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.

It’s Not Too Late to See Beautiful The Carole King Musical

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Nostalgic! Inspiring! Energetic! Just a few adjectives that come to mind after seeing the first national Broadway tour of Beautiful The Carole King Musical.

Rebecca LaChance, in the role of Carole King, is flawless. My God, some big shoes to step into! Jessie Mueller, who won a Tony Award for her performance in the original cast, has to be thrilled that the role on the road has been filled with the same gusto and grace.

This Jukebox musical works better than any I’ve seen. The sets and the scene changes, which are critical to the story, flow effortlessly.

If Ben Frankhauser, in the role of Barry Mann, doesn’t have a comedy gig on the side, he’s missing out on a lot of dollars. He and his hard to get wife, Cynthia Weil (played by Becky Gulsvig), are a match made in heaven. Their comic timing is spot on, as is their vocal talent.

Gerry Goffin (played by Liam Tobin), is accurately portrayed as a charming conflicted soul—sometimes you want to hug him and other times you want to shoot him. Indeed, Mr. Tobin has a great set of pipes.

At times, ensembles can be ignored throughout the theatre community. Not in this show! Each member is a unique thread in a beautifully crafted tapestry.

Rochester is a lucky city. Think about it. Beautiful is still on Broadway. The first national Broadway tour just left Chicago where it was planted for several months. And, in the very near future, it is scheduled to be in LA for an extended run. The arts are strong in Rochester—that is known throughout the country, which is why it gets shows like Beautiful The Carole King Musical.

Don’t miss this masterpiece, especially if you’re a fan of Carole King. You really will laugh and cry, and you certainly will enjoy heading down memory lane.

Beautiful The Carole King Musical is at RBTL’s Auditorium Theatre through March 13th. Tickets and information are available at RBTL.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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“The Road To Where” with Broadway Veteran Cass Morgan

Host Robert Hammond and Broadway veteran Cass Morgan  discussed The Road to Where, a new musical that makes its world premiere at Geva Theatre Center April 23 through May 10. A couple of songs from the show debuted on Stage Notes.

With the help of two talented musicians, writer, Actor, and singer Cass Morgan searches for her roots in The Road to Where. A trip to the West of Ireland sparks memories of her childhood in Rochester, her growing up in a Florida trailer park, and a need to reconcile with her parents in an enchanting evening of story and song.

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cass_morgan_pic-220x276CASS MORGAN is thrilled to be back at Geva, this time as both actor and writer. Broadway credits include The Bridges of Madison County, Memphis, Mary Poppins, Ring Of Fire, Beauty and the Beast, The Capeman, The Human Comedy, Pump Boys and Dinettes (co-creator) and Hair. Off-Broadway credits include The Immigrant, Floyd  Collins and Violet. Regionally. Ms. Morgan has appeared in 1776, Picnic, The Bridges of Madison County (Williamstown), Uncle Vanya, Saint- Ex (Weston Playhouse), The Music Man (Geva),Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas (Goodspeed), Cabaret, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Das Barbecue (Baltimore Centre Stage) and Children Of Eden (Mill Mountain Playhouse). But her favorite role is Mom to Collin and Jocelyn, and Nana to Magdalena and Abigail.

LLDuring  this edition of Stage Notes, Hammond also featured the Lotte Lenya Competition, to be held Saturday, April 18 at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Among songs from Kurt Weill’s catalog, Doug Carpenter, winner in 2013, sings “Molasses to Rum,” from the musical 1776.

Fourteen exceptionally talented singer-actors from the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany have been selected as finalists in the 2015 Lotte Lenya Competition, held annually by the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music. They will compete for top prizes of $15,000, $10,000 and $7,500 on Saturday, April 18, 2015, at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Broadway leading lady and Tony Award nominee Rebecca Luker, British opera and musical theater conductor James Holmes, and Rodgers & Hammerstein President and American Theatre Wing Vice-Chairman Theodore S. Chapin will judge.

Now in its 17th year, the Lotte Lenya Competition is an international theater singing contest that recognizes talented young singer-actors, ages 19-32, who are dramatically and musically convincing in a wide range of repertoire, from opera and operetta to contemporary Broadway musicals, with a focus on the works of Kurt Weill.

Rebecca Luker, who judges for the fifth time this year, said of the contest, “There is no other singing competition quite like it. The Lotte Lenya competitor must have it all: acting and singing chops from a wide variety of theatrical and musical realms and also that certain something—charisma, star-quality, call it what you will—that puts them above all others. It’s always extremely difficult to pick only a handful of winners from a group that is always wholly excellent.”

Finalists were selected from a group of twenty-eight semi-finalists from the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom after auditions in New York on March 13-14, 2015. Contestants were required to prepare four selections: an aria from the opera or operetta repertoire; two songs from the American musical theater repertoire (one from the pre-1968 “Golden Age” and one from 1968 or later); and a theatrical selection by Kurt Weill. Drama Desk nominated singer, actor, and voice teacher Judy Blazer and Broadway music director and conductor Andy Einhorn served as adjudicator/coaches, evaluating and working with each of the semi-finalists.

The 2015 finalists, ranging in age this year from 23 to 31, are: Robin Bailey (London, UK), Jordan Davidson (New York, USA), Adam Fieldson (Nebraska, USA), Briana Silvie Gantsweg (California, USA), Anthony Heinemann (Missouri, USA), Talya Lieberman (Ohio, USA), Carter Lynch (Maryland, USA), Michael Maliakel (New Jersey, USA), Lauren Michelle (California, USA), Florian Peters (Köln, Germany), Katherine Riddle (Maryland, USA), Jim Schubin (Colorado, USA), Annie Sherman (Maryland, USA), and Christine Cornish Smith (Texas, USA).

Finalists will perform their entire programs for the judges on Saturday, April 18 between 11 am and 3:30 pm. At 8 pm, they will perform a concert of selections which will conclude with the announcement of the winners. Both events are free and open to the public, and will take place in Kilbourn Hall at the Eastman School of Music, 26 Gibbs Street, Rochester, N.Y.

Since the inception of the Lotte Lenya Competition in 1998, the Kurt Weill Foundation has awarded over $600,000 in prize money to young performers and continues to support previous winners through professional development grants. Previous winners enjoy successful stage, concert, and recording careers around the globe. Their 2014-15 credits range from Broadway (Lauren Worsham [Tony nominee], Amy Justman, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder; Analisa Leaming, On the Twentieth Century; Kyle Scatliffe, Les Misérables), National Tours (Cooper Grodin, Katie Travis, Amy Justman, The Phantom of the Opera; Doug Carpenter, Dirty Dancing; Maria Failla, Evita; Jacob Keith Watson, Chicago), and regional theaters (Erik Liberman, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, La Jolla Playhouse and Paper Mill Playhouse; Ariela Morgenstern, Next to Normal, Baltimore Center Stage) to major opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera (Ginger Costa-Jackson), San Francisco Opera (Matthew Grills), Los Angeles Opera (Liam Bonner, Jonathan Michie, Lauren Worsham), Glimmerglass Festival (Ben Edquist, Maren Weinberger), Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and English National Opera (Noah Stewart), Deutsche Oper Berlin (Edward Mout), Oper Frankfurt (Elizabeth Reiter), Dutch National Opera (Rebecca Jo Loeb), and Théâtre Royal de La Monnaie (Justin Hopkins). Concert highlights include Sweeney Todd (Zachary James, Justin Lee Miller) and Show Boat (Lauren Worsham) with the New York Philharmonic and the upcoming U.S. premiere of The Road of Promise, a concert adaptation of Kurt Weill and Franz Werfel’s The Eternal Road (Justin Hopkins, Megan Marino) with The Collegiate Chorale and Orchestra of St. Luke’s on May 6-7 at Carnegie Hall.

About the Kurt Weill Foundation

The Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, Inc. (http://www.kwf.org) is dedicated to promoting understanding of the life and works of composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950) and preserving the legacies of Weill and his wife, actress-singer Lotte Lenya (1898-1981). The Foundation administers the Weill-Lenya Research Center, a Grant Program, the Kurt Weill Book Prize and the Lotte Lenya Competition, and publishes the Kurt Weill Edition and the Kurt Weill Newsletter.

Happy Birthday, Ronnie Kroell (The King of Peace)

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“Birthday Song” by Carole King

Happy Birthday
Celebrate your day in style
Happy Birthday
Tonight I want to see you smile
Your whole life is in front of you, you’ve only just begun
So Happy Birthday
The best is yet to come

Happy Birthday to you
The good things I could say about you are infinite
But I will only take a minute
To say the world is a better place with you in it
With you in it

Happy Birthday
You know just how to be
Happy Birthday
I’m glad you’re you with me
To know you is to love you, to love you is to be blessed
So Happy Birthday
You deserve the best

Every time I ever reach out for you
You never let me down
Any time you’re ever in need of a friend
I will always be around

Happy Birthday
You are everything that’s good
You are everything that matters
I would give you the world if I could
You will always be a part of me and all that I go through
So Happy Birthday, dear friend
May all your dreams come true
Happy birthday to you