Kristin Chenoweth Rides ‘On the Twentieth Century’ Back to Broadway

My Wicked-obsessed teenage self was very excited to sit down with the one and only Kristin Chenoweth recently. If you are in the New York area at all, get your hands on a ticket to On the Twentieth Century. It’s all-out musical hysteria and this diva completely nails it. Check out my cover story over at Backstage! And stay tuned!

Kristin Chenoweth on the cover of Backstage

Photo source: Matt Doyle

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Smart Pick of the Month: Bob’s Burgers

I know I’m late to this party, but Bob’s Burgers has been getting me through the cold hellish madness of February in NYC. As the snow outside lather-rinse-repeats itself into grotesque gray slush, I’ve been curled up with Bob, Linda, Tina, Gene, and Louise Belcher, laughing at their endearing foibles and astonishing comic timing. It’s a show about losers, but a family of losers – there’s too much heart for us to ever be laughing at their expense. The above clip is from the season 5 premiere, where the cast to sings the title song from their theatrical mashup of “Working Girl” and “Die Hard,” joined by Carly Simon.

“Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl” is basically my 2015 motto.

Smart Review: NEVERMORE

I recently sat through a musical adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s life, and if you couldn’t tell by my use of the phrase “sat through,” it didn’t quite thrill me. Here’s my TheatreIsEasy.com review of Catalyst Theatre’s Nevermore, which I sincerely wish I could have titled “Edgar Allan Nope.”

Nevermore

This critic shall sit through an Edgar Allan Poe musical NEVERMORE GET IT

BOTTOM LINE: Although designers may appreciate the elaborate steampunk costumes, this Edgar Allan Poe musical neglects and reduces its subject to a series of basic bullet points.

In last year’s Red Eye to Havre de Grace, New York Theatre Workshop staged Edgar Allan Poe’s last days with innovative theatricality and exquisite dread. It may not seem fair to compare such an achievement to Catalyst Theatre’s Nevermore, now playing at New World Stages, but both productions do in fact share a protagonist, despite vast cosmetic differences. Where one was a haunting meditation on the cost of genius, the other is a musical confection that shrinks, flattens, and buffs our collective image of Poe to a sickly-sweet shine. Indeed, were the man himself to rise from the grave and stalk the theatre’s aisles, he might not even recognize this quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

Nevermore deploys a familiar aesthetic, a kind of glamorous moroseness made popular by everyone from Margaret Keane to Lemony Snicket. Designers take note: Bretta Gerecke’s black and white garments are a marvel of ingenuity. Although at odds with her curiously industrial set of metal bars and sliding doors, the Victorian steampunk vibe allows the designer to hide elaborate delights in her handiwork. As the cartoonish cast of narrators embody the players in Poe’s life, the whole thing looks like an unusually dark children’s TV show meant to educate but mostly dazzle. It’s a Disneyland ride as brought to you by the Addams Family. It’s Tim Burton’s Seussical.

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A Smart Playlist to Kick Off 2015

Wait, it’s 2015?? But that’s the year Back to the Future 2 features flying skateboards! Here are the songs I’ve been enjoying since 2015 began – some overlapping 2014 just a bit. Here’s hoping this year gives us more weird mega-pop like Sia, under-the-radar folk like First Aid Kit, and irresistible fabulousity like Stromae. And maybe less blinkered tackiness pretending to be “Fancy.” (Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars are a decent start, wouldn’t you agree?)

Jam on:

Raf Rundell and Joe Goddard’s boldly bizarre second album folds time and space; you can travel from the streets of South Africa to 1970s London clubs and back again while listening. This is their most straight-up pop song and I can’t stop gyrating.

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Michael Esper’s Inner Voyage on ‘The Last Ship’

So my very first Backstage cover story came out! I had the good fortune of sitting down with Michael Esper, star of Sting’s Broadway musical The Last Ship, to chat about his upbringing in the theater and his acting identity crisis. (This might seem like tooting my own horn, but hey, what are blogs for?) Everybody should go see the show – it’s a refreshingly original musical with a dazzling cast.

Michael Esper Backstage cover

Photo source: Matt Doyle

As the son of renowned acting coaches, Michael Esper spent his childhood immersed in the theater. He describes the influence of his parents, founders of the William Esper Studio, as “so massive. It probably can’t be overstated. Some of my earliest memories are watching my father’s productions of plays, watching my godfather play Hamlet’s ghost, watching my mom play Arkadina in ‘The Seagull,’ listening to actors do repetition exercises through the walls of the studio.” Esper is the first to acknowledge that having family in the business can be tricky. Was there an expectation, unspoken or otherwise, that he would continue their legacy?

 

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Turning an Elevator into an Entire World

Check out my TDF Stages article on Lift, a full-length play over at 59E59 that takes place entirely in an elevator! You might even feel uplifted reading it!!

LIFT

The cast of Walter Mosley’s “Lift”

Two days into rehearsals for Lift at 59E59, director John Marshall III got stuck in an elevator. Most people entombed in a metal box might feel alarmed, claustrophobic, or at the very least, concerned. Instead, Marshall was thrilled. “I think the people running the building probably thought I was crazy,” he says. “I’m like, ‘Don’t hurry, it’s ok! It’s great!’”

See, Lift is a full-length play by Walter Mosley in which a man and a woman are trapped in a broken elevator. This means two actors are confined to the same square of space for almost two hours: a challenge for any theatre director. “The elevator was essentially a third character in the play,” says Marshall, who last year mounted a production of the show at New Jersey’s Crossroads Theatre, where he serves as artistic director. Unable to rehearse on the set during its construction, actors stood on platforms and cubes, using any and every opportunity to simulate the feeling of entrapment. That’s why Marshall was so excited to have firsthand experience. “I was texting the actors,” he says of his elevator mishap. “I was on the bottom floor, and it wasn’t rocking. I don’t know if my confidence would’ve been quite the same if I had been twenty floors up in the air. But I was really having fun.”

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