Monday, June 30, 2008

Violet Weston is Alive and Alone and Living in Pawhuska

For the heck of it, I decided to take in August: Osage County again (the Sunday matinee on 6.29), this time to see how the play holds up with replacement cast members. Five of the actors, including Tony-winners Deanna Dunagan and Rondi Reed, departed the company on Tony Sunday.

It's sometimes hard to attend a play or musical after a favorite original cast member has left. The actor has worked specifically on the structure and personality of the character, often creating from the bare minimum. Estelle Parsons is now the matriarch Violet Weston, with Robert Foxworth (of TV's Dynasty and Six Feet Under) as Uncle Charlie, Jim True-Frost as Little Charlie, Tony-winner Frank Wood as Bill and Steppenwolf member Molly Regan as Mattie Fae.

The replacements are all stellar; all fitting in seamlessly with the Weston family unit. The only disappointment lies in Regan's Mattie Fae. There was something incredibly special in Reed's characterization, her embodiment of certain lies that provided the audience with an incredibly likable vulgarity. Such lines as "The situation is fraught," "I'm having a cocktail," and "It's my casserole" became special moments for theatregoers. In contrast to Reed's short, stout physique, Regan is younger, taller, thinner and more of a harradin. She still manages to nail the character in points where it counts, particularly in her revealing final scene in the third act. I'm not saying that she isn't giving a good performance, but it is in this character, I missed the original performance the most. Foxworth lends his laidback gravitas to Charlie. Wood has a field day with Bill, proving a volatile replacement for Jeff Perry and scene partner for Amy Morton (who is still giving the performance of a career here). True-Frost provided an endearing Little Charles.

Now onto the star turn. Estelle Parsons is a perfect embodiment of Violet Weston. Comparisons to Dunagan's performance are inevitable; however, Parsons' characterization is steeped in the text and she is never unfaithful to playwright Letts or director Shapiro. She was the actor I really watched the most throughout the play. With an Oscar and an impressive resume, it's the first time she's been on Broadway since the 2002 revival of Mornings at Seven. I've got to say, I enjoyed her from start to finish. With a physicality and appearance that defy her 80 years, Parsons dives in head-first into this mammoth part. Though less acerbic than Dunagan, Parsons manages to go on her truth-telling crusade with a headstrong vindictiveness that is ultimately tragic. Where Dunagan was pointedly sardonic and chilly, Parsons is a bit calmer; presenting a deceptively docile exterior, with a treacly sweet smile more venomous than a sprig of holly. She hasn't quite nailed the second act dinner sequence - she appeared to lose her place during the claw-hammer monologue (with Morton, always the ultimate pro, prompting her back into the scene in a seamless manner, making it all appear as part of the action. Brava, Morton!), but trust me, she'll get there. Parsons made an interesting choice - she constantly stole glances at Barbara in order to gauge a reaction. She also managed to bring down the house twice with the lines "It speaks" and "Scintillating," involving Little Charles burst of courage during same sequence. (Let me also say from an acting perspective how spectacularly Parsons listens onstage).

Parsons' has turned the final five minutes of the play into such a sobering denouement that it hasn't been before (for me). "Listen, you smug little ingrate," which was delivered with a viciousness and manic frenzy that was chilling. The audience was numbed most of all by her acting in the final moments, an almost apologetic and soothing calling out of names, during which panic starts to build, and explodes as she realizes no one is left. For the first time, I welled up during "And then you're gone, and then you're gone..." - one other thing that happened, and I think it was an accident, but after the blackout, there was one last mournful "and then you're gone" in the total darkness that just resonated so perfectly, I wish the play always ended like that.

The audience continues to hinge on every word. Their response was nothing short of cacophonous. If you haven't yet seen this play, get your tickets and go. The play is as strong as ever, and in more than capable hands. I myself can't wait to see Parsons do it again, to see how she grows into the role.

Violet Weston is still here. And I hope she never invites me for dinner.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Life Lessons from the Merm

All the following quotes have been credited to Ethel Merman. Some of them quite choice. I can't say for certain whether or not she actually said all of them, but I wouldn't be surprised... I offer them for your enjoyment.

- Always give them the old fire, even when you feel like a squashed cake of ice.

- Any audience that gets a laugh out of me gets it while I'm facing them.

- As far as dramas are concerned, it's considered passe for playwrights to turn out anything the average person can understand.

- At a flea market I always head for the junk jewelry table first.

- At one time I smoked, but in 1959 I couldn't think of anything else to give up for Lent so I stopped-and I haven't had a cigarette since.

- Broadway has been very good to me. But then, I've been very good to broadway.

- Christmas carols always brought tears to my eyes. I also cry at weddings. I should have cried at a couple of my own.

- Cole Porter had a worldwide reputation as a sophisticate and hedonist.

- Cole Porter wrote Anything Goes and four more hits for me.

- Eisenhower was my war hero and the President I admire and respect most.

- I am known to be able to take care of myself when I become angry. I don't mince words.

- I attend surprisingly few shows. The type of theater that is popular today just doesn't appeal to me.

- I can never remember being afraid of an audience. If the audience could do better, they'd be up here on stage and I'd be out there watching them.

- I don't like to read. The only things I read are gossip columns. If someone gives me a book, it had better have lots of pictures.

- I have plenty of invitations to go places, lots to do. If I'm not working, I go to have my hair taken care of and work at needlepoint.

- I preferred delivering my performance in person. I liked to be in control. You couldn't be in films.

- I take a breath when I have to.

- I was born in my parents' bedroom on January 16. The World Almanac says it was 1909. I say it was 1912. But what difference does it make as long as I feel 33?

- I was lucky enough to have the songs in my first show written by George and Ira Gershwin. Then Cole Porter wrote five shows for me.

- I wasn't straining at the bit to become a movie star any more than I had plotted to get out of vaudeville and into Broadway musicals.

- I work as often as I want and yet I'm free as a bird.

- People who retire fall apart. As long as you've still got it, use it.

- I wouldn't change one thing about my professional life, and I make it a point not to dwell on my mistakes.

- I wouldn't trust any man as far as you can throw a piano.

- I'll pat myself on the back and admit I have talent. Beyond that, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

- I've made a wonderful living playing that theatrical character - the professional brassy dame.

- I've never cooked. I can't do much more in the kitchen than make a cup of tea and some toast.

- I've never suffered stage fright. That fascinates people.

- If I feel in need of sleep, I just open a book or turn on the television. Both are better than any sleeping pill.

- In my case, things have pretty much been handed to me.

- Legend has it that when God created me, he gave me a big distinctive voice, a lot of boldness and no heart.

- Mom and Pop were proud of my popularity, but from their point of view, show business was no way to make a living.

- Mom claimed that I could carry a tune at 2 or 3 years of age. Maybe she was a little prejudiced.

- Music, in the past few years... anything singable or understandable is square.

- My beloved Mom and Pop always rated tops with each other, and that's the way it will always be.

- My career at Warner Brothers consisted of one musical short subject. I was running around in a bear skin. Very chic.

- My father taught me to read music and play the piano-but not well, even though people have said that I'm a natural musician.

- Of my four marriages, the one to Bob Levitt is the only one I don't regret.

- Once I had all the attention, all I had to do was deliver.

- The slapdash way producers used to assemble a show seems a little unbelievable when we talk about them now.

- There have been people who have tried to take advantage of me. They want to be linked to me just because I'm Ethel Merman.

- There's such a thing as theater discipline. One player doesn't appropriate another's inventions.

- When I'm asked how to succeed in show business, I always say I haven't the foggiest.

- When you are in deep conflict about something, sometimes the most trivial thing can tip the scales.

- There are lots of show tunes left to do.

- You can't buck a nun. (Losing the Tony for her Rose to Mary Martin's Maria von Trapp)

- Call Miss Bird's Eye 1950, this show is frozen! (being presented new lyrics for Call Me Madam)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Don't Touch the Coat..."

Pacific Overtures is one of the most fascinating of Stephen Sondheim's musicals. To create a concept musical about the westernization of imperial Japan in the 19th century, and its impact on Japanese culture and traditions is not your typical Broadway fare. Sondheim studied Eastern music for months, director Hal prince adapted the styles of Kabuki theatre for the production in its design and staging. The results are mesmerizing. The show featured an almost all-male cast that included Mako, Yuki Shimodo (the original Ito in Auntie Mame!), Sab Shimino, Alvin Ing (who reprised his role for Roundabout) and Gedde Watanabe (anyone remember his memorable turn as the exchange student in Sixteen Candles? Anyone?). The show opened in 1976 at the Winter Garden, where it ran for 193 performances. I saw the Roundabout revival, starring B.D. Wong. While I didn't particularly care for that production on the whole, I was able to admire the brilliance in the writing of Sondheim and librettist John Weidman.

While the show begat the ever-brilliant favorite of Sondheim, "Someone in a Tree," I would have to admit that "Please, Hello" is my personal favorite song in the entire score (and one of the most ingenious ever written by Sondheim). It's mammoth 9 minute showstopping act two opener in which America, Britain, Holland, France and Russia are vying for detente with Japan. It's a marvel of sophistication, historical accuracy, pastiche (each country is represented by a native musical style) and vocal arrangement. The number was the highlight of the revival, bringing the show to a stand-still.

The original production was taped for broadcast on Japanese television, but has never been aired in the US. (Calling PBS!! Or Image Home Entertainment!)

Here is the original cast performing "Please, Hello." Enjoy.

Quote of the Day, plus a Book Recommendation

"It hits me: Life should be like musicals: along with the sentimental ballads and the sadness hiding in the shadows, laughs, lots of laughs, and dancing always. I think I understand that now.

You can write the pain (God knows there's enough of it), or you can let loose with the joy.

Why did I remember half this stuff? Because it's a memoir, pal.

But it's not. It's a musical comedy."

- Charles Strouse, from his memoir Put on a Happy Face

If you're itching for something to read, I highly suggest Mr. Strouse's memoir. I got it last night and finished it early this afternoon: it's engaging, honest and always entertaining (and occasionally dishy). There are many other amusing anecdotes and quotes, but you have to read the book in order to get some of those (Arthur Laurents, how could you? oh wait... we remember).

You get his perspective on the many shows of his career, from his summer revues at Green Mansions all the way up to Marty (which according to a photo caption in the book recorded a cast album last year with John C. Reilly and Carolee Carmello) and The Night They Invaded Minsky's (which will be mounted in LA at the Ahmanson in late 2009, with Bob Martin as the new librettist). Lots of colorful characters along the way. Mr. Strouse seems like a very congenial, approachable gentleman who has supplied us with several standards of the canon like Bye Bye Birdie and Annie, hits like Applause and Golden Boy, but also with several misfires, such as Rags, Annie 2, Bring Back Birdie, to name a few. I knew he and his frequent collaborator Lee Adams wrote the iconic "Those Were the Days" for All in the Family. What I didn't know was that the presentation with Jean Stapleton and Carroll O'Connor was Strouse's idea (stemming from a lack of budget and a nostalgic homage to his own parents). The only complaint? I wish the book were more in depth.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Florida Educator Terminated for Appearing in "The Full Monty"

Emil Steiner in the Washington Post blogs.

Is an educator responsible for the content of extra-curricular activities, (or pertaining to this incident: when appearing in a community theatre production of The Full Monty)?

Given the nature of the show, the nature of the production and the nature of the situation, I think that the school is overreacting. It's not as if the students were forced to participate in the event; it just doesn't seem fair. I hope someone finds this man a job - and soon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

It's an honor and a joy...

I did four shows in one week. I think that could be a personal record. August on Tony Sunday. Gypsy first post-Tony. Then Friday evening I took in the Roundabout revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Sunday afternoon Curtains.

When I go to the theatre alone, it's very much a gamble the sort of audience experience I will have. I was most fortunate that my mezzanine seat was traded in for a center orchestra spot. I had the most wonderful conversation with a very classy, middle-aged couple who love the theater immensely and go as often as they can, whether together or alone. We discussed everything about the current season, the Tonys, what we were most looking forward to the coming year. It was akin to our blogger brunches, deep common bond stemming from a genuine enjoyment of the live theatre experience. I greatly enjoyed my twenty minutes spent with this witty, urbane couple prior to the show. Plus the engaging 15 minutes intermission (I was asked if I wanted anything from the bar. God, I love manners).

Then the houselights dimmed and the curtain came up on Ms. Laura Linney looking resplendent in period costumes and a surprisingly drab set. (Roundabout, you gave Old Acquintance an applause worthy second act set, you had to skimp on an opulent period production?) Les Liaisons, which first played Broadway in 1987 with Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan (that must have been some production) is adapted from the novel by Choderlos de Laclos by Christopher Hampton. My connection with the story goes back to an 18th century literature course I took in college. Truth be told, I didn't care for it when I read it, studied it or when we watched the 1988 film adaptation of Hampton's play Dangerous Liaisons with all its Oscar nominated glory and Glenn Close. This let to some trepidation from me upon spending the money to see the show, but I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to see Laura Linney onstage. That was the sole reason for going.

The current production is decidedly uneven. Clocking in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, it makes for a rather long evening. And though she proved fascinating to watch on stage and was giving 110%, Linney felt miscast as the Marquise de Merteuil. The reason to see it surprisingly enough turns out to be English actor Ben Daniels in his Broadway debut as Valmont. The word that springs to mind most to describe him onstage would be fearless. An engaging, witty and foppish presence, the play loses steam whenever he isn't around. (The audience gasped en masse when he dropped his robe in the forced seduction scene). The scenes he has with Linney are the most interesting and compelling, everything else feels like waste. Mamie Gummer (aka Meryl Streep's daughter) is making her Broadway debut as the virginal Cecile and Sian Philips has the choice supporting role of Madame de Rosemonde. Well, actually the entire supporting cast was underwhelming. I couldn't help but think how interesting this story would be as a mere two-hander, akin to the style of the original novel. I was glad for the opportunity to see the two actors, but I still don't like it.

Things were much more entertaining at Curtains. Now, for whatever reasons (financial or otherwise) I'd held off on seeing the Kander and Ebb musical, though my desire to see it was never in question from the first announcement of its out of town tryout. I saw the original cast of Spamalot the week before the Tonys, and I thought David Hyde Pierce was the most Tony worthy of the three stars, yet the only one overlooked for a nomination! His "You Won't Succeed on Broadway" was a colossal showstopper, and he proved himself a successful - if unlikely - musical comedy star.

Curtains isn't a perfect musical comedy. There are incredible flaws, but I'm assuming that stems from the unfortunate fact that both bookwriter Peter Stone and lyricist Fred Ebb passed away while the musical was still in development. While John Kander continued the project, bringing Rupert Holmes on board to finish. The story is a murder mystery set at the Colonial Theatre during the out of town tryout of a 1959 musical. The leading lady, who is atrocious, is killed during her curtain call and everyone in the company is kept in the theatre while the affable Detective Cioffi, a big theatrephile alternately solves the crime and helps turn the show into a hit. There is a great deal of charm and heart to the show, which is probably why I admired it. The book's structure could have used some work, especially the first twenty minutes or so. Also, there were issues to be had with some of the lyrics - mostly in the show-within-a-show's songs. In particular, the big production number "Thataway," the word "bitch" or the lyrics "what's that stirring in my pants" are two lyrics that would never have been considered for a stage musical, especially in 1959 Boston (where things were too often banned for being too salacious). (It has to be Rupert Holmes contribution as Kander and Ebb would have been aware of what would fly and what wouldn't).

David Hyde Pierce provided the lone upset at the 2007 Tony awards with his win over Raul Esparza (much to the chagrin of many Company enthusiasts). Truth be told, I enjoy a good upset, so it made me almost hit the floor when Bernadette Peters shouted out his name as the winner. You could also tell that he was just equally shocked through his extraordinarily gracious and humble acceptance. His performance was stellar; a musical comedy turn that was funny, offbeat and surprisingly touching. Plus, he had one of the most convincing Boston accents I've ever heard. Karen Ziemba was everything I wanted her to be and more - a winning performer giving her all. And at 50, she shows no signs of slowing down or aging. Seriously, the woman looks like she's in her late 30s, early 40s. And dances like she's 20. "Thataway" stopped the show. Debra Monk was out, but Patty Goble was on, giving a strong performance as the ballsy producer Carmen Bernstein, reminiscent of a broad Andrea Martin. Jason Danieley's tenor soared on the lovely "I Miss the Music." Noah Racey and Megan Sikora were superlative dancers. Edward Hibbert got the best lines and the most laughs from his wry lines as the flamboyantly acerbic British director. Erin Davie has yet to shirk off her Little Edie-isms, and that distracted from her performance. I think out of the score, the only song that felt like a total dud was "The Woman's Dead." It wasn't funny, it didn't work and only provided amusement in conductor David Loud's reprise "The Man is Dead" at the top of the second act. Aside from that, "Show People," "Music," "It's a Business" - it was a tuneful musical comedy score. I haven't been able to get the infectious melody for "Thataway" out of my head.

The production was solid. Great orchestrations, clever choreography and good staging. I couldn't help but be reminded of Destry Rides Again when looking at the scenes from Robbin' Hood. (A western musical on Broadway in 1959, yeah, it was bound to happen). It felt like I was watching a Golden Age show. Not necessarily one of the top-tier, but a solid B musical. For a contemporary musical comedy it was especially wonderful in that it wasn't overtly tongue in cheek or self-referential, which has become the norm these days. It wasn't perfect, I readily admit that. But if it provides a genuine, grin-inducing, feel-good experience, who cares? After leaving the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (last time I was there it was the Martin Beck), I couldn't help but be pleased that in a few years this show will reach the high school realm. For educational theatre, particularly on the high school level, it will provide a great male lead for those unlikely to be considered for similar roles in classic titles. The show closes this coming Sunday, so hurry if you can.

While I didn't make any acquaintances at the Hirschfeld, on the train ride home, I encountered an elderly couple that had attended Chicago. The cue was "I hear Gypsy is excellent." Of course I had to corroborate their source. It led to an engaging conversation that lasted for the entire train ride. Again, the common bond was the love of the theatre. The husband recalled his first Broadway experience, which was the original production of The Diary of Anne Frank with Joseph Schildkraut. The wife immediately one-upped him by recounting her experience seeing The King and I with Gertrude Lawrence. She even went on to tell how the night she went, the Queen of the Netherlands was in attendance, making it all the more special for her. When I mentioned that I wished I was there, she told me 'You're young. When you're older, you'll hear the same thing from the younger generations when you tell them you're story. It evolves like that and that is part of what makes it so special."

And I think with those sage words, I bid you a good night!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Amy Morton is a machine. If she misses a show it's because someone amputated her leg and she's looking for it."

- Anna D. Shapiro, Director of August: Osage County to Playbill radio

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Fair Kelli

This weekend's issue of Parade magazine features an article by Kevin Sessums about the darling of the NY stage, Ms. Kelli O'Hara. It's becoming quite clear that O'Hara is on her way to musical theatre stardom with her Tony nominated turns in The Light in the Piazza, The Pajama Game, and currently the smash-hit Lincoln Center revival of South Pacific. Well, aside from being delightful, charming and gracious, the actress discusses future prospects, such as her desire to be a mother and well, let me just quote the article here:

"But the buzz is that producers are competing to put together a full-fledged production of My Fair Lady centered around her recreating yet another iconic role: Eliza Doolittle."

Out of many of the classic musical theatre roles, I feel that Eliza is the pitch-perfect role for this versatile singing actress. She already played the part last year to considerable acclaim in concert with the NY Philharmonic, and would be most ideal in a full-scale revival - moreso than other current soprano on the boards. I would go so far as to think that this could be the show that potentially nets her the coveted Tony award she so richly deserves. (Her Tony experience is starting to remind me of Kate Winslet at the Oscars - stellar performance, but just not her year).
The last time My Fair Lady, one of the sturdiest pillars of the Golden Age canon, was revived on Broadway was fifteen years ago in a Weissler-produced production at the Virginia (now August Wilson) that starred Richard Chamberlain and Melissa Errico and closed after 165 performances.

I feel that the musical should be given its due - the 50th anniversary came and went without much fanfare and from what I understand, NY producers are wary of the Cameron Mackintosh production due to its incredible size and expense. Frankly, I would prefer that the show be given the respect it deserves, with a full-scale revival utlitizing the original orchestrations by my friend and yours, Robert Russell Bennett. (Which our friends at Lincoln Center could do...) Also, I don't like when people feel the need to tamper with the book. Take for instance the recent Mackintosh revival that played in London for two years and on tour in the US. The original climax of act one is when Higgins unexpectedly dances Eliza into the arms of Zoltan Karpathy, the ultimate gamble, as Karpathy's expertise will prove whether or not Higgins and Pickering succeeded. (Case in point, your act finale leaves the audience hanging as to what will happen in order to bring them back for the second half). It is not when she leaves for the ball - in fact, it's rather anticlimactic to have her go to the ball, break for interval, then come back for a ball scene. It would make more sense just to cut the "Embassy Waltz" than bastardize Lerner's near-perfect libretto. And in my Dismounting the soap-box...

Now kids, who would you like to see in a revival opposite O'Hara? We've got a Higgins, Pickering, Freddy, Mrs. Pearce and Mrs. Higgins to fill. Aaaaaand go...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cyd Charisse (1921-2008)

Hodge Podge

It was announced today that joining Stockard Channing and Christian Hoff in the Roundabout revival of Pal Joey would be none other than that songbird of the stage Martha Plimpton. Wait. Martha Plimpton? Martha "I Hate Mouth" Plimpton from The Goonies is going to be in a musical? I'm not thinking that it won't be interesting - I just renewed my Roundabout subscription (with a free upgrade to center row A mezz seats) for the coming year, but you gotta admit, it's a tad bit surprising. However, I think Plimpton will provide an amusing interpretation of Gladys Bumps. What worries me more is that Richard Greenberg has revised the libretto, changing characters and through-lines, and reassigning songs. For instance, Plimpton's Gladys is going to be delivering "Zip," the cameo show-stopper for the wise-cracking Melba that Elaine Stritch revisited in At Liberty. However, I'm thinking the script revisal is more of an excuse for Roundabout to commission the inevitable "new" orchestration that will feature a piano, a violin and a kazoo.

Cry-Baby was the first Tony casualty. The show ends its brief run at the Marquis Theatre this Sunday, June 22 after 45 previews and 68 performances. After seeing the lifeless production number with the license plates, I'm not surprised...

Well, it seems that Delta Burke's - or rather - Faith Prince's (oops! my bad) pitch-wary performance on the Tony awards didn't help A Catered Affair's advance. The show, in spite of its addition of a Thursday matinee for the middle-aged female crowd who has reportedly taken to the piece, will end its run at the Walter Kerr on July 27 after 27 previews and 117 performances. My first thought is, "Wow, Matt Cavenaugh is going to experience some major deja vu." (As Grey Gardens closed the same weekend at the same theatre last year). That's gotta be a weird experience for an actor, you know?

There will never be a dancer who epitomized beauty, elegance and poetry in motion like Cyd Charisse. When the world lost her this week at the age of 86, another glorious legend was lost to all but our cinematic conscious. Do yourself a favor - watch The Band Wagon or It's Always Fair Weather or Silk Stockings or rewatch Singin' in the Rain for her cameo in the "Broadway Melody" sequence. She was one of a kind - and when she dances, it's ethereal. If it's got Cyd, it's got class. Charisse realized her dream of appearing on Broadway in the early 90s when she assumed the role of Elizaveta Grushinskaya, the aging ballerina in Grand Hotel. She is survived by her husband Tony Martin - yes the MGM musical star, to whom she was married for sixty years. He is currently 95 and still performing. She is also survived by her two sons and her niece Zan, who is most noted for her turn as Louise opposite Angela Lansbury in her London and Broadway productions of Gypsy.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Quote of the Day

"In the 29 years since I won my last Tony [for Evita], I've worked with a lot of incredible people, and I wanted to thank all of them. I actually don't even know where the old speeches are. I have to say, if I had lost this award, I would've been disappointed, but like with the others, I would have gotten over it. But with this part, because it's so much better than any other part in a musical, if you lose the Tony, maybe you feel like you just didn't do a good job or people don't like you."

- Patti LuPone to on winning Sunday night

"Flower Drum Song" - Original Cast

Wouldn't it be nice to get a show that would showcase the musical theatre like this? Just think of it, a complete medley. Narrated by the late Miyoshi Umeki, the original cast traipses through several of the big numbers. More charm in this brief video clip than the entire bloated film adaptation or the 2002 revisal. Umeki is a delight, even her goof is charming. Ed Kenney and Juanita Hall sing "You Are Beautiful." Pat Suzuki sings "I Enjoy Being a Girl. " Arabella Hong delivers "Love, Look Away." Suzuki and the very Asian Larry Blyden present the eleven o'clock number "Sunday" complete with Carol Haney's original choreography. The entire dance break isn't present on the Original Broadway Cast Recording, but is on the London recording, which is now out of print, but an interesting supplement for the additional dance material. Notice how the Fosse shoulders appear to have made their way into Rodgers & Hammerstein.

I'm currently reading the original novel by C.Y. Lee, which is fascinating. It's a brisk, easy read. Quite fascinating to see how the creators adapted it for a stage musical. By the way, how awkward is Ed Sullivan with those twin girls?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Quote of the Day

"By the way, Mandy looks like the lead cantor from B'nai Venuto. I expected him to have five commandments in each arm."

- Larry Gelbart, on Mandy Patinkin's appearance on the Tony Awards

Where in the World Was Stephen Joshua Sondheim?

The man of the hour was notably absent during the telecast in which he received a lifetime achievement Tony. Instead, Mandy Patinkin showed up in Steve's beard and proceeded to frighten all the kiddies (and read a very classy and gracious letter that cited all of his book writers through the years).

Well, according to Michael Riedel,

"Sondheim wasn't at the Tonys because he was traipsing through Europe.

I hear he found out about the award only when it was announced in the press. Nobody from the Tonys bothered to tell him beforehand, so he didn't change his travel plans. "

"Bricktop - Queen of the Night"

As per IMDb:

Star Wars creator George Lucas is planning to lend his directorial talents to a Broadway musical with the help of comedienne Whoopi Goldberg, according to reports.

Goldberg, who has made a number of appearances on the New York stage, is talking to Lucas' motion picture and visual effects company Industrial Light and Magic about a collaboration on musical Bricktop - Queen of the Night, reports the New York Daily News.

The musical centres around a fabled Parisian cabaret owner Ada 'Bricktop' Smith.

A source tells the newspaper, "They're talking about playing with Cubist images and jazz from the (1920's)," adding that Lucas "could do things Broadway has never seen before."

Does anyone remember the last time an iconic film director with little to no stage experience helmed a stage musical...? Hmm... I'm seem to recall reading about Martin Scorsese being a fish out of water for The Act. Any others...?

"Everything's Coming Up Laura"

As per the tradition, I attended a post-Tony performance for the second year in a row (last year was Grey Gardens, where the entrance applause at the top threw the entire prologue off-track and Christine Ebersole received a standing ovation on her act two entrance). It was the revival of Gypsy, you know, the one with the short broad who sings loud? For those of you who know, Patti LuPone, Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti were all recipients of the Tony award the other evening for their work in this production. A whole gang of us ended up at the show - which included a pre-show dinner at Angus'.

The kineticism in a post-Tony win house is indescribable. A mutual admiration society develops between the kids onstage and the kids in the house. The overture began, always a crowd favorite. I noticed Patti LuPone had entered the house with a small stage management entourage and proceeded to get prepared to go on. I had deja vu flashbacks to the final performance of the 2003 revival. On her cue, LuPone vaulted down the aisle of the St. James to the reception of a standing ovation from the crowd. To assuage the fans, she broke and took a very short, humble bow, then got back to work. And here is where I express my disappointment. I had an almost immediate sinking feeling as she began her lines. In the first several scenes, LuPone overshot the runway. Her deliveries were extravagantly broad, and she was playing to the house, not for character. "I hope they didn't make a huge mistake Sunday night" was the thought that crossed my mind just before "Some People" (which is where the normalcy seemed to return to her performance). Well, it's not a huge mistake. Either she brought it back down, or I adjusted to her style because from that point onward I was okay with her performance.

Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti received extensive applause. Gaines is very amiable onstage - the perfect Herbie, unlikely to be better realized by other actors. For the latter, it was so lengthy, the alarm clock sound cue went to the intermission cell phone cue. (I sat just in front of the sound booth during the first act; second row center for the second). The audience was very genuinely moved when Benanti spontaneously burst into tears at the reception. Of course, that also proved to be the moment that Benanti gave the shining star-turn performance of the decade.

If I live to be 115, I will never see "The Strip" so brilliantly executed. Benanti was, if anything, even better than the previous two times I'd seen her in the production. Her moments - discovery of kinship with June in "If Momma Was Married," the crush on Tulsa - how "All I Need is the Girl" is there for her (great point, Noah), the devastation in the act one finale - both of Tulsa's marriage to June, and how that sets off her mother. Not to mention the moment she realizes she has an ally and the potential for the normalcy she's desired in Herbie. Then came the second act, with her refreshingly honest take on the dialogue, mining the moments without overshooting her runway. Dimensionalizing where so few have dared before. Many tears onstage and in the house when she looked into that mirror and realized she was pretty. And how. Her "Strip." The awkwardness and almost disgust at what's she doing, until she realizes she has the audience in the palm of her hand. It's a miraculous moment as you see the shades of her confidence grow - and turn into superstardom. It's all sorts of funny and sexy - her acting is superb. In the dressing room scene, she dominated Patti. The awkward silence that followed was brittle, real and ripe with the tension and embarrassment that follow confrontations of that calilber. How moving though, was the scene following "Rose's Turn"? I can't get over it. She is the heart and soul of this revival. Patti, for all her intensity (her ferocious "Turn" received the usual Routledge - an emotional tour de force so expected at this point, it's almost cliche - relax, I said almost) and pathos, just wasn't the highlight for me last night. It was Benanti, hands down.

I did enjoy the second act on the whole, more than the first. I made eye contact with both Patti and Laura. I winked at Patti, swooned over Laura. And the story goes on.

However, the show could use a stage manager or Mr. Laurents himself to give some notes. Actors should be allowed to test the waters during a long run, but they should also remember that it is their job first and foremost to tell the story. Leigh Ann Larkin is going over the top with her monotone Louise (particularly in the office scene). The show ran long last night, till eleven, and not just because of the standing ovations. Other stage business is superfluous and detrimental to the experience. And let's be real about this, kids- Gypsy doesn't need any help, just the restoration of the original libretto. Rose loses facets of dimension without the Kringelein scene and the necessary "Small World" reprise after Herbie walks out (among other bits that have been altered).

