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Friday, December 22, 2017

Met's Hansel and Gretel is a Full Course Delight

The cast of Hansel and Gretel take a bow
I've come to accept that the Met opera seasons are like a curate's egg. You can't expect a consistent level of quality and inspiration anymore. But once in awhile, you might stumble upon a totally delightful performance. And such was the case with their holiday presentation of Hansel and Gretel. Despite a mid-performance substitution (Tara Erraught, the production's Hansel, sounded wan in the first two acts and was replaced after intermission by Ingeborg Gillebo) the overall performance was one of the best things I've seen the Met do in, well, quite awhile.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Nutcracker Season: Sweets Amid Turmoil ...

The blindingly beautiful Snow Scene, photo @ Paul Kolnik

This year I went to an unprecedented seven (!!!) NYCB Nutcrackers. Don't ask how it happened, it just did. First of all, when I bought the tickets to the Nutcracker, I just wanted a happy, uncomplicated experience. But then, well ... #metoo happened to NYCB. It's AD Peter Martins was accused of sexual harassment and abuse and took a leave of absence from both SAB and NYCB. The charges turned more serious with accusations of physical abuse. I hope the board acts quickly to fully investigate these charges. With that being said I admire the company even more for carrying on with their level of professionalism and high standards amidst the turmoil.

There is an element of comfort food to Nutcracker season. Every year I laugh at the funny, skittish mice, I marvel at the beauty of Balanchine's Snowflakes, I go squishy at the adorable bunny pulling the tail of the Mouse King, blah blah blah. I also revisit my favorite dancers. So it's not surprising that I saw Sterling Hyltin/Andrew Veyette as the SPF/Cavalier twice, or Tiler Peck's Dewdrop twice, and made room for Ashley Bouder's Dewdrop as well. These are portrayals I know and love, and returning to them year after year is soothing and thrilling at the same time. It's remarkable how these dancers know how to transmit their magic in every performance.

But Nutcracker season is also a season of discovery, and I discovered so many previously-unknown desserts that I can't live without now. Just a run-down: Teresa Reichlen's Sugarplum Fairy, Emily Kikta's Coffee, Harrison Coll's Candy Cane, Preston Chamblee's Mother Ginger, India Bradley's Harlequin, and much more.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Once On This Island; RIP Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Alex Newell and Hailey Kilgore, photo @ Joan Marcus
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW.
The revival of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's Once On This Island has been getting insanely good word-of-mouth in early previews. I went to see what the fuss was all about last night. First of all, Circle in the Square is exactly the right theatre for this show. The boxed-in seating allowed director Michael Arden to make the entire set an "island." The pre-show involved the cast milling about a sand-and-water-filled set complete with goats and chickens. The ceiling of the theater had bunches of laundry lines. They obviously were trying to recreate the feel of a real Caribbean island. A little cheesy, but it worked.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Brigadoon's Music Wakes Up Audiences; Thaïs Scorches

Kelli O'Hara and Patrick Wilson, photo @ Sara Krulwich

When New York City Center announced that the chief Encores! presentation of their season would be Lerner and Loewe's Brigadoon, tickets sold out so quickly that you would have thought the musical only came around once in a hundred years. Oh wait ...

Anyway tonight's performance was one of glorious highs and depressing lows. Let's start with the positive here: this was a lavish, fully-staged performance. They spent good money on this. It didn't have the feel of a semi-staged concert at all -- there were colorful costumes, enough props and some background projections to evoke the world of the Scottish highlands. This is a production that could transfer to Broadway with minimal adjustments. A few more sets (a ramp served as an all-purpose entrance and exit tool) and less amateurish projections and we'll have a great show.  Of course if it moved to Broadway it probably wouldn't have had the full orchestra of 30 players led by Rob Berman. The orchestra really played Loewe's score with love and they got the loudest applause of the evening.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

People, Places and Things: When 12-Step Is Just the Beginning

Denise Gough and Barbara Martens
One of the most popular genres of autobiography is the addict-recovery memoir. The format usually follows a tight script: the promising beginning, the descent into drugs and misery, the harrowing "rock bottom" moment, and then the recovery process by which the addict finds strength from God. The result is usually uplifting and tidy. How engaging these books are depends on the narrator (and editor). My personal favorite addict-recovery memoir is Darryl Strawberry's Straw. Strawberry sounds like a very typical jock who muses about how much his batting average would have been had he "juiced" on steroids and described his ex-wife as "drama, drama, drama." The authenticity and lack of pretension is appealing. I also like Mike Tyson's memoir if only for the honest epilogue in which he admits that he hasn't recovered, is still an addict and working through issues.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Harvey Fierstein Double-Header: Torch Song Sings, Kinky Boots Still Has Sex In the Heel

Ward Horton, Jack DiFalco, Michael Urie and Mercedes Ruehl, photo @ Joan Marcus
I guess the 2017-18 is the season of Seminal Gay Theater revivals. In the spring a highly acclaimed London production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America is coming to Broadway. There was already much hysteria during the Ticketmaster pre-sale where good seats were going for well over $300. But if you want something slightly less lengthy and costly Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy has been revised and shortened to Torch Song and is currently playing off-Broadway until December 9. I saw it this afternoon and highly recommend it.

