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From Sarah Bernhardt to Meryl Streep: the new BAM Archives

Performances by Sarah Bernhardt, Martha Graham, and Meryl Streep; meetings about equal rights with Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass  in 1869; a lecture by Helen Keller in 1913.  These are among the  people and events chronicled in some 70,000 items now available in an online archives of The Brooklyn Academy of Music, starting with the cultural institution’s grand opening in 1861 attended by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.

If BAM is now known primarily as a venue for avant-garde performance, its long history demonstrates the huge variety of uses over the years for its buildings in Brooklyn. Some 40,000 artists are searchable in the archives.

Check out the newly launched Leon Levy BAM Digital Archive

Click on any image below to see it enlarged and read the caption.

 

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Best Moments on 2017 Tonys, Seen and Unseen

Many moments in the three hours of the 71st annual Tony Awards (complete list of winners) were worth experiencing just once, if that — Bette Midler NOT singing, yet rambling endlessly during her acceptance speech,  telling the orchestra  trying to nudge her off to “Shut that crap off.”

True, this was followed by Kevin Spacey, appearing as President Frank Underwood from “House of Cards,” as he handed the best musical envelope to presenter Lin-Manuel Miranda, saying: “I want to get the hell out of here before Bette Midler thanks anyone else.”

But there were some moments worth savoring.

Performances

Waving through a Window from Dear Evan Hansen

Welcome to the Rock from Come From Away

“Dust and Ashes” and “The Abduction” from Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Opening number

 

Politics

There was surprisingly little politics for an awards ceremony being held during the Trump presidency, but there were  a few such moments:

Cynthia Nixon,  while accepting the award as best featured actress for “Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes.”  quoted a famous line from the play  ‘There are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it, other people who just stand around and watch them do it,” She then added: “My love, my gratitude and my undying respect go out to all the people in 2017 who are refusing to just stand and watch them do it.”

At the end of his acceptance speech, Kevin Kline gave a shout-out to two federal arts agencies that President Trump wants to eliminate: “I’d like to thank a couple of organizations without which maybe half the people in this room would not be here: that would be the National Endowment for the Arts] and the National Endowment for the Humanities.”

In her acceptance speech  for her (well-deserved) Tony for best direction of a play, for Indecent, Rebecca Taichman said: “This is about making art when one is in great danger.”

Stephen Colbert as a presenter  injected the most bluntly political remarks.

“It is my honor to be here presenting the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. And it’s been a great year for revivals in general, especially that one they revived down in Washington D.C. It started off-Broadway in the ‘80s, way off-Broadway, over on 5th Avenue. Huge production values. A couple of problems. The main character is totally unbelievable, and the hair and makeup, yeesh.

“This D.C. production is supposed to have a four-year run, but the reviews have not been kind. Could close early, we don’t know, best of luck to everyone involved.”

He then called “Miss Saigon,” one of the nominated revivals,  “the only pageant whose locker room our president hasn’t walked in on.” and  greeted the groans with “Lot of Trump fans here tonight, evidently,”

Dramatists Rule

The four playwrights who were nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play — all Americans — were given time on stage of the 71st annual Tony Awards to describe their plays — J.T. Rogers on Oslo (which won); Lucas Hnath on A Doll’s House, Part 2, Paula Vogel on Indecent; Lynn Nottage on Sweat,

“We are in a golden age of American playwriting,” Lincoln Center Theater producer Andre Bishop said as he accepted the “Oslo” award with Rogers. When will the Tony Award broadcast fully realize this?

 

Heartfelt Thanks to Their Parents

Ben Platt, best lead actor in a musical, Dear Evan Hansen:

“I want to thank my parents, who are my heroes, Julie Platt and Marc Platt, the greatest people I’ve ever met. Everybody always says that about their parents, but it’s true, I will fight you. They are the best people in the world. Dad, you’re my hero, you taught me that you have to be a decent human being to be a decent artist, and I love you for it. And finally to all young people watching at home, don’t waste any time trying to be like anybody but yourself because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful. Thank you.”

