TBB’s Bite-Sized Reviews: Avenue Q Tour, Rent Tour and Finian’s Rainbow

It’s been a hectic few weeks – between finals and the holidays, I haven’t had any time to review the wonderful productions I saw over thanksgiving and winter break. Instead of doing a long review of each of them, I thought I would just post a few mini reviews with some thoughts. I’ll start with Thanksgiving break, so here are my bite-sized reviews of three of the five shows I saw that week – I’m happy to say I can rave about them!

Avenue Q (Non-equity Tour, The Colonial Theater, Boston) – I’ve seen Avenue Q before and loved it, but this tour cast is absolutely fantastic. This show is definitely not for kids – it’s billed as an “adult” musical known for its gratuitous use of puppet nudity. It’s truly hilarious and unpredictable and the music is catchy to boot. Brent DiRoma was standout as Princeton/Rod (most actors in Avenue Q play more than one part) but the cast as a whole was terrific.

Rent (“The Broadway Tour”, Providence Performing Arts Center, Providence, RI) – I travelled to Providence with some friends to see this show and I have to say, it was well worth my time. I’m not the biggest Renthead, but I was pretty excited to see Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp as Roger and Mark, respectively; Pascal and Rapp were in the original Broadway cast of Rent back in 1996. They were fantastic. I was so impressed with both of them – they’ve played Mark and Roger so many times since the show first opened, yet their performances were still fresh and natural. These two definitely aren’t phoning it in.

Finian’s Rainbow (St. James Theater, Broadway) – I went in not knowing much about the plot or score of Finian’s Rainbow, though I knew that the show was a bit older and slow-paced than the typical Broadway fare today. The show itself is an utter delight – it deserves every single rave it got in the mainstream press. Literally everything in this show is superb; the casting is spot on (someone hand Kate Baldwin her Tony nom -STAT!!) and the sets, lighting and costumes are wonderful. But what I love most about Finian’s is that it feels like a old-timey show (and I mean that in a good way.) I love that no one tried to “modernize” it, that would have never worked. It’s classic and timeless all on its own.

My next post will tackle a the other 2 shows I saw over Thanksgiving, and a few of the 8 shows I saw over winter break!

Anyone see any shows they want to rave about?

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A Musical Interlude: Run Away with Me

I’m a huge fan of Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk, two new(ish) composers that are producing some awesome, touching work. I missed out on seeing the first production of their newest project, The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown because it premiered in Los Angeles, but I’ve been following the music for a while. Kerrigan and Lowdermilk have done a bunch of cabaret shows in New York and LA and they upload all of their songs on YouTube. Because of their generosity, I discovered this video of their song “Run Away With Me”, performed by Michael Arden. Other actors have performed the song too, but this is my favorite version. I pretty much fell in love with Michael Arden after watching it and I’m sure you will too!

What are you listening to lately?

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Inside Theater: Some Thoughts on Stunt Casting

A few days ago, I was talking to my roommate about Broadway shows. She mentioned that she wanted to come visit me in NYC over winter break, to see “that show with James Bond in it.” My roommate was referring to A Steady Rain, the Keith Huff play starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig, that is currently breaking box office records at Broadway’s Shoenfield Theater. Despite receiving only lukewarm reviews, the show has consistently sold out since its first week on the Great White Way.

Now, I’m not saying that a lukewarm review means a lukewarm show; I’ve loved shows that the media have panned and vice versa. I haven’t seen A Steady Rain, so I can’t say if it’s deserving of its reviews. But, I have seen a slew of Broadway plays and musicals that have been stunt cast…and I have to say, stunt casting…MUST DIE.

Stunt casting, for those who don’t know, is the practice of casting a television or film star in a role on- or off-Broadway. Other recent examples include pop-star Ashlee Simpson as Roxie Hart in Chicago and actor Jude Law as Hamlet in the play of the same name.

I have no problem with stunt casting when it’s successful, e.g. when the actor in the role can perform the role well, and as it is written. A great example is Daniel Radcliffe (aka. Harry Potter), who played Alan Strang in the recent revival of Equus on Broadway. Sure, he was stunt cast, but it worked because Radcliffe suited the part, was age appropriate and acted the crap out of the role. Seriously, I left the theater crying, he was that good.