The play spans the 1970's to 1970's and follows the life and times of neurotic, love-starved drag queen Arnold. David Zinn's sets are a wonderful recreation of that era. Michael Urie as Arnold has almost nothing in common with Harvey Fierstein on the surface. Fierstein was larger-than-life and LARGE, period. The androgynous, noodly-limbed Urie looks like a generic pretty boy. But Urie is like Fierstein a very engaging actor who has the ability to draw the audience into the drama the minute the curtains go up. Arnold's opening soliloquy immediately establishes him as a likable, funny, charismatic character. Someone we want to spend the next three hours with. An example of his wit: "An ugly person who goes after a pretty person gets nothing but trouble. But a pretty person who goes after an ugly person gets at least cab fare." Urie is also like Fierstein in that he's a fearless performer who will do anything to get a reaction. His simulation of a dark-room dive bar sexual encounter is hysterical.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Mariinsky's Dreamy La Bayadere

Tereshkina and Kim and Shades
A quick day-trip to D.C. yielded great rewards: an absolutely gorgeous performance of La Bayadere from the Mariinsky Ballet. Because of schedule constraints I could only see one performance but I'm confident I ended up with the best cast because, honestly, it's hard to imagine a greater Nikya and Solor today than Viktoria Tereshkina and Kimin Kim. They were awesome. Amazing. Stupendous. I could go on with the superlatives but I'm sure it will get boring fast, if it hasn't already gotten boring.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Band's Visit - It Wasn't Important?

Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalboub, photo @ Sara Krulwich
The Band's Visit, an off-Broadway musical that is now in previews on Broadway, begins and ends with the statement that an Egyptian banded visited the Israeli town of Bet Hatikva, but no one knows about it, because "it wasn't very important." Those words are meant ironically, as obviously, the whole musical is about the visit. But at the end of last evening's performance it also crossed my mind that, well, uh, it wasn't important. I admired many things about David Yazbek and Itamar Moses's adaptation of the 2007 film, but ultimately I didn't really care about the characters. The music (a charming mix of pseudo-Middle-Eastern pop and folk music) didn't really grab me. It was charming, it was pleasant, but, yeah, it wasn't important.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

NYCB Fall Season: Hello New Works, Goodbye Robbie

Fairchild in some of his best roles at NYCB
After two weeks of Swan Lake NYCB returned to its usual mixed bills. As is often the case the all-Balanchine program reaffirmed Mr. B's genius, the "Here/Now" program revealed which modern works had staying power and which didn't, and the "all-new" works were a mixed bag. NYCB said goodbye to two principals: Rebecca Krohn and Robert Fairchild.

First things first: the Balanchine triple bill of Square Dance/La Valse/Cortège Hongrois showed that the state of the union of NYCB is strong. Square Dance is in good hands with the allegro technicians of Megan Fairchild/Anthony Huxley. La Valse is trickier -- it can become a cheesy Halloween horror show. But with Sterling Hyltin as the simultaneously delicate and demented socialite and Justin Peck as a hovering, creepy Death, that wasn't an issue. Cortège Hongrois is not top-drawer Balanchine -- it's heavily derivative of both Petipa's Raymonda and Balanchine's earlier takes on Glazunov's score. Raymonda remix, basically. Sara Mearns and Tiler Angle were fine as the classical couple (the role taps into Mearns' imperiousness, which is one of her best qualities) but more surprising was the vigor with which Georgina Pazcoguin and Ask La Cour danced the "folk" czardas.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

NYCB Fall Season: 4 (!!!) Swan Lakes

NYCB Swan Lake, photo @ Paul Kolnik
When the 2017-18 season for NYCB came out last spring, I saw that the first two weeks of the season were devoted to Peter Martins' Swan Lake. I thought "Oh good, giving my wallet a break." This was one production I was in no hurry to revisit. I saw it once with Sara Mearns and that was enough. Or so I thought. Flash forward to September. I found myself buying tickets to see four (!!!) different Swan Lake casts. The struggle is real, y'all.

I still hate the production. I hate the mish-mash of Balanchine/Martins/Ivanov choreography in the lakeside scene. I hate the hideous decors by Per Kirkelby. I hate the mismatched green costumes in the first act. I hate the Jester. I hate the hilariously bad Russian dance in which one female dancer usually slinks as if doing a Middle Eastern belly dance. I hate the cold, non-sensical ending (Rothbart is defeated, but as dawn approaches Odette still goes back with her swans and Siegfried is alone). The only part of new choreography I like is the ballroom pas de quatre. The difference is now NYCB has such a strong roster of Odette/Odiles that I wanted to see what they could do with this iconic role. The casts I saw were: Reichlen/Janzen (Sept 22), Hyltin/Catazaro (9/29), Fairchild/Garcia (9/30), and Peck/Finlay (10/1). Yes, I really sat through this production three times in three days. God help me.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Opening Night Norma: Business as Usual

Opening night Norma, photo @ Ken Howard

Last night was one of my personal firsts: attending an opening night at the Metropolitan Opera. The opera: Bellini's Norma. I thought at the very least it'd be fun in a special occasion sort of way. Instead it was one of the most normal, average nights I've ever spent at the Met. It wasn't a bad performance so much as a terribly routine one.

The new production by David McVicar looked like something that was raided from old sets of Die Walkure. Norma's house looks a lot like Hunding's hut, and the centerpiece of the Druid command center was an enormous tree. I really thought Norma was going to pull a sword from the tree. The costumes by Moritz Junger were nondescript dark drapes for most everybody. It was a safe, inoffensive production for the most part, save some odd directorial choices. Why does Norma begin "Casta diva" by crawling on her hands and knees to the little treehouse platform, and why does she scurry under the tree to sing "Ah bello a mi ritorna"?

But the fault of last night's dull, unenthusiastic performance lies not with McVicar, as really, what CAN a director do with Norma? This is such a singer-centered opera. Very hard to make a regie-Norma. It was instead the flawed performances by ALL the principal singers that made this night not-so-memorable. No one's voice was working the way it needed to work to pull this opera off.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

My Last Day as a Cometeer

Dave Malloy as Pierre
So Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812 closed this afternoon. It was certainly not the ending fans of this show expected when it opened and was making millions per week. The demise of this musical has been endlessly discussed here, there, everywhere. Today I'll just talk about the thrilling, wonderful experience of being a Last Cometeer.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Theater diaries: Prince of Broadway, Government Inspector, and more

Government Inspector, photo @Carol Rossegg
Over the past week for whatever reason I've seen 5 shows. Two were revisits (The Great Comet, closing on September 3, and Groundhog Day) and three were new to me: The Play that Goes Wrong, Government Inspector, and Prince of Broadway.

Of all the shows by far the biggest highlight was Government Inspector. It's playing in the off-Broadway New World Stages theater. GO SEE IT BEFORE IT CLOSES ON AUGUST 20. Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's famous play had a synergy of great casting, direction, and production values. The whole evening had the audience in stitches. Gogol's satirical play has lost none of its bite and relevance -- the snobbery, ignorance, selfishness, and corruption of the public officials in the play could be transplanted to modern times without any adjustments.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Taming of the Shrew; Waitress Hat Trick

Katharina and Petruchio, photo @ Jack Devant

The Lincoln Center Festival chugged along with more Bolshoi Ballet -- this time they were dancing Jean-Christophe Maillot's Taming of the Shrew. After the excitement of Superjewels, this seemed anti-climactic. I went to see the opening night performance and while it was a perfectly pleasant way to spend a summer evening it's not something I'll rush to see again.

The ballet has some virtues. One, its brevity. With an intermission and the prolonged Russian-style curtain calls you were still out of the theater within 1 hr 45 minutes. Two, the score. The music is piecemeal Shostakovich which meant it was always listenable and often very fun. Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin (Bianca and Lucentio) have two calm, glamorous pas de deux that establish these two remarkable dancers as the foremost classicists of the company. The role of Hortensio is one of those Bolshoi bravura cameos that gets the entire crowd yelling, especially when danced with the explosiveness of Igor Tsvirko (seriously, wow! He has a pretty cool Youtube channel where you can see him dance other roles).

Friday, July 21, 2017

Superjewels!


Original Jewels cast, photo @ Martha Swope
In 1967 George Balanchine decided to make a three-act plotless ballet. And then he hit upon marketing gold -- the three sections would be named after gemstones -- Emeralds, Rubies, and Diamonds. And voila! An indestructible cash cow was created. Jewels has in these 50 years filled the coffers of not just the NYCB but ballet companies across the world. It's a hit wherever it goes. Balletomanes love their jewelry and Diamonds are a ballet company's best friend.

Lincoln Center Festival decided to capitalize on Balanchine's foundation by creating a One Time Only (!!!) Event -- a Very Special Jewels in which each section was danced by a different company. Ticket prices were through the roof but the event sold out anyway. The Paris Opera Ballet took Emeralds, while the NYCB and the Bolshoi took turns swapping between Rubies and Diamonds. I attended the first two performances so I saw both combos -- NYCB Rubies/Bolshoi Diamonds and Bolshoi Rubies/NYCB Diamonds.

Seeing three different companies dance the three different sections of Jewels is sort of strange -- the ballet is supposed to be a display of company versatility. On the other hand, it is a One Time Only Event -- Superjewels. The audience absolutely loved it -- there were loud ovations after every ballet, audiences refusing to leave their seats until dancers came out for yet another solo bow. I have to remind myself sometimes that not everyone gets to see Jewels as often as those who live near NYC do and for those people it's a very special treat.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Veronika's Parting

Veronika receiving roses from the girls, photo @ Kent Becker


Part in three of her major roles: Mozartiana, Odette and Myrtha
This afternoon I attended an ABT performance that just a week ago didn't interest me at all. I have a real allergy to the way ABT does Balanchine and the program had one of his most sublime works -- Mozartiana. I wasn't in a hurry to see Gomes' AfterEffect, or the pas de deux from Ratmansky's Nutcracker. I did want to see Ratmansky's Souvenir d'un lieu cher but it was something I suspect will work better in a smaller theater.

So why, then, did I go? Actually, for a really unhappy reason: this was the last chance to see Veronika Part dance for ABT. She has been let go after 15 years with the company. When word got out that Part's contract would not be renewed, fans created an online petition that garnered over 500 signatures. Then things got a little crazy. A particularly vehement fan started hatching all sorts of plans which included booing BEFORE Mozartiana, staging a sit-in, throwing a tomato at Ratmansky (whom she compared to a Nazi collaborator), and other hare-brained schemes. In the end none of these plans came to fruition. The company's cold attitude towards Part was evident in this hastily planned "farewell" which was announced a few days ago. Contrast that with Diana Vishneva's lavish farewell in which she got promotional articles in the New York Times and the New Yorker, was surrounded by bouquets and confetti, feted by Kevin McKenzie and the rest of her ABT colleagues.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Divine Miss M(urphy) in Hello! Dolly, and Bandstand


So last night I saw Hello Dolly! with the Divine Miss M and didn't have to donate a kidney! Of course the Divine Miss M in this case was Miss M(urphy). Some people in the audience muttered that they wanted to see Midler (I guess the sign to the left didn't tip them off?). But once Donna Murphy stepped off that trolley and started singing, I think the entire audience was like "Bette who?" Donna really sang the living daylights out of a role that's often associated with divas of a certain age with a limited vocal range. She can belt, she can interpolate high notes, she can sing while doing all sorts of physical comedy, in other words she was absolutely amazing! It was one of the most joyous nights in the theatre that I've ever experienced.

It's not really fair to compare the rest of the cast to how they were in March. That was early in previews and they were still figuring out what worked, what didn't, and the comic timing. What I can say though is how much they've grown over the past few months. Everyone is funnier, more extroverted, more of an ensemble. The award for Most Improved goes to David Hyde Pierce, whose timing in his lines is now actually hilarious, and his singing has become more confident as well.
"Penny in my Pocket" didn't seem like an end-of-intermission filler. Kate Baldwin has also made Irene Molloy a lot sexier. I also really noticed the antics of Jennifer Simard as Ernestina Money a lot more. Even performances that were excellent in previews (Gavin Creel's Cornelius, Taylor Trensch's Barnaby, Beanie Feldstein's Minnie) were that much funnier last night.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Farewell Diana

Diana and Marcelo's curtain calls
Tonight ABT bid farewell to one of its most beloved artists. After the fraught finale of Cranko's Onegin the sold out crowd screamed and yelled their appreciation for Diana Vishneva. Her longtime stage partner Marcelo Gomes hugged and comforted her. Confetti streamed down from above, the stage was covered in flowers, ABT colleagues marched onstage with hugs and more bouquets, and Diana looked simultaneously sad and elated as she basked in the love of the audience. Oh yeah, Diana's husband also made an appearance. The Diana and Marcelo Lovefest Curtain Call Routine was dialed up an extra notch tonight. He swung her around in an embrace as confetti fell. He fell to his knees in obeisance and she fell to her knees in response. She cried, they kissed, they nuzzled. It's really the Show After the Show. Usually I find their routine cloying, but this was her farewell, so it was almost cute.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Sarah Lane's Swan Lake

Sarah Lane and Danil Simkin
Last night Sarah Lane made a last-minute substitution for an injured Maria Kochetkova in Swan Lake. This was Sarah's New York debut in the role, and after a banner season where she's triumphed in Ratmansky's Whipped Cream and Giselle, the buzz and anticipation in the sold-out auditorium was high. It was generally thought that if Sarah could bring down the house as Odette/Odile, a promotion to principal would happen.

Odette/Odile is not as natural of a fit for Lane as Giselle. Sarah Lane doesn't have a physique that screams "swan." She's petite and her limbs are beautifully proportioned but not elongated. Her extension is decent but without the height and dimensions she did not fit the aesthetic of the traditional Swan Queen. Also, she's a natural allegro dancer with fast limbs and quick footwork. (Whipped Cream took advantage of this to an absurd degree.) The drawn out adagio movements of Odette were sometimes clipped short -- no languorous poses. With that being said, it's remarkable what she was able to do as Odette. Her arms are soft and fluttery. Not the majestic flapping arms, but certainly boneless enough. She has a wonderfully flexible, pliant back. Her Odette variation was marvelous -- those sissones that seemed to scream "I want to be free!" along with a fast. exciting coda that established Odette's independent spirit. And as always with this dancer, there's this quiet intensity that is riveting to watch.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Spring Diaries: A Doll's House Part 2, SAB Workshop, Le Corsaire

Danil Simkin as Lankedem
Over this week I attended a mishmash of performances. They ranged from good to mixed to awful.

Let's start with the good: a fun, entertaining performance of Le Corsaire from ABT. This season at ABT the principal women have been falling like flies due to injury (currently, Isabella Boylston, Veronika Part, Gillian Murphy and Maria Kochetkova are on the DL list). What this has meant is lots of opportunities for soloists, and the 6/8 performance showcased the talents both of veteran soloist Sarah Lane (Gulnare) and the newer Skylar Brandt (Medora). These two talented ladies managed to grab attention away from the men, whose pirate's chest full of ballet tricks usually dominate the ballet.

Skylar Brandt is a winning combination of technique, charm, and beauty. She has a natural stage face -- her large eyes capture the light. Her technique is formidable -- in act one her solo had attitude turns followed by triple pirouettes. You can see how strong her core is during the lifts -- she was so solid and never moved from position. But she's not just about the tricks. She has lovely arms, beautifully tapered legs and feet. She's small but dances big. Her pas de trois with Herman Cornejo and Jeffrey Cirio showed off her elegant line and tasteful style. Her fouttés were centered and clean in form and she sprinkled some doubles in the sequence. Later she did some clean, balanced Italian fouettés. Her portrayal also had an ebullience and sincerity that made Le Corsaire much less of a circus than usual.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Gisellex3: Hello David! Bravo Marcelo! Brava Stella and Sarah!

Hallberg and Murphy, photo @ Kent G. Becker

I saw three (!!!) Giselles in ABT's spring season. And in a way, each Giselle was a celebration -- the first celebrated the return of a beloved dancer whom many feared was lost to injury forever. The second performance celebrated the 20th anniversary of a company treasure. The third performance celebrated a long-time soloist's chance to shine in the spotlight.

Albrecht was the last role I saw David Hallberg dance nearly three years ago. Then came the devastating injury. Every year balletomanes hoped to see him again and he didn't appear. He disappeared from social media, so much so that when he finally posted on Instagram again the caption read "emerging from the shadows." Turns out he has spent the last year in Australia for intense physical therapy. The May 27 performance of Giselle at the ABT was therefore the kind of event where you see as many dancers in the audience as balletomanes. I saw Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, Joaquin de Luz, Allegra Kent, and a bunch of other former and current dancers all in the audience, cheering on this magnificent dancer.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Here/Now ends with a whimper; Little Foxes

Concerto DSCH with Bouder and de Luz, photo @ Paul Kolnik
A matinee performance on Saturday, May 20 (officially titled Here/Now No. 9) was perhaps the single most dispiriting afternoon I've ever spent at NYCB. The program presented six different works. By the end of the fourth week of the Here/Now festival the number of injuries was staggering -- every week had a multitude of casting changes.  The dancers, usually so chipper on social media, had resorted to venting and more venting. Georgina Pazcoguin's wry line "To those who fell, to those who made it (extra kudos) and to those ballets we will never see again..." pretty much summed it up.

