Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Home Sweet Heaven

Alright, so it's not a revival of High Spirits, but I can barely contain my excitement at the idea of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit coming back to Broadway. The 1941 play, about the chaos that ensues when a man's dead wife is resurrected during a seance, was last seen on Broadway in 1987 starring Richard Chamberlain, Blythe Danner and Geraldine Page.

The revival is going to be directed by Michael Blakemore and it was just announced today that the production is going to star Christine Ebersole as Elvira, the first (deceased) wife. I've heard the producers want Angela Lansbury for the role of the eccentric medium Madame Arcati, a role written for Margaret Rutherford (and subsequently played by Mildred Natwick in the original Broadway cast and by Bea Lillie in the musical adaptation, High Spirits in 1964). Lansbury has apparently gone on record saying she wouldn't take on any more stage roles after the taxing production of Deuce. Let's hope that producer Jeffrey Richards and Blakemore can convince her otherwise!

Other casting is pending. Any thoughts on who should round out the play?

Monday, September 29, 2008

What a Good Day is Saturday

(10 points if you can name the musical referenced in the post's title).


I awoke bright eyed and bushy-tailed in anticipation for the day. Last month, I received a quick IM from Sarah about meeting up with some of the blog crew who were going to be in town. Though I sadly missed the last gathering back in August (I think...? or was it July? Ugh. These decades...) there was nothing stopping me from going in for some unbelievably genial conversation with a little alcohol on the side. Two days earlier, I had also received a message from a friend from college, Russ, who as a member of TDF said that he was going to the matinee of [title of show] and would I care to join him. In my euphoria, I said "Yes."

Anyway, now I had the opportunity to take in the first new musical of the Broadway season, the little show that could, trekking from the New York Musical Theatre Festival, climbing up the mountain to the Lyceum on 45th Street and Broadway.

Act I:

I arrived in NY around quarter after one in the afternoon. I generally take the Metro North into the city - it's efficient and I can connect with the shuttle to Times Square to blaze a trail through maps and cameras and the stodgy awestruck tourists who instantaneously make me feel like a territorial native. Met up with Russ, who I haven't seen in a couple of years, and we headed on over to the Lyceum.

Confessional: I had listened to the cast album when it first came out. I appreciated the cleverness, but it didn't stick with me as I thought it would. This was when it had closed off-Broadway. There were grumblings of Broadway happenings, but the cynic-who-has-seen-it-all side of me said "Naah, it'll never happen." Well, and Dewey defeats Truman to you too. End confessional.

Anyway, I started to get really excited to see the show. Several people told me that they didn't think I would enjoy it, which is why I was apprehensive of dropping what little funds I have on the show. Then Russ came through with his TDF offer. Well at these prices, I'll be your ecdysiast, press agent and prophet. The excitement was made more palpable with the numerous people volunteering to promote the show around Times Square, handing out flyers promoting the show to passersby. When one gave me one, Russ said we were already seeing the show. The kid looked like he won the lottery. That sort of grassroots-guerrilla optimism makes me feel, I don't know what exactly the word I would use here. Happy? Too genial. Content? Not enough chutzpah. Rhapsodic? Well not yet. But getting there. But I digress...

Well, my enthusiasm grew tenfold when we reached the mezzanine. Our usher, a diminutive middle aged mom, immediately asked us with great fervor if this was our first time seeing the show. We said yes. And she let out a sigh "Ohhhhhh, I wish I could sit and watch your reactions!!" She then proceeded to tell us that we would love it, with the passion usually reserved for a proud stage mother. Deciding that at 90 minutes without an intermission, I should use the facilities just for good measure, I happened into a second conversation with the usher. This time we discussed Souvenir and espoused the virtues of its dynamo star Judy Kaye (and that they should have cut back on the Cosme McMoon solos). It was upon the entrance of an enthused [tos]ser (as they're called, not being a crass Brit here) who was seeing the show that I learned of the true extension of the grassroots campaign. The mezzanine was filled with many patrons who had been convinced by the eager volunteers to come see the show. Then I took my seat as maestro (and fifth cast member) Larry Pressgrove took his spot at the keyboard onstage.

How does one go about describing [title of show]? It's not that easy I guess. I've heard it called a musical about people writing a musical about writing a musical. The show's charms lie in its simplicity, quirky charm and personality, and most importantly, its heart. I could on and on about the things that make the show so engaging for an audience. Written by Hunter Bell (book) and Jeff Bowen (score), the show stars these two gentlemen and their friends Heidi Blickenstaff and Susan Blackwell, all playing themselves. The ninety minute show, which zips along at a most enjoyable pace (kudos to Michael Berresse's nimble direction and choreography), follows the creation of the musical we are seeing, a meta-musical and one of the most original of all original musicals. It starts with the simple idea of writing about what they know (which includes horribly tacky television and the occasional cult flop musical) through the opening on Broadway. The musical, small in its scope and its size (four chairs and an onstage piano are all they need. Well... that and a turkey burger), is a continuation of the back-stage musical.

When I say, I loved it, part of it is that I felt as if I was watching a musical that had been written by people I know. I am fortunate to know many creative people like the four actors onstage, personalities both eccentric and endearing. (I also know the other kind; the ones that suck your soul dry with their solipsism, thankfully they stayed home). The talent, the humor, the warmth, the insecurities; all of these elements can be identified with anyone who's ever taken a theatre course. In an era where it's in vogue to have tongue-in-cheek musicals that make fun of the genre, it was really refreshing to find a tongue-in-cheek musical that celebrates it. There is a lot of heart onstage at the Lyceum and it is reason to rejoice.

Watching [tos], there are many things to love. Jeff collects playbills of shows that run 50 performances or less. Susan is the witty, self-deprecating, self-proclaimed "corporate whore," Heidi is the one with established Broadway street cred and is the strongest singer of the quartet. And Hunter is Hunter, quite possibly the bravest individual onstage (with poor grammar). Two of the best running gags in this musical comedy: the drag queen names (Lady Footlockah, Tulita Pepsi, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, etc.) and the answering machine messages. The latter is especially amusing as it provides cameos for many of the great contemporary divas, with each message getting successively funnier and funnier. Favorites included Vicki Clark's breathless ramble about her son's schedule, Patti LuPone's strident request that the gentlemen stop bothering her and quite possibly the best of them all, Christine Ebersole - and you have to see the show in order to find out what she says...

Then there is the score. They have had fun musicalizing the text book moments, the opening number, the want/am song, etc. However there are three numbers that stood out above the rest. "Die, Vampire, Die" a treatise on the varying insecurities and voices in our lives that stop us dead in our tracks when we try to be anything creative. Whether it be a rival, a family member or friend, or more significantly, ourselves. I think we've all been plagued by such things that set us back from doing. We live in our heads and suffer as a result. "A Way Back to Then" examines those moments in our childhood when the seed was planted; the moment where a person realizes what they want to do more than anything (also before the harsher realities of life and specifically the entertainment industry can darken the sunniest of dispositions). For Heidi it involves her Kool-Aid stained lip and Andrea McArdle belting on the wi-fi. Touching, nostalgic and incredibly spot on and beautifully sung.

Then came the eleven o'clock number. "Nine People's Favorite Thing." In much of the press, message boards and blog posts about the show, this is the phrase that I see most. The gist of the number is that they would rather be nine people's favorite thing than a hundred people's ninth favorite thing. (a quote, I might add). Roxie attended the opening night of the show back in July and told me almost immediately about the response the show received, including a full-out Routledge (to help the uninformed: our word for a mid-show standing ovation, named for Pat R). You can read her report on the festivities here. The song expresses emotionally what many of us in our early creative minds like to think - and I for one say about myself, my blog and anything else I may do: let it be the Rice Krispie treat.

The show, in spite of its incredibly obscure and remote references to various shows and individuals, (If you haven't enjoyed Mary Stout on "Remember WENN," you have no idea what you're missing. Non sequitur, that isn't really a non-sequitur: Rupert Holmes. AMC. Somebody! Release that show on DVD!) does manage to have some mainstream appeal in its underlying ideas regarding art, the creative process and the idealistic dreams vs. the darker realities of venturing into a career in show business. Sadly though, in spite of positive reviews and a cult following to die for, the show has been struggling. The box office numbers have been grim, as they've barely filled a third of a Lyceum Theatre each week. The show is set to close on October 12, though the cast and fans aren't going down without a fight. There is a grassroots campaign to bring people into the theatre, get the [tos] crowd on Ellen and help rescind the closing notice. (Truth be told, the show probably could have had a decent run at an off-Broadway house or at one of the smaller Broadway venues like the Helen Hayes or Circle in the Square). I wish them well and hope I can get back one more time.

Act II

After the show, I ventured around Times Square for a bit, stopping in at the lame duck Virgin Megastore for a quick browse before heading to a preplanned dinner at Sardi's with fellow bloggers. As Doug put it at the dinner table, it was my virgin experience at the famed restaurant. Truth be told, and this may surprise many of you, I never really felt the need to go in. A pilgrimage to the defunct Mark Hellinger Theater is a necessity, but Sardi's no? Yes, I have bizarre priorities. But don't we all?

Anyway, I got to visit with Lady Iris, whose mother had come into Texas for a spell, Steve on Broadway and his partner Doug. I met two bloggers for the first time: Chris from Everything I Know I Learned from Musicals and Alicia from Things You'll Learn to Love About Me. And the good times rang out like freedom. After ordering my requisite White Russian, I opened the menu at which I stared at for about 10 minutes before realizing I had to order. The ancient waiter hovered over me until I picked something. What I wanted they didn't have, so I ended up picking something at random. It's always fun getting together with the blog crew catching up on what people have seen, their thoughts on current shows and the generally genial nature of the experience. Plans to see Wicked in Amsterdam? Only if the mind is altered kids...

The blog crew dispersed, most going to see evening shows. However, the night didn't end there for me. I didn't plan on seeing an evening show, but met up with my friend Matt who was down to meet friends. We trekked up to White Plains to meet other mutual friends, where I got to discuss title of show with a couple of people who were friends of friends and theatre lovers as well. (Got it?) The night ended with Tina Fey - as Sarah Palin on SNL (it's sad that she is the only reason to tune in) and then a couple episodes of 30 Rock. If only every day could be as perfect, no?

And then I woke up...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"You Could Drive a Person Crazy" - Company

Donna McKechnie
Sarah Browning
Pamela Myers...

Recreated for the 1982 special That's Singing: The Best of Broadway. Enjoy.

The Ring of the Nibelungs, An Analysis

Some months ago, I posted about the great Anna Russell. Here is a presentation of her legendary "The Ring of the Nibelungs, An Analysis" videotaped during one of her farewell tours. The voice is almost gone, but the wit and timing are more prescient than ever. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wishing Carol Channing a speedy recovery!

It's been reported today that the 87 year old legend has broken her femur and hip in a fall, which caused her to cancel a performance scheduled for this Thursday, marking the first time that Channing has ever missed a performance in her entire career. Channing has been the epitome of "the show must go on" professionalism, having gone on with broken ribs, post surgery and I read once she even went on in a wheel chair. (I seem to recall her recounting how the one time she threw up in decades was during an inflight showing of the film adaptation of Hello, Dolly!) Though she has gone on in the past, the doctor's insisted this time she take some time to rest and recuperate. Hopefully, she'll be back up on her feet in no time. Get well soon, Carol!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Emmy Roundup

It was the final game at Yankee Stadium this evening, so I have actually not been watching the regularly scheduled programming called "The Emmy's." Truth be told, I've never been as big on the Emmy awards as I am on the Tonys or especially the Oscars.

But tonight isn't necessarily a night to just discuss the Emmys. For me it becomes a night for New York - especially with the number of NY based shows and theatre actors who are being celebrated this evening. The stadium that Ruth built, one of the great icons of our city, is ending its 85 year run tonight. Later this week, the Mets will play their last game at Shea stadium, but with all due respect, they have nothing on the legacy left by the Bronx Bombers and their home. Starting next season, they will play at the new Yankee Stadium, which is in its design more akin to the 1923 stadium than the 1976 revision. Anyway, the evening's festivities and memories felt more like a New Orleans funeral for someone who was still living than anything else. It was a great night to be a New Yorker. It was a terrible night if you were involved in the Emmy Awards telecast.

I did catch more of the Emmys towards the close of the ceremony and missed seeing the opening live on TV. I caught it on the internet later. My mistake. I have never seen anything worse than the five Emmy hosts filling dead air with nothing. It was an offense to writers everywhere, not to mention the intelligence of those in the audience and the few watching at home. (I wouldn't be surprised if the worst-ever ratings were a result of thousands reaching for the remotes in the first ten minutes). My brief rant: you had Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson, and Conan O'Brien in the house. Hell, Don Rickles would have done a better job without a script at 82 than the reality hosts. (Let's face it, reality shows: you're the Jackie Collins of television).

However, almost more embarrassing than that was the horrifying medley of TV themes as performed by Josh Groban. I think the only performer who could have successfully given such a manic performance packed with as many songs would have been the late great Dorothy Loudon. If you saw it, you know how bad it was.

However, there was much to celebrate. AMC's Mad Men, set in NY and featuring many contemporary theatre actors, took the prize for Best Drama Series, a first for basic cable. My beloved 30 Rock took Comedy Series for the second year in a row. John Adams was Best Miniseries.

Theatre actors were winning in droves: Jeremy Piven (Entourage), Jean Smart (Samantha Who?), Dianne Wiest (In Treatment), Zeljko Ivanek (Damages), Glenn Close (Damages), Alec Baldwin (30 Rock), Laura Linney (John Adams), Paul Giamatti (John Adams) and Eileen Atkins (Cranford) have all tread the boards on Broadway. (Okay, so Piven has yet to make his debut, but he was in rehearsals before he was a winner - and is starting previews next week, so I'm giving him a pass here!) Tom Wilkinson (John Adams) has done extensive theatre work in London.

Props to Tina Fey, whom co-star Alec Baldwin called "the Elaine May of her generation" in his acceptance speech, on winning three awards for the fantastic, NY-based satire on the television industry, 30 Rock. Best Writing. Best Actress. Best Comedy Series. That says a lot about this brilliant writer's ability. (Sarah Palin anyone?) This show is the funniest thing on TV you are probably not watching, at least if we use the ratings as a gauge. Season 1 is out on DVD and 2 will be out shortly, so be sure to catch up. The episodes are sharp, well-written and unexpected in their unending hilarity and wit. Jane Krakowski, Tracy Morgan, Jack McBrayer costar. Guest stars have included Isabella Rossellini, Paul Reubens, Al Roker, Chris Mathews, Tucker Carlson, Elaine Stritch (in an Emmy-winning turn season one), Steve Buscemi, Tim Conway (winning this year), Carrie Fisher, Edie Falco, David Schwimmer, Al Gore, Rip Torn, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes. In the upcoming season (which starts on October 30) Jennifer Aniston and Oprah are among the stars making appearances.

Next year, get a host!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Well, Hello Dolly!

It's being reported widely how Dolly Parton saved the world premiere performance of her new out of town musical adaptation of the hit movie 9 to 5. As is the case with many shows just getting up on their feet, problems with scenery and changes are likely and can bring the proceedings to a screeching halt. However, many shows don't have someone like Dolly who can keep the audience engaged with her genuine warmth and personality (not to mention voice). What a night it was too, considering Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dabney Coleman were all in attendance as well. Must have been some treat for the audience. Perhaps when this is done, Dolly should consider a one woman show?

Here is a recap of the first night performance from the KTLA Morning news blog:

She has doubtlessly performed on thousands of concert stages all around the world; but Saturday night at the World Premiere of the stage musical version of her very own "9 to 5," Dolly Parton had to save opening night, by performing, completely impromptu, from the audience.

Parton, was among a star studded crowd; including fellow '9 to 5' film cast members Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dabney Coleman; all of whom were on hand to see the Broadway Bound musical based on the movie from 1979.

Dozens of other stars were in Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theater, including, Gabriel Byrne, Tracey Ullman, Blythe Danner and Jason Alexander; when the show was stopped cold about 15 minutes into the performance by "technical difficulties."

Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block and Megan Hilty; playing the roles Tomlin, Fonda and Parton made famous in the movie, were in the midst of a scene change, when the curtain came down and an announcer informed a stunned audience that the show would be stopped for a few minutes because of some technical problems.

As the minutes dragged on and on, a clearly restless audience was cheered when Parton stood-up right from her seat in the middle of the theater and said; "If they can't perform the show, I'll do some of it from right here." Parton then proceeded to lead the entire audience in a sing-a-long version of the title song '9 to 5.' That number, drew a rousing ovation from the crowd; but the delay wasn't done and neither was Dolly.

Audience members could hear construction equipment like power drills and saws at work while Dolly continued to charm the audience with a talk about the origins of the musical show; as well as introducing her '9 to 5' film co-stars. As the delay continued, Parton offered to take questions from the audience; and then asked if the audience would like for her to sing another song; 'I Will Always Love You.' Before beginning the second number Dolly told the crowd, "Maybe I'll wait, in case things get screwed up again and I have to fill more time."

After a complete set of about 20 minutes of both song and chatter the show resumed.

The audience remained in a great mood, and very open to the rest of the show, thanks entirely to Dolly and her efforts. The remainder of the musical went off without a hitch and was greeted with a long standing ovation.

However some theater veterans in the crowd could be overheard saying that the show will certainly need a few tweaks before a scheduled April 2009 opening on Broadway.

In my view, the show was about "85 percent there." There seem to be a few "filler" numbers, and a few scenes that I think might make some people simply uncomfortable. Does Dolly have a sure-fire musical theater hit on her hands? I can't honestly be certain. But there is no doubt that a potential opening night disaster was clearly diffused by a very talented and more than willing to "wing-it" Dolly Parton.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quote of the Day, Emmy Edition

It's a fact that awards aren't necessarily the best indicator of quality. That doesn't make it any less shocking that Angela Lansbury has been nominated 18 times but never won an Emmy

After seven decades in showbiz, she's a living legend, with four Tonys, six Golden Globes and three Oscar nods. But the role she's most known for -- mystery novelist-cum-amateur-sleuth Jessica Fletcher on 'Murder, She Wrote' -- earned her 12 Emmy noms (no wins), for a career total of 18 ... and she never complained like Susan Lucci.

- AOL's profile of this weekend's Emmy awards

It really is a travesty that the highest award in television has never been bestowed on Lansbury, but looking at the other actors in this list, she enjoys the esteemed company of Gracie Allen, George Burns, Sherman Hemsley, Michael Landon (who was never Emmy-nominated once over the course of three series, 652 episodes of television!), Bob Newhart, Jane Kaczmarek, Jason Alexander, Buddy Ebsen, Desi Arnaz, Andy Griffith and Jackie Gleason.

Well, there's always a place on Broadway for Angie. So come back to us as Madame Arcati in the spring revival of Blithe Spirit and clear your mantle for a fifth Tony!!

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Man for All Seasons

"More is a man of an angel's wit and singular learning; I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness, and affability? And as time requireth a man of marvellous mirth and pastimes; and sometimes of as sad gravity: a man for all seasons."

-Robert Whittinton, on Sir Thomas More, 1520

Get thee to the Roundabout revival of A Man for All Seasons! I had the great fortune to attend the fourth preview on Sunday with Sarah and must say it's well on its way to being one of the highlights of the season. There is one reason and one reason alone that makes attendance mandatory: Frank Langella as Sir Thomas More. When Langella is onstage, which is for almost the entire running time of the play, the combination of Robert Bolt's prose and Langella's formidable talent provides an affecting lyricism, as we watch a man of such integrity refuse to compromise his morals and ideals for political reasons.

Sir Thomas More is a fascinating individual. He was noted as an author, lawyer and statesman. He insisted that his daughters be educated as well as his sons, especially rare in the 16th century. In Robert Bolt's play, the playwright gives us a human portrait of one of the most respected statesmen in the history of England. More, who was one of King Henry VIII's favorites, would meet his end when he couldn't compromise his own moral beliefs and integrity and swear allegiance to Henry, who so desired a male heir that he would split from the Church in Rome, starting the Church of England. When More refused to take the mandatory oath of allegiance to the Act of Succession, which recognized Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn as his wife and their children as heirs to the throne of England, he was tried for treason and was executed by beheading on Tower Hill at the Tower of London. More was canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and also has a feast day on the Anglican calendar.

(It should be mentioned that while the play portrays the man as being born with a halo, he was vehemently against Protestant Reformation, leading a violent scourge of Lutheranism in England which included the burning several people at the stake for heresy. Well... nobody's perfect).

Bolt, a noted agnostic, was not so much interested in the religious implications surrounding the character of More, but moreso as a man of conscience and integrity, who refused to bend to the whim of the King. The play had a moderately successful run in London in 1960 and later opened on Broadway in 1961, where it was an even bigger success winning the Tony award for Best Play. The play was made into a film in 1966, directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Paul Scofield, who had originated the role of More in London and on Broadway to Tony-winning effect. The film would prove an overwhelming success, winning six Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor for Scofield and Best Screenplay for Bolt. A second film adaptation with Charlton Heston (who also directed) would follow in 1988.

Patrick Page has a fantastic cameo as Henry VIII in the first act, a scene that lasts only several minutes but makes a lasting impression, as see both the lighter and darker sides of Henry. Tony winner Maryann Plunkett makes a return to Broadway after a twenty year absence as Alice More, Thomas' second wife. Zac Grenier proves a powerful foil in Thomas Cromwell, who does everything in his power to bring down More. Richard Strong is Richard Rich, the commoner who would become Chancellor of England before his death, and who is considered one of the great political villains of all time. Rich is responsible for ultimately selling out More to Cromwell under what is widely considered to be perjured testimony.

However, it all comes back to Langella, especially in his second act decline from nobleman to prisoner. The second act, really, is where the play truly takes off. There is a great deal of exposition to be learned in the first, where we are given a full introduction to the period, era and political-religious implications of the time. But it is in the second act when More refuses to take the oath and loses everything he has that the play truly soars. Most notably in the heartbreaking scene in which he says goodbye to his family (both on film and onstage this scene can reduce an audience to tears) and the trial scene that immediately follows in which More makes his final statement before the court. His performance is of such definition and quality, I can't help but be excited by the fact that I get to see it again towards the end of the run.

Catherine Zuber provides elegant period costumes, a celebration of earth tones and with such exquisite detail, she will most likely be in the running for her fifth straight Tony win this year. Santo Loquasto's set is simple, yet most effective in use of the space, complementing the staging of the director quite nicely. Hughes has eliminated the character of the Common Man, and really, he isn't missed. The Common Man was a Brechtian device that narrated and commented on the play to the audience, while also appearing as More's servant, the executioner, a boatman, etc. Really, he's not much missed. (And yes, the Bolt estate approved the changes).

I couldn't help but think of the relevancy this historical drama has in our own society. What it says about leadership and remaining true to oneself. There is much to be admired about Sir Thomas More, in not bending to the King's will against his own ideals to the point of losing his life so as not to compromise his moral fiber. My God, what our politicians and statesman could learn from More, as an example on how to govern with integrity, gravitas and conscience.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Barbara Cook: My Life in American Music

Living legend Barbara Cook discusses her singing career from Broadway to the concert stage for KCRW, an NPR affiliate in Santa Monica, CA (with ample representation of her music). Did you know that for the spoken lines in "Glitter and Be Gay" from Candide, she called upon a performance of Lady Macbeth by Fay Bainter from a record of the Mercury Players production of the Scottish play? The interview is filled with little factoids like that, as well as insight into how Cook approaches the art of singing. The interview coincides with the upcoming gala opening of the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, at which Cook will be the inaugural performer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Craig Ferguson: "If You Don't Vote, You're a Moron"

It has been fascinating to watch Craig Ferguson on The Late, Late Show this year (or well, any year, the man is brilliant). I've been a fan of his ever since I first saw him play Nigel Wick on The Drew Carey Show. He is also the author of one of my all-time favorite books, Between the Bridge and the River, which may very well be the most impressive debut novel I've read (which I highly recommend to all of you). This year, the native Scot took the US citizenship test and passed with a perfect score. He became an American citizen on February 4 and ever since has taken an active interest in the upcoming presidential election. What sets Ferguson apart from the other late night hosts is that he foregoes a scripted monologue and just speaks off the cuff. He has been known to use the platform to excoriate the media's coverage of Britney Spears, defend Rosie O'Donnell during her feud with Donald Trump and upon the death of his father, gave his dad a touching eulogy. His conversational style puts most of his interviewees at considerable ease and provides his audience with an amusing hour on TV.

Last Wednesday, Ferguson gave an incredible open and honest monologue about the upcoming presidential election with equal opportunity observations about the candidates. It's quite refreshing to see someone, especially a new citizen voting for the very first time, take such a vested interested in the upcoming election - and be hilarious about it. Enjoy.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Yet even more "August" casting news

It was announced this evening that two-time Tony winner John Cullum will be taking over the role of Beverly Weston for a limited one week, 8 performance run while Michael McGuire takes a vacation. Talk about ideal casting, even if only for a week. Though with McGuire's pending departure from the NY to go to London, perhaps Cullum will be taking over the role on a more permanent basis...?

Cast complete for London "August"

It was announced weeks back that the majority of the original Broadway cast of August: Osage County would be recreating their roles for the upcoming run at the National Theatre in London. Casting for the role of Steve Heidelbrecht was pending; however, it was announced today that Gary Cole, a popular character actor in Hollywood comedies and television, as well as a Steppenwolf member, would take on the role for the 8 week run this fall.

Anyone want to fly to London....?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Doubt: A Trailer

Meryl Streep...
Philip Seymour Hoffman...
Amy Adams...

and of course the great Viola Davis.


Judging strictly by the theatrical trailer, it looks like the film adaptation of Doubt is going to be quite good. As a matter of fact, it looks like it might be excellent and a major awards contender this Oscar season. The play, which won the Pulitzer and Tony back in 2005, has a taut, masterful structure and one that I felt would open up well on screen. I have to admit that I was biased in favor of the original cast and rather disappointed when Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman got the leads. (Comparisons are unfair, yet inevitable. If you go to the message boards, there is no shortage of opinion and the insults hurled at said opinions are ringing out like freedom). I have to say for as strong as the film appears to be, I feel that the two leads lack the distinctive characterizations that made the set match between Cherry Jones and Brian F. O'Byrne so fascinating. Especially with Sister Aloysius, a formidable Catholic school principal with considerable authority, but who is essentially powerless in the greater patriarchal hierarchies of the Catholic church.

I'm curious to see if Streep and Hoffman can give the characters the distinctive objectivity that made the stage production fascinating to watch. Aloysius was tough but never a sinister harridan in spite of her convictions. (Those calmer revealing moments about her character spoke volumes to an inestimable warmth hidden under the stern veneer and stiff habit). My one qualm is that the trailer shows the nun in a more damning light, with Streep seeming a bit too Regina Giddens for the character. (Perhaps Streep should consider a revival of The Little Foxes in NY?) Flynn was the ideal younger priest - progressive, charismatic and incredibly impassioned. The way the play has been written, it isn't easy to side with either one. I am most curious to see what happens when these characters are placed on screen.

Amy Adams looks like she is a stellar choice for the role of Sister James, the anemic, young nun who finds herself getting caught up in the battle between Aloysius and Flynn. Knowing what I do of the character and just from seeing her in this trailer, I get the distinct feeling that Viola Davis is going to walk away with the film, in tradition with original cast member Adriane Lenox who won a Featured Actress Tony for her 8 minute scene.

When I saw Doubt, my sympathies volleyed back and forth between Aloysius and Fr. Flynn throughout the ninety minute parable. Shanley offered in his playbill bio the opportunity to send him an email telling him of your thoughts and I did so. If I delved further into my thoughts here, I would spoil things for those unfamiliar with the piece. At the end of the play, I couldn't side with either one. Both had strong arguments and emotions, but at the heart of it, there was nothing but circumstantial evidence to back it up.

Did anyone see the original production of Doubt? Any thoughts on the upcoming film?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What About Barbara?

It was announced this morning that the Kennedy Center honorees will include Morgan Freeman, Twyla Tharp, Peter Townshend & Roger Daltrey of "The Who", country singer George Jones and Barbra Streisand.

I can clearly understand why the aforementioned six would be honored for career achievements in their respective fields. But year after year I always have to ask the same question. Where is the Honor for Barbara Cook? I thought sentimentality would be on her side this year; what with her 80th birthday and subsequent concerts, possibly helped by the cabaret series she is hosting at the Kennedy Center this fall. Cook's career as a musical theatre star on Broadway lasted from 1951 to 1972 with such shows as Plain and Fancy (Theatre World award), Candide (her "Glitter and Be Gay" is untoppable), The Music Man (Tony Award, Best Featured Actress) and She Loves Me (which gave her "Vanilla Ice Cream," a match made in heaven). There were also flops such as Flahooley, The Gay Life (which offers one of her best performances on record), Something More and The Grass Harp. On the dramatic side, she was a replacement for Sandy Dennis in Any Wednesday and appeared in Little Murders and Enemies. During this time she was frequently seen in City Center revivals of Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, as well as many stock productions. Cook reinvented her career in the mid-1970s as a cabaret performer, carving a second niche out of her career that has kept her popular with the public and critics for decades now. Add to this list her appearanace as Sally in the 1985 concert of Follies and the London premiere of Carrie. She has since appeared in concert in various Broadway and concert venues, earning 2002 Tony nomination for Special Theatrical Event. (Do they still give that out?) Having seen Ms. Cook live in performance, it is one of the most intimate and warm experiences between a performer and audience. It's almost as though you were visiting with a favorite grandmother as opposed to a concert. Hearing the honest emotion and depth she applies to any lyric is a master class in interpretation.

Barbara Cook has been in show business for sixty years and I think it's about damn time she had a Kennedy Center Honor as well. Just my two cents...

Here are two Cook moments for you. The first is an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show where she sings the achingly beautiful "Magic Moment" from The Gay Life. The second is "It's Better With a Band" from an appearance with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra back in the 80s.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Couple of Class Acts

First, Glynis Johns wins the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for "A Little Night Music" in 1973 .

Here is Angela Lansbury's gracious acceptance speech on winning her third Tony in 1974 as Rose in Gypsy.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Upcoming DVDs of Note: The Hitchcock Edition

About a month ago I posted about some upcoming DVD releases, but I wasn't complete. Since there are so many upcoming Alfred Hitchcock DVD reissues, I felt that it deserved its own post. Hitchcock has long been a favorite director of mine and it is usually easier for me to count the films I haven't seen when talking about him.
Rebecca, Spellbound and Notorious were previously part of the Criterion Collection catolog but have long been unavailable (going for exorbitant sums on secondary seller sites online). However it appears that you have to buy the boxed set if you want the currently unavailable The Paradine Case, The Lodger, Sabotage and Young and Innocent. Those remastered titles aren't being sold separately. Lifeboat was released individually about three years ago. Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho have been available individually and also as part of a Hitchcock boxed set of all his Universal titles, but now these three are receiving a 2-disc Legacy series upgrade (which the studio has been giving to many of its classic titles over the past several years).
Some of these will be on my Christmas list this year....

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Barbara Walsh Goes to East Hampton

Barbara Walsh is poised to take on the dual roles of Big Edith and Little Edie Beale in an upcoming production of Grey Gardens at the Studio Theatre in Washington DC this fall. For one thing, I'm thrilled that this brilliantly realized musical has started to take on its regional life post-Broadway (where its run was cut woefully short by allegedly poor producing). Though it will be a daunting for any actress to fill those roles so brilliantly characterized by Tony winners Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson, the show provides choice roles for its leading ladies. (Wouldn't it have been something to have seen Angela Lansbury tackle Big Edie?)

Anyhow, the musical (with book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie) will run November 21-December 21. I have heard of Walsh for years. She is well respected for her turns in the original Broadway casts of Falsettos, Blood Brothers and Big, and most recently as Joanne in the John Doyle revival of Company. I'm a latecomer to the Barbara Walsh admiration society as I only saw her for the first time this past May in Inner Voices at the Zipper Factory. Needless to say she lives up to the hype: she is a superlative actress of incredible sophistication, nuance and wit. She won raves from fellow blogger Sarah for her performance as Desiree in the Baltimore Center Stage production of A Little Night Music this previous spring.

Prior to this engagement, she will be performing in concert at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on Monday night and then in the the NYMF production of About Face. So if you haven't had a chance to appreciate this talented singing actress, there is ample opportunity and little room for excuses. I'm very curious to hear and see what she will bring to the Edies.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Ernie: the Autobiography

I've long been a fan of Ernest Borgnine. After a decade serving in the US Navy, he decided to become an actor at the age of 28. Usually playing the heavy or antagonist in a slew of films including From Here to Eternity, Bad Day at Black Rock, among many others, it is his role in the 1955 Oscar winning classic Marty that proved that Borgnine had the range and talent that would defy type casting. I don't know if you've ever seen this film, it was a small independent written by Paddy Chayefsky for television in 1953, starring Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand. Burt Lancaster's independent film corporation greenlighted the project with Delbert Mann at the helm with the intent of writing it off as a tax loss. However, the film was completed and became the sleeper hit of the year, winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Picture (the only film two win both). It's a charming story of a lonely, socially awkward butcher played by Borgnine who's given up on finding someone to love. Betsy Blair plays Clara, a homely schoolteacher that Marty sees dumped at a dance at the Stardust Ballroom. What a shame romantic comedies aren't all this affecting and moving. Borgnine won the Oscar for Best Actor over James Dean in East of Eden, Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock, James Cagney in Love Me or Leave Me and Frank Sinatra in The Man With the Golden Arm. He would work steadily, but wouldn't become a household name until his 1960s sitcom "McHale's Navy" came to TV screens around the world. Character roles would follow in The Dirty Dozen, The Wild Bunch, Willard and Escape from NY. (By the way, when is the Strouse-Adams musical adaptation of Marty coming to NY? Or when is the cast album with John C. Reilly and Carolee Carmello coming out?)

Borgnine, who turned 91 earlier this year, has just come out with his memoir. The book isn't very concise, it's a short yet personable work that seems to have been written by Borgnine without any assistance or a ghostwriter. It's wonderful to see him - he still works steadily, lives for it really and has the vibrancy of a much younger man. His autobiography has two pertinent notes related to the theatre. One of his earlier credits was working in the Broadway play Mrs. McThing opposite Helen Hayes and Brandon de Wilde. His wife became pregnant during the run. When he told Hayes, she immediately told him how happy she was to become a godmother, thus beginning a warm lifelong relationship with the First Lady of the American Theatre.

For those who have read Ethel Merman's autobiography, they know that Merman summed up the chapter entitled "My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine" with a blank page. In his book, Borgnine delves deeper into the professional jealousies that brought their marriage to a decidedly quick demise. On their honeymoon overseas, Merman got incredibly jealous whenever Borgnine got recognized, mostly because of his sitcom he became world-renown. She didn't take too kindly to being practically dismissed in his presence. The longer they were on their honeymoon, the worse it became. Merman became cooler and cooler towards him until they finally had it out during a bout of dysentary which left them both under the weather in South East Asia. The final straw for Borgnine was when Merman refused to give him any of her medicine when she was feeling better and he was still sick. Given that one could easily have great vitriol for an embarrassment marital failure, Borgnine is actually very kind to Merman in his book (much the way he is with all his ex-wives). He also goes on to say many, many years later he stumbled across her book, opened it and saw the blank page. His quip to his son: "Well, at least she didn't say anything bad about me."

The book isn't the most concise or in depth memoir or biography I've read, but it's definitely worth reading for these anecdotes and for the Oscar winning actor who has amassed sixty years in show business. That in itself is a marvel.

Borgnine has recently been making the rounds and tours to promote his book. One of the most unintentionally hilarious moments of the year came while he was being interviewed on the Fox News Channel when he was asked the secret of his longevity (possibly not safe for work?):

At his age, he can say anything he wants.

An Email I Received...

Someone sent me an email asking whether or not they could place advertising on my blog, after sending a reply to her, this is what I received:

HI Kevin,

I apologize; I believe I emailed you by mistake. I was looking for sites that were more geared to Broadway theatre blogging. Thanks for your response.


I'm not sure if this is the funniest or saddest email I've had in regards to my blog (can it be both...?). Here's an opinion poll - if I'm not a Broadway theatre blog, what should I be blogging about?

To quote that lady in the Post, "Only in NY, kids..."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Two a Day

After taking a two month hiatus, I finally made a triumphant return to the Great White Way. Alright, so it doesn't actually call for a title song with high-kicks down a staircase, but it's really good to be back in the Midtown area, inspite of the tourists. I convinced fellow blogger and regular partner in crime Roxie to play hooky from work (almost, she worked the morning) and have a two-show Wednesday with me.

