Saturday, October 27, 2012

Luke's Reviews: Cabaret

I love Joel Grey, Alan Cumming, Bob Fosse, John Kander, and Fred Ebb, so by all accounts and purposes I should love Cabaret.  However, for some reason I don't.  Or at least I didn't.  But the production by Kennesaw State University that I saw a few nights ago made me see the show in an entirely new light, and breathed a life into it that I never knew it had.  Some of the content in the show was, as I expected, a bit risque for my tastes, and there was some unappreciated language.  But this is one of the few shows where I walked out thinking that every, "nasty" aspect was absolutely necessary.  The grit, the dirt, and the smut of the show was all absolutely necessary and absolutely powerful.  I always told people that Cabaret is interesting because the songs have nothing to do with the plot, I learned at this performance that that is not true at all (shame on you 1972 movie for disillusioning me so).  The songs were powerful, purposeful, and doggone catchy.  Not only that, but the performers were superb, the set was exciting, the costumes evocative, even the lighting was noticeably commendable. So I say bravo to Kennesaw State University and their mind-changing production of:

The Show
As I said before, I just didn't like Cabaret.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, the show is about life in Germany as Hitler was rising to power.  We see this troubled time through the eyes of, an American writer, a British lounge singer, a German Jew, a Nazi sympathizer, and a disturbingly perverted Emcee (among others).  This plot line is underscored by the songs sung in the Kit-Kat club, a popular haunt for those in Germany who love to party.  It was written by theater legends John Kander and Fred Ebb (Chicago, Curtains, & The Scottsboro Boys).  The original production of the show won 8 Tony Awards (including best score and best musical) and the 1998 revival won 4 more (Including best Revival and three of the four actor awards).  This revival also has the honor of being the third longest running revival in Broadway history (behind Oh! Calcutta and Chicago).  As for the cast they are mostly people who aren't too famous (with the exception of the 1972 movie in which the lead roles of Sally Bowles and Cliff Bradshaw were played by Hollywood stars Liza Minnelli and Micheal York) except for the role of the Emcee.  It seems just about everyone has played the Emcee at one time or another.  Joel Grey (Wicked, 2011 Revival of Anything Goes) who originated the role in a Tony Award winning performance, Alan Cumming (who was propelled to stardom with this role), "my buddy Raul" Esparza (Leap of Faith, Tick...Tick...Boom, 2006 Revival of Company), Adam Pascal (RENT, Aida), Norbert Leo Butz (Wicked, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Catch Me If You Can), Johnathan Price (Miss Saigon), Neil Patrick Harris (2004 Revival of Assassins, 2012 Revival of Company), John Stamos (known for his TV work on ER and Full House), and countless others have played the Emcee at one point or another.  After seeing the show I absolutely understand why, the role is so juicy and I also see why the show was such a success.

The Production Team:

  • SET DESIGN -- The set was actually really cool.  The stage was pretty much the set-up of the nightclub where most of the musical numbers took place.  There were tables on the stage (both for actors and audience members to sit in), a wooden stage (on top of the actual stage) and a spiral staircase leading to a balcony type thing where some members of the orchestra played.  But the coolest part of the set were the doors.  Behind this stage and below the scaffolding balcony, there were a series of doors that were hung from a track that they could slide on and off stage.  It's tough to describe, but it made the scene changes kind of exciting actually.  The set was really good for the cast size there was, nobody ever seemed cramped, and the staged didn't swallow up the actors when there were only a few of them on.  It was really one of the best, most inventive sets I've seen in a long time.
  • COSTUME DESIGN -- I was actually really impressed with the costumes.  The Kit-kat Girls' costumes weren't great (I wouldn't want my sister wearing one), but they weren't as bad as they really could have been.  The Emcees costume (or should I say, the 10-20 he had to wear throughout the show) was really cool and, what impressed me the most, not exactly like either of the Broadway productions.  Aside from those the costumes were mostly period, and nothing really noteworthy (except for the Gorilla suit...which was a nice touch).
  • LIGHTING DESIGN -- Usually the lighting is nothing too exciting, but in this production I really noticed it because it added to the scenes.  For one thing, the reddish tint that illuminated the stage during most of Sally's and Emcee's songs, helped to differentiate whether we were in the Kit-kat club or a small German apartment   I also loved that on the final beat of the show (If you've heard the finale you know it ends on a huge orchestration note) the entire stage was lit up as if no show was going on at all.  It was so great in showing how "the cabaret" was over and real life was going to have to start.  But by far the best lighting moment in the show was in the Act I finale.  I can't really describe it much, but the lights would flash at the audience and the entire ensemble would stomp in sync and it had this incredibly powerful, suspense-building building effect that left the entire audience enraptured.
  • EVERYTHING ELSE -- The other production elements of this show were good, but didn't necessarily stand out.  The choreography was good, but the songs and the setting don't really lend themselves to big dance numbers.  The blocking was also good, but the best blocking doesn't look like blocking at all, so it doesn't really stand out when you watch the show.  I should point out that one really good blocking choice was the curtain call.  The way it was staged, none of the actors smiled, waved, or looked at all happy to have taken part in the horror of the finale (if you've seen the finale of the show you'll know why).  It gave the audience time to reflect on the scene that just took place and was really a chilling effect.
The Cast:

  • Chase T. (Emcee) -- I loved this guy even before he opened his mouth.  The little slot in the door opened and we saw his eyes peeking out and I'm thinking "oooooooh, this could be awesome".  Then he began singing "Wilkomen" and I just wanted to stand up and applaud right there.  Every second he was on stage (whether he was in the spot light or not) made the show better.  His voice was spectacular, but it was his acting and his unbridled energy and courage on stage that was so amazing to watch.  Honestly, one of the best scenes in the entire show is when he simply sat on the darkened stage (with a spotlight around him) and listened to a little boy sing on a phonograph.  It was so beautiful, and so haunting watching his face and what this song meant to him.  Even the stark changes of his character from the absurdity of "If You Could See Her", to the passion of "I Don't Care Much", to the intensity of the "Finale" were just spellbinding.  After being blown away by his performance, I did some internet stalking (it's what I do) and found that he isn't currently a student at KSU (I think he was at one point, but I can't back that up).  He is officially a "professional actor" having done several professional shows including the National Tour of Shrek: The Musical.  But even with his success it appears he keeps coming back to KSU (which is why I think he may be an alumni) where he's played roles like Bobby Strong [Urinetown] and Edgar [Batboy].  I know that I will definitely make it to every KSU performance I can if it means I can see Chase in another show, the man is just wonderful!
  • Sarah P. (Sally Bowles) -- I had the pleasure of seeing Sarah in the Kerrigan and Lowdermilk concert I went to a few weeks ago, so I was really excited to see her in Cabaret.  Her voice was really good, her accent constant, and she played the part masterfully.  Of course her singing was spectacular (She finally made me like the song "Cabaret"), but my favorite moments were when she wasn't singing, just verbally sparing with Cliff.  She was quick with her lines and her physicality was excellent.  And I do need to mention her emotional performance of the song "Cabaret", it was so moving and one of the most powerful moments in the show.  Excellent job Sarah.
  • Russell M. (Cliff Bradshaw) -- The role of Cliff is interesting because it's one of the smallest leading men roles I've ever seen.  He only sings one song (and a reprise towards the end), but the entire plot-line of the story focuses around him.  So I can't really say much for his singing or dancing talents, but his acting was great.  He knew when to be awkward and when to explode with emotion.  The scene where he calls out Sally in the Kit-Kat club (despite having the worst language of the show) was really strong and left the audience a bit in awe.  And then there's that line.  At the end of the show he delivers this line that encompasses the entire show (unfortunately I can't find it in it's entirety on the internet and I would hate to misquote it, but if you've seen the show then you know what I'm talking about).  Anyway, he delivered this line superbly, with just the right bewildered and tired expression that left you feeling sorry for him, and the rest of Germany.
  • Barbara G. (Fraulein Schneider) -- I had seen Barbara in the Kerrigan and Lowdermilk masterclass, but I think she was much stronger here.  She has a good belting voice, and you can really see the emotion in her face.  Unfortunately, I felt like some of her songs kind of drug on.  I think this is likely the writing instead of the acting, for she did a great job, but her songs were a bit repetitive and I found myself getting a bit bored.  Her singing was great, and her plot line was one of my favorites, but I just don't have too many good things to say about her simply because of her character.
  • Terry P. (Herr Schultz) -- Terry did an excellent job in this role, but I don't know that it fit him exactly.  For one thing, his accent was the only one that I could hear slip now and then (for the most part everyone's accents were really impressive), and his voice, while spectacular, didn't really seem to fit his character.  I almost felt that he was too good a singer, or at least too polished.  Visually, he played the role great.  His walk, his face, and they way he carried himself was excellent, and I really enjoyed his performance, I just felt like he has more talent than this role allowed him to display.
  • Caleb M. (Ernst Ludwig) -- I'm going to be honest, Caleb was one of my favorites in the show.  For one thing, his accent was the best, never for a moment did it slip.  But what I liked about him was how comfortable he was, he was given a bit of an intense character that many people (myself included) would be inclined to overact.  But Caleb just kept this joyful subtlety the entire show.  None of his lines were forced and when the time came for him to be intense, it made the contrast even more affecting.
  • Avery R. (Fraulein Kost) -- For the longest time I couldn't figure out why this character was in the show at all, but now I think I understand.  Kost really encompasses where Sally is going, and where she could end up if she isn't careful.  Kost isn't a villain in the show, but a solemn reminder.  With that in mind I really enjoyed Avery's portrayal of the character.  Her singing was honestly underused.  She had a really beautiful soprano voice, which unfortunately isn't demanded very highly in this show.  But her one song (which I think was almost entirely in German, that or she has horrible diction :P) was beautifully sung.  Although she wasn't really crucial to the story, she made a possibly forgettable role stand out.  Congratulations Avery.
  • The Kit-Kat Girls don't really have much individuality or characters in the show, but they sing the songs that carry the plot.  I would like to point out that all of these girls were excellent.  I love the fact that before the show even started they were mingling (in character) with a few members of the audience as they would random patrons at their club.  During the actual performance they were solid.  I feel like the dancing was probably their most impressive feat ("Mein Herr" must have been very uncomfortable physically).  They also did really well (WAY better than I would've done) at being comfortable on stage.  I'm sure at least a few of them had to get used to the kinds of things they had to do, but they didn't look the least bit uncomfortable (the same cannot be said for the audience at certain parts).
  • The Kit-Kat Boys -- I have great respect for these guys.  I mean, guys get made fun of for being in the theater anyway, and when you're forced to roles like these it doesn't help that.  They did look a bit uncomfortable at times, but that is absolutely understandable.  I actually saw one of them walking around campus the other day and considered saying hi but figured it might be a bit embarrassing, but, in case he's reading this, "Hi Logan V.  Excellent job!"
I once had someone tell me that the first show they ever saw on Broadway was Cabaret (when she were 5!) and it was her favorite show to this day.  I thought she was insane.  I didn't see how anyone, especially a child, could appreciate, much less enjoy the grit and sleaze that I thought made up the entire show.  Now I understand.  I can't quite say that it's my favorite, but I now have a great respect for Cabaret and I would certainly see it again if another group decides to put it on.  KSU's cast was able to take a show that I actively disliked and made every line, and every lyric so new and different than I thought they were.  I've never had a single performance change my opinion of a show so much, so a massive BRAVO to KSU's company of Cabaret!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The 2012 Jimmy Awards

Have you ever been waiting for a package to come? You are so excited to get it that you check the mail every day and constantly imagine how happy you'll be when it finally arrives. Of course, it seems like you've been waiting forever after only a few days. Then you realize, you have been waiting forever, or practically. What was supposed to happen in a week becomes two weeks, then a month, then two months. Eventually you tell yourself that it's not coming. Regardless of whether or not you believe it, that's what you have to tell yourself to stay sane. THEN IT COMES!!!!!!

