“We’ve got magic to do…”
Pippin may be closing in January, but there’s another fantastical show rolling into town to satisfy your illusionary needs. The Illusionists – Witness the Impossible has toured internationally and arrives at the Marriott Marquis from November 26 through January 4. Expect stunning acts of grand illusion, levitation, mind-reading, disappearance, and for the first time ever in history, a full-view water torture escape. Inspired by the great illusionists such as Harry Houdini, this new generation takes the craft to a new level for the 21st century.
Illusionists – Witness the Impossible
Marriott Marquis Theatre
Through January 4
Even more curious? Take a sneak peek…
Cirque du Soleil extends its presence to the Mayan Riviera with the opening of JOYÀ, which premiered this past weekend at the brand new, customed-designed, 600-seat Cirque du Soleil Theater near The Grand Mayan resort. Directed by Martin Genest and Richard Dagenais, this is Cirque’s 36th production since its inception 30 years ago.
Behind the veil of the lush Mayan jungle exists a world of crystal-clear water pools, coral rocks, and rich flora and fauna – an oasis within an oasis. A wooden walkway leads to a theater perched above a massive lagoon cascading in a majestic waterfall. This is the world of JOYÀ.
Inspired by the fabulous migratory journey of the monarch butterfly in which life is passed from one generation to the next to ensure the survival of the species, JOYÀ follows the adventures of a rebellious teenage girl whisked away to a mysterious jungle in her grandfather’s fantastical world. Surrounded by a strange band of half-human, half-animal masters inspired by ancient Mayan iconography, the aging naturalist yearns to pass on to his granddaughter his relentless quest for the meaning of life.
Inhabited by entrancing characters that work hand in hand to perpetuate the love of life, JOYÀ abounds in subtle allusions to the history and culture of Mexico, from the migration of the monarch butterflies, to the asteroid believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, to artists such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and with mariachis, masked wrestlers, pirate legends, and the rhythms and sounds of Mexico.
Take a sneak peek at a creative preview of the immersive production…
by Jim Gladstone
“My parents are pretty much the opposite of Mama Rose,” jokes Broadway veteran Telly Leung—who plays Feinstein’s at the Nikko in San Francisco this weekend—“They have no relationship to showbiz whatsoever. It was harder for me to come out to them as an actor than as a gay man.”
But, the Brooklyn-born Leung, whose irresistibly sweet, clarion singing voice has graced New York productions Pacific Overtures, Wicked, Godspell, and Rent, may crack wise a bit too quickly.
Reflecting for a moment, he’s reminded that, while his Chinese immigrant parents—Dad works in the restaurant business, Mom is a seamstress—always aspired for him to have a white collar job, American popular entertainment was ingrained in his life from very early on.
“My father learned to speak English by listening to pop music,” says Leung, recalling Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water in heavy rotation in the Leung household. (His own interpretation of that song, beautifully melded with the traditional spiritual The Water Is Wide is featured on Leung’s debut album, I’ll Cover You).
Television, too, had its part in his parents’ acculturation.
Leung’s first name is derived not from Cantonese or Mandarin, but borrowed from a Greek immigrant: Aristotelis “Telly” Savalas.
“My mother loved watching Kojak,” Leung shrugs. “That’s who she named me after.”
Ironically, the musical theater bug first bit Leung hard while he was studying at Stuyvesant High, New York’s prestigious public magnet school for math and science whiz kids. “I grew up as a studious, only child,” he remembers, “So theater really gave me my first real chance to just hang.” High school productions of West Side Story and Pippin provided an expansive sense of camaraderie that felt new and enthralling. “I never really refer to casts I’ve been in now,” he says, “In my mind its my Flower Drum Song family, or my Rent family.”
After high school graduation it was off to drama school at Carnegie Mellon University. “My parents only let me go,” Leung says, “because [the school] offered me the biggest financial package.”
Making theater the center of his life rather than a sideline proved a bit of a shock for Leung, whose coming out process was tightly entwined with his college education. “My first year I got a C. I was used to getting A’s and A-pluses my entire life. But my teacher told me ‘You are not bringing yourself to the work.’ I wasn’t a student trying to get 1500 on a test anymore. I had to commit to being an ‘A’ student for life, an artist for life. And to do this well, I had to dig in myself. I had to know myself. Theater really opened me up.”
