Smash Premiere Review Roundup

Jennifer Hudson

Critics who previewed “On Broadway,” the second-season opener of Smash that airs Feb. 5 at 9 p.m. on NBC (and has been available for online streaming since Jan. 14), have responded with mixed but promising notices. The creative team for the two-hour premiere episode includes Joshua Safran (screenplay), Michael Morris (direction), Josh Bergasse (choreography), and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (lyrics and music for “Cut, Print … Moving On” and “Mama Makes Three”). The cast includes returning members Debra Messing (Julia), Katharine McPhee (Karen), Jack Davenport (Derek), Christian Borle (Tom), Megan Hilty (Ivy), Leslie Odom Jr. (Sam), and Anjelica Huston (Eileen), with new member Jeremy Jordan (Jimmy) and guest star Jennifer Hudson (Veronica). Not returning with the cast this season are Jaime Cepero (Ellis), Raza Jaffrey (Dev), Brian d’Arcy James (Frank), and Will Chase (Michael).

Daniel Goldberg (Slant): Season two periodically harkens back to the show’s early episodes, before the soapy affairs, pointless cameos, and filler plotlines about apartment hunts got in the way of a series that should always have been about the creative process behind putting on a Broadway show. … Smash isn’t shy about asking us to suspend our disbelief as it reshuffles its cast and tries to regain its footing. … While it’s easy to forget the show’s shortcomings whenever McPhee or Hilty belt out one of Bombshell’s stellar original songs … that’s ultimately not enough to absolve the series from failing to let its most tenable narrative take center stage. 2-1/2 out of 4 stars

Tom Long (Detroit News): The crazy mess that was the first season of Smash is over. On with the crazy mess of a second season. … A number of characters and storylines have been abandoned; but then a number of characters and storylines have also been added. It’s not the same mess, it’s a new mess. … In the mix is a surly bartender-songwriter (Jeremy Jordan) and his songwriting partner (Andy Mientus). And apropos of absolutely nothing, Jennifer Hudson shows up in this season’s opener. Because the show doesn’t have enough singing. … Maybe this will all become coherent. But then maybe it shouldn’t. Sometimes messy is better. GRADE: B-

Brian Lowry (Variety): A new show runner and various tweaks haven’t righted the ship. … The modest changes – other than jettisoning some of the more annoying cast members – mostly amount to a shift in the way Smash approaches musical numbers, staging them against montages of action more like a music video. If that’s meant to help the series connect better with a younger crowd, it’s at the expense of the Broadway origins that captivated some fans in the first place. … The more the network feels compelled to tout such metrics, the less chance Smash is genuinely living up to its name.

Ken Tucker (Entertainment Weekly): Replacement show runner Joshua Safran has streamlined the storytelling and, based on the two-hour premiere and a second episode, saved the right elements. Fortunately, Katharine McPhee’s Karen and Megan Hilty’s Ivy are as Bombshell competitive as always. … Smash is still prone to howler numbers, such as when Derek hallucinates the women in his life. … But without moments like that … Smash would not be the Smash we sorta love/sorta cringe at. Like the Marilyn Monroe musical it’s trying to mount, the drama treads familiar ground in a quirky, high-stepping way that you can’t resist watching. GRADE: B

David Wiegand (San Francisco Gate): The second season kicks off with a terrific two-hour show Tuesday night that should be a textbook example to other show runners on how to bring the audience along as you make significant changes to a troubled show. … The second-season premiere and subsequent episode re-chart the overall course for the show, giving us a somewhat more credible sense of how a Broadway show gets made and bringing the process into modern times with the introduction of two new characters. …  The inevitable and believable intersection of “old” and “new” musical theater adds real life and renewed potential to Smash.

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Manilow on Broadway Review Roundup

Barry Manilow has received positive reviews for his third Broadway concert, simply titled Manilow on Broadway. His last appearance was the 1989 show Barry Manilow at the Gershwin; his first concert was Barry Manilow on Broadway, in 1976 at the Uris (which is now called the Gershwin), for which he received a special Tony Award. The creative team for this version includes Kye Bracket (staging), Ron Walters Jr. (music direction), Seth Jackson (production design), and Ken Newman (sound). In addition to Barry Manilow, the performers include Kye Brackett and Sharon Hendrix (backup vocals),  Joe Melotti and Ron Pedley (keyboards), Michael Lent (guitar), Russ McKinnon (drums), David Rozenblatt (percussion), and Stan Sargeant (bass).

Glenn Gamboa (Newsday): Manilow on Broadway is a fast-paced retrospective of the Brooklyn native’s life and career, built on his warmth and charm as a storyteller as much as the songs that make the whole world sing. “We don’t have any phantoms, any lions or any Spider-Men,” Manilow said.  … “All we have is hit songs.” That is more than enough. … “I feel you willing me through this,” Manilow told the audience, after his voice faltered slightly. They did. Looks like he made it.

Stephen Holden (N.Y. Times): As it has with his fellow legends, time has inevitably diminished Mr. Manilow’s singing. High notes have disappeared, a certain unsteadiness has crept into his delivery, and his belting is no longer robust. … The fans who sang along with his hits didn’t seem to notice. What mattered was that he was present and doing what he has always done and simply being himself. … Near the end of the concert the excitement built as Mr. Manilow played and sang duets with his younger self on television. At last came the triumphal “I Write the Songs,” with which the audience sang along waving green light sticks.

Brian Scott Lipton (Theater Mania): Proving just how effective he can be as a singer and a ballad writer, Barry also detours slightly from the show’s greatest hits format to sing the lovely “Every Single Day” from Harmony, the still possibly Broadway-bound musical he co-wrote with frequent collaborator, Bruce Sussman. He also reminisces about his Williamsburg upbringing with his loving grandfather and compliments the hometown crowd on how kind they were during Hurricane Sandy. He knows how to win us over. Not that he needs to. … Even a non-Fanilow has to admit Barry Manilow is a singer and composer who both respects words and his audience.

Frank Scheck (Hollywood Reporter): The 69-year-old singer struggle valiantly to get through the show, despite still obviously battling the bronchitis that caused him to cancel several previews. It was a lesson in showbiz grit and dedication that younger performers would do well to emulate. It also was a good example of why Barry Manilow still enjoys a dedicated following. … His visible efforts also gave the evening a moving, spontaneous quality that might otherwise have been lacking. … Like every great showman, he saved his biggest crowd pleasers for the end of the evening. … They sent the audience out on a high, hoping it won’t take a miracle for Manilow to return to classic form.

Jessica Shaw (Entertainment Weekly): Manilow, now 69, brought such a combination of tender personal moments, an easy connection to the audience, and a genuine elation to performing that you couldn’t help but dance in the aisles or swing the glow-sticks handed out by ushers. … He was downright innovative singing backup for himself, as footage of him singing “Mandy” on a mid-’70s episode of Midnight Special played on the screen behind him. … It may come as a shock to some, but yes, he’s still got it. After all, he is music. B+

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Life & Times Review Roundup

The Nature Theater of Oklahoma has received positive reviews for its multi-part Life and Times, presented Off-Broadway by Soho Rep as part of the Under the Radar festival at the Public Theater. The creative team includes Kristin Worrall (book), Florian Malzacher (dramaturgy), Pavol Liska, Kelly Copper (direction), Robert M. Johanson, Julie LaMendola, Daniel Gower (music), and Peter Nigrini (design). The cast includes Ilan Bachrach, Elisabeth Conner, Gabel Eiben, Anne Gridley, Robert M. Johanson, Matthew Korahais, Julie LaMendola, Alison Weisgall, and Kristin Worrall.

Joe Dziemianowicz (Daily News): Life is short. The Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s Life and Times: Episodes 1-4 is long: 10 hours altogether. Along the way, it’s amusing, touching, joyful and boring. … It’s a memoir like no other and can be seen piecemeal or as a marathon, where food is served during the breaks. It’s bound to trigger your own memories and the personal becomes universal, an idea underscored as the show builds from one performer to two to six to 18. Episode 1 covers infancy to third grade. … Episode 2, the best chapter, recalls early adolescence. … Parts 3 and 4 … traces teen milestones and trials. Big laughs lead to a weak cosmic conclusion that’s not the best of Times.

Jason Fitzgerald (Back Stage): In the hands of other artists, Life and Times: Episodes 1-4 would be the paradigm of pedantic pointlessness. Instead, crafted by Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, the performance ensemble directed by Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper, this four-part mock epic is the first great theatrical event of 2013. Making theatrical spectacle out of everyday ramblings is Liska and Copper’s chief parlor trick. … Life and Times, combined with its epic magnitude, makes music of its tedium and a kind of love out of its Olympian labor. … The question that Life and Times poses – What can we do with someone’s life? – resonates far beyond the theater stage.

Charles Isherwood (N.Y. Times): “God, this must be so boring for you!” Thus runs a line from the libretto. … You may be sorely tempted to shout back, “God, yes it is!” But Life and Times is also entrancing, maddening, heartbreaking, sidesplitting, even, in its humble way, awe-inspiring. … This long, loopy song of innocence and experience, conceived and directed by Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper, made for one of the most unforgettable adventures of my theatergoing experience. … If asked to articulate my responses in the moment, I couldn’t put it better than our lovable but long-winded heroine does as she reels through the years: “I was like, ‘Oh my God!’”

