26 September 2009

more KRISTINA videos

William Goldman is oft credited as coining the phrase--as it relates to the theater (and film) "Nobody knows anything."  Though part of me want to give a Bev Weston monologue about how everyone has thought that, but William Goldman wrote it down, I (a) respect Mr. Goldman and (b) agree.  Case in point, after more or less sleeping through KRISTINA, I have nevertheless become OBSESSED with it's leading lady (Helen Sjöholm), and the few but notable other highlights of the show.  Even after seeing a show, I do not necessarily know what kind of effect it will have on me, let alone the rest of the world.  Does this mean perhaps a Broadway production is looming?  I would be surprised.  Very surprised.  But you never know. 

Some videos I found this morning.

From a concert done in Minnosota.  In the original Swedish, with English subtitles.  To be honest, I prefer it this way.

From that same concert, the song someone's brother sings after he comes back from the California Gold Rush "a broken man".  I forgot to mention this number in my previous post, but it was actually quite effective at C Hall.

Here's another Swedish version of "You Have to Be There" (or, in Swedish, "Du Maste Finnas").  This is from the mid-90s (when the show was actually new), and I think she sounds the best of all the clips I've seen.  Though I have to say, her voice really rang out something special live. 

Another song Kristina sings, from that same concert.  I'm not sure when this happens in the show.  But it's lovely.  And the Minnesotans find it very moving, apparently. 

And finally, a bootleg of Lady Sjöholm the performance I caught at Carnegie Hall.  The video quality is not great (his seat was even worse than mine), and the sound leaves much to be desired as well, but it only seems fair to give at least of glimpse of the very thing I've been talking about for the past two days.  Though it makes horribly things happen with the mic on this guy's camera (i.e. be prepared to turn the volume down real fast), check out the audience response.  And, for the record, her red dress was stunning.


A gold star to anyone who have actually listened, in full, to all 5 versions I have shared between both KRISTINA posts.   More MN Concert clips, and Cardegie clips can be found here (at least, for now).

25 September 2009

KRISTINA in Concert at Carnegie Hall

When I had "studied" abroad in London, my Drama Crit (I think that's what the class was called...we saw plays, and talked about them) professor put a ban on the word "boring" when describing a play we saw.  The rational was that "boring" was a cop-out word that students would hide behind without having to come up with anything more specific to say.  I have tried to follow this maxim throughout life, in addition to eliminating "um" and "like" from my vernacular.

Um, like, without using "boring" I'll have a hard time describing KRISTINA.

To be fair, I expected this to be the case.  After all, KRISTINA is about a community that emigrates from Sweden to Minnesota.  In 1850.  That's the type of thing you expect to be long, slow moving, incredibly earnest, and most likely, pretentious.  So why would I attend this 2-night only concert event at Carnegie Hall in the first place?  Because KRISTINA was written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, the BB of ABBA.  I really, REALLY like ABBA.  And though I ultimately think CHESS never adds up to less than the sum of its parts, any show that brings "Nobody's Side" to the universe can be all bad.

And KRISTINA wasn't all bad.  Part of what hindered it, no doubt, was the concert presentation.  Though I can't imagine sitting through a longer version of the show, the transitions were most awkward, with all sorts of plot points being yada-yada'd.  For example, Kristina's husband sings a moving ballad about not wanting her to die when she contracts scurvy on the boat from Sweden.  Cut to, Swedish peasants (including a now robustly healthy Kristina) singing about the charming city folk at Battery Park.  Previous to that, there is a bit of narration in which we learn that one of Kristina's daughters dies from eating too much porridge.  Huh?  In the second act someone comes back from the gold rush with a bag of money. Kristina's husband (and the ensemble) to sing something about it being "Wildcat money", which I guess means it's no good.  I actually think that song might make sense, I just didn't understand a single word Russell Watson said or sang.  Anyway, the poor kid with the Wildcat Money dies in between songs not long after.  They also sing about lice, a new stove, miscarriages, trees, flowers, and whatever the ensemble said (also had trouble hearing their words).

Much of the music was recicative and/or a mediocre version of "The Mountain Duet" from CHESS.  But there a few nice moments.  The orchestra, led by Paul Gemignani, was, of course, excellent throughout.  Kevin Odekrik, as someone's younger brother (he was the one with that Wildcat money) sings a pleasant song in Act I comparing his restless spirit to a stream.  I said it was pleasant, not original.  Louise Pitre as Kristina's mother/a former prostitute (I think) had a couple of songs to sing.  I didn't think they were all that interesting, but she was great, and really sold that death-by-porridge-overdose narration.  But the highlight of the evening was whenever Helen Sjöholm opened her mouth.  She's a big deal in Sweden and, now, she's a big deal here.  About a third of the audience gave her a standing ovation after her big Act II number "You Have to Be There".  Here is a demo of that song she recorded for the BBC.  The singing starts 1m15s in.  Her voice is simultaneously deep and warm and bright and stirring.  Live, in Carnegie Hall, the performance was legitimately thrilling.

