Shervin Lainez 4

She’s been performing for nearly a decade, but 2014 is shaping up to be Ingrid Michaelson’s biggest year yet.

On Wednesday, the 34-year-old played to a sold-out crowd of approximately 5,500 adoring fans at New York’s iconic Central Park SummerStage. It was the singer / songwriter’s largest headlining show to date, and Michaelson was very visibly moved by the turnout when she stepped onto the stage to commemorate the milestone.

But the size of the venue wasn’t the only reason that the flame-haired native Staten Islander was celebrating that night. “Girls Chase Boys,” the lead single off her new album Lights Out (iTunes), had just sold a coveted 500,000 copies. And her band surprised her by presenting her with a plaque lauding the achievement right before she broke into the song.

With an accompanying viral music video that pays homage to Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible,” “Girls Chase Boys” is Michaelson’s highest-charting single since her breakout “The Way I Am” peaked at #37 in 2007. The upbeat track can be found not only on the Billboard Pop Songs top 40 chart, but also in a Target ad, movie trailers, and an upcoming episode of The Voice. Not too shabby for someone who was discovered on MySpace and doesn’t have the support of a major record label (Michaelson still records under the Cabin 24 Records banner–a label she started so that she can keep full artistic control and rights to her music).

It’s not just the growing list of accolades that makes “Girls Chase Boys” a defining turning point in Michaelson’s repertoire. Upon its release, the song signaled an artistic evolution that found the singer straying away from her indie rock roots to exploring her pop sensibilities in ways she never has before. It became instantly clear that she’s now more inspired by artists like Sia and Lana Del Rey, who have managed to blend their unique styles with contemporary pop to form layered and distinct new sounds, than by musicians like Regina Spektor or the late Elliott Smith, whose influences were very apparent in her earlier work.

Ingrid Michaelson

When it came time to work on Lights Out, Michaelson decided to take a slightly different creative approach than with her previous albums. This time around, she chose to invite various other artists and producers to lend their talents to the record–including BusbeeA Great Big WorldKatie Herzig,Mat Kearney, and Trent Dabbs. This allowed her to turn it into a passion project that resembled a musical family affair.

“The first half of 2012 was pretty rough in terms of just my own health and my family’s health, and there was just a lot of darkness,” Michaelson recently told Yahoo! Entertainment, explaining what inspired her to switch gears and ditch her solo act. “When you have a really hard time it changes you in a lot of ways, and when I came out of it, I just wanted to do things differently. I had this change of heart and I wanted to embrace the idea of making a very collaborative record.”

During the recording of the album, Michaelson’s mother was battling cancer, her dog died, and she herself was diagnosed with Graves’ disease. As a result, the album is lyrically rather dark, despite its sonically poppier sound. “A lot of what I wrote about in the past was just straight up love and I have no problem admitting that,” she explained to The Wall Street Journal. In contrast, Lights Out is “more about coming to terms with losing people and your mortality.”

It’s fitting, then, that when Lights Out was released on April 5th, Michaelson performed an intimate concert at the gorgeous chapel in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. With a tiny audience that included celebrity pals Taylor Swift and Mariska Hargitay, the exclusive event quickly underlined just what an emotional and raw record Michaelson had created. Performing many of the tracks for a live audience for the first time, the chanteuse masterfully introduced her sixth record–which would go on to debut at #1 on iTunes and #5 on the Billboard 200.

Ingrid Michaelson / Lights Out

In May, when the official Lights Out tour first hit New York, Michaelson told another sold-out crowd at Terminal 5 that she had just learned the day before that her mother was finally cancer free. Two songs later, she helped an audience member propose to his girlfriend, further amplifying the celebration of life that the night had turned into. It was there that Lights Out became the work of someone who had emerged from a period of profound devastation, rather than that of someone still trying to work through it.

So when this week’s Central Park concert rolled around, Michaelson was ready to pull out all of the stops to make it her splashiest gig yet. All of a sudden, these songs of harrowing despair took on a new meaning of survival, and the singer was determined to show what that meant to her.

She brought her husband Greg Laswell (also a musician) to the stage to perform their Lights Out duet,“Wonderful Unknown,” a beautiful exploration of what new spouses have to look forward to together. “We make bread on Sundays and the little ones are climbing up the walls,” the duo lovingly crooned while Michaelson played piano and Laswell stood by her side. “Oh, nothing lasts forever but the sound of love astounds me every time that it calls.”

Ingrid Michaelson

And Laswell wasn’t the only guest performer joining Michaelson throughout the setlist. During “Over You,” Glee star Darren Criss sang the male part that usually belongs to A Great Big World. Irish folk-rockers Storyman came on stage for their collaboration, “You Got Me,” and singer/songwriter Eric Hutchinson assisted Michaelson on a rowdy cover of current MAGIC! summer hit, “Rude.” But nothing was more surprising than when former Journey lead vocalist Steve Augeri joined Michaelson during her encore for an energetic and unforgettable performance of the classic “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

While the night consisted primarily of cuts from Lights Out, the songstress also treated her fans to some of the most beloved tracks in her back catalogue–including “The Chain,” “Parachute,” “Soldier,” “Blood Brothers,” and a stirring medley of “Maybe” and “Everybody.” Additional highlights included one of Michaelson’s favorite songs to cover, “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” the always adorable “You And I,” and a gorgeously stripped down rendition of “The Way I Am.”

For her last song before the encore, Michaelson played Lights Out closer “Everyone Is Gonna Love Me Now.” A ballad that builds to a cinematic crescendo, the song feels like it’s specifically written for audience participation. After teaching the crowd how to sing their part, the voices started to slowly trickle in before it felt like everyone there was fully participating. While this made for a similarly poignant moment at the Green-Wood Chapel, it packed an even mightier punch to see and hear a group of people so large come together and release whatever inhibitions they had to form a united chorus and appreciate Michaelson’s extraordinary talent.

To wrap up the show, Michaelson sang “Afterlife,” the second single from Lights Out and the one for which she recently shot a music video. She prefaced the song by telling the audience that she has a tendency to neurotically worry about the past and the future, but has a difficult time living in the present. Yet that was all about to change.

“Living like you’re dying isn’t living at all, give me your cold hands, put them on my heart,” she triumphantly sang. “Raise a glass to everyone who thinks they’ll never make it through this life, to live a brand new start!”

To Michaelson, “Afterlife” is about living in the moment and appreciating being alive. It’s a theme that was there throughout the whole show, but it was no more evident than during that last song. Joined on stage by all the guest performers from the evening, Michaelson had a lot to celebrate. It was the culmination of what proved to be the most critically and commercially successful point of her career thus far. No artist–and no audience–can ask for much more than that.

Ingrid Michaelson and Alex Nagorski

Originally published on PopBytes


heathers-the-musical Haven’t seen Heathers The Musical yet? What’s your damage?

Currently running off-Broadway at New World Stages, the show brings the iconic ’80s black comedy to life with words and music by Reefer Madness’ Kevin Murphy and Legally Blonde‘s Laurence O’Keefe. When popular girl Veronica starts dating angst-y loner J.D., her whole outlook changes—and the body count starts rising.  

6 reasons why Heathers The Musicals is oh-so-very.

heathers 1. It’s true to the film

With a plot that’s far more faithful to its original than many other recent film-to-stage adaptations (here’s looking at you, Bring It On), Heathers includes the movie’s most memorable one-liners—“Fuck me gently with a chainsaw!”—and retro costumes ripped straight from the film, from JD’s signature trenchcoat to the Heathers’ knee-high socks.

heathersmusical1 2. But the changes make perfect sense

In Heathers: The Musical, the audience gets to follow Veronica Sawyer on a more rounded journey than in the Winona Ryder flick: While Veronica is already part of the In Crowd when the film begins, the musical reveals how she first came to know the Heathers. And by giving the characters who die the opportunity to come back as ghosts who haunt Veronica, the show cleverly gives their deaths impact they never had in the movie.

heathers3 3. There’s a song called “My Dead Gay Son”

Heathers contains music and lyrics that brilliantly reflect the show’s comedic energy — and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music to prove it. “Blue,” for instance, finds the jocks and Heathers singing about getting blue balls. “Freeze Your Brain,” an ode to Slurpees, establishes JD’s character, and you’ll be singing “Seventeen,” the catchy Glee-inspired blend of pop and showtunes that closes the show, in the shower for days after the curtain has closed.

But the real showstopper is “My Dead Gay Son,” a laugh-out-loud eulogy to Ram and Kurt, sung by their fathers at their funeral. “They’re up there disco dancing to the thump of angel wings/Grab a mate and roller-skate while Judy Garland sings!”

It’s exactly the type of over-the-top number we hoped the show would deliver.

heathers4 4. Jessica Keenan Wynn slays the competition

As queen bee Heather Chandler, Wynn steals the show faster than the other Heathers try to steal her signature red scrunchie. Wynn (appearing next in Cinemax’s The Knick) has major comic chops, particularly when her character makes snide comments from The Great Beyond.

Wynn also has the strongest singing voice in the cast, making every moment she’s on stage a true highlight of the entire show.

heathers5 5. The themes are still relevant 

Bullying, guns, violence, suicide, sexuality, school massacres—sound familiar? 25 years after the film’s debut, the issues that plagued Westerberg High are still regular hits on our daily news cycle. Actually, in a nation where most schools drill students on how to react to a shooter on campus, the show is practically prescient.

heathers1 6. Heathers is leading the pack once again

Heathers was the first of a long line of movies about A-list girls doing Very Bad Things. So its only fitting it was the first of the pack to get a stage adaptation—though Broadway versions of CluelessJawbreaker, and Mean Girls have been rumored for years.

Heathers: The Musical runs at New York’s New World Stages through September 7

Originally published on NewNowNext


Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t the slightest bit skeptical when I heard that Audra McDonald had been cast as Billie Holiday in the Broadway premiere of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.

While the five-time Tony Award winner is unarguably a living stage legend and colossal talent, McDonald is a Juilliard-trained soprano whose many opera credits made me wonder if she could reel her enormous voice in to pull off the husky and distinct sound of Lady Day. Surely, the same person whose chill-inducing rendition of “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess made all previous interpretations of that classic song sound inferior, and whose “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” had musical theater fans everywhere clamoring for a Mother Abbess Live! spinoff, couldn’t also match the velvety and fragile nuances that made up Holiday’s iconic voice.

But the second that McDonald stepped on the stage and started singing the opening notes of “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone,” any and all doubts turned into open-jawed awe. Not only did she sound exactly like the late jazz singer, but her deeply passionate delivery allowed for Holiday’s soul to shine through McDonald’s performance, almost as if she was channeling her from the grave.

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

“My grandmother had a speaking voice very similar to Billie Holiday’s speaking voice and I used to imitate my grandmother,” McDonald recently told while explaining how she perfected her uncanny impression. “So I’ve been using that as my jumping off point – Nana’s voice – and that sort of helped me find it. I just start like I’m imitating my grandmother and then I go to Billie Holiday from there.”

Set in a small bar in South Philadelphia in March of 1959, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill takes place just four months before the 44-year-old Holiday died of cirrhosis and heart failure. The play alternates between performances of some of Holiday’s most revered songs – like “T’ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” and “Foolin’ Myself” – and autobiographical monologues that paint a heartbreaking, astounding portrait of a woman, who even past her prime, was one of the most gifted and influential musicians of the twentieth century.

Playwright Lanie Robertson was inspired to write the show after a former boyfriend of hers saw one of Holiday’s final performances at a Philadelphia dive bar. “He said she stumbled in obviously ‘quite high,’ carrying her little Chihuahua Pepi, whom she introduced to her audience. A water glass was kept filled with booze atop the piano for her. She and a piano player performed ten or 12 of her songs for an audience of seven patrons. Then, he said, she staggered out,” Robertson wrote in the show’s Playbill. “That image of the world’s greatest jazz singer being so undervalued at the end of her life and career was an image that has always haunted me. Writing Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill was an attempt to rid myself of that ghost.”

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

Similarly to how the current Broadway revival of Cabaret turned theater venue Studio 54 into the Kit Kat Klub, the Circle in the Square Theatre transformed itself into Emerson’s Bar & Grill for the limited duration of Lady Day. Upon entering, audience members immediately get the sense that they’re at a jazz nightclub rather than at a Broadway theater. The floor is covered with little bar tables, from which ticketholders are able to order drinks from the wait staff, and atop a small bandstand is a trio of musicians (including the incredible Shelton Becton on piano) who accompany McDonald when she steps behind her standing microphone.

This intimate staging allows for McDonald to frequently interact with her audience – whether it’s to help her down from the tiny stage so she can refill her glass of gin or simply to light her cigarette. And when she ultimately drinks so much that she falls over, theatergoers sitting close enough can’t help but extend their arms to try to help her up.

Throughout her tumultuous life, Holiday struggled greatly with alcohol and heroin. Wearing elbow-length white gloves to cover her track marks, McDonald’s Holiday drinks consistently throughout the show. As she becomes less and less lucid, she finds it increasingly difficult to connect to her music, often times starting to sing songs that she decides not to finish. After all, Holiday prided herself on performing the songs that she was feeling, not just the ones that her fans wanted to hear. To her, it was more important to have a song find her than to try to force a dishonest emotion while performing.

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

It’s that unwavering dedication to her craft that McDonald captures so spectacularly. When she sings “God Bless the Child,” a song Holiday wrote about her mother, it’s impossible not to feel the rawness and vulnerability behind the beloved lyrics. And when she sings the harrowing “Strange Fruit,” a protest song about racial violence in the South, the sorrow and sense of urgency that McDonald evokes is sure to knock the wind out of those listening.

This groundbreaking character exploration propels the show into a true performance of a lifetime for McDonald – which is saying a lot considering she’s already received so many accolades. In fact, McDonald received her eighth Tony Award nomination for this role. If she takes home her sixth statue come the ceremony on June 8th, not only will she have won for every possible performance category, but she’ll also be the recipient of more Tonys than any other actor in Broadway history. It’s no wonder, then, that The New Yorker called her work in Lady Day, “one of the greatest performances I ever hope to see.”

While the show certainly doesn’t shy away from addressing the darker aspects of Holiday’s life (being raped at 10, racism, failed marriages, and, obviously, addiction), it still manages to act as a beautiful tribute to the jazz star. It portrays Holiday as a deeply emotive individual who harnessed her experiences through her art, but was ultimately not able to protect herself from the reality of her world – the same tragic fate that would later await musicians like Judy Garland, Whitney Houston, and Amy Winehouse.

At one point during Lady Day, McDonald says that the DJs on the radio have started to refer to Holiday as “Lady Yesterday” due to her fading star power. Yet in the show’s final moments, the spotlight zeroes in on just McDonald’s face, who continues to sing her heart out, but without any sound. All that’s left in the silence is a moving homage to a woman whose greatest love was her music. With that, her legacy is honored in a way that’ll leave her immortalized in the hearts of every audience member lucky enough to snag a ticket.

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

This strictly limited engagement of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill is playing at the Circle in the Square Theatre in New York through August 10th—get tickets here

Originally published on PopBytes



Sam Smith is pulling out all the stops to give fans a taste of what they can look forward to in his upcoming album, In The Lonely Hour, with the video for “Leave Your Lover,” the record’s third single.

Co-starring English model Daisy Lowe, the video shines a spotlight on a love triangle and the harrowing pain of unrequited love—a theme that will be featured heavily on his album. Throughout the moody clip, the trio of friends all share flirtations and it’s a little bit unclear which of the two men will ultimately get the girl.

But then there’s a brilliant twist: as the video progresses, the relationships start to unravel. And taking a page out of the Frank Ocean guide to album promo, Smith reveals that the object of his affection is actually another man.

“Pack up and leave everything/Don’t you see what I can bring/Can’t keep this beating heart at bay/Set my midnight terror free, I will give you all of me/Leave your lover, leave him for me,” Smith hauntingly croons while hoping that the man chooses him over his boyfriend.

While Smith has yet to publicly discuss his sexual orientation, it has long been the subject of gossip across the Web: A few weeks ago, he denied rumors that he was dating Lowe: “No, she’s not [my girlfriend]. Daisy is one of my closest friends at the moment. ”

Whether or not “Leave Your Lover” is an official coming-out statement, it’s a gorgeous song with an incredibly moving music video. We can’t wait for In The Lonely Hour to drop Stateside on June 17.

Originally published on NewNowNext



Last night, ABC wrapped up the (significantly improved) third season of Revenge with a jaw-dropping finale that was packed with game-changing revelations, a generous amount of bloodshed, the father of all twists, and at long last, Emily’s ultimate revenge against the evil Graysons.

Here’s what you need to know about the Revenge finale (obviously, this list contains spoilers, so don’t continue reading if you care about that sort of thing):

Victoria kills Aiden


A couple of episodes ago, we saw Conrad (Henry Czerny) go into full hulk mode when he brutally killed Pascal LeMarchal (guest star Olivier Martinez). But as we already know, he’s not the only Grayson willing to get his hands dirty when push comes to shove (and in his case, we mean that literally). A grief-stricken Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) wants to “level the playing field” by taking away Emily’s (Emily VanCamp) chance for true love – the same fate that she (falsely) believes Emily bestowed upon her by being an accomplice to Pascal’s murder. Therefore, Victoria drugs Aiden’s tea (because how else do you take down a Brit?), causing him to be paralyzed and incapable to fight her off when she suffocates him to death with a pillow. But like a true sociopath, good ol’ Lady Grayson is just getting started – she leaves Aiden’s lifeless body sitting up in Emily’s house, morbidly waiting for her to come home and find what Victoria later refers to as “the gift” in her former daughter-in-law’s living room. Whoever said you can’t discreetly carry/hide corpses in a sensible pair of stilettos?

And fans of actor Barry Sloane need not worry – he’ll be returning to your TV this fall in ABC’s newly picked up alien invasion series, The Whispers, from Executive Producer Steven Spielberg.

David Clarke’s conviction is overturned


Last week, Conrad was caught on video admitting to a list of crimes so long that he might as well as change his last name to Giudice. As a result, the David Clarke trial is reopened and Emily gets her longstanding wish of seeing her father’s name cleared of all the charges that had the world previously label him as a terrorist.

The best part? She learns of this by watching a news segment read by Jay Jackson, also known as Parks and Recreation’s resident anchor, Perd Hapley (imagine THAT crossover)! But, of course, as this is Revenge, don’t start pouring the celebratory champagne just yet …

Victoria figures out Emily’s real identity


She’s long been suspicious of the girl next door, and last night, Victoria finally figured out the whole truth: Emily Thorne is really Amanda Clarke, seeking revenge against those who wrongfully put her father behind bars. The duo face off in a cemetery, where Emily is digging up Amanda’s grave (THE SYMBOLISM OF IT ALL) and Victoria spills all of her recent discoveries. Unfortunately for Satan’s Hamptons ambassador, Emily is no longer interested in subtlety and instead decides to knock Victoria out by hitting her ACROSS THE HEAD with a SHOVEL, displaying a level of bad-assery that hasn’t been seen in a graveyard since Buffy’s patrolling days.

Daniel is photographed in bed with a dead prostitute


After Margaux (Karine Vanasse) appoints Daniel (Josh Bowman) second in command of Pascal’s empire, her accentless brother Gideon (Daniel Zovatto) arrives on the scene to (you guessed it!) exact revenge on those who stripped him of the title he believes he earned at his father’s company. Of course, he and Daniel are old friends, so after they catch up over some absinth (those pesky French!), Gideon’s true colors are revealed. He pays his debt to a prostitute in cocaine, who just so happens to overdose in Daniel’s bed, providing Gideon with the perfect blackmail to use against Daniel in season four. And given how much of a vindictive and trigger-happy douche Daniel has turned into this season, it’s only fitting that Conrad and Victoria aren’t the only Graysons discovering the power of karma.

Charlotte turns Jack in for kidnapping her


Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler) is hardly at the top of the list of characters on Revenge who deserve jail time. However, when he touches Charlotte’s (Christa B. Allen) shoulder in a way that triggers her post-abduction PTSD, the personality devoid Grayson / Clarke hybrid immediately realizes that her friend was involved in her kidnapping. But the real crime here? Locking away the most attractive man on primetime television without even a SINGLE shirtless scene to hold us over until the fall. Not cool, Revenge writers. Not cool at all.

Conrad is murdered … BY DAVID CLARKE!!!


Because he’s the infamous patriarch of the Grayson clan, Conrad is smugly pleased with himself when he thinks he’s figured out a way to escape from jail. Little does he know that hot on his trails is none other than the man whose “death” served as the catalyst for this entire series … David Clarke (James Tupper)! I repeat, THIS IS NOT A DRILL: DAVID CLARKE IS ALIVE and GUESS WHAT! He wants revenge too! Revealing a new buzz cut that proves he’s not fucking around, David stabs Conrad to death, leaving him to bleed out in the middle of a dark road before ominously driving away from the scene of the crime.

But if David really is alive, where has he been hiding all these years? What has been doing? And if he’s been watching the Graysons this whole time waiting for the right moment to attack, why has he allowed his beloved daughter to risk her life avenging him? While his shocking return certainly doesn’t qualify for any Parent of the Year awards, it’s certainly a major twist that will clearly play a central role next season.

Emily checks Victoria into a mental hospital


Emily (or can we start calling her Amanda now?) puts her finishing touches on her plot to destroy her father’s former love interest. After their rendezvous at the cemetery, Victoria wakes up in a psychiatric hospital with Emily seated by her side. As she starts to scream for help and that Emily is an imposter, Victoria is shocked to find that her previous confidante, Dr. Michelle Banks (Amy Landecker) has turned against her. Emily and Dr. Banks explain to one of the hospital’s doctors that Victoria has fallen completely off the deep end, and has developed a sick fixation with Amanda Clarke that caused her to go so far as to try to dig up her grave and obsess over unfounded conspiracy theories that Emily is really Amanda. Victoria shrieks and shrieks until she’s sedated, leaving viewers with the final image of Emily walking away with her mission accomplished.

But at what expense(s) did Emily achieve her vengeance? And with her father still being alive, was it all worth it? Find out when season four of Revenge premieres this fall on ABC.

Originally published on PopBytes