Into the Woods at Shakespeare in the Park

Last night Matt and I saw the Shakespeare in the Park production of Into the Woods in Central Park. Free tickets are distributed at 1:00 p.m., but because they only give out a limited number and it’s very popular, you really have to start lining up in the park by 6:00 a.m. to guarantee you’ll get tickets. You might be OK if you get there at 6:30, but if you get there at 7:00 you’ll most likely be too late, because the line will already be too long. (Each person in line can get 1 or 2 tickets until they run out.)

So yesterday Matt and I took the day off from work, dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:25 in the morning, got ourselves together, headed out the door, hailed a cab, and got to Central Park a few minutes before 6:00. The park actually doesn’t open until 6, so we had to line up at the entrance to the park at West 81st Street and Central Park West. There were already several dozen people ahead of us when we got there. A Public Theater staffer watched over things, explained some of the rules (such as: you can’t switch off with someone else in line), and said that those of us already in line would definitely be able to get tickets. Whew.

At around 6:00 a.m., the park opened, and the staffer led the line a little ways through the park and over to the Delacorte Theater. We then plopped down our stuff in line along a path leading up to the box office window and settled in for a seven-hour wait.

The seven hours actually went by incredibly fast. We brought chairs, suntan lotion, sunglasses, snacks, and stuff to pass the time. I had magazines, my Kindle, my iPad (loaded with a couple of movies), my iPhone, earphones, and a book of puzzles. It was like preparing for an airplane trip, but with 3G access. (Alas, no WiFi in the park.)

I wish I’d brought a hoodie, because for the first two or three hours I was surprisingly chilly in shorts and a t-shirt. It was already light out at 6:00, but it took a few hours for the sun to rise high enough to start warming things up. We lucked out with good weather; it wasn’t muggy or too hot.

There are restrooms near the box office, as well as a concession window that sells food and drinks. There’s also a guy passing out menus from a nearby deli: you can place orders, and they’ll deliver to you in line. People don’t mind if you leave the line for a few minutes at a time to use the bathroom, buy some food, or take a quick walk up and down the line. I took a few short strolls — I counted about 100 people ahead of us, and at about 10 a.m., I walked in the other direction and counted about 250 people snaking away behind us, most of whom would not get tickets.

The whole thing was very civilized. It’s nice sitting in the park under a canopy of trees, watching runners and bikers and dog-walkers.

The time flew by, and then at 12:45 we were told to start gathering up our stuff and begin compacting the line. At about 1:00, they started giving out tickets. When you get to the front, you just tell the guy whether you want 1 or 2 tickets per person, and he hands you some tickets.

Matt and I got four tickets, because my parents would be joining us. We were given Section O, Row Q, seats 512-515, which, according to the seating chart, were all the way on the end of a row. Given how early we got in line, we were a bit bummed not to get better seats, but we realized most of the good seats go to donors. And after all, the tickets were free. Later in the day I did a Twitter search and saw that some people in line got seats a bit closer to the center, although I didn’t see any that got much closer to the stage.

We went home and napped a bit, and then a few hours later we headed back to the park and met up with my parents. Outside the theater we saw Wesley Taylor (best known for Smash), and while sitting in our seats I saw Michael Urie in the audience. Apparently Tom Hanks was also there last night, and so was Jennifer Damiano.

Our seats turned out to be not bad at all. It’s a thrust stage, not a proscenium, so we could pretty much see everything. We did have a little trouble seeing the (spoiler alert!) giant at one point, but we could see it fine at another point.

It was only the second preview, so there are still some kinks to be worked out — the show dragged at times and ended after 11:00, but that will probably improve as the cast finds its groove. For me, the standouts were Jessie Mueller as Cinderella, Sarah Stiles as Little Red Riding Hood, Gideon Glick as Jack, and Ivan Hernandez and Cooper Grodin as the two princes. Amy Adams was surprisingly good as the Baker’s Wife for someone who is not normally a stage actress, and she did a particularly nice job with “Moments in the Woods.” Donna Murphy, of course, did a great, comical job as the Witch. And it was wonderful to see Chip Zien play the Mysterious Man, since he played the Baker in the original 1987 production (which my parents saw without me). And kudos to young Jack Broderick, who plays the Narrator.

There’s something special about seeing Into the Woods performed outdoors, with real trees in the background, especially as the sun goes down and the moon comes out. (Every so often I looked up and noticed that the moon had moved. It sure travels fast!) We weren’t sure we wanted to get up at the crack of dawn and wait in the park for seven hours, but I’m glad we did it.