(Sidebar: At some point Emily Skinner/Alice Ripley also sang this song.  They do a nice job.)

 Here is Helen singing what 90% of the audience wishes they were hearing her sing last night, something from CHESS

22 September 2009

NIGHT MUSIC Cast Announced

I don't even know what I will think about any more.  Playbill.com has just announced casting for the upcomming Trevor Nunn-directed revival of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC.

Unconfirmed rumors that Catherine Zeta-Jones would play Desiree and Angela Lansbury would play Mme Armfeldt have now been confirmed.  I am so excited to see Angie in this role I could just about die.  I may take a mortgage on my apartment (even though I rent) just so I can be one of those crazy types who sees a show 20 times.  She. Will. Be. Fantastic.  And I'm warming up to the idea of Zeta-Jones.  I think she's be glamorous, elegant and sexy, and though I wish I could've seen a Victoria Clark or a Donna Murphy take on the role, I'm willing to let Catherine surprise me.  Who knows, this could launch a whole new phase of her career.

Other interesting bits of casting (and my thoughts):

Alexander Hanson as Fredrik Egerman--Hanson did the part in London.  I don't know anything about him, but I've had a devil of a time thinking of an actor who would be appropriate or interesting in this role, so perhaps it's just as well that Nunn is sticking with something he knows works.

Aaron Lazar as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm--I was SO sure it was going to be Matt Kudish.  I mean, this is the role he was born to play.  Lazar is far younger and prettier than I imagine the arrogant and booring Carl-Magnus to be, which leads me to believe T. Nizzle is going in a different direction with this character.  In any case, I've been a fan of Lazar ever since I saw him in LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, so he's welcome in my book.

Erin Davie as Countess Charlotte Malcolm--I'm kinda WTFing over this one.  Yes, she's younger than I expect Charlotte to be (but as a pairing with Lazar I guess it makes sense), but I'm more concerned about Davie's ability to inhabit Charlotte's wry sense of humor.  Davie didn't particularly impress me in GREY GARDENS or APPLAUSE, and Charlotte is one of my favorite roles in the musical theater cannon.  I'm ever so curious to see how her and Lazar's characters are interpreted in this production, because right now it is pretty far out of my realm of comprehension.

Leigh Ann Larkin as Petra--Now we're making some good ol' fashioned sense again.  She was fantastic as Dainty June in the LuPone GYPSY and will sing. the. shit. out of "The Miller's Son"

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Henrik Egerman--I googled his ass, and he just graduated from college.  And is appearing on Broadway with Angela-fucking-Lansbury.  I hate him/wonder if he's single.

Ramona Mallory as Anne Egerman--Her mom (Victoria Mallory) was the original Anne, and had an unnatural ability to hit high notes, so Sondheim basically wrote the part out of most human beings' range (which he has gone on record as regretting).  Perhaps Ramona has a genetic disposition to singing up in the stratosphere?  Let's hope.  Also, I'm pretty sure she worked at a trashy New Hampshire summer theater with a friend of mine (who has since given up acting to go to Law School).  

I am probably more excited about this show than any other coming to Broadway at the moment.  Can I really wait until November?

14 September 2009


The most shocking bit of Broadway news in awhile is the recent announcement that AVENUE Q, set to close this weekend, will instead re-open at NEW WORLD STAGES off-Broadway.  NEW WORLD STAGES, as a venue, is rather curious--shows either go there to die (ROOMS, FLAMINGO COURT, SIDD) or live forever (ALTAR BOYS, NAKED BOYS SINGING, GAZILLION BUBBLE SHOW).  I'm curious (as are well all) as to which category AVE Q finds itself.  And what will it mean for the worth of a show's "Broadway" status?  After all, many people come into town and they want to see a BROADWAY show.  An off-Broadway show just isn't going to fill that niche.  But can a show's Broadway reputation and branding follow it elsewhere?  It certainly does on the road, why not in NYC?  Though it also raises a few potentially ethical issues:  Off-Broadway actors make less than a third of those on Broadway, but will the producers see their cut diminish to that extreme?  Regardless, it is a fascinating experiment, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out in the months--and years--to come.

13 September 2009


I'm not the world's largest fan of Cabaret songs.  They tend to sound alike to me, and with no context surrounding them, they can feel vague and a little shallow.  Yes, this is a sweeping generalization based, no doubt, on hearing more bad examples than good ones.  Perhaps if more were akin to the following, I would be a bigger fan.

Recorded by Audra McDonald on her HOW GLORY GOES album (which is probably the finest album of its kind), "I Won't Mind" (music by Jeff Blumenkrantz, lyric by Annie Kessler and Libby Saines) is a masterful bit of storytelling.  In just 4 minutes, a rich and complicated woman is created.  I believe it was Tommy Tune who used to say that, in a musical, "you have to deal them out slowly."  I love how the details of "Lizzie's" relationship with the child to whom she sings are doled out bit by bit, verse by verse.  I also love that--unlike 87% of other such songs--this isn't to or about a romantic interest, past or present.  If you've never heard this before, you're in for a treat.  If you have, it's still glorious.

