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Showing posts from 2022

Cleverly Akimbo

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  Kimberly and Seth, photo @ Sara Krulwich Musicals about adolescents are often a losing proposition right out of the gate. Performers who look believably young often cannot express the range of emotions to act believably young. This problem felled Mean Girls and The Prom , to use recent examples. Kimberly Akimbo , the wonderful new musical now running on Broadway, offsets this problem by having the sixteen-year old main character played by 63 year old Victoria Clark. The chief conceit David Lindsay-Abaire's book is that Kimberly Levaco has progeria, which causes her to age rapidly. She is a normal teenager trapped in a grandma's body. She is not expected to live past her teens. You'd expect a musical with this subject matter to be sad? Sentimental? Maudlin? You'd be wrong. Kimberly Akimbo was one of the funniest, most joyous theater experiences in recent memory. You leave the theater feeling uplifted and hopeful.  Part of the success of the musical is Jeanine Tesori

Farewell Sterling

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  Sterling in a signed photo as SPF I first started attending NYCB about 20 years ago. I was not impressed -- I found their performances sloppy, their abstract ballets remote. Back then, my idea of ballet was  Giselle  or  Romeo and Juliet . This attitude infuriated a friend of mine.  But in 2011, I bought a ticket to NYCB on a whim. I remember the program: Prodigal Son/Mozartiana/Stars and Stripes . I remember nearly crying with joy at Stars and Stripes . The very next day I snatched up a bunch of tickets to NYCB, and the rest is history. If you follow a company, you need a dancer to follow. For several years, I followed the company but not any dancer in particular. Maybe Tiler Peck because her technique was so amazing. I thought everyone was good, and a few dancers were more than good. Sterling Hyltin was just another really good dancer in a company of good dancers. Sterling in La Sylphide The "aha" moment was when she danced  La Sylphide . I was prepared to be unimpressed

Slow Hours

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The trio, photo @ Evan Zimmerman Kevin Puts' The Hours has a lot going for it. It's an adaptation of a beloved book and movie. Puts' music is always listenable and often lovely -- unlike many contemporary opera composers, Puts believes in soaring melodies and set pieces. The Met has assembled an all-star cast -- Renee Fleming (Clarissa), Joyce DiDonato (Virginia Woolf), and Kelli O'Hara (Laura) are fine singers. The heavy themes (the creative process, suicidal ideation, AIDS, sexuality, same-sex relationships) are all presented in a tasteful manner. And last but not least, the whole run is a box office hit, with the Met jacking up prices to $250 and above per ticket. Kelli O'Hara, photo @ Evan Zimmerman      But ... the whole thing is so slow . Despite running a hair under three hours (shorter than such classics like La Traviata or Turandot ), the first act dragged endlessly. Part of it is structure -- the first act is almost all expositional as it introduces the

Jennifer Homans' Mr. B

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  Tomorrow, NYCB starts its annual Nutcracker season. Countless little children in the audience will ooh and ahh and the growing tree, they'll be wowed by the gliding child angels, they'll sigh when the very pink Sugar Plum Fairy makes her boureeing entrance, and they'll scream at the Candy Cane jumping through the hoop 11 times in a row. Very few in the audience will know much about the man who made this magic happen. That was very much by design. George Balanchine kept no diary, had little correspondence, and rarely gave interviews. His life and legacy was in the ballets.  And astonishingly, there has never been a comprehensive biography of the man. There have been priceless books -- many of his dancers wrote books describing their experiences working for him (my favorite: Jacques d'Amboise's gossipy, fun I Was a Dancer ), and he inspired some of the sharpest critics to write their most memorable reviews. That is, until Jennifer Homans' Mr. B . Homans' b

Some Like it Corny

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On paper, Some Like it Hot s hould have been a fun night at the theater. It's an adaptation of Billy Wilder's classic madcap comedy. The cast is stellar -- I've seen J Harrison Ghee (Jerry/Daphne), Christian Borle (Joe/Josephine), Adrianna Hicks (Sugar), and Natasha Yvette Williams (Sweet Sue) in other projects and enjoyed them all. I was so looking forward to this, as I always thought the movie would make a good musical. Instead, the musical was a totally miserable experience. In this post-mortem, what is most at fault? I could say the score and lyrics. Composer Marc Shaiman has produced one of those loud, bombastic, generic unmemorable Broadway scores that has no voice. I suppose he's trying to mimic the 1920's jazz sound, but it sounds nothing like actual jazz. Lyrics by Scott Wittman are a mess -- the songs don't move the plot forward at all.  Think of any good musical -- do the songs just "happen" because it's time to get up and sing? They occ

The Dream Wars

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Suzanne Farrell as Titania, photo @ Martha Swope In 1962, George Balanchine premiered a full-length ballet adaptation of Shakespeare's  A Midsummer's Night Dream , set to Felix Mendelssohn's evergreen score. Two years later, Sir Frederick Ashton created his own adaptation of the Shakespearean comedy. His was entitled  The Dream . Ballet fans have been arguing over which adaptation is better ever since. This year I got to see both the Balanchine version (done by NYCB in their spring season) and the Ashton version (ABT is dancing this in their fall season). And I must admit, I'm as flummoxed as anyone else about which version is better. Titania and Oberon in The Dream, photo @ Andrea Mohin Both choreographers are working from a place of love for the Shakespeare play. They both tell the story, and tell it with palpable affection. Which version you prefer probably depends on which version you encountered first. I first saw Balanchine's MSND, and loved it right away. Lat

