the (then) Martin Beck Theatre. Seeing him perform as Fred Graham was electrifying, particularly to someone like myself who, at the time, was not used to witnessing a performance of that magnitude. Hearing him belt out those magnificent Cole Porter tunes, making me both laugh out loud and feel strongly for his relationship with Lilli, was an unforgettable experience.

It was only when looking at his Playbill credits that I realized I had encountered Mitchell before, singing for Danny Glover the outstanding Stephen Schwartz song “Through Heaven’s Eyes” in The Prince of Egypt. His voice has the grandeur that the character requires but pulls out the warmth and intimacy the song needs. The CD is filled with great Stephen Schwartz music, but Mitchell’s “Through Heaven’s Eyes” is definitely a highlight.

The only other performance of Brian Stokes Mitchel’s that I’ve been fortunate enough to see was in Ragtime through the Lincoln Center theatre archives. What a powerful performance. The OBCR is a fantastic keepsake of that awesome performance, but getting to see the whole performance—wow. It was one thing to hear Coalhouse acquiesce to Booker T. Washington, but to see the character agonizing over the decision, to feel the tension in the air . . . It’s no wonder that his performance in Ragtime propelled Mitchell into Broadway super-stardom.


the Broadway Mouth
August 28, 2007

Friday, August 24, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Donna Murphy

Well, I’ve seen her on Law and Order and Spider-Man 2, which I think should count for something. One of these days, I’ll get to see her on stage. Until then, I get to hear her on CD.

One of the aspects of Donna Murphy that thrills me most is how she’s managed to become a Broadway star in today’s world. She’s done film and television, but it’s not like Kristin Chenoweth or Nathan Lane, who have done high profile Hollywood performances to draw people to her talent. Instead, she’s climbed the Broadway ladder the same way people used to do, by consistently giving awesome performances on stage.

I have seen Donna Murphy on the DVD of Passion. I love that show and what it has to say, but even if it’s not your thing, you have to admire the nuanced performance Murphy gives as Fosca. Personally, I never fall in love with Fosca watching that show, I only come to understand her and understand why Giorgio comes to love her. The fact that you see her obsessing over/stalking Giorgio in such a manner and don’t walk away hating her completely is a testament to Murphy’s phenomenal talent. She digs deep inside the character and shows us why we care about her.

My introduction to Donna Murphy, however, was on the revival cast recording of The King and I, another standout Murphy performance. After hearing her take ownership of all those great Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, I can’t imagine them not being taken on by someone without such a voice.

I was greatly saddened by having to miss Wonderful Town since that was one of the first CDs I ever checked out of the library back in high school and listened to “One Hundred Easy Ways” and “Conga!” a million times. I had always longed to see that show revived on Broadway. Right away I bought the revival cast recording (with Donna Murphy) and was thrilled to not have only a more contemporary presentation of the score but one with a talent not overshadowed by the original star. I love hearing Donna Murphy actually sing that role and give us an “Ohio” duet that both heartfelt and beautiful. More importantly, her success in that role is incredibly impressive because it is such a character performance. Is there anyone in Hollywood who can double on traditional acting roles and character roles? I don’t think so. But that’s just one of the reasons why Donna Murphy is so amazing.

Getting to Know You Interview:

the Broadway Mouth
August 24, 2007

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Eight Top Ten Things to Guide You in Recording a Solo Album

Emily Skinner wrote in the liner notes to her self-titled solo album:

“What I didn’t want was an ego trip of the ‘Songs I like to listen to myself sing the most’ type.”

I don’t know about everyone else, but I like those kind of ego trips! After all, if you don’t like to hear yourself sing the song, why the heck would anyone else want to hear it? Who cares who picks the songs as long as you sing them well?

I love a good solo album. It’s a delight to hear the stars I love singing songs I wouldn’t otherwise get to hear them sing. On message boards, people are always fantasizing about ideal casts and who they’d die to hear sing different parts. A solo album is a theatre fan’s chance to dream in stereo.

Though while we all love a good solo album, sinking your hard-earned money on a great voice underperforming on disc is a major letdown. Not only is it a waste of money if you don’t like the CD, even worse, it’s a waste of talent. It can also hurt that star’s chance of having a successful second album.

So, as an avid theatre fan, here are some guidelines for recording a solo theatre album that will entertain and delight your fans and hopefully win you a few more.

1. Theatre folk seem to like to pick the most obscure Broadway songs to sing. For example, Dorothy Loudon performed a song from Ballroom on the My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies concert. I’ve read a ton about Broadway musicals, and I’ve never heard of that show. Audra McDonald chose a song from Hooray for What. She sang it well, but, um, it never stuck to the ribs, you know. Heather Headley sang “He Touched Me” on The Love Songs, and I still don’t know which show that’s from.

It’s understandable because an artist wants to have the chance to trod a path that few have trod. There are songs that, because they are so popular, have been performed by everyone and their YouTube-obsessed cousin. But if you are making a theatre CD, the selling point is going to be your awesome voice singing songs people have wanted to hear you sing or have wanted to have on disc.

So, guideline one is to select a variety of songs for your CD that are both new to your audience but also familiar. I like being introduced to new songs. It’s just that when you have a CD that is mostly new songs, it can be difficult to enter in without the hook of familiarity. Theatre songs are linked to stories, so if you are performing a song from a 1930s show that is no longer produced, it’s hard for people to follow your stories. At the same time, it’s nice to be introduced to new songs. It’s great to see a new show and have one or two of the songs in your back pocket to look forward to. A blend of the new and familiar is always a good mix to have.

2. Recording songs from shows that were never recorded, however, is a big bonus. I love that Emily Skinner brought in Alice Ripley to record a duet from James Joyce’s The Dead on her solo album. That’ll be one of the few chances I’ll ever have to hear anything from that score. Similarly, Matt Bogart’s “Tell My Father” from The Civil War, which was never recorded by a Broadway performer, is a highlight on his CD.

It’s also a joy for your fans to hear the songs you performed on stage as a replacement or tour cast member. Personally, I would love to have Merle Dandridge signing an Aida song or Kim Huber singing one of Belle’s songs. We theatre fans eat that sort of thing up. Feed us well!