The problem with stunt casting is that, often, the actors cast don’t live up to the demands of the role. For example, Gina Gershon was cast as Rosie Alvarez, the saucy Latina spitfire in Roundabout’s recent production of Bye Bye Birdie. The problem: Rosie, a role originated by famed dancer Chita Rivera, involves a lengthy dance solo that Gina couldn’t handle. Consequently, it was cut (along with a dramatic rape scene also involving Rosie.) As a fan of theater, I take offense to this. Not only are there a dozen other Broadway leading ladies that could tackle the part, editing the show means that, well….I didn’t really see Bye Bye Birdie when I saw the revival. I saw a watered down version with a C-list star that didn’t deserve the part. You might think I’m overreacting, and okay, maybe I am, a bit. But Gershon’s singing wasn’t really up to snuff either…she hit a few truly unfortunate notes that had me cringing. And besides, I paid for my ticket…I should have gotten to see the show I paid for in full, dance solo and all.

The point of stunt casting is to sell tickets, right? Well, if producers want to sell tickets, they should be making an effort to find actors that will not only draw people in, but perform the role well. I recommended Bye Bye Birdie to a few friends, but I told them to wait it out and see the show after Gershon leaves, and I know my other friends have told others the same. In this case, stunt casting might have the opposite effect – it might draw people away from a promising show. In the day and age of the internet, poor word of mouth can be just as damaging as a scathing review from Ben Brantley.

I won’t be seeing A Steady Rain with my roommate, mostly because I’m sure it’s sold out anyways. But, I’ve started to question whether I really want to see other shows with stunt casting anyways. Someday soon, if we all stop seeing shows without Hollywood star power, shows with simple theater folk might cease to exist. Seeing a stunt cast show sort of feels like supporting the boy with magnifying glass, not the dying ant.

What do you think about stunt casting? Let me know in the comments!

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Discount Theater Tickets: The New York Edition

I’ve already posted about cheap tickets and discounts in Boston, but I figured I’d share some insight on getting cheaper seats around New York. I know you can probably find a lot of this information from other sources, but I thought I would aggregate some of it for any theater newbies!

There are a slew of websites to get discount codes for shows in NYC, but here are a few of the better ones, in my opinion. BroadwayBox is my all-time favorite discount site. BroadwayBox is a website that lists different promotional codes Broadway and Off-Broadway shows are offering. Most of these codes offer a discount of around 25 to 50% off regular price tickets, though discounts generally vary depending on the season and the popularity of the show. Either way, you can usually score some sweet deals by checking out their website. Using the discount codes is easy – there will be a link to connect you to the ticketing site or you can print out the offer and take it to the box office. The best thing about BroadwayBox is that it also offers discounts to museums, attractions and hotels – so if you get lucky you might be able to plan an entire vacation using just this site.

My second favorite discount site is one I mentioned in my previous post, Goldstar. Goldstar offers discount codes at 50% off the advertised ticket price for a variety of shows and events. Other awesome discount code providers include Playbill and Theatermania. All three of these sites require email registration and if you’re not interested in getting regular emails from them, I suggest you have them send to an email address you rarely use. Nevertheless, they offer great discounts, especially if you plan to go to theater often.

TKTS, Rush and Lotto are your best options for day-of tickets. The TKTS booth has three locations; the most popular of these is in the heart of Times Square and offers discounted tickets up to 30 minutes prior to curtain time. The other two locations are slightly further from the theater disctrict: Downtown at the South Street Seaport and in Brooklyn. These two locations are far less busy than their midtown counterpart is, but be sure to leave sufficient travel time if you plan to get your tickets there.

