Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Friday, February 21, 2014

Theater Review: Bridges of Madison County The Musical, ROCKY: The Musical, Machinal, and All The Way

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 03:19

I had the opportunity to venture off to New York City last weekend and got to see some amazing new Broadway shows, including 2 musicals (both of which were in previews) and 2 plays (one of which was in previews). Check out my reviews below:

Bridges-of-Madison-County-Broadway-Musical-Tickets-176-120413 Bridges of Madison County. To preface this, I must divulge that I never saw the movie incarnation of this story and have never read the book. However, I did see and LOVE Parade, which hails from the same composer as this fantastic show. Bridges tell the story of Francesca (Kelli O’Hara) a middle-aged Italian immigrant housewife who’s mundane existence is turned upside down when a rugged and handsome stranger named Robert (Steven Pasquale) comes to town to photograph historic bridges that punctuate the local landscape. While many stories of love affairs fall into the realm of cliche and silliness, Bridges is somewhat immune to that because of the unique aspects of its story. For example, the main character’s immigration experience is integrated into the plot and is used to provide an etiologic framework to explain the rationale for her behavior. The book is written by Marsha Norman of The Color Purple (which incidentally, I did not like). The pace is perfect and the character development superb. And O’Hara’s performance as Francesca is one of the finest I’ve ever seen on stage. Her voice is purely angelic; and she portrays the character with an amazing realism. Pasquale is also great as her opposite; and the side characters are also very well portrayed. Hunter Foster provides a solid performance as Francesca’s husband Bud; but the amazingly talented Cass Morgan (the original Mama from MEMPHIS) is relegated to the sidelines with only one solo number, which to me is sad because Morgan gushes with talent. The beautiful and soaring score from Jason Robert Brown is both moving and engaging, pulling the audience in and truly conveying the emotions of the complex characters. The only downside of the show is the sets, which are manually manipulated by cast members throughout the production. They are a little too simplistic; and the need for the actors to shift them from one end of the stage to the other comes off as a little cheap. Regardless, by the end of the show, I found myself incredibly moved and connected to each character of the story. And in a time when many musicals come off as trite and superficial, Bridges of Madison County is surprisingly fresh and excitingly phenomenal!

rockyWC2 ROCKY: The Musical. I have never been a major fan of the story of Rocky. There’s nothing wrong with it per se; but the underlying message of the underdog being triumphant and the shy and quirky girl falling for the big dumb jock is certainly a little overdone. What attracted me to the Broadway show was simple–the composers of the music! Ragtime is one of my all-time favorite Broadway shows. And with the same composers (Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Aherns) on board, there was no way I was missing Rocky. And guess what? I’m glad I didn’t! This show is A LOT of fun! No, you won’t leave the theater with a new knowledge of an amazing piece of history or even something of significance; but you WILL leave with a smile! And the performances of the leads (Andy Karl as the Italian Stallion and Margo Seibert as his love interest Adrian) are strong. Both have great voices and give convincing interpretations of their respective characters. The music of the show is pop-rock in style and is catchy and fun. The sets (when they’re working–there were two long technical holds during the performance I sat through) are breath-taking and incredibly technologically complex. And the final fight scene, complete with a regulation-sized boxing ring that extends several rows into the orchestra (the rows are cleared and audience members transferred to seating areas on the stage), had the audience cheering. Although the overhead projection of the event and large flat television screens which float down to the stage throughout the show to illustrate media coverage of the fight threaten the show’s time setting, which is supposed to be in the late 1970’s. And there are some issues with pacing in the show currently; it is a little too long. Rocky’s training scenes are a little repetitive and monotonous; and the setup of the matchup, cooked-up by Apollo Creed’s promoter, is way underdeveloped and seems plopped together and rushed in haste. These issues are easy fixes, however, and I expect these kinks will be smoothed before opening night. Rocky really is a TON of fun! Don’t go see this show expecting an intellectual exercise. Relax, eat a little popcorn, and sit-back and enjoy the guilty pleasure Rocky provides.

