Monday, July 21, 2014

The 5 Most Adorable Broadway Star Appearances on The Muppet Show

Old Muppet Show poster
Photo courtesy: MuppetCentral.com
Last week, BroadwayWorld.com reported that Disney might be bringing the timeless and incredibly odd television stars, the Muppets, to Broadway. The details are very vague and preliminary, but the article cited the recent success of family-friendly Disney Broadway shows like Lion King, Mary Poppins, and Aladdin, and said that it's only a matter of time until the singing puppets (who have just recently come back into the limelight through their recent movies) will take the Great White Way stage eight times a week.

Now all this talk of the Muppets being on Broadway brings to mind the times during the late '70s/early '80s that Broadway actors visited the Muppets' variety show and performed their most famous songs in whimsical new ways. There were about 15 guest stars through the years that I would consider to be Broadway stars, and all of them made great appearances. So in chronological order, here are my five favorite performances by Broadway actors on the Muppet Show.
1. Joel Grey- "Wilkommen" (Season 1, Episode 3, aired October 1976*)
The first big Broadway star they pulled in to guest star on The Muppet Show was recent Tony Award-winner (for Cabaret, 1966) of the time, Joel Grey. Check out one of the performances from the episode: a kid-appropriate version of Cabaret's iconic opener "Willkommen," sung by Grey with help from the Muppets, of course.

2. Ethel Merman- Broadway medley (S1, E22, aired February 1977) 
The woman with possibly the most iconic voice in Broadway history joined the Muppets in their first season. They had to perform "There's No Business Like Show Business," but since they didn't have time to fit all of the Tony Award-winner's famous songs in the episode, they performed a cute medley on the show. Check it out below!

3. Bernadette Peters- "Take a Little One Step" (S2, E12, aired November 1977)
Yet another now Broadway legend appeared on The Muppet Show back in the day. My favorite thing about this, though, is that this was clearly before Bernadette Peters became known for her curly red hair. She's a blonde in this episode! Of course, at that time, she wasn't the star she is now, but she already had seven Broadway shows under her belt. Check out this adorable clip of her teaching awkwardly large monsters of some kind to dance!

4. Julie Andrews- "I Whistle a Happy Tune" (S2, E17, aired February 1978)
I'm assuming it's a given that we all know that Julie Andrews is perfect. So it makes total sense that following her Academy Award for Mary Poppins, famous portrayal of Maria in The Sound of Music, not to mention her three starring roles in successful Broadway shows, she would be in high demand. To my knowledge, she is not particularly famous for singing "I Whistle a Happy Tune," but here's one of her performances from the night.

 5. Carol Burnett- (S5, E15, aired December 1980)
Though she is known as one of the queens of American comedic television, Carol Burnett did have a few Broadway credits to her name. She was most famous for Once Upon a Mattress, which she starred in before she landed a great starring role on the screen (the first of which may have been the movie adaptation of the musical). Here is the first part of her Muppet episode. In this one, you get to hear her sing, see those hilarious facial expressions, and of course, that iconic, elaborate scream that she does best. Fun fact: Carol Burnett is also known as one of Julie Andrews' best friends.

Though these days, stars of all kinds appear on Sesame Street, there is nothing like The Muppet Show with its variety show style and of course the guest stars, many of whom went from famous modern actors to now being considered some of the best actors of all time.

Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: www.twitter.com/bwayginger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway

*dates are from IMDb.com, but some of them don't quite make sense...

Monday, July 14, 2014

'Wild Party' of Two: Broadway vs. Off-Broadway

The Wild Parties
Left: Wild Party Broadway Poster
Right: Wild Party Off-Bway Poster
...That awkward moment when you find the perfect source material for a musical, and two months after it opens Off-Broadway, another musical based on the same source material, with the same title, opens on Broadway. That's approximately what happened back in 2000 with the musicals called, The Wild Party.

As a fan of Idina Menzel and Brian d'Arcy James, I have known about The Wild Party for a long time, but never realized that the Off-Broadway and Broadway versions were totally different shows. So a couple weeks ago, when I was writing about BDJ in honor of his birthday (in which I included a clip from The Wild Party), I discovered this peculiar situation and had to explore it further.

While I don't know who actually started writing his version first, I do know that composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa (You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Addams Family, Big Fish) loosely adapted Joseph Moncure March's long poem of 1926, "The Wild Party" into a musical which opened Off-Broadway in February, 2000. Meanwhile Michael John LaChiusa (Marie ChristineGiant) had also written a musical adaptation which opened on Broadway a few weeks later.

Oh, and to add insult to injury, both shows' opening numbers had the same title, "Queenie was a Blonde," and since each track was based on the opening of the poem, the lyrics were ridiculously alike. The only other similarly-titled songs are, not surprisingly, each show's title song, which in Lippa's is called, "A Wild, Wild Party," but LaChiusa's is simply "Wild Party."

The original poem is about a romance-type situation between a violent clown, Burrs, and the beautiful, thrill-seeking dancer Queenie, who for some reason thought such a relationship would work. Spoiler: it doesn't. They host a party in which they invite the sketchiest people they can find (aka: their friends), and debauchery ensues, ending in many hurt feelings accompanied by overreactions involving gunshots. It was fairly depressing and shocking, especially for the time it was written, so much so, that it was banned from publication for a few years.

According to Patrick Pacheo of The LA Times, both LaChiusa and Lippa were attracted to the dark, vulgar prohibition-era poem because of the first two lines, "Queenie was a blonde and her age stood still / And she danced twice a day in vaudeville." But whereas Lippa talked about being influenced by a variety of classic pop writers and valuing a melodic score above all else, LaChiusa said his priority was to be edgy and test boundaries. It seems that each composer wanted his tunes to reflect the erotic nature of the story, as evidenced through the desperate undertones of many of their songs.

Check out this clip of the Biblical allusion number, "Wild, Wild, Party" from Lippa's Off-Broadway show, featuring Julia Murney (Wicked) as Queenie and Brian d'Arcy James (Shrek, Next to Normal) as Burrs. Bonus points if you spot Taye Diggs (Rent) as Mr. Black and Idina Menzel as Kate amid the partiers.


So what are the big differences? The writers, fortunately, took very diverse approaches to the poem, focusing on separate aspects. Looking at the original casts of each show could tell you that the shows must be pretty different, considering Brian d'Arcy James and Mandy Patinkin, two men whose talents I would never compare, played the same role in their respective shows. Lippa's has a 19-person cast, as opposed to LaChiusa's which has 15. In addition, according to an article in Dance Magazine, LaChiusa's was about five times as expensive as Lippa's.

Both casts were fairly star-studded (at least in hindsight), with Lippa's starring BDJ, Taye Diggs, Julia Murney, and Idina Menzel, and LaChiusa's starring Patinkin, Toni Collette, Yancey Arias, and Eartha Kitt (whom good '90s kids know as Madame Zeroni in Holes), among others.

Since both musicals channel the '20s-style music, the scores are fairly similar at times (the similarities could also be attributed to the fact that shows written in the same year often have a few of the same musical influences), though as Lippa's score has an obviously dark and foreboding tone, LaChiusa pulls a Cabaret. That is, he lures the audience in with a fun '20s score, setting up for a fun time, but contrasting it with the ensuing plot, which reveals that everyone involved is really messed up. Think Great Gatsby. While Lippa's songs can be used out of context fairly easily (take, for example, Lippa's showstopper, "Life of the Party"), LaChiusa's songs are more connected to the plot and have specific lyrics that make them less conducive to individual performances.

So watch the Tony Awards performance of LaChiusa's The Wild Party featuring Toni Colette, Mandy Patinkin, and Eartha Kitt below!


Probably the biggest disappointment for Lippa's musical was the fact that having a Wild Party musical on Broadway at all made the chances for a Broadway transfer for Lippa's show (which were rumored) very doubtful. Sure enough, it did not get a Broadway run.

