Monday, September 24, 2012


Today is quite a special day.  32 years ago, a young man was born and is now embarking on a writing career.  As with most artistic careers, it has been a bumpy road but still creatively satisfying.  For today, I want to share with you, my readers, a very special Birthday blogpost.  I want to dedicate this post to all the special people who were born on this day.  Below, I have listed 25 amazing, important, influential and dynamic people who each contributed something to the world in their own way (be it through the arts, entertainment, sports, politics or anything else!).  So let us see which people (besides yours truly!) have helped make September 24 a very special day.


John Marshall (1755-1835): The longest serving Chief Justice in U.S. Supreme Court history was one of the leading Federalists in the early 19th Century.

Franklin Clarence Mars (1883-1934): Founder of the prominent candy company Mars Inc., along with his son created the timeless candy classic M&M's.

Blind Lemon Jefferson (1893-1929): The "Father of the Texas Blues" influenced blues legends from Robert Johnson to B. B. King.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940): One of America's most celebrated writers lives on through his works, especially his most enduring: The Great Gatsby.

Audra Lindley (1918-1997): Best known as Mrs. Roper from Three's Company, one of the most popular sitcoms of the 1970s.

Jim McKay (1921-2008): For over 30 years, he hosted ABC's Wide World of Sports as well as hosted 12 Olympic Games and many other sports (ranging from the Kentucky Derby to the Indy 500!).

Theresa Merritt (1924-1998): This lovable character actress of Stage, TV and Film is perhaps best known for her title role on the 1970s cult series That's My Mama!

Sheila MacRae (1924): Actress and singer who was married to the late Gordon MacRae and (most famously) played the role of Honeymooners' Alice Kramden on Jackie Gleason's late '60s variety show.

Anthony Newley (1931-1999): British actor, singer-songwriter and all-around performer is best known for is work in films like David Lean's Oliver Twist and the 1967 Doctor Dolittle as well as his songs for Goldfinger, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and the Broadway hit Stop the World-I Want to Get Off!

Chick Willis (1934): A controversial jazz & blues singer who started by working for his famous singer-cousin Chuck Willis.

Jim Henson (1936-1990): One of the most influential creative minds of all-time (jn my humble opinion!) made millions of people happy with his Muppet creations especially the lovable Kermit the Frog.

Linda McCartney (1941-1998): She served as Paul McCartney's muse, especially during his Wings period, and we are all thankful that she made him "Amazed."

Lou Dobbs (1945): The former CNN anchor who now works for the FOX Business network worked as CNN's money and business reporter since its inception in 1980  but left in 2009 due to issues stemming from his conservative-leaning political beliefs.

Joe Greene (1946): Known to the world as "Mean" Joe Green, the retired Pittsburgh Steeler is now best remembered for a famed 1980 Coca-Cola commercial.

Gordon Clapp (1948): Emmy Award-winning character actor for his work on the landmark ABC series NYPD Blue also received a Tony nod for his work in the 2005 revival of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross.

Phil Hartman (1948-1998): The famed Saturday Night Live comic actor who also did brilliant work on shows like The Simpsons and NewsRadio was sadly murdered by his wife who then killed herself.

Kevin Sorbo (1958): He started as a model, jumped to acting in the late 1980s (auditioning for the leads on Lois & Clark and The X-Files) and got his big break as TV's Hercules on the cult favorite Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

Steve Whitmire (1959): This protege of Jim Henson was the Henson family's choice to take over the role of Kermit the Frog upon Jim Henson's death in 1990 and he has performed him ever since.

John Logan (1961): This Tony-winning and Oscar-nominated playwright/screenwriter has worked on several critically-acclaimed films (like Gladiator, The Aviator, Sweeney Todd, Rango, Hugo and the upcoming Bond film Skyfall).

Nia Vardalos (1962): She let us into a little bit of her life and family with her hilarious one-woman show turned hit romantic comedy movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Rafael Palmeiro (1964): He was a popular left fielder for teams like the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles until it was discovered in 2005 that he tested positive for steroids, pretty much ending his baseball career.

Robert Irvine (1965): The Food Network chef/host has an abrasive and honest style that serves him well when helping restaurants turn their business around on his popular shows Dinner: Impossible, Restaurant: Impossible and Worst Cooks in America.

Stephanie McMahon (1976): Daughter of the famed Vince McMahon, who owns the Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment company, has made a name for herself as a wrestler and dominant "McMahon" personality.

Morgan and Paul Hamm (1982): The twin American gymnasts who made names for themselves during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens where they (along with the US Men's team) won a Silver medal and Paul earned the All-Around Gold medal (despite some controversy).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: 2012 Emmy Predictions

This Sunday night, the 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards will be given out in a ceremony hosted by Jimmy Kimmel on ABC.  So with the ballots in and the nominees readying themselves for Sunday's festivities, it is time for me to give my predictions in the major categories.  This year, I'll only deal with the Drama and Comedy Series categories as I believe most of the other major categories (Variety, Reality, etc.) are just too predictable (I mean, does anyone really think The Daily Show won't win Best Variety Series for a tenth year in a row!?!?!).