3. If you want theatre people to buy your CD, do a theatre CD. Audra McDonald can pull off her solo albums because she has the marketing push behind her and has found crossover success. But if you do, say, a jazz CD, then don’t be surprised when it doesn’t sell well. I love Brian Stokes Mitchell, and I have no clue how his Playbill CD has sold. However, it was a jazz CD. Personally, I’m not interested in jazz. Jazz fans buy jazz CDs with jazz songs, and theatre fans buy theatre star CDs with theatre songs with theatre arrangements. Personally, I want a Brian Stokes Mitchell theatre CD, just not with jazz arrangements.

In fact, there is one beautiful theatre voice I won’t name who has permanently destroyed several aging pop songs for me because they were such a poor fit for her tremendous talents, and now I can’t bear the thought of hearing them again. Oh, if only she had recorded theatre songs!

That is not to say that there isn’t room for difference. For example, Adam Pascal’s rock albums are great. But he’s not taking “The Party’s Over” and turning it into a rock anthem. He’s got the voice to pull it off, and he’s doing rock songs. Similarly, Laura Bell Bundy has a country album out. She’s not directly reaching her Broadway fans. She’s not doing “For Good” with a country twang. I’m sure many of her fans will go along for the ride, but she knows her primary audience for the album isn’t Broadway.

So if you want to primarily sell your theatre voice, do theatre songs! And do them with theatre arrangements.

4. Give us theatre interpretations. I love Susan Egan’s solo album So Far. In addition to Egan’s great voice, she gives us a theatre CD in which she sings theatre songs as if she was in the show. That’s really the ideal album for the theatre fan.

I think of as an example the two Fantasia solo albums, both which have not sold to Fantasia’s American Idol fanbase. Fantasia earned a billion votes by singing one style, then produced two albums in a completely different style. She’s probably happy with their R & B integrity and how they reflect the kind of music she wants to do, but she’s not making the kind of music people voted for her singing. The result is that her sales reflect that. It’s the same analogy for theatre albums. If people are buying your CD because they liked what they saw on a Broadway stage (or on YouTube or on an OBCR or whatever), then determine what level of success you want to have before releasing the solo album that deviates from it.

Also, if you do have traditional theatre interpretations, do your character analysis work. A theatre song is not intended to be sung only by hitting the notes. Even if you can hit amazing notes, there’s more to a theatre song than that. That’s actually really boring. Unfortunately, I bought a CD by a theatre star whom I esteem highly, but his CD is so boring. It’s like a solo choir concert—a performance lacking emotion.

5. Make sure that the sound quality is top notch. There are a few CDs out there with great voices I won’t name that sound like they were recorded in a tin can in a basement. The vocals are strong, but they don’t have a clear audio quality. If you’re going to go through the process of recording your voice, do it justice!

6. If you do a gospel album, you’re not allowed to be photographed without a significant percentage of your clothing for a ten-year time span. Jubilant Sykes (from the Encores! Bloomer Girl), for example, did an album that showcased his voice beautifully through Gospel songs in 1998. He’s never been photographed without a majority of his clothing. And he’s got one year to go.

7. As for arrangements, if you can’t finance a full accompaniment, follow the example Chuck Wagner set on his self-named solo album. I once read how many instruments he used, and while I don’t recall that number, I do know the final tracks don’t sound like they were done on a budget. The ideal is a full orchestra, but if you can’t do that, be creative.

8. Do an album. Actually record it. I don’t know the financial aspect of recording a solo album, but there are plenty of people out there who need to do a solo theatre album—Carolee Carmello, Rachel York, Donna Murphy, Brian d’Arcy James, Anthony Crivello, and Norm Lewis all come to mind.

When I think of great solo theatre albums, several come to mind as great examples. One of those is Matt Bogart’s Simple Song album. His song selection is a mixture of classics, contemporary, and rare. A sampling of the seventeen tracks include “Soliloquy” from Carousel (classic), “I Don’t Hear the Ocean” from Marie Christine (contemporary), and “Proud Lady” from The Baker’s Wife (rare). I know that when I finally get to see The Baker’s Wife (or Anyone Can Whistle), because of Bogart’s album, I’ll have something to which I can look forward.

In his own words (from the liner notes), his “aim was to create a theatre album where I could bring the appropriate theatricality to each of these pieces as though I were simply performing them live and on stage . . . I feel these theatre songs demand a certain attention be paid to their design to tell a specific story.” As Michael John LaChiusa also writes in the liner notes, Bogart understands that a song “needs no embellishment, no ego-driven interpretation.” And because of this, it’s an extraordinarily effective album. When I hear his “Written in the Stars,” I feel like I’m sitting in the theatre watching the show.

I’ve never seen Matt Bogart perform, but the CD showcases his talents beautifully. The songs use traditional arrangements, but he makes them his own through his theatrical character-driven interpretations. Because there is a mixture of songs, you can focus on hearing the new ones for the first time and take the time to figure them out, while enjoying the better-known songs instantly. There’s also a blending of different styles of songs, so it doesn’t feel like one long ballad or you don’t skip ahead to the songs that have a different tempo just for a change of pace. It is a well-rounded CD that perfectly showcases Matt Bogart’s talents.

In thinking about Bogart’s Simple Song CD and Susan Egan’s So Far, both produced for Jay Records by John Yap, I wonder why this Yap fellow isn’t doing this with other people. He should be calling Sutton Foster, Brent Carver, or Marla Schaffel.

So . . . In short, don’t forget your roots. If you want to do something different, then go completely different. But after that, come back and do a theatre CD. We love your voice. It’s just that there’s a lot of CDs out there vying for our money, and we want to spend it on what we love.

the Broadway Mouth
August 23, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Audra McDonald

Unlike many Favorite Broadway Performers I’ve Never Seen (an official classification, by the way) we’re so fortunate that Audra McDonald has a body of work that has been recorded. For me, that has primarily been the television movie of Annie, where she played Grace Farrell with such heart and beauty. She was the main reason I bought the soundtrack despite owning the Broadway cast recording and the original film’s soundtrack. For a child, Grace Farrell is such a magical role because she comes in and saves the day for Annie. Who wouldn’t want to have a Grace Farrell in their life? McDonald’s Grace is beautifully portrayed, given such warmth that you can’t help but adore her.

