Superstar heralds return to holy place (aka the theater)

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The cast of the North American tour of Jesus Christ Superstar (featuring Aaron LaVigne in the center as the title character) has a light last supper. The show is at the Golden Gate Theatre as part of the BroadwaySF season. Below: James T. Justis is Judas. Photos by Matthew Murphy

Hosanna, hey sanna, sanna sanna ho! It sure feels good to be back in a big theater seeing a big Broadway show. This must be the way some people feel going back to church. You might even call it a religious experience.

Except when the show in question is Jesus Christ Superstar, that spiritual uplift quickly turns into confusion. With only a limited knowledge of the Bible, I’ve always found JCS to be a mediocre show with occasional thrills in the score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. I can fully understand why this show became such a sensation more than 50 years ago when the concept album was released (and nothing fires sales more than cries of “Sacrilege!”). Here was a rock opera/Passion Play that really rocked and yowled like the music of the day but also had some orchestral heft to differentiate it from other emerging rock musicals (like Hair).

I can also understand how audiences might have been baffled when the show opened on Broadway Oct. 12, 1971 (50 years ago this week!). If you don’t already know the story of Jesus’ last few weeks or who Judas or King Herod were, the show doesn’t do much to help you out.

Over the last five decades, JCS has become a mainstay, and it seems revisions and revivals and re-imaginings have kept this show resurrecting nonstop. I have yet to see anyone make a case for this being a great show, and the 50th anniversary North American tour now at the Golden Gate Theatre as part of the BroadwaySF season is more interesting than many productions I’ve seen, but it still falls significantly short of miraculous.

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Director Timothy Sheader, who first staged this production for London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in 2016, aims to rediscover the zeal and youthful cheekiness of the original two-disc concept album by training focus on the music and making this show feel more like a concert than a traditional musical. And the music (not necessarily the voices) quickly emerges as the best part of this touring production. Music director Shawn Gough leads an 11-piece ensemble that expertly captures that unique Lloyd Webber sound blending the symphonic with rock, most notable here in the horns and the guitars.

Set on what looks to be the naked girders of a ruined building (set design by Tom Scutt, who also designed the hair and the costumes), the band occupies the upper levels while the ensemble scampers all over the stage, with a lot of concentrated action on the cross-shaped platform.

Actors in this show don’t have a lot to work with when it comes to characters. They get one act and 95 minutes of nearly nonstop singing that fails to provide much in the way clarity or emotional connection. Aaron LaVigne only really makes an impression as Jesus during “Gethsemane.” Otherwise he just seems like a nice, man-bunned hipster who gets caught in a violent sci-fi story with a mean friend (James T. Justis as Judas) and a sex worker friend who doesn’t know how to love him (Jenna Rubaii as Mary Magdalene). Pilate and the Roman soldiers look like murderous aliens, and King Herod (a fun Paul Louis Lessard) seems to be visiting from an entirely different, much campier and more enjoyable planet.

There’s a weird blend of the realistic and the mythical here. For instance, when Jesus is arrested and is heading toward execution, he emerges shirtless and drenched in blood. Then, when it’s time for the 39 lashes, the whip is replaced with golden glitter bombs. By the end of the lashing, he looks like a terribly abused Academy Award crossed with a disco ball. Probably not the vibe you want when you’re about to watch someone die slowly on a cross.

The thing about Jesus Christ Superstar is this: if you get carried away by the original album (and it still sounds remarkably vital), there is likely never going to be a production better than the one in your head. But isn’t it interesting that the theater where JCS premiered 50 years ago, the Mark Hellinger Theatre, is now the Times Square Church? Hosanna indeed.

Jesus Christ Superstar continues through Nov. 7 as part of the BroadwaySF season at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $56-$226. Call 888-746-1799 or visit

BroadwaySF COVID policies are here.

Kids rock in Lloyd Webber’s middling School

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The cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock, at the Orpheum Theatre – the national tour is part of the SHN season through July 22. Below: Theodora Silverman is Katie, the bassist, and Rob Colletti is Dewey Finn, the fraudulent substitute teacher. Photos by Matthew Murphy

What’s the primary reason to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock? It’s elementary: the kids.

This grand-scale musical adaptation of the 2003 movie hit (screenplay by Mike White, direction by Richard Linklater) makes a lot of sense as far as movie-to-musical projects go because music – and a lot of it – is built right into the story of a baby-man who fakes being a substitute teacher at a private school and turns around the lives of his students by helping them form a rock band. It’s just kind of funny that this “rock” musical is the first hit for Lloyd Webber in a lot of years (looking back to Sunset Boulevard in 1993), and he is not exactly the musical persona who comes to mind when you think “stick it to the man” rock ‘n’ roll. Lord Lloyd Webber pretty much IS the man these days (meow), but he’s definitely in fun ALW mode here – think Jesus Christ Superstar meets Starlight Express.

Still, it’s telling that two musical highlights of the show involve “Amazing Grace” and grownups singing along with Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen,” while the Lloyd Webber originals (with lyrics by Glen Slater) range from enjoyable (“You’re in the Band,” “Stick it to the Man”) to not so much (“Where Did the Rock Go?” “When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock”).

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I suspect School of Rock sells tickets on the basis of two things: the leading performance by whomever is playing Dewey Finn in the key of Jack Black (who created the role in the movie) and the dozen or so amazing kids who sing, dance, act and play their own instruments.

Rob Colletti is a robust Dewey Finn, and he’s got the Jack Black comic cadence down pat. He’s an enthusiastic singer/musician, though I found him on the lower end of the charm scale. And charm is kind of important so that Dewey doesn’t come across as a total creep who betrays his best (and only friend) by stealing the substitute teacher gig right out from under him and then continually lying to him about it. It’s also creepy that Dewey shows up at a school and is, without any question, allowed into a classroom, even when he tells the principal (a crisp Lexie Dorsett Sharp as Rosalie Mullins) to make his paycheck out to “cash.” Talk about red flags. And in short order, he’s stealing $10 from a student, yelling at students and attempting to send students off campus unsupervised. In Act 2 we even get – wait for it! – the requisite pedophile joke. Hilarious.

No, it’s really all about the kids, and they should have more to do of substance. The young performers are so appealing, they make us practically forget the clichés and stereotypes that riddle the book by Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame).

Watching kids play keyboard, guitar and bass is exciting – much more so that watching the plot creak along with depictions of parents as monstrous, neglectful idiots – but the show never gives them a showcase as sharp and funny as Matlida or as tenderhearted and sweet as Annie. These young performers look like they’re having a blast (and it is probably a hoot for kids in the audience to watch their peers rock out), but they deserve a better show than this faux-rock fizzle.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock continues through July 22 at the SHN Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $55-$256 (subject to change). Call 888-746-1799 or visit

Humming the chandelier: Phantom 2.0

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Chris Mann is The Phantom and Katie Travis is Christine Daaé in the new touring production of The Phantom of the Opera at the Orpheum Theatre as part of the SHN season. The new production, with a new director and design team, forgot to pack the staircase for the Act 2 opener, “Masquerade” (below). Top photo by Matthew Murphy. Bottom photo by Alastair Muir

I come by my loathing of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera honestly. I started out loving it beyond measure and slowly grew disillusioned to the point of feeling groggy at the mere mention of “The Music of the Night.”

As a student at the University of London, I was devouring all the theater I could, and when Phantom had its world premiere in the fall of 1986, I waited hours in line for a return ticket so I could see what all the fuss was about. Of course there was the crashing chandelier that reportedly made Princess Diana shriek when she saw it. I’m sure director Harold Prince doesn’t love that the greatest hit of his long, distinguished theatrical career is a fast-ascending piece of scenery. There was all the rich texture and gobsmacking beauty of Maria Björnson’s sets and costumes and the powerhouse performance by Michael Crawford in the title role.

