“So You Think You Can Dance” is returning for season 14 to the 18-30 age group with an old friend of the show’s back in the mix: Mary Murphy.
“We’re putting people on the Hot Tamale Train!” an exuberant Nigel Lythgoe commented on my radio show last Friday. The show’s co-creator and judge called from Los Angeles in what is now seemingly an annual tradition after the competition’s renewal. “I’ve got to say, I’ve supported Mary. I’ve got a great chemistry with Mary that I love. She can beat me up and hurt me and I can be rude to her, and that’s all part of the fun of the show.”
Both Lythgoe and Murphy were in Brooklyn earlier this month for auditions alongside Vanessa Hudgens, the former Disney star who as of late saw herself star both on Broadway and in “Grease: Live”.
“She’s just the triple-threat,” gushed Lythgoe about Hudgens. “They can act, they can sing, they can dance. Therefore for a start, they recognize the amount of work that goes in to being a great performer, and number two the talent that is required.”
The former “American Idol” producer was pleased with the talent he saw in Brooklyn, going as far as to make a rather bold prediction.
“I would suggest, and I’m not going to name names, that one of the kids we saw there is going to be the overall winner,” Lythgoe said. “There was a young man there that was outstanding.”
There have only been two other contestants that made Lythgoe feel that way: Carrie Underwood and Season 11 “Dance” winner Ricky Ubeda. Not a bad group to join.
To say I struggled with this article would be a bit of an understatement, but perhaps after I write this I’ll simply “let it go.”
Last Wednesday I found myself blinded by the lights of Times Square to cover a red carpet with “Frozen” star Idina Menzel. The songstress made a name for herself under those lights, rising to stardom thanks to her roles in the Broadway productions of “Rent” and “Wicked.” She took home a Tony Award for the latter.
Menzel returned to Gotham to promote the movie “Beaches,” a remake of the 1988 classic, which aired last Saturday night on Lifetime. The network held a screening for the film at the AMC Empire 25 Theater on 42nd Street. The reboot also starred Nia Long, who reprised the role of Hillary while Menzel took on Bette Midler’s character C.C.
When Menzel stepped on to the red carpet inside the building, she first spoke with E! News about the film and her fiancé. Lifetime’s social media crew followed up by recording a “tune-in” message from the actress. My spot on the carpet was next to theirs, but Menzel’s publicists herded the remaining members of the media in to a half-circle, where none of us would get one-on-ones and instead we’d be asking the singer questions press conference-style.
This isn’t my first rodeo so at this point I’m not the slightest bit annoyed, even after said-publicists tells us that we can only ask questions about the movie.
But we’re in New York. Menzel was born in Queens. So what was it like for her to be back in the city?
“I’m a New York girl, so it’s nice,” she responded. “I got my apartment here and there’s no food in the refrigerator. So I’m hungry but I’m happy.”
I followed up by inquiring what the first thing that came to her mind was when she returned to Broadway.
“OK, questions about the movie right here!” shouted Menzel’s publicist, who then gently scooted the singer away from me and towards the other members of the media, most of whom were probably awaiting with baited breath to ask the same, tired questions that Menzel has already answered a million times.
Here’s the ironic portion of the ordeal: Menzel is a Tony Award-winning performer who rose to prominence in part due to “Rent” and “Wicked.” In the movie that her publicist required we ask questions about, she plays Midler’s role.
Yes, Bette Midler: a Tony Award-winning actress who began her own rise to prominence thanks to roles in “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Salvation.”
Maybe the publicist missed the connection? Maybe she didn’t care? Maybe she’s never going back, because the past is in the past?
Regardless, the cold shoulder never bothered me anyways.
It is no secret that “Hamilton” is still Broadway’s hottest, most-impossible ticket even without its original cast. And Travis Clark, lead singer of We The Kings, makes no secret of his successful ploy that ended up landing him far beyond the original intent of simply watching the show live.
“I was like, ‘Hey if we cover this song, maybe like somebody would hear it and then we could get tickets,’” Clark explained to me recently. The song he took aim at was “The Story Of Tonight,” a reoccurring theme in the production. “So I cover the song. I literally play it for about two days in my studio. Our version is much different than Manuel-Miranda’s.”