Carrie

A couple of weeks ago, Matt alerted me to a tweet from Erik Piepenburg, the senior producer for the theater section of NYTimes.com, asking to interview people who saw the original “Carrie” on Broadway and could prove it. Matt knew that in May 1988, my parents took my brother and me to see a preview of “Carrie”. Another couple was supposed to go with them, but they bailed, so my parents took us instead. After the show, I got my Playbill signed by Betty Buckley, Gene Anthony Ray, and Linzi Hateley, and it’s one of my prized possessions. I had no idea we would be some of the relatively few witnesses to a legendary Broadway flop.

Anyway, I contact Erik, and last week my parents and I went to the New York Times Building to be interviewed by Erik and photographed, along with my Playbill. A few months ago I watched Page One: Inside the New York Times, much of which takes place in the offices of the Times, so it was so cool to be able to visit in person. (Plus, I’m a New York Times junkie).

It was after 6 p.m. when we were there, so hardly anyone was around. While Erik interviewed my parents separately, I wandered around and saw the cubicles of Ben Brantley, Charles Isherwood, Patrick Healy, and Stephen Holden. I didn’t touch anything, of course. I just looked.

And now, the story is up, along with audio and photos of us. (We’re the second and third entries.) God, those are such nerdy photos of me. I should have adjusted my glasses and gotten a haircut and what the hell is that dot on my chin where I’m standing with my parents? Oh, well.

Watching the Critics

Last night Matt and I went to see Queen of the Mist, a new musical by Michael John LaChiusa, starring Mary Testa, and produced by the Transport Group. The show is performed in a small school gymnasium, and the 100-seat audience is arranged on two sides of the gym, facing each other, in four rows of 12-13 people each.

Before the show, Matt wondered if any theater critics would be there, since the show is opening in just a few days. Sure enough, a few minutes before 8:00, I looked at the half of the audience that was facing us and spotted Ben Brantley, the New York Times theater critic. And then, three seats over from Ben Brantley, Matt noticed Roma Torre, theater critic for NY1′s On Stage TV show, which we watch every weekend.

They fascinated me. I probably spent half the show watching them watch the show. Every so often they would scribble on notepads. I tried to gauge their opinions of the show from their facial expressions, but it was hard; they both had these thoughtful, close-mouthed smiles while watching. I couldn’t tell if they enjoyed it or were just being polite.

As for my opinion: it was a decent show, but I found it a bit boring. The plot is thin; it’s about Annie Edson Taylor, the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive, which she did in 1901. LaChiusa’s music was very nice, and Mary Testa is always great to watch. But the show could have been about 15 minutes shorter.

I find myself feeling that way a lot lately: most recent shows I’ve seen seem to run about 15 minutes longer than I want them to be. I don’t know what that’s all about.

Company at the NY Phil

Last night we saw the much-anticipated, star-studded production of Company at Lincoln Center, with music by the New York Philharmonic. It was such a wonderful experience; with a cast of such wattage, at times I didn’t know where on stage to look: should I be watching Neil Patrick Harris? Patti LuPone? Stephen Colbert? Christina Hendricks? Jon Cryer? Not to mention: Martha Plimpton, Katie Finneran, Anika Noni Rose… it was like one of those episodes of The Love Boat where you watch the opening credits and see the face of great guest star after great guest star appearing in those circles: how cool is it to see all these people performing together?

(Here’s a slide show from the first performance on Thursday night.)

Considering that much of the cast rehearsed via iPhone, it was a pretty smooth show. The singing wasn’t of uniform quality; frankly, not all of these people are known for musical performances. But the acting was terrific all around. Standouts for me were Stephen Colbert and Martha Plimpton as Harry and Sarah; Christina Hendricks as the ditzy April, her voice pitched a little higher than when she plays Joan Holloway on “Mad Men”; and Katie Finneran as Amy.

Also great was the dancing! The vaudeville second-act ensemble number, “Side By Side By Side / What Would We Do Without You?” was a blast. Celebrities are usually each the center of attention when they perform, so it was a real treat to see all these famous people perform together in a big vaudeville dance number with straw hats.

And of course much of the singing was terrific. Patti LuPone stopped the show with “The Ladies Who Lunch” — not a surprise to anyone who saw her perform the number at the Sondheim birthday concert last year, whether live or on video. (When she said “I’d like to propose a toast,” the audience roared with applause.) Anika Noni Rose was great with “Another Hundred People,” and Katie Finneran was hilarious in “I’m Not Getting Married” (although she ran out of breath a few times, and the orchestra drowned her out a bit). I still think Raul Esparza’s performance of Bobby in the Broadway revival four years ago is iconic, but Neil Patrick Harris did a great job in the role and brought a nice emotional quality to “Being Alive.”

