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Hey Look Me Over Review: Encores! 25th anniversary concert

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Encores! concert series at City Center is doing something in “Hey Look Me Over” that it’s never done before – and, judging from the results, probably shouldn’t do again.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.

Now, it’s impossible to dismiss a show with such a starry talented cast, including Bebe Neuwirth singing and dancing to Noel Coward’s Sail Away and Vanessa Williams singing and dancing from Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s “Jamaica.” Its delights were enough to make me glad I was there.
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Hundred Days Review: The Bengsons’ Concert About Their Love and Anxiety

In “Hundred Days,” a musically engaging autobiographical concert by The Bengsons, Abigail and Shaun Bengson tell us they met one another at “the first rehearsal of a massive anti-folk folk-punk old-timey neo soul band,” and they were married three weeks later. Their relationship terrified both of them – shy Shaun because he feared Abigail would leave him; anxious Abigail because when she was 15 years old she had had a dream that she would meet the love of her life, but that he would only have 100 days left to live.
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Viva Broadway Concert: Watch Latinx Stars Mandy Gonzalez, Lin-Manuel Miranda, John Leguizamo, Ana Villafane, et al

With Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) and John Leguizamo (“Latin History for Morons”) serving as co-hosts, the Broadway League presented its annual Viva Broadway concert Friday evening, as a kickoff to Hispanic Heritage Month, showcasing Mandy Gonzalez, who portrays Angelica Schuyler on Hamilton, singing a new song by Miranda, “Fearless,” as well as performances by:
Rodney Ingram, who’s playing Raoul in the Phantom of The Opera, and was raised in the tiny fishing village of Sayulita, Mexico;

Emma Pfaeffle, who is in the cast of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and is a Cuban-American born and raised in Los Angeles;

Ana Villafañe, who is of Cuban and Salvadoran descent, and was the star of “On Your Feet,” portraying Gloria Estefan.

“This is for the Dreamers,” Gonzalez, whose father was born in Mexico, says in the videos below, before belting out the title song of her forthcoming album.

 

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Tickets to “Hamilton

Tickets to “Latin History for Morons”

Tickets to “Phantom Of The Opera” 

Tickets to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

 Tickets to “On Your Feet”

Bubbly Black Girl, Oak vs. Mandy, and the Continuing Relevance of Race on Broadway (and the World)

 

On the day I saw Nikki James give a star turn in “Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin,” the Off Center Encores two-day revival of the musical by Kirsten Childs that is in part about the challenges facing a black performer, the producers of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet” announced that Mandy Patinkin would take over the role of Pierre for three weeks starting August 14, replacing Okierete “Oak” Onaodowan. Oak Smash, as he’s nicknamed, an actor who was in the original cast of “Hamilton,” had assumed the role just on July 11th (taking over, after an unexpected delay, from Josh Groban) and was scheduled to perform through September 4. But, in an effort to boost ticket sales, which had declined after Josh Groban’s departure, the producers were ending Oak’s already brief run three weeks early.
Most publications hurrahed Patinkin’s return to Broadway after 17 years. But Broadway Black observed: “…the abrupt replacement of [Oak’s} role to boost ticket sales raises questions about how Black actors are valued and supported within Broadway.”
Prominent voices agreed on social media

(Tony nominee for Shuffle Along)

In response to the outcry, Mandy Patinkin announced, in an e-mail to the Times and a series of four Tweets, that he was withdrawing from the role:
“My understanding of the show’s request that I step into the show is not as it has been portrayed and I would never accept a role knowing it would harm another actor. I hear what members of the community have said and I agree with them. I am a huge fan of Oak and I will, therefore, not be appearing in the show.”

But Oak has announced he’s still leaving August 13.

oak1

oak2

The controversy gave added resonance to Kirsten Child’s semi-autobiographical musical, making ‘Bubbly Black Girl’ if anything even more relevant now than it was when it debuted at Playwrights Horizons in 2000 starring LaChanze.

Nikki James portrays Viveca Stanton, nicknamed

Bubbly, a sunny middle class black child living in L.A. withdreams of being a dancer – and also of being white, like her favorite doll, blonde, blue-eyed Chitty Chatty. Nearly everything in her world as we see her growing up encourages her in her second dream, if not her first. She learns about the bombing death of four little girls in Birmingham from Gregory (Korey Jackson), the little boy next door, who taunts her that she looks just as ugly as one of the victims. A teacher tells a black classmate, “act your age and not your color.” A police officer accosts her and Gregory for no reason on the street outside her home, singing a chilling refrain:

You have the right to remain silent
Remain silent remain silent
Remain silent remain silent
Hands up against the wall
You’re about to take a fall

Even her mother, who talks about black pride, insists she straighten her hair.
In dance class, Bubbly gets an early lesson in the racial politics of casting. The teacher, deliciously named Miss Pain, picks the light-skinned Yolanda to dance the princess. Bubbly is cast as the dancing Bramble Bush. Her classmate Emily had warned her in song:

You’re pathetic if you’re figurin’ that darker skin
will ever help you win
Now you can be the court jester,
the scullery maid, or the monster

When she moves to New York to become a dancer – “a place where f—ked-up folks can make their dreams come true” — director Bob (Josh Davis) tells her during an audition “Don’t go white on me, Bubbly.”
Bubbly then shares with us her inner monologue: “Okay – don’t panic – black, black, black, black, black, black…lot’s of black people in the South …okay…Southern accent, but not like a slave…’cause If I do get this job, I don’t want to offend the few black people that are gonna be in the audience any more than I have to…”

Her blackened second try brings down the house.