Among his mentors at Carnegie Mellon was Billy Porter, winner of the 2013 Best Actor Tony for Kinky Boots. “Billy was an alum who directed my senior musical, Sondheim’s Company. Billy’s own first Broadway show out of school was Miss Saigon, so he knew a lot of the tight knit community of Asian-American actors on Broadway. He knew that auditions were happening for the David Henry Hwang revival of Flower Drum Song, and even though I didn’t have an agent, he arranged for me to try out. One day he said to me, ‘After you finish rehearsal, you’re going to take the Greyhound from Pittsburgh to New York and go to the Ripley Greer Studio.’ They kept me all day, and I landed a part in the ensemble.”
Since landing that first New York role right out of college, Leung feels extraordinarily fortunate to have been a part of three particular projects that have become huge cultural phenomena: He played Angel in the final Broadway cast of Rent, originated the role of Bok in the pre-Broadway Chicago run of Wicked, and appeared Dalton Academy Warbler, Wes, on television’s Glee.
Leung takes pride in the fact that none of those roles were conceived specifically for an Asian American actor, but nonetheless acknowledges an inherent prejudice in Broadway casting. “As an actor though,” he says, “I go into every audition thinking ‘Why not me?’ I can’t control my age, my height, or my skin color. But I can’t go in thinking that they’re never going to hire me. My job is to show why it can be me. But I do wish,” he notes, “That there was more encouragement of Asian writers and people in power to tell their own stories.”
To that end, Leung has long been attached to the musical Allegiance, about the Japanese-American internment during World War II. Also starring George Takei, whose own experience informs the script, and Lea Salonga, the show debuted to solid notices in 2012 at the Old Globe in San Diego, and producers remain hopeful for a Broadway production.
In the mean time, Leung—happily partnered for 10 years to a man who prefers to avoid the spotlight—continues to branch out as a solo recording and cabaret artist. He also recently served as producer of Grind, a short film about gay hook-up culture starring his good friend Anthony Rapp—available for free online at www.grindshortfilm.com.
The twin siren songs of Broadway and pop culture that have infused Leung’s life from the start have hardly faded into the background though: The candy-voiced singer named for a lollipop-sucking TV detective is currently involved in the development of a new musical: It’s called C’mon Get Happy—and it’s about a cult that worships The Partridge Family.
Jim Gladstone is a San Francisco-based creative consultant and writer. A book columnist and Contributing Editor at PASSPORT, he is the author of an award-winning novel, The Big Book of Misunderstanding.
John Cameron Mitchell returns to the role he co-created with composer/lyricist Stephen Trask in their musical Hedwig and The Angry Inch, which they debuted in the 1998 hit Off-Broadway production. Mitchell will step into the role on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre (111 West 44th Street) starting Wednesday, January 21 for a strictly limited eight-week engagement. Mitchell will join co-star and Tony Award winner Lena Hall who continues with the production as Yitzhak.
This will mark Mitchell’s first New York stage appearance since his iconic 1998 performance as Hedwig at the Jane Street Theatre, a role that earned him an Obie Award and an Outer Critics Circle nomination. He later starred in and directed the 2001 film version of Hedwig and The Angry Inch, Mitchell received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. Mitchell’s other acting credits include Girls, The Secret Garden, and Six Degrees of Separation. His other directing credits include Rabbit Hole, Shortbus, and the upcoming film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s punk era story How to Talk to Girls at Parties.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch songwriter Stephen Trask said, “John is one of my oldest and dearest friends and this character is such an important part of his life that I mostly just feel excited and happy for him that he gets to revisit her in this incredible incarnation. And then there’s probably a small part of me that feels like Robbie Robertson felt when The Band reunited without him. I kind of wish I were going to be on that stage.”
John Cameron Mitchell said, “I am in equal parts thrilled and terrified to be returning to Hedwig. Fifteen years ago she kicked my butt so hard that I quit acting. But like an expertly face-lifted ex-wife, she’s lured me back. The killer new work by Neil Patrick Harris, Andrew Rannells, and Michael C. Hall have left much larger pumps to fill. Here’s hoping I don’t need a walker by the end of the run.
Director Michael Mayer said, “I’m beyond thrilled to work with my dear friend John Cameron Mitchell in recreating his iconic role in our new production. I think his Hedwig has had a date with Broadway for a long time and I can’t wait to be there for it.”
Hedwig and the Angry Inch producer David Binder said, “John returning to Hedwig is every fan’s dream come true. I’ve spent two decades working with Stephen and John and to have John in Hedwig’s gold boots at the Belasco couldn’t make me happier. No one will be screaming louder than me when he makes his entrance on January 21.”
As previously announced Golden Globe and Drama Desk Award winner Michael C. Hall will play his final performance as Hedwig on Sunday, January 18.
The Broadway community mourns the loss of acclaimed director, producer, writer, and performer Mike Nichols, who passed away on Wednesday evening at age 83. The marquees of Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed in his memory on Friday, November 21st, at exactly 7:45 p.m. for one minute.
Mike Nichols was among the most celebrated people in the history of show business, one of only a handful of people to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award®. Mike Nichols has won more Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Play than any other individual. His six nods were for Barefoot in the Park (1964), Luv and The Odd Couple (1965), Plaza Suite (1968), The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1972), The Real Thing (1984), and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (2012). He has also won in other categories for directing the musical Monty Python’s Spamalot (2005), and for producing Annie (1977) and The Real Thing (1984) under the company he founded, Icarus Productions, making it a total of nine Tony Award wins. He also received eight additional nominations.
Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of the Broadway League, said, “Legendary director Mike Nichols shared his distinct genius for storytelling through the worlds of stage and film. Throughout his celebrated career in many mediums that spanned decades, he was always in awe of the thrill and the miracle that is theatre. In addition to his numerous honors, including nine Tony Awards, he won over audiences with his passion for art. His notable presence in our industry will be deeply missed. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and fans.”
Nichols started out on Broadway as a performer in An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May, which he co-wrote with May. The show premiered in 1960 and ran for 306 performances.
He made his cinematic directorial debut directing Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and later won the Academy Award for his direction of The Graduate.
Among his upcoming projects, Nichols was slated to helm a screen adaptation of Terrence McNally’s Master Class starring Meryl Streep as Maria Callas.
Nichols was born in Germany in 1931. He is survived by his wife, Diane Sawyer; his three children Daisy, Max and Jenny; and four grandchildren.
By Samuel L. Leiter
In 1947, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were the newly anointed kings of Broadway musicals, having created two remarkable blockbusters, Oklahoma! (1943) and Carousel (1945), in quick succession. Brimming with confidence, they turned away from material based on other people’s plays and came up with something more personal, Allegro, a show loosely inspired by Hammerstein’s own experiences in which he sought to express the age-old conflict of someone tempted to compromise his ideals in favor of a life of comfort and prestige. The narrative, stressing the allegorical over the realistic, could fit any number of professions, but chooses medicine as its focus. (Hammerstein borrowed much from conversations his own doctor, and both Rodgers’s father and brother were physicians.)
Beginning in 1905 and covering 35 years in the life of its hero, it tells the story of Joseph Taylor, Jr. (Claybourne Elder), a dedicated small town doctor, son of a similarly devoted practitioner, Joseph Taylor, Sr. (Malcolm Gets). Joe, Jr., prompted by his striving wife, Jenny (Elizabeth A. Davis), and her businessman father, Ned Brinker (Ed Romanoff), moves to Chicago where he achieves a high-paying position caring for the rich at a large Chicago hospital; in the end, he discovers that he can best serve medicine by returning to his roots.
To tell their story, Rodgers and Hammerstein broke conventional boundaries by using a Greek chorus and a minimalist production in the style of Our Town (which, to their distress, quickly became bloated). Despite some sympathetic responses, the show lasted only 315 performances, not terrible, but still the team’s first (and worst) failure. Consequently, until John Doyle’s superb new production now at the Classic Stage Company, Allegro has been seen locally only in a brief Equity Library Theatre revival (1978) and, just this spring, at the Astoria Performing Arts Center. As he did several years ago with his Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd, Doyle—who designed the set as well—once more reveals what theatrical minimalism can do when in a creative master’s hands.
Allegro has been pared down to 90 intermissionless minutes and set on a dark-stained wooden stage backed by a wall of neutral-colored horizontal planking onto which designer Jane Cox splashes deceptively simple lighting patterns and shadows. Only a few chairs and benches serve for furniture, with the actors often seated on the floor itself in Doyle’s smoothly inventive and highly polished staging. Dance, essential to the original production (directed by the great choreographer Agnes DeMille), has been abandoned in favor of staged movement.
The work is performed by a company of 12 playing 17 roles (41 in the original). In 1947 the principals were supplemented by 23 dancers and 38 singers (some with brief speaking parts), inflating the onstage company to 78, supplemented by an orchestra of 35, making costs skyrocket. As in the past, Doyle’s actors are also gifted musicians, their instruments including fiddles, basses, saxophones, guitars, banjos, and piano; most carry their instruments with them even during dramatic scenes, most of which are underscored by music. Of course, everyone can sing.