Even better for us: our seats were upgraded. When we bought tickets a couple of months ago, we bought relatively cheap seats in the third tier. But on Tuesday, the box office called and said they needed to use our seats for video cameras, and consequently they were moving us to the orchestra. We were toward the back, so we still couldn’t really see facial expressions, but we were still closer than we’d planned to be, and it was cool to be able to sit there.

Also, it was my very first time at Avery Fisher Hall. I’m glad I finally got to visit.

It was a memorable theater experience, the sum greater than its parts. Fortunately it’s being filmed for limited theatrical release, so others will be able to see it, too. But I’m really glad I got to see it live.

Recent Theatergoing

It’s the spring theater season and Matt and I have seen a ton of shows lately. Matt is fortunate to be a member of TDF, which provides discount tickets to lots of shows, so we’re able to see a lot of stuff.

Here are some things we’ve seen recently:

The Book of Mormon – Best show of the season. By Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the South Park guys) and Robert Lopez (Avenue Q). Hilarious and raunchy, with an entertaining score and a surprisingly sweet storyline at its heart. Andrew Rannells is a breakout star here. Not flawless, and not everyone will like it, but it’s a breath of fresh air: a funny, original musical.

Anything Goes – Delightful (delicious, d’lovely) revival. Sutton Foster gives a performance different from Patti Lupone in the 1980s revival, but it’s great in its own way. The first act finale is a great tap-dance number, the kind you don’t see on stage much anymore. It’s got a great supporting cast, including Joel Grey, Jessica Walter and John McMartin. This show also has a budding star, Colin Donnell, as romantic lead Billy Crocker. The guy can act, sing, and dance, and he’s good-looking; where’s he been all this time?

Born Yesterday – Revival of a 1940s Garson Kanin play. The best thing about this show is Nina Arianda‘s hilarious and intelligent performance as a ditzy blonde. Arianda is also on her way to stardom.

Catch Me If You Can – This musical is the biggest disappointment of the season. With Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Norbert Leo Butz, Aaron Tveit, and Kerry Butler, I was expecting theater magic; what went wrong here? The score is generic and uninteresting; Tveit (so wonderful in Next to Normal) can’t really carry this show. Shaiman and Wittman have taken a great movie and added a framing device: a 1960′s TV musical special. No idea why. It doesn’t work. Again, big disappointment. (“Disappointment” is subjective here; I expected Spider-Man to be bad and I’d heard negative buzz about Women on the Verge, so I was prepared for those. From this show I was expecting great things.)

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – revival starring Daniel Radcliffe, a.k.a. Harry Potter. God, I was really rooting for him here, and you can tell he’s put a lot of work into his performance. He pulls off a great dance number near the end of the show, and he does a good American accent, but he’s not quite right for the part. Still, I had a good time. (I liked this more than Matt did.)

No tickets yet for Priscilla Queen of the Desert or Sister Act. Not as interested in the former since I learned it lacks an original score; would like to see the latter, though.

Coming up: Jerusalem with Mark Rylance; Company at Avery Fisher Hall with Neil Patrick Harris, Patti Lupone, Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer, Christina Hendricks, and others (holy shit I can’t wait to see this); and The People in the Picture with Donna Murphy. Later in the spring, Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures.

Also, some rest.

Angels in America

One of my biggest regrets in all my years of theatergoing is that I never saw the Broadway production of Angels in America. I could have; although I was in school in Virginia when both parts played in repertory in 1993-94, I made several trips home to visit my family, and I could have seen it during any of those visits. But I never did. I was very uncomfortable with my sexuality at that point, and in fact I barely saw any theater at all during that time. (A perusal of my Playbill collection informs me that the only Broadway shows I saw in 1993-94 were Kiss of the Spider Woman and She Loves Me.)

I was glad when HBO did a TV version a few years ago, because I finally had a chance to experience the show. But watching it on TV wasn’t the same as seeing it on stage. So I was thrilled last year when the Signature Theater announced a new stage production of the show. We snapped up tickets the day they went on sale, and this week we finally saw it: Part 1 on Tuesday night, and Part 2 last night.

