ANOTHER SMASH SEASON ON BROADWAY

27 05 2016

Another year, another smash season on Broadway.  Times Square is so jammed with theater-goers and tourists every evening that it is quicker to walk a long block over to Eight Avenue rather than try to navigate through the crowds on Broadway to reach most theaters.  Business on the Great White Way is booming, with the season just ended in May being the biggest year ever.160421NYC016-2k

I spent last week last week at the Broadway League’s Spring Road Conference, being wined and dined by the producers of new shows contending for a Tony award.  Where do I start?  There are so many good shows this season.

Two outstanding revivals are on everyone’s “must see” list.  A new Fiddler on the Roof, directed by Bartlett Sher (South Pacific and King & I) is gorgeous with many outstanding performances including Tony nominee Danny Burstein (Tevye).  A new production of the Color Purple, directed by Scot John Doyle (Sweeney Todd),  has been hailed as “A Miracle on Broadway, a Glory to Behold” by the NY Times.   160423NYC005-2k

With  music  and  lyrics  by  the  Fiddler  team  of  Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick,  She  Loves  Me  is  a  gem  and  a  classic.    The  stars,  Laura  Benanti  and  Zachary  Levi,  give  brilliant  performances  and  David  Rockwell’s  set  just  might  win  a  Tony.

American Psycho has not had many favorable reviews.  But if one can get past all the blood and violence, the show delivers a stylish, flashy piece of theater with great music by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening).160421NYC011-2k

School of Rock is entertaining and amusing.  The audiences are packed with teenage wannabes rocking out to music played by teenage actors, who are very talented musicians. And, for his latest effort,  Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber received many positive reviews, something that hasn’t happened with his last few shows.

Bright Star is a warm-hearted bluegrass musical written by comedian Steve Martin and singer/writer Edie Brickell with a double-wedding happy ending.  Lead actress Carmen Cusak should win the Tony for her superb performance.160519NYC004-2k

Based on the 2007 film, Waitress  is another feel-good, happy-ending musical. It even sends the appetizing smells of fresh-baked pies  into the audience to ensure everyone walks out with a smile on their face.  The music and lyrics are by pop singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles.  Reviewers call the show “fresh and delicious”, “mouth-watering” and “love at first bite”.

Shuffle Along is a star-studded revival/re-imagination of the 1921 all-black musical, the first of its kind to succeed on Broadway.  With an infectious jazz score and exuberant dancing, headliners Audra MacDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell and choreographer-mega-tap-dancer Savion Glover, the show arrived on Broadway with high expectations.  And it meets most of them, delivering “a dazzling production that celebrates art, dreams, and equality.”

And, of course, there is the ticket-buyers’ favorite, Hamilton, which has the biggest advance sales of any Broadway show.  Producer Jeffrey Seller (Rent, In the Heights) invited the conference attendees into the Richard Rogers Theatre Monday afternoon for a face-to-face with Lin Manuel Miranda and all the other nominees. It has a record 16 nominations.   If that wasn’t enough to secure every Tony vote, the show threw the biggest and flashiest party of the conference, in the trendy meat-packing district at Barry Diller’s IAC headquarters building.160423NYC019-2k

Phew.  It is exhausting work (and great fun), attending the Spring Road Conference, but someone has to do it.

Which shows from this season will come to the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City?  My best guess is School of Rock, Hamilton and Bright Star.  Two other possibilities are Waitress and Shuffle Along.

Don’t forget to watch the Tony Awards Show on Sunday, June 12.





WHAT’S ON IN THE WEST END

17 12 2015

I spent last week in London, looking for new shows that we might bring to Utah. While I probably came up empty-handed, I did have many fun evenings (and one afternoon) in the theater.

1208152047-2kThe National Theatre was my first stop. The hottest ticket in their four venues was Jane Eyre, from Bronte’s famous novel. Its good reviews and a filming for broadcast that night meant that not even one ticket was available.