I was dazzled and quickly became a “phan,” as the Phantom fans are known. I devoured my double-cassette original cast recording. I wrote Crawford a fan note and framed his reply. I was thrilled when the show took Broadway by storm in 1988. Shortly after I moved to San Francisco, Phantom took up residence at the Curran Theatre for about six years, and that’s when the shine began to dull for me. Whenever anyone came in from out of town, they’d want to see Phantom, and the more I saw it (the production was a top-notch re-creation of the London version), the less I liked it. I was seeing so much theater, and so much of it had depth and real passion, two things sorely lacking in Phantom, which is the most honestly smoke-and-mirrors musical theater I know.

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And now we have a “new” production of The Phantom of the Opera with a new director and a (mostly) new design team. Just as he did with Les Misèrables, director Laurence Connor has attempted to freshen up what was definitely becoming a stale property (albeit one that remains as popular as ever). For Les Miz he got ride of the iconic turntable, and guess what? He has made a turntable set the centerpiece of his Phantom!

Back in San Francisco as part of the SHN season, this revamped Phantom scores points for (unlike Les Miz) not leaning too heavily on projections as a means of streamlining the show (and turning it into a video game). The sets are bulky and real, a thick, revolving column at the center of the stage serving as a swift means to whisk us to various locations in the Paris Opera House.

The chandelier falls, of course, though it doesn’t crash onto the stage anymore. It sparks and flares and drops quickly toward the heads of those in the orchestra section. It’s not impressive, nor is the shooting of flames from the chandelier when it rises to its position during the auction scene at the top of the show. It looks like a rocket prop from an Elton John concert, to be honest.

Director Connor wisely keeps the late Björnson’s original costumes, though he eschews the bulky costumes of the “Masquerade” number for more generic jewel-toned outfits and simple masks. He also does away with the staircase for that number, so it’s not as impressively staged. There are mirrors and some nice choreographic moves (by Scott Ambler), so it’s all very pretty. Just not prettier.

It seems that Connor’s goal here might have been to render Phantom on a more human scale and bring it all back from the glossy, gimmicky, mechanized theme park attraction it had become (nothing wrong with theme park shows…when you’re in a theme park). He accomplishes that somewhat, deftly balancing spectacle with intimacy, but letting the characters stand on their own isn’t necessarily a good thing. The book by Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe is even shallower than the original novel by Gaston Leroux, and it asks a lot of the actors to imbue the cardboard characters with something resembling human emotion or rationality.

At 2 1/2 hours, this production clips right along with all the requisite stops on the roof of the Opera (for “All I Ask of You,” which now features a Phantom skulking behind statues rather than riding an angel that descends from the proscenium) and the depths of the Opera, where the Phantom keeps his lair on the shores of an underground lake (theres still a foggy boat ride but minus a whole lot of wobbly electric candles). The best part of the new rotating set involves a wooden staircase that appears and disappears as the Phantom lures Christine into his world.

Both the Phantom and Christine have been cast younger this time around, which makes sense, although Chris Mann doesn’t quite have the vocal heft to pull it off, and Katie Travis over-enunciates so much it sounds like she’s singing in a foreign language. Mann comes off as petulant much of the time, with his strongest moments toward the end when the unmasked Phantom is most vulnerable. Travis warbles prettily, but her one solid dramatic moment comes in “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” Neither Mann nor Travis can escape the embarrassment of the title song, complete with its ridiculous drum machines and a tinny sound design that makes them sound pre-recorded.

Vocally, the ensemble numbers are strong, though the group musical numbers in the managers’ office while reading notes from the Phantom still sound like musical goulash.

I like that Lloyd Webber and his money team are investing in a re-envisioned hit, and there are moments in this new production where I can see why I fell for the show and why I outgrew it. Watching it, I couldn’t help thinking we don’t really need to spend more money on a new production of Phantom. We need a new show altogether. Time to move on. Maybe we can attempt to re-discover the hidden depths of Phantom in 2030.

