Watch 4 Best Musical Tony Nominees of 2017: Video Highlights

Watch videos from the four Broadway musicals nominated for the 2017 Best Musical Tony Award, listed alphabetically.

Above each of the show’s video(s) is a link to a post with production photographs and my review

Come From Away

Dear Evan Hansen

Groundhog Day

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Bonus videos:

The three videos below are of songs from Great Comet as performed at Bryant Park before the show moved to Broadway. However, the performers from each of the three songs — Amber Gray, Brittain Ashford and Denee Benton — are those who sing the respective songs on Broadway)


2017 Tony Nominees: A Closer Look…and Listen.

Below are 2017 Tony Award nominees who spoke at the Meet the Nominees press reception the day after the announcement, grouped more or less show by show. Click on individual photographs to read sometimes extensive captions that quote what they said about their show or their career or the theater in general.

More to come.

2017 Tony Award Nominations: The Great Comet, Bette’s Show Lead



Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 leads the 2017 Tony Award nominations with twelve, followed by the Bette Midler-starring revival Hello, Dolly! with ten and Dear Evan Hansen with nine. The play A Doll’s House, Part 2 got eight nominations, followed by Oslo with seven.

Complete list below:

The winners of the  71st Tony Awards will be announced in a June 11 ceremony, with host Kevin Spacey, at Radio City Music Hall, broadcast live on CBS.

Best Musical

Dear Evan Hansen
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
Groundhog Day
Come From Away

Best Play

A Doll’s House, Part 2

Best Revival of a Musical

Hello, Dolly!
Miss Saigon

Best Revival of a Play

Present Laughter
Six Degrees of Separation
The Little Foxes

Best Actress in a Musical

Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
Patti LuPone, War Paint
Christine Ebersole, War Paint
Denee Benton, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon

Best Actor in a Musical

Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen
Andy Karl, Groundhog Day
David Hyde Pierce, Hello, Dolly!
Christian Borle, Falsettos
Josh Groban, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Best Actress in a Play

Laurie Metcalf, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Jennifer Ehle, Oslo
Cate Blanchett, The Present
Sally Field, The Glass Menagerie
Laura Linney, The Little Foxes

Best Actor in a Play

Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
Jefferson Mays, Oslo
Denis Arndt, Heisenberg
Chris Cooper, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Corey Hawkins, Six Degrees of Separation

Best Book of a Musical

Come From Away
Irene Sankoff and David Hein

Dear Evan Hansen
Steven Levenson

Groundhog Day The Musical
Danny Rubin

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Dave Malloy

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Come From Away
Music & Lyrics: Irene Sankoff and David Hein

Dear Evan Hansen
Music & Lyrics: Benj Pasek & Justin Paul

Groundhog Day The Musical
Music & Lyrics: Tim Minchin

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Music & Lyrics: Dave Malloy

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play

Michael Aronov, Oslo

Danny DeVito, Arthur Miller’s The Price

Nathan Lane, The Front Page

Richard Thomas, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes

John Douglas Thompson, August Wilson’s Jitney

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play

Johanna Day, Sweat

Jayne Houdyshell, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Cynthia Nixon, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes

Condola Rashad, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Michelle Wilson, Sweat

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!

Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen

Andrew Rannells, Falsettos

Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly!

Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos

Jenn Colella, Come From Away

Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen

Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia

Best Scenic Design of a Play

David Gallo, August Wilson’s Jitney

Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong

Douglas W. Schmidt, The Front Page

Michael Yeargan, Oslo

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Rob Howell, Groundhog Day The Musical

David Korins, War Paint

Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!

Best Costume Design of a Play

Jane Greenwood, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes

Susan Hilferty, Present Laughter

Toni-Leslie James, August Wilson’s Jitney

David Zinn, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Linda Cho, Anastasia

Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!

Paloma Young, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Catherine Zuber, War Paint

Best Lighting Design of a Play

Christopher Akerlind, Indecent

Jane Cox, August Wilson’s Jitney

Donald Holder, Oslo

Jennifer Tipton, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Howell Binkley, Come From Away

Natasha Katz, Hello, Dolly!

Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Japhy Weideman, Dear Evan Hansen

Best Direction of a Play

Sam Gold, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Ruben Santiago-Hudson, August Wilson’s Jitney

Bartlett Sher, Oslo

Daniel Sullivan, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes

Rebecca Taichman, Indecent

Best Direction of a Musical

Christopher Ashley, Come From Away

Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen

Matthew Warchus, Groundhog Day The Musical

Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly!

Best Choreography

Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand

Peter Darling and Ellen Kane, Groundhog Day The Musical

Kelly Devine, Come From Away

Denis Jones, Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical

Sam Pinkleton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Best Orchestrations

Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand

Larry Hochman, Hello, Dolly!

Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen

Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812


Nominations per Production:
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 – 12
Hello, Dolly! – 10
Dear Evan Hansen – 9
A Doll’s House, Part 2 – 8
Come From Away – 7
Groundhog Day The Musical – 7
Oslo – 7
August Wilson’s Jitney – 6
Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes – 6
Falsettos – 5

War Paint – 4
Indecent – 3
Present Laughter – 3
Sweat – 3
Anastasia – 2
Bandstand – 2
The Front Page – 2
Miss Saigon – 2
Six Degrees of Separation – 2

Arthur Miller’s The Price – 1
The Glass Menagerie – 1
Heisenberg – 1
Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical – 1
The Play That Goes Wrong – 1
The Present – 1


Shows with no nominations: Amelie, A Bronx Tale, Cats, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Cherry Orchard, In Transit, Les Liaison Dangereuses, Paramour, Significant Other, Sunset Boulevard,

* * *

Recipients of Awards and Honors in Non-competitive Categories

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre

James Earl Jones

Special Tony Award

Gareth Fry & Pete Malkin, Sound Designers for The Encounter

Regional Theatre Tony Award

Dallas Theater Center

Dallas, TX

Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award

Baayork Lee

Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre

Nina Lannan

Alan Wasser

Bandstand Review: Corey Cott, Laura Osnes in Postwar Blues and Jitterbugs

“Bandstand,” a new musical about a group of traumatized World War II veterans who form a 40’s jazz band with a Gold Star widow as their singer, attempts to combine an original score of period music and exciting dance with an exploration of the toll that war takes on soldiers, not just in combat but once they return to civilian life.

The show, the last of the 20 musicals that opened on Broadway in the season just ended (seven of them revivals), is one of the few to try to ground its entertainment in a serious issue. That ambition makes it stand out. It surely says something that both “Anastasia” and “Groundhog Day” include glib jokes about Cleveland, while “Bandstand” is set in Cleveland. (There is even an ode to that city, “I Got A Theory.”)

But the show has much more than good intentions going for it.

Click on any photograph by Jeremy Daniel to see it enlarged

The cast, led by two rising Broadway stars, Corey Cott and Laura Osnes, is pitch-perfect, not only acting persuasively but also actually playing their musical instruments, backed by an unseen 13-piece orchestra. The catchy, beat-happy score by Robert Oberacker, making his Broadway debut, pays homage to the big band era of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, offering swing, boogie-woogie, jazz and blues. (The zesty orchestrations have already been nominated for both Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards; the Tony nominations will be announced next week.)

Director and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who won Tony Awards for his choreography of both In The Heights and Hamilton, seamlessly nods to 1940s popular dances like the jitterbug in coming up with some lively, inventive moves, performed by some terrific dancers. One number, “Right This Way,” is an effective and moving comment in dance on the veterans’ plight: A band member struggles to move forward, weighed down by a man leaning on each shoulder, until he takes a pill, and they gracefully fall away – the horrid memory of his fallen comrades tempered, at least temporarily, by medication.

Similarly, “Welcome Home,” the last of the show’s 16 songs, is a fiercely delivered litany of the pain of returning veterans, which got a standing ovation the night I attended.

All of this terrific entertainment and artistry is arranged around a plot that also recalls the 1940s, but ultimately not in a good way. The book, written by Oberacker and Robert Taylor, who is also his co-lyricist, focuses on Donny Novitzki (Cotts), starting with a scene of him in combat with his best friend Michael, who dies. Back home, damaged psychologically by what went down overseas and unable to find a job, he hears on the radio that NBC and MGM are sponsoring a song contest in honor of veterans, the winning song to be featured in a Hollywood movie. Donny decides then and there to put together a band of veterans, a self-admitted gimmick that he hopes will tilt the contest in their favor.

In the song “I Know A Guy,” Donny, a pianist, finds his band, first an acquaintance of his dead buddy Michael, saxophonist Jimmy (James Nathan Hopkins.) Jimmy leads Donny to bass player Davy (Brandon J. Ellis), a soldier who helped liberate Dachau, and now drinks to forget. Davy recommends trumpet player Nick (Alex Bender), who cannot control his temper, who in turn recommends drummer Johnny (Joe Carroll), whose military Jeep flipped over three times, and so he is now brain damaged. The last member of the band, trombonist Wayne (Geoff Packard) is a neatness freak, clearly someone with OCD. Keeping a promise to his dead friend, Donny visits Michael’s widow, Julia (Osnes), which results in a series of deeply touching scenes, aided immeasurably by the presence of Beth Leavel as Julia’s warm, wise-cracking mother. Julia, as it turns out, is a talented singer, though she has only as yet sung in church, and so she eventually joins the band as well.
All of this, while obviously by the numbers, works fine. But the more the singing contest takes over the plot — the preparations for it, the preliminary trials for it, the fundraising to go to New York for it, even contract disputes over it (I’m not kidding.) — the more the plot stumbles. The plot recovers in the climax, but then the last scene, a kind of tacked-on epilogue which I could have done without, is all about the band’s success. Are we meant to see that the wounds of war heal with time, or (more absurdly) that a successful career will make you get over your war-related physical injuries and post-traumatic stress? Or was it simply a decision to hew to a commercial formula, and play down the veteran angle, in order to sell tickets on Broadway?
Some might bristle at the formula plot, just as some might have preferred the actual song standards from the era. But I found it refreshing to hear new compositions, rather than yet another jukebox musical, even if Oberacker’s tunes are unlikely to get any jukebox play. (“Bandstand” is getting a cast recording, to be released on June 23rd.) And I recognize the plot as simply the creative team’s using a familiar old serving dish for its richly flavorful and largely nutritious meal (albeit based, to extend the metaphor, on a tried-and-true recipe.)
No, “Bandstand” is not “South Pacific.” But Osnes, whose sophomore effort on Broadway was as Kelli O’Hara’s replacement in “South Pacific” and has been a go-to leading lady ever since, deepens what could have been a stock character.

Cott, who made such an auspicious Broadway debut replacing Jeremy Jordan as the chief kid in “Newsies” and an inauspicious follow-up as the too-young tuxedoed Gaston in “Gigi” (Watch Corey Cott, from Newsies to Gigi), has matured at age 27 into an impressive leading man – handsome and charismatic and golden-voiced, but also adept at using the tools he has as a performer to express an authentic-feeling intensity and angst in his character Donny.

Ok, yes, Donny and Julia get together romantically at the end. (That is a spoiler only for somebody who has never seen a musical.) I wish they had not, to be honest, but I acknowledge that would have defied the physics of Broadway. Yet, “Bandstand” is smart enough to have delayed the inevitable as late as possible, and, before it happens, to include a wonderful song entitled “This Is Life” in which they argue for keeping their distance. Sample verse:

If we were singing Hammerstein songs
We could fix all the wrongs in rhyme
But this is life
With the heartache it brings
And we know that these things take time

It takes hubris to diss your better like that, but it’s an example of what’s right about “Bandstand.”

Bernard B Jacobs Theater
Book by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker; Music by Richard Oberacker; Lyrics by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker; Co-Orchestrator: Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen; Music arranged by Greg Anthony Rassen; Vocal arrangements by David Kreppel; Musical Director: Fred Lassen
Directed by Andy Blankenbuehler; Choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler; Associate Choreographer: Mark Stuart; Scenic Design by David Korins; Costume Design by Paloma Young; Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter; Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg; Hair and Wig Design by J. Jared Janas and Dave Bova; Makeup Design by J. Jared Janas and Dave Bova
Cast Laura Osnes, Corey Cott, Beth Leavel, Alex Bender, Joe Carroll, Brandon James Ellis, James Nathan Hopkins, Geoff Packard, Mary Callanan, Max Clayton, Patrick Connaghan, Matt Cusack, Andrea Dotto, Marc A. Heitzman, Ryan Kasprzak, Andrew Leggieri, Erica Mansfield, Morgan Marcell, Drew McVety, Kevyn Morrow, Jessica Lea Patty, Becca Petersen, Kevin Quillon, Jonathan Shew, Ryan VanDenBoom, Jaime Verazin, Mindy Wallace, and Kevin Worley
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including one intermission
Tickets: $59 to $159. Rush ticket: $35
Bandstand is scheduled to run through December 30, 2017

Hello Dolly Review: Bette Midler stars as Bette Midler

There are moments in Bette Midler’s Hello, Dolly that offer unsurpassed entertainment, demonstrating the ideal match between show and star that many people expected when they first heard that Midler would be the 15th Dolly Gallagher Levi on Broadway. That excitement (along with outrageously inflated ticket prices) resulted in the highest advance sale of any show in Broadway history.

There are not enough of those perfect moments, however, to justify the ardor for this unexceptional, pastel-hued fourth Broadway revival, nor to explain fully the exuberant acclaim for its star, who has not performed live as a character in a Broadway musical for 50 years. (She played a daughter in the original Fiddler on the Roof!) The reaction to Bette Midler in “Hello, Dolly” is a sociological phenomenon that transcends what occurs on stage.

I understand it. I’ve idolized Midler since first hearing her debut album, “The Divine Miss M,” and discovering this sassy songstress with a gorgeous voice, delivering retro sultriness with a persona simultaneously self-mocking, sexy and sincere.

That voice is gone now, judging from the performance I attended at the Shubert, replaced by a rasp of limited range. She also apparently can’t really dance; her movement on stage is more like rhythmic walking, and it’s in bracing contrast to the professional dancers who are virtually flying around her.

What remains vibrant is the Bette Midler persona, evident from the moment she makes her entrance on stage. It is not a grand entrance, at least not initially; it’s a sly surprise entrance. A “horse”-driven bus (actually two guys in a horse suit) comes on stage with a group of passengers reading newspapers that obscure their faces. One of them abruptly snatches the paper down; it’s Bette Midler. The audience greets her thunderously. She walks forward, first lifting her arms out in a diva welcome, then placing her palm against her chest, as if to say “your reception is giving me heart palpitations.” She is playfully portraying somebody who would make a gesture like that, but she’s also sincerely making the gesture.

This is not Dolly Levi Gallagher’s gesture, a widow in late 19th century New York who works as a matchmaker and anything else that might make her a buck. It belongs to Bette Midler, or more precisely to the Bette Midler persona.  The audience is responding not to Dolly but to Bette – and to our memories of the Divine Miss M. I am not dismissing those memories. In live theater, the adoration of the audience can palpably lift up a performer and a production, a gift of energy that is passed back and forth between audience and actors.

There are moments, though, when this “Hello, Dolly” is not just the Bette Midler show, or at least when she shares billing with her character. “Some people paint,” she says at one point. “Some sew. I…meddle.”

It’s delivered as a classic Bette wisecrack, with that mischievous grin and the practiced inflection of Jewish housewife as Borscht Belt comic. Suddenly, somehow, Dolly is Bette, and so Bette is Dolly.

And meddle she does. (They do?) Dolly has been looking for a wife for the “half-millionaire” Yonkers merchant Horace Vandergelder (David Hyde Pierce), and has decided that that wife should be herself. This means she must sabotage his planned proposal to New York milliner Irene Malloy (Kate Baldwin.) Dolly does this by arranging for Horace’s two assistants Cornelius (Gavin Creel) and Barnaby (Taylor Trensch) to woo (respectively) Irene and her assistant Minnie Fay (Beanie Feldstein, making a memorable Broadway debut.) Dolly is also busy scheming to prod Horace into reversing his adamant opposition of nuptials between his niece Ermengarde (Melanie Moore) and Ambrose (Will Burton) because of Ambrose’s disreputable career – he’s an artist. Is it a spoiler to reveal that love – or at least Dolly – triumphs?

Most of the supporting cast is at least competent; both Creel and Baldwin have voices to die for. Pierce feels miscast: His grumpy Horace is so off-putting that Dolly couldn’t desire him for anything but his money, which changes what we think of her. (That presumes, of course, that we think anything of the characters, as opposed to the performers.) The real heavy-lifting — sometimes literally —  is done by the vigorously athletic, inexhaustible and sometimes exhausting ensemble.

The plot is book-writer Michael Stewart and songwriter Jerry Herman’s adaptation of a play by Thornton Wilder, who adapted it from an earlier play of his, which was an adaptation of a German play that was in turn adapted from an 1835 English play. It is, in other words, almost two centuries old; it’s hardly an insult to call it old-fashioned. Director Jerry Zaks and choreographer Warren Carlyle seem happy to keep it that way. Santo Loquasto, whose past innovative stage and costume designs have garnered many awards, here opts for familiar postcard-looking backdrops, and blindingly bright pastel costumes, as if imagining what the stereotypical tourist would have worn had they existed at the turn of the 20th century. They all seem to be acknowledging that their job is to preserve the vehicle. “Hello, Dolly” has always served as a vehicle for its star – originally and most notably (and most repeatedly) Carol Channing, but also Pearl Bailey, Ethel Merman, Betty Grable, Ginger Rogers, Phyllis Diller, et al. Each has tried to own the part; some merely rented it.

