Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fela!


It's hard to imagine any place more lively than Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre, where the new musical "Fela!" just opened following a successful Off-Broadway run.

In fact, the theater has been transformed into the hotspot nightclub of Lagos, Nigeria. As the audience enters, the band is already playing and African art is everywhere. Soon enough, a modelesque tribe engages in free form dance followed by Fela Anikulapo Kuti, their leader. The audience is even invited to dance along.

Fela gained fame in the late 20th century as a Nigarian political rebel and bandleader. In addition to unsuccessfully running for president, Fela was notorious for having no less than 27 wives.

"Fela!" is imagined as a 1977 concert intended to be his farewell to Nigaria prior to moving to a safer area due to ongoing attacks from government soldiers.

The musical is primarily a celebration of Afrobeat, Fela's style of music that mixed jazz, funk and African rhythms. Director-choreographer Bill T. Jones has staged seemingly untamed, vibrant choreography that perfectly matches the percussive music.

Sahr Ngaujah, who plays Fela along with Kevin Mambo on alternating nights, almost never leaves the stage. Ngaujah displays a muscular, animalistic presence along with the charisma to command a loyal army of followers.

But in spite of so much to admire visually, "Fela!" has absolutely no storyline besides some vague biographical details and quickly turns into a repetitive bore.

It plays like a one-man show with backup dancers and singers giving off explosive energy. Some more intriguing moments later in the show include a hallucinatory experience with his mother and the graphic details of a 1977 attack on his home.

The show's producers took a huge risk bringing a show with a relatively narrow niche appeal to Broadway. But in spite of its overflowing theatricality, "Fela!" falls short of providing a solid night of drama.

Eugene O'Neill Theatre, 230 W. 49th St., 212-239-6200, FelaOnBroadway.com. Open run.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dreamgirls


How fitting for the new national tour of "Dreamgirls" to open at the Apollo Theater. As the musical begins, the Dreams - Effie, Deena and Lorrell - have arrived at the Apollo in 1962 to compete in its famous Amateur Night contest. At the end of the show, after achieving fame and endured heartbreak, they return to the Apollo for a farewell concert.

Robert Longbottom, whose new Broadway revival of "Bye Bye Birdie" received unanimous pans, fares somewhat better as director-choreographer of "Dreamgirls." Based loosely on Michael Bennett's original 1981 staging, the set consists of five light towers that twist and turn to suggest a variety of settings while also projecting cheesy video imagery. The costumes are elaborate, but the wigs look cheap and ridiculous.

The cast consists of 25 young black performers who sing and move well, plus the wonderful Milton Craig Nealy as aging manager Marty Madison.

Chester Gregory pushes his energy to ridiculous heights as the soulful singer Jimmy, but appears to be trying too hard. On the other hand, Chaz Lamar Shepherd gives a flat, unconvincing performance as Curtis, the Dreams' sleezy manager, that practically defines what it means to be bland. Since both Gregory and Shepherd look the same age as the Dreams, there is no real contrast between them.

Adrienne Warren is feisty and lively as Lorell, who becomes romantically involved with Jimmy. Syesha Mercado, an "American Idol" runner-up, barely registers at all as Deena Jones, who is chosen by Curtis to become the group's new lead singer because of her modelesque looks.

Luckily, Moya Angela displays the emotional ferocity and high belting necessary for the iconic role of Effie, making "And I Am Telling You" into the showstopper that it should be.

Those only familiar with the "Dreamgirls" film will find the stage version to be a far richer experience musically. In spite of some issues with acting, "Dreamgirls" is still a lot of fun and a great musical.

Apollo Theater, 253 W. 125th St., 800-982-2787, dreamgirlsonstage.com. Through Dec. 12.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Girl Crazy


I've been waiting quite some time for City Center Encores! to stage George & Ira Gershwin's 1930 musical comedy "Girl Crazy." And for that matter, I am also hoping that "Oh, Kay!" and "Lady Be Good" will also receive concert productions. But I do hope those will be more successful than Jerry Zaks' current production of "Girl Crazy," which is musically wonderful and has some laughs, but feels drained of life and inspiration.