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Fig Leaves Review Roundup

Natalie Venetia Belcon and Jonathan Rayson

Unsung Musicals has received mixed reviews for its Off-Broadway revival of the short-lived 1969 musical The Fig Leaves Are Falling. This revised version features a scaled-down cast of eight actors, three new songs, and previously discarded dialogue and lyrics in a one-act production. The creative team includes Allan Sherman (book, lyrics), Albert Hague (music), Ben West (revisions, direction), Richard J. Hinds (choreography), Andrew Graham (music arrangements), Benet Braun (music direction), Joe Hodge (lights), and Janine Marie McCabe (costumes). The cast includes Natalie Venetia Belcon, Karen Hyland, Nathan Keen, Antuan Raimone, Jonathan Rayson, Morgan Rose, Matt Walton, and Morgan Weed.

Daniel M. Gold (N.Y. Times): Unsung Musicals Co. has revived – or more accurately, revised – the show. … Whether this tinkering helps is hard to determine. … There’s some exceptional singing by the cast of eight; smart, smooth choreography; and costuming that serves as markers of that era. But in the end the songs and their chronicle of temptation disappoint. There is little of the snap or crackle of Sherman’s best lyrics, and Hague’s music is forgettable. The high-quality production values and cast, especially Mr. Rayson, provide satisfying moments, but sometimes it’s best to keep a curio in the cabinet.

Michael Musto (Village Voice): The 1969 George Abbott-directed production was such a flop that in Act Two they raffled off a barbecued chicken. … This version has been worked on and reimagined, and it’s got a talented cast, nifty choreography, and a few good songs (“All of My Laughter” is a standout). The problem with the material is that it starts spoofy, then tries to make you care about the relationships, which are too thinly drawn (even now, when more focus has been put on them than in ’69). … I’m glad director/adapter Ben West goes to forbidden places, and with obvious affection. And without that chicken, it’s probably way less of a turkey.

Rachel Sklar (Theater Mania): Director Ben West, who revised, adapted and streamlined the musical from the original and earlier versions, cleaned it up, but Sherman’s mawkish bones never really get fleshed out. So why is this production worth reviving? … Shows like The Fig Leaves Are Falling were more about how the hard it can be to move on when you’re still stuck in boxes of the present. That was the paradox for Harry within the show, and for Allan Sherman, talent though he was, in creating it. But still. … It is some very good work from a guy who knew his way around a lyric, if not really a story. It’s enough. Let the fig leaves fall where they may.

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Wonderful Wizard of Song Review Roundup

Marcus Goldhaber, George Bugatti, Joe Shepherd

The Harold Arlen revue The Wonderful Wizard of Song has received mixed notices for its Off-Broadway premiere at St. Luke’s, where it has settled for an open-ended run after a national tour. The creative team includes George Bugatti (concept, book), Sam Arlen, Nigel Wright (concept), Harold Arlen (music), Gene Castle (direction, choreography), Andrew Smithson (music direction), Steve Rawlins, Arty Schroeck, Chris Hoffman (arrangements), Josh Iacovelli (sets, lights), Steve Colucci (sets), and Amy Pedigo (costumes). The cast includes George Bugatti, Marcus Goldhaber, Joe Shepherd and Antoinette Henry.

Ron Cohen (Back Stage): The Wonderful Wizard of Song is a likable and brisk survey of composer Arlen’s work. … The problem is that up to halfway through the proceedings are fairly perfunctory. The show doesn’t really begin to burrow into the emotional richness of the canon until a sequence labeled “Saloon Medley,” in which Bugatti’s rendering of “The Man That Got Away,” its Ira Gershwin lyric sex-changed to “gal,” is galvanizing in its mix of anger and regret and ties in smartly with “One for My Baby” and other numbers. The show could use more of this type of exploration. It’s certainly a professional and entertaining offering, but Arlen’s music and his lyricists can support and deserve more.

Sandi Durrell (Examiner): The music is deliciously divine but, unfortunately, the revue doesn’t get off the ground as it could if it had a stronger, slicker cast to match the musical treasures. … Happily, Antionette Henry is in the mix and comes up as the star of the show! Ms. Henry exhibits the depth and raw emotion that make her songs come alive. … There’s lots of backstage gossip that helps to enliven and some good video slides especially the personal ones of Arlen. … If you treasure the music of iconic songwriting legend Harold Arlen, you’ll walk away singing and humming, which is not a bad thing!

Mark Dundas Wood (Bistro Awards): These singers have some talent, and they seem to sincerely admire the work of Arlen, but do they live up to his legacy? At moments, perhaps – but certainly not consistently. The show is mostly a disappointment. … Many of the key solos fall to big-voiced Henry, who succeeds when she focuses on the melody and emotional content of a song. … Most of the songs heard here have been performed and recorded by so many accomplished singers over the decades that unflattering comparisons are inevitable. … Perhaps if more such rarities had been included, the evening would have seemed more rewarding.

