Tag Archives: Drama Desk Award Winner

Nr 465: Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1978)

6 Mar

Ain’t Misbevavin’
1978: Broadway, 1 604 perfs.
1979: West End
1982: Tv-version
1988: Broadway Revival, 176 perfs.
1995: West End Revival

Book: Murray Horwitz, Richard Maltby, Jr.,
Music & Lyrics: Various composers and lyricists

The musical is a tribute to the black musicians of the 1920s and 1930s who were part of the Harlem Renaissance, an era of growing creativity, cultural awareness, and ethnic pride, and takes its title from the 1929 Waller song ”Ain’t Misbehavin’.” It was a time when Manhattan nightclubs like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom were the playgrounds of high society and Lenox Avenue dives were filled with piano players banging out the new beat known as swing.
Five performers present an evening of rowdy, raunchy, and humorous songs that encapsulate the various moods of the era and reflect Waller’s view of life as a journey meant for pleasure and play.

This is one swinging show. If you don’t start tapping your toes, snapping your fingers and break out in a goofy happy smile while listening to the cast recording you’re in serious trouble, my friend. Because this is an infectious, melodious, well sung, well arranged and overall brilliantly staged masterpiece of a show. Without a doubt one of the best, if not the best revue ever to be presented on Broadway. At least in my opinion.
Now, I must admit that I saw the original London production in 1979 and not the Broadway one, but both André DeShields and Charlayne Woodard from the Broadway show were in it – and it was a brilliant production. I was totally blown away.
Just the way they delivered the songs… They weren’t just singing the words they were telling a story, really telling it and not just singing beautiful notes (although they sang beautifully, all of them) and they were acting the songs. They made every song come to life and it was heaven to me. I hadn’t realized, till then, that you could deliver a song in this way, with so much passion, engaging storytelling and with total audience contact. I was sucked into the world of Fats Waller, his time and his music.
And another first for me was when André sang The Vipers Drag, lightning up a reefer on stage, slithering around, ”getting high” and at one point started to flirt with some girls on the first row and offering them a toke. When they reached for the joint he pulled it away from them with an evil smile and wagged his finger in a ”no, no” sign which had the entire audience screaming with laughter. I had never seen an actor interact with the audience that way before. I loved it. I wanted more of it and I always think of that moment when I’m on stage myself because that’s the kind of contact I want to have with the public too.
I was in my teens when I saw this show and it was one of my first visits to a musical all by myself and that was an adventure in it self.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s East 73rd Street cabaret on February 8, 1978. It became such a smash hit that they decided to develop it into a full-scale production that opened on Broadway in may that same year.
The cast at the Manhattan Theatre Club included  Nell Carter, André DeShields, Ken Page, Armelia McQueen, and Irene Cara. Yep, that’s the same Irene Cara who went on to play ”Coco Hernandez” in the 1980 film Fame and recorded the film’s Academy Award and Golden Globe winning title song ”Fame”. She also sang and co-wrote the song ”Flashdance… What a Feeling” (from the 1983 film Flashdance), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1984. 
On Broadway Irene was replaced with Charlayne Woodard.

There is also a sixth very importend cast member in the production and that is the orchestrator Luther Henderson (1919 – 2003), who’s orchestrations and vocal arrangement are one of the resons why this is such a brilliant and joyful show. They are absolutely brilliant! And he appeared as the on stage pianist in the original production.
Luther served as orchestrator, arranger, and musical director on more than fifty Broadway musicals from Beggar’s Holiday (1946) to Jelly’s Last Jam (1992).

In 1995 there was a national tour of the show starring The Pointer Sisters. Although it never reached Broadway, as originally planned, a recording of highlights from the show was released.

The Broadway show won:
3 Tony Awards: Best musical, Featured Actress in a musical (Nell Carter) and Best Direction of a musical (Richard Maltby, Jr.).
3 Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Musical, Actor and Actress in a musical (Ken Page and Nell Carter)
2 Theatre World Awards for Nell Carter and Armelia McQueen.
The Tv-version from 1982 won 2 Primetime Emmy Awards for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for Nell Cater and André DeShields.