I have a distinct memory of buying the Marie Christine CD. I knew very little about the show, but I had entered my phase of buying new Broadway CDs to learn everything I could about Broadway performers, Broadway shows, musical styles, and storytelling techniques. I was enraptured. I had been quite familiar with Medea from having to read it in high school and college, and this interpretation, with the inimitable Audra McDonald as the Medea character, grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. When you watch video of actresses playing Medea, often their depiction seems so huge that it doesn’t feel real. Here, McDonald gives Marie Christine the power the role requires, but the depth of her voice gives the character humanity. The giggly happy mamma flashback Marie feels at one with violent, vengeful Marie. You can feel the change and understand how this love-struck woman becomes the vitriolic ex. Despite having heard that CD hundreds of times, there are still moments when McDonald’s performance gives me chills.

Then, of course, there’s Ragtime, which I was very fortunate to have experienced through the magic of the Lincoln Center archives. After hearing McDonald’s commanding performance on the OBCR so many times, I was surprised by how much deeper the performance she gave was when taking into account the staging and her physical expression of the character. Despite knowing what a horrible thing Sarah has attempted to do by killing her child, I was not prepared to feel such pity for the character when McDonald sings “Your Daddy’s Son” with such heart-tearing agony.

Of course, I own several of her solo CDs (I always seem to be about one behind, though), which are wonderful. I also love her performances on the My Favorite Broadway concerts, particularly her take on “Love Changes Everything,” which becomes astounding when performed as part of a trio with Marin Mazzie and Judy Kuhn.

I’m so thrilled that she may have finally gotten a breakthrough on a big television show. I know it’s heart-breaking to even think of McDonald spending time on frothy television love triangles, but I’m elated that it could give her talent the spotlight it demands. McDonald should be starring in movies, winning Oscars, then returning to the stage in a million different roles in musicals and non-musicals. This role in such a high-profile show could be her opportunity.

Getting to Know You Interview:

the Broadway Mouth
August 23, 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Rachel York

What’s so great about Rachel York, among many other things, is the versatility in her voice. She has the big Broadway soprano sound that allows her to do the classic shows like Kiss Me, Kate, but she’s also got the belt that allows her to give passion to contemporary roles like Marguerite in The Scarlet Pimpernel or to do a comedic role like her turn as Christine Colgate in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

I saw Rachel York in Kiss Me, Kate on tour, and I love revisiting that performance on the DVD recording of the London production. First of all, she’s just so beautiful, but then she has the comedic bite to tear into Lilli Vanessi and pull out all the laughs and the romance.

One of my favorite listens is her songs on the encore CD of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Her “I’ll Forget You” is loaded with such passion and longing that it makes me wish shows with such epic scores were still being produced to give York a chance to do more of those sorts of roles.


the Broadway Mouth
August 22, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

From the Mouth of Stephanie J. Block

Stephanie J. Block in an interview with Brodway Bullet:

You know, I feel if critics don't appreciate the music, or this sort of epic musical, if they want that genre to be gone altogether, that's one thing. But yet, you know, take the time, and say, "These costumes, the craftsmanship, they were extraordinary."


I never saw The Pirate Queen. I’ve learned that sometimes all the bad hype is a crock of crap (Jane Eyre, Bells are Ringing), but I’ve also learned that sometimes it’s spot-on (Tarzan).

But what makes it all a challenge is that you never can fully tell what is sincere criticism and what is agenda-biased ranting. I like all types of Broadway shows—musical comedy, musical plays, pop-operas, rock, whatever. I miss those glorious epic shows just as much as I would miss fun comedy if that were to disappear as well.

I disagree with the brilliant Stephanie J. Block. I don’t think it is one thing to bash a show based solely on its genre. If you can’t come at something with an open mind and without saying, “Ug. Another one of those,” then you shouldn’t go. Period.

I just don’t know why there can’t be room for everything.

the Broadway Mouth
August 22, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Carolee Carmello

I’ve never seen Carolee Carmello perform, but I am still madly in love with her talent. The only experience I have with her is on my Parade CD, but that was all it took to get hooked. I could go through and list all of the songs she sings and say how they are great, but my two favorites are her duets with Brent Carver on “This is Not Over Yet” and “All the Wasted Time,” which are so beautiful and moving.

I love when women’s voices have passion and power. Carolee Carmello’s voice is so warm and deep that she exudes a passion worthy of the great epic shows of the previous two decades. I so wish I could have seen her in The Scarlet Pimpernel because her voice is so perfectly suited to those wonderful Wildhorn songs. As for power, you can hear that coming through on disc, and you can only imagine how amazing she sounds live in a theatre.

Unofficial Website:

the Broadway Mouth
August 21, 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Marin Mazzie

I think heaven will be full of angels singing like Marin Mazzie. I have a feeling they won’t be singing “I Hate Men” (or I hope they won’t), but they’ll probably sound something like her.

Kiss Me, Kate was my second show on Broadway, and Marin Mazzie blew me away. First of all, let’s just be frank, she looks amazing. She doesn’t even have to sing to take your breath away.

But then when she does sing, she’s so powerful and has such a beautiful quality. I think it’s a testament to the amazing quality in her voice that she can sing “I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple,” and you can ignore the sentiment of the lyrics and get swept away by the beauty of the language and the melody.

Plus she’s so versatile. In Kiss Me, Kate, she was a comedic tour de force, coupled with genuine romantic appeal. But then in Ragtime, which I viewed at the Lincoln Center archives, she gave an entirely different type of performance, a moving dramatic portrayal filled with nuance. Her rendition of “Back to Before” is one of my favorite Broadway songs ever. I’ve often been known to skip to that track and blast it in my car, allowing Mazzie’s huge voice and passion to fill me. How I wish I could have seen that performance live!

