Ga-ga for Go-Go’s in giddy Head Over Heels

Apr 19

Ga-ga for Go-Go’s in giddy <i>Head Over Heels</i>

Taylor Iman Jones as Mopsa (center) and the company perform “We Got the Beat,” the opening number of the new musical Head Over Heels, which features songs by the Go-Go’s. (below) Peppermint (center) is Pythio, The Oracle of Delphi, in the number “Vision of Nowness.” Photos by Joan Marcus My love for the Go-Go’s began with my first Sony Walkman...

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If/Then? No/Thanks.

Nov 13

<i>If/Then</i>? No/Thanks.

If/Then is not a musical I like much. I saw it on Broadway because I was enthusiastic about creators Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey after their powerhouse effort on Next to Normal (a show that I had problems with but admired). My reaction – meh – was very much the same when I saw the show in its touring incarnation featuring much of the original cast, including star Idina Menzel.

There are some pretty melodies, good songs and affecting moments in the show, primarily courtesy of an excellent cast working hard to make something of this rather mushy tale.

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Don’t wanna see no more American Idiot

Jun 14

Don’t wanna see no more <i>American Idiot</i>

The inevitable homecoming is upon us. The Broadway musical version of Green Day's American Idiot, which had its world premiere in 2009 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, has returned to the Bay Area as part of the SHN season.

As an employee of Berkeley Rep at the time of the show's premiere, I was deeply immersed in the world of Green Day, big Broadway producers and a world of expectations riding on the shoulders of this 90-minute rock 'n' roll extravaganza. It was a blast to have an inside seat for the creation of such an exciting show. But my vantage point also prevented me from really seeing the show with fresh eyes.

There were things I liked about it and things I didn't. The Green Day score, especially as orchestrated, arranged and supervised by Tom Kitt, was by far the best part. Kitt succeeded masterfully in capturing the rock pulse of the music and then finding ways to infuse it with range and emotion it didn't have on record.

I had trouble connecting to the bare-bones story of three 20something friends battling their apathy in the suburbs...

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Spirit but no soul in loud Bring It On musical

Dec 15

Spirit but no soul in loud <i>Bring It On</i> musical

Like a weak episode of "Glee" shot up with steriods and stuffed full of anti-depressants, Bring It On: The Musical sends up a rousing cheer for the robotic vapidity of the new Broadway. The real shame about this overblown movie-to-stage adaptation is that it's chock full of appealing, talented and boundlessly energetic young performers, but their sparkling humanity is mostly lost in the non-stop machine of this depressingly mechanical, surprisingly shrill effort (a part of the SHN season).

Targeted to an age range of teens to twentysomethings who slavishly recite lines from the 2000 movie starring Kirsten Dunst as a beleaguered cheerleading squad captain, this musical has a startling pedigree with its multi-award-winning creative team. You'd think among this heavily lauded crowd of artists that someone could have located a little heart or a moment of actual human connection. But no. This is musical by committee, and a strenuous effort it seems to have been.

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Ripley, believe it or not, still rocks Normal

Jan 28

Ripley, believe it or not, still rocks <i>Normal</i>

When I saw Next to Normal on Broadway, I was of two minds. For much of the first act, I glowered in my seat, overwhelmed by the Tom Kitt/Brian Yorkey score – too many lyrics, loud music of the pop-rock-showtune mega-mix variety and super-slick storytelling and direction by Michael Greif.

But somewhere in Act 2, I got completely caught up in the story of Diana, a bipolar woman whose illness has dominated and in some ways warped her husband, Dan, and their 16-year-old daughter, Natalie. From the song “Maybe (Next to Normal),” a duet for mother and daughter, to the end of the show, I was in tears.

It was the story more than the staging that got to me, and it wasn’t so much the music but the characters and the choices they make that was ultimately so moving.

So I left with the question: why does this show have to be a musical? The Pulitzer committee didn’t seem to mind when they handed out awards.

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Chatting with Normal’s Superboy

Jan 22

Chatting with <i>Normal</i>’s Superboy

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When people talk about the musical Next to Normal, it's inevitably about one of two things: how they related on a deep personal level to the story of a bi-polar mom and the affect her disorder has on her family or how astonished they were by Alice Ripley's lead performance as the struggling mom.

Ripley is extraordinary – this is the role that won her the Tony Award – and the show can be amazingly powerful, but there's more to this Pulitzer Prize-winning musical by Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics). When Normal pulls into San Francisco's Curran Theatre as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway series, audiences will see there are other complicated, multi-layered characters surrounding Ripley's Diana. One of them is Gabe, her son.

On tour, this tricky role is played by Curt Hansen, who was part of the Broadway cast as the vacation swing. When he describes Gabe, he uses words like "average" and "all-American." But as the show's title suggests, nothing here is exactly normal.

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