Monday, June 30, 2014

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

BDJ in: Wild Party, Shrek, and
Sweet Smell of Success
Photos courtesy of
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 // Twitter: // Facebook:

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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.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

CABARET Never Gets Old... But Alan Cumming Does

Original 1966 Cabaret Playbill
Courtesy of
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
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 // Twitter: // Facebook:

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Cabaret Revivals on
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 // Twitter: // Facebook:

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Top 10 Best Tony Awards Performances of all Time

The Lion King
The Tony Awards are in just six days! Happy Monday to me! So in anticipation of that, I have counted down my top 10 favorite Tony Awards show performances. That is, this is my personal list- though I'm sure all theatre fans have their own- of my favorite musical numbers performed at the Tony Awards by musicals nominated for Best Musical or Best Musical Revival. That means that I'm leaving out fun extra performances, like opening numbers and tributes. So, spanning 30-something years, here you go!

10. Annie (1977)
Annie won Best Musical in 1977, and for good reason. I love the music from this show, and what I love most about this performance in particular is how the audience responds to the orphans' performance with multiple bursts of applause. It's one of the most supportive audiences I've ever witnessed. This is an unusually long performance, so it includes "Tomorrow," "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile," "Easy Street," and "Tomorrow (reprise)."

9. Jersey Boys (2006)
This performance opens with John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli singing the wonderful, "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You;" then the other stars (Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard, J Robert Spencer) and the rest of the company join him with "Who Loves You." From this video alone, it's easy to see why Young won the Tony for Best Actor in a musical and why the show won the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical. Lloyd Young is reprising his role for the movie, which will be released on June 20!

8. Guys and Dolls (1992)
This performance, from the show's fourth revival, features the title song and the show-stopper "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," led by Walter Bobbie. The song was revamped from its original version just enough to give it a fresh spin without going over the top. The show's most recent revival (2009) seemed forced, at least from the Tonys performance, but this one has pure, genuine excitement, which is likely what won it the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical (the only revival of Guys and Dolls to win). The energy of this piece, more so than any other versions of the show, is what gave this performance a place in this count-down.

7. Chorus Line (1976)
This Marvin Hamlisch musical won 10 of the 13 Tony Awards for which it was nominated, including Best Musical, so I'd say it pretty much cleaned up in 1976. In this performance, the cast shows off their showstopping opener, "I Hope I Get It," to open the Tony Awards (back before there was a big opening number performed by a host). That dancing is simply ridiculous, and you can see the audience totally ate it up.

6. Les Miserables (1987)
You had to know this was coming. The cast of Les Mis performed part of "At the End of the Day" followed by none other than "One Day More." So this number features Mr. Les Mis (aka: Colm Wilkinson) as Jean Valjean and Terrence Mann (whose entrance produces wild applause) as Javert, among other stars. The show itself of course is awesome, and the Tonys performance was spot on. All the chills every time!!

5. Miss Saigon (1991)
Miss Saigon unfortunately did not sweep the awards, as it perhaps should have, but lost many awards, including Best Musical, to The Will Rogers Follies. One award it did not lose, however, was Best Actor. To showcase Jonathan Pryce's talents as "The Engineer," the cast performed "The American Dream," which is his 11 o'clock number. Ironically, of course, this means that the main/title character Kim (played by Lea Salonga) was not in the Tonys performance at all. Awkward... Anyway, Pryce should win everything because he's an incredible performer.

4. Next to Normal (2009)
This performance has an almost overwhelming amount of brilliance. It opens with "You Don't Know," showing right off the bat that Alice Ripley more than deserved her Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for portraying Diana Goodman. She is then joined by the talents of J. Robert Spencer and Aaron Tveit in "I am the One." It's a shame that this show competed with Billy Elliot for Best Musical, because- let's face it- not even mental illness can beat 11-year-olds dancing their hearts out for 3 hours, but the two shows did tie for Best Score.

3. Billy Elliot (2009)
Even on my top Tony Awards performances list, Billy Elliot beats Next to Normal. Elton John's musical based on the movie of the same title tied the record, previously set by The Producers for the most Tony nominations by a single show with 15. This performance is mostly wordless, as they perform the musical number "Angry Dance," but it perfectly expresses the ample angst shown throughout the show. Watch Trent Kowalik as Billy tap his feet almost into oblivion in this incredible dance number!

2. Catch Me if You Can (2011)
It's no secret that I adore Norbert Leo Butz, so of course, I had to feature his performance as FBI agent Carl Hanratty in "Don't Break the Rules." Oh yeah, and his co-star Aaron Tveit makes an appearance. Words cannot do this performance justice, but you just have to watch it. His movement vocabulary is a hybrid between dancer and eccentric old man, and I would say this performance is as much a choreography victory for Jerry Mitchell as it is performance for Norbert. As a testimony to Norbert's pure genius, which won him his much-deserved second Tony Award, whenever I see this I think, "Wait, there were ensemble dancers?"

1. The Lion King (1998)
Yep, here it is! No Tonys count-down would be complete without "The Circle of Life," which can only be described as magnificent. It features puppetry designs by a pre-tabooed Julie Taymor, who managed to make costumes that look like neither animal nor human, and somehow don't look cheesy at all (garnering a Tony for her artistry). For good reason, you can hear the audience erupting in applause multiple times during this song. And let's face it: was it really even a competition for Best Musical that night?

WHAT?! What about Wicked?! Watch the performance, and you'll see why it's not included in this list. Idina, unfortunately, was just not great on Tonys night, but she took home a Tony, so it's all good.

So obviously, this list has a little to do with how much I love the show itself, but also how well the cast actually performed on that night. Making a list like this is very hard, but fortunately for me, there are few- if any- Tony Awards performances on YouTube from before 1971, so we're missing about 20 years of Tony Awards, which is a shame, but did help to narrow it down.

Ok, which ones did I leave out or totally misplace?

Sally Henry // Twitter: // Facebook: