Tuesday, November 15, 2011

3rd Anniversary Performance of Billy Elliot

"Billy Elliot" was supposed to be the next mega-hit. Oh sure, it played to sell-out crowds for a while and received rave reviews and plenty of Tony Awards, including Best Musical over "Next to Normal." But for at least a year now, "Billy Elliot" has underperformed, at least compared to the original expectations. We can all speculate why: Was the show too English? Too profane? Was it not marketed well? Will there be no more West End transfers with never-ending runs? Or, perhaps, was it too special? This is a gritty, socially realistic, emotionally powerful musical that Broadway was all the luckier to have.

Most of the crowd attending Tuesday night must have had no clue that they were about to see the show's third anniversary performance. Before it began, director Stephen Daldry took the stage and noted that the three original boys (now adolescent teens) who played Billy Elliot - David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish - would appear at curtain call.

It's a pleasure to report that the show remains in mint condition. Tade Biesinger, one of the four boys currently alternating as Billy Elliot, gave the most well-acted performance of the role I've yet to see. After appearing inhibited and trapped, he embraced the freedom he felt in the midst of dancing more and more as the show went along - finally exploding in ecstasy in "Electricity." Emily Skinner was also great as Mrs. Wilkinson, presenting a warmer side of a character who became a surrogate mother to Billy Elliot.

The show's brilliant, gender-bending finale is a celebration of how life ought to be - of joy - of together- of how the arts can bring out the best in us. Having the three original Billy Elliots cap it off was a fantastic touch to what was already a strong performance.

You've got until January 8, 2012 to catch "Billy Elliot" before that finale is just a memory.

The after party was held at Sardi's. Got to share an elevator with Emily Skinner!

Broadway Unplugged

Carolee Carmello was a no show. So was Marc Kudisch. But this year's "Broadway Unplugged" concert - where performers must sing without the aid of electronic amplification - was offered a generous amount of Broadway talent.

The real highlight was Patrick Page (no longer in the ugly Green Goblin suit) hamming it up as Oscar Jaffe in "The Legacy" from "On the 20th Century" and doing an imitation Noel Coward in "Mrs. Worthington." Some much appreciated rarities included Chuck Cooper doing "Stand Up and Fight" from "Carmen Jones" and Bill Daugherty portraying Ed Koch's idea of a New Yorker in "You Can Be a New Yorker Too!" from the Charles Strouse flop "Mayor." And in a most unusual touch, host Scott Siegel chanted a Hebrew prayer at the very start to bless the evening.

Here is a full songlist:

Act 1

I Have Dreamed - Max Von Essen
Maria - Alexander Gemignani
My White Night - Sarah Uriarte Berry
Mrs. Worthington - Patrick Page
Sail Away - Barbara Walsh
Italian Street Song - Nancy Anderson
You Can Be a New Yorker Too! - Bill Daugherty
Marry Me a Little - Kevin Earley
Lily's Eyes - The Secret Garden
I Am Changing - Terri White

Act 2

Stand Up and Fight - Chuck Cooper
The Legacy - Patrick Page
Steal with Style - Ron Bohmer
Lonely House - Jesus Garcia
All the Things You Are - Sarah Uriarte Berry and Ben Davis
There Are Words He Doesn't Say - Eddie Korbich
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables - Max Von Essen
Stranger in Paradise - William Michals
Anthem - Kevin Earley
You'll Never Walk Alone - Company

Monday, November 14, 2011

2011 Steinberg Playwright "Mimi" Awards

For three years in a row, I have attended the cocktail hour portion of the Steinberg Playwright "Mimi" Awards, which recognize some playwright or other. Why just the cocktail hour? Why not stick around for the awards portion and the champagne toast at the end? I usually have to hightail it to some other show I need to review.

I arrived at the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre so early that I was practically the first one there. Wearing a red short sleeve collar shirt and carrying my bike helmet, I certainly stood out. But at least 15 minutes later, the place was packed. I noticed Paul Giamatti among the crowd, who was scheduled to present portions of plays of the honorees (Melissa James Gibson and Lisa d'Amour).

I didn't try to chat with him, but I did introduce myself to Lincoln Center Theater honcho Bernard Gersten, I tried to get a scoop out of him, and learned that Lincoln Center Theater will produce the Broadway mounting of "Clybourne Park" this spring.

I then spoke with Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis. But he warned me out front that he wasn't drunk enough to spill any gossip, as he had done two months ago at a premiere. On a whim, I asked whether the Public has considered doing a Sondheim musical in the park. His deadpan response was as follows: "No, Matt. None of us have ever thought of doing a musical by Stephen Sondheim in the park. You can quote me on that!" He then shared something I never knew: in the original draft of "Sunday in the Park with George," the modern-day park was going to be Central Park around the Delacorte Theatre. I bet the Public would do that version of "Sunday."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Which theater gala are you going to on Monday?

This Monday night, November 14, offers a load of galas and special events:

1. Broadway Unplugged (Town Hall) - This is a must for all fans of Scott Siegel's Broadway by the Year series and its numerous spinoffs, such as this. One of the trademark features of Siegel's concerts is when he asks a performer or two to sing without the aid of a microphone. For this concert, everyone's gotta perform without a mic. The large cast includes Carolee Carmello, Patrick Page (who will not be flying over the audience in a green jumpsuit, thankfully) Chuck Cooper, Terri White, Nancy Anderson and others. That's where I'll be.

2. Make Believe on Broadway (Shubert Theatre) - This annual charity gala, hosted by Brooke Shields and Brad Oscar, sports some really impressive names as special guests including Mike Myers, Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Rickman and more. Only Make Believe, the not-for-profit group being benefited, brings theater to children in hospitals and care facilities. I don't know how the show will be, but that is a mission well worth supporting.

3. The 24 Hour Plays on Broadway (American Airlines Theatre) - Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino, Julia Stiles, Jason Biggs, Tracy Morgan, Sarah Silverman, John Krasinski and others will perform short plays written on 24-hours notice. These events tend to be quite messy, but that's part of its appeal.

4. The Acting Company's Annual Masquerade Gala (Capitale) - No clue to what extent this will be a masquerade, or if costumes are involved, but the event will include appearances by the cast of "Godspell" (that's enough to keep me away from it), Brian Stokes Mitchell and David Hyde Pierce.

5. 2011 Steinberg Playwright "Mimi" Awards (Vivian Beaumont Theatre) - Playwrights Lisa D'Amour and Melissa James Gibson will be honored.

6. Celebrity Charades 2011: Down and Derby (Highline Ballroom) - Celebs such as Michelle Trachtenberg, Evan Rachel Wood and Daphne Rubin-Vega will compete in games of charades.