If you’re looking for a little summer romance with a twist, we’ve got our eyes on a new play opening at the Cherry Lane Theatre. What happens four weeks after a one-night stand? That’s the question tackled by Phoenix, a new play by Scott Organ starring Julia Stiles and James Wirt. A story that travels across 4,000 miles, the play showcases two people tackling the ideas of love and compulsion, forcing them consider a whole new world of possibility, though not one free of difficulty and loss.
The creative team includes direction by Jennifer DeLia, scenic design by Caite Hevner Kemp, costume design by Amit Gajwani, lighting design by Oona Curley, sound design by Janie Bullard and scenic art by Burton Machen.
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street
July 28 – August 3
The New York Musical Theatre Festival is in full swing. We caught two shows this week that capture varying degrees of success in the development of new work.
As We Lie Still is a musical fantasy that follows magician Avi Leiter (Travis Stuebing as Young Avi and Michael A. Robinson as Old Avi) and his rise to fame during the turn of the century. His one epic trick—the ability to bring his assistant Josephine (Olivia de Guzman Emile) is hampered when she is mesmerized by Azriel, gatekeeper to the afterlife (George Michael Ferrie, Jr.). The show flashes forward to show Hope (Erika Larsen), the daughter that Josephine gave up for adoption at the bedside of her coma-ridden husband, Michael (Clinton Greenspan). Will Old Avi be able to cast his spell one last time?
The production, staged by Broadway veteran Micahel Serrecchia (who appeared in the original A Chorus Line and has worked in the theater for 45 years) has great moment of theatricality, mostly because of the music and lyrics by Patrick Emile. “I set out to write a musical theater piece that explored the human experience in the style of magical realism,” Emile told the Broadway Blog. “I have a great interest in stage magic and the vaudeville era, as well folklore, the supernatural, etc. I had stumbled upon the term psychopomp (the culturally and historically ubiquitous being that transitions the dying into the next phase of existence), and the story began to click together like a puzzle. Once plotted, Olivia took it into the book writing stage.”
As We Lie Still’s book is less successful than its libretto, often feeling too earnest and as if each of the characters were cut from the same cloth. But at this stage of development, it’s serviceable and carries the plot along to frame Emile’s score, which has soaring moments. In particular, Azriel’s number, “Street of Mine” is a highlight of the show—delivered by Mr. Ferrie who has one of the strongest voices in the ensemble.
“My musical influences are many and vary greatly, but I tend to wear them all on my sleeve,” says Emile of his composing style. “For As We Lie Still, I chose to draw heavily from minimalist and post-minimalist wells and weave those ideas within a contemporary musical theatre fabric. Sondheim is of course floating around throughout.”
As We Lie Still is an interesting concept piece. I’m not sure what sort of life it may have after NYMF, but as Avi Leiter would testify, anything is possible.
As We Lie Still
PTC Performance Space
555 West 42nd Street
Tuesday, July 22, 9 p.m.
Thursday, July 24, 5 p.m.
Sunday, July 27, 5 p.m.
Move over Sally Bowles, there is a new girl in town. Der Gelbe Stern (The Yellow Star), follows fictional chanteuse Erika Stern (a show stopping Alexis Fishman) on her final cabaret performance in Berlin circa 1933. Conceived and co-written by Fishman, who won NYMF’s “Next Broadway Sensation in 2012”, the musical draws its inspiration from German, American and British cabaret songs of the 1920 and ‘30s.
Ms. Fishman’s performance is subtly delicious, from the opening moments where the audience thinks she’s wiping cocaine from her nose; there are far darker stories to be revealed. Along with piano player Otto (an equally as entertaining Heath Saunders) and two-piece band (Steve Millhouse on bass and Giuseppe Fusco on woodwinds) the four actor/musicians weave a harrowing tale of Nazi Germany.
“I created Der Gelbe Stern to better understand and connect o to the unconnectable. It is so easy to put up barriers that allow us to disassociate from the plight of others. The lives of European Jewry were so much like our lives today… until they weren’t,” says Ms. Fishman in her program notes.
It may be a bit unfair to bestow such accolades on the piece compared to other NYMF entries, as the work opened in Australia at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2011 followed by runs in Melbourne and Sydney. The polished show feels as if it’s ready for an extended run. That being said, director Sharone Halevy still has the potential to draw more out of Ms. Fishman’s performance, which at times feels emotionally guarded. As she nears the end and the inevitable awaits, she has the audience in the palm of her hand and could take her final numbers, “If You Go Away, Little Boy” and “I Don’t Know Who I Belong To” in a more visceral direction. But the fictional Erika Stern is a survivalist, and perhaps the wall that she has built is one to protect her beyond Der Gelbe Stern.
Der Gelbe Stern (The Yellow Star)
The Laurie Beechman Theatre at the West Bank Cafe
407 West 42nd Street
Sunday, July 20, 12 p.m.
Monday, July 21, 5 p.m.
Monday, July 21, 8 p.m.
Matthew Wexler is the editor of the Broadway Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @roodeloo.
One of Broadway’s bawdiest broads, Elaine Stritch, passed away today at the age of 89. Her early career included the 1952 revival of Pal Joey and Bus Stop in 1955, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award. The next 60 years were packed with stage, film and television appearances. Younger audiences may remember her biting guest spots as Alec Baldwin’s mother on 30 Rock.
Other legendary performances include the role of Joanne in Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company (1970), Elaine Stritch At Liberty (2001) and a revival of A Little Night Music (2010). Never shy, here are some of our favorite quotes from Stritch over the years… we’ll remember her fondly!
On the difference between people in New York and Detroit (Vanity Fair, 2013)
“The people in New York, their humor is on a level that goes, uh, very deep, you know? Very deep, and there’s not as many people in on the joke like they are in New York. You know what I’m talking about? That’s what I love about New York—the humor of New York is brilliant. Brilliant.”
On roles that she’d like to take on (Movieweb.com, 2010)
“Well for the past eight, nine years I’ve been playing myself. And I’m rather happy about it. I think I’m a good acting partner for me, you know? And I don’t have anybody else but me. I seem to do very well. There’s no room for any difference of opinions – nothing. I just do anything in the world I like up there. Of course I think I’ve been doing that all my life anyway.
Great one-liners from her interview at the 92 Street Y:
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 July, we’re crowning a very special man of