Nominees: Boardwalk Empire (HBO), Breaking Bad (AMC), Downton Abbey (PBS), Game of Thrones (HBO), Homeland (Showtime), Mad Men (AMC)
Will Win: Last year, cable favorite Mad Men tied a record with 3 now legendary NBC shows (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and The West Wing) by winning this category for a fourth time.  Most critics believe if any show can break the record, its Mad Men.  Their fifth season was one of the most anticipated shows of the Spring schedule and their season was filled with jaw-dropping moments.  And while some may say other shows are stepping up their game, those same people were singing the same tune last year and Mad Men still won.
Should Win: This is tough for me.  While I believe Mad Men will break the record, I would love to see one of two other shows claim the prize.  Showtime's Homeland is smartly written and very timely for this day and age (plus it won the Golden Globe earlier this year!); and Downton Abbey is also smartly written (though about a completely different world than Homeland's!) and brilliantly acted (6 actors are nominated this year for their work!).  Both shows are very deserving of the top prize and have the buzz to push Mad Men off the pedestal (or at least try!).
Dark Horse: But one other show has more buzz going for it than Homeland and Downton Abbey put together, and that is the critically lauded fourth season of Breaking Bad.  If Mad Men's creator Matthew Weiner has left a bad taste in Hollywood's mouth because of his negotiation antics with AMC, Emmy voters could choose to reward the other AMC show nominated and deny Weiner his record-breaking trophy.

Nominees: Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey (PBS); Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire (HBO); Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad (AMC); Michael C. Hall, Dexter (Showtime); John Hamm, Mad Men (AMC); Damian Lewis, Homeland (Showtime)
Will & Should Win: He's won the three other times he was nominated and he gave again a chilling performance in his show's fourth season.  Let's face it, this category belongs to Bryan Cranston!

Nominees: Kathy Bates, Harry's Law (NBC); Glenn Close, Damages (DirecTV); Claire Danes, Homeland (Showtime); Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey (PBS); Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife (CBS); Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men (AMC)
Will & Should Win: This was another tough category for me.  But Golden Globe winner Claire Danes plays one of the most intriguing characters on Dramatic TV in recent memory.  As a CIA Agent with severe bipolar disorder, Danes' Carrie Mathison does things that most people won't love her for but does them "in the service of her country."  Danes (who won an Emmy two years ago for the HBO movie Temple Grandin) acts with such nuance that you find her character more interesting rather than pathetic.
Don't Count Her Out: If there is one person who can beat Danes, its last year's champ Julianna Margulies.  In her episode submission, Margulies gives one of the best performances she has done on her series The Good Wife (which shamefully was shut out of the Best Drama Series category!).  If Emmy voters find Danes' character too unlikable, they may want to reward Margulies for the second year in a row.

Nominees: Jim Carter, Downton Abbey (PBS); Brendan Coyle, Downton Abbey (PBS); Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones (HBO); Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad (AMC); Jared Harris, Mad Men (AMC); Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad (AMC)
Will Win: Giancarlo Esposito's work as a ruthless villain on Breaking Bad's fourth season garnered him praise from every TV critic everywhere.  He is the definite front-runner in this category.
Should Win: Last year, I said Game of Thrones' Peter Dinklage "should win" this category and he ended up taking the trophy home.  Dinklage's character is extremely popular on the fan hit (so much so, fans wanted him to submit in the Lead Actor category!).  It is possible that fan love can bring the well-liked character actor a second Emmy win.

Nominees: Christine Baranski, The Good Wife (CBS); Joanne Froggat, Downton Abbey (PBS); Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad (AMC); Christina Hendricks, Mad Men (AMC); Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife (CBS); Dame Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey (PBS)
Will Win: No actor from Mad Men has yet to claim an acting win (isn't that shocking?!?).  But Christina Hendricks' Joan Harris did some amazing (and surprising!) things to make partner at the Sterling-Cooper Ad Agency this season and Hendricks played each moment with a much-lauded steely cool demeanor.  If one actor from Mad Men can win an Emmy this year, my money is on this beauty.
Should Win: There really is nothing like a Dame!  Maggie Smith is utterly brilliant as Downton Abbey's Dowager Countess (she won an Emmy last year!) and there is truly no one like her.
Dark Horse: Breaking Bad garnered more praise and more Emmy nominations for its fourth season and Anna Gunn was a big part of all that praise.  With Cranston and Esposito locks in their categories, Emmy voters may want to reward Gunn and let the show pull off a "threesome."

Nominees: The Big Bang Theory (CBS), Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO), Girls (HBO), Modern Family (ABC), 30 Rock (NBC), Veep (HBO)
Will Win: Though I am of the opinion the show has lost some of its edge (and I may be the only one!), ABC's Modern Family will pull off a third win this Sunday.
Should Win: The Sitcom I believed this season really deserved to win this category is not even nominated (NBC's Parks & Recreation). Therefore, I have to shift all my support to the other show I think has earned this award (though this last season was not its best!) and that is CBS' hilarious The Big Bang Theory.

Nominees: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock (NBC); Don Cheadle, House of Lies (Showtime); Louis C. K., Louie (F/X); Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men (CBS); Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO); Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Will Win: Louis C. K. has become more popular (and more lauded) thanks to his work on his self-titled F/X series.  Even though he plays himself (or a version of himself!), his episode submission ("Duckling") is an hour-long giving voters more of him to see than his fellow nominees.  Plus he goes to the Mid-East on a USO tour in the episode, politics is in this election year!
Should Win: If any actor deserves a win for playing himself on a show, it is Larry David.  He's been nominated for Curb Your Enthusiasm several times now and still has no award to show for it.  Maybe that's why the real George Costanza is so irascible!
Don't Count Him Out: Jim Parsons is the reigning champ in this category (having won the last two years in a row!) and his episode submission is a good one.  Next to Alec Baldwin, he is the most recognizable nominee (which, for some Emmy voters, means most deserving!).

Nominees: Zooey Deschanel, New Girl (FOX); Lena Dunham, Girls (HBO); Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie (Showtime); Tina Fey, 30 Rock (NBC); Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO); Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly (CBS); Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation (NBC)
Will Win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus is beloved by the Emmys.  She has won Supporting Actress (for Seinfeld) and Lead Actress (for The New Adventures of Old Christine).  And this nomination (her 13th!) ties her with TV Comedy legend Lucille Ball.  Plus, Veep is nominated for Best Comedy Series and that is always a plus (it worked for Edie Falco two years ago!).
Should Win: TV's new "It Girl" of last season was really the New Girl.  Zooey Deschanel brought her adorkable self into audiences hearts and helped FOX rebuild their Sitcom status (Tuesdays this Fall on FOX is centered around New Girl instead of Glee!).
Don't Count Her Out: Even though her series is shy of Best Comedy Series nod (shame on you Emmy voters!), Amy Poehler is a heavy favorite going into Sunday night.  She had a great year on her show (her character Leslie Knope ran for a higher office) and fans of her (dating back to her SNL days!) feel she is truly deserving of her first acting Emmy.

Nominees: Ty Burrell, Modern Family (ABC); Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family (ABC); Max Greenfield, New Girl (FOX); Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live (NBC); Ed O'Neill, Modern Family (ABC); Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family (ABC)
Will Win: Does it really matter?  It's going to be one of the guys from Modern Family!  Pick one!  If the Emmys are in a rut, they'll reward Burrell or Stonestreet for a second time.  If not, Ferguson or O'Neill could reap the benefits.  If I had to choose (which I guess I do!), Burrell's role is showier while O'Neill is the most deserving (thanks to his years in the business!).  I guess I'd give the edge to Burrell.
Should Win: Without Parks & Rec's Nick Offerman or Community's Danny Pudi or even Glee's Chris Colfer, my hopes for beating the Modern Family juggernaut lie with New Girl's Max Greenfield who has delighted many critics with his slutty-yet-nerdy-and-even-lovable Schmidt.

Nominees: Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory (CBS); Julie Bowen, Modern Family (ABC); Kathryn Joosten, Desperate Housewives (ABC); Sofia Vergara, Modern Family (ABC); Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie (Showtime); Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Will Win: With her final season on the late-night Variety series, Kristen Wiig earned her fourth (and possibly final) acting Emmy nomination.  She has been an integral part of the SNL cast over most of the last decade and now embarking on a film career (which earned her an Oscar nod for co-writing Bridesmaids earlier this year!).  An Emmy would be the cherry on the sundae, so-to-speak.
Should Win: Mayim Bialik has been a welcomed and brilliant addition to The Big Bang Theory cast.  Her Amy Farrah-Fowler is hilarious in her need for affection from Sheldon or her "slight" stalking of BFF Penny.  It would be nice to see Blossom reap an Emmy.
Dark Horse: While Wiig left SNL, Kathryn Joosten left this earth.  Joosten, who had won two Guest Actress Emmys for playing crotchety neighbor Mrs. McCluskey, submitted the Desperate Housewives finale in which her character passed away from cancer.  Less than a month after the finale aired, Joosten herself lost her battle with the disease.  Joosten was a beloved member of the Hollywood community and a posthumous Emmy could show just how much.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The 25 Best Musicals of All-Time

The other day I told you that I would be sharing with you my favorite Broadway Musicals of All-Time.  It's a question that has been asked of me for years and years.  And because of that, I felt it appropriate to share with you the many musicals that I love that didn't make my Top 25.  I needed you to see how hard this subject is for me.  I have loved Musicals for years and there are just too many that I adore to narrow it down to a select few, but I did it.  As hard as it was, I did it.  I managed to pull together and rank my 25 favorite Musicals.  And while you may not completely agree with my rankings or my opinions, each of these shows have very good reasons for making it onto this list.


25. Godspell
The mixture of Religion and Musical theatre was a popular theme in the 1970s (Jesus Christ Superstar opened in New York the same year as this Off-Broadway hit!).  Stephen Schwartz' folk rock-inspired show was always a favorite in my household growing up.  The songs are simple yet complex and they perfectly reflect the feeling of the period (which was about love, peace and understanding).  Below is an appearance of the original Off-Broadway cast on the Today show (back when Barbara Walters was the co-host!).

24. Cabaret
Whether it is Harold Prince's groundbreaking original 1966 Broadway production or Bob Fosse's sleek and seductive 1972 film version, this Musical must be mentioned when you talk about Broadway greatness.  The Kander and Ebb landmark show is still one of the most popular Musicals (especially in colleges!).  Songs like the smashing opener "Wilkommen" (see the 1998 revival below) or the catchy title number (most famously performed by Liza Minnelli on film!) have made this show the innovation that it is.

23. Oklahoma!
It was the first show Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote together and it changed the face of Musical theatre.  No show before it had combined memorable songs, fully-developed characters, a complete plot and masterful choreography.  And because it is set against the backdrop of the Western territory in the early 20th Century, it is a true piece of Americana.  Below, see Hugh Jackman in the London revival singing the powerful title song.

22. 1776
I love this show.  It is always enjoyable to me (especially around the Fourth of July!).  Who ever thought that a show about the creation of the Declaration of Independence would be a fantastic Tony-winning hit?  Sherman Edwards' spritely songs and Peter Stone's smartly written libretto make each of these men (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, etc.) relatable and still keep that iconic aura they have had in our eyes.  Below, most of the original Broadway cast reprised their roles in the 1972 film version.

21. The Music Man
Meredith Wilson's masterpiece about a con man who manages to dupe a small Iowa town into funding a boys' band (that doesn't really exist!) is a classic in every way.  Much like its leading man "Prof." Harold Hill, the Musical takes the audience on a ride that ultimately we are the better for taking that ride.  Below, original star Robert Preston sings "Ya Got Trouble" at the 1973 Tony Awards as part of a celebration of the best award-winning Musicals.

20. Jersey Boys
I normally do not care for what are termed as "Jukebox" Musicals (Mamma Mia! really annoys me even if it has Meryl Streep!).  But this 2005 Tony-winning show has been one of the most interesting recent hits.  Its structure is definitely not a "traditional Broadway Musical," but it feels more like Musical in the same way the Oscar-winning biopics Coal Miner's Daughter or Ray are "Musicals."  It is both extremely enjoyable (each time I've seen it, everyone is on their feet by the finale!) and fantastically innovative (thanks both to the brilliant direction of Des McAnuff and the sharp libretto co-written by Marshall Brickman who also helped Woody Allen write Annie Hall.).

19. The King and I
Rodgers and Hammerstein were the gods of Broadway in its Golden Age and this show was part of their creative peak.  In adapting the true story of Anna Leonowens and her tenure as the tutor to the children of Siam's King Mongkut, they created a relationship that (although very sexually charged, especially in the "Shall We Dance" number below) was about two people from different sides of the world who came to respect each other as equals.  That is the kind of good character development that makes great Musicals.

18. A Chorus Line
For most of my life, this show had the honor of being the Longest Running Broadway Musical.  Michael Bennett's show about dancers who strive to nail that important audition was (in a way) Broadway's first "reality Musical."  Even though the dancers on stage had character names, they were basically playing versions of themselves (to varying degrees).  The fantastic choreography and the charming score (by the late Marvin Hamlisch) made this musical so popular that it was a phenomenon all its own (and ten times better "reality" than you would get on Jersey Shore or any of the Real Housewives shows!).

17. Guys and Dolls
This show comes right from the heart of Broadway (in particular Times Square!).  Damon Runyon's stories about gamblers and their gals that run around Times Square were light-hearted and charming enough to entice producers into turning it into a lavish Broadway Musical.  It is one of the most successful titles and one of the most revived shows in Broadway history.  Below, Stubby Kaye reprised his Broadway role in the 1955 film version and sings one of my favorite songs in the show, "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat."

16. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
One of Stephen Sondheim's most popular and most enduring works is also one of his most intense.  I mean who writes a musical about a guy who takes revenge on the society that wronged him by slicing their throats and having them baked into meat pies?!?!  And yet with Sondheim's masterful score and under Harold Prince's innovative direction, Sweeney Todd has become one of the most important shows of the last 40 years.  Below, original star Angela Lansbury alongside George Hearn play the leads and sing about the fun they'll have putting people into pies!

15. Oliver!
Just like Oklahoma! and The Music Man brought Americana to the rest of the world (through their hit London productions!), this show was basically London's response.  And it became one of the biggest hits on both sides of the Atlantic in the early 1960s.  Lionel Bart's clever score and the well-developed use of Dickens' characters (like Fagin, Nancy and The Artful Dodger) have made this Musical version of Oliver Twist one of the most lovable hits (especially among schools, thanks to the use of children in prominent roles!).

14. Chicago
Had it not been for this show's smash hit revival in 1996 (followed by an Oscar-winning film in 2002!), this one would have drifted right into obscurity.  But the Kander-Ebb-Fosse collaboration is bold, brassy, sexy, confrontational (at times) and (most importantly) jazzy.  It may have been too dark and sardonic for audiences who were enamored with A Chorus Line back in the late 1970s, but it provides a commentary on our culture and our media that has definitely become more prevalent over the last 30 years.  Below, original stars Chita Rivera and the late Gwen Verdon perform the finale of the Musical with Fosse's original chic choreography.

13. Man of La Mancha
When it comes to Musicals, one theme is always dominant: Dreams.  And in this show, the lead character is a man who follows his dreams.  Sure, he's a crazy old coot who thinks he's a knight and mistakes windmills for dragons; but his faith in his dreams make him one of the most inspirational characters ever.  Based on the literary classic Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, this Musical's structure is inspired both by its literary roots as well as the 1960s approach to theatre (which was mostly inspired by the Meisner method acting techniques).  It uses a "play within a play" motif where the actor playing Quixote is actually Cervantes himself trying to showcase his work and defend his writings.  The score (by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion) has some of the most beautiful songs including "Dulcinea" or "I, Don Quixote" or the timeless "The Impossible Dream" (sung below by Brian Stokes Mitchell in a 2003 revival of the show).

12. Evita
The same year he directed Sweeney Todd to great acclaim, the hit Harold Prince had directed in London the year before opened on Broadway to a massive (at the time) advance in ticket sales.  Evita was one of the most highly anticipated shows of the late 1970s.  Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's gargantuan rock opera about the wife of Argentinian dictator Juan Peron was (like Jesus Christ Superstar) first an extremely successful rock concept album that topped the charts with singles like "Don't Cry For Me Argentina."  With Prince's guidance, it became a theatrical wonder and a box-office smash.  I fell in love with this show at a very young age (my parents adored this Musical!) hearing the Original Broadway Cast album which featured the phenomenal Patti LuPone in the title role alongside the brilliant Mandy Patinkin as the Brecht-like narrator Che (see both of them below performing at the 1980 Tony Awards).

11. The Sound of Music
Thanks to the extremely successful 1965 film version, this Musical is one of the most popular shows in theatrical history.  It also is one of the most poignant as it served as the last Musical that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote together (due to Hammerstein's death from throat cancer in 1960 eight months after the show opened on Broadway).  And as their last endeavor, it is one of their best scores.  So many songs in this show are just brilliant ("My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and of course the iconic title song!).  Below, the 1998 revival cast performs a medley of songs at the Tony Awards.

10. Gypsy
The same year The Sound of Music opened on Broadway, this show business gem was also running to sold-out crowds.  The star power of Ethel Merman combined with an amazing score (by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim) made this Musical a very popular hit.  It has been revived four separate times on Broadway, has had several notable regional and tour productions, two (somewhat) well-received film versions and has been named by several critics as the "greatest Broadway Musical."  Interesting to note that each major revival has (in some way) incorporated the original choreography by the legendary director Jerome Robbins.  It just goes to show the mark that man left on his shows (but more on that in a bit!).  Below, watch clips of Patti LuPone in the most recent Broadway revival.