Nearly all memory of "Girl Crazy" has been erased by "Crazy for You," the wildly popular 1992 revision of "Girl Crazy" that is only loosely based on its plot and used only about half of its score while taking other Gershwin songs. The 1943 Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland film was not too faithful either. There is, however, an excellent 1990 studio recording of the "Girl Crazy" score with its original Robert Russell Bennett orchestrations starring David Carroll and Judy Blazer that I highly recommend.

One of the original goals behind the creation of Encores! was to perform neglected American musicals with full-size orchestras. Though the orchestra at Encores! always manages to sound good, honestly, it sounds better when Rob Fisher, the original music director, who departed six seasons ago to pursue other projects, is front and center. Fisher has since returned to conduct "Face the Music," "No, No Nanette" and now "Girl Crazy." When the curtain rises and the overture begins, the feeling is otherworldly and wonderful. Frankly, if Fisher and his 30-piece orchestra had played that overture for two straight hours, I would have been perfectly giddy and satisfied. During the entr'acte, Fisher even picks up a coronet and performs a solo. It's worth noting that the orchestra was also a major star in the original 1930 production - containing no less than Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa and Red Nichols.

10 or 20 years ago, Jerry Zaks would have been the ideal choice to stage this concert production. After all, he directed lauded, lively and fast-paced" revivals of "Anything Goes," "Guys and Dolls" and "Forum." Somehow, that magic never shows up in "Girl Crazy." He shows off the fast-paced comic interplay and silly interludes found in the original Guy-Bolton-Jack McGowan book (streamlined for Encores! by David Ives), but his production looks unrehearsed compared with other more successful Encores! stagings.

I think that the Encores! audience is more than willing to accept all the hoary ethic jokes and rather mindless, outdated tricks ("Go ahead and marry him Molly. It's the finale!"). For instance, I really enjoyed the operetta-style finish of Act One. But there is no real heart and not much liveliness to be found in Zaks' production. Even the choreography of Warren Cycle, who directed and choreography the wonderful Broadway revival of "Finian's Rainbow" (which originated last season at Encores!) is pedestrian and uninspired.

But the biggest problem of all lies in the miscasting of many principal roles. Of course, nothing so egregious as casting Ashanti in the critically-maligned Encores! production of "The Wiz" last summer. Frankly, I was expecting Jeffry Denman and Meredith Patterson to play Danny Churchill and Molly Gray, the romantic lead couple. (He's from the East. She's from the West. How will it ever work?) Ginger Rogers actually originated the role of Molly in the Broadway production. Instead, the roles were given to Becki Newton and Chris Diamantopoulos, a married couple of television actors. He is best known for "24," and her for "Ugly Betty." Newton gives what I'd call a competent high school performance. She has a pretty voice, but it peters out during sustained notes. She also stops acting while singing and doesn't move well onstage. Her hubby is fine if forgettable as the cocky but sincere Danny.

Ana Gasteyer, who is currently appearing on Broadway in the Manhattan Theater Club revival of "The Royal Family," which premiered on Broadway only three years prior to "Girl Crazy," plays Frisco Kate Follicle, the role originated by a 22-year-old Ethel Merman and made her a Broadway sensation overnight. Gasteyer attempts to mimic Merman's brash personality, but it feels forced and awkward. And when she hits the sustained long note of "I Got Rhythm," it sounds desperate and weak instead of soaring. Her rendition of the torch song "Sam and Delilah" also falls flat. Gasteyer fares best with "Boy! What Love Has Done to Me!" since it is somewhat less showy and more personal.