Reichlen in Red Angels
The first work on this program was something called Red Angels. Four dancers in red unitards stood in four separate spotlights and gyrated for 10 minutes. It actually pained me to see Tess Reichlen and Preston Chamblee, both so gorgeous in physique, reduced to this sort of junk. Then we had Varied Trio, in which the talents of Sterling Hyltin and Taylor Stanley were wasted doing ... uh, I don't remember. That's how memorable the ballet was. But the worst was Myles Thatcher's Polaris, where 13 minutes felt like 13 hours in an excruciatingly boring ballet of nothingness. And of course there was the ubiquitous, cloying After the Rain. Of this long program (2.5 hours), only Barber Violin Concerto and Concerto DSCH had any choreographic value.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ratmansky's Whipped Cream is Empty Calories

Princess Praline and Boy (Lane and Simkin), photo @Matt Masin

ABT's spring gala began with the usual boring speeches, and then an announcement from Kevin McKenzie that he was basically giving choreographer Alexei Ratmansky a blank check -- the "Ratmansky Project" would allow this prolific choreographer $15 million to create ballets for the next five years. Ratmansky is obviously a hot commodity and ABT will do anything to keep him -- a few weeks ago, his new piece Odessa was also the raison d'etre of New York City Ballet's Spring Gala.

The Sweet Shop, photo @ Gene Schiavone
And then the eagerly awaited New York debut of Whipped Cream. This ballet had its premiere in Costa Mesa in March. Everyone marveled at Mark Ryden's sets and costumes. And when the curtain went up, I looked at the sets and costumes and thought, wow, they are amazing!!! They look like a Macy's Thanksgiving float come to life, with enormous blinking and moving stuffed animals, tutus that contain expertly wrinkled tea leaves, and an army of corps girls that actually look like puffs of whipped cream. This is the ballet for the sort of balletomane who is obsessed with opulent designs and fabrics.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Groundhog Day and Who Deserves the Tony?

Andy Karl as the Weatherman stuck in February 2. Photo @ Sara Krulwich

Well I did something I never thought possible -- this afternoon I saw Groundhog Day: The Musical and with that I've seen all four musicals up for a Tony for Best Musical.  I've also now seen the two actors thought to be in hot contention for Best Actor in a Musical: Dear Evan Hansen's Ben Platt vs. Groundhog Day's Andy Karl.

How did I like Groundhog Day? Well ... uh ... I liked the parts more than the whole, if that makes sense. I LOVED Tim Minchin's breezy, catchy, compulsively listenable score. I think "Small Town, USA," "Nobody Cares," "One Day," "Night Will Come," "Seeing You," are all great songs and the strength of the score will give Groundhog Day a life after award seasons are over. I also LOVED Andy Karl's smarmy, smug Phil Connors. He plays the character totally different from Bill Murray -- Murray is all sarcastic bite, Karl is a glib pump-and-dump playboy. Andy Karl actually looks like those vapidly handsome weathermen that populate the local news. His voice is also sleepily seductive. In other words, he wins you over even though for most of the show he's a Class A jerk. I know Karl hurt his knee during previews and he wears a leg brace that he now uses for comic effect in the scene with the fur coat (you have to watch the show to get it).

Friday, May 5, 2017

Spring Gala: New Ratmansky, Old Gala Warhorses

Cast of Odessa, photo @ Andrea Mohin

Spring Gala at the New York City Ballet is traditionally a more substantive, dance-heavy evening than the Fall Fashion Gala. The good news: dance lovers often line the third and fourth rings dressed in non-designer clothes because they love ballet. The bad news: the ballets.

The raison d'etre for last night's gala was Alexei Ratmansky's new piece for City Ballet. Ratmansky's batting average at the NYCB has been 4/4 -- Russian Seasons (2006), Concerto DSCH (2008), Namouna (2010), and Pictures at an Exhibition (2014) have all traveled widely to other companies and are considered modern classics. My expectations were sky-high for his new work Odessa.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Spring Diaries: Beautiful Pies, Babes in Toyland, Here/Now, and There/Then

Sara Bareilles as Jenna in Waitress
My Broadway blitz continues: I saw a concert version of Victor Herbert's operetta Babes in Toyland, the new play Oslo, and Sara Bareilles sing her own score in Waitress. She's taking over the role of Jenna until June.

Babes in Toyland was a one-off concert in Carnegie Hall. The original operetta ran 4 hours long. Four hours about a bunch of toys in a cupboard. The conductor Ted Sperling abridged the dialogue (adding an often-awkward "Narrator" to transition between musical numbers) and focused on the music, which was lovely. The lullaby "Toyland" was especially beautiful as sung by Kelli O'Hara and Jay Armstrong Johnson. Lauren Worsham and Christopher Fitzgerald were charming and Fitzgerald was also a hoot. All had the kind of sweet voices that fit operettas like a glove.

J.T. Rogers' Oslo is a Very Serious Play about a Very Serious Topic (Middle East peace talks). I'm usually allergic to this sort of thing. Westerners who attempt to portray the complexities of the Middle East in a play usually come across as woefully ignorant and naive at best and condescending and prejudiced at worst. Thankfully Rogers' play avoids most of the pitfalls. It's based on some secret negotiations to preceded the famous Yassir Arafat/Itzak Rabin handshake at the White House in 1993 There are some moments that come across as pat and too cute by half (like the negotiators all bonding over their love of waffles) but those moments are few and far between. This drama doesn't offer easy answers to hard questions.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Der Rosenkavalier - Should I get a ticket? "Ja, ja."

Garanca and Fleming, photo @ Ken Howard
Last night's performance of Der Rosenkavalier was the bar none the best-sung performance I've heard at the Met all season. That didn't mean there wasn't a note out of place all evening, but every performer was singing at the highest possible level they are capable of singing. As a result Strauss's opera which can have such longueurs bubbled along to its ending in a surprisingly quick four-and -a-half hours. If you want to hear impeccable vocalism I urge everyone to snatch up a ticket to the remaining performances.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Dear Evan Hansen - A Great Musical For Forever

Cast of Dear Evan Hansen, photo @ Matthew Murphy
This year is actually unusual because I now have seen all the three major contenders for the Tony for Best Original Musical -- The Great Comet, Come From Away, and Dear Evan Hansen. I have great respect for the creative teams behind The Great Comet and Come From Away, but if DEH loses the Tony for best musical, it will be a travesty. The other two musicals had their charm, and Come From Away was touching. But Dear Evan Hansen was simply one of the most emotional, genuine, beautiful experiences I've ever had in the theater. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Come From Away - Blame Canada!!!

