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SOUND OFF: The Tell-Tale 2012 Tony NominationsSOUND OFF: The Tell-Tale 2012 Tony Nominations
by Pat Cerasaro - May 5, 2012

This Tuesday marked the second most exciting day of any given year for Broadway babies - the Tony Award nominations. The actual awards ceremony on CBS - Broadway's night of nights - is still a few weeks off, but now is certainly an ideal time to size up the competition(s) and see who will most likely walk away with Tony gold come June 10 - and this year's ceremony, more than most before, could very well be as surprising as this season was; or Tuesday's nominations themselves were, for that matter. While the 2011-2012 Broadway season certainly fell far short of the heady promise many ascribed to its prospects way back last Summer, we certainly saw the fulfillment of some big dreams for some notable names if not an all-in-all banner year for Broadway when collectively considered. The highly-praised Off-Broadway critical darling LYSISTRATA JONES landed with a thud early in the season, as did the re-jiggered, gender-bending revival of ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER and its star Harry Connick, Jr., and, even the lauded and relatively successful revival of Stephen Sondheim's peerless masterpiece FOLLIES failed to make any money and closed. GODSPELL did not fare much better, though it is still running. The two highly-anticipated revivals of Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic early successes JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and EVITA were met with indifferent reviews - with the latter receiving some nasty press for its stars, neither of whom received Tony nominations - but receptive audiences so far. THE GERSHWINS' PORGY & BESS could take Best Revival, after all - but will NICE WORK's Kelli O'Hara edge out four-time Tony recipient Audra McDonald? New plays did not fare much better than the measly crop of musicals, but OTHER DESERT CITIES and VENUS IN FUR seemed to hit their target demographics squarely, but CLYBOURNE PARK looks to be the frontrunner for Best Play despite all that. We shall see. Mike Nichols may take home another Best Director for his sensitive, if workmanlike revival of Arthur Miller's DEATH OF A SALESMAN, as conceivably could Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield. John Lithgow is offering up some fierce competition in THE COLUMNIST, though. The acting races are tight, for sure, in both plays and musicals, with more newcomers and first-time nominees than any season this century. (more...)
SOUND OFF: GLEE Chokes, But Shakes It OutSOUND OFF: GLEE Chokes, But Shakes It Out
by Pat Cerasaro - May 2, 2012

Rachel doesn't seem likely to be headed to New York and NYADA - nope, not this time. Mucking up her major shot at Broadway glory - at least as far as high school auditions go - by messing up the words to "Don't Rain On My Parade" from FUNNY GIRL, her anthem, no less - the focus on GLEE's appropriately titled "Choke" episode brought to mind a lyric from Stephen Sondheim's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, a musical about the sacrifices we make to get what we thought we wanted - "still with dreams, / just reshaping them. / Growing up…." And that is Season Three of GLEE in a nutshell - the senior members of New Directions learning to let go of childhood and move ahead into the unknown world of maturity; whether the future may bring college, career or pool-cleaning. With more musical theatre references per minute than any episode of the twenty so far in GLEE S3, "Choke" was filled with the stylized storytelling and absurd, although always appreciable surprises along the way that makes GLEE consistently, near-constantly compelling. No, no, no - GLEE has not flagged in the least sixty-odd episodes into the series so far, although the rating may have slightly. Last night's GLEE was a good example of the shifting focus and repeated reinvention that keeps the series fresh - and the comedy is as fearless and biting as ever. (more...)
SOUND OFF: Another Op'nin', Another SMASHSOUND OFF: Another Op'nin', Another SMASH
by Pat Cerasaro - May 1, 2012

Kicking off the plot-packed night, Cole Porter's classic KISS ME, KATE showbiz paean "Another Op'nin', Another Show" was given a full-bodied and exciting rendition by Christian Borle - with a gloriously accentuated arrangement courtesy of SMASH songwriter Marc Shaiman; seemingly channeling Barbra Streisand and Peter Matz - and, with that, the SMASH train left Manhattan and hit Boston for the tryout of the musical-within-the-series, BOMBSHELL. While Rebecca Duvall (Uma Thurman) may play the director of the show, Derek (Jack Davenport), better than she does her actual role in the musical - Marilyn Monroe - she is not the only member of the rich and varied ensemble on SMASH to be playing or being played (or both) - or hitting the occasional wrong note or two. With only two episodes left in Season One, the threads are being wrapped up into what is shaping up to be a pleasingly complex and colorful tapestry. (more...)
SOUND OFF: Somebody Who Loves GLEE (& Whitney)SOUND OFF: Somebody Who Loves GLEE (& Whitney)
by Pat Cerasaro - April 25, 2012

Significantly more right than wrong and much more than merely just OK, last night's GLEE tribute to the song catalogue of pop/R&B icon Whitney Houston was a welcome return to Season Two levels of euphoria and razzle dazzle entertainment value that GLEE has proven time and time again it is the one stop shop for on TV these days, as dazzling in their own way as sequences on SMASH may be as that freshman musical-themed series increases in popularity and GLEE, now nearly finished with Season Three (and almost 60 episodes in as a series so far), is seeing a decline in viewership and a dip in popularity. (more...)
SOUND OFF: SMASH's 1001 Bollywood NightsSOUND OFF: SMASH's 1001 Bollywood Nights
by Pat Cerasaro - April 24, 2012

