`Wicked’ witches head west, Taylor Hicks follows

Wicked, the hit musical positively rolling in green, had its world premiere at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre before heading to Broadway ‘s Gershwin Theatre, where it has broken the house record 18 times and regularly grosses more than $1.4 million each week.

Now one of the most successful shows in Broadway history (3.6 million people have seen it on Broadway alone since 2003, and all told, the Broadway production and its four North American companies have grossed nearly $950 million), Wicked is coming back to where it all started.

“There’s no place like home,” as Dorothy Gale learned at the end of The Wizard of Oz, the inspiration for Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked, which in turn inspired composer Stephen Schwartz to create the musical.

SHN/Best of Broadway celebrates the Wicked homecoming with a giant party in San Francisco’s Union Square from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 26, which also happens to be the day tickets go on sale for Wicked‘s run at the Orpheum Theatre beginning in January 2009 (tickets are $30-$99).

The party will feature cast members (currently at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles) and a whole lot of fans participating in trivia contests , karaoke contests, CD giveaways and “magical makeovers” (which must involve, as Elphaba the witch might put it, a degree of verdigris, meaning green faces). The free bash is hosted by Don Bleu from Star Radio and Jessica Aguirre from NBC TV.

In other SHN/Best of Broadway news, it was announced today that “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks, now playing the Teen Angel on Broadway in the revival of Grease, will reprise that role when the show goes on the road and heads into the Golden Gate Theatre next March.

This is the production used a reality show, “Grease: You’re the One That I Want,” to cast its leads and marks the first Broadway production of the show to incorporate songs from the 1978 movie, “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Sandy,” “Grease” and “You’re the One That I Want.” (and p.s., shouldn’t it be “You’re the One WHOM I Want?” Just asking).

Visit www.shnsf.com for more information on both Wicked and Grease.

SHN/Best of Broadway’s new season

Megan Hilty (left) as Glinda and Eden Espinosa as Elphaba from the original LA company of Wicked. Photo by Joan Marcus

Old friends, new winners mark 30th anniversary season

Carole Shorenstein Hays and Robert Nederlander’s new SHN/Best of Broadway season marks a milestone: 30 years of bringing Broadway to the Bay Area.

The new season, announced today, kicks off in February 2009 with a “third time’s the charm” production of Wicked, the monstrous hit musical that had its world premiere at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre. This time around, the musical about the witches of Oz, will play the Orpheum Theatre.

In March of 2009, Grease is the word. This is the production directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall that got famous for being the first Broadway musical to cast its leads on national television (through the NBC show “Grease: You’re the One That I Want.” This is also the production that marries the original stage version with the movie version, so songs such as “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “You’re the One That I Want” are included.

Things get exciting in April 2009 with a world premiere musical. Ever After, with a book by Marcy Heisler and Theresa Rebeck, music by Zina Goldrich and lyrics by Marcy Heisler, is directed by Doug Hughes (a Tony winner for Doubt). Ever After, which plays the Curran, is based on the 1998 movie starring Drew Barrymore and is a new twist on the Cinderella story by banishing all the bibbi-dee-bobbi-dee boo elements and focusing on a spirited young woman defying societal constraints.

In August of 2009, the theater scene gets hot with Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for drama. The Steppenwolf production (currently scorching Broadway) is directed by Anna D. Shapiro. The San Francisco production at the Curran Theatre kicks off the national tour.

A final show is yet to be named, but is described in press materials as a “Broadway blockbuster.” The show will be revealed, according to the Web site, in July.

Not part of the season but a “special attraction” is the umpteenth return of a Bay Area favorite: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. The show will run Nov. 26 through Jan. 4 at the Orpheum. Tickets go on sale Sept. 7.

For the new SHN/Best of Broadway season, subscriptions are $170 to $551. Call 415-551-2050 or 877-797-7827 or visit www.shnsf.com for information.

Listen to a podcast about the new SHN/Best of Broadway season here.

Taylor Hicks gets `Grease’-y

News from the Rialto: “American Idol” winner (Season 5) Taylor Hicks is going to fly onto Broadway as Teen Angel in the revival of Grease (you know, the one you didn’t want but came with a reality TV show anyway).

Hicks, who will be making his Broadway debut (alert the Tony Award nominating committee), is following in the footsteps of other “Idol” alums, including Fantasia, LaToya London and Clay Aiken. He starts his doo-wop-diddy gig on June 6 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and continues through Sept. 7.