Come From Away's stranded passengers, photo @ Sara Krulwich
2017 is the year I blew all my disposable income on Broadway. Tonight I saw yet another musical: Come From Away. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know by now that Come From Away is based on the true story of over 6,000 plane passengers whose flights were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland following September 11, 2001. The residents of Gander had to become impromptu hosts and a bunch of strangers who would never speak to each other on a plane are forced to live in close quarters. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll tell everyone to see it ... In fact the only reason I bought a ticket was because several friends saw it and loved it and I trust their taste.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation; Momsical #3

Unit set of the Kittredges' living room
My theater blitz continues: I attended the second preview of the revival of John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation on April 6th. I know that it's the second preview and thus the show is still ironing out the wrinkles, but I think this revival is well worth attending for several reasons. this is just a well-constructed, well-written, thought-provoking play and even if you've seen the movie I think a live performance is worth seeing. Some aspects of the play are dated. It sounds unlikely nowadays that an art dealer can really own a Fifth Avenue apartment, and the characterization of the Ivy League Kids is overly broad. But the play still makes us think about uncomfortable issues of race, class, identity, and, for lack of a better word, how much of the "liberal" New York population is really so that rich upper class Manhattan Brahmins can feel less guilty for being, well, filthy rich. The Cats jokes are appropriate as there is currently a Cats revival on Broadway.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Little Foxes: Basket of Deplorables

Sometimes when I watch the characters parade through Trumpland I get a surreal feeling. I almost can't believe that people like Paul Ryan, Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and the rest of the vat of deplorables exist.

Tonight on Broadway there was a pithy reminder that people so greedy, so heartless, so devoid of any inner life or compassion and empathy really do exist, and what's more, people have been writing plays about these kinds of people for a long time. The Manhattan Theatre Club's revival of Lillian Helmann's classic The Little Foxes has a bit of stunt casting -- Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney are alternating roles of Regina and Birdie with each performance. When I first heard about this casting I immediately decided that Cynthia Nixon was a more natural Regina and Laura Linney more of a Birdie. So this was the cast I saw tonight. The show is still in the first week of previews.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Hello Bette, Goodbye Glenn, and Love is for Sale

Bette Midler in Hello Dolly! Photo @ Julia Cervantes
This was a big Broadway blitz for me. On Friday evening, I attended City Center's Encores! presentation of Cole Porter's  The New Yorker's.  A day later it was time for Divine Miss M (aka Bette Midler) and the highly publicized revival of Hello Dolly! Finally I watched Glenn Close get ready for her closeup in the revival of her star vehicle, Sunset Boulevard.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Jean François Borras's Werther: Three Years Later, Even Greater

A little more than three years ago Jean François Borras got a last minute call to step in for an ailing Jonas Kaufmann. It was his first ever performance of Werther, and I remember being stunned at the beauty of his voice, the sensitivity of his portrayal, and his musical, idiomatic style.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Werther: Heartbroken and Heartbreaking

Grigolo and Leonard, photo @ Marty Sohl

I caught the matinee performance of Werther this afternoon. My last experience with Werther had been the memorable series of performances with Jonas Kaufmann where Kaufmann was showered with confetti at the curtain calls. (I had no idea that this would be the last time Jonas Kaufmann ever performed in NY.) This afternoon's performance was more sparsely attended -- rows of orchestra seats were empty.

If I wanted to I could probably list about 1,000 things wrong with Vittorio Grigolo's performance in the title role. Not idiomatic, too veristic, overwrought to the point of hamminess (he let out a huge scream before his suicide), overreliance on a few vocal effects and mannerisms. But when judging Werthers, there's only one factor that matters. Did he break your heart? And by that measure, Grigolo was an unforgettable Werther.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

La Traviata: Oh Gioia!!!

Yoncheva and Fabiano, photo @ Marty Sohl

The Willy Decker production of La Traviata opened at the Met in 2010. I saw the first cast and every revival since. That's a lot of little red dresses. All the Violettas I've seen brought something special to the role. However I had never experienced a complete Traviata -- one where ALL the singers came together to create an unforgettable, moving experience. Until last night, that is.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Welcome Back, Joseph Gordon!

After being out for the fall and Nutcracker season with an injury, the wildly talented Joseph Gordon made his return to the NYCB stage as Gold in the 2/15/17 performance of Sleeping Beauty. NYCB has put up two brief but wonderful clips of the performance:


Joseph Gordon as Gold. No explanation necessary.
And the ever radiant Sterling Hyltin's entrance as Aurora:
Also new to me was Sara Mearns' delightfully hammy Carabosse, by far the most entertaining of the four that I've seen:


This has been a wonderful series of performances. I go to my last one tonight.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sleeping Beauty Marathon

Balanchine's glorious Garland Waltz, photo @ Paul Kolnik

I went on a Sleeping Beauty marathon this weekend and saw three performances in two days. NYCB's Sleeping Beauty is one of the finest productions I've seen -- Balanchine's wondrous Garland Waltz with the SAB children weaving in and out of the garland formations is itself worth the price of admission. The designs are beautiful and tasteful. Although Peter Martins cut the knitting scene and made some more abridgments this is a surprisingly complete Sleeping Beauty, and a nice contrast to ABT's historically correct but somewhat fussy and constipated Ratmansky version. For instance, more of the Panorama music is included than many versions, and the Wedding divertissements are almost all there. Especially adorable is the little SAB students they have as Little Red Riding Hood. They steal the show every time.

Here are the casts I saw:

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I Puritani - no high F, but who cares?

