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Don’t Miss: Chita Rivera at Carnegie Hall

September 23rd, 2016 View Comment(s)

Chita Rivera at Carnegie HallJavier Muoz and Brandon Victor Dixon, the new stars of Hamilton on Broadway, and New York City Gay Men’s Chorus have joined the list of special guests at Chita Rivera’s landmark concert Chita: Nowadays at Carnegie Hall on Monday, November 7, 2016 at 8:00 p.m.

Presented by Daniel Nardicio, this event marks the first time the Broadway legend will headline the iconic venue. The two-time Tony Award winner will also welcome previously-announced guests Alan Cumming and Andy Karl, with others to be announced soon. Tickets are now on sale at www.ChitaInConcert.com.

Chita: Nowadayswhich features signature favorites, new selections and special collaborations with her guests, plus a very unique version of the West Side Story classic “America,” will be directed by Graciela Daniele with music director Michael Croiter leading a 15-piece band. Ms. Rivera commented, “Im absolutely thrilled to play one of the most prestigious venues in the world, Carnegie Hall. We’re going to have a ball!”

Chita Rivera, an accomplished and versatile actress/singer/dancer, has won two Tony Awards as Best Leading Actress in a Musical and received eight additional Tony nominations for an exceptional 10 Tony nominations. She recently starred in The Visit, the final John Kander/Fred Ebb/Terrence McNally musical directed by John Doyle and choreographed by Graciela Daniele on Broadway (2015), following the acclaimed production at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in the summer of 2014.

Rivera starred in the Broadway revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the Broadway and touring productions of The Dancer’s Life, a dazzling new musical celebrating her spectacular career, written by Terrence McNally and directed by Graciela Daniele and the revival of the Broadway musical Nine with Antonio Banderas. She trained as a ballerina (from age 11) before receiving a scholarship to the School of American Ballet from legendary George Balanchine. Chita’s first appearance (age 17) was as a principal dancer in Call Me Madam.

Her electric performance as Anita in the original Broadway premiere of West Side Story brought her stardom, which she repeated in London. Her career is highlighted by starring roles in Bye Bye Birdie, The Rink (Tony Award), Chicago, Jerry’s Girls, Kiss of the Spider Woman (Tony Award), and the original Broadway casts of Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, Seventh Heaven and Mr. Wonderful.

Rivera was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009. She received the coveted Kennedy Center Honor in 2002 and was the first Hispanic woman chosen to receive this award. In 2015, Great Performances aired their special Chita Rivera: A Lot of Livin’ To Do, a retrospective on her extraordinary life and career nationally on PBS. Chita’s current solo CD is entitled And Now I Swing. Her most treasured production is her daughter, singer/dancer/choreographer Lisa Mordente.

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Categories: Show Folk, The Buzz, VIP Access

Grizabella’s Nine Lives: Mamie Parris Steps Into Role in ‘CATS’

September 22nd, 2016 View Comment(s)
Mamie Parris (Photo provided by DKC O&M via The Broadway Blog.)

Mamie Parris (Photo provided by DKC O&M via The Broadway Blog.)

Producers The Shubert Organization and The Nederlander Organization announced today that Broadway veteran Mamie Parris will assume the iconic role of “Grizabella the Glamour Cat” in the first-ever Broadway revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS. Parris, who currently stars as “Patty” in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s newest smash hit School of Rock – The Musical, will succeed pop star Leona Lewis in the role.

Mamie Parris created the role of Patty in School of Rock – The Musical. She has also been seen on Broadway in On the Twentieth Century, Ragtime, 110 in the Shade, and The Drowsy Chaperone. On National Tour, Parris starred as Elphaba in Wicked and Judy in 9 to 5 The Musical.

Leona Lewis will complete her scheduled three-month run as “Grizabella” on Sunday, October 9, 2016. A date for Parris’ first performance in the role will be announced shortly. We’re hoping that Parris’ arrival will give CATS a much-needed jolt, as Lewis’ performance was much to be desired in an otherwise invigorating revival.

If Parris is interested in tips from the original Grizabella, Betty Buckley, she should check out our interview with the Tony Award-winning star, where she speaks in depth of her creative process. Good luck, Mamie!

Andy Huntington and the cast of 'CATS.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Andy Huntington and the cast of ‘CATS.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

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Categories: Show Folk, The Buzz

Not Sweeter Than Wine: ‘A Taste of Honey’

September 22nd, 2016 View Comment(s)

by Samuel L. Leiter

'A Taste of Honey' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

‘A Taste of Honey’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

 

As I watched the Pearl Theatre Company’s middling revival of A Taste of Honey, British playwright Shelagh Delaney’s once controversial, kitchen-sink dramedy, I couldn’t help recalling Angela Lansbury as Helen in the 1960 Broadway production. There’s a smattering of laughs in the Pearl’s production, but nothing like the raucous outbursts Lansbury, frequently breaking the fourth wall, inspired with her perfect timing and earthy accent. The current production, directed by the ubiquitous Austin Pendleton, while certainly searching for laughs, puts its chips down on the grim side.

