Wednesday, April 27, 2011

REVIEW: Catch Me If You Can (New York)

Neil Simon Theatre (New York), Saturday April 23

Part of the fun in going to a musical version of a film or book is to see how it gets translated. With Catch Me If You Can, several permutations have came across my mind, and yet this production surprised me. This musical with book by no other than Terrence McNally, music by the fabulous Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman provided a strong foundation on which Jack O'Brien built a classy and gorgeous production.

The musical started in an airport where Frank Abagnale, Jr. was caught before revealing a production done in the manner of a 70's variety show with a 16-piece orchestra raised up at the back along a circular stairway. The show kept a movie-like pace by using simple props and kept glitzy with a scintillating chorus beautifully choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Everything about the production was elegant and flowing.

The cast members were particularly strong with Norbert Leo Butz at the top leading. Butz's agent Carl Hanratty was perfect! While it bears no similarity to Tom Hanks in the movie (not that it should), Butz invested in the role the type of commitment and talent that kept the character believable, consistent and endearing. Aaron Tveit's Frank Jr. was more in the line of Di Caprio. He has that boyish charm that no drama school training can provide.

At the point of this writing, I have seen 8 musicals during this trip and I have to say that this is the best so far.


Catch Me If You Can
Opened in Broadway on April 10 2011
Lyrics by: Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Music by: Marc Shaiman
Book by: Terrence McNally

Creative Team:
Jack O'Brien (Direction)
Jerry Mitchell (Choreography)
David Rockwell (Scenic Design)
William Ivey Long (Costume Design)
Kenneth Posner (Lighting Design)
Steve Kennedy (Sound Design)

Cast Includes:
Norbert Leo Butz (Agent Carl Hanratty)
Aaron Tveit (Frank Abagnale, Jr.)
Tom Wompat (Fran Abagnale. Sr.)
Kerry Butler (Brenda Strong)
Rachel de Benedet (Paula Abagnale)
Linda Hart (Carol Strong)
Nick Wyman (Roger Strong)

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Monday, April 25, 2011

REVIEW: Wonderland (New York)

Marquis Theatre (New York), Saturday April 23

The strength of this new musical, Wonderland, lies on the music of Frank Wildhorn and its set, costume, video and projection design. Unfortunately, I can't help but feel that the story was particularly weak and the performers were surprisingly inadequate and uncommitted.

This is yet another story spun off from the classic (like Wicked) that failed to conjure an amazing relevant journey for the grown up Alice. The story was neither fantastical enough for children nor intriguing enough for adults. It ended up looking like an Alice meet Dorothy with a bit of Isolde thrown in.

Very few of the cast members stood out positively. Worst of all is that the leading actors were the weaker ones. Janet Dacal's Alice was whiny and vocally underpowered. Kate Shindle's The Mad Hatter was uncommited and formulaic. The supporting actors, e.g. Jose Llana' El Gato, Karen Mason' The Queen of Hearts and Carly Rose Sonenclar's Chloe fared better.

What made the show worth sitting through was that the production was actually not bad. In particular, the set and the costume (the Queen's costume was to die for) was beautifully designed. With more and more shows using videos and projections, Wonderland brought the whole video projection craft to a different level, it truly enhanced the story and moved well within the set. As for Frank Wildhorn's music, they were a good blend of pop-jazz-showtune styles that helped the musical from crumbling into a huge mess.


Opened in Broadway on April 17 2011
Lyrics by: Jack Murphy
Music by: Frank Wildhorn
Book by: Jack Murphy and Gregory Boyd

Production Credits:
Gregory Boyd (Direction)
Marguerite Derricks (Choreography)
Neil Patel (Set Design)
Susan Hilferty (Costume Design)
Paul Gallo (Lighting Design)
Sven Ortel (Video and Projection Design)

Cast Includes:
Janet Dacal (Alice)
Darren Ritchie (Jack the White Knight)
E. Clayton Cornelious (Caterpillar)
Jose Llana (El Gato)
Karen Mason (The Queen of Hearts)
Kate Shindle (The Mad Hatter)
Carly Rose Sonenclar (Chloe)
Edward Staudenmayer (The White Rabbit)

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

REVIEW: The Book of Mormon (New York)

Eugene O'Neill Theatre (New York), Friday April 22

"Fuck you, God!" and "There's maggots in my scrotum", are few examples of lyrics found in the musical, The Book of Mormon. The musical set out to ridicule the Mormons and nothing about the Mormons was spared... not their decision not to drink coffee or to be generally nice to people. Unfortunately, the musical found that the only way to be funny on the subject was to be crude and the only way to be entertaining was to be outrageous. There is nothing subtle, sophisticated or witty about this musical, it was just a plain, vulgar, rude BUT funny (sometimes) parody.

In the stream of Jerry Springer, the Opera or Avenue Q, it talks about things that we may have thought of but dare not speak of them, or things we may found funny but dare not laugh about them aloud. The subject was perfect, but it was the writing (book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone) that let it down. The style would have been just enough or perfect for an hour show, but for two hours, then it became tedious. The obscenities became tiresome and the coyness became annoying.

The cast members squeezed the very last drop of laughter from each line. Josh Gad as the awkward lying Elder Cunningham has the perfect comedic timing and the less than perfect singing. Andrew Rannells as the boy wonder Elder Price was appropriately cute, with a funny blend of innocence and ignorance.

Casey Nicholaw, choreographer and co-director, infused the show with choreographies that were at times innovative and some other times redundant and amateurish. If you are the type that can seat through and enjoy (not physically but mentally) a two hour porn video, then this might be just the type of entertainment for you... no subtlety, no sophistication and no carefully crafted storyline, just plain enjoyable, much needed diversions.


The Book of Mormon
Opened in Broadway on March 24 2011
Book, Lyrics, Music by: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Robert Lopez

Creative Team:
Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker (Direction)
Casey Nicholaw (Choreography)
Scott Pask (Set Design)
Ann Roth (Costume Design)
Brian MacDevitt (Lighting Design)
Brian Ronan (Sound Design)
Larry Hochman (Orchestrations)
Stephen Oremus (Music Supervision)

Cast Includes:
Josh Gad (Elder Cunningham)
Andrew Rannells (Elder Price)
Nikki M. James (Nabulungi)
Rory O'Malley (Elder McKinley)
Michael Potts (Mafala Hatimbi)

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Friday, April 22, 2011

REVIEW: American Idiot (New York)

St. James Theatre (New York), Thursday April 21

I have to admit that I don't know anything about Green Day prior to listening to the cast recording of American Idiot. Based on the recording alone, I was not particularly impressed. But then, musicals are more than just music, so I was hoping to be surprised in catching this show live prior to its closing on April 24. Well, the musical is just about worth its one year run.

This musical of nihilistic angst was worth seeing for its committed cast in communicating the youthful and self-destructive nature of misguided immature men. The power and raw energy that was invested in this 1.5 hour non-stop singing and dancing was palpable. The choreography by Steven Hoggett was right on the mark with the right blend of styles that gave the piece a unique voice. The scenic design by Christine Jones was... boring... and to think that this won her a Tony is mind-boggling.

The cast members were pretty balanced. Van Hughes' Johnny was a remarkable portrayal that begged sympathy. David Larsen' Tunny was effective while Justin Guarini's Will maybe just a tad weak. The highlight of the night was of course Green Day's very own Billie Joe Armstrong doing the role of St. Jimmy... at least based on the crowd's roar. He did a fine job and blended perfectly into the whole ensemble.

In the category of rock musicals (if there is such a thing), American Idiot will be somewhere between the innovative Rent and the kitschy We Will Rock You.


American Idiot
Opened in Broadway on April 20 2010
Lyrics by: Billie Joe Armstrong
Music by: Green Day
Book by: Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer

Creative Team:
Michael Mayer (Direction)
Steven Hoggett (Choreography)
Christine Jones (Scenic Design)
Andrea Lauer (Costume Design)
Kevin Adams (Lighting Design)
Brian Ronan (Sound Design)
Darrel Maloney (Video Design)
Tom Kitt (Music Supervision, Orchestrations, Music Arrangements)

Cast Includes:
Van Hughes (Johnny)
Justin Guarini (Will)
David Larsen (Tunny)
Jeanna de Waal (Heather)
Rebecca Naomi Jones (Whatsername)
Billie Joe Armstrong (St. Jimmy)
Libby Winters (The Extra Ordinary Girl)

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Satoshi on Broadway, Off-Broadway and Way-Off Broadway

In a span of three-weeks, I have missed five shows, and gave up opportunity to inetrview Laurent Korcia, all in the name of work. Yes, that work that feeds my addiction to arts, while at the same time prohibits me from enjoying it.

So, despite am extremely busy work schedule, I am taking my pre-agreed 2.5 weeks of annual leave (mind you, a part of the leave is last year's) without guilt... well not really... But what can I do? Tickets are booked and I truly don't want and can't afford to miss them!

So with a brave face, I will be in New York in a few days time and will be watching 10 musicals in 7 days. Yes, no opera, no concert, no dance, just a week of Satoshi Musical Festival! Here they are:

- The Addams Family (Too bad that Nathan Lane is no longer in it, but I am really glad that I will still catch Bebe Neuwirth)
- The American Idiot (Not one of my priority shows, but please surprise me!)
- Rock of Ages (Also not one of my priority shows; but then there's not much else that I haven't seen... so please prove me wrong!)
- The Book of Mormons (Unexpected hit. I almost didn't have a ticket for this. Luckily, a few seats popped up after a few days of close monitoring.)
- People in the Picture (Because Donna Murphy is in it.)
- Anything Goes (A great musical plus a new production plus Sutton Foster & Joel Grey)
- Fantasticks (Alway intrigued by its longevity given the movie version was so-so)
- Wonderland (Very curious on what else can be said about Alice and her friends)
- Catch Me If You Can (the movie was not bad at all and funny enough, I do see its potential)
- How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Of course, Daniel Radcliffe. But even if he screw it up, I am sure to enjoy this Loesser musical)

After New York, I will be traveling to Philadelphia to attend its first annual Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts and will see the Philadelphia Orchestra doing an all Stravinsky concert with Charles Dutoit conducting and the world premiere of Bella, the Color of Love, a musical based on Chagall's muse.

