MUSICAL THEATRE SHOWCASE
This past week I accompanied my wife, Kimberly on a quick visit to NYC. The main reason was to be there for the 25th Annual CCM Musical Theatre Showcase. As part of the long weekend, some two dozen former students of Kimberly Daniel de Acha surprised her with a brunch honoring her upcoming retirement after 48 years (yes, I said forty-eight years) in the arts, first as a singer-actress who performed in and sang everything from Baroque Opera to show music, then as a Voice professor first at the New World School for the Arts, then at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music and, most recently, at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music.
Then there were the two showcases, one at 3 pm, one at 6 pm, where the 2017 Musical Theatre Senior Class performed in front of a score of NYC casting agents. Word has it the performances elicited a positive response from many of the artist management reps who attended.
FLAHERTY AND AHRENS AT 54 BELOW
At Michael Feinstein’s 54 Below, there was a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the CCM Musical Theatre Showcase, where many former CCM students who have become successfully active Broadway performers over the past quarter century sang two different shows to a capacity audience.
It wasn’t just simply an evening of song after song strung together, but rather an homage to the creative team of Steven Flaherty and Lyn Ahrens, the composer-lyricist pair that has given us a legacy of great shows, including the now-on-stage Anastasia, and the past hits Seussical, Rocky, Ragtime, and Once on this Island, plus scores of songs for other Broadway, film and TV shows.
There were many, many wonderful moments that evening, including show-stopping turns by Max Clayton, John Riddle, Julian Decker, Grady Long, Kathryn Boswell and Kimber Elayne Sprawl.
FLAHERTY AND AHRENS ON BROADWAY
And then, of course, there were several opportunities to see what’s on Broadway right now. With only three days with which to work, there were only three evenings and one matinee to squeeze into our schedule.
First of all we saw and loved and highly recommend the still-in-previews ANASTASIA. With lovely music and smart lyrics by the award-winning team of Steven Flaherty and Lyn Ahrens, and an intriguing book by Terrence McNally, adapted from the 1997 film, the show takes a genteel and elegant approach to the less than gentle story of the murder of Czar Nicholas and his family at the hands of the Bolsheviks during the 1917 Revolution.
The ensuing disappearance of the Princess Anastasia has been the subject matter of many books, plays and films, which is also the case here, though one given an unpredictable though happy ending. A terrific ensemble cast brings the show to life under the direction of Darko Tresnyak. We couldn’t brave the nose-bleed seats (at $69) though a very youthful audience did, filling the Broadhurst Theatre to capacity.
We were wedged into orchestra seats at $$$ a pop not quite made for a six-footer with orthopedic issues, but the enchanting show made our physical discomfort quickly vanish, especially as we watched our friend Kathryn Boswell, cover for the title role in her second Broadway fling as a member of the ensemble.
GLORIA AND EMILIO ESTEFAN’S ON YOUR FEET
We took in ON YOUR FEET, Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s story about how a little band that could by the name of Miami Sound Machine turned itself into the most successful Latin group in show business history. Ana Villafañe and Ektor Rivera helm a smoking hot ensemble of singing and dancing Latinos under the direction of Jerry Mitchell and choreographer Sergio Trujillo.
As much a show (book by Alex Dinelaris), as it is a concert of Estefan/Miami Sound Machine hits, the evening flows as easily as Cuban rum and coke does in a Miami fiesta. The temperature outside the theatre was Nordic but inside the Marquis it was comfortably warm (or hot) depending on how your pulse rate rose to the beat of the unending Salsa music. Ours was as steady as the rhythm of our feet, even while seated.
After the show we had a drink with cast members Henry Gainza and Omar Lopez-Cepero, both friends from our days in South Florida.
ANDREW LLOYD WEBER’S SUNSET BOULEVARD
Andrew Lloyd Weber’s SUNSET BOULEVARD is vintage A.L.W. given a nice edge by the presence of Glen Close in the role of faded movie star Norma Desmond.
The show, still in previews, has a limited run, and, judging by the advance sales and the capacity crowds (even during previews) it would be safe to bet that regardless of what the critics say, it has a good chance of running for a while, especially if a star of the same high wattage can be found to replace Ms. Close once she is off to her next project.
That said, no snarky comments are needed. We did not think much of the show nor deluded ourselves into thinking that Ms. Close can sing. She can’t, although she can chew up the scenery like there’s no tomorrow. The dancing-singing ensemble is top-notch, including (full disclosure) our clarion-voiced friend, Julian Decker in the role of Myron.
WAR PAINT, AN UNTO-DEATH-DO-US- PART TALE OF RIVALRY AND SUCCESS
As much as I wasn’t crazy about the A.L.W. show, we immensely enjoyed WAR PAINT. On one level, the show, with a wonderful book by Doug Wright is about the unto-death-do-us-part rivalry between cosmetic gurus Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein. Beyond that, though, the musical is an edgy, unapologetic celebration of the resilience and warts-and-all determination of two extraordinarily brilliant and nasty women-entrepreneurs who rose from nothing – Rubinstein from abject poverty in the Jewish ghetto in her native Poland, Arden from a Canadian farming backwater – to become American success stories.
Two such larger than life figures require equally sizeable talents to portray them in words and music. Patty Lupone as Rubinstein and Christine Ebersole as Arden turn out superlative performances that, under the firm hand of director Michael Greif never ever cross the red line into grandstanding. The production, still in previews, blessed with exquisite costumes by Catherine Zuber, several of which are worn with beaucoup style by our friend Stephanie Park – a standout in the ensemble, has all the markings of a Broadway hit.
Rafael de Acha