Reviews:
A joyous celebration. … This really is Fats Waller on Broadway. It is a memorial that breathes. It is a testament to a curious genius – one of the few people you seem to know from the memories of their recorded voice. … simply a Broadway show that you will never forget. And it is really Waller. It really is.
– Clive Barnes, New York Post

What whistles, hoots, throws off sparks and moves at about 180 miles an hour, even though it is continually stopped? Ain’t Misbehavin’.
– Richard Eder, New York Times

To put it as judiciously as possible, Ain’t Misbehavin’ has a first act that will knock your ears off and a second that will come back for the rest of you.
– Walter Kerr, Times

Since this is Broadway, the land of bristling microphones and loudspeakers by the carload, there is a tape deck and a pair of sound consoles at the rear of the theatre that look elaborate and complicated enough to send the show into space. But that’s just what the cast of Ain’t Misbehavin’ does all by itself. Wow!
– Douglas Watt, Daily News

Videos:
At the Tony Awards
Nell Carter singing I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling
Lounging at the Waldorf
2018 Highlights reel
The Complete Tv-version of the show
Fats Waller sings Ain’t Misbehavin’

Nr 460: The SpongeBob Musical (2016)

6 Jan

Chicago: 2016
Broadway: 2017 (327 perf.)
Tv version: 2019

Book: Kyle Jarrow, based on SpongeBob SquarePants by Stephen Hillenburg
Music & Lyrics: David Bowie, Brian Eno, Panic at the Disco, Tom Kitt, Jonathan Coulton, Cyndi Lauper, Rob Hyman, Alex Ebert, Sara Bareilles, Andy Paley, Tom Kenny, Lady Antebellum, Yolanda Adams, The Flaming Lips, John Legend, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Plain White T’s, T.I., They Might Be Giants

Just so you know, if you’re not a SpongeBob fan, it all takes place underwater.
The story: SpongeBob, a relentlessly cheery fast-food worker with self-esteem issues, learns that his beloved Bikini Bottom is in danger of being destroyed by an undersea volcano called Mount Humongous that’s threatening to blow sky-high. So he, his BFF Patrick Star, a starfish, and the brilliant scientist Sandy Cheeks, a squirrel (don’t ask), must come up with a plan to save their world.
Among the obstacles on the path to hero-hood: xenophobic prejudice (Sandy is disdained as a mammal), the bureaucratic paralysis of the mayor, panic-rousing media coverage and the villainous obstructions of the evil Sheldon Plankton and his wife, Karen the Computer.

I actually thought I was going to hate this musical. I mean come on, SpongeBob the Musical???? And because the cast album contained songs by a lot of different pop composers I also thought this was something of a juke box musical.
But, boy, was I wrong!
Nickleodeon, the cable channel for kids where SpongBob the animated series airs, brought a live version of the Broadway show to our home screens.
Lucky us! For this is an absolute marvel of a show. Just 5 minutes in and I was hooked. The music is so good, the sets and costumes are amazing, the cast is perfect down to the smallest planktons and sardines and the choreography is utterly brilliant. I was totally enthralled.
The show is totally bonkers – in a very good way. Don’t let adult thoughts of ”that isn’t even logic” or ”this is so unrealistic” disturb you from enjoying this show. Indulge yourself in the madness and pleasures of Bikini Bottom (just that name, aargh, love it, and yes they make fun of it in the show). Do what I did: I just sat in my recliner and laughed, cheered and even shed a little tear.
This show is so sunny, positive and life affirming, just what we need right now.
The cast album was on repeat in my flat for a long, long time afterwards. And every time I feel a little blue I play Best Day Ever, the best pick-me-up-song ever!

The show was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and won one: Best Scenic Design of a Musical.
It also won 6 Drama Desk Awards: Outstanding Musical, Actor, Featured Actor, Director, Sets, Wigs and Hair of a Musical.
And 4 Outer Critics Circle Awards: Outstanding New Musical, New Score, Director and Actor in a Musical.

The show was retitled for Broadway and the North American tour, now it’s SpongeBob Squarepants – the Broadway Musical.

Press:
For what it’s worth — and we’re talking millions of dollars here — you are never going to see as convincing an impersonation of a two-dimensional cartoon by a three-dimensional human as that provided by Ethan Slater at the Palace Theater. Mr. Slater plays the title role in SpongeBob SquarePants the Broadway Musical the ginormous giggle of a show that opened on Monday night.

…you will probably adore this musical if: a) “SpongeBob” was a formative influence of your childhood; b) you are a stoner who tokes up to watch reruns of the show on YouTube (categories a and b are not mutually exclusive); or c) if you are (like my date for this show) a parent of “SpongeBob”-bingeing progeny and found its sensibility crept into, and wallpapered, your weary mind.