Those who make out best are males in small roles. Marc Kudisch, playing Kate's redneck hubby Slick, hams it up with glee, as is typically the case whenever he performs a role. His performance of "Treat Me Rough" becomes an unexpected highlight of Act Two. Wayne Knight, as the Yiddish cabbie Gieber Goldfarb, who becomes the town's mayor elect, shows a real sincerity that is missing from the rest of the cast. His reprise of "But Not For Me" is also a hoot, containing impressions of Chevalier, Jolson, Ruddy Vally, and Jimmy Durante.

In hindsight, I think I came to "Girl Crazy" with very high expectations, both due to the score itself and my love of the Encores! series. Yet this concert staging was seriously undercooked. Encores! has fared better with Gershwin musicals with more of a satiric bite like "Strike Up the Band" and "Of Thee I Sing." Still, I do believe there is a way to do these musical comedies with more success. Had "Girl Crazy" been well cast, that alone would have solved most of this production's problems.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

In the Next Room or the vibrator play

'The electric vibrator, invented in the 1880s, is one of history's biggest ironies. 

It was designed as a medical device to cure fragile women from symptoms of "hysteria." Though women responded enthusiastically to the electric stimulation and color returned to their cheeks, male doctors apparently failed to consider whether their patients had in experienced an orgasm instead of normal therapy.

"In the Next Room or the vibrator play," Sarah Ruhl's first play on Broadway following several major Off-Broadway mountings, is raw, fascinating and madly entertaining. It represents a strange mix of Victorian costume drama, sex farce, Ripley's Believe It or Not, Freudian psychology, symbolism and family feuding. Though Ruhl is primarily concerned with exploring marriage and repressed sexuality, she also touches upon lesbianism and breast-feeding.

Set in the upper-class home of a boyish but pompous medical doctor (Michael Cerveris) and his young, lonely wife (Laura Benanti), the stage is neatly divided between confined drawing room and the doc's adjoining medical office, which contains his big, buzzing contraption. Eventually, his wife works up the nerve to pick the lock of the separating door and try the device out on herself.

Benanti and Cerveris are musical theater favorites that have proven to be just as effective in dramas. While Benanti is absolutely radiant as she strives to make an emotional connection, Cerveris gives a deadpan performance that is believably aloof and unintentionally condescending.

The second act could be trimmed by about ten minutes, but ends with a striking finale in which the drawing room set disintegrates to reveal a wintry garden where the couple proceeds to undress, make snow angels and finally engage in passionate sex.

Les Waters' Lincoln Center Theater production gracefully mixes psychological realism and humor with Ruhl's unique lyricism. Though there are numerous female "awakenings" and unexpected nudity from Cerveris, the staging is never vulgar.

Given the stunning creativity of "In the Next Room," it's tempting to imagine what other plays might be inspired from similar sexual devices.

Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St., 212-239-6200, lct.org. Through Jan. 10.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ragtime


"Ragtime," Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's ambitious musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's epic 1975 tome interlocking the stories of rich white Protestants, less affluent African Americans and struggling Jewish immigrants at the turn of the previous century, is deservedly considered the last great musical of the 20th century. But why has it returned to Broadway so soon?

For starters, the original production was unfairly overshadowed by "The Lion King" and notoriously overproduced by now jailed impresario Garth Drabinsky at an oversized theater. But more importantly, Marcia Milgrom Dodge just happened to stage a thoroughly compelling, deeply felt revival last spring in Washington, DC that deserved a longer life. Under her warm direction, new moments of humor even turn up in Terrence McNally's book.

While the size of the cast and orchestra still match the original production, this revival emphasizes character detail and clarity over spectacle. Its three-story unit set of iron scaffolding and gothic arches allows the story to move fluidly alongside an evocative lighting design.

The cast is uniformly fantastic, marked by great performers offering sensitive acting and gorgeous singing. 23-year-old Stephanie Umoh is rather bland as Sarah, the role originated by Audra McDonald, but that hardly detracts from the show's overall emotional power.

