On The Twentieth Century Revival with Kristin Chenoweth – first photo

The first photograph of Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher in Roundabout Theatre Company’s On the Twentieth Century, which opens March 12, 2015 at the American Airlines Theatre.

This will be the third production of this musical comedy, which was written by Comden and Green (“On The Town“), in which a bankrupt theater producer tries to lure a Hollywood starlet into playing the lead in a new epic drama, while they take a luxury train from Chicago to New York.

The show is reportedly based on three sources – the 1934 Howard Hawks film Twentieth Century; the original 1932 play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur; and another play Napoleon of Broadway, written by Charles Bruce Millholland about his experiences working for theater producerDavid Belasco.

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Phantom of the Opera Pop-Shop Opens, With Masks

The Phantom of the Opera Art Gallery and Pop-Up Shop is open for business — as of noon, Friday October 24th — showcasing the 26 winners of the nation-wide contest, including the six Grand Prize Winners.
“PHANTOM: The Art of the Mask.” Below are some examples.
The shop, which is located on the ground floor of the Paramount Hotel, will be open only through Thursday, October 30. It is a block from The Majestic Theatre,which houses the longest-running musical in Broadway history.

In addition to the masks, the shop will have”
costume displays including those worn by original stars Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman
ceate-Your-Own-Mask station
photo opportunity recreating the Phantom’s Lair
Q&A with current cast members, Tuesday October 28 at 5:30 p.m.

Since its debut on January 26, 1988, the Broadway production has grossed $978 million with total attendance of more than 16 million. Worldwide, it’s been seen in 14 languages by 140 million people in 30 countries

Fortress of Solitude Theater Review: A Music-Lover Grows in Brooklyn

“The Fortress of Solitude” begins with a sensory overload of song…the sounds of a Brooklyn block, circa 1975. That sets the tone for this energetic, inspired, heartbreaking and sometimes rushed and overwhelming stage adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s sprawling coming-of-age novel, centered on a friendship between a white boy named Dylan and a black boy named Mingus.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

“Everybody’s singing

A different song

But if they all fit together

Then they can’t be wrong,”

…sing a character named Rachel and various other members of the extraordinary 18-member cast, at the start of a musical that fills the stage at the Public Theater with pop, punk, funk, rap, and especially soul — a brilliant exercise in musical pastiche by Michael Friedman, best known as the composer of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, but deserving of admiration as well for his work with The Civilians.

Rachel has named her son after Bob Dylan, and moved him and her husband Abraham, a painter and book cover designer, to Dean Street, a white family in a neighborhood that is then primarily black and known as Gowanus, soon to be gentrified and renamed Boerum Hill. The move to her is a kind of social experiment, a social statement; she sings:

The block is the kind of space the world should be
A better America than the one that’s on TV

Then she abandons her family.

Dylan Ebdus, who is Rachel’s son and the narrator of all that is to follow, meets his neighbor, a boy of his same age who is also motherless, and also named after a musical hero – Charles Mingus – and also the son of an artist, a once-great lead singer of a soul group known as the Subtle Distinctions.   The friendship between Dylan Ebdus and Mingus Rude begins with Mingus artfully protecting Dylan from a neighborhood bully. But they share an interest in music and in comic book Superheroes, and Mingus turns Dylan on to graffiti tagging and to dj scratching (As he manipulates the record, we hear the live singers sing as if they’re recorded.) Thanks to a ring Dylan’s mother left him, they also fly in the sky like Superheroes — or maybe they do.

At this point, theatergoers who have read Lethem’s 2003 novel have a clear advantage. In the novel, a homeless man hands Dylan and Mingus a magic ring that gives them super powers, the ability to fly and to be invisible. The ring figures prominently in the plot of the 500-page novel including a tragic fantasy-filled climax. Playwright Itamar Moses, the book writer for the 150-minute musical, has retained the ring, but altered the story around it, and pared its significance. The average theatergoer will not be sure the ring has any magical powers at all or indeed what it means; they’ll know only that it’s important in some way (perhaps as a metaphor?)

That in a nutshell gets at a problem with the musical version of “The Fortress of Solitude.” The creative team realizes that its adaptation does not have the time or the space to contain the full complexity of the novel. Yet the team, led by director Daniel Aukin, who conceived of the show a decade ago, seems committed to giving us as much of the novel as possible. The results can make us feel as if we’re being rushed through the proceedings, especially once Dylan is accepted into Stuyvesant High School – a specialized high school (my alma mater!) that is located in Manhattan – and he and Mingus go on their very separate paths. There are moments on stage that can feel like a secret coded message to the people who’ve read the book.

The occasional lack of clarity, however, does not ultimately undermine “The Fortress of Solitude” – at least it did not for me – thanks largely to two aspects of the show.

First, the 18 musical numbers are tuneful, electric and eclectic, and often cleverly staged. The mash-ups are a delight: At one point we hear both snatches of Wild Cherry’s 1976 hit “Play that funky music white boy” and “Nava Nagila,” the number one song on the Bar Mitzvah circuit. (Most of the music is original, in the style of 70’s songs, but Friedman does a lot of sampling.) We understand that this music is central to the lives of the characters – they say again and again how it saves them; it evokes moments of glory and of love – but it works not just as theme but as entertainment.

Above all, what makes the musical so worthwhile are the performances. It’s hard to picture a better choice of casting than Kyle Beltran as Mingus and Adam Chanler-Berat as Dylan. Both are adorable as young boys without being cloying, and both age persuasively over the quarter-century span of the musical into distinctly different young men: Beltran’s hopeful, cool countenance and angelic voice transform into the hardened face of a prison inmate just trying to get by; Chanler-Berat’s passive cipher full of wonder becomes a bespectacled music writer living in California, who is full of doubt, guilt, indecision. There is something almost unbearably touching about both their eager/awkward first steps toward connection and the chasm that grows between them.

Dylan is the show’s center – he is the narrator, it seems told from his point of view, his character in the semi-autobiographical novel was the obvious stand-in for the author. It would be too easy to relegate many of the other characters to extras in Dylan’s story, yet this doesn’t happen often, because of the stand-out performances. For example, the relatively small part of Mingus’ grandfather, a preacher jailed because of his penchant for underage girls, is played to the hilt by Andre De Shields, who enters like James Brown in the rip-roaring “Ballad of Barrett Rude, Sr.” Kevin Mambo is superb, because so understated, as Mingus’ father Barrett Rude Junior, the soulful, sexy singer who’s become just a regular guy, drugs and the TV his only audience. We see him in flashbacks fronting for the soulful Subtle Distinction, a suave, pitch-perfect trio made up of Britton Smith, Akron Watson and Juson Williams.

A special shout-out to David Rossmer as Arthur Lomb, the chess-playing nerd of the block who grows up to be a neighborhood entrepreneur and landlord. Rossmer apparently got into an accident shortly before the performance I saw, but the show must go on, despite a most visible splint on his injured hand.

If the design team offers only an abstract hint of Brooklyn – brick walls, a row of poorly painted doors – the show still manages to capture the agitation and confusion and menace and occasional warmth of a Brooklyn block. My favorite single image – because it explains an entire world in one hilarious instant – was the moment when Dylan first returns for a visit, and passes by a young white man carrying a baby in a sling and talking on a cell phone.

“It looks…really different around here,” Dylan says.

 

 

 

The Fortress of Solitude

Book by Itamar Moses and music and lyrics by Michael Friedman based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem

Conceived and directed by Daniel Aukin,

Scenic design by Eugene Lee, costume design by Jessica Pabst, lighting design by Tyler Micoleau, sound design by Robert Kaplowitz, projection design by Jeff Sugg, hair and wig design by Leah Loukas.

Cast: Ken Barnett (Abraham Ebdus); Kyle Beltran (Mingus); Adam Chanler-Berat (Dylan); André De Shields (Senior); Carla Duren (Marilla); Stephane Duret (Swing); Rebecca Naomi Jones (Lala, Abby); Jahi Kearse(Raf, Henry, Desmond, Jared); Kevin Mambo (Junior); Malaiyka Reid (Swing); Noah Ricketts (Swing); David Rossmer(Arthur); Conor Ryan (Radio Guy, Mike, Gabe); Kristen Sieh (Rachel Ebdus);Britton Smith (Subtle Distinction); Brian Tyree Henry (Robert) Akron Watson (Subtle Distinction); Alison Whitehurst (Skater Girl, Liza); and Juson Williams (Subtle Distinction).

Tickets: $80

“The Fortress of Solitude” is scheduled to run through November 2.

Oct 23 Update: The musical has been extended to November 16.

Billy and Ray Review: The Making of Double Indemnity

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Larry Pine as Raymond Chandler and Vincent Kartheiser as Billy Wilder as they create a scene from “Double Indemnity”

“No killing, no dead body, no sex, no nothing. Just talk.”
That line is uttered near the end of “Billy & Ray,” a play about the collaboration of director Billy Wilder and writer Raymond Chandler on the film “Double Indemnity.” The film’s producer is on the phone with the head of the Hollywood censorship office, using these words to describe the film in order to reassure him.
It is a sly description of the 1944 movie starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck that embodied a genre later labeled film noir, where, to get around the censors, all the dark doings an audience could want happen off-screen (sometimes inches off screen.)
Yet the line could also describe Mike Vencivenga’s play itself: Nothing much happens, just talk, in this disappointing production at the Vineyard Theater, directed by Garry Marshall. Its main appeal, to be honest, is in being able to witness the New York stage debuts of two of the performers in the four-member cast – Vincent Kartheiser, Pete Campbell from Mad Men, portraying Billy Wilder, and, as his secretary Helen, Sophie von Haselberg, who looks and acts uncannily like a young Bette Midler — and is in fact her daughter.

Sophie von Hasselberg and Drew Gehling as Wilder's secretary and producer.

Sophie von Hasselberg and Drew Gehling as Wilder’s secretary and producer.

The play begins in the dark with sounds of a fight, and, when the lights come on Wilder’s Hollywood studio office in disarray, we learn that his long-time writing partner has quit, refusing to help him adapt James M. Cain’s novel “Double Indemnity,” because it is “full of sex and violence, perversion and lust.”

“But that’s why we love it,” says Joe Sistrom the producer (Drew Gehling.)

So, on Sistrom’s recommendation, Wilder turns to a writer he’s never met, the crime novelist Raymond Chandler (Larry Pine, a first-rate New York stage veteran, most recently in Casa Valentina)

Wilder is expecting a tough guy, and when the mild-mannered, middle-aged Chandler shows up at the door, he assumes he’s the exterminator, until the visitor clears up the confusion: “I’m Raymond Chandler,” he introduces himself.

“Are you sure?” a disappointed Wilder asks — a line that makes no sense except in the world of a bad sitcom, where it would exist solely to get an unearned laugh.

Director Garry Marshall began as a joke writer. Yet nearly every joke, verbal or visual, falls just as flat. It’s not the only area in which his track record doesn’t seem to help the show.

Marshall also brought “The Odd Couple” to television, and one might expect some similar entertaining clashes here: Wilder is depicted as an elegantly foul-mouthed, hard-drinking philanderer, an expatriate from Vienna with a strong Austrian accent, while Chandler is presented as a Chicago-born loner, a family man and former schoolteacher who is an alcoholic but tries to hide it (taking frequent gulps, when nobody’s looking, from a bottle in his briefcase.) At one point, Chandler yells at Wilder “You and your whole expatriate crowd make me sick. You stand back and smirk at this country.” I find this an extremely unlikely exchange, given that (unmentioned in the play) Chandler himself spent ages 12 to 24 in Europe, mostly in England (where he became a British citizen), but also Munich and Paris. In spite of the apparently bogus effort to goose the disparity in their backgrounds and character, nothing much comes of it. We don’t get anywhere near Odd Couple humor; the bickering most often sounds like what one might overhear from colleagues in the next cubicle: “If you insist on smoking that pipe,” Wilder says at one point, “I must insist that we open the window.”

Marshall has been a film director for several decades now (Beaches, Pretty Woman, Princess Diaries), and one might expect at the very least something of a class on film history. There are some tidbits here and there. We learn in an epilogue that Wilder’s subsequent film, The Lost Weekend, was inspired by Chandler’s alcoholism. We get an explanation of the Hollywood Production Code, and how filmmakers reacted to it

BILLY: It forbids us from doing stories about adultery, cold blooded murder and suicide. And they’re not too crazy about us showing how to steal money from insurance companies.

RAY: Then what can we do? To tell this story we’re going to have to be very subtle.

BILLY: Ugh. Don’t give me with the subtleties.

RAY: You don’t like subtleties? 

BILLY:  Subtleties are fine. As long as we make them obvious. To get  this by the censors we have to be ingenious…

The bulk of the play is taken up with Wilder and Chandler  “writing” the scenes of the film by talking it all out. They figure out the practical challenges of executing the dark plot about an insurance salesman and a sinful woman conspiring to kill her husband.  (Sometimes, as in the photograph above, the lights dim and music plays while they describe a scene, as if to re-create what it will feel like once it’s filmed — an effect that’s not very effective.)  These talked-out scenes offer little new for somebody who’s seen “Double Indemnity” and might prove excruciating for somebody who hasn’t, but I could picture this providing some enjoyment to a fanatical cinephile.

A different stage director might have improved the pacing of “Billy & Ray,” but it’s difficult to know whether a different cast would have been better at covering up the flaws of the script. This is not one of Larry Pine’s best performances.  Kartheiser seems miscast as the European bon vivant and sophisticate whose family has perished overseas, but my reaction might reflect my inability to get over his indelible performance as the whiny advertising man in Mad Men.  In the performance I saw, there were some signs of a newcomer to stage acting. Wilder regularly throws his hat on a hatrack. One time, he missed and the hat fell to the ground. Wilder didn’t pick it up — and worse, neither did his secretary, although she was standing right next to it — just letting it stay on the floor until the next blackout.

On the other hand, before I even realized who she was, it struck me that von Hasselberg was taking her moves directly from the Bette Midler playbook, and making them her own. In another scene,  Wilder calls in Helen “to flirt with Mr. Chandler,” in order to demonstrate how women flirt with men so that he can get into the head of the Barbara Stanwyck character in the film. He tells her to slink up to him as if in a bar, then look at him sexy…

BILLY: Good. Now tip your carriage toward him.

HELEN: My what?

BILLY: Your carriage. Your caboose. Move it toward him

Helen shakes her booty.

BILLY: No no. Like a woman! Not a Cocker Spaniel.

HELEN: All right. That’s it. Show’s over.

It’s a totally silly scene, a bit awkwardly executed — and the only time I laughed out loud.

Billy&Ray3

On The Town with Found, Sting, Emily Dickinson, Leslie Odom Jr. Week in New York Theater

warningsignsoftheater

Eugene O’Neill, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Miller and Angela Lansbury and Linda Lavin all had birthdays last week, “On The Town” was reborn on Broadway to the biggest raves since The Book of Mormon, Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Between Riverside and Crazy is getting a new life Off-Broadway. Shia LaBeouf spins his arrest at Cabaret, while Emma Stone reveals her arresting look as the new Sally Bowles. Sting answers questions online (Have you enjoyed the collaborative nature of theater? “Even so-called solo artists have to collaborate; you can’t make art in a vacuum.”)

They all ignored the warning signs of theater.

Week in New York Theater, October 13-19, 2014

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Dance professor Anusha Kedha interprets the hands-up gesture at Ferguson protest rallies.

14

Anne Hamburger founded avant-garde En Garde Arts, then left for Disney, is now back with show at BAM, Basetrack Live http://bit.ly/1sCJyEY

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My review of Found musical

Davy Rothbart was having a weird day – his boss fired him; a mugger took his wallet and shoes; he couldn’t get his car to start – when he found a slip of paper that changed his life….and the world.

That anyway is what happens in “Weird Day,” the opening number of “Found,” the lively and tuneful, if not entirely successful musical based on Rothbart’s sudden revelation more than a decade ago. He realized he could publish discarded notes, memos, letters, lists, postcards, posters, classified ads, showing the treasure in other people’s trash. This led him to found Found magazine…The note itself and dozens upon dozens to follow in the show are projected onto the stage of the Atlantic Theater, and simultaneously recited or sung by a young, appealing and greatly talented cast of 10, to a rocking score by Eli Bohn.

Full review of Found

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Neil Patrick Harris has been asked to be host of the Oscars. He has been host of both the Tony and Emmy Awards (and won both as well.)  Will he be an #EGOT soon?

StingandEsper

Sting and Michael Esper Chat about The Last Ship

What was the first Broadway show you saw?

Michael Esper: “One of the first shows I ever saw was “Passion” by Sondheim.”

What has been the biggest change in the show since you began working on it?

Sting: “We wrote 40 songs, and half are in the play. It’s been about paring away to get to the heart of the story”

What’s it like to watch the cast sing your songs and story?

Sting: “It’s an out of body experience without being dead.”

Have you enjoyed the collaborative nature of theater?

Sting: “Even so-called solo artists have to collaborate; you can’t make art in a vacuum.”

 

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Al Pacino in The New Yorkers

Al Pacino is returning to Broadway October 2015 as a billionaire in David Mamet’s new 2-character play, China Doll. Pam MacKinnon will direct.

StephenMcKinleyHendersoninBetweenRiverside

Between Riverside and Crazy  by Stephen Adly Guirgis will be remounted, with same cast, in different theater, Second Stage, in February

Elegant Elaine Stritch

Star-studded tribute to Elaine Stritch, Monday, Nov 17, 4pm, Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Open to the public first-come, first-serve.

LeslieOdomJrbyMandell

My interview with Leslie Odom Jr

Two months after Leslie Odom Jr. saw Act I of “Hamilton,” a work in progress by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Miranda sent him an e-mail, asking for help with the show. This is what one could call a coincidence, or connections (“We knew each other casually.”), but Odom looks at it differently: “It took ten years of backbreaking hard work to get an opportunity like that. One thing leads to another. You find yourself in these rooms.”

How can other theater artists get into these rooms? Spontaneously, he comes up with three rules he lives by:

1.) Never wait for permission to practice your art. You cannot wait to get a job to be an artist.

2.) Study your art. Never stop studying.

3.) Find a spiritual practice that works for you.

Full article on Leslie Odom Jr.

On the Town 1

My review of On The Town

The audience at “On The Town,” the thrilling Broadway revival of the 1944 musical that brought us“New York, New York, it’s a helluva town,” doesn’t wait until the end to give a standing ovation. They stand before the show begins.
That’s because, before the curtain rises on the story about three sailors meeting three dames while on shore leave for 24 hours in New York City, a 28-piece orchestra plays the national anthem in front of a curtain festooned with a giant American flag — one with just 48 stars.
This is how the original musical started, during wartime, a show that marked the Broadway debuts of four now-legendary musical theater artists – composer Leonard Bernstein, choreographer Jerome Robbins and book writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

If “On The Town” does not hold the kind of sacred place as the flag or the Star-Spangled Banner, it is part of its own American tradition – an early American musical comedy classic: The show opened on Broadway just a year after Oklahoma and six years before Guys and Dolls. Not every production has been able to rekindle the original excited reaction to this savvy mix of silken song, dazzling dance and silly story – high-brow art in a pas de deux with middle-brow entertainment. This fourth Broadway production does.

The full review of On The Town

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Here Lies Love 4

Here Lies Love will close at The Public Theater January 3, but plans to “go global.”

The Shubert organization, which owns 17 of the 40 Broadway theaters, has bought 20,000-sq. ft ex warehouse on W 48th near 11th Ave. #Newtheater?

Alice Ripley to star in A Christmas Memory, amusical based on Truman Capote’s autobiographical short story, November 25 to January 4 at Irish Rep.

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20 Musicals That Won The Tonys: Ken Davenport’s Infographic

Theater producer Ken Davenport looked at the shows that won the Best Musical Tony over the past 20 years, sliced and diced facts about them, and produced the info graphic in the link. Most interesting to me:
*Almost half of the Best Musical winners were based on movies.
*The vast majority did not feature stars.
*All but one (“Rent”) were written by a team, rather than a single individual.
*Three-quarters of them made money. (Three-quarters of Broadways overall don’t make money.)

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Joelly Richardson in The Belle of Amherst

Joelly Richardson in The Belle of Amherst

My reviews of The Belle of Amherst and Excuse My Dust

Whatever else the great American writers Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker have in common, they are each by coincidence the subject of solo stage plays that are opening tonight, “The Belle of Amherst” in which Joely Richardson portrays the 19th century poet and wit; and “Excuse My Dust,” in which Jennifer Engstrom portrays characters created by the 20th century wit and poet.

Jennifer Engstrom in Excuse My Dust

Jennifer Engstrom in Excuse My Dust

Belle of Amherst and Excuse My Dust Reviews: Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker

Whatever else the great American writers Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker have in common, they are each by coincidence the subject of solo stage plays that are opening tonight, “The Belle of Amherst” in which Joely Richardson portrays the 19th century poet and wit; and “Excuse My Dust,” in which Jennifer Engstrom portrays characters created by the 20th century wit and poet.

TheBelleofAmherstJoelyRichardson

 

The Belle Of Amherst at Westside Theater

At the heart of Emily Dickinson’s story is a mystery. How was a virtual recluse able to produce a body of poems of such worldly knowledge and emotional depth? She published only 7 poems during her lifetime, all of them anonymously; her sister discovered 1,775 more upon Dickinson’s death at age 55. It took another 70 years for all of them to be published, and for her reputation to be secured as one of America’s greatest poets.

Into this vacuum, playwright William Luce and the actress Julie Harris bravely strode nearly 40 years ago, creating a one-woman show that weaves Dickinson’s poetry with excerpts from her letters and imagined conversations with 15 people in her life, all framed as a chat with a rare visitor – the audience. They gave it the ironic title “The Belle of Amherst,” based on a letter she wrote to a friend (quoted in the play) when she was a teenager: “I expect I shall be the Belle of Amherst when I reach my seventeenth year. I don’t doubt that I shall have perfect crowds of admirers at that age.”

“The Belle of Amherst,” directed by Charles Nelson Reilly, debuted on Broadway in 1976 and ran for four months, winning Harris one of her six Tony Awards.

But it didn’t end there. Harris took it on the road for years. She made a recording of it, which won her a Grammy. PBS recorded her performance for television. Her entire performance is available on Youtube.

Now a year after Julie Harris’ death, “The Belle of Amherst” is being revived at the Westside Theater through January 25, directed by Steve Cosson (the artistic director of The Civilians), and starring Joely Richardson, who is best known as the wife on the TV series “Nip/Tuck,” and as the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave.

Richardson is a fine actress who has performed Off-Broadway several times before. Comparisons are generally odious, but in this case they are unfortunately necessary, because, without Harris’ precise, shaded and varied performance, one is left to wonder what all the fuss was about. “The Belle of Amherst” becomes the sort of play one ought to like.

Dressed in the “bridal white” dress for which Dickinson was known, Richardson (who is 5’9″ compared to Julie Harris’ — and Emily Dickinson’s — 5’4″) exhibits an awkward posture and eccentric, exaggerated gestures that seem intended to emphasize the character’s endearing gawkiness. But there is little compensating sense of her brilliance.

She is a cheerful hostess, with little hint of the sadness and pain of her life, which makes one wonder why she never ventured from her family’s estate in the last decades of her life. The explanation that Luce puts into Emily Dickinson’s mouth is even more dubious:

“Here in Amherst, I’m known as Squire Edward Dickinson’s half-cracked daughter…I guess people in small towns must have their local characters. And for Amherst, that’s what I am. But do you know something? I enjoy the game. I’ve never said this to anyone before, but I’ll tell you. I do it on purpose. The white dress, the seclusion. It’s all deliberate.”

If it’s all an act, then why isn’t Dickinson more of an actress? Her encounters with the people from her past seem little different from her address to the audience, despite the change in lighting.

To the extent that Richardson comes through in “The Belle of Amherst,” it’s in the delivery of Dickinson’s poems, which Luce places artfully throughout his play. They do seem finely suited for the stage. As Emily Dickinson put it in one of the poems Richardson recites:

 

A word is dead

When it is said,

Some say.

 

I say it just

Begins to live

That day.

 

Jennifer Engstrom in Excuse My Dust

Jennifer Engstrom in Excuse My Dust

 Excuse My Dust at SoHo Playhouse

Dorothy Parker is known now mostly for her best wisecracks – as a critic…

Katherine Hepburn “ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B”

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly,” she said of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. “It should be thrown with great force.”

…and as a barfly:

“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”

She once said she would like the epitaph on her gravestone to read “Excuse My Dust.”

That last witticism is the title that Jennifer Engstrom has given to her show running at the SoHo Playhouse through November 9th, a clever choice if a bit misleading.  Engstrom does not play Miss Parker delivering her barbs at the Algonquin. If it’s true that, as Dorothy Parker said, “The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue,” the next thing she did was put some paper in the typewriter. Parker was an accomplished poet and short story writer. Engstrom has chosen five of Parker’s stories that have a first-person woman narrator, and she plays those women, using the stories as her text.  In “The Garter,” a short story published in the New Yorker Magazine in 1928, a woman sits nervously at a “foul party where I don’t know a soul” and realizes her garter has just broken; Engstrom delivers the interior monologue that Parker has written. In “A Telephone Call,” a woman prays to God that a man will telephone her, as he’s promised to do, at 5 p.m. The time arrives; there is no call. As she speaks to herself, it becomes clear that she is his mistress. Engstrom plays a woman who dances with a klutz in “The Waltz”; gets drunk with a man named Fred in “Just A Little One”; consoles a friend named Mona who has just broken up with her boyfriend in “Lady With A Lamp.” It’s not clear whether any of these characters are supposed to be the same woman, but they share a deep voice that seems to have been marinated in nights of whiskey and cigarettes, and all are trying to hide their vulnerability, some more successfully than others. These are stories that show traces of the Parker wit, but it’s indirect, and they are more obviously laced with sadness and humiliation – the plight of the single woman. It’s easier to laugh (or at least smile) when reading passages from these stories than to do so when an actress is delivering them credibly a few feet away. It would feel like laughing at a person who’s sharing their sorrow with you. I’m not sure whether this is a downside of Engstrom’s delivery or inherent in the stories. In either case, there is surcease with the poems. As with Joely Richardson in “The Belle of Amherst,” Engstrom is at her best when reciting some choice poems, such as:

 

By the time you swear you’re his,

Shivering and sighing,

And he vows his passion is

Infinite, undying-

Lady, make a note of this:

One of you is lying.

20 Musicals That Won The Tonys: Ken Davenport’s Infographic

Theater producer Ken Davenport looked at the shows that won the Best Musical Tony over the past 20 years, sliced and diced facts about them, and produced the infographic below. Most interesting to me:
*Almost half of the Best Musical winners were based on movies.
*The vast majority did not feature stars.
*All but one (“Rent”) were written by a team, rather than a single individual.
*Three-quarters of them made money. (Three-quarters of Broadways overall don’t make money.)

musicalsinfographic

The Freaks of Side Show

freaksinSideshow

The “freaks” (cast) of Side Show, which opens at Broadway’s St. James Theater November 17th.

On The Town Broadway Review: Sex and Art DO Mix

The audience at “On The Town,” the thrilling Broadway revival of the 1944 musical that brought us “New York, New York, it’s a helluva town,” doesn’t wait until the end to give a standing ovation. They stand before the show begins.
That’s because, before the curtain rises on the story about three sailors meeting three dames while on shore leave for 24 hours in New York City, a 28-piece orchestra plays the national anthem in front of a curtain festooned with a giant American flag — one with just 48 stars.
This is how the original musical started, during wartime, a show that marked the Broadway debuts of four now-legendary musical theater artists – composer Leonard Bernstein, choreographer Jerome Robbins and book writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

If “On The Town” does not hold the kind of sacred place as the flag or the Star-Spangled Banner, it is part of its own American tradition – an early American musical comedy classic: The show opened on Broadway just a year after Oklahoma and six years before Guys and Dolls. Not every production has been able to rekindle the original excited reaction to this savvy mix of silken song, dazzling dance and silly story – high-brow art in a pas de deux with middle-brow entertainment. This fourth Broadway production does.

There is no wholesale updating of the material a la It’s Only A Play (The 1949 film of “On The Town” with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra was significantly altered from the stage show, including the elimination of much of Bernstein’s luscious bluesy, brassy score.)  But director John Rando (Urinetown, A Christmas Story) stamps it with his own brand of cheerful vulgarity, with the help of two writers (Jonathan Tolins and Robert Cary), given credit for “additional material.”  Choreographer Joshua Bergasse, making his Broadway debut, pays tribute to the airy jazz-inflected style of Robbins, but turns it more earthy and sensual. “On the Town” was inspired by a ballet, Jerome Robbins’s “Fancy Free.” It should tell you how splendid the dancing that one of the leads, Megan Fairchild, making her Broadway (and theater) debut, is a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

Fairchild plays Ivy Smith, a small-town gal herself recently arrived in the big city, who won the title of Miss Turnstiles of June, awarded by the New York Subway System. The three sailors spot the poster for Miss Turnstiles in the subway, shortly after descending from their ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Gaby (Tony Yazbeck) takes one glance and decides this is the girl of his dreams. His two shipmates decide to help him find her, even though Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson) wants to go sightseeing. But he and Ozzie (Clyde Alves) run into complications. For starters, they are hijacked by sex-starved females — Alysha Umphress as taxi driver Hildy takes on Chip in an aggressive and gymnastic seduction scene in her cab, accompanied by the raunchy “Come Up To My Place” and then the suggestive “I Can Cook Too”; Elizabeth Stanley as  an anthropologist as Claire spots Ozzie at the “Museum of Anthropological History” (I guess the Museum of Natural History threatened to sue) mistaking him for a pre-Homo Sapien (a “Pithecanthropus Erectus” which sounds like it should be censored.) But despite this — and her engagement to an upright judge — her nymphomaniac tendencies get the better of her, and they get (and sing) “Carried Away.”  We eventually see both Ozzie and Chip in their underwear. (These are not the innocents from the film.)

“Sex and art don’t mix,” Madame Dilly, a drunken vocal coach played by Jackie Hoffman, tells Ivy, her student, trying to get her not to go on a date with Gabey. “If they did, I’d have gone straight to the top.” 

That’s where “On The Town” is.

On the Town

At The Lyric Theater

Music by Leonard Bernstein; book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, based on an idea by Jerome Robbins

Directed by John Rando; choreography by Joshua Bergasse; music direction by James Moore; sets and projections by Beowulf Boritt; costumes by Jess Goldstein; lighting by Jason Lyons; sound by Kai Harada; hair design by Leah Loukas; makeup design by Joe Dulude II; associate choreographer, Greg Graham; production stage manager, Bonnie L. Becker; additional material by Robert Cary and Jonathan Tolins; music coordinator, John Miller

Cast: Tony Yazbeck (Gabey), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Chip), Clyde Alves (Ozzie), Megan Fairchild (Ivy), Alysha Umphress (Hildy), Elizabeth Stanley (Claire), Michael Rupert (Pitkin), Allison Guinn (Nun/Singer/Lucy Schmeeler), Phillip Boykin (Workman/Miss Turnstiles’ Announcer/Dream Coney Island Master of Ceremonies/Bimmy), Stephen DeRosa (3rd Workman/Bill Poster/Figment/Actor/Nedick’s Attendant/Diamond Eddie’s Master of Ceremonies/Conga Cabana Master of Ceremonies/Conductor) and Jackie Hoffman (Little Old Lady/Maude P. Dilly/Diana Dream/Dolores Dolores).

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes including one intermission

Tickets: $37 to $150

Freestyle Love Supreme Giveaway Contest: Win A Speaker

FreeStyleLoveSupremepicWin a speaker from Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights, Hamilton), Christopher Jackson (The Lion King, In The Heights, Holla If Ya Hear Me) and the rest of the cast of Freestyle Love Supreme, a new television series by the popular hip-hop improvisational comedy troupe of the same name. The show will air Fridays starting October 17th at 10:30 p.m. ET / PT, on a 15-month-old cable television channel called Pivot TV.

Their motto: Give us a word, give us a beat, get out of our way.  They take audience suggestions and run (or rap) with them. (See video below.) Freestyle Love Supreme began about a decade ago when Miranda and his co-founders were still undergraduates at Wesleyan University. They’ve traveled to comedy festivals around the world, performed at theaters such as LCT3 at Lincoln Center and Joe’s Pub at the Public, and now they’re coming to your home theater, with ten 30-minute episodes on Pivot.

Here’s what the speaker looks like:

Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset

It’s a small, easy-to-use speaker that connects to your phone or computer via bluetooth to play your music. It has a retail value of about $100.

To enter this contest, answer ONE of these questions:

What topic would you want to hear a freestyle rap about?

OR
What theater artist would you like to see with their own television show, and what would it be about?
1. Please put your answer in the comments at the bottom of this blog post, because the winner will be chosen through Random.org based on the order of your reply, not its content.
But you must answer the question fully, or your entry will not be approved for submission.
2. Please include in your answer your Twitter name and follow my Twitter feed at @NewYorkTheater so that I can send you a direct message. (If you don’t have a Twitter name, create one. It’s free.)
3. This contest ends Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 at midnight Eastern Time, and I will make the drawing no later than noon the next day. You must respond to my direct message on Twitter within 24 hours or I will choose another winner.
(4. All submissions have to be approved, so you won’t necessarily see your entry right away: Please be patient, and don’t submit more than once.)

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