Yeah, this has never happened to me.

But I did experience something similar with this year's Jimmy Award Videos. For those of you who don't know what the Jimmy Awards are, you can read about it in some detail in the blog I did last year or the nhsmta website, but for now let's just say that it's like the Tony Awards for Highschool. I have been avidly following the Jimmy's since they began in 2009 and I have loved watching how it has grown. As a symbol of this growth this year, PBS did a 3 episode mini-series on the journey these 60 highschoolers took entitled Broadway Or Bust (this is why they delayed posting the videos to Youtube). The kids who are chosen to participate get to train with professionals for 5 days and then get to perform on the 6th day at the Minskoff Theatre (where The Lion King usually performs). These are some of the videos from that performance and my thoughts on the contestants.

The Medleys

Frequent readers will know that the medleys are my favorite part of the Jimmy Awards. In these medleys, each actor/actress sings a clip from the show that (s)he won for. This is also my favorite way to learn about new shows. It was the Jimmy medleys that introduced me to shows like Les Miserables, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Jane Eyre, John & Jen, and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Here are the medleys of 2012:

Right off of the bat I think this is my favorite medley.  I loved the humor they threw into it (I almost died at "Phantom shadows on the floor").  This medley also had some of my favorite performers out of all of the students.  I think my favorites in this medley were Mr. Hyde [Jekyll & Hyde](I sing that song all the time, so I know how hard it is...he's better at it than I am) and Harold Hill [The Music Man].  Both of them had great stage presence and really impressive voices.  I have also been a fan of Marius [Les Miserables] and Seymour [Little Shop Of Horrors] from their regional videos, but I felt their medley performances weren't as amazing as their videos.  I also want to congratulate the Phantoms [The Phantom of the Opera], they were really great, and any higschooler who can take on a role such as The Phantom is already amazing in my book!


This was the girl Medley I was most excited about seeing because it had characters from shows that I feel are underrepresented in highschools (such as Parade), actresses who were featured in "Broadway Or Bust" (such as the girl who played Celie), and a female Jesus [Godspell] (which was intriguing to say the least).  I must say, these girls didn't disappoint.   It starts off with a couple of Belle's (probably the second most represented character at the Jimmy's, second only to Millie Dillmount) singing a song that ISN'T "Home" (I was really excited to see that).  Another thing that makes this medley unique is that it has characters that could be considered supporting actresses.  Cinderella [Into the Woods] and Lilly Craven [The Secret Garden] both come from shows who have very defined leading ladies...and these aren't them.  This entire group were all really good.  Even actresses that didn't really impress me in their regional videos  (like Maria) did a really good job.  I think my favorites were Dorothy [The Wizard of Oz], and Celie [The Color Purple].  Of course I loved all of them, but these were the two who I felt really stood out in this video.

Technically I'd have to say this is my least favorite of the guy medleys, which is a testament to how great they all are!  These guys really did a great job and you could tell that each and every one of them deserved to be here.  This was mostly the "straight man" Medley (as is evidenced by the "incredible variety" in costumes), but even so it had some great moments.  There were some actors (such as Albert [Bye Bye Birdie] and Don Lockwood [Singin' In The Rain]) who surprised me with how good they were because I wasn't too impressed with their regional videos.  I also really enjoyed the first Jimmy [Thoroughly Modern Millie] (who was a favorite since his regional video) and Cornelius Hackle [Hello Dolly!].  But even these were hard to single out because the entire cast of this Medley is just so talented   I also have to mention the transition between "Singing in the Rain" and "Put on a Happy Face"...BRILLIANT!


