Monthly Archives: December 2011

Lysistrata Jones: Cheering for the truly original

by Louise, Community Manager

In an era where so many of the Broadway musicals we see are musical adaptations of movies we’ve all seen, or new stories written to be told through songs we’ve all heard, or revivals of shows we all know with big name stars taking the lead roles, shows that rely purely on their creativity, originality and moxie are few and far between. I cheer on these shows regardless of whether they appeal to me personally, but in the case of Lysistrata Jones my cheering was wholehearted and spirited, the grin never leaving my face for the entire two hours and fifteen minutes.

Written by Douglas Carter Bean (Sister Act, Xanadu) with music and lyrics by Lewis Flinn (The Little Dog Laughed, The Divine Sister) and based loosely on the 411 BC play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, Lysistrata Jones tells the story of a modern-day college student (called Lyssie J by her friends) at Athens University who, frustrated by the basketball team’s 30-year losing streak and total apathy towards even trying to win, convinces her fellow cheerleaders to cease “giving it up” to the players until they win a game. Her well-meaning but somewhat misguided plan predictably leads to turmoil among the students of Athens U, but ultimately leads to important self discovery for everyone.

From the spirited opening number “Right Now,” where Lyssie convinces the basketball team to put at least a minimal amount of effort into their game, to the joyous and catchy finale “Give It Up,” where the company celebrates their individualism and encourages the audience to do the same, the music of Lysistrata Jones is bursting with originality and fun. The show is filled with humor that ranges from super nerdy (e.g. when one character complains that the basketball team is called the Athens Spartans and “those are two totally different city-states!”) to completely up-to-date pop culture (e.g. when Lyssie J asks Siri to help her find a nearby brothel) to downright ridiculous (e.g. when the girls of the cheerleading squad complete a dance number each wearing a comically large chastity belt). And yet, while the humor is pretty much non-stop, the show has a tremendous amount of heart. The song “When She Smiles” in the second act is earnest and lovely even when it is silly, and by the end of the show you know and love every character for their unique and realistic qualities.

Patti Murin, who originated the role of Lysistrata less than two years ago, owns the stage with her performance, embodying the role of an enthusiastic but faltering college student eager to believe in something. Liz Mikel (whom I and probably many others will recognize from her role as the no-nonsense mother of Smash Williams on Friday Night Lights) makes her Broadway debut as Hetaira, part narrator, part Madame who helps the girls execute their plan. These two lead a cast of young, talented, and exuberantly enthusiastic performers brimming with energy and excitement. A particular stand out for me was Lindsay Nicole Chambers, in the role of Robin, the work-study librarian and slam poet who unexpectedly gets pulled into Lyssie’s scheme. Ms. Chambers’ verbal and physical comedy are both spot on, and anytime she was on stage she commanded attention. In my oh-so-humble opinion, she is definitely one to watch.

A little bit SNL, a little bit High School Musical (I mean that in the best possible way), and a little bit something all its own, Lysistrata Jones is a wonderful choice for your next Broadway experience. There is something truly wonderful and heart-warming about a group of young and relatively unknown actors and actresses taking a small production from the Dallas Theater Center and bringing it all the way to Broadway. The show lacks the flash and crazy technical effects and set designs of some other Broadway shows, and the company is comprised of only 12, but all that did was prove to me once again that to make great theater you don’t need a huge budget and a big name, you just need a quality story, catchy music and a cast who loves what they are doing.

Sadly Lysistrata Jones closed on January 8th. We wish the incredibly talented cast and crew all the best!

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Don’t Let Anybody Steal Your Rock & Roll

by Kelly, Manager of Group Sales & Services

Winner of 4 Tony Awards (Best Score, Book, Orchestrations and Best Musical) in 2010, “Memphis” has been rocking the stage at the Shubert Theatre since 2009.  After seeing a performance this week, I am happy to say that things are alive and well on Beale Street.

Set in the segregated and turbulent south in the 1950s, “Memphis” tells the story of Huey Calhoun, a quirky white radio DJ who is determined to share his love of “race music” with everyone in Memphis – white and black alike.  Walking along Beale Street one night, Huey becomes entranced by the voice of a beautiful black singer named Felicia who is singing in her brother’s nightclub.  As Huey’s popularity as a radio DJ increases, he uses his success to jumpstart her career.  As she continues on her path to stardom, a controversial romantic relationship occurs between the two, much to the dismay of Huey’s traditional mother, Felicia’s concerned brother, as well as the citizens of Memphis itself.  Can their love survive the trials and tribulations of a society that is unwilling to accept them while keeping their own personal ambitions from getting in the way?