Here’s what Hicks had to say in a press release: “I am incredibly excited to be a part of one of my favorite musicals. The Soul Patrol’s gonna invade Broadway!”

If you are part of the patrol that is soul, here’s what you need to know about tickets for Grease: $71.50-$121.50. Call 212-307-4100 or visit www.ticketmaster.com or www.greaseonbroadway.com.

From the CD/download rack

Some interesting show and show-related CDs are popping up just in time for the holidays. In the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting some of winners and losers.

Judy Kuhn, “Serious Playground: The Songs of Laura Nyro” (Ghostlight Records) — Kuhn was Broadway’s original Cosette in Les Miserables and she just joined the cast of the current revival as Fantine. Though she has a fine Broadway pedigree (Chess), she’s more than capable of singing more than show tunes, as this excellent CD proves. Kuhn appeared in the Nyro revue “Eli’s Comin’,” and her affinity for the early ’70s groove and muscle of Nyro’s songs is apparent.
Jeffrey Klitz’s arrangements and orchestrations don’t try to modernize Nyro’s songs but rather give them a timeless sound that captures pop, blues, and great American balladry all at the same time.

The big hits, for the most part, aren’t here, and that’s OK. Kuhn trains her emotional, often thrilling voice on finding the joy, depression, funk and enigmatic pulse of Nyro’s distinctive songs.

One of the most exciting tracks turns out to be “Stoney End,” which couldn’t be more different from Streisand’s well-known version. Kuhn delivers it almost as a lullaby, backed by a soothing acoustic guitar and cello.

Then a tune such as “California Shoeshine Boys” comes along, with its ebullient horns, to liven things up. But boy can Nyro get dramatic — “Been on a Train” is practically a self-contained musical tragedy.

There’s no denying that Nyro wrote sensual songs. If Carole King was the singer-songwriter you wanted to introduce to your parents, Nyro was the one you wanted to play hooky with down by the river.

Probably the best thing about “Serious Playground” is that the Kuhn-Nyro combination is sexy. There’s heat and spirit here to spare.

Grease, The New Broadway Cast Recording (Masterworks Broadway) — Not the oil slick of the 1994 Broadway revival, this pleasant, not-really-necessary production exists (and is selling tickets) because of the reality show that preceded it: “Grease: You’re the One That I Want” let America (or the 12 regular viewers) vote on who should star as Danny and Sandy. The winners, Max Crumm and Laura Osnes, seem like nice kids, and they sound good if uninspired on this cast album, which is the first cast album to contain the songs written for the movie (“Grease,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “You’re the One That I Want”).

Musical director Kimberly Grigsby, who did such spectacular work on Spring Awakening, wisely tries to dull the sheen of these overly shiny songs by attempting a more authentic ’50s sound — spare and percussive — when she can get away with it. More of that might have made this the definitive Grease, but as it is, the new disc won’t supplant the movie soundtrack in most fans’ collections.

`Grease’ on Broadway

America spoke (or at least a very small percentage of America), and the first nationally televised casting session for a Broadway musical has turned into a full-blown Broadway musical.

“Grease: You’re the One That I Want,” an “American Idol“-like attempt to make Broadway hip, resulted in viewers (and a panel of judges) picking the leads in Kathleen Marshall’s (wholly unnecessary) revival of Grease.

The winners were Max Crumm, who would play Danny (in case you were confused), and Laura Osnes as Sandy (now wouldn’t it have been MUCH more interesting if they had cast opposite genders). The show opened Saturday on Broadway, and the reveiws are overwhelming (ly bad).

Ben Brantley in the New York Times damned with faint praise when he wrote that Crumm and Osnes don’t embarrass themselves.

Nobody noticeably strays from melodies, flubs dialogue or botches rudimentary dance moves. Ms. Marshall has obviously drilled her cast thoroughly.

But there’s the numbing sense of performers of undeveloped talent conscientiously doing what they have been told to do and failing to claim their parts as their own.

Writing for the Associated Press, Michael Kuchwara calls the show a “mixed bag.”

As Danny, Max Crumm gives a cautious performance, vocally OK but short on swagger and sex appeal. Laura Osnes nicely gets Sandy’s transformation, morphing with enthusiasm from good girl to bad babe. Check out her skintight outfit in the last scene, courtesy of designer Martin Pakledinaz. Osnes also sings well and throws herself into Marshall’s spirited choreography.

