Monthly Archive: November 2014

The Real Thing Returns

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Tom Stoppard is known for his deeply intellectual and insightful plays such as: Arcadia, Indian Ink, and The Real Thing. Stoppard has a way of forming stories and dialogue that is simultaneously intellectual and extremely gripping and moving. The current Roundabout revival of The Real Thing at the American Airlines Theater. Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Cynthia Nixon lead a truly phenomenal cast in, arguably, Stoppard’s greatest work.

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Ewan McGregor in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing. Photo Credit: Roundabout Theatre Company.

The Real Thing is a story of love, loss, growing up, and intellectual differences. McGregor’s Henry is deeply intellectual and, therefore, sometimes arrogant or haughty. I felt a deep connection to his character because his “superior” feelings on literature and music are some that I, myself, have dealt with in the past. An early discussion is his dilemma of having to choose eight records that he would want with him on a deserted island for an upcoming radio interview, he is a famous playwright. He feels that he should have with him “important” music, i.e. Beethoven or Mozart, but he dislikes that kind of music and prefers what he deems “guilty pleasures” of current pop music like The Everly Brothers or The Chiffons. Henry’s intellectual struggles are a major theme of the play and McGregor shows his prowess in one of the most challenging characters I’ve seen him do.

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Cynthia Nixon and Ewan McGregor in The Real Thing. Photo Credit: Variety.com

Gyllenhaal and Nixon were equally adept at handling their characters of Annie and Charlotte, respectfully. Ms. Nixon plays Charlotte, Henry’s soon-to-be ex-wife and mother to their daughter, Debbie, whom she played in the original production in 1984. Charlotte is much more free-spirited than Henry and their scenes are infused with a battle of the sexes that is quite refreshing. Gyllenhaal plays Annie who is Henry’s mistress and soon-to-be second wife. Annie is even more free-spirited than Charlotte and her politically liberal sensibilities link her with a political prisoner, named Brodie, whom she has accepted a play he has written to star in. Henry doesn’t approved of Brodie’s writing style and clashes with Annie as a result.

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Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Real Thing. Photo credit: Roundabout Theatre Company

Henry seems to be at battle with everyone in his life because of his “superior” beliefs. He battles with Charlotte over their daughter and her lifestyle. He battles with Annie over her beliefs and her willingness to follow a lesser playwright. Henry’s struggle is one that is first and foremost human. That is the power of Stoppard’s writing. Tom Stoppard is a master of the human spirit and The Real Thing is a masterful examination of a very human life. Those theatergoers looking for a night in the theatre that will leave you questioning and hopefully discussing. There’s no greater feeling than walking out onto the street and turning to your theatre partner in a deep conversation over what you’ve just seen and you will get that from the Roundabout production of The Real Thing, running now until January 4 ONLY.

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Ewan McGregor, Cynthia Nixon, Josh Hamilton, and Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Real Thing. Photo Credit: latimes.com

A Passionate Beat: Whiplash Astounds!

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Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash opened in theaters on October 10, 2014. Photo credit: chulawired.com

As the film awards season heats up, I spend more and more of my time in a darkened theater educating myself on the potential nominees and the new film, Whiplash, was the first in a long line of films on my list. I can honestly say I really didn’t know what to expect from this movie, it didn’t have major, recognizable names leading the cast, this was the first film for director Damien Chazelle, and it did not have a major advertising campaign preceding its release. Needless to say, I love the feeling of sitting in a dark theater and having absolutely no idea what is about to unfold before me, which is nearly impossible in today’s world of 24 hour media.

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Miles Teller as Drum Student, Andrew Neiman in 2014’s Whiplash! Photo credit: heavy.com

Intense does not seem like a strong enough word to describe Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. Every aspect of the film leaves the audience panting to catch up. It is a roller coaster of emotion and passion that exhausted me as much as a half hour on the treadmill. Miles Teller and JK Simmons give two of the most realistic and honest performances in recent memory. Teller brings such vulnerability to his character that you can feel him pulling on his passion for his own craft. Simmons is ruthlessly brilliant as Terrence Fletcher, the brutally honest and driven music professor to Teller’s Andrew Neiman, a music student at the fictional Shaffer Conservatory. Paul Reiser and Melissa Benoist make convincing appearances as Neiman’s father and girlfriend, respectively.

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Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash! Photo credit: ew.com

Whiplash is a stunning portrayal of an artist’s passion for their work and the fire that drives them to perfection. The film is also a stinging analysis of emotional abuse and its effects on the human spirit, especially on the young men that Fletcher strives to inspire. I hope to see the film in the running for a slew of awards in the coming months, not the least of which should be honored are Teller and Simmons’ performances.