It’s a terrific production, with superb acting all around. It’s just a 160-seat theater — much more intimate than the 975-seat Walter Kerr, where the Broadway production played — so I was thrilled to be able to see one of my major crushes up close: Zachary Quinto as Louis Ironson. Quinto has a decidedly different take on the role than Ben Shenkman did in the HBO production: more intense, more anguished, even a little threatening. I saw hints of Sylar at times. Robin Bartlett, as Hannah Pitt and Ethel Rosenberg, was every bit as good as Meryl Streep; having learned a few weeks ago that my great aunt knew Ethel Rosenberg, it made those scenes even more poignant. Billy Porter, as Belize and Mr. Lies, brought sass, wit and comedy. Bill Heck conveyed a masculine vulnerability as Joe Pitt; his voice sounds like that of a masked superhero carrying the world’s weight. Zoe Kazan as Harper Pitt seemed to be channeling Mary Louise Parker from the HBO production, and she’s a lot shorter than Bill Heck, which took some getting used to, but she was excellent. Robin Weigert as the Angel and the nurse was loopy and compassionate, respectively. Frank Wood as Roy Cohn was appropriately mean and evil.

But the standout was the actor in the role of Prior Walter. Christian Borle is supposed to play the role, but he was absent on both nights, so instead we saw his understudy, Eric Bryant. And it turned out to be his first time in the part. He did a great job: scared, funny, strong, thoughtful. I didn’t realize until I picked up our tickets for Part 2 that it was his debut in the role, but during the bows at the end of Part 1, the other actors had given him pats on the back, which made more sense when I found this out.

Interestingly, sitting in the audience on both nights was Michael Urie — best known as Mark on Ugly Betty, but he also won a Lortel Award last spring for playing Rudi Gernreich in The Temperamentals Off Broadway. He’ll be taking over the role of Prior Walter at the beginning of February. He was sitting a few rows in front of us each night, so it was interesting to occasionally look over and watch him watching the show. I wondered what was going through his mind.

So… last night, during the second intermission, I went over and said hello to him. He was sitting by himself and everyone around him had gotten up to stretch their legs, so I impulsively got up and walked a few rows down to his seat. “Excuse me,” I said. He looked up. “Sorry to bother you… you’re going into this in February, right?” He said he was. I chatted with him for a couple of minutes. I asked how he felt about going into the role, and he said it’s a pretty intense role, and in addition to the performances, he’d watched the understudy in rehearsal earlier that day. I told him I’d enjoyed him in The Temperamentals. I wished him luck in his new role and then walked the few rows back to my seat. I think Matt was mortified. I was a little embarrassed myself; when I talk to actors I’ve seen perform, I feel like a babbling little fanboy.

Anyway, it’s a great production, and I’m so glad I finally got to see it on stage. I have more thoughts on Angels in America, but I’ll leave that to another post.

Crazy Audience Member!

Last night’s production of Spider-Man was terrible enough, but it was made worse by the most bizarre experience I have ever had with an audience member at the theater.

Our tickets were in the second-to-last row of the balcony. We took our seats at about 7:50. A few minutes after we sat down, a family came and sat down next to Matt: a man, a woman, and two boys. The woman took the seat next to Matt. Dark hair, probably in her late 30s.

The show still hadn’t started, so the woman began chatting with us. That was fine, although we were both fiddling with our phones and trying to check into the theater on Foursquare. After a little small talk, we both turned back to our phones. But she kept chatting.

“Happy Hanukkah!” she said to us. “You guys are Jewish, right?”

I said that I was but that Matt that wasn’t. It was a little awkward; you shouldn’t really try to guess what religion someone is.

And then she said, “Is there an extra night of Hanukkah this year?”

Um, what?

“No, it always has eight nights,” I said.

“There’s no extra night because it’s not a leap year,” Matt said jokingly.

“Oh, my son told me that sometimes it has an extra night. I guess he was tricking me!”

Then she pointed out some of the lighting equipment toward the sides of the theater and said how neat it looked.

It was then that I noticed she had a beverage with her. It was a smoothie in a plastic cup, or at least it looked like a smoothie. I realized that this woman was either drunk out of her mind or just bonkers.

Then one of the producers walked out onto the stage and welcomed us to the show. He told the audience to remember that it was a preview, and also not to take photos, recordings, all that usual stuff, and to enjoy the show. He left the stage and the lights went down and the show started.

But the woman wouldn’t be quiet. She kept oohing and aahing and pointing at the stage and saying, “Wowwwwww!” and “Look at that!” and throwing up her hands and swaying like she was at a rock concert. It was annoying and a little distracting, but I decided to ignore her because the show wasn’t very good anyway and it was mostly lough enough to drown her out.