… you may indeed enjoy such improbable spectacles as a misanthropic squid named Squidward (Gavin Lee, wearing four-legged pants) doing a virtuosic four-footed tap dance with a Busby Berkeley kick line of pink-sequined sea anemones. Or a heavy-metal boy band made up of sea skates on skateboards, with music by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith. Oh, I forget to tell you. The show’s songs (supervised, arranged and orchestrated by the composer Tom Kitt) have been written by a plethora of pop-rock eminences…

Christopher Gattelli’s choreography of his sexually ambiguous ensemble (genders blur when wet) is perversely brilliant, suggesting piscine movement through breakdance and vogueing gestures instead of the expected swimming motions. But no one matches Mr. Slater in conveying the physicality of the life aquatic.
– Ben Brantley, The New York Times

Children should feel free to take their parents to Tina Landau’s psychedelically inspired version of the whimsical kiddie cartoon show … But Landau’s hallucinogenic stagecraft transcends the show’s television origins by speaking a visual language that’s three-dimensional and boldly theatrical.

(The plot) … is actually a lot scarier than any of the problems that arise in the TV show, but this is Broadway, where things tend to get inflated.
Here, that inflation surfaces in the score. Instead of working with a simpatico composer and lyricist, Landau, in the adventurous spirit of a Steppenwolf director, has stacked the show with individual pop songs written by individual songwriters … It’s not as much of a gimmick as it seems, but without a signature sound, there’s no signature style. What there is, though, is plenty of giddy, goofy fun for all.
– Marilyn Stasio, Variety

(Resulting in a show that) ”is as perfunctorily entertaining as it is insistently forgettable”.
– Alexis Soloski, The Guardian

Videos:

BFF
Bikini Bottom Day/Super Sea Star Savior/Best Day Ever
When The Going Gets Tough
At the Tony Awards: I’m Not a Looser
Gavin Lee (Squidward), Ethan Slater (SpongeBob), and Wesley Taylor (Sheldon Plankton) perform ”You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from COMPANY

Nr 411: Sweet Smell of Success

11 Apr

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Sweet Smell of Success (2002)

Broadway, 109 föreställningar

Music:
Marvin Hamlisch

Lyrics: Craig Carnelia
Book: John Guare, baserad på filmen med samma namn från 1957 som hade ett manus skrivet av Clifford Odets och Ernest Lehman i sin tur baserad på Lehmans novell Tell Me About It Tomorrow! från 1950.

A certain actress is learning that girls get minks the same way minks get minks…
– J. J. Hunsecker

It’s New York, 1952.
Welcome to Broadway, the glamour and power capital of the universe. J.J. Hunsecker rules it all with his daily gossip column in the New York Globe, syndicated to sixty million readers across America. J.J. has the goods on everyone, from the President to the latest starlet. And everyone feeds J.J. scandal, from J. Edgar Hoover and Senator Joe McCarthy down to a battalion of hungry press agents who attach their news to a client that J.J. might plug.
The show concerns sleazy press agent Sidney Falcone and his willingness to do anything to get ahead. Sidney manages to capture the attention and patronage of  J.J. Hunsecker.
With JJ’s help, Sidney becomes one of the hottest agents in New York.
However, catering to JJ’s egotistical desires is dangerous business. When Sidney fails to keep JJ’s sister Susan from running off with a jazz musician, JJ arranges for Sidney to be murdered.

En otroligt svängig, jazzig musikal. Det här är den sortens musik som jag kan gå igång på på direkten. Hård, vass, melodiös och totalt medryckande. Fötterna kan inte hålla sig stilla utan stampar takten som små galningar och hela kroppen rör på sig och digger med den också.
Jag tycker att det här är Hamlich bästa musik sen A Chorus Line.
Det känns 50-tal om musiken och det gjorde det om danserna också, även de hårda, sexiga och explosiva och inte så lite inspirerade av Jerome Robbins koreografier till West Side Story.
Det är inte så många roller i den här showen, de viktiga är JJ, hans syster Susan, hennes älskare pianisten Dallas, den framgångshungrige Sidney, hans flickvän Rita och så finns där ensemblen som nästan måste räknas som en roll för de är med på scenen under stora delar av föreställningen och agerar som nått som närmast kan beskrivas som en grekisk kör. De kommenterar skeenden, verbaliserar rollfigurers tankar, argumenterar för och emot val som görs etc etc. De sjunger tajta harmonier och så dansar de, mycket och ofta.