Helen (Rachel Botchan) is a flashy, 40-year-old, booze-loving floozy; her latest gent is the one-eyed, obnoxious Peter (Bradford Cover). Helen and Jo (Rebekah Brockman), her drab, illegitimate, 17-year-old daughter, have just occupied dreary digs in Salford, Manchester. Helen and Jo engage in an eternal love-hate relationship. Helen marries Peter and leaves Jo to her own devices. The rebellious Jo (“I’m contemporary . . . I really live at the same time as myself, don’t I?”) takes up with a black sailor, Jimmy (Ade Otukoya), and gets pregnant, but Jimmy sails off forever (“He came in with Christmas and went out with the New Year”).

'A Taste of Honey' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

‘A Taste of Honey’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Jo, who has some drawing talent, gets involved with a gay art student, Geoff (John Evans Reese), who moves in; seeing in her an answer to his own relationship problems, he becomes what Jo sees more like a big sister. Helen, who’s broken up with Peter, returns and kicks Geoff out, only to behave even worse when she learns what color her imminent grandchild will be.

The play’s original London production, directed by the innovative Joan Littlewood in 1958, was so successful it moved to the West End. The Broadway staging, by Tony Richardson and George Devine, like the present one, retained some of Littlewood’s Brechtian innovations, like the moments of speaking directly to the audience and the three-piece jazz band that inserts snippets of familiar tunes into the action, thereby theatricalizing and enlivening what would otherwise be dreary naturalism.

Having the characters burst into song, though, seems a Pendleton idea. His excellent band (Max Boiko, Phil Faconti, and Walter Stinson) begins in the shadows but soon moves into Jo and Helen’s flat, where it sits on the furniture; a few jokes are pried from this distracting arrangement but the guys look as if they’re wondering why they ever signed up for the gig.

'A Taste of Honey' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

‘A Taste of Honey’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

When it originally premiered, A Taste of Honey (considered by some part of the “angry young man” movement) gained attention for how accurately its playwright, 19 when she wrote it, thrust an unsentimentally authentic depiction of Lancashire working-class speech and behavior into the world of upper middle-class British theatre; it was also controversial for how well it reflected the roiling social issues that would soon be in the headlines.

Imagine, for example, how shocking it was then to see a slice-of-life play about a white girl with a baby bump created by a black man; or one in which a gay man residing in domestic harmony with a straight woman is treated sympathetically in an otherwise homophobic environment. While some were shocked, the play was lauded for its truthfulness to life, as well as its wit and humanity.

'A Taste of Honey' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

‘A Taste of Honey’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

The Pearl production, for which Harry Feiner has provided a sprawling set showing a kitchen and bedroom at one side and a living room at the other, with a well-painted panorama of Manchester on the upstage drop, adequately conveys Delaney’s world but there’s very little about it that’s distinctive. For one thing, the actors’ regional British accents are too notably inconsistent to create a truthful North English atmosphere. For another, despite the energy expended, most of the actors are unable to convincingly embody their roles, making the play’s two hours and twenty minutes feel much longer.

Botchan’s Helen, in an auburn wig and cleavage-revealing dresses, looks the part but pushes so hard the character comes off as overblown and one-dimensional. Brockman’s Jo doesn’t have much chemistry when interacting with Helen, but comes alive in her touching scenes with Reese’s Geoff, the most believable and affecting performance. However, even though she’s meant to contrast with her colorful mother, Jo’s unflattering costumes (by designer Barbara A. Bell) and flattened bob rob her of any physical appeal. Cover’s Peter, as often with this actor, is over-the-top, and Otukoya’s Jimmy is passably charming.

This taste of honey, sad to say, is not a taste much sweeter than wine.

A Taste of Honey
Pearl Theatre
555 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through October 30

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 reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: To See or Not To See

Sing Hallelujah! ‘Marie and Rosetta’

September 20th, 2016 View Comment(s)

 

by Samuel L. Leiter

Kecia Lewis and Rebecca Naomi Jones in "Marie and Rosetta. (Photo: Ahron R. Foster via The Broadway Blog.)

Kecia Lewis and Rebecca Naomi Jones in “Marie and Rosetta. (Photo: Ahron R. Foster via The Broadway Blog.)