This is probably my favorite Medley of the girls.  I love the variety of characters (it's nice to have a few who don't just sing love songs) and all of these actresses are so talented!  The second best actress in this medley was, in my opinion, Elle Woods [Legally Blonde].  Although I'm not loving the song choice for this medley (which wasn't in her control), she did a great job performing and singing it, and I could see the rest of her range from the Broadway or Bust clips so I know she had the chops to pull off the rest of the character's songs.  My favorite girl in this medley was the phenomenal young lady playing Mrs. Lovett [Sweeney Todd].  I wish I had a video of this girl I could show to all actresses attempting this role (including Helena Bonham Carter) as the epitome of perfection.  I have literally never seen anyone come so close to Angella Lansbury's legendary performance of this role.  Even when she wasn't in the spotlight you could kind of see Mrs. Lovett peeking through the ensemble.  I give honorable mention to Polly Barker [Crazy for You] for her outstanding confidence and stage presence  and Timoune [Once On This Island], because once she found her voice she did really well.

I really like this medley even though it didn't have a lot of original characters.  I mean, you can close your eyes and point to a highschool and chances are they are doing Hairspray, or Les Miserables, or Pippin.  Even shows that don't get a whole lot of highschool action (such as Phantom of the Opera or Ragtime) are well known to practically everyone in the theatrical community.  This Medley also follows the times representing the shows that have suddenly risen in popularity in the past few years (such as Crazy for You and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).  However, even through it's common characters, this medley shone brightly.  I feel I ought to point out that two of the three male finalists (The young men who played Raul [The Phantom of the Opera] and William Barfee [25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee]) were singing in this medley.  But mostly, there are just no bad singers in this entire competition.  I think my favorites were probably Raul (that pure!) and Pippin [Pippin].  Close second goes to Barfee and Freddy Benson [Dirty Rotten Scoundrels], but even those are close.  All of these guys are totally awesome!


I almost wish there was a medley that I didn't like.  I feel so repetitive saying they were all amazing but it's really true.  What set this apart is that it has two of my female picks to win it all  (from their regional videos): The young women who played Lola [D*** Yankees] and Rosemary Pinkleton [How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying].  Of course they were far from the only talented young ladies apart.  I thought that Adelaide [Guys and Dolls] was pretty perfect, Gertrude [Seussical: The Musical] did an excellent job, and I really liked the first Princess Winifred [Once Upon a Mattress].  There is just no shortage of incredible talent filling this stage!  It honestly gives me hope in the future of Broadway.

And that does it for the medleys.  All of these kids were so superb I was practically besides myself.  This is the first year when I don't have a clear favorite because they were all so fantastic!  If I had to give the award to one actor and actress from these videos alone, I would probably give them to Michael Ferlita (who was the spectacular Mr. Hyde) and Brooke Tate (the hilarious Mrs. Lovett).  Of course neither of them even made the final that's my theater talent scout skills for ya.  So you may be asking yourself, which six did make it?  Well, I'll show you in this next segment:

The Solos

Let's start with the young ladies:

This is Erica Durham (she was the second Aida [Aida] in Medley #4) singing "Sal Tlay Ka Siti"  from The Book of Mormon.  Although her medley didn't impress me too much, she did a good enough job in her solo.  The song choice was good for her and made me laugh once I got it (the title had to be explained to me.  For those of you out there who are as slow as me: "Salt Lake City").  I don't know that she belonged in the top three, but she didn't do particularly bad.

This is Nicolette Burton (who played Kathrine [Kiss Me Kate] in the sixth Medley) singing "Maybe I Like It This Way" from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party.  Actually I was particularly unimpressed with her medley performance because she had such a great song but she completely sped through the funny moments and didn't play it to it's potential.  That being said, I see why the judges put her in the final three; her solo is really powerful and there is no question that she has a KILLER voice!