Fortunately, I’ve also been able to see Marin Mazzie in the DVD of Stephen Sondheim’s Passion, another beautifully sung and brilliantly acted performance we should all be thankful was preserved for repeated viewing.

I can’t mention Marin Mazzie without remembering the performances preserved for the two My Favorite Broadway DVDs. She sings four times on the two DVDs, each an awesome performance, but my particular favorites are getting to see her sing “So In Love” on The Love Songs and “Unexpected Song” from the Lloyd Webber Love Trio on The Leading Ladies, brilliantly performed solo and then with Audra McDonald and Judy Kuhn. You can’t die without hearing that performance.


the Broadway Mouth
August 20, 2007

Making It on Broadway

One of my favorite Broadway books, and as far as I’m concerned a must-have for any theatre fan, is David Wienir and Jodie Langel’s Making It on Broadway, which is a collection of first-hand accounts from contemporary Broadway performers about the heart-breaks and disillusions they’ve met along the way. If you don’t already own this book, honestly, go out and buy it!

I bought it as soon as I could when it was published back in the spring of 2004. I had just started a job substitute teaching for a wonderful teacher on maternity leave in a district with a strong middle school reading program. Each hour, these seventh grade students would begin class by reading for ten minutes at least. I brought the book to school knowing that I would have at least ten minutes each hour to read.

It was instant meth. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I’d give the kids a few extra minutes to read, would be reading it during passing time, during my prep times, during lunch, while walking down the hall to the copier, and while the copies were being made. I devoured the book in record time. It was that good.

Some of the book does sound like whining, like a book I could have easily written about the teaching profession when I quit my first job after two years, having entered it with passion and, in a matter of two years, witnessed all my hopes, ideals, and dreams pulverized by the grind of working 80-100 hours a week and dealing with all the traditional teacher crap that propels 50% of new teachers out of the classroom within five years.

But Making It on Broadway has honestly had a profound effect on me as a theatre-goer and as a future librettist. When I think about whom I’d love to cast in my shows if they ever made it to Broadway, I think about this book. When I see Jerry Mathers stumbling through a televised performance from Hairspray, I think about this book. When I see people attacking performers on message boards, I think about this book. When I envision the career I’d like to have as a writer and the impact I’d like to have on Broadway no what genre I write, I think about this book.

Most recently, Making It on Broadway has changed me in another way. I have found inspiration in the experiences of the actors still struggling to survive the Broadway lifestyle. I’ve been candid on here about the [horribly wrong but well-intended] choices I’ve made in my attempt to get somewhere, and I recently hit rock bottom. After my summer school job in a juvenile detention center ended, I found myself unemployed and in a panic. I took a job as a debt collector, which, for the record, is nowhere to be found on the list of 9872 jobs that best fit my personality. Despite my training managers giving me encouragement that I’d be very successful and a strong candidate for supervisor in the future, I ended up quitting after three days on the job because I couldn’t sound commanding and authoritative on the phone no matter how much pressure my new manager applied. I just don’t have a flexible voice, and I am physically unable to sound commanding and authoritative on the telephone. It sounds odd, but if you ever heard me, you’d understand. This was another one those horribly wrong but well-intended decisions. I expected I could get more bears with honey than with vinegar. I never had the chance to prove it, but apparently that’s a stupid theory in debt collections. Oops.

That was a new low. I mean a low new low. A really low new low.

And like I’ve often done in the past, I picked up Making It on Broadway to re-read a few chapters, and I somehow opened up to the end of the book when people are taking about the financial and personal toll their career choices have had—having to sell houses, living in severe financial instability, taking on horrible jobs to make ends meet. Okay, so other than the taking horrible jobs, I’m not there quite yet. And I don’t begin to suggest that my life is anything comparable to the tough life of an actor, but it’s a nice reminder that this is the way things are supposed to go. Maybe through all my horribly wrong but well-intended choices, I’m still somewhat on the right track.

I like John Rubinstein’s opening thought in the book.

If someone tells me, “I love the theater. I have always acted, sung, and danced throughout high school and college. While it’s my favorite thing, I also love marine biology. I am torn. What should I do with my life?” Then to that person, the absolute rock-solid advice is, “Stay away from show business and go into marine biology.”

And that’s my problem. There’s nothing out there that seems like it will bring me joy except writing—writing any number of things, but writing nonetheless (I’ve always felt as if one writing opportunity would lead to another, like Broadway). I live in a state of constant discontent, but it’s that discontent that drives us on. We should all be thankful for discontent.

So, it looks like I will return to teaching again. I’m a very good teacher, fortunately, and I love kids. I honestly never fully recovered after the devastation of my first two years of teaching, but it pays the bills. And, like I said, I’m very good at it. The good news is that I think I’ve found the avenue to get a job in California, at least somewhat closer to a place where I can get my Master’s in writing or producing. Maybe I’ll stop making horribly wrong but well-intended mistakes and actually make it somewhere.

I’ve actually thought many times that if I could never get produced or published, I’d pay off my debts and move to Africa to teach orphan children in a mission school. It’s the only teaching situation I could think of that would be permanently worth the all-consuming nature of the profession.

But I still don’t think I’ve exhausted all the possibilities yet for getting produced and published, so onward I go.

I once heard that a person forms images in their head of their ideal situation. I forget the term for it, but it is essentially a scenario people create for which they strive. For example, if a man forms the image of a nice home in the suburbs with a wife, two kids, and a huge SUV, that’s for what he strives and not reaching that image becomes a source of strife and conflict.

I don’t want to go into details on my own ideal situation, but Making It on Broadway has actually helped me form an image in my mind of how I could make a difference for this amazing art form I love.

Please forgive the self-indulgent nature of this entry. I generally avoid this sort of thing just because it’s not the focus of my blog. But I found Making It on Broadway so inspirational these past few days, I couldn’t help but write about how.

Honestly, I need to also say, I really think Wienir and Langel should write another Making It on Broadway book, perhaps dealing with another aspect of the business, like what performers think about current trends—amplification, the types of shows that are produced, savage message boards, etc.

I end with a quote. I find the song “Astonishing” from Little Women to be very inspirational, so with an excerpt of it, I end to inspire all those who refuse to “disappear without a trace.”