Yes, we all know about the horrible explosion in Chelsea the other day, but let me remind you that there’s a far more benign blast of energy bursting only a few blocks away through the Atlantic Theatre’s Linda Gross Theatre on W. 20th Street. The sensational artists detonating it are Rebecca Naomi Jones and Kecia Lewis incarnating the sounds and souls of two great gospel singers, Marie Knight (1925-2009) and Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-73), in George Brant’s hallelujah of a bio-musical, Marie and Rosetta.

Brant, taking a bunch of dramatic liberties, tells the story of how Tharpe, a legend in the African-American gospel music community, is returning in 1946 to her gospel roots after a commercially successful excursion into more secular sounding—and thus notorious—music. While touring, she comes across Marie, a pretty girl, ten years younger and in awe of her; as Tharpe prepares for a show, she invites Marie to become her singing partner.

Their encounter takes place in a Mississippi funeral parlor where Rosetta will be rehearsing; this is the Deep South during the Jim Crow years, when black performers were prevented from using ordinary venues for their art; toward the end, it turns out that Brant has another interesting reason for choosing this unusual locale. Ten caskets, with an upright piano, form the background of Riccardo Hernández’s set (nicely lit by Christopher Akerlind), and Marie is suitably shocked when Rosetta says she’ll have to sleep in one that night for want of a more conventional resting place.

Tharpe is a full-figured, imperious, queenly woman, with a ton of sass, wearing a full-length, pale aqua, beaded dress (thanks to costumer Dede M. Ayite), and speaking and singing in a voice so commanding it could put the hearing aid industry out of business. She turns out, however, to be vastly warm, maternal, and eternally forgiving, her prickliness a mask for her insecurities (she’s a tad jealous of the great singer, Mahalia Jackson).

Marie, on the other hand, is modest, withdrawn, and pious, uncomfortable playing Rosetta’s raucous style of music, which gives such worldly sensuality to familiar church music that she was later recognized as a major precursor of rock ‘n roll. Drawing the women together is not only their music, but also the stories they share, like those about their mothers or their troubles with the “squirrelly” men in their lives.

Gradually, as the pair sing a series of (mostly) rafter-shaking gospel tunes, Marie, not quite what she first seems to be, warms to the task and learns to appreciate and perform the kind of up-tempo, rocking, hip-swaying gospel music Rosetta exemplifies but that makes “high church” folk like her uncomfortable. Quieter spirituals include Marie’s “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” and “Peace in the Valley,” but the keyboard gets plenty of loud pounding by both, solo and in tandem.

Rebecca Naomi Jones and Kecia Lewis in 'Marie and Rosetta.' (Photo: Ahron R. Foster via The Broadway Blog.)

Rebecca Naomi Jones and Kecia Lewis in ‘Marie and Rosetta.’ (Photo: Ahron R. Foster via The Broadway Blog.)

Rosetta also plays vigorously on both an acoustic and, most distinctively, an electric guitar, something that only made her more controversial. You’ll want to buckle your seat belts for when the pair join in on “Didn’t it Rain” and “Up above My Head.” (Much credit is due to the hidden musicians, Felicia Collins and Deah Harriott.)

As the play winds down, the situation takes a turn that gives us another perspective on the grim surroundings. Like the information rolling by at the end of a film based on actual events, we soon get a lot of post-1946 exposition, tying the piece together neatly but also underlining playwriting contrivances.

Nonetheless, Marie and Rosetta, vibrantly staged by Neil Pepe, isn’t the kind of play you criticize the way you do something by Edward Albee. It’s a well-crafted exercise that provides an excellent context in which to learn about and appreciate two exceptional performers who—especially Tharpe—made an indelible impact on popular music. Tharpe (buried in an unmarked grave first given a headstone in 2009) has been celebrated in recent years in print, a documentary, and even a U.S. postage stamp, but her partnership with Knight is less well known. Until now, that is.

Jones and Lewis couldn’t be bettered as the holy vessels bringing Marie and Rosetta back to life; they perfectly capture these women’s sharply different personalities, offering totally believable yet larger-than-life representations. Lewis especially, because of Tharpe’s grandiose personality, etches a portrait of unforgettable authority that will yank your tears out of their ducts. When they sing, either as solos or a duet, you’ll have to hold on to your armrests to keep from standing up and shouting “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!”

Marie and Rosetta
Atlantic Theater Company/Linda Gross Theater
326 W. 20th St., NYC
Through October 16

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 reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Politics and Theater: ‘Fiorello!’

