CD Review: “The Gay Agenda” – Justin Sayre

justinsayre-thegayagenda

Gayest comedy album ever! Justin Sayre’s The Gay Agenda is made up of stand up excerpts from The Meeting*, a live variety show Sayre hosts. In his role as Chairman of the Board of the International Order of Sodomites, Sayre addresses a variety of subjects related to the gay community with take-no-prisoners verve and venom. In a persona that is femme yet tough, brassy and bellowing, this gay’s got issues with gays that got issues, be it lusting after straight men, worshiping idols that aren’t worthy of us, thinking the struggle is over because of gay marriage, or being awful to younger gays. In the album’s lightest moment, he alternates with Michael Musto in describing delightfully absurd pitches for Sex and the City 3. Gay, gay, gay, gay, gaygaygay.

To purchase, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Michael Feinstein & Marilyn Maye

Michael Feinstein and Marilyn Maye

Marilyn Maye’s a great hidden national treasure; Ella Fitzgerald herself once called Maye “the greatest white female singer in the world.” That was no exaggeration when Ella said it and it’s even truer today. There are younger singers who might posses more powerful voices, but I can think of no other living singer who possesses Maye’s combination of interpretive ability, rhythmic verve and undiminished vocal range.

She is currently sharing the stage of Feinstein’s / 54 Below with Michael Feinstein himself. Feinstein has had great success doing duet shows for many years and here, as usual, it’s a winning situation all around. This particular match is especially good: Maye is still at the top of her game at 88 – how many people, let alone performers, can say that – and Feinstein just keeps getting better, marrying soaring vocal power with ever more detailed nuance in his interpretations.

They both shine in their solo moments: Feinstein pays tribute to the upcoming production of Hello, Dolly in a bouncy rendition of the title song, including some newly fashioned lyrics from the composer / lyricist Jerry Herman. And Marilyn gives us her sultry rendition of Blossom Dearie’s “Bye Bye Country Boy” – I’ve heard her do it before, but still, every time her legendary interpretative ability gives me shivers. Of their fabulous encore, I won’t say anything, except that it exploits Michael’s ongoing love affair with boogie-woogie, which suits the ever-swinging Maye just fine.

Musical director Tedd Firth brings a glossy, sophisticated jazz musicianship to the proceedings, providing a luscious frame for the pair’s multifarious artistry. If you love classic songs sung like they’re meant to be sung – and swung – it doesn’t get any better than this.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Norbert Leo Butz

NorbertLeoButz

Norbert Leo Butz is a very smart and intensely gifted actor, who could probably do an astonishing turn in Hamlet. As fate would have it, he has become primarily known as a musical comedy actor of prodigious energy and daring. In his cabaret show, “Girls, Girls, Girls” we find Norbert trying to sort out his relationships with the women in his life – and there are a lot of them: three daughters, three sisters, a wife and ex-wife, mothers-in-law, 17 nieces. He takes advice from a feminist professor friend, who suggests he reads up on feminine archetypes. He does, and for the rest of the act goes through a catalog of songs that match up these archetypes.

“Girls, Girls, Girls” is a very thoughtful show, which is icing on the cake of seeing this magnetic, kinetic performer sing…well, anything at all. He has acting and musical chops for days, and is capable of injecting fire into any material to which he turns his hand. It’s most gratifying, though, to see this “guy’s guy” look so intelligently and compassionately into the female psyche.

While Butz is best known as the consummate Broadway musical character actor-singer, this act skews more heavily into rock and singer/songwriter territory. That said, these days that world overlaps with Broadway more and more; his opening number is “Yoshimi” from the album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by neo-psychedelic noise rockers The Flaming Lips – which is being turned into a Broadway musical.

He proves himself one of the best male interpretative singers of his generation. To wit, I’ve never been a great fan of “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners – I mean I can’t deny that it is a near perfect pop earworm, I just think it’s too perfect an earworm, to the point of high annoyance. If however, the vocal delivery in the original had been as fine as Norbert’s (covering the archetype of “the maiden” as described by psychology giant Carl Jung) I would probably love it just as much as its many fans.

Traveling from the point of view of a dad who “just doesn’t understand” to one that embraces androgyny as the deepest truth and the wave of the future (to the tune of Hedwig‘s “Wig in a Box”), the journey that Norbert takes us on is the kind of arc I always hope for in a cabaret act. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: BenDeLaCreme

Bendelacreme Inferno2_JasonRusso

“What the Hell?” That’s the question posed by innovative drag performance artist BenDeLaCreme in her latest show, Inferno-A-Go-Go. BenDeLaCreme’s shows are truly unique, not just in drag performance, but in theatre as a whole. Sure, she includes the goofy song parodies and wisecracking comedy so common in drag. However, she’s after something far more sophisticated – her seductive strangeness creeps up on you.

The queen otherwise known as Ben Putnam is playing less of a ditz this time around, wryly joking about the fact that’s she’s chosen to do a drag cabaret based on Dante Alighieri’s 14th Century Italian epic poem Inferno. She’s more confident this time out, less coy about being more profound than the most chin-strokingly serious straight play, while rarely being less than belly-laugh hilarious.

BenDeLa forever rebukes the notion that arts of clowning, drag, circus, burlesque and ventriloquism are somehow less than other performance forms, somehow stupid. Putnam takes the best of all those forms and whips them into something new, fascinating and intensely intelligent. Not only that, BenDeLa uses these popular forms to probe the very biggest questions, switching from deep existential angst to spiritual lightness in the space of a minute – in between double entendres about sex and booze.

BenDeLaCreme is all about fantastic and ridiculous artifice, but also ultimately really about what that artifice can communicate and express about deeper things, like ethics and how to take care of ourselves and each other. She delivers a show that’s equal parts cheeky fun and insightful art, no small feat. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Casting Call: Drag Stars needed for Fringe Musical I’m directing!

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CASTING CALL: “That’s MISS FITS, to YOU!”.

5 Performances, NYC Fringe Festival, August, 13, 15, 19, 22 & 27, various times. Rehearsals, July 15-opening, evenings.

Auditions: July 6, 7 & 8, 2016. 7p.m. to 10p.m. At BoConcept: 144 W. 18th Street, NYC.

For audition appointment:

* look for us on http://actorsaccess.com/ (preferred), or
* contact Jonathan Warman directly at contact@jonathanwarman.com

More info and music samples: http://thatsmissfitstoyou.weebly.com/

Seeking big drag personas, gender-funk, trans-actors, for a poly-gender, spiritual, mystery musical. Singers, dancers, comedians, lip-sync. 6 roles, age 20-40. 6 roles, age 40-70. Big characters. Plus one young muscular male, and one Judy Garland impersonator.

Audition in drag/gender-funk, or bring a photo.

Roles:

YOUNG MISS FITS
20 to 40 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). A starring part with singing and silent acting only — no lines. A powerful queer spirit guide.

MRS COUNTERPOINT
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Always the show-woman / show-off, but also very tough. Lead role, singer/actor.

MISS ALLITERATION
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Sweet and a bit mystical, comedian, very funny. Lead role, singer/actor.

MISS SERVICE WO-MAN
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities male (could be FTM trans) in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Military type, some severe up in here. Lead role, singer/actor.

MISS CONSPIRACY
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities MTF trans or cisgender man in drag. Fierce, fierce, fierce. Lead role, singer/actor.

SERGEANT GRIM
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities Policeman, stately and stern, butch yet androgynous, with secrets to spare. Lead role, singer/actor.

POLICE BOY
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities male. Gorgeous young muscle stud eye candy. Has a solo song and some dialogue.

YOUNG MRS COUNTERPOINT
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Always the show-woman / show-off, but also very tough. Major role, singer/dancer.

YOUNG MISS ALLITERATION
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Sweet and a bit mystical, comedian, very funny. Major role, singer/dancer.

YOUNG MISS SERVICE WO-MAN
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities male (could be FTM trans) in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Military type, some severe up in here. Major role, singer/dancer.

YOUNG MISS CONSPIRACY
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities. MTF trans or cisgender man in drag. Fierce, fierce, fierce. Major role, singer/dancer.

JUDY GARLAND
20 to 50 years old, all ethnicities male or female. Impersonator of the legendary singer. Must give a convincing illusion of Miss Garland’s vocals, appearance and mannerisms. Has a featured song.

ROSA PARKS
40 to 45 years old, African American male or female. Woman or man in drag. Non-speaking dignified impersonation of the legendary civil rights activists. Depending on acting and vocal abilities may double as Service Wo-Man, Counterpoint, or Alliteration.

DURATION

July 15, 2016 – June 27, 2016

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Review: New York Spectacular

Rockettes New York Spectactular

If you love New York, there are a handful of lump-in-your-throat moments in the Rockettes’ New York Spectacular. Sure, they are rather baldly emotionally manipulative, but I for one didn’t care – I got the feeling that all of the creators of this extravaganza were sincere in their own love of the Big Apple, and that makes a big difference.

Of course the Rockettes have been famous for over 80 years for their Christmas Spectacular. New York Spectacular replaces Christmas with the city itself, to marvelous effect. Broadway scribe Douglas Carter Beane (Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Xanadu, The Nance) weaves a story of two tourist kids separated from their parents during a summer vacation. Beane hit upon the clever idea of having the statues of the city be the children’s guides. In particular Euan Morton is fantastic, in silver-toned voice as main guide Mercury (from the front of Grand Central Terminal).

But of course the Rockettes are the star of the show. Their first entrance is breathtaking, as they charge through jets of stage fog, marching rapidly forward with their signature precision. The whole opening number totally whets the appetite for what follows. Highlights include a “Singing in the Rain” number in Central Park, a Fashion Avenue tribute set to Madonna’s “Vogue” – which has the added pleasure of seeing the Rockettes in glitzy non-matching outfits by Emilio Sosa (Project Runway, Motown the Musical, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess) – and a finale satisfyingly full of high kicks.

Stunning projections by Moment Factory add considerably to the all-over spectacle. Director/choreographer Mia Michaels has pulled together a daunting number of elements and collaborators to put together an extravaganza that can hold its head up high next to the Rockettes’ legendary holiday-season shows. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Paramour

Photo: PARAMOUR on Broadway - A Cirque du Soleil Musical; Cast: Indigo: Ruby Lewis A.J.: Jeremy Kushnier Joey: Ryan Vona B-Roll video shoot photographed: Monday, May 2, 2016; 10:30 AM at the Lyric Theatre/Broadway, New York; Photograph: © 2016 RICHARD TERMINE PHOTO CREDIT - RICHARD TERMINE

Even though Paramour is billed as a tribute to the golden age of Hollywood, it actually harks back to something much older, that great predecessor to musical comedy the “extravaganza.” A hundred years ago and more, these variety shows veiled with the thinnest of plots were thick on the ground, with titles like A Yankee Circus on Mars. One of the biggest hits of this kind was a version of The Wizard of Oz that had as much to do with Frank Baum’s books as – well, as Paramour has to do with Orson Welles.

And, judged as an extravaganza, Paramour is a marvelous success! The quality and daring of the circus acts that are the show’s real raison d’être are light years beyond anything that could even be imagined in those extravaganzas of old. The show’s design elements are truly eye-filling and -pleasing, combining state of the art technology with tricks that were old when A Yankee Circus on Mars hit the boards in 1905.

If anything I feel like the plot of Paramour should have been thinner. It tells the story of a love triangle between a Svengali director, a young starlet-in-the-making and her piano player. The only purpose of the plot is to provide a frame for Hollywood-inspired spectacle, but every so often, Paramour‘s writers seem to take the whole thing too seriously, which lands us in some of the evening’s most leaden moments.

Paramour is at it its best when taking spectacular flight, and thankfully that’s most of the time. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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