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Miles Teller as the star of Whiplash. Photo credit: vulture.com

On the Town: A Hellava Show

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Last night I had the privilege of seeing Leonard Bernstein and Betty Comden & Adolph Green’s classic musical On the Town at the beautiful Lyric Theatre on 42nd Street. Everything about that sentence should conjure images of the Golden Age of Broadway. The current revival of this seminal piece of musical theatre history is everything a Broadway fan could ask for and more. The first notes of The Star Spangled Banner (used in lieu of an overture) to the final curtain following the bows, the show is pure joy. It is a colorful, musical romp through New York City that reminded me why I fell in love with musicals in the first place.

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Jay Armstrong Johnson, Tony Yazbeck, & Clyde Alves as Chip, Gabey, & Ozzie in On the Town! Photo Credit: Broadway.com

The current revival of On the Town is unique because it is banking, not on star wattage, but on the power of the name recognition of the creators and the support of die-hard Broadway fans revisiting a classic.  Tony Yazbeck stars as Gabey, the ringleader of a trio of sailors who are on leave to see New York City in just 24 hours, and has been hailed as the last of the matinee idols by Playbill. Yazbeck has serious Broadway chops, most notably as Tulsa in the 2008 revival of Gypsy starring Patti LuPone, and he brings everything he’s got in this star turn. Rarely have I seen a leading man have enough charisma and talent to light up a theater the size of the Lyric. He dominates that stage from his entrance to the final note of the bows. I hope that this role will give Mr. Yazbeck the recognition he deserves and maybe even a Tony nomination! His cohorts, played by Jay Armstrong Johnson & Clyde Alves, bring old fashioned comedy and style to the roles of Chip and Ozzie. Despite the exceptionally strong performances from the three leading men, the real showstoppers are the leading ladies.

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Jay Armstrong Johnson, Tony Yazbeck, & Clyde Alves search for Miss Turnstiles in On the Town. Photo credit: Broadway.com

Throughout the course of the show, all three sailors cross paths with women who steal their hearts, through some of the most brilliant comedy musical numbers ever written for the stage. Megan Fairchild stars as Ivy Smith, aka Miss Turnstiles, in her Broadway debut. Her career has been in ballet and she brings that class and technique to her role in On the Town, particularly in the epic ballet sequences, staged by Joshua Bergasse, in his Broadway debut as a choreographer. Elizabeth Stanley stars as Claire De Loone, an anthropologist studying the “modern man” when she runs into Ozzie in the Museum of Natural History and is immediately smitten with him during the showstopper “Carried Away,” complete with a dancing tyrannosaurus rex! Rounding out the trio of leading ladies is Alysha Umphress as Hildy, a fast talking and lovesick taxi driver. Ms. Umphress not only steals Chip’s heart but the entire show. She is fortunate to be given not one, but two showstoppers in act 1. Umphress takes the classic numbers “Come Up to My Place” and “I Can Cook Too” and destroys any memory of previous performers. She has the old school, brassy style that made legends like Ethel Merman, Elaine Stritch, and Patti LuPone stars. I’m going to predict now that you will see Alysha Umphress’ name in the running for Best Featured Actress in a Musical come June.

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Jay Armstrong Johnson & Alysha Umphress get steamy in On the Town! Photo Credit: Broadway.com

There is nothing cynical or deep about On the Town. The show is simply Broadway glory at its grandest. There are lush ballets, heart stopping ballads, brassy comedy numbers (assisted by fabulous character actors Jackie Hoffman, Philip Boykin, and Michael Rupert), and love scenes to make your head spin. If you don’t leave the theatre with a smile on your face, you should have your head checked. My first thought when the show finished was, “gee, they sure don’t make ‘em like they used to.” It’s true, when you think of the Golden Age of Musical Theatre you think of classics like Oklahoma!, The Music Man, Guys and Dolls, AND On the Town. Thank goodness someone has the forethought to revive them in such lush style and give the next generation a little history lesson and remind us all that New York really is A HELLAVA TOWN!

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Megan Fairchild gets a lesson from Jackie Hoffman in On the Town! Photo credit: Broadway.com

 

Butterworth & Jackman Return to Broadway!

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Jez Butterworth’s new play The River will open on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre on November 16, 2014 starring Hugh Jackman. Butterworth’s newest work showcases Jackman as “The Man” in this three person drama that highlights passion and loss of love.

Jackman is remarkably subtle, compared to his roles as Wolverine in X-Men and Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz, and brings passionate nuance to a challenging script. I have always been very critical of Mr. Jackman’s previous work so I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed his performance as much as I did. Mr. Butterworth’s script is reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, in that it tackles large, existential topics with quiet conversation and simple staging.