Washington DC follows and hopefully I will get to see the National Symphony Orchestra with Kurt Masur and Sarah Chang playing Bruch; and also the world premiere run of the musical Liberty Smith.

Nothing happens after Washington until I hit Raleigh to fly back to New York. Interestingly, the North Carolina Theater is mounting Hello Dolly! with Cybill Shepherd... Cybill who? For those people of my age and background Cybill will be most probably be best known for the television series Moonlighting where she starred with Bruce Willis.

From Raleigh back to Faustus Hong Kong life :-)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

REVIEW: Vadim Repin with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday April 2

What does one expect from a concert featuring Vadim Repin? Yes, THE Vadim Repin that had THE Yehudi Menuhin proclaimed that Repin is simply the best and most perfect violinist that Menuhin has ever had the chance to hear!

It was the question I indeed asked myself with the daunting task to write a review at the back of my mind. This was not the first time I heard him play, but my reaction to his playing has not changed; and that is of awe.

For this HKPO concert, Repin played Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77, one of the most important works in the violin repertoire; and not to mention that its technical demands on the soloist are terrifying. As always, Repin offered both splendor and provocative musicality in equal dosage. Absolutely nothing was too difficult; not even the multiple stopping or rapid scale passages.

The Adagio was for me the highlight. Michael Wilson’s oboe solo provided a ravishing duet with Repin. HKPO seemed to respond very well to Repin, providing a very complementary performance led by Maestro Rossen Milanov. The audience was more than pleased with Repin’s performance, while Repin graciously provided an encore.

The second half started with Zhou Tian’s The Palace of Nine Perfections, an HKPO premiere. Composed in 2004, the piece draws its title from a painting by Yuan Jiang. The piece was more like an aural response to the beauty and details of the painting. It was almost like a musical interaction as one’s eyes travel along the massive painting (207 x 563cm); and that kept the listeners engaged. It was familiarity in unpredictability.

Dvorak’s Nature, Life and Love followed. The three pieces, though were published with three different opus numbers after Dvorak doubted their linkage, actually worked quite well together. The outer more atmospheric pieces frame the scintillating centerpiece beautifully. Milanov unfolded In Nature’s Realm with care and provided a clean and attractive performance. The Carnival was a burst of exuberance that worked well with the other two. I have a feeling that if it was performed alone, I might actually find it overdone. In Othello, the start was touching, while followed by effective rendition by Milanov that was gripping with high drama.


Brahms: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77
- Allegro non troppo
- Adagio
- Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace

Zhou Tian: The Palace of Nine Perfections

Dvorak: Nature, Life and Love
- In Nature's Realm
- Carnival
- Othello

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Monday, April 4, 2011

REVIEW: Next to Normal (Manila) by Atlantis Productions

Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium (Manila), Saturday March 26

When I bought the Broadway cast recording of Next to Normal, I have no idea what it was about. Upon listening to it, I was surprised and thrilled at how emotionally potent the music was while maintaining a nimble and mixed style of pop, rock, waltz, classical and folk. While the highlight was Alice Ripley’s Diana, I find J. Robert Spencer was miscast as the husband Dan. Spencer’s vocal rendition was too young and similar to Aaron Tveit’s Gabe that it doesn’t make a good and effective listening experience.

That didn’t happen in Atlantis Productions’ Next to Normal. Even when I close my eyes, the characters’ tone and singing were quite distinctive and that was the strength of this production, its totality rather than its parts.

In the original cast recording, Alice Ripley’s Diana was edgy and the signs of her mental illness were apparent in her voice. In this production, Menchu infused the voice of Diana with a bit more of normality, an interesting approach, but not quite as convincing to me. I have seen Menchu performed several times before and has always been a great admirer. While her acting was very effective in this production, her singing never really took flight and I sense a tad of wobble in her voice.

Jett Pangan’s Dan, however, was a revelation. He came a long way since I saw him in Tick, Tick… Boom! and The Rocky Horror Show. His voice has developed tremendously in depth and color, while his acting was never contrive.

Vocally, Felix Rivera’s Gabe was the highlight of the show, but unfortunately, the acting was stylized and one-dimensional. Bea Garcia’s Natalie blended well into the cast, and Markki Stroem’s Henry was a commendable amateur attempt.

While the performances were uneven, the overall effect was not bad at all. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed it; and that is to Bobby Garcia’s credit. The production, though may not be as sleek as the Broadway version, was versatile and relevant enough to draw audience into the family’s home and witness what they were going through first hand. The company was so earnest in their portrayal that they make me want them to succeed.


Next to Normal
Music by Tom Kitt
Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey

Creative Team:
Direction: Bobby Garcia
Musical Staging: Chari Arespacochaga
Musical Director: Ceejay Javier
Production Designer: Lex Marcos
Lighting Designer: Shoko Matsumoto
Costume Designer: Twinkle Zamora

Diana: Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo
Dan: Jett Pangan
Gabe: Felix Rivera
Natalie: Bea Garcia
Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine: Jake Macapagal
Henry: Markki Stroem