Rush is a way for theaters to sell off extra tickets day-of. Many box offices sell rush when they open for the day, at 10 a.m, while others start an hour or so before curtain time. Rush comes in two forms: general rush and a student rush. General rush is open to everywhere, whereas student rush policies require proof of enrollment (typically a student ID) to purchase tickets. Rush tickets are generally between $25 and $30, and the seats vary – you might get the front row of the orchestra, or you might be stuck in the last row of the balcony. Lotto is rush’s slightly more difficult cousin. A lotto is basically a raffle drawing. You enter your name into a pot and if your name is picked you can purchase up to two tickets. Some lottos are easier to win than others and the ticket limit is a major disadvantage if you’re looking to score tickets for a larger group. Another, slightly more rare option for day-of tickets is SRO, or standing room only “seats.” SRO, sold only when the show is sold out, allows you to watch the show from a standing position at the back of the orchestra. If you want to see a Broadway sell-out (such as current shows Wicked or Billy Elliot), SRO might be your only option, so don’t discount it completely – and if someone fails to show up, you might be able to snag a seat for the second act.

My last bit of advice if you’re looking to score cheap seats is: don’t be a seat snob. Sure, those precious spots in the first few rows of the orchestra offer a great view but they’re going to cost you. Many of those seats sell at full price, or higher (if they’re designated “premium seating.”) Conversely, seats in the last few rows of a theater are usually priced lower than the rest of the theater. For example, Next to Normal, the current tenant of Broadway’s Booth Theater, offers seats in the last row of the mezzanine for $36. The view from these seats is comparable to the view from the seats directly in front of them, which are $70 – double the price.
Basically, don’t assume that cheap seats are bad seats. If it’s the choice between seeing a show for cheap, from the balcony or not seeing it at all, it’s definitely a no brainer.

What discount sources do you use in NYC?

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Dinner Theater: Pops Restaurant

A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend took me to dinner and a show at the Boston Center for the Arts. The show itself was a bit forgettable, but the dinner was delicious and definitely review-worthy. I’m not really that familiar with the South End, so we wandered around for a bit before finding our restaurant of choice, Pops. My frugality is already well documented in this blog; I’m a huge fan of cheap. So when my boyfriend looked at Pop’s menu and pointed out the $25 prix fixe menu, I was sold.

The evening we went, it was warm and breezy, so we took a table outside on the patio. But I peeked into the restaurant and I was impressed with the ambiance – the walls were gorgeous and ornate, and the digital photo frames on the walls featured some awesome shots of historic Boston.

The three-course prix fixe begins with a choice of three appetizers, a Butternut Squash ravioli, Cape Cod mussels, or a salad of Mixed greens. I had the Butternut Squash ravioli and it was decadent, creamy and delicious. I hate to admit it, but I was tempted to lick the plate clean…mmm.

Butternut Squash Ravioli
Photo Credit: Yelp

For the main course, I chose the Malfalde Pasta with Spicy Lamb Bolognese. The noodles were well cooked, the sauce was just had just the right amount of heat and the lamb was tender. But the true highlight was the mouthwatering bite of Kobe Beef Meatloaf I stole from my boyfriend’s plate. I’m not a big meatloaf fan, but that meatloaf was so delicious that if I were on death row, I would request it as my last meal. It was flavorful with a great, meaty texture and amazing gravy to boot. Perfect for comfort food.

Kobe Beef Meatloaf
Photo Credit: Yelp

We finished the meal off with dessert; I’m a chocolate fiend so I opted for the chocolate tart with oreo cookie crust, and my boyfriend got the trio of popsicles. I didn’t get to sample the popsicles but the chocolate tart was perfectly decadent, and a great end to a great meal.

The prix fixe was awesome, especially considering the price. I’m really looking forward to heading back to Pops to sample their Brunch menu!

Do you have a favorite pre-theater restaurant? Tell me in the comments!

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The Art of the 24-Hour Trip

This is a follow up to my post about 24 hour trips to NYC, which you can find here.

As I said in my last post, a day trip to New York, especially if you intend to be up for nearly 24 hours straight, requires some preparation and planning. This posts includes some of my suggestions – but keep in mind these are just some tips, and it’s your vacation, so edit them to suit you.

In terms of transportation, I suggest a discount bus company like Megabus or Bolt Bus. These companies are pretty much your standard greyhound, with a lot fewer routes. If you plan on having a full 24 hours for travel and leisure, you’ll want to schedule your Boston departure time between 6 and 7 a.m. (earlier if you’re worried about winter weather) and your New York Departure time around 11:30 p.m. to give you enough time to get to your bus from whatever play you decide to see, or place you decide to explore. Prices can vary based on the time of day you’re leaving as well as how far in advance you book. I’ve managed to get fares as low as $1 and as high as $20, so even if you do drag your feet and book late, the fares are still reasonable (as long as the bus isn’t sold out for the time you want.)

