An American In Paris Publicity Shots

When “An American in Paris” opens at the Palace Theater on Broadway in April, it won’t look exactly like these two photographs, which were taken in Paris, where the musical will debut.

But the two performers pictured, Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope, will be in the 26-member cast (which also includes Veanne Cox and Jill Paice and Max Von Essen), all of whom will be coming from Paris: The musical, adapted from the 1951 Gershwin movie, will debut this December at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

An American in Paris will be directed and choreographed by the extraordinary modern dance choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, making his Broadway directing debut, with a book by Craig Lucas.

Click on the photographs to see them enlarged.

 

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John Leguizamo’s Ghetto Klown FREE tonight Central Park

LeguizamoJohn Leguizamo is presenting his solo show Ghetto Klown tonight free at  Rumsey Playfield in Central Park starting at 8 p.m. (Get there early.) This is the same show he performed on Broadway in 2011.

Here is my review of the show when it was at the Lyceum:

John Leguizamo and I go way back, though he is unaware of this. Our theatrical careers began at the same time, the exact same moment in fact
I was on the staff of a publication that actually paid health benefits when the arts editor asked to borrow me to review Leguizamo’s Off-Broadway show, “Mambo Mouth,” his first solo show, my first review.
He was an unknown, a performer in his 20’s who had a few bit parts on TV and in the movies, when he appeared on the small stage of the American Place Theater (since taken over by the Roundabout), mimicking friends, family and neighbors, male and female, from his childhood in Queens, almost all of them Latino. Stripping down to his underwear, showing the audience an impossibly buff bod between bits, he donned the dress, the precise voice and the laugh-inducing attitude of a transvestite hooker, then his own nasty father, then a Yuppie Hispanic who wanted to be a Japanese businessman, then his own plaintive mother, then an illegal alien named Pepe.
It was an impressive theatrical debut, and it got unmitigated raves, from everyone but me. I had diligently gone back to watch his screen performances, mostly playing stereotyped Latino characters, and they prompted me to ask of the characters he created on stage: “Is he parodying stereotypes? Or is he himself largely guilty of perpetuating them?”
So few critics had anything at all negative to say about “Mambo Mouth” that a first profile of Leguizamo in People Magazine quoted the negative from my review, for balance.
It is astonishing to realize that two full decades have passed since his debut, John Leguizamo is 46 years old, and he is now on Broadway performing his fifth one-man stage show, entitled “Ghetto Klown.” In many ways, Leguizamo has not changed. He has the same electric energy (although now after he dances, he says in mock-exhaustion “Wow, I can’t do that anymore”). He has kept in shape – we again see him in his underwear, although this time his buff body is projected on the screen that accompanies his live stage act – a screen that is used to great and sometimes very funny effect. And he has the same immense talent for mimicry, a talent that has deepened and broadened over time.
He is also going over some of the same material – his Queens childhood, his difficult family, the hyperactive clowning that made him take over the conductor’s microphone to MC the subway ride, which led first to his arrest, and then to his career. (His school counselor suggested he take acting lessons.) The focus of “Ghetto Klown” is on that career. It turns out, some of those roles that had troubled me troubled him too. “I went to many, many, many auditions until I finally landed my first drug dealer,” he tells us, slyly.
He re-enacts encounters with famous acting teacher Lee Strasberg, Miami Vice star Don Johnson, Sean Penn, Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal , and, most memorably, Al Pacino, who gives this show its title. Exasperated by Leguizamo’s ad-libbing while playing a drug dealer opposite Pacino in the film “Carlito’s Way,” Pacino says (in Leguizamo’s priceless rendition of him) “Just be yourself, you clown.”
Interspersed with the narrative of his career struggles are his struggles with romantic relationships, self-esteem, depression. “I love spilling my guts out for you,” he tells us. “You’re like free therapy. I should be paying you tonight.”
There is no question that John Leguizamo has become a celebrity in the 20 years since “Mambo Mouth,” possibly in large part because of the showcase for his talents provided by that and his subsequent solo stage shows (“Spic-o-rama,” “Freak,” Sexaholic…A Love Story”). But Leguizamo’s disappointment in his career is one of the undercurrents of “Ghetto Klown,” which marks his return to the stage after an eight-year hiatus. (He tells us he had a nervous breakdown after “Sexaholic…’) He is one of those extraordinary artists – others include Anna Deavere Smith and Cherry Jones – that Hollywood and the TV networks don’t seem to know what to do with, and so largely waste. Their talent is too big for two dimensions; it needs to fill a stage. Welcome back, John Leguizamo. Sorry for the quote in People.

Summer Stages. Why The Bard is Boss. Broadway Closings. The Week in New York Theater.

PrincessBroadwayinBryantPark2014

Summer theater means festivals, many outdoors, and many presenting William Shakespeare.

But it also means lounging on the grass to listen to free music, including the music from Broadway musicals. Below are video excerpts from The Phantom of the Opera, Avenue Q,  Piece of My Heart (a new musical that I also review), Cinderella, and Bullets Over Broadway, which announced this week it will close. Nick Cordero, the only performer to escape Bullets indisputably better off,  reacts to the announcement.

The Week in New York Theater

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Daniel Radcliffe as Cripple Billy and Sarah Green as his tormenter Helen

Daniel Radcliffe as Cripple Billy and Sarah Green as his tormenter Helen

The Cripple of Inishmaan closes

 

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Leguizamo

As part of Summer Stage, John Leguizamo reprises his one-man show Ghetto Klown (which played on Broadway in 2011), July 28.

Pieces6TealWickandZakResnick

Piece of My Heart, The Bert Berns Story Review

Piece1Almost half a century after his death, Bronx-born songwriter and record producer Bert Berns, the subject of the new Off-Broadway musical “Piece of My Heart,” is getting the kind of buzz he never got during his lifetime:

“Bert deserves to be elevated to his rightful place in the music industry,” Paul McCartney is shown saying in a trailer to a forthcoming documentary about Berns, who co-wrote the song “Twist and Shout,” which the Beatles recorded.

“His name may be lost, but his music is everywhere,” writes Joel Selvin in his new biography, “Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues,” the first-ever book about Berns.

“The best songwriter you’ve never heard of,” Time Magazine recently declared.

All of this advance publicity sets up two expectations about “Piece of My Heart,” the musical that has now opened at Signature Theater. First, we’re promised a kind of solo “Jersey Boys” – a previously obscure and fascinating real-life tale of a regular guy revealed as a musical genius. Second, we anticipate a jukebox’s worth of golden oldies to sing and (since it’s Sixties music) to swing along to.

But, as it turns out, “Piece of My Heart” falls short of both implicit promises

Full review of Piece of My Heart

 

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Shakespeare is King of Outdoor Summer Theater

John Lithgow profile

From his first day of rehearsal for Lear, John Lithgow has been writing a blog for the New York Times.

 

Shakespeare is being done outdoors all over the US this summer (as every summer) Here’s a map of it 

But WHY is Shakespeare king of outdoor summer theater? Rhona Silverbush  offers some answers, e.g.

1. Many of his plays are set outdoors

2. Theaters don’t have to pay him royalties.

What playwright after Shakespeare is done the most often during the summer? Is there an obvious runner-up?

 

Garry Marshall (Happy Days) to direct Billy & Ray, comedy about Billy Wilder & Raymond Chandler, at the Vineyard Theatre Opens Oct 20

LittleShopofHorrors

Best Alan Menken songs on his 65th birthday

An Appeal To The Woman of the House, one of the nominees for the 2014 NYIT Awards

An Appeal To The Woman of the House, one of the nominees for the 2014 NYIT Awards

2014 NYIT Awards (Off-Off Broadway) Nominees

BulletsOverBroadway10

Bullets Over Broadway will close Aug 24, having played 156 regular and 33 preview performances.

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ConstantineMaroulisinRockofAges

Constantine Maroulis is returning to Rock Of Ages, August 4 through October 26.

 Lisa McNulty, artistic line producer of the Manhattan Theatre Club, has been named artistic director of Womens Theater Project, replacing Julie Crosby, whose June departure was abrupt and acrimonious. Five new board members have been added as well.

Ofmicenandmen3O'Dowd, Franco-Photo by Richard Phibbs

During its last week, NTLive will be taping Of Mice and Men, starring James Franco  HD-cast it in movie theaters, marking the first Broadway show that’s been broadcast by National Theater.

A phenomenal-sounding season coming up at New Victory, including Taylor Mac, Civilians, Dead Puppet Society

TheatreforANewAudiencemural

Kudos to Theatre for a New Audience for $136,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant to teach 25 school teachers about politics and persuasion in Shakespeare’s plays. That grant was one of $34 million worth of grants by the @NEHgov for 177 humanities projects throughout the U.S.

Bill T. Jones, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and John Kander are among the 11 winners of the National Medal of Arts this year.

Holler If Ya Hear Me Ensemble

Playwright/hip-hop artist Idris Goodwin responds to the closing of Holler If Ya Hear Me (and I respond to him,in the comments)

 

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"The Lightning Thief" IMG 0283

Opening tonight “The Lightning Thief,” musical FREE from Theatreworks USA about a 12-yr-old who battles monsters and dyslexia. How Rick Riordan’s ‘The Lightning Thief’ became a stage musical

NYC mayor asks cultural groups to include arts benefits and discounts for holders of id card meant to help the undocumented.

 

Broadway in Bryant Park

Piece of My Heart cast sings ‘Piece of My Heart”

Jeremy Stolle sings Music of the Night from The Phantom of the Opera

Paige Faure sings from “A Lovely Night” from Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Veronica Kuehn and Kate Monster sing A Fine, Fine Line from Avenue Q

BraffandCordero

Nick Cordero, Zach Braff and the cast sing Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do from Bullets Over BroadwayIn an interview, Cordero talks about the closing of Bullets, how he prepared for his star-making role, and what’s in his future.

Actor Wallace Shawn arrives to attend a screening of the film "Capitalism: A Love Story" in New York

Wallace Shawn: I wish people knew me as a radical playwright instead for “The Princess Bride” Q and A.

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Patrice Miller rails against the Actors Equity Showcase Code

 

Isaac Butler  This piece blames the showcase code for things that are entirely not its fault:

A huge discussion about this article and the showcase code on Facebook

 

“Tis cool beneath thy willow trees” is the last line of which play?

The Iceman Cometh.

The Amen Corner.

Death of a Salesman.

That’s one of 10 questions from The Guardian quiz: Can you identify these last lines of plays?

 

 

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Broadway closings:

Or Mice and Men – tomorrow

Violet – August 10

Rocky – August 17

Bullets Over Broadway – August 24

Newsies - August 24

Nick Cordero on The Closing of Bullets Over Broadway and His Future

NickCorderoatBryantParkWhen the producers of Bullets Over Broadway announced this week that the Woody Allen musical would close on August 24th, having played 156 regular and 33 preview performances, Nick Cordero was surprised. “I’m absolutely surprised; people are on their feet and laughing the whole time,” Cordero says in the video below, shot after he and much of the cast performed at a lunchtime concert in Bryant Park.

Critics were generally not in love with the stage adaptation of Allen’s 1994 film, but nearly all of them agreed that Nick Cordero was far more than just a stand-out in the cast. He may well have become a star. At the very least, he may well be the only person involved in Bullets who not only escapes unwounded, but actually emerges better off than he was before. This was only his second show on Broadway (he performed for a few months as a replacement cast member in Rock of Ages, and was best-known up to now as the original star of Off-Broadway’s Toxic Avenger.)

Cordero won an Outer Critics Circle and Theater World Award, and was nominated for  Drama Desk and a Tony for his role as Cheech, the unschooled mobster who knows about playwriting than any of the snooty thespians putting on a play on Broadway. His number, T’Aint Nobody’s Business If I Do, is the indisputable highlight of the show, and brings down the house. It’s no coincidence that it was the number featured both during the Tony broadcast, and at the Broadway in Bryant Park lunchtime concert.

2014 NYIT Awards (Off-Off Broadway) Nominees

 

An Appeal To The Woman of the House, one of the nominees for the 2014 NYIT Awards

An Appeal To The Woman of the House, one of the nominees for a 2014 NYIT Award

The nominees listed below for the 10th annual New York Innovative Theater Awards, honoring theaters and theater artists working Off-Off Broadway, include 130 individual artists, 58 different productions and 57 Off-Off-Broadway theater companies. The awards ceremony will be held September 22, 2014 at Baruch Performing Arts Center. 


Outstanding Ensemble

As You Like It, Happy Few Theatre Company
Ellen Adair, Nat Cassidy, Eric Gilde, Patrick Mulryan, Anna O’Donoghue,Christopher Seiler, Alexander Sovronsky

At First Sight (and Other Stories), Broken Box Mime Company
Rebecca Baumwoll, Dinah Berkeley, Seikai Ishizuka, David Jenkins, Meera Kumbhani, Tasha Milkman, Marissa Molnar, Dan Reckart, Joe Tuttle, Leah Wagner

The Complete and Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O’Neill Vol 2, New York Neo-Futurists
Cecil Baldwin, Christopher Borg, Roberta Colindrez, Cara Francis, Dylan Marron,Martina Potratz

Magic Bullets, Buran Theatre Company
Caitlin Bebb, Abigail Blueher, Donna Jewell, Jud Knudsen, Catrin Lloyd-Bollard, Erin Mallon, Michael McKim Karp, Kate Schroeder, Mari Yamamoto

Old Familiar Faces, Tin Drum Productions
Tandy Cronyn, Marianne Miller, James Patrick Nelson, Sam Tsoutsouvas

Pirira, Theatre 167
Adrian Baidoo, J.Stephen Brantley, Todd Flaherty, Flor De Liz Perez


Outstanding Solo Performance

Adam Boncz
Fatelessness, SceneHouse Productions and Gia Forakis & Company

J.Stephen Brantley
Chicken-Fried Ciccone: A Twangy True Tale Of Transformation, Hard Sparks

Aizzah Fatima
Dirty Paki Lingerie, Aizzah Fatima

Kim Katzberg
Darkling, Eat a Radish Productions in association with IRT Theater

Sandy Moore
The Simple Stories, WorkShop Theater Company

Nora Woolley
Hip, Nora Woolley


Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role

Noel Joseph Allain
Luft Gangster, Nylon Fusion Collective

Joshua Levine
Wild, Sanguine Theatre Company

Brendan McDonough
Beckett in Benghazi, Less Than Rent Theatre in association with Horse Trade Theater Group

Tony Naumovski
Sawbones & the Diamond Eater, Days of the Giants LLC

Lyonel Reneau
Wild, Sanguine Theatre Company

Dwayne Washington
Rent, The Gallery Players

Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role

Milee Bang
My Father’s Ashes, Original Binding Productions

Manna Nichols
Allegro, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Diana Oh
Frankenstein Upstairs, Gideon Productions

Jenny Seastone
The Gin Baby, Kid Brooklyn Productions and Mermaid Sands Productions

Alyssa Simon
Within Arm’s Reach, Going to Tahiti Productions

Jenne Vath
Sawbones & the Diamond Eater, Days of the Giants LLC

Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role

Goran Ivanovski
The Lonesome West, Mark Forlenza Productions

James Patrick Nelson
Old Familiar Faces, Tin Drum Productions

Jason O’Connell
Don Juan In Hell, Phoenix Theatre Ensemble

Tom Pavey
The Lonesome West, Mark Forlenza Productions

Brian Silliman
Dark Water, Manhattan Theatre Works (MTWorks)

J.Stephen Brantley
Pirira, Theatre 167

Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role

Debra Ann Byrd
The Importance of Being Earnest, Take Wing And Soar Productions, Inc.

Tandy Cronyn
Old Familiar Faces, Tin Drum Productions

Heather E. Cunningham
An Appeal to the Woman of the House, Retro Productions

Christina Pumariega
Sousepaw: ‘A Baseball Story’, Shelby Company

Lesley Shires
The Gin Baby, Kid Brooklyn Productions

Hannah Sloat
The Glory of Living, Revolve Productions

Outstanding Choreography/Movement

Jim Cooney & Greg Zane
Nothing But Trash, Theater For The New City

Thiago Felix
Infinite While it Lasts, Group .BR

Grasshopper Mitch
David’s RedHaired Death, One Old Crow Productions

Carlos Neto
Gymnos: A Geek’s Tragedy, Ticket 2 Eternity Productions

David Norwood & Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj
Salome: Da Voodoo Princess of Nawlins, Rebel Theater

Christine O’Grady
Allegro, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Outstanding Director

Kevin Augustine & Edward Einhorn
The God Projekt, La MaMa in association with Lone Wolf Tribe

Karen Case Cook
Don Juan In Hell, Phoenix Theatre Ensemble

Tyrus Holden
The Pregnancy of Angela Freak, AqUa MeRcUrY Creations

Kelly O’Donnell
Jane the Plain, Flux Theatre Ensemble

DeLisa M. White
Lights Narrow, Teatro Oscuro

Tazewell Thompson
Sawbones & the Diamond Eater, Days of the Giants LLC

Outstanding Lighting Design

Joshua Benghiat
Pirira, Theatre 167

Joan Racho-Jansen
The Lonesome West, Mark Forlenza Productions

Evan Roby
The Cottage, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Kia Rogers
Jane the Plain, Flux Theatre Ensemble

Kia Rogers
The Gin Baby, Kid Brooklyn Productions and Mermaid Sands Productions

Alexandra Mannix
Within Arm’s Reach, Going to Tahiti Productions

Outstanding Costume Design

Gail Cooper-Hecht
The Importance of Being Earnest, Take Wing And Soar Productions, Inc.

Sidney Fortner
A Man’s World, Metropolitan Playhouse

Amanda Jenks
Rubber Ducks and Sunsets, Ground Up Productions

Thomas Kleinert
The Pregnancy of Angela Freak, AqUa MeRcUrY Creations

Ryan Moller
The Cottage, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Carrie Robbins
Sawbones & the Diamond Eater, Days of the Giants LLC

Outstanding Set Design

Stephen Karoly Dobay
The Cottage, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Donald Eastman
The Chairs, La MaMa in association with Skysaver Productions

Travis McHale
Rubber Ducks and Sunsets, Ground Up Productions

Brandon McNeel
Sawbones & the Diamond Eater, Days of the Giants LLC

Jacques Roy
And to the Republic, The Guerrilla Shakespeare Project

Tsubasa Kamaei & Jennifer Stimple Kamei
Don Juan In Hell, Phoenix Theatre Ensemble

Outstanding Sound Design

Janie Bullard
The Gin Baby, Kid Brooklyn Productions and Mermaid Sands Productions

Janie Bullard
Jane the Plain, Flux Theatre Ensemble

Janie Bullard
Pirira, Theatre 167

Christopher Loar
Mute, New York Neo-Futurists

Tim Schellenbaum & Alice Tolan-Mee
The Chairs, La MaMa in association with Skysaver Productions

Christian Frederickson
The Awake, kef theatrical productions

Outstanding Innovative Design

Gyda Arber, Brian Fountain, David Gochfeld, and Allen Hahn
For Phone & Text Design
FutureMate, Brick Theater

Laia Cabrera, Isabelle Duverger, and Ildiko Nemeth
For Video Design
Cosmicomics, The New Stage Theatre Comapny

Nicole Hill
For Puppet Design
Mute, New York Neo-Futurists

Kaitlyn Pietras
For Projection Design
The Gin Baby, Kid Brooklyn Productions and Mermaid Sands Productions

Matt Reeves
For Projection Design
And to the Republic, The Guerrilla Shakespeare Project

Jane Catherine Shaw & Theodora Skipitares
For Puppet Design
The Chairs, La MaMa in association with Skysaver Productions

Outstanding Original Music

Scott Allen Klopfenstein
Rubber Ducks and Sunsets, Ground Up Productions

Jennifer Makholm & Ian Wehrle
Relent, an Indie Musical, WorkShop Theater Company

Ellen Mandel
Don Juan In Hell, Phoenix Theatre Ensemble

Scott Munson
Sawbones & the Diamond Eater, Days of the Giants LLC

Alexander Sovronsky
As You Like It, Happy Few Theatre Company

Alla Zagaykevych
Fire Water Night, La MaMa in association with Yara Arts Group

Outstanding Original Short Script

J.Stephen Brantley
Chicken-Fried Ciccone: A Twangy True Tale Of Transformation, Hard Sparks

Kate Gersten
First Love from The Spring Fling, F*It Club

Kate Kertez
Dumbo from Brooklyn Labyrinth, Oracle Theatre Inc

Mark Loewenstern
One is the Road fromSuper Shorts 2013, WorkShop Theater Company

Lenore Wolf
April March, Fragments from an Unintegrated Life from East Side Stories: Movers, Metropolitan Playhouse

Nora Woolley
Hip, Nora Woolley

Outstanding Original Full-length Script

Nat Cassidy
Old Familiar Faces, Tin Drum Productions

Vincent Marano
Lights Narrow, Teatro Oscuro

Christie Perfetti Williams
An Appeal to the Woman of the House, Retro Productions

Sarah Shaefer
The Gin Baby, Kid Brooklyn Productions and Mermaid Sands Productions

David Stallings
Dark Water, Manhattan Theatre Works (MTWorks)

J.Stephen Brantley
Pirira, Theatre 167

Outstanding Performance Art Production

At First Sight (and Other Stories), Broken Box Mime Company

FutureMate, Brick Theater

Magic Bullets, Buran Theatre Company

The Chairs, La MaMa in association with Skysaver Productions

The God Projekt, La MaMa in association with Lone Wolf Tribe

The Maiden, The Nerve Tank

Outstanding Production of a Musical

A Little Night Music, The Gallery Players

Allegro, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Candide – The Musical, Theater 2020

Fire Water Night, La MaMa in association with Yara Arts Group

Life on the Mississippi: A New Musical Play, WorkShop Theater Company

The Pregnancy of Angela Freak, AqUa MeRcUrY Creations

Outstanding Premiere Production of A Play

An Appeal to the Woman of the House, Retro Productions

Dark Water, Manhattan Theatre Works (MTWorks)

Frankenstein Upstairs, Gideon Productions

Lights Narrow, Teatro Oscuro

Pirira, Theatre 167

The Complete and Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O’Neill Vol 2, New York Neo-Futurists

Outstanding Revival of A Play

A Man’s World, Metropolitan Playhouse

As You Like It, Happy Few Theatre Company

Don Juan In Hell, Phoenix Theatre Ensemble

Julius Caesar, Smith Street Stage

R+J: Star-Cross’d Death Match, Three Day Hangover

Wild, Sanguine Theatre Company

Best Alan Menken Songs on His 65th Birthday

Alan Menken was born on July 22, 1949 – 65 years ago. He has been composing music for musicals on stage and screen steadily for 35 years, starting with his collaboration with Howard Ashman on God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, a 1979 adaptation of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. He continues to compose. Two of his eight Broadway shows are currently playing – Aladdin and Newsies. Here are some of his songs worth listening to:

The World Will Know from Newsies

Carrying the Banner from Newsies

A Whole New World from Aladdin

Feed Me Seymore from Little Shop of Horrors

Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid

Alan Menken sings “Beauty and the Beast” from Beauty and the Beast

Aln Menken sings Pink Fish from ?

Piece of My Heart, The Bert Berns Story Review. Will You Twist and Shout?

Almost half a century after his death, Bronx-born songwriter and record producer Bert Berns, the subject of the new Off-Broadway musical “Piece of My Heart,” is getting the kind of buzz he never got during his lifetime:

“Bert deserves to be elevated to his rightful place in the music industry,” Paul McCartney is shown saying in a trailer to a forthcoming documentary about Berns, who co-wrote the song “Twist and Shout,” which the Beatles recorded.

“His name may be lost, but his music is everywhere,” writes Joel Selvin in his new biography, “Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues,” the first-ever book about Berns.

“The best songwriter you’ve never heard of,” Time Magazine recently declared.

All of this advance publicity sets up two expectations about “Piece of My Heart,” the musical that has now opened at Signature Theater. First, we’re promised a kind of solo “Jersey Boys” – a previously obscure and fascinating real-life tale of a regular guy revealed as a musical genius. Second, we anticipate a jukebox’s worth of golden oldies to sing and (since it’s Sixties music) to swing along to.

But, as it turns out, “Piece of My Heart” falls short of both implicit promises. The story as dramatized is no “Jersey Boys,” much as it tries to copy the formula.  The catalogue of songs is pleasing enough, but  given the recent cavalcade of similar musicals from roughly the same era (“Beautiful,” “Motown”  “What’s It All About: Bacharach Reimagined” and  “A Night With Janis”) it feels like something of an odd rerun.

Click on any photograph to seen it enlarged

Growing up in the Bronx, Bert Berns contracted rheumatic fever and developed such a weak heart that doctors told him that he would probably die young (in the biography probably not past 21; in the musical, not past 30.) Berns’s music career didn’t take off until he was 31, but he wrote some 50 hits in just seven years. He also was a record producer and developed his own label, mentoring Neil Diamond, Van Morrison and Jimmy Page. He died of that weak heart at age 38 in December, 1967, leaving behind a 24-year-old widow and three young children.

Two of those children, Cassandra and Brett, are listed as producers of “Piece of My Heart.” (Son Brett is also the producer and director of the forthcoming documentary.)  The family commissioned the book of the musical from Daniel Goldfarb, who wrote the book for “Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me.”

Goldfarb kicks off the new musical with a character named Jessie (Leslie Kritzer), Berns’ (fictionally named) daughter, just an infant when he died.  Jessie gets a call from a mysterious stranger, a man named Wazzel (Joseph Siravo), Bert’s old friend and former manager – who, we discover quickly, is a mobster, albeit a friendly Fonzie-like one.  Wazzel wants Jessie to stop her mother, Bert’s widow Ilene, from selling Bert’s song catalogue – a whoa moment for any student of family dynamics. (Ilene Berns is still alive.) Jessie develops a three-fold mission — to fight her mother (although – not much of a spoiler alert – she eventually reconciles with her); to learn more about her father; and (much like the real-life daughter) to work to make her father famous.

Interspersed with the current-day scenes with Jessie and Wazzel and Ilene (Linda Hart) are those showing the evolution of Bert (Zak Resnick) as a songwriter and producer, and lover.

We see him in the Bronx with a guitar, paying the waitress in a diner to announce falsely that Irving Berlin is calling him, in order to impress a girl. (Would a call from Irving Berlin impress a girl from the Bronx in 1957?) We witness the rise and fall of a relationship with an African-American woman, Candace (De’Adre Aziza), whose existence seems to be entirely in order to insert the song “I Want Candy.” We see him travel to Cuba with his mobster pal Wazzel (played  as a young man by Bryan Fenkart) and a soul singer friend Hoagy (portrayed by Derrick Baskin, and presumably based on Berns’s actual singer friend Hoagy Land.) There Bert befriends Carlos (Sydney James Harcourt) a man who runs a bordello and is also a Cuban revolutionary on the side. (Would a Cuban revolutionary run a whorehouse?)  The dialogue reaches its nadir here (“You have a sadness that feels at one with my country’s sadness. Welcome brother.”)  Cuba serves as an eye-opener for Bert musically, helping him find his voice.  Having found it, he returns to New York with a stack of newly-written songs for Jerry Wexler (Mark Zeisler), co-owner of Atlantic Records, who decides to take a chance on him. The second act shows his successes in the record industry, and his falling for a go-go dancer (Young Ilene, portrayed by Teal Wicks) and marrying her. But we also witness his trials and frustrations, most of which seem to be that he’s not famous. Wexler, oddly and quite inexplicably, becomes the villain, at one point saying: “I’ll do everything in my power to make sure the name Bert Berns is nothing more than a footnote.”

The plot, in short, is nothing to twist and shout about; it feels closer to a vanity project than a serious attempt to dramatize a crossroads moment in American music. Of course, a laughably weak book is in keeping with the tradition of most jukebox musicals, which are generally designed to shoehorn in as many songs as possible.

“Piece of My Heart” presents some two dozen songs.  But most theatergoers will probably be familiar with only a handful of them, above all Twist and Shout,  Hang on Sloopy (which I always thought was Hang On, Snoopy!) and Piece of My Heart, which  Janis Joplin made one of her signature songs – and which we just heard Mary Bridget Davies sing to magnificent effect last year in the Janis Joplin biomusical. (A list of the songs in the show is below, complete with the songwriting credits; Wexler is the only of Berns’ songwriting partners who is a character in the musical.)

Is it possible to do a jukebox musical with mostly unfamiliar songs? Why not? But while these were all to some degree hits in the 1960’s, they don’t sound like hits now. There’s nothing wrong with them – many are soulful and rhythmic. But the times and musical tastes have changed. It’s harder to get that nostalgia enzyme working for a style of music rather than for specific songs you already know.

“Piece of My Heart” director and choreographer Denis Jones attempts to help us overlook these shortcomings in the conception of the musical, mostly by having hired some true pros with amazing voices whose previous performances I’ve admired.  I’ll see anything Leslie Kritzer is in, although she doesn’t get to show off her wit here; De’Adre Aziza was phenomenal in Passing Strange and as a “Joplinaire” in A Night With Janis Joplin; I found Teal Wicks memorable as Elphaba in Wicked. Like the rest of the cast, Zak Resnick is an attractive performer and a talented singer. His appeal, though, is in the healthy, non-threatening way of somebody who grew up in Middletown, New York, performed giddily in Mamma Mia, and hasn’t spent five hours in his life in the Bronx – far, in other words, from the sickly, semi-dangerous Bert Berns described by Berns’ biographer as an “amiable hustler” who had a “coiled body” and a “mad Russian heart.”

The script may force Linda Hart as the older Ilene to sing a song entitled “I’ll Be A Liar.” But she gets her revenge; it’s one of the highlights of the show.

 

Watch the cast sing “Piece of My Heart” at the Broadway at Bryant Park lunchtime concert, July 24, 2014.

Song list

ACT ONE

 

Everybody Needs Somebody to Love (B. Berns, G Wexler, S. Burke)

 

I’ll Take Good Care Of You (B. Berns, J. Ragovoy)

 

If I Didn’t Have a Dime (B. Berns, P. Medley)

 

Show Me Your Monkey (B. Berns, M. Leander)

 

I Want Candy (B. Berns, R. Feldman, R. Goettehrer, J. Goldstein)

 

Are You Lonely For Me, Baby (B. Berns)

 

Look Away (B. Berns, J Ragovoy)

 

Cry To Me (B. Berns)

 

Up in the Streets of Havana (B. Berns)

 

The World Is Mine (B. Berns, J. Silverman)

 

I’m Gonna Run Away from You (B. Berns)

 

Here Comes The Night (B. Berns)

 

 

ACT TWO

 

Twist and Shout (B. Berns, P. Medley)

 

Twenty Five Miles (B. Berns, J. Bristonl, H. Fuqua, G. Wexler, C Hatcher)

 

Look Away (reprise)

 

I Got To Go Back and Watch That Little Girl Dance (B. Berns, J. Barry)

 

Baby Let Me Take You Home (B. Berns, W. Farrell)

 

My Block (B. Berns, J. Radcliffe, C. Spencer)

 

Hang on Sloopy (B. Berns, W Farrell)

 

Tell Him (B. Berns)

 

I’ll BE A Liar (B. Berns)

 

Just Like Mine (B. Berns)

 

I’ll Take Good Care of You (B. Berns, J. Ragovoy)

 

Heart Be Still  (B. Berns, J. Ragovoy)

 

Cry Baby (B. Berns, J. Ragovoy)

 

Piece of My Heart (B. Berns, J. Ragovoy)

 

Twist and Shout

 

Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story

at The Pershing Square Signature Center

42nd Street and 10th Avenue

Music by Bert Berns

Book by Daniel Goldfarb

Music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Garry Sherman, music direction and additional vocal arrangements by Lon Hoyt

Directed and choreographed by Denis Jones

Scenic design by Alexander Dodge, costume design by David C. Woolard, lighting design by Ben Stanton, sound design by Carl Casella

Cast: Zak Resnick
Leslie Kritzer
Linda Hart
Joseph Siravo
de’Adre Aziza
Derrick Baskin
Teal Wicks
Bryan Fenkart
Carleigh Bettiol
Teresa Gattison
Shonica Gooden
Sydney James Harcourt
Jessica McRoberts
Ralph Meitzler
Harris Milgrim
Michael Millan
Heather Parcells
Gabrielle Ruiz
Amos Wolff
Mark Zeisler

Running time: 2 1/2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission.

Tickets: $31.50 – $99.50

 

RIP Elaine Stritch. Les Miz vs Book of Mormon. Theater Artists: Know Your Rights. Week in New York Theater

Elegant Elaine Stritch“You cannot tell the audience a lie; they know it before you do….”

‘If you can’t give a reason for the banana peel being in the alley, then don’t have the comic slide over it.’

~Elaine Stritch, 1925-2014.

 

The middle of July is usually a slow time for New York theater, and this past week was a sad time for theater as well.

One bright spot: Samuel French and Howlround sponsored a week-long series of free panel discussions and articles about the legal rights of theater artists.

The schedule and videos of the four discussions are here

Two especially useful articles:

Identifying & Sharing Intellectual Property by Amy Rose Marsh.

Protecting, Distributing, and Monetizing Your Work Online by Sean Patrick Flahaven.

AudraMcDonaldLadyDay

Also going on this week: CD Giveaway Contest for Audra McDonald in Lady Day At Emerson Bar and Grill.

The Week in New York Theater

13

We don’t yet know who Peter Pan will be, but NBC has lined up its Captain Hook for its live December broadcast: Christopher Walken

Atomic 2 Jeremy Kushnier. photo by Carol Rosegg

Atomic Review: A Musical About The Bomb

Leo Szilard  convinced his teacher Einstein to send a letter to FDR about the real danger that the Nazis would develop an atomic weapon. This led to the creation of the Manhattan Project, in which Szilard played a prominent role.

But it was also Szilard who, once the bomb was developed, drafted a petition (now called the Szilard Petition) —  and got 70 of his fellow Manhattan Project scientists to sign it – urging Truman to demonstrate the power of the bomb rather than use it on a population.

Later, Szilard was diagnosed with cancer, and developed a treatment based on radiation that completely eliminated his cancer – a treatment that is still used today.

Leo Szilard, in short, was a remarkable person. One sees why the creative team of “Atomic” would want to dramatize both his life and the mindboggling dilemmas that he and the other scientists faced.

The very richness of the story of the Manhattan Project and its aftermath, however, explains both the strengths and the flaws of the musical.

Full review of Atomic

 

14

American Psycho, musical of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, with music by Duncan Sheik, starts at Second Stages  February 2015. (Not yet cast.)

Holler If Ya Hear Me Ensemble

Holler If Ya Hear Me, with  music and lyrics by Tupac Shakur, is closing Sunday.

15

Rocky 11 Terence Archie and Andy Karl
Rocky will close August 17, having run for 28 previews and 188 regular performances.

The Belle of Amherst, a play about Emily Dickinson that Julie Harris made her own, comes to Westside Theater October 7,  starring Joely Richardson.

LauraBenantionTV

 

Happy Birthday Laura Benanti, 9-time veteran of Broadway, and you cannot turn on the TV without seeing her guest-star on something

16

The Long Shrif Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
My review of The Long Shrift, a play that marks James Franco’s debut as a New York stage director

LBJ  (Cranston) with Hubert Humphrey (Robert Petkoff)

LBJ (Cranston) with Hubert Humphrey (Robert Petkoff)

Bryan Cranston is returning to cable, when HBO adapts All The Way play about LBJ for the screen

17

A stage adaptation of the Gershwin musical, An American in Paris, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, will open at Broadway’s Palace Theater April 12.

“I was definitely pushed out” of Womens Project Theater, Julie Crosby says. Board leadership says she wasn’t

Broadway In Bryant Park

Ciara Renee, the new Leading Lady of Pippin, twirls

Carol Woods, the Matron of Chicago, belts

Nikki James sings “On My Own,” and answers: Book of Mormon vs. Les Miz?

Nikki James at Bryant Park

Atomic: Randy Harrison, Jeremy Kushnier, Sara Gettelfinger Sing “Only Numbers”

Randy Harrison and Jeremy Kushnier sing from Atomic

 

Elaine Stritch, 1925 – 2014

 

18

AvenueQ3

To celebrate its 11th anniversary in NY on July 31, all tickets to Avenue Q will be $11. Use code AQTWEET40

 

19

BestTVStarsNeveronBroadway

BestMovieStarsNeveronBroadway

Six movie musical screenings this summer in NYC under the stars (not all of them free, but some)

Frozenscreening

Atomic: Randy Harrison, Jeremy Kushnier, Sara Gettelfinger Sing “Only Numbers”

In Atomic, a musical about the making of the atomic bomb and its aftermath, Jeremy Kushnier portrays Einstein pupil, nuclear physicist Leo Szilard, who helped create the bomb and then tried to stop its use. Sara Gettelfinger portrays his wife, and Randy Harrison plays Paul Tibbets, the pilot who drops the bomb on Japan.

Together they sang “Only Numbers” at the Broadway in Bryant Park lunchtime concert. Below the video are the lyrics.

 

ONLY NUMBERS

 

PAUL
THOSE PEOPLE DOWN BELOW, JUST NUMBERS

NOBODY THAT I KNOW, JUST NUMBERS
IT WASN’T ME THAT MADE THE CALL
BUT IF IT ENDS THE WAR THEN I’M GIVING IT MY ALL.

TRUDE
COUNT THE DEAD IN THE ROAD TOLL, JUST NUMBERS

SAME AS LAST YEAR MAYBE MORE, JUST NUMBERS. IT’S ONE THING WHEN THE NUMBER’S IN THE NEWS ANOTHER WHEN HE’S EVERYTHING TO YOU.

LEO
THE SECONDS OF A LIFE, JUST NUMBERS

PEOPLE ALWAYS DIE, JUST NUMBERS
IF WE DON’T FIGHT, WHAT DO WE GAIN? A FEW MORE MONTHS OF HURT AND PAIN.

PAUL
Target confirmed. Drop when ready.

ALL
WHEN YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS YOU HAVE TO DO

TAKE A BREATH, CLOSE YOUR EYES TRY AND SEE IT THROUGH

TALK ALL YOU WANT, HERE AT THE END WHEN IT’S LIFE OR DEATH, YOU OR THEM SOMEONE’S GOT TO LOSE
ONLY NUMBERS,

LEO IT’S TIME TO CHOOSE.

ALL THEY’RE ONLY NUMBERS,

PAUL PLAY OR LOSE.

ALL ONLY NUMBERS,

TRUDE WE’VE GOT TO TRY.

LEO
THE DAY WE DON’T FIGHT IS THE DAY THAT WE DIE.

TRUDE
WHEN THE NUMBER HAS A NAME

AND THE NUMBER HAS A FACE

 WHEN THE NUMBER IS YOUR LIFE

AND IT CANNOT BE REPLACED

LEO
NUMBERS, WHEN YOU’VE DONE ALL YOU CAN DO

TRUDE
ONLY NUMBERS, AND SAID ALL YOU CAN SAY

ALL TAKE A BREATH

CLOSE YOUR EYES
BLOW A MILLION DREAMS AWAY.

Nikki James on Book of Mormon vs. Les Miz, and Theater vs. Film

Nikki James, currently Eponine on Broadway in Les Miserables, made her debut on Broadway at the age of 19, and won a Tony for originating the role of Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon. “I’m a theater girl,” she says in one of the two videos below.

She was at the Broadway in Bryant Park lunchtime concert, singing “On My Own” from Les Miserables – that’s the other video.

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