After all, “Hamilton” fuses Broadway musicals with hip-hop and a history lesson. We The Kings is a pop-rock band. But Clark’s version found an audience online.
“Somebody sent it to (Manuel-Miranda’s) publicist team,” the front man continued. “And he responded to us and said, ‘Hey, that track is dope. If you’re ever in the city, let me know.’”
That interaction motivated Clark to release the cover as a single. He and his bandmates then traveled to Manhattan, caught the show and linked up afterwards with the cast. But the singer’s relationship to the Tony Award-winning musical didn’t end there. Manuel-Miranda went as far as to tweet a link to the iTunes release of We The Kings’ re-work.
“That was unexpected a little bit,” Clark revealed. “We just wanted his good graces for us to put the song out.”
The singer, noting that We The Kings doesn’t make any money from the sales because it’s not the band’s song, didn’t want to proceed if the Broadway star wasn’t cool with it. Manuel-Miranda went a step further, not only offering the green light but then voluntarily promoting the work as well.
Like many others, Clark gushed about the performance, calling “the absolute best one, by so far” that he’s witnessed. The artist could also relate to the cast members on a professional level.
“I love touring, I love being on the road,” he said. “They play multiple shows a day. That’s tough, man. It’s tough on your voice. There’s so much that I looked up to them and admired them for.”
We The Kings certainly know a thing or two about touring; the band has become a stalwart and the de-facto elder-statesmen on the Vans Warped Tour. Clark and company played the annual festival for their 6th year this past summer.
“We know, like (when younger bands) are like, ‘Hey should we go to catering now?’ We’re like, ‘No, you want to wait an hour.’
“We’re giving people advice, because it’s like their first Warped Tours.”
It’s almost as if Clark is paying back a debt of gratitude he owes to the festival. You might even say it’s quite Hamiltonian of him.
Darren Criss stopped by 95.5 to chat with Ralphie about the upcoming second annual Elsie Fest, taking place this Labor Day on Coney Island at the Ford Amphitheater. In addition to organizing the event, Criss will also perform at it. The former “Glee” star also chatted about his upcoming run on the “Hedwig And The Angry Inch” tour and what his plans are for the rest of the year.
Darren Criss knows this has never been done before, so he is well-aware that it may not work. But he’s betting on the passion of theatergoers and Broadway supporters to make his first ever “Elsie Fest” on Sunday a success.
“Basically what I’m trying to do here is sort of a Warped Tour of musical theater, cabaret tunes,” Criss explained to me in between rehearsals. “Just to kind of take everybody out of the concert hall, ditch the dinner jackets and the ties and kind of trade it for a t-shirt, jeans and a beer.”
For this reason, Criss chose outdoor venue JBL Live at Pier 97 as the inaugural setting. The lineup features the former “Glee” star along with Aaron Tveit (“Graceland,” “Catch Me If You Can”), Lea Salonga (“Mulan,” “Miss Saigon”), Laura Osnes (“Greece,” “Cinderella,”), Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”), Seth Rudetsky and StarKid.
In addition to the announced lineup, Criss teased that a number of surprise guests will be making appearances on stage. The festival is also running opposite Broadway Cares’ Broadway Flea Market (both events benefit the charity). Criss also invited Marie’s Crisis – the historic West Village piano bar – to run the beer garden on site.
The goal, reflecting the spirit of the theater community, is to create an event that everyone feels welcome at. But again, this has never been done before, and its creator is well-aware.
“Well, let’s hope so,” when I noted that there seems to be something at the festival for everyone. “We’re going to find out.”
Criss said at the beginning of our conversation that he was simply trying to keep his head screwed on to his body. In addition to creating and performing at a brand new festival, the actor is currently filming “American Horror Story: Hotel.”
“Not only do you get to be around Kathy Bates and Lady Gaga but it’s also, you walk on set and it’s this crazy looking set with all of these people in crazy looking outfits,” he explained. “You just can’t help but be swept up by the whole thing.”
Surely to fans’ delight, Criss does share scenes with Gaga.
“But not as many as I like,” he added with a laugh. Perhaps he had a hard time keeping his head screwed on after all.