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Broadway Theater Hall of Fame

On Monday, Jan. 28, Tony-winning actor Tyne Daly (Gypsy) will host the Theater Hall of Fame’s 2012 Gala Induction and Dinner at the Gershwin Theatre, where the plaques of the inductees will be hung. This year’s class includes artistic directors André Bishop (at Lincoln Center when they produced the Tony-winning Contact and revivals of South Pacific and Carousel, and at Playwrights Horizons when they produced the Pulitzer winner Sunday in the Park with George), Michael Kahn (from DC’s Shakespeare Theatre, who received a Tony nom for directing the 1983 Houston Grand Opera revival of Show Boat) and Trevor Nunn (at the RSC when he received Tonys for directing Cats and Les Misérables).

Other musical theater inductees include the late Martin Pakledinaz (best known for his Tony-winning costume designs for Thoroughly Modern Millie and the 1999 revival of Kiss Me, Kate) and actor Betty Buckley (Tony winner for Cats). Actor Sam Waterston and playwrights Christopher Durang and Paula Vogel round out this year’s roster of honorees.

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Les Misérables Tops UK Chart

A week after reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart in the US, the Les Misérables soundtrack has become the first cast recording in 16 years to hit No. 1 on the Official UK Albums chart. The previous film musical to reach the top of the UK charts was Evita in 1997. Last month, Les Misérables also reached No. 1 on the Official Charts Company’s soundtracks chart. In addition to its soundtrack album’s success, the film’s single “I Dreamed a Dream,” sung by Anne Hathaway as Fantine, has climbed to No. 22 in its second week on the UK’s singles chart. That is the highest position for the song, which has appeared on the British singles chart in previous versions from the cast of Glee featuring Idina Menzel (#36 in 2010), Susan Boyle (#37 in 2009), and the original London Fantine, Patti LuPone (#45 in 2009).

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20at20 Winter 2013

The Off-Broadway Alliance is once again offering its 20at20 program of discount tickets to Off-Broadway shows. For seven years, the biannual program has offered $20 tickets for sale 20 minutes before curtain time. Note that only cash is accepted for any 20at20 ticket sales. This winter’s engagement runs from Jan. 22 to Feb. 10. Participating musicals include Avenue Q, Bare, Berenstain Bears, Bunnicula, Cougar, Fancy Nancy, Fantasticks, Forbidden Broadway, Forever Dusty, Hollow, Naked Boys Singing, Newsical, Show Way, Silence, Sistas, and Wonderful Wizard of Song. If you see seven participating shows you can mail your original ticket stubs to receive a free voucher for dinner for two, while supplies last. For more information about the program and dinner offer, visit the 20at20 website.

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2013 Golden Globes

Anne Hathaway and
Hugh Jackman

The 70th annual Golden Globes were revelead last night in Hollywood. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler ably and hilariously hosted the proceedings, aided by fellow SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell. The night’s biggest surprise was perhaps the win for Ben Affleck, who was not included in this year’s field of Oscar director nominees. However, not so surprisingly, Les Misérables went home with trophies for three of the four categories in which it was nominated, including Best Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical), Best Actor (Comedy or Musical) to Hugh Jackman, and Best Supporting Actress to Anne Hathaway. It missed out on Best Original Song, which went to Adele’s title track for the Bond film Skyfall. It was also a disappointing night for the TV show Smash, which saw the Golden Globe for Best TV Show (Comedy or Musical) go to HBO’s Girls.

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Les Misérables Tops Billboard Chart

In the Jan. 19 issue of Billboard, the Les Misérables soundtrack has claimed the top spot on the “Billboard 200” chart, supplanting Taylor Swift’s country-pop Red, which held that perch for the past four weeks. In doing so, the soundtrack becomes the first cast album to reach No. 1 in this decade. In fact, since 2000, the top spot on the album chart has been held by only 18 film and TV soundtracks of any kind. There have been a handful of background compilations (Hunger Games, two from Twilight, Juno, Bad Boys II), a few deigetic scores (three from Glee, three from Hannah Montana, O Brother Where Art Thou, 8 Mile), and just four film cast albums (adaptations of Mamma Mia! and Dreamgirls, two original High School Musical TV movies). The last Broadway cast album to reach the top spot was Hair in 1969, though Book of Mormon came close in 2011, when it peaked at No. 3.

DID YOU KNOW? The first Broadway cast album to top the charts was Song of Norway, the 1944 operetta that Robert Wright and George Forrest adapted from the music of Edvard Grieg, portrayed by Lawrence Brooks in the show. It was the first of many Wright-Forrest adaptations from classical themes, perhaps their best being the Tony-winning Kismet. The first soundtrack to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts was Words and Music, the 1948 sanitized bio-musical starring Tom Drake and Mickey Rooney as Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, respectively, with cameos from a half dozen MGM stars, including Judy Garland. The film was the last in which Mickey and Judy both appeared.

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