The Phantom of the Opera continues through Oct. 4 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $45-$210 (subject to change). Call 888-746-1799 or visit

Oh, meow, or why Cats is still a kick in the jellicles


Feeling Friskies: the touring company (also seen below) of Cats is coming to the Orpheum Theatre. Photos by Joan Marcus


When they said Cats was “now and forever,” they weren’t kidding. Not even a little bit.

On May 11, the much beloved (and derided) Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about singing pussycats and tires that lift off to kitty-cat heaven marks the 30th anniversary of its London premiere. Yes, it has been three decades since Mr. Mistoffolees and the Rum Tum Tugger first bounded onto the stage of the New London Theatre in the West End. Elaine Paige was a late-in-the-game replacement for Judi Dench (not yet a dame), who had been injured more than once during rehearsals – first a foot injury, then, juggling crutches, a pitch off a ramp into empty seats. Paige had the distinction of introducing the song “Memory” into the public consciousness, where it has boldly resisted becoming the kind of memory it sings about.

On Broadway, Cats was the longest-running musical (7,485 performances) until another Lloyd Webber show, The Phantom of the Opera, broke that record in 2006. As you may recall, Cats was a true sensation, winning seven 1983 Tony Awards and helping redefine musical theater for the next decade. This is a show that shows no signs of going to that great litter box in the sky. In 1991, Cats became the longest continuously touring show in U.S. theater history, and the folks at Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group have some interesting statistics about the show’s touring history: five continents, 26 countries, more than 8 ½ million audience members.

That’s a lot of (cat) scratch.

It should not surprise you that Cats is coming back. SHN brings the tour to the Orpheum Theatre May 5-15.

Richard Stafford, the show’s director and production supervisor, has made quite a career of Cats. His Broadway dancing career led him to the musical in 1985, and 26 years later, he’s still helping re-create Trevor Nunn’s original direction and Gillian Lynne’s original choreography.

What keeps Stafford interested in returning over and over again to jellicle songs for jellicle cats?


“Honestly, every time I work on it, I learn something more about the show, about the craft of theater, about musical theater in general, about myself,” he says on the phone from his New York home. Ironically, in the middle of his thought, Stafford’s dog barks. That’s right. He’s a dog person (but he insists he loves cats, too). “I love teaching new people the choreography and direction. With each new tour, it’s usually a young group of actors who haven’t done this before, and for many of them, this was a show they grew up loving. To share the show with them is moving to me. I have worked on this show for a long time, through many incarnations. I have been so fortunate to work with Trevor and Gillian. Carrying all that information along has been a huge part of my career. And I could not have done it if I didn’t love the show so much.”

Stafford, who has directed a regional production of Cats for Sacramento’s Music Circus (where he will return this summer to work on Oliver!), has had a front-row seat to watch Cats become legendary. His theory on why the show has such longevity starts with the source material: T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

“The poetry is so beautiful and has its own kind of magic,” Stafford says. “Those words married to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beautiful melodies created a new sound. Now we take it for granted, but the show really did sound different. Although for some the plot is hard to decipher, there are strong themes of forgiveness – almost literal re-birth. Whether audiences know it or not, it’s magical to see people transformed into animals. It’s childlike and not childlike at the same time, and that touches people. Really, it’s hard to explain, but so many elements came together in a magical way for the creative team.”

Of course, Cats has had its fair share of detractors over the years and been the butt of many a musical theater joke. But when something becomes as successful as Cats, backlash is inevitable.

“I know the show can be a challenge for those unwilling to suspend disbelief,” Stafford says. “They say it’s not about anything or not musically interesting. But if you look at the whole creation, there’s so much to it. There are so many haunting melodies in it, but some people have been brainwashed not to like Andrew Lloyd Webber, so they don’t really notice. One of my first jobs was in the first national tour of Evita and I just have to say that Andrew Lloyd Webber has given us so much. We tend to forget that in musical theater culture.”