Other travel options to and from Boston include Acela Express, a train service offered by Amtrak. I’ve never taken it personally, so if you choose this mode of transportation please drop me a line to let me know what you thought!

If you definitely want to squeeze two shows into your 24-hour day, make sure you plan to go on a Wednesday, Saturday, or Sunday. Many Broadway (and Off-Broadway) shows have two shows on these days (a matinee at 2pm and an evening show at 8pm), but check Playbill.com’s weekly chart of current Broadway shows to determine your show’s individual schedule.

There are a number of resources for discount ticket codes and offers including BroadwayBox and Playbill. In my next post, I’ll detail even more options for discount tickets in NYC.

If you choose to see one show (or no shows), there’s a long list of museum and attractions to check out. For more info check New York travel websites like the New York City Guide or NYCGO.

When you get to New York, your planning will pay off as long as you keep a keen eye on the time. And my last bit of advice seems obvious, but I’ll throw it in nonetheless: wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Theater is way less formal than it used to be, so no one will care if you show up in jeans. And in terms of footwear, after 24 hours of being awake (depending on whether or not you can sleep on buses or trains) and walking around the city, your feet will thank you for the extra padding.

Have any other suggestions for NYC day trips? Leave a comment!

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TBB Reviews: Fiddler on the Roof

I have a confession to make. While I’ve been blogging away about the basics of theater going, I’ve been neglecting some of my duties as the Broadway Bostonian – mainly, seeing an excessive amount of shows. This semester has been slow, theater-wise. You might ask why? What makes this semester (semester – not year, because unlike the rest of society, college students measure time in these strange blocks) different from others?

Because of the economy, it looks like some theater producing companies aren’t creating the same volume of work they once were. For example, Broadway Across America Boston, the major production company behind many of the touring shows that pass through Boston, typically hosts about four or five shows a semester, which is awesome for a theater junkie like myself. But this semester, they’re only hosting three – and none of them played during September or October, the prime back to school months. Now, one might chalk this up to their spring line-up of seven shows. But other theaters seem to be following suit – cutting their seasons short or producing fewer shows than they have in the past.

With all of this brewing, I jumped at the chance to see Broadway Across America’s first production of Boston’s 2009-2010 season, the Fiddler on the Roof, when it passed through the Colonial Theater last week. I have a long history with the music from this show; when I was a little girl, my grandmother had a wind-up music box that played “Sunrise, Sunset.” I used to sit in front of it, listening to the song on an endless loop. Back then, I had no idea that the show was from a musical, but I loved it anyways.

The Fiddler on the Roof is the story of Tevye (Chaim Topol), the patriarchal figure of a large Jewish community in Tsarist Russia, set during the early 1900s. Tevye often breaks the fourth wall, to tell the story of his five daughters and their attempts to hold the family together despite external factors that threaten to break them apart. In a word where dysfunctional families dominate television, theater and movies, the warm rallying spirit of the family depicted in Fiddler is refreshing. The cast makes each song and scene a joyous moment, truly creating the camaraderie one expects from such a boisterous community.

As for Chaim Topol, who originated the role of the Tevye on stage and on the silverscreen, he’s wonderful. He’s truly the leader of the piece and he’s every bit as charming and charismatic as he was on film. Sadly, the night I saw the show, the producers announced that Topol would be leaving, effective at the start of the next tour stop. His replacement, Harvey Fierstein, is an accomplished actor, but Topol truly IS Tveye, the same way Marilyn Monroe is Lorelai Lee. It just seems strange to picture any other actor in the part, but I guess that’s just because I’ve never seen anyone else in the role. Nevertheless I’m sure the lively and welcoming ensemble will continue to shine under Harvey’s new leadership.
I’d say Fiddler was well worth the $25 I spent on my student rush ticket and I’m looking forward to my next trip to the Colonial to see Avenue Q!

Have you seen any good productions lately?

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