Category Archives: Broadway News

Our 2014 Tony Award Predictions!

This Sunday, June 8th marks a major event in the Broadway community – the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards. Kelly, our Manager of Group and Partner Services, Ash, our Concierge Manager, and concierges Cari, Tara and Robin put their theatre-loving heads together to make predictions for this year’s awards.

Best Musical

Shows nominated: After Midnight, Aladdin, Beautiful – the Carole King Musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

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Kelly says:
Who will win – A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. Who should win: Gentleman’s Guide. What an excellent show! It’s such a joy to see a completely original work being celebrated this year – and rightly so! It was funny, it was clever, it was WONDERFUL.
Ash says:
Who will win – A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. Who should win – Gent’s Guide is ORIGINAL (huzzah!), with smart writing, clever direction, smart design, and solid performances.
Cari says:
Who will win – A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. Who should win – Gentleman’s Guide is a clear winner!  It’s quirky fun with great singing based on an original idea! Original ideas should always win out – plus who can say no to an amazing musical farce?
Tara says:
Who will win – Beautiful – the Carole King Musical. Who should win – Gentleman’s Guide. Sometimes the Brit shows do well here, sometimes they don’t, as was the case of Kinky Boots vs. Matilda last year. Both of these shows seemed to start slowly then become a hit out of nowhere.
Robin says:
Who will win – toss-up between Gentleman’s Guide and Beautiful. Who should win – I think Gentleman’s Guide deserves the win.  I loved the show and it was so well reviewed.

Best Play

Shows nominated: Act One, All the Way, Casa Valentina, Mothers and Sons, Outside Mullingar

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Kelly says:
Who will win – Act One. Who should win: Act One! Wonderful acting by leads Tony Shalhoub and Santino Fontana, this was both a love letter to the theatre in general, and a fascinating look back at a celebrated playwright’s early days.
Ash says:
Who will win – All the Way. Who should win – Act One. The Moss Hart bio-drama is a labor of love written by a theatre legend ABOUT a theatre legend. With gorgeous design and top notch performances, it’s a solid choice.
Cari says:
Who will win – All the Way. Who should win – All the Way. We have another clear winner at least to me.  It is an amazing play this season touching on such an important moment in history
Tara says:
Who will win – Casa Valentina. Who should win – Casa Valentina. Broadway and most of the country have been making a big push for LGBT issues, and much like the Oscars, there is usually some political relevance as to who wins these awards. Harvey Fierstein may also continue to ride the victory train started by last year’s winner Kinky Boots.
Robin says:
Who will win – Casa Valentina or All the Way. Who should win – Act One. I read this play and fell in love. It is such a beautiful tale of ‘making it’ in show business, very inspiring and funny as well!

Best Revival of a Musical

Shows nominated: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Les Miserables, Violet

tony-musicalrevival
Kelly says:
Who will win – Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Who should win – Hedwig. I’ll confess – I haven’t even SEEN Hedwig, I’m just going off the reports I’ve heard from numerous friends whose theatre opinions I value. Violet was well-done, but not as high-profile. And Les Miserables brought nothing new to the table with this tired revival that I thought was extremely miscast. It’s a slam dunk for Hedwig.
Ash says:
Who will win – Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Who should win – Hedwig. Because it’s awesome.
Cari says:
Who will win – Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Who should win – Violet!  Starring Sutton Foster, it delivers such an amazing message and heartfelt story.  We don’t always get understated and unique shows such as this focusing on the inner beauty of people.
Tara says:
Who will win – Hedwig and the Angry Inch or Les Miserables. Who should win – Hedwig. Hedwig began more than a decade ago and has an awesome cult following; back then she may have been ahead of her time, but hopefully the world is ready for her now. I also love Les Miserables,  but I think it’s time to pass the torch.
Robin says:
Who will win – Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Who should win – Hedwig!

Best Revival of a Play

Shows nominated: The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Glass Menagerie, A Raisin in the Sun, Twelfth Night

tony-playrevival

Kelly says:
Who will win – The Glass Menagerie. Who should win – The Glass Menagerie. The cast of this gem is the perfect example of capturing lightning in a bottle. I’m rooting for Celia Keenan-Bolger for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play SO HARD. She is magic, as was this performance.
Ash says:
Who will win – The Glass Menagerie. Who should win – Although I also adored Twelfth Night, I’m going with Menagerie, because I’ve simply never seen it so well-acted before. The scene between Laura and the Gentleman Caller gave me such hope (and I know the play well), that at its conclusion my heart was totally broken. I hope Celia Keenan-Bolger takes Supporting Actress in a Play!
Cari says:
Who will win – The Cripple of Inishmaan. Who should win – I have to go with The Glass Menagerie.  Cherry Jones and Celia Kennan Bolger were the perfect team but add in Zachary Quinto and you have an undeniable trio of star power!
Tara says:
Who will win – The Glass Menagerie or Twelfth Night. Who should win – Glass Menagerie/Twelfth Night another battle of the shows, as with the best musical contenders. Glass Menagerie had the lasting power and the star power for sure; but both Twelfth Night and Richard III did extremely well, the board may hopefully appreciate the authentic touches these shows provided. (I would be happy if either of these win.)
Robin says:
Who will win – The Glass Menagerie. Who should win – The Glass Menagerie – I wish I saw this!

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

Actors nominated: Neil Patrick Harris (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Ramin Karimloo (Les Miserables), Andy Karl (Rocky), Jefferson Mays (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder), Bryce Pinkham (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder)



Kelly says:
Who will win – Neil Patrick Harris. Who should win – STEVEN PASQUALE. The fact that he wasn’t nominated for The Bridges of Madison County is the greatest slight I could possibly have imagined, and I’m still reeling from it. Now, given those actually nominated, this is a toss-up between Jefferson Mays and NPH. I think both have a fighting chance, but I’m leaning towards NPH.
Ash says:
Who will win – Neil Patrick Harris. Who should win – NPH. He has poured himself into that role. The entire show is fresh and reinvented, and Neil Patrick Harris is at the center of it all. Plus, he is LIVING in those heels. Bravo! (Brava?)
Cari says:
Who will win – Neil Patrick Harris. Who should win – I love NPH. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE him but I think Andy Karl should bring home the statue for his performance in Rocky.  He is stellar, a true underdog in every sense of the word and I love that about him.
Tara says:
Who will win – Neil Patrick Harris. Who should win – Andy Karl. (Actually I hope it’s a tie.) NPH has been riding an incredible high the past few years, and I’ve been told his work in Hedwig is just amazing, but it should go to the underdog here in (Rocky fashion) Andy Karl; he carries the entire show, did Lord knows how much work to pull off the choreography in the finale match, and is charming enough to make you suspend disbelief that a boxer can sing.
Robin says:
Who will win – Jefferson Mays please! (I wouldn’t be surprised if Bryce Pinkham won though). Who should win – Jefferson Mays! His transformation in Gentleman’s Guide is flawless. I saw their first preview and his performance was so incredibly solid. He deserves this win. I was also quite impressed with Andy Karl’s Rocky – that’s my second choice.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

Actresses nominated: Mary Bridget Davies (A Night with Janis Joplin), Sutton Foster (Violet), Idina Menzel (If/Then), Jessie Mueller (Beautiful – the Carole King Musical), Kelli O’Hara (The Bridges of Madison County)

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Kelly says:
Who will win – Jessie Mueller. Who should win – honestly, this is the most difficult category for me. Kelli O’Hara’s performance in The Bridges of Madison County was emotional, specific, and sung so beautifully that I still cry every time I listen to the cast album (which I do frequently.) But Jessie Mueller’s Carole King is arguably one of the greatest stage portrayals of a real-life musical icon, and her performance elevates what could be shrugged off as a simple jukebox musical into so much more. I’d be happy if either actress took the prize.
Ash says:
Who will win – Jessie Mueller. Who should win – Oh Jessie, Jessie, Jessie!!! I am firmly Team Jessie. In the past few years, she has taken on so many HUGELY different roles, all of which she has NAILED. Her performance as Carole King lifts an otherwise pretty “paint-by-numbers” bio-musical to a significant contender for Best Musical. Her rendition of “So Far Away” is haunting.
Cari says:
Who will win – Jessie Mueller. Who should win – Whilst Kelli O’Hara has certainly paid her dues with this being her fifth nomination, I think this competitive category should go to the newbie who shows us all that we’ve got a friend. Jessie Mueller is the embodiment of Carole King without impersonating her; she brings life to every moment of this beautiful biopic.
Tara says:
Who will win – Jessie Mueller. Who should win – Idina Menzel, because I love her and want to be her when I grow up. Kelli O’Hara is another actress who did an amazing job in a show that did not do very well, despite poor reviews the two things that were enjoyed were Jason Robert Brown’s music and Kelli O Hara’s performance.
Robin says:
Who will win – Sutton Foster. Who should win – Kelli O’Hara. Because she’s a star and she deserves every Tony. I love her acting style and her voice is a dream. She seems like a wonderful person as well.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

Actors Nominated: Samuel Barnett (Twelfth Night), Bryan Cranston (All the Way), Chris O’Dowd (Of Mice and Men), Mark Rylance (Richard III), Tony Shalhoub (Act One)

Tony-actorplay

Kelly says:
Who will win – Bryan Cranston. Who should win – Samuel Barnett. Everyone has been talking about Mark Rylance’s turn as Olivia in this production, but I was astounded by Barnett’s Viola.
Ash says:
Who will win – Bryan Cranston. Who should win – Bryan Cranston will be halfway to his EGOT.
Cari says:
Who will win – Mark Rylance or Bryan Cranston. Who should win – Bryan Cranston shows us an amazing rendition of LBJ, breaking far, far away from the bad, bad Heisenberg!  I hope he gets recognized for his performance and makes his way back to Broadway again soon.
Tara says:
Who will win – Bryan Cranston. Who should win – Bryan Cranston. I know the Tonys have been snubbing TV/Movie actors on Broadway as of late, but Bryan Cranston is an amazing actor and puts himself into everything he does (have you SEEN Breaking Bad?) I really hope they do the right thing and give him the Tony.
Robin says:
Who will win – Bryan Cranston. Who should win – Chris O’Dowd because his speech would be hilarious and down to earth so basically I want him to win for my entertainment.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

tony-actressplay

Actresses nominated: Tyne Daly (Mothers and Sons), LaTanya Richardson Jackson (A Raisin in the Sun), Cherry Jones (The Glass Menagerie), Audra McDonald (Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill), Estelle Parsons (The Velocity of Autumn)

Kelly says:
Who will win – Audra McDonald. Who should win – AUDRA FOR ALL THE AWARDS EVER. Cherry Jones had a career-defining (in an already remarkable career!) performance in The Glass Menagerie, but Audra is just…magic. She doesn’t just perform a character, she INHABITS them. She is just phenomenal.
Ash says:
Who will win – Audra McDonald. Who should win – Audra McDonald should win all awards. Kidding, I only kinda-sorta feel that way. Still, as much as I fawned over Cherry Jones’ master class in acting as Amanda Wingfield in Menagerie, Audra’s turn as Billie Holliday was so immersive – so complete – that I forgot I was even watching Audra. Transformative. I’ll never forget that performance.
Cari says:
Who will win – Audra McDonald. Who should win – Gosh this one is hard. I think Audra is so worthy and I love her but how could I not want Cherry Jones to win in a role she was born to play? Both ladies are so amazing and I am in awe of their talents.  Whether Audra wins for portraying the iconic Billie Holiday or Cherry brings it home for her matriarchal turn, we are lucky to have these strong ladies on Broadway stages.
Tara says:
Who will win – Audra McDonald. Who should win – Audra Mc Donald. She’s amazing as Billie Holiday and one of those actresses who can get a Tony nod just for being on stage, it’s possible they may give the Tony to someone else to change things up, but she deserves it.
Robin says:
Who will win – All of these ladies are very amazing, this is such a powerful group! But, Audra McDonald or Estelle Parsons. Who should win – Any of these ladies, honestly.

 

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2013-2014 Broadway/Off Broadway Year in Review

Awards season is upon us, with nominations for Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Drama League awards announced, and less than 24 hours until the 2014 Tony nominees are revealed, we’re taking a look back at the shows we loved the most from this Broadway and Off Broadway season. Share your own in the comments!

Ash – Concierge Manager

What is your must see show and why?

bway14ac1The must-see show of the season is the first Broadway staging of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. With it’s crazy premise, insane cult following (following it’s Off-Broadway incarnation and subsequent film), awesome score, and the exciting casting of Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig, this is THE show to see.

What was musical number or song stopped the show for you this season?

In any given season, I could pick something like a fabulous tap number from After Midnight, a Susan Stroman-choreographed gem from Bullets Over Broadway, the Genie’s show-stopping “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin, or any number of beautifully performed quieter songs from other shows that gave me chills (Jesse Mueller’s touching opening number, “So Far Away,” from Beautiful: The Carole King Musical comes to mind).

What I’m picking, though, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any other Broadway show. For sheer awe-inducing theatricality, I have to go with “The Fight” in Rocky. It is such a feat of theater that trying to explain it in writing just doesn’t cut it. I’ll just say that I was on the edge of my seat and my jaw hit the floor! The final 20 minutes of that show blew my mind.bway14AC

What performance by an actor or actress did you enjoy the most this season?

Audra McDonald already has 5 Tony Awards for a reason. She is simply flawless in whatever she does. From her first few seconds as Billie Holliday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, I was riveted by her performance. She so lost herself in the role that I sat there transfixed until the final blackout. And then, as if by magic, the lights came back on her her curtain call. Boom – just like that Billie had disappeared and Audra was back. She is just stunning.

Eileen – Travel Consultant

What is your must see show from the 2013-2014 season and why?

bway14EFI absolutely adored Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 which played Off-Broadway. They built their own theatre! I loved everything from the décor to the blocking to the music. This is the one show that has really stuck with me this year and I find myself going back to the cast recording every now and then.

What was musical number or song stopped the show for you this season?

Kelli O’Hara singing “Almost Real” in Bridges brought me to tears. Kelli O’Hara can infuse any song with heart but this song just tore me up – the heartbreak, the determination, the regret!

What performance by an actor or actress did you enjoy the most this season?

Even though he’s left the production – I thought Michel Urie worked his ass off in Buyer and Cellar. One man shows are hard but Urie tackled FIVE roles with incredible ease. He was the perfect amount of charm, heartache, and Barbra Streisand.

Jared – Concierge

What is your must see show from the 2013-2014 season and why?

Of the show’s I’ve already seen, I *loved* A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. It’s clever, cheeky, and a lot of fun, with an amazing cast and some beautiful music. Of the ones I’ve yet to see, I’m most looking forward to Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill because Audra McDonald can do no wrong!

What was musical number or song stopped the show for you this season?

aladdin“Friend Like Me” from Aladdin is one of the best showstoppers I’ve seen in several years. (There are fireworks! Onstage!!!) It got a standing ovation in the middle of the show.

What performance by an actor or actress did you enjoy the most this season?

Kelli O’Hara blew my mind in The Bridges of Madison County. A deeply felt, beautifully sung performance that was heart wrenching and utterly convincing. This is what Broadway level acting and singing sounds like. If she doesn’t win the Tony there’s no justice in the world.

Kelly – Manager of Group Services

What is your must-see show and why?

bway14KSOn Broadway, I absolutely LOVED A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. The music is fantastic – in a season that’s heavy on contemporary musical scores, this show has more of a classic Broadway feel, which I always enjoy. And the show is ridiculously funny – I had such a good time and laughed A LOT! Off Broadway, Heathers: the Musical really surprised me. Every once in awhile, a movie-to-musical remake is done right – and this one was so much fun. Deliciously campy, inappropriately funny, and full of memorable songs and performances by an amazing young cast – I loved it!

What musical number or song stopped the show for you this season?

Hands down the best score of the season is Jason Robert Brown’s The Bridges of Madison County. There are two songs in the second act that completely wrecked me – the beautiful duet “One Second and a Million Miles” sung by the incomparable Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale, and Pasquale’s final song “It All Fades Away.” I do not impress easily, and I was so moved and affected by these two songs that I could not sit still for the final 20 minutes of the show. I was blown away.

What performance by an actor or actress did you enjoy the most this season?

Beyond Steven Pasquale reducing me to tears in Bridges, my favorite performance of the season is Jessie Mueller in Beautiful: the Carole King Musical. The show itself is great – it’s everything I wanted Motown to be, yet just quite wasn’t – and Jessie Mueller is fantastic in the role of Carole King. Special mention of her costars as well – I adored Anika Larsen and Jarrod Specter as songwriting team and King’s close friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.

Louise – Director of Operations

What is your must see show and why?

bway14LGIn the fall I was lucky enough to get tickets to Mr. Burns, A Post Electric Play at Playwrights Horizons, one of my favorite Off Broadway venues. I hope this show comes back sometime soon because it was the darkest, most intense, brilliant and thought-provoking piece of theater I have ever seen, and a terrifyingly plausible look at the way society and pop culture might evolve in the wake of a large-scale disaster. Many more people should have a chance to see it!

What was musical number or song stopped the show for you this season?

“‘Taint Nobody’s Bizness If I Do” from Bullets over Broadway. Tap dancing gangsters! What more do you need to know?

What performance by an actor or actress did you enjoy the most this season?

Jefferson Mays in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. The sheer non-stop energy and mind-boggling diversity of his performance is a sight to behold.

 

 

 

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Bullets Over Broadway is my Number One (with a bullet, of course)

bullets1by Louise, Director of Operations

I’m the first to admit that I’m a sucker for an old-fashioned, silly, over-the-top Broadway production. Cole Porter has always been one of my favorites. As lovely as the smaller-scale shows can be, and as innovative as the updated, modern takes on Broadway can be, there is still something about that traditional Broadway feel that always makes me smile. And I definitely left the St. James smiling on Monday after seeing Bullets Over Broadway.

bullets2For those not familiar with the film (as I was not): the story centers around a young playwright named David Shayne, whose first two produced plays were flops. He finally gets the chance to bring his new work to Broadway, but unfortunately for him, the “money” behind the production is gangster Nick Valenti, who wants his aspiring actress girlfriend Olive Neal to have a part.

To say that Olive does not have the acting chops to conquer her role in David’s play would be an understatement, but that’s only the first of the many problems that arise. Infidelity, food addiction, gang hits and plagiarism plague the production from the first rehearsal until opening night, and it is sinfully entertaining.

Bullets Over Broadway uses songs from the time period (the 1920’s) with some new lyrics penned by Glen Kelly. It is one of the best uses of existing music in a new musical that I have ever seen. The new lyrics help the songs move the story along (a frequent issue with jukeboxbullets5 musicals) and there are some unforgettable numbers. My favorites were The Hot Dog Song, where Olive gives David a demonstration of her previous acting experience with a none-too-subtle double entendre, and ‘Taint Nobody’s Bizness, for which I have just three words: tap dancing gangsters. Okay, three more words: Yay Susan Stroman! The finale, which is billed simply as “Finale” in the program and which I will not spoil as it is well worth being surprised (and possibly perplexed) by the song choice, is an oddly perfect ending and will have you chuckling all the way through the curtain call.

Stand-outs for me in the cast were Helene Yorke as Olive Neal – her grating accent and terrible “acting” were consistently hilarious – and Nick Cordero as gangster Cheech, Olive’s reluctant bodyguard who becomes increasingly invested in David’s play. Cordero nails his gangster persona, but still manages to astound with his singing and dancing when the time comes. I’m also a major fan of Betsy Wolfe in any role, and while her part as David’s neglected girlfriend Ellen is not one of the largest, she nails her two big numbers and is, as always, a delight to watbullets4ch. Zach Braff is solid (and adorable) in his Broadway debut, and if he’s the reason you choose this show in particular you will not be disappointed. There is also an AMAZING dog in this show, and if Best Performance by an Animal were a Tony Award category, Trixie as Mr. Woofles would be a shoe-in.

If you want a traditional Broadway experience with a real old-fashioned musical comedy feel, Bullets Over Broadway is a perfect choice! If you have questions about the show, or want to book a package including Bullets Over Broadway tickets, feel free to e-mail me at lgeller@newyorkguest.com.

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“The Great Comet…” is splendid

by Louise, Director of Operations

greatcomet1“Immersive” is becoming a more and more widely-used term in the theater community, although the definition may not be fully recognized by say, spell check. But anyone who attends the theater often knows that immersive shows are on the rise. Sleep No More – the four story, nothing-off-limits, Macbeth-inspired experience that has made its home in Chelsea for nearly two years is perhaps the most ubiquitous (read our review here), and this week I attended another that I hope will be part of the NYC theater landscape for a long time: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.

At first glance, Kazino – the temporary structure built especially to accommodate the show – looks somewhat like a circus tent. As my friend and I stood outside in the surprise 30 degree weather, waiting for the doors to open, she even remarked “I hope it’s heated in there.” Any fears quickly dissipated when we were ushered into the space, a cozy supper club atmosphere with cabaret tables set up around the perimeter and long platforms on either side. We were served borscht and ordered drinks. The venue offers a full bar and an assortment of shareable dishes, but there is absolutely no requirement to order anything, and there are several complimentary snacks served throughout the show. (Pro tip: if you check in on Foursquare you also get a free shot of vodka.)

greatcomet2The show begins with a fantastic fourth-wall-busting opening number, where the cast introduces themselves, gives a quick overview of each main character, and reminds you that the show is based on War & Peace, which is “a complicated Russian novel,” and “everyone has nine names.” The actors pick up programs and show you that it includes a synopsis and a “family tree” showing how the characters relate to each other, and encourages you to use these resources so you don’t get lost, concluding with “We appreciate it, thanks a lot!”

Throughout the show the actors are all over the space, on both side platforms and between the two rows of cabaret tables. You do need to keep turning your head to see all the action, but you definitely also feel a part of it all, and will occasionally interact with one of the cast members, which is of course what makes it an immersive experience. I even got to bring home a flirty note that was passed to me by a handsome gentleman during the second act.

greatcomet4As for the plot, it may seem intimidating and cumbersome to go to a show based on War & Peace (although it makes no claims about telling the entire 1440 page tale and bills itself as being based upon the “scandalous slice” of the story), but at its core it is really just a story about a young girl behaving foolishly with her heart, and who among us can’t relate to that?

greatcomet3The show has an extremely talented cast, even with many of them being relatively new on the scene. The lead actress Phillipa Soo blew all of our minds with her expressive acting and gorgeous voice, and male lead David Abeles was compelling and enchanting as well. Every supporting player was fun to watch right down to the ensemble, and they all did such a wonderful job interacting with the audience without making it awkward for anyone, which is no small feat. Besides the opening number, several other songs really stuck out for me, but my favorite was Sonya Alone, a lament in the second act sung by Natasha’s cousin as she wonders how to keep her dear friend from making a terrible mistake. The closing number is similarly gorgeous, and leaves you wishing you could have a few moments of quiet reflection before having to spill out on to the busy Times Square streets.

If you’re old hat at theater, or just want to see something interesting and out of the ordinary, this is the show to consider this holiday season. Currently the show is scheduled to run through January 5th but I sure hope it will be around for longer! Feel free to e-mail me at lgeller@newyorkguest.com with questions or for help with tickets.

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Billie Holiday’s Stories Come to Life

by Ebony, Concierge

ladyday1Last week I had the awesome opportunity to see the off Broadway play “Lady Day” the musical story of the legendary Billie Holiday. She is best known for her famous jazz standards such as “Strange Fruit”, “Lady Sings The Blues”, “Love Me and Leave Me” and much more. The show stars jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater who I must say did an outstanding job. Her rendition of the classic songs mixed with her jazz influenced voice simply blew the audience away.

Although it is known that Billie Holiday had a troubled life dealing with failed relationships and drug addiction, the play begins by telling the audience why her life became the way it had. It’s amazing to see Dee Dee Bridgewater’s transformation from the grown Billie Holiday to the little 10 year old child and witness the traumatizing life she lived. As quickly as she transitioned to a little girl she bounced right back into an adult and would break into a song.

ladyday2The small cast includes herself, her band members and her manager who stepped into character well. There were a few scenes that stood out, one of them in particular was when she told the story of being banned from performing in the US. The lights grew dim while her band played softly and was drowned out into the darkness. The scene was written with so much detail that you can just visualize everything she is saying as if it were happening right before your eyes. She talks about having to escape out of her home town of Philadelphia while being chased by police. The most interesting part is she fled by car when she’d never even driven before. It’s a famous story, but the way they told it made it brand new again. Once she was banned from working in the US, she found herself performing in London, all the while yearning to perform in NY again before she died, a dream that never happened.

ladyday3In one of the play’s highlights, Billie Holiday appeared in a bedazzled white dress. The lighting was white with hints of midnight blue. Billie was so intoxicated, however, she was determined to put on a great show for her fans and actually delivered fantastically. She sang her most popular hits and told the stories behind them, which I will not share with you least I spoil it for you.

I would suggest this play to folks who were around in Billie Holiday’s era or who grew up with her music. The music drives the production, there is not much acting in her story, however, the music tells it all. So be prepared to be entertained by the blues.

It’s not the happiest musical out there, but certainly one of the most memorable, so be prepared for a few uncomfortable and tear jerking moments.

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A Night Full of Laughter

by Jared, Concierge

12thnight1Although English professors are loath to admit it, Shakespeare is a tough sell to modern audiences.  For those who can get past the sometimes arcane language of his plays, there is the problem of the overwhelming familiarity many people have with the material.  Shakespeare’s plays, especially his more popular ones like the mistaken-identity comedy Twelfth Night, are performed so often that it can be difficult for any new production to stand out.

The latest incarnation of Twelfth Night, currently playing to full houses at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre, has decided to draw its inspiration from the staging traditions of Shakespeare’s day.  This revival features an all-male cast, just as it would have in Elizabethan England, along with period-appropriate costumes and an intentionally spare production design to match.  Yet rather than making the play feel like a stuffy museum piece, these choices have illuminated the text in new and exciting ways, resulting in one of the most hilarious and accessible stagings of Shakespeare I have seen in a long time.

For those who have forgotten their high school English Lit, the heroine of Twelfth Night is Viola, who lost her twin brother at sea and has washed ashore in Illyria.  In search of employment, she disguises herself as a young man named Cesario and goes to work for the Duke Orsino.  The Duke has fallen madly in love with the Countess Olivia, who is in mourning over the death of her brother and refuses to see any suitors.  The Duke sends “Cesario” (really Viola) to woo Olivia in his place, but instead Olivia falls head over heels in love with Cesario/Viola.  Shenanigans and hilarity ensue.

One problem I often have with Shakespeare’s comedies is that they never seem particularly funny, often due to the actors focusing so hard on making the poetic text comprehensible to modern ears.  This is not a problem here; the actors have such a handle on the language that they are able to color their performances with all kinds of comedic mannerisms and quirks, which snowball into an ever-increasing ridiculousness that will have you doubled-over in laughter.  Yet the play is also surprisingly accessible and easy to follow (no mean feat given the layers of mistaken identity and cross-dressing), so that you can actually enjoy the play rather than get caught up in the details of decoding the plot (there is also a helpful synopsis in the program that those unfamiliar with the play may want to read beforehand).

Althou12thnight2gh he does not have the leading role, the star of this production is undoubtedly two-time Tony-winner Mark Rylance as the grieving Olivia, who gives a performance for the ages.  Whereas most actors choose to emphasize Olivia’s regal qualities, Rylance has turned her into an hilariously childish woman prone to temper-tantrums and the hurling of objects.  Rylance milks every bit of comedic potential out of this supporting role, from the bizarre shuffling gait of her walk to her incredibly overt flirtation with Cesario/Viola.  Rylance’s stunningly physical performance sees him throwing himself (and his gorgeous black gown) on the ground and over furniture, and even wielding a battle-axe in one of the evening’s best sight gags.  And while Rylance’s interpretation certainly differs from the norm, it is fully supported by the play’s text and his character’s actions.

O12thnight4ther standouts include Paul Chahidi as Olivia’s devilishly clever handmaiden Maria and Colin Hurley has Olivia’s drunken cousin Sir Toby Belch.  Together these two comic masterminds drive the play’s B-plot as they scheme to bring Olivia’s pompous steward Malvolio (an excellent Stephen Fry) down to size.  The Malvolio subplot has always been Twelfth Night’s most overtly funny, and it remains a highlight here, especially once Maria and Toby convince Malvolio that Olivia is secretly in love with him.

12thnight3In every instance, the decision to stage this production using the conventions of Shakespeare’s time illuminates new complexities and comedic potential in one of the Bard’s most enduring comedies.  The cast is top notch, as is the starkly beautiful production design (especially the elaborate Elizabethan garb of costume designer Jenny Tiramani).  This is Shakespeare for the masses, losing the pretension that so often plagues productions of his work in favor of a contemporary and relevant reexamination of the play.  Serious theatre buffs owe it to themselves to see this wonderful revival, and parents looking to expose their preteen and teenage children to some culture may be surprised at just how much the kids enjoy it.  For anyone looking for some laughs, this Twelfth Night is highly recommended.

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Christmas! ….in August

by Louise, Director of Operations

We may be braving some warm, muggy conditions here in New York this week, so it’s always nice to have a reminder that CHRISTMAS IS COMING! Yesterday, a few of us from the New York Guest office  headed up to the Beacon theater for a little preview of what’s to come from MSG/Radio City this holiday season.

christmaspreview1 Our hostess started out by introducing the quintessential Rockettes, who came out and performed a number from the Christmas Spectacular. I’ve never been so close to the Rockettes before, and I have to stay, the way they keep those smiles on their faces while executing insanely complicated dance moves is pretty mind-blowing. After their number, one of the producers and our hostess came out to discuss the Christmas Spectacular, and hinted at a pretty cool sounding new number this year featuring three-dimensional snowflakes that were described as being “about four feet wide.” I’m not sure of the details there…but I know that sounds like something I, for one, want to see in person!

christmaspreview2The next part of the event was by far my favorite. Our hostess brought out wunderkind musical composers Pasek & Paul, who co-wrote the music for last year’s holiday season sensation, A Christmas Story The Musical (click here to read our review from last year). A Christmas Story earned three Tony nominations and is scheduled to return for this holiday season at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Seeing Pasek & Paul is always a treat, and their enthusiasm is as infectious as the tunes from the musical version of this beloved holiday film. They treated us to a chorus from one of the songs from the musical, introduced us to two of the dogs who wreak havoc on the Parker family, and finally brought out Dan Lauria (of Wonder Years fame, who will be reprising his role of Jean Shepherd this year) and new Ralphie Johnny Rabe, to sing Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun. The energy of everyone who took part in this segment was so joyful. I missed this show last year, but surely will make it this time around!

The event closed out with a preview of a brand new Rockettes show that is coming to Radio City in spring of 2014, called New York: Heart & Lights. From what we saw (and we were lucky enough to be among the first people to see anything from this show!) It will be a true celebration of everything New York City, with eight huge production numbers from the Rockettes and a story about discovering NYC. You surely want a chance to be among the first to see what will most likely become another iconic annual offering from Radio City – so mark your calendars for April 2014 and book your trips early!

Speaking of booking trips – are you thinking of coming to NYC this Christmas? Then you should read Louise’s Top Three Tips for a Spendthrift’s Christmas in New York:

1)      Travel after December 17th and before December 28th

You’ll avoid the high rates for “shopper’s weekends” in early December, and get out before the New Year’s Eve rate jumps. And you’ll see the most magical of the magic times.

2)      See a morning or late night performance of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular

The most expensive times to see RCCS are the traditional “theater times” – matinee performances at 1 or 2 or evening performances at 7 or 8. There are, however, usually performances at 9, 10 or 11 AM, and performances at 9:30 or 10 PM. These are your best bet for good seats at low prices – and what better way to start or cap off your Christmassy day?

christmaspreview33)      Do the Double Decker Bus

Don’t let the potentially cold weather dissuade you – double decker buses are still an awesome way to get around the city. The Gray Line buses are covered and heated in the cold, and the 48 hour package gets you access to basically the entire city, plus the evening tour of the best Christmas lights in Manhattan!

Using these tips you can book a two night stay in Manhattan with double decker bus tour access and Radio City Christmas Spectacular tickets for under $400 per person including taxes & fees – and that’s what you would spend per night on just a hotel room in early December!

Ready to book your Christmas in New York getaway? E-mail me at lgeller@newyorkguest.com and I’ll be happy to help!

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