September 19th, 2016 View Comment(s)

by Samuel L. Leiter

Fiorello!Maybe one day there’ll be a Lindsay! or a Koch! (John! or Ed! don’t cut it) but to date there have been only two Broadway musicals devoted to New York mayors, a not particularly charismatic breed if recent examples are any gauge. One was a 1962 flop called Jimmy, about scandal-plagued Jimmy Walker who ruled Gotham from 1925-31; the other was 1959’s Fiorello!, a hit about Walker’s successor, the feisty, incorruptible, pint-sized, showman-like Fiorello H. LaGuardia, a Republican who served three terms from 1934-45 and gave his name to what has become the city’s worst airport. Walker doesn’t appear in Fiorello!, but his personality is celebrated in “Gentleman Jimmy” (sung by Maureen Glessner), so you nearly get two hizzoners for the price of one.

Fiorello! won—controversially—the Pulitzer Prize, becoming the third musical to do so since the prize was first awarded (there have six more since then). It also snared four Tonys, including Best Musical (shared with The Sound of Music), and ran 796 performances, after which its local history included only a two-week revival and two warmly received staged concert versions. Now, nearly 57 years since it opened, Fiorello!, in a production originally done by the Berkshire Theatre Group, has arrived at the East 13th Street Theater. And it’s a letdown.

'Fiorello!' (Photo: Alexander Hill via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Fiorello!’ (Photo: Alexander Hill via The Broadway Blog.)

Fiorello!, a quintessential New York musical, captures a fondly remembered time and place, making points about political machinations and things like equal pay for women that remain salient today. It gets great mileage from its depiction of a bunch of amusingly raffish backroom pols led by thick-voiced, Republican strongman Ben Marino (Rylan Morsbach). They have three songs, including the terrific “Politics and Poker” and “A Little Tin Cup”; the latter’s take on what’s now called “spin” is as biting as ever.

The show is performed on Carl Sprague’s flexible set of movable cutouts of famous Manhattan buildings scattered about on a floor covered with laminated newspaper pages; it’s also smartly dressed by David Murin in an abundance of period costumes. We first hear Mayor LaGuardia (Austin Scott Lombardi) famously reading the funnies over the radio, after which the show flashes back to 1915 when he was an up- and-coming Greenwich Village attorney.

'Fiorello!' (Photo: Alexander Hill via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Fiorello!’ (Photo: Alexander Hill via The Broadway Blog.)

We observe his career as a reform-oriented congressman, his stint as a hero flyer in World War I, his involvement in a women’s rights case, and his plunge into mayoral politics, when he was defeated by Walker. When the curtain falls, though, he’s on the verge of winning the 1933 election.

Fiorello’s romantic life plays a big role as well, centering on his first wife, Thea (Rebecca Brudner), who dies, and his second, Marie (Katie Birenboim), the faithful secretary who waits 15 years to land him. A subplot follows the love life of Dora (Chelsea Cree Groen) and Floyd (Dan Cassin), the dumbbell cop whose career arc leads to their living in a penthouse.

Despite 14 songs, however, there are long spaces, especially in Act II, when the book dominates; without first-class actors to carry the biography along it loses momentum as we wait for the next song. Only a handful of these are the kind non-musical theatre fanboys are likely to appreciate, my own favorites being the politicians’ songs and the lilting hesitation waltz, “Till Tomorrow,” which I’m still humming. I suspect the other numbers would have been better served had the orchestra not been restricted to two pianos and a barely audible violin. Good as many of these songs are, Harnick and Bock wouldn’t reach their pinnacle until a bit later, in Fiddler on the Roof.

'Fiorello!' (Photo: Alexander Hill via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Fiorello!’ (Photo: Alexander Hill via The Broadway Blog.)

Even with doubling, there were well over 50 performers in the original, which clearly would be impossible today, so director Bob Moss’s respectable production (with standard choreography by Michael Callahan) arranges Jerome Weidman and George Abbott’s book to accommodate around 20, itself exceptional for Off Broadway. However, everyone looks far too young, and no one has either the gravitas or rough edges to embody the older roles or the versatility called for when playing several. Given the show’s gangsterish background, it’s like watching Bugsy Malone, in which prepubescent actors played mobsters and molls, only now they look like college kids.

There are some fine female voices, but, most of the acting is only passable; no one is truly distinctive, but Groen and Morsbach show great promise. There’s an especially big hole where LaGuardia himself should be. Lombardi, like the mayor, is bantam-sized, but whereas the Little Flower was dumpy and plain, Lombardi is wiry and good-looking. The original’s Tom Bosley, who won the Tony (in his Broadway debut), not only looked like LaGuardia, he spoke like him. What should be a musical highlight, when LaGuardia sings his campaign song, “The Name’s LaGuardia,” in English, Italian, and Yiddish, produces no post-performance bounce.