9. Sunday In the Park With George
This one is truly a personal favorite.  I was first introduced to this show by my mother who showed me the PBS American Playhouse telecast that showcased the Original Broadway production.  Stephen Sondheim's hauntingly beautiful and rich score was just marvelous to hear especially when sung by the likes of Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters.  Whenever I hear a song from this show, I think about watching that telecast with my mother and how it was through her (and my father!) that I fell in love with Broadway Musicals.

8. The Producers
There are very few Musicals that have made me literally laugh out loud.  And when I say "laugh," I mean an endless stream of gut-busting full-out laughter.  And of course that kind of laughter has to come from someone like Mel Brooks.  The Musical version of his amazing 1968 comedy is so hilariously brilliant and it is truly a pure "love letter" to Broadway and the traditional style Brooks must have loved growing up.  Below, Nathan Lane leads the Broadway cast in a hilarious medley of the shows best songs.

7. The Lion King
When I talked about the stage version of Beauty and the Beast, I (slightly) compared it to a theatrical show at Disneyland and how it was primarily a version of the film on stage (with fantastic sets and costumes).  But with The Lion King, director Julie Taymor found a way of innovating animated animals and planting them in front of a live audience.  Using masks, puppetry and elaborate costumes, Taymor expands the imagination of everyone who comes to see the show.  It also helps that the score from the film (Elton John and Tim Rice's songs and Hans Zimmer's instrumental score) are used to brilliant effect.  The show is still one of the biggest box-office hits on Broadway after almost 15 years and shows no sign of stopping.

6. Fiddler On the Roof
Another show introduced to me by my parents (it's a particular favorite of my father's!).  This landmark Musical based on Sholem Alecheim's Tevye stories is not just about a Jewish family in a Russian/Ukrainian village.  It is about community and adaptation and (dare I say it!) "Traditions."  The genius of Jerome Robbins' original staging and choreography is always honored in every production and utilized in some way (see below the 2004 revival).  The show is synonymous with "traditional" Broadway.

5. Wicked
The rank of this one probably surprises a lot of you, but there is a reason.  When I first heard about this show, I was about to graduate from college and could not afford to go see the out-of-town-tryout that was right here in San Francisco (even though I wanted to, I was just too busy!).  But I did hear some good things about it and heard it would be opening on Broadway later in the year.  However, that summer and early fall ended up making it one of the worst years in my life.  First, in July my Grandmother died after years of battling the effects of a stroke; and then, in October my Mother passed away suddenly from medical complications.  It was right before Halloween, which is when this show opened on Broadway.  That Thanksgiving, I needed to get away and went to New York.  I managed to get tickets to this show (with its Original Cast!) and I immediately fell in love with the Stephen Schwartz score and the brilliant staging by Joe Mantello.  It was the show I needed at that time in my life.  It made me realize everything was going to be alright.  It was like my Mother and Grandmother wanted me to see this show which has since become one of the most "Popular" shows of the last decade.

4. Les Misérables
This show is beloved in my family.  Everyone who has seen it says that they were just mesmerized and moved by this Musical.  Like many shows before it, a Musical version of Victor Hugo's long literary masterpiece seems like insanity.  But with a rousing, haunting and inspirational score and memorable characters (from lead Jean Valjean to the tragic Fantine to the treacherous Thenardiers), the show has become one of the biggest hits worldwide.  It even is (finally!) getting a film version released later this year directed by Oscar-winner Tom Hooper and starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway.  It cannot surprise you that I will be seeing it the day the movie opens at my local movie theater!

3. The Phantom of the Opera
Les Miz and this one are almost tied, but this one slightly wins out because I felt that Harold Prince's staging was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen in my life (even though I was only 13 at the time I saw it!).  It is considered one of the most unabashedly romantic Musicals in Broadway history.  Andrew Lloyd Webber's haunting and majestic score wins me over every time I hear it.  And I've already mentioned how I felt about Mr. Prince's genius staging (I mean, he has helped make Opera accessible to the masses!).  Below, watch as original stars Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman showcase one of the most memorable scenes in the show at the 1988 Tony Awards.

2. West Side Story
One of the biggest landmarks in Broadway history just had to be on this list no matter what.  Jerome Robbins' powerful and enigmatic adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet set against the backdrop of 1950s street gangs is and will forever be a remarkable masterpiece.  With a fantastic and almost symphonic score by Leonard Bernstein (with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, his first Broadway credit!) and a moving libretto by Arthur Laurents, the characters literally leap into your hearts (thanks to Robbins' brilliant choreography which he created with the help of his co-choreographer Peter Gennaro).  It was bold and innovative and yet, at the same time, it was traditional and theatrical.  There is truly nothing like it.

1. My Fair Lady
This really cannot be that much of a surprise.  I know this show backwards and forwards.  I know every line, every song, every orchestration and even every shot of the film.  Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's brilliant Musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion is beautiful in every way.  It has two of the best leading characters in Broadway history and it features gorgeous sets and costumes (if the production is done right!).  And the score is filled with amazing songs like "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "On the Street Where You Live" and Higgins' final soliloquy "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."  Each in their own way are among my favorite Broadway songs (that's a list I can never do, by the way!).

So there, I have done it.  I have given you my Top 25 Broadway Musicals.  It was difficult and even painful at times, but I have answered the question most people have asked me for most of my life.  Are any of these your favorites?  I encourage you to tell me your favorite and what you love about it (even if it's not on this list!).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Ones That Won't Be On the List...Plus a Little More!!!