This week on SMASH the show hit its peak insofar as synergy of story, plot, character and music - especially the music. Karen (Katharine McPhee) offered up a touching Snow Patrol cover, "Light Up", but the big musical moments of the show stand alongside the finest on the series so far - at least. Yes, "1001 Nights" and "Second Hand White Baby Grand" were the most captivating musical sequences on the show since the pilot's "National Pastime" and "Let Me Be Your Star", seamlessly weaving together the disparate elements of the series and amplifying the emotion into a heightened, exuberant expression of the character's deepest feelings, thoughts, hopes and wishes - exactly what the best numbers always do in the finest Broadway musicals, which SMASH is ostensibly about, more or less. The eleven episodes leading up to "Publicity" have prepared us perfectly well for the potential plights and victories about to be experienced by the colorful cast of characters as we enter the final triptych of Season One - with this one being a definite standout. Helmed by pilot director Michael Mayer and written by creator Theresa Rebeck, "Publicity" is surefire proof that SMASH has developed into a rewarding experience for the attentive viewers among us - the "1001 Nights" sequence alone so rife with detail pertaining to the entire arc of the character's journey on the show so far; and so much more - and a consistently compelling viewing experience for those seeking out great song sequences done up in a grand style. While the barebones "Second Hand White Baby Grand" was outfitted with merely rehearsal accoutrement, Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) made her big bid for the role of Marilyn Monroe in the musical-within-the-show and elicited every sentimental, sad, sweet and mournful note of perhaps the finest Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman original ballad yet to appear on the series. Yes, "1001 Nights" was the most extravagant entertainment experience presented thus far on SMASH - as promised by show stars Megan Hilty and Anjelica Huston weeks ago to me themselves - but the heart and soul of the series has always remained in the big ballads - look no further than the pilot's "Beautiful" and aforementioned duet finale coup de tele-theatre - and "Second Hand White Baby Grand" was a stunning moment allowing a soul-barred Marilyn just as the characters begin to find their own new levels of intimacy in their various entanglements - romantic, familial, professional, personal and otherwise. "Publicity" proved SMASH is set to hit high gear for the Boston tryout of BOMBSHELL that will close out the first season over the course of the next three weeks. (more...)
by Pat Cerasaro - April 18, 2012

"How about the soundtrack that defined a generation… wait for it… SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER?!" sayeth Sue Sylvester on last night's glitzy disco-themed GLEE. Sporting seriously choice song selections and with all outfitted in fierce far-out duds, "Saturday Night GLEE-ver" was a slice of soundtrack heaven - and sporadically hotter than, well, a disco inferno. Besides the all-out Bee Gees bonanza, we were also treated to the welcome return of GLEE guest star extraordinaire and Broadway regular Jonathan Groff as fan favorite Jessie St. James, as well as a chance for some secondary players of New Directions to break out in song, dance and - given the theme - strut. Before the tribute-heavy second half of Season Three excels into high gear next week with the Whitney Houston homage, last night's GLEE gone disco struck the right poses, affected the right look and made all the right moves in making a memory for a new generation with the timeless music of another - as GLEE has proven it does best, time and time again. Yes, tribute episodes are where GLEE achieves maximum momentum as not only a TV series, but an entertainment entity itself - as the eight song sequences in "Saturday Night GLEE-ver" surely attest. (more...)
by Pat Cerasaro - April 17, 2012

"Now, there's a movie star!" quoth Eileen (Anjelica Huston) of Rebecca Duvall (special guest star Uma Thurman) following her breathy and spastic performance of a new Julia/Tom musical number for the Marilyn Monroe-based musical-within-the-show on SMASH - BOMBSHELL - titled "Dig Deep". While last night's "The Movie Star" episode of NBC's musical dramedy series SMASH was light on the musical numbers - only Karen (Katharine McPhee) and Rebecca managed a musical moment - the drama was dense and delectable, with the rapport between the motley crew of characters comprising the enterprise improving by the week (and it started strong). Yet, despite the best efforts of Eileen, Tom (Christian Borle), Julia (Debra Messing) and Derek (Jack Davenport) in attempting to create a new version of the Marilyn musical that showcases her best (and limited) abilities. Rebecca is a tentative talent who lacks a lot in the vocal and dance departments - to say the least - yet it is undeniable that she also possesses a certain air of a star - perhaps because she is one; on SMASH (as in real life, given Thurman's A-list status), a big one. Portraying the movie star trying out a Broadway show for the first - and, most likely, last - time, Thurman brings a caustic, nutsy vibe to the seemingly bipolar screen siren - "36-ish", meaning more like 40-ish in actuality - and gives gravitas to the cartoonishly written role. Just as the Marilyn musical has shown its astonishing, chameleon-like adaptability in its iterations starring Karen and Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) - not only in its star, but also in its style, sound, mood, conception and musical arrangements - now BOMBSHELL is being retrofitted for Rebecca. But, at what cost? Stripping the show of its big Broadway leading lady musical potential and showing off the supporting cast to take the focus off of the shaky star at the center, BOMBSHELL's "Dig Deep" yet again gave the simply astounding songwriting duo responsible for the songs of the shows-within-the-shows on SMASH (including all of the BOMBSHELL songstack heard and seen so far, as well as the glimpses at the previous Tom/Julia collaborations, HEAVEN & EARTH and THREE ON A MATCH) "Dig Deep" was a WEST SIDE STORY-esque hot jazz song complete with the syncopation and stylization implicit in the best songs of the Actors Studio era which the 50s-set scene set out to depict (Lee Strasberg and all). (more...)
SOUND OFF: GLEE's Big BrotherSOUND OFF: GLEE's Big Brother
by Pat Cerasaro - April 11, 2012