As I was walking away from the St. James towards Times Square, I passed Anderson Cooper the moment Patti came out of the stage and the stage door crowd's roar echoed through the cavernous city block. His look was priceless and I only wish I'd had a camera for it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

"I just zip up me cocktail slacks and get over there and get friggin"

Where does one start when they've exhausted all the superlatives in the thesaurus in describing the experience that is August: Osage County? I went to see the Sunday matinee, which also happened to be the final performance for Deanna Dunagan, Rondi Reed, Frances Guinan, Jeff Perry and Ian Barford. That's got to be surreal. You play your last show and your juggernaut play goes onto definite Tony glory that evening. Then you go home to Chicago. I couldn't do that; I would have to stay at least a couple of weeks to bask in the post-Tony energy glow, you know? On the otherhand, can you imagine being those actors replacing them at the first post-Tony show? I wouldn't want to be in their shoes, for certain.

This time around though, I was more taken with Amy Morton's Barbara than I was with Deanna's Vi, though I adore both immensely. It's not that Dunagan's performance is anything less - she is a fearless performer who's character provides incredible challenges for any actress, but it's the discovery that this is, in essence, Barbara's story. I also noticed that she also leads the company bow - and I think she has slightly more stage time. Tough call really. Both are superlative.

But, oh boy. See this great American play. By all means. See it. I'm sure that Estelle and the new crew will bring their own distinctive yet successful interpretations to the Weston household. The dialogue is so sharp and incisive, the staging crisp and just the fastest and most rewarding three and half hours I've spent at the theatre in my life. It's so refreshing to witness hinging on every word, their genuine shock at the events of the plot. And might I add, not one complaint about the running time. Oh, did I mention I saw Hayley Mills on line? (To which .Roxie responded "Shut up! I love her!") I hope she enjoyed the show too. You could tell the repeat contingency from certain members of the audience, whose adulation poured out. The dialogue is extraordinarily rich. That second act dinner sequence is one of the most memorable you'll see in quite a while. The audience reaction for Morton's act two curtain line received the same stellar ovation it did on opening night - if you'd walked into the theatre blindly as the lights went out, you would have thought there was a musical showstopper going on with the screams of "Bravo!" ringing out. As per my usual, I started the applause - and clapped so hard my hands hurt. In all my years of theatregoing I have never done that before.

I took a friend with me as an early birthday present. We couldn't even get into the specifics of it, he was that stunned by what he saw. We parted ways on 44th and I headed uptown to Sarah's Beekman Place on 90th for Lady Iris' Annual Moon Lady Extravaganza, aka her Tony party.

First of all, there was a red carpet - lit up I might add. With logo art for all the shows around the banisters. Sarah greeted us at the door all dolled up, with her apartment open and ready for all the bloggers and friends who weren't fortunate enough to be at the awards (ahem, Noah and Steve on Broadway...) and I gotta tell you, I've never enjoyed the Tony awards quite like I did this year. I'm still more fond of the Theatre World awards, because the representation of a non-competitive, accepting arts community is more ideal than pitting actors together in a popularity contest. However, the musical performances were extensive (13! really??!?) and most of the awards a thrill to watch. However, was Best Revival of a Play that unnecessary to the telecast that it was lumped in with the "who cares" categories* of the web-cast hour? And speaking of which, I for one, would have enjoyed seeing the witty and endlessly entertaining Julie White present on the telecast proper, as I feel she should have, especially since she was last year's winner - not Mary Louise Parker, who it seems, is much more comfortable in character than as herself. (Can you be any less boring reading the teleprompter Milfie?)

* - that is this writer's assumed opinion of the network powers that be at CBS and not of himself. The aficionado loves him some designers. If there was a God, they would start at 7, or revert back to PBS so we can follow along without having to watch a brief recap in the middle of the ceremony. PS - Thank you for finally recognizing sound design, Tony people! It's about friggin' time!

Favorite acceptance speeches included Lin-Manuel Miranda's off the cuff rap (Look I made a hat, where there never was a hat, and a Latin hat at that"), Anna D. Shapiro (with her anecdote about her nieces and nephews just wanting Little Mermaid tickets), Deanna Dunagan's graciousness towards costar Amy Morton, and it's true - they should have shared that award. Mark Rylance's bizarre non-sequitur of a speech turned out to be a prose poem ("The Back Country" by Louis Jenkins . Unique. And highly amusing - especially the reaction shots from audience members (the most notable being his co-star Mary McCormack). Then there was Laura Benanti "Hi Arthur! You're standing!" and of course, there was "Patti's Turn," my official moniker for her speech in which she seemed to thank everyone involved with her career since she last won "SHUT UP, it's been 29 years!!" Boy, I would hate to be that conductor. However, was that also the conductor who brought Elaine Stritch's acceptance speech to an incredibly embarrassing halt six years ago...? Anyone remember that debacle?

Laura Linney looked gorgeous, though the ladies in attendance at the parties cried afoul at her choice of earrings. We all wondered why Faith Prince showed up in costume as Delta Burke - and why she sang like Delta Burke during A Catered Affair's performance. We gave Patti a standing ovation for "Everything's Coming Up Roses" - which is how every Tony performance should run. Fuck, they let Hepburn have 15 minutes for her big musical (Coco), now we're relegated to three minutes of awesome. And ten minutes of commercials on a loop. We also went completely off the wall with her when she won, her win becoming our Tony toast for the evening - there are pictures on Sarah's blog, of us capturing the pre-win look and the moment she yelled "Shut up!" with our camera phones. Yes, kids, we be a bunch of theatre geeks. I even offered to hand in the hetero card to Roxie. Turns out it was my metrocard, so I kept both. There was great fun to be had with this crowd, I doubt I would have enjoyed it anymore with anyone else. I also had my first - and last - cosmopolitan. I'll stick to my White Russians, thank you.

The run down - from the ones with the most to the ones with the least:

South Pacific: Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actor in a Musical (Paulo Szot), Best Direction of a Musical (Bartlett Sher), Best Costume Design (Catherine Zuber), Best Scenic Design (Michael Yeargan), Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Donald Holder), Best Sound Design of a Musical (Scott Lehrer)
August: Osage County: Best Play, Best Actress in a Play (Deanna Dunagan), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Rondi Reed), Best Direction of a Play (Anna D. Shapiro), Best Scenic Design of a Play (Todd Rosenthal)
In the Heights: Best Musical, Best Score (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Best Choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler), Best Orchestrations (Alex Lacamoire & Bill Sherman)
Gypsy: Best Actress in a Musical (Patti LuPone), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Boyd Gaines), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Laura Benanti)
Boeing-Boeing: Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor in a Play (Mark Rylance)
The 39 Steps: Best Lighting Design of a Play (Kevin Adams), Best Sound Design of a Play (Mic Pool)
Passing Strange: Best Book (Stew)
The Seafarer: Best Featured Actor in a Play (Jim Norton)
Les Liaisons Dangereuses: Best Costume Design of a Play (Katrina Lindsay)

A posthumous honorary Tony award was presented to the most iconic of musical theatre orchestrators, Robert Russell Bennett, who has been dead since 1981. (For the outraged, Tunick fans, he comes in at a tie for second with Don Walker). So I could understand his inability to attend. However, what was Sondheim's excuse?

Our evening ended with Patricia Routledge as Kitty, especially since Roxie and I have decided that she officially won Best Musical - not Best Musical Revival. From whence cometh my title for this post, as it had us leaving Sarah's apartment on a continuing, champagne-induced high. On the train ride home, I saw my next door neighbor and said hello. I asked if she did anything fun while in NY. Her response: "I was at the Tony awards." Well, you can guess the topic of conversation for the next hour on the train.

And there you have it kids. 'Til next year.


(this second one is temporary till a better clip can be found)

she almost swallowed the orchestra whole...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Everyone Hates the Tonys

A must-read article by Sarah Hepola from Salon, discussing the relevance of the Tony award and Broadway in current popular culture.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Quote of the Day


The race is between two tigers: Deanna Dunagan, the bitchy mother in "August," and Amy Morton, her equally bitchy daughter. I give the edge to Dunagan, though a tie is possible.

If Morton pulls off an upset, I bet she leans over to Dunagan and hisses: "I told you to eat that f - - - ing fish, bitch."

- Michael Riedel, that vociferously read and reviled NY Post columnist, making his Tony picks


For all those lovers of John Ford's classic paean to Ireland, The Quiet Man, with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, a musical version of the story came to Broadway in 1961 with a score by Oscar-winner Johnny Burke (he won for "Swinging on a Star" from Going My Way). Burke also wrote the 6 performance debacle Carnival in Flanders, which introduced the world to "Here's that Rainy Day" and Dolores Gray to her Tony (and the record for shortest run of any recipient in Tony history). The original Broadway production, which reverted to the original short story and not the film for its libretto, starred Art Lund as Sean (or John, depending on the source) Enright, Joan Fagan as Ellen Roe Danaher, Eddie Foy Jr as Mickeen Flynn and the ever-reliable yet flop-prone Susan Johnson as the Widow Carey. Oh, and none other than Philip Bosco as Will Danaher. Famed choreographer Jack Cole made his directorial debut. The reviews were mixed to positive, with the NY Times and Walter Kerr weighing in favorably, but it just didn't seem to muster up enough excitement and closed after 68 performances. The original cast album remains locked on LP; with no sign of an impending CD or i-tunes release in sight. (Fortunately, I have an LP to mp3 rip, but the quality isn't spectacular). Remember when a musical adaptation of a favorite film wasn't the formula? Frankly, neither can I...

Anyway, here on Ed Sullivan is Foy and Johnson in the charming duet "I Wouldn't Bet One Penny" followed by Joan Fagan's spirited rendition of the opening number (why it's second I'm not sure) "Sez I/If It Isn't Everything" assisted by the men, which is a sort of feisty Irish cousin to "Waitin' for My Dearie" from Brigadoon. The score is delightful, but it's "Sez I" that really stands out - your friend and mine, Peter Filichia, refers to it as "the greatest opening number you've never heard." I tend to agree. But of course, I'm also Irish (with the dual citizenship to prove it) so I may be a bit biased. I'm not big on the show's title though... but at least it wasn't The Quiet Man - THE MUSICAL. Well, now you can weigh in. Hopefully Decca Broadway might consider a release... especially for us Irish.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"The 2008 Theatre World Awards - Or There and Back Again"

Call me Odysseus. I had the most horrifying commute into the city for the Theatre World Awards, where it seemed that all that was missing was the woman with the baby carriage from The French Connection. The morning was set to begin early; my friend and I were going to drive in. Originally, he was going to go with me to the awards, then backed out when the prospect of an audition came up. However, the plan was still that we would head into Manhattan together. I call that morning, wake him up. I proceed to get ready, with a warning that he might not be able to swing it into NY until later in the afternoon. Okay. I requested a ride from the train station as I was pretty much out of luck otherwise. He had just commenced shaving, so I made the garrulous decision to call a taxi. It was 11:29 - and the train was at 12:12. I figured that was plenty of time to get into the cab, have a nice relaxing ride to the station with some genial but rather meaningless conversation with the cab-driver. Standing there, my panic and anxiety started to skyrocket - also, it was practically 100 degrees and felt like I was breathing through a moist face towel. At 11:56 I call the cab company again - and, would you believe it, I am put on hold. At this point, I begin to quietly have an aneurysm or some other *insert medical hyperbole here*. I'm told that the cab would be arriving shortly. So I wait with frenzied tension, checking both ways for the sound of an engine - you know, I had no idea my road was so well traveled - until finally at 12:05, I see the blue blur emerge in front of my house. Yes - I haven't even left the house at this point.

Okay. It's 12:05, the train leaves Peekskill at 12:12. I'm mildly optimistic, but the optimism cannot override the increasing dread that has been building up inside me for the past half hour. There is another fare in the car with me, a very genial fellow who decided to be the world's greatest conversationalist at a moment where I wanted him to go to hell. Not his fault by any means, when I have something important going on, it typically demands all my attention. We drive down the hill, and the another cab comes riding past. They honk at each other. I die a little inside realizing that they had dispatched another cab to get me. Then in a series of unavoidable circumstances, it turns into quite an adventure. We sit at a traffic light for an inexorably extensive period, then get behind someone who's decided to go twenty miles under the speed limit. And in making matters even richer, we hit road work and are sitting staring at the little orange man and his stop sign which might as well have said, "I win! Love, the Universe."

As we pass the construction, it is now 12:10. Every one of us realizes that I am not going to make this 12:12 train. Again, the death inside was small but prescient. The driver verbalizes this thought and asks what I want to do. I ask him "How much to Croton Harmon?" (another station a few miles south).

So we pick up the pace. We get rid of the Pollyanna to my right and the driver steps on it. We critique every driver in our way. Let's face it, it played out like an action film. Every bad driver in town decided to get in front of the taxi. I'm sitting back there trying to remember the Rosary. We deal with more tortoise drivers, dodge vehicles jutting out too far into the road way. And then in a last belch of irony, get stuck behind a slow-moving utility truck - that belongs to Metro-North.

After all this, I make to Croton Harmon, get my ticket and panic - it's 12:27. The train is in. Well as Dame Fortune would have it, there was a technical glitch on the train that dispatched from Poughkeepsie, so they had to switch out at C-H. Take that universe. It took me to about Yonkers to calm down after the adrenaline fueled-John McClane experience my noon-tide became.

Well, I made it in time for the Theatre World awards. And what a blessed event, as always. This year, the ceremony took place in the Helen Hayes, on the set of Xanadu and marked the first time I had ever entered this theatre. (What a tiny house!) Sarah got there ahead of me, and got us ridiculously perfect seats in Row G. It's turned into something of an annual tradition for us. I first went in 2004, with an invite from Peter Filichia, where I sat at a table in Studio 54 next to Tandy Cronyn (which I didn't learn until everyone came up to her to discuss her parents). I met Noah only a few days later at that closing performance of Gypsy, that for the three of us will hold special meaning. As a result of the chance meeting I had with Noah, we became very good friends and indirectly have led me to be writing to you today. Thanks, Bernadette!

Anyway, we've gone together for the last couple of years and have had a fantastic time. The presenters and the recipients are always warm and gracious, without fail. When you are in attendance for this awards ceremony, you forget the negative aspects of show business that tend to distort and jade the more avid theatregoers. It's a time for celebration and community. There is no sense of competition, being that all twelve recipients are winners. Many who've won often talk about it as being the special award, or the one that really counts. And in many ways it is. There is unending support from the community - something which many of the outsiders from Chicago and London and Honolulu made special note.

The show opened with a bizarro nightclub medley of West Side Story in which Carol Lawrence, the original Maria, deconstructed the entire show in three minutes (something presenter Lin-Manuel Miranda made note of later) complete with choreography. It was a bit of what was is known as a hot mess, but we still applauded Carol Lawrence because, well, she's Carol Lawrence!
Other performances included Tyler Maynard singing "Epiphany" from Altar Boyz, Alice Playten doing a rather pointless Piaf impersonation (which in lieu of one of her socko Henry Sweet Henry numbers, proved a disappointing cop-out - I WANTED "KAFRITZ." Ok, I'm better now) and Karen Akers wrapping those lush mahogany tones around a poorly written Ahrens and Flaherty song. So the performances aren't up to those we've seen in the past, but the presentations were as interesting as ever.

My favorite is Loretta Ables-Sayre, who won for her NY debut as Bloody Mary in the LCT revival of South Pacific. The woman is endlessly entertaining. Her warmth and openness and gratitude are so incredibly genuine, you can't help but love her. She talked about her experiences as a chick singer, singing with bands and doing this and that in Hawaii. I cannot believe she almost didn't even bother going to the audition. There is a glorious soul in her person, one that touches everyone she meets. So moved was she and so moving was her speech, the audience gave her that kind of applause that Filichia loves, it started to die down, but then surged forward with a burst of energy. She is a real treat to NY theatre this season and I tell you, I'm a fan. For me, that was the highlight of the ceremony.

I almost missed it. For in my earlier fiasco I overhydrated myself to counteract the intense heat. And getting to the theatre when I did, I didn't run down to the Little Boy's Room like I should have. So in the middle of Griffin Dunne's speech I had to get up and get out. I got back in time to hear him call her up onstage and don't know what he said about her, but I'm sure it was glowing.

Alec Baldwin discussed his love of theatre and the effect August: Osage County had on his day, which had been terrible until the performance. He presented to Deanna Dunagan, the senior member of the class of '08, to whom he left a note in her dressing room telling her he'd love to work with her. Of course when giving a shout out to Odessa, TX, Sarah couldn't resist clapping. Loved it. Mark Rylance discussed his earliest memory, when he was three years old and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time. His presenter, Jonathan Cake, only learned he was a winner last week. Turns out no one told him - and he won for the Fiona Shaw Medea in 2002! He received his award that afternoon. Jenna Russell talked about playing Sondheim at 2AM, singing along at full volume. (I'm sure no one who's reading this has done that...). John Cullum had an interesting "emergency," in which his wife needed the keys to the basement cages (?) However it played out, it turned into a rather hilarious spontaneous moment. Andrea Martin is enjoyable, bringing a red velvet cupcake for Alli Mauzey from Cry-Baby. Paulo Szot was humbled by the acceptance of the NY theatre community of an opera singer. And let's face it, love was all around. And it was better than anything we could expect from the Tony telecast this weekend. Except perhaps Patti LuPone unhinging her jaw and swallowing Kelli O'Hara whole.

We didn't go to the party this year, but instead enjoyed a nice late lunch at Mercury's on 9th Avenue (their caesar wrap is stellar). I tell you, you aren't likely to find two theatregoer companions as fun and entertaining as our Moon Lady and her Little Love.

I can't wait for next year!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Theatre Aficionado's End of Season Final Exam - Spring 2008

I'm borrowing this idea from Peter Filichia's annual Broadway University Final Exam column, in which he presents a series of quotes or clues and looks for the title of song and the musical it's from. However, being the bastard I am, my exam is thought response essay only, inspired by many of your end-of-season round-ups and award punditry posts...

1. In looking at the Best Leading Actress in a Play and Best Leading Actress in a Musical categories, each has a definitive front-runner poised to win at the Tony Awards on Sunday. .Compare and contrast Violet Weston and Rose Hovick.

2. In a recent column, Filichia made an interesting point regarding the Best Play category. While many commented on the choices made in the Best Musical category, Peter was the only one to criticize the nomination for The 39 Steps as it was adapted from a screenplay that was 73 years. He cited original works such as Mauritius, November and The Farnsworth Invention as plays that "started from scratch." Was The 39 Steps deserving of its nomination?

3. In recent years, there has been much fuss over which shows get to perform on the Tony awards. This year, Young Frankenstein, The Little Mermaid and A Catered Affair will receive time on the broadcast. Should all nominated musicals be eligible for representation on the telecast, even if they aren't up for the "big one"?

4. Does the scenography (scenic, lighting and costume design) of Sunday in the Park With George enhance or detract from the audience experience? Why? How does this production compare scenographically with the 1984 original?

5. Discuss the dramaturgically symbiotic functions of the characters of Violet and Barbara in August: Osage County.

6. The revival of South Pacific has been an enormous critical and financial success for Lincoln Center Theatre. Does the musical (and therefore by extension, its themes) hold up with today's sensibilities? Is the piece a musical comedy or a musical play? Explain.

7. By comparing and contrasting the nominees for Best Musical and Best Musical Revival, how would you describe the state of the American musical?

8. There have been references to this as "the year of the play." Assess the validity of this statement.

Extra Credit: What performances/plays/musicals et al. do you feel went unrecognized by the various awards guilds this season?

Monday, June 9, 2008

"Ain't It Awful, the Heat?"

I've not felt the urge to blog in this heat, but to seek refuge away from anything that emits heat. I have also been working a lot lately, which is great for the checking account but poor for my blogging time. I do get a vacation soon (when should I take it...and how shall I enjoy it?) so we'll see what that brings...

So yeah, how about this ridiculous weather? I anticipate this sort of streak in mid-July, not now. So I've been going through thinking of all the 'hot' songs my mind can muster. So far in my heat-induced coma, I've thought of "Gonna Be Another Hot Day" from 110 in the Shade, "It's Hot Up Here" from Sunday in the Park With George, "Ain't It Awful, the Heat?" from Street Scene, "Too Darn Hot" from Kiss Me Kate. Any others that fit...?

Though we've known it for weeks, it's now official: Deanna Dunagan plays her final performance as Violet Weston in August: Osage County this coming Sunday, June 15 (and then the Tonys!) so if you miss her performance, don't come crying to me, you've had six months. Instead, enjoy Estelle Parsons - which should prove to be an interesting performance, I've no doubt. Rondi Reed, Jeff Perry and Francis Guinan are also departing the company. I'll be there on the 15th to cheer them on - and also take my best friend to see them in it for an early birthday present.

But before I do that, it's the Theatre World awards tomorrow with my regulars. I cannot wait. I'm off to cool down/melt/self-immolate. Whichever happens first.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Non Sequitur

At work this evening, I assisted a new-to-middle-aged woman who has decided - for better or for worse - to bring back the "Bea Arthur as Maude" hairstyle. And I'm talking the early seasons, before the facelift. All that was missing was the floor length polyester vest and the glare. I did everything in my power not to a. gawk, b. laugh uncontrollably to the point of discomfort and/or c. quote "God'll get you for that, Walter." If only I had been able to get a picture. Just thought I'd share...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Line of the Season

"You don't get it, do you? I'M RUNNING THINGS NOW!"

Quote of the Day

'Up next came Jessie who sang that musical theatre classic, "How Do I Live Without You?" John Barrowman busted her and called her performance inconsistent and vanilla. Hmm….for John Barrowman to call someone vanilla, reminds me of a time when I called someone judgmental.'

- Seth Rudetsky, in his re-cap of I'd Do Anything, the casting reality show for the West End revival of Oliver!

In the words of Seth himself, Brava!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A minor rant on the current DVD re-release of "Auntie Mame"

I had been anticipating 2008 for the plethora of special 50th anniversary editions I expected to be rolling out of the DVD departments. As those who know me at all, they know my DVD collection is akin to the volcano at Kileaua, equally expansive and dangerous. Anyway, I also have this bizarre OCD aversion to the snap case DVD sets. You know the ones I mean. They used to be the rage from Warner Bros and New Line when the technology was new. It was cardboard with a plastic snap on the right side. Anyway, they don't fit comfortably with the regular keepcase (read: plastic) DVD cases that are the general norm. Well, certain titles are reaching their golden celebration this year: the Best Picture winner Gigi, Separate Tables, Auntie Mame, Some Came Running, South Pacific, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Defiant Ones, The Old Man and the Sea, The Big Country, the previously blogged-about Vertigo, Houseboat, Desire Under the Elms, Damn Yankees, Teacher's Pet, Indiscreet, The Young Lions, A Night to Remember, et al.

Anyway, I was looking around on various websites and have come to horrific discovery that Warner Bros will not be releasing a special edition of Auntie Mame on DVD. No. They are reissuing it as a "double feature" paired with The Shop Around the Corner. Now I have nothing against The Shop Around the Corner, it's a delightful romantic comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan and is an earlier adaptation of Parfumerie (which became She Loves Me for Broadway). Now aside from the fact that both films are earlier incarnations of favored 60s musicals, what is the thematic link that requires a release together? It would make more sense if WB release Auntie Mame with Mame and The Shop Around the Corner with In the Good Old Summertime and You've Got Mail (both of which are remakes of the same story owned by the company). I'm disappointed and don't intend on picking up the new release. I don't enjoy my movies clumped together randomly like this. Chalk it up to my OCD.