So I went to see wonder.land with music by Damon Albarn of the band Blur, a rather predictable re-telling of Alice’s story, where she gets lost in a video game on the internet. It is colorful, zany and has the usual high production values of the NT.151209Lon014-HDR-2k

I had to see the show MagicSpace Entertainment is co-producing, The Illusionists. This is the first extended West End run by the group that has played Broadway and toured the world successfully. It featured UK TV star Jamie Raven.

The most visible new musical is Sunny Afternoon, which has been running since May. Based on the Kinks music and loosely on the life of leader Ray Davies. A fun, funny and often painful ride thru the 60’s and 70’s with the many hits that the rock genius Davies churned out.151210Lon070-2k

Hangmen – another dark, Irish, alcohol-fueled drama by prolific playwright Martin McDonagh. (Cripple of Inishmaan, Pillowman.) Not surprisingly, most of the action occurs in a pub owned by a former hangman and, when the play isn’t making you uncomfortable and anxious, it is full of dark humor belly-laughs.

151212Lon039-2kBend It Like Beckham – based on the successful movie and running since May, the story of a young Sikh girl who joins the local soccer team without telling her traditional Indian family. Filled with colorful, gaudy Bollywood costumes and choreography, it is a feelgood celebration of British multiculturalism, with a happy ending, of course.

151210Lon079-2kDerren Brown – Miracle – the popular British illusionist/mind reader keeps the audience spellbound with stunts that include teaching an audience member to eat a light bulb and using faith-healing to cure audience ills from back pain to sports injuries to tinnitus. I’m still trying to figure out how he does the faith-healing.

I didn’t get to see one hit musical, because its run was totally sold out. At the tiny Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre is a new production of Funny Girl . Reviewers are raving about the star, Sheridan Smith. The show will transfer to the West End in April, and is already rumored to be headed for Broadway.

To see more images of London, theaters, markets and shops, click on this link – Ballard Photographix.





UTAH LOVES THE BOOK OF MORMON – MOSTLY

10 08 2015

The musical The Book of Mormon closed a two-week run in Salt Lake City yesterday.   A list of links to reviews and press coverage is below.

the Capitol Theatre

the Capitol Theatre

SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Review, 7/30/15 – . If you can set aside the profanity and crudeness, there’s no better place in the world to watch The “Book of Mormon” musical than Salt Lake City.

http://www.sltrib.com/home/2785902-155/review-salt-lake-city-backdrop-makes

Story, 7/26/15 – Now comes a book of essays by writers and scholars analyzing how the raunchy, satirical play fits — or doesn’t — in the traditions of the contemporary musical canon.

http://www.sltrib.com/entertainment/2761467-155/now-comes-a-book-that-takes

Story, 7/24/15 – No matter your opinion about that profane, sweet little “Book of Mormon” musical — perhaps you’ve heard of it — there’s a special thrill to a story about Mormon missionaries unfolding in front of a Broadway set depicting the Salt Lake LDS Temple spires that exist just two blocks away from downtown’s Capitol Theatre.

http://www.sltrib.com/entertainment/2757082-155/will-book-of-mormon-musical-prompt

Op-Ed, 8/8/15 – Thanks, Book of Mormon musical, for provoking my thoughts

http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/2812420-155/op-ed-thanks-book-of-mormon-musical

DESERET NEWS

Review, 7/31/15 – Without the overdose of obscenity, ‘The Book of Mormon’ would have been a delight

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865633607/Without-the-overdose-of-obscenity-The-Book-of-Mormon-would-have-been-a-delight.html

Story, 7/27/15 – Profane and acclaimed: ‘The Book of Mormon’ musical arrives in Salt Lake City

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865633190/Profane-but-acclaimed-The-Book-of-Mormon-musical-arrives-in-Salt-Lake-City.html?pg=all#ufQbi2lZFE9bc87o.03

Story, 7/30/15 – To be fair, I haven’t seen the show. But I’ve heard the soundtrack in its entirety, and I’ve read the synopsis.