As Coalhouse, the Harlem pianist whose dreams of a better life for his family are destroyed, Quentin Earl Darrington offers a physically powerful, pensive performance. Christiane Noll is lovely as the frustrated Mother and brings a yearning spirit to her ballads. Ron Bohmer brings a boyish charm to Father, who sadly cannot understand or accept the changes of the coming century. Bobby Steggert manages to stand out as Younger Brother, well-off but confused youth desperately looking for a cause to believe in.

"Ragtime" is a show about optimism in the face of prejudice and poverty and the bright possibilities of the future. As its ballads are sung with fiery emotional force, it's impossible not to find modern relevance in this stirring production.

Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St., 212-307-4100, ragtimebroadway.com. Open run.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Interview with Jason Robert Brown on Re-Release of "13" Album


Jason Robert Brown’s youth musical “13,” which I personally loved and championed as much as I could, lasted only a few months on Broadway last season. But rather like “Seussical,” it is expected to soon become one of the nation's most frequently produced musicals. What middle school or Jewish summer camp wouldn't want to do this catchy, family-friendly show about contemporary 12 year olds going on 13? To coincide with Music Theater International releasing the amateur licensing rights to the musical, the “13” cast album will be re-released as a double album on November 24, 2009 with new revisions to the score and karaoke tracks based on the music of the cast album itself. (The songs are even offered in a variety of keys.) I spoke with Jason Robert Brown and asked whether this will lead thousands of 12 year olds to sing along to the accompaniment tracks on YouTube.

Q: What inspired you and your co-creators to take another look at "13" following its Broadway run?

A: There were a number of reasons we went back to the show, but the most important one, honestly, was that we made so many changes to the show during previews on Broadway and we just weren't sure we had finished our work. Some of the changes we had made didn't feel entirely right, some just felt unfinished, and there were still some yet to be made. So we decided that, before the show went out into the world to be licensed through MTI, we would take one more crack at it and basically finish what we had started. Luckily, the folks at French Woods agreed to let us use their campers as guinea pigs, and we were able to put the new songs and scenes on them first and see how they played. We were thoroughly delighted with the work that got done at French Woods, and so we approved that new script for licensing.

Q: What kinds of changes have been made to the score and dialogue? Is it still essentially the same show? Have any particular elements changed?

A: It's very much the same show it was. If anything, it's just a little more streamlined, and some of the characters are stronger and clearer than they were before. The most identifiable change is that we restored two songs to the show: "Being A Geek" had been in the show in Los Angeles and always felt to me like the very heart of the score – I was devastated when we decided to cut it for Broadway, and I'm so happy that it's back in the show now; and "Opportunity" got cut in previews on Broadway, and it was a song we all loved and also an important moment for the character who sings it, so we figured out a way to put it back in, but in a different spot in the show. We wanted to put those two songs back into the show, but we didn't want to make the show any longer, so we then had to dig into the scenes and make sure that anything that wasn't completely vital to the piece came out.

Q: What’s the deal with the karaoke tracks?

A: From the minute the show started previews on Broadway, I was getting requests on my website for karaoke versions of the songs. And after the show closed, the requests actually intensified. At a certain point, it just seemed inevitable that someone would put out a karaoke version of the score, and I wanted it to be done right, so I called Kurt Deutsch and we came up with a great plan to record the tracks with live musicians, and re-release the original cast album with those karaoke tracks and recordings of the new songs. I was so thrilled that Kurt wanted to do it, because so often when I have ideas like that, they get lost in corporate bureaucracy, but here it is, all shiny and new!

Q: How does it feel looking back on the Broadway run of "13"? Do you think it deserved a longer run? Is there anything you would have done differently?