Jag är väldigt förtjust i den här showen även om jag kan tycka att den tappade en hel del fart under andra akten. Men helheten är jazzig, svettig, rolig och underhållande.
Enda sången/scenen jag faktiskt tyckte blev helt fel var JJ’s sång/vaudevillnummer under en insamlingsgala. John Lithgow är inte den bästa sångaren eller dansaren och här framkom det med all tydlighet, förutom det faktum att låten var trist. I övrigt var Lithgow helt lysande.

Kuriosa:
Föreställningen blev nominerad till 7 Tony Awards men vann bara 1, den för bästa manliga huvudroll som tillföll John Lithgow.
Showen fick även 11 Drama Desk Award nomineringar och här blev det enda priset Outstanding Actor in a Musical som gick till John Lithgow.

Novellen Tell Me About It Tomorrow! som både filmen och musikalen är baserade på skulle hetat The Sweet Smell of Success redan när den publicerades i Cosmopolitan 1950 men chefsredaktören ansåg att ordet ”smell” inte var ett lämpligt ord att publicera i tidningen och därför ändrades namnet.

J. J. Hunsecker sägs vara baserad på skvallerjournalisten Walter Winchell (1887-1972) en man som var känd för att förstöra livet och karriären för personer han ogillade. Och precis som JJ i musikalen så erbjöd han folk att bli omnämnda (och därmed uppmärksammade) i hans krönika i utbyte mot information, skvaller och annan ”ammunition” som han kunde använda mot sina fiender.
Han blev väldigt fruktad men även kritiserad för sina metoder.
Han sympatiserade med Senator Joseph McCarthy och hans kommunistjakt och var snabb på att anklaga folk för att vara ”commies”, speciellt om de försökte attackera honom på nått sätt.
Hans populäritet dalade fort i och med att McCarthy tappade inflytande.

Två klassiska Winchell citat: ”Nothing recedes like success” och ”I usually get my stuff from people who promised somebody else that they would keep it a secret.”
Winchell anses vara den som först etablerade ordet frienemy.
Hans karriär varade länge och redan 1930 skrev Cole Porter så här i sången Let’s Fly Away i musikalen The New Yorkers:
Let’s fly away And find a land that’s so provincial, We’ll never hear what Walter Winchell Might be forced to say

Press:
Sweet Smell of Success, which opened tonight at the Martin Beck Theatre, will go down in the record books as a real heartbreaker; one of those fabulous sounding new musicals with an impeccable pedigree which never quite comes together and ultimately only disappoints. John Guare’s book is intelligently adapted from the film of the same name, but never manages to make the right points at the right time. The music, by Marvin Hamlisch, oozes period swank and jazzy themes, but is sabotaged at every turn by Craig Carnelia’s less than perfect lyrics. Nicholas Hynter, with the dubious help of moribund choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, seems never in control of the events on stage long enough to make anything captivating and entertaining from the incongruous elements. 

The evening would be a total loss were it not for the amazing performances of John Lithgow and Brian d’Arcy James.
– Thomas Burke, Talking Broadway


Listen, all ye sinners, to the Lorelei call of Manhattan after dark, a world of glitter and grime, of illicit, electrified promise. Harken to the whispers of the famous and the infamous as they do the dirty things they do when the lights are low. Hear the cries of the . . . zzzzzzzz.

Sorry. Did I nod off there? It’s true that Sweet Smell of Success, the new musical at the Martin Beck Theater, works really hard at conveying that titillating, biblical sense of nocturnal New York as a hive of glamorous nastiness.
But somehow this siren song insists on translating itself into the rhythms of a sideshow hypnotist, the kind who keeps saying, ”Your eyelids are getting heavy . . .” The bitch-goddess Success may be the presiding deity of record in the production that opened last night. But its real spirit-in-residence is Morpheus, the yawning god of dream time.
– Ben Brantley, The New York Times

Videosar:
From the Tony Awards
At the Fountain från Rosie O’Donnell Show
Opening Night on Broadway
High Lights från en Konsertversion
One Track Mind
Rita’s Tune
Trailer till filmen

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