I only know I’m meant
For something more

I’ve got to know if I can be
There’s a life that I am meant to lead,
A life like nothing I have known.
I can feel it far from here.
I’ve got to find it on my own.
Even now I feel its heat upon my skin:
A life of passion that pulls me from within.
A life that I am aching to begin.
There must be somewhere I can be
I’ll find my way.
I’ll find it far away.
I’ll find it in the unexpected
And unknown.
I’ll find my own life in my own way—today.

the Broadway Mouth
August 20, 2007

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Amplification: Back to Before?

One of the theatrical controversies that always pops up in theatre books, documentaries, and message boards is the microphone debate. I’ve honestly never heard a great voice un-miced, which I think would be an awesome experience, but there are other considerations to take in mind when it comes to this issue. It’s about so much more than just actors on Broadway being able to sing with that kind of projection and clarity.

First of all, we have to acknowledge what Marin Mazzie said in one of the American Theatre Wing seminars, which is that microphones in the theatre allow for a more nuanced style of acting. Everything still needs to be sold to the back balcony, but it can be taken down a notch because the voice isn’t required to do so much work. We still have some remnants of that style of acting left on Broadway, but it’s still often prevalent in high school and community theatres when big facial expressions and gestures replace genuine emotion. Thank God that’s slowly going the way of the dinosaurs! By today’s standards, set by film and television, the sort of acting un-miced on a stage in a theatre the size of the Palace, the Broadway, or most touring houses would require would be a major turn-off.

The presence of microphones has also allowed for more naturalistic staging. Not everything has to be sold out front all the time anymore. Book scenes can happen with one character facing the back of the stage, turning around, or whatever. I’ve often wondered how spectacular the revered acting performances of the past would seem today now that we have the ability for more nuance in acting style and staging.

We also need to acknowledge that audiences have changed. Cameron Macintosh said this in the Broadway: The Golden Age documentary, that modern audiences require amplification. When I attend reputable regional theatres that don’t have amplification, it’s a major frustration for the first twenty minutes or so because you do miss words or partial phrases. It’s not even the actors. It’s that guy with the cough, the woman with the squeaking seat, or the guy who needs to take his pill twenty minutes in. These are common occurrences in the theatre, and the presence of amplification takes these distractions away.

Heck, even in a movie theatre I get annoyed if the promised THX or DTS sound doesn’t kick in. I panic about not being able to hear properly or easily get distracted by popcorn crunching or soda slurping. Of course you settle in and survive, blocking out the distractions, but as an average person from the generation of stereos, headphones, car stereos, and concerts, my ability to block out distractions and hear clearly is limited. Add to that any other theatrical distractions (like air conditioning in theatres as one sound person pointed out), and you have someone paying $120 for a show they can’t hear clearly.

Then there are the shows that require amplification. Amplification, for example, pumped Tarzan with some much-needed energy. Other shows with rock scores require, by the nature of the genre of music, to be amped. You can’t have Amneris rocking out “My Strongest Suit” and not have those guitars and drums pulsing through the theatre.

I particularly hate when people use this issue as an excuse to attack actors. There are plenty of people out there who could do classic shows eight performances a week without microphones. As someone on the Broadway World message board recently pointed out, many modern scores are too taxing to perform eight times a week without amplification. Could you imagine trying to be Jekyll/Hyde without it? Or Aida? Or Eva Peron? But there are plenty of actors who could do traditional scores without mics.

But more importantly, there are many, many more who could easily learn to do it. There are the Betty Buckleys of this world who are born with pipes o’ steal, but that’s not a requirement. It’s usually about technique. Actors don’t develop that part of their voice because it’d be a waste of time. There’s no need to spend time learning to sing in a huge Broadway theatre without amplification because that’s not the scenario anymore. We have nuance now. In the old days, if Gertrude Lawrence, Sam Levine, Gwen Verdon, and Barbara Harris could do it—all extremely talented people who starred in un-miced musicals but were not known for strong singing voices—then there’s no reason why most contemporary performers couldn’t learn to do it too. Right now, I can’t drive a semi-truck, but with the proper training, there’s no reason I couldn’t do it. It’s the same thing for actors and singing un-amped.

This is not to say that amplification is the ideal. When I went to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, I sat in the orchestra section under the balcony in the Imperial Theatre, and the speakers sounded like $99.99 Wal-Mart specials. When that happens, it just takes time for your ears to adjust and get used to it. So if there is amplification, the speakers have to be of a quality to help make the sound appear to be natural, not like it’s emitting from a tin can.

I also remember sitting in the front of the balcony for the tour of Titanic and literally being unable to make out 85% of what the men were saying because the sound system was such crap. This was really sad because it was the first Broadway show for two of my friends, and they really didn’t get much out of it for obvious reasons. The actors were doing their thing. The producers and the theatre were the problem.

I will agree that no mics would be best. I’ve often sat close to the stage, wondering what it would sound like if there were not speakers audibly sending out sound from my right or left. But I also know that I appreciate the benefits that amplification brings—namely nuanced acting and staging techniques, not to mention the comfort of hearing comfortably. Personally, I’d love to go to un-amplified concerts, but as for my Broadway shows, I want to enjoy the story without any distraction.

the Broadway Mouth
August 18, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

If You Don’t Like the Way I Look

The great thing about Hairspray is how it empowers the audience to step beyond expectations and to do great things.

The sad thing about Hairspray is that you have to walk into the real world when it’s over.

Case in point: One of the best things about Miss Saigon was that it gave a plethora of very talented Asian-American performers a chance to shine in roles of a lifetime. One of the tragedies, however, is that so few of those performers have gone on to appear in other shows on Broadway.

For African-American performers, there is an increasing amount of casting in “white shows” (i.e. The Drowsy Chaperone, Wicked, The Music Man), plus there have recently been a number of significant shows with large African-American casts—The Color Purple; Caroline, or Change; Aida, Jelly’s Last Jam; The Lion King. But it seems like there’s still a large barrier for other performers. I never saw Bombay Dreams, but in an interview I saw with Ayesha Dharker, she seemed so funny and charming, and she can definitely move. But it’s doubtful we’ll ever see Ayesha Dharker on Broadway again. And where’s Sandra Allen been with her follow-up to Flower Drum Song? In the performance of “Fan Tan Fannie” I saw on The Today Show, she seemed like the complete package to me.