But a group of college girls sitting in front of us started turning around and looking at her, and I heard the people behind us start to talk about her too.

At one point the woman took out her cell phone and took a picture, which had been specifically prohibited, of course.

And then… she started singing along with the music.

That was it. I leaned across Matt and said to the woman, sternly, “Excuse me, would you please be quiet?” She looked at me. I said, “Seriously. Please be quiet.” I think I embarrassed Matt a little bit. It was hard to return my focus to the stage because I don’t like having to confront people and I was feeling a little uncomfortable now.

The show continued, and so did the woman’s antics. Finally, near the end of the first act, she pulled out her camera again. And this time she stood up to try to take pictures, and she was unsteady on her feet. She was totally blocking the view of the people sitting behind her. That was the last straw. Matt and I both yelled at her, actually yelled, and told her to sit down. The music was blasting, so only the people immediately nearby heard our confrontation.

I said to her, “You’re ruining the show! You’ve been talking the entire time!”

“What are you talking about? I’ve barely said ten words!”

“Are you kidding me? You’ve been making noise during the whole show!” And then I said angrily, “Sober up!”

“I’m not even drinking, you weirdo,” she said. And then again, “You’re a weirdo!”

Five minutes later the first act ended, and Matt and I immediately got out of our seats and went to find some ushers. We told them there was a crazy woman sitting next to us in seat G106 who was drunk and making noise and standing up and taking photos.

“Yeah, I saw a flash, but I wasn’t sure who it was,” one of the ushers said.

“Well, she’s totally ruining the show,” I said. “Not that it’s a very good show anyway, but still –”

“Well I don’t have anything to say about that,” the usher said awkwardly, “but we’ll see what’s going on and we’ll eject her if we need to.”

When we went back to our seats, the whole family was… gone. Their coats were gone, too. Dad and the kids must have realized they needed to get her out of there.

We started commiserating with the people around us. The college girls in front of us said that the woman’s kids had kept telling her to be quiet. That made me feel better — at least it wasn’t just me and Matt. But I felt bad for her family.

Then the people behind us said to us, “Was that woman with you?”

“No,” I said. “She just sat down before the show and started talking with us!”

Thankfully, they didn’t return, so we got to watch the second act without disruption, atrocious as it was.

Between the terrible show and the crazy lady, it was just a bizarre fucking night at the theater.

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

We saw Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark last night. Before I continue, I should point out that the show is still in early previews (last night was the fourth such preview) and it doesn’t officially open until January. So in theory, there’s time to fix any problems.

But, oh my god. This thing is absolutely terrible.

Most of the publicity has been about the show’s technical snafus and injured actors. But there were no technical problems last night, no glitches that stopped the show.

The real problems are the book, the music, and the lyrics. And I don’t see how any of these get fixed.

The story is totally incoherent. The songs (except one) are tuneless and uninteresting. The lyrics are pointless. The spoken dialogue is boring. The characters are uninvolving. There is no wit or humor. There is nothing to make you laugh or tear up or care about what is happening.

I’m sorry. This is not a Broadway show. This is a $65 million, three-hour piece of crap. Some people have said it’s basically a Cirque de Soleil production, but that’s not true. Cirque de Soleil performers at least contort themselves into interesting shapes and create art with their bodies. Here, it’s just people on wires. So you can’t even give it that.

I go to the theater to be changed. I want to walk out of a show thinking about something in a new way, or having laughed or cried, or heard some good songs, or watched some interesting performances. I’m not impressed by people flying above the audience in costumes or enormous pieces of moving scenery or giant video screens.

This thing has no reason to exist.

The story makes no sense. There are a few random villains but they rarely appear and they rarely interact with Spider-Man. They don’t even seem to have any diabolical plans or motivation. They attack Spider-Man a couple of times but we don’t know why. They’re just kind of there. In addition to the Green Goblin and some villains called the Sinister Six, the Greek mythological figure Arachne appears in the show. Arachne, as the Playbill helpfully reminds us, was turned into a spider by Athena after she beat Athena in a weaving contest. While it might be an interesting idea to have a story about Arachne and Spider-Man, there is no story here. She just shows up every so often. She has no reason for being in the show.

As for the music: I like rock musicals. I loved Spring Awakening, and American Idiot has its moments. Both of those shows use music and lyrics to tell a story. But Bono and The Edge appear to know nothing about how to do this. And they won’t even deign to come to New York to watch the previews of their own damn show, so how can they fix anything?