A: I don't know that it's fair to anyone who worked on the show on Broadway for me to sit and publicly air my Monday morning quarterbacking. Suffice to say that I loved the show on Broadway, I loved that cast so much it hurts my heart just thinking about them, my band was fantastic, and the audiences were clearly responding very strongly. It meant so much to me to see families coming to see the show and singing along and laughing their heads off. Sure, I wish it had run longer, but it's going to have a beautiful life of its own now, and it will be a part of so many kids' lives. I certainly have no regrets about that.

Q: Many of the "13" cast members are already moving on to new projects, like Graham Phillips and Allie Trimm. What's it like for you to see that happen for them so quickly?

A: I'm ridiculously, insanely proud. It's not just the Broadway kids, there were also kids who did the show in LA who are doing amazing things in the business – we've got alumni on television, on Broadway, on the pop charts – and we've got plenty of kids who are starting college or just getting ready for that application process, and I really do believe that being part of "13" will have helped groom them for a successful life, in whatever field. We expected incredible things from them, and they all delivered. Ugh, I'm kvelling.

Q: Which projects and shows are you currently working on?

A: "Honeymoon In Vegas" continues apace; we're doing a reading of that soon with a new director, and I'm just having the time of my life working on it. And then there are a couple of other projects that I'm just beginning. But with "Parade" here at the Taper and my new daughter (born three weeks ago!), I haven't had a whole lot of time to devote to my writing lately.

Q: Will you be doing any concert performances at Birdland this season or elsewhere in NYC?

A: You know, I'm not really planning to be in New York much until March (when I'll be doing my yearly concerts at Birdland), but I'm weighing right now whether I can pull off doing something in December. It's hard, there are so many things going on in NYC during the Christmas season, it's tough to find a venue, and you can't be sure that your audience will be able to find you! I'm thinking about it. We'll see.

Q: You recently put your demos from the "Betty Boop" musical online. Might you put more work online as it is in development?

A: I try to keep fun things popping up on my website. I wish I updated the blog more often (I manage to get to it every five weeks or so), but there are plenty of songs in the archives for folks to explore until I get more time to post.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What Once We Felt


"What Once We Felt," a futuristic thriller by Ann Marie Healy that is receiving its New York premiere through Lincoln Center Theater's new emerging playwrights program, imagines an Orweillian society in a parallel universe that has just undergone a mysterious shift in power referred to as the "transition."

Here, books have been replaced by condensed digital downloads. There are only women, but even they have been divided into two separate classes: Keepers, who are apparently healthy, and Tradepacks, who have been either subjected to social subjugation or murdered in a mass genocide. Humorless border guards determine whether one is a Keeper or a Tradepack at first by reading an ID card and later by pricking a needle into the back of one's neck.

Numerous subplots run through the play, most notably that of Macy, an expressive young author with ambitions to write the last published print novel of all time. But in order to make the deal go through, Macy consents to several Faustian bargains. She is first asked to secretly lend her ID card to a media mogul who needs it in order to "download a child" by computer. Later on, Macy's line editor turns her innocent work of imaginative fiction into biased government propaganda.

Healy deserves credit for building an unusual premise with an ambitious amount of storytelling, but the play itself falls under its heavy weight and fails to recover. It would certainly help if audience members had a glossary that explained the Healy's vocabulary.

Ken Rus Schmoll's shadowy, intimate production feels too slow and stale to make this alternative world feel threatening instead of just bizarre. The cast works hard to imbue their characters with emotion and urgency, but they often seem at sea and at odds with each other.

The Duke, 229 W. 42nd St., 646-223-3010, lct3.org. Through Nov. 21.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Understudy


Franz Kafka, the bleak existentialist author of "The Trial" and "The Metamorphoses," isn't really remembered for having a sense of humor. But in Theresa Rebeck's backstage satire "The Understudy," an up-and-coming male movie star, his dangerously hyperactive understudy, and a frenzied female stage-manager proceed to chew the scenery for 90 straight minutes while rehearsing a long-lost play supposedly written by Kafka.