The play begins with Jackman’s character bringing his new girlfriend to his favorite place, a cabin in the woods where he goes night fishing. The entire play takes place inside the cabin and is a perfectly minimalistic set design by Ultz. The action is surrealistic and takes the audience on a wild journey through time, alternating continually throughout the play’s short 85 minute run. The twists and turns continue throughout and sometimes leave the audience breathless. I think this is the hardest play I’ve ever reviewed because the show is short enough that to reveal too much would ruin the plot twists, but I cannot accurately describe the plot without giving it all away. I’m sure that Mr. Butterworth was fully aware of the ambiguity of the piece as he was writing and he was brilliant to leave it to interpretation.

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The buzz in the lobby following the show was palpable. The audience was totally immersed in the story and continued discussing it following the show. The questions that Mr. Butterworth presents vastly outnumber the answers and that is why this piece works. Butterworth muses “What is love?,” “How long does it last?,” “Can it be replicated?,” “Is it worth replicating?” The River has been billed as a dark thriller but it is that and so much more. It deals with the darkness of our hearts and souls much more than the darkness in the woods and rivers.

Those theatregoers looking for an escape from reality and the problems of their lives will not find that in Jez Butterworth’s The River, instead, you will find a slap of reality as Hugh Jackman and his fellow cast mates wallow in the darkness of their hearts and allow it to overcome them. Mr. Jackman’s brilliant performance is what will draw audiences, as it should, and will definitely find him in the running for the Tony Award come June.

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Donald Margulies’ The Country House Charms

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Donald Margulies’ new play, The Country House, opened on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on October 2, 2014. The play stars Blythe Danner as an aging Broadway star who returns to the Williamstown Theatre Festival in an attempt to fill the hole that age has placed in her career. She returns with her son, Elliot (Eric Lange), granddaughter (Sarah Steele), and son-in-law (David Rasche), along with her son-in-law’s new fiancé (Kate Jennings Grant) and a former theatre colleague fresh off of a hit TV show (Daniel Sunjata). This motley crew of theatre folk find themselves under one roof while they work in and around the theatre festival.

Danner’s portrayal of the aging star, Anna Patterson, is certainly something to see. Ms. Danner brings her subtle acting style to Mr. Margulies’ mostly sharp dialogue. Danner’s character is by far the most interesting and varied of the bunch. She undergoes a quiet transformation from the opening scene to the closing. The great cloud that looms over the country house is that Patterson’s beloved daughter has recently passed away and her loved ones have all struggled (in different ways) to cope with her death. Margulies shows his skills by painting vastly different pictures of grief in each of the aforementioned characters, though none more masterfully than in the penultimate scene in which Anna and her son, Elliot (Lange), finally clash over his paranoia about his mother’s love.

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Sarah Steele, Eric Lange, and Blythe Danner in Donald Margulies’ The Country House

The play has a beautiful, steady build to the dialogue and dutifully mixes heightened drama with witty comedy. That being said, the play has moments that feel entirely self-indulgent. Margulies allows the story to become a bit melodramatic in much of the second act (particularly between Elliot (Lange) and Walter (Rasche), culminating in an actual brawl.) Ms. Jennings Grant is also a stand out as she becomes entangled in a house full of messy emotions and past (and current) lovers. Ms. Steele makes a lovely Broadway debut as the sassy, beloved granddaughter to Danner’s Anna. Broadway vet, David Rasche, is impossibly (sometimes to a fault) charming as Walter Keegan, Anna’s former son-in-law. Daniel Sunjata is perfectly cast as the all too attractive, Michael Astor, a former theatre mate and now A-list television star. The cast plays beautifully together and their chemistry is palpable, in no small part because of Daniel Sullivan’s skillful direction. The production design at Manhattan Theatre Club is always impressive and John Lee Beatty’s set and Rita Ryack’s costumes are no different.

I applaud non-profit theatre companies like Manhattan Theatre Club and Roundabout Theatre Company for taking risks on new works and presenting them with the same flair as the classics. That being said, The Country House is a charming walk through the summer of a theatre crowd and nothing more. This is not Margulies’ best work, nor his worst, but it is a lovely way to spend an afternoon (as I did) and you will not be disappointed having seen Ms. Danner at the top of her game.

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Kate Jennings Grant, Daniel Sunjata, and Blythe Danner in Donald Margulies’ The Country House

One Fine Day, Indeed! She’s Still Divine!

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Yesterday, The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler, released her 25th studio album: It’s the Girls! The album is a celebration of girl groups from the 1930s to the 1990s. The album is also a reunion with longtime collaborator and producer, Marc Shaiman. Shaiman is famous for convincing Ms. Midler to record the biggest hit of her career, “Wind Beneath My Wings.