The answer to the question we have been waiting eight weeks to be answered finally arrived last night on GLEE: Quinn is still standing - well, more or less. And, she's singing, too! Duetting on Elton John's ear-worm 80s up-tempo classic with similarly wheelchair bound Artie (Kevin McHale), Quinn (Dianna Agron) acted as last night's GLEE's moral figurehead of the hour, while guest star Matt Bomer provided some serious skills in the dramatic and musical fronts in the form of two tremendous duets with brother Blaine (Darren Criss). Besides Blaine's big brother and Quinn's quick recovery from her potentially fatal crash on the mid-season finale back in February, GLEE's "Big Brother" return showed GLEE back in fine form and remaining as outrageous, outlandish, hilarious, spontaneously brilliant and always invigorating as always and how we have come to expect it to be over the course of the uneven three seasons of the series so far. The winning streak continues, and the uniformly strong Season Three barrels on and cements its place as the show's strongest season overall so far. If this episode didn't have enough implicit excitement in evidence already, Bomer and Criss covered one of the biggest songs of 2012 by taking on Australian rising star Gotye's hypnotic pop anthem "Somebody That I Used To Know" in dual-bro mode - instantly becoming an of-the-moment GLEE cultural meta-musical mini-masterpiece to stand proudly with Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff's reinvention of Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" and Michele and Menzel's reworking of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" from previous seasons. GLEE tells stories in a wholly unique way, and, in moments like this, we are reminded why it will remain appointment TV for fans of musical storytelling as long as it remains as relevant, pertinent and surprisingly profound as it often is - more often than not, as we have seen throughout this season. While hot button, water cooler entertainment of the freshest and hottest manner it may not always be anymore, GLEE is a well-oiled machine that fans can rely on to deliver what they want - and, given the proposed revolutionary Season Four concept devised by series mastermind Ryan Murphy, GLEE may reclaim its place as the most must-see show on TV once again. As it is, roughly sixty episodes in, it remains consistently surprising and uniformly entertaining, anyway - perhaps not even halfway through what we can predict its eventual total episode tally may be. But, before Season Four in September, let's discuss the first of the back 8 episodes of GLEE Season Three. (more...)
by Pat Cerasaro - April 10, 2012

Ending on a nod to Michael Bennett's heart-stopping coup de theatre Act One Finale to DREAMGIRLS - with the button of Karen (Katharine McPhee)'s exquisitely and evocatively emotional "Never Give All The Heart" giving way to a grand diva entrance for the highly anticipated debut of special SMASH guest star, Uma Thurman, who took the applause (and generated even more awe for the moment, in turn) - last night's "The Understudy" episode of NBC's hit musical dramedy series SMASH was one of the strongest episodes since the first few, with three new outstanding Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman songs as well as Megan Hilty's sensitive cover of Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway". In addition to the mega-wattage jolt of the final few moments provided by PULP FICTION and KILL BILL movie icon Thurman, we were also treated to another new multi-arc guest star in the guise of Tony Award-winning LES MIZ and CATS lead Terrence Mann. "The Understudy" had a central focus on many of the stronger dramatic, thematic and musical touchstones of the series so far and with even a cursory consideration of cumulative of content to date it is clear to witness that we are seeing major pay-offs for many story arcs and plot elements buried as far back as the stupendous pilot episode. Indeed, with Christian Borle, Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee all given a big musical moment, the plot and music were drawn together pleasingly and privatively - particularly in the aforementioned crowning achievement of "Never Give All The Heart"; perhaps the finest ballad from BOMBSHELL, the Marilyn Monroe show-within-the-series, yet presented on SMASH. Each week, the elements we enjoy most seem to be amplified while the lesser subject matter is strengthened by new plot developments and enhanced perspective due to the various circumstances concerning the cast of characters. Let's go one by one through the cast and see where we have ended up since the pilot as we had into the final third of SMASH Season One. (more...)
SOUND OFF: SMASH's Boozy BombshellsSOUND OFF: SMASH's Boozy Bombshells
by Pat Cerasaro - April 3, 2012

"What we did together exploded my whole life like a bombshell," a rain-soaked Julia related to former paramour with whom she recently rekindled a romance, Michael (Broadway notable Will Chase; the former Joe DiMaggio of the Marilyn Monroe musical at the core), qualified by saying, "but I'm not letting anyone say it was not my fault." And so goes the trajectory of SMASH so far - trepidatious and unsure as often as rhapsodically exhilarating and exuberantly entertaining, at almost equal turns; falling short more often than not in many of the melodramatic subplots, excelling with the effortless ease of a surefire hit in the musical sequences and rehearsal scenes of the gestating musical central to the series as a whole. Recently revealed in this very column late last month by SMASH stars Megan Hilty and Anjelica Huston, the confirmed title of the show-within-the-show on SMASH is BOMBSHELL, which is all too an apt a title for a musical arising amidst the war-torn landscape of Broadway in the soapy bathtub stew with everything but the kitchen sink itself that is the universe of SMASH, for better and worse - particularly insofar this group of drama queens and kings is concerned. Such is the nature of SMASH itself - in embracing its flaws it may find its ultimate salvation. Amp up the camp and dial down the drama; pump up the music and pull the shade on secondary subplots; and, please, evict Ellis. Sometimes it takes a few shots to hit the target and every at bat cannot be a home run, but Episode 9 gave us some pleasing development to plotlines that could have fallen by the wayside on a lesser series. (more...)
by Pat Cerasaro - March 27, 2012

Sporadically shedding its former skin as a mainly musical endeavor, last night's "The Coup" episode of NBC's musical dramedy series SMASH stepped outside the box and presented a drama-focused show heavy on the plot and light on the musical numbers - with surprisingly strong results, believe it or not. As has become abundantly apparent, in the seven episodes up until this point, SMASH seems to have excelled in its musical sequences which floated high, flying, adored (like Eva Peron in EVITA) above everything else; enlivening the proceedings where the story fell short - usually, with Ivy (Megan Hilty) dominating the Marilyn Monroe show-within-the-show songs and Karen (Katharine McPhee) making the very most of an impressive melange of pop covers - but, as penned by Scott Burkhardt and directed by GLEE veteran Paris Barclay, "The Coup" showed that SMASH has legs and can sustain a character/plot-focused story from time to time, too. And, anyway, it's hard to complain too much about a lack of songs when we were presented with perhaps the most unique and stylized pop musical number to date in the form of the Top 40-ready Ryan Tedder-written potential Marilyn burlesque routine - that is, if Derek (Jack Davenport) takes the show-within-the-show in an entirely new direction and leaves Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia (Debra Messing) by the wayside. That potential prospect seems highly unlikely, though - to say the very, very least. Speaking of high, "The Coup" flew the coop as far as daring to do what many may have thought unlikely or impossible - namely, weaving in almost seamless, fully-integrated musical sequences such as Ivy & company's down and dirty bowling alley cover song set to the funky 60s sounds of Sly & The Family Stone's "Dance To The Music", or, (almost) effortlessly managing to make a contemporary song in a musical theatre milieu actually function (more or less) and come alive in the form of the sexy and titillating 'Touch Me'. Yes, "The Coup" stylistically diverged from what has come before on SMASH, but the more risks taken, the more rewards reaped. Definitely don't count all the eggs in the SMASH basket before they're hatched! (more...)
SOUND OFF: Bernadette Peters, At The Corner Of Broadway & SMASHSOUND OFF: Bernadette Peters, At The Corner Of Broadway & SMASH
by Pat Cerasaro - March 20, 2012

When a big Broadway star like Bernadette Peters makes her way onto a national TV program, Broadway babies await it with abated breath. Yet, when a big Broadway star like Bernadette Peters appears on an actual musical TV series like SMASH, Broadway babies have reason to throw an all-out bacchanal - and, last night, they most certainly had a reason cause celebre. While GLEE has spoiled us with a plethora of guest stars from Broadway and Hollywood over the course of its three seasons - Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Carol Burnett and Patti LuPone among them - the presence of two-time Tony Award-winner Peters - to say nothing of the forthcoming appearances by Norbert Leo Butz and Marc Kudisch - is a gift from the theatrical gods that instantly makes SMASH must-see-TV for the theatrically attuned among us (which, let's be honest, is most of us). Playing Ivy Lynn's blithely selfish and calculating former star of a mother, Leigh, Peters wrought every last ounce of bravado out of her bravura performance recreation of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from GYPSY - a show she famously starred in under the direction of Sam Mendes earlier this century - and made her thorny scenes with Megan Hilty blossom; her overall star turn giving the entire affair a cold, brusque but all-too-believable bloom - ice in veins all too tangibly real to feel. The tension was certainly thick for the first workshop performance of the show-within-the-show on SMASH, as well, but Hilty still managed to set fire to her scenes and songs - and McPhee shows considerable promise with her burgeoning pop music career (and next week's Ryan Tedder-composed "Touch Me" sequence seems certain to deliver on the sultry, sexy siren of song front as McPhee comes closer to getting the role of Marilyn). And, speaking of songs knocked out of the park for the umpteenth time by this all-star musical team responsible for SMASH, besides the slowed down grand slam ballad version of "Let Me Be Your Star" - given a bluesy Broadway belt only the very best, like Hilty, could possibly provide - we were also treated to a striking and wholly stylistically unique new Marilyn Monroe/Joe DiMaggio song in the form of the arresting "On Lexington & 52nd Street", another homerun to tick off on the perfect scorecard for songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman on SMASH so far; Will Chase's best (and, apparently, last) showcase. Film noir with a pulsating, almost atonal, steely and terse tinge, this is the sort of character number that seamlessly presents plot development and character exposition simultaneously in a purely, thrillingly theatrical manner and the type of dramatic and musical merging of storytelling SMASH excels at most of all, time after time after time after time. While "Everything's Coming Up Roses" was a strong cover of a classic Broadway barn-burner on account of Peters, "On Lexington & 52nd Street" expertly showcased the type of entertainment entity SMASH can ultimately be at its very best, firing on all axels - and how utterly enthralling in its layers of meta-narratives the real-life/showbiz soap saga that make it all come together it can fascinatingly be. Additionally, the workshop musical montage was the best example yet of how excitingly combustible and hot SMASH can really be when the boiler at its core is at full blast as it was sporadically last night in the appropriately titled "The Workshop" episode - almost always fueled by the simply spectacular songs for the show-within-the-show. (more...)
SOUND OFF Special Interview: Linda Eder's SONGBIRDSSOUND OFF Special Interview: Linda Eder's SONGBIRDS
by Pat Cerasaro - March 14, 2012

Today we are talking to a queen of the concert stage famous for her decades touring the country who has also made a mark on the recording industry with her countless remarkable albums and who will be returning to New York with an intimate show dedicated to her favorite leading ladies of song, titled SONGBIRDS - the one and only Linda Eder. (more...)
by Pat Cerasaro - March 13, 2012

As we near the halfway point for Season One, it is evident now more than ever that SMASH has established a pretty clear-cut style, structure and overall dramatic direction - each week we can depend upon most if not all of the following in one form or another: a fabulous Marilyn Monroe-themed musical production number; a soul-baring rehearsal scene or three; a pop cover or two (both a classic and a current one, if possible); some Derek (Jack Davenport) and Ivy (Megan Hilty) diva drama and hand-wringing; cattiness, backstabbing and shade thrown in the direction of, and almost always directly affecting, sweet-as-pie Karen (Katharine McPhee), an all-too sympathetic character who just can't seem to catch a break (bar mitzvah tween audiences excluded); a peek into the lives of the Marilyn musical songwriters, Julia (Debra Messing) and Tom (Christian Borle), currently developing the show-within-the-show before our very eyes and ears; Julia and Tom's subsequent respective romantic relationships and entanglements (showmances and otherwise; though it seems there are many more of the former than the latter with these two); and, of course, Anjelica Huston being both poignant in one way or another in her delicate portrayal of Eileen and also just plain divine as only she can be, kicking ass and taking names as the lead producer of the show-within-the-show. All in all, the show-within-the-show based on Marilyn Monroe acts as the real machine running SMASH and keeping it all connected. And, that about sums it up. Shake, stir and serve - there you have SMASH in a sentence or two. Better still, this formula really works - and also really works wonders, from time to time, too. Each week dishes up its fair share of surprises, as well. I mean, who could foresee that scintillating scene with Julia and Joe DiMaggio (Will Chase) post-rehearsal paralleling the Marilyn/DiMaggio duet just rehearsed? Or, furthermore, Karen positively killing Florence & The Machine at a bar mitzvah like she most certainly did? Best of all, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman provided another tantalizing and terrific new Marilyn song with a fiercely fresh style and sound in the spectacular form of the romantically rapturous, late-50s doo-wop-hued duet "History Is Made At Night", given a particularly playfully seductive performance by Chase and Hilty as the undeniably perfect Monroe and Joe DiMaggio (though Chase's character does not seem like he will be sticking around much longer). Plus, how badass was Eileen (Anjelica Huston) at the very end of the episode and how all around awesome was her delivery of the final line? Shoot to score, indeed - and, on 'Chemistry', there was more focus on the scoring, both in the musical and sexual senses, than on anything else. Above all, last night's SMASH showed that one aspect of show business shall always remain a viable, hot-cross-bun-level-hot commodity: sex. (more...)
SOUND OFF: SMASH Makes Bad Look GoodSOUND OFF: SMASH Makes Bad Look Good
by Pat Cerasaro - March 6, 2012

Packing more music per minute than any episode of the show since the pilot, last night's SMASH showed the ever-developing musical dramedy series finding its footing and delineating the many relationships and interrelationships of the onstage and backstage cast of characters that populate it - and, as always, the music made the night. Will Chase scored yet again with a soulful "Song For You"; McPhee emanated sultriness in her cover of James Brown's "It's A Man's Man's World"; and, in particular, Megan Hilty made the bawdiest and most big Broadway-sounding song from the Marilyn Monroe musical we have yet heard hit like Joe DiMaggio's bat when it met a meatball in the big 20th Century Fox production number we are sure to remember. When it comes to the musical numbers, SMASH is adult musical storytelling done exceptionally well with a precise, professional sheen. The story and characters have exhibited a lot of areas where they could go in future episodes, and, now, by the fifth episode, the style and music/drama formula is being perfected right before our eyes. What has resulted is that we are witnessing SMASH as a show finding its voice with all the world to hear - not an enviable position to be in, but that is the name of the game of a network TV gamble on the level of this. And, anyway, what sights and sounds we have to look forward to in the coming weeks as the Marilyn musical within the show begins to take a more tangible shape - and Bernadette Peters makes her SMASH debut in less than two weeks! (more...)
by Pat Cerasaro - February 28, 2012

SMASH is out for blood - wolf's blood, that is. So, go howl! In the climax of the series so far - at least since that thrilling finale to the pilot episode - the wildly talented cast of characters that inhabit SMASH were joined in purpose and performance for the first time onscreen all together, singing "I Never Met A Wolf That Didn't Like To Howl" - well, at least the current top choices for Marilyn Monroe (Megan Hilty) and Joe DiMaggio (Will Chase) by the songwriting duo (portrayed by Debra Messing and Christian Borle) behind the show-within-the-show; guest appearance by prospective investor portrayed by pop idol and current Broadway star Nick Jonas notwithstanding. Yet, Katharine McPhee shone bright in her secondary storyline, bringing defiant joie de vivre to a karaoke cover of Adele's soulful earworm "Rumor Has It" at the close of the show. Nick Jonas got a moment in the musical spotlight, as well, in a self-played piano accompanied cover of Michael Buble's "Haven't Met You Yet". On the dramatic side of SMASH, the twists and turns of the theatre-centric musical series are beginning to create intriguing complexities for the individuals caught in the tumult - none the least being the budding romances between Derek (Jack Davenport) and Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty), but also the secret liaison rekindled of one half of the songwriting duo (Messing) and Joltin' Joe (Chase) himself. Plus, the other half of the team behind the Marilyn musical, Tom (Christian Borle), finally got his own romantic plotline and sudsy, soap-ish moment. It seems to be a prerequisite that each cast member have a post-coital scene at some point, so, one supposes Eileen (Anjelica Huston) and her ex husband, Jerry (Michael Cristofer), may re-team behind the scenes - or, maybe not. Eileen was given finest material of the night as far as I'm concerned and Huston's delicate portrayal of a woman conflicted was artful in its attentiveness and believability. She imbues the material with a grace and gravitas that few stars can consistently achieve as she has done throughout her career and continues to do so here on SMASH. Episode Four cleanly and clearly displayed the attributes we came to love about the pilot - natural integration of fabulous Marilyn-themed musical numbers into the drama, as in "Howl"; superlative new renditions of modern-day pop hits, such as "Rumor Has It"; and a specialty song or two, too, like Nick Jonas and his Michael Buble party accompaniment. While it did not break new ground as far as where the show is heading as a series like last week's show, this episode gave us an inkling of the entertainment experience coming in the next few weeks as we anticipate the arrival of many new and exciting guest stars, such as Bernadette Peters and Uma Thurman, in addition to the pain, passion, ecstasy and As for the rest of the drama, music and comedy, read on! (more...)
SOUND OFF: Academy Awards 2012SOUND OFF: Academy Awards 2012
by Pat Cerasaro - February 27, 2012

Billy Crystal was nine for nine with his stupendous hosting - particularly thanks to his superlative musical material courtesy of Tony-winning tunesmith Marc Shaiman - yet, the 2012 Oscars were all about the awards, for once, with a heavy helping of superstars and surprises. A glamorous and generally genial broadcast, more than many in recent years this years, last night's top entertainment honors came across as a class act on the elegantly produced and impressively rendered broadcast, from beginning to end - unscripted screenwriters' Angelina impressions aside. Crytal's hilarious opening montage allowed the Oscar host extraordinaire the opportunity to enact his oh-so-idiosyncratic take on the year's top nominated films - including a kiss with George Clooney ala THE DESCENDANTS and a Justin Bieber/Sammy Davis, Jr. skit inspired by Woody Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, both of which went on to win the Best Screenplay categories - and remind us why he is tops. The portrait of the winner of Best Picture may have been painted long before last night for THE ARTIST, yet the 2012 Academy Awards show was packed with a plethora of surprises in technical and even some major categories, with Martin Scorsese's HUGO also scoring big and Meryl Streep winning her third statuette, this time for her Best Actress turn in THE IRON LADY, uncanny in her portrayal of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Additionally, THE ARTIST's Jean Judarjin took home Best Actor - over Hollywood titan George Clooney, no less - for his superb performance as a Gene Kelly-esque silent film star (save a few words at the very meta finale). The supporting categories showed some love to expected winners Octavia Spencer - for the audience hit, THE HELP - as well as veteran actor Christopher Plummer - for the indie release, BEGINNERS. Cirque Du Soleil afforded us some spectacle in the form of a 3D aerial classic film homage as only they could create and present, but Crystal's inimitable opening sequence - film sequence and crisply amusing song acting as the ideal entree into the awards season's show of shows - were the night's undeniable highlights. So, too, on the performance front did the In Memoriam sequence shine thanks to a soulful rendering of "What A Wonderful World" by Esperanza Spalding. Many of the major categories may have went the way we have all predicted, yet important categories also went to a surprisingly large smattering of the year's other fine filmatic achievements, as well, making it an entertaining and overall quite pleasing broadcast when considering the conservative slate of films nominated this season. (more...)
SOUND OFF: GLEE Wins Regionals With A Bang, Splash & CrashSOUND OFF: GLEE Wins Regionals With A Bang, Splash & Crash
by Pat Cerasaro - February 22, 2012

Fourteen episodes in, with eight more to come after the seven week hiatus that just began, GLEE's Season Three has been filled with shocks and surprises, but none so shocking and surprising as last night's potentially fatal collision involving the one and only Quinn Fabray, Dianna Agron. In the show's final moments, the danger of auto texting was made painfully plain to see as Quinn's car was demolished by an oncoming truck as she typed the episode's title into her phone, "On My Way," - on her way to the wedding of Rachel (Lea Michele) and Finn (Cory Monteith), that is. 'Chapel Of Love' playing on the radio gave the scene an extra added note of morbid irony and twisted the dramatic knife in a way few enterprises dare to do, as well - a NIP/TUCK twist (as Ryan Murphy would have it). So, is this really the last we shall see of Quinn on GLEE? We will have to wait until April to see, but some pictures have already surfaced of Quinn wheelchair racing with Artie (Kevin McHale) onset, so perhaps she survives after all. Besides Quinn's catastrophe, one of the most complex and controversial secondary characters on the show, closeted gay football player and Kurt's former McKinley High bully par excellence, Max Karofsky, succumbed to a heartbreakingly presented suicide attempt, but survived to fight another day. Will Quinn be as lucky? What will become of her daughter, Beth - sired with Puck (Mark Salling) back in Season One - who is being raised by Rachel's birth mother, Shelby (Idina Menzel)? Does this mean we will be seeing more of Ms. Menzel in the back 8 of the season? Will Puck and Shelby rekindle their romance in the wake of Quinn's crash and subsequent rehabilitation or, maybe, death? Only time will tell, it seems. In an episode packing an incredible punch, GLEE'S "On My Way" delivered the drama, the social commentary, the laughs, tears, joy and, of course, the music as stylishly and successfully as any of its finest episodes ever have, even if some of the questionable of-the-moment contemporary song selections at the central Regionals competition failed to fully ignite as other songs may very well have done. Indeed, last night's GLEE was all any gleek could ask for from the Winter Finale of their favorite show, and, if we are forced to wait a few weeks for the next episode, best to go out on a big, bad cliffhanger that makes a splash. (more...)
SOUND OFF: SMASH Catches Joe DiMaggio's GrenadeSOUND OFF: SMASH Catches Joe DiMaggio's Grenade
by Pat Cerasaro - February 21, 2012

"Baby, I would catch a grenade for you," as Bruno Mars wrote in his international smash hit song "Grenade", recently nominated for a Grammy, and, so, too, would Joe DiMaggio catch a grenade for Marilyn Monroe, and, maybe - just maybe - married Broadway star Michael Swift (Will Chase) will cross the line into the danger zone and rekindle his romance with former flame (similarly, married with children) Julia (Debra Messing), half of the songwriting team responsible for the spectacular musical-within-the-show on NBC's SMASH. Yes, the third episode of the new musical drama series was a much different experience from the first two shows, with Karen (Katharine McPhee)'s journey back home to Iowa - complete with down-home karaoke baby shower and Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman" - and the introduction of Broadway star Will Chase's character and the subsequent exploration of his prior trysts with Julia, as well as detailing more of Ivy (Megan Hilty) and Derek (Jack Davenport)'s hot and heavy romance. So, too, did the dissolving marriage between the Marilyn musical's lead producer, Eileen (Anjelica Huston) and her ex (Michael Cristofer) see further shading, as did the trusting and caring coupling of Karen and Dev (Raza Jaffrey). Along with recurring guest stars Dylan Baker and Becky Ann Baker as Karen's supportive but speculative parents, "Enter Mr. DiMaggio" was a relationship-themed episode that reached its thematic, dramatic and musical apotheosis in the stunning new Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman Marilyn musical composition, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith", ending the episode on a stylish and all-too-apropos note. A hard rock rendering of the aforementioned Bruno Mars pop hit "Grenade", as well as Karen's spirited country karaoke "Redneck Woman" were the other musical entertainments in an episode that showed that SMASH does, indeed, have legs - a Rockette-worthy line of them, actually - and this story can sustain more than a handful of episodes or, even, a season or two. Sure, this episode had a different feel than the first two, more Broadway-based shows, yet the series seems to be finding a rhythm that is particularly appreciable at this very, very early stage of the game. After all, the first two episodes of an hour-long adult drama such as SMASH usually set the scene for the series as a whole, if they even succeed at accomplishing that. So far, SMASH has already gone far beyond that, and, I promise, next week will be more along the lines of the first two entries, showcasing the simple fact that this tree has many, many branches and exceptionally deep roots supporting the strong core of central and supporting performers that make up its trunk. Episode Three was a gamble that largely paid off dramatically and thematically, and, wow, that final number was a home run hit truly worthy of a show billing itself as SMASH. (more...)
SOUND OFF: GLEE Will Always Love WhitneySOUND OFF: GLEE Will Always Love Whitney
by Pat Cerasaro - February 15, 2012

In an absolutely uncannily coincidental occurrence last night, the Valentine's Day episode of GLEE included among its song-stack the all-time most memorable Whitney Houston ballad of all time, originally sung by Dolly Parton in 1974 but made famous by Houston on the soundtrack of the 1992 film THE BODYGUARD, in which she also starred, "I Will Always Love You". While this episode was filmed weeks ago - long before Houston's sudden passing, of course - the fact that this was the moment GLEE finally tackled one of the biggest songs ever - a single that originally stayed atop the chart for more than 3 months - comes as a definite shock and surprise; and, also, somehow, a fitting tribute. The tasteful "We Will Always Love You" card at the end of the program dedicated the episode to Houston's memory, in a last minute addition to the long-wrapped show by the powers-that-be. It hit just the right chord - as did the effervescently enjoyable if slight episode. Amber Riley wrought the high emotion out of the Houston barn-burner in a manner that surely would do the gospel singer of Whitney's own roots more than merely proud and the overall show was a sure success as far as knockout musical numbers go. As for the rest of the "Heart" Valentine's show, we were treated to a number of well-played guest appearances, such as Rachel's two dads, essayed all-too-deliciously by Jeff Goldblum and Brian Stokes Mitchell, in addition to THE GLEE PROJECT winner Samuel Larsen's much ballyhooed debut on the show. Former TGP finalist and Season Three GLEE featured player Damian McGinty also got more focus than usual, as did Amber Riley, who emerged as the star of this particular episode. Courtesy of a lively and raucous "Love Shack", Darren Criss made his welcome return after a few episodes out. The rest of the songs added to the overall candy-coated allure of the sweet and sugary confection of a show. No, "Heart" was not an episode that will linger forever in the memory like some in GLEE's past, but the music made the night - and, in the case of "I Will Always Love You", made it really pack a punch when we needed it. It most closely resembled the wedding episode from last season, I thought - which is certainly a compliment. Plus, "Heart" featured the return of Karofsky - in gorilla suit, no less - and many dramatic twists for the gleeks we have all come to know and love. And, just how adorable is Sugar Motta?! (more...)
SOUND OFF: SMASH Casts Its MarilynSOUND OFF: SMASH Casts Its Marilyn
by Pat Cerasaro - February 14, 2012

Last night, SMASH cast Marilyn Monroe in the big Broadway musical based on her life at the show's center. Or, did they? While Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) may have done whatever it took to make an impression on the show's lothario director, Derek (Jack Davenport), it was Ivy's long-standing friendship with the songwriting team of Julia & Tom (Debra Messing & Christian Borle) and the belief in her readily apparent talent by the lead producer, Eileen (Anjelica Huston), that really sealed the deal. So, where does that leave Karen (Katharine McPhee)? In the chorus, it seems - at least for now. The drama escalated and reached an early peak along with the crescendos of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's smashing "Twentieth Century Fox Mambo" showstopper - the musical highlight of the impossibly strong second episode - as the heated fully-staged and fully-choreographed audition gave way to a dream reality which finally showed us all out there in the audience what a Karen/Marilyn could potentially be: a true blonde bombshell to beat the band. Of course, nothing is quite so cut and dry as it may appear and Karen may get her chance in the spotlight on the actual Marilyn musical's stage after all. Yet, for the next few episodes at least, Ivy is the star of the show - and she is going to wring every last wiggle, coo and peck out of the role. Plus, who can put over a number in true Broadway fashion - as Marilyn Monroe, perfectly played, no less - than Megan Hilty? Did you hear her line in the newly envisioned 'Let Me Be Your Star'? In much the same way as Hilty with the Broadway pizazz, McPhee effortlessly puts over treacherously tricky pop songs with smoothness, sweetness and near-tangible sincerety and conviction. Which way will the score ultimately go - and, furthermore, what shall be of the show that contains it? Will the musical be more Norma Jean or more Marilyn, thus more befitting of Karen or Ivy, respectively? Who knows, perhaps there ultimately will be two Marilyns required - as was proposed in this very column last week at this time and seems the logical ultimate conclusion of the casting dilemma at the show's core. We will certainly have to wait and find out what happens next on SMASH and what the show ends up requiring of its incredibly talented cast of hoofers and stars-to-be. Plus, Nick Jonas, Uma Thurman and Bernadette Peters make guest star debuts in the next several weeks! (more...)
by Pat Cerasaro - February 13, 2012

Coming quick on the heels of the untimely death of iconic pop singer and film star Whitney Houston was last night's subdued and largely somber 2012 Grammy Awards telecast which had a definite focus on three soulful leading ladies in particular: Whitney, Jennifer Hudson and Adele, the latter being the night's across-the-board big winner. Begun on the completely wrong foot with an awkward and inappropriate religious tribute to Houston by charismatic but ineffectual host LL Cool J, the rest of the Grammy show managed to have sporadic moments of entertainment - the best and brightest being Bruno Mars, Foo Fighters, Tony Bennett & Carrie Underwood, as well as the button-pushing performance by rap/pop notable Nicki Minaj and some polished country stars. Pushing boundaries with an exorcism-themed theatrical spectacular, complete with a Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim sample from WEST SIDE STORY in the form of "I Feel Pretty", surely Nicki Minaj made many fans - and more than a few enemies, no doubt - with her expressive and eccentric production number, "Roman Holiday" - complete with priests, fire pits, confessional booths and levitations! The Grammys definitely had many lows and a few memorable highs beyond Minaj's exorcism, though, for the night was a veritable wake for Houston and a celebration of her musical legacy. Oscar-winning DREAMGIRLS star Jennifer Hudson gave Ms. Houston a truly tasteful and respectful tribute to mark the occasion. (more...)
SPECIAL: A Whitney Houston RetrospectiveSPECIAL: A Whitney Houston Retrospective
by Pat Cerasaro - February 11, 2012

The entire entertainment world is reeling. We have lost one of our most iconic pop, R&B and soundtrack performers this evening - as well as a formidable movie star in her own right - Whitney Houston was just reported dead at the age of 48. Having had one of the most successful and most multimedia of careers of any multi-hyphenate star in recent memory, Houston scored multiple Grammys and racked up countless nominations over the course of her multi-decade recording career, yet her most notable contributions to the world of music reside in her outstanding soundtrack work - most of all, the songs for the film in which she made the transition into feature film leading lady, 1992's THE BODYGUARD. The biggest hit from THE BODYGUARD's blockbuster soundtrack was undoubtedly Houston's rendition of a Dolly Parton song originally recorded in 1974 and later made famous by Parton in the feature film version of the Broadway hit THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, "I Will Always Love You". In addition to Houston's sensational work on that mega-selling soundtrack - one of the Top 5 best-selling soundtracks of all time - she also provided her dramatic and vocal skills to the multi-platinum soundtracks to THE PREACHER'S WIFE and WAITING TO EXHALE, both films which she also starred in to much box office success. An Oscar-winning duet with Mariah Carey, "When You Believe" by WICKED's Stephen Schwartz from THE PRINCE OF EGYPT is yet another diadem in Houston's triple crown of accomplishments in the realms of music, film and television - having dominated all. Theatre fans may know Houston best for her incomparable portrayal of the Fairy Godmother in the incredibly successful 1997 ABC TV adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein's CINDERELLA starring Brandy and produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. In addition to Houston's contributions to THE BODYGUARD, THE PREACHER'S WIFE, WAITING TO EXHALE, THE PRINCE OF EGYPT and CINDERELLA, Houston also rose to fame early in her career for her rendition of "Home" from THE WIZ on THE Merv Griffin SHOW, as well as made a mark with a Cissy Houston duet on the CHESS international smash, "I Know Him So Well" on her second hit album. The last project Houston was working on prior to her death on Saturday night was the feature film musical SPARKLE, co-starring AMERICAN IDOL winner and Broadway standout Jordin Sparks. SPARKLE reportedly completed production of principal photography and soundtrack sessions, though it is not clear when the musical remake will now be released in light of Houston's unexpected death. No matter the circumstances of her life and death, Whitney Houston most surely left a legacy that will never be forgotten by those that adored her for her vast multitude of talents and many notable accomplishments in all areas of entertainment. (more...)
SOUND OFF Special Interview: Kim Smith & MISFITSOUND OFF Special Interview: Kim Smith & MISFIT
by Pat Cerasaro - February 10, 2012

Song stylist and performance artist Kim Smith is a truly unique performer who brings together the worlds of cabaret and theatre in a wholly idiosyncratic and arrestingly amusing manner. Part Marlene Dietrich, part Eartha Kitt and all Kim Smith, Kim and I recently had the chance to discuss his solo show, MISFIT - what inspired it; what he will be singing; what we can expect from the show - as well as a host of other topics, such as his Australian upbringing, the music and performers who inspire him most, performing in Sondheim's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG and other musicals, as well as other collaborations with director Christian Coulson. Plus, Smith and I take an overview of his favorite current pop artists - many of whom he pays tribute to in his shows, such as Bjork and Robyn - and what elements draw him most in creating his series of surreal solo shows, the most recent being the highly regarded MISFIT, which returns to New York this Sunday. Also, we have first news on his forthcoming solo album and much, much more! (more...)
SOUND OFF: GLEE En Espanol (With Ricky Martin!)SOUND OFF: GLEE En Espanol (With Ricky Martin!)
by Pat Cerasaro - February 8, 2012

Completing the Lima Sound Machine in a truly terrific way, Ricky Martin made his highly-awaited GLEE debut last night and the word on the tips of tongues wagging across the country today is undoubtedly duende. Dwarf, you say? No, not dwarf - to paraphrase the idea of the term, a passion for performance. That being the definition, no show currently on TV packs more duende into each and every minute than GLEE. A dramatic and musical marriage to beat the band and infusing the show with some spine-tingling spark and verve, Ricky Martin made his musical moments really matter. Both Ricky's cover of LMFAO's international smash hit, remixed and sung alongside none other than Madonna on Sunday night's Super Bowl, "Sexy And I Know It" - in a new bilingual iteration - and Madonna's own "La Isla Bonita", in a moving and exceedingly pleasing pairing with Season 3 standout Naya Rivera, allowed for Ricky Martin to make his musical mark on the GLEE universe in much the same way Neil Patrick Harris, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Gwyneth Paltrow and many other featured guest stars have done in leaving indelible impressions that still linger in the memory. The Ian Brennan-penned "The Spanish Teacher" occasionally may have lapsed into Season Two variety show territory, but acted as an enlivening - and, eventually, surprisingly poignant - episode to occur at this point in the show's history. Will David Ramirez return to McKinley High to guest lecture a glee club rehearsal or two? We will have to stayed tuned to see - and hear - but, until then, this episode went a long way in furthering Sue's development as well as giving Finn and Kurt a welcome bonding scene. Beyond all that, though, Matt Morrison played a hard-to-swallow storyline about a non-Spanish speaking Spanish teacher with finesse and ease, letting Martin shine - or, should I say, twinkle. Like teeth - or stars - that is. (more...)

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