Reviews of Out of Town Productions

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ANNIE GET YOUR GUN reviewed by Frank Thompson

     First things first...Bernadette Peters is incredible.
     Now that we've established the obvious, let's move along to the suprise of the show. Tom Wopat (Luke Duke of DUKES OF HAZZARD fame) can SING!!! As Frank Butler, the rival and love interest of Annie Oakley (Peters) Wopat has stage presence and vocal ability far beyond what one may expect based on the "yeee-haaaas" of his television days. His bio in the program lists multiple musical theatre credits, presumably from his early career, and the experience has served him well. He and Peters have a well-rehearsed yet fresh chemistry, and the two of them create a memorable pair of onstage lovers/fighters.
     Other memorable performances are turned in by Dennis Kelly as Buffalo Bill Cody and Michelle Blakeley as Dolly Tate.
The score features numerous memorable Irving Berlin tunes, one of the best of which is "Doin' What Comes Naturally" by Annie and the two kids, (played by Ashley Rose Orr and Eddie Brandt.) Another extremely well-done number is the "Old Fashioned Wedding" duet between Annie and Frank.
     The choreography is exciting and plot-specific, often blurring the lines between acting and dancing. One particular moment crosses over into acrobatics, with a cast member (supposedly Annie, but not Bernadette Peters) swinging from a trapeeze and performing quick-shooting tricks.
     As of September 5, Bernadette Peters is replaced by Cheryl Ladd in the title role, and takes over for Tom Wopat. Given the overall strength of the production, one can only assume that Ladd will give a masterful performance, but she will have some very big shoes to fill. I can enthusiastically recommend ANNIE GET YOUR GUN for those looking for a family-friendly, upbeat musical that doesn't try to do anything but entertain.

Patrick CASSIDY. (The new Frank Butler in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.)


PHANTOM OF THE OPERA reviewed by Frank Thompson

     By now, Andrew Lloyd Webber's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has become a basic staple of a trip to New York. Along with The Empire State Building and Times Square, PHANTOM is a "must see" for even the most casual theatre-goer. This is the show that has probably done more for "opening up" the theatre for the general public than any other. Now in it's tenth year, PHANTOM is still playing to packed-out houses, even midweek.
     And how has the show held up? The answer is "basically quite well." The cast is still featuring big-name performers (Howard McGillin is currently singing the role of the Phantom) and the overall production quality is as high as I recall it's having been when I saw the show in London in 1991. 
     The performance I attended Wednesday night was enjoyable, but I was disappointed to learn that McGillin had the night off. The actor who wound up playing The Phantom did a nice job, but his was clearly not McGillin's voice. (For those unfamiliar with McGillin, check out the 1987 Lincoln Center recording of ANYTHING GOES with Patti LuPone.)
     That aside, the truly memorable performance of the night was that of as Christine, The Phantom's pupil. Her voice was on par with any Soprano I have heard, in recording or onstage. Her acting equalled her vocal ability, and the character was a joy both to watch and to hear. Another strong performance came from as Raoul, Christine's love interest. A traditional Broadway Baritone, gave a magnificent and controlled performance. His voice has what can only be described as "weight" which adds a masculinity and bearing to his performance.
as opera diva Carlotta was quite good, as was as Meg Giry, Christine's friend and fellow performer in the Paris Opera Ballet. In the roles of opera owners Andre and Firmin, turned in excellent performances, but the roles have become less pompous and more bumbling since the show's original production(s.) While not distracting per se, this altered slant on the characters makes the opera owners less "equal forces" in the fight against The Phantom (as they were originally) and more purely comic relief.
     In all, PHANTOM still has everything that made it great 10 years ago. There have been a few adjustments with time, but they are minor and usually not distracting. The Lloyd Webber score is as spectacular as ever, and the sets and costumes remain resplendent. By the way, the chandelier still falls, and its' still impressive.

PHANTOM.....David Gaschen
RAOUL......John Schroeder
CHRISTINE......Sarah Pfisterer
ANDRE........Jeff Keller
FIRMIN......George Lee Andrews
MEG GIRY....Joelle Gates

The Majestic Theatre, 247 W 44th St. NYC


KISS ME KATE reviewed by Frank Thompson

     Okay...I don't want to sound like a typical small-town-come-to-the big-city theatregoer, but this is, quite honestly, the best show I have ever seen! (London, Broadway, and LJCC included!:-) The overall pacing, excitement, and pure ENERGY of the production were beyond any I have ever seen. Even more impressive is the fact that this show has been running for months and months.
As the two feuding lovers, Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi, Brian Stokes-Mitchell and Marin Mazzie absolutely sparkle with electricity and chemistry. From Mazzie's wild rages to Mitchell's booming pomposity, they create what can only be described as three-dimensional cartoon characters. Both have phenomenal singing voices, of course, and the comic (and romantic) timing is dead-on perfect. Particularly crowd-pleasing were Mazzie's "I Hate Men" number (which literally stopped the show for a 30 second-or-so burst of midsong applause) and Mitchell's ode to lost freedoms, "Where Is The Life That Late I Led"
     As most probably know, KATE is a play-within-a-play, involving a touring troupe performing Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. Fred and Lilli also play the roles of Petruchio and Katherine in SHREW, and their onstage feuds mirror their offstage battles. The "real world" complications are made more interesting through a fake IOU one of the other actors has signed under the name of Fred Graham, prompting the arrival of two Runyonesque gangsters who wind up joining the show. Also most memorable was the performance of Amy Spanger as Lois Lane (no, not THAT Lois Lane...) Lois also plays Bianca in SHREW, and Spanger's kittenish sexuality and husky squeak played spectacularly in her "Always True To You" number.
     Choreography was another star of this show, ranging from the balletic to the acrobatic to the purely athletic. 
     One new addition to the revival was the reconception of the character Harrison Howell (played by Ron Holgate) as a blustery Army General (he was a presidential advisor in the old script.) Holgate played the role with gusto, but I must admit that I liked it better in the old version. That is the only vaguely negative comment I can make, and believe me, it's a minor MINOR criticism.
     Bottom line...if you're in NYC, run, don't walk (sprint if possible) to see KISS ME KATE.

The Martin Beck Theatre, 302 W 45th St. NYC


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