Archive for musicals

REVIEW: Rocky – The Musical

Posted in REVIEWS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2014 by erikball123

*NOTE: These are just a few thoughts from a theatre lover, not necessarily a theatre critic. 




After watching ROCKY-THE MUSICAL, I felt like I truly went 15 rounds with Apollo Creed. I was exhausted, tense, and a bit overwhelmed. Mostly in very good ways. Mostly.

But, I cannot express enough, that where this musical made unbelievable strides as a theatrical spectacle and as an offering of a beloved brand that millions love (Rocky is undoubtable the true underdog story of the ages) I cannot help but wonder if it would be less of a spectacle and more of an impactful wonder if it had been reworked for the stage as a simple play.

The story (as if you don’t know. If you haven’t seen the movie, shame on you. It’s a cinematic masterpiece as the making of the film was an underdog story in itself) finds Rocky Balboa, a beat-up, boxer with a heart of gold. We get a quick shot of who his is with the charming and fun “My Nose Ain’t Broken” in the close confines of his seedy apartment (complete with Cuff and Link his two turtles…who got their own bronx-cheer when introduced. Fun!)

He’s in love with pet store worker Adrienne who is Pauly’s (Rocky’s friend) sister. We find that she’s got a lot in common with her admirer (and Margo Seibert is wonderful as the shy Adrienne) but her ballad “Raining” is very heavy-handed for an exposition song. We don’t know her quite yet…and we have yet to see the quirky charm that is our hero’s love…before hearing a draggy lament about her strife. I don’t know…maybe I’m being too harsh…but I thought “okay, I get it” at least twice during the song.

Rocky is facing hard times, boxing for pennies, barely making ends meat and even acting as a part-time “ruffian,” collecting debts in a shady side-job. (Of course, he’s too good of a guy to actually break thumbs or rough people up.) What is brilliant about this iconic character is how Andy Karl brings him to life without giving us a Stallone impersonation. Many actors turn in stellar performances…but Karl is simply a genius as the down-and-out boxer.  Simple gesturing and unbelievably grounded attention to details throughout are engaging. You find yourself laughing when he laughs, breathing heavier when he runs, and you almost feels the blows he takes in every match. Rarely do I see such touching portrayals…and the fact that he didn’t get the Tony for the role is a crime. (If you struck ALL of the razzamatazz and the technical amusement park that is the set….more on that later….and left Andy Karl onstage all by himself….I would still pay full price.)

Back to the story. Close-up on Apollo Creed, the story’s immediate antagonist and the Heavyweight Boxing Champion. He’s a flashy and rich mover and shaker, who is just as much a promoter as he is an athlete. He doesn’t have a championship match for New Year’s Day because his opponent breaks his wrist in training. So, insert the Italian Stallion, who is perceived by Creed as the perfect “American Dream” promotion opportunity. Think of the publicity! Terence Archie (who plays Creed) is a stoic, chiseled bad guy. He’s as poised and scripted as a WWE wrestler and is so much fun to watch. His number “Patriotic” is fun. Too bad that this is truly his only musical vehicle in the show.

While Creed thinks about the theatrics of the boxing match….Rocky is busy trying to woo Adrianne, make “good” decisions, and train for this once in a lifetime opportunity. Of course we have grizzly Mickey, the curmudgeon boxing gym owner who winds up training Rocky…but this character never really gets a fair shot. TV and movie character actor, Dakin Matthews is SO GOOD in everything he does…but in this, I thought, “eh.” (And frankly….I a little upset that I didn’t hear my favorite Mikey line “you’re gonna eat lightning, and you’re gonna crap thunder!”) And his lone musical moment “In the Ring” is disinteresting and long.

Now lets talk about the technical wonder that is ROCKY. The Winter Garden Theatre has been turned into a playground of discovery, and at EVERY single turn of this show, we are wowed with giant, towering set pieces that fly-in, fly-out, transform before our eyes, and offer giant visuals that will remain with you for a long time. The boxing ring itself is flown in and out, tipped sideways and serves as a movie screen and provides breath-taking, symbolic subtext opportunities. The meat locker where Pauly works consists of rows of GIANT slabs of beef in a cooler that drop from the ceiling on giant meat hooks. So cool! It created an audible gasp from the audience.

The lighting design is unreal, and the projections are taken to an interactive level that is pure genius, and makes the iconic movie moments such as Rocky’s training montages or the Philadelphia Museum of Art moment come to life. Details like rain projected on the entire set, carefully digitally generated so as to look like it’s actually hitting the set pieces are WONDERFUL!