Clive Barnes in the New York Post, gives the show one star out of four. The headline calls it “frightening.”

… the misguided selection of uncharismatic Max Crumm as Danny and unexciting Laura Osnes as Sandy was achieved by the votes of viewers like you. And while the TV show was no “American Idol,” if all the participating voters were to be laid end to end, they’d add up to a remarkably long Broadway run.

Now, all the producers have to do is to get them into the theater. I suppose that’s where director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall (a woman of some experience) comes in.

All told, I’ve seen worse – but then, I’ve been attending the theater for more than 65 years, so “worse” is a very well-thumbed comparative.

This is where the TV show hits the Broadway fan.

I’ll give Barnes the last word here: “Despite Marshall’s energized efforts, this crass musical makes Legally Blonde seem like West Side Story.”

Visit the official Grease Web site here.

Tony red carpet, etc.

(all photos Associated Press)

“Musical theater rocks,” so said Duncan Sheik with a sly smile and a twinkle in his award-drunk eyes during Sunday’s Tony Awards.

Here’s Sheik on the red carpet before the event.

That’s the smile of someone who knows he’s going to win two Tonys (for best score and orchestration for Spring Awakening.

Another gorgeous red carpet arrival was best actess in a musical nominee Audra McDonald (110 in the Shade), who would not go on to win her fifth Tony.

But she would go on to electrify the audience (in Radio City Music Hall and at home) with the number “Raunchy” alongside co-star (and fellow nominee) John Cullum.

Returning to the red carpet, here’s the lovely Laura Bell Bundy, nominee for best actress in a musical for her role as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. To no one’s surprise, Bundy did not win, and Blonde failed to win in any category.

Looking like the Broadway royalty she is, Angela Lansbury, a best actress in a play nominee for Deuce, arrives. That’s Harry Connick Jr.’s daughter in the rear looking at Lansbury adoringly (“Daddy! It’s the voice of Mrs. Potts!). Lansbury lost to an ecstatic Julie White for The Little Dog Laughed, but she was a gracious ad hoc host.

Cutest married couple award on the red carpet goes to Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs. Neither was nominated but they should have received an award for looking so good.

I am thrilled that David Hyde Pierce, by all accounts a marvelous guy, was the surprise winner for best actor in a musical (for Curtains), but I was a little disappointed for Raul Esparza, who is electrifying as Bobby in the John Doyle revival of Company (which won best musical revival). On the red carpet he was clearly amused by the whole shebang.

Esparza’s performance of “Being Alive” during the awards was just a taste of how good he is in this show.

Another cutest couple award goes to a non-couple: presenters Cynthia Nixon and Felicity Huffman, who should definitely find a project to work on together.

Speaking of couples, hard to resist including a snap of Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts. In Hollywood that’s called a baby bump. In New York, it’s called pregnancy.

In the realm of manufactured couples, here are the reality show castees Max Crumm and Laura Osnes, who will be starring on Broadway in the much-needed revival of Grease.

Requisite ‘Grease’ post

As per last week, if you want to know what happened on TV’s Broadwayest “reality” show, check in with our friend Seth Rudetsky at Playbill.com here. Mr. Rudetsky’s blend of Broadway theater know-how and intense sarcasm is irresistible.

This week was all about the Dannys. Apparently they had to take improv classes, learn to box, swim and get some intensive Shakespeare training — to audition for the role of Danny Zukow. I guess I didn’t realize the character had the breadth and depth of an Arthur Miller character.

Chad was told he needed to project, so he took the Shakespeare course, prompting Mr. Rudetsky to write:

…it’s a known prerequisite. There’s an old theatre adage, “Knowest Stratford-on-Avon before thou attends Rydell High.” We all remember John Travolta’s turn as Lear before he filmed the movie.

That’s so much better than actually watching the show, on which apparently Allie Schulz(left) — aka “Baby Sand” (this is the sound of me gagging) was eliminated. It seems to be raining on prom night and her Broadway dreams.

The ‘Grease’ curse

As if that terrible TV show “Grease: You’re the One That I Want” wasn’t enough to prove that the musical Grease has run out of gas, check out this story from Holland.