A theatergoing crowd might appreciate how the show pokes fun at overdramatic, cocky actors and their bitter understudies. But rather like Rebeck's recent play "Our House," which attempted to spoof reality television, "The Understudy" tackles fads that have already been explored to death, most notably film stars taking on Broadway shows.

Much of the plot doesn't even make sense. Why is Jake (played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar) understudying another role himself if he is such a big star? It's just a lame premise for Jake to rehearse alongside Harry, who understudies Jake's regular role. More so, the romantic subplots are undeveloped, scenes where the actors rehearse Kafka drone on endlessly, and the actors randomly enter and exit the stage.

Scott Ellis' animated 90-minute production makes up for the underwhelming text by providing solid laughs, energized performances, and a strange scenic design that twists and turns to reveal ridiculously elaborate, Kafkaesque settings. The play even ends with a soft-shoe dance sequence.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar makes a surprisingly strong stage debut, bringing out the play's humor without making his performance feel forced. When his character proudly invokes Kafka's name, it sounds almost like a cheer.

Justin Kirk, playing Jake's stark raving mad understudy, screams at a ridiculously high decibel level and makes wild hand gestures. It feels as if he is desperately attempting to overshadow the rest of the cast.

Julie White, who recently received a Tony Award for "The Little Dog Laughed," presents a characteristically manic and over-the-top performance with pitch-perfect coming timing. If she tried, White could make even Kafka laugh.

Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St., 212-719-1300, roundabouttheatre.org. Through Jan. 3.

Idiot Savant


Don't even bother trying to make sense of a Richard Foreman production. For decades, the famed avant-garde director-playwright has proceeded totally by impulse to create silly, surreal, purely theatrical spectacles based in movement, light and sound instead of traditional storytelling. You simply can't figure out his shows by using your brain.

Foreman, who is now 72 years old, has already threatened to leave the theater entirely to concentrate on film on several occasions. But new rumors suggest that "Idiot Savant," which is premiering at the Public Theater instead of his typical smaller abode above St. Mark's Church, will probably be his final show.

"Idiot Savant" has all the trappings of a typical Foreman production: strings extending into the audience, harsh bright lights, ominous voice-overs, slow motion and chorus members who never speak and move around like puppets. Its numerous props include an oversized golf ball, a duck mask, a duck in a cage, a white spider with spots, two imitation row boats, and a tray of fruit.

It's impossible to determine what exactly is going on based on the show itself. But in recent interviews, Foreman has described "Idiot Savant" as a philosophic comedy in which the mystical Idiot Savant (played by Willem Dafoe) contemplates the power of language and parodies how people think. For some inexplicable reason, there is also a "Giant Duck" with bloody palms who plays interspecies golf.

Dafoe, wearing a dress and sporting a Samurai-style hairdo, fits in perfectly with Foreman's dark and eccentric atmosphere. His female companions, Alenka Kraigher and Elina Löwensohn, look contemplative but lack Dafoe's striking stage presence.

If not much else, "Idiot Savant" offers a final opportunity to experience the experimental weirdness of a Richard Foreman show. Though his silliness can occasionally be entertaining, don't expect to understand any of it. Think of it a distinctive, intense, offbeat avant-garde experience. If you're lucky, maybe you'll find some meaning hidden somewhere in this 80-minute circus.

Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., 212-967-7555, publictheater.org. Through Dec. 13.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nightingale


When Lynn Redgrave visited the grave of Beatrice Kempson, her maternal grandmother, she was horrified to find that acid rain had washed away Beatrice's name from her headstone. Redgrave hardly knew Beatrice and can only remember her as the cold and distant woman who refused to give her a cookie on Christmas Eve. In a sense, she is now "a nightingale, singing unheard in the tree at night.”

In Redgrave's imaginative one-woman show "Nightingale," she tries to fill in the blanks by reinventing the story of her grandmother's life. This follows in the tradition Redgrave's previous autobiographical shows about her famous stage family including "Shakespeare for My Father" and "The Mandrake Root."