The second act is the real treat however. We eagerly anticipate the big fight…and when it comes time to deliver, the whole room transforms into a giant boxing arena. Ceiling monitors drop and the first 15 rows of the orchestra are redirected to the stage to sit in bleachers behind the ring which rumbles forward and covers the seating area to create a true “theatre in the round” ring-side experience. How they executed the change-over, complete with actors’ entrances, video commentary, and audience participation was something I enjoyed watching as it was choreographed as strategically as the fight scenes. Add some brilliant lighting nuances, and I tell you…I felt like I was at a boxing match. It was unreal.

Of course, the play, our hero and the audience “go the distance” and we all cheer in wild excitement as Rocky screams “ADRIANNE!” at the end of the fight.

You see…the show has the right formula and a willing and able (and I might even say EAGER) audience in waiting. They cast the right people…the spectacle is superb….it’s just the music. (And I hate to say it, because with music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, one might figure “how can you go wrong.”) I think the problem is the same problem I had with Spider-Man….it’s too ballad-y with not enough songs you can tap your toes to.

But, my question is this…should ROCKY be a musical you tap your toes to? I argue that without canceling out ANY of the special effects, technical hoopla and stellar performances, you could make this a theatrical PLAY that would garnish the same type of hype, in my opinion. (I still think WAR HORSE is one of the most amazing spectacles I’ve ever seen and they had musical elements…but I would argue it would suck as a musical.)

I hate to say it…because I love sparkly things….but perhaps the technical elements aren’t needed.

I liked this musical…a lot….but…..what if this story were told….as a beat-up, worn-down, underdog of a story…with underdog set elements…perhaps holding a mirror up to Balboa’s world?

Perhaps that’s why I’m struggling with this one….it’s a BRILLIANT “Rocky” story with a brilliant “Rocky” leading man….but it’s an APOLLO CREED-type of a musical.

Too gussied up.

rocky reviews


CABARET – A Review

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2014 by erikball123

*A humble review from a theatre-lover, not necessarily a theatre-reviewer. 

CABARET – Roundabout Theatre Company – STUDIO 54 


Cabaret first appeared on the Broadway stage in 1967 and solidified Joel Grey as a mega-star on Broadway and many remember the 1972 film version, again starring Grey and Liza Minelli. Several revivals (both in the West End and on Broadway), six in total, have been presented since then…and I must say it remains a musical I widely took for granted. The clicky and grungy Kander and Ebb tunes in the show have always served as resources for other avenues in my theatre walk. (Audition pieces, opening numbers, stand-alone offerings.) I was thrilled to finally see the show at Studio 54, with none other than Alan Cummings (who also won a Tony for the role, and who some say is the definitive Emcee) at the helm. Unfortunately we did not see Michelle Williams play Sally Bowles this evening, but let me say upfront, the understudy Andrea Goss was as bold as a shot of Gin, and as fragile as a mouse. She’s a headliner…not an understudy.

Allow me to set the stage…the atmosphere is intimate, and a grey stage with an extended thrust juts out surrounded by tiny dining tables. A swarm of small red lamps accompany the seating all the way to the back of the house. We see exposed fly rigging on one side…a lump of wooded chairs haphazardly (or maybe hastily) stacked in the side stage right…and above the stage hangs a giant, tarnished frame that leans to one side, like some awkward watch dog tilting it head, hearing something in the distance. All avenues are adorned with old-school marquee lights…some working, some broken. Actors, musicians (or are they riff-raff that wandered in from the alley?) mill around the room and stretch onstage…or warm up their instruments. I especially liked watching the efforts of one boy who gestured and beckoned to someone from the balcony…all efforts were thwarted, of course…but it was fun to watch him never give up, up to the start of the show.

cabaret set

And what a start. If you’ve never heard the opening number, “Wilkommen” then you are not, nor you should consider yourself to be a “theatre person.” It’s a staple of musical theatre and I was sitting theatre church, pew # 204 in Row EE, and it was the gospel according to the Emcee, Alan Cumming, a magician, whose simple thrusts and cozy jaunt is like watching a friend onstage. He’s so bloody comfortable and poised…always joking and winking, and hiding that mischievous smile that says “I’m the keeper of all things Dramatically Ironic!” He captains this vessel….and steers us, nose-first into a world that we’re uncomfortable with, but desperate to know more about. You feel naughty for laughing at parts, and even more interestingly, you find yourself relating to nearly every curiosity and devilish tactic our host present. The Emcee can been seen in nooks and crannies of the set at every turn, watching with us, the series unfold. His Scooby-Doo disguises as German soldiers and can-can girls are expected and noticeable, not quite the magic trick I think they were going for, but I don’t care. It makes him even more fun…and we listen to every single word he offers….why? Because he never abandons us. He’s our safe place. He’s so influential that if I met Cummings, after the show, on the street and he said “hey you…take this briefcase to Paris for me”….I would.

This story offers us Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer (and somewhat currently-blocked novelist) Cliff Bradshaw, as he checks into a Berlin boarding house and checks out Sally Bowles, “the toast of Mayfair” at a nearby and seedy Cabaret. This is a doomed relationship from the very beginning, but something about the hope and cigarette smoke that lingers in the air offers us an air of mystery, and I find myself magically encouraged to hang on, to see if the illusion of true commitment and formidable buried self-worth will even see the light of day. Through the intimate setting and the up-close dynamics of this gritty world, we see glimpses of the new dawn…the light….but at every turn, we’re kept lingering in the shadows, a voyeur, trapped behind a red, tasseled lamp shade, never able to offer any answers.

That’s the finesse of Cabaret and the reason why Studio 54 is the perfect place for this musical. It makes you part of the action by immersing you into the world. You can see their hearts…hear the clothing rustle…and smell the sweat. (And I was with the poor people in the Mezzanine.)

There is a sub-plot involving a wealthy and elderly Jewish fruit market owner Herr Schultz and the keeper of the rooms, German Fraulein Schneider. (Both Linda Emond and Danny Burstein….especially Burstein, were brilliant and nostalgic, like warm tea.) My wife made fun of me, because even during their romantic and “awww” worthy exchanges / duets, she noticed me checking out a player stage left, pulling the ropes of the never-practical fly rigging, bringing the mirror-ball and “romantic air” out of the scene at the end of the number. That’s what is so special about the show…the attention to detail. The crotch grabs and the nipple rubs are silly and stupid…but part of the moment….it’s the soft lighting that shows the ensemble member wiping their brow….or the strategic placement of Cliff in the audience during a scene that uncomfortably traps several audience members who now have to see things through his eyes…’s genius. They don’t even give you playbills at the beginning of the show. They don’t want people rustling through pages. (Which is actually compelling to see an audience HAVE to talk to each other during pre-show!)

I also need to speak on the orchestra…who we all know is also “beautiful!” They are…in sound and sight…and here’s the thing, I know that I’m going to catch grief for this…but it needs to be said. In my travels (and through my experience only) I need to ask musicians who desire to work in the theatre to take note…when a musician dons a character and tells a story through the accompaniment or underscoring…it uplifts the play. When you acknowledge them as characters, or part of the action of the scene….then they are characters. But, I would argue, that the two should ALWAYS be the same. (Whether they are shirtless on Broadway in the Kit Kat Club….or in the darkened orchestra pit, below a stage.) Often times in amateur theatre, the musical accompaniment is offered in a perfunctory way….rote playing what is on the sheet. There is rarely an attention to draw them into the play. And I’m not saying costume them up and put them onstage with the same burdens as the actors. Rather, require of them the same FINESE that the demands of the show require. Broadway employs professional musicians who LIVE and BREATHE their music….their stake is JUST AS REAL as the storytellers onstage. Cabaret was an impressive example of musicians fighting desperately to ensure the era, the desperation and the hope of these characters are absorbed at every turn. Bravo.

Few shows render me quiet. Cab rides are usually filled with endless gibber and / or gabber about how cool the set design was or how that one actor was handed a prop by another in a split-second and “did you see that!!” This show’s forward momentum, bleak but perfectly tempo’d second act…and final moment (which was both clever and shocking) forced me into silence. (Which was the goal, I think.) The management of still-relevant topics like self-worth, tolerance, inner beauty, expression mixed with a history lesson of the rise of the Nazi party as told through a fish-net, thigh-high stocking is the conflict of the show. You want to laugh AND cry….you want to feel sexy AND wronged….you want to let loose AND hide. It’s captivating.

I hear the show is extended through January of next year. Get out and see it, if you can. In this day and age of processed food and too-social social media…allow yourself passage to the Kit Kat Club, where “there are no troubles” and “life is beautiful.”

cabaret rating


Pawn My Drama

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2011 by erikball123

I’ve been into stupid little reality shows like Hardcore Pawn and Pawn Stars lately. I’m diggin’ on Storage Wars too, but that’s starting to get old, and scripted. I think what attracts me to such television silliness is the mystery behind people’s stories. What is in that storage unit that makes the risk of purchasing it at a premium so appealing. What mysterious chain of events brought Mr. Cecil Stickyfingers to the pawn store today to give up his prized possession. The suspense of actually seeing that the cardboard box holds dirty laundry instead of Uncle Billy’s gold coin collection is what builds the suspense for me. The let down after seeing Cecil find out that the autographed skull of Abraham Lincoln was really a knock off is what creates the storyline for me, I guess.

In general, my stomach ties itself in knots when I’m faced with confrontation. In the big picture, I find myself working very hard to move forward, with every project, every challenge and every journey. The speed bumps that slow me down are things I like to deal with quickly and quietly. I’m not a fighter. I get frustrated and hurt when people cannot see that all I want to do is create something positive…something good.