Bette does own Dolly, but Dolly doesn’t always live in Bette; the melding of the two is only periodic. It fails conclusively during Dolly’s conversations with her dead husband Ephraim, which are played as straightforwardly sincere, without an overlay of the Divine Miss M’s self-mockery, and paradoxically came off to me as insincere. She also disappoints in “Before the Parade Passes By,” one of the four or five supremely tuneful songs in Jerry Herman’s score.

Where Midler shines is in comedy. This was evident even in The Rose. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in that serious 1979 film as a self-destructive rock star, but it was the brief comic scene of her crashing a gay bathhouse that is the most memorable. It’s her 1980’s movie comedies that thrust her into the mainstream, and her campy revues that perfected her comic persona and cemented her adulation by her long-time (heavily gay) fans. Comic verve is one talent that can actually improve with age.

Where Bette Midler reaches something close to perfection in “Hello,Dolly” is in two show-stopping scenes that couldn’t be more different. There’s the over-the-top “Hello, Dolly” number at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, where she descends the stairs in a gown of screaming red sequins and baubles and a crown of red plumes — a vision of glamour, yes, but somehow a comic vision of glamour. It’s the number most audience members are likely to agree with the hyper waitstaff as they sing:

Oh, hello Dolly, well, hello Dolly

It’s so nice to have you back where you belong

 And then there is the odd scene near the end in a courtroom, where she is eating a meal. (I must have missed the explanation for this.) She dips a turkey leg into a gravy boat, but that’s not enough. She dips her fingers into the gravy, but that’s not enough. Oh, what the hell, she lifts the gravy boat up to her mouth and just drinks the whole thing. Her meal stops the show, literally. “Hello, Dolly” grinds to a halt, the entire cast on stage watching her eat. It’s like a scene from another show – Beckett? Carol Burnett? It might or might not be Dolly, but it’s all Bette, and it’s hilarious.

 Tickets to Hello, Dolly

Hello, Dolly

Book by Michael Stewart, based on “The Matchmaker” by Thornton Wilder; Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman

Directed by Jerry Zaks. Choreography by Warren Carlyle; set and costume design by Santo Loquasto. Lighting design by Natasha Katz, sound design by Scott Lehrer.

Cast Bette Midler, David Hyde Pierce, Donna Murphy (at certain performances), Gavin Creel, Kate Baldwin, Taylor Trensch, Will Burton, Melanie Moore, Jennifer Simard, Cameron Adams, Phillip Attmore, Giuseppe Bausilio, Justin Bowen, Elizabeth Earley, Taeler Elyse Cyrus, Leslie Donna Flesner, Jenifer Foote, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Stephen Hanna, Michael Hartung, Robert Hartwell, Amanda LaMotte, Analisa Leaming, Jess LeProtto, Ian Liberto, Kevin Ligon, Nathan Madden, Michael McCormick, Linda Mugleston, Hayley Podschun, Jessica Sheridan, Michaeljon Slinger, Christian Dante White, Branch Woodman, Ryan Worsing and Richard Riaz Yoder

Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes including one intermission.

Tickets: $59.00 (fat chance) to $229.00

It is worth noting that on Tuesdays beginning June 13, 2017, the role of Dolly Levi will be played by Donna Murphy. Donna Murphy will also perform the role of Dolly Levi on June 27 – July 2, July 5 – 9, Sunday evening – July 30, September 6 – 10, Sunday evening – October 15, Monday evening – October 30, November 1 – 5, Friday – November 24 @ 2pm,  and Sunday evening – January 7.

“Hello, Dolly” is scheduled to run through January 14, 2018


The Divine Miss M (Deluxe)


A View from A Broad

A Dolls House, Part 2, with Laurie Metcalf: Review, Pics

Laurie Metcalf is the fifteenth actress since 1889 to portray Nora Helmer on Broadway, the character in Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” who slams the door on her husband and three children. But she is the first Nora to knock on that door 15 years later, in Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” a clever, surprisingly amusing and thought-provoking new play performed to winning effect by a quartet of first-rate actors: Besides Metcalf, they are Chris Cooper as Nora’s husband Torvald, Jayne Houdyshell as her former nanny Anne Marie, and Condola Rashad as her now grown-up daughter Emmy….A modest theatrical piece, …Hnath’s play is basically just five two-character scenes that run a total of 90 minutes without an intermission…But the simplicity of A Doll’s House, Part 2 is deceptive…

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Brigitte Lacombe to see it enlarged



Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Broadway Review: Death by Chocolate

“The greatest tragedies were written by the Greeks and Shakespeare; neither knew chocolate.” That insight by Sandra Boynton (author of “Chocolate: The Consuming Passion”) helps explain why we must make do with such a cartoonishly dark chocolate dramatization as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” currently at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne.

The musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s macabre story stars a top-hatted Christian Borle (Something Rotten, Peter and the Starcatcher, etc.) as chocolate entrepreneur Willy Wonka and a trio of child actors who alternate in the role of 10-year-old Charlie Bucket, an impoverished, upstanding chocolate-lover who is the only one of five juveniles to survive a visit to Willy’s factory.

There might well be theatergoers over the age of ten who will get a sugar high from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” but I am not one of them. The overall effect manages to be too obvious and yet too bland. It doesn’t live up to the promise of its big sister, “Matilda,” which was much praised for its clever lyrics, dazzling stagecraft, and faithful stage adaptation of another one of Dahl’s stories. I would be hard put to use any of those adjectives to describe “Charlie.”  I have nothing especially negative to say about most of the performances, including Christian Borle’s, although nothing especially positive to say about the actors portraying the four insufferable children who, like Charlie, won the sought-after golden tickets to go on the chocolate factory tour — whose misbehavior during the tour one by one leads to their demise. Their ends are clearly meant to be clever, but don’t sparkle in the execution.   Director Jack O’Brien mercifully casts these roles with adults, but then mercilessly pushes them into broadness — not that I expect nuance from somebody drowning in chocolate, or bursting into goo, or ripped apart by giant squirrels.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I recognize that the hard work of many talented hands with impressive track records went into the refashioning of this show since its London debut four years ago. They even remade the exterior of the Lunt-Fontanne to look like Willy Wonka’s factory, complete with cutesy warning signs, and have installed an array of exotic (overpriced) chocolate treats for sale in the lobby. In the scheme of things, such effort should pay off, and it does. I suspect there are enough moments to make the show at least intermittently enjoyable for adult chaperones. What stood out for me:

~The Oompa Loompas, the workers in Wonka’s factery, cleverly devised by genius puppeteer Basil Twist as puppet bodies with the puppeteers’ actual heads in bright orange wigs, choreographed by Joshua Bergasse to hilarious and toe-tapping effect.

~Jackie Hoffman as the boozy mother (Mrs. Teavee) of one of the four insufferable children, social media-obsessed Mike Teavee (portrayed by Michael Wartella) Hoffman’s comic mischievousness has elevated every show in which I’ve seen her (from On The Town to Once Upon a Mattress to the just-ended Feud on FX.) Here she is also given one of the new songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong”, that attempt topical humor in order to appeal to adults. Sample lyric:

Here in the bosom of America
We love the things that make our country strong. We give our little sons
lots of love and lots of guns.
So, what could possibly go wrong?

~John Rubinstein — the original Pippin, Tony winner for “Children of a Lesser God,” unrecognizable as Grampa Joe, one of Charlie’s four wizened grandparents, the grumpy then exhilarated one who accompanies Charlie to the factory.

~The Candy Man, the song  by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley composed for the 1971 movie that Sammy Davis Jr. made an improbable hit.  Borle sings it at the very top of the show. He also sings another hit from that movie, “Pure Imagination.” Both songs are so familiarly tuneful as to be singer-proof (not that they needed protection from Borle), and they provide a lift, especially for those with a fondness for the movie.

A word about that movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” which was the first adaptation of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” starring Gene Wilder and distributed by Paramount. Roald Dahl was a prolific author of macabre novels for kids, which have been turned into more than a dozen movies, and now three musicals. But the 1971 movie reportedly so “infuriated” Dahl, presumably because of the liberties it took with his 1964 novel,  that he refused to allow any more adaptations of the book during his lifetime.

He died in 1990. In 2005, Warner Bros. made a new movie of the book, starring Johnny Depp.