In the end, the shows even fared similarly. LaChiusa's musical ran for 68 performances (following 36 previews), won only one award, a Theatre World Award, which went to Toni Colette, of the 12 awards for which it was nominated (across four award organizations). Off-Broadway, Lippa's show ran for 54 performances (whether the run was a predetermined length or not, I don't know) and was nominated for about 18 awards (across four award organizations) and won 6. Fortunately, both shows got an original cast recording, which are both on Spotify, so be sure to look those up! As far as the future of the productions, it does appear that Lippa's musical is the one that is more widely performed, due in part to its simpler cast, which makes it conducive to community theatres and such.

I did not get to see either show, but I would be interested to hear from people who did and find out how they really compared to each other and what kind of headaches such a situation produced for those involved in the shows. I can't even imagine how that would go down if it happened today! What do you think? Should this be allowed to happen?

Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: www.twitter.com/bwayginger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway

Read More: (yeah, this is basically a bibliography this time)
Wild Party Off-Broadway
Wild Party on Broadway
Wild Party Off-Broadway Review (Ben Brantley, NY Times)
Wild Party Broadway Review (Ben Brantley, NY Times)
"Two's a Party and a Crowd" (Broadway vs. Off-Bway analysis, LA Times)
The Wild Party Review (at Schoenberg Hall, 2003) by Variety
"Two-Party System" by Hilary Ostlere in Dance Magazine. Side note about this piece: it began as a look at both Wild Party musicals, focusing a little on the choreography, but digressed into a random fangirling sesh over Audra McDonald. Understandable. Those are always important. So, if it weren't for the fact that she misspelled Idina Menzel's name, I'd feel like this author and I should be best friends.
Outer Critics Circle Awards 2000
Drama Desk Awards 2000

Monday, July 7, 2014

3 Classic Broadway Musicals that Need to Return to Broadway... Yesterday

As casting announcements of the spring '15 Broadway revival* of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I keep trickling in, I can't help but realize that 1. Kelli O'Hara is the Mary Martin of today (aka: go-to R&H actress), and 2. It's about time The King and I was revived on Broadway. The last time it was on Broadway was in 1998, when it closed after almost two years. Just to give you some perspective, in 1998, two of the boys who won the Tony Award for Best Actor for Billy Elliot were only 4 years old. The other Billy was just 3. Now that we all feel old... It turns out there are a few other classic shows that you have probably seen performed locally, but have been distinctly absent from the Great White Way for too long. Here are my top 3:

Original 1945 playbill
Image courtesy:
PlaybillVault.com
3. Carousel
Broadway debut: 1945
Most recent time it was on Broadway: 1995
Number of Broadway revivals: 4
This R&H classic opened before the Tony Awards were around, so the show's awards were few, but since then, it has had four revivals, three of which were before 1960. The first four Broadway installments only got three total awards across the board, and never ran for more than two years. The most recent revival (1994) finally seemed to get the awards recognition it deserved, with five Tony Awards/nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, and of course Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Audra McDonald. Lesson: Put Audra McDonald in your show, and you'll win all the things, even if you only run for 11 months. #AudraWinsEveryTime #ButForReal

Watch this clip of Shirley Verett and the cast of the 1994 revival of Carousel (including Audra... Can you spot her?) sing "You'll Never Walk Alone" at the 1994 Tony Awards.


Original 1956 playbill
Image courtesy:
PlaybillVault.com
2. My Fair Lady
Broadway debut: 1956
Most recent time it was on Broadway: 1994
Number of Broadway revivals: 3
Lerner and Loewe's first big multi-award-winning Broadway hit won six of the ten Tony Awards for which it was nominated, including Best Musical and Actor. Running for six years, the original production has been the most successful version of My Fair Lady to date. Unfortunately, the revivals had only three Tony Award nominations combined, and none ran for even as long as a year. So I think it's definitely time to put another hit version of this show on Broadway! Casting suggestions?

Check out this wonderful video of Julie Andrews and the original Broadway cast of My Fair Lady performing "Wouldn't it Be Loverly" on the Ed Sullivan Show... Not sure what year, but circa 1960 I imagine. She is completely perfect. Oh my goodness this clip is a gem!!


Second Oliver! playbill
Image courtesy:
PlaybillVault.com
1. Oliver!
Broadway debut: 1963
Most recent time it was on Broadway: 1984
Number of Broadway revivals: 2
The last time this show was on Broadway was before Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables were thought of by anyone besides the creative teams. That's forever, y'all. Of course, I will give credit to the West End (ahem, Cameron Mackintosh) for reviving Oliver! in London back in 2009, starring the incredible Samantha Barks (now of Les Mis movie fame) as Nancy. But anyway, the original version of Lionel Bart's one-hit-wonder musical based on the Dickens novel, Oliver Twist, was a bit of a disappointment in terms of Tonys, garnering 10 nominations, but taking home only three. Then the only revival that received a nomination was in 1984. Despite the fact that Broadway legend Patti Lupone was playing Nancy (having already appeared in tons of Broadway shows, including her big break, Evita), it played 13 previews and a whopping 17 performances, receiving only one Tony nomination (not for Patti), which it lost. (Read an in-depth look at the Broadway productions of Oliver! here)

Watch this performance clip of Patti LuPone singing Nancy's showstopper, "As Long as He Needs Me," in 1984. She's just flawless, y'all!


So be looking out for headlines about these revivals, because I'm sure I'm not the only person who has noticed that these timeless hits need to be presented for the 21st century audiences. Though, I will say that I slightly shudder to think what changes might be made to these to make them suit the modern theatre-goer. We'll see.

Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: www.twitter.com/bwayginger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway

*a Broadway revival is a new production of a Broadway play or musical that has already been on Broadway in the past. This is as opposed to a Broadway production of a brand new show that has not been on Broadway before. Often, the point of revivals is to tweak a few things and give it a fresh look. Changes could include rearranging songs, changing lyrics, or in the case of West Side Story's most recent revival, changing some of the characterization and interpretation of the entire story.

Read More:
Oliver! on Broadway
My Fair Lady on Broadway
Carousel on Broadway

Monday, June 30, 2014

Happy (Belated) Birthday, Brian d'Arcy James!

BDJ in: Wild Party, Shrek, and
Sweet Smell of Success
Photos courtesy of
briandarcyjames.com
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that there are a few Broadway actors to whom I'm a little ridiculously dedicated, i.e., Brian d'Arcy James, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Norbert Leo Butz, and more. (apparently you have to have three names to get onto my exclusive list). So today, I realized that  I've made a huge mistake (as GOB Bluth would say). Many of my pieces have involved Brian d'Arcy James, but none have been exclusively about his career. I know. I KNOW. I'm a total failure fan!! Anyway, since he celebrated his 48th birthday yesterday, today is the perfect day to finally dedicate a post to him.

Brian d'Arcy James is one of those actors who has quite an impressive Broadway resume and has been nominated for many awards as well, which these days seems rare. Through my fairly unscientific research, it appears that the actors with extensive (5 or more) Broadway credits are the non-nominated gypsies, while the nominees usually have about four Broadway shows under their belts. BDJ has ten Broadway shows to his name, spanning 20 years. WHEW! In addition, he has a ridiculous number of award nominations, so check out the full list on his website, but below are some highlights of his career.

On his website, Brian d'Arcy James says that his breakout role was playing the adorably lovesick Frederick Barrett in Titanic (I should clarify that he didn't describe himself as adorable. I added that because it seemed appropriate). Y'all, I think I've posted the video of his performance as Frederick, singing "The Proposal/The Night was Alive" with Martin Moran on the Rosie O'Donnell show at least twice already, because it's so beautiful and sweet! I fall in love with BDJ every time! But recently, I found a different performance video of that song. This one seems to have been made for press use back in the day, so the clip below includes the entire performance, unlike the Rosie O'Donnell show clip. So check this out!


In 2000, BDJ received a Drama Desk Award nomination for his performance in the Off-Broadway production of The Wild Party. This Andrew Lippa musical was based on a 1928 poem, "The Wild Party" by Joseph Moncure March, and oddly enough, another musical based on the same poem, with the same title, opened on Broadway in the same season. With music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa, the show received seven Tony nominations, but no awards. So in 2000, Mandy Patinkin and BDJ were nominated against each other for the Drama Desk Award for Best Actor in a Musical. For the same role, essentially. Anticlimactically, neither of them won, but rather they lost to another one of my favorites, Brian Stokes Mitchell (Kiss Me Kate revival). Mind blown.

So check out this clip of Brian d'Arcy James straying from the adorable lovesick man, to an intense, violent clown named Burrs, who was probably not hugged as a child. Y'all, these The Wild Party bootlegs are where it's at! For real. You can't beat the cast, including Taye Diggs, Julia Murney, (both of whom are in the video below) and Idina Menzel. WHAT THE WHAT?! Such a show exists? Yes. Yes it does. You're welcome.


In 2002, Brian d'Arcy James appeared in his fourth Broadway show, for which he finally received a Tony nomination. Also starring Tony Award-winner John Lithgow, Sweet Smell of Success ran for four months. BDJ, nominated against another one of my favorites, Norbert Leo Butz, lost the Best Featured Actor in a Musical Tony to Shuler Hensley (for Oklahoma!), while Lithgow took home the statue for Best Actor in a Musical. Fun fact about NLB and BDJ: BDJ actually took over for him in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels on Broadway, shortly after Sweet Smell of Success.

Check out his performance playing a less extreme character than Burrs, Sidney, in Sweet Smell of Success on the Rosie O'Donnell Show (again)!


He also played Dan ("the husband") in the original Off-Broadway version of Next to Normal before the show moved to Broadway, where it earned multiple awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He did not end up reprising his role in the original Broadway version, because he accepted the title role in Shrek the Musical (which opened in late 2008) before it was clear that Next to Normal was heading to Broadway. So that year, he was nominated for Best Actor for Shrek against one of my favorites, J. Robert Spencer, who was nominated for playing Dan in Next to Normal. Of course they both lost to the boys playing Billy Elliot... Because 11-year-olds dancing for two hours. That's all. Not surprisingly, BDJ ended up taking over the role of Dan on Broadway after JRS left.

So check out this bootleg of the original Off-Broadway cast of Next to Normal singing "You Don't Know/I am the One," so this is Alice Ripley (who later won the Tony Award for reprising her role on Broadway), Aaron Tveit, and of course BDJ. There are some great bootlegs from this production floating around, if you're unscrupulous enough to love them, which I am.


Side note: the sad thing about Shrek is that with all of his makeup, you don't really get to see BDJ's sweet face. But the great thing about Shrek is that the whole thing is on Netflix! Yay high-quality recordings!

Among other recent projects, BDJ also appeared in NBC's short-lived Broadway drama, Smash, as Frank. I was slightly on the fence about Smash, but after BDJ's character was unfairly kicked off at the beginning of season two, I was totally done. I just couldn't handle that kind of betrayal. Actually I had many reasons to dislike it during season two, but BDJ leaving was the last straw.

Make sure to check out Brian d'Arcy James's full bio on his website, because he's done so much more on stage and screen, plus he has been involved in many cast recordings/soundtracks, and even a Christmas album.

So happy birthday, sir! You make the theatre world a better place.

Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: www.twitter.com/bwayginger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway

Read More:
Drama Desk Awards 2000
The Wild Party (Broadway)
Wild Party (Off-Bway)

Monday, June 23, 2014

11 Things to Never Say to Your Actor Friends

Rather than inadvertently offend a Tony Award-winner like I did last week, I'm taking this beautiful Monday to channel Annoying Actor Friend. So let me just step up onto my theatre soap box for a moment... I recently read something that made me want to cry. A writer in a collegiate publication* wrote an article about the Tony Awards, saying, "The show will be hosted by Hugh Jackman. Jackman has theater experience himself, staring in last year’s hit movie-musical 'Les Miserables.'" (though, I can't imagine what exactly it would mean to "stare" in a musical) Said writer failed to mention one of (if not the) main reasons that Hugh Jackman is qualified to host the Tonys, which is his, um, Tony/Drama Desk/Drama League/Outer Critics Circle/Theatre World Awards that he won for Boy from Oz in 2004. Or any of his other theatre credits or nominations. So that got me thinking about what other things my non-theatre friends have said to me that have made me want to immediately drag them to the nearest middle school production of The Music Man. To go along with my 10 tips for talking to a theatre nerd, here's things to NEVER say to your actor friends, based on actual encounters I've personally experienced (in no particular order). I think it's safe to assume that if you were fool enough to utter any of the following phrases in front of your ultra-cool theatre friends, you could definitely expect to receive that Laura Benanti look from them.

