5 Things I Loved About If/Then

IMG_6883If/Then is exactly the type of show that makes me glad I’m a subscriber to the KeyBank Broadway series. If I had to buy a single ticket to it…I probably wouldn’t. Not because I had zero interest, but because it’s really easy to think of reasons to not leave the house and not spend money on theater tickets, especially in Cleveland in February, and especially when the show in question was somewhat coolly received by critics and generally overlooked by awards. But boy am I glad I saw it. I found the production smart, tuneful, and quite entertaining. Here are 5 things I loved about If/Then:

  1. Despite If/Then being the definition of ponderous, everyone in it has a lot of fun. And I don’t mean “ponderous” as an insult, it’s simply a fact that the characters spend a lot of time  asking “What if?” I mean, that’s the title of the opening number. And some pretty dark shit happens to them. But the production finds a joy and energy in asking the question and dealing with the answers.
  2. It wasn’t at all confusing. In this musical, a young woman is presented with  two seemingly innocuous choices (get coffee with a new friend or meet housing activists with an old friend), and we see the divergent ways in which her life plays out as she goes down each path. The musical goes back and forth between parallel stories giving “Elizabeth” only enough time to put on/remove glasses to differentiate between “Liz” (she gets coffee with the new friend and falls in love, though is less career driven) and  “Beth” (she meets the activists and has a wildly successful career…and an equally unsuccessful love life). Not only is this all perfectly clear as it plays out, the production has a lot of fun with the transitions and connections between the Liz and Beth’s plot lines.
  3. It works against expectations. It’s a musical about youngish people in NYC trying to discover who they are and what they want–and no one is an artist! Serious career-driven Beth doesn’t wear glasses–Liz, the fun one, does! There’s racial diversity! There is a bisexual character whose interest in both men and women is taken seriously. Even its choice of Madison Square Park as a recurring meeting place is unconventional. Who even remembers Madison Square Park exists? I sure don’t, and I worked half a block away for three years!
  4. The ensemble. There wasn’t a huge chorus–basically enough to play an assortment of bit parts and cover the principals–but their presence added a sense of movement to the evening and helped expand the scale of many of the numbers. And they had some great vocal arrangements.
  5. The SANGING. This musical seems to operate under the philosophy that the audience’s investment in a character is directly proportionate to the amount of belting done by said character. This philosophy is not wrong, and suffice it to say I was VERY invested in most of the characters. Jackie Burns sings her face off approximately every 7 minutes and it is pretty thrilling. This may have originally been a bespoke Idina role, but it’s Ms. Burns’ now, so bow down. In the role of “new best friend”, Tamyra Gray doesn’t have the best material, but is strong voice and is a natural and commanding actress. Janine DiVita is very winning (and underused) as Gray’s love interest. Their Act 2 duet, “Love While You Can” is definitely the evening’s non-Jackie-Burns musical highlight. In the  second most demanding role, Anthony Rapp sounds as good as any Rent fan would want him to.

If/Then. Director – Michael Greif. Music – Tom Kitt. Book/Lyrics – Brian Yorkey. Choreographer – Larry Keigwin.

What will come to #BWAYinCLE in 2016/2017

logo-bigOn March 22, I will attend the Key Bank Broadway Series launch event, at which the shows for next season will be announced. This will be the first season to run each show for 3 weeks (a fact Playhouse Square is REALLY driving home). It doesn’t seem like we’ve had an issue getting first-tier tours to stop here before adding a third week, so I’m curious what effect this will have on the line-up. Does it make us more or less likely to get a show like The Bridges of Madison County to stop here? Would Idina have added Cleveland to her list of If/Then cities it we had or 3rd week? I know literally nothing about how these decisions are made, so this kind of speculating is pointless. That being said, I have been looking into what OTHER cities have planned for 2016/2017 (though most have not announced their season’s yet either) and have created the following list of possible shows. This is probably 50% prediction and 50% wish list.

The list is broken up into 3 categories.

God I Hope I Get It” represents the tours launching in 2016/2017 I most want to come to Cleveland.

I Ain’t Down Yet” lists shows that I wanted to come last year and didn’t, but appear to be making bookings in other cities next season.

Possible…Very, very possible” lists shows that could possibly (or even very likely) come to Cleveland next season…and I’m not particularly excited about it. These are also shows that could come to Cleveland even if they are not included in the Broadway series.

The shows in RED are my best (if random and totally uninformed) guesses and to what will be announced on March 22.
  • Aladdin (This is more likely to happen in 2017/2018 as it launches in Chicago in April 2017…but it could definitely hit Cleveland next summer.)
  • An American in Paris
  • Curious Incident…
  • Fun Home
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch (**added to list 2/5/2016, made a prediction on 2/21/2016)
  • The King and I
  • Cabaret
  • The Sound of Music (Jack O’Brien)
  • An Act of God (** added 2/15/2016 per Denver’s announced season)
  • Amazing Grace (**added 2/11/2016 per this article)
  • The Bodyguard
  • A Christmas Story
  • Finding Neverland
  • The Illusionists
  • The Lion King
  • The Little Mermaid
  • A Night with Janice Joplin (***removed on 2/21/2016 because it’s playing in Cleveland this March)
  • Rent 20th Anniversary
  • Riverdance
  • Something Rotten! (***removed from prediction 2/21/2016)
I may update this list periodically as more cities announce shows. I will try to make revisions clear

Scene In Cleveland: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

GGLAMIf you want to write a Tony-Award winning best musical, I highly recommend writer a murder mystery with a setting and score inspired by the tradition of English Musical Hall. To my knowledge, only musicals have appeared on Broadway with this pairing of subject matter and performance style, and all three took home the big prize: Redhead (1959), The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1985), and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (2013). Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing the most recent entry in this very specific cannon, and it is easily one of the top 2 shows I’ve seen since subscribing to the KeyBank Broadway Series last year.