“Memphis” comes packed with an uplifting score that will have even the most cynical theatre watchers tapping their toes along to the beat.  David Bryan, who you might also know as a founding member and keyboard payer of the band Bon Jovi, is the show’s composer, and also shares credit as lyricist with Joe DiPietro (who is also responsible for the show’s book.)  A few of my personal favorite songs include the soulful “Memphis Lives in Me,” the sweet and simple “Someday,” and of course, the spirited “Steal Your Rock and Roll,” which closes the show.  The show also features show-stopping dancing and is appropriate for all ages (given that the themes and plot developments described above are deemed appropriate for your group.)  There is some minimal cursing and a slight scene of violence, but the overall show is family friendly

A new voice is singing the tuneful musical’s rockin’ songs these days, as Broadway veteran Adam Pascal (who played Roger in the original Broadway cast of “Rent” and Radames in the original Broadway cast of “Aida”) has stepped onto Beale Street, replacing original cast member Chad Kimball, who created the role.  I was lucky to see the show previously with Kimball in the role, and was admittedly a little hesitant about the replacement casting, as I loved Kimball’s voice and his passionate portrayal of Huey Calhoun.  I am happy to say that my apprehension was premature, as I enjoyed Adam Pascal’s performance.  I thought his voice sounded great in the role, and though I felt he could loosen up and commit to the quirkiness of Huey a bit more, he did the show justice.  Another great surprise was seeing the understudy for the Tony-nominated original cast member Montego Glover who plays songstress Felicia.  Making her Broadway debut in this show, Dan’yelle Williamson stepped out of the ensemble and into the spotlight as leading lady Felicia with poise and presence and a voice that could stop you in your tracks.  Another performance that should be noted is James Monroe Inglehart as Bobby, whose performance of the song “Big Love” brought down the house.

If you’d like to experience the magic and let “Memphis” live in YOU, please give the New York Guest office a call at 212-302-4019.  You can also purchase tickets on our website at www.newyorkguest.com, or email me personally at kshoemaker@newyorkguest.com.  Though nothing beats seeing this hit show in person, if you can’t make it to New York, you can view a performance of “Memphis” filmed live with the original cast on Netflix.

 

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Have you been to The Mountaintop?

by William, New York Guest Concierge

With a tsunami of musicals dominating the Broadway scene in New York City, it is quite a relief to have a wonderful comedy such as The Mountaintop.  This delightful show, with only 2 actors wearing just one costume each, and employing one set pays homage to the classic and Neo-classic value of Unity of Time, Place, and Action.

The Mountaintop takes its name from a popular title given to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop.”  King gave this speech in support of black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee who were being paid less than their white counterparts.    The play opens with Dr. Martin Luther King, portrayed by veteran actor Samuel L. Jackson, in his hotel room at The Lorraine Hotel the night after he gave this speech, and follows the events up to the point of his assassination.  King is working on his next speech, and realizing it’s going to be a long tiresome night, decides to order some coffee from room service.

Enter Camae, the fast-talking exuberant hotel maid who loves to cuss.  Actress Angela Basset does a phenomenal job at bringing this character to life.  She brightens up the room and helps Dr. King cut loose; ergo, we get to see the more human side of this iconic character.  Through the course of their interactions, Dr. King is forced to examine his life’s work and what kind of legacy he will leave behind.

I was pleasantly surprised by both of the performances of the cast members.  Their chemistry was indelibly charming; so much so I wished I could be onstage to join in on the fun.  There was a perfect combination or snarky comments, flirtatious remarks, and direct, pace changing one-liners.  It was not the serious, political statement I was expecting it to be.  In fact, it was quite the opposite, taking an everyday chance meeting and turning it into an extremely enjoyable evening of entertainment.  It was a concise show that felt complete and left you with that, “Huh” feeling.  Just the way I like it.

I would recommend The Mountaintop for anyone looking to see two experienced actors practicing their craft of bringing characters to life in a natural and exhilarating manner.   Coming in a 1 hour and 40 minutes, it’s a tightly-knit show which focuses on how a Broadway show can be simple, and still effectively powerful and humorous.

The Mountaintop is playing through January 22nd, 2012. E-mail info@newyorkguest.com for tickets.

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Venus in Fur: An intense evening of intensely good theater

by Kelly, Manager of Group Sales & Services

This week, Community Manager Louise and I took ourselves out for a grand night at the theatre with tickets to see the play “Venus in Fur,” starring Hugh Dancy and Nina Arianda.

Having already been a fan of Hugh Dancy’s from several movies I’ve seen him in (“The Jane Austen Book Club” and “Ella Enchanted” are just a few of his credits, along with a stint on the TV show “The Big C”), I’ll admit that he was not the main reason I was so anxious to see this play.  This past year, a star was born on Broadway in the form of actress Nina Arianda, who was Tony nominated for her starring role as Billie Dawn in the revival of the play “Born Yesterday.”  I was so enthralled with Arianda’s performance that I saw the play two times – and have been eagerly awaiting the Broadway production of “Venus in Fur” (which she played Off-Broadway previous to her breakout role in “Born Yesterday”) ever since.  Needless to say – neither actor disappointed in this production.

The play “Venus in Fur” is based on the novel “Venus in Furs,” first published in 1870 by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.  The erotic novel focused on the desire of a nobleman named Severin to become slave to a woman, finding his ideal domination in Wanda (pronounced “Vanda”).  The novel remains to this day a literary statement on submission and control between the sexes, and earned the author lasting notoriety when the word “masochism” was coined from his name.

The play itself (written by David Ives), features playwright and director Thomas (played by Dancy), who has adapted the original novel into a stage version, frustrated by the inability to find the proper Vanda for his production.  Enter an actress with the same name as the character he is searching for – Vanda (played by Arianda) – exceptionally late for the audition and brimming with the type of ineptitude Thomas had been cursing all day in the women who have auditioned before her.  As a storm rages outside, the rumblings of tension begin onstage as Vanda attempts to convince Thomas to let her audition for his play, eventually succeeding and even convincing Thomas to read his own words with her.  At this point, an intricate dance begins between the characters, as the action in the written words morph into a real life dynamic being explored by Thomas and Vanda until the lines between fiction and reality are completely blurred.

 

Great shows are powered by great performances, and this show is the perfect example.  The chemistry between Dancy and Arianda is intense, and the tension created between the two onstage could be cut with a knife.  The true power of the play lies in the fact that the tension and intimacy are created in the words and their intentions rather than physical contact.  The little moments that don’t quite happen turn the relationship between the characters on its head, spin it around, and flip it to the reverse side – then back again as the power passes frequently between the two characters.  One of the most powerful scenes is a silent, tension-filled moment where Vanda demands (within the action detailed in the script she is reading) that Severin (Thomas) put on her shoes for her, leading Thomas to zip her into thigh-high boots.  The seemingly mundane activity was anything but as the audience succumbed to the tension in the air and was absolutely silent throughout the scene, eagerly awaiting the next move in the transfer of power.  Another great moment that could have easily been overlooked was the ambient rumbling of thunder in the background used as a great parallel to the battle Thomas is waging within as he explores the meaning he himself put into the text and is just now coming to terms with.

 

Arianda’s performance as Vanda is truly something to behold.  She switches from outlandish and overt comedy (with a few moments of physical comedy inserted which Arianda excels at) to the darker, sensual character in the play-within-a-play she is auditioning for with expert timing.  At one point, Arianda walked across the room as auditioner Vanda, tucked around a pole onstage, and immediately emerged on the other side as Vanda in the script mid-monologue.  This type of exciting shift was made possible both by the skill of Arianda and Dancy (though I haven’t said much about his particular performance, trust me – it was excellent.  This role in the hands of a lesser actor would have been a disservice to the play, as well as to Arianda), but credit must also be attributed to the smart direction of Walter Bobbie and, of course, David Ives’ intelligent and thought-provoking script.

Ives’ words are thought by some to be pretentious and a bit overworked.  I disagree.  It’s so refreshing to find a script that doesn’t dumb itself down for the masses and instead flies by quickly and articulately, leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions as to the meaning and intention of the piece.  There are several narrative surprises intertwined that you don’t see coming that take an already interesting story and kick it up a notch.  How does Vanda know so much about Thomas and his life?  What is her endgame – just to win the part…or is there more to it?  Has Thomas written his own secret desires into the character he has been coerced into performing, and if so – what will happen now that he’s brought these desires to the surface?  And most importantly…who exactly IS Vanda?  Is she what she seems…or something unexpected and so much more?  The great thing about this play is that it has been left open so that you can draw your own conclusions.

