Watch it: `In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams’

Everything wonderful about the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical In the Heights is captured in the new PBS documentary “In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams.” (The show airs at 8 p.m., Wednesday, May 27 on KQED Channel 9)

In the Heights on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre

The program, part of the “Great Performances” showcase, is only an hour, but in exploring why the musical is so special, it manages to capture the fire, passion and youthful spirit of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s still-running hit.

Credit director Paul Bozymowski and his crew for having the foresight to see that In the Heights, about an immigrant neighborhood in Upper Manhattan, had the potential to be a game-changing musical. As the show transitioned from being the toast of off-Broadway to its opening on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, Bozymowski and his camera crew were there, following cast members and building tension and a host of expectations as opening night loomed.

Because the program begins with that exuberant night at last year’s Tony Awards, when, after winning four trophies, the cast hoisted Miranda (the show’s composer, lyricist and star), onto their shoulders, it’s a given that everything works out in the end. But exposing the emotion, the stakes, the work that goes into that happy ending is what this rewarding documentary is all about.

In deep close-up, Bozymowski interviews Miranda, director Thomas Kail and other members of the cast and crew – and it’s a testament to these artists that even with a camera all up in their faces, they can be candid and warm and insightful (especially Miranda, whose giant brown eyes were made for such cinematic close-ups).

In the Heights on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre

Then the cameras follows certain cast members into their lives outside the theater. We meet Christopher Jackson (he plays Benny in the show) and his wife and autistic son, CJ. We’re there with dancer Seth Stewart (Graffiti Pete) when, after downing the joint-bolstering dose of glucosamine for the day, he sees a seven-story-tall poster of the show – and of him – being unfurled in Times Square. Other cast members we spend time with include Mandy Gonzalez (Nina), achieving her Broadway dreams and bonding with her character, and Priscilla Lopez (Camila), a Tony-winning Broadway veteran getting her portrait unveiled at Sardis.

The very American experience of In the Heights, which is to say its exploration of “home” and how where we come from helps make us who we are, comes through powerfully in both the interview segments and the lengthy clips from the show itself.

Miranda is the hero, of course, running around like an excited kid on Christmas morning as he shows everyone in the theater a Time magazine article about the show. We get glimpses into his past (“I wanted to be Chuck Jones and Steven Spielberg when I grew up.”) and into his sense of humor. Surrounding all the fuss of opening night, he quips: “It’s like prom night with career ramifications.”

He also makes me wish I could work on a show with him. Sure, he’s talented and charismatic and all that but here’s the real reason: his gift for fellow cast mates on opening night was homemade CD mixes.

“In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams” is at 8 p.m., Wednesday, May 27 on KQED Channel 9 and again at 2 a.m., Thursday, May 28. On digital cable’s KQED Life, the show is at 7 p.m. May 28, 1 a.m. May 29 and 5 p.m. May 31.

Visit for information about the documentary. For information about In the Heights on Broadway, visit the official Web site here.


Next month offers another “Great Performances” Broadway treat: Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal and Josh Groban star in a concert version of the musical Chess, with a score by Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice. “Chess in Concert” is at 8 p.m. June 18, 2 a.m. June 19 on KQED Channel 9 (repeates on KQED Life at 7 p.m. June 22 and 1 a.m. June 23). Visit for information.

And stay tuned. In the Heights is hitting the road and may be coming to San Francisco. You’ll find out here when it’s official.

Delighted by `Ruined,’ Nottage nabs Pulitzer

Lynn Nottage
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. Photo by the LA Times

Lynn Nottage’s play Ruined, inspired by Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

The play, about a Congolese brothel run by a woman named Mama Nadi, is about a country torn apart by civil war and about a woman who is either protecting women or profiting from them. The play began at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre last year and is now off Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York.

The 44-year-old Nottage told the Associated Press: “I wanted to tell the story of these women and the war in the Congo and I couldn’t find anything about them in the newspapers or in the library, so I felt I had to get on a plane and go to Africa and find the story myself. I felt there was a complete absence in the media of their narrative. It’s very different now, but when I went in 2004 that was definitely the case.”