We’re even seeing it with Hairspray. In the bonus features on Rick McKay’s Broadway: The Golden Age, Marissa Jaret Winokur sings from Annie Get Your Gun then says, “I’ll never play that role.” You know she’s right. Honestly I’m not sure how well Winokur would handle the songs in her character singing voice, but that’s not why she won’t ever get that part. Annie Oakley can’t be ugly, but Winokur certainly is not. Winokur is sexy and very talented, and she’s got a Tony to prove it. But she won’t get the part.

I am proud to say as I’ve contemplated the shows I’ve been writing/wanting to write, I’ve always been very open in terms of casting. For example, in the show I always said would be my third show, I always figured that one large part would be played by an African-American actor (provided he wasn’t too old to play it by the time I ever got anywhere with it) even though historically, it might not be an accurate casting choice. If you’re dealing with a major historical time period where the look of the characters matter—like in Cabaret—you can’t really be too creative in casting, but if you’re dealing with something less specific, then it’s not a big deal. Okay, so maybe Belle wouldn’t have been African-French. But it’s not particularly historically accurate that someone would express emotions through song and dance either. I think Cameron Macintosh should be applauded for the diversity he’s promoted in Les Miserables over the years. Once again, he showed us how it should be done.

So I dedicate this blog entry to Melinda Chua, Luoyong Wang, Margaret Ann Gates, Carly Jibson, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Ayesha Dharker, DeeDee Magno, Sandra Allen, Shannon Durig, and a host of other wonderful performers. May your talent take you far.

the Broadway Mouth
August 15, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Intermission: 50 Amazing Broadway Performers in 50 Weekdays

Intermission: 50 Amazing Broadway Performers in 50 Weekdays

We’ve reached the halfway point in 50 Amazing Broadway Performers in 50 Weekdays. I’m going to take a week off to focus on writing regular blog entries and to take a mome (as Millie says in the film version of Thoroughly Modern Mille) to cleanse the palate. As a reminder, so far the list, which has been posted in no particular order, has been:

Norm Lewis
Felicia P. Fields
Carol Channing
Chuck Wagner
Susan Egan
Marla Schaffel
Douglas Sills
Mary Testa
Cleavant Derricks
Carly Jibson
Sherie René Scott
Denis O’Hare
Michael Lanning
Amy Spanger
Faith Prince
Emily Skinner
Jose Llana
Stephen Lynch
Rebecca Luker
Randal Keith
Sutton Foster
Lea Salonga
Rick Faugno
Leslie Kritzer
Merle Dandridge

There’s a lot of talent on the list, and best of all, there’s still much more to come. We truly live in a time ripe with talent! As I said in my June 14, 2007, blog entry “Announced for Next Season: The Second Golden Age,” on my last trip to New York “I saw performances as great as any on the Broadway stage ever . . . I couldn’t have paid big bucks to see better talents.” With people like those I’ve been writing about playing characters on the boards, how can we not be close to the next greatest thing Broadway’s ever seen?

Nothing will ever replace Gwen Verdon or Ethel Merman or John Raitt, but then, nothing will ever replace Sutton Foster or Leslie Kritzer or Douglas Sills.

Again, I want to thank all the people who have been checking in to see what's new. I haven't had time to closely follow hits over the past few weeks, but I was averaging 1300 hits a week just a few weeks ago. I hope you are all finding something interesting to read.

So, one week for a break, then on with the celebration of amazing Broadway talent! Until then, look for some new regular blog entries.

the Broadway Mouth
August 13, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Merle Dandridge

For anyone who’s read my blog before, it’s no surprise that I’m a huge fan of Merle Dandridge. My first time seeing the Merle was as Nehebka in Aida on tour, which is an important role but one that doesn’t really standout. However, when I went to see the show again, Merle Dandridge was on as Aida. Wow. Wow wow wow wow wow. Did I mention wow?

When you have a role like that with such a strong performance already imprinted on your mind, it’s extremely difficult for even the most talented performer to overcome memories, but Merle Dandridge was a powerful Aida, sending chills down your spine in all the right spots. She was dynamic and commanded the stage every moment. When I waited at the stage door to meet her (back when I was still doing that), my friend accidentally snapped a picture before I was ready. My facial expression in that picture is literally in awe saying, “Oooo, Merle Dandridge.”

She was the big reason I was looking forward to Tarzan. My thoughts on that show have been detailed elsewhere, but Merle Dandridge was wonderful. I can’t get enough of hearing her on the OBCR.

It’s great that she was able to fill in on Rent, and I can’t wait to hear of another great role in the future for the great Merle Dandridge.


the Broadway Mouth
August 10, 2007

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Leslie Kritzer

Okay, so everybody else in New York City already knows how amazing Leslie Kritzer is. But I get to brag because I knew it when I saw her on tour as Little Becky Two Shoes in Urinetown. It’s not that there weren’t a number of extraordinarily talented people on stage in that show, but here’s Leslie Kritzer in this relatively small part of a pregnant woman with a leg brace, and you could see that Broadway spark of talent in her.

I really remember her being so funny, in every nuance of character—in her reactions, in her listening, in her facial expressions. And despite all the make-up and goofy accoutrements of poverty, you could see that Leslie Kritzer was a very beautiful woman under it all. Most importantly, even in that role, she exuded the “it” factor, that stage spark. I always found myself wondering what she was going to do in each scene.

We all know Leslie Kritzer is on to bigger and better things. I have a hunch that she will use a big stage role as her entrance into television or movies. I just hope that when she does, she never completely abandons her stage roots. Folks like her need the stage to shine fully.

Getting to Know You Interview:

the Broadway Mouth
August 9, 2007

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Miss Saigon: Sixteen Years Later

It had been some time since I opened up my Miss Saigon OBCR for a listen. I was honestly never a huge fan of the show (though I did enjoy it). I saw it when I came to New York for the first time in 2000 because it was closing, and I felt like I should see it before it closed so I wouldn’t forever live in regret (after all, I was a huge Les Miserables fan).

