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Showtime! features reviews, commentary and assorted theatrical musings from Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld.com's Chief Theatre Critic. To submit amusing backstage banter, absurd audience observations or noteworthy links to Showtime!, click here. Anonymity's guaranteed. My not taking credit for your clever remark isn't.


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Robert Patrick Shares a Memory of Tom O'Horgan


As Broadway prepares for another mounting of Hair, the theatre community has received the sad news that the innovative director who helped make that musical such a success, Tom O'Horgan, has passed away. I asked the legendary and colorful playwright Robert Patrick to share a remembrance...

"I was present at the turning point in Tom's life. Having started at the Caffe Cino in 1963 and then having re-formed the world's ideas of movement and mounting onstage at Ellen Stewart's La Mama with Paul Foster's Tom Paine and Rochelle Owens' Futz!, and on Broadway with the Ragni/Rado/McDermott Hair, Tom was wooed and pursued to direct Jesus Christ, Superstar for Broadway. He didn't want to and called me to ask if I had a script he could return to Off-Off Broadway with. Indeed, I had. We were lounging in Tom's bedroom planning our production when Tom's roommate poked his head in the door and said there was an urgent call from the producer of Superstar. Tom turned red with anger, tossed his hair, and said, ‘I'll get rid of him for once and for all.' He came back with his face gray from shock and said, ‘Bob, I've got to do Superstar. You wouldn't believe the money they just offered me.'"

Photo: Tom O'Horgan in the film of Futz!

 

Posted on: Monday, January 12, 2009 @ 01:49 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Becky Shaw: All's (Vanity) Fair

It's such a shame that Second Stage's crackling production of Becky Shaw, Gina Gionfriddo's comedy of ill manners, is scheduled to close on February 1st.  I can't think of a better Valentine's Day entertainment for cynically single urbanites looking to combat the champagne and roses splendor with which the coupled celebrate February 14th than this acidic portrait of the down and dirty business of allowing oneself to be emotionally available.  Populated with smart, articulate characters who say clever things while living sad little lives, a night at Becky Shaw can do wonders for the self-esteem of the lonely hearted looking to both be entertained by and feel superior to those in or looking for love.

Gionfriddo's title character is inspired by Becky Sharp, the 1840's social-climbing anti-heroine of William Makepeace Thackeray's satirical Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero.  But before we meet her we get a taste of the nose-diving world she aspires to.

Four months a widow, Susan Slater (Kelly Bishop) has seen her substantial assets run dangerously low after taking up with a shady younger gentleman shortly following the death of her possibly cheating husband.  While she scolds her daughter Suzanna (Emily Bergl) for being too sensitive ("Some women - Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana - are sensual in grief.  You are not.") her sort of adopted son, Max (David Wilson Barnes) is all business in his role as family financial manager and peacemaker between mother and daughter.  While a very successful lawyer, the circumstances by which Max came to be raised by the Slaters have left him with serious trust issues and an abrasive, hurtful wit; more than slight hindrances in his potential as a romantic partner.

When Suzanna and her new husband Andrew (Thomas Sadoski), a kind-hearted soul who values people over money, set Max up on a blind date, it's with the titular Ms. Shaw (Annie Parisse), a temp at Andrew's job who turns out to be a college drop-out who is estranged from her family and has very little income.  Becky's helplessness - as well as her good looks and occasional signs of perceptiveness - attracts nurturing men like Andrew, who describes her as delicate while barely knowing her.  Whether that helplessness is legitimate or an act is anyone's guess.  The unusual details of Max and Becky's first date set into motion reactive responses from Suzanna and Andrew that challenge the family dynamic and inspired post theatre cocktail conversation between me and my guest about the nature of attraction.

Director Peter DuBois keeps the stage movement minimal, letting the evening ride on the sharp, funny and insightful verbal exchanges.  His terrific cast plays their roles with a slightly wthened reality, matching the series of improbably mounting plot complications.  Barnes' Max is the most mannered performance of the evening, lashing out arrogant words of contempt like William F. Buckley on Firing Line ("Romantic relationships are the pairing of equals!  That woman is not my equal!") while still projecting a sense of the man's loneliness.  Parisse's Becky is appropriately enigmatic and Bergl and Sadoski, as the emotionally frazzled breadwinner and her too selfless to be true spouse, nicely convey the awkwardness of a couple that rushed into marriage before getting to know each other.  Appearing in only the first and final scenes, and playing a character with multiple sclerosis, Bishop's role consists mostly of scathingly arid or outrageously inappropriate comments ("When someone with damage - as we have damage - courts a lover, we must be like the pedophile with the candy.") which she lands with drop dead accuracy.