Republican or not, if Fiorello LaGuardia were running for office today, I’d be more likely to vote for him than for this underage revival of his life story.

Fiorello!
East 13th Street Theater (Classic Stage Company)
136 E. 13th St., NYC
Through October 7

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 reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Miss: The Lilly Awards Broadway Cabaret

September 17th, 2016 View Comment(s)

The Lilly AwardsThe Lilly Awards Foundation will present its fourth Broadway Cabaret: Broadway Stars Performing the Work of Women Songwriters on Monday, October 17 at The Cutting Room (44 East 32nd Street).  The Lilly Awards Foundation promotes and celebrates women artists by promoting gender parity at all levels of theatrical production.

The evening will include songs from some of the hottest new musicals on and off-Broadway, all written or co-written by women and sung by Broadway stars, including Anastasia, Waitress, Sweet Charity, In Transit, Bella: An American Tall Tale, Southern Comfort, Hadestown and previews of songs from new shows by Tony Award nominees Susan Birkenhead and Nell Benjamin. Additional performers and songwriters will be announced shortly.

The evening will be directed by Leigh Silverman, with musical direction by Georgia Stitt, and is co-produced by Georgia Stitt and Amanda Green.

For tickets visit www.thelillyawards.org/broadway-cabaret.

 

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Breaking: Complete ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Creative Team Announced

September 16th, 2016 View Comment(s)

hello dolly

Producer Scott Rudin announced the cast for the most breathlessly anticipated theatrical event of the season: the upcoming Broadway revival of Michael Stewart’s (book) and Jerry Herman’s (music and lyrics) masterpiece Hello, Dolly!, starring legendary performer Bette Midler. Directed by four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle, Hello, Dolly! will begin performances at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre (225 West 44th Street) on March 15, 2017, with an official opening night of April 20, 2017.  Tickets go on sale, via Telecharge.com, tomorrow, Saturday, September 17, at 10:00 A.M. (EST).

Bette Midler (Ga Fullner / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Bette Midler (Ga Fullner / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Ms. Midler, and the previously announced David Hyde Pierce (Horace Vandergelder), will be joined by two-time Tony Award nominee Gavin Creel (Cornelius Hackl), Tony Award nominee Kate Baldwin (Irene Molloy), Taylor Trensch (Barnaby Tucker), Will Burton (Ambrose Kemper), Melanie Moore (Ermengarde), Tony Award nominee Jennifer Simard (Ernestina), and an ensemble of twenty-seven.

Also announced today is the complete creative/design team for the production, which features three-time Tony Award winner Santo Loquasto (Scenic & Costume Design), five-time Tony Award winner Natasha Katz (Lighting Design), Tony Award winner Scott Lehrer (Sound Design), Andy Einhorn (Music Direction), Tony Award winner Larry Hochman (Orchestrations), Tony Award® winner Don Pippin (Vocal Arrangements), Glen Kelly (Dance Arrangements), and Telsey + Company (Casting).

The ensemble features Cameron Adams, Phillip Attmore, Giuseppe Bausilio, Justin Bowen, Elizabeth Earley,Taeler Elyse Cyrus, Leslie Donna Flesner, Jenifer Foote, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Blake Hammond, Stephen Hanna, Michael Hartung, Robert Hartwell, Amanda LaMotte, Analisa Leaming, Jess LeProtto, Ian Liberto, Kevin Ligon, Nathan Madden, Linda Mugleston, Hayley Podschun, Jessica Sheridan, Michaeljon Slinger, Christian Dante White, Branch Woodman, Ryan Worsing, and Richard Riaz Yoder.

This new production of Hello, Dolly!, the first new production of this classic musical to appear on Broadway since it opened more than fifty years ago, will pay tribute to the original work of legendary director/choreographer Gower Champion, which has been hailed both then and now as one of the greatest stagings in musical theater history.

Based on Thornton Wilder’s farce The Matchmaker, Hello, Dolly! caused an instant sensation when it premiered on Broadway in 1964, starring Carol Channing in the title role.  It went on to win a record-shattering ten Tony Awards, including those for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Producer of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Scenic Design, and Best Costume Design.

It was also named Best Musical by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle. Its original Broadway cast recording hit the top of the Billboard album chart, and years later was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.  It also marked the greatest producing triumph of legendary impresario David Merrick, running for 2,844 performances over seven years and breaking the record for the longest running show in Broadway history.

In addition to Ms. Channing, an astonishing list of Broadway and Hollywood luminaries have inhabited the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, including Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller, Betty Grable, Martha Raye, Ginger Rogers, Ethel Merman (in her last appearance on Broadway), and Mary Martin, who led the West End company.

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Categories: The Buzz

Don’t Miss: The NY Pops Celebrate Lerner and Loewe

September 15th, 2016 View Comment(s)

New York Pops

The New York Pops, led by Music DirectorSteven Reineke, will launch its 34th season at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage, celebrating the legacy and timeless works of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

In celebration of the 60th Anniversary of their landmark production of My Fair Lady, The New York Pops will highlight the songwriting team’s iconic collaborations from the Golden Age of Broadway, including selections from Camelot, Brigadoon, Gigi, and Paint Your Wagon.

Guest artists Colin Donnell and Laura Osnes of Broadway fame, alongside operatic baritone Nathan Gunn, will bring these legendary show tunes to life with the full 78-piece New York Pops. The orchestra and soloists will be joined by Judith Clurman’s Essential Voices USA.

“Lerner and Loewe wrote some of the greatest songs in the history of musical theater,” said Music Director and Conductor Steven Reineke. “My Fair Lady defined musical theater for a generation or more, and the soaring melodies and clever lyrics are absolutely timeless. We have a stellar lineup of guest artists for this opening night concert – Colin, Nathan, and Laura all have incredible voices, and I am so proud that we will perform these tunes in the grandiose orchestrations that only The New York Pops can truly bring to life.”

“In addition, we are so pleased to be celebrating the 25th Anniversary of our Kids in the Balcony program this season! ” said Reineke. “Since it began in 1991, we have brought more than 37,000 students to Carnegie Hall free of charge.”

For more information, visit www.newyorkpops.org.

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Categories: The Buzz, Way Off Broadway

Exclusive: 15 Minutes with Betty Buckley

September 14th, 2016 View Comment(s)
Betty Buckley (Photo: Scogin Mayo via The Broadway Blog.)

Betty Buckley (Photo: Scogin Mayo via The Broadway Blog.)

Truth be told, this interview wasn’t 15 minutes. In fact, it was well over 45 and I have a feeling that if I hadn’t had a pressing deadline, the Tony Award-winning Betty Buckley would have chatted with me for more for an hour. Because that’s what happens when you engage a true artist on the subject of creativity: the floodgates open and you better know how to swim.

At the time of our phone conversation, Buckley had just finished a celebrated run of Center Theatre Group’s Grey Gardens and completed a road trip with her longtime assistant back to her ranch in north Texas to “blow the cobwebs out of my mind.” They called themselves the Road Warriors and even posted some of their journey on social media.

It was after 9/11 that Buckley felt the pangs to return to her Texas roots. With decades of studying, performing, recording, and teaching under her belt, she felt visionless and without purpose. Her love of horses and the equine sport of cutting reinvigorated her and this November she’ll celebrate 14 years of life on a ranch.

But ultimately Buckley is a self-proclaimed “working girl” and this fall she heads to the East Coast for 15 concerts, including her latest show, “Story Songs,” which will play seven performances at Joe’s Pub in New York City.

Can you tell me more about the inspiration for your latest show, Story Songs?

Betty Buckley:
At each point in your life certain songs fit and others don’t. This is a collection of songs that I feel at this point—through interpretation and from my vantage point—can resonate with a degree of truth.

I do a new show, generally, once a year. This past Spring, I connected with composer Joe Iconis and he invited me to sing in his show at Feinstein’s/54Below. He sent me some songs and at the last minute he wrote a song for me, “ Old Flame”—it’s very funny and he’s a wonderful writer. It fits me, as a Story Teller, like a glove.

In February I went to Australia to perform “Defying Gravity,” an evening of Stephen Schwartz’s music. It was a wonderful series of concerts with a full orchestra and I sang “Chanson” from The Baker’s Wife and “No Time at All” from Pippin.

And then I reached out to other composers whom I admire—people like Jason Robert Brown. He sent me a few songs, one titled “Cassandra”– from a new show he’s working on. This is the base of the material and then I start to consider what they all have in common. It’s an evening of stories about some interesting characters.

How do you adapt to such vastly different venues? Your upcoming concerts at  Joe’s Pub (9/22 – 9/25) and “Ghostlight” at NJPAC (9/17) are fairly intimate, but you’ve also played Carnegie Hall with a 50-piece orchestra.

Betty Buckley:
That’s not a big deal for me. It’s something I include in my awareness, of course. It’s just a different space. My work process remains the same in every venue and genre.

CATS is back in the limelight with its first Broadway revival recently opening at the Neil Simon Theatre. It’s certainly one of the benchmarks of your career. What do you think is the emotional entry point for the character of Grizabella and what were some of the challenges in bringing her to life?

Betty Buckley:
The job assignment was to “stop the show”. But within that, you have to find in yourself a world of profound isolation and loneliness. Grizabella is in the last moments of her life. As the Glamour Cat in her youth, she lived life to great excess. She was considered a great beauty. And she drank too much, smoked too much, and she was promiscuous. And now in her later years she is no longer desired and has become the pariah of the Tribe of Cats. She longs to be included but the cats shun her and keep sending her away.

The character is only on stage for 13 minutes. (I timed it at one point when I actually got to sit and experience the show for the first time from start to finish. It was the 8th Anniversary Celebration of the show in London.) I kept waiting for Grizabella and thinking, “Where is she?”

Trevor Nunn’s direction was to play pathos, but I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of stopping the show, and I didn’t know that there was a formula for that. I wasn’t “stopping the show” during previews and it was frustrating—they called special rehearsals for me, and there were lots of conversations.

In desperation, I called my voice teacher, the great Paul Gavert. I thought they were going to fire me. He said, “Come over on your lunch break.” He threw a pillow on the floor and told me to hit it. And I said, “This won’t work, teach me how to stop the show.” He said, “Hit the pillow!”

I hit the pillow and started sobbing. And I heard the voice of this little child inside me saying, “I’m here, too. I’m here, too.” I’d forgotten to ask my inner being how she wanted to do the song. From that awareness, I then hit the streets of New York City on a quest. I found this beautiful portrait book of photographs of homeless people, and I began to follow various homeless women around New York City. There were women on the streets at that time that were my age and had eyes like mine.

One morning heading to work I passed woman on the Upper West Side. She was dressed shabbily with white, pasty makeup and smeared lipstick. She moved as if in slow motion with tremendous grace and dignity. I was profoundly touched by this encounter and the connection she made with me in just a few fleeting moments.

Two nights later, the Universe sent me another woman, almost exactly like the first one. We too had that same amazing connection. It took me about two weeks to incorporate all this information into my journey through the show. The creative team kept calling rehearsals. I said, “I’m in transition.” And they trusted me which was amazing and generous of them to do.

These women I observed reminded me, most profoundly, that we often overlook people because of circumstance: Bigger. Better. Best. We are taught to believe that on some level, and it’s not true.

It finally came together a few performances before Opening Night. “Memory” became a song for me about longing—a cry of the heart. And I suddenly understood: To ask for nothing but be willing to share everything.

I see Grizabella as my soulmate. The character is one of my closest friends and I visit her every time I sing her song. I immediately go to that world, it’s a dreamscape, a place that I love. It is a privilege and great blessing in my life.

 

 

(l to r) Rachel York and Betty Buckley in 'Gray Gardens.' (Photo: Craig Schwartz via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Rachel York and Betty Buckley in ‘Gray Gardens.’ (Photo: Craig Schwartz via The Broadway Blog.)

Do you see continuity among some of the major theatrical roles of your career: Grizabella in CATS, the title character in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, Rose in Gypsy, Big Edie in Grey Gardens? 

Betty Buckley:
The explanation is soul and spirit. I loved the great actresses of the previous generation to mine: Kim Stanley, Gena Rowlands and Geraldine Page. They told truths in their rawest form. They were my role models and I wanted to become that kind of actress and be able eventually to bring that kind of raw truth to my work in the Musical Theater.

My first Broadway show, when I was 21 years old, was 1776. There were two women in the show and 30 men—mostly actors who could sing but they’d never done a musical before. Howard Da Silva, William Daniels and Paul Hecht took me under their wings. I was an experienced performer but a very naïve girl. I continued to go to acting school and studied hard at the Actor’s Studio, Stella Adler, and with Sondra and Greta Seacat, and my coach Peter Flood.

Then I got the part of the stepmother Abby in the TV series Eight is Enough. We did 29 episodes a year for four years. That’s where I continued to practice and learn my craft and the business of “Big Business Show Business.” On the heels of that came Tender Mercies then CATS. That was my training ground. I had a goal to become a certain kind of Story Teller/Singer/Actress. The Universe collaborates with your truest vision for yourself. If you’re willing to do the work, you’ll be guided how to achieve that vision.

Betty Buckley at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Betty Buckley at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

And you’re also teaching a five-day song interpretation/monologue workshop at T. Schreiber Studio (September 19-29).

Betty Buckley:
I share and teach the tools taught to me by great teachers. They have never failed me. The tools are very practical, not amorphous. We, as a Humanity are completely connected. We each of us have a heart that is beating and wants to love and be loved. We have to remember that in our storytelling. You must allow your heart to go there. Each lyric or line must be vivid to the singer/actor. Each word must have a deeply personal resonance. When you’re willing immerse yourself, to do that work, then vicariously your journey becomes something in which the audience can experience their truest selves.  It takes time to learn and a willingness to be that vulnerable.