Oh, I forgot to mention the four annoying, recurring geek characters who talk in rhyming couplets and bring the action to a complete stop whenever they appear and whose only apparent purpose is to stall for time during set changes behind the curtain.

And also, there’s a song where Arachne and an eight-legged spider chorus sing a song about shoes. Yeah, shoes. It’s not even campy bad. It’s just boring bad.

The one good moment in the show is a ballad sung late in the second act by Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Mary Jane, played by Jennifer Damiano. I feel sorry that she has to be in such an awful show after her role in the terrific Next to Normal.

I tried to go in with an open mind but I hated this thing from start to finish.

Even the name of the show is terrible.

Oh, and I haven’t even talked about the CRAZY AUDIENCE MEMBER sitting next to us! But that deserves its own post. (Update: here it is.)

Childhood Idol

What would you do if you encountered one of your childhood idols?

Last night, Matt and I went to the Public Theater to see Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a terrific, rocking, sexy show. Before we went to our seats, I went to use the restroom… and I was leaving the restroom, Michael J. Fox walked in.

Now, to understand how I feel about Michael J. Fox, you will have to remember that Back to the Future is my favorite movie ever. I’ve been in love with that movie ever since I saw it in the theater as a kid, 25 years ago. I know Michael J. Fox is not really Marty McFly, but to me he always will be. And before Back to the Future, there was Family Ties, a show I always enjoyed. And after Back to the Future, there were several other movies and another TV show, and then he went public with having Parkinson’s disease, which only made me admire him more. He’s also written a few books (which I’ll admit I haven’t read), including a new one that just came out last month.

Last week he did a hilarious cameo on The Colbert Report. So I guess he must be in New York for a little while.

So anyway, after I left the restroom, I said to Matt, “Did you know who was in there? Michael J. Fox!” I wasn’t sure if he was seeing the same show as us, because the Public has a few different theaters in the building. But after we went into our theater and took our seats, I kept turning around to see if he walked in.

Sure enough, he soon did… and he sat down at the end of our row.

The Newman Theater at the Public isn’t very big — 300 seats. The last time we were there, Stephen Sondheim sat behind us.

I think Fox was with someone (his wife?), but I’m not sure, because I didn’t want to be too glaringly obvious and lean forward and stare at him.

My dilemma then began. I hate being the type of person who goes up to celebrities and says hello. But he’s not just a celebrity to me. He’s one of my heroes. This was an opportunity to go up to one of my heroes and say hello and tell him how much I’ve admired him since I was a kid. It was just a few minutes before 8:00, when the lights go down and the show starts, and there was no intermission. So I had to decide quickly.

And… I wound up staying in my seat. I was too nervous. I wouldn’t know what to say, and I didn’t want to sound stupid, and I didn’t want to disturb him and his privacy.

So I missed my chance to say hi to Michael J. Fox.

When the show ended and the lights came up, I looked at the end of the row… and there were two empty seats. He and his theater companion were already gone, probably having slipped out unobtrusively during the curtain calls.

Sigh.

Broadway Flop Wall

I don’t know how new this is, but Joe Allen, a restaurant in Manhattan’s theater district, has created an online exhibit of posters of Broadway flops, including excerpts from reviews. I’ve seen some of these, going back to Carrie, Nick & Nora, and What’s Wrong with This Picture?, and quite a few more in recent years.

[via MUG by way of the New York Times]

Bloomberg at Hair

After every performance of Hair on Broadway, the audience is invited to come up on stage and dance, and the video of each night’s dance party is posted on the show’s website. NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg was there on Wednesday night and took the stage, and he was captured dancing on camera. You can see him at about 1:02 and 2:14 and then again near the end. [via]

I love that mayors can do this kind of thing. Not to mention ride the subway.

Celebrity Sightings

Has it really been a whole week since I last blogged? I have a couple of half-written entries in the hopper, but by now they’re stale.

I’ve had a couple of performer sightings lately. Last night we saw a preview of American Idiot, which (and here I will give my opinion even though it was a preview) is a loud, enjoyable spectacle that takes us back to the dark days of George W. Bush’s America circa 2004. The plot is a bit underdeveloped — it kind of reminded me of one of Twyla Tharp’s jukebox musicals in that the characters are archetypes, although it also had elements of Hair and Spring Awakening (with which it shares a director and a star). Great choreography — very frantic jerky moves which reminded me of Spring Awakening as well. The New York Times has a long article about the show today. I wound up recognizing some of the songs — the score is Green Day’s American Idiot album, and I guess I must have heard the songs on the radio or on TV in the last few years. That made me feel cool.

