Saturday, January 31, 2009

Walter Lippmann wasn't brilliant today

And neither was the revival of Pal Joey which I saw last Sunday at Studio 54.

The musical by Rodgers and Hart, with a book by John O'Hara (based on his stories) is one of the first to offer an anti-hero as a protagonist. Joey is an opportunistic two-bit nightclub singer, doing whatever (and whoever) he can to headline his own club. The show wasn't a huge success with 1940 audiences lasting almost a year and 374 performances. However, it did catapult a little known hoofer named Gene Kelly into stardom, soon leaving for Hollywood... well you know the rest. Vivienne Segal was the boozy, sardonic Vera, the uber-rich and uber-bored wife of a milk tycoon who becomes the object of Kelly's intentions. Segal and Harold Lang recorded a studio album of the show in 1950 for Goddard Lieberson at Columbia records which helped bring the score back into the public's consciousness (as well as preserving the glorious soprano's "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," the most famous song from the score). The success of the studio album brought about the show's first Broadway revival in 1952, which remains the most successful production of the show, with considerably more positive critical response than the first time around. The show lasted 540 performances. Lang and Segal recreated their roles with Tony-winner Helen Gallagher as Gladys and Elaine Stritch as Melba. (Stritch recounts her experiences in this production while simultaneously standing by for Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam in At Liberty).

There was the 1957 film with Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak that bowlderized the story and lyrics while taking many creative liberties including a "happy ending," interpolated other Rodgers and Hart standards and accommodating the non-dancing star Sinatra. This was followed by a Tony-nominated turn by Bob Fosse at the City Center in the early sixties and a troubled 70s revival with Joan Copeland and Dixie Carter as Melba.

Now we have a revisal of the show with a new book by Richard Greenberg and new orchestrations from Don Sebesky (in an unlikely splurge from the Roundabout folks: I counted 13 players in the pit). The ever-reliable Paul Gemignani is conducting. Unfortunately, aside from two key performances there isn't anything particularly memorable about this rather lackluster revival. Understudy Matthew Risch famously replaced Christian Hoff early in previews. Hoff, who was officially let go due to a foot injury was rumored to have been less than stellar. Risch, while he can dance up a storm, is lacking in every other necessary department. The short of it: his singing is poor and he lacks charisma. Joey, even in his nature as a cad, should have that presence and personality that puts the audience in his corner. As hard as he worked, Risch couldn't overcome that shortcoming.

Stockard Channing is making her first Broadway appearance since the 1999 revival of The Lion in Winter and should consider making a return trip sooner rather than later. Channing is a breath of fresh air, tossing off one-liners and displaying an extraordinary emotional range as Vera. Her singing is decidedly weak, and she only scores once musically with her breathless, nearly spoken but captivating delivery of "Bewitched" in the first act. She also looks better than ever and is given some choice costumes from William Ivey Long, particularly a stunning negliglee for her bedroom soliloquy. I think with her dry as a martini delivery she would be even better suited for that other Vera, Ms. Vera Charles in Mame.

Now we get to the outstanding highlight of the evening. Martha Plimpton has been busy working in so many different plays in the past few seasons, garnering Tony nominations for her in The Coast of Utopia and Top Girls. Here she surprises with strong musical chops. All you could hear at intermission were astonished patrons talking about her credible musicality. Every time Plimpton walked onstage she scored as the aging burlesque chorine Gladys Bumps (who has a history with our Pal Joey). Plimpton, who is reminiscent of a young Elaine Stritch - only with a better sense of pitch, doesn't really have that much to do, but makes every moment worth the price of admission. Her deadpan turned the throwaway "The Flower Garden of My Heart" into an audience favorite at the top of act two. There is one major difference with this revival. The character of Melba, a superfluous but amusing diversion in the original second act is gone. Instead she has been absorbed into Gladys' floor show which allowed Plimpton the opportunity to provide the sole showstopper of the afternoon, "Zip." The song is a rather brilliant parody of Gypsy Rose Lee's act, with a deconstruction of how Lee encorporated witty banter into her strip. The topical nature of the song is dated, though several of the references have been updated to less obscure figures of the 1930s.

She was the only reason I really wanted to see the show and was easily the highlight, though Channing came in a close second. The direction and choreography were underwhelming. I especially expected the dance heavy show to soar in those moments, but ultimately didn't. The set was rather drab (and let it be said I didn't notice that the El was a part of it until the final scene). However the costumes were wonderful and Rodgers & Hart sure gave us a fun score. If only the production itself could have bewitched rather than bother and bewilder. As I left the theatre, I couldn't help but wish I had seen the well-received Encores! presentation of the show with Patti LuPone, Peter Gallagher, Vicki Lewis and Bebe Neuwirth in 1995.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Doubt: A Film

[I don't intend on spoiling anything, but I do discuss certain aspects of the plot that may be considered spoilers, hard as it be to avoid them whenever you discuss this piece. So if you're on the spoiler police squad that usually cries foul at those who do, go see the film first just to be on the safe side :)]

I rank seeing the original Broadway cast of Doubt high on my all-time list of theatre going experiences. Part of the appreciation stemmed from my Catholic upbringing and nine years spent in a parochial school, but mostly I was impressed with Shanley's text. The principal of a 1964 Bronx Catholic school suspects one of the priests of having an inappropriate relationship with the school's only black student. And go... the play in its taut ninety minutes isn't about the validity of whether or not the priest has done it, but about the greater ramifications of our certainty and judgments. You have nun vs. priest, encompassing a greater conflict of conservative vs. progressive, Vatican I vs. Vatican II, man vs. woman (especially in the patriarchal hierarchies of the Roman Catholic Church).

As I watched the terrific play unfold onstage, I couldn't help but think that it would open well for film and to my delight it has. There are aspects that will remain for my theatrical experience, the play's dialogue is so expertly written (crafted? manipulated? you decide) to give the audience only circumstantial evidence for either argument. However, one must base their decision on the facts and not what is circumstantial which has led many theatre patrons to have fantastic discussions following three tier: they supported the nun, they supported the priest or they hadn't a clue. The playwright's intention was the latter, but far be it from anyone to convince anyone otherwise.

Shanley's screenplay and direction have taken the play out of the church and principal's office, giving us scenes in the courtyard, classrooms, convent, rectory and street, opening it up without tampering too much with what was presented onstage. Meryl Streep gives a stern, magnificently restrained performance as Sr. Aloysius, the principal who either has it in for this priest, or has the interests of her students in mind. Philip Seymour Hoffman is credible as Fr. Flynn, the charismatic priest who has...well, what has he done? I'm afraid I don't know, nor do I think I ever will know. Amy Adams is spectacular as Sister James, the 8th grade teacher who finds herself caught in the middle of the battle. Viola Davis, on screen for 11 minutes as Donald Miller's (why the change from Muller to Miller... anyone?) mother, is magnificent. Her scene is both devastating and unsettling, particularly in the unexpected turn their conversation takes. I can vividly recall the look on Cherry Jones' face at the Walter Kerr, which was not unlike that on Meryl's face.

The love of the play didn't hinder me seeing this film, in spite of my underwhelming reaction to the casting of the two lead roles. In an ideal world, all our original casts would get to put their roles on screen. Cherry Jones was no exception for me. I had heard talk of her for years, but hadn't really seen much of her work save for Cradle Will Rock and a memorable cameo in Ocean's Twelve (the only thing I can recall from that otherwise DOA sequel). However, I was taking in her Tony winning role, especially beating the voracious Martha of Kathleen Turner. Well, to put it simply, I will drop anything and everything to see her onstage (only we've lost her to the current season of 24 where she plays the latest US president caught up in the world of Jack Bauer). Her performance as Aloysius ranks near the top of the list of live theatre experiences I've had, ably matched by the youthfully virile Brian F. O'Byrne sporting a Bronx accent and nary a trace of his Irish in a verbal volley for the ages, putting me at the edge of my seat. Her command of the stage and the audience was just thrilling, with her exceeding the hype surrounding her, with a performance reminiscent of the more stern nuns I've known and adored.

Anyway, the film is for the most part, quite excellent. Of all things I'm kind of nonplussed at the establishing shots of the film that really weren't necessary. A nice touch too with Shanley giving Streep an entrance, with a great reveal after scolding several students for misbehavior at Mass. She gives one of the best turns I've ever seen her give (this from someone who finds her highly overrated, no offense meant) and certainly worthy of the accolades that have come her way. She finds her way through the script without being a total harridan which is important, especially in the final confrontation sequence. Hoffman, regardless of how the award guilds look at it, is giving a lead performance and is outstanding.

The final confrontation scene was electric onstage and I miss the higher stakes seen onstage, though that is a personal quibble and those of you seeing the film without having seen the show staged, this will mean nothing to you. Go, enjoy the film and discuss, it's strength is in the text and in the performances (it's fun too if you've seen the play to see where Shanley has cut and added scenes and dialogue). The writer and actors often discussed how the the play itself was the first act and the second act was the audience leaving the theatre arguing and debating over what they had seen. I would love to know what you thought about it as well.

It should be interesting to see how the film fares on Oscar night. While it was denied a Best Picture nod, the four main actors are in contention. The Best Supporting Actress category minus favorite Kate Winslet has suddenly become the one category that is completely up in the air and bears watching. Hoffman doesn't stand much of a chance against the juggernaut of the late Heath Ledger and his iconic performance in The Dark Knight. And it appears that Best Actress is between Meryl and Kate. I'll be en route to or in the airport at that point... so lord knows if I'll see any of it.

Oh, and before I forget. One touch I loved? The casting of Helen Stenborg as Sister Teresa. Stenborg, the widow of the late Barnard Hughes, is the mother of Doug Hughes, the Tony-winning director of the original production.

Quote of the Day: 'At Large' Elsewhere

From Peter Filichia's Diary on 1.30.08:

'Staying on the subject of the presidency, Bruce Haberkern wrote that “With the events of this month’s Inauguration, it might be a chance to revisit the Bernstein-Lerner unsuccessful musical, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The musical had a lot to do with the black servants’ participation in maintaining the White House, especially in the lyrics of ‘Take Care of this House.’ Today their descendants are actually taking care of that (White) House.”

Kevin Daly mentioned 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, too, and cast Victoria Clark in the Patricia Routledge role should the show ever materialize. (Given the estates' feelings about the quick flop, that will only happen when the show goes into the public domain.) But Daly came up with an even more fetching idea that really should happen -- and could: “Let’s have the upcoming cast of Blithe Spirit present a one-night concert performance of High Spirits for their Actor's Fund performance.” If it happens, I’m there!'

Hey Bernstein and Lerner estates, let's talk, shall we?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"The Quadrille"

It's not quite the real thing, but here is a glimpse into some rare Golden Age material. Gail Benedict leads a recreation of Michael Kidd's original choreography for the exuberant "Quadrille" from the 1953 musical Can-Can. Now if someone only had a preservation of the famed "Apache Dance," which prompted a tremendous mid-show ovation on opening night in NY, quelled only when Ms. Verdon appeared for a call in her bathrobe (at the insistence of producer Cy Feuer). In supporting part that egomaniacal star Lilo demand be cut down, Verdon ended up overshadowing the above the title star, walking away with the reviews and her first of four Tony awards.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


The original London cast performs prior to the West End opening on the Children in Need telecast. Laura Michelle Kelly is Mary and Gavin Lee is Bert. Plus, they even offer a chance for us to learn how to spell it.

Practically Perfect in Every Way

It was a long time coming, but I finally took in the Broadway production of Mary Poppins currently ensconced in the beautifully restored New Amsterdam Theatre. I was a huge fan of the 1964 Oscar-winning film, which is the first film I can remember watching. For years, I anticipated a stage adaptation and it came to fruition in 2004 when the show opened in London starring Laura Michelle Kelly as the titular nanny and Gavin Lee as Bert, the jack-of-all-trades busker.

The show opened in the fall of 2006 at the New Amsterdam Theatre (home to The Lion King for nine years) and is the current cashcow at Disney Theatrical's flagship theatre. The show opened with Gavin Lee crossing the pond to make an auspicious Broadway debut and American Ashley Brown as Mary. Daniel Jenkins and Rebecca Luker were cast as Mr. and Mrs. Banks. Cass Morgan was the Bird Woman and Ruth Gottschall was Miss Andrew.

I don't know how I let the show escape my grasp, especially given my incredible excitement over its gestation, and excitement at the new material (after some initial reticence) by the British composing team of Stiles and Drewe. It's been widely publicized, but bears repeating, that author P.L. Travers was less than thrilled with the blockbuster film adaptation. She approved of the casting of Julie Andrews, but little else. It took Cameron Mackintosh to convince her just before her death to give him the stage rights, one of the stipulations was that all Brits had to work on the stage piece, which meant that the Sherman brothers, who won two Oscars for their work on the film, wouldn't be involved. (Even though they had worked on the stage version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang that premiered only a couple years prior). Disney and Mackintosh came together to collaborate, bringing the best of both worlds together. My first exposure to the show and Laura Michelle Kelly's spectacular performance was through a live television performance from the British "Children in Need" telethon, very similar to what Jerry Lewis accomplishes on this side of the pond, but bringing in big West End musicals to perform. They presented the brand new "Practically Perfect" and segued into the reconceived "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and I was completely won over. Upon hearing the original London cast album, of which I literally burned several copies and just passed them out to everyone I encountered in my theatre department, I was hooked. In an ideal world, I would be in England seeing this production.

After almost two years with the show, Brown and Lee departed the NY company, taking a rest before they take up the first national tour this winter. Kelly's London replacement Scarlett Strallen and Australian performer Adam Fiorentino stepped into the leads. By the time I got there, the show had been closed in London after three years and the Broadway production had just passed 900 performances. But, better late than never. Strallen possesses a lovely lyric soprano and bears an uncanny resemblance to Maggie Gyllenhaal. She doesn't quite capture the steely yet affectionate quality of the role's originator, but she finds humor and in her poised china doll smile, reveling in every moment she's onstage. Fiorentino is nothing short of charming and matches Strallen note for note.

Much to my delight, Tony-nominees Jenkins and Luker are still with the show, as well as Gottschall. The last time I saw both Luker and Gottschall was in the recent revival of The Music Man, and had enjoyed both immensely. As for the show itself, I loved it. While not the perfect stage adaptation of the story and score that I would like, there is ample wit and heart in the book to keep the adults entertained. I have long considered myself a fan of British children's literature, where authors revel in dark humor with the children ultimately learning something valuable by its end. Mary Poppins is no exception. In the original books, which take place in 30s London, Mary is a rather unattractive, stern vain creature who, over the course of several volumes, comes and goes from Cherry Tree Lane as she is needed. Mary is a catalyst who helps to make and sustain the Banks family as a functioning family, while looking after Jane and Michael, as well as the younger twins John and Barbara (yep, there are four Banks children in the original story). There was also a lot of commentary about class and status, which is prevalent in many Anglo-centric enterprises (from Howards End to Atonement to Keeping Up Appearances to Upstairs, Downstairs, etc).

Out of the Disney shows presented on Broadway, The Lion King generally remains the number one (with its Best Musical Tony and decade plus run). However, in spite of its great spectacle and stunning scenography it's ultimately an emotionally vapid spectacle with very little pay-off in its script and score but compensates in its staging. For me, this show possesses great heart, especially in what is ultimately the most fascinating and complicated relationship in the play: that between Mr and Mrs. Banks. Rebecca Luker has grown immeasurably as an actress becoming the emotional anchor for the piece, creating a warm, multi-dimensional woman out of what is an underwritten but mostly fascinating role. She is lucky enough to be matched by Jenkins' superb work as the emotionally repressed, work and class obsessed patriarch who has the greatest character arc. These two give the adults something to appreciate in what is generally considered kids' fare. Jane Carr and Mark Price score big laughs as the put upon wait staff. The kids are cute without being cloying and Gottschall scores huge laughs as the nanny from hell, Miss Andrew.

Richard Eyre and choreographer Matthew Bourne provide the lucid and witty staging. Bourne and his co-choreographer Stephen Mear bring a great deal of ballet to the choreography (particularly Nelius and the "Jolly Holliday" sequence), however the high point is the tap/stomp reconception of "Step in Time" complete with Bert tap dancing upside down from the proscenium. The eye-popping elevator set by Bob Crowley complemented the action without overwhelming it. Crowley's costumes recall the indelible images of the film, mostly for Mary and has provided colorful new looks for practically everyone else.

In my years of theatregoing I guess I'm supposed to have developed a hard cynical edge especially when it comes to theatre aimed more towards children. But rarely does a screen to stage show express such originality while paying considerable homage to its source than this one. The creative team wonderfully melds the original and new material interpolating certain numbers into scenes where they make more sense (ie "Practically Perfect" as an am/want song for Mary, pushing "Spoonful of Sugar" later on). By the curtain call, the audience was entranced. I was sitting among many adults who were also as swept up in the play, moreso than the kids I thought. There is one change to the piece that is a vast improvement on the film. Onscreen, Mary and Mrs. Banks never speak a single word to each other. Onstage, they have fleshed out a more accurate portrayal of how a nanny and matriarch would interact in a household of such stature during the Edwardian period. Also, in lieu of being busy with suffrage work, Mrs. Banks is a stay at home mother who has given up an acting career for family.

In spite of a few imperfections here and there (certain scenes could have used a bit more tightening, and the first scene could use a little work), it's a fantastic show in fantastic shape. As Mary flew directly over me at the curtain of the show, I couldn't but smile broadly. Was I waxing nostalgic for me not so recent yet not so distant youth? Or was I swept up in a moment of pure theatre...? Well, can't it both?

On a side note, this marked my first time ever in the New Amsterdam Theatre, which was paintstakingly restored in the mid-90s by Disney (who holds a 99 year lease on the building). They've done a beautiful job of restoring the intricate design of the interior, but in particular is the lower level lounge, which when they first started renovations was completely submerged. There is a great deal of history in and around the New Amsterdam that having a look around is completely obligatory for anyone who goes to that theatre. However, it must be said that the Mark Hellinger Theatre is still the most impressive theatre interior I've ever seen.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Times is Hard...

In case you've been curious about the goings-on in my neck of the woods:

The economic crisis is leading desperate people to desperate measures. A financial planner was arrested and charged after robbing a Peekskill bank at knifepoint this week. Here's where the bizarro comes in:

"Police said that Solomon was wearing a Groucho Marx mask, consisting of glasses, fake busy eyebrows and a fake mustache, when he entered Trustco Bank lobby in a Welcher Avenue shopping plaza a few minutes after its 9 a.m. opening on Jan. 16 and robbed the bank at knifepoint."

I wonder if this is the first time this stock disguise has ever been used in such a crime...

2008 Academy Award Nominations

Best Picture
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

Animated Film
Kung Fu Panda


Art Direction
Changeling, Art Direction: James J. Murakami; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Art Direction: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Victor J. Zolfo
The Dark Knight, Art Direction: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Peter Lando
The Duchess, Art Direction: Michael Carlin; Set Decoration: Rebecca Alleway
Revolutionary Road, Art Direction: Kristi Zea; Set Decoration: Debra Schutt

Changeling, Tom Stern
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Claudio Miranda
The Dark Knight, Wally Pfister
The Reader, Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
Slumdog Millionaire, Anthony Dod Mantle

Costume Design
Australia, Catherine Martin
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Jacqueline West
The Duchess, Michael O'Connor
Milk, Danny Glicker
Revolutionary Road, Albert Wolsky

David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
Encounters at the End of the World
The Garden
Man on Wire
Trouble the Water

Documentary Short Subject
The Conscience of Nhem En
The Final Inch
Smile Pinki
The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306

Film Editing
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
The Dark Knight, Lee Smith
Frost/Nixon, Mike Hill and Dan Hanley
Milk, Elliot Graham
Slumdog Millionaire, Chris Dickens

Foreign Language Film
The Baader Meinhof Complex, Germany
The Class, France
Departures, Japan
Revanche, Austria
Waltz with Bashir, Israel

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Greg Cannom
The Dark Knight, John Caglione Jr. and Conor O'Sullivan
Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Mike Elizalde and Thom Floutz

Original Score
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Alexandre Desplat
Defiance, James Newton Howard
Milk, Danny Elfman
Slumdog Millionaire, A.R. Rahman
WALL-E, Thomas Newman

Original Song
"Down to Earth" from WALL-E, Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, Lyric by Peter Gabriel
"Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire, Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar
"O Saya" from Slumdog Millionaire, Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam

Animated Short Film
La Maison en Petits Cubes
Lavatory - Lovestory
This Way Up

Live Action Short Film
Auf der Strecke (On the Line)
Manon on the Asphalt
New Boy
The Pig
Spielzeugland (Toyland)

Sound Editing
The Dark Knight, Richard King
Iron Man, Frank Eulner and Christopher Boyes
Slumdog Millionaire, Tom Sayers
WALL-E, Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood
Wanted, Wylie Stateman

Sound Mixing
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten
The Dark Knight, Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick
Slumdog Millionaire, Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty
WALL-E, Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt
Wanted, Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaqo and Petr Forejt

Achievement in Visual Effects
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron
The Dark Knight, Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber and Paul Franklin
Iron Man, John Nelson, Ben Snow, Dan Sudick and Shane Mahan

Adapted Screenplay
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Screenplay by Eric Roth, Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
Doubt, Written by John Patrick Shanley
Frost/Nixon, Screenplay by Peter Morgan
The Reader, Screenplay by David Hare
Slumdog Millionaire, Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

Original Screenplay
Frozen River, Written by Courtney Hunt
Happy-Go-Lucky, Written by Mike Leigh
In Bruges, Written by Martin McDonagh
Milk, Written by Dustin Lance Black
WALL-E, Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon; Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Eileen, Elaine Stritch - "You Took Advantage of Me"

Did he get her name right? Watch and see the television appearance mentioned briefly in Elaine Stritch at Liberty.

You Just Got Patti LuPwned

Something tells me this is never going to die.

Patti LuPone to Guest Star on "30 Rock"

That shy, demure star of light musical fare will be guest starring on 30 Rock as the mother of Judah Friedlander's character Frank. Not sure when the episode is airing, but it's sure to be something zany and off-the-wall. Perhaps they can have a mother from hell showdown between her and Elaine Stritch's Colleen...?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cut from the 2008 "Gypsy"

I was perusing the libretto of Gypsy last evening as I realized I haven't read it in quite some time. Seeing the show onstage tends to give me an excuse not to. However, as I've said before, my one major qualm with the 2008-Patti LuPone Gypsy was the alterations made to the libretto. The following items were cut unless otherwise bracketed with the changes made. Some are inconsequential, but there are some moments, particularly the rather uproarious Kringelein scene and the "Small World" reprise that detract from the dimension of Rose.

Act One, Scene Two ("Home Sweet Home - Seattle")
LOUISE: That's dog food, Momma.
ROSE: That's what she thinks. I'm hungry.
LOUISE: Then why didn't you eat some of our chow mein after the show?
ROSE: Because you two did the work and we gotta save every cent.

Act One, Scene Six ("Happy Birthday - Akron")
(A knocking on the door)
KRINGELEIN (Off): Madame Rose!
ROSE: I am not cooking in here, Mr. Kringelein. That cow –
KRINGELEIN (Knock): Open this door!
ROSE: I’m dressing. That cow –
KRINGELEIN (Knock): Madame Rose –
ROSE: I’ll call you when I’m finished. That dear fat cow looked me right in the eye and said: “Rose, if you want to get on the Orpheum Circuit, put me in your act.” Children, you know what I’m going to do?
YONKERS: You’re going to pay that crummy cow and not us!
ROSE: I ain’t paying anybody but I’m going to take that cow’s advice! I’m going to call the new act: Dainty June and her Farm Boys. I’m going to get more boys. I’m going to put that cow in the act –
(In the other room, KRINGELEIN – a pompous hotel manager – opens the door quietly, shuts it behind him and tiptoes to the doorway between the two rooms as:) and Chowsie and the monkey. And Louise’s present – if you don’t mind honey –
LOUISE: But Momma, I don’t even know what my present is!
KRINGELEIN (Haughtily): No cooking, Madame Rose?
ROSE: How dare you enter a lady’s boudoir without knocking?
KRINGELEIN (Advancing): Where’s your hot plate?
ROSE: Where’s your search warrant?
KRINGELEIN (Heading toward bathroom): In all the years I have been running a theatrical hotel –
ROSE (Opening corridor door): If you don’t leave, I’m going to scream!
(ONE OF THE BOYS darts to block the bathroom door)
KRINGELEIN (Pointing toward sign): You know the rules. No cooking. No electrical appliances. No – no pets other than small (Pushes kid out of the way) dogs or – (Opens the bathroom door. A little lamb in rubber drawers runs out between his legs and over to LOUISE)
ROSE: Happy birthday, darling!
ROSE: Profanity in front of my babies! June, get the Bible! Get the Bible!
(People in bathrobes and wrappers etc. begin to appear in the doorway, flowing into the room)
KRINGELEIN: You pack up this dirty menagerie and get out!
ROSE: You’ll have to throw me out, you rotten ANIMAL HATER! (To others) That’s what he is! Send for the SPCA!
KRINGELEIN: Send for the police! I rented these two rooms to one adult and three children! Now I see one adult! 5 pets and 1,2,3,4
ROSE: You counted him twice! (The KIDS are running in and out. SHE turns to the others) It’s a simple little birthday party for my baby –
ROSE: Chow mein. I’d offer you some but there’s only one egg roll –
KRINGELEIN: How many are sleeping in that room?
ROSE: What room?
KRINGELEIN (In doorway between two rooms): THIS room, Madame, THIS room!
ROSE (Pushing him in): There isn’t a soul in this room.
KRINGELEIN: Now you know what I –
ROSE (Closing door behind them): Except you and me. (She lets out a scream as she shoves him down onto the mattress on the floor) Mr. Kringelein, what are you trying to do?!! (Throws pillows and blankets on him) Mr. Kringelein! Stop! Help! Help! (She wrenches her robe open and staggers back into the other room where PEOPLE get a chair for her and ad lib as:) My babies! My babies! MONSTER! Thank you, Gladys. A little birthday party – chow mein – a tiny little cake –
(LOUISE, with her lamb, goes into other room during this. KRINGELEIN is getting out of the snarl of blankets and exits)
HERBIE’S VOICE (From hall): Rose! Rose! Are you all right? (He enters room and pushes his way to ROSE’s side) Rose! What’s happened? Are you ok, honey?
ROSE (Straightening herself): Sure! Where have you – (Then remembering) Herbie. Mr. Kringelein, the hotel manager, he – he tried to – to –
HERBIE (A cynical eye): Again?
(Straightens up and starts for other room)
ROSE: Well, I had to do something Herbie, don’t you dare apologize to him!

Act Two, Scene Two ("The Bottom - Wichita")
TESSIE: You know, from the way that dame walks, she would have been a damn good stripper in her day.

[changed to:
TESSIE: She's your mother?
LOUISE. Yes. She's my mother.]

MAZEPPA (Belligerently): Something wrong with stripping?

[given to Electra]

Act Two, Scene Four
(PASTEY races out. ROSE touches the place where HERBIE kissed her, and then sings:)
Lucky, you’re a man who likes children
That’s and important sign.
Lucky, I’m a woman with children –
Funny, small and funny –
(ROSE gets up and slowly walks to the white gloves. She has them in her hand, and is glaring at them as LOUISE comes out and takes the gloves from her. ROSE watches her start to put them on, the speaks quietly, as though dazed...)

ROSE (Softly): You look beautiful!
TESSIE (Runs on with an old fur stole which she wraps around LOUISE): For luck, honey!
ROSE: Are you nervous?
LOUISE: …What?
ROSE: I said Are you nervous, Baby?
LOUISE: No, Mother.

Act Two, Scene Five (Louise's Dressing Room)
ROSE: You won't be ready when vaudeville comes back.
LOUISE: No, I’ll be dead. (Then, indicating the furs she has thrown on a chair) Renee, tell Sam he can lock up the animals for the night.

Act Two, Scene Six (Backstage)
ROSE (Tough with herself, too, she shakes her head) If I could've been, I would've been. And that's show business... Listen. About that school - I could open one - for kids, like you said. Only - kids grow up. And twice is enough... I guess I did do it for me.
LOUISE: Why, Mother?
ROSE: Just wanted to be noticed.
LOUISE: Like I wanted you to notice me. (ROSE turns and looks at her) I still do, Momma.
(She holds out her arms to ROSE, who hesitates then comes running to her like a child. LOUISE pats her, kisses her hair as she says) It’s ok, Momma. It’s ok, Rose.
(ROSE clutches her, then moves away. Forces a smile as she turns back)

[They've streamlined this exchange, taking out "Listen. About that school.... And twice is enough" as well as dropping the line "I still do, Momma."]

ROSE (Stops moving): Only it was you and me, wearing exactly the same gown. It was an ad for Minsky – and the headline said: (She traces the name in the air)
(Louise gives her a look; ROSE catches it, and moving her hand up to give LOUISE top billing, says:)
(They both begin to laugh as they walk off and - )

[The change here comes in the staging and characterization. As originally written there is a sense of understanding between the two of them and they walk off to the party together. In the revival, Rose is still in the midst of her delusions as she says this. Louise laughs, shakes her head and walks off in hysterics, leaving Rose onstage in her own world of hopelessness, maniacally reaching for the out of reach, broken down "ROSE" sign. The orchestration has been slightly altered for this sequence, with the piano now starting the final phrase of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" for the curtain.]

Estelle Parsons to Headline National Tour of "August: Osage County"

In an interview with Playbill a couple months ago, Parsons expressed a hope that producers would offer her the August: Osage County national tour. Well, here she is world:


August: Osage County, the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play that tells the bitingly funny and sensationally entertaining tale of the Weston family of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, starring Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons in the role of the family matriarch, Violet, will launch its national tour, in Denver, CO on July 24th, 2009. Following two weeks at Denver's Ellie Caukins Opera House (7/24-8/8), the show will play San Francisco's Curran Theatre from August 11 - September 6, 2009.

Subsequent engagements will be announced shortly.Ms. Parsons is currently appearing in the show on Broadway where The New York Times recently raved, "Estelle Parsons gives a superb performance...sends chills down your spine. It may prove to be a crowning moment in an illustrious career." Ms. Parsons joined the company in June, 2008.

Estelle Parsons first foray into the business began when she was hired by "The Today Show," first as a production assistant, then staff writer, which eventually led her to become the first female television network political news reporter.Estelle began acting and appeared in her first stage performance on Broadway in Happy Hunting. Since then, Estelle has gone on to either star in or direct over 25 productions. Most notably, she has been nominated for the Tony Award for her performances in The Seven Descents of Myrtle, And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, Miss Margarida's Way and Mornings at Seven.

Estelle's first film role was in Ladybug, Ladybug. Her performance in Bonnie and Clyde garnered an Academy Award and she was nominated again the following year for her work in Rachel, Rachel. Other film performances include Don't Drink the Water, I Walk the Line , I Never Sang for My Father, Watermelon Man , For Pete's Sake , Dick Tracy, Boys on the Side and Looking for Richard.

On television, Estelle appeared in "All in the Family" and as the mother of "Roseanne" on the hit sitcom. Recently, she has appeared in the HBO television mini-series "Empire Falls" and has directed various productions of the Oscar Wilde play Salome, all of which starred Al Pacino. She also appears in the documentary Salomaybe? that was directed by Mr. Pacino.

In addition to teaching acting at Columbia and Yale, Estelle Parsons served as the Artistic Director of the Actors' Studio between 1996 and 2001.

Written by 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Letts (Superior Donuts, Man From Nebraska, Killer Joe, Bug), this grand and gripping new play tells the story of the Westons, a large extended clan that comes together at their rural Oklahoma homestead after the alcoholic patriarch disappears. Forced to confront unspoken truths and astonishing secrets, the family must also contend with Violet, a pill-popping, deeply unsettled woman at the center of the storm.

Directed by 2008 Tony Award-winner Anna D. Shapiro, August: Osage County is a rare theatrical event: a large-scale work filled with 13 unforgettable characters, a powerful tragicomedy told with unflinching honesty and the unforgettable breakthrough of a major American playwright. August: Osage County premiered and was produced at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago in 2007.

Nominated for seven Tony Awards including Best Play and Best Director, and the recipient of Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and New York Drama Critics Circle Awards, including Best Play, Best Director and Best Scenic Design, August: Osage County opened at the Imperial Theatre Broadway on December 4, 2007, to wide critical acclaim. The New York Times called August: Osage County "The most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years," and it was voted The #1 Play of the Year by Time, The Associated Press, Entertainment Weekly, and TimeOut New York. After a sold-out engagement at the Imperial Theatre, the show re-opened at the Music Box Theatre on April 29, 2008 and will reach its 500th performance on February 3, 2009.

The show, which the London critics hailed as "the must-see play of the year - possibly a lifetime," opened to rave reviews at The National Theatre on November 26, 2008, where it plays for a limited eight-week engagement featuring members of the original Broadway company.

The show's creative team includes Tony Award winner Todd Rosenthal (sets), Ana Kuzmanic (costumes), Ann G. Wrightson (lights), Richard Woodbury (sound) and David Singer (original music).

August: Osage County is produced by Jeffrey Richards, Jean Doumanian, Steve Traxler and Jerry Frankel.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


"I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this House, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."

-John Adams

Where in the World is Lee Venora...? - Update

Months ago, I asked this question regarding this somewhat obscure but enormously talented lyric soprano who performed in musical theatre, opera and concert. Much to my delight and surprise I received an email from someone who knew Ms. Venora and had relayed my post to her. Most graciously, I received an answer to my question. Ms. Venora decided to retire in 1978 while her voice was still in its prime in order to spend time with and focus on her family. Throughout her career she had seen too many relationships suffer from the physical and emotional absences that are required when working as a performer. I am happy to report that Ms. Venora has been healthy, happy in her marriage and in her life and lives in pleasant retirement with her husband near their daughter and grandchildren.

If you ever have a chance, you should check out her shimmering soprano on the cast recordings of Kismet, Kean, or The King and I. She is the definitive Marsinah and the definitive Tuptim. There's also her work on Leonard Bernstein's recordings of Bach's 2nd symphony with the NY Philharmonic and Bach's Magnificat in D. You will not be sorry.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Annoying Broadway Audience Member Relocation Program"

Equus star Dan Radcliffe shared his idea for dealing with annoying audience members with Conan O'Brien the other night. I think Patti would approve...

Penultimate Patti

Audio only. Warning: the kids may get nightmares...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Blessed Event: O'Hara to Depart "South Pacific" due to Pregnancy

The effervescent Kelli O'Hara is expecting her first child with husband Greg Naughton in mid-July and will leave the company of the smash-hit revival of South Pacific in March. No replacement casting has been announced yet, but she does plan on returning to the show in the fall when co-star Paulo Szot plans on finishing up his run. Congratulations to the proud parents to be!!

Tyne Daly - "Rose's Turn"

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Metropolitan Diary

From the NY Times Metropolitan Diary on 1/11/09:

Dear Diary,

I was, for 18 years, Leonard Bernstein’s assistant and editor and the conductor of many premieres of his works.

Probably the most painful part of the post-mortem world for Lenny’s three children was the disposal of his clothes after their father’s death in 1990. One autumn day a package arrived at our home in Chelsea. When I opened it, I found a dark blue cashmere pullover and a deep purple cardigan with a note from the kids. They had decided that these two garments should be mine.
Here was a perfect sartorial metaphor for Leonard Bernstein. While the dark blue pullover was something no one would ever notice, the cardigan said, “Look at me!”

A few days after the arrival of this magical package, the weather was just right for a public airing of the purple cardigan, and I screwed up my courage and wore it to a meeting I had uptown.
When I got into the subway at Seventh Avenue and 18th Street, I thought to myself, “Surely this is the very first time this cardigan has been in a subway!”

I saw a man enter the far end of the car to my left. He was badly dressed, had a cardboard cup in his hand and was surely going to ask all of us for money.

As he got closer, I realized that he wasn’t stopping. He was walking through the car and he was singing: “The people ride in a hole in the ground. New York, New York! It’s a helluva...” and he was gone through the door that took him to the next car.

I had taken Lenny’s cardigan for its first ride on a subway. And there was laughter in that hole in the ground.

John Mauceri

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Curtain Comes Down on the Great American Musical

When Patti LuPone wasn't busy eviscerating the hoodlum taking her photograph (which may have actually been someone doing a piece on her), she was closing out her Broadway run as Rose in the latest incarnation of Gypsy.

The show, which closed Sunday after 27 previews and 332 performances, was the end of the road for an event which by all accounts should never have happened. Librettist Arthur Laurents was never to let Patti LuPone near any of his work in a major revival. Bernadette Peters scored a personal triumph (naysayers be damned, she was nothing short of fantastic) as Rose in a 2003 revival that closed after 13 months and a financial loss. I recall just prior to that production posting its closing notice the people on the webboards speaking of the impossibility of Patti LuPone replacing Bernadette.

Five years ago, that was wishful thinking. We would never see her star in a revival. Then in 2006, Ravinia announced Lonny Price would direct Patti (an annual staple at the Chicago festival herself) "in the role she was born to play." People (not me, that was the summer of the 'hard times') flew out to see the icon in one of the most iconic of musical theatre roles. And that was that. Given the financial risk of mounting a commercial revival, especially since it was only a few years since the recent Broadway mounting, it was highly unlikely that we would see the show in NY. Then the City Center came along. A three week run, with Arthur and Patti making nice after years of feuding, played a summer run at the City Center. Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti joined the cast, now under the direction of Laurents. Nancy Opel, Marilyn Caskey and Alison Fraser would take on the choice extended cameo as the trio of strippers in the second act. The show opened to positive reviews, some hesistancy on the part of the NY Times which didn't stop the show from becoming one of the must-see events of 2007. And that was that. Rumors swirled of a Broadway transfer, but it was once again dismissed. "Too soon." "They'd be crazy." Et, al.

March 27, 2008. The St. James Theatre. There is a red carpet. The crowd is electric. Stars are out, including another legendary Tony-winning Rose, Miss Angela Lansbury. Patti LuPone opens to unanimous raves (which included Benjamin Brantley of the NY Times eating his words, and his "hat"). The show is a critical success on the strength of its acting. I was there. The critics were not wrong.

June 15, 2008. The Tony Awards. Laura Benanti wins. Boyd Gaines wins. The first actress and actor to ever win the Tony award for playing the roles of Gypsy and Herbie. Then Best Actress in a Musical: Patti LuPone. "Shut up, it's been twenty-nine years!" I was not there, but in Sarah's living room where we as an enclave cheered like lunatics and even took pictures of the the paused TV screen.

June 17, 2008. "Sing out, Louise!" The entire audience at the St. James Theatre stands in an ovation for the freshly won Tony. Still riveting. Winners all regardless of whether or not they possessed a statuette.

January 11, 2009. Curtain down. The revival closes. This is where my latest odyssey into the city begins. Originally, we were anticipating the March 1 close, marking the end of LuPone's one year contract. However, given the nature of the economy, the producers decided to pull the plug two months early. So then it came down to who wanted to go and when. So many of the bloggerati were making one final pilgrimage to the St. James Theatre to see this legendary performance. There were all my friends going to the second to last performance on Saturday evening; so it was decided that it was perfect timing for yet another blogger's brunch, this time at Thalias on 50th and 8th. Roxie and I, as well as Kari, were going to the final matinee, but we had our first-hand witnesses Steve, Doug, Sarah, Chelsea and Leah to tell us all about the Penultimate Patti incident, which goes down into theatrical lore as the night LuPone had enough. For those who aren't aware, a photographer out in the orchestra was given a tongue-lashing he or she will never forget by Ms LuPone. She continued after the perpetrator had been removed much to the unending delight of the crowd (akin to that bizarre fear-driven euphoria that comes after traumas like narrowly escaping death, or in this case being taken by the human boa constrictor that is Patti LuPone at her most terrifying).

It must be said, I always have a good time whenever this group gets together. The talk is always good, we have many fun items to share with one another and the rapport is always spot-on. The moon's full, the gin's in the bathtub and... wait, that's Mame. From theatre to decapitated chickens on the highway, we run the gamut from class to crass and are damned proud of it! After an aperitif at the Marriot, it was showtime. We were going out separate ways - none of the Penultimate Patti crew was having an encore that afternoon, so we headed to the St. James for the fun to start. Here is a run-down of the highlights from the afternoon's events:

- A closing night crowd has a palpable energy that is hard to top. Fans are back in droves and you can practically see it.
- Mo Rocca and Arthur Laurents are in the house. Thus endeth the celebrity sightings.
- There's the house announcement. He has to wait because the audience is screaming too loudly. Heh, the actors can see you taking photographs. Talk about a colossal understatement.
- The overture. Always a good time, every time. The audience can barely contain itself. It feels like we are at a rather raucous wedding. We are all in our pews sitting politely waiting for the entrance of the bride, occasionally glancing over our shoulders to get a look at her.
- We rise on the bride's entrance.
- Patti LuPone freezes holding Louise's chin, as I've seen her do before. She briefly acknowledges the applause in order to continue with the show.
- Lengthy applause on the entrances of Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti.
- The show carries on. There is intense audience reaction. If Laurents' hadn't put in so many blackouts on musical buttons, we'd be standing a lot more.
- There has been talk of the three leads fooling around and adding shtick to their performances. Contrary to this, we find the performance considerably tight. They are very organic in their acting; the chemistry is unbeatable.
- Benanti still wows. Her performance is the one for the ages. There will be other turns as Rose by many actresses, but it is unlikely I shall ever see a Louise this spectacular in my lifetime. The glamorous Benanti effectively inhabits the awkward adolescence of Louise, rounding the character in remarkable ways. She bursts into tears after delivering a final, affecting "Little Lamb." (Unlike everyone else in Christendom, I have always liked the song. *shrugs*).
- Lenora Nemetz gets a hand on her entrance as Miss Cratchitt. Hilarity ensues.
- Leigh Ann Larkin is a bit too broad as Dainty June, which makes the "WHY NOT, DAINTY JUNE?!" gentleman even broader. His line gets applause today. (*shrugs*)
- Lenora gets applause on her little exit dance as she's chased off during "Broadway, Broadway"
- We might as well add Tony Yazbeck's Tulsa to the list of superlative performances. He brings great honesty and heart to his brief scene leading into "All I Need is the Girl." He also understands that the song is there as a showcase for him, but knows its dramatic function to let the audience know that Louise wants to be the Girl. Stunning in every way. Yazbeck, after Gypsy and On the Town at Encores! is poised for musical theatre stardom.
- The train depot. The most intense scene in act one. Brilliantly executed as always, we head to the doom that is "Everything's Coming Up Roses." One of the best act one finales in existence.
- Two ladies to our right are seeing this musical for the first time ever. The mother knows it from catching the Rosalind Russell movie (anyone? you know the one where Louise runs off with Yonkers instead of Tulsa, innocuously ruining Louise's dramatic arc at that moment). They are stunned by intermission. I tell them "You ain't seen nothin' yet."
- We're back in the theatre, they're back on the stage. Patti gets emotional during "Together Wherever We Go." Then she accidentally tosses her pan off into the wings, which brings about smiles and laughs all around, onstage and off. The pan is kicked back out for her to collect. The tempo is brisk. Three Tony winners are off and running with the charming trio, arguably the highpoint of the character's relationships all evening. The number stops the show cold.
- There's that ominous burlesque vamp from the overture. We are at 'the Bottom" aka Wichita's World-Famous Burlesque. Applause on Marilyn Caskey's entrance as Electra. A second hand for Nemetz's appearance as Mazeppa; and of course for Alison Fraser's Tessie Tura.
- Benanti is a thrill to watch as the most human Louise this side of 8th Avenue. Moments to love, her reaction to Rose's latest "I had a dream last night." So many subtle moments to be cherished in her nuanced portrayal.
- "You Gotta Get a Gimmick." Arthur Laurents said it best when he told Sam Mendes that Saddam Hussein and his two sons could get a hand with it. He was not wrong. Show once again stopped.
- The first dressing room scene. This is where it starts to end in tears. Those who applauded the marriage proposal in the scene before sparked incredulity from us. Really, people? Most of you know where this is heading... and it's not pleasant.
- It's not pleasant. Mother sells out daughter for stardom. Cue Herbie's ulcer. Cue audience's contempt.
- Dynamite devastation from Gaines on standing up to Rose. His exit line prompts applause.
- "Momma, I'm pretty... I'm a pretty girl, momma!" Damn right, you are! One of the most beautiful moments in all musical theatre, leading directly into...
- "The Strip." If there's any real argument for why this production should have been taped, it was for Benanti's transformation from Louise Hovick to Gypsy Rose Lee over the course of the number. Mixing nerves, anxiety and disgust, she socks out "Let Me Entertain You." She realizes for the first time that she is center stage, and she has an audience in the palm of her hand. Watching the confidence grow in each segment till she is a bonafide superstar for Minsky is riveting.
- Laura Benanti stops the show dead with the line "Where were you last night...?" You can all figure out why...
- The second dressing room sequence. The tension is high, the mounting conflict between mother and daughter coming to head with this superbly crafted fight. The animosity is seething from both ends. A monologue of defiance that trumps all. "I am Gypsy Rose Lee." Interesting acting moment: the maid re enters to tell Gypsy that her publicist is there and Benanti yells the line at her. When the maid has closed the door, there was a moment where Benanti brought back Louise as she looks at the door, amidst her tears and quiet mouths to her now-absent maid "I'm sorry..." That's an actress.
- The moment the crowd has been waiting for. "I thought you did it for me, Mama." Cue breakdown. The crowd is hushed. With expected tension we wait for it. And it comes...
- "Here she is boys. Here she is world." Patti LuPone takes it someplace in the recesses of Rose's mind I've never seen before. She whispers those lines, striking fear into the audience's mind. She proceeds with an earth-shattering Turn. She clearly and frightfully throws off Rose's smock revealing the tattered edges of what once was her character's sanity. That last for me is the war cry of one who has reached the end of her rope.
- A Routledge of five minutes ensues. The crowd is on its, feet and is beyond ecstatic. LuPone continues to bow in her swirling vortex of doom. A single rose is tossed onto the stage. As the ovation starts to die down, audience members start shouting "We love you Patti" to the stage. LuPone smiles and tries to bring them back in. However, upon hearing someone shout "Patti for President," she gives that boa constrictor look to let us know she's about to lose it. Thankfully the last scene is allowed to continue. In the moment just prior to her breakdown, she picks up one of the roses, kisses it and puts it back down before the scene continues.
- The show ends. The crowd is on fire. Full house on its feet. Bows. Tears. Patti LuPone takes her solo bow. In what feels like a return to the old school, the first row is tossing countless roses onstage. while she bows. For the company bow, Patti LuPone personally hands out a rose to every single actor she can. In spite of her legendary divatude onstage, she is still a member of an ensemble - a respect you can see in the way she interacts with every single person onstage. When the cast turns upstage to the orchestra, they begin to throw the flowers at them. The conductor poses with a rose between his teeth.
- Patti brings out Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim for a bow. Roxie has a near-stroke when she realizes she's in the same space as SJS for the first time ever. Patti makes a brief curtain speech aknowledging Jule Styne and Jerome Robbins. Tears, hugs, the usual are shared. Patti shows genuine affection for every single person in the cast, particularly among the child actors.
- The ladies to our right are smiling broadly. The mother is vocally grateful about the opportunity to have seen the show. The daughter is quietly wiping away a few years. Perfection.
- Gypsy is over.

Afterwards, Roxie and I headed to Angus for our post-show dinner and obligatory drink. We were seated immediately, and as Rose standby Linda Balgord sweeps past us into the upper level it dawns on us that the cast is coming here for their post-show festivities. We have order our food, we discuss 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as more and more cast members file into the restaurant. After getting over initial fears that we were in Deadwood, Roxie warms to the surroundings and begins announcing everyone as they enter. Much to our surprise, Marilyn Caskey sits at a table adjacent to us. Fortunately we are in Angus, so not much is said when I get up in the course of our 1600 conversation singing "Rehearse!" to illustrate a point.

We introduced ourselves to Ms. Caskey before leaving, just to let her know how much we enjoyed her performance as Electra. She is not only talented, but quite lovely. I brought up the long-forgotten, one performance wonder The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall in which she had a major role. She said I was the first person to ever ask her about it and she was so pleased to chat about her experiences. She talked with great affection for the show, which is about a British boarding school headmistress slowly driven to insanity by the antics of her students. The musical opened and closed at my beloved Mark Hellinger in 1979, starring Celeste Holm (who judging by the cast album - yes, there is one - shows that she is miscast). Three years prior, Caskey performed in the piece, written by Clark Gesner in a California production that starred Jill Tanner, who brought the British sensibility required for the part (the part calls for a Patricia Routledge type). Ms. Caskey, and you wouldn't know this from Gypsy, is a lyric coloratura who has essayed the roles of Cunegonde in Candide and Carlotta in the Broadway and Toronto companies of The Phantom of the Opera, with plenty of voice and class to spare. One of the real highlights of this entire evening was having the chance to spend a few moments with this lovely and warm character actress. I hope to seeing her onstage again very soon.

The day was long, eventful and highly memorable. It mirrored the first time I saw Gypsy on Broadway, which was the closing performance of the Bernadette Peters revival in 2004. It was a bit surreal to have done two closings of the same show in less than five years. The audiences react with the same ferocity at the book scenes, the songs and the overall ambience that comes with this classic musical. My only hope for the next revival, which we can pretty much guess will be longer than five years away, is that it restores the complete libretto, still my only official gripe with this most recent incarnation. It's always an event when the Great American Musical comes to town.

Other than that, it's time to move on and look forward to the new musicals and revivals (and plays!) of this season. And I say it here: one of the non-profits should stage a revival of The Rose Tattoo for Ms. LuPone.

Monday, January 12, 2009

In Case You Missed It..

This is from SNL from this past Saturday with host Neil Patrick Harris. This is the skit they did regarding the current state of Broadway...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Day Somehow Calls for It

Details pending...

One Last "Turn"

Roxie and I are heading in to take in the final performance of the acclaimed revival of Gypsy. Anyone within a ten block radius of the St. James Theatre should brace themselves for this earth-shattering last Turn.

However, the NYC shenanigans start at a pre-show brunch with Steve and Doug, Sarah and friends (who were at the penultimate performance of Gypsy, forever to be known as the one where Patti tossed out the photographer), Jimmy and Kari (who will also be in the house with us).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Eartha Kitt - "Moving Uptown"

The Wild Party (the one by LaChiusa) played only 68 performances on Broadway. However, it featured a stellar cast led by Toni Collette and Mandy Patinkin. Eartha Kitt created her final original role in a Broadway musical in her Tony nominated turn as Dolores. Here is her performance of "Moving Uptown" from an appearance on Rosie. She still had it right to the end.

My Own Limerick

My friend Miles has an uncanny ability to create a limerick off the top of his head. Well, I now have the distinct honor of being the subject of my very own. Here it is:

There once was a man from Westchester
Whose ambitions did fever and fester
He drank his White Russians
With the best of the lushes
And proceeded to pluck out his chest hair!

Friday, January 9, 2009

So I'm thinking of making a few changes to the blog layout. I'm open to any and all suggestions (and if they are technologically advanced, the assistance would be greatly appreciated as well).

Katharine Hepburn - Kennedy Center Honors, 1990

Angela Lansbury leads the Kennedy Center Honor presentation for Katharine Hepburn, assisted by Glenn Close & Lauren Bacall. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

It's a Hit!

Amidst the fears and tears surrounding the current state of Broadway in our local and national economic crises, it's refreshing to hear that a show is a hit! In the Heights announced that they have recouped their initial investment, after 366 performances. The show, currently playing the Richard Rodgers Theatre and the recipient of the 2008 Tony award for Best Musical, has bucked the contemporary trend where it usually takes upwards to two years (or more) for a Broadway musical to make back its money. It is also on my shortlist of excursions to make over the next several weeks.

Bernadette Peters Guests on "Ugly Betty"

I've never actually seen a single episode of this show (my Thursday night is devoted to the NBC lineup), however it's worth noting that Bernadette Peters is making a guest appearance on "Ugly Betty" tonight at 8PM on ABC. She's playing a gorgeous Anna Wintouresque fashion magazine titan. You can have a sneak peak at one of her scenes here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Broadway League Opposes Theatre Ticket Sales Tax

With the economy of New York state in an incredible budget deficit ($13.7 billion... what?!!), Governor Paterson has a plan of action that would involve taxation on everything from sporting events to movie tickets to theatre tickets, citing precedence in other states. The state would implement a tax of four percent. It doesn't stop there: NYC also finds itself in similarly dire financial straits and is poised to add a four percent tax as well. Given the current economic state and its already negative impact on the NY theatre community, the Broadway League has taken a definitive stand against the taxation. As it's highly unlikely that producers will lower theatre ticket prices, it looks as if a night at the theatre is just about to get more expensive.

Elaine Stritch - "He Had Refinement"

Originally a showstopper for Shirley Booth in the 1951 musical adaptation of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Stritchie performs it on a PBS special about lyricist Dorothy Fields.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Yet Another Remake of "Bye Bye Birdie"

It was announced today that Adam Shankman, the man who helmed the 2007 film adaptation of the Hairspray musical will present another remake of the classic Strouse & Adams Best Musical winner Bye Bye Birdie.

According to the playbill article, there have been plans for this remake for some time, including the possibility of updating it to the hip-hop era (which leads me to wonder, how would they work the whole drafting plot point, a major one at that). The original 1963 film featured Tony-winning original Dick Van Dyke repeated his stage success opposite Janet Leigh, Ann-Margret, Maureen Stapleton and fellow original company member Paul Lynde. A second made-for-TV remake in 1995 starred George Wendt, Vanessa Williams and Tyne Daly. While the latter is more faithful to the original stage show, neither can beat the original musical comedy as it plays onstage. Which leads me to my query, why is it that there will be three film versions and not a single Broadway revival of this delightful period satire?

Given that Hairspray was a huge success, I can understand the hiring of Shankman to direct and choreograph. However, factoring in Hairspray and its impending film sequel (as well as Bob: the Musical), I think Shankman might consider other musical properties to film or remake. (Whatever happened to that film version of Urinetown?). I say leave Bye Bye Birdie to the stage for right now, and let Shankman work on more original projects.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Plenty of Roads to Try

So many shows closed today. Limited runs and commercial engagements alike came to an end. However, as always, Broadway carries on. Here is a list of the shows that are set to open on the Rialto over the next couple of months.

