Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Quote of the Day: Bob Martin

"Once you open on Broadway, you will meet many celebrities, both backstage after the performance and later over Cosmopolitans at the local theatre bar. Try to avoid meeting the bitter, drunken ones. This may be difficult as obnoxious celebrities are, by nature, gregarious, and quick to bark long stories of their bitterness, ripe with contradiction, at anyone they encounter, no matter how Canadian that person may be. A Broadway neophyte can become jaded by such encounters, and that can make for a difficult run. It is far healthier to socialize with well-rounded veterans of the stage and screen, who have accepted their success with humility and grace, and lived long dignified lives unblemished by scandal or cosmetic surgery. I recommend Angela Lansbury. Blythe Danner will do in a pinch."

Bob Martin, "Meet Angela Lansbury," Step #5 of his treatise on "How to Create a Broadway Hit in 6 Easy Steps" in Sunday's issue of the Toronto Star

Monday, June 29, 2009

And then it's gone...

Most of you are well aware of my complete and total admiration for the Broadway production of August: Osage County, from my overwhelming adrenaline-fueled experience of its opening night onward. By the end of today's closing performance at the Music Box, I had seen the play a total of seven times. Twice with Deanna Dunagan, twice with Estelle Parsons and twice with Phylicia Rashad (oh, and once with understudy Susanne Marley for good luck). The play never lost its spark or its edge with the departure of original cast members, remaining a strong vibrant piece of theatre that made an indelible mark on the Broadway scene 648 times, the longest-running play in seven years.

Today marked a final pilgrimage to a piece of theatre I respect and love wholeheartedly for its ambitious size and length, for its seamless and intelligent staging and above all else for its superlative acting. So I arrived at the Music Box Theatre expecting another mammoth three and a half hour catharsis. I didn't expect to be taken completely by surprise.

At 1:45, I arrived at the Music Box Theatre to pick up my ticket at the box office. Turning away from the ticket window, I was organizing myself when I saw that a name was up on the understudy board. Curious, I walked over and I read "MATTIE FAE AIKEN - RONDI REED." I read it a second time, and as that piece of info registered in my head, I proceeded to drop my ticket, my cell phone and my ipod. It took me about five minutes to recover, at which time I posted on twitter, facebook, text message and All That Chat. I just couldn't contain my unbridled enthusiasm at this little tidbit.

Rondi Reed, a thirty year veteran of the Steppenwolf Ensemble, originated the part of Mattie Fae at Steppenwolf and transferred to Broadway, playing the role for six months and picking up the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress along the way. She was also part of the original London cast at the National Theatre this past November. Reed is currently back in NY playing Madame Morrible in the Broadway production of Wicked. For the last several months, Broadway legend Elizabeth Ashley had been playing the part, and I had seen her in the role only three weeks ago. It was an unexpected and unusual turn of events as actors who have departed the company rarely reappear for the final performance of the show.

Just before the house lights went down, the Stage Manager appeared onstage to make an announcement. She welcomed us to the theatre and production and disclaimed: "Unfortunately I'm sorry to tell you one of our cast members, Liz Ashley called us this morning and told us she was sick and unable to do today's performance. But luckily for you, filling in for her today will be Rondi Reed (ROAR FROM CROWD... when the din died down she resumed) who played the role in the original company and won the Tony award for her performance." She then took a moment to talk on behalf of the company about how grateful they were for the long and successful run, before the obligatory comment about cell phones, etc. Then we were off...

The performance was explosive. Phylicia Rashad became the one and only Violet I've ever seen earn entrance applause during the Prologue. The audience was even more enthusiastic when the lights came up on Rondi Reed, who was decked out in the revised costume designed for Liz Ashley, a loose fitting blouse that favored blue, and the open toe matching shoes as well. (One thing I've loved about this show is how they have managed to find variations in the costume design to fit each actor's interpretation).

Reed, coming in at a moment's notice had instant rapport with each and every actor and whose mere presence and voice took me back an entire year to the last time I saw her onstage. Her definitive delivery of so many of her lines brought me right back: "This situation is fraught" Just....show a little class..." "I'm having a cocktail!" "You have to tell us something!" and the deathless "That's my casserole!!" All delivered with the same nuance and humor that earned this brilliant actress her Tony. I never thought I would see Rondi in this part again, which only heightened the experience for fans who were making one last visit. (To think that I saw Rondi Reed and Phylicia Rashad play off of each other as sisters for the one and only time during the run!)

Amy Morton was yet another to receive entrance applause. As I've often stated, Morton's performance is one of the best I have ever seen in my life, a marriage between actor and role that is pure, unadulterated alchemy. Mariann Mayberry as Karen broke the collective heart of the audience. Even the more troublesome performance of Sally Murphy showed signs of considerable restraint, that is until the infamous "Eat the fish, bitch!" scene in the third act. It was at this point that Murphy dipped back into her bag of histrionic tricks, jumping an octave and screaming so unintelligibly that some vital lines were lost to the ages.

One of the most memorable scenes of the entire play is the notorious dinner scene at the end of the second act. Lasting twenty minutes, the family sits wearily and on edge as a drug-addled yet surprisingly lucid Violet eviscerates and excoriates every single person at the table (with the noted exception of her sister). Violet is driving at exposing truths among the family members, without a care as to the impact of her own words. Choices and spontaneity provided me with some unexpected moments: for example, I laughed to the point of tears at Rashad's delivery of "Who ARRRRRRE you?" to Brian Kerwin's Steve. The situation boils until Amy's Barbara physically attacks Violet to take away her bottle of pills. The energy level at the moment was pitch perfect, with Barbara's "I'M RUNNING THINGS NOW!!!" a total war cry at Violet and one that sent the audience into a cheering frenzy at the act-ending blackout.

Phylicia found such freshness in her approach that made for an even stronger performance than the one I had seen a mere three weeks ago. Violet Weston was beautifully served by Phylicia Rashad; the only tragedy here is that the show closed before most of you had the chance to witness her genius performance.

Ever the pro, Rondi Reed had to hustle out of the Music Box (where on the street she was met with an appreciative roar) in order to make it to the Gershwin Theatre. While Reed had called out for the matinee performance of Wicked, she was insistent on playing the Actor's Fund show that evening. So after making her way through a complex three and a half hour drama, she had less than an hour to get costumed as Madame Morrible for the evening's performance. I must tip my hat to such utter professionalism and energy. Reed is a one-of-a-kind actress and an absolute treasure to the NY theatre community.

The performance was overall rock solid; I could hear people crying during the final moments as the stage lights dimmed on Phylicia...wandering the house calling out the names of the family members who'd all abandoned her. By the time the lights were up for the curtain call, the house was already on its feet, cheering this brilliant ensemble for their fine work as well as saluting this captivating piece of theatre. Mariann started taking pictures from onstage, the actors left and house lights came up. Yet the audience didn't budge. They sustained the applause and kept the momentum of their cheers up to warrant a second curtain call, something that didn't even happen on opening night.

Waiting outside of the theatre was our beloved SarahB, who had been allowed in to see the final fifteen minutes. As I pulled myself together from the performance, none other than Tracy Letts walked by, with whom we spoke briefly and who signed our Playbills. I haven't gone to the stage door in three years and though I considered it, I opted not to today. With a closing performance, it's a crowded and hurried affair. But I did get a great picture courtesy of Sarah standing next to one of the billboards:

Sarah and I headed over to Angus, where we spent four hours knocking back concoctions (White Russians for breakfast every day! ...there's milk) and laughing about the good times we'd had while having many more. We had a blast with our congenial bartender and one of the waitresses, Sarah Fishbeck with whom I attended college. The banter inevitably led to a discussion of all the shows that are coming up this season. Soon most of the theatres around Shubert Alley will be housing new shows. Finian's Rainbow at the St. James, Memphis at the Shubert, Jude Law in Hamlet at the Broadhurst and Tracy Letts' second Broadway play, Superior Donuts will settle into the Music Box this fall; the first play of the new season.

As always, the story goes on...

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Big surprise today...details pending.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

An Open Letter to Roundabout

To Whom It May Concern,

I have been a loyal subscriber with the Roundabout Theater Company for two seasons. When I first got the solicitation call, the ticket seller and I discussed the recent revival of 110 in the Shade, a delightful musical revival with Audra McDonald that was an unmitigated pleasure. I decided to take the plunge and see how it worked out. I didn't regret that decision, as I was mostly pleased with the 2007-08 season as well as my seating arrangements. There was no hesitancy when it came to renewing for the following season, plus there was the offer of upgraded seating.

There have been many shows I have appreciated at Roundabout, with especially fond memories of Sunday in the Park With George, Pygmalion, The Marriage of Bette and Boo and Old Acquaintance. Others I may have appreciated less, but still was grateful for the opportunity to see the works live onstage.

Regardless of what was being presented, there has never been an issue with the front of house staff, or any of the ushers. I have had no problem with needing to exchange a ticket when something such as inclement weather or illness got in the way. For those amenities and customer services, I am exceptionally grateful.

Looking back on your Broadway season, you hit a decent mark with your underrated revival of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons in the fall. Pal Joey and Hedda Gabler were much talked about in theatre circles, and you brought Godot back to Broadway in lieu of Fosse. (A decision that pleased me, as I feel we've hit the ceiling on Fosse revivals-tributes-revues for the time being). However, my focus today brings us to the current production of The Philanthropist.

It's not that The Philanthropist is a bad production, it's that the revival of Christopher Hampton's wry comedy about an offensively inoffensive philologist is hands down the worst production I personally have ever seen executed on a Broadway stage. Perhaps executed is too kind a word to describe what happened onstage at the American Airlines Theatre. But I digress...

I have read that this production, which transferred from the Donmar in London, was a success in England due to a nuanced performance from star Simon Russell Beale. Unlike the transfer of The Norman Conquests, with its entire cast intact, this production falters immeasurably from the miscasting of Matthew Broderick in the role of Philip.

Now I realize that Broderick is an internationally recognized film star from his appearances in such films as Ferris Bueller and Election, and I assume that there must have been some worth to his talent garnering two Tony awards along the way. A renowned performer is likely to boost interest and ticket sales for the more obscure offerings at your humble little home. But I would hope that the next time you consider doing an uninteresting play with little to no relevancy to anyone or anything, you at least find a leading man who will at least try to act. Or at least can manage enough charm and presence to fake his way through a performance.

There was a brief moment when I thought that perhaps the play wasn't going to be as bad as critics and word of mouth suggested. Then Broderick uttered his first line and it was instantly clear that all hope was lost. Broderick is giving a performance that could easily be described as that of a high school freshman making his stage debut. But that in itself would be an insult to high school freshmen everywhere.

From beginning to end, the star makes no discernible effort. He speaks in an accent that is a parody of a parody of a British accent; there is no investment of his body into his performance. If Broderick is making any effort to act, it's with his head alone and even then he looks bored, sounds lazy and doesn't remotely care that there is a paying audience in attendance.

For someone who studied at the HB Studios, Mr. Broderick should be ashamed to be giving a performance in such complete contrast to everything the great Uta Hagen espoused. Can one's Equity card be revoked for unabashed ambivalence? If not, there should be a special dispensation made here. It appears that the actor has hit a wall in terms of his ability and range.

Not all is lost. Thank you for offering Broadway newcomer Tate Ellington the chance to show us what appears to be a considerable potential as a stage actor. Perhaps my issue here is not so much with you, but more so with playwright Hampton that Ellington's character shoots himself in the head less than ten minutes into the play. The most fascinating character in the play not only dies instantly, but his storyline has very little to do with the plot at all. If there had been any mercy in the world, his character would have shot Mr. Broderick's Philip instead, sparing the theatregoers at my Sunday matinee a most excruciating two hours.

Thank you also for Steven Weber and Jonathan Cake, two game pros who both tried in vain to save the play. I have never seen actors working so hard, nor have I ever felt so embarrassed for professionals so lost at sea from a star's complete lack of interest. My heart goes out to Samantha Soule, an actress with no dialogue who makes the most of her thankless cameo. For the majority of the second act, I couldn't help but think "Where is Mark Rylance when you need him?"

Unfortunately, the presence of the other actors did absolutely nothing to salvage the afternoon. I have never seen an audience so completely disengaged by a play, a production or a performance in all my years of professional theatregoing. This play also marked the first time I seriously considered walking out at intermission. Though I decided I wouldn't break my streak with this production, a part of me wishes I had.

Glancing around the house, I noticed people of all ages starting to doze off. While a production can be bad, it should never be boring. That is where this show falls from grace: it unforgivably manages to be both. There is the old adage of "phoning it in," and Mr. Broderick has found a way of turning that into an art.

As I walked into the lobby, I turned in time to see a subscriber grab her husband by the arm and say loudly with contempt "That was pathetic." I must say I agree; I have never felt so resentful at the curtain call of any play quite like this one.

So my friends at Roundabout, I regret to inform you that I will not be renewing my subscription for the next season. I will take each show on a case by case basis. There is still some remote hope for the coming season, especially as you are offering the first-ever revival of one of my favorites, Bye Bye Birdie.

I look forward to the future.

Theatre Aficionado (at Large)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Vintage Photo: "South Pacific" closing night

This snapshot was taken at the closing night party for the original production of South Pacific on January 17, 1954. Rodgers and Hammerstein are about to help three Knucklehead Nellie's wash the men right outta their hair, with (from left-to-right) Tony-winning original Mary Martin, Janet Blair and Martha Wright. Gotta love these vintage posed-publicity shots.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Superior Donuts" to play Music Box Theatre

Hot off the presses....!!!

Superior Donuts
, the highly anticipated new American play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Tracy Letts will follow Letts’ Tony Award winning August: Osage County into The Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th Street), beginning performances on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 and officially opening on Thursday, October 1, 2009. Tickets will be on sale through Telecharge.com or by calling 212-239-6200 beginning on Friday, June 26, 2009 and The Music Theatre box office will open on Wednesday, August 19, 2009.

Superior Donuts will be making its Broadway premiere direct from a sold-out engagement at Steppenwolf Theatre Company where it had its world premiere in the summer of 2008. Tina Landau will make her Broadway straight play directing debut with this production which she directed at Steppenwolf.

Arthur Przybyszewski owns a decrepit donut shop in the uptown neighborhood of Chicago. Franco Wicks, a black teenager who is his only employee, wants to change the shop for the better. This comedy-drama, set in the heart of one of Chicago’s most diverse communities, explores the challenges of embracing the past and the redemptive power of friendship.

The Steppenwolf production of Superior Donuts will be produced on Broadway by Jeffrey Richards, Jean Doumanian and Jerry Frankel, producers of August: Osage County.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mary Poppins...the Horror Movie

This is one of the funniest trailer recuts I've ever seen and actually quite clever. First saw this on youtube a couple years back, but I think it bears repeating. Enjoy.

Third Time's as Charming as Ever

Most of you know already know how I feel about the magnificent revival of Blithe Spirit, so I'll keep this one brief. I had the unexpected pleasure of going back to see the show a third time this evening. Even though I saw it a mere two weeks ago, it's still hilarious and doesn't lose any of its magic on return visits. The house was mostly full with an eager and appreciative crowd. Personal favorite Jayne Atkinson got entrance applause at the very top of the play and we were off. The pacing and performances are tighter and funnier; Blithe Spirit is the Dom Perignon of this season's revivals.

The cast is uniformly excellent; I'm even warming up to Ebersole's rather kooky interpretation of Elvira. Everett postures but is still good with a droll line reading. Simon Jones and Deborah Rush make great impressions in their limited stage time. The aforementioned Atkinson should be featured in a show every season, as far as this humble fan is concerned. And of course, Angela Lansbury continues to be the Belle of the Ball as Madame Arcati, with an especially feisty performance tonight. Her relationship toward the Bradmans has grown consistently edgier and is all the more funnier for it.

The show is only running until July 19, so if you haven't gone yet, get a move on!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Some Classics Not on DVD

Last night, I decided to pop in the recently reissued DVD of the 1961 classic Splendor in the Grass, which starred Oscar nominee Natalie Wood and the ever-bland Warren Beatty, in his film debut. This edition marked the second release of the film, as part of a new Natalie Wood boxed set (with titles also available individually). Then I remembered that another one of her classics had yet to be released on DVD which started the ball rolling on this entry. So starting with that film, I compiled a short list of some notable classic movies that are not on DVD. All but one have never been available on Region 1 DVD.

Love with the Proper Stranger.
This 1963 romantic comedy drama rather charmingly tells the story of a one-night stand that leads to pregnancy. Natalie Wood, in another Oscar nominated performance is the girl from a strict Italian Catholic family who finds herself in the family way, with Steve McQueen as her suitor. Daring for its time in its depiction of pre-Roe v. Wade abortions, the film finds a suitable balance between the funny and the poignant. Tom Bosley is incredibly endearing in his film debut.

The African Queen. One of the most famous action adventure films of all time, for some reason John Huston's classic (from the novel by C.S. Forester) about a boorish boatman and upright missionary drifting downstream in the Congo has never been released on DVD in Region 1. Humphrey Bogart won his only Academy for his performance as Charley Allnut while Katharine Hepburn takes one of the many spinster roles that defined her film career in the 1950s. The film thrives on the personality clash of its stars and is aided by some lush Technicolor cinematography shot on location. Hepburn was given one minor piece of direction by Huston that completely helped her find her character: think Eleanor Roosevelt. She later claimed it to be "the best piece of direction I have ever heard."

Dear Heart. This gentle romantic comedy is about the unexpected romance between maturing postmistress Geraldine Page and the uneasily betrothed Glenn Ford while Page is in NY for a convention. Shot on location in NY, it features some of the last footage of the old Penn Station before its upper level was demolished for the new Madison Square Garden. Angela Lansbury makes a spirited entrance in the film's final act as Ford's fiancee.

Wings. The first-ever Academy Award winner for Best Picture, this one's about best friends (from opposite sides of the tracks) and World War I flying aces who find themselves competing for the affections of the same girl (Clara Bow). The film is especially notable for its air fight sequences, and also for being the only silent film to ever take top prize at the Oscars. Plus it's got a young Gary Cooper in a supporting role. It's one of two Best Picture winners not currently available on DVD. The other is the 1933 adaptation of Noel Coward's Cavalcade.

Wuthering Heights. The 1939 adaptation of the Emily Bronte gothic novel was previously available from Samuel Goldwyn on VHS and DVD but has been long out of print. Directed by William Wyler, the film starred Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon as the passionate but star-crossed lovers in an adaptation that drives purists insane as it cuts the second half of the book (leaving out the entire parallel second generation). However, it remains a beautifully directed, shot and acted piece of film. And the only Best Picture nominee of that banner year of 1939 not on DVD at the present.

The Magnificent Ambersons. Orson Welles' followup to Citizen Kane was to be even more ambitious: an epic adaptation of Booth Tarkington's sprawling novel about the fall of a powerful Midwestern family. However, once Welles finished the film and left Hollywood, RKO took over preparations for the final cut. When it tested poorly, executives cut out 50 minutes and added an uplifting ending much to Welles' displeasure. Still, the final film is incredibly well regarded in its 88 minute running time, with great performances from Joseph Cotten, Anne Baxter and an Oscar-nominated Agnes Moorehead.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This adaptation of Betty Smith's classic bildungsroman (thank you, English degree!) about a young girl and her family growing up in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century is absolutely beautiful, with an Oscar-winning turn by James Dunn as the ne'er-do-well father. Dorothy Maguire is the long-suffering mother, Joan Blondell the lusty lovable Aunt Cissy and Peggy Ann Garner's sensitive portrayal of Francie (along with appearances in Nob Hill and Junior Miss) garnered her the special Juvenile Oscar for outstanding child actress of 1945.

Hopefully these films, and others will eventually find their way onto DVD. Until then, we have to rely on TCM and other stations for showings. Warner Home Video recently started the Warner Archive, a DVD on demand catalogue with obscure classics never before released burned onto a DVD-R for $19.95. The archive releases contain a digital transfer of the current film elements (no restoring or remastering) and have no special features. (That's how I got my copy of Sunrise at Campobello with Ralph Bellamy recreating his Tony-winning performance as FDR). Also, Turner Classic Movies keeps a list of the viewer poll's top 200 classics not currently available.

Are there any personal favorites you would like to see released...?

Quote of the Day: Patti's Encore

"When she returned for her encore, LuPone winked at the event and her reputation as the Terminator of poorly-behaved audience members. While she sang "The Way You Look Tonight," she was snapping photos -- with a flash! -- using a disposable camera. The crowd waved and cheered and posed."

Joe Brown, in the Las Vegas Sun on Patti LuPone's performance of her solo show The Gypsy in My Soul, where an audience member got LuPwned for texting

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Kennedy Center Tribute to Chita

For some inane reason or other I missed the Kennedy Center Honors in 2002, even though I knew Chita Rivera was on the dais. However, a good friend taped it for me just in case, so I had a save. (For you younger folk out there, this was before the youtube). About six weeks later, I was back from college in order to have my four wisdom teeth out.

After the surgery, I came home and waited for the painkillers to kick in (I was Violet Weston that weekend, kids...), I popped in this video to ease my discomfort as the novocaine wore off. That was a memorable morning kids, for various reasons (hear my brother tell the story of how I fell out of a chair).

In spite of the pain I was feeling, I picked myself off the couch and rewound the tape again and again. I still get chills seeing it.

Charlotte d'Amboise, Donna Murphy, Valerie Pettiford and countless dancers pay tribute to the Queen of the Gypsies.

Now this, Tony folks, is how you do a Broadway medley:

Guys and Dolls on the Tonys: 1992 vs. 2009

It's been a week since the revival of Guys and Dolls closed at the Nederlander Theatre. The week prior, the cast performed the eleven o'clock number "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" on the Tony telecast, which is incidentally the same number performed by the company of the 1992 revival on their respective telecast. The hit 90s revival is still relatively fresh in the minds and hearts of many theatregoers, so perhaps it was a poor choice to use the same number for the Tony Awards. The difference in style, tone, energy, choreography is considerable. For instance, as General Cartwright, Ruth Williamson accomplishes more with a high C than Mary Testa with her entire spanking section.



Saturday, June 20, 2009

"I'm Still Here"

Which one is the best? You decide...

Yvonne De Carlo:

Carol Burnett:

Dolores Gray:

Eartha Kitt:

Karen Morrow:

Ann Miller:

Polly Bergen:

Friday, June 19, 2009

Quote of the Day: Elizabeth Ashley

Elizabeth Ashley comments on playing opposite both Estelle Parsons and Phylicia Rashad in August: Osage County in an interview with Theatremania:

"They are both great actresses, no doubt about it. Estelle was dangerous and brutal; she was like an assassin laying in wait and you always saw her intelligence. Phylicia is different; with her Violet, you see the vulnerability, the loving mother, and the fall from grace when she is clutched by her demons. You see the entire spectrum of the woman. I've always believed that with brilliant writing there is no right way to play any part -- although there are wrong ways -- and actors with creative imagination, which is the greatest gift we have, can find their own way to serve the text."

On playing Violet Weston:

I might give it a shot someday, but having worked with Estelle and Phylicia, even I might be cowed by the assignment.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

One Performance Wonders on Record

A news item twittered via our good friend Steve alerted me to the fact that the failed musical Glory Days will be recording an original cast album. The show, an export of the Signature Theatre in Virginia, opened and closed on the same night in May 2008. Out of town reviews were encouraging (if constructive) and a transfer to NY, especially without any revision was a wholly haphazard thing to do. The original cast will reunite in a recording studio next month to lay down the tracks. Incidentally, Glory Days was the first musical to fold after one performance since the 1985 Goodspeed revival of Take Me Along at the Martin Beck.

It got me thinking about what other one performance wonders (as I like to call these fast flops) have received an Original Broadway Cast Album...

This is what I found:

Here's Where I Belong - opened and closed at the Billy Rose Theatre on March 3, 1968. Ambitious musical adaptation of John Steinbeck's allegorical masterpiece East of Eden was penned by Terrence McNally (who requested his name be removed prior to opening), with music by Robert Waldman and lyrics by Alfred Uhry. There was considerable reticence on my part to include this one here as the cast album on Blue Pear LP appears to be a glorified bootleg, however, I since there is an LP with artwork that was available, here it is.

The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall - opened and closed at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on May 13, 1979. You may recall that I brought this one up to Marilyn Caskey at Angus McIndoe's after the closing performance of Gypsy this past January. Written by Clark Gesner of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown fame, the show had a well received engagement in San Francisco in 1976 starring Jill Tanner as a British headmistress driven to insanity by the pranks of her students. Three years later, the show was revamped for its new star Celeste Holm, who was dreadfully miscast and out of her element (which can be evidenced on the record). The show stayed a week at the Hellinger, though it managed to get out an album and is licensed by Samuel French (I have the libretto!)

Onward Victoria - opened and closed at the Martin Beck Theatre on December 14, 1980. Larger than life historical figures have often made for interesting musicals. 1776, Gypsy, Fiorello!, among others come immediately to mind. However, this musical about Victoria Woodhull, a millionaire stockbroker turned suffragette presidential nominee didn't quite live up to the standard. Starring Jill Eikenberry as Victoria, the show had music by Keith Hermann and book & lyrics by Charlotte Anker and Irene Rosenberg. Woodhull had long been considered for musical theatre, with proposed shows starring Lisa Kirk, Carol Channing and an out of town failure Winner Take All starring the sublime Patricia Morison.

Cleavage -
opened and closed at the Playhouse Theatre on June 23, 1982. The show was a bawdy camp piece written for the Sheffield Theatre Ensemble that had a brief tour in the South before transferring to NY for its brief tenure. The score was by comedy writer Buddy Sheffield and the book was co-written by Sheffield and David Sheffield. It appears to have played successfully in New Orleans and it transferred to NY cast intact for literally a week. It featured such memorable moments as Jay Rogers in drag singing "Boys Will Be Girls"... it was that sort of show.

Dance a Little Closer -
opened and closed at the Minskoff on May 11, 1983 and was jokingly referred to as Close a Little Faster by its detractors. The musical was an adaptation of Robert Sherwood's Idiot's Delight starring Len Cariou, George Rose, Liz Robertson and Brent Barrett with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Jule Styne. The creators updated the antiwar play by putting the characters at the brink of nuclear annihilation. The show's cast album was recorded two weeks after the closing but was left unreleased until 1987.

Two other shows would receive later recordings. Kelly (February 6, 1965), quite possibly the most notorious of all the one-night stands, received ample coverage in Lewis Lapham's legendary Saturday Evening Post article (and reprinted in Steven Suskin's Second Act Trouble) got a studio cast album in 1998 restoring the composer and lyricist's deluded intentions for the utterly misguided, misdirected and misproduced effort. Heathen! (May 21, 1972) resurfaced in New Zealand in 1981 under a new title Aloha! and that cast took the show into the recording studio.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And Then You're Gone...And Then You're Gone...

It was announced late this afternoon that the smash hit play August: Osage County will be closing on June 28 at the Music Box Theatre after 18 previews and 648 performances. The play won five Tonys including Best Play and the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Drama and is one of my most treasured theatrical experiences of all time.

The closing announcement comes as a bit of a surprise, especially since new star Phylicia Rashad has received so many raves for her performance as Violet. The play, which imported from Steppenwolf in fall 2007, was originally to be a sixteen week limited engagement at the Imperial Theatre, but proved to be such a huge success that it transferred next door to the Music Box for an open ended run in April '08. For a three act play without any stars and a running time of three hours and twenty minutes, this run is quite a feat.

I've had a special affinity for the writing of Tracy Letts, the direction of Anna D. Shapiro and the acting of the ensemble, from Deanna Dunagan and Rondi Reed to Elizabeth Ashley and Rashad, all the while in utter awe of Amy Morton. It has been a show and a production that will stay with me always, with so many moments of sheer tragedy and sheer comedy forever etched on my mind.

Those of you who never got to NY for the play, never fear: Broadway replacement Estelle Parsons will be headlining the national tour starting this August. Plus, Hollywood is working on a film adaptation (though I still think the original production should have been filmed for PBS). For fans of Steppenwolf and Letts, there are reasons to celebrate as they are bringing his latest play Superior Donuts to NY this fall.

I have been blessed to have been there for August on its opening night at the Imperial on December 4, 2007, so it feel right that I'll be there at the final performance. So as John Cullum and Kimberley Guerrero take their seats in Beverly's den on June 28, I will experience the show for the seventh and last time in this incarnation, a beautiful and cathartic bookend.

A play like this comes along so rarely. Plus, there are some great discounts if you want to rush to see it before it goes! I hope to see you there...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Age Appropriateness & The Theatre

There has been some interesting conversations among my fellow bloggers about the appropriateness of shows when bringing kids to the theatre. Shows generally offer suggestions pertaining to the age appropriateness of plays and musicals, which I think is a good thing. While certain shows bring up immediate red flags, like Spring Awakening and Hair, it's good to have a disclaimers available for other shows such as August: Osage County or Billy Elliot.

I have been in some houses where I wonder what the parents were thinking bringing their children out, either because of the subject matter or because of the behavior of said children. I did a double take when I saw a 12 year old taking his seat when I saw Hair. But I've also been at shows where the kids aren't the problem, it's the parents, or just the adults in general. But when it comes down to it, I think it's entirely the parents' call. It reminds me of a story...

Picture it: Westchester, NY 1993. I was ten, a friend and I went to the local library to borrow Gone with the Wind. However, the librarian refused telling us we were too young and that the 1939 classic had far too many "adult themes" for us. As a result, I took the greatest offense when someone told me I wasn't old enough to see or read or hear something. The next movie we borrowed was Doctor Zhivago, another classic with a PG-13 rating for a little adulterous suggestiveness. The same librarian ironically enough saw no problem lending us that one...

When it comes down to it, if your kid's gonna be restless or if you feel in your discretion that the content is not right, then don't bring your child to that show. On the other hand, if you have an old soul for a child (such as Yours Truly), don't underestimate their ability to understand, engage and think a little more maturely than the rest. I for one would have been riveted by Mary Stuart when I was ten. But then again, my best friend at the time would not have been. C'est la vie. Parents, trust your judgment and remember that if you're going to the spend the money for a theatre experience, you're not alone in your living room and be mindful of the hundreds if not thousands of people with whom you'll be sharing the experience.

All the talk has reminded me of Roger Ebert's final note in his review of Billy Elliot back in 2000, in which he directly addresses the R-rating of the film and its language:

"Note: Once again, we are confronted by a movie that might be ideal for teenagers near Billy Elliot's age, but has been slapped with the R rating. While kids will gladly sneak into R-rated movies they hope will be violent or scary, the R barrier only discourages them from films that could be helpful or educational. In the case of Billy Elliot the movie contains only mild violence and essentially no sex, and the R is explained entirely by the language, particularly the "F-word." The filmmakers believe that is a word much used by British coal miners, and I am sure they are correct.

There are two solutions to the linkage of the F-word and the R rating: 1). The MPAA should concede the melancholy fact that every teenager has heard this and most other nasty words thousands of times, or 2). Filmmakers should sacrifice the F-word in order to make their films more available to those under 17."

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Hello, Ball!"

One of the funniest moments in early television, here is the famed golf bit from The Honeymooners with Tony winner Jackie Gleason and Tony nominee Art Carney.

Quote of the Day

My only comment about the Bret Michaels debacle is that right after he was hit in the noggin by the set piece, a Tony nominated actor was standing backstage waiting to go on and one of the head crew guys said to him, "That's what happens when you don't come to rehearsal."

- Seth Rudetsky, in this week's Onstage & Backstage

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Kenward Elmslie Remembers "The Grass Harp"

The show lasted seven performances in New York in 1971, but The Grass Harp has developed a cult following among musical theatre aficionados thanks to its sublime cast album. The musical, based on Truman Capote's novel, had music by Claibe Richardson and book and lyrics by Kenward Elmslie. It marked Barbara Cook's final appearance (to date) in a book musical on Broadway. The show also featured Karen Morrow, one of Broadway's greatest belters, whose dynamite 15 minute "The Babylove Miracle Show" stopped the show. Carol Brice, Russ Thacker (Walter Bobbie his standby), Max Showalter and Ruth Ford rounded out the principals.

Critics weren't very kind and the advance wasn't enough so the show shuttered quickly. Several years later the cast album came out which (as is the case with many flop musicals) has kept the piece alive. It was also the final Broadway musical to have an entirely acoustic sound. But with such powerhouses like Barbara Cook, Karen Morrow (who Jerry Herman has said can sing the hell out of anything) and opera singer Carol Brice, who needs a mike?

Do yourself a favor and get your hands on this lovely score. Barbara Cook's "Chain of Love" is achingly beautiful and worth the price of the album alone.

From US OperaWeb's 2002 piece "Kenward Elmslie's World," Elmslie looks back on some memories of the show:

I Remember first meeting Truman Capote in Boston. A play of his based on his novella, The Grass Harp, was trying out pre-Broadway. I was with my significant other/mentor John Latouche, whose lyrics I idolized. Truman’s high-pitched, nasal voice and weirdo effeminacy terrified me. He complained vociferously about Cecil Beaton’s tree, which upstaged the performers and sabotaged his play.

I Remember working with Claibe Richardson, composer, on a musical adapted from The Madwoman of Chaillot; Richard Barr, producer; star, Lotte Lenya. Only it turned out we didn’t have the ‘rights.’ Several years work down the drain.

I Remember suggesting The Grass Harp, Truman’s novella (not his play) as a project to get us going again. I remember tackling some songs to see if it was right for us. It was. So we played them for Truman. He loved what we had done, counseled us to make it our own and gave us the rights, no hitch.

I Remember its first production, Trinity Square, Providence. My survival mantra I owe to the poet Frank O’Hara: Go on nerve and don’t look back. Ah. Opening night’s a marathon disaster, three-and-a-half hours long. The critics panned the daylights out of our fledgling. Elaine Stritch, a crowd-pleaser as Babylove, was consistently crocked and nightly gave Claibe near-heart failure – erratic tempi and pitch.

I Remember Kermit Bloomgarten, the prestigious Broadway producer, optioned our musical for Broadway. But to raise the huge sum of $250,000 (in 1971 – peanuts compared to now) he needed a star. I remember Claibe on piano. We shared the vocals, got to audition for Gwen Verdon and Julie Harris. An incredible pleasure after backers’ auditions -- solemn guys in business suits, a no response situation. If they reacted positively the property might prove pricey. I remember going to Brazil with Claibe to nab a star. We tracked down Mary Martin at her isolated finca. She turned us down charmingly. Show-biz shrewd, she knew she needed to play both Dollyheart and Babylove to fulfill her fans’ expectations.

I Remember Ann Arbor where The Grass Harp tried out, pre-Broadway, in a theater so brand-new, flies secreted in cinder blocks, kamakazi-style, dive-bombed open singers’ mouths, which made singing extremely hazardous. The Detroit critics panned the living daylights out of our perennial fledgling. Richard Barr gallantly refused to close the show out of town.

I Remember the first matinee at the Martin Beck Theater, post-New York Times mixed notice. Small audience. Inhibited, cowed response. A dire contrast to the week of previews when audience response kept building. I remember Truman’s fixed advice: ‘Mike it.’ The Grass Harp was surely the last unamplified musical to hit Broadway. I remember the final performance, the seventh. The audience went wild. Laughs, showstopper after showstopper, endless bravos and curtain calls.

I Remember a recording studio in Cologne, Germany. Claibe and I were early. Our mission: bring back orchestral tracks for an original cast album. Only the harpist was there, hailed from Alabama. She had once played for Barbara Cook in a Broadway pit. I remember hours went by and the assembled orchestra – willowy violinists from the Cologne Philharmonic, protean Afro-American jazz guys – this group wasn’t together – when Karen Morrow, who’d played Babylove in the Broadway show and wanted to spend Thanksgiving in Europe with Claibe and me, stepped to the mike and did Babylove proud. Galvanized, the orchestra kicked in and we finished three days of sessions in the nick of...

I Remember bringing back our Grass Harp tapes. U.S. Customs: ‘Anything of value to declare?’ ‘Heck no. Just some dumb old reel-to-reels.’

I Remember we assembled the cast in a dinky New York City studio. The engineers weren’t used to ‘real’ voices – Carol Brice, Barbara Cook. They took away their booster gizmos. I remember when the album came out, listeners, including some critics, couldn’t figure out why on earth the show had flopped on Broadway.

I Remember attending a revival at a college in Manhattan. To my dismay sitting next to me was John Simon, acerb New York drama critic. The enemy! He nudged me mid-song, ‘If There’s Love Enough.’ ‘Great song,’ he whispered.

I Remember the director of a book-in-hand production at the York Theater, New York City, asking me if I had any old, unrevised scripts tucked away. He found the published acting version lacking. I dug through a morass of scripts and to my horror I realized that I had cut, cut, cut the dialogue mercilessly. The book is always the culprit when musicals fail. Everybody liked our songs. Go with the songs. I put back whole pages of dialogue, wantonly savaged. A show reborn. A fresh start.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Quote of the Day

"It's the role of a lifetime. It's the best written role for a woman over 40 with the possible exception of Mama Rose. Desiree in A Little Night Music is up there too, but Desiree doesn't carry around the same kind of baggage with all that passive-aggressive Southern charm and complexity. I would say that all three women have spent the majority of their adult lives running away, and come face to face with their destiny, their reason to stop running. All three are terribly vibrant, funny, and flawed beyond belief. That is my favorite thing about them. Their imperfection."

- Victoria Clark, in an interview with BroadwayWorld, discussing Margaret Johnson of The Light in the Piazza fame

Friday, June 12, 2009

She's Mean, She's a Mess and Now She's Phylicia

"Some people get antagonized by the truth."

That is one of the many truth-bombs dropped at a fateful, disastrous dinner at the Weston house by matriarch Violet. You see, Violet is angry. She has cancer of the mouth, a volatile marriage, residual issues that stem from her problems with her mother, and a penchant for painkillers - any and all. Well the truth is, the play is still one of the most galvanizing theatrical experiences on Broadway, whose volatility remains unmatched by anything that has opened since.

August: Osage County, last year's enormous Pulitzer and Tony-winning success is still playing at the Music Box Theatre and a new mama has joined the company. To put it mildly, she will cut you. Tony-winner Phylicia Rashad seemed an unlikely choice to fill shoes occupied by Tony-winner Deanna Dunagan and her stellar replacement Estelle Parsons. There were people who felt that there were too many racial undertones in the character for an actress of color to play the part. However, to those naysayers, I offer a polite "phooey." (Spoiler alert pending in the next paragraph).

From the moment Rashad stumbles down the stairs in a drug-addled stupor and viciously turns on John Cullum, any and all preconceived ideas about her casting are erased from memory. (*Spoiler alert* For the first time, I thought "So this is why he killed himself" *End Spoiler*). This play does offer the character the opportunity to voice some politically incorrect comments about "Indians," but color is innocuous here. Phylicia Rashad is once again playing an earth mother, but an earth mother who has experienced torment and disappointment in her life and is unafraid to express it or take out her rage on her family. Fact of the matter: the actress is nothing short of revelatory.

Rashad marks the fourth Violet I've seen. I took in Dunagan twice, her opening night and final performance; Parsons I saw twice and on one occasion earlier this year saw the capable understudy Susanne Marley, whose performance is molded on Dunagan's. Each actress has brought something different to the part. Dunagan was selfish, clingy and ultimately childish under a bitingly caustic veneer. Parsons was stronger with a passive aggressive approach to her attacks, with a final breakdown of considerable pathos.

Now revitalizing the production at the Music Box (the understudy performance was strong, but not the special event the show is intended to be), is Rashad, also the first actor in the production to receive above the title billing. The last time I saw her onstage was in the 2008 revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. While enjoyable, her performance was more caricature than character and in that I found my worries regarding August.

Let it be said, there is nothing to fear here. Rashad's Violet is angry, but she is also no nonsense, with eyes of frigid sobriety defying her lucid state of mind. Rashad brings great emotional wealth to the character in the first act, where I heard and understood lines for the first time. There are times when you might even feel sorry for her. Then you get to the climactic second act, where she proceeds to eviscerate everyone in sight. It is here that Violet's rage comes to a boiling point. She may be loaded on her painkillers, but her character knows exactly what she's doing. She is simultaneously taking out her aggression on those people readily available while masochistically setting herself up for a violent confrontation.

I was seated on the left center aisle for this entire scene and had a beautifully uncompromising view of Rashad's face for the duration of the twenty minute scene. The actress spoke volumes with her steely eyes, and in her anger she was unpredictable and at times downright frightening. A sideways glance from her Violet is enough to wither anyone into cowering silence, with one notable exception. (More on her later). Hers is a performance to be reckoned with, and has brought a new invigorating dynamic to the cast, keeping the entire ensemble on their toes. You couldn't ask for better theatre.

Elizabeth Ashley has put away her walker from Dividing the Estate and donned a gaudy wig to play Violet's sister, Mattie Fae. Larger than life, Ashley's Mattie Fae is closer in form to originator Rondi Reed's characterization and is a vast improvement on previous replacement Molly Regan. She brings gauche earthiness and Southern sensibility to the part and as a result, Mattie is once again a colorful, crowd pleasing favorite. Though her performance is brushed with broader strokes than her predecessors, she still garners the audience's sympathy in her grounded last scene.

John Cullum offers the best portrayal of Beverly Weston since the late Dennis Letts, with a folk-like whimsy undercut by resigned melancholy. Anne Berkowitz is Jean and is the most true to life teen I've seen in the role. Brian Kerwin is the only original cast member to stay with the production all the way through, playing Steve with the same combination of cockiness and sleaze.

Lots of original cast members have returned. Kimberley Guerrero is still playing Johnna, the Native American hired by Beverly to look after Violet and is a quiet source of comfort and solace for the family. Mariann Mayberry and Sally Murphy also returned as Violet's two other daughters. Mayberry is still hilarious and devastating as the insecure youngest Karen, though she's given up her bit with the olives. When she defiantly tells Barbara she's going to Belize, it is nothing short of heartbreaking.

Murphy; however, needs to be reigned in. Her performance as Ivy has gone so wildly over the top that she switches between two levels: calm deadpan and incoherent high-pitched screeching. Whenever her emotions are vaulted, her voice jumps an octave and lines are lost. It's glaringly inappropriate especially when juxtaposed with the more nuanced work of her scene partners.

Also returning to the cast is Amy Morton, whose titanic performance as eldest daughter Barbara, clearly her mother's daughter is once again the emotional anchor of the piece. Finding herself in a failing marriage, handling her rebellious teen daughter while unsuccessfully trying to hold her family together, Morton is still giving the production's most profound characterization. From her entrance to her exit, Morton is a fully-dimensional force of nature, ready to attack both her unfaithful husband and mother, but also herself. When Morton goes head to head with Rashad, it is as close to onstage fireworks as one is likely to find. (The only other onstage confrontation that comes close are the leading ladies of Mary Stuart). Her second act curtain line is still a shocking, earth shattering war cry that must be experienced live to be fully appreciated.

Morton's is the sort of performance that comes along so rarely. So palpably honest, the line between acting and reality become forever blurred. Actors of the Golden Age rave about their memories of Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie; I offer Amy Morton in August: Osage County.

Rashad is contracted through August 23. Unfortunately, it looks as if she can't extend due to her commitment to the London engagement of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof this fall. First timers will be floored by the experience as the staging is still taut and high octane; repeat viewers (this was my sixth time seeing the play, remember) will be more than pleased at the shape the play is in. The cast still functions as an organic ensemble, with the relationships between the veterans and newcomer Rashad so functionally dysfunctional, you'd think she originated the part.

The play is still one of the most hilarious and one of the most gutwrenching dramatic experiences onstage in NY. Chances are I will most likely return a seventh time. Rashad and Morton are worth it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

She's Fierce!

I've noticed that a lot of people have come to the website by searching for Alice Ripley's eccentric acceptance speech from the Tonys (with such engine entries as "Alice Ripley Crazy" and "Alice Ripley Crazy Town Speech"). So here it is!

Lithe and Blithe

While Sunday night was a night to celebrate the Tonys, Tuesday night was business as usual as shows came back from their day off of basking in awards afterglow. Reasons to be Pretty and Guys and Dolls were the first casualties of the season; winning no awards and struggling at the box office, the producers of both shows are calling it quits this coming Sunday. (If you haven't, it's your last chance for the superb Reasons).

Continuing our annual tradition, Sarah, Roxie, Noah and I took in our post-Tony show, this time switching our allegiance from lead actress and featured actress in a musical (good call, both Ripley and Olivo were out sick!) to featured actress in a play for the resplendent Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit. I was there on its opening night back on March 15 and as I reported then, it is a first-rate revival of Coward's classic comedy. The good news? The production is even sharper and better than ever.

Jayne Atkinson, in a leading performance that was so woefully and inexplicably overlooked by the Tony committee, continues to bring incredible nuance and humor to sensible Ruth, the put-upon second wife. Rupert Everett is a bit more spontaneous in his line readings than I recall; Ebersole is Ebersole as Elvira, with an accent of undetermined origin and consistency. Meanwhile, in the smallest of roles, Susan Louise O'Connor continues to provide score comic highs as the dithering maid Edith while Simon Jones and Deborah Rush continue to make characters out of caricatures as the Bradmans.

Now onto the bad news: this revival is a strictly limited engagement that ends on July 19. If you haven't seen the production, first and foremost I must ask you "Why not?" You are missing out on one of the definitive stage legends of our time delivering a most memorable (and did I mention Tony-winning) turn as the eccentric Madame Arcati. Lansbury astounds in a warm, kinetic performance continuing to grow in the part as the run progresses. Her spontaneity and interpretative dances continue to charm the audience into gales of uncontrollable laughter. Both the performance and the Tony win are latest triumphs of a career that is 65 years and counting.

Though the revival itself was overlooked in that particular category by the Tony people, the production remains the champagne toast to the Broadway season, with wit, guile and a considerable sense of style. To miss this once in a lifetime opportunity is, in my mind, unthinkable.

Both pre-show and post-show were spent at our beloved Angus McIndoe's, where I pleaded for french fries with such intensity that I'm still not sure if I amused or alarmed our waitress. Oh - and I almost forgot to mention that I met the gorgeous and lovely Megan Hilty in Shubert Alley, on her way home from 9 to 5. She couldn't be anymore gracious and down to earth, introducing herself to each of us and engaging in a brief chat. I look forward to seeing the young star in 9 to 5.

After the show we waited around for Ms. Lansbury to emerge from the Shubert Theatre. After quite some time, the icon came out on the arm of her producer, Jeffrey Richards, looking the epitome of elegance and class. Instead of asking for autographs or taking pictures, the few of us standing there on the sidewalk merely broke out into applause. We were rewarded with a warm wave of affection as the star blew us a kiss before heading off into the evening.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"One of the Boys"

Bluegobo has returned! They may not have the Ed Sullivan clips, but there is still a lot to enjoy at the website. To celebrate here's a clip:

Before Allison Janney started singing a song of the same name in the current 9 to 5, Lauren Bacall delivered "One of the Boys" in Woman of the Year, winning a second Tony in this then-contemporary updating of the Tracy-Hepburn classic. Not the strongest of book shows, it sports a fun musical comedy score from Kander and Ebb, which has been out of print on CD for years (Arkiv Music, get on it!). Perhaps it's time for Encores! to give us another NY production, starring the aforementioned Janney or maybe one of our regular musical leading ladies like Donna Murphy.

Here is Bacall and the boys delivering the crowd pleaser on the Tony telecast in 1981.

Tony Awards Tribute to Broadway Show Music (1986)

In what is quite possibly the most ambitious medley ever attempted at the Tonys, this is the 1986 tribute to Forty Years of Broadway Show Music. These musical segments were interspersed through the awards and presentations by current plays and musicals, bringing some of musical theatre's finest out to sing the hell out of a lot of showtunes. (There is Lily Tomlin's Best Actress in a Play speech tossed in here for fun).

The cast: Dorothy Loudon, David Wayne, Helen Hayes, Bea Arthur, Susan Anton, Ann Reinking, Sandy Duncan, Hal Linden, Cleo Laine, Rex Smith, Tom Wopat, Bernadette Peters, Juliet Prowse, Jose Ferrer, Stefanie Powers, Nell Carter, Lee Remick, Leslie Uggams, Jack Lemmon, Chita Rivera, Debbie Allen, Karen Morrow, Ben Vereen, Alfonso Ribeiro, John Rubinstein, Lee Roy Reams. (I think that's everyone).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It's the New Gypsy!

A mere five years following the unsuccessful revival of La Cage Aux Folles, it's been announced by Norman Conquests producer Sonia Friedman that the current hit West End revival will transfer to Broadway in March 2010. The current production originated at the Menier Chocolate Factory and is currently in the midst of a hit West End engagement with Roger Allam and Philip Quast. TV and stage star John Barrowman is to step into the role of Albin this fall.

The recent revival played the Marriott Marquis for seven months, winning the Best Musical Revival Tony as producers simultaneously posted the closing notice. The production is probably best remembered for its highly publicized firing of star Daniel Davis as Georges halfway through the run. Robert Goulet, in his final Broadway appearance, was brought into the production, but his presence did very little to improve the show's box office intake. Gary Beach was Albin, but seemed to be recreating his Roger De Bris rather than exploring that fascinating duality of the insecure, sensitive Albin with his assertive drag alter-ego Zaza.

Why is it coming back? Apparently this revival has a unique approach to the material that is unlike any other La Cage we've seen before. Friedman feels that there is enough appeal in this production to warrant a Broadway run. She is currently seeking a large playhouse or small musical house for the production and hopes to work out an arrangement with Actor's Equity for Douglas Hodge, the original Olivier-winning Albin of the production to transfer. No other casting or details are available, but Friedman did meet with the show's composer Jerry Herman the day of the Tonys to discuss details.

I'll gladly see the show if it transfers, as it's always been a crowdpleaser. However, this second revival in half a decade begs me to ask the Nederlander organization, where are the promised revivals of Hello, Dolly! and Mame that were to follow the last La Cage?

In the meanwhile: here's the Tony-winning original George Hearn delivering "A Little More Mascara." (The video quality is poor, his performance is outstanding).

Random Tony Thoughts: Appendix

Because Monday morning quarterbacking is never enough...

- Matthew Warchus deservedly won for Best Direction of a Play for his work on God of Carnage. While that was an immense achievement, his work on The Norman Conquests was more ambitious and much more deserving of the prize. That being said, I will see anything this man directs.

- Bret Michaels had an accident with a piece of scenery. People magazine reports that he took it with good humor, He's quoted as saying, "All I remember is Shrek and the donkey helping me up, and Liza [Minnelli] giving me a towel." The funniest line I heard was on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien saying, "Michaels was there to accept the coveted 'Why are you here?' award." Though I'm usually not thrilled about seeing performers who aren't Broadway related onstage, at least Poison was performing with the cast of Rock of Ages, in a spot that was very much in-line with the show's feel and sensibility. Michaels is okay; he required three stitches on his lip and requested a cat scan because of the pain he felt in his head and neck. However, his representative denies that the rocker missed his mark...Hmm...

- For the first time in my memory, the telecast actually exceeded the 11:00 hour. In recent years we've seen the Tony Award folk keep things stringent but there was more of a relaxed pace to the proceedings this time around. Hopefully they will never cut off a legendary performer again like they did with Elaine Stritch in 2002. But if the Oscars can go on for another hour or so, no biggie to let the Tonys get an extra five minutes. And those were arguably the best five minutes of the entire four hours.

- Anne Hathaway, you win this year's coveted Patti LuPone Award for Most Awkward Clapping Along During a Musical Number.

- Stockard Channing seemed a bit, how shall I put this...? Loopy. Her "Bewitched" is better sung as the intimate soft afterglow romp that it was in context, not when she tries in vain to power belt it. Not to mention pairing her with the very young Aaron Tveit was just plain weird. She came off as a cradle-robber rather than a cougar. They should have found a way to work Martha Plimpton's "Zip" into the telecast. Or just worked Martha Plimpton into the telecast period.

- The ratings were up 19% to last year. Now, hire a good director, take the show OUT of Radio City Music Hall and back into a Broadway house (where it belongs folks, Radio City ain't Broadway and I can never be convinced otherwise) and kill the sound man. Then we can build on it from there.

I think that about covers everything I wanted to say about Sunday's telecast. For a brilliant BRILLIANT take on the Tony awards, check out Broadway Abridged, where Gil and his friends have certainly come up with a dynamite winner for funniest recap.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Random Thoughts on The Tony Awards

The best of times is now, or rather was last night as I live-twittered the Tony telecast from SarahB's swanky suite in the Regency Hotel. Here are a few recollections from last evening...

- The preshow telecast should be aired on PBS or a local affiliate rather than as a webcast. It's unfair for those who work so hard in their field of the industry to be relegated to a highlights reel during the nationwide telecast.

- Whoever was hired to work on the sound design for the telecast should be banned from the industry. Or perhaps go back to college to train in the field. So many faux pas: bizarre levels during the opening number, Titus Burgess' mike going out (kudos to the well dressed stagehand who bolted out onstage with a handheld) and so many sloppy cues.

- Best presentation of an award goes to Frank Langella with a brilliant commentary on the snubbing of fall shows at this year's awards. He almost immediately went off teleprompter (you could tell) as he performed his bit about being snubbed with sly wit (I especially loved the "Oh wait, this is my Oscar acceptance speech...")

- The director should also reconsider his or her chosen profession. What a poorly executed show, with sloppy cues, sickening camera movements (especially during the "In Memoriam" tribute) and overall just bad programming for television. I'm sure it was great for the house at Radio City, but something was ultimately lost in translation for us little folk in television land.

- Neil Patrick Harris was a fantastic host...when they let him be onstage. Feels like he disappeared for well over an hour. He offered the best performance of the night with his eleven o'clock wrap up of the entire evening. Kudos to Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who kept on their toes finalizing the song during the telecast!

- Speaking of performances, the opening number was a mixed bag. I liked how they arranged "Luck Be a Lady" and "Tonight" to be sung together in counterpoint, but the Aaron Tveit/Stockard Channing duet was just plain weird. The final moment with the cast of Hair leading all the presenters and performers with "Let the Sunshine In" was tremendous fun, pulling people out of their seats and onstage. It may not have landed as well in your living room, but from the full house standing ovation at Radio City, it was certainly a showstopper.

- The selected shows should have done a better job of representing themselves during the telecast. Christopher Sieber led the Shrek number which was quite cute and the Hair cast rocked the joint with their title song. However, the "Angry Dance" wasn't an impressive showcase for Billy Elliot (not that it really matters, they don't have to worry about being a box office draw), Next to Normal's "You Don't Know" didn't really showcase much except Alice Ripley's bringing the crazy ("Whew! That was way too much acting for me." - Roxie).

- Guys and Dolls is generally considered so well written that it's foolproof. However, that was hands down the most lifeless rendition of "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" I've ever seen. Titus is a fantastic singer, Mary Testa always a scene stealer, but the lifeless choreography and projections made it a miss. Nothing could save this one. It didn't help that Titus' mike went out before the start of the song.

- Neil Patrick Harris was fun, affable, quirky and offbeat. He was an entertaining host but was decidedly underused. We could have used more of him throughout the evening (anyone else notice that he disappeared for an hour or so?) His final song was one of the best moments of the show, bringing it to a fantastic close.

- Angela Lansbury tied Julie Harris' record for 5 performance Tony wins. Angie's last Tony was thirty years ago for Sweeney Todd and I cannot tell you what a personal thrill it is to have been there to see this legend give a Tony winning performance; something I never thought I'd see in my lifetime. Her acceptance was poised, elegant and the epitome of class. Looking forward to cheering her first post-Tony performance on Tuesday evening. Her win was easily the most moving moment of the entire evening.

- Congratulations to Roger Robinson on his win for Joe Turner. It's a great performance, but my heart belongs to Stephen Mangan's Norman.

- After seeing Alice Ripley's acceptance speech, I think it's safe to say that this role is not that big a stretch for her. Jeff Bowen was right, she is fierce!

- The runner-up for classiest speech goes to Geoffrey Rush, who seems incredibly awed by his first experience on Broadway. Exit the King ends its limited engagement on Sunday so if you haven't seen this titanic performance, run! I also hope Mr. Rush will come back to the NY theatre sooner rather than later!

- There was no time to present 12 distinguished awards during the telecast, but we were subjected to unnecessary performances from the national companies of Legally Blonde, Mamma Mia and Jersey Boys? Is it just me or was Legally Blonde not eligible to perform in 2007 because it wasn't nominated for Best Musical? The Mamma Mia selection was embarrassing from its mere presence to the sloppiness of the performers. And finally, Jersey Boys has performed three of the last four years. I call a permanent moratorium on anything from that musical, but especially "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." If I wanted to hear that song, I'd put on a Four Seasons album, thank you very much.

- It was lovely to see a tie in the first category of the evening. Very unexpected and a rare occurence. However, Michael Starobin should not be allowed to speak again. Ever. Add to that Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt's acceptance speech for Best Score where they alternated their interminable thanks. Guys, we get it and love that you provided the only upset of the evening. Now get off the friggin' stage!

- Jerry Herman is a musical theatre icon. It was nice having Angie present to him, given their two shows together. However, the video footage used was already seen in the documentary "Words and Music." Jerry's words and music are the type of unabashedly Broadway elegance that epitomized musical comedy in the latter half of the 20th century. Surely a live tribute could have been used (again, in place of those national tours!). I mean, there was Angie herself! Plus, so many others like George Hearn, Carol Channing, among others originated parts in his shows and are still with us. Just sayin'...

- It was a nice touch having cast members introduce the four nominees for Best Play. However, (and this ties in indirectly with the time wasted on the national tours), there should have been more than a 20 second clip to represent the work onstage. Remember when they used to perform actual excerpts from the nominated plays for the audience to see? The musicals are the bigger draw, but this year in particular was the year of the play.

All in all, it was a fun evening. Gathering with blogger friends with endless champagne and fresca. Last year we zipped up the cocktail slacks and went up to Sarah's apartment. This year, especially as the event seems to grow and grow in size, we took it to the Regency where we were the epitome of class and crass (oh don't judge, you know all the best people are a combination thereof!) Razor sharp one-liners volleyed back and forth across the room through plastic flutes of champagne, pizza, cucumber sandwiches, rice krispies and Fresca (that was a first for me...). Plus, we had our own ballots (I got 20 categories right), our own Tony identities (Hello, my name is Carol Channing...) and Sarah was even lovely enough to give out swag! (I now have the revival magnet for West Side Story to go with the one for the original).

Regardless of what we felt was happening on television, we had nothing short of a blast, so much fun that I'm surprised it's not criminal. Kari has somehow designated me the sugar daddy of the group, with all bills heading in my general direction. Sarah, ever the effusive host, was dressed to rival Liza herself; all black and sparkles. Roxie, Christine, Jimmy, Russell and Sally were back again as well, plus newcomers Esther and Byrne. All in all, one couldn't ask for a better evening, nor better company with which to spend it. Though we hope next year our other regional favorites can join us too! (Thank God for twitter, where we could at least keep in touch throughout!)

Already excited for Tony Day 2010, when we nomads take our act on the road to a hotel that actually has NY1. Until then, there is a lot of theatre to be seen, a lot of opinions to be shared and many more memorable good times to be had by all of us.

Tony Awards Bliss

Angela Lansbury. Best Featured Actress in a Play.

The Tony Closing Number

In what was probably the best Tony performance last evening, Neil Patrick Harris closed the show with a little medley reprising the opening combination of West Side Story and Guys and Dolls with new lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

Tonight, tonight
The Tonys were tonight
And Elton's Billy was all the rage
What class, what drive
Now Angela won five
And she hooked up with Poison backstage

With heels as sore as poor Achilles
Three tutu-wearing Billys
Were such a winning sight

Tonight, all three
Won Tony plus they hit puberty

(to "Luck be a Lady")

And Geoffrey won a Tony tonight
Karen won a Tony tonight
Liza at the Palace
Mr. Ripley's daughter Alice
They all won a Tony tonight

Credits! That's not going to stop me!


Chris Sieber - please!
Performing on your knees?
Dude, that only works
To win Golden Globes

I hope, tonight,
When they're high as a kite
To be there when the Hair cast disrobes

This show
Could not be any gayer
If Liza was named mayor
And Elton John took flight

The curtain falls
I'm off to hit some big Tony balls

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Broadway's Very Own Prom Night

The 2008-09 Broadway season officially ended on April 30, but tonight marks the 63rd Annual Tony Awards, the annual event that brings the season to its festive close celebrating the best of Broadway. Think of it as a curtain call encore of the score's favorites, a la Mame.

Some shameless predicting for tonight. Bold indicates what I think will win. An * indicates my personal choice. Who will win? Will there be any upsets (especially against juggernaut Billy Elliot)? There is only one way to find out. Tune in to CBS at 8!

Meanwhile, tonight is Lady Iris' Annual Moon Lady Extravaganza! Will we top the fun we had last year? We shall see. While I've watched the Tonys dutifully like any theatre fan, I never really enjoyed them until my very first Tony party.

Best Play
Dividing the Estate
*God of Carnage
Reasons to Be Pretty

33 Variations

Best Musical
*Billy Elliot, The Musical
Next to Normal
Rock of Ages

Shrek The Musical

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
Mary Stuart

*The Norman Conquests

Waiting for Godot

Best Revival of a Musical
Guys and Dolls
West Side Story
Pal Joey

Best Special Theatrical Event
*Liza’s at The Palace
Soul of Shaolin

You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush

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 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

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