I have been a "Broadway Baby" for as long as I can remember.  That's why I use the Stephen Sondheim song title as my nickname, my mantra and the title of my blog.  But there is one question that many have asked me over the years that I have always hesitated to answer.  What is my favorite Broadway Musical?  And over the last few years, I've shared with you many different favorites from Movies to Television to Songs.  But I've always avoided that one big question.  And there is a very simple reason.  There are so many Broadway Musicals that I love, it is too hard to narrow it down.  This week, I've decided to do what I consider to be the impossible.  But instead of doing a list of 100 or even 60, I have narrowed it down to a list of 25.  And if you think 100 is difficult, 25 is no picnic!  That being said, before I give you the 25 Musicals that are close to my heart, I thought I would share with you a few of the Musicals that I still like but just missed making it into the "upper echelon" (so to speak!).  So I will first talk a bit about 10 shows I think people would be surprised to know are NOT in my top 25.  After that, I want to quickly run through 5 more extremely popular Musicals that (on one level or another) bug me, yet I still love them (kind of a love-hate relationship going on there!).  Later this week, my top 25 shall be revealed to you.  All at once and not one at a time, like I have done in the past.  Think of it as my special gift to all the people who have been frustrated when I never answered their original question (Who knows? They may find themselves more frustrated after this week!).  But first, the 10 shows that won't be in my top 25 (in no particular order)!

42nd Street
I love the original film and the stage production is a lavish toe-tapping adaptation.  The show opened the month before I was born and has one the most infamous opening nights in Broadway history.  The show's famed director-choreographer Gower Champion died the day of the opening, but producer David Merrick refused to reveal the news until after the final curtain call.

In the Heights
One of the more recent and unique hits in Broadway history.  It's use of hip-hop and latino pop certainly give it a flavor all its own.  In a way, it is one of the most original American Musicals of the last decade.

The Pirates of Penzance
Gilbert and Sullivan were the Rodgers and Hammerstein of their day back in Victorian England.  But for me, it was Joseph Papp's hilarious tongue-in-cheek 1980s hit production that makes this show such a treat.

Kiss Me, Kate
This show combines Shakespeare and Musical theatre to quite charming and hilarious effect.  Only Cole Porter could give the Bard's great comedy (The Taming of the Shrew) a showman's touch.  Plus "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" is one of the cleverest songs ever written!

Funny Girl
She says it herself: She's the Greatest Star!  There is no one like Barbra as the legendary Fanny Brice.  However, she's put such a mark on the role that no one has ever dared touch it in a major revival.

This Musical was meant for my generation.  Every theatre geek in my high school (including myself!) loved the late Jonathan Larson's masterpiece.  It has since closed on Broadway and spawned a mediocre film version, meaning I believe this show belonged to its time and we were the better for it.

Annie Get Your Gun
When I finally got to New York, this was the first Broadway show I saw (with the phenomenal Bernadette Peters in the lead!).  Like Cole Porter, Irving Berlin let his songs speak for themselves.  And in this Musical, there's no business like it!

Beauty and the Beast
This may shock many of you.  I love the 1991 Disney film, you know I do!  And I love the Broadway show. Yet (unlike some of Disney's later theatrical productions) while the costumes, sets and effects are gorgeous, the show feels very much like a straight adaptation of the film (with a few new songs added).  Like the kind you would have found at Disneyland (Not that there's anything wrong with that for Disney's first theatrical venture!).

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum
I've talked about how this show has one of the greatest opening numbers in Broadway history.  And as Stephen Sondheim's first show as both composer and lyricist, it served as an appetizer for the career he would have.  This one was hard to knock off the top 25, but not as painful as the one below.

How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
This was the most painful cut of all.  My dad is still mad at me over this (He's still speaking to me, he's just a little miffed!).  This Pulitzer Prize-winning satiric powerhouse was beloved in my house.  Yet as some new shows have debuted in my lifetime (particularly in the last 10-15 years), shows fall by the wayside.  So consider this brilliant piece of theatre Miss Congeniality!  Plus watch Harry Potter dance up a storm in the most recent revival!

Now, these next 5 shows are enormously popular in different circles of theatre "geeks" (i.e. critics, fans, crazy people, etc.).  Yet each of these shows while I love them for their accomplishments and even enjoy them from time to time, there is just some aspect of it that bothers me.  And even though they might bother me, there's some strange part of me that can't resist liking (or even loving!) them.  I can't help it, I love to hate them yet I hate that I love them.  So from 5 to 1 (1 being the show that bugs me the most!):

5. Spring Awakening
I may be incurring the wrath of many a teenage fangirl with this placement, but I probably already incurred that wrath the first time I bad-mouthed Twilight!  But the obsessive love that the teen crowd seems to have for this well-written youthful Musical is what turns me off it.  The fact that it launched Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff's careers is a plus in its favor (despite what the Glee haters out there say!).

4. South Pacific
The Broadway gods will curse me for this one but Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winner has a very un-entertaining plot.  The score is absolutely brilliant (of course!), yet the fact that it is based on James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific stories just doesn't do it for me (even though Hammerstein's libretto explores and confronts prejudice in ways the theatre never did before).  Despite that, the songs are amazing especially when performed by the likes of Mary Martin, Kelli O'Hara or Glenn Close.

3. Annie
You had to grow up in the 1980s to understand this.  I mean, the song "Tomorrow" was everywhere.  And if you were a kid interested in Musical, Annie was the predominant choice for children's theatre.  Yet there is something about that precocious little redhead that audiences can't resist.  The show is getting another major revival on Broadway and there are the talks about Willow Smith "whipping her hair" into the role in a film remake.

