BACKSTAGE: Broadway's 'If/Then' at The Bushnell, the Malloys Yuk It Up, Bruce Vilanch's New Goodspeed Musical

Photo by Rick Stockwell

​“It’s a show that touches on a theme we all think about,” says composer Tom Kitt, whose Broadway musical If/Then has a tour stop at The Bushnell in Hartford Aug. 3-7.

“It’s about the choices that we make in our lives and those we didn’t. Sometimes we look back with great affection and other times with some regret.”

Kitt says he has had some serendipitous moments in his life. After the closing of his first “exciting and traumatic” — and under-appreciated — Broadway musical, High Fidelity, he wasn’t sure what was next for him. “And then the universe opened itself up to me.”

Stepping in to help out a friend as musical director for a show led to working with director Michael Mayer, which led to his next Broadway musical and a job as arranger and orchestrator for Green Day’s American Idiot. The Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal followed.

Photo by Joan Marcus

Life works in circuitous ways for Jackie Burns, too, who stars in the tour in the role originated by Idina Menzel. (Burns also played another noted Menzel role, in Wicked on Broadway and on tour).

Burns grew up in Middletown and Ivoryton and got her start at the Ivoryton Playhouse as a witch in the children’s theater production of Sleeping Beauty. She followed her theatrical training at UConn’s theater department in Storrs.

She too thinks about the choices she made and those twists of fate. Her favorite? “If I didn’t take the role in Hair (in Central Park and on Broadway) then I wouldn’t have met the man who would become my husband.” Sounds like an if-then moment.

Theater as Lifesaver

Cathy Malloy and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Photo by Mara Lavitt

A crowd of more than 350 theater artists and fans gathered not too long ago at Hartford Stage for the 26th Connecticut Critics Circle Awards, where the premiere of the musical Anastasia at Hartford Stage took an armful of honors. (It’s going to open on Broadway April 24, 2017, at the Broadhurst Theatre.) Presenters included Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Cathy Malloy, who is chief executive officer of the Greater Hartford Arts Council. The two bantered so well with each other you’d expect them to land a reality series. Animal trainer Bill Berloni and his dogs were scene stealers, as was Nicole Scimeca, who plays the littlest princess in Anastasia and accepted best musical award for the production.

But it was an emotional Teren Carter, winning as featured musical actor for Ivoryton Playhouse’s Memphis, who had the crowd a little teary. Carter dedicated his award to his nephew who was killed in a gang-related shooting in Baltimore. Carter said he could have ended up with the wrong crowd, too, but had been saved by his love of theater.

Pet Sounds

“In the ’60s, I was a theater geek and Broadway tunes were like real music,” says writer-comedian Bruce Vilanch. “But rock ’n roll was a guilty pleasure.”

Vilanch, the comic writer for Bette Midler, many Oscar telecasts and the go-to gag man on Hollywood Squares, had a particular soft spot for songs sung by Petula Clark, most of which were written by Tony Hatch. Now Vilanch has crafted a script to Sign of the Times, a new musical that will receive a developmental production (meaning not ready for critics) at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre in Chester.

“Her songs always sounded so theatrical to me and very orchestral. I think they’ll find a home on stage as well as they did on the radio.”

Clark — now (gulp!) 83 — fell into both theatrical and pop camps, says Vilanch. “They tried to turn her into the next Julie Andrews and she made musical film versions of Finian’s Rainbow and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. But it didn’t take.”

But after her pop musical career she returned to the stage, performing in musicals such as Blood Brothers and Sunset Boulevard.

Vilanch sees the project with the same girl-friendly appeal of Mamma Mia!, which crafted a show around ABBA songs. “It’s about a girl from Middle America in the ’60s who goes to New York — make that “downtown” New York where all the lights are bright — and finds herself surrounded by ‘Mad Men.’ In the end, she becomes a feminist.”

Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for The Hartford Courant. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @ShowRiz.

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Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for The Hartford Courant. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @ShowRiz.