Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Venue: Shubert Theatre Lands 'Memphis' Musical

The Shubert Theatre in New York City holds a special place in the Broadway theatre scene. The venue is the namesake theatre for the Shubert Organization, the owner of the largest number of Broadway theaters at seventeen and was home for fifteen years to "A Chorus Line" (1975) the quintessential show about the New York stage.

The theatre opened in 1913 and also hosted the original productions of "Pal Joey" (1941), "Kiss Me Kate" (1948), "Promises, Promises" (1968) and "A Little Night Music" (1973). A successful reworking of Gershwin's "Girl Crazy" called "Crazy For You" (1991) ran for nearly four years here. More recently the venue has been home to "Gypsy" (2003) starring Bernadette Peters and "Spamalot" (2005). The current tenant is "Memphis" (2009). Barbra Streisand made her Broadway debut in "I Can Get It For You Wholesale" (1962) at the Shubert. A musical version of the Tom Hanks comedy "Big" failed at the theatre in 1996 playing only 193 performances. Read "Making It Big: The Diary of a Broadway Musical" by Barbara Isenberg which details the difficulty of producing a modern musical.

The theatre opens onto One Shubert Alley, a hangout for the theatre crowd and serves as a pedestrian link between 44th and 45th Streets. The walls of the Shubert and the Booth Theatre along the alley is notable for the display of posters for current Broadway productions. Offices of the theatre is home to the Shubert Organization's executive offices.

The theatre is located at 225 West 44th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue in NYC. The seating capacity is 1,460 on three levels. Always keep in mind that these older Broadway houses lack any public lobby space. This often leads to a line of theatergoers waiting to enter the theatre. But One Shubert Alley offers lots of breathing space during the intermission.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Video: 'Memphis' Live on Broadway

In celebration of the movie screenings of the musical 'Memphis' in movie theaters across the country this weekend here is a video of the Broadway production. Visit the 'Memphis' YouTube page for more production and behind-the-scenes videos.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: Broadway's 'Memphis' Comes to Movie Screens

Chad Kimball and Montego Glover
(photos credit: Joan Marcus/
The film presentation of the musical 'Memphis' is an unusual experiment. If not only to document the production with the original cast, it serves as a marketing test to prolong a Broadway run that despite winning the Tony Award for best musical is considered only a medium hit and at nearly 700 performances at the Shubert Theatre has yet to fully recoup the investment to open the show in New York.

The show stars Chad Kimball as Huey Calhoun (loosely based on pioneering DJ Dewey Phillips) who wants to bring rhythm and blues music to the masses of white America. Kimball's performance despite being Tony nominated borders on this side of distraction. The mannerisms of a constant lean in his stature and elongating syllables is a lot to get used to. But it is a feat that Kimball maintains an energy in a role that keeps the actor on stage for almost the entire running time of the musical. 

The true star of 'Memphis' must be Montego Glover as Felicia Farrell who becomes the inspiration and then love interest of Calhoun. She is the heart of the story in a character that grows from unknown to music and radio star. With an engaging stage presence that carries into film, Glover offers effortless vocals from the chirpy "Someday" to the personal anthem "Love Will Stand When All Else Fails."

Less persuasive is the attraction between Felicia and Hughie even though the relationship is tested through fame and fortune, public acceptance and Hughie's proud nature. Peppered among the two is a vibrant and colorful supporting cast though Hughie's mama (Cass Morgan) leans towards caricature. One uncomfortable fit is the interpolation of vintage video projection of the civil rights movement within the confines of this lightweight musical.

One cute highlight is facsimiles of music legends Fats Domino, Perry Como and others popping up on stage to document the changes in taste of popular music; and another where a game of jump rope mimics the breaking down of racial barriers. Slights of humor and lots of energetic choreography helps to keep the show moving at a steady pace.

The music by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan, with lyrics by the show's book writer Joe DiPietro, covers various styles from the rock and roll of the era to gospel and blues. The finale ensemble number "Steal Your Rock 'N' Roll" reveals Bryan's commercial music background with an instantly accessible tune. It's the kind of happy number that will lift spirits and bring the house to its feet.

Filmed in January 2011 in front of a live audience, the musical is captured like a feature film in close-ups and long shots. For this viewer the production appeared more engaging and Kimball's portrayal more palpable. Winning the most coveted Tony award comes with high expectations which ultimately left me underwhelmed when I first saw the production live at the Shubert Theatre in July of last year. 

Ultimately the benefit of this filmed presentation is those taking the opportunity to experience it. It offers the rare chance to see a production that they may never see live. Producers likely hope this serves as a preview for movie audiences to spread the word and build an audience for the the show's upcoming North American tour. As of this writing there is no announcement if and when this presentation will be released on DVD or Blu-ray.

Click here for more info about the next screenings of 'Memphis' at movie theaters. More production photos below.

THE DETAILS (Broadway Production)
  • Website:
  • Where:  Shubert Theatre, New York City
  • When:  Tue 7pm, Wed-Sat 8pm, Wed & Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm
  • Running Time:  2 hrs 30 min (15 min intermission)
  • Ticket Prices:  $41.50-$131.50
  • Opening:  Oct 19, 2009 (previews from Sep 23, 2009)
  • Closing:  Open Run
  • Book online:
  • Book by phone:  1-800-432-7250
  • Cast Recording: Memphis Original Broadway Cast

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

'Rock of Ages' Movie Casting News

The complete failure of the movie version of the musical "Nine" with critics and at the box office helped to bring the movie musical genre closer back to death's door. Starting with "Evita" in 1996 audiences could count on movie studios to churn out at least one movie musical almost every year. Most achieved hit status with either critics, audiences or soundtrack sales or a combination of these further paving the way for future filmed musicals.

After "Nine," 2010 and 2011 will remain a drought for the genre until next year's release of the 'Rock of Ages' movie. (Note: Although "Burlesque" starring Cher and Christina Aguilera was released in 2010 and termed a musical, all the songs featured were part of the burlesque show or its rehearsal rather than characters breaking out in song off stage.) The 'Rock of Ages' feature film is being adapted from the Tony Award nominee for best musical that opened on Broadway in 2009 and continues to run to the surprise of almost everyone two years later.

Diego Boneta plays the lead role of Drew in the
'Rock of Ages' feature film
(image credit: Lesley Bryce)
Set in 1987 on the Sunset Strip, 'Rock of Ages' tells the story a small-town girl who meets a big-city rocker in a rock club in Los Angeles and fall in love to the greatest songs of the '80s. The love story is told through the hits of Journey, Bon Jovi, Poison and many more. To the shock of stage industry experts, the show received five Tony Award nominations. It won none of those awards but the nominations and exposure from a performance on the televised awards helped to cement a more than decent run in New York and profitability.

Unlike stage musicals adapted to movies such as "Rent" or "The Producers" which used most of the original cast members (and both becoming box-office bombs), Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema are pulling in the stars to headline 'Rock of Ages' on the big screen.

Adam Shankman who directed and choreographed the hit movie version of "Hairspray" is also at the helm of the 'Rock of Ages' movie to do the same. In casting news, these are the actors announced for the film:

Tom Cruise (as Stacee Jaxx), Russell Brand (Lonnie), Alec Baldwin (Dennis Dupree), Paul Giamatti (Paul Gill), Julianne Hough (Sherrie Christian) and Mary J. Blige (Justice Charlier).  Catherine Zeta-Jones is the latest actor to be connected to the movie. She will play a new villain role written for the film as the city mayor's wife who hopes to do away with rock 'n roll. Diego Boneta who has appeared on the television series "Pretty Little Liars" and the CW's "90210" is cast in the lead role of Drew Boley, previously played on stage by American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis. Bryan Cranston of TV's "Breaking Bad" is in talks to play the role of the mayor.

Filming is set to begin in May 2011 with a release date of June 1, 2012. Until then the stage production continues to run on Broadway at the Helen Hayes Theatre. The show is on a North American Tour and can be seen in Melbourne, Australia. A London production is set to open August 31, 2011. Visit for info about the various stage productions and tickets. The Original Cast Recording of 'Rock of Ages' is available on CD and iTunes.

The original Broadway cast of 'Rock of Ages' (image credit: Joan Marcus)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Frequent Flier 101: What You Need to Know About Loyalty Programs

Frequent Flier Membership Cards (image credit: jaunted)
In a recent USA Today report all the basics are covered on what you need to know about airline frequent flier programs.

Here are a couple of things you may not know:

Is it worth the time and effort required to pursue frequent flier perks:
It's a mistake to think of frequent flier miles as an extra. The cost of frequent flier miles is included in every ticket issued. So if you don't earn miles and eventually redeem them for an award, you are effectively overpaying for your ticket.

Mileage expiration:
The rule governing mileage expiration in most programs reads something like this: All miles will expire 18 months (two years in some programs) after the latest earning or redemption transaction. In other words, any account activity automatically extends the life of all miles in that account for an additional 1.5 years. For example, anytime you earn points like charging on an airline credit card you extend the life of your points without flying.

Click here to view the complete article. I definitely recommend the report for anyone who believe one loyalty program is not worth it or that they'll never earn enough points for a reward. The basics covered include earning points through partner airlines, hotel stays, car rentals, credit card charges and shopping. Airline awards examples and key program "Terms and Conditions" are also reviewed.
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