During a production of Grease, the two stars — Danny and Sandy (right) — were in a stage car (presumably during the drive-in scene), when their little car (made out of convertible chassis and a golf cart engine) went out of control and drove over the edge of the stage into the orchestra pit

Jim Bokkum, playing Danny, was “driving” and suffered a concussion. His co-star, Bettina Holwerda, was able to jump out of the car before it went over the edge, but there was some speculation that she may have broken her arm. No musicians were injured.

Lesson learned. We’re going to stop doing Grease before someone ends up rammalammalammaed, kedinkeekadinkydonked, shoobobshoowaddawaddaed, oopedeeboopdebooped. I mean, come on.

Oscar, You’re the One That I want

The Academy Awards came and went without making much impression. Ellen DeGeneres was fun, just as you’d expect.

The nicest surprise to me was the best foreign film winner, The Lives of Others. Fantastic movie. Deserves every prize there is.

Enjoyed watching best supporting actress winner Jennifer Hudson wipe the floor with Miss Beyonce during the Dreamgirls best song medley. Glad none of those songs won because they’re just not as good as the songs from the original show. Sad that Randy Newman’s “Our Town” (a fine, sad song from Cars about the death of the American small town) didn’t win, although I can’t begrudge Melissa Etheridge anything.

Loved Ellen’s line: “Without blacks, gays and Jews, there’d be no Oscars…or guys named Oscar for that matter.”

If you were watching the Academy Awards instead of “Grease: You’re the One That I Want,” well good for you. If you’re not reading Seth Rudetsky’s weekly wrap-up on Playbill.com, you’re missing out. Go there now.

Here’s a sample of Mr. Rudetsky’s (right) brilliance (and whey he’s so much more fun than the actual show:

First of all, from the low cut-ness of the negligees the girls were spilling out of, I thought it was going to be a medley from Boobs: The Musical (which actually played the Triad Theatre). Zowee! Also, they cut the “Fongool” lyric. I know it’s an Italian curse, but nevertheless I felt gypped. I was sitting on my couch saying out loud to no one, “Where’s the fongool?” Not unlike the time I saw the “Evita” movie and was in a rage asking, “Where’s the aristocracy?” (“All my descamisados expect me to outshine the enemy, [the aristocracy]. I won’t disappoint them!”) Why did Madonna cut that lyric? And, on a related note, didn’t the real Eva Peron have a vibrato? Why didn’t the movie version?

Apparently this week there was singing, dancing and acting by all the potential Sandys. Now aren’t you glad you didn’t watch. Oh, and the special guest was Frankie Avalon.

The cuts were: Kate Rockwell and Kevin Greene. Next week – can you believe there’s a next week? — it’s all about the Dannys.

Greasing the Arrow, etc.

True to my word, I didn’t watch the oily reality TV sludge known as “Grease: You’re the One That I Want” on Sunday night, even though it’s a long holiday weekend with nothing better to do. I did catch up with some Monday morning quarterbacking on the previous night’s episode, and it seems that Jason (our local San Mateo native) is gone, along with brunette Laura. They should consider themselves lucky.

Fans of the show — people who actually like it — were complaining bitterly on message boards about the screaming, ridiculous audience, comparing them to 13-year-olds at a Justin Timberlake concert. I also liked that someone said that Austin (the guy we saw on tour as Link in Hairspray, right) was too gay porn star to be Danny Zuko. Maybe, but he’s awfully talented — maybe too talented for this debacle.

The good news about Sunday-night TV is that Sundance is running Season 3 of the fantastic Canadian series “Slings & Arrows” about a large Shakespeare festival theater. One of the night’s best lines was uttered by the director character Darren played by Don McKellar, who had just returned from directing a dark musical about Humpty Dumpty in Amsterdam.

I must say I’ve fallen in love with the musical genre. It’s the art form of the common man. If you want to communicate something to the proletariat, cover it in sequins and make it sing. It’s noisy, vulgar and utterly meaningless. I love it.

Finally, not on TV but in movie theaters is an extraordinary German film (nominated for an Oscar in the best foreign film category): The Lives of Others. I mention it here because it’s relevant. The main character is a celebrated theater director in pre-Glasnost East Germany. His leading lady is his significant other, and she makes an unfortunate enemy in the Minister of Arts. The performances are intense and moving, and the warmth and humanity that comes out of this cold, socialist world is extraordinary.

The movie is so good, I may root for its Oscar win over another favorite of last year, Pan’s Labyrinth.