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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

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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:

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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.)

 

Hamilton Broadway New Cast: What Has Changed?

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At yesterday’s matinee of “Hamilton,” the show did not have a single member of the original cast in a principal role. The only one who remains, Okieriete Onaodowan as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison, was not performing, and in any case will play his final performance on December 24.  So how has the show changed as a result? And how will it change when (as was announced yesterday) five new performers will take over some of the leads, four of them within the next month. (See details below.)

There are other questions as well.

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

Will the replacement cast generate some of the same excitement as the original leads, whose roles brought them awards, fame, fandom and a promising future?

What will be the future of the show? Will it wind up being a Broadway institution like “Phantom of the Opera,” or will the seeming indestructible juggernaut simply peter out, like “In The Heights,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s last big success on Broadway, which was a critical and popular hit, but lasted only three years? (“In The Heights” has since gotten new life in productions elsewhere, including a London production that began in the Fall of 2015 and announced recently it will close next month.)

I feel it’s still too early to answer these questions,  despite the quality of the show and its impressive current popularity, hype and marketing. But the special matinee I saw yesterday — performed before 1,300 New York City high school students — was a revelation.

First of all,  I still find “Hamilton” breathtaking and groundbreaking as I did in my first review of it, when it opened Off-Broadway in February, 2015, and every review since.

michael-luwoyeI saw Javier Muñoz play Alexander Hamilton when he was the alternate, and felt that he played up Hamilton’s ambition, and played down the charisma that Lin-Manuel Miranda emphasized in his own performance. Yesterday, the new alternate, Michael Luwoye, performed the role.  I had seen Luwoye play an eager and naive African student in the Off-Broadway production of “Invisible Thread.” Luwoye’s performance as Alexander Hamilton is striking; he plays him with a level of intensity that is sometimes fierce. He also gets a look of hurt in his eyes. This interpretation meshes well with Hamilton’s recklessness and also helps explain his drive. (Luwoye is also currently the understudy for Aaron Burr.)

Brandon Victor Dixon, who took over the role of Aaron Burr in August, came to national attention  in November when (as the cast member portraying the third Vice President of the United States) he was chosen to read the letter to audience member Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Dixon is a Broadway veteran who made his debut in the original cast of The Color Purple and was one of the stars of Shuffle Along. His Burr strikes me as slyer and slicker than the way Leslie Odom Jr. played Burr — indeed closer to the way Daveed Diggs portrayed Jefferson (Seth Stewart, who was the original understudy of Lafayette and Jefferson, took over the roles in September.)

Mandy Gonzalez’s take on Angelica Schuyler, Hamilton’s sister-in-law, makes me see Angelica as less sophisticated and more emotional than the woman as played originally by Rene Elise Goldsberry. I hasten to add that her voice is heavenly, as is that of Lexi Lawson, who took over the role of Eliza Hamilton from Phillipa Soo in July.

Rory O’Malley, who made a splash as the “Turn It Off’ red-vested song-and-dance man from “The Book of Mormon,” is the third King George III, after Brian d’Arcy James Off-Broadway and Jonathan Groff in the Broadway transfer, followed by Andrew Rannells. (d’Arcy James left to star in “Something Rotten.“) O’Malley plays up the camp.  In retrospect, d’Arcy James seemed more convincingly regal than his successors.

It’s worth pointing out that the King George role is the only one that could be seen as an example of star casting — the casting of performers who already have a fan following, which is the standard practice of such long-running hits as “Chicago.” Will “Hamilton” feel forced to go that route?

In the meantime, that’s not what’s happening. There seems little point in talking about the other principal replacement cast members I saw yesterday since they will soon themselves be replaced.  But the lesson of the matinee was that these are roles that can be interpreted differently without changing the dynamic — and the appeal.

The schedule for the new new cast members:

1-alysha-deslorieux

Alysha Deslorieux, an original cast member who was previously the standby for Eliza Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler and Peggy Schuyler, begins as Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds on December 16 (tomorrow!)

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J. Quinton Johnson, who appeared in Richard Linklater’s film “Everybody Wants Some,” will make his Broadway debut as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, beginning January 6. 

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Bryan Terrell Clark, a Yale School of Drama graduate who made his Broadway debut as Marvin Gaye in “Motown,” begins as George Washington on January 10.