2. Cats
When it overtook A Chorus Line as the longest running Broadway show, it was an event (until Phantom surpassed it 8 years later!).  And Andrew Lloyd Webber's score is complex and masterful (much like his other shows!).  However, how the hell did this show become such a phenomenon?!?!  As much as I appreciate the music and the athletic choreography, I occasionally find myself agreeing with the naysayers and wondering why this show worked (my uncle has asked me on 5 separate occasions and I still have no answer for him!).

1. Grease
This Musical qualifies as my guilty pleasure, meaning I'm to admit that I enjoy it (or at least some of it!).  And I really shouldn't be, there are tons of theatre geeks like me who love this show and are not embarrassed one bit about it.  However, this show annoys me.  And I hate that I like the fact that it annoys me!  Maybe that's what the creators of the original show meant to do, annoy the audiences into to loving them.

So maybe I have surprised a few of you Broadway fans out there.  I maybe I'll surprise you even more later this week with what shows ARE in my top 25.  And just FOR THE RECORD: I thought Damn Yankees was damn fun; I love Camelot and I even love Spamalot; I find the scores for Company, Carousel and Jesus Christ Superstar intricate, exciting and thrilling (respectively); I'm just crazy for Crazy For You; And there's nothing like the helicopter of Miss Saigon or the Fosse magic of Pippin; plus I just enjoy the hell out a good Rocky Horror Time Warp.  Yet NONE of the shows I just mentioned are in my top 25.  Come back later this week to know more!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: Dying Is Easy...Comedy Is Hard

With the new Fall Season looming, I of course have various thoughts on the new crop of shows the major networks are offering the public.  Some of the Dramas look interesting (Elementary, Last Resort, Nashville), some of them look ho-hum (The Mob Doctor, half of The CW's new shows), others are more in the middle (Revolution, Vegas, Chicago Fire) and others look downright awful (666 Park Avenue, Made In Jersey, the other half of the The CW's new shows).

But the real issue I'm having trouble with this Fall is the new batch of Sitcoms four of the major networks are giving us.  Let's face it: the Sitcom is dying.  While shows like Modern Family, Parks and Recreation and The Big Bang Theory are trying their hardest to save the art form from its life support status, cable shows and network "dramedies" are definitely changing the face of TV Comedy.  Which is why it saddens me that with 9 new Sitcoms premiering on Broadcast TV this Fall, only about a third of them look like they have the potential to be the next 30 Rock (which is sadly saying "Goodbye" to us after this year!).  And believe me when I just say "have the potential."  Based on what I've seen, even the ones that can be called "Good" have a long way to go before they reach the status Tina Fey's gem has.  So today, I want to take you through the 9 new Sitcoms and give you my first impressions of them based on their trailers, network promotions and (in some cases) their first episodes (5 of the new Comedies have their pilots available on and I will let you know which ones!).

Let's start with CBS!
Premieres: September 24
Regular Time Slot: Mondays at 8:30 PM
Premise: Two friends/business partners, one straight and the other gay, are closer with each other than with their significant others (in other words, a bro-mance!).
Impressions: If this seems like familiar territory for a Sitcom, it certainly is for its creators: Dave Kohan and Max Mutchnick, the minds behind Will & Grace (who have had a close friendship ever since they wrote for Seinfeld and Friends).  The cast seems likable: Numb3rs' David Krumholtz and Ugly Betty's Michael Urie play the best buds; while One Tree Hill's Sophia Bush and Superman Returns star Brandon Routh play their respective significant others.  And it seems like it will fit in with CBS' other hits like The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother and last year's break-out 2 Broke Girls.  Yet there is something about this show that just seems like "Been there, done that."  It is basically Will & Grace, where "Grace" has been changed to "Greg."  It could pass for decent, however it could really tank.  It's on a delicate precipice.
Grade: B-/C+

That's it for CBS' new Sitcom (yes they only have one new Sitcom!). Let's move on to ABC!
The Neighbors
Premieres: September 26
Regular Time Slot: Wednesdays at 8:30 PM
Premise: A typical suburban family is thrown for a loop when they realize their seemingly nice new neighbors are space aliens.
Impressions: This just looks horrible.  It looks like a bad version of a bad 1980s Sitcom (like a bad version of ALF, which is odd because I always thought ALF was the bad version of ALF!).  It even stars Square Pegs' Jami Gertz!  Maybe this IS a bad 1980s Sitcom!  Wait a minute...has Disney finally perfected Time Travel?!?!  It certainly seems that way!
Grade: D

Malibu Country
Premieres: November 2
Regular Time Slot: Fridays at 8:30 PM
Premise: Country superstar Reba McEntire plays a country singer who, after a divorce, moves her family from Nashville to Southern California (and the SPOILER is her character's name: Reba!).
Impressions: As much as I like Reba McEntire and her forays into "acting" (her turn on Broadway as Annie Oakley earned her well-deserved raves!), she never seems to be able to play any character that isn't a variation of herself.  And while I found her previous Sitcom quite charming (it's becoming more and more popular in Cable syndication!), this one should just be titled Reba in L.A. or Reba Takes On Hollywood or some variation that involves Reba and the Greater Los Angeles area.  We'll have to wait until November to see if this show can survive.  On a side note: It is always great to see the brilliant Lily Tomlin.  And Sara Rue and Jai Rodriguez are each charming enough to get some laughs and attention.  I will say Reba has an eye for getting good co-stars (more on that later!).
Grade: C