The 67th annual Tony Awards enjoyed some added star power this year. Tom Hanks, Steven Van Zandt, Cyndi Lauper, Scarlett Johansson, and Jake Gyllenhaal were in attendance, all either returning to or making their Broadway debut in some capacity this past season. The show, hosted again by actor Neil Patrick Harris, saw its highest ratings since 2009.
He’s flying from coast to coast – filming a new movie, “Inkubus” in the east, appearing on “Dancing with the Stars” out west. He just welcomed a second child in to his life. This summer he is preparing for a two week run of “The Producers” in Pittsburgh – on top of countless other appearances and hosting commitments.
Yet somewhere in between all of this, Joey Fatone is finding the time to go back to his roots and launch a solo music career. “Radio” is his first single, and the evening before it hit iTunes, the former ‘N Sync member somehow spared 10 minutes to check in to “The Ralphie Radio Show.”
“It’s been a crazy month of May for me,” Fatone said, arguably a rather large understatement. “It’s been unreal, and I count my blessings every day.”
‘N Sync released its debut, self-titled album 12 years ago. From 1998 to 2003, the group sold 56 million albums worldwide – a number that sounds and reads unfathomable in this day and age. After the boy band disbanded – Justin Timberlake and J.C. Chasez pursued separate music careers. Lance Bass unsuccessfully attempted to launch in to space, before revealing he was gay in 2006. Chris Kirkpatrick hosted a morning radio show and appeared in a couple reality TV programs.
And if you were looking for Fatone, you didn’t need to look any further than the closest screen or stage – because the baritone singer decided he’d pursue everything that didn’t involve recording an album and touring.
“I did ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’, and then I went off and did Broadway for a while,” noted Fatone, who appeared in “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Rent.” “And then I was spending time with my wife and my kid, and then I just finally had another kid recently.”
Fatone cites the birth of his second daughter as the reason he backed out of the spotlight – focusing on his family after “Dancing with the Stars” and his various hosting credits, which include the TV Guide Network. Now he’s back on the road – wrapping up his current film, a horror flick in which he stars alongside Robert Englund – the original Freddy Krueger, before the end of the month. Despite the constant activity in his life, Fatone believes the timing is right to return to music. —
Part 1: New movie, Return to “Dancing with the Stars”
Part 2: Solo album plans, possible Justin collab, “The Producers” in Pittsburgh
— “To have all the guys from ‘N Sync come out with an album at the same time, and just where I was, for me to do more Broadway and obviously not come out with an album, I think for me I’m glad it was kinda that way,” revealed Fatone. “You know, you don’t want people to get bombarded and go, ‘Oh look, Justin’s coming out with an album, oh here’s J.C. coming out with an album, here’s Joey coming out with an album, who’s coming out with an album next?’”
So he waited, and eventually recorded a handful of songs over the past couple years – fine-tuning his work until he was satisfied.
“I’m not the biggest writer, Justin and J.C. were really, really great writers… I’d always come up with concepts but never was a writer for that,” he recalled. “I always wanted to, and over the years developed writing and coming up with more ideas and working with a friend of mine, Rob Giles, who wrote ‘Radio’, it just kind of came together.”
Somehow Fatone fit in writing and recording sessions between his litany of other gigs. He’s only worked with Giles in studio thus far, but plans on reaching out this summer to other potential collaborators, including Timberlake. Fatone agreed with my assessment that Justin is more interested in partnering with other artists at the moment than recording his own material, so now may be the time to snag him for a feature.
“I think right now, because he doesn’t want the pressure on himself to have to go on tour and all that stuff,” said Fatone, who mentioned that he already spoke with Timberlake regarding the possibility. “So I think for him, producing and writing with other people is a great outlet for him, and he can stay at home.”
Certainly much has changed, besides the decline in sales, since ‘N Sync ruled the charts. But Fatone has taken note and adapted. He did not commit to any type of music video for “Radio” until he sees the reaction from fans – which these days, is instant thanks to comments and stat reports from iTunes, Amazon MP3, and YouTube.
“It’s like, why not put it out there, see what happens, and if it starts to grow… for me I’d love to do a tour and go out to maybe like, a House of Blues and do a tour like that,” said Fatone, also mentioning that he’d like to keep that intimate setting for his fans.