Beatrice is portrayed as a lonely English girl who is obsessed with strict social mores and unprepared for her marriage to a rather bland husband. (Her mother's only advice about sex was to "just close your eyes and think of England.") Throughout her passionless 32-year marriage, Beatrice's innocent character falls to sadness, distance, disillusionment, and even jealousy of her children's happiness. Redgrave alternates between performing monologues as Beatrice and then switching back to herself to in order compare herself with her grandmother.

Due to a medical condition that reportedly arose during rehearsals, Redgrave is currently performing the show with a script in hand while seated upstage at a hardwood desk and chair in front of a folding screen covered with pictures. This brings along positive and negative consequences.

The show still succeeds as simple, poignant storytelling. The lack of movement actually helps focus one's attention on Redgrave's detailed facial expressions and slight shifts in her distinctive voice as Beatrice continues to age. However, it makes the production feel physically underwhelming. It's also occasionally difficult to determine whether Redgrave is portraying herself or Beatrice.

But on the whole, "Nightingale" is a fascinating and touching project that is driven by a sincere love for forgotten family.

City Center, 131 W. 55th St., 212-581-1212, mtc-nyc.org. Through Dec. 13.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Joe Iconis' Rock and Roll Haunted Halloween Special


As indicated by last week’s depressingly low Broadway grosses, most people tend not to see a show on Halloween. I am an exception to this rule. I see shows so often out of habit that I can’t help myself. But in order to accommodate the occasion, I managed to find a Halloween-themed show: Joe Iconis’ “Rock and Roll Haunted Halloween Special” at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Though I’ve attended several of Iconis’ concerts and musicals before, I had never actually been to the Beechman before. I found it to be an excellent, intimate cabaret space and hope to see more stuff there soon.

Anyhow, in addition to the catchy, gritty, very humorous nature of Iconis’ songs, he also stands out for being a damn good showman. His popular concerts are fun, engaging and showcase many of his regular performers including Liz Lark Brown, Lance Rubin, Jason Tam and Jason Williams.

Iconis, dressed in a Beetlejuice costume and with green hair, announced that the night would be dedicated to “fun and goofy” songs, including covers of Halloween-themed material as well as selections from his own chest of songs.

Two cut songs were performed from “Blood Song of Love: The Rock and Roll Spaghetti Western,” his newest musical, which he said will be performed at Ars Nova in the spring. In terms of covers, the cast performed “Out for Blood” from “Carrie” (appropriately enough, there was a girl dressed as a blood-covered Carrie in the audience), a sexually aggressive rendition of the title song of “The Phantom of the Opera” with excessive humping, and the “Ghostbusters” song. Not many iconic Iconis songs except for favorites from “Things to Ruin” like “The Whiskey Song” and “Everybody’s at the Bar without Me.”

It was definitely a fun way to spend my Halloween, though I must confess that I was very few people there not in a costume. Clearly, I am lame. Special costume citation to my friend Jennifer Tepper, who dressed as Mary Flynn from "Merrily We Roll Along" - complete with a sweatshirt that read "Best Pal" on the front.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Jason Robert Brown's Betty Boop Songs


On his blog, Jason Robert Brown has provided MP3 files of two songs he wrote on spec for the still-in-development musical of "Betty Boop at http://www.jasonrobertbrown.com/weblog/2009/10/sound_blog_13title_withheld_on.php.

After showing these two songs, JRB was hired alongside writer David Lindsay-Abaire - but then got fired under ambiguous circumstances. Per his agreement with the producers, he now retains ownership of the two songs, but is not allowed to use the characters' names. Of course, that's not too hard to figure out. In the first song, Betty Boop is running for NYC Mayor - kind of timely for the moment.
It's too bad the project didn't work out. The two songs are quite good - and it might have been the show to finally catapult JRB to commercial success.