Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: Beating Broadway by Steve Cuden

By Lauren Yarger
So, you want to be a Broadway musical book writer. If you read "Beating Broadway: How to Create Stories for Musicals That Get Standing Ovations" (Cudwerks Productions, 2013) By Steve Cuden, you just might be on your way.

Cuden, who co-wrote the book and lyrics for Broadway's Jekyll & Hyde (music by Frank Wildhorn), cleverly puts together an informative, organized and practical "how to" in his hefty book divided into two "acts."

Act One is is the elements of constructing a story for a musical. what are the rules? How is the story structured? How to do it.

Act Two is a breakdown of the "narrative beats" of more than 30 Broadway musicals, both classics and more modern shows, giving the breakdown of their scenes and highlighting where the common parts of their story structure happen, like inciting incidents, point of no return, climax, etc. Book of Mormon, A Chorus Line, The Fantasticks, Camelot, Jersey Boys, The Producers, West Side Story, Wicked -- they're all in there. 

By offering the story breakdowns from shows with which we are familiar, Cuden effectively translates the abstract world of plots, format and formula to tangible application. This section not only is helpful in building story structure, but is a terrific breakdown of these musicals which can be used for reference.

A bonus section also includes the breakdowns of five movie musicals with some insights into why stage musicals don't always transition well on the big screen and vice versa.

This book is a must read for anyone seriously interested in writing books for musicals. It also has a lot of information helpful to anyone in the process of storytelling in general. Cuden's credits also include film and TV and has written scripts for "Lucky," "X-Men," "Loonatics Unleashed," Extreme Ghostbusters," "The Pink Panther," "Robo Cop" and others.

For more information and to purchase the book, visit http://www.beatingbroadway.com/about-steve-cuden.html or stevecuden.com.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review: Cirque du Soleil: Quidam

  • Banquine. Photo: Matt Beard; Costumes: Dominique Lemieux ©2011 Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil's Quidam
The Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
Through July 28, 2013
On tour in the US and around the world

What's It All About?
From the show (since I very rarely can figure out what the plot of a Cirque show is amidst all of the wondrous balancing, juggling, flying and clowning:

Young Zoé is bored; her parents, distant and apathetic, ignore her. Her life has lost all meaning. Seeking to fill the void of her existence, she slides into an imaginary world - the world of Quidam - where she meets characters who encourage her to free her soul.

Quidam: a nameless passer-by, a solitary figure lingering on a street corner, a person rushing past and swallowed by the crowd. It could be anyone, anybody. Someone coming or going at the heart of our anonymous society. A member of the crowd, one of the silent majority. The one who cries out, sings and dreams within us all. This is the "quidam" whom this show allows to speak. This is the place that beckons - a place for dreaming and genuine relations where all quidams, by proclaiming their individuality, can finally emerge from anonymity.

Quidam is directed by Guy Laliberté whose credits include Cirque du Soleil (1985), La magie continue (1986), We Reinvent the Circus (1987), Nouvelle expérience (1990), Saltimbanco (1992), Mystère (1993) Alegría (1994), Quidam (1996), La Nouba and "O" (1998). He also directed the full-length feature Alegria, which came out in the spring of 1999.

What are the Highlights?
Endless fun as acrobats, jugglers, clowns and even audience members entertain for about two hours under expansive curved trussing that allows performers to fly and even walk on air. It's breathtaking, awe-inspiring stuff.

This show doesn't include some of the more death-defying acts Cirque du Soleil is known for, but this troupe seems to be made up of exceptionally skilled acts with special talents. Standing out are these:
  • "Statue," where a man and a woman (Yves Decoste and Valentyna Sidenko), showcasing their very toned muscles, move as one while striking amazing poses of balance with grace and dexterity.
  • "Skipping ropes" which highlights individual jump roping skills and brings the large ensemble together for an amazing group routine.
  • "Clown Cinema," featuring clown Toto Castineiras trying to direct a movie with participants from the audience. Every time Castineiras was on stage the cute little boy in front of me giggled contagiously.
  • "Banquine," a spectacular with 15 performers doing a routine of human pyramids and acrobatics that make cheerleading competitions look lame.  Banquine is an Italian acrobatic tradition with origins that date back to the middle ages (and yes, that's straight out of the program -- again, I won't pretend to have taken in anything but the pure spectacle f the experience). This act won a Golden Clown at the Monte Carlo Circus Festival.
What are the Lowlights?
The music, composed by Musical Director Benoit Jutras, doesn't sound like a Cirque score (he has composed  the scores for O and La Nouba also) and includes annoying parts that sound like someone talking on a cell phone or on the radio while the music is playing. Some sounded like Mongolian throat singers to my son, who attended with me, and who was quite impressed. If he hadn't mentioned it, I wouldn't have been able to just told you that, having never heard of Mongolian throat singers myself.....

Here's what the show says about the music:
"In Quidam, Cirque du Soleil takes a new approach to vocals. For the first time, the fragility of a childlike voice combines with the strength of a man’s voice to create a powerful blend of sensitivity and intensity. The musicians follow the artists’ movements and ensure they are in sync with the act."

The crowd here was not a theater audience, with people talking, taking photos and filming video throughout the show. The security sweep to get into the facility would make the TSA proud.

More information:
This New York engagement is very limited, running only through this Sunday, July 28 at the Barclays Center, 620 Atlantic Ave  Brooklyn, NY. Buy tickets by clicking here. For a list of tour cities, click here. Next stop: Florida.

Christians might also like to know:
-- No notes. Enjoy.

2013 Broadway Blessing Will Feature Christiane Noll, Melissa Errico

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Theaterworks USA's Children's Musical Civil War is Free

Theatreworks USApresents the Off-Broadway premiere of the new children's musical The Civil War as the 25th Anniversary production of the company's annual Free Summer Theatre Program.

The show opens at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street) Thursday and continues through Friday, Aug. 6.

THE CIVIL WAR is the story of people from different backgrounds fighting for the future of the nation - both sides believing they are fighting for freedom. Incorporating traditional songs from the period and many different character perspectives, this historical musical brings to life for the next generation of young people a major event in the history of our country. 

Directed by Jonathan Silverstein and choreographed by Tracy Bersley, THE CIVIL WAR features a book and additional lyrics by Arthur Perlman with arrangements and additional music by Jeff Lunden. Adam Fontana stars as Will, Max Kumangai as Zac, Alyse Alan Louis as Jackie, Jim Stanek as Johnny, and Michael Thomas Walker as Sarge. Understudies are Zach Bencal, Sara Glancy and Aaron Wright.

The production features scenic design by Kevin Judge, costume design by Sydney Maresca, lighting design by David Lander and the sound design by Carl Casella. Logan Culwell serves as music director and the production stage manager is Byron F. Abens.

Launched in 1989, the mission of Theatreworks USA's Free Summer Theatre Program is to provide New York City youth with their own theatre tradition that not only entertains, but also educates and fosters positive values and an appreciation for theatre. This summer 15,000 free tickets will be distributed to The Civil War.


Free tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis in-person at the Lucille Lortel Theatre Box Office (121 Christopher Street) on the day of the performance. Tickets for each day's performances will be distributed beginning one hour prior to the first performance of the day. There is a limit of four (4) tickets per adult per day. The show is a 60-minute, one-act musical recommended for children ages 8 and up. 

The performance schedule is as follows: Monday through Friday at 10:30 am and 1 pm; Sundays at 2 pm;
Dark on Saturdays. SCHEDULE EXCEPTIONS: There are no 1 pm performances July 15-17 and no 10:30 am performance on Thursday, July 18. There are added 6 pm performances on Thursday, Aug. 1 and Thursday, Aug. 15. (No free tickets are available for the opening night benefit, Thursday, July 18 at 6:30 pm.).Summer camps, youth programs and social service organizations can make reservations for groups of fifteen (15) or more by calling 212.627.7373.

Because Theatreworks USA accepts reservations from summer camps, individual tickets are extremely limited for the weekday daytime performances. Reservations cannot be made by the general public unless making a donation: For every $50 you donate, you are entitled to one reserved VIP seat for the performance of your choice (excluding the opening night benefit on Thursday, July 18 at 6:30 pm). Limit 10 tickets per order. No exchanges or refunds. For more information, call 212.647.1100 x131 or email development@twusa.org.
Availability is better for evening and weekend shows, which are entirely open to the public. Once all group tickets are distributed, any remaining patrons will be admitted at curtain time on a space-available basis. For more information, please visit www.TWUSA.org.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Quick Hit Theater Review: The Weir

Sean Gormley, Tessa Klein, and Dan Butler. Photo: Carol Rosegg
The Weir
By Conor McPherson
Directed by Ciaran O'Reilly
Irish Repertory Theatre

What's It All About?
Its a ghost story. Well, actually a few ghost stories and Irish storytelling at its best  in a revival of McPherson's 1997 play with a strong ensemble cast wonderfully directed by Ciaran O'Reilly. Jack (Dan Butler) stops in at the Irish pub owned by Brenden (Billy Carter) to shoot the breeze and put back a few. They are joined by Jim (John Keating) and the subject of conversation turns to the new woman in town, Valerie (Tessa Klein) who is being shown around town by hotel owner Finbar (Sean Gormley) before stopping at the pub. It seems there's a bit of a ghost story attached to the house where Valerie is staying and as liquor loosens tongues and inhibitions, a few ghostly tales are told. At first the men apologize to Valerie, but she has reasons of her own to be interested in their tales.Beyond being a storytelling fest, the play is a study of loss, loneliness and longing.

What are the highlights?
Top-notch production all around and a beautifully detailed set designed by Charlie Corcoran. Butler is particularly fascinating to watch as his character becomes more influenced by alcohol.

What are the lowlights?
None. This is a sit-back-and-enjoy show.

More information:
The Weir (which is actually a sort of damn on a waterway) has been extended through Sept. 8 at Irish Rep, 132 West 22nd St., NYC. Performances are Wednesday at 3 and 8 pm | Thursday at at 7 pm | Fridays at 8 pm | Saturday at 3 and 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. The show runs 90 minutes without intermission. Tickets: http://www.irishrep.org/theweir.html.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

Gracewell Prodiuctions

Gracewell Prodiuctions
Producing Inspiring Works in the Arts
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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2022 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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