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Sondheim Originators on His Advice to Them

Len Cariou, one of the five performers who recently reminisced about having originated roles in musicals by Stephen Sondheim, recalls getting the script for “Sweeney Todd” and thinking “You’ve got to be kidding!”  At the end of the first preview, although it was plagued by technical glitches, Sondheim came backstage and exclaimed about the audience: “The understood it! They f— understood it,” and performer and composer hugged. By that time Cariou had long since come around: “We realized this was one of the great musicals of all time, a work of genius.”

Cariou and the others — Harvey Evans, Pamela Myers, Kurt Peterson and Teri Ralston, who variously originated roles in “Anyone Can Whistle,” “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” and “Sweeney Todd,” (and performed in the original “West Side Story” and “Gypsy”)  — gathered over the weekend to talk for 90 minutes about their experiences with the composer who changed their lives. The video below is an 18-minute excerpt, answering the question: What advice did Sondheim give you?

“I don’t remember his giving us too many notes,”says Harvey Evans, who performed in the original Broadway productions of West Side Story, Gypsy, Anyone Can Whistle and Follies. “I wish he had given me more personal help.” But he did give them stories.

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RIP Barbara Cook, 89

Barbara Cook, the self-proclaimed poor, naive Southern Belle who became the reigning soprano in the Golden Age of Broadway and then a cabaret and concert hall star of the first magnitude, has died at age 89.

Broadway will dim its lights in her honor on Wednesday at 7:45 p.m.

Read my review of her memoir published just last year., about a life full of 19 Broadway shows, 45 albums, 40 yrs of sobriety — and one glorious golden voice that never failed her.

She would tell students: “Concentrate on what you’re trying to say with this song; the words have to matter.”

 

Barbara Cook in Mostly Sondheim

Broadway Newcomers Sum Up The Season

Current and past winners of the Theatre World Awards, given to exceptional performers making their Broadway or New York stage debuts, offer their take on the season just past, sometimes in a single word.

The following were interviewed outside the Imperial Theater (current home of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”) where the 73rd Annual Theatre World Awards were held on June 5, 2017.

Carlo Alban from “Sweat”

Jon Jon Briones from “Miss Saigon”

Barrett Doss from “Groundhog Day”

Amber Gray from “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”

Raymond Lee from “Vietgone”

plus past winners, Phillip Boykin, Geneva Carr and Jonny Orsini.

2017 Tony Nominees: A Closer Look…and Listen.

Below are 2017 Tony Award nominees who spoke at the Meet the Nominees press reception the day after the announcement, grouped more or less show by show. Click on individual photographs to read sometimes extensive captions that quote what they said about their show or their career or the theater in general.

More to come.

Ring IN The Old: Broadway Stars, aged 90 to 104

For those understandably saddened by the premature deaths of so many beloved performers in 2016, here is a gallery of a dozen beloved theater artists who are still living — some still working — ages 90 to 104. Some are better known for their screen roles, one is not a performer at all, but all have been involved in Broadway productions. Click on any photograph to see it enlarged and read the caption.

Why, you may ask, is Betty White, 94, not in this gallery? She’s never been on Broadway. Now’s the time, Betty!

The Wit of Carrie Fisher (Oct 21, 1956 – Dec 27, 2016)

 

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Instant gratification takes too long.

Two of the saddest words in the English language are, ‘What party?’

I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive.

You know how they say that religion is the opiate of the masses? Well, I took masses of opiates religiously

You know how most illnesses have symptoms you can recognize? Like fever, upset stomach, chills, whatever.
Well, with manic depression, it’s sexual promiscuity, excessive spending, and substance abuse – and that just sounds like a fantastic weekend in Vegas to me!

Having waited my entire life to get an award for something, anything…I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner-up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?”

I do believe you’re only as sick as your secrets. If that’s true, I’m just really healthy.

As you get older, the pickings get slimmer, but the people don’t.

You know what’s funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You’d think we could remember finding out we weren’t immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing airports and I think, “Aww. They’ve just been told.”

(Most of these quotes are from Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher’s memoir and one-woman show.

 

 

Favorite New York Stage Performances in 2016

My ten favorite individual performances in New York stage shows that opened in 2016 are listed alphabetically, with explanations for my choices largely excerpted from my reviews, but let’s begin with three noteworthy ensembles:

great-comet-7

Normally, when one talks of a “great ensemble,” it means that the actors work together well, and, often implicitly, that nobody stands out. The ensemble from “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” certainly works well together, but everybody also stands out – each performer is assigned a mini-stage and a section of auditorium to entertain, part of the effort of translating the show’s immersive theater legacy in a Broadway setting.

Small Mouth Sounds 2 Max_Baker__Babak_Tafti__Quincy_Tyler_Bernstine__Marcia_DeBonis__Zoë_Winters_in_Small_Mouth_Sounds_(photo_by_Ben_Arons)

All but one of the seven cast members of “Small Mouth Sounds” performed mostly in silence, portraying people attending a silent retreat. The actors in Bess Wohl’s comedy, directed by Rachel Chavkin (who also directed Great Comet and Hadestown this year) slowly – and mostly silently — reveal each individual’s tragedy, the reason why they are seeking relief for their suffering.

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“The Wolves” depicts an adolescent girl’s soccer team, and at times the cast feels like one organism, chattering (cross-talking) while engaged in vigorous physical warm-ups. Yet the actresses manage to get across the distinctive personalities of their characters.

Laura Benanti

With her gift for comedy and her glorious voice, Laura Benanti couldn’t be better as Amalia, the love-struck shop clerk in “She Loves Me,” whose anonymous object of affection, with whom she corresponds through a Lonely Hearts Club, is actually her hated co-worker. If there’s a wink now and then in her manner – we’re all having fun up here — there is persuasive passion when it counts. It was a pleasure to see the Tony-winning actress back on Broadway after an absence of almost six years

Nathan Lane

Through the alchemy of his barking brilliance, Nathan Lane, portraying a scheming editor for whom no ploy is too low, turns the entire third act of “The Front Page” into more or less a one-man show, everybody else transformed into his supporting players.

Jessia Lange

As the drug addicted mother in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,Jessica Lange was not just a fading ethereal figure, but a robust woman whose entire life unfolds before us — alternatively innocent, skittish, coquettish, sneering, full-out furious, resigned. It’s a memorable performance to put on our collective mental shelf besides her Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire and her Amanda Wingfield in Glass Menagerie – her only  two previous forays on Broadway.

T

Taylor Mac, the creator and star of A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, is one of the two performers on this list who are inseparable from the theater piece they are in, a work they created. The breadth of his artistry is matched only by the depth of his stamina.

Audra McDonald in Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed,

Audra McDonald in Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed,

In “Shuffle Along, Audra McDonald portrayed Lottie Gee, “the first black ingénue.”  acting with her usual miraculous grace and emotion, and singing with her usual heavenly voice completely reoriented (as usual) to fit the part. But, in a newly revealed talent, she also tap danced effortlessly in a whole catalogue worth of styles.

 

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I first saw Joe Morton playing a mute alien in the indie film Brother from Another Planet. He’s since become best known as Kerry Washington’s father in Scandal, What a delight and a revelation to see him embody a character who could not be more different, stand-up comedian and activist Dick Gregory, in the solo show “Turn Me Loose.” He had the comic timing down pat, but subtly let us see the human being behind the act.

Deirdre O'Connell

Deirdre O’Connell, who this year portrayed a reckless California mother with a sense of history in “The Way West,” is Off-Broadway royalty, in the same league as Jayne Houdyshell (whom I picked to be one of my top ten last year, and who afterward finally got the attention she deserved, winning a Tony for her role in The Humans) She never fails to impress me with her performance – I will be forever grateful for her part in “Circle Mirror Transformation” — yet is so unheralded that I manage to mangle the spelling of her name.

 

Ben Platt as Evan Hansen

Ben Platt is heartbreaking as the titular character in “Dear Evan Hansen,” an awkward teenager afraid to talk to anybody for fear of breaking out into a sweat. He is such a demonstrably good actor that when he sings (with a lovely tenor and strong falsetto) such unbearably sad, lonely and lovely songs as “Waving Through A Window” and “Words Fail,” you might momentarily marvel at how he is able to make his face appear as sweaty as Evan Hansen’s would be.

Maryann Plunkett

It is a reflection of how completely credible Maryann Plunkett has been in Richard Nelson’s plays about ordinary families living in upstate New York that it came as a surprise to learn that she’s a Tony-winning veteran of nine Broadway shows, including a couple of musicals. In Nelson’s “The Gabriels” trilogy this year, Plunkett portrayed Mary Gabriel, a widow and retired doctor. In Nelson’s “Apple Family” quartet from 2010 to 2013, she played a schoolteacher, one of three Apple family sisters. All seven plays were all “in real time,” opening on the day they were set, meaning that Plunkett and the rest of the cast were forced to learn new lines the very day the plays opened. The entire cast deserves kudos for disappearing into their roles, but paradoxically, Plunkett stands out for disappearing the most.

Notes from the Field 3

Anna Deavere Smith’s performances are, like Taylor Mac’s, inseparable from the work she creates. In “Notes from the Field,” as with her previous work, she exhibits her deep talent for mimicry, portraying 17  disparate characters, young and old, from East and West, of different ethnicities. She also demonstrates once again her  masterful command of stagecraft.

 

It’s impossible to cap an appreciation of New York stage performances in 2016 at only ten. There were enough good ones for another top ten, and here they are: Khris Davis for a memorable New York stage debut as Jay “The Sport” Jackson in The Royale, and then in Sweat; Melissa Errico in Finian’s Rainbow; Sutton Foster in Sweet Charity /; Amber Grey for her performances in both “Great Comet” and “Hadestown“; Katrina Lenk in The Band’s VisitJessie Mueller in Waitress; David Oyelowo in “Othello“; Phylicia Rashad in “Head of Passes“;  Noah Robbins in “Master Harold…and the boys“; Michael Urie and Robin de Jesus in Homos or Everyone in America (I count them as one, since they were persuasive as a…unit.)