Happy Birthday, Mr. Sondheim

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Described by Frank Rich of The New York Times as “Now the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theater,” Stephen Sondheim turned 86 on March 22.  Stage Notes host Robert Hammond paid tribute to the musical genius. Full program now available on demand.

Some of his best-known works as composer and lyricist include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Sunday in the Park with George, and Into the Woods. He wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy.

A Broadway Easter Celebration

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Join Host Robert Hammond (full program below) as he examines how religion influences musical theatre. The Book of Mormon is one of Broadway’s biggest box-office hits – recently there have been revivals of Christian-themed musicals — Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar.  The revival of the revival of the revival (well, you get the picture!) of Les Miserables is still open on the Great White Way! The current revival closes in September.  easterAmong others, Fiddler on the Roof and Spring Awakening are steeped with religious undertones. It’s probably fair to say that the theater has seen the way of the Lord. Has someone been putting sacrament in the water? Or have playwrights just gotten in touch with their devout or devoutly satirical sides?

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I’m Pinocchio

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Today’s Stage Notes was prerecorded. If you read this and then go to the second and final performance of Broadway Rocks, the first Pops concert music director Ward Stare has conducted in Rochester, you’ll think I was a bit hyperbolic.  Don’t get me wrong, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra was fantastic, especially the rhythm section, which is vitally important to a concert like Broadway Rocks, but overall the concert fell flat. I had higher expectations.

The main problem could have been the sound, particularly during the first act – it was muffled. From the Loge, I could barely hear the guest soloists and the choir from Roberts Wesleyan College.

The repertoire was outstanding—some of the biggest Broadway hits, including songs from Wicked, Hairspray, Jersey Boys, and The Phantom of the Opera were performed.

Before the concert, I knew little about Capathia Jenkins. She is all that and more! She brought down the house with her renditions of “And I’m Telling You I’m not Going” from Dreamgirls and “I will Survive.” She and the RPO are what make this concert worth attending.

Another guest vocalist, Rob Evan, could have survived without amplification. His highlights were Dennis DeYoung’s (lead singer from Styx) song “Come Sail Away” and “The Music of the Night,” from The Phantom of The Opera. His voice is strong; however, he could use a stylist.

I’ve seen guest vocalist Christiane Noll on Broadway and at Eastman. In general, I’ve been impressed. This concert is not suited for her. She seemed uncomfortable on stage. That’s not dancing, Sally! (Seinfeld reference.) She decimated a song that should have elevated the concert, “Defying Gravity.” Although the choir would have drowned her vocals out, I’m not sure why they weren’t included at the songs conclusion to proclaim “no one mourns the wicked.” Noll’s voice is pretty, as proved during the Theme from The Phantom of The Opera, but she’s no rocker.

Ward Stare’s forte is Classical conducting – last night he proved he’s a Pops pro, too. Rochester is lucky to have him. Please let me know when he conducts the RPO and the Capathia Jenkins show. I’ll be there.

Broadway Rocks is on stage in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre tonight at 8 PM. Tickets and information at RPO.org.

Stage Notes Rocks Out with Ward Stare

Ward-StareMaestro Wards Stare, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director, joined host Robert Hammond in studio  at WXXI to talk about the RPO’s upcoming concerts, Broadway Rocks. Stage Notes did indeed rock out with songs from Wicked, Rent, The Phantom of the Opera, Hairspray, and more. Full program available on demand below.

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Stare is likable and knowledgeable. You’ll enjoy the lightness of the conversation, especially the life stories he shares. His story about the famous Styx song “Come Sail Away” is a highlight. Sit back and listen to a special rockin’ edition of Stage Notes. Remember to follow Stage notes on Twitter @stagenotes, and like our page on  Facebook.

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That’s a Show Tune?

POP aSpread the word!!  Stage Notes is officially bi-coastal beginning Sunday (9/7) at 6 PM (PST) on KWXY 107.3, The Sound of the Desert in Palm Springs, California. I’m thrilled Stage Notes will be a part of KWXY’s fantastic programming.  Live stream at KWXY.com. 

Some of Broadway’s best show tunes are not just heard on the stage.There are some that really stand out, permeating pop culture, touching a nerve, and inspiring even the shyest to belt the lyrics.  Crooners  from the Rat Pack, Rosemary Clooney, and Tony Bennett would warble their own versions of top tunes from current shows and all of America would listen to them on the airwaves.  Join host Robert Hammond for this week’s Stage Notes.  He’ll feature some of Broadway’s best “pop” songs.

In the 1960s Broadway took a backseat to rock groups as teenagers dominated record sales. The Beatles recorded a memorable version of “Till There Was You” from The Music Man and Louis Armstrong’s Dixieland spin on “Hello, Dolly” was a hit, but the theater was no longer a major player in the record industry. Today the trend is changing with songs from Les Meserables, The Phantom of the Opera, and Wicked seeping into the mainstream through TV shows like Glee and American Idol.

Follow Robert on Twitter @stagenotes

Stage Notes Celebrates LGBT Pride Month

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Follow Stage Notes on Twitter @stagenotes. Now, on with the show…

playbill-supports-gay-pride-665x385 Is The Great White Way Gay?

A good friend of mine was in a lead role in a blockbuster musical on Broadway. After the Saturday evening performance, it was customary for the cast and crew to chill out at what they called “their place.”  Since I was a frequent attendee, I became an honoree part of the group.   On one such night, I asked my friend “is —- gay.” He responded: “Robert, on Broadway you don’t ask if a person is gay, you ask if they’re straight.”

For certain, I knew about the stereotypes and flamboyancy that often surrounds theatre people, but I had not developed such a hard core syllogism:  If you’re in theatre you must be gay.  I don’t believe that.  However, I do believe that the theatre is a safe haven for many LGBT people, especially gay men.

I was thrilled that Dr. Allan O’Grady Cuseo joined me on this important edition of Stage Notes.  Broadcast date June 21, 2014.  Take time to read his impressive bio:

allan_ogrady_cuseo-170x213Dr. Allan O’Grady Cuseo earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1988. He also holds a Masters in Library Science from SUNY/Geneseo and a BS in Education from SUNY/GENESEO.  He holds a Master of Theology from St. Bernard’s College of Theology and Ministry plus a certificate in Scriptural Studies from Education for Ministry from Sewanee. He holds a certificate in Irish Theatre from the University College, Galway Ireland.

Dr. Cuseo was Building Leader for Library Services at Greece Arcadia High School and was instrumental in establishing the Project Pride, a student teaching, program there. He was on the adjunct faculty of Nazareth College of Rochester for over 25 years and 10 years for the School of Library Science at UB/SUNY’s School of Information and Library Science. He was on the adjunct faculty of the now closed Graduate School of Information and Library Science, SUNY/GENESEO. Allan resigned as Director of Library Services for Bishop Kearney High School in June 2009. He is currently General Manager of the Rochester Association of Performing Arts/Main Street (RAPA).

As a member of the American Library Association he has served as chairperson for the Outstanding Books for College Bound (Fine Arts) Revision Committee and has been a member of the Outstanding Books for College Bound (Fiction) Committee and the School Library Journal/Young Adult Services Division Committee to choose the Young Adult Author of the Year Award. He was awarded a position on the Best Books for Young   Adults, one of 15 librarians nationwide so honored. He was the Chair of the Religion Committee for the Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults Committee of the Young Adult Services Association of the American Library Association. He also was Chair of Books That Don’t Make you Blush for the same committee. He recently resigned as a major book reviewer for Catholic Library World magazine.

For his volunteer work with the City of Rochester PAC-TAC program he has been awarded merit honors for his service as Security chairperson for the Corn Hill Neighbors Association (CHNA). He served on the Board of Directors of CHNA and on the Corn Hill Arts Festival Executive Board. He has been the Chairperson of Security for the famous Corn Hill Arts Festival for 26 years.

He was President of Blackfriars Theatre of Rochester, New York, having served as President of the Board of Directors for over 40 years. For 7 years he was President of the Rochester City Ballet, the city’s only professional ballet company. He has served on the Planning Committee for the Right-On Summer School for the Church of St. Luke and St. Simon Cyrene, Chairperson of the Evangelism Committee, Co-chairperson of the Ambassadors ministry, and a member of the Christian Education Committee. He was on the church’s vestry and serves as a delegate for the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester. He was a member of the planning committee for the Lay School of Theology (Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Wellspring.

Dr. Cuseo has lectured and offered over 200 workshops nationwide for the New York Library Association and the American Library Association. Allan O’Grady Cuseo, PhD has a Doctorate in Literary Analysis from Columbia University. Formerly a librarian for the Greece Central School District, Dr. Cuseo retired June 2009 as Director of Library Services for Bishop Kearney High School.

He began his theatre career as a young teen with the Rochester Community Players and Catholic Theatre of Rochester (later renamed Blackfriars Theatre). He was the co-founder of the Rochester Repertory Company and starred in over 200 children and adult productions. The company specialized in children’s shows and performances for shut-ins in the community.

He is currently Managing Director of the Greater Rochester Repertories Companies  (GRRC) and has  directed Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap twice for them for which the Theatre Association of New York (TANYS) awarded him an Outstanding Director designation. For GRRC’s production of Love Letters he received an award from TANYS for Excellence in Acting.

Professionally in New York City he was a member of the Jewish Theatre for Children and also performed in Macy’s Christmas shows. He did summer stock at the famous Theatre-by-the-Sea in Matunuk, Rhode Island. He has worked on tour, both on-stage and technically,  with Debbie Reynolds, Imogene Coca, Judy Garland, Kim Hunter, Patrice Munsel, Patty Duke, John Astin, Godfrey Cambridge, Hans Conried, Lou Jacobi, and Jane Connell.

It has been estimated that he has been in over 400 theatre productions. In a review in Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle it was said of Allan that “he has the most perfect comedy timing of anyone in Rochester Theatre.” Another review stated, “he walks on stage and the audience immediately loves him. He is pure magic on stage.”

Allan is a vowed religious brother of the Mercy of God Community, known as Br. Allan. In 2011 he was ordained by Open Ministry.

Twitter Crashed, Travolta tanked, Idina soars, and Ellen Rules! An Oscar Recap on “Stage Notes”

selfie-413x233Broadway was represented in full-force at this year’s Academy Awards! Although John Travolta decimated the pronunciation of her name, Tony Award winner (Elphaba in Wicked) Idina Menzel, did the Great White Way proud with her performance of “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen.  Broadway songwriter (The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q) Robert Lopez not only won his first Academy Award but also became one of only 12 EGOTs — people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony.  A full Stage Notes recap with host Robert Hammond  is just a click away.

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