From the House of Mouse to the House that Rupert built, next up is FOX!
Ben and Kate
Premieres: September 25
Regular Time Slot: Tuesdays at 8:30 PM
Premise: The title characters are brother and sister.  They have a bond that no one (including their quirky behavior) can break.
Impressions: Initially, when I saw the trailers back in May, this was the show I wanted to root for and wanted to like.  It's trailer isn't overwhelmingly impressive, but its premise is the most intriguing.  I have yet to watch the full pilot, but I have seen plenty of clips.  And overall, it seems like the show will ultimately be Kate (the extremely likable Dakota Johnson) meeting wrong guy after wrong guy week after week; while her clownish, irresponsible brother Ben (a somewhat hilarious Nate Faxon) ineptly tries to care for her wise-beyond-her-years young daughter (We Bought a Zoo's adorable Maggie Elizabeth Jones).  I have hopes, but they could easily be dashed.  Airing between FOX hits Raising Hope and New Girl certainly couldn't hurt!
Grade: B-

The Mindy Project
Premieres: September 25
Regular Time Slot: Tuesdays at 9:30 PM
Premise: The Office supporting player Mindy Kaling steps into the spotlight as a top doctor whose love life needs the kind of work she puts into her career.
Impressions: Of all the new Sitcoms, this is the ones the critics say to watch.  I have seen half of the pilot and she certainly is a star.  Yet I am getting this strange "Déjà vu" feeling.  It feels like when they offered her this Sitcom, they told her they wanted to see her as a Meg Ryan-ish Ally McBeal type.  And that genre has never really thrilled me (though I initially adored Ally McBeal back in its first few years and When Harry Met Sally... is still rightfully lauded as a hallmark of the genre!).  If this Sitcom is to be a hit, it will have to be on the shoulders of its Grade A star (who honestly was one of the best parts of The Office over the last few years!).  And it is possible, FOX was able to do it last year with New Girl and its Emmy-nominated star Zooey Deschanel!  Maybe some of that magic can rub off on Mindy (let's hope!).
Grade: B

Both shows' pilots are available for viewing on
And lastly, the network with the most new Sitcoms this Fall: NBC!
Go On
Premieres: September 11
Regular Time Slot: Tuesdays at 9 PM
Premise: Matthew Perry stars a sports radio show host who, after the loss of his wife, must attend several hours of group therapy.
Impressions: After watching the pilot in August (NBC gave a sneak peek during the Olympics!), I can safely say that this new show has the most impressive cast of the Fall season.  In addition to Perry (who hasn't had a TV hit since a little show called Friends!), the therapy group features Tony-winners Laura Benanti and Julie White, Everybody Hates Chris' Tyler James Williams (who is growing into a really good actor!) and always delightful character actors Suzy Nakamura and Bill Cobbs.  Harold and Kumar's John Cho has a small supporting role as Perry's sarcastic and bottom-line boss.  This show has the most potential of all the Sitcoms this Fall, which means it will probably get cancelled before it can really develop.
Grade: B+

The New Normal
Premieres: September 11
Regular Time Slot: Tuesdays at 9:30 PM
Premise: From Glee creator Ryan Murphy, a gay couple enlists the help of a single mother to expand their family.
Impressions: Ryan Murphy has proven he is good at launching an interesting series (Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story and, of course, Glee).  It's just that once you get passed the usual excellent first episodes, the bloom comes off the rose faster than you can say let's do a Led Zeppelin and Barbra Streisand Mash-Up!  The cast (which includes National Treasure's hilarious Justin Bartha, The Book of Mormon star Andrew Rannells and the amazing Ellen Barkin) is certainly not something to overlook.  And the characters seem like typical Murphy-like characters (Barkin is like a richer, snobbier version of Sue Sylvester, if that exists!).  However, Murphy likes to get message-y.  Glee has become a referendum on teen bullying and expressing who you are (and why it makes you special!).  This show seems to be along the lines of what defines a family and all children need is love to grow into the best they can be.  We've heard all this before, yet in an Election year where both parties are putting "family values" on the table, it seems like we all need to hear it more often.
Grade: B-

Guys With Kids
Premieres: September 12
Regular Time Slot: Wednesdays at 8:30 PM
Premise: The title pretty much says it all.  It's about fathers and their daily life as dads.
Impressions: This Jimmy Fallon-produced show has a few things going in its favor.  It's a Family Sitcom in a day and age where not many of those exist.  It features the very likable Anthony Anderson alongside blast-from-the-past Tempest Bledsoe (Vanessa from The Cosby Show) as his loving and patient wife.  However, in 2012, playing with the "Guy taking the Mommy role" stereotype just comes off as un-appealing.  If this were back in the 1980s, on the heels of the Feminist movement, it might have had a fighting chance.  But here we are in the 21st Century and: Yes, men can be responsible Fathers without looking like complete and utter morons.  But what can I expect from the same company that idolizes Jimmy Fallon?
Grade: C-

Animal Practice
Premieres: September 26
Regular Time Slot: Wednesdays at 8 PM
Premise: Weeds' Justin Kirk stars as a House-like veterinarian who loves animals but just can't stand people (maybe PETA can sponsor the show!).
Impressions: What can you say about a show where a theatrically trained, Emmy-nominated actor gets to recite one-liners to a character named Dr. Monkey?!?!  Not even the very charming Joanna Garcia-Swisher (who co-starred on Reba as McEntire's cheerleader daughter!) can save this train wreck.  But as I like both Kirk and Garcia-Swisher (and the sneak peek had great ratings the night of the Olympics Closing Ceremonies!), this show might have a chance of making it through a full season before it gets chopped next May.
Grade: D+

Both Go On and Animal Practice aired their pilots during the Summer Olympics, so they are available on  NBC has also made The New Normal pilot available on Hulu.

There you have it.  The new Sitcoms that the major networks hope will help save the dying genre.  I don't know what that says about Audience taste or Network standards, but it definitely feels like there is some apathy in the air.  I guess that old saying is true: Dying is easy, its Comedy that is hard!