Michael Aronov, best  featured actor in a play, Oslo

“My aunt and uncle and their two kids in New Jersey opened their hearts and home to me about 20 years ago when I first moved to New York to try to be an actor. They took me in and treated me like I was their son. I would have about five sets of keys in my bag at all times because when I missed the bus from doing shows in the city I had friends, rare and remarkable ones, that kept their doors open to me at any hour of the night. I finally was able to save up a couple of dollars and move into the city, a tiny, tiny studio apartment where if you walked in too fast you’d fly out the window. My mom and dad didn’t know that I was living off of pasta and cheese and rice pudding to be a frugal actor, because it would break their hearts and they’d try to turn the world upside down to help me be O.K. Because when I hurt they hurt more. and when I smile and soar they’re able to breathe. Thanks to Bart and J.T., this is the biggest honor of my life — but mainly because my mom and dad are here with me tonight. Solomon and Anna Aronov, you’ve always had my back more than anybody else in the world and you love me and Greg more than you love yourselves. My victories mean nothing to me unless I’m sharing them with you. Thank you.”

Awards and Acceptance Speeches Not Broadcast

Best Book of a Musical

 

Best Choreography

James Earl Jones speech accepting his Special Tony for Lifetime Achievement

In Memorium

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.

Bandstand Review: Corey Cott, Laura Osnes in Postwar Blues and Jitterbugs

“Bandstand,” a new musical about a group of traumatized World War II veterans who form a 40’s jazz band with a Gold Star widow as their singer, attempts to combine an original score of period music and exciting dance with an exploration of the toll that war takes on soldiers, not just in combat but once they return to civilian life.

The show, the last of the 20 musicals that opened on Broadway in the season just ended (seven of them revivals), is one of the few to try to ground its entertainment in a serious issue. That ambition makes it stand out. It surely says something that both “Anastasia” and “Groundhog Day” include glib jokes about Cleveland, while “Bandstand” is set in Cleveland. (There is even an ode to that city, “I Got A Theory.”)

But the show has much more than good intentions going for it.

Click on any photograph by Jeremy Daniel to see it enlarged

The cast, led by two rising Broadway stars, Corey Cott and Laura Osnes, is pitch-perfect, not only acting persuasively but also actually playing their musical instruments, backed by an unseen 13-piece orchestra. The catchy, beat-happy score by Robert Oberacker, making his Broadway debut, pays homage to the big band era of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, offering swing, boogie-woogie, jazz and blues. (The zesty orchestrations have already been nominated for both Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards; the Tony nominations will be announced next week.)

Director and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who won Tony Awards for his choreography of both In The Heights and Hamilton, seamlessly nods to 1940s popular dances like the jitterbug in coming up with some lively, inventive moves, performed by some terrific dancers. One number, “Right This Way,” is an effective and moving comment in dance on the veterans’ plight: A band member struggles to move forward, weighed down by a man leaning on each shoulder, until he takes a pill, and they gracefully fall away – the horrid memory of his fallen comrades tempered, at least temporarily, by medication.

Similarly, “Welcome Home,” the last of the show’s 16 songs, is a fiercely delivered litany of the pain of returning veterans, which got a standing ovation the night I attended.

All of this terrific entertainment and artistry is arranged around a plot that also recalls the 1940s, but ultimately not in a good way. The book, written by Oberacker and Robert Taylor, who is also his co-lyricist, focuses on Donny Novitzki (Cotts), starting with a scene of him in combat with his best friend Michael, who dies. Back home, damaged psychologically by what went down overseas and unable to find a job, he hears on the radio that NBC and MGM are sponsoring a song contest in honor of veterans, the winning song to be featured in a Hollywood movie. Donny decides then and there to put together a band of veterans, a self-admitted gimmick that he hopes will tilt the contest in their favor.