4-taran-killam

Taran Killam, who was on Saturday Night Live for six years, will make his Broadway debut as King George on January 17 — the fifth King George III.  

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Anthony Lee Medina, who’s had numerous theater and TV credits, will make his Broadway debut as as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton sometime in March. Current cast member, Jordan Fisher will play his final performance March 5.

Theater-Hamilton Cast Album

Buy Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) [Explicit]

Hamiltonbookcover

Buy Hamilton: The Revolution

hamilton mixtape cover

Buy The Hamilton Mixtape [Explicit]

Alex and Eliza book cover

Buy Alex and Eliza: A Love Story

What Hamilton’s Mandy Gonzalez learned from Bette Midler, Idina Menzel and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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Mandy Gonzalez today (October 29, 2016) at Sardi’s

I was the host for the luminous Mandy Gonzalez, who plays Angelica Schuyler in the Broadway production of Hamilton,  at the annual Sardi’s luncheon of the American Theatre Critics Association today, and got to ask her a question at the podium.

Mandy Gonzalez portrayed Elphaba in “Wicked” on Broadway, originated the role of Nina Rosario in “In The Heights,” and now she raps all week as Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton, (a role she took over on September 6th.) Can’t this woman get a break?

Seriously, Mandy paid her dues, for example working as a coat check attendant when she first moved to New York from California. But you know that voice was going to get her places. It’s so powerful that her fans call her The Beast (at least I hope that’s why they call her that!) In any case, you’ll be able to hear that voice in the comfort of your home when she releases her first solo CD next year.

Here was my question:

You sang back-up for Bette Midler, worked as stand-by for Idina Menzel in Aida, and have now starred in both hit Broadway shows by Lin-Manuel Miranda. What’s the most useful lesson you learned from each of these three?

Her answer:

From Bette Midler — that a woman at the top still works so hard, and that she maintains her artistic integrity, surrounding herself with people whom she trusts. It was a heady lesson for me when I was 19 years old.

From Idina Menzel — Her generosity. She works very hard too, which is why I didn’t perform the role for three months. When I did, she sent me a lovely note.

From Lin-Manuel Miranda — His loyalty. He surrounds himself with family, with people he grew up with.

 

I also asked her whether she had ever rapped before. She said no, “but I’m a fan of rap.” She said director Thomas Kail was very helpful during the month she was given to learn the part.

 

Mandy Gonzalez guest role in The Good Wife

Mandy Gonzalez performs “Breathe” from In The Heights

Mandy Gonzalez and Christopher Jackson sing When You’re Home from In The Heights as part of the #Ham4Ham mini-concerts around the Hamilton lotteries.

Nine months later, she moved behind those doors.

Lin-Manuel Miranda as host of Saturday Night Live

 

As the host of Saturday Night Live, Lin-Manuel Miranda appeared in some half-dozen sketches (see photo collage below with links to the videos.) None were more satisfying than his  opening monologue. (link to video below.)

“It takes seven years to write a show, so I don’t know when I’m going to be back here.”

“Hamilton is one of the biggest hits ever on Broadway so that means most of you at home have no idea who I am.”

 The monologue segued into a rap that included a confrontation with the photograph of Donald Trump in the SNL hallway.

There were references during the show to The Music Man. Rent. Footloose. Hamilton. Grease 2. and Godspell.  And there were commercials for The Lion King, Aladdin, Hello Dolly, The Book of Mormon,The  Front Page, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Encounter, Hairspray Live coming to NBC, andHamilton’s America, the PBS documentary that will be broadcast October 21st.

 

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged, and to find the link to the video. (The most worthwhile are Wells Fargo Wagon and Diego Calls His Mom.)

 

From Rock Star to…The Fringe

CarlosDandCarlosDengler

Carlos D., the bass player for the rock band Interpol, left the group at age 26.  He’s now re-emerged as a theater artist, with a new solo play about his (former) obsession with rock n roll. It’s entitled “Homo Sapiens Interruptus,” and it’s at the New York International Fringe Festival, for five performances from August 12 to August 25th.

He now calls himself “Actor.Musician.Writer.Hiker/Backpacker.Reformed Rock Star.Italian Greyhound and Star Wars Lover”

Below, watch a brief excerpt from his show, and then hear him explain why he went from rocker at arenas to actor at the Fringe.

 

 

There’s still time to enter the contest for a FREE pass to all 2016 Fringe shows. Enter here