Nottage’s best known work, Intimate Apparel, had a successful run in the Bay Area with a 2005 production from Mountain View’s TheatreWorks. That same year, San Francisco’s Lorraine Hansberry Theatre produced Nottage’s Crumbs from the Table of Joy.

Less successful was a 2002 production of Nottage’s Las Meninas at San Jose Repertory Theatre.

Nottage holds degrees from Brown University and the Yale School of Drama. She also is an alumna of New Dramatists. She is currently a visiting lecturer at the Yale School of Drama and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, filmmaker Tony Gerber, and daughter Ruby.

The Pulitzer finalists were:
Becky Shaw by Gina Gionfriddo, a jarring comedy that examines family and romantic relationships with a lacerating wit while eschewing easy answers and pat resolutions.
In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes, a robust musical about struggling Latino immigrants in New York City today that celebrates the virtues of sacrifice, family solidarity and gritty optimism.

And this year’s jury comprised Dominic Papatola, theater critic, St. Paul Pioneer Press (chair); John M. Clum, chair, department of theater studies, Duke University; Jim Hebert, theater critic, San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune; David Henry Hwang, playwright, Brooklyn, NY; and Linda Winer, theater critic, Newsday.

Visit for a complete list of this year’s winners.

Here’s Nottage doing a radio show on the topic of Ruined, with Saidah Arrika Ekulona, who plays Mama Nadi:

Video heaven! [title of show], Beautiful People, Legally Brown

Oh, so many things to watch in this YouTube world of ours.
Let’s get started with a tribute to the now-closed Broadway show [title of show], which had an incredibly devoted and active fan base, as you’ll see in this version of “Nine People’s Favorite Thing.”

Now here’s a taste of the BBC series “Beautiful People,” which needs to hit these shores right NOW!

And finally, here’s the finale of “Legally Brown,” the In the Heights-related spoof of the Legally Blonde reality series. It features, of course, the “ubiquitous Seth Rudetsky.”

Odds & ends: Legally Brown, `Spring’ cast blog

You’ve gotta see this hilarious spoof of MTV’s terrible “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for the Next Elle Woods.” It’s related to In the Heights, and it’s called “Legally Brown: The Search for the Next Piragua Guy.” Matthew Morrison, Cheyenne Jackson, Hunter Bell and other Broadway folks show up.

Also, now that the Spring Awakening tour is off and running (and getting rave reviews, I might add), you should check out Totally Trucked, the touring cast’s blog. I had some trouble with the video and sound on the site. But you can also find the videos at YouTube. In fact, here’s the cast on opening night in San Diego warming up:

OK, here’s another one (I can’t stop myself!)

A Broadway blast: `South Pacific,’ `Gypsy,’ `In the Heights’

A quick Labor Day trip to New York allowed me a little long overdue catching up on some Broadway shows.

I had three slots available, and I filled them all with musicals. Yes, I could have seen August: Osage County and any number of plays. Yes, I could have seen my dearly beloved [title of show], which apparently could use every audience member it could get.

But I went for the big ticket items, and I’m so glad I did. Here are some thoughts on my trio of musical theater delights.


Just how director Bartlett Sher turned this 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein relic into such a beautiful, vital piece of theater is somewhat miraculous. The show everyone said was dated and impossible to revive in our politically correct world is now the most moving, involving and astonishing musical on Broadway.

I’ve always loved the score of South Pacific – nearly every song is a hit – but I’ve never much liked the show (and the movie bored me from an early age). Until now. Sher made the wise decision to make the orchestra (and, consequently Rodgers’ music) a star of the show, and that puts a whole new emphasis on the evening. During the overture, when the melodies really rev up, the stage of the Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont slowly rolls back to reveal the formally dressed members of the 30-piece orchestra. It’s a thrilling moment – the first of many.

Strangely, this South Pacific doesn’t feel like a musical. It feels like a contained world that resembles our own but exists in a heightened dimension where communication is not complete without a lush orchestra to underscore the emotion. The performers, from the brilliant Kelli O’Hara as Nellie Forbush to Paulo Szot as Emile de Becque, are grounded and natural in this alternate universe, and everything they do resonates with emotional truth and power.

So when Szot ends Act 1 with a reprise of “Some Enchanted Evening,” and that amazing stage comes into play again, it’s like a rush of heartbreak that pulses right through you.

Conversely, when O’Hara gushes through “Wonderful Guy,” you believe every word, and the same is true of Matthew Morrison as Lt. Joe Cable when he sings “Younger Than Springtime” and, more importantly, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

Some have chastised South Pacific for preaching on the topic of racial intolerance, but that’s exactly what gives the show its emotional heft. When Nellie discovers just how powerful her prejudice is, we’re as disappointed in her as she is in herself. She’s desperate for change and to find her place in the world, but when she faces real change and has a chance to inhabit someplace as far away from Little Rock, Arkansas, she can’t simply rely on her charm, smile and giggle as a defense. She has to discover who she truly is, and she does in the most moving way possible.

Prior to this production, I had never really felt the weight of South Pacific or so strongly felt the tension of war that underscores everything, even the most buoyant numbers such as “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.”

I used to think I had a favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein show (Carousel). Then I saw The King and I and had to re-think. Now it’s all about South Pacific and probably will be for a good long time. We’re a country at war, and we’re in the midst of a presidential race involving our first African-American candidate. How extraordinary that Rodgers and Hammerstein still have something to reveal about our world.



Everything you’ve heard about the Patti LuPone Gypsy is true. And it’s even better than that.

I should correct myself. This is the Arthur Laurents
Gypsy. In his early 90s, the book writer of Gypsy, considered by many to be the pinnacle of American musical theater, has reconfigured his masterwork yet again. As the director of this production, he has balanced the weights and come up with a show that is as good a play as it is a musical.

Sure LuPone is great – truly great – but she doesn’t overwhelm. Her Rose is spry, sexy and endearing. She’s not a steamroller, nor is she a nightmare. We like this quick-thinking woman for her spirit if not for her borderline abusive parenting methods. She’s fame damaged not because she’s famous but because she’s not and that’s what she most wants in the world. She uses her daughters and the men in her life to scramble for fame, but to no effect.

Her frustration, anger and utter self-involvement kills every relationship, and that pain infuses every confrontation she has, especially with Boyd Gaines as Herbie, her love interest and the manager of her terrible kiddie act, and with Laura Benanti as the grown-up Louise (aka Gypsy Rose Lee). These scenes are every bit as powerful as the musical numbers, and it’s easy to see why all three leads won Tony Awards this year.

I’d also like to make a case for Leigh Ann Larkin as June, a young woman trapped in the guise of the 10-year-old star of Rose’s act. During her duet with Benanti on “If Momma Was Married,” Larkin exudes a combination of bitterness and cynicism beyond her years along with a snottiness borne of Rose’s constant exhortations that June is a STAR.

One of the reasons Gypsy is held in such high estimation is “Rose’s Turn,” the most incredible number for an actress in musical theater. With her daughter now a world-famous stripper, Rose is left to wonder what her life has amounted to, and she has a nervous breakdown in the form of a musical fantasy. She sings her song, and at the end, the audience I saw it with (a lively Friday night bunch), flew into a boisterous ovation, standing and stomping, whistling and shouting. LuPone’s Rose curtsied and bowed, blew kisses and drank in the hosannas. It’s a perfect dramatic moment in which the audience becomes a character in the show: the adoring throng Rose has always dreamed of but will never know.

As the ovation quiets down, LuPone’s Rose keeps bowing and waving, and the effect is heartbreaking.

Gypsy is a juicy musical play, the kind that wouldn’t have been possible without Rodgers and Hammerstein tackling serious issues in their popular musicals. This is a musical that gets it all right, and we’ve had a hard time matching it, which is probably why it has returned to Broadway so many times.



There’s a direct line from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award winner for best musical. You’d be hard pressed to find someone more sentimental (in the good way) or someone more convinced of the inherent goodness of humankind than Oscar Hammerstein, and Miranda is definitely of the Hammerstein school.

In the Heights is exuberant, passionate and big hearted. It’s a show about rough, tough lives told in sweet, colorful ways.