It’s the Girls! features classic girl groups songs like The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love,” The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” and The Chiffons’ “One Fine Day.” Midler is in impressive voice and her rich tones redefine these classics and give them a fresh sound. Shaiman’s arrangements have given Miss M room to play and her sassy comedy style shines through. The fifteen track album really shows all of the varied facets of Midler’s lush voice. When she lets loose on “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” or “Too Many Fish in the Sea,” her voice is thrilling, but when she pulls back on the heartfelt ballads is when she shines. Her take on The Shirelles’ “Baby It’s You” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” or TLC’s “Waterfalls” bring nuance and beauty to these songs that people know and love. Midler has long been the Queen of the Ballads with hits like “The Rose,” Wind Beneath My Wings,” and “From a Distance,” so to hear her put her signature style on these classics is breathtaking.

Ms. Midler’s new album is everything a fan could ask for and more. I bought the album yesterday and immediately sat down to listen to it and I couldn’t have been happier. This is Midler’s first album in eight years and her first non-holiday album in a decade so her fans have been waiting eagerly. I must say I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the album, I have felt that since she completed her tenure at The Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Midler has been on a career lull. Her 2012 film, Parental Guidance, was less than brilliant and she has seemed detached and bored in the few interviews she has done since then. I expected her to actually retire from show business sooner rather than later. However, in 2013, she returned to the Broadway stage in John Logan’s I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers, which showcased her signature comedy and was a true tour de force performance. I am ecstatic that Midler has returned to form with her new album and has announced a tour to follow in 2015. Her It’s the Girls Tour is sure to bring audiences to their feet in arenas all across the United States beginning on May 8th in Hollywood, FL.

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Bette Midler in John Logan’s I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers

Welcome!

Greetings. My name is Jordon Hensley and to say I am entertainment buff is an understatement. My life has been spent surrounded by film, music, and theatre. Since entering the work force in high school, my entire resume has been in and around the arts. I began volunteering in my school library when I was in seventh grade and that continued until I graduated high school six years later. During that time in my life, I couldn’t think of anywhere I would rather be than surrounded by the volumes that lined the shelves and offered their contents to me. I then became a DJ on the local AM station in my hometown of Hohenwald, TN and spent my evenings hosting Flashbacks with Jammin’ Jordon: The Absolute Best of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, & 80’s. Although the title may have been corny, playing the absolute greatest musical artists of the American songbook was such a thrill. During my senior year in high school, I began my love affair with the theatre. Of course, I had always loved live theatre. Some of my earliest memories are my mom taking me to see productions of Beauty and the Beast, Noises Off, and Oliver! when I was a kid. There is no greater feeling than passionate performers pouring out their souls on stage live in front of you. However, my first taste of working in the theatre was when I stepped out of my comfort zone to play Jonathan Brewster in my local production of Arsenic and Old Lace. I was so apprehensive taking on such a massive role, but when I heard the thunderous applause on opening night, I knew I was hooked. The theatre bug continued (and grew) when I relocated to Connecticut in 2010. I quickly got involved in the local theatre group, Curtain Call, in Stamford, CT, of which I am still a member today.

Since my move to CT, I have become an even more avid theatre goer. In the four years since I’ve moved, I have seen well over fifty Broadway shows (and counting). There are few things that I cherish more than my Broadway memories. Seeing the late, great Elaine Stritch own the stage in A Little Night Music, hearing Elaine Paige belt I’m Still Here inFollies, or seeing Tyne Daly’s tour de force performance in Master Class are just a handful of magical moments I have witnessed inside a Broadway theatre. I am extremely thankful to have moved to what is, arguably, the arts Mecca of the United States. Besides the wonderful theatre I am able to experience weekly, living in the Northeast has given me opportunities to see some of the greatest singers ever perform live. Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, Dolly Parton, Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, and Diana Ross are just some of the phenomenal artists I have been able to see perform live in concert in the last four years.

My most recent jump into the arts community is by obtaining my first full time job at All Shows, New York’s Ticket Source since 1989. It has been such a privilege to spend my days interacting with the arts by making sure that those who want to see shows and concerts are able to get there. That brings me to the purpose of this blog.

This blog, On The Marquee, will be a place to discuss all types of cultural topics. From movies to music to theatre, I will touch on topics I find interesting and will be sharing my opinions of those things. Reviews will make up the majority of my postings but I’m sure an editorial or two will sneak in, as well. That’s all well and good, but what is my goal, right? Whenever I read a blog or see a friend has started one, the first question I ask myself is what is this person trying to accomplish (because we all have motives, right?) Well, what I want my readers to take away from my postings is some form of passionate reaction. The reason I have remained immersed in the arts for as long as I have is that the passion of the performers and creators ignites a fire within me to work harder, love stronger, and just be a better person. I hope that some of the passion that I have been given can come across in my writings and ignite a fire in you to search out that passion of yourself. I promise your life will be better for it.