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865633565/The-Book-of-Mormon-musical-is-an-equal-opportunity-offender.html

OpEd, 8/4/15 – Why the message behind ‘The Book of Mormon’ musical is so troubling

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865633823/Why-The-Book-of-Mormon-musical-is-not-just-offensive-2-its-shallow.html?pg=all

SALT LAKE MAGAZINE

Story, 6/23/15 – The Book of Mormon Comes Home

http://www.saltlakemagazine.com/blog/2015/06/23/the-book-of-mormon-comes-home/

SLC FOX13 NEWS

Story, 7/28/15 – Two blocks from LDS Church headquarters, ‘The Book of Mormon’ musical premieres

http://fox13now.com/2015/07/28/two-blocks-from-lds-church-headquarters-the-book-of-mormon-musical-premieres/

DAILY UTAH CHRONICLE

Review, 7/31/15 – “Book of Mormon” Musical Brings Hilarity, Controversy to Salt Lake

http://dailyutahchronicle.com/book-of-mormon-musical-brings-hilarity-controversy-to-salt-lake/

CITY WEEKLY

Review, 7/30/15 – If you wanted to get a sense for how ready a Utah audience was for The Book of Mormon, you only needed to wait until the end of the opening musical number, “Hello.”

http://www.cityweekly.net/TheDailyFeed/archives/2015/07/30/theater-review-the-book-of-mormon

UTAH THEATRE BLOGGERS

Review, 7/31/15 – Say “Hello” to hilarious satire and surprising depth in THE BOOK OF MORMON

http://utahtheatrebloggers.com/21579/say-hello-to-hilarious-satire-and-suprsing-depth-in-the-book-of-mormon

USA TODAY

Story, 8/4/15 – ‘Book of Mormon’ keeps finding believers

http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/theater/2015/08/04/book-mormon-keeps-finding-believers/31059253/?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=usatoday-lifetopstories

NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

Story, 8/2/15 – The Tony Award-winning musical, The Book of Mormon, opened in Salt Lake City last week.

http://www.npr.org/2015/08/02/428643358/in-utah-book-of-mormon-strikes-a-chord?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20150803&utm_campaign=npr_email_a_friend&utm_term=storyshare

BROADWAY WORLD

Review, 7/31/15 – Hello, Salt Lake City. “The Book of Mormon” in Sal Tlay Ka Siti is something incredible.

http://www.broadwayworld.com/national-tours/article/BWW-Reviews-Broadway-Across-Americas-THE-BOOK-OF-MORMON-at-Capitol-Theatre-20150731#

AP, FROM CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Story, 7/28/15 – The biting satirical musical that mocks Mormons has finally come to the heart of Mormonlandia

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/theater/beyondchicago/ct-book-of-mormon-utah-20150728-story.html





IT’S TONY TIME

27 05 2015

150527SLC003-2kIt’s Tony time again, and I spent most of a week in New York City recently seeing as many new shows as possible. I also attended the Spring Road Conference of the Broadway League, which meant I had to be entertained by the producers and casts of hit shows while being fed lunch or offered free drinks.    It is rough work.

150324NYC073-2kThe big winners of Tony nominations in the musical category are Fun Home, American in Paris and Something Rotten. In new plays Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Hand to God got the most attention.

Since I book mostly musicals for the Capitol Theatre, I don’t get to see many plays. There are wonderful musical revivals – On the Town, On the Twentieth Century with Kristin Chenowith and a big production of The King and I at Lincoln Center. King & I is directed by wunderkind Bartlett Sher (South Pacific, Light in the Piazza) and stars one of Broadway’s top leading ladies, Kelli O’Hara. While Chenowith was a dynamo in the hilarious Twentieth Century, I am rooting for King & I. It is one of the all-time great musicals, by Rodgers & Hammerstein, and the production is beautiful, elegant and engaging. I must admit to personal prejudice, however, as I have known Bart Sher since we were kids and Kelli O’Hara went to the same college as my wife, Oklahoma City University.   Coincidentally, Kristin Chenowith also went to OCU.150324NYC067-2k

In new musicals, there are so many, and most are very good. Finding Neverland, based on the movie, didn’t receive any Tony noms, but it is fun, audiences love it and it is selling lots of tickets. There were high hopes for Doctor Zhivago , but it closed after only 23 performances. The Visit, starring a grande dame of the theater Chita Rivera, has music by Kander and Ebb (Chicago) and a dark plot from a Friedrich Durrenmatt story, received much critical acclaim. The whole story was too depressing for me, though it is great theater.

Fun Home is the darling of the critics, based on a coming-of-age novel by Alison Bechdel , with music by Jeanine Tesori (Shrek, Caroline or Change). The big name star Michael Cerveris is upstaged by four actresses, all of whom received Tony nominations. The story is difficult, with much unhappiness and dysfunction. I walked out of the theater angry at the father (Cerveris) and the writer. It should win lots of Tonys.

150326NYC057-2kAmerican in Paris is a smash, with dancer Robert Fairchild (born in Salt Lake City and trained at Ballet West) in the lead role being called “better than Gene Kelly”. Direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon are certain to receive at least one Tony, if not two.

My favorite is Something Rotten, a hilarious spoof on Shakespeare and musical theater, set in in 1595. It was called “the funniest musical in 400 years” by TimeOut. Two stars are contenders for Tonys – Brian D’Arcy James (played SLC in 1995 in Les Miz, starred in Shrek on Broadway) and Christian Borle (plays an obnoxious, devious rockstar Shakespeare). Both men had major roles in the TV show “Smash”. I think Borle must win a Tony – but what do I know.

150324NYC076-2kThe standout new play is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which comes from a novel by Mark Haddon and a London production by the National Theatre. The lead, Alex Sharp, could win Best Actor. The play is gripping, ground-breaking, heart-breaking and frightening.

And I shouldn’t forget the biggest hit of the year – Hamilton – which hasn’t been nominated for even one Tony. With music, lyrics and book by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), this show tells the story of US founding father Alexander Hamilton,150512NYC003-2k based on a biography by Ron Chernow. At the 2015 Lucille Lortel Awards, Hamilton took home 10 trophies, winning in every category it was nominated. Opening on Broadway in July, Hamilton already looks like it will be a winner in the 2016 Tony Awards.





ECCLES THEATER IS ON ITS WAY UP

3 01 2015
View from Main St - 2016 & today

View from Main St – 2016 & today

Construction is moving quickly upward on the performing arts center on Main Street and the adjacent office tower.

Main Street Demolition

Main Street Demolition

After five months of demolition work, the site was cleared and ready for foundation work. Pilings for the office were pounded in to the ground in August and concrete pours for the theater began in September. The first steel beams were erected in mid-November. The building has started to take a recognizable shape and one can even see where the stage, seating and lobby will be.

Lower lobby, Main Street on the left

Lower lobby, Main Street on the left

Last week I was able to walk through the construction with members of the development team and Salt Lake City mayor Ralph Becker.

Mayor Beck and Steve Swisher

Mayor Becker and Steve Swisher

Steve Swisher, from developer Garfield Traub Swisher led the tour and pointed out some of the critical places in the plan.

One spot was the barely foot-wide space between the two buildings, which gives them room to sway in an earthquake without colliding.

After our site visit, we tested examples of the theater seats, from three different possible manufacturers. All were of a similar salmon-colored fabric with wood backs. Each brand of seat looked good to me, but I wasn’t on the committee that would vote and decide the winner.

Prototype seats for the Eccles

Prototype seats for the Eccles

Building an office tower at the same time as the theater is a complicated project, but the fact that the office will be cantilevered over the top of the theater means that the construction timetable is even more difficult. All steel work for the theater must be finished by February 1 if the tower’s development/fabrication schedule is to be met. With the tower and theater being built by two different construction companies, coordination of schedules is critical.  So far, everything is on time and the Eccles Theater should be ready to open by summer 2016.

from backstage, looking toward Main Street

from backstage, looking toward Main Street





UPAC HAS ITS OFFICIAL NAME – AND QUITE A BIG HOLE IN THE GROUND

4 08 2014

Since the beginning of the year, quite a lot of progress has been made on Salt Lake City’s newest Main Street project.

Main Street March 11

Main Street, March 11

Almost half a block of concrete, brick and steel has been turned into rubble and trucked away, but not without some unforeseen problems. The tallest of the three buildings had undiscovered asbestos that had to be removed carefully, and had an unusual support beam configuration that required extra time and three very big cranes to dismantle.