First up was the Tony winning Best Revival of a Play, Boeing-Boeing (sad they relegated this to the off-air hour that wasn't televised). It was my first time back in the Longacre since Well and the restoration is complete. Rox and I agreed that we didn't particularly care for the peach-pink paintjob, but the hunter green seats are quite nice and more comfortable than I expected. All I can say about Boeing-Boeing is that it is a fast-paced, first rate and furiously funny production of a rather unremarkable farce. It's a testament to the company that they can take something that in less capable hands would be lethal and turn it into a comic gold mine. The cast, extraordinarily directed by Matthew Warchus, stars my new hero, Mark Rylance in his Tony-winning Broadway debut, Bradley Whitford and Christine Baranski. The gist of it, Whitford is a savvy businessman in Paris is romancing three stewardesses from three different airlines (each from a different country), played by the gam-happy trio of Kathryn Hahn as the obnoxious American, Gina Gershon as the lusty Italian Gabriella and the scene-stealing, Tony nominated Mary McCormack as the German amazon Gretchen. (Note: Gershon was out, her understudy is the incredibly talented and uber-sexy Roxanna Hope). Rylance plays his childhood friend from Wisconsin, a naive sad sack type who gets thrust into the middle of the hectic day in which Whitford's carefully calculated affairs collide with the inevitable date with oblivion. Rylance was endearingly funny, as he does his best to cover for his friend, getting more and more outrageous as the play goes on. Whitford excels as the swaggering businessman who suffers panic attacks when his careful existence is threatened. (One of the day's highlights is when Whitford literally climbs the walls of his apartment while Rylance rolls himself under the carpet). Baranski is a delightfully droll highlight as the long-suffering yet chic maid Berthe. This is the first farce I've enjoyed in NY since the 2002 revival of the superlative Noises Off! and you know what? We could use more of this genre in NY. Whitford and McCormack leave the show this Sunday. The rest shall carry on the funny at the Longacre for hopefully quite some time. Here's his hilariously offbeat acceptance speech at the 2008 Tony Awards, which consisted of his recitation of a prose poem:

In between shows we grabbed dinner at O'Lunney's with my best friend Matt who happened to be in NY for some auditions where he and Roxie discovered the secret to interpretive dance in Sondheim. The results were nothing short of hilarious. Then as if the comedic gods were still smiling post matinee, an old guy walked into the restroom on Matt directly across from our table, at which point Roxie and I went into complete hysterics. (Who doesn't love a little low comedy in real life?) Loving the O'Lunney pens, I made sure to grab a handful in the greatest tradition of Sophia Petrillo. (What? I love how they write!)

That night we took in The Marriage of Bette and Boo at the Laura Pels. So far, Roxie and I have taken in both Juno and Inner Voices because of great affection for Victoria Clark. Needless to say, we were going to continue the trend with this revival of Christopher Durang's darkly absurdist comedy that deconstructs a complex marriage (ripe with Catholicism) over the course of 3o years. Clark was joined onstage by John Glover, Julie Hagerty (who shouldn't be allowed to ever leave NY theatre), Kate Jennings Grant (whom I adored in Proof and is a decidedly lovely human being as well) and the standout, Terry Beaver, who dominates in the second act as Fr. Donnally, the family priest, with two glorious monologues about marriage and death (leading, respectively, a marriage counseling session and a funeral). One of the highlights of the entire day was the moment in which gives the congregation his impression of a piece of bacon in a frying pan. As someone brought up in the Catholic faith, with nine years of parochial school and countless years in choirs and as an altar server, I could relate to practically everything going on in the play, and laugh at it with knowing incredulity. Clark scored comedic pathos in a scene involving a birthday cake, quite possibly her best moment of the entire evening.

Non-sequitur: I was at one time an incredibly obedient practicing Catholic, so much so that it was thought I'd be a priest. Some even went as far as suggesting I'd be the first American pope. However, I had my "calling" in seventh grade when I decided that I wasn't about to go through life without sex. Many people laugh when I relay this story.

Anyway, it's definitely not a play for the faint of heart. The diabolically funny running gag of the play is that Bette constantly delivers stillborns, with the unceremonious dumping of the baby on the stage by the doctor, which eventually lends itself to swaddled bundle being tossed in from the wings. I imagine were I still a devout Catholic I might be offended at what was going on, but years of religious disillusionment open one's mind to the appreciation of such goings on. (Oh the irony...)

As I type this, Adam LeFevre, who played Paul Brennan in Bette and Boo is currently on TV in a bit role on "Law & Order: SVU."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

It's Official...

The majority of the original cast of August: Osage County will be reprising their roles for the original London company at the National Theatre later this fall. We first got wind of this about three months ago during Tony time. Michael McGuire, who assumed the role of Beverly Weston from the late Dennis Letts will reprise his performance as well as Molly Ranson, who replaced Madeleine Martin, who had to honor her contract for Californication, as Jean. Frances Guinan will not be in the ensemble as he is already slated to be in The Seafarer at Steppenwolfe this December. Paul Vincent O'Connor will assume the role of Uncle Charlie. They have yet to cast the role of Steve Heidelbrecht, currently played by Brian Kerwin at the Music Box in NY.

However, if you didn't get a chance to see Deanna Dunagan, Rondi Reed and Jeff Perry all play opposite the magnanimous Amy Morton, here is the opportunity for you. August will run at the National from November 21 to January 21, 2009.

Anybody want to fly (me) out to London...? ;

Monday, September 1, 2008

Julia McKenzie's "The Worst Pies in London"

We often think about our Angie or Patti (or Elaine or Sheila or Judy, et al), but here's another solid interpretation of the great Mrs. L. offered by one of the premiere interpreters of Sondheim in the London theatre scene, Julia McKenzie. McKenzie was a lead in Side By Side By Sondheim, a fetching Sally in the London premiere of Follies in 1987 and was the Witch in the original London cast of Follies. She was also the person behind the early 90s revue, a follow-up of sorts to Side By Side called Putting it Together. She won the Olivier award for her performance in the RNT revival of Sweeney Todd and here the awards telecast performance, including the "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, followed by her rendition of "The Worst Pies in London."