In the song “I Know A Guy,” Donny, a pianist, finds his band, first an acquaintance of his dead buddy Michael, saxophonist Jimmy (James Nathan Hopkins.) Jimmy leads Donny to bass player Davy (Brandon J. Ellis), a soldier who helped liberate Dachau, and now drinks to forget. Davy recommends trumpet player Nick (Alex Bender), who cannot control his temper, who in turn recommends drummer Johnny (Joe Carroll), whose military Jeep flipped over three times, and so he is now brain damaged. The last member of the band, trombonist Wayne (Geoff Packard) is a neatness freak, clearly someone with OCD. Keeping a promise to his dead friend, Donny visits Michael’s widow, Julia (Osnes), which results in a series of deeply touching scenes, aided immeasurably by the presence of Beth Leavel as Julia’s warm, wise-cracking mother. Julia, as it turns out, is a talented singer, though she has only as yet sung in church, and so she eventually joins the band as well.
All of this, while obviously by the numbers, works fine. But the more the singing contest takes over the plot — the preparations for it, the preliminary trials for it, the fundraising to go to New York for it, even contract disputes over it (I’m not kidding.) — the more the plot stumbles. The plot recovers in the climax, but then the last scene, a kind of tacked-on epilogue which I could have done without, is all about the band’s success. Are we meant to see that the wounds of war heal with time, or (more absurdly) that a successful career will make you get over your war-related physical injuries and post-traumatic stress? Or was it simply a decision to hew to a commercial formula, and play down the veteran angle, in order to sell tickets on Broadway?
Some might bristle at the formula plot, just as some might have preferred the actual song standards from the era. But I found it refreshing to hear new compositions, rather than yet another jukebox musical, even if Oberacker’s tunes are unlikely to get any jukebox play. (“Bandstand” is getting a cast recording, to be released on June 23rd.) And I recognize the plot as simply the creative team’s using a familiar old serving dish for its richly flavorful and largely nutritious meal (albeit based, to extend the metaphor, on a tried-and-true recipe.)
No, “Bandstand” is not “South Pacific.” But Osnes, whose sophomore effort on Broadway was as Kelli O’Hara’s replacement in “South Pacific” and has been a go-to leading lady ever since, deepens what could have been a stock character.

Cott, who made such an auspicious Broadway debut replacing Jeremy Jordan as the chief kid in “Newsies” and an inauspicious follow-up as the too-young tuxedoed Gaston in “Gigi” (Watch Corey Cott, from Newsies to Gigi), has matured at age 27 into an impressive leading man – handsome and charismatic and golden-voiced, but also adept at using the tools he has as a performer to express an authentic-feeling intensity and angst in his character Donny.

Ok, yes, Donny and Julia get together romantically at the end. (That is a spoiler only for somebody who has never seen a musical.) I wish they had not, to be honest, but I acknowledge that would have defied the physics of Broadway. Yet, “Bandstand” is smart enough to have delayed the inevitable as late as possible, and, before it happens, to include a wonderful song entitled “This Is Life” in which they argue for keeping their distance. Sample verse:

If we were singing Hammerstein songs
We could fix all the wrongs in rhyme
But this is life
With the heartache it brings
And we know that these things take time

It takes hubris to diss your better like that, but it’s an example of what’s right about “Bandstand.”

Bandstand
Bernard B Jacobs Theater
Book by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker; Music by Richard Oberacker; Lyrics by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker; Co-Orchestrator: Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen; Music arranged by Greg Anthony Rassen; Vocal arrangements by David Kreppel; Musical Director: Fred Lassen
Directed by Andy Blankenbuehler; Choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler; Associate Choreographer: Mark Stuart; Scenic Design by David Korins; Costume Design by Paloma Young; Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter; Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg; Hair and Wig Design by J. Jared Janas and Dave Bova; Makeup Design by J. Jared Janas and Dave Bova
Cast Laura Osnes, Corey Cott, Beth Leavel, Alex Bender, Joe Carroll, Brandon James Ellis, James Nathan Hopkins, Geoff Packard, Mary Callanan, Max Clayton, Patrick Connaghan, Matt Cusack, Andrea Dotto, Marc A. Heitzman, Ryan Kasprzak, Andrew Leggieri, Erica Mansfield, Morgan Marcell, Drew McVety, Kevyn Morrow, Jessica Lea Patty, Becca Petersen, Kevin Quillon, Jonathan Shew, Ryan VanDenBoom, Jaime Verazin, Mindy Wallace, and Kevin Worley
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including one intermission
Tickets: $59 to $159. Rush ticket: $35
Bandstand is scheduled to run through December 30, 2017

Hello Dolly Review: Bette Midler stars as Bette Midler

There are moments in Bette Midler’s Hello, Dolly that offer unsurpassed entertainment, demonstrating the ideal match between show and star that many people expected when they first heard that Midler would be the 15th Dolly Gallagher Levi on Broadway. That excitement (along with outrageously inflated ticket prices) resulted in the highest advance sale of any show in Broadway history.

There are not enough of those perfect moments, however, to justify the ardor for this unexceptional, pastel-hued fourth Broadway revival, nor to explain fully the exuberant acclaim for its star, who has not performed live as a character in a Broadway musical for 50 years. (She played a daughter in the original Fiddler on the Roof!) The reaction to Bette Midler in “Hello, Dolly” is a sociological phenomenon that transcends what occurs on stage.

I understand it. I’ve idolized Midler since first hearing her debut album, “The Divine Miss M,” and discovering this sassy songstress with a gorgeous voice, delivering retro sultriness with a persona simultaneously self-mocking, sexy and sincere.

That voice is gone now, judging from the performance I attended at the Shubert, replaced by a rasp of limited range. She also apparently can’t really dance; her movement on stage is more like rhythmic walking, and it’s in bracing contrast to the professional dancers who are virtually flying around her.

What remains vibrant is the Bette Midler persona, evident from the moment she makes her entrance on stage. It is not a grand entrance, at least not initially; it’s a sly surprise entrance. A “horse”-driven bus (actually two guys in a horse suit) comes on stage with a group of passengers reading newspapers that obscure their faces. One of them abruptly snatches the paper down; it’s Bette Midler. The audience greets her thunderously. She walks forward, first lifting her arms out in a diva welcome, then placing her palm against her chest, as if to say “your reception is giving me heart palpitations.” She is playfully portraying somebody who would make a gesture like that, but she’s also sincerely making the gesture.

This is not Dolly Levi Gallagher’s gesture, a widow in late 19th century New York who works as a matchmaker and anything else that might make her a buck. It belongs to Bette Midler, or more precisely to the Bette Midler persona.  The audience is responding not to Dolly but to Bette – and to our memories of the Divine Miss M. I am not dismissing those memories. In live theater, the adoration of the audience can palpably lift up a performer and a production, a gift of energy that is passed back and forth between audience and actors.

There are moments, though, when this “Hello, Dolly” is not just the Bette Midler show, or at least when she shares billing with her character. “Some people paint,” she says at one point. “Some sew. I…meddle.”

It’s delivered as a classic Bette wisecrack, with that mischievous grin and the practiced inflection of Jewish housewife as Borscht Belt comic. Suddenly, somehow, Dolly is Bette, and so Bette is Dolly.

And meddle she does. (They do?) Dolly has been looking for a wife for the “half-millionaire” Yonkers merchant Horace Vandergelder (David Hyde Pierce), and has decided that that wife should be herself. This means she must sabotage his planned proposal to New York milliner Irene Malloy (Kate Baldwin.) Dolly does this by arranging for Horace’s two assistants Cornelius (Gavin Creel) and Barnaby (Taylor Trensch) to woo (respectively) Irene and her assistant Minnie Fay (Beanie Feldstein, making a memorable Broadway debut.) Dolly is also busy scheming to prod Horace into reversing his adamant opposition of nuptials between his niece Ermengarde (Melanie Moore) and Ambrose (Will Burton) because of Ambrose’s disreputable career – he’s an artist. Is it a spoiler to reveal that love – or at least Dolly – triumphs?

Most of the supporting cast is at least competent; both Creel and Baldwin have voices to die for. Pierce feels miscast: His grumpy Horace is so off-putting that Dolly couldn’t desire him for anything but his money, which changes what we think of her. (That presumes, of course, that we think anything of the characters, as opposed to the performers.) The real heavy-lifting — sometimes literally —  is done by the vigorously athletic, inexhaustible and sometimes exhausting ensemble.

The plot is book-writer Michael Stewart and songwriter Jerry Herman’s adaptation of a play by Thornton Wilder, who adapted it from an earlier play of his, which was an adaptation of a German play that was in turn adapted from an 1835 English play. It is, in other words, almost two centuries old; it’s hardly an insult to call it old-fashioned. Director Jerry Zaks and choreographer Warren Carlyle seem happy to keep it that way. Santo Loquasto, whose past innovative stage and costume designs have garnered many awards, here opts for familiar postcard-looking backdrops, and blindingly bright pastel costumes, as if imagining what the stereotypical tourist would have worn had they existed at the turn of the 20th century. They all seem to be acknowledging that their job is to preserve the vehicle. “Hello, Dolly” has always served as a vehicle for its star – originally and most notably (and most repeatedly) Carol Channing, but also Pearl Bailey, Ethel Merman, Betty Grable, Ginger Rogers, Phyllis Diller, et al. Each has tried to own the part; some merely rented it.

Bette does own Dolly, but Dolly doesn’t always live in Bette; the melding of the two is only periodic. It fails conclusively during Dolly’s conversations with her dead husband Ephraim, which are played as straightforwardly sincere, without an overlay of the Divine Miss M’s self-mockery, and paradoxically came off to me as insincere. She also disappoints in “Before the Parade Passes By,” one of the four or five supremely tuneful songs in Jerry Herman’s score.

Where Midler shines is in comedy. This was evident even in The Rose. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in that serious 1979 film as a self-destructive rock star, but it was the brief comic scene of her crashing a gay bathhouse that is the most memorable. It’s her 1980’s movie comedies that thrust her into the mainstream, and her campy revues that perfected her comic persona and cemented her adulation by her long-time (heavily gay) fans. Comic verve is one talent that can actually improve with age.

Where Bette Midler reaches something close to perfection in “Hello,Dolly” is in two show-stopping scenes that couldn’t be more different. There’s the over-the-top “Hello, Dolly” number at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, where she descends the stairs in a gown of screaming red sequins and baubles and a crown of red plumes — a vision of glamour, yes, but somehow a comic vision of glamour. It’s the number most audience members are likely to agree with the hyper waitstaff as they sing:

Oh, hello Dolly, well, hello Dolly

It’s so nice to have you back where you belong

 And then there is the odd scene near the end in a courtroom, where she is eating a meal. (I must have missed the explanation for this.) She dips a turkey leg into a gravy boat, but that’s not enough. She dips her fingers into the gravy, but that’s not enough. Oh, what the hell, she lifts the gravy boat up to her mouth and just drinks the whole thing. Her meal stops the show, literally. “Hello, Dolly” grinds to a halt, the entire cast on stage watching her eat. It’s like a scene from another show – Beckett? Carol Burnett? It might or might not be Dolly, but it’s all Bette, and it’s hilarious.

 Tickets to Hello, Dolly

Hello, Dolly

Book by Michael Stewart, based on “The Matchmaker” by Thornton Wilder; Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman

Directed by Jerry Zaks. Choreography by Warren Carlyle; set and costume design by Santo Loquasto. Lighting design by Natasha Katz, sound design by Scott Lehrer.

Cast Bette Midler, David Hyde Pierce, Donna Murphy (at certain performances), Gavin Creel, Kate Baldwin, Taylor Trensch, Will Burton, Melanie Moore, Jennifer Simard, Cameron Adams, Phillip Attmore, Giuseppe Bausilio, Justin Bowen, Elizabeth Earley, Taeler Elyse Cyrus, Leslie Donna Flesner, Jenifer Foote, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Stephen Hanna, Michael Hartung, Robert Hartwell, Amanda LaMotte, Analisa Leaming, Jess LeProtto, Ian Liberto, Kevin Ligon, Nathan Madden, Michael McCormick, Linda Mugleston, Hayley Podschun, Jessica Sheridan, Michaeljon Slinger, Christian Dante White, Branch Woodman, Ryan Worsing and Richard Riaz Yoder

Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes including one intermission.

Tickets: $59.00 (fat chance) to $229.00

It is worth noting that on Tuesdays beginning June 13, 2017, the role of Dolly Levi will be played by Donna Murphy. Donna Murphy will also perform the role of Dolly Levi on June 27 – July 2, July 5 – 9, Sunday evening – July 30, September 6 – 10, Sunday evening – October 15, Monday evening – October 30, November 1 – 5, Friday – November 24 @ 2pm,  and Sunday evening – January 7.

“Hello, Dolly” is scheduled to run through January 14, 2018

DivineMissM

The Divine Miss M (Deluxe)

AViewFromABroad

A View from A Broad

A Dolls House, Part 2, with Laurie Metcalf: Review, Pics

Laurie Metcalf is the fifteenth actress since 1889 to portray Nora Helmer on Broadway, the character in Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” who slams the door on her husband and three children. But she is the first Nora to knock on that door 15 years later, in Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” a clever, surprisingly amusing and thought-provoking new play performed to winning effect by a quartet of first-rate actors: Besides Metcalf, they are Chris Cooper as Nora’s husband Torvald, Jayne Houdyshell as her former nanny Anne Marie, and Condola Rashad as her now grown-up daughter Emmy….A modest theatrical piece, …Hnath’s play is basically just five two-character scenes that run a total of 90 minutes without an intermission…But the simplicity of A Doll’s House, Part 2 is deceptive…

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Brigitte Lacombe to see it enlarged

 

 

Anastasia on Broadway: Review, Video, Photographs

In dramatizing the legend surrounding the youngest daughter of the last Czar, the show has created a new villain, a Soviet official named Gleb….Anastasia winds up promoting nostalgia for the last reign of the Romanovs, those elegantly attired autocrats who sponsored pogroms against the Jews and violently suppressed popular Russian calls for democracy.
..the real strength of this production – its beautiful design and its wonderful cast…Given the pleasures in this escapist fare largely geared to children, few parents will probably care that we have to endure lines like “Anya survived for a reason: to heal what happened or Russia will be a wound that never heals.”

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Tickets to Anastasia

Click on any photograph by Matthew Murphy to see it enlarged

 

 

Hello, Dolly with Bette Midler opens

In her first performance in a Broadway musical in 50 years, Bette Midler opens tonight as the 15th Dolly Gallagher Levi on Broadway,  in the fifth Broadway production of “Hello, Dolly.”

The new revival also stars David Hyde Pierce as Horace Vandergelder , Gavin Creel as Cornelius Hackl , and Kate Baldwin as Irene Molloy. Also in the 33-member cast: Taylor Trensch , most recently star of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and Jennifer Simard, Tony nominee for Disaster.

curtain call

Based on Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, the 1964 musical features music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, both of whom won Tony Awards for the work on the original production, which won eight additional Tonys, including one for Best Musical and one for star Carol Channing

Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly, opened January 16, 1964.

 

ACT 1 Sung By
I Put My Hand In Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi and Company
It Takes A Woman Horace Vandergelder and The Instant Glee Club
Put On Your Sunday Clothes Cornelius Hackl, Barnaby Tucker, Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi, Ambrose Kemper and Ermengarde
Put On Your Sunday Clothes The People of Yonkers
Ribbons Down My Back Irene Molloy
Motherhood Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi, Horace Vandergelder, Irene Molloy, Minnie Fay, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker
Dancing Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi, Cornelius Hackl, Barnaby Tucker, Minnie Fay, Irene Molloy and Dancers
Before the Parade Passes By Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi and Company
ACT 2 Sung By
Penny in My Pocket Horace Vandergelder
Elegance Irene Molloy, Cornelius Hackl, Minnie Fay and Barnaby Tucker
The Waiters’ Galop Rudolph and Waiters
Hello, Dolly! Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi, Rudolph, Waiters and Cooks
The Contest Ambrose Kemper, Ermengarde, Irene Molloy, Cornelius Hackl, Minnie Fay, Barnaby Tucker and the Contestants
It Only Takes a Moment Cornelius Hackl, Irene Molloy, Prisoners and Policeman
So Long Dearie Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi
Hello, Dolly! Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi and Horace Vandergelder
Finale Company

Indecent on Broadway: Review, pics, video

There are many reasons to find deep satisfaction in the arrival on Broadway of the play “Indecent,” a fascinating tale wondrously staged about a century-old Jewish drama that featured a scandalizing kiss between two women, whose Broadway cast was prosecuted for obscenity.
It marks the long-delayed Broadway debut of Paula Vogel, who at 65 is one of the theatre community’s most admired playwrights…”Indecent” is also something of a homecoming and even vindication for “God of Vengeance”…”Indecent” is further proof that a play can explore a range of frighteningly relevant issues – threats to the arts and an entire culture, anti-immigrant bigotry, homophobia, even genocide – and do so in a production that is not only enlightening, and moving, but entertaining.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Carol Rosegg to see it enlarged

Amélie Review: Phillipa Soo to the rescue

Adam Chanler-Berat and Phillipa Soo in Amélie

Judging from the last few minutes of “Amélie,” when the two adorable eccentrics Amélie and Nino finally kiss, the new musical feels like a charming and almost traditional romantic comedy, especially since the leads are portrayed by two of Broadway’s most appealing and talented young stars, both of whom have names that it takes practice to spell correctly — Phillipa Soo and Adam Chanler-Berat.

But the first 90 minutes or so of “Amélie,” an adaptation of the 2001 French movie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, are a full-out exercise in whimsy. Indeed, before “Amélie” even begins, the curtain comes alive with the random flittering of little birds, bunnies and butterflies. The animation is subtle and endearing, but I suppose I could have taken it as a warning. The last time I remember seeing such a wonderfully animated Broadway curtain was at the 2011 musical Wonderland, an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland that failed to win over critics or the public, and closed after a month.

“Amélie” features a fine cast; clever, playful design; and a pleasing if unmemorable pop score. It also features Fluffy the singing goldfish, a plaster Garden Gnome come to life, (a character impersonating) Elton John singing to Amelie as if she were Princess Diana, a café full of lovelorn eccentrics, and Soo/Amelie disguising herself at times as a nun and as Zorro. Much of this was in the movie as well, but there the colorful characters and fanciful subplots all felt part of the enchanting if ironic swirl on screen (underscored  by composer Yann Tiersen bouncy French soundtrack full of accordion and mandolin.)  The stage at the Walter Kerr, by contrast, feels crowded with details, distractions and digressions that are sometimes hard to follow, even though the characters take turns narrating; saying things like “Her true destiny confirmed,Amélie decides to celebrate her new life by daydreaming alone in her apartment.” (It very much helps to have seen the movie.) The musicalized vignettes are often presented like children’s theater run amok. “Amélie” the musical has a shorter running time than “Amélie” the movie, but it feels longer.

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

Like the movie, the musical begins with Amélie as a child (here portrayed winningly by Savvy Crawford), being raised by a cold-fish physician father who only touches her when he gives her an annual physical, and a neurotic mother who insists on homeschooling her daughter, which means she is kept isolated from children her own age. On an educational trip to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Amelie’s mother is killed when a Belgian tourist commits suicide by jumping off the cathedral and landing on top of her.