I continue to fail to understand why louder is always better, though. I guess I just have sensitive ears. Rock of Ages was one big headache for me — that show was so fricking loud that it actively pissed me off and I couldn’t enjoy it.

But anyway, on the way into the theater last night I saw Lin Manuel Miranda. He was with a woman and he was speaking Spanish to her and they just seemed like regular folks. I wonder what he thought of the show.

My other sighting happened on Wednesday afternoon. I was standing on the platform at the Summit, NJ, train station, waiting for my train home from work. I was playing a game on my iPhone, and when I looked up, I realized that Daniel Eric Gold, of Ugly Betty and Off-Broadway, was standing right next to me. I’m 99.5 percent sure it was him, at least. He was wearing this big puffy knit Rasta hat. I don’t know what he was doing at the Summit train station, but we both got onto the New York train and I wound sitting in the same car as him. I thought about saying hi, because I remember seeing him several years ago in Craig Lucas’s play Small Tragedy at Playwrights Horizons and thinking, who is this unknown actor? he’s really good! (Lee Pace was also in that play, and I thought the same thing about him). I thought he’d be much more impressed by someone complimenting him on a six-year-old award-winning Off-Broadway performance than by someone complimenting him on Ugly Betty. But I decided I would come off sounding stupid and I didn’t want to disturb him.

I kind of wish I had done it anyway.

Clybourne Park

If you like plays and you’re in or near New York, get yourself a ticket to Clybourne Park. We saw it last night and it’s the best play I’ve seen all year. It’s both incisive and hysterical. It closes on March 21, though, so you’d better hurry.

Brighton Beach Memoirs

Brighton Beach Memoirs: Yes, they were Jewish enough.

I’m bummed that the revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs closed today after only one week of official performances, and that the revival of Broadway Bound will not go on as planned. We saw Brighton Beach Memoirs a few weeks ago and even though it wasn’t a perfect production, I really enjoyed it.

I feel a connection to these plays, beyond being Jewish. I took an acting class in college where I had to play Eugene Jerome in the scene from Brighton Beach Memoirs in which the two brothers discuss masturbation, naked girls, etc. And I saw the original production of Broadway Bound, with Joan Rivers playing Kate (she took over from Linda Lavin). I was looking forward to seeing the revival. Now poor Josh Grisetti won’t be able to make his Broadway debut after all.

I wonder what went wrong. It seems like the revivals just weren’t marketed very well and that the producers expected audiences to flock to them because they’re two of Neil Simon’s most beloved plays. But I guess Neil Simon just isn’t the draw he used to be.

Every Little Step

We saw an absolutely wonderful documentary yesterday: Every Little Step, about the recent Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. If A Chorus Line is a musical about people auditioning for a musical, then Every Little Step is a documentary about people auditioning for a revival of a musical about people auditioning for a musical.

Yeah, pretty meta.

I saw the original production of A Chorus Line when I was a kid, and I don’t remember much about it. After watching this documentary, I could kick myself for not seeing the recent Broadway revival. I really, really wish I’d seen a production of the show when I was old enough to appreciate it.

A Chorus Line was a groundbreaking musical when it opened at the Public Theater in 1975 — it transferred to Broadway later that year — but by the time I was a kid growing up in New Jersey in the 1980s, it was an institution. It had always been around and always would be, ensconced forever at the top of the ABCs, the New York Times’s daily alphabetical listing of current Broadway shows.

My parents took me to see A Chorus Line on my 10th birthday, in December 1983. I’d started acting in school plays a couple of years earlier; they’d seen A Chorus Line back when it was new, and I guess they thought I, a budding performer, might like it. But they must have forgotten how much of an “adult” show it was. I can’t tell you how embarrassed I was as a 10-year-old boy to be sitting with my parents, listening to a woman sing about “tits and ass.” I was mortified.

That’s the only thing I remember about seeing the show.

I looked at my Chorus Line Playbill this morning — I have the Playbills for almost every Broadway show I’ve ever seen — and according to the cast list, when I was 10 years old I saw the original “Paul,” Sammy Williams. He was apparently still in the show in 1983, eight years into its run. I wonder if he left and came back or if he’d been in it the whole time? Anyway — his performance was wasted on me. I saw the original Paul and I don’t even remember!

Which brings me to one of the most amazing moments in the documentary, which is when Jason Tam, during his audition, performs Paul’s monologue. The performance is so moving that the panel is fighting back sobs. Once the audition is over and he leaves the room, Bob Avian — the original co-choreographer and the revival’s director — lets go and breaks down in tears. I was choking back tears myself, as were other people in the audience.