I’m actually somewhat surprised I enjoyed A Gentleman’s Guide… (aka GGLAM) as much as I did. I find “English Music Hall” to be the most grating, merit-less, and irrelevant of theatrical traditions and cannot fathom its appeal to the three American composers over the past 55 years who have emulated it. Fortunately, the score to GGLAM (by Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman, each making Broadway debuts) is never annoying, which distinguishes it from its predecessors. GGLAM may not have any moment as rapturously beautiful as Drood’s “Moonfall”, but it is always pleasant to listen to.

But the score to GGLAM is somewhat immaterial. The success of the production is primarily due to the consistently creative and clever Tony-award winning staging by Darko Tresnjak. Every moment is precisely conceived and executed, with even the smallest hand gestures delivered with style and perfectly timed to as to read to the back of the Connor Palace (a house three-times larger than GGLAM’s Broadway home). This specificity and wit is perfectly exhibited in their spot-on Tony performance.

A small proscenium (designed by Alexander Dodge) sits center stage and is a fun-house of a playing space. Scenes seamlessly flow in and out of this toy theater. Its red curtain will descend so a scene can play in front of (or beside, or practically on top of) the mini-stage. Every time the curtain rises again, the setting revealed is whimsical and visually striking. The setting contains many tricks and surprises that are revealed throughout the evening (but won’t be revealed here). The staging is completely fluid and never repetitive, making the 2.5 hour + intermission show feel like a 90-minute one-act.

The cast is uniformly excellent. All exist in a single, idiosyncratic, universe. All possess strong, pitch-perfect singing voices that fit the music’s style while still sounding pleasant to contemporary ears. All have wonderful comic timing. Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro makes an earnest and appealing serial killer that you legitimately root for. Kristen Beth Williams and Adrienne Eller each excel as the two women he loves (and love him in return). Most impressive is John Rapson, a phenomenally talented singer actor at the beginning of what promises to be a notable career, who plays all eight members of the D’Ysquith family who Navarro must kill in order to become an Earl.

GGLAM may not have a deeper level beyond being thoroughly entertaining, but it is clearly brimming with intelligence and mastery of craft. Is there such a thing as intellectual fluff?

Scene in Cleveland: Bullets Over Broadway the musical

Last night I saw the first official performance of the 1st National Tour of Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical. I had trepidation about the show from the start because I knew that, despite this being a 1st National Tour, it was a non-Equity production, which made me queasy both ethically—they’re charging Broadway tickets prices and paying the actors 25% of a Broadway salary—and artistically. Once the house lights went down, however, the cast’s lack of union representation was the furthest thing from my mind.

They didn't sell magnets so I had to make one out of my ticket.

They didn’t sell magnets so I had to make one out of my ticket.

The cast was, by and large, excellent. Recent college graduate Michael Williams is wonderful leading man: instantly likable, an impressive dancer, a fine singer, and in possession of good comedic timing. I imagine this won’t be the last time I hear from him. The three leading ladies—Hanna Rose Deflumeri, Jemma Jane, and Emma Stratton—are all fantastic singers. The latter two are pretty darn funny as well. (Deflumeri had more of a “straight man” role and as such didn’t have to opportunity to exhibit whatever comedic chops she may or may not possess). The remainder of the cast and ensemble fully inhabited the zany world of the show and pulled off Susan Stroman’s impressive choreography (recreated by Clare Cook) enthusiastically.

But a well-executed musical (I’m sure there’s a gangster pun in there somewhere) is not the same as a good musical. And I’m not even sure that Bullets… is a musical to begin with. There were definitely songs, dances, characters, and the general shape of a plot, but they rarely had anything to do with each other. The score represents the first time in which I’ve seen a jukebox musical in which 90% of the audience has never heard of 90% of the songs. The book (by Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath based on their screenplay) tried to squeeze in jokes wherever it could, but failed to justify the actions of their lead characters or the existence of the minor ones. (There is a character whose sole arc is seeking psychiatric help for a stuffed dog. Another character gets two unrelated plot lines—if you count “having an affair with a mobster’s girlfriend for no discernible reason” and “eating pastries” as plot lines.) The songs—aside from a phallic ode to hot dogs–were largely devoid of any humor whatsoever unless Stroman was able to find a way to ignore the content and choreograph a joke on top of it, a rabbit she managed to pull out of her hat a few times over the course of the evening. While the performances and heroic efforts of Susan Stroman (at least as a choreographer…perhaps she should consider ceding directing duties to those with a better understanding of musical development) created an evening with much to enjoy, the disjointed affair didn’t give us anything to like.