I suggest that you head quickly to the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre to see the play for yourself and do just that – draw your own conclusions.  The play is running through December 18th at its current location, but don’t despair – it will be reopening with the same cast at the Lyceum Theatre on February 7th.  One quick caution – this play is for adults only.  It’s a great, smart, intriguing night at the theatre…just make sure you’re up to the subject matter.  If you’re interested in tickets for this show or any others currently offered on or off Broadway, visit our website at www.newyorkguest.com, give us a call at 212-302-4019, or you can email me personally at kshoemaker@newyorkguest.com, and we’d be happy to assist.

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The Blind Leading the Blind

by Louise, Community Manager

What would you do if you couldn’t see? How would your every day life be changed? We might think about this theoretically every now and then, but without being faced with the reality there is little consideration for the minutiae that we take for granted – grocery shopping, commuting to work, grabbing a cup of coffee. Everything is more complicated when you’re blind. We all know this, of course, but knowing it and experiencing it are two different things. Dialog in the Dark is an amazing way to “see” the world from a totally new perspective – as their tagline says, “You haven’t seen New York until you haven’t seen it.”

My friend and I stepped inside the building that houses the Bodies Exhibit and Dialog in the Dark by South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan. The day was bright and sunny and we removed our sunglasses and blinked as our eyes adjusted to the dim light, considering how strange it would be to feel this change only through the change in the temperature. After entering a small, narrow room, we watched a brief video about the exhibit, after which the lights slowly lowered until it was pitch black. Everyone giggled nervously as we realized this was not the kind of dark our eyes would adjust to – with absolutely no source of light there was nothing for our eyes to use to make the adjustment. Our guide came in and introduced herself – all of the guides at Dialog in the Dark are visually impaired, making them the perfect people to lead you through this experience. After all, it is their reality every single day. After making some jokes to diffuse the nervousness we were all feeling, she had everyone introduce themselves, gave us some pointers on using our canes, and ushered us into the first part of the tour.

Even without sight, it didn’t take long for us to figure out that we were supposed to be in Central Park. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what gave it away first – the birds chirping, the smell of grass, the feeling of the path underfoot, the sound of a fountain nearby, but it was amazing to come to the conclusion without the benefit of sight. Our guide lead us through the experience, encouraging us to explore and touch things but be careful to always bend at the knees so that we didn’t hit our heads. We found bicycles, a fountain, a bridge, a bench, and a tree, bumping into one another all the while (as the guide told us, the word “sorry” is very important on this tour).

I don’t want to give away everything that happens on this tour because you should experience it for yourself, but over the course of the next hour we experienced what it is like to grocery shop with no vision (my friend and I took great pride in our skill at this, although it was much easier in the small simulated Fairway than it would be in an actual Fairway), board and ride the subway, and cross the street in Times Square. For me the most eye-opening (so to speak) part of the tour was the little things we encounter in our daily lives that don’t think twice about, that are actually critical to the visually impaired for living theirs. Perhaps the best part of the tour was at the end when our guide answered everyone’s questions about herself and her own experience living in New York as a blind person. She answered everyone’s questions cheerfully and honestly, even the personal ones.

While there was something really fun and cool about experiencing New York in a new way (I’ve lived here since I was born so I’m always looking for new ways to experience the city), as we stepped back into the sunlight and put on our sunglasses, we were filled with renewed appreciation for our vision, something we take for granted all too often. This experience is the perfect combination of entertaining and enlightening, and it’s not to be missed on your next visit!

You can book your tickets to Dialog in the Dark on our website by clicking here or e-mail me at lgeller@newyorkguest.com with your questions or for more information!

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The Top 10 Holidays in NYC Photos

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style

In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas

Children laughing, people passing meeting smile after smile

And on ev’ry street corner you’ll hear

Silver bells, silver bells

It’s Christmas time in the city

Ring a ling, hear them sing

Soon it will be Christmas day

What? Oh…sorry…right. The photography contest. These top 10 photos sort of got that song stuck in my head.
Cast your vote by December 18th – the winner will be announced on December 19th! Check out the entries and then scroll to the bottom to vote.

#1 - by Delores McCartney

#2 - by Donna McDougall

#3 by Fernanda Lopes

#4 by Ilse Neugebauer

#5 by Karen Sgambati

#6 by Karen Sgambati

#7 by Stephanie Pilon

#8 by Susan Middler

#9 by Susan Middler

#10 by Susan Middler

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