One of the hardest parts of Stafford’s job, he says, is maintaining a high level of felinity in his performers – the catlike tread that has become the show’s trademark (along with the wonderfully fuzzy costumes by John Napier).

“It’s all about the feline movements,” he says. “Gillian Lynne choreographed almost every second of the show. There are a few moments of improve, but so many of the great details are Gillian’s. If the cast is fully into the feline world, the storytelling is better and the show is extremely successful. If, for whatever reason, the cast has let go of some of that, the show is much less fulfilling and feels like skits strung together. It’s still spectacular, but it doesn’t have the magic it might otherwise have. When I’m watching the show, I can see instantly if the performers are using their backs, continuing to contract and to feel the feline sharpness. If they lose that, it’s my job to get it back, and that’s something I’m good at.”


Cats runs May 5-15 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets start at $30. Call 888-746-1799 or visit for information.


[bonus article]

Read “The (more than) nine lives of Cats” here.

Review: `The Phantom of the Opera’

John Cudia as the Phantom woos Trista Moldovan with the music of the night in the U.S. touring production of The Phantom of the Opera, which plays through the holidays at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. Photo by Joan Marcus


All I ask of `Phantom’: wishing you were somehow not here again


Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera dazzled me once.

I was on an exchange program in London during my sophomore year of college. Phantom had just opened, and rumor had it that Princess Diana had been so scared by the falling chandelier that she actually screamed.

My friend Jennifer and I waited in a long line, sorry, queue and nabbed a couple prime seats, and we were blown away by the lush spectacle and by Michael Crawford (even in my naïve college-age state I could tell Sarah Brightman was a total goofball).

That was 1986. The show opened on Broadway two years later, and both London and New York are still going. Phantom is the longest-running show in Broadway history. Reportedly the show has earned Sir Andrew and his associates somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 billion and counting. (Perhaps we should be seeking an economic bailout from him.)

I’ve seen the show many times since. Whenever people came to visit San Francisco, we went while the show was in its long, five-year run at the Curran Theatre. I can understand why the Phans love the show, but I have fallen deeply out of love with it. The last time I saw the show was its 100-minute Las Vegas version, and I swore it would be the last one.

But no, I succumbed once again and went to opening night of the current tour, part of the SHN/Best of Broadway series at the Orpheum Theatre.

For a 20-year-old show, I must say, Phantom still remarkably good. There’s razzle in its dazzle. At Tuesday’s opening night, stage techs had a tough time uncovering the abnormally large proscenium arch during the bombastic overture, and the chandelier technology, while not as UFO-like and obnoxious as the Vegas version, is pretty clunky, and when the chandelier falls at the end of Act 1, when the stage hands step into position to catch it, the jig really is up.

Maria Bjornson’s gorgeous sets and costumes are still the part of the show I like best. There’s an epic scale to her designs (lit with operatic horror show glee by Andrew Bridge) that is pure pleasure to behold, and director Hal Prince’s fluid staging (with help from choreographer Gillian Lynne) is a master class in managing an unmanageable musical.

This tour, which runs through the holidays, is lucky to have two solid, reliable leads. John Cudia (at right, photo by Cylla van Tiederman) has one of the nicest Phantom voices I’ve heard – it’s warm, powerful and lacks the quirky strain of Crawford and longtime San Francisco Phantom Franc D’Ambrosio. And Trista Moldovan as Christine possesses a voice as lovely as she is. Both Cudia and Moldovan act and strike poses in the purple style required by this bosom-heaving gothic romance, but they exercise restraint in a way few of their cohorts manage to do. And they sound glorious.

That said, this is such a dumb musical.

Lloyd Webber should have a billion pounds removed from his bank account every time that god-awful drum machine kicks in during the title song.

And can someone tell me why all the inhabitants of the Paris Opera, in Paris, France, speak with bad British accents except Carlotta, the diva, who is Italian? I suppose it’s the same musical logic that requires all the Viennese people in The Sound of Music to speak with English and American accents.

Why is the lake under the opera house full of candles, and how do the “flames” stay lit in the water?

Musically, I feel like the show has five solid tunes: “Masquerade” (still the best number in the show), “All I Ask of You,” “The Music of the Night,” “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and “The Point of No Return.” An argument could be made for “Prima Donna” but it’s part of those wretched septet numbers where everyone’s caterwauling at the same time. I could turn on seven radios and achieve the same effect. I also don’t count the title song because it’s just cascading scales and the already mentioned drum machines, which should have been left behind in the mid-‘80s.

All the pyrotechnics and fancy set changes and over-stuffed costumes in the world can distract from the fact that you have to wait nearly 2 ½ hours to get to the heart of the show: a moment of compassion between Christine and the unmasked Phantom that generates the show’s only remotely authentic emotion.

It seems we’ll never hear the end of this Phantom. Audiences respond to this expertly run machine, and Sir Andrew, who hasn’t really had a hit since, is hard at work on the sequel, which will supposedly be set in New York’s Coney Island and may see the light of the stage sometime next year.
I’ll leave that for the Phans and Sir Andrew’s accountants. My time with the Phantom has come to an end.


The Phantom of the Opera continues through Jan. 4 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $33-$98. Call 415- 512-7770 or visit or

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 for information.

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

Sir Andrew Lloyd `Idol’

According to “American Idol,” Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is responsible for some of the most “important” musicals of all time.

Wow. That’s pretty big. Step aside, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Back of the bus, Stephen Sondheim. The man who brought us Starlight Express and Catsis assuming the position of importance.

It’s undeniable that Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice helped Broadway take the next post-Hair step toward a more contemporary, rock-influenced sound with Jesus Christ Superstar. But with shows such as Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, Lloyd Webber’s two biggest hits, popular shouldn’t be confused with important.

Lloyd Webber was the “mentor” on Tuesday’s “American Idol” as the remaining six contestants trotted out shiny Lloyd Webber show tunes in the hope of making it to the Top 5.

I know who would make it into my bottom two:

1. Jason Castro (right), whose inability to speak in sentences or use actual words during the brief interview segment makes me think he’s not much brighter than his dreadlocks. Who else but a dim bulb would choose to sing “Memory” from Cats, probably the most popular, most over-sung show tune of the last 25 years? He didn’t have the voice for it, he didn’t make a dramatic connection, and he didn’t make an original arrangement (the way Israel Kamakawiwoʻole did with “Over the Rainbow” and which Castro cribbed in its entirety a few weeks back) that was more suited to his laidback style.

2. Brooke White stopped the orchestra then started again. Oops. Second time she’s done that this season, and it’s one time too many. She sang the Oscar-winning “You Must Love Me” from the movie version of Evita. It was a dramatic attempt (she sure displayed drama hands) but not successful. It’s not a great song by any means. She should have done a tango-infused “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”

The rest of the kids did OK. Sayesha Mercado (above) sizzled with a lousy song — “One Rock ‘n’ Roll Too Many” from Starlight Express (not exactly a font of fantastic tunes). She showed personality and sex appeal, and the judges agreed she’d be great on Broadway. No question. Somebody make some calls.

Carly Smithson got to rock it a little with “Jesus Christ Superstar” and did a screechy good job. David Cook turned “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera into something that wasn’t boring. He didn’t rock it out, as he has with other songs in the last few weeks, which was an interesting choice. He also mentioned that he grew up doing musical theater. Makes me like him even more. The last few notes of the song were thrilling.

And little David Archuleta, for me, was the one to beat because he was the only one to make one of ALW’s songs contemporary. Archuleta’s version of “Think of Me” from Phantom came across as something that could be on the radio right now. It actually sounded a lot like what the British boy band Boyzone did with “No Matter What” from Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind.

There was a lot of talk about how difficult it would be for the Idols to perform show tunes because show tunes are so complicated, and judge Simon Cowell (left with Sir Andrew) has already shown his disdain for the “Broadway” sound (which he lumps in with the sound of cruise ships, cabaret and theme parks). But Lloyd Webber isn’t complicated. He has melodies, that’s for sure. But wouldn’t it be interesting to see what the Idols would do with the songs of Stephen Sondheim? Or Michael John La Chiusa? Or Jason Robert Brown? Or Ricky Ian Gordon? Or Adam Guettel?

Now that would be a show tune challenge I’d like to see.

Sucked into the `Idol’ maw

I knew there’d be a theater connection eventually so I could write about it here.

A point of pride for me the last seven years or so was that I had never so much as seen an episode of “American Idol.” It was hard not to know every detail of the show, even without watching it, because it is treated as big news by every news outlet imaginable (except maybe Horse & Rider).

But this season, under the influence of a loved one, I got sucked in and I have even — please don’t judge — voted more than once in the past few weeks.

If you don’t know the “Idol” way, they try to liven things up by having “mentors” come in. The first one this season was Dolly Parton, and when the Idols sang her songs, the results were generally better than you might expect. This week was Mariah Carey, and the boys, surprisingly, outshone the girls singing Ms. Carey’s songs.

Next week, the mentor is Andrew Lloyd Webber, which means that the six remaining finalists — David Archuleta, Jason Castro, David Cook, Sayesha Mercado, Carly Smithson and Brooke White (I did that from memory — somebody save me) — will be singing SHOW TUNES! Never mind that they’ll also be dealing with the weirdness that is Sir Andrew. Remember when he “mentored” on the Grease casting/reality show “You’re the One that I Want”? Honestly, I thought maybe he was a high-functioning autistic man. And remember how generally awful the young contestants were singing his songs? And those were show kids trying out for a musical. I’m nervous about these Idol popsters and the show tunes.

But I’m hoping David Cook (my fave at the moment) sings “Gethsemane” from Jesus Christ Superstar.

And may I just be petty and say how very happy I am that Kristy Lee Cook (KLC — The Colonel as they say on Television Without Pity) has moved on?

Here’s a little something from YouTube to tide us (notice how I say us assuming that since I’m watching, everyone is) over until next Tuesday. It’s David Archuleta, a young man from Utah with a beautiful voice, sort of butchering “For Good” from Wicked.

Breaking `Wind’

Ill wind, you’re blowing me no good.

Actually, the winds are favorable. If you’ve ever heard the original London cast album of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman’s Whistle Down the Wind, you may be relieved to know that the American touring production of the show, which had previously been announced as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway season in San Francsico, has been blown to another city.

The tour, now in Boston, will go to Philadelphia and then Norfolk, where it will close for good Feb. 17.

For information about the remainin shows in Best of Broadway visit

‘Whistle’ a happy tune?

You knew Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote Cats, right? Well, did you know he also wrote a dog?

In the Lloyd Webber canon, only By Jeeves was more critically pummeled than Whistle Down the Wind, a collaboration with lyricist Jim Steinman (of Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” and Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” fame). The show, based on a 1961 movie of the same name, had its premiere at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. in 1996 and was supposed to open on Broadway the following year.

The Hal Prince-directed show was reviled, by critics and audiences alike, and the Broadway transfer was scrapped.

A revised London production opened in 1998 and closed in 2001. Producer Bill Kenwright took over the directing reins for a UK tour, which ended up back in London last year (taking up some slack from another flop Lloyd Webber show, The Woman in White) at the Palace Theatre.

Now Kenwright’s production of Whistle Down the Wind is touring the U.S., and that tour (seen above and below) is coming to San Francisco’s Curran Theatre April 1 through 20, so we can see what all the fuss (or what all the non-fuss) was about.

Here’s Lloyd Webber in a statement: “Whistle Down the Wind is a fantastic story for a musical dramatist and it took me back to my rock roots. It’s a primal tale about salvation and forgiveness that everyone can relate to. I’m absolutely delighted that Bill Kenwright’s wonderful production is going to be seen in America.”

The ticket sale date has not been announced. Visit for information.