By the end of “Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin,” Bubbly sheds her ever-smiling persona, and her nickname. After another audition in which she is no longer trying so hard to please other people, Director Bob tells her: “For this show, I need you to give me something a little less…dark.”

She replies: “You know, for the longest time, I’ve been trying to do exactly that— be a little less dark. But I can’t run away from who I am anymore. And I don’t want to.”

Viveca winds up opening her own dance studio. Kirsten Childs, who danced for Bob Fosse on Broadway and on tour (Director Bob is an obvious, satirical stand-in for Fosse), has become a composer and playwright, whose latest musical “Bella An American Tall Tale” was at Playwrights Horizon this season,)

One of the most remarkable aspects of Childs’ debut musical is that the racism that Bubbly witnesses and experiences is woven into a show that is full of satire, given hilarious expression in this production by the director, Robert O’Hara, who knows a thing or two about satire (as a playwright of such edgy comedies about race as Bootycandy and Barbecue.) But the satire is folded into an all-around entertainment. Childs melodic songs range from jazz to funk to gospel to Broadway ballads. And though Off-Center Encores is supposed to be a concert version of old Off-Broadway shows, another highlight of this production was Byron Easley’s choreography.

The show at City Center, in another words, was a triumph and a delight in every way. And, like Oak in The Great Comet, it’s a shame it had such a brief run.

 

Watch Spamilton in Bryant Park

The cast of the Hamilton spoof, Spamilton, performed at the Broadway in Bryant Park concert this week a medley including “Lin-Manuel As Hamilton,” “1776,” “What Did You Miss,” and “Rap Battle” — Hamilton tunes by Lin-Manuel Miranda with Spamilton lyrics by Gerard Alessandrini, best-known until now for Forbidden Broadway.

Watch the three videos beginning with the opening number from the show, which spoofs the opening number of Hamilton:

How does a whipper snapper student of rap
and a Latin
trapped in the middle of a manhattan

Flat win
Broadway accolades
while other writers kiss
the corporate dollar
grow up to be a hip-hop op’ra scholar?

 

This blue collar
shining beacon
puerto rican
got a lot farther
by being a lot smarter
by stretching rhymes harder by being a trend-starter.

 

The second song spoofs Thomas Jefferson’s song “What’d I Miss?” (This one is close-captioned.)

So what’d you miss? What’d you miss?

The lyrics go by so fast You are in the abyss

I see you sittin’ there and looking befuddled I guess my diction is sloppy or muddled

We’re telling a complex plot

In the third video, “Rap Battle,” Nicole Vanessa Ortiz sets what must be a world speed record for her rapping.

The lyrics in the video above include “Lin-Manuel” rapping:

I am not throwin’ away my spot
I am not throwin’ away my spot
I compose like Debussy
But it comes out like BIG Juicy
And I love rapping the way he taught

I am not stoppin’ the way I rap
Till I turn showtunes upside down

 

I reviewed Spamilton when it opened at the Triad. Now it’s at the 47th Street Theater — down the block from Hamilton.

The cast members performing in Bryant Park:

Tristan J. Shuler, Chris Anthony Giles, Cameron Amandus, Nicole Vanessa Ortiz, Aaron Michael Ray, and Fred Barton on the piano.

Watch Immigrant Artists Sing and Dance

Watch the video below for highlights of the concert that concluded the Immigrant Arts in America Summit. The summit was a two-day event that included panel discussions, a speech by John Leguizamo, the formation of the Immigrant Arts Coalition — and the free concert at the Robert Wagner Jr. Park, the stage framed against a backdrop of New York Harbor, between the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

The dancers, singers, and musicians came from around the world (The I’s alone: Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Ivory Coast.)

Groups participating:
Amerike The Golden Land band from National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene
Kimberley Locke
Kaleidoscope Russian youth folkdance group
Cast of “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie” from the Irish Rep
The Soledad Ensemble
Kairos Italy Theater
Turkish American Repertory Theater
The Cumbe Center for African and Diaspora Dance (Kotchegna Dance Company)

Watch Groundhog Day at Bryant Park, 3 Songs

Andy Karl, Barrett Doss and more than a dozen other cast members of the Broadway musical “Groundhog Day” performed three songs at the Broadway at Bryant Park lunchtime concert today: Nobody Cares, If I Had My Time Again, and Seeing You