I’m also found out that I’m not sentimental. This realization surprised me. My wife said it simply “well, you’re not sentimental.” At the time I took it personally. Then I thought about it. She’s right. Tangible items in my life mean very little to me. It’s not that I don’t care about things…rather, I care VERY much about people, and feelings, and emotion…to the point to where the object doesn’t matter.

So, why do I find entertainment value in watching people fight and toil over objects? I suppose it has to do with the convenience of it all. Have you ever thought WHY people put “things” into storage? I’ll give you a few suggestions:

  1. To store for a future event / date / project.
  2. Because they don’t have room for said valuables in their homes.
  3. Because they want to hide it.
  4. Because they want to forget about it.

Pawning is different. People give up their valuables for money. A quick pay off to get them through today, so they can peacefully look forward to tomorrow. The tangible items doesn’t matter in the “now,” and the knowledge that later, when the dust settles, they can obtain that object back (if they pay the price) is appealing.

I find these concepts particularly interesting to me lately.

As you can see, it’s been about 10 months since my last post. I’ve been a smidge busy. I’ve been involved in a total of 6 theatrical productions this year (technically, and onstage), I taught full time, starting my own radio show and was recently hired into a professional acting gig. That’s just the work I’ve been involved in. It’s been a long year.

A long disheartening year.

Granted, I find value in every experience, good or bad, because I truly think you can learn from all, but this year was different. I’m losing faith in my fellow actor. Perhaps even, my fellow man. (Cue dramatic music.) The creative person (especially theatrical actors) by nature is extroverted. They are emotional, passionate people. I pride myself on being one of them. But, I cannot grasp the notion of sullying relationships and taking such a huge personal vested interest in a creative project that it voids out human nature and creative collaboration. These are fundamentals that I believe are staples in creating good theatre.

The state of theatre in Las Vegas is the opposite of what I think everyone believes. There is plenty of theatre to do here in the Valley. All types too. You can keep yourself pretty busy by hitching yourself to any of these proverbial horses. With that said, it’s really a small city. Getting my foot in the door here as a director / designer, etc. was relatively easy. (Pay your dues, be respectful, believe in your product and work hard…and you can too.) But, now that I’m here…I don’t know if I want to be.

I respect my fellow directors / actors. The modern day theatre company is VERY hard to manage. I applaud the theatre companies in town. (Some manage well, some do not…but they all manage.) With that said, I have found little joy in my work this year. There was several times where product or personal feelings stifled the creative process. Several times egos clogged the flow of communication and collaboration. The desire to be top dog or to have the “Best” award…fueled the focus and scope of the project. I found myself in the wake many times…because I don’t like conflict.

Some people might view it as “not having any Balls.” Ah, Irony. I don’t view it as such. I just think there is a way that a collection of artists can generate something together without making it solely about them. I’m reading a book on one of my idols Tim Burton…and he talks about how he cannot work for an ego-driven machine. He has to allow the creativity to breathe and live….that’s where the joy comes from. I’ve worked very hard this year…but I’ve found very little joy.

I was sitting here tonight…my wife away to the Utah Shakespeare Festival with her book club…watching a rerun of Hardcore Pawn. While you won’t find me anywhere near the Detroit Michigan back streets…I sometimes wish I could bring the drama that breaks my spirit to the Pawn Shop. Cash it in…and maybe, just maybe, be back for it later, when I can deal with it.

Or, even better. I could rent a storage unit. Pile my frustration, my over sensitive nature…my paranoia….my dread that what I try to create through theatre is amounting to nothing…..pile it into a storage unit…get a sturdy padlock, and put it away. Perhaps never to be seen again. Maybe someday they’ll auction my unit off and I won’t ever have to worry about it again. That would be so nice.

I wonder if that would be the coward’s way. A friend told me that I should be very proud to be a drama teacher, and that it takes a special kind of person to do what I do. I appreciate that. But, I also think it takes a special kind of person to believe in WHAT they do. (And that goes for anything, not just theatre.) I suppose so long as I continue to believe in WHAT I do, then how in pans out in the short term doesn’t really matter. In the long term, I’m building on what I know, and propelling forward to create a better tomorrow.

Bill Cosby said “Yesterday is a ghost. Tomorrow is a dream. All you have is now.” I like that. Kinda supports my Super Pawn Drama idea. Perhaps I don’t need the inner-city Pawn shop…perhaps I can find a way to pawn my frustrations away so that “now” is what is the most important. Creatively, anyway. That makes sense to me.

I wonder…if Picasso knew that his paintings would be sold for millions, do you think he would have bought better brushes or worked in a different light? I don’t know. I do know he wasn’t focused on the future. His scope of work is unending.

I feel like I had an unending year. I’ve decided not to judge it…or cry over spilled milk…instead, I’ll pawn it away in my secret Pawn Shop….and focus on right now.

I’m not sure how much I’ll “get” for pawning it…but it’s more than I currently have.

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