1.167575 Machinal. Roundabout’s production of Machinal, which is loosely based on the true story of the life of husband-killer and executed American criminal Ruth Snyder, is a haunting work of theater. Rebecca Hall’s portrayal of Young Woman (names are never revealed in the show) is flawless. And the show’s rotating set is literally mind-boggling and incredibly effective at augmenting the story itself and further demonstrates the mechanistic nature of the main character’s unraveling life. Young Woman obviously suffers from mental illness. When she begins to have loose associations (the actual clinical term for the condition in which a psychotic individual links words together that are often situationally unrelated), the set darkens and only Hall’s face is spotlighted during the event. As a nurse practitioner, I immediately diagnosed the character’s condition and appreciated this highly effective manner of allowing the audience to literally enter the character’s psychology. Machinal isn’t a fun show. It isn’t a show that lightens one’s mood. But it does demonstrate a powerful story of a disturbed person during a time in American history when women were treated much differently than they are today. It is a haunting and amazingly crafted work and should not be missed.

bc90f2b9d985c8a6d6ae2ab18c833036 All The Way. I decided last minute to see this show. And I am really glad I did. Bryan Cranston’s performance as Lyndon Johnson surely puts him as the frontrunner for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play. The story follows Johnson’s unofficial term as President immediately following the assassination of President Kennedy up to his election night victory. An amazing cast brings the story to life. There’s just too many good actors for me to even begin to mention here. And they all provide stand-out performances. The book tells the story of a tumultuous time in American history when the civil rights movement was in full-gear and Johnson was working feverishly to pass a civil rights bill that would pave the way for racial equality throughout the nation. The set (a round congressional appearing arena with the Oval Office at center) is simple yet appropriate. The show could be trimmed down a little; it seems to drag a little bit at the end. But, the amazing performances provided by this amazingly talented ensemble cast makes every minute an absolute joy.


  1. […] is the show to see. To read my review of The Bridges of Madison County The Musical, click here: Theater Review: Bridges of Madison County The Musical, ROCKY: The Musical, Machinal, and All The Way . Below, watch footage of stars Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale recording the absolutely […]

    Pingback by The Bridges of Madison County: The Musical Soundtrack Debuts at #1 « Dr. Blackwell's BLOG — Friday, April 18, 2014 @ 16:08

  2. […] The absolutely beautiful and moving new musical The Bridges of Madison County closed at the Gerald Schoenfield Theatre on Broadway on Sunday. The show had way too short of a life on the Great White Way and should’ve received far more Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, than it did. Regardless of that, being in the audience for the final performance was something I will cherish forever. The audience whole heartedly embraced the performance, providing thunderous applause throughout and two long standing ovations, one after the show’s most popular and melodic number “One Second And A Million Miles” and the other for Steven Pasquale’s “It All Fades Away.” The show’s lead, the Tony Nominated Kelli O’Hara, gave a heartfelt speech after the final bows from the cast. And she promised this would not be the final performance of the show.  She was joined on the stage by composer Jason Robert Brown (also nominated for the Tony for his work on the show) and book writer Marsha Norman. To read my original review of the show, click here: Theater Review: Bridges of Madison County The Musical, ROCKY: The Musical, Machinal, and All The Way. […]

    Pingback by The Bridges of Madison County The Musical Closes on Broadway « Dr. Blackwell's BLOG — Tuesday, May 20, 2014 @ 02:50

  3. […]  Rocky: The Musical is down for the count. The stage production of the famed 1976 Sylvester Stallone film will play its final performance at the Cadillac Winter Garden Theater on August 17th. The show was nominated for several Tony Awards, including a Best Actor nom for Andy Karl (Rocky) along with nominations for Best Choreography and Set Design. It didn’t win any of them. The show’s music and lyrics are written by major Broadway talents Lynn Aherns and Stephen Flaherty (the dynamic duo behind Ragtime). But unfortunately, the increasing competitive marketplace of the Great White Way was too tough on the show, which has a high weekly overhead cost. Rocky: The Musical was hovering around the $650K/week range, insufficient for sustainability. To read my review of Rocky: The Musical, click here: Theater Review: Bridges of Madison County The Musical, ROCKY: The Musical, Machinal, and All The Way […]

    Pingback by Rocky Down for the Count as Musical Set Closing Date on Broadway « Dr. Blackwell's BLOG — Monday, July 28, 2014 @ 00:37

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