Miranda’s music and lyrics bring the sounds of the barrio into a pop-Broadway fusion that is highly appealing. He gives us throaty ballads and lively group numbers (further enlivened by Andy Blankenbuehler’s dynamic choreography) that effectively connect show tune romance and longing with contemporary sounds. There’s a little bit of Rent in there, but Miranda’s score makes its own distinctive mark.

Quiara Alegria Hudes’ book is slightly less successful if only because it seems familiar and more romantic than realistic. We’ve got three primary stories: a young woman (Mandy Gonzalez as Nina) drops out of Stanford and returns to Washington Heights because working two jobs interfered with her studies and she lost her scholarship; another young woman (Karen Olivo as Vanessa) can’t find a place to live because she doesn’t make enough money working at the local hair salon; and a bright young man (Miranda as Usnavi) inherited his parents’ bodega and, in addition to taking care of Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), he keeps his eye on the neighborhood and tells everybody’s stories.

There’s life, death and a blackout, some sizzling salsa moves, a little rap, a winning lottery ticket and a whole lot of good folks struggling, banding together and achieving triumph in big and little ways.

Love stories abound as Nina falls for local boy Benny (Christopher Jackson), Usnavi works up the nerve to ask out Vanessa and longtime married couple Kevin (Eliseo Roman) and Camila (Priscilla Lopez of A Chorus Line fame) find themselves at a crossroads when their daughter’s troubles force a major business decision.

Under the direction of Thomas Kail, In the Heights is a highly enjoyable multi-pronged story told with flair and affection. There’s nothing terribly innovative about this musical, but the culture it chooses to explore and the people on whom it trains its focus aren’t all that common on Broadway, so it’s all the more welcome.




Helping Broadway musicals go (sh-k-) Boom!

Kurt Deutsch didn’t mean to get into the record business.

The self-described “total theater guy” grew up in St. Louis going to theater whenever possible (usually at The Muny) and then studied directing and acting in college. His big break came when Evan Handler had to leave the Broadway production of Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound for health reasons (he was diagnosed with leukemia, survived, wrote a fantastic book about it, Time on Fire, and went on to star in, among other things, Sex and the City, so there’s a happy ending here).

Deutsch replaced Handler and did the show for a year and half, and then went on to Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men.

After he moved to Los Angeles, Deutsch met the woman who would become his wife, actress Sherie Rene Scott, while working on Randy Newman’s musical Faust. The show didn’t go anywhere, but the relationship did.

When Scott was getting ready to do Disney’s Aida on Broadway, she was offered a record contract – every performer’s dream, right? – and Deutsch looked it over.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” he says during a phone interview. “I thought we should just do it ourselves, and one thing led to another. I had no intention of doing cast albums or any of the stuff we ended up doing. I was just going to do a record with my wife.”

That was eight years ago, and Sh-K-Boom records, co-founded by Scott (the Sh) and Deutsch (the K), has become a major force in the realm of Broadway music. Originally the label started as an outlet for Broadway performers to show their musical colors outside of cast albums. Scott, along with the likes of Adam Pascal of Rent and Alice Ripley of Side Show, released pop-rock, singer-songwriter albums.

Then original cast albums began to creep into the picture as Deutsch began to learn more about the music industry, recording contracts and business models.

“The usual recording contracts are awful,” Deutsch says. “The record company pays for the record, but then the artist never makes any money off the record. The same kind of contract is given to shows. The royalty deal is horrible because you have to sell so many records to see any money off of it. I thought it was so unfair. I couldn’t believe producers would sign these things. I realized cast albums could be an asset and make money, theoretically. Producers spend all this money creating the shows, why wouldn’t they want to create their own cast album? So we created a different model for producers to share in the revenue from cast albums in an equitable way.”

The music industry is an industry in turmoil. Technology has wreaked havoc with traditional means of recording and distribution – thank you, iTunes. Deutsch has had to be creative and to develop a mission.

“When I go see the shows, there are two aspects I’m considering: preservation and money making,” Deutsch explains. “I know certain shows will probably never make back their investments. I’m very honest with the producer or the not-for-profit that is producing it. We then find angels to support the cast album, which is probably the most important tool if the show is going to have a life beyond this production. If a recording exists, productions will happen.”

Deutsch, of course, is not running a not-for-profit organization. He has to make money to stay in business. But he has gotten good at helping shows find money, whether he taps a moneyed believer in the show, the music publisher or other sponsors.

For releasing cast albums, Deutsch created a separate label called Ghostlight Records (named for the single bulb lamp left on stages after a performance), and among the cast albums he has released are this year’s Tony-winner for best musical, In the Heights, Legally Blonde, The Drowsy Chaperone, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and another recent Tony-winner, Passing Strange, which was recorded live and has the distinction of being the first original Broadway cast recording released in a digital format before it was released to brick-and-mortar stores.

“There will always be something physical people will buy, especially collectors of recordings,” Deutsch says. “Some people will always want to read the lyrics, see photos to get a sense of the show or just have a souvenir of the show, a tangible thing.”

But there’s no denying the fact that the digital revolution has made things easier for distributors: there’s no manufacturing cost, no shipping and customers around the world can acquire the product with the click of a mouse.

With this summer’s airing of MTV’s reality show search for a new lead in Legally Blonde, Deutsch says that Blonde music sales, already one of the label’s strong sellers, increased, with about 50 percent of sales going out digitally.

There was one potentially major gaffe associated with the conclusion of the MTV show, which revealed the winner and new Blonde star to be Bailey Hanks. Deutsch and his crew had already recorded Hanks singing the show’s “So Much Better,” which was scheduled for release the day after she was crowned the winner. But someone at didn’t get the memo and posted a 30-second clip of Hanks’ song days before they were supposed to. There was no name on the clip, but anyone watching the show would recognize Hanks as the singer.

“I was on vacation in Italy and got this frantic e-mail from the executive producer of the Legally Blonde show,” Deutsch recalls. “We had had to sign a confidentiality agreement with the show, and a mistake like that one could have cost us $500,000. They eventually took the clip down. Hopefully someone was fired.”

Part of Deutsch’s creative mission with these recordings is to make original cast albums vital again. He gave away a copy of the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels disc with every ticket sold during the show’s Broadway run. For “In the Heights” he created radio-friendly three-minute versions of some of the show’s songs. And Passing Strange went digital in time for its award-season appearances.

He also takes risks, like he did with the musical bare (which will have its San Francisco premiere next year). The small-scale musical about teens in Catholic school, was generating buzz off-Broadway. After meeting with producers, Deutsch recorded a 12-track disc that was essentially given away, mostly to youth groups and summer camps.

“We spent $50,000 to make the record and market it,” Deutsch says. “The idea was to create buzz to get the show to Broadway. Then the money fell apart, and it never opened on Broadway.”

Upcoming releases for Sh-K-Boom and Ghostlight include an archival recording of Patti LuPone’s legendary concerts at Les Mouches (Nov. 11), Michael John LaChiusa’s
Little Fish (Sept. 9) and Orfeh’s What Do You Want from Me (Sept. 30). Recent releases include Kelli O’Hara’s Wonder in the World, the cast album for the first Broadway musical of the season, [title of show],
and Lea Delaria’s The Live Smoke Sessions.

“The whole point of this is that we’re part of the community,” Deutsch says. “Sheri is part of the Broadway community. We have a lot of friends in the Broadway community. We’re performers and producers on Broadway, not some big, bad record label guys. We want to help grow Broadway and off-Broadway. This is a great time in history with a lot of great people, and we can help make something to remember them by.”

For information visit or

Great American musical roundup


We have a tradition here at Theater Dogs, and that is to commemorate the Fourth of July by celebrating the greatest American art form: the musical.

It was an interesting year on Broadway for new musicals. Below are reviews of cast albums for three of them (I passed on Little Mermaid because I love the movie soundtrack from Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman so much that I don’t really want to hear how Ashman’s brilliance was diluted by someone else attempting to fill his shoes; and I had previously reviewed, and hated, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and Xanadu). There’s also a classic American musical revival below and a pop album by current Broadway star, Kelli O’Hara.

Passing Strange: The Stew Musical ($18.97, Ghostlight Records)

Recorded live from the Belasco Theatre, this original cast recording captures everything the Bay Area fell in love with when the show had its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Stew’s rock score is alternately rousing and mesmerizing. Brilliantly performed by the cast, this album has the distinction of being the first Broadway cast album to be released online first (you can find it at iTunes). It won’t be released in three dimensions until July 15. Recording live was a stroke of brilliance because the audience reaction fuels the experience of the music, especially during the more humorous songs.

My one complaint is that some of the songs ramble. The repetition grows wearisome on some tracks. But that’s a minor quibble. This is a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience with a you-are-there feel that pulses with energy.

In the Heights ($21.98, Ghostlight Records)

I haven’t seen the show, but one listen to this double-album set convinced me that it would go on to win the Tony Award for best score (for Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also stars) and for best musical. This is joyous music that incorporates rap, hip-hop, salsa, pop and more traditional Broadway sounds for a highly pleasing patchwork of songs. Miranda’s rapping is intelligent and humorous, which will go a long way toward not alienating Broadway audience members who might not care for rap while pleasing those who do.

Favorite tracks include the boffo opening number (“In the Heights”), the catchy “Piragua”, Mandy Gonzalez’s “Breathe” and the beautiful “Champagne” (by Gonzalez and Miranda). The recording quality is superb, and though there are hints of Rent here and there, In the Heights comes across on record as a true original.

A Catered Affair ($19.98, PS Classics)

A fan of composer John Bucchino’s, I was eagerly awaiting the cast album for this modest musical about a Bronx family that works itself into a frenzy over the daughter’s impending wedding (the daughter wants to elope, the mother, perhaps attempting to make up for her less-than-wonderful wedding, wants a blow-out).

The first impression from the album is that Faith Prince is amazing as Aggie, the mother. Her solos, “Our Only Daughter” and “Coney Island,” are superb, as is her duet with Leslie Kritzer as daughter Janey. Kritzer and Matt Cavenaugh as Ralph, the fiancé, shine on the duet “Don’t Ever Stop Saying `I Love You,'” which is the score’s standout song. Jonathan Tunick’s delicate orchestrations are gorgeous, and Bucchino’s songs are more about heart and storytelling than about big Broadway moments.

The jarring element of the album is Harvey Fierstein, who adapted the book from previous scripts by Paddy Chayefsky and Gore Vidal. Fierstein wrote himself a role as Aggie’s brother, Winston, and if you know the cast album of Hairspray, you know that Fierstein is more personality than vocal star. In a big splashy musical comedy, Fierstein is just fine. Here, he sticks out and causes little flinches here and there.

South Pacific: The New Broadway Cast Recording ($18.98, Sony Classical)

Gorgeous, wonderful, inspiring – there’s not much left to say about this fantastic cast recording of the Tony-winning Lincoln Center hit – the first Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 classic.

Kelli O’Hara is a vibrant, honey-voiced Nellie Forbush, and Paulo Szot, with his gorgeous bass baritone, imbues songs such as “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Is How It Feels” (cut from the original, now a duet with O’Hara) with commanding, sexy power. Matthew Morrison provides a touching “Younger Than Springtime” and a forthright “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

Robert Russell Bennett’s original orchestrations are brilliantly realized by musical director Ted Sperling. I’ll always love the original Mary Martin-Ezio Pinza recording, but this revival disc is a welcome addition to the library.

Wonder in the World, Kelli O’Hara ($16.98, Ghostlight Records)

Speaking of Kelli O’Hara, in addition to starring in a hit show, she has a new solo CD arranged and orchestrated by her Pajama Game co-star Harry Connick Jr. (and produced by longtime Connick collaborator Tracey Freeman). There are a couple show tunes – “Fable” from Light in the Piazza, which O’Hara was in, but she didn’t sing this song, “I Have Dreamed” from The King and I and “Make Someone Happy” from Do Re Mi – but this is mostly a sweet pop album. There are three Connick tunes, including the duet title song, which is fantastic, and some James Taylor (“Fire and Rain”), Don McLean (“And I Love You So”) and Billy Joel (“And So It Goes”). There are also some O’Hara originals: “Here Now” and “I Love You the World.” There’s even a song from O’Hara’s husband, Greg Naughton (“The Sun Went Out”). It’s all pretty great because O’Hara is such a solid singer – effortless and compassionate. She may not be belting about being in love with a wonderful guy here, but she impresses with her skill, charm and warmth.

And can we just give a shout out to Ghostlight Records and PS Classics? If it weren’t for them, we’d be well short of the show tunes we love. Please keep up the good work. Please.

Tony ratings up!(sort of)

Before we get to the news, here’s a clip from the Tony Awards broadcast featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning best musical In the Heights.

OK. Now the news.

Like gas prices, the Tony Awards broadcast ratings were higher this year.

Official word from CBS is that “The 62nd Annual Tony Awards” was up 5 percent in households and was even in viewers and adults 25-54 compared to last year’s broadcast as it faced major sports competition from both The U.S. Open and Game 5 of the NBA Finals, according to preliminary Nielsen live plus same day ratings for Sunday, June 15.

And here’s even more ratings jargon that only network executives love: THE 62nd ANNUAL TONY AWARDS posted a 4.4/08 in households with 6.19m viewers, 1.5/04 in adults 25-54 and 1.1/03 in adults 18-49. Compared to last year’s awards ceremony (6/10/07), THE 62nd ANNUAL TONY AWARDS was up +5 percent in households (from 4.2/07) and even in viewers (6.22m) and adults 25-54 (1.5/04).

Translation: the ratings news wasn’t dismal this year, but it wasn’t good either. Last year’s Tony ratings were the worst ever, so even a five percent jump, though encouraging, is minor. The estimate is that the show — a giant commercial for Broadway shows (nothing wrong with that, though would it kill them to put more award winners on the air?) — was watched by 6.2 million people. If they all go out and buy theater tickets, everything’s good.

ABC won the Sunday-night ratings game with Game 5 of the National Basketball Association championship. NBC came in second with coverage of the final round of the U.S. Open golf championship and a “Saturday Night Live” special about Mike Myers — just to give you an idea of what the average American prefers over theater, or, more specifically, New York theater.

Missing the Tonys

For the last four days I’ve been in Ashland, Ore., reviewing shows at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the San Francisco Chronicle (more on that later), and while the Tonys were on Sunday night, I was at the opening of a new musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. Of course I’ll watch the whole awards show on TiVo when I get home, but I was able to catch glimpses here and there (thanks to the spotty online coverage), and of course I couldn’t wait to find out the winners.

I must say I’m disappointed that Passing Strange only one award (for best book of a musical). I guess I’m feeling territorial because the show had its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Still, it’s better than nothing. Here’s what co-creator and star Stew had to say about his win:

“Music is something that comes easy to me, and I’ve received numerous accolades for my songs – but to be honored for my writing means a whole hell of a lot, especially when it comes from theatre people for whom words really mean something. Those words took shape at Berkeley Rep, a place that makes space for people like me to take risks and try out things that theatre isn’t used to seeing. We loved working there, and we miss that Berkeley scene.”

More on the Tonys later. In the meantime, here’s a complete list of winners:

Play (and playwrights): “August: Osage County” (Tracy Letts).

Musical: “In the Heights.”

Book-Musical: “Passing Strange” (Stew).

Original Score (music and/or lyrics): “In the Heights” (Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda).

Revival-Play: “Boeing-Boeing.”

Revival-Musical: “South Pacific.”

Actor-Play: Mark Rylance, “Boeing-Boeing.”

Actress-Play: Deanna Dunagan, “August: Osage County.”

Actor-Musical: Paulo Szot, “South Pacific.”

Actress-Musical: Patti LuPone, “Gypsy.”

Featured Actor-Play: Jim Norton, “The Seafarer.”

Featured Actress-Play: Rondi Reed, “August: Osage County.”

Featured Actor-Musical: Boyd Gaines, “Gypsy.”

Featured Actress-Musical: Laura Benanti, “Gypsy.”

Direction-Play: Anna D. Shapiro, “August: Osage County.”

Direction-Musical: Bartlett Sher, “South Pacific.”

Choreography: Andy Blankenbuehler, “In the Heights.”

Orchestrations: Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman, “In the Heights.”

Scenic Design-Play: Todd Rosenthal, “August: Osage County.”

Scenic Design-Musical: Michael Yeargen, “South Pacific.”

Costume Design-Play: Katrina Lindsay, “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.”

Costume Design-Musical: Catherine Zuber, “South Pacific.”

Lighting Design-Play: Kevin Adams, “The 39 Steps.”

Lighting Design-Musical: Donald Holder, “South Pacific.”

Sound Design-Play: Mic Pool, “The 39 Steps.”

Sound Design-Musical: Scott Lehrer, “South Pacific.”

Previously announced:

Regional Theater Tony Award: Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Special Tony Award: Robert Russell Bennett.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Stephen Sondheim.

Ramping up to the Tony Awards

This Sunday, the Tony Awards will be handed out.
Here’s what you need to know (and get busy organizing your Tony party — we’ve got to get those dismal ratings out of the basement so CBS will continue broadcasting the darn things).

For the first time, there will be pre-ceremony Tony Concert chock full of juicy musical numbers from all the nominated shows. In the Bay Area the concert will be at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 15 on KPIX-TV. Mario Lopez (currently playing Zach in A Chorus Line) hosts, and we’ll see numbers from 10 musicals: A Catered Affair, Cry-Baby, Grease, Gypsy, In The Heights, Passing Strange, South Pacific, Sunday in the Park with George, The Little Mermaid and Xanadu—on stage at the Allen Room at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, with its spectacular, floor-to-ceiling views of Central Park South visible to viewers of the telecast.

Nominees who perform on the program include Laura Benanti (Gypsy), Daniel Breaker and Stew (Passing Strange), Kerry Butler (Xanadu), Daniel Evans (Sunday in the Park with George), Faith Prince (A Catered Affair) and Loretta Ables Sayre (South Pacific).

“We’ve tried very hard not to cannibalize anything that will be on the actual Tony telecast, but just to whet people’s appetites for June 15,” says The Broadway League’s Jan Friedlander Svendsen, who is an executive producer of the special. “We purposely didn’t want this in costume, we didn’t want big production numbers. We wanted it to feel very intimate. And we wanted to have those up-close-and-personal profiles.”

Actor nominees who are interviewed during the pre-Tony telecast include Laurence Fishburne, who talks about his role as a Supreme Court justice in Thurgood, and Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood, who reveal a touching story from the casting of their revival of Macbeth. Steppenwolf Theatre Company members Laurie Metcalf (November) and Deanna Dunagan, Amy Morton and Rondi Reed from the Best Play nominee August: Osage County celebrate the success of Steppenwolf-ers on Broadway this season—the roster also includes Martha Plimpton and Kevin Anderson—who all told represent six different Broadway shows.

“One of the issues with the Tonys is, often times, not all of our nominees are as well known as, say, Oscar nominees,” says Svendsen. “It’s great to let audiences be exposed to some of those who aren’t as well known. It’s kind of like the Olympics. Many of those athletes aren’t as famous, and one of my favorite parts of watching the Games is getting to know those athletes from a human interest side. Then I have an emotional connection with them and a more rooting interest in who’s going to win.”

The Awards, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg (thank God someone on “The View” cares about theater since Rosie O’Donnell’s departure) begin at 8 p.m. on TV, but watching the tape delay is so retro. Why not tune into the live Webcast? Past Tony winners Michael Cerveris and Julie White host. Log on to for all the details.

On the broadcast, we’ll get musical numbers from all four of the Best Musical nominees (Cry-Baby, In The Heights, Passing Strange and Xanadu) and the four Best Musical Revival nominees (Grease, Gypsy, Sunday in the Park with George and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific).

Also represented will be three other new Broadway musicals: A Catered Affair, The Little Mermaid and The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein. And just for good measure, Rent and The Lion King will also make appearances.

Video memories from past Tony winners, clips from nominated shows and a whole lot more await you at, your one-stop shop for Tony Award information.

To whet your appetite, here’s Passing Strange on “The View.”