The American Plan
Gerald Friedman Theatre (MTC)
Wr: Richard Greenberg (revival)
Dir: David Grindley
Previews 1/2. Opens 1/22.
Mercedes Ruehl, Lily Rabe, Benjamin Eakeley, Austin Lysy, Brenda Pressley

Hedda Gabler
American Airlines Theatre (Roundabout)
Wr: Henrik Ibsen (trans: Christopher Shinn)
Dir: Ian Rickson
Previews 1/6. Opens 1/25.
Mary Louise Parker, Michael Cerveris, Paul Sparks, Peter Stormare

You're Welcome America, A Final Night With President Bush
Cort Theatre
Wr: Will Ferrell
Dir: Adam McKay
Previews 1/20. Opens 2/5.
Will Ferrell (solo)

The Story of My Life
Booth Theatre
Book: Brian Mill
Music & Lyrics: Neil Bartram
Dir: Richard Maltby, Jr.
Previews 2/3. Opens 2/19.
Will Chase, Malcolm Gets

Guys and Dolls
Nederlander Theatre
Book: Jo Swerling & Abe Burrows
Music & Lyrics: Frank Loesser
Dir: Des McAnuff
Previews 2/3. Opens 3/1.
Craig Bierko, Oliver Pratt, Lauren Graham, Kate Jennings Grant, Titus Burgess & Mary Testa

33 Variations
Eugene O'Neill Theatre
Wr & Dir: Moises Kaufman
Previews: 2/9. Opens 3/9.
Jane Fonda

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
Wr: Michael Jacobs
Dir: Jack O'Brien
Previews: 2/28. Opens: 3/12.
Jeremy Irons, Joan Allen, Marsha Mason, Andre de Shields, Michael T. Weiss, Aaron Lazar & Margarita Levieva

Blithe Spirit
Shubert Theatre
Wr: Noel Coward
Dir: Michael Blakemore
Previews: 2.26. Opens: 3.15.
Christine Ebersole, Angela Lansbury, Rupert Everett, Jayne Atkinson, Deborah Rush, Simon Jones.

West Side Story
Palace Theatre
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book & Dir: Arthur Laurents
Previews: 2/23. Opens: 3/19.
Matt Cavenaugh, Josefina Scaglione, Karen Olivo, Cody Green & George Akram

Irena's Vow
Walter Kerr Theatre
Wr: Dan Gordon
Dir: Michael Parva
Previews: 3/10. Opens: 3/29.
Tovah Feldshuh

Al Hirschfeld Theatre
Music: Galt McDermott
Book & Lyrics: Gerome Ragni & James Rado
Dir: Diane Paulus
Previews: 3/6. Opens: 3/31.
Gavin Creel

Reasons to Be Pretty
Lyceum Theatre
Wr: Neil LaBute
Terry Kinney
Previews: 3/13. Opens: 4/2.
Marin Ireland, Stephen Pasquale, Thomas Sadoski

Rock of Ages
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
Wr: Chris d'Arienzo
Dir: Kristin Hanggi
Previews: 3.20. Opens: 4.7.
Casting has yet to be announced, though I would assume the off-Broadway cast would transfer.

Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Belasco Theatre
Wr: August Wilson
Dir: Bartlett Sher
Previews: 3/19. Opens: 4/16.
Casting has yet to be announced.

Mary Stuart
Broadhurst Theatre
Wr: Friedrich von Schiller; trans. Peter Oswald (revival)
Dir: Phyllida Lloyd
Previews: 3/30. Opens: 4/19.
Janet McTeer, Harriet Walter, Brian Murray, Michael Countryman, John Benjamin Hickey, Michael Rudko, Robert Stanton, Maria Tucci, Chandler Williams, Nicholas Woodeson

Accent on Youth
Gerald Friedman Theatre (MTC)
Wr: Samson Raphaelson (revival)
Dir: Daniel Sullivan
Previews: 4.7. Opens: 4.21.
David Hyde Pierce, Charles Kimbrough, Lisa Banes, Mary Catherine Garrison, Byron Jennings

The Philanthropist
American Airlines Theatre (Roundabout)
Wr: Christopher Hampton
Dir: David Grindley
Previews: 4.10. Opens: 4.26.
Matthew Broderick

9 to 5
Marquis Theatre
Music & Lyrics: Dolly Parton
Book: Patricia Resnick
Dir: Joe Mantello
Previews: 4.7. Opens: 4.30.
Alison Janney, Stephanie J. Block, Megan Hilty, Marc Kudisch, Andy Karl, Kathy Fitzgerald, Justin Bohon, Ann Harada, Lisa Howard

Waiting for Godot
Studio 54 (Roundabout)
Wr: Samuel Beckett (revival)
Dir: Anthony Page
Previews: 4.10. Opens: 4.30.
Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, John Goodman, David Strathairn

Tickets are available through Telecharge or Ticketmaster. You can also find great discount codes at, Playbill Club Offers and Theatremania. Or, if the mood strikes, check out and see if you're eligible for TDF. Most shows offer rush/lottery programs for day of performance tickets and there is also the inevitably reliable TKTS booths.

Shows currently offering discounts: August: Osage County, Spring Awakening, Mamma Mia!, In the Heights, Chicago, Gypsy, The Little Mermaid, The Phantom of the Opera, Shrek the Musical, The 39 Steps (soon moving to the Helen Hayes), Equus, Mary Poppins, Speed the Plow, Guys and Dolls, Hedda Gabler, Pal Joey, Soul of Shaolin, Spamalot, The American Plan, All My Sons, and The Story of My Life.

This doesn't even begin to cover all the Off-Broadway shows that are available as well. Get thee to a theatre!!

Quote of the Day

This year, as you watch the lights dim on a performance that has meant something to you, that has made something happen in your heart or your head, you may see the real human being through the mask of the fictional characters a little more vividly. The chorus kid with the megawatt smile, the all-but-legendary musical diva with a devoted following, the up-and-coming young leading man — when the curtain falls they will all return to being actors anxiously awaiting their next engagement, at a scarily perilous time for everybody. So keep clapping, please, and a “Bravo!” or two would surely be appreciated.

- Charles Isherwood in today's NY Times article "Big Finales, All Together Now: A Month of Broadway Closings"

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Once Before It Goes

Can you believe that it took until this afternoon for me to see Hairspray for the first time? I'd seen the original 1988 film, listened to the original cast album and just a few weeks ago caught the finale of the musical film at the Virgin Megastore with Roxie (where we made our initial plans to see this). With the return of Tony winning originals Harvey Fierstein and Marissa Jaret Winokur, it became our mission to see this particular show that for whatever reasons fell by the wayside.

The show is a gem from start to finish, quite possibly the strongest of the contemporary musical comedies that have been coming around this decade (and especially one where the script and score are equals; witty, playful and most importantly, funny). Fierstein is a giving a diva turn for the ages, taking on the challenges of playing a middle-aged woman with great success. If you've seen the performance, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, believe when I say that he exceeds the hype. Winokur, in spite of the fact she's turning 36 in a few weeks, is as youthful as ever and has exudes great charm as Tracy.

I also can't recall a late-run cast that was as polished and focused as this final Hairspray company. The actors were alive and not just going through motions as you can (and I have) witnessed at other long-running hits. Bravo to the director (Jack O'Brien), the choreographer (Jerry Mitchell, whose stage work far surpasses what is seen in the film) and the stage manager for giving NY audiences a show as vibrant and fresh at the end of it's run as it was at the beginning. It's sad that this show, which I think should have a couple more years left in its run, is closing tomorrow. Or perhaps I'm more sad that I can't go back to the Neil Simon to enjoy it again. In spite of the end of the NY run, the beat goes on in London, on tour and will continue in the future when this becomes a mainstay of educational theatre.