Javier Camarena and Diana Damrau, photo @ Marty Sohl

Whoever knew that the serene I Puritani would be the opera to bring out the audience crazies? Last night at the Met's premiere of I Puritani there was this EXTREMELY vocal Diana Damrau fan who would scream "BRAAAAAAVVVVVVIIIIIIISSSSSSIIIIIIMMMMMMAAAAAA" and "THANK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUU" after every number. You could admire her enthusiasm except that sounded more like she was giving birth than anything else.

Then at the end of "Credeasi misera" some fanatical vocal purist (???) shouted "NO HIGH F" at Javier Camarena. The audience was shocked.


The two overly vocal audience members leant some comedy to an otherwise rather sleepy (if vocally solid) revival. Don't get me wrong -- there's reasons to see this revival, the number one being Javier Camarena, whose warm sweet timbre, glorious upper register and winning stage presence officially put him in the designated spot of The Great Arturo of His Time. This status isn't to be sniffed at -- this notoriously difficult part has struck fear in the hearts of many a tenor. Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda (RIP), and Luciano Pavarotti were previous bearers of this mantle.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Great Comet


Last night I saw Dave Malloy's wonderful musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 and reviewed it for parterre box here. Suffice to say I enjoyed it very much and recommend it to people looking for a fun night at the theater. Josh Groban and Denée Benton are amazing. Here's my review:

I never made it through more than a few chapters of any Tolstoy work. And I never made it through Chapter One, Volume One of War and Peace. Yeah, I know. I suck. Turns out I was just not using the left side of my brain, because War and Peace can actually be a fun, entertaining, lighthearted musical. 
The travails of Natasha, Pierre, Andrey, Anatole, and company are really a funny, tongue-in-cheek soap opera. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is one of those improbable shows that  throws in everything, including the kitchen sink, cabinet and refrigerator, and somehow the final product just works. 
One of the things director Rachel Chavkin did was to make the sprawling Tolstoy novel an intimate ensemble musical. The Imperial Theater’s stage has been transformed into a cabaret nightclub, with many audience members seated onstage.
The performers circulate the theater all night singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, and throwing out little boxes of pierogi. Sometimes the action will take right place at the seats of some audience members. There really isn’t a bad seat in the house because of the constant performer-audience interaction.
David Malloy‘s score ingeniously combines pop ballads with Russian folk dance with electronica with burlesque entertainment with good old-fashioned musical theater numbers. The musical is almost entirely sung. The lyrics  are cheeky and witty—as I said, whoever thought Tolstoy could be funny? The opening number warns:
Gonna have to study up a little bit
If you wanna keep with the plot,
Cuz it’s a complicated Russian novel,
Everyone’s got nine different names
. . . .
Balaga is fun, Bolkonsky is crazy, Mary is plain, Dolokhov is fierce, Hélène is a slut, Anatole is hot, Marya is old-school, Sonya is good, Natasha is young and Andrey isn’t here.
And what about Pierre?
Dear, bewildered and awkward Pierre? What about Pierre?
The show is an ensemble—it’s not The Color Purple or Gypsy where if you don’t have a good Celie or Madame Rose, there’s no show. The energy of the cast is infectious. In fact, one reason this musical so enjoyable is that everyone is likable.
Josh Groban as the alcoholic, depressed Pierre is a marvel—he doesn’t treat this as a star turn. He immerses himself fully in the character. He spends most of the musical in the orchestra pit, playing the piano, drinking wine, and narrating the story. He even wears a fat suit to give himself a paunch. His powerful, mellifluous voice is only used to for “Dust and Ashes” and the final number.
Denée Benton is also a wonder as Natasha. Her pretty, bell-like soprano voice and charming stage manner wins the audience over immediately. Hard to believe this is her Broadway debut, as she is so poised and graceful throughout the evening.
Lucas Steele’s Anatole is dressed like an 1980’s style punk rock star and he succeeds in making the character charismatic enough so you believe the lady-killer charms. There isn’t a weak link in the cast. Brittain Ashford makes her character (the “good” Sonya) immensely likable and she even has her own show-stopping number (“Sonya Alone”). Even dour Mary (Gelsey Bell) becomes endearing. “Slut” Hélène (Amber Gray) is played as a burlesque character, but at the end of the day, you like her too.
The ensemble players anchor the cast because of their constant circulation through the theater —the violin and accordion players and gypsy dancers are just as important as Groban and Denton because they’re usually performing inches away from us.. The 11’o-clock number is “Balaga,” a singing, dancing, fiddler and accordion extravaganza which spans the entire theater, all the way to the top of the balcony.
Sam Pinkleton’s choreography is so diverse—one minute you’re at a Russian wedding, the next minute you’re at a rave. The show never becomes pretentious, never loses its momentum.
But I can’t really descibe the musical very well. You really just have to see it for yourself. But this is how much I enjoyed the show: when I got home the first thing I did was download War and Peace onto my kindle.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Winter Season Diaries: Swan Heaven, Sunday Un-funday

The flock of black swans, photo @ Paul Kolnik
I've seen lots of Swan Lakes in my balletomane life. And to be honest, I've disliked or felt indifferent to almost all of them. A long time ago Nina Ananiashvilli impressed me with her boneless arms and old-style Bolshoi acting. Mariinsky swans are hard to beat -- I loved Viktoria Tereshkina's strength and chutzpah. Uliana Lopatkina's Odette/Odile was a master class of classicism, and she also had an inner radiance and spirituality that was heartbreaking. But really, that's ... it?