09 September 2009

Speaking of Idestructable

I don't know if any score has been more parodied and covered than WEST SIDE STORY.  And the thing it, is always works (and is usually funny), because the show (and that score) is so damn good.  So good.  Here MTV has a go at it.  (The fact that I cannot tell you who any of these people are makes me feel old.)


And, while we're at it, remember this?

05 September 2009


On Sun 23-August, it was announced that the upcoming Broadway revival of BYE BYE BIRDIE would cut the act two "Shiner Ballet". (Yes, for those of you not as well versed in musical theater, there is a musical which features an act two "Shriner Ballet".) Gina Gershon was quoted as saying it "felt a little too gang rapey".

Almost immediately the show-queen sector of the internet was a-tizzy. Is a 1960s musical really too "risque" for 2009 audiences? Could Gina Gershon not handle the dance? If high schoolers have been pulling it off for 50 years, why can't Broadway? The "scandal" got to the point where Roundabout (who is presenting the revival) got their PR people to get Playbill to run an article in which Director/Choreographer Robert Longbottom details what is changing for the revival and why. Apparently (though conspiracy theorists may not "buy it"), the cut was made for dramaturgical reasons (i.e. there actually is no reason for a musical to feature an act two "Shriner Ballet"), and not a lack of talent or imagination. From the article it does seem like this is a fairly thoughtful production of BYE BYE BIRDIE. Will it be fun? That remains to be seen. But I am willing to let it open before passing judgment.

What Shinergate revealed was the big ol' bullseye on BIRDIE's back. Critics of the revival that hasn't happened yet have commented that the book is old fashioned and creaky, as a means of illustrating why the show is unfit for a 2009 Broadway production. Yet these same critics suddenly think Gower Champion helmed WEST SIDE STORY the minute a five minute dance routine gets the ax in order to make the show feel less dated. Though 5 days away from first preview, but BIRDIE's reviews have already been written.

SPIDERMAN, TURN OFF THE DARK, which isn't even really in rehearsal yet, seems doomed for a similar fate. Though no one has seen anything of the show (and those who have heard a bit of the music seem to think that its okay) it is ruthlessly villainized in the press because of its alleged $45mil price-tag and its temporary shut-down as more funds were raised. Since when was being expensive a crime? Or having difficulty raising money? And why, as people seemingly invested in the growth of the American Theater--both artistically and in terms of relevance--are we so quick to attack anything that theoretically (because we are judging based only on what we hear might be the case) exists outside of our arbitrary guidelines for what is and is not acceptable? Everyone has the right to one's opinion, but shouldn't the show be finished before it is judged? If we want interesting new work geared towards intelligent and adventurous audiences, we need to be genuintely open minded and adventurous, even if that means potentially liking Gina Gershon as a shrinerless Rosie.

01 September 2009

A Great Song is Indestructable

Remember the mid-90s, when we thought it was fun was to have punk-ish girl bands (like Letters to Cleo) cover showtunes in commercials? (I distinctly remember versions of "I Feel Pretty" and "Thank Heaven for Little Girls"). What these advertisments ultimately proved to me is that some theater songs are simply indestructible.

The primary goal of a song should be to service the show it's in. But there should be a certain double consciousness of theater music. Theater music used to be pop music, and before OKLAHOMA the shows were just frothy excuses to produce hit "singles"; long-form music videos. Post-OKLAHOMA, the disparate elements of a musical had to work for a common purpose, telling a single story or exploring a single theme. Even if a theater song of today is not (most likely) going to be a "pop" single (which is no one's fault, industries change, Ethan Mordden: please relax), there is the need for songs to serve the show but also stand alone outside of the show. Not every song in every show. And some may argue stand-alone songs are not necessary or even appropriate at all. But for a show to permeate, it needs a single musical moment you can remember and reproduce. A song you can play for someone--or perform on The View--that will endear the listener to its parent show. Quickly. A "single". And these "singles" are the most likely to be "indestructible".

So what does an "indestructible" theater song have? A clear idea and structure. The clear idea is usually summed up in the following equation: Title + why? = What the Song is About. "I Feel Pretty". She sure does feel pretty. Why? Because she's in love with a pretty wonderful boy. "I Miss the Mountains". Why? Because those meds are fucking her up. The structure gives the lyric and the melody a shape and processes the information for you so you, the listener, absorb it quickly and remember it.

Here is a truly fabulous, "indestructible" song. Liza Minelli and The Pet Shop Boys performing "Losing My Mind" from FOLLIES. The craft of Sondheim's song is basically perfect, moving through the singer's day ("The sun comes up", "the coffee cup", "all afternoon", "I dim the lights") putting a slight twist on the 'Why' ("you said you loved me, or where you just being kind?") at the end. Suddenly it goes from a song of someone who loved and lost to someone who may have been in a one-sided love the whole time. Of course, the Pet Shop Boys version doesn't really play on the deeper subtext of the show. But the song still works. Because it is indestructible.