Peter Grimes - A Story in Shades of Sea Gray

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Allan Clayton, photo @ Richard Termine There are times when the Met is half-empty and the audience is tepid and I understand why. I've been to my share of tired warhorse revivals where everyone onstage looks like they are waiting for direct deposit to clear. And then there's times when the half-empty houses are depressing, because what is happening onstage is absolutely worth seeing. Last night was one of those nights -- the revival of Britten's Peter Grimes (the Met's first revival since the 2008 inauguration of the John Doyle production) was gripping from curtain to curtain.  Allan Clayton was tremendous in the title role. He's a beefy, burly guy who looks the part of a blue collar fisherman. His Grimes' is obviously a troubled man -- his eyes are always darting around the stage, his body language both terrifying and terrified. But his voice is surprisingly dreamy and luminous, so when he sings "In Dreams I've Built" you truly believe this Grime

Opera Diaries: Women Who Kill

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Radvanovsky as Medea, photo @ Marty Sohl This fall has been very busy. I spent much of September and October at NYCB's fall season, where I continue to write reviews for bachtrack . It was only last weekend that I attended any opera at all, but I saw both Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Medea . Both focus on angry, desperate women who kill. Both treat those women with a degree of sympathy. And both were lights-out vehicles for the starring sopranos. Medea and Neris, photo @ Marty Sohl Sondra Radvanovsky's Medea got more publicity and critical praise. It's the first production of Luigi Cherubini's opera for the Met, and it's an opera that is still rarely done. In part, it's because the role was so closely associated with Maria Callas that it's hard for other sopranos to tackle the challenge. But also, the role is extremely long and punishing. Medea comes onstage towards the end of Act One and then never leaves. Constant singing, very emotionally charged. And the

Summer Diaries: Funny Girl, How I Learned To Drive, Rigoletto

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  Benko as Fanny It's been a busy week. I ended up seeing three shows in a short amount of time: Funny Girl , How I Learned to Drive , and Rigoletto . Two of the shows were wonderful. Of course, it's the not-so-wonderful show I'll focus on the most. I deliberately avoided Beanie Feldstein in Funny Girl , but when Beanie came down with covid , I decided to buy a ticket. I'd heard nothing but glowing reviews about Beanie's understudy Julie Benko. The good news: Benko deserves all the accolades. Her voice is AMAZING. No, she doesn't sound anything like Barbra Streisand, but she has a classic Broadway belt. She also has a surprisingly sweet sound when she's not belting. She is a decent dancer and numbers like "His Love Makes Me Beautiful" and "Rat Tat-Tat-Tat" were fun and  funny. Her portrayal is on point too -- she mixes naivete and moxie, all in a tiny, pretty package. She has good chemistry with Ramin Karimloo (Nicky).  There are other at

Amar Ramasar's Farewell Full of Joy ... And Forgiveness

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On Sunday, May 29 (the last day of the NYCB's Spring Season), the auditorium was packed with audience members and NYCB alumni. The occasion was to celebrate Amar Ramasar's retirement. The performance (one of Midsummer's Night Dream ) had some creative role splitting -- Amar is  injured , so for the second act divertissement Andrew Veyette danced the more demanding allegro opening, while Amar only danced the adagio pas. When Ramasar made his first appearance, the ovation was thunderous. His partner Sterling Hyltin broke character and giggled.  If Amar was dancing through pain, he didn't show it. (Or he might have popped some extra-strong painkillers and decided he could hack it for eight minutes of dancing). The dancing was beautiful, but (as is the case with all farewells), it barely mattered. At the end of the performance Amar got the kind of loving, boisterous send-off that he deserved. So many people from the past came back -- Joaquin de Luz, Zachary Catazaro, Maria

A Lucia Made of Rust Belt Despair

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Bloody bride, photo @ Marty Sohl The first thing you need to know about Simon Stone's new production of Lucia di Lammermoor is that Stone absolutely respects the basic foundations of the opera. Yes, the action is moved from 17th century Scotland to a Rust Belt town in Midwestern America, but the basic story is unchanged.  Set and video projections, Photo @ Jonathan Tichler The second thing you need to know is that even if you're a conservative when it comes to modern/updated productions, this  Lucia di Lammermoor  is absolutely worth seeing because of the strong musical values. Nadine Sierra (Lucia), Javier Camarena (Edgardo), and Artur RuciƄski (Enrico) all give excellent vocal performances based in classical, bel-canto values. The production might be modern, but the singing is old-fashioned.  Lizzie Clachan's set is striking -- the revolving set shows a Rust Belt town is conveyed by a pawn shop, drive-in theater, drugstore, cheap motel, some dingy looking cars (Edgardo h