The adult Amelie moves to Paris and, five years later, is working as a waitress in Montmartre.

The upbringing we just witnessed seems to have turned her into a loner, who is unable to form intimate relationships, and who lives largely in her imagination. After the death of Princess Di, she imagines herself as the Princess (hence the fantasy with Elton John), and sees herself assuming Diana’s legacy by performing kindnesses for strangers. This is where all the side stories kick in. A blind beggar objects when Amelie drops a coin in his cup because “It’s after 5; I’m not working,” but she eventually wins him over by her vivid descriptions of the street life. Lucien loves his figs, seeing the vegetables as almost human, so Amelie sets one of the figs up with a date. (Get it?) Above all, she serves as a secret matchmaker for the denizens of the café.

Amélie first encounters Nino in a train station on her way to one of her rescue missions. Nino is kneeling in front of a photobooth collecting the discarded photographs on the ground, and she trips over him. He’s an artist, you see, although he works as a clerk in a porn shop to make a living (which is one of the things that probably makes “Amelie” inappropriate for children.)

Thus begins, more or less, their romance — long-developing, much-interrupted, in which Amélie spends much of her time running away from him. My favorite song of the two dozen in the show, “A Better Haircut,” – tuneful, clever and energetic – occurs when Nino, through a series of odd events, winds up on Nino’s instruction at her café, where her workers and customers confront him about his intentions. The ensemble sings:

You might be a lover for the ages
but can you prove that you
are not highly contagious

Finally, he responds that there are no guarantees, and

I understand she may not even feel the same
[but]
I love her and I don’t know her name

This is near the end of the musical and Nino and Amélie have not really even had a conversation with one another.

So perhaps their love affair is unrealistic, but certainly more realistic than the talking goldfish, and also fully in keeping with romantic comedy convention. Besides, many a theatergoer has already fallen in love with Phillipa Soo. Straight out of Juilliard, she was cast at age 22 as Natasha in “Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812”, to great acclaim, but left that show before it transferred to Broadway in order to originate the role of Eliza in “Hamilton.” It might be difficult to find anybody who would say that her performance in the role she originates in “Amelie” is as wondrous as the ones she originated in “The Great Comet” or “Hamilton,” but it puts her on stage where she belongs, and where I suspect she will be from now on – front and center.

Amélie

Walter Kerr Theater

Book by Craig Lucas; Music by Daniel Messé; Lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé; Musical staging and choreography by Sam Pinkleton

Directed by Pam MacKinnon

Scenic Design by David Zinn; Costume Design by David Zinn; Lighting Design by Jane Cox and Mark Barton; Sound Design by Kai Harada; Projection Design by Peter Nigrini; Puppet Design by Amanda Villalobos; Hair and Wig Design by Charles G. LaPointe;

Cast: Phillipa Soo as Amélie, Adam Chanler-Berat as Nino,David Andino as Blind Beggar, Garden Gnome, Anchorperson; Randy Blair as Hipolito, Belgian Tourist; Heath Calvert as Lucin; Adrien Wells as Mysterious Man; Alison Cimmet as Amandine,Philomene; Savvy Crawford as Young Amélie; Manoel Felciano as Raphael,Bretodeau; Harriett D. Foy as Suzanne; Alyse Alan Louis as Georgette, Sylvie , Collignon’s Mother; Maria-Christina Oliveras as Gina;Tony Sheldon as Collignon, Dufayel; Paul Whitty as Joseph, Fluffy, Collignon’s Father. Swings: Emily Afton, Trey Ellett, Destinee Rea and Jacob Keith Watson. Understudies: Emily Afton (Amélie), Audrey Bennett (Young Amélie), Alyse Alan Louis (Amélie), Jacob Keith Watson (Nino) and Paul Whitty (Collignon, Dufayel)

Running time: 110 minutes, no intermission.

Tickets: $79.50 to $199.50