Whether or not Becky Shaw has anything new or valuable to say about relationships is debatable, but the play is best enjoyed while keeping an emotional distance from its characters.  Otherwise you might recognize yourself in the mix and that's when things start getting serious.

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top: Thomas Sadoski and Emily Bergl; Bottom:  Annie Parisse and David Wilson Barnes

Posted on: Friday, January 09, 2009 @ 09:03 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 1/4 & Algonquin Round Table Quote of the Week

"Why don't you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?"

-- Robert Benchley

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 1/4/2009 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: SPRING AWAKENING (26.0%), EQUUS (15.7%), GYPSY (15.5%), BOEING-BOEING (15.4%), LIZA'S AT THE PALACE (11.8%), DIVIDING THE ESTATE (9.1%), HAIRSPRAY (8.7%), 13 (8.1%), MARY POPPINS (6.7%), PAL JOEY (5.0%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (4.8%), THE LITTLE MERMAID (4.5%), GREASE (4.4%), SPAMALOT (2.7%), CHICAGO (1.8%), JERSEY BOYS (1.8%), AVENUE Q (1.6%), THE 39 STEPS (1.5%), THE LION KING (1.4%), SHREK THE MUSICAL (0.2%),

Down for the week was: AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (-8.0%), SPEED THE PLOW (-5.8%), IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS (-5.6%), SLAVA'S SNOWSHOW (-5.2%), ALL MY SONS (-3.8%), MAMMA MIA! (-1.4%), IN THE HEIGHTS (-1.1%), SOUTH PACIFIC (-0.1%),

Posted on: Monday, January 05, 2009 @ 03:46 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Shrek: Come Look At The Freaks

Wipe off the green makeup, bulldoze the castle and get rid of the tap-dancing rats- no, keep the tap-dancing rats - and Shrek, despite its fairy-tale setting and gentle lesson about embracing the qualities that make us different, reveals itself as just a good ol' musical comedy.  And a darn enjoyable one at that.  Of course, whether you find it sophomoric or smartass might depend on your reaction to fart jokes, anachronistic contemporary references and visual quotes from classic musicals, but director Jason Moore has his terrific cast performing their goofy antics with slick professionalism.  Add some very humorous puppetry and bright, catchy tunes and you've got a fun night out.

For the few like me who haven't seen the movies nor read the book, the title character is a big green ogre who, in what may be the funniest child-abandonment scene in recent musical theatre history, is left to fend for himself by his parents at age seven.  With others around him repulsed and frightened by his looks, Shrek has spent his adult life in solitude, living at a swamp on the outskirts of Castle Duloc.  But when the evil Lord Farquaad, in an attempt to rid the monarchy of anyone who isn't perfectly attractive, banishes a gang of storybook characters (Pinocchio, The Gingerbread Man, Peter Pan, The Three Bears, et. al.) to the swamplands, Shrek agrees to rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona from the dragon-guarded tower she's been trapped in since childhood and bring her to be Farquaad's bride in exchange for having his new neighbors relocated.  You know where this is heading, don't you?

Jeanine Tesori's music may not be the most complex of her Broadway offerings, but she gives us a spirited hodge-podge of light pop and traditional showtune and that works especially well with the breezy quirkiness coming from the pen of bookwriter/lyricist  David Lindsay-Abaire.  Their best work is a sharp spoof of Jimmy Dean's country-western hit "Big Bad John" that tells the story of Lord Farquaad's parentage and a rousing anthem for social outcasts where the fairy tale folk proudly proclaim, "Let your freak flag fly!"  (Sadly, instead of using catchy tunes like "Big Bright Beautiful World" and "What's Up, Duloc?" for the audience's exit music, the decision was made to play "I'm A Believer," the Monkees hit that ended the first Shrek film.)  As in his plays like Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo, Abaire's book (which I'm told borrows significantly from Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman and Roger S.H. Schulman's original screenplay) draws affectionate laughs from the characters' oddball qualities.

Set, costume and puppet designer Tim Hatley dresses the production with the right mix of fairy-tale beauty and farcical edge, giving the actors well-detailed cartoon costumes that don't restrict their ability to perform.  For example, Brian d'Arcy James may be engulfed in padding with his face augmented by fake jowls, a bulbous nose and a bald headpiece, but the actor's performance remains physically flexible and loveably expressive.  Though d'Arcy James is an accomplished stage actor, it's still surprising how marvelously human a performance he can give, growing from a lonely creature satisfied with his solitude, to someone who has finally been the recipient of friendship and love and is ready to love in return.  And Tesori gives him ample opportunity to show off his soaring leading man high baritone.  Daniel Breaker takes on the standard "wacky sidekick" role as a character aptly named Donkey and counters d'Arcy James' stony Shrek with enjoyably goofy silliness.  Their thick comic chemistry is somewhat reminiscent of Jackie Gleason and Art Carney.

As Princess Fiona, Sutton Foster makes dorkiness cool and delivers her best Broadway performance to date.  Her cleverly conceived entrance begins with a little girl Fiona (Leah Greenhaus and Rachel Resheff alternate performances) optimistically singing of the future day when she'll be rescued from her tower.  Teen Fiona (Marissa O'Donnell) sings the next refrain that starts hinting at the character's mounting impatience and by the time Foster comes on to finish the number, Fiona has grown into a neurotic hot mess, sick of promises of storybook endings.  Her second act song and dance with an ensemble of woodland creatures (choreographed with corny gusto by Josh Prince) is thus far the daffiest, funniest bit of the current Broadway season.

Christopher Sieber is a flashy bundle of sneering arrogance as the evil Farquaad, a role that requires him to spend almost all his stage time on his knees to accommodate a costume that makes him appear to be a little person.  Though it would be nice to see an actual little person play the role, Moore and Prince get some good laughs out of staging that takes advantage of the difference between the wth of the actor and the wth of the character.  As Pinocchio, you might say John Tartaglia is the leader of the geek chorus of storybook characters (Shrek's chorus is the funniest collection of character acting singer/dancers in town), utilizing a voice that sounds a bit like Raul Esparza's Taboo take on Philip Sallon trying to imitate Miss Piggy.  His physically wooden performance is just swell, as are his other appearances; first as a game show host styled Magic Mirror (accomplished by attaching computerized whatnots to his face backstage) and then as the puppeteer of a sweetly lovesick dragon.

Like its title character, Shrek is a little crude but never insincere in its rousing desire to entertain.  Some of the show may seem recycled to the movie-going public, but it was fresh, lively fun to me.

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top:  Brian d'Arcy James, Daniel Breaker and Sutton Foster; Bottom:  Christopher Sieber and Company

Posted on: Sunday, January 04, 2009 @ 06:20 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


2008's Ten Memorable Theatre Moments You May Have Missed

Ah, it's that time of year again when, while most theatergoers are assembling their lists of the top (and sometimes bottom) plays and musicals of the year, I prefer to focus on ten memorable moments that perhaps relatively few got to see.  These moments don't necessarily come from the ten best productions, but in a city with the abundance of high quality theatre that Gotham enjoys, you never know when a great dramatic moment will come your way.

On the seventh day of that leisurely ten-day rehearsal period allotted for the Encores! concert production of Applause, Christine Ebersole, readying herself to star as Margo Channing, was stricken with a bad case of the flu.  With no understudy, her absence would have meant cancelling the show, so after three days in bed she forced herself on stage for the Wednesday night dress rehearsal performance with doctor's orders not to touch anybody.  At the Friday night performance I attended you could see and hear the obvious signs of the star's bad health; the notes that weren't held, the energy sagging at times, her voice petering out.  There were a couple of times I seriously thought she was going to stumble and fall on stage.  But the craft of a skilled actress and the heart of a passionate performer were out there in as full a force as Ebersole could muster.  As she stood alone, center stage, after a soft, simple vocalizing of the first act closer, "Welcome To The Theatre," the star was showered with a long, appreciative ovation from an audience that knew she could do better, but adored her for coming out and giving them the best she had.

Nine more picks can be found here.

Posted on: Tuesday, December 30, 2008 @ 09:53 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 12/28 & Algonquin Round Table Quote of the Week

"Ouch."

-- Alexander Woollcott's entire review of the play, Wham!

The grosses are out for the week ending 12/28/2008 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: 13 (35.6%), THE 39 STEPS (33.0%), CHICAGO (31.1%), GYPSY (30.4%), SHREK THE MUSICAL (28.4%), SLAVA'S SNOWSHOW (21.0%), AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (20.7%), IN THE HEIGHTS (19.6%), BOEING-BOEING (19.6%), MARY POPPINS (18.1%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (17.9%), THE LITTLE MERMAID (16.6%), GREASE (14.1%), ALL MY SONS (14.0%), THE LION KING (13.8%), SPAMALOT (13.5%), DIVIDING THE ESTATE (13.2%), LIZA'S AT THE PALACE (10.8%), PAL JOEY (9.8%), AVENUE Q (9.0%), MAMMA MIA! (8.3%), SPEED THE PLOW (7.9%), HAIRSPRAY (7.0%), EQUUS (5.0%), BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (2.2%), SOUTH PACIFIC (0.9%), JERSEY BOYS (0.4%),

Down for the week was: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS (-14.3%), SPRING AWAKENING (-3.2%),

Posted on: Monday, December 29, 2008 @ 04:14 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


A Light Lunch: Pre-Mortem

A couple of years ago I went to the Flea Theater and had a fun time with A.R. Gurney's then newest play, Post Mortem.  It was a clever little piece taking place in the future about a college student writing his thesis on a long-forgotten playwright named A.R. Gurney, and was filled with self-referential zingers based on his reputation for writing "middle class comedies of manners" that made him popular with WASP theatergoers.

Since that time - in between writing drafts of good stuff like Crazy Mary and Buffalo Gal, I would presume - it seems Gurney has thought up few more self-referential zingers and has wrapped his new play, A Light Lunch, around them.

This one is also set in the future, though during the author's lifetime, at a meeting between Gary (Tom Lipinski) Gurney's young, financially struggling agent at William Morris and Beth (Beth Hoyt) a low-ranking lawyer for a firm representing a mysterious Texan who is willing to fork over a lot of money for exclusive open-ended rights to produce his new, unfinished play about George W. Bush.  The point being - and I'm not giving anything away here that isn't too obvious too quickly - that somebody wants to make sure this one is never seen.

"Try Googling Gurney some time. You'll see that many of his plays, because of their simple sets, and small casts, and tame ideas, are done by schools and colleges and amateur groups all across the country," explains Beth as her client's reason for wanting the Bush play silenced.

Gary eventually counters with, "Were you aware all along that you were using sly and dishonest means to stifle the legitimate utterances of a senior American playwright whose best works may well be behind him?"

While these lines may be titter-worthy, they're also too reminiscent of exchanges from his earlier, much funnier, piece.  A quick reference to Jim Simpson, The Flea's artistic director and the director of this production, seems downright fresh by comparison.

While Gary and Beth debate art and politics, their nosey waitress/actress Viola (Havilah Brewster with a thick outer boroughs accent) smells a potential gig and treats the serving of their lunch as an audition.  While the set-up is amusing enough and there is a decent amount of effective humor, the 70-minute play runs out of steam long before Viola's drama teacher boyfriend, Marshall (John Russo), assumes the role of deus ex machina.  (He actually enters the scene and calls himself a deus ex machina.)

While the actors and director work admirably with the thin text, set designer John McDermott actually delivers the cleverest work of the night by setting the play in a restaurant that seems a cross between Joe Allen and Sardi's, with the latter's framed caricatures (by Paul Howard) mounted on the former's exposed brick wall.  The twist is that the caricatures are of Elizabeth Swados, Osker Eustis, Ellen Stewart and other notables of Off-Broadway.

Photo by Richard Termine:  Havilah Brewster, John Russo, Tom Lipinksi and Beth Hoyt

**********************************

I have come to the conclusion that laws must be passed to prohibit anyone under 25 from singing "Surabaya Johnny" in a piano bar. You can appeal by providing sworn testimony from three guys saying they all screwed you over sufficiently enough that you understand the lyric.

Posted on: Sunday, December 28, 2008 @ 11:28 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Christine Pedi's Jolly Holly Christmas Folly: Accept No Imitations

The daffy and delightful Christine Pedi's newest cabaret concoction, the Jolly Holly Christmas Folly is an inviting cocktail mixing old favorites with a few new routines; very merry, raucously funny and abundantly cheery.

As expected, there are plenty of diva impersonations featuring Broadway and Hollywood legends getting into the holiday spirit.  Ethel Merman belts out "Silent Night" with reckless abandon and Bette Davis' haughty "O Holy Night," slyly suggests unholy intentions when she commands, "Fall on you knees."  Liza Minnelli's "Rudolf, the Red Nosed Reindeer" ("You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer...  I know so many Prancers.") is a melodramatic lesson about tolerance and Judi Dench singing "The Dreidel Song" is just as hilarious as it sounds.

Her grand finale," The Twelve Divas of Christmas," has audience members picking names out of a hat to determine who sings of partridges in pear trees and who hits the money notes on "five golden rings."  The night I attended the lineup consisted of Bernadette Peters, Joan Rivers, Charo, Gwen Verdon (my first time hearing this one and it is extraordinary), Barbra Streisand, Carol Channing, Katherine Hepburn, a gorgeously purring Eartha Kitt, Angela Lansbury (another new one for me, and it had audience members gasping at her accuracy), Julie Andrews, Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker and her ever-hysterically Elaine Stritch.  There are more than a dozen names in the hat so every performance brings a new mixture of divas, and each selection is given a personal arrangement by her ace music director/pianist Matthew Ward.

But while I'll never tire of Pedi's pin-point mimicry, it's the moments as herself that make this Forbidden Broadway alum one of the most entertaining cabaret performers in town.  With tender simplicity she earnestly brings blizzard-melting warmth to Irving Berlin's "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" and Martin and Blane's "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," but can handily switch into jazzy broad mode to swing out "The Man With The Bag" (Dudley Brooks, Hal Stanley & Irv Taylor).  A familiar routine has "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" (J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie) done in the sultry style of Kander and Ebb's "Roxie" from Chicago, complete with a revised monologue that cleverly quotes the original ("I started being nice.  Then I started being naughty.  Which is like nice, but without underwear.") but it's in the Oscar Hammerstein/Otto Harbach/George Gershwin comic classic, "Vodka" that she proves herself a superior musical theatre clown, growling out deep inebriated tones as a frisky Russian socialite.

Though the 25th has already come and gone, Christine Pedi's Jolly Holly Christmas Folly will be keeping yuletides bright through December 30th, 7pm nightly at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. 

Posted on: Saturday, December 27, 2008 @ 11:20 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Mary Bond Davis Sizzles For The Food Network

Anyone who saw Mary Bond Davis as Broadway's original Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray, or in her many cabaret and concert performances, knows that woman can sizzle on stage.  But now viewers of The Food Network have a chance to see how she sizzles in the kitchen.

Click here to see Mary's video entry in the search to find The Next Food Network Star.  Her segment is appropriately called Mary's Sizzling Treats.

She can sing, she can act and. as Comden and Green would say, she can cook, too!

Posted on: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 @ 03:00 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 12/21 & Algonquin Round Table Quote of the Week

"Don't think I'm not incoheret."

-- Harold Ross

The grosses are out for the week ending 12/21/2008 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: SHREK THE MUSICAL (18.2%), SPRING AWAKENING (17.5%), SLAVA'S SNOWSHOW (11.6%), THE SEAGULL (10.6%), AVENUE Q (10.4%), SPAMALOT (8.7%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (6.8%), THE LITTLE MERMAID (6.7%), GREASE (6.5%), EQUUS (3.8%), WICKED (3.3%), MARY POPPINS (2.7%), THE LION KING (1.8%), HAIRSPRAY (1.0%), MAMMA MIA! (0.9%), CHICAGO (0.5%), IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS (0.2%),

Down for the week was: LIZA'S AT THE PALACE (-25.7%), SPEED THE PLOW (-19.3%), GYPSY (-14.3%), DIVIDING THE ESTATE (-12.1%), IN THE HEIGHTS (-8.0%), AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (-5.8%), 13 (-4.0%), THE 39 STEPS (-3.8%), BOEING-BOEING (-3.2%), ALL MY SONS (-3.0%), JERSEY BOYS (-2.0%), PAL JOEY (-1.3%), SOUTH PACIFIC (-0.7%), BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (-0.6%),

Posted on: Monday, December 22, 2008 @ 04:14 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Live Theatre Is Only For Now?

I somehow doubt that, despite Broadway's struggles in the current economy, Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez would be so cynical as to use the title of this entry as their new "For Now" lyric in Avenue Q, but since it's only a matter of weeks before the sharply satirical children's educational musical for adults they penned with Jeff Whitty outlasts the current presidential administration, that infamous lyric, "George Bush is only for now," is about to be impeached.

But instead of just whipping up another punch line themselves, Marx and Lopez are turning to the people to come up with their newest rim shot.  Just visit the Avenue Q website for details of a contest where fans can offer their own "for now" suggestions, with the revised line premiering on January 20th, President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration day.  Given one of the controversies of that day I might suggest, "Rick Warren is only for now," but I doubt it would make the short list.

Here are some more that would only be appreciated by The Bad Idea Bears.  While you're sending the Q gang your best witticisms, please feel free to list your rejects with us!

Slant rhyming… is only for now!

Analog television reception…  is only for now!

Tovah Feldshuh's streak of 4 winless Tony nominations…  is only for now!

George Bush...  was only for then!

Any more bad ideas?

Posted on: Monday, December 22, 2008 @ 04:01 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Replies: 3 - Click Here




About Michael: After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Shea Stadium pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.