Don’t Miss:
Betty Buckley at NJPAC, “Ghostlight,” 9/17
Betty Buckley at Joe’s Pub, “Story Songs,” 9/22 – 9/25
Five-day song interpretation/monologue workshop at T. Schreiber Studio, September 19-29).

 

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.

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An Eggplant by Any Other Name: ‘Aubergine’

September 13th, 2016 View Comment(s)

by Samuel L. Leiter

Sue Jean Kim, Stephen Park & Joseph Steven Yang in 'Aubergine.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Sue Jean Kim, Stephen Park & Joseph Steven Yang in ‘Aubergine.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

As with many tasty meals, what goes into a worthy play is often rather commonplace, depending for its effect on how the playwright seasons and prepares the familiar ingredients. In the monologue that opens Julia Cho’s flavorsome Aubergine—first seen at the Berkeley Rep and now onstage at Playwrights Horizons—Diane (Jessica Love), a fashionable young woman, tells us of her experience as an obsessive “foodie,” willing to go anywhere in search of exceptional delicacies. However, the dish she most fondly recalls is one her dad used to make, hot pastrami on Italian bread pan-fried in butter, which she describes with mouth-watering images. This signals Cho’s concern with the connection between food and memory, and even life and death.

Similarly, there’s nothing very unusual about what’s on the plate in Cho’s occasionally moving, sometimes funny dramedy: a young chef, Ray (Tim Kang), learns that his long-widowed father (Stephen Park) is dying of cirrhosis. Never able to satisfy his domineering father, who opposed his choice of profession and didn’t appreciate his abilities, he struggles with the conflict he feels between love and anger as his father lies comatose in the dining room turned hospice.

Stephen Park & Tim Kang in 'Aubergine.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Stephen Park & Tim Kang in ‘Aubergine.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Helping Ray to work out his issues are his girlfriend Cornelia (Sue Jean Kim), a grounded, no-nonsense beauty, still upset with Ray after their recent breakup; his father’s nurse, Lucien (Michael Potts), a deeply sensitive, philosophically wise man of indeterminate foreign origin who once lived in a refugee camp; and Ray’s uncle (Joseph Steven Yang), who, despite knowing no English, flies in from abroad to be with his dying brother.

The sauce that gives the touching, but only sporadically dramatic play its piquancy is that the central characters are Korean and, like the dramatist, Korean-American. Ray knows only a few words of Korean but Cornelia is fluent. Ray needs her to interpret, first when he has to inform the uncle, in Korea, by phone of the father’s illness, and then when the uncle, unexpectedly, turns up at Ray’s home. Large swaths are in Korean, either with Cornelia interpreting (adding her own spin when appropriate) or with subtitles. This isn’t a distraction, but rather serves as a savory relish, particularly when the uncle uses gestures to communicate.

Unfortunately, there’s not quite enough meat on Aubergine’s bones to fill out its over two hours’ traffic on the stage; toward the end, the conclusion seems ever more elusive. It proceeds from brief episode to brief episode but rarely comes to a boil, the most intense moment coming just before intermission as Ray repels the insistence of his uncle to prepare a special soup for the father, for which he’s actually brought a turtle. The lack of incident may lead some to wonder whatever happened to Diane, the pastrami lady. Whether or not you swallow the coincidence that brings her back for the final scene, when she bites into her food your memory of a famous movie moment may trigger an “I’ll have what she’s having” response.

Sue Jean Kim & Jessica Love in 'Aubergine.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Sue Jean Kim & Jessica Love in ‘Aubergine.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Aubergine gets a terrific production at the directorial hands of Kate Whoriskey, who moves it along with great efficiency on a set by Derek McLane that embraces the principal scenes within a circular wall that splits into two parts, each of which slides upstage to show what’s inside; when the circle closes, its wall backs the downstage scenes. McLane’s scenery and Jennifer Moeller’s costumes look perfect under Peter Kaczorowski’s elegant lighting.

Kang nails Ray’s tight-as-a-spring temperament, captured in body language that often prevents him from looking others straight on, while Kim gives Cornelia a laser-like intelligence modified by just the right degree of warmth. Yang makes the kindly uncle humorously sincere; Park, required to look out of it most of the time, is perfectly fine in his spoken scenes, especially when he berates Ray for buying an expensive knife; Potts brings gentle compassion and honesty to the borderline cliché role of Lucien; and Love is lovely as Diane.

Aubergine is the uncommon word for a common vegetable, eggplant. In her play, Julia Cho also has made something uncommon out of the common.

Aubergine
Playwrights Horizons
416 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through October 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: To See or Not To See