It wasn’t until watching the documentary yesterday that I really thought about A Chorus Line in the context of its time and place: New York City, 1975. Post-Watergate, pre-disco; post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS. (About halfway through that 12-year gay golden era, in fact.) A few years ago I wrote a piece for the New York Blade about my impressions of a documentary called Gay Sex in the 70s. I linked to it on my blog and wound up getting schooled for my naivete by a few people who had been around during that decade. I admit that I used to feel uncomfortable about gay life in the 1970s. The era just seemed so distant, so foreign, so weird — right down to the mustaches. (A few people made fun of me for remarking on the mustaches.) But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve wished I could go back 35 years in a time machine and just walk around the Village and take everything in. I realize that may sound silly to someone who actually lived through the 70s. But I didn’t live through the 70s.

And I wish I could go back in time, turn invisible, and visit the Public Theater in the spring of 1975, where people were discovering A Chorus Line for the first time.

I can’t recommend Every Little Step highly enough. If it’s playing in your area and you love theater, go see it.

Spring Awakening on Strike

Last night on YouTube I came across these videos of the Broadway cast of Spring Awakening singing songs from the show outside the theater during the November 2007 stagehand strike. I guess one night they gathered on the street and just jammed out their songs to a ukulele played mostly by John Gallagher, Jr. They just seem like this random group gathering on the street, and I marvel at how good they are — until I remember that these are the people who perform the actual Broadway production of this show eight times a week and therefore know all their notes down cold. Of course they’re good! And yet just unpolished enough to sound, well, cool.

Mama Who Bore Me:

I Believe:

Bitch of Living:

My Junk:

Touch Me:

2008-2009 Broadway Revivals

As of last night, Matt and I have seen all four Tony nominees for Best Musical Revival — three of the them in the past week.

In the fall we saw “Pal Joey,” with the unfortunately miscast Matthew Risch, the terrific Martha Plimpton, and poor Stockard Channing, whom I love but who can’t really sing.

Last Wednesday night we saw “West Side Story,” which was excellently danced and sung and had the terrific Karen Olivo, but was just… missing something. (Besides some of the English lyrics.) And as Matt said to me, seeing the show on stage makes you realize what a museum piece “West Side Story” is. And we were in the balcony, which, in the Palace Theater, is really high up, so we felt too far away from the action.

Last Thursday night we saw “Hair,” which was one of the best things I’ve seen this season. Going in, I knew very little about the show other than the two big songs, “Age of Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine In,” and the moment of nudity. There isn’t much of a plot. But this production is fantastic and bursting with energy. It doesn’t matter where you sit, because cast members come into the audience, even up to the mezzanine, where we sat. I totally recommend seeing this show. It’s a lock to win Best Revival.

Finally, last night we saw the revival of “Guys and Dolls,” which lives up to its dreadful reviews. We wouldn’t have seen it if not for cheap tickets.

I don’t know what director Des McAnuff was thinking. The production is way overmiked, the costume colors are depressingly subdued, there are distracting screen projections, Oliver Platt (Nathan Detroit) doesn’t speak clearly, Lauren Graham (Miss Adelaide) is bland as pudding. Craig Bierko and Kate Jennings Grant were somewhat better. Nicely-Nicely Johnson is played by Tituss Burgess, who played Sebastian the Crab in “The Little Mermaid,” and whenever he waddled around the stage I couldn’t help but think of him in his Sebastian costume with a couple of crab legs trailing behind him. And he had this horrendous faux-1940s gangster accent.

My impression of this “Guys and Dolls” was inevitably colored by the stupendous 1992 Jerry Zaks production starring Nathan Lane, Faith Prince, Peter Gallagher and Josie De Guzman, which is how I was first introduced to this show. Everything in that production just worked — bright colors, smartly over-the-top performances, great orchestrations. (Here’s Frank Rich’s review.) I don’t know what the point of the current revival is. If you’re going to do this show, do it right.

Oh, and it didn’t help that there was a group of teenagers sitting in front of us who appeared to be on a school trip. One or the other of them kept standing up in order to squeeze past his friends and go take a break. And 20 minutes into the show, the empty row in front of us filled up with four more of them, who for some reason arrived late. One of them was a very big girl who blocked my entire view of center stage, and another one of them spent the whole first act sending text messages. Fortunately we found different seats during intermission, closer to the stage and far away from those idiots.

Sometimes I think theater critics should be forced to review shows from the cheap seats.