One of my biggest memories of the evening (and this is where writing an anonymous blog comes in handy) was being horribly uncomfortable at the amount of female flesh constantly on display. As a naturally reserved person, I don’t seek out such entertainments, so it was awkward, to say the least. And the thing is, I would finally breathe a sigh of relief when the women were dressed again . . . then we’d get Stripper Kim . . . then we’d get the Engineer’s chorus girls . . . That was the only show I didn’t stage door that trip simply because I would have felt embarrassed to meet the women in the show. Okay, so I am still wet behind the ears. Anyway, moving on . . .

After the last few years of listening to lots of The Wedding Singer, The Drowsy Chaperone, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Wicked, Hairspray, and so on, when I popped in Miss Saigon for the first time in a long while, I got a very fresh perspective on the piece.

First of all, it (and by it I mean all the "pop operas" of that time) really does feel like music from another era. The tone, content, and style couldn’t be farther removed from today.

Part of this comes from the lyrics in the show, which really do seem to range from traditional musical lyrics (like “Sun and Moon”) to the sung-dialogue (“The Fall of Saigon”). Honestly, sung dialogue rarely works for me. I would never hate a show for it, but I don’t think it is the best way to communicate in a musical. In comparison to the lyrics of Les Miserables, which are poetic in nature and less sung-dialogue-y, Miss Saigon’s lyrics often feel more like rhymes than poetic expression.

I love the candid reviews in The TheaterMania Guide to Musical Theater Recordings, but as with many theatre reviews (even casual ones on the message boards), you can’t read them without first taking into consideration the bias. Michael Portantiere clearly has an axe to grind in his review of Miss Saigon’s music, which is “Not Recommended” (preceded in the alphabet by his review of that dud Les Miserables, on which he bestows an uber-generous Two Stars . . . like anyone is going to remember that show in ten years).

I would agree that there are some pretty rough lyrics (and this became much more apparent as I’ve bought many other CDs in the past years)—take “Let Me See His Western Nose,” for example. But I think when we start dismissing such phenomenally popular shows, we’re missing the forest through the trees. After all, someone must have liked Miss Saigon for some reason.

And I think it’s important to acknowledge that whatever faults individual parts may have—however more “enlightened” I might be now after hearing much more Sondheim—I still found myself enthralled with Kim and Chris’s situation. There’s a lot of passion and agony in those lyrics, and I still love hearing Ellen’s “Now That I’ve Seen Her.” In fact, after listening to the CD once, I replayed all of Act II’s songs with Kim, Chris, John, and Ellen, which I always used to do before as well.

If forced to do a comparison, I would say that Les Miserables is a far superior show, but hearing Miss Saigon again (and afterwards, I popped in Les Miserables again as well), it made me miss those epic shows with epic themes and emotions. Why we can’t have room on Broadway for everything, I’ll never know.

I do also want to take a moment to acknowledge the important role those British shows played in the lives on American actors. In Making it on Broadway, many of the actors interviewed said that they were disappointed to realize that their significant roles in those large British shows didn’t equate into more jobs despite the challenge those characters were. Another big impression was the frustration that there are no more stars on Broadway, that it is increasingly difficult to become the next Mary Martin or John Raitt.

However, a ton of actors owe Cameron Macintosh big time for the experiences they got. Yes, no one in a replacement or tour cast became a star playing Ellen or Cossette or Christine; however, those shows, with their huge casts, gave many folks a chance to shine in great roles from great shows that they never would have gotten had a “star” name been required. And let’s be frank. The most talented people rarely become the biggest stars. Fifty years ago, how many of those Fantines would have become the next Kristin Chenoweth or Idina Menzel anyway. Statistically, not many. But because Cats, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, and Miss Saigon were the star attractions instead of a star name, those talented lesser-known actors got a chance to shine. When I saw Melinda Chua as Kim, she was doing a role like Ethel Merman or Julie Andrews or Florence Henderson. If they had needed a star name for Miss Saigon, Melinda Chua wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity. Thank God she did!

Amazing Broadway Performer: Rick Faugno

Good work always gets noticed. Rick Faugno played Bobby Van Husen in the Julie Andrews tour of The Boy Friend. I had heard that CD so many times—because of Julie Andrews it was one of the first Broadway CDs I checked out of the library as a teenager—but the show itself was like flat soda pop. It was a very talented cast, of that there’s no doubt, but the day I saw the show, it was like everyone had had eight helpings of Grandma’s spaghetti with a couple of cement biscuits, and the already stupid material didn’t get any more exciting.

But whenever Rick Faugno came on, lighting hit the stage. You couldn’t take your eyes away from his performance, and the show began to move. You just wanted to see him take on the other roles as well, whatever to keep him on stage. He was that good.

According to his bio, he had appeared on Broadway prior in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Wonderful Town. Here’s a phenomenally talented young man. I hope he gets noticed and gets the parts he deserves and soon!

the Broadway Mouth
August 8, 2007

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Lea Salonga

Here’s another one of those great Broadway performers I’m dying to see. Like many others, I was introduced to her work singing in the Disney movies Aladdin and Mulan. My first Broadway encounter with Lea Salonga was on the Original Broadway Cast recording of Miss Saigon, which I didn’t buy until after I saw on the show in 2000. On that CD, she’s so passionate and really gives a powerful performance. I can see why she won the Tony. When watching the video documentary The Making of Miss Saigon, it’s hard to grasp that she gave that performance at such an incredibly young age. I wish she would be given more opportunities for a greater variety of roles. If she could do that then, what could she do now?

There are many performers out there with stronger belts or even more versatility in their voices, but what makes Lea Salonga’s voice such a standout is its beauty, depth, and innocence. It has a very beautiful quality to it, which is one of the reasons why she was so perfect for “A Whole New World,” but then when you hear her work on stage, that beauty is coupled with emotional depth.