Unlike the big Rodgers and Hammerstein hits, Allegro is not known for an extensive songbook of standards, but many will recognize “A Fellow Needs a Girl” and “The Gentleman Is a Dope”; there is also the lovely ballad “So Far,” which Frank Sinatra once recorded. The songs are so seamlessly integrated into the narrative, especially as performed here, that none stands out as a “production number,” so the show streams steadily along without interruptions for applause. The score has considerable variety, much of it sounding rather contemporary, including a song satirizing the inane chatter of urban cocktail sophisticates that goes “Yatata Yatata Yatata”; it suggests the edgy cynicism of Stephen Sondheim, who was a 17-year-old gofer on the original production.
The title song, “Allegro,” conveys the sense of fast-paced city life, “the clash and competition / of counterpoint,” on which the disillusioned Joe turns his back when the ensemble sings the sweetly appealing ballad, “Come Home, Joe,” luring him to peace and happiness in his home town. Audiences visiting Allegro should find similar peace and happiness in the embrace of this sensitive but uplifting revival.
Classic Stage Company
136 E. 13th Street
Through December 14
Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his writing, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).
Every third Wednesday of the month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer fills out contributor Tom Mizer’s nosey little questionnaire and offers a glimpse of what he looks like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. For November, we are especially thankful for this handsome, talented and verbally dexterous man of the month…
Name: Evan Siegel
Hometown: Delmar, NY
Current Show/Role: Cabaret; Han/Rudy
The best part of the show I’m working on now is: The incredible cast and crew. I am beyond fortunate to work with such a warm, close-knit, and caring group of people. It is truly a joy to go to work every day, and to tell a timely and poignant story alongside people for whom I have boundless admiration, respect, and love.
The most challenging job in show business I ever had was: A few years ago, I was in Miami rehearsing for a cruise ship contract. I was required to learn mountains of material, including solos in Italian, Spanish, German, and Swahili. To complicate matters, I also had to miss 10 days of rehearsal to sing a series of benefit concerts in Zimbabwe with Teatro, an international platinum-selling vocal quartet. So one morning, I desperately rehearsed my daunting multi-lingual ship repertoire for a few hours, and then began a 50-hour voyage from Miami to New York to London to Johannesburg to Zimbabwe. This was my first time performing with Teatro, so I learned the entire 90-minute set in the airspace between North America, Europe, and Africa. Zimbabwe was mind-blowing, and we raised $50,000 for a child cancer relief organization called Kidzcan. Then I flew from Zimbabwe to Johannesburg to Cairo to New York to Miami, slept for a few hours, was back at rehearsal by 8 a.m., and a few days later flew to Italy for six months through the Mediterranean, Arabia, India, and Africa. I think I’m still recovering! Read more…
I’m seeing double.
It’s been 17 years since I heard then-unknown belters Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley, along with the Side Show’s original company, sing “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” at Broadway on Broadway, a free outdoor concert presented by the Times Square Alliance. It was electrifying.
The real-life story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton opened last night in a newly conceived production directed by Hollywood heavyweight Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey, God and Monsters). The show features music by Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls, The Tap Dance Kid) and book and lyrics by Bill Russell (Pageant). Much of the original production has been tinkered with, but the gist of the story remains the same as it follows the girls as they escape from the side show circuit to become one of vaudeville’s most coveted acts.
As leading ladies, Emily Padgett (Daisy) and Erin Davie (Violet) are tasked with a seemingly insurmountable task of conveying the pair attached at the hip, delivering a nuanced and delicate performance that often transcends the material. Daisy wants the bright lights and stardom that Hollywood has to offer, while Violet wishes to fall in love and lead a normal life. Unfortunately, neither is going anywhere without the other. Padgett is punchy and manages to find humor in the role, while Davie is saddled with more gravitas and occasionally wallows in sniffles and tears.
The twins are lured with promises of stardom and a better life. Ryan Silverman as their manager Terry, and Matthew Hydzik as Bobby, the twin’s song and dance man with a wandering eye, offer a charming onstage presence and it’s easy to imagine how the girls might fall in love with them. Along for the ride is David St. Louis as Jake, a side show sidekick who is hired to oversee the twins’ well-being.