Well tonight I was transported to Swan Heaven again, and in the unlikeliest form: petite, slight Sterling Hyltin in Balanchine's one-act version of the ballet. I've never taken Balanchine's abridged Swan Lake seriously -- sometimes I think he took an orchestral suite and had no idea what to do with it. He added a coda to the pas de deux. He added variations. He deleted variations. He changed the setting to some sort of arctic winter wonderland replete with icebergs. The best part of his Swan Lake is unsurprisingly his choreography for the corps -- he has them swarm as an a scary flock in their black feathery costumes. They are not the mournful swans of most "after Petipa/Ivanov" versions. They're wild birds. But his changes to the white swan adagio (a peppy coda) and Odette's variations are unimpressive, the solo for Siegfried is unnecessary, and he unfortunately deleted the dance of the cygnets in one of his many revisions. One thing: nice costumes, especially for the hunters.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Winter Season Diaries: NYCB's Academy Awards

Teresa Reichlen and Daniel Ulbricht in Prodigal Son, photo @ Andrea Mohin

The first week of Winter Season at NYCB is usually low-key. The company is tired from the Nutcracker marathon and also rehearsing for the inevitable world premiere of some new works. So the programming tends to be basic Balanchine. Stuff the audience knows and loves. Dancer-proof ballets.

And thus it was so this winter season. The first week was dominated by two excellent Balanchine triple bills: a "Balanchine Short Stories" program of La Sonnambula/Prodigal Son/Firebird and a more eclectic program of Allegro Brillante/Swan Lake/Four Temperaments. I saw one of the AB/SL/4T's performance and two "Short Stories." I don't need to tell you that Tiler Peck was amazing/super/stupendous in Allegro, and that her diagonal of consecutive triple pirouettes that was timed to end exactly with a CRASH in the piano chords gave me goosebumps. Andy Veyette was her fine, steadfast partner. Ashly Isaacs made an energetic debut as Sanguinic in the 4T's and Anthony Huxley's Melancholic was a highlight. He really has the contorted backbends and sudden shifts in poses down pat and what's more, make them look natural.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Obama, no longer president, but always My President

Side nose moles FTW!


It's hard to believe that in less than 24 hours Barack Obama will no longer be POTUS. He's a man I admire so much as a person, as a politician, as a leader, as a role model.  He never lost his dignity, his cool, and (most importantly) his humanity. Other people have expressed their admiration more eloquently. I'll just say this: Barack Obama might no longer be the President of the United States, but he'll always be My President.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Roméo et Juliette - Shakespearean Tragedy is a Happy Night at the Opera

Grigolo and Damrau, photo @ Ken Howard
Romeo and Juliet are in the crypt. Romeo succumbs to the poison just as Juliet awakens from her self-induced slumber. Juliet stabs herself so she can die along with Romeo. Bodies slump over each other. Curtain. That's what happened last night at the end of the Met's new production of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. It's basically what happens at the end of any presentation of Shakespeare's play.

Tragic. Heartrending, right? But as the lights dimmed I felt something I haven't felt while attending an opera in a long time: happiness. Yes, happiness.

Why? Because the performance last night was pretty much perfect. Not perfect in the sense that there were no flaws with the singers (there were), or that the production by Bart Sher was mind-blowing (it wasn't), but the energy from the star-crossed lovers (Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau) was such that all flaws and reservations were swept aside in by the force of their performances. They were extraordinary.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Candide - Not the Best of All Possible Presentations

Candide on paper looked like the perfect opera to revive for New York City Opera's "Renaissance." The old NYCO's Hal Prince production (adapted from his Broadway version) was one of the company's glories. Bernstein's lovable operetta was a perfect fit for the uniquely American sensibilities of the company. So to bring back that wonderful production, with the same revered director supervising, well, that was the best of all possible worlds right?

Wrong. For one, the limits of the tiny Rose Theater made it necessary to scale down Hal Prince's production to what looked like the Dollar Store version. Same familiar circus-performers concept, but tiny, cheap drops that wrinkled and flapped, an awkward miking system that made the voices sound thin and inaudible but the set changes and stage movement ear-splitting, and a cast that was obviously under-rehearsed. Prince (and choreographer Patricia Birch) seem not to have gotten the memo however -- the tiny stage was filled with a full set of dancers and extras and all the stage business of his old production. I've seen a NYCO telecast of the original. In a full sized theater those effects are wonderful. Here it just looked like nonstop onstage traffic jams.

Things started poorly when the orchestra (led by Charles Prince) gave a bumpy, poorly coordinated and out of tune rendition of the famous overture. The cast had talent, but not the right sort of talent -- experienced Broadway actor Gregg Edelman (as Voltaire and the various other authority figures) forgot his lines in several instances. Sometimes he just shrugged it off, but one time he did the all-time most obvious "oops" stage trick -- simply turning the back to the audience and making a jazz hands gesture.

Meghan Picerno (Cunegonde) has a cute stage presence and comic timing, but not nearly enough voice for "Glitter and Be Gay." Note values were approximate, high notes came out either pipsqueak, flat, or not at all. At least the audience seems to have liked her. In the title role Jay Armstrong Johnson (who's done some great work in On The Town) sounded nervous and the miking was odd -- he faded in and out. It also sounds like he was trying to beef up his light, pleasant voice with an overly intrusive vibrato. Linda Lavin (Old Lady) finally brought a dose of old-school vaudevillian "We Need to Put On a SHOW!" mentality -- her line readings weren't subtle but at least you could tell this was a pro who knew how to put on a performance no matter the circumstance.

Other performers who acquitted themselves well in their roles: Jessica Tyler Wright was consistently cute and funny as Paquette, Chip Zien as the Jew who shares Cunegonde with the Grand Inquisitor (Brooks Ashmankis).

Gregg Edelmann, photo @ Tina Fineberg
But in the end I don't think it's the fault of the performers that this Candide was not even close to the best of all possible performances. They all have talent. The lack of rehearsal, preparation, venue, and (let's face it) funds was obvious. The opening night crowd was a real mink-and-champagne crowd but even for this fundraising group the presentation was careless -- Hal Prince didn't even come out for a curtain call. There was no speech by Michael Capasso about the importance of this production in NYCO history. If NYCO is truly going to have a Renaissance, they need to let that garden grow more so they can put on performances that don't come across as a pale imitation of the company they once were.