“My whole thing is, life’s too short, enjoy what you have, enjoy the music, enjoy spending time with your family, and that’s my vibe in general. I’m not trying to save the world by writing a song that’s going to make everyone hold hands and be one together. No, just have a party, have a good time.”
Sure, I had seen many live performances previous to my Saturday night in Manhattan. As a radio and television personality/reporter, I have met many celebrities, and witnessed many concerts and live events, ranging from rock to rap to opera; the good, bad and ugly; the hole-in-the-wall bar and the multi-million dollar theater. I’ve seen musicals in Toronto, concerts in Rochester, NY, and comedy shows in New York. The circumstances usually do not foreshadow the outcome, as some of my favorite performances were on small, dimly lit stages in hostile environments, while other, plusher venues that may have offered a more comfortable setting did not offer a more satisfying performance.
However surprisingly enough, I had never attended a Broadway production. There was one close call – my mother and sister tried to drag me into what would have been my second viewing of Beauty and the Beast (my first – Toronto). But I convinced Mom that it wasn’t worth $45 to snag me a ticket. I enjoyed the performance in T-Dot, and my mother and sister raved about the Broadway version of the musical. However, in the end I concluded that my time and money was better spent drinking Coors Lights (albeit 20 years-old at the time) and taking in some of the finer comedy venues in the city.
And yes, Chuck Nice is just as hilarious in person as he is as a guest panelist on one of my favorite shows, VH1’s Best Week Ever. What can I say, I am a pop-culture junky.
But in my opinion, that revelation makes the fact that I haven’t experienced a Broadway performance even more outlandish. Simply put, while in New York, I enjoyed the nightlife, the Yankees, and my ever-growing population of friends and acquaintances in the area. Consequently, it would take my girlfriend, who currently resides in Stamford, CT, to propose a night filled with spirits, gourmet food, and a trip to Broadway for something other than a picture with the Naked Cowboy or a gawk-session at the massive MTV studios on 1515 Broadway.
As early as last year I heard about a musical that was turning heads, raising ears, and garnering a fair amount of praise from regular theatergoers and critics alike. Spring Awakening is set in 1890-Germany, with adolescent men and women coming into their own sexual beings – and experiencing the same feelings, pleasures, and anguishes as we do in the modern world.
Of course, it certainly goes without saying that 1890 Germany is a bit distinguishable from 2007 America.
And so these young adults awaken into new sexual ventures – the frustration of the “wet dream,” the semi-constant fantasying of a sexual partner – in this instance, the options ranged from two male friends to one student and his mother. The awkwardness did not end there – as adolescent sex experiences would not be completely and accurately depicted without representing both the sometimes awkward “talk” a parent must have with their child, and the facts that may or may not be left out. Finally, the unfathomable: having a parent walk in during a masturbation session.
All of the shenanigans, as well as more serious parts of the production that included domestic abuse, abortion, and suicide; took place amongst a foray of clever set maneuvering, which included cast members and ensemble singers mixed within patrons on special “side stage” seats, as well as a live band, and catchy, yet not over-the-top choreography.
As my girlfriend so eloquently stated, “The musical included all of the necessary emotions.” Although I refrained from tissues, I’ll admit I did come close to choking back tears during one scene in the second half. Comedy, tragedy, loss, and unity were all depicted through the amazing vocal talents of the cast as well as lyrics and melodies that seemed fit for the late 90’s of the 20th century than the 19th.
This observation makes perfect sense when its taken into account that the Grammy-nominated group Duncan Sheik claims responsibility for the score of the musical. Duncan’s hit Barely Breathing gained the duo mainstream notoriety in the 90s.
A young, spunky group of Broadway performers, an edgy storyline with in-your-face guitar riffs, drum beats, and lyrics, and a touch of historical perspective – came together Saturday night to make Spring Awakening one of the finest performances I have ever witnessed – period.
And look no further than the consumption of tissues and the purchase of the musical’s compact disc midway through the night to obtain my girlfriend’s concurrence.
Maybe I’ll do this Broadway thing more often.
Spring Awakening recently won eight Tony awards, including Musical of theYear.