In its original production, Side Show lasted merely 91 performances, saddled by a clunky book and a few sequences that have become cult favorites (who remembers “The Tunnel of Love”?) Much of this has been cleaned up with the help of Condon, who is credited with additional book material, as well as new music and lyrics. Even so, the musical’s structure lacks cohesion, primarily due to a score that isn’t firmly grounded in time or place.
Side Show has two epic ballads: “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” and “I Will Never Leave You,” which close each act. In between there’s a rebel rousing “The Devil You Know,” which sounds like it could be lifted from the Dreamgirls cutting room floor, vaudeville-inspired song and dance sequences, and an exhaustingly overwrought 10 o’clock number (to be followed by the aforementioned 11 o’clock one) delivered by Jake as he confesses his longstanding love for Violet.
Woven throughout, the hard-working ensemble of “freaks” (their word, not mine) comprise Daisy and Violet’s carnie sidekicks as creatively conceived by Paul Tazewell (costumes), Dave and Lou Elsey (special make-up effects), Charles LaPointe (wig and hair design), and Cookie Jordan (make-up design)—they all deserve mention because it is a cumulative and invigorating display of craftsmanship, unlike David Rockwell’s set, which falls flat on creativity.
Under Condon’s direction, this incarnation of Side Show has moments of emotional resonance, but his lack of stage experience is evident in clunky stage patterns and change-of-scene sequences, which could use a defter hand. The real Hilton sisters achieved stardom that many of the era could only dream of, eventually touring with Bob Hope and meeting the likes of Harry Houdini, who according to the program notes, taught them how to self-hypnotize to “get rid” of one another. I’m not sure this tribute to their lives will have quite the same impact, but for an entertaining evening at the theater that is a far cry from the usual display of long-legged chorus girls, Side Show should be front and center.
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street
Interested in the real Hilton sisters? Take a look at this fascinating documentary…
In a last hurrah, the creative team behind the Tony Award-winning revival of Pippin have pulled out some interesting star power. Taking over the title role is Josh Kaufman, season six winner of NBC’s The Voice.
This is Kaufman’s Broadway debut, and though he may not be as boyishly intriguing as the role’s originator Matthew James Thomas, he brings a crystal clear voice to the role, as exemplified in this acoustic version of “Corner of the Sky.”
And for another ’70s throwback. Priscilla Lopez joins the cast. She was in the original production, taking over for the role of Fastrada in 1974, and most noted for originating the role of Morales in A Chorus Line. She returns to Pippin as Berthe, Pippin’s acrobatic grandmother.
John Epperson is back as Lypsinka, his high glamour alter ego that has been playing the boards in various incarnations for more than two decades. Lypsinka! The Trilogy showcases three productions in repertory: Lypsinka! The Boxed Set, The Passion of the Crawford, and John Epperson: Show Trash.
I had a chance to catch the classic, Lypsinka! The Boxed Set, which features some of Epperson’s most iconic work. If you’ve been living under a rock since the ‘90s, Epperson, along with engineer Alex Noyes, captures songs and snippets from some of our favorite leading ladies of the silver screen and beyond. It’s miraculous to imagine how the duo spliced it all together, weaving a fantasia of fabulousness that honors the era and also gives it a jovial poke.
Aided by a ‘50s-inspired variety show set by Jim Boutin and razor sharp lighting and follow spots designed by Mark Simpson with Jeremy Owens, Epperson fluidly moves through songs and patter from recognizable voices such as Ethel Merman, Kay Stevens, Judy Garland, Phyllis Diller and more. Then there are quirkier shout-outs such as Canadian singer Gisele MacKenzie (known for her appearances on the television show, Your Hit Parade), Aussie Judith Anderson (Tony Award winner in 1948 for her role in Medea), and monologist Ruth Draper.
Epperson’s knowledge of the mid 20th century cannon is unstoppable, as is his theatrical interpretation, which juxtaposes classic production numbers with a tormented inner monologue and high-stake physicality. If he wasn’t wearing a dress, you might see a resemblance to the hijinks of entertainers such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, though as Lypsinka, he’s got a far better set of legs.
The trilogy includes Epperson as himself in Show Trash, where the audience gets exclusive dish on his years from Mississippi to Manhattan and beyond. But it is the bigger-than-life Lypsinka that should beckon you to the East Village for a performance artist that never seems to go out of style.
Lypsinka: The Trilogy
The Connelly Theater
220 East 4th Street
Schedule varies through January 3, 2015