The last beam, June 9

The last beam, June 9

Construction has started on the 24-story office at the corner of Main and 100 South, with a tower crane installed last week.

In June, the new theater had its formal groundbreaking along with the announcement of a generous $15 million gift by the Eccles Foundation. In recognition of the gift, the performing arts center will be named the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Theater. Other donors to the project include the Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation and Delta Air Lines.

Groundbreaking

Groundbreaking

The Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune both carried stories about the naming announcement.

If you look over the top of the construction gates of peer down from the Regent Street parking lot, you see a very large hole with dump trucks, earthmovers, excavators and rock crushers diligently making it even deeper. In less than two years, this crater will be filled with a state-of-the-art performing arts center equal to any other in North America.

Main Street, July 31

Main Street, July 31





LEARNING ABOUT THE UPAC CREATIVE TEAMS IN NEW HAVEN AND DURHAM

26 05 2014

Earlier this spring I travelled to New Haven CT and Durham NC to learn more about the design process for UPAC, SLC’s new Main Street theater.

Pelli Office

Pelli Office


First stop was New Haven, where I visited Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, the architect for the Utah Performing Arts Center. Cesar Pelli leads the world-renowned firm, which has designed many famous buildings around the world, including the World Financial Center in New York and the Petronas Towers in Malaysia. Their experience in the performing arts is extensive, having designed the Overture Center in Madison, the Aranoff Center in Cincinnati, the Schuster PAC in Dayton and many others.
Design models for UPAC in the Pelli office

Design models for UPAC in the Pelli office


Also on the design team for UPAC also includes Fischer Dachs Associates (theater, technical and operations design) and Jaffe Holden (acoustic, audio/video and IT infrastructure).
l to r, Matt Brogan (Fischer Dachs), Mark Holden (Jaffe Holden), Phillip Peglow (Jaffe Holden), Bob Campbell (Fischer Dachs ), Mitch Hirsch (Pelli) and Katy Harp (Pelli).

l to r, Matt Brogan (Fischer Dachs), Mark Holden (Jaffe Holden), Phillip Peglow (Jaffe Holden), Bob Campbell (Fischer Dachs ), Mitch Hirsch (Pelli) and Katy Harp (Pelli).


The six members of the design team were friendly and helpful. The talked frankly about some problems they have had and some of the challenges they are facing in the next two years during construction. After this visit, I am more certain that UPAC will be a stunning building, a great addition to downtown and Utah, and a smashing success.

My next stop was Durham, where I got a tour of the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC), which was developed by Swisher Garfield Traub Development, the company also developing UPAC. DPAC opened in 2008 at a cost of $48 million, compared to UPAC’s $120 million. It is larger than UPAC, with 2712 seats and two balconies.

Durham Performing Arts Center

Durham Performing Arts Center

UPAC has three balconies and 2500 seats. DPAC is located on the edge of downtown Durham, next to a new baseball stadium, and has been very successful. In 2011 it was ranked as the #1 US theater under 4000 seats in Pollstar magazine’s listings. DPAC has been helpful in drawing more people to Durham, whose central business district is much smaller than SLC’s.
DPAC Interior

DPAC Interior


DPAC is a spartan facility, with little sparkle or beauty in its design, and few patron comfort components. For example, most audience members must walk up a flight or two flights of stairs to get to their seats and there are few elevators for those who cannot walk. The DPAC lobby is small and not very inviting. UPAC will have a gorgeous lobby, with views of downtown and bars and a restaurant to draw people in. Another big difference is the site of DPAC, which is on the edge of downtown, with empty lots and parking lots on two sides, the County Jail across the street and few restaurant options within walking distance. UPAC’s location next to the busiest block of Main Street with a TRAX stop a half block away is a giant advantage. Restaurants within a block in all directions and adjacent parking make it desirable and accessible.
DPAC exterior

DPAC exterior


UPAC has so many advantages over DPAC that it will easily have the attendance success that DPAC has had. And it will be a more beautiful and patron-friendly addition to the surrounding metro area. In two years, Utah will have one of the best performing arts venues in the country.








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