REVIEW: Once at the Academy of Music

Mackenzie Lesser-Roy and Sam Cieri.

Mackenzie Lesser-Roy and Sam Cieri.

I don’t think there’s been a recent Broadway musical as polarizing to New York theatre goers as Once, the winner of 2012’s Tony for Best Musical: They either are absolutely bowled over by it’s style, or totally hate it for it’s unconventional staging and music. After watching the Dublin-inspired show on Friday night at the Academy, I lean much more towards being deeply moved and wowed by the heartfelt score and story, not to mention the insanely talented company. Read more »

Doylestown’s Liam Fennecken Makes Academy of Music Debut

Liam Fennecken 3

The first thing Liam Fennecken is going to do once he gets to Philly is hit the flagship Wawa on Broad and Walnut. He hasn’t been yet, and he’s through trying to explain the store to his Once touring cast members.

“I’m so excited,” he said. “It’s such a Philly-specific thing that people just don’t understand.”

Fennecken, who grew up in Doylestown and went to Archbishop Wood High School, is making his Philadelphia professional theatrical debut this January in Once, the Irish-infused Broadway musical coming to the Academy of Music. He tackles the role of Svec, and has to do a lot more than just sing and act; he plays four instruments on stage. We caught up with the multitalented performer who received his theater training at Penn State.

You’re the second person I’ve talked to recently who came out of the theater program from Penn State and is touring as a lead with a Broadway show. I’m curious to hear about your experience at the college and how it prepared you.
I loved it. First of all, I wasn’t even looking to go into theater. I went into Penn State as an Animal Science major, which is still a passion of mine. I started going and seeing the shows and thought, “Why am I not doing that?” I really lucked out and decided that I wanted to do theater for my life. It’s such a wonderful program: All of the faculty and teachers have worked in the industry for years and are supportive and help get you connections outside of school. Read more »

Interview: Hamilton Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler


I couldn’t have an interview with Andy Blankenbuehler without asking about Hamilton, the mega Broadway musical which he choreographed that has equivocally become a cultural phenomenon. Sure, I was chatting with him about his new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat —which is coming to Philly at the end of December — but his creative juice behind both productions is quite similar.

“It’s hard to talk about it because it is so big,” he says of Hamilton. “The process mirrored my life. My daughter was going through chemo while I was working on the show, so we were literally fighting for life, which is what the show is about. It’s a rite of passage. It tested everything that created my emotional life for the last 45 years, and it is all the things I’ve ever wanted to do.” Read more »

REVIEW: Matilda: The Musical at the Academy of Music

Photo by Joan Marcus for Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre.

Photo by Joan Marcus from Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre.

Is a show like Matilda: The Musical too big to properly tour?

That question was definitely on my mind last evening after I left the performance at the Academy of Music. The touring Broadway musical has come a long way since, say, the first national tour of Cats, which pretty much employed a strand of Christmas tree lights on the stage and called it a “set.” But at least that set worked.

Last evening’s Matilda was plagued with technical malfunctions throughout the performance, including one that literally stopped the show during act one, causing an announcer to broadcast that the set was having difficulties. The other major malfunction took place during the climax of the show. I won’t give the plot away, but the moment was supposed to involve a piece of chalk magically writing a message on a board. Let’s just say the chalk stopped working. Read more »

REVIEW: Bullets Over Broadway at Academy of Music

Michael Williams and Emma Stratton (Photo by Matthew Murphy).

Michael Williams and Emma Stratton | Photo by Matthew Murphy

Olive, a stripper who wants to be a serious actress, says this of her previous stage experience in the musical Bullets Over Broadway: “I call it interpretive dance: The audience interpreted it one way and the Catholic Church interpreted it another.”

That’s the kind of zany gag that fills the nearly three-hour Woody Allen/Susan Stroman musical which kicked off the Broadway Philadelphia season last evening. The original Broadway production, which opened in April 2014 and closed five months later, earned a half-dozen Tony nominations. This touring show, which recreates Stroman’s signature choreography, highlights some emerging musical theater talent, although the play itself isn’t terribly well-crafted or thoughtful. Read more »

Penn State Alum Lands Lead Role in Broadway Philadelphia Season Opener

Emma Stratton in "Bullets Over Broadway."

Emma Stratton in “Bullets Over Broadway.”

When the big Broadway touring shows come to town, it’s always great to find some sort of a local connection, and with the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Philadelphia season opener, Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway, there’s quite a homecoming for Emma Stratton. The Penn State alumnus plays the lead role of Helen Sinclair in the zany musical comedy. She took some time out of her busy schedule of opening the tour in Cleveland to chat with us about her Penn State education and how it prepared her for a life on the stage.

I have to ask if you’re from Pennsylvania since you went to Penn State. Funny enough, no. I grew up in San Diego, but I loved going to Penn State. It’s what I called the sort-of East Coast.

What kind of theatre department does Penn State have? It seems pretty comprehensive. When I was going into auditions for schools, I had no idea about Penn State. I actually wanted to study abroad, and I hadn’t really researched a ton of schools. I then found out that the BFA program at Penn State was one of the top in the country, yet not a lot of people know about it because its not in a big city. The more I started researching, the more people came out of the woodwork about Penn State: It was like it a had a cult following. It was an amazing school with an incredible program that shaped me so much. Thank goodness lots of friends from Penn State will be coming to Philly to see the show. Read more »

Josh Groban on the 5 Broadway Shows He’s Dying to Be In

I chatted with the incomparable Josh Groban about his new album, Stages, which is a full compilation of songs from the musical theater cannon. He’s coming to Upper Darby on September 16th to the Tower Theater, and closer to the date, we’ll share our longer interview with you. In the meantime, we thought we’d give you a little teaser of just how much of a Broadway boy Groban really is.

Sure, the songbird started in musical theater when he was younger, but Stages is the first full theater album he’s released during his career. He already wowed audiences in the PBS concert staging of Chess a number of years back. So, I had to ask: What Broadway musicals would Groban love to star in? Below is the list, in no particular order.

Read more »

Kinky Boots: A Bunch of Big-Hearted Drag Queens Remind Us Of The Golden Rule

The cast of 'Kinky Boots.'

The cast of ‘Kinky Boots.’

As Lola, the extravagant drag queen who is half the protagonist team in Kinky Boots, says in her splashy opening number, “No need to be embarrassed: I like being looked at, and you like to look!” She’s right: We really do like to look, and we’ll be liking to look for another two hours at this big, splashy musical that has so much heart, it’s almost overflowing from the stage.

That’s half the point of the Cyndi Lauper/Harvey Fierstein show that is in town at the Forrest Theatre. Underneath all the makeup, the sequin shoes, and the wigs, these queens reinforce the musical’s main message: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…and love yourself while looking fabulous, too, damn it! Read more »

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