I am so incredibly thankful that Salonga’s Eponine was recorded in the 10th Anniversary concert of Les Miserables. I hadn’t even seen the show when I first saw that concert, and her deathbed scene affected me in a way no other Eponine’s has, despite that fact that I’ve seen several extraordinary Eponines live. I would also call her “On My Own” definitive.

I am a big fan of the Flower Drum Song CD, which I’ve listened to hundreds of times. There are many gems on that CD, but I think one of the shiniest is Salonga’s rendition of “Love, Look Away,” which is so excruciatingly painful to listen to when you really experience it as a character’s song.

I was ecstatic to hear that Salonga was now Fantine in Les Miserables. It’s a performance I won’t get to see, but I know she’s amazing in it.


the Broadway Mouth
August 7, 2007

Monday, August 6, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Sutton Foster

It was with great excitement that I sat down in the Marquis Theatre to see The Drowsy Chaperone last August. More than anything, I was so excited to get to see Sutton Foster for the first time. I had seen her on televised performances from both Thoroughly Modern Millie and Little Women and after seeing those shows on tour had picked up their OBCRs, so I was quite familiar with whom Sutton Foster was.

This woman has it all. I hate to do comparisons, but she’s really become the Gwen Verdon or Mary Martin of our time, able to command the stage with her talent, to tackle a variety of roles extremely well, and she’s managed to do it without long stretches between roles. I greatly admire her dedication to the profession. I would never ever hold it against her for going West if she ever chose, but she’s done what several other major Broadway stars of the past decade could have done—making a career on Broadway—but the difference is that she’s choosing to do it. She’s taking on long runs in new shows and running away with our hearts while she’s at it.

I loved her as Janet Van De Graaff. You couldn’t take your eyes off her. She’s got that magnetic stage presence like a Broadway star must have, and she knows how to work her audience. I ate up every second of her performance.


the Broadway Mouth
August 6, 2007

Friday, August 3, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Randal Keith

I think the hardest thing for anyone playing Jean Valjean in Les Miserables has got to be competing with Colm Wilkinson. The typical audience doesn’t know who the original performers were, but with Les Miserables, the many people who kept that show open on Broadway and on tour owned the recordings (4/5 of which feature Wilkinson) or even the concert DVD.

And yet on tour, I’ve seen Randal Keith do the part at least three times (perhaps four), and he never failed to astound me and to erase from my mind Wilkinson’s significant interpretation. Randal Keith was doing that part for years, and every single performance I saw in that time exuded freshness, vitality, and the experience of seeing a character do something for the first time. And this isn’t just any part, this is Jean Valjean, requiring such a broad range of grand emotions, physicality, and vocal range. It was no surprise to me why Cameron Mackintosh chose Randal Keith to close out the show in its original New York run.

If the new Broadway mounting should tour, like every other time it came in the past, I will excitedly await, hoping to see that Randal Keith will be Jean Valjean.


the Broadway Mouth
August 3, 2007

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Rebecca Luker

I was sitting in the second row of the orchestra when I first heard Rebecca Luker sing. It was in The Music Man, the piano lesson song “If You Don’t Mind My Saying So,” which is hilarious but not exactly one to showcase such a grand voice as Rebecca Luker’s. But when she sang the first note in “Goodnight, My Someone,” my jaw literally dropped. It was an automatic, uncontrolled physical response to what I was seeing before me. And it was more than this amazing voice; it was this amazing voice singing this song that was completely removed from my life but that I could connect to. To me, I could identify with Rebecca Luker’s Marion because, like her, people don’t understand that it’s not that I hold impossibly high standards. I just want a woman (in my case, it was a man in hers) who shares interests with me, which is rather hard to find in these here parts. It was like Rebecca Luker was playing a female version of me on stage.

I had seen the show before and the movie, but I had never felt connected to the character like that. It was Rebecca Luker who made Marion real.

Her singing and characterization, naturally, were amazing in addition to a smashing show where she got a chance to dance like a Stromaniac and show off her Broadway stage presence. She’s like a Broadway star from yesteryear thriving today.

Like many others, I’m a big fan of Rebecca Luker through her recordings as well. You can never hear enough of her pure but sweet soprano voice in The Secret Garden, Show Boat, and Brigadoon. I also love her stuff on the two My Favorite Broadway DVDs. If you didn’t get the revival cast recording of The Music Man with Rebecca Luker as Marion, don’t hesitate! It is now only available used. Get it while you can!


the Broadway Mouth
August 2, 2007

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Stephen Lynch

In compiling this list, I wanted to focus on folks who had dedicated a significant portion of their career to Broadway and not go off on stunt-casting tangents. However, not only did Stephen Lynch originate a role on Broadway, but he packed it with such punch and energy, I chose him in hopes that he would someday soon return home where he belongs.

In my blog entry “Broadway-Themed Bonus Feature Details,” I paraphrase The Wedding Singer director John Rando as saying that Stephen Lynch’s touring comedy career was to his modern performance what touring the vaudeville circuit was to great performers of the past, which probably really explains why Lynch was so amazing. He ate up every comedic moment on the stage and played his audience to draw out every laugh. Very different from Adam Sandler’s creepy Robbie Hart, Lynch transformed the character into charm and stage presence. He was no longer Julia’s ideal choice because he wasn’t Glen Gulia; he was Julia’s ideal choice because he was a great romantic lead.

Like the best of performances, there are so many moments he had on stage that are glued in my mind that I wonder how the tour will survive without him.

And he wasn’t just a comedian. Lynch sang that role very nicely. In theatre history, there were plenty of people who were cast in large musical roles because of charm, stage presence, and acting talent but struggled to handle the singing. Lynch was a true triple threat and could not only act (with great stage charisma) and dance but possessed a great voice.

After seeing Lynch perform opposite Tina Maddigan (during Benanti’s unfortunate medical leave), the show left me with such energy and excitement (not to mention in awe of the two lead performers), I wished I was a Hollywood producer. Right then and there, I would have cast the two of them in a good romantic comedy. That’s how good he is.

So, I hope The Wedding Singer is just the first stop in a long Broadway career for Stephen Lynch, filled with roles requiring massive amounts of talent and stage presence.


the Broadway Mouth
August 1, 2007