Sunday, May 31, 2009

Quote of the Day: Amy Morton Edition

Morton is back on Broadway as the definitive Barbara Fordham in August: Osage County, the role she originated at Steppenwolf, in NY and in London. She was interviewed by the NY Times this past week. Here are some highlights:

Amy on the three Violets:

"Deanna was much more of a Texas flower, very feminine, very needy on stage, in that way that Violet is. Estelle wasn’t as much. She was a little tougher and a little more blunt. But what’s great is it still really worked. Phylicia and I are still kind of working it out. I got to tell you, when she gets mean, it’s scary. I mean, she lays us low at that dinner table."

On different reactions between NY and London audiences:

"The end of the second act when I scream at my mother, it was a much quieter reaction. At first we thought, did we shock them? But there was much more of a collective holding of breath and not letting it out. In New York sometimes the end of the second act feels like a hockey game."

The First Couple Goes Broadway

My friend Tom happened to be at Joe Turner's Come and Gone last evening where coincidentally the President and First Lady were in attendance. Here's what he said to me about the experience:

"So I kinda watched a Broadway show with Barack and Michele Obama tonight. Surreal? Yeah, a bit. I don't quite know what to make of the fanaticism he draws, but I have to say I loved every darn minute of the spectacle it turned out to be (including being shoved aside by an NYPD officer while trying to get remotely close to the theatre!!)! And Joe Turner's Come and Gone was a great show too! :)"

I responded. "
I'm curious how their presence impacted the performance onstage... was it a distraction with them being there?"

Tom replied, "It was REALLY hard to focus on the show at first - it took me a good 20 minutes, at least, to have the faintest idea what was happening on stage. And then after intermission, the curtain was up already when they got back to their seats and people were flashing photos for a good 5 minutes, totally ignoring the actors....and the show started an hour late. haha. So, yes, it definitely impacted it but I do think they gave a great show and I ultimately was moved by it!"

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Last Five Years

When I was a senior in high school, we had a brand new principal who used to sign off from her daily morning address with a treacly admonition of "The choices you make today, shape your world tomorrow." Given that she was ingratiating, new and a bit of an upstart (and a marriage between Hillary Clinton and Miss America), we were loathe to consider what she said at the time. However, as I sit here this evening I realize how accurate she is.

You see, it was five years ago today that the revival of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters closed on Broadway, and a chance meeting at the theater that day led to the writing of this blog and the substantial friendships I have cultivated as a result of it, and has contributed to the course my life has taken.

When it was announced for the second time that Gypsy would definitely close at the end of May, I decided it was time for me to get my rear in gear and see the show. I had never seen Gypsy, one of the best shows ever written, live. While browsing online at Telecharge, I noticed that tickets were available for the very last performance and I decided I would jump at the opportunity. I had never attended a closing before.

Then came the problem: no one wanted to go with me. "Some people can't even give it away" rang true as I counted down to the big event. The day of the show I managed to get in contact with a close friend from high school, who dropped everything and rushed to meet me at the train station. Sam is a writer and was just beginning studying to be a playwright at SUNY Purchase, so she was interested to look at it from that perspective, since she had only heard selections of the score and was almost wholly unfamiliar with the work.

That day, Bernadette and co. blew the roof off of the Shubert Theatre. The announcement of Marvin Laird as the musical conductor brought cheers from many regulars. That overture. That titanic overture brought the crowd to a standing ovation. Shortly thereafter came the words "Sing out, Louise" as the audience once again flew out of their seats to cheer the star entrance as Bernadette as Rose made her way from the back of the house to the stage. In spite of any critical misgivings certain people might have had, Ms. Peters delivered nothing short of a powerhouse performance as Madame Rose, with absolutely no vocal trouble and passionately intense acting. The energy was palpable, the book was ripe and Bernadette's Rose finagled, seduced, charmed and ultimately horrified when she brought the house down on itself with "Everything's Coming Up Roses."

At intermission, we were engrossed in conversation with the woman to our left, who was in attendance with her young son, looking dapper in a suit and who couldn't have been more than seven. Turning to each other, we discussed the show from a written perspective. Sam had never heard "Everything's Coming Up Roses" in its context before, so she floored at the underlying subtextual darkness. A younger gentleman making his way back to his seat in our aisle passed by as I was discussing the definitive nature of Ethel Merman with the role of Rose, at which point Sam alerted me that someone behind me was disagreeing with me. I turned and had a congenial debate with the young, passionate theatregoer, who admired the theatre and in particular this production. We discussed all the actresses who have inhabited the part of Rose, having as big a conversation in about 6 or 7 minutes than many people have in an hour.

Then came act two. The show was uproariously brilliant, every number bringing great applause, half the house even stood for the three strippers. Tammy Blanchard had to work hard on her "Strip," ultimately falling short of expectations but still getting an E for Effort. Then came that moment to end all moments. A cone of silence fills the theatre as an embittered Rose emerges from a heated row with her daughter. Rejected, vilified, humiliated yet defiant, she once again starts to stand her guard by defiantly shouting to the empty stage that she could have been better than everyone else. This embittered cloud explodes into the storm that is the eleven o'clock number to end all eleven o'clock numbers: "Rose's Turn."

Bernadette Peter's Turn was as devastating and cathartic as you could imagine, with hers an emotional breakdown as you watched her seams come apart. On the final "For me!" The audience stood and cheered and cheered and stood and stood and cheered some more. Bernadette bowed. And bowed. And bowed. Then she froze to wait for the applause to end, only to continue bowing as Tammy Blanchard entered clapping. This Gypsy still played to the more positive ending, with both leaving arm in arm, the audience emotionally drained yet exhilarated from witnessing yet another performance of "the best damned musical I've seen in years."

Sadly, I had hoped to say goodbye to the young guy but missed him as we exited the theatre. Someone else from my high school happened to be there and had grabbed my attention. Such is the case with so many of the theatregoing acquaintances you meet. You share two to three hours with one another; if you're lucky they are vibrant and intelligent conversationalists. So, I continued on my way.

The day also marked the first time I went backstage at the Shubert. Sam and I have a mutual friend from high school whose father plays in the pits for various shows and he was subbing that last week in the Gypsy pit, and arranged for us to get a brief impromptu tour of the wings and backstage area. We got to venture down into the pit area and look up at the Shubert from the most unusual vantage point, the three tiers towering above us.

The next day, I posted on ATC something specific about the production and lo and behold, my theatregoing friend and I reconnected via one of the threads about this particular performance. From that moment on, I made a fast friend by the name of Noah, who shared an exuberant passion for theatre, and in particular, musical theatre. Unbeknowst to me, he also met someone at the performance who also loves the live theatre experience and is always in the endless pursuit of entertainment. I would meet Sarah briefly a year later at the Theatre World Awards, but within the following two years developed a sturdy friendship that involved theatrical excursions and goings on, whose pursuit would bring us to many Mame-like heights opening new windows and enjoying life to the fullest. It was due mostly to Noah and Sarah's encouragement that I started writing as the Theatre Aficionado at Large back in October '07.

Life has a funny way of leading you into unexpected territory. Though I wrote some theatrical criticism in college, I never loved it. In fact I rather hated it. When forced to turn a critical eye to everything, there is the risk of missing out on enjoying the experiences. The very first thing I wrote was "I refuse to be a critic." The blog was a compromise of which I was initially reticent. At first I didn't take it seriously, only occasionally posting and not thinking I would stick to it. Well, I kept blogging, and then blogged even more. Now not a day goes by where I don't think about something to share with my bloggers. As a result, I've made some of the greatest friends; people I would never have met otherwise. I look forward to seeing them on a daily basis via their websites, but also for their woefully infrequent trips to the New York City, where we gather for food, drinks, endless banter and of course, theatre. Whenever any of us get together, it is unquestionably an epic win.

Five years removed, I look back nostalgically on the friendships I treasure and look excitedly toward the next five. So to celebrate this anniversary, I raise a toast to all those good and crazy people, my theatre friends. Thanks for the laughs, the memories and the good times. My world is a better place because you are all a part of it.

And here's to Bernadette Peters, for starting it all.

Friday, May 29, 2009

This Is All Very New to Me

I have never interviewed anyone in my life. I'm hardly prime material to take on the hotbed issues and figures for "20/20" or "Dateline." Suffice it to say, on Wednesday I was considerably uncertain what to expect as I made my way down to the Atlantic Theatre Company school, where the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is currently in rehearsal for its 2009 season.

The HVSF, which starts its 23rd season next month, performs on the grounds of Boscobel in Garrison, NY. Every summer, the crew sets up a large tent on the lawn while theatregoers can revel in the gorgeous view of a sunset on the Hudson River, all the while taking in three of the Bard's works in repertory. The annual theatre fest is a staple of the Hudson Valley, hugely popular with audiences who return year after year and continually bring friends with them (trust me, it's a great introduction to Shakespeare for anyone who might feel a disconnect from his plays). They were also the subject of the documentary Shakespeare on the Hudson which aired on WNET (PBS in NYC) in 2008, narrated by Kristin Chenoweth.

Their mission statement enough is alone to entice an avid theatregoer to make the trip to Putnam County:

"The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is dedicated to producing the plays of Shakespeare with an economy of style that focuses our energy and resources on script, actors, and audience.

We communicate the stories with energy, clarity and invention and we distill rather than embellish the language and action. We challenge ourselves and our audiences to take a fresh look at what is essential in Shakespeare's plays."

Anyway, when I was asked if I'd like to sit in on a rehearsal, I jumped at the opportunity. And as soon as I jumped, I panicked as I didn't know what to expect or what would be expected from me. But settling into my table in the rehearsal room, I receive a warm greeting from the actors, stage management and Terrence O'Brien, founding artistic director of the Festival as well as the director of both Pericles and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). (The third offering is the immortal Much Ado About Nothing directed by John Christian Plummer).

I am fascinated by the processes and techniques bringing actors through rehearsal and into performance. There was no exception here, as it was the first time I had been in a rehearsal room in almost five years. It was a place enveloped in fresh ideas and an excitement and passion for theatre that transcends the work they do on Shakespeare.

The actors (including Christopher Edwards, Michael Borrelli, a striking Gabra Zackman, Wesley Mann and Katie Hartke) got right back to work as if I weren't there. For the next hour, they worked on a three to four minute scene, fine-tuning their blocking and making discoveries and breakthroughs right before my very eyes. I marveled in the rehearsal atmosphere; one of such intelligence and comfort. The room was full of congenial dialogue over actions in the scene, actors honing their performances with considerable lucidity. The rapport is genuine as many of the actors have worked with the Festival for many years, coming back every summer to live as a family for the duration.

For three solid hours, I got to see Terry at work with his actors, as well as the chance to converse with him as well as cast members Hartke and Jason O'Connell over lunch. (Joining us was the delightful Marcia Clark, who made the entire experience possible!) Our talk actually started when I inadvertently pulled my copy of The Norman Conquests out of my bag. That got all of us talking about what we had seen and what we wanted to see (sound familiar, bloggerati...?) Over the course of an hour we covered everything from Mary Stuart to August: Osage County to the worlds of opera and Shakespeare.

The director and some of the cast members get together during the off-season to work on the American Shakespeare Lab. Working with improvisatory exercises, the actors work to embody the text, making the dialogue seem natural and spontaneous. Part of our discussion was in regards to American actors performing Shakespeare. There is an unspoken stigma to the idea, especially many American actors tend to ape the British style, usually coming across as stilted (Keanu Reeves in Much Ado About Nothing, anyone?)

Terry and his actors work to bring Shakespeare to contemporary audiences while both revering the text and finding new ways of exploring it. One of his fundamental ideas is getting the actors to live with the discomfort of not knowing what's going to happen next. Actors return year after year (though not strictly the same people, as he's a firm believer that new blood keeps actors on their toes).

But as I probably could have spoken to the actors and director for hours upon hours, they had to get back to work. This time around they moved onto running scenes from the uproarious Complete Works. In what is essentially a raucous lampooning of Mr. Shakespeare's folio, three actors deconstruct his works (think Anna Russell's "Hamletto, or Prosciuttino" only faster and more absurd). The play, written by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, was first performed in 1987 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has considerable breathing room for comic actors to do what they do best. The HVSF actually performed this one as part of last season, but proved so overwhelmingly popular that it is being given an encore this summer.

The Festival is offering one of the more rare opportunities to see Pericles. The play is one of Shakespeare's later works and there is some debate as to how much of it he wrote. It is generally believed that George Wilkins wrote at least the first nine scenes, and Shakespeare the last thirteen, marked by a stylistic contrast. Whatever the case may be, it's a play that has been produced repeatedly in the UK though it's never been seen on Broadway. The critics may not be kind, but the play has proven popular with audiences.

One of the topics of discussion was my blog. Part of our discussion involved my blogging and twittering, as Terry has only recently started blogging himself and has put the HVSF on twitter. The reason I was in attendance was the company's attempt to reach out to fellow bloggers as the new media takes a greater foothold in how people are talking about the theatre today. All in all, it was a most pleasant afternoon and I can't thank them enough for the privilege or their unending hospitality.

The actors continue their rehearsals until June 6, when they head up to Boscobel to settle in for the beginning of previews on June 16. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) opens June 20; Much Ado About Nothing on June 27 and Pericles on July 4. All three shows run through September 6. I look forward to seeing all of them.

"Sue Me"

Unfortunately for me, I wasn't a Broadway regular at the time Guys and Dolls opened at the Martin Beck in 1992. Fond memories of the production and the leading performances (including a Tony winning turn from Faith Prince as Adelaide) abound, especially now that a less-than-beloved revival is currently playing at the Nederlander Theatre. Here's Nathan Lane and Faith performing "Sue Me" on "The Tonight Show."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Reasons to Be Pretty," "Billy Elliot," & "Universal Robots" take top honors in first ever Theater Blogger Awards!

The Independent Theater Bloggers Association ( is thrilled to announce the winners of the first annual ITBA Awards for Excellence in Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway theater.

The ITBA (Independent Theater Bloggers Association) was formed in 2009 by a group of the most passionate theater bloggers on the World Wide Web (partial list below). The members of the Association blog about all aspects and all varieties of both commercial and non-profit theater, from big Broadway musicals performed in Times Square, to the most unique forms of entertainment performed off-off Broadway on the Lower East Side, as well as productions all over the country and all over the world. Together they see thousands of productions, and, without being paid or prodded, they write about them.

Ken Davenport, founder of the ITBA, said, “The Association was formed out of a desire to provide structure to the quickly growing theatrical blogosphere, as well as to give the new media voices a chance to recognize excellence in three of the very distinct theatrical markets that make up the New York City theatrical landscape: Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway.”

In true “new media” style, there will be no live awards ceremony for the ITBA Awards. Instead, there will be a virtual awards ceremony, with video acceptance speeches for the winners posted electronically in the coming weeks on ITBA’s website,

This year’s winners of the ITBA Awards are as follows:


Reasons to Be Pretty

Written by: Neil Labute
Directed by: Terry Kinney
Produced by: Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Gary Goddard Entertainment, Ted Snowdon, Doug Nevin/Erica Lynn Schwartz, Ronald Frankel/Bat-Barry Productions, Kathleen Seidel, Kelpie Arts, Jam Theatricals, Rachel Helson/Heather Provost and Scott M. Delman

Billy Elliot

Music by: Elton John
Lyrics by: Lee Hall

Book by: Lee Hall
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Produced by: Universal Pictures, Working Title, The Old Vic Company, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Jon Finn and Sally Greene


Music by: Galt MacDermot
Lyrics by: James Rado, Gerome Ragni
Book by: James Rado, Gerome Ragni
Directed by: Diane Paulus
Produced by: The Joseph Papp Public Theater / New York Shakespeare Festival, Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Gary Goddard Entertainment, Kathleen K. Johnson, Nederlander Productions, Fran Kirmser Productions/Jed Bernstein, Marc Frankel, Broadway Across America, Barbara Manocherian/Wencarlar Productions, JK Productions/Terry Schnuck, Andy Sandberg, Jam Theatricals, The Weinstein Company/Norton Herrick and Jujamcyn Theatres

The Norman Conquests

Written by: Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by: Matthew Warchus
Produced by: Sonia Friedman Productions, Steven Baruch, Marc Routh, Richard Frankel, Thomas Viertel, Dede Harris, Tulchin/Bartner/Lauren Doll, Jamie deRoy, Eric Falkenstein, Harriet Newman Leve, Probo Productions, Douglas G. Smith, Michael Filerman/Jennifer Manocherian and Richard Winkler



Book by: Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones
Directed by: Bill T. Jones
Music and Lyrics by: Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Add'l Music by: Aaron Johnson and Jordan McLean
Add'l Lyrics by: Jim Lewis
Produced by: Ruth and Stephen Hendel and Roy Gabay


Written by: Lynn Nottage
Directed by: Kate Whoriskey
Produced by: Manhattan Theatre Club and Goodman Theatre

Our Town

Written by: Thornton Wilder
Directed by: David Cromer
Produced by: Scott Morfee, Jean Doumanian, Tom Wirtshafter, Ted Snowdon, Eagle Productions, Dena Hammerstein/Pam Pariseau, The Weinstein Company, Burnt Umber Productions,

Universal Robots

Written by: Mac Rogers
Directed by: Rosemary Andress
Produced by: Manhattan Theater Source

Suspicious Package

Written by: Gyda Arber & Aaron Baker
Directed by: Gyda Arber
Produced by: The Fifth Wall as part of The Antidepressant Festival

Flux Theatre Ensemble

Members of the ITBA include:

Bill Brown

Linda Buchwald
Pataphysical Science

Donald Butchko

Chris Caggiano
Everything I Know I Learned from Musicals

Zack Calhoon
Visible Soul

Jodi Schoenbrun Carter

Corine Cohen
Corine's Corner

Kevin Daly
Theatre Aficionado at Large

Ken Davenport
The Producer's Perspective

Ryan J. Davis
Ryan J. Davis Blogs

Jeremy Dobrish
Jeremy’s Green Room

Donelle Foreman

Michael Gilboe
Broadway Bullet

Dan Gilloon
One NYC StageHand

Diana Glazer

Byrne Harrison

Leonard Jacobs
The Clyde Fitch Report

Patrick Lee
Just Shows to Go You

James Marino
Broadway Stars

Tulis McCall
Usher Nonsense

Jesse North
Stage Rush

Aaron Riccio
That Sounds Cool

Sarah Roberts
Adventures in the Endless Pursuit of Entertainment

Michael Roderick
One Producer in the City

Adam Rothenberg
Adaumbelle’s Quest

David Spencer
Aisle Say

Ethan Stanislawski
Tynan's Anger

Gil Varod
Broadway Abridged

Kim Weild

"I Miss the Mountains"

This show is high on my list to see. Alice Ripley sings "I Miss the Mountains" from next to normal on yesterday's episode of "The View."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wolverine & Bond Team Up

Michael Riedel is reporting in today's NY Post that Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig will headline the original Broadway production of Keith Huff's A Steady Rain this fall. The play would mark Jackman's first return to Broadway after his Tony-winning triumph in The Boy from Oz five years ago while Craig would be making his Broadway debut. As for the drama itself, it concerns "two Chicago cops whose lifelong friendship is put to the test when they become involved in a domestic dispute in a poor neighborhood." With two of the world's biggest movie stars on board, this should easily be one of the hottest tickets this fall.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Aficionado at 500: History Repeats Itself

Still experiencing the high from last night's performance of Hair. Here is the new Broadway cast appearing on the "Late Show with David Letterman". Coincidentally, the original cast performed the same numbers on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in the very same theatre over forty years ago, inundating Ed with flowers and dancing through the audience.

You know I'm reaching musical theatre zen when I want to repeat an experience as often as possible.

After a year and a half, I can hardly believe that I've reached my 500th post. Hope you all stick around for the 1000th!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Quote of the Day: Jessica Biel Edition

"I auditioned for a summer production of Guys and Dolls at the Hollywood Bowl. I thought, 'Well, I'm not a soprano anymore, but I guess I'll go in for it.' I literally walked in and said, 'I can do this song but we're going to have to drop it down a few notes.' Actually, I did pretty well and I got the part of Sandy, which I'll be performing later this summer.

-Jessica Biel, to Parade, on being cast as SARAH in this summer's concert...

The Aficionado Makes His Broadway Debut

I ventured into the Big City today to see a play reading with the added possibility of taking in an evening performance of Next to Normal. I waited in the rush line for a long time and didn't go anywhere - I was the 69th or 70th person there, so when my good friend Chris Lavin arrived, we decided to ditch that and go venturing about the city.

There aren't too many Broadway shows that have a Sunday night performance. However, I recalled that one of the shows that was open for business was the smash hit revival of Hair at the Al Hirschfeld. So we left Theatre Row, where we saw the reading, and moved upward just in time for the rush lottery.

Time was on our side. We arrived just in time to be handed an entry slip, drop it in the hippie-ish bucket and go for a brief walk up 8th Avenue. We arrived back just as they commenced the drawing, and lo and behold on my first time ever participating in a show lottery, I was the third name drawn.

Things only got better as we settled into our box seats (I'd never sat there before - another in a series of firsts) drinking in the '60s ambience, hearing the actors backstage in their final warm-up and the occasional sight and sound from onstage where the band is located, as the show curtain nonchalantly billowed. The energy from the audience was already amped, as the house was divided between children of my generation, and those children of the original production's generation (many showing up proudly in their tie-dye t-shirts).

From the roar of the crowd at the dimming of the houselights to the curtain call, everything about this revival of Hair is spot-on. The cast, most of whom were involved in the previous incarnations in Central Park, is superb. Gavin Creel joins the crew for the Broadway engagement making for an ideal hero in Claude. Will Swenson is Berger, the unwielding, pleasure bound leader of the tribe who is something akin to a strung-out bunny rabbit. The two actors anchor the production with the roles originated by the shows creators Gerome Ragni and James Rado. The entire company works as a fluid, organic ensemble with so much of how they move and dance and interact with the audience appearing as though they were coming up with it on the spot. Bryce Ryness scores as Woof, who sings "Sodomy" and lusts for Mick Jagger. Megan Lawrence is a riot as Claude's mother. Sassy beltress Saycon Sengbloh was on for Sasha Allen as Dionne tonight, and to give you an idea of just how good she was: the others didn't realize she was the understudy until I told them after the fact, outside the theatre. A standout in the ensemble was the hilarious Andrew Kober as Claude's conservative father and giving us his best Dame Edna meets Hyacinth Bucket as Margaret Mead.

The musical itself holds up remarkably well, in spite of a flimsy book. The score, one of the last musical theatre scores to really hold mainstream popularity, is as vibrant and rich as ever. Galt McDermott's music and Rado & Ragni's lyrics shock, titillate, unnerve and impact us in ways that seems surprising for a show that has been a staple for decades. However, even forty-two years removed from its initial off-Broadway incarnation, the show maintains uncompromising relevancy with the world in which we live. The hippie movement may have died out, but the underlying messages still hit the same chords. There are still cases of social injustice and unrest, unpopular wars, dissension at the establishment, etc. Kudos to director Diane Paulus and choreographer Karole Armitage for breathing such exuberant life into a well-worn piece. They adapted their environmental staging for the proscenium and immediately shut up the naysayers who felt this production wouldn't work inside. The actors climbed all over the audience and up into the mezzanine, there's something electric seeing the cast bounding around the house engaging the entire audience. This production works, and how.

Many subsequent musicals have tried to follow the same formula, but there is none that quite reaches the heights of this particular show. Hair today is more relevant than Spring Awakening could ever hope to be.

This production of Hair also offers one of the rarest of opportunities for avid theatregoers: after the curtain call, the audience is invited to join the cast onstage to sing and dance the reprises of "Hair" and "Let the Sunshine In" in a glorious 5-10 minute dance party. It must be said here, that I am not the type to actively participate, and usually slink around like a wallflower. In fact, I usually need to be drunk in order to work up the nerve to do something like this. However, sitting up in my box seat and completely in the moment, I saw our friend and fellow blogger Esther onstage (Chris Caggiano was also in the house tonight!) and immediately seized the opportunity to grab my friend and head down and up onto the stage at the Al Hirschfeld, where we completely rocked out.

There we are, a hundred or so of us audience members and the entire cast. The three of us are dancing up a frenetic, intoxicating storm surrounded by total strangers and one of the brightest ensembles in NY. The stage is searing under the oppressive heat of the lighting. The rock band (so marvelously led by Nadia Digiallonardo) was pulsating through us as we moved. We came together as a community of one, but each one of us in that moment was the center of the universe. Such life-affirming vibrancy comes only so often in a person's life.

All in all, this revival is exhilarating. Invigorating. Rousing. Infectious. Transcendent. Cathartic. And fill in any other superlative you can think of. Hair is back on Broadway and better than ever. I want to go back as soon as I'm able (I think I know how I want to spend my birthday this year...)

I'll always remember tonight as one of the best of my entire life. I hope your experience at the show is the same.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Aficionado Goes to Town, Part 2

Reasons to be Pretty - I have a soft spot in my heart for the Lyceum Theatre. The shows that I have seen there have been failures, including Souvenir, The Lieutenant of Inishmore and [title of show] - all of which I enjoyed immensely. So whenever there is anything playing at the house (which has a notorious reputation for housing flops), I tend to anticipate seeing something of merit. Once again, there is something incredibly special going on at the Lyceum: playwright Neil LaBute is making his Main Stem bow with the transfer of Reasons.

Before the play starts, our hero (Tom Sadoski in a stellar turn as a well-read, non-confrontational slacker) has compared his girlfriend's face unfavorably with that of a younger new coworker. The idea that he prefers his girlfriend because she "has a regular face" pushes his character into a seemingly endless maelstrom, causing the character to re-examine himself and the direction of his entire life. The curtain rises on the middle of the break-up of these characters, with Broadway newcomer Marin Ireland making one of the most auspicious Broadway debuts this season as the girl who is permanently scarred by this one off-hand remark. Ireland is unafraid to expose the rage and vulnerabilities of her character, with one showstopping monologue in which she announces her ex's faults to a crowded mall food court. (During this scene one night, an audience member clearly got carried away and started to yell back at her. The night I saw it, a gentleman in the orchestra section gasped a clearly audible "Oh, fuck!")

Their friends, a married couple and coworkers, provide stark contrasts. Steven Pasquale is spot on as the boorish best friend and Piper Perabo quite impressive as his pregnant wife, a security guard at the factory where the men work (also the best friend of Ireland, and the person who tells her what happened). By the end of the play, Sadoski's character has done the impossible: he's grown up, taking great strides in his establishing his moral fiber and standing up to someone who is nothing more than an adult bully. The two hours interceding are engaging, surprising and captivating. I have to confess, I have never experienced any other LaBute plays, but many people with whom I have talked have expressed reticence to seeing this particular play because of the way he treats women in his work. The play at hand offers an eviscerating critique on our contemporary society and its obsession with the superficial, the final entry in LaBute's trilogy of plays that involve our obsession with appearances (the other two being The Shape of Things and Fat Pig).

The Tony race is pretty much between the hit God of Carnage and the struggling underdog Reasons to be Pretty. However it plays out on Tony night, I can't help but stress that both plays should be seen. I may be the only one to think this, but I find that they make great companion pieces, with GoC an unrelated sequel of sorts to r2bp. Both plays are four-handers involving two couples who find themselves at odds with one other, ultimately finding themselves isolated and fending for themselves after some terrifying displays of honest human behavior and emotion. r2bp is a play that captures what it's like to find oneself a few years out of college, with little aim or direction and wasting life trapped in static relationships and dead-end jobs. GoC looks upon the archetypes about 10 or 15 years later, with characters who are wiser, more confident and settled into careers, marriage and family obligations, with very little changed as it is still every man and woman for his or her self. I had seen GoC first and while watching the themes being bandied about in r2bp (including some genuine primal rage from Pasquale's character in the second act), I kept being drawn back to my evening at the former play. Plus, in about ten or fifteen years down the line I could easily see this cast reuniting for some Carnage. Just my $.02.

As for the Tony awards, one will emerge victorious but both plays are epic wins this season.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Seance in a Wet Rag and Bone Yard

The lovely Patricia Routledge made a guest appearance on Steptoe and Son, a popular Britcom that was refashioned for American audiences with Redd Foxx in Sanford and Son. I post the episode because not only does she play a medium in the Madame Arcati vein, but I find her changes in persona to be a look into how she played her "Duet for One" in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Screen to Stage?

Talk Film offers "a few pitches for slightly less mainstream movies that really need to be musical-ified..." in response to the impending Spiderman, The Addams Family and American Psycho (really...?) While the article may be tongue in cheek, you just never know who might pick up on it. Can you imagine a singing and dancing Predator?

However, in response to their selection of Army of Darkness, there was already the Evil Dead musical (though truth be told, Army of Darkness is a lot more fun to watch). Though wouldn't it be amusing to see Bruce Campbell try a musical? I'd bet he'd be up for it; he could get some pointers from his childhood friend Doug Sills (yes, I've read If Chins Could Kill).

Perhaps a bit too late to consider it just a trend as it continues to dominate the theatre scene. This year alone, two of the four best musical nominees are screen to stage adaptations, one is an interpolated jukebox show and the last man standing is a wholly original musical. At least The Addams Family is doing something different.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Liza singing "Nowadays"

This is an appearance with Dinah Shore, Liza sings accompanied by Kander while Ebb looks on enamored. Little did anyone anticipate the surprise that awaits them. Enjoy.

There Can Never Be Enough Angie as "Mame"

Here is a series of TV reviews from the opening night of the 1983 revival of Mame. Nice chunk of professional footage of the actual production, plus the television commercial.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Weekend in the Country

Saturday was one of those perfect days that will linger long in my memory for a variety of reasons. I was down in the city for a marathon of The Norman Conquests and had the added pleasure of spending my day in between shows and intermissions with the Brian Williams of theatre bloggers, Steve on Broadway and his partner Doug. Between the first two plays, we had a light lunch at Pigalle, where we reveled in what we had seen in the first play, excited for what was to come. My thanks to both for their company throughout the entire day and also for introducing me to the wine bar Clo located in the Time Warner building (4th floor, for you lushes out there!) In between the good times we were having with food and wine (and of course, the witty conversation), there was the good time being had by all of us at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

Truth be told, I knew very little of The Norman Conquests when I first heard of this revival. In fact, it wasn't until I saw the marquee that I had even known that the Old Vic revival was coming to NY.

So in deciding to undertake a Saturday marathon of Alan Ayckbourn's brilliant "trilogy of plays," little did I realize I would be experiencing a series of firsts. I had never before seen any of Alan Ayckbourn's works. I had never attended a full-day marathon of theatre. I had never before seen any production presented truly in the round. And I had never before seen the movements of chess pieces so beautifully excoriated before in my entire life. There was some slight trepidation at the idea of committing myself to three successive plays, especially if I didn't like the first one I was pretty much committed to endure the rest. As the action in act one, scene one began I settled in comfortably. The writing is immediately sharp and witty, before I even knew what was going on I had this innate feeling settle in me that I was going to enjoy the experience. I just didn't realize at that point just how much I was going to love it.

The Norman Conquests is not a Coast of Utopia-like retelling of the events leading up to and around 1066, but is about Norman and his dysfunctional family consisting of his wife, her sister, their brother, the brother's wife and a dim veterinarian who is in love with the sister. (Got it?) There is an offstage gorgon of a mother who is never seen but whose colorful past has had quite an impact on the three blood siblings.

Each play is concurrent with one another. When an actor leaves a scene he or she is generally making an entrance into another play that has already been seen or will be seen. Table Manners, the suggested first play in the trilogy, is located in the dining room. Living Together shows the action in the living room and Round and Round the Garden, the suggested finale of the evening takes place in the lawn.

Without giving too much away, because discovering the complexities of the plot and characters is one of the joys of experience, Norman is a lazy assistant librarian who frustrates and titillates all around him. Over the course of a weekend, harrowing truths are exposed, outrageous sexual romps take place and certain familial chaos ensues.

The play is anchored by one of the most superb ensembles I have ever had the privilege to watch onstage - each performance an epic win. The bearded, wild-maned Stephen Mangan, in an inspired tour de force performance is the slovenly yet lovable yet ribald solipsist cad Norman, whose libido knows no bounds. The catalyst of action is the initial plan for Norman and his sister-in-law Annie to go for a salacious holiday at the scandalous East Grinstead. Needless to say, no one goes anywhere the entire weekend. That's when the fun starts. Mangan, with seemingly limitless energy takes Norman to outrageous heights in a memorable turn that in my humble opinion deserves the Tony. For a visual: Think of him as Sasha Baron Cohen doing The Ruling Class. The funniest performance by an actor in NY since Mark Rylance in Boeing Boeing. Ben Miles is the sad sack veterinarian Tom, who is an unfailingly loyal - if chaste - companion. His earnest demeanor, and slow to act responses (a scene with him in a miniature chair at the dinner table is worth the price of admission) as well as his being the only innately good character (he's dull to the characters in the play, but never to us in the audience). So impressionable was he that his entrance at the top of the third play warranted applause. Paul Ritter is Reg, Annie's brother, a rather likable if bland person who is married to Sarah and whose hobby is inventing ridiculously complicated games that no one (especially his wife) likes to play. One of the many highlights of the play is his tirade against the absurdity of chess movements.

Onto the ladies: Amanda Root, in a stunning turn, is the harried Sarah, the busy-body sister in law with her own agenda who is best described as a soul sister to Veronica in God of Carnage. Root, looking like Brenda Blethyn and sounding exactly like Judi Dench gets some of the best moments of the three plays, and some of the biggest laughs with her exasperating performance. The delightfully original Jessica Hynes, who I recognized from a brief role in Shaun of the Dead, is Annie, the unkempt spinster who is forced to look after mother (soul sister to Ivy Weston perhaps?) and is exasperated in her loneliness and in Tom's chastity. Rounding out the cast is Amelia Bullmore as Ruth, Norman's work-obsessed wife, who for the sake of pure vanity refuses to wear her eyeglasses. Bullmore has the most physical comedy bits - watching her tackle a lawn chair in the third play was one of the many original, truly laugh out loud hilarious moments offered. Together, all six create one of the most vibrant ensembles I have ever seen in my life. If there is an argument for a Tony award for Best Ensemble Cast, I offer these six organic, interwoven characterizations as exhibit A.

Each situation and character is so grounded in his or her reality (even the oblivious Norman), that there is nothing but total validity in the onstage action. From the pure British comedy of Table Manners to the darker, pensive tones of Living Together and the farcical chaos of Round and Round, these are characters that are fully realized, whose lives are anchored in such melancholy which in effect only makes the plays funnier. Much of the credit belongs to Matthew Warchus. He took a weak farce like Boeing Boeing and turned it into the must-see comedy of last season, winning the show the Tony for Best Revival and Best Actor in a Play for Rylance. He is also responsible for the helming the juggernaut hit God of Carnage, another spectacular comedy tour de force, firmly establishing himself as the di rigueur director of stage comedy in both London and New York. He's competing against himself for the Tony this year, but I hope his magnanimous work on The Norman Conquests will edge out for the win.

The designers revel in the period setting of the play - the 1970s. The furniture, the costumes and hairdos are all throwbacks to a more garish time in pop culture, with wonderful use of the limited space to accomplish so much. There is a miniature of a country house and town that hovers above the set prior to each act, creating a clever "curtain." As it is raised, there is a complete replica of the same miniature upside down. There are some dangers, some wine got splashed into the crowd, popped buttons flew out like bullets and most amusingly, during a game of catch a ball flew out into the crowd, where an audience member actually caught it and immediately just tossed it back. Amused but unfazed, the actors just carried right on as the ball was given back to them by the appreciative crowd.

I feel like I have to weigh in my $.02 on the suggestion that you can see any and/or all the plays in no particular order. Having seen the plays in the suggested order (Ayckbourn claims the order came out of necessity not intent), I must say it proves most beneficial to see them starting with Table Manners, which establishes most of the characters, then to see Living Together with greater intensity, followed by Round and Round the Garden. The experience of the final play hinges greatly on what you have seen prior for total effect as it in essence ties together the loose ends, with some of the biggest surprises in the entire text. If you have a Saturday available to you, go for it. Table Manners begins at 11:30AM, Living Together at 3:30PM and finally Round and Round the Garden at 8PM. If you can only see just one, you should see... no wait, I think it's imperative to see all three. Regardless of the fact that they have been written to stand alone, the overlying arc of the entire trilogy has an immensely exhilarating payoff. I didn't think of it so much as seeing three different plays, but more like an extensive three act play set over the course of seven and a half hours. And I could have sat for another seven and half hours more with this cast and these incredible characters.

The Norman Conquests is hands down the best thing I have seen all season. It is also one of the most thrilling theatrical experiences I've ever had in my life, adding it to my top three alongside the opening nights of The Light in the Piazza and August: Osage County. Of all the theatre I've seen recently - and it's been quite a lot, this is the production that best exemplifies why I love the experience in the first place.

Now, who wants to do another marathon with me?

"The Norman Conquests" Quirky Question Contest is tickled to announce...

The Norman Conquests Quirky Question Contest
(try and say that six times fast)

Calling all bloggers, surfers, and theater freaks!

Wanna win $100?

Send us an awesome "quirky question" for anyone in the cast of the Broadway production of The Norman Conquests (btw - 7 Tony and 5 Drama Desk Award Nominations) and we'll select the best quirky question as our winner. And even if you don't win, your question will be put in the pool of questions that will be sent to our cast, and if an actor likes your question enough to respond to it, we'll post your question and its response on our upcoming NormanFans Blog.

And then you'll be famous!

Below's the skinny on who's in Norman.

Hint - quirk is always strangely pertinent!

You can send as many questions as you want to:

Deadline: May 25, 2009 - Winner Announced Day Later

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Aficionado Goes to Town, Part 1

Waiting for Godot - I actually saw this a few weeks ago, before the show opened. I've been fascinated with the play since I was in college. There was a blackbox production being presented by the students and a friend of mine was in the cast. (She was the only female Gogo I've ever seen). I became instantly obsessed with the play and ended up seeing its entire run of three or four performances. The characters and the language, combined with its blatant lack of plot has made it one of the most important tragicomedies in existence. It was with high hopes that I went to Studio 54 with my friend Russ Dembin, who is on the road to becoming a Godot scholar. Contrary to the popular reception with the critics, I felt completely disconnected with the production onstage. Bill Irwin is always fascinating to watch, John Glover as the ironically named Lucky has a mammoth monologue that would do well by James Joyce (it's practically a jerry-rigged showstopper). Nathan Lane is Nathan Lane, and he does that exceptionally well. Here he managed to bring great pathos to Gogo, without going overboard. He and Irwin worked well with one another, displaying the The highlight of the production was John Goodman with mammoth physicality and the most beautiful passages of Beckett's text as Pozzo, the dandy who finds himself blinded in the second act. It was a joy to watch him command the stage, and am frankly surprised he was not nominated for the Tony. But for its staging and its character work, I couldn't help but feel bored by the production at Studio 54. The play has never been a commercial success, its original production with E.G. Marshall and Bert Lahr lasted 60 performances. An all-black revival a year later proved a fast flop with 6 performances. In that regard I have to confess I am glad that there are people who are connecting with Beckett and his material (this is one of his more audience friendly pieces...), but as far as I'm concerned, I'm still waiting.

33 Variations - One of my theatregoing mottoes of late has been "Never miss the opportunity to see a star. This season offers a plethora of star-studded plays and revivals, with several Oscar winning legends traipsing the boards in various shows. Jane Fonda is making her first appearance on Broadway in 45 years in the Moises Kauffman play 33 Variations, about a dedicated musicologist (Fonda) dying of ALS while researching Beethoven's work on his 33 Variations of Anton Diabelli's waltz. There are actually two parallel stories being told. Juxtaposed between the melodrama surrounding Fonda is a fictionalized "variation" (so glad I read the author's note in the playbill about his creative liberties with history) of what might have been the inspiration for Beethoven to spend years obsessing over the Diabelli Waltz. The play itself is rather mundane, overlong with an exceedingly static first act. However, the second act is where Fonda shines, as her character falls into great decline. I've never been too big a fan of her work in films, her performance in California Suite is excruciatingly forced, and I felt she wasn't as impressive in Coming Home as the Motion Picture Academy thought she was. However, here onstage she's giving a vibrant, dimensionalized performance. Fonda is incredibly strong, looking far much younger than her 71 years (must be that work-out regimen) delivers the goods. (Seeing her with her cropped hair and in pajamas had me thinking what she could do with Violet Weston). Colin Hanks is making an auspicious Broadway debut as both her nurse and her daughter's love interest. However, the highlight of the production is Zack Grenier's supporting turn as Beethoven. The most captivating moment of the play comes in the second act (accompanied by concert pianist Diane Walsh) as Grenier composes the final variation onstage, in a stunning flourish. While hardly a terrible play, 33 Variations feels as if it finds itself more important than it deserves to be. However, it's got some of the most effective lighting I've seen in a play.

Note to the Eugene O'Neill house staff: I appreciate that there are tourists who will come in to catch a show when they can. However, can you prevent them from bringing their luggage to their seat as the house lights come down? I felt more cramped than I would on an airplane. Thanks kindly. Oh, and please turn off the A/C when it's not sweltering outside!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Drama League Winners

Distinguished Production of a Musical
Billy Elliot: the Musical

Distinguished Production of a Play
God of Carnage

Distinguished Revival of a Musical

Distinguished Revival of Play
Blithe Spirit

Distinguished Performance Award
Geoffrey Rush

Previously announced awards:

Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theatre Award -- Elton John
The Julia Hansen Award for Excellence in Directing -- Arthur Laurents
The Unique Contribution to the Theatre Award -- Angela Lansbury
The 75th Anniversary Leadership Award -- Herb Blodgett

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Coming Soon...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dorothy's Birthday

Today would have been Bea Arthur's 87th birthday. Enjoy this clip from The Golden Girls.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Superior Donuts" Eyes Broadway

Superior Donuts, Tracy Letts' followup to his Pulitzer and Tony winning juggernaut August: Osage County looks to be coming to Broadway this fall, as per Playbill. The play premiered at Steppenwolf last summer starring Michael McKean with direction from Tina Landau. There has been no official announcement but it appears the light comedy will be brought into NY with star and director intact, with the assistance of producer Steve Traxler.

Meanwhile, August: Osage County continues at the Music Box Theatre. On May 26, Phylicia Rashad takes over the role of Violet Weston, while the definitive Amy Morton returns to deliver her powerhouse act two curtain line/warcry.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Creepy, Kooky, Mysterious and Spooky...

It's been long in the works, but now it's official. The Addams Family will be coming to Broadway as a musical next spring starring two-time Tony winners Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth as Gomez and Morticia. The cast also features Kevin Chamberlin as Uncle Fester, Jackie Hoffman as Grandmama, Krysta Rodriguez as Wednesday and Adam Riegler (best known as impresario Cubby Bernstein) as Pugsley. Also on board are Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello, Wesley Taylor and Zachary James.

Andrew Lippa has provided the score and Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice have written the book, which is actually original and not a screen to stage adaptation. From the offical press release: "Storm clouds are gathering over the Addams Family manse. Daughter Wednesday, now 18, is experiencing a sensation that surprises and disgusts her – caring about another person. Young Pugsley, jealous of his sister's attention, begs her to keep torturing him, severely, while mother Morticia, conflicted over her daughter’s lurch into womanhood, fears being upstaged and discarded…. like yesterday’s road kill. All the while, father Gomez – master of the revels, mischievous and oblivious as ever – would prefer everything and everyone remain as it is. But when outsiders come to dinner, the events of one night will change forever this famously macabre family – a family so very different from your own...or maybe not."

The musical has had industry workshops and readings, involving Lane and Neuwirth and will have an official out of town tryout at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in Chicago starting November 13. The opening night in New York is slated for April 8, 2010 at a Nederlander Theatre to be announced.

Truth be told, I haven't warmed to many of the newer musicals that have been opening, but I find that I cannot wait for this project. Word of mouth on the chat boards from insiders was very positive and signs point to this being a good musical comedy. Personally, some of the excitement for me lies in seeing authors doing something different with an established body of work. Instead of seeing the film or TV series just slapped onstage with self-referential and generic musical numbers, the creators are doing something unusual: being original.

Oh - and interesting fact: this will mark the first time that Bebe Neuwirth has ever created a role in a new Broadway musical. She replaced in A Chorus Line, Dancin' and Fosse and won her two Tonys for revivals of Sweet Charity and Chicago, and was Lola in the '94 revival of Damn Yankees.

I was reading a book the other day...

The great Marie Dressler delivers one of the most famous lines in film history in Dinner at Eight.

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival's "Behind the Scenes Gala"


(Garrison, NY) The casting is complete, the tent is ready to unfold, the box office is open and it’s time to celebrate Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s 23rd Season. Nobody knows how to throw a better party (or put on a better show) and this year’s Insider’s Behind The Scenes Gala is sure to be one of the best. (Of course the secret ingredient to a great party is the guest list and Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival friends, new and old, make for an A-List that can’t be beat!)

On Sunday June 14 guests are invited under the HVSF tent at Boscobel to get an exclusive look at behind-the-scenes teasers of Pericles and Much Ado About Nothing; enjoy cocktails and dinner on the great lawn and be the audience for the final dress rehearsal of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

The Insiders Behind The Scenes Gala begins with the teasers at 4:30pm followed by dinner and a silent auction at 5:30. The evening concludes with the final dress rehearsal of last season’s runaway hit, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) starring Christopher Edwards, Jason O’Connell and Kurt Rhoads.

In his review of the 2008 HVSF production of The Complete works, Journal News theater critic Peter D. Kramer wrote: “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” is a madcap whirlwind of wigs, crowns, kneepads and running shoes. It’s part marathon, part sprint, part Groucho, Chico and Harpo … it might easily have been written by the always inventive Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. It’s certainly in keeping with O’Brien & Co.’s emphasis on character, words and performance. It’s smart and fast and thoroughly accessible.”

Be on the inside track and join the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival family under the tent for the Insiders Behind The Scenes Gala on Sunday June 14 at 4:30pm. It won’t be a great party without you! Tickets are $125 per person and may be purchased through the website, or by calling (845) 265-7858.

Outer Critics Circle Award Winners

Outstanding New Broadway Play
*God of Carnage
Irena's Vow
reasons to be pretty
33 Variations

Outstanding New Broadway Musical
*Billy Elliot: The Musical
Rock of Ages
Shrek the Musical
A Tale of Two Cities

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play
Becky Shaw
Farragut North
Shipwrecked! The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told By Himself)
Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical
Rooms: A Rock Romance
*The Toxic Avenger
What's That Smell? The Music of Jacob Sterling

Outstanding New Score (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
*Billy Elliot: The Musical
Rooms: A Rock Romance
Shrek The Musical

Outstanding Revival of a Play (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Blithe Spirit
The Cripple of Inishmaan
Joe Turner's Come and Gone
*The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot

Outstanding Revival of a Musical (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Enter Laughing
Pal Joey
West Side Story

Outstanding Director of a Play
Garry Hynes, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Anthony Page, Waiting for Godot
Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner's Come and Gone
*Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests
Moises Kaufman, 33 Variations

Outstanding Director of a Musical
*Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot the Musical
Arthur Laurents, West Side Story
Jason Moore, Shrek the Musical
Diane Paulus, Hair
Susan Stroman, Happiness

Outstanding Choreographer
Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5
*Peter Darling, Billy Elliot the Musical
Josh Prince, Shrek the Musical
Susan Stroman, Happiness

Outstanding Set Design (Play or Musical)
*Tim Hatley, Shrek the Musical
Santo Loquasto, Waiting for Godot
Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Ian MacNeil, Billy Elliot the Musical
Walt Spangler, Desire Under the Elms

Outstanding Costume Design (Play or Musical)
Nicky Gillibrand, Billy Elliot the Musical
*Tim Hatley, Shrek the Musical
John Napier, Equus
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
Catherine Zuber, Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Outstanding Lighting Design (Play or Musical)
Kevin Adams, Hair
*Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot the Musical
David Hersey, Equus
Peter Kaczorowski, Ruined
David Lander, 33 Variations

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Raúl Esparza, Speed-the-Plow
Bill Irwin, Waiting for Godot
Nathan Lane, Waiting for Godot
*Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, reasons to be pretty

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Ruined
Carla Gugino, Desire Under the Elms
*Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
James Barbour, A Tale of Two Cities
Matt Cavenaugh, West Side Story
*Brian d'Arcy James, Shrek the Musical
Josh Grisetti, Enter Laughing
David Pittu, What's That Smell? The Music of Jacob Sterling

Outstanding Actress in a Musical (tie)
*Sutton Foster, Shrek the Musical
Megan Hilty, 9 to 5
Leslie Kritzer, Rooms A Rock Romance
Nancy Opel, The Toxic Avenger
*Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Zach Grenier, 33 Variations
John Benjamin Hickey, Mary Stuart
Russell G. Jones, Ruined
Patrick Page, A Man for All Seasons
*David Pearse, The Cripple of Inishmaan

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
*Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Andrea Martin, Exit the King
Kristine Nielsen, Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them
Susan Louise O'Connor, Blithe Spirit
Condola Rashad, Ruined

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Daniel Breaker, Shrek the Musical
Aaron Simon Gross, 13
*Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot the Musical
Christopher Sieber, Shrek the Musical
Wesley Taylor, Rock of Ages

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Kathy Fitzgerald, 9 to 5
*Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot the Musical
Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey
Carole Shelley, Billy Elliot the Musical

Outstanding Solo Performance
Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me
Mike Burstyn, Lansky
Mike Daisey, If You See Something, Say Something
*Lorenzo Pisoni, Humor Abuse
Matt Sax, Clay

Outstanding Ensemble Performance
*The cast of The Norman Conquests: Amelia Bullmore, Jessica Hynes, Stephen Mangan, Ben Miles, Paul Ritter, Amanda Root

John Gassner Award (Presented for an American Play, Preferably by a New Playwright)
Annie Baker, Body Awareness
*Gina Gionfriddo, Becky Shaw
Beau Willimon, Farragut North

Special Achievement Award
*For their performances in Billy Elliot: David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, Kiril Kulish

The 65th Annual Theatre World Award Winners!

The Theatre World Award is presented to those making an auspicious debut or breakthrough performance in the NY theatre, whether it be off-Broadway or on. The event is held every spring and is hosted by Peter Filichia. Past winners perform (occasionally songs from the shows for which they won) and present. The awards will be held on June 2nd at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. As I've said in the past, I appreciate this awards ceremony more than the Tonys because the spirit is a genuine celebration of theatre and community, minus the competition.

Congratulations to the winners!!

David Alvarez/Trent Kowalik/Kiril Kulish, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Chad L. Coleman, Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Jennifer Grace, Our Town
Josh Grisetti, Enter Laughing, The Musical
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Colin Hanks, 33 Variations
Marin Ireland, Reasons To be Pretty
Susan Louise O'Connor, Blithe Spirit
Condola Rashad, Ruined
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story
Wesley Taylor, Rock of Ages

Special Award to the entire cast of The Norman Conquests: Amelia Bullmore, Jessica Hynes, Stephen Mangan, Ben Miles, Paul Ritter and Amanda Root

Sunday, May 10, 2009

NY Times: Lincoln Center at 50

Lincoln Center was established with idea of being a “mighty influence for peace and understanding throughout the world.” The mammoth urban development project broke ground on May 14, 1959, removing an entire neighborhood from Manhattan. The plaza, host to the Met Opera, NY Philharmonic, City Opera, NYC Ballet and Broadway's Vivian Beaumont Theatre, among others, is having a $900 million face lift for its 50th birthday. The contribution to the arts in New York is insurmountable, but they have also been met with their share of criticism over the years. Has Lincoln Center lived up to its initial promise? Anthony Tommasini, chief music critic for the NY Times, examines the positive and negative aspects of this city landmark in today's Sunday Times.

Happy Mother's Day

Chita and Liza singing "Don't 'Ah Ma' Me" from The Rink

Friday, May 8, 2009

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You...

Good news for those theatre fans who've enjoyed Marc Acito's How I Paid for College and Attack of the Theater People. According to his blog, he has recently completed the first draft of the third book in his musical theatre-caper "Theater People" trilogy, called The Jazz Hands of God. For those who haven't read the first two (do that), they follow the whimsical exploits of a young actor as he and his motley crew of friends try to get him into Juilliard and survive the 80s. My favorite character in his series (we have several physical and personality traits in common), is a nebbishy sociopath named Natie Nudelman who is the criminal mastermind behind all their activities (and no doubt is probably at present reaping the benefits of a ponzi scheme in a remote undisclosed location). Oh -and did I mention that none other than Marian...Marian Seldes makes important cameos in both books? If that isn't enough to entice then I question why you are reading this blog. No word on when the book will be out, but one question for Marc: does our Marian appear in book three...?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Brief Thought on Best Featured Actor in a Musical

One of the more interesting aspects of yesterday's Tony nominations wasn't the exclusion of 9 to 5 from Best Musical, or the lack of [title of show], et al. It was in the Best Featured Actor in a Musical category, where David Bologna was nominated for his performance in Billy Elliot as Michael. Bologna alternates in the role with Frank Dolce, each doing four shows a the week. For the leading category, it was decided that all three actors would share the nomination, but it was certainly not the case here. I'm curious as to whether a joint nomination was even considered. Or perhaps it was an oversight made by the producers, unsuspecting that the character of Michael would garner Tony attention. Regardless, I do feel bad for Dolce who becomes the odd-man out of his cast mates in this horse race. It's gotta be tough to learn at such a young age that everything about it isn't appealing...

However, this isn't the most bizarre nomination involving child actors. That honor goes to the original Broadway production of The Sound of Music in 1960 where it was decided that all seven children (including William Snowden and Joseph Stewart) would share a joint nomination as Best Featured Actress in a Musical. They lost to co-star Patricia Neway.

The Art of Co-Existence, or the Parenting Fail

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And it's never been more hilarious than it is here in God of Carnage, the most exhilarating new play I've seen in New York since August: Osage County.

When Veronica and Michael invite Alan and Annette over to their moderately upscale Brooklyn apartment on an ordinary weekday afternoon to discuss a playground altercation between their sons, good intent is first and foremost. The situation is civil, yet strained as they seek out to smooth out the rough edges: Alan and Annette's (Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis) son hit Veronica and Michael's (Marcia Gay Harden and James Gandolfini) son in the mouth with a stick, knocking out two incisors and causing some serious damage. Veronica's insistence that Alan and Annette's son make a meaningful apology to their son starts to unravel the forced placidity. Tensions mount and eventually explode in ways both metaphoric and literal.

God of Carnage is one of those incisive, cutting plays that gleefully exposes the narrow line between the civilized and primitive in human nature . The play by Yazmina Reza (translated into English by Christopher Hampton, her frequent English language collaborator) had a highly successful Olivier-winning run in London's West End starring Ralph Fiennes and Janet McTeer, directed by Matthew Warchus. That production has transferred to New York for a limited engagement, relocating the setting to the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn and Americanizing the text.

The four cast members, all of whom were nominated for Tonys (all as leads, I might add) carry the evening off with remarkably astute characterizations. Jeff Daniels is amusingly droll as a work-obsessed attorney whose main concerns lie with a major pharmaceutical case than with his family. Hope Davis is hilarious as his anxiety ridden wife whose nausea coincides with her husbands convenient habit of answering all cell phone calls. James Gandolfini plays the other father, more blue collar sort of man's man who also happens to have a mortal fear of hamsters. The evening; however, belongs to Marcia Gay Harden, the mild-mannered, cultured, liberal "concerned parent" and author (she's written a book on Darfur) who melts down to primordial chaos by the play's end. At the play's end the living room is a shambles, as are the individuals onstage who have had their hypocrisies tossed at them (some literally). As arguments and accusations are tossed, allegiances shift with the fluidity of a roving cumulus cloud. One minute it's couple vs. couple, the next, the women vs. the men and on occasion three gang up on one. With each polemic shift, the play's characters and their situations only become more complex, and as a result more hilarious.

It's hard not to think of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? while watching a four-hander about bickering couples. However, this play is half the length and the social lubricants only make their grand debut about halfway through the play. Warchus, who directed last year's first-rate revival of a third-rate farce (Boeing Boeing), once again manages to bring out unexpected humor and nuance in situations that are routinely formulaic. The characters become childlike, throwing tantrums, hurling insults, dropping truth bombs and causing more harm than the instigating incident on the playground. (Warchus also directed the limited engagement revival of Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests, playing in rep at the Circle in the Square... we'll have more on that one in the near future). The play gets off to a strained start, and rightly so: it's awkward to watch a person trying to parent another person's children. The tensions build and build, and about twenty minutes into the play, Hope Davis vomits all over Harden's priceless art books pushing the characters and the audience past the point of no return. At this point all bets are off, and to paraphrase Margo Channing, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy afternoon."

The production has wasted no time in touting its nominations, with signs already erected on the marquee. One of them reads: "Nominated for 6 Tonys, including the ENTIRE CAST." All four actors have earned the nominations and deservedly so, though I have to say Harden as Veronica is the standout among a cast of winners (and at this point is my pick for the Tony award on June 7). I also want to add: this is the first time any of the four actors have appeared on Broadway in over a decade, and I've got to say, it's good to have them back.

The show is currently running in a limited engagement at the Jacobs Theatre until August 2. Run, don't walk.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Quote of the Day: Stockard Channing

"I'm on a train going to Paris, where I will be in about ten minutes. So I may get cut off, because we're going into a tunnel. I'm literally in the suburbs of Paris. I've been on vacation. I'm going to Paris for a few days, then I go back to London then back to the States. Someone called me on the train, and then my British cell phone promptly died on me."

Stockard Channing's official reaction to on receiving a Tony nomination

And they're off...

The 2009 Tony Award Nominations:

Best Play

Dividing the Estate
Author: Horton Foote
Producers: Lincoln Center Theater, Bernard Gersten, André Bishop, Primary Stages

God of Carnage
Author: Yasmina Reza
Producers: Robert Fox, David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers, Stuart Thompson, Scott Rudin, Jon B. Platt, The Weinstein Company, The Shubert Organization

Reasons to Be Pretty
Author: Neil LaBute
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, MCC Theater, Gary Goddard Entertainment, Ted Snowdon, Doug Nevin/Erica Lynn Schwartz, Ronald Frankel/Bat-Barry Productions, Kathleen Seidel, Kelpie Arts, LLC, Jam Theatricals, Rachel Helson/Heather Provost

33 Variations
Author: Moisés Kaufman
Producers: David Binder, Ruth Hendel, Goldberg/Mills, Latitude Link, Arielle Tepper Madover, Bill Resnick, Eric Schnall, Jayne Baron Sherman, Wills/True Love Productions, Tectonic Theater Project, Greg Reiner, Dominick Balletta, Jeffrey LaHoste

Best Musical

Billy Elliot, The Musical
Producers: Universal Pictures Stage Productions, Working Title Films, Old Vic Productions, Weinstein Live Entertainment

Next to Normal
Producers: David Stone, James L. Nederlander, Barbara Whitman, Patrick Catullo, Second Stage Theatre, Carole Rothman, Ellen Richard

Rock of Ages
Producers: Matthew Weaver, Carl Levin, Jeff Davis, Barry Habib, Scott Prisand, Relativity Media, Corner Store Fund, Janet Billig Rich, Hillary Weaver, Toni Habib, Paula Davis, Simon and Stefany Bergson/Jennifer Maloney, Charles Rolecek, Susanne Brook, Israel Wolfson, Sara Katz/Jayson Raitt, Max Gottlieb/John Butler, David Kaufman/Jay Franks, Mike Wittlin, Prospect Pictures, Laura Smith/Bill Bodnar, Happy Walters, Michele Caro, The Araca Group

Shrek The Musical
Producers: Dreamworks Theatricals, Neal Street Productions

Best Book of a Musical

Billy Elliot, The Musical; Lee Hall
Next to Normal -Brian Yorkey
Shrek The Musical - David Lindsay-Abaire
[Title of Show] - Hunter Bell

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Billy Elliot, The Musical
Music: Elton John
Lyrics: Lee Hall

Next to Normal
Music: Tom Kitt
Lyrics: Brian Yorkey

9 to 5: The Musical
Music & Lyrics: Dolly Parton

Shrek The Musical
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire

Best Revival of a Play

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Producers: Lincoln Center Theater, André Bishop, Bernard Gersten

Mary Stuart
New Version: Peter Oswald
Producers: Arielle Tepper Madover, Debra Black, Neal Street Productions/Matthew Byam Shaw, Scott Delman, Barbara Whitman, Jean Doumanian/Ruth Hendel, David Binder/CarlWend Productions/Spring Sirkin, Daryl Roth/James L. Nederlander/Chase Mishkin, The Donmar Warehouse

The Norman Conquests
Producers: Sonia Friedman Productions, Steven Baruch, Marc Routh, Richard Frankel, Tom Viertel, Dede Harris, Tulchin/Bartner/Lauren Doll, Jamie deRoy, Eric Falkenstein, Harriet Newman Leve, Probo Productions, Douglas G. Smith, Michael Filerman/Jennifer Manocherian, Richard Winkler, Dan Frishwasser, Pam Laudenslager/Remmel T. Dickinson, Jane Dubin/True Love Productions, Barbara Manocherian/Jennifer Isaacson, The Old Vic Theatre Company

Waiting for Godot
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Elizabeth Ireland McCann

Best Revival of a Musical

Guys and Dolls
Producers: Howard Panter and Ambassador Theatre Group, Tulchin/Bartner, Bill Kenwright, Northwater Entertainment, Darren Bagert, Tom Gregory, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., David Mirvish, Michael Jenkins/Dallas Summer Musicals, Independent Presenters Network, Olympus Theatricals, Sonia Friedman Productions

Producers: The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, Andrew D. Hamingson, Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Gary Goddard Entertainment, Kathleen K. Johnson, Nederlander Productions, Inc., Fran Kirmser Productions/Jed Bernstein, Marc Frankel, Broadway Across America, Barbara Manocherian/Wencarlar Productions, JK Productions/Terry Schnuck, Andy Sandberg, Jam Theatricals, The Weinstein Company/Norton Herrick, Jujamcyn Theaters, Joey Parnes, Elizabeth Ireland McCann

Pal Joey
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Marc Platt

West Side Story
Producers: Kevin McCollum, James L. Nederlander, Jeffrey Seller, Terry Allen Kramer, Sander Jacobs, Roy Furman/Jill Furman Willis, Freddy DeMann, Robyn Goodman/Walt Grossman, Hal Luftig, Roy Miller, The Weinstein Company, Broadway Across America

Best Special Theatrical Event

Liza’s at The Palace
Producers: John Scher and Metropolitan Talent Presents, LLC; Jubilee Time Productions, LLC

Slava’s Snowshow
Producers: David J. Foster, Jared Geller, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Judith Marinoff Cohn, John Pinckard

Soul of Shaolin
Producers: Nederlander Worldwide Productions, LLC; Eastern Shanghai International Culture Film & Television Group; China on Broadway

You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush
Producer: Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Steve Traxler, Home Box Office Inc., Gary Sanchez Productions, Bat-Barry Productions, Ken Davenport, Ergo Entertainment, Ronald Frankel, Jon B. Platt, James D. Stern, The Weinstein Company, Tara Smith/b. Swibel, Dede Harris/Sharon Karmazin, Arny Granat

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play

Jeff Daniels, God of Carnage
Raúl Esparza, Speed-the-Plow
James Gandolfini, God of Carnage
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, Reasons to Be Pretty

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play

Hope Davis, God of Carnage
Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical

David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish – Billy Elliot, The Musical
Gavin Creel, Hair
Brian d’Arcy James, Shrek The Musical
Constantine Maroulis, Rock of Ages
J. Robert Spencer, Next to Normal

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical

Stockard Channing, Pal Joey
Sutton Foster, Shrek The Musical
Allison Janney, 9 to 5: The Musical
Alice Ripley, Next to Normal
Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play

John Glover, Waiting for Godot
Zach Grenier, 33 Variations
Stephen Mangan, The Norman Conquests
Paul Ritter, The Norman Conquests
Roger Robinson, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

Hallie Foote, Dividing the Estate
Jessica Hynes, The Norman Conquests
Marin Ireland, Reasons to Be Pretty
Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Amanda Root, The Norman Conquests

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical

David Bologna, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Marc Kudisch, 9 to 5: The Musical
Christopher Sieber, Shrek The Musical
Will Swenson, Hair

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

Jennifer Damiano, Next to Normal
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey
Carole Shelley, Billy Elliot, The Musical

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Michael Yeargan, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Robert Brill, Guys and Dolls
Ian MacNeil, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Scott Pask, Pal Joey
Mark Wendland, Next to Normal

Best Costume Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Jane Greenwood, Waiting for Godot
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
Anthony Ward, Mary Stuart

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Gregory Gale, Rock of Ages
Nicky Gillibrand, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical
Michael McDonald, Hair

Best Lighting Design of a Play

David Hersey, Equus
David Lander, 33 Variations
Brian MacDevitt, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Hugh Vanstone, Mary Stuart

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kevin Adams, Hair
Kevin Adams, Next to Normal
Howell Binkley, West Side Story
Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot, The Musical

Best Sound Design of a Play

Paul Arditti, Mary Stuart
Gregory Clarke, Equus
Russell Goldsmith, Exit the King
Scott Lehrer and Leon Rothenberg, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Acme Sound Partners, Hair
Paul Arditti, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Peter Hylenski, Rock of Ages
Brian Ronan, Next to Normal

Best Direction of a Play

Phyllida Lloyd, Mary Stuart
Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Matthew Warchus, God of Carnage
Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests

Best Direction of a Musical

Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Michael Greif, Next to Normal
Kristin Hanggi, Rock of Ages
Diane Paulus, Hair

Best Choreography

Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5: The Musical
Peter Darling, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Randy Skinner, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas

Best Orchestrations

Larry Blank, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Martin Koch, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt, Next to Normal
Danny Troob and John Clancy, Shrek The Musical