27 12 2016

161208lon045-2kEarlier in December, I made my annual pilgrimage to the West End theater district of London.  December is a delightful time to be in London, with good weather and Christmas decorations, events and cheer all over town.  What’s new in the West End gives me an idea of what might be coming to Broadway and, a few years down the road, to Salt Lake City.

This year was a bit disappointing, with only one new musical of note, but there was the typical abundance of great theater available, including a hit that some people say is as big as Hamilton.  And I have no problem sitting through a couple hours well-staged and –acted drama without singing or dancing.

161207lon030-2kHalf a Sixpence is a Cameron Mackintosh production of the 1963 musical. The musical was originally written as a star vehicle for pop star Tommy Steele who performed the lead role in London in 1963, Broadway in 1965 and in the 1967 film adaptation. The theater piece is based on an HG Wells novel, Kipps: the Story of a Simple Soul and delivers an entertaining experience full of song and dance with a happy ending.

I spent another evening of music and dance viewing the new Matthew Bourne ballet “the Red Shoes”.  Bourne, best known for his gender-bending Swan Lake danced by male swans, has created a ballet based on the 1948 British film and the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.  A smash hit, it is sold out for the entire run at Sadler’s Wells.161210lon003-2k

Then I went across the Thames to the National Theatre for the Ivo Van Hove production of Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabbler”.   Van Hove’s less-is-more style delivers a devastating, dark Hedda that leaves one feeling exhausted by the finale.  The show was sold out, but I was able to get a “day ticket” for 15 pounds by waiting in line at 9am the morning of the performance.

At the Harold Pinter Theatre was an appropriately absurd comedy “Nice Fish”, written by and starring Tony-award-winning actor Mark Rylance.   The Telegraph said, “Imagine Waiting For Godot on ice, as adapted by Garrison Keillor and presented as if it were torn-off bits from a comic strip.”   Ice-fishing has never been so intellectual, funny and bizarre.

161208lon068-2kAt the Wyndham’s Theatre I found an absurd play by Harold Pinter, “No Man’s Land” which was also sold out.  Possibly the reason for this inscrutable play’s popularity is its stars – Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart (X-Men, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, etc) who have a combined age of 153.  I don’t know that I have ever seen better acting, or understood a play less.

My last day in London was reserved for the biggest theatrical hit on this side of the Atlantic – “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”.  Completely sold out for its entire announced run, it is expected to stay that way for years.  I managed to get a ticket online – last row of the second balcony for $330!  The play was long (two parts running a total five and a half hours), full of special effects, and great fun.   It was recently announced that Cursed Child will be seen on Broadway in 2018 and tickets will certainly be as difficult to obtain as those for Hamilton.161211lon104-2k

Other theaters in the West End were filled with shows from Broadway – Wicked, Book of Mormon, Lion King, Aladdin, Motown and Beautiful, to name a few.  I was happy to see that theater in London continues to thrive.


The Eccles Theater – Astonishing and Impressive

4 12 2016

Utah’s gem of a performing arts theater is open and operating at full throttle. Recent months have been full of events, grand and beautiful,  raucous and fun.  The Eccles Theater has shown itself to be a state of the art wonder and one of the best theaters in North America.161102slc018-hdr-2-2k

Starting with the first public event, Meet Your Seat for Broadway at the Eccles subscribers on September 9, audiences have been amazed by the beauty, spaciousness and comfort they discovered in this new home for the performing arts.  In September and October four free events were held to test drive the building and its operations, including a hard hat concert, where workers involved in the construction and their families danced to rock hits played by World Classic Rockers with musicians from Journey, Santana, Boston and Steppenwolf.

The gala grand opening on October 21 brought Broadway stars Megan Hilty, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Rita Moreno to Main Street to perform with Utah stars Ballet West, the Utah Opera, Kurt Bestor and many others.  Two days later, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed on the Eccles stage and made its Sunday broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word” – the first time in 88 years that the broadcast didn’t come from the Tabernacle or the LDS Conference Center.

The first paid event for the general public was on November 2, when indie-pop band The Head and The Heart played to a sold-out crowd. In the following 10 days, a stellar lineup of concerts was presented ranging from the rockers Goo Goo Dolls to comedian Jay Leno.Goo Goo Dolls

Exuberant audiences discovered a space that is inviting, comfortable, beautiful and already an important part of the Utah community.  Thousands of parking spaces within a block radius, a Trax light rail stop 100 yards away and 40 restaurants within a short walk make the location ideal.  Behind the theater, the former alley Regent Street is being turned into an entertainment neighborhood with new restaurants, shops and a hotel.  The McCarthey Plaza is a pedestrian-friendly gathering place for noon-time concerts, outdoor summer movies or just a quiet place to hang out.

the Eccles TheaterThe soaring Winter Garden lobby with a four-story glass exterior wall invites Main Street into the theater. The theater lobby includes the Encore Bistro at one end and connects to the stunning lobby of the 111 Main office tower which also opened last month.  The open air, high-level Tier Three Terrace offers theater-goers a peaceful spot to have a drink at intermission or to just enjoy the lights and rooftops of downtown. Inside the 2500-seat Delta Hall is an intimate setting with unobstructed sightlines, comfortable and spacious seats, and amazing acoustics.

Backstage one finds everything a touring production or band could want.  Roomy dressing rooms and hallways,  a three-truck loading dock which is only 25 feet from the giant state-of-the-art stage , and a concert-ready sound system.

On November 15, the Carol King musical “Beautiful” opened the first of eight performances with 96% of all seats filled.  This was the start of the biggest season of touring theater ever brought to Utah, with hits from Kinky Boots and Matilda to the Lion King and Book of Mormon.  Ticket sales records will be set for every one of these shows.   Next week will bring an all-time holiday favorite, White Christmas.1112161501-beaut-1-2k

Generations of Utahns to come will enjoy the best shows from Broadway, and concerts from around the world.  Former Mayor Ralph Becker has given us a performing arts palace that is certain be an important community treasure well into the next century.

Tonight’s the Night – Salt Lake City Opens the Eccles Theater

22 10 2016

160824slc022-hdr-2-4k-1kFinally – it was opening night at the Eccles Theater, the newest addition to the dynamic center of Utah.  On Main Street a block south of Temple Square, Salt Lake City now has one of the best performing arts theaters in North America, and maybe even the world.  Tonight the glamorous tuxedoed and gowned crowd were treated to performances by Broadway stars Megan Hilty,  Brian Stokes Mitchell and Rita Moreno and a party on-stage afterward.  The local press covered the event extensively.  Here are links to some of the stories.

10/20  Welcome to the Eccles: Salt Lake City’s New Theater Opens With an Array of Guests


10/18  Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony heaps praise on new $119 million Eccles Theater downtown

10/16    New theater, skyscraper, plaza set the stage for downtown’s next big act

10/16  With Eccles Theater, a new curtain rises in Salt Lake City’s love affair with theater

10/16  The Playhouse That Ralph Built ? Ex-mayor sees it as a ‘source of joy … for years to come’

10/14  New Eccles Theater Opens Oct. 21, joining Salt Lake County’s ‘family of beautiful venues’

160911slc075-1-4k-1k10/9   Rita Moreno Will Emcee Eccles Theater Opener

10/6  New Eccles Theater Gears Up For Its Debut



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.


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 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.


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


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.

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.

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.

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


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

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

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.

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


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


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


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


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.”


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


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


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


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


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


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.