This is the 2012 Jimmy Award Winner for Best Actress Elizabeth Romero (who was Lola [D*** Yankees] in Medley #6) singing "Disneyland" from Smile.  I would like to start by saying: "I TOTALLY CALLED THIS ONE!!!"  As soon as I saw her video I knew Elizabeth was going to win!  Of course, I knew some background information.  Her highschool is possibly the most talented group of people on the planet outside of Broadway.  They have had at least one representative at EVERY JIMMY AWARDS EVER!  Elizabeth is the second of her school (and the first girl) to win the entire competition.  And she deserved it.  Her song choice was brilliant and did an excellent job merging her inspired acting choices with a truly impressive voice.  Brava Elizabeth!

And now for our extraordinary gentlemen:

This is Drew Shafranek (who played Harold Hill [The Music Man] in Medley #1) singing "Before The Summer Ends" from Dracula: The Musical.  Drew wins (or at least ties with Elizabeth) on the most obscure song of the finals.  Very, very few people know of Frank Wildhorn's adaptation of "Dracula", mostly because this song is one of the three good ones of the entire show.  I give props to Drew for knowing the song, and even more for singing it so well.  I mean, the emotion behind this guys voice is breathtaking, and his vocal talent is pretty mind blowing as well.  This guys charismatic medley performance coupled with this stirring solo adds up to a stellar combination.  I'm honestly a bit surprised he didn't win and I hope and expect to see him starring on Broadway before long.

This is Evan Greenburg (who portrayed William Barfee [25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee] in Medley #5) singing "Master of the House" from Les Miserables.  Evan was my favorite during "Broadway Or Bust" because, not only was he from my home state, but I also really related to him on a lot of levels.  I was really excited to see him chosen as a finalist and I think he performed his song brilliantly.  I don't think he ever really had a chance to win (I'm honestly not sure how he made it to the finals, but I'm glad he did), because, let's be honest, his voice doesn't blow you away.  However, his acting is indeed phenomenal and he took a song that we have all heard a hundred times and added his own tricks to it that made me laugh every time.  Well done Evan, well done!

This is the 2012 Jimmy Award Winner for Best Actor Joshua Grosso (who was Raul [The Phantom of the Opera] in Medley #5) singing "Il Mundo Era Vuoto" from The Light In The Piazza.  I'll be honest, I wish he would've chosen a song in English.  I mean, the singing was spectacular, but it would've been nice to understand what he was saying.  Of course, song choice aside, this kid is freaking amazing!!!!  I mean, I was honestly a bit shocked that he was so down on himself during his "Broadway or Bust" interviews because it was pretty clear from the first episode that he had a spectacular voice!  He gave a solid performance in his medley and then this, even though I couldn't understand it, was really a work of art.  Color me impressed Joshua (with your talent, not your song choice).

And.....everything else

Although I don't think they're near as interesting as the medleys or solos, I thought I should include the other recorded performances of the night.  First I will show you the opening number. This is the first thing the kids get to work on when they get to New York (I think it's good to try to make them a group before they remember that it's a competition).  What they do here is really a cool idea.  Thy make a giant mash-up of shows currently running on Broadway, including long running shows like Lion King and Wicked, and the new shows like Newsies and Evita.  They highlight a few people to sing solos and it's a really cool bonding number for them all.

The closing song is just about as cool.  This song usually includes a few more soloists than the opening and is more based off of a single song.  The songs have ranged from well known ("Good Riddance" [American Idiot] ) to obscure ("I Am My Own Invention" [Wonderland]).  If there was a moment for everyone to start crying, it would be this closing number.  It really ends the night off as it should.  This year they chose to focus it around "Here Right Now", the show stopping number from Ghost.


And thus ends my 2012 Jimmy Award Post.  I'm sorry it was so late, but as I said, it wasn't completely my fault.  If you liked what you saw here then I would encourage you to read my post on last years Jimmy's, check out the Broadway or Bust website (where you can watch the whole thing), and look at NHSMTA's Youtube channel (especially the medleys and solos over the years).  Make sure to vote in the poll and leave comments, I will read them.  Thanks for reading.