  1. Are you like that in real life? I love being called by my character name by strangers, but I once had an adult ask me if I was cast based on my own personality for my role. I was playing a bully.
  2. I liked the movie version better- NO. (see one of the tips for talking to theatre nerds)
  3. I'll catch the next show- If your actor friend constantly talks up a show and says something like, "I'm finally playing a lead!" make a point to go see it, because they may very well be playing the third nosepicker from the left in their next show.
  4. How did you memorize all those lines?- I can never figure out what kind of answer people are hoping for, so it's pretty much a guaranteed awkward moment. More than likely, even if it's a huge role like Hamlet, the disappointingly boring answer goes something like, "Well, I highlighted my lines and... worked on them every day..."
  5. That was a weird musical... It was really depressing- I realize that due to the Golden Age of theatre, everyone thinks that a musical is made of huge ensembles singing and dancing because they're just so happy to be alive, but musicals haven't been consistently carefree and wholesome in roughly 50 years (I think my theatre history prof would argue that musicals have never really been happy-go-lucky, but that's another story). See: Hair, 1968.
  6. Is Daniel Radcliffe naked in this one?- I didn't realize how much word had gotten around to non-theatre people that Harry Potter was baring all in the Broadway revival of Equus, but it seems that everyone and their mother heard about it. But unfortunately, they seem to have found out months, if not years, too late. He was in the West End revival in 2007, where it ran for 4 months, followed by a 5-month Broadway run, closing in February 2009. So why is it that 5 years later, whenever I mention that Daniel Radcliffe is on Broadway (he's been in two Broadway shows since 2009), people always assume he's nude? IT'S NOT THE NAKED SKIT!! STOP IT!
  7. Are they paying you to be in this?- Another awkward question. I will say that if it's a community theatre production with full price adult tickets going for $10, chances are the actors are not paid. But if the answer is yes, the asker bites their tongue before asking, "How much?" so they just awkwardly respond with, "Oh... Cool." 
  8. Is it half-time? This is theatre, not sports, so it's intermission. But I"ll be the first to admit that I've definitely called half-time intermission before, and I've referred to uniforms as costumes, so it goes both ways.
  9. Is it over? (at intermission) With the exception of shows like Into the Woods that might seem like they're over at the end, there are very few shows that could legitimately be over at intermission.
  10. Why are they randomly bursting into song?- That's the entire point of a musical. Solos=Shakespearean soliloquies. And contrary to popular belief, songs advance the plot considerably and often make up the majority of the character development. 
  11. BONUS: Oh, Phantom of the Opera? Is that like Star Wars?- As a Southerner, the only way I know how to answer this is, "Bless your heart."
These are just a few, but I know there are always more, especially from other theatre professions besides acting. What entertaining things have you heard? 

I realize that I provided no videos in this article, so if you need a theatre fix, revisit my top five videos- from Smash to Les Mis- that turn a regular Monday into a totally awesome, Broadway-tastic start to your week!! (no, I didn't write ads for kids in the '90s; why do you ask?)


*to protect reputations of fellow journalists, this blog will not disclose the publication or the writer.

Read More:

Monday, June 16, 2014

CABARET Never Gets Old... But Alan Cumming Does

Original 1966 Cabaret Playbill
Courtesy of PlaybillVault.com
I think it's safe to say that we (or rather, the nerds) are all going through withdrawal now that the Tony Awards and their hype are all officially over (although, I'm pretty sure my Broadway journalist friends are partying harder than accountants after tax day). Yes, Audra McDonald got that 6th Tony, setting all the records in the world and whatnot, and yes, both of the Best Actor recipients were Hollywood stars, but no one's really bitter about it. And of course, we're still confused as to why we saw performances from shows that aren't even playing in New York yet. Almost as confusing though, was the fact that we saw Alan Cumming performing as the Master of Ceremonies with the cast of this year's revival of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret. The performance had us all asking, "Wait, did I turn on the 1998 Tony Awards? Why is Alan Cumming playing the M.C.?" Indeed, sixteen years ago, stage and screen star Alan Cumming (good '90s kids remember him as "Floop" in Spy Kids) made his Broadway debut to critical acclaim as the M.C. in Roundabout Theatre Company's 1998 revival of Cabaret. Under the direction of director/choreographer Rob Marshall*, that production redefined how the show was done, developing the iconic, awesome choreography and costumes that can now be seen in just about every production from school shows to professionals.