The good news is, there are plans for 2-disc restored and remastered editions of Gigi, An American in Paris and A Star is Born (Judy Garland's) in the next year or so. And also Blu-Ray editions, too. Oh well. Thus endeth my minor rant...

Gwen Verdon & Chita Rivera: "Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag"

From The Howard Cosell Show in 1975, we get Chicago as it should be performed. (Costumes...? For real??) Can you believe it's almost eight years since we lost Gwen? Such a natural treasure. And how lucky are we that Chita is still performing? I've come to the conclusion that Ms. Rivera should receive a standing ovation any time she walks into a room. Enjoy this:

Here's another one, plus interview with Mike Douglas and Hal Linden. The two ladies are nothing short of classy and gracious. I love how proud Gwen is of her flop play, Children Children. 65 minutes, no intermission on its one and only performance. And Chita even talks about 1491, "marked down from 1776." And Jerry Orbach joins in too and performs "Razzle Dazzle."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Musical Theatre Zen: The Barbara Cook Edition

One of my most indelible theatre memories is from the day Barbara Cook brought Mostly Sondheim to my town. (Can you imagine my surprise? Barbara Cook in MY TOWN??) Anyway, I made a great to-do about it and had many of my friends come with me to see her in action. Cook as a performer is known for her the clarity with which she interprets a lyric. Her sound has darkened as she's gotten older, but the tone is still exorbitantly warm and inviting. The atmosphere at a Barbara Cook concert is akin to visiting your favorite grandmother: intimacy, warmth and graciousness pouring out over the footlights.

There she was, one of the definitive musical theatre actresses of all time, interpreting the songs that Sondheim had written - and those he wished he had, at least in part. We had plenty of Harold Arlen, some a touch of Irving Berlin, and of course, the works of Sondheim himself. The highlight for me came toward the end of the concert when she discussed how three of the songs on the list were those which she originally sang in Candide and She Loves Me. The first, of course, being the death-defying coloratura aria "Glitter and Be Gay." ("I ain't gonna be singin' that one tonight... I ain't been a-goin' to sing that for a loooong time.") The other two were "Tell Me I Look Nice," a cute 5/4 number that was originally just before "Will He Like Me," and of course, the one she recreated for us in concert, "Ice Cream." This piece is one of the most impressive character songs I've ever heard, and is something of a signature for Cook. I can still recall the first time I heard the score to She Loves Me, one of my top three shows, and this was the song I played again and again. That night, four and a half years ago, I was nearer to Heaven than I could even realize at the time. And at the age of 75, her climactic high B natural rang out like freedom. I've never been the same ever since and for that I'm most grateful to Ms. Cook. Enjoy...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Stream of Consciousness on "Inner Voices"

- The Zipper Factory Theatre is one of the more unique performance spaces I've seen in my life. Great is the confusion Roxie and I have upon entering the lobby. Or bar. (It's both. This is a bit unusual and really cool). Looks like we're waiting for the rave to begin. (Roxie: "Oh didn't you read about that. I brought glowsticks.")

- House opens. General admission. You can pick your own seating. In this case the minivan bench of your choice. (Whaaa?) The atmosphere is more that of an acting conservatory than say a theatre. Has that black box meets thrust stage quality about it.

- Victoria Clark is one of the most superlative talents on the NY stage.

- OMG. Victoria Clark is in a nightgown and playing a character at three distinctively different phases of her life. She's incredibly genuine as an eleven year old pre-pubescent. The work is musically and dramatically fascinating. Probably the first thirty-minute, three-act play I've ever seen.

- Roxie and I are six feet away from Victoria Clark. I imagine it's akin to what it's like to be looking into the face of God.

- Tres Ninas is offering Victoria Clark a chance to play a fascinatingly self-destructive divorced alcoholic mother of two who has sex with someone half her age.

- OMFG. That was an orgasm. Strange feeling of deja vu hits...

- Catharsis. Supreme acting through song. Clark has a gift when it comes to subtext and giving a layered, complex performance. The woman to my right is an absolute emotional wreck. And rightly so. The audience gives her a Routledge (mid-show standing ovation). She exits. She is missed already. My neck hurts. It's the damn van seat.

- The woman in front of us looks like Liz Smith. Is that her?

- What the hell is this girl wearing? Okay. This is the girl from Spring Awakening. It's Alice Unwrapped. There's a vamp. I'm already bored. Bring back Vicki.

- So the girl is one of those delusionally weird teens who prides herself on being different. Her dad is in Iraq. This cannot be ending well.

- Dad is missing. Mom goes depressive. Daughter goes delusional. Younger sister sounds like an irritating know-it-all who deserves to be slapped.

- The composer really enjoys Bill Finn.

- This is starting to get tedious. Do we really need thirty minutes to cover what probably should be a ten-minute one-act?

- I would love to hear Victoria Clark's take on the "Duet for One" from 1600. And see her play Alice Challice in Darling of the Day. She can do anything.

- Jennifer Damiano seems like she needs more time in acting school. Or she should be in the house for Victoria Clark to see how you tell a story, create a complex character and captivate an audience all by your lonesome. Then again, Clark also teaches... hmm...

- Is Bill Finn aware of this?

- Okay, so the little girl is the one who's mind is still with it. I'm starting to think this story would be more interesting if it came from her perspective. Or the mom's. Anyone but this girl.

- More vamping.

- I think Bill Finn should sue...

- Okay. She takes off the vest. An interesting concept is marred by poor writing and poor execution. Polite applause. Slight headache. I guess that's what a thirty minute rip-off of "Passover" from Elegies will do to you.

- Bring back Vicki Clark. Is that Liz Smith? I still can't tell.

- Ohh. Here's Barbara Walsh. It's A Thousand Words Come to Mind. I'm captivated from the way she puts down her handbag.

- Oh my. Mom is dying. This isn't going to end well either.

- I've never seen Barbara Walsh perform before. Now I want to see everything she does from here on out.

- She manages to be quite affecting in disclosing the nature of her relationship with her mother. All the while revealing oh so much about herself in the process. Now that is effective acting.

- Ooh. This has a literary angle. The mom tells her daughter she was the inspiration for a character in Philip Roth's The Human Stain. Mom starts to learn of her mother for the first time in her life.

- Um.. Mom is dying. Someone in the upper decks shrieks with laughter. Let the awkward times roll... Walsh blazed on unfazed. We turn back to Walsh, fazed.

- Borders? What the hell? Sorry. Bizarre loyalty to B&N.

- Barbara Walsh should be the next Vera in Mame. Her ability to be wry and dry is succinct. But she is also so damn touching. Damiano should stick around for this master class too. I have a sudden desire to see Walsh and Clark work opposite each other. And I want to see Walsh play Charlotte in A Little Night Music.

- The mom has died. Time for the denouement. We discover that she was a frustrated writer who never realized her dreams. Daughter understands her now more than ever. They've finally connected.

- The letter from Philip Roth. Exactly the satisfactory touch the audience wanted. Many sighs from all over.

- My neck pain has spread into a tension headache. All from that awkward seating. Time to go.

- No, it isn't Liz Smith.

More "Kitty"

Here's another reason Pat Routledge is a hero to us all.

Maria von Trapp interviews Maria von Trapp

Maria von Trapp appears on The Julie Andrews Hour

Carol Channing on Sesame Street

Well, I had hoped to put up the infamous Leslie Uggams "June is Bustin' Out All Over" interpretation in honor of the first day of this wondrous month. Alas, it has been pulled from the ranks on youtube, and virtually everywhere else on the internet.

So here's something even more bizarre: Carol mackin' it to a snake.