I wonder what Dahl would have made of that movie, and of the new Broadway musical.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory album

Buy Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Buy Roald Dahl Collection – 15 Paperback Book Boxed Set

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Book by David Grieg, based on the book by Roald Dahl; Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman;
Directed by Jack O’Brien. Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse;
Scenic Design by Mark Thompson; Costume Design by Mark Thompson; Lighting Design by Japhy Weideman; Sound Design by Andrew Keister; Video and Projection Design: Jeff Sugg; Puppetry Design: Basil Twist; Hair and Wig Design by Campbell Young
Cast Christian Borle; Jake Ryan Flynn, Ryan Foust and Ryan Sell as Charlie in alternate performances; John Rubinstein, Emily Padgett, Kathy Fitzgerald, F. Michael Haynie, Ben Crawford, Emma Pfaeffle, Alan H. Green, Trista Dollison, Jackie Hoffman, Michael Wartella, Yesenia Ayala, Darius Barnes, Colin Bradbury, Jared Bradshaw, Ryan Breslin, Kristy Cates, Madeleine Doherty, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Stephanie Gibson, Talya Groves, Cory Lingner, Elliott Mattox, Monette McKay, Kyle Taylor Parker, Paul Slade Smith, Stephen Carrasco, Kristin Piro, Amy Quanbeck, Michael Williams, and Mikey Winslow

Six Degrees of Separation: Broadway Review, Pics

Near the end of Six Degrees of Separation, Allison Janney, portraying the first rich white victim of a young black con man, tells her husband that she doesn’t want to turn the experience into an anecdote, “with no teeth and a punch line you’ll mouth over and over for years to come.” But it was an anecdote that John Guare heard from friends, reportedly at a dinner party, that inspired him to write Six Degrees of Separation in the first place, and his 1990 play, now being revived on Broadway for the first time, in fact feels like the theatrical equivalent of a dinner party anecdote. It is funny – sometimes very funny — well crafted, coated with a patina of sparkling sophistication, even at times pointed and almost poignant. It’s an enjoyable entertainment. But it does not add up to the significant experience that Allison Janney’s character feels. And, while the play touches on such matters as race and class and the struggle for connection in modern life, it does not offer the profound insights that the playwright evidently intends.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

Anastasia on Broadway: Review, Video, Photographs

In dramatizing the legend surrounding the youngest daughter of the last Czar, the show has created a new villain, a Soviet official named Gleb….Anastasia winds up promoting nostalgia for the last reign of the Romanovs, those elegantly attired autocrats who sponsored pogroms against the Jews and violently suppressed popular Russian calls for democracy.
..the real strength of this production – its beautiful design and its wonderful cast…Given the pleasures in this escapist fare largely geared to children, few parents will probably care that we have to endure lines like “Anya survived for a reason: to heal what happened or Russia will be a wound that never heals.”

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Tickets to Anastasia

Click on any photograph by Matthew Murphy to see it enlarged



Groundhog Day Musical Review: Indestructible Andy Karl, From Jerk to Jack-of-all-Trades

So there was Andy Karl, the star of “Groundhog Day,” on stage in what’s supposed to be a seduction scene, but he was proudly showing off the elaborate black knee-brace on his bare outstretched leg, sticking a glass of Scotch on top of it. The brace was the only visible sign of the accident that injured Karl three days before the opening, causing him to miss several performances on doctor’s orders. But here he was back again in spectacular form, adding this cheeky bit of improvisation in an inventive, energetic and wholly winning performance that is the main reason to see this musical adaptation of the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray.
Like the movie, the musical tells the story of TV weatherman Phil Connors who, in a metaphysical twist, is suddenly forced to relive over and over again a single day, Groundhog Day, February 2, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, an actual small town that turns Groundhog Day into an annual celebration. That celebration is built around a groundhog named Phil, who either sees his shadow or doesn’t, thus predicting whether spring will come six weeks early.
It’s not as easy to predict who will like “Groundhog Day,” a musical built around Andy Karl as Phil Connors, despite the Olivier Awards for Best Musical and Best Lead Male performance that the show received in London.
The story, with a book by Danny Rubin, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with the late Harold Ramis, is fairly faithful to a movie that I love, and that I have watched, um, repeatedly. Yet the translation to the stage presents logistical problems that the theatrical team solves with only varying degrees of success. The score by Tim Minchin, best known for Matilda, is full of clever, saucy lyrics and music that ranges from rock to jazz to country to funk to folk to lovely ballads. Yet some of these original songs seem inserted jukebox style rather than flowing organically from the action. Director Matthew Warchus has assembled a 20-member supporting cast comprised mostly of reliable Broadway regulars, and hired the same exuberant choreographer Peter Darling and the same design team that wowed audiences at Matilda, including Paul Kieve, a master of special effects. Yet supporting cast, choreographer and designers are sometimes employed in what one can describe as cartoon extravaganzas – technically impressive fast footwork and flashy stage effects that fill both eyes and ears but reach neither mind nor heart (nor funnybone!) All I can say about “Groundhog Day” without ambivalence is that Andy Karl’s performance is one that nobody should miss.

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

It’s intriguing to see the evolution of Karl’s reaction to yet another repeated day in Punxsutawney – shocked, hostile, destructive, hedonistic, suicidal, resigned…until finally, he becomes enlightened: He takes the time to learn speak French, play piano, recite the almanac…and to learn about the lives of the individual townspeople of Punxsutawney, and to care about them.
The creative team makes a show of caring about the townspeople too; the most obvious example is their giving solo songs to people Phil has treated dismissively — Nancy (Rebecca Faulkenberry), a beautiful blonde who feels doomed to being mistreated by men ( “Playing Nancy”), and to Ned Ryerson (John Sanders), Phil’s nerdy high school classmate who now sells insurance (“Night Will Come.”) In and of themselves, these are lovely songs, but they are not enough to turn the characters from Phil’s cartoony adjuncts into people we feel we know.
The one character who gets her full due, while also serving as one of Phil’s foil, is the one portrayed sympathetically by Barrett Doss — Rita, the associate producer who has accompanied him on the trip to Punxsutawney from their home studio (which is apparently in Ohio.) A highlight of the musical is the scenes that chronicle Phil’s courtship of Rita. On each first date he does something that makes her slap him in the face, but day after day, he tries to fix his faux-pas of the previous first date.
In “One Day,” one of Rita’s several songs, we see her ambivalence towards even the possibility of love:

One day, some day, my prince may come
but it doesn’t seem likely
and even if he came and he liked me
it’s likely
he’d be
not quite
my type

The song continues, after a scene in which Phil asks what she wants in a man. She sings:

He’ll be tender but tough, and smart but not smug
and attentive but not fawning and he’ll smell good in the morning
and he’ll dance.

Phil interrupts: “This is a guy we’re talking about, right?”

This mix of mockery and heart was central to the success of the movie, a tone it navigated with great skill. The musical is not always as successful in doing so.
As in the movie, there is a series of scenes in which Phil, driven almost mad by the day’s repetition, tries to kill himself. At one point, he electrocutes himself with a toaster in a bathtub, and we instantly see him wake up the next morning in bed — one of the several terrific stage effects designed by Paul Kieve. But we also see ensemble members commit suicide in a macabre array of ways, while Karl sings a Minchin song entitled Hope:

Never give up hope
Never let yourself be defeated. if you tried it once, you can try again

The problem here is that the song is a soaring, tuneful ballad, and rather than funny, as the juxtaposition is surely meant to be, it comes off as confused and tasteless.

It must be said that Karl’s performance is untouched by this occasional tonal dissonance. He manages the transition from cynicism to sentiment credibly. He is also able to juggle admirably the comedy, romance and demanding physicality of the role. In doing so, Andy Karl establishes himself as a leading man in a way that his eight previous turns on Broadway have not, as good as they were; his last two were as Rocky Balboa in Rocky and the muscle-headed boy-toy in On The Twentieth Century.
Karl also drives home the most important themes of “Groundhog Day,” which resemble those of “Our Town,” albeit nearly overshadowed by state-of-the-art Broadway stagecraft — the everyday is wondrous if you take the time to pay attention; nobody takes the time to pay attention.


 Preview the score

Groundhog Day
August Wilson Theater
Book by Danny Rubin, based on the screenplay by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis; Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin
Directed by Matthew Warchus. Choreography by Peter Darling. Scenic Design by Rob Howell; Costume Design by Rob Howell; Lighting Design by Hugh Vanstone; Sound Design by Simon Baker; Video Design by Andrzej Goulding; Hair Design by Campbell Young Associates; Make-Up Design by Campbell Young Associates; illusions by Paul Kieve
Cast Andy Karl, Barrett Doss, Rebecca Faulkenberry, John Sanders, Andrew Call, Raymond J. Lee, Heather Ayers, Kevin Bernard, Gerard Canonico, Rheaume Crenshaw, Michael Fatica, Katy Geraghty, Camden Gonzales, Jordan Grubb, Taylor Iman Jones, Tari Kelly, Josh Lamon, Joseph Medeiros, Sean Montgomery, William Parry, Jenna Rubaii, Vishal Vaidya, Travis Waldschmidt and Natalie Wisdom

Running time: 2 hours and 35 minutes, including one intermission.

Tickets: $69.50 to $159. General Rush and digital lottery: $40. Premium: $219