So after a show runs for a successful eight years, the natural next step is to wait another eight years and revive it in the exact same way with the exact same star, right? If shirtless Alan Cumming looked good at 33, he'll look great at 49! The producers must have been thinking something along those lines when Cabaret opened in April. No seriously, can someone tell me who wanted him to reprise his role so many years afterwards? He's awesome, but what further artistic points need to be made that weren't made in the '90s? Setting it for a limited run (to close next January) makes me think they had no real intentions of getting awards or a long run, so what did they want?

1998 Revival Playbill
Courtesy of PlaybillVault.com
That remains to be seen, but in trying to answer this question, I found out that three other stars on Broadway this season have also played the role of the M.C. on Broadway/tour. Upon further research, I realized that Cabaret's list of actors who have played the M.C. includes many guys who are now very famous for other stage and screen roles. So be prepared to be shocked and overloaded with bootleg after bootleg of skantily-clad dancers "Wilkommen"-ing (is that even a word? I'm trying guys, I'm trying) us to the dark world of a sketchy German nightclub in the '30s.

In the original 1966 version, starring Joel Grey, he and the Kit Kat girls actually wore real clothes for the opening number, "Wilkommen." Who knew? The show was nominated for just about everything at the Tony Awards, winning eight out of eleven nominations, including Best Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (for Joel Grey), as well as enjoying a 3-year run. Grey won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his reprisal of the role in the 1972 movie, opposite Liza Minnelli, who also won one of the 8 Oscars the film also received.

So check out the original M.C. and the KitKat girls at the 1967 Tony Awards!



In a carbon-copy reboot (those seem to be a trend with this show...) in 1987, Grey again reprised his role, this time with no Tony nomination, leaving the show with a meager four Tony nominations, none of which they received. It closed before the Tonys that year, after just eight months. The only footage I could find was this commercial for it, showing that it really was the same show.

So the next decade, the show was reimagined by Rob Marshall, with costumes by William Ivey Long (neither of whom won Tonys for the show). It won four of its ten nominations, including all but one of the acting awards possible. This was the first year that the M.C. was considered for Best Actor rather than Featured Actor, meaning that Ron Rifkin (as Herr Schultz) was able to win Featured Actor. Get this: Cabaret's Mary Louise Wilson was nominated (as Fraulin Schneider) against a 13-year-old Anna Kendrick (High Society), as well as Audra McDonald (Ragtime) for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. I'll just let you guess who won that one.

Here is the amazing Alan Cumming and the cast of Cabaret performing "Wilkommen" at the 1998 Tony Awards! You'll see what I mean about the vast costume changes made from the original to this one. I like to think their budget was too tight for all that colored silk nonsense.


In its six-year run, Alan Cumming's replacements included men who are now considered top-notch stars, like Company's Raul Esparza, Rent's Adam Pascal, as well as now Hollywood stars Michael C. Hall (Dexter), John Stamos (Full House), and Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother). In addition, Norbert Leo Butz (now a two-time Tony Award-winner who was a genius even back then) led the 1999 national tour. Michael C. Hall, Neil Patrick Harris, and Norbert Leo Butz were all also on Broadway this season, though only NPH was nominated for (and received) a Tony Award.

I love this video of Nobert Leo Butz performing at the M.C., because he still has his distinct Norbert voice and movement, whereas most actors seem to blend in when put in an iconic role like this one. Of course, the performance I found was "Wilkommen," and I'm starting to wonder if there are any other songs in the show, or if they just repeat this one for two hours.


Now check out this video of Michael C. Hall singing "If You Could See Her" (FINALLY) on Broadway, sometime between 1999 and 2000.


My personal favorite element that was not changed over the last 16 years is the poster. They literally just made the background darker and changed nothing else from 1998 to 2014. Seriously? So now, here is the 2014 revival cast's performance at the Tony Awards, despite not receiving a Best Revival of a Musical nomination. Compare this performance with the earlier one. Identical, right?


So Broadway installments of Cabaret now have an eerie and uncanny way of repeating themselves and alternating: mega-hit, carbon copy flop, mega-hit, carbon-copy flop, etc. So in about 2024, I'll be looking to see a new envisioning of Cabaret, which will win all the things and change musical theatre forever, but be followed in 2040ish by a replica lasting less than a year. When will they learn?

*That awkward moment when you mistakenly write "Rob Ashford" (who is also a director/choreographer) instead of "Rob Marshall" and Alan Cumming totally calls you out on Twitter... Yeah, so the original version of this piece said Ashford, not Marshall. I was also told that the reimagining of the show can be attributed to Sam Mendes, who directed the London version in 1993 and served as primary director for the Broadway revival. Thank you to my readers for sharing their expertise!

Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: www.twitter.com/bwayginger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway

Read More:
Cabaret Revivals on PlaybillVault.com
Cabaret movie
Alan Cumming on Broadway
Joel Grey on Broadway

Sunday, June 8, 2014

5 Things You Must Know Before Watching the 2014 Tony Awards

Y'ALL the Tony Awards are tonight!! If you're like me, you might be running around in circles screaming, "Shut the front door! I'm totally unprepared!" Don't worry, I've got you covered. Here's a crash course in the 2014 Tony Awards/Broadway season, in case you didn't have time to check out my lists of the plays, the musicals, or the Tony-nominated revivals. And unfortunately, it's a little late to review all the Tony trivia or best Tony performances of all time. Anyway, here's what you need to know to impress your intimidating theatre friends at the exclusive Tonys party to which you have had the privilege to be invited:

  1. Tony Host Hugh Jackman- For the love of Norbert, please please please make sure you don't blurt out, "I didn't know Hugh Jackman could dance!" in front of your theatre friends. Best case scenario, they'll take a deep breath and slowly, patiently, tell you that he's a Tony Award-winner (this says it all), and that, oh yeah, he had a one-man (ish) show on Broadway a couple years ago. In reality though, they will probably just give you that look (you know, the Laura Benanti side-eye, or "epic shade").
  2. The Nominees- Be sure to, read over the list of nominees at least once. At that point, you'll be pretty familiar with everyone's names, and you can at least nod in recognition when someone goes off on the reasons that _(name that cheated artist)_ should have won.
  3. The Cool Kids- Ok, there are lots of Hollywood stars on Broadway this year, and I don't know how I feel about it... Anyway, you've got to have the shortest list of the cool kids of Tonys night who are all nominated actors:
    • Idina Menzel- Starring in If/Then the musical, has the chance to win her second Tony, the first of which she won for Elphaba in Wicked.
    • Neil Patrick Harris- Starring in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, dressing in drag. Fun fact to school all your theatre friends: Hedwig only has 7 performances a week, rather than 8 like every other show. Boom.
    • Audra McDonald- Starring in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill as Billie Holiday, she already has 5 Tony Awards and if she wins tonight, she'll set the new record for the most Tony Awards won by a performer.
    • Sutton Foster- Starring as the facially scarred title character in Violet, she's already won two Tony Awards (for Thoroughly Modern Millie and the 2011 revival of Anything Goes), and the Broadway community adores her.
  4. The Inside Jokes- So. Many. Too many to list all of but just click here for the best list, and remember the name Terrence Mann and the phrase 8-times-a-week, and you'll be golden. I'm expecting a joke about The Sound of Music Live! and the other upcoming live musicals, as well as an "Adele Dazeem" joke, which hasn't really been funny since the beginning of March, but since the flub escalated Idina Menzel's fame exponentially, I can live with it.
  5. THIS VIDEO and everything it stands for.


Counting down the minutes yet? On an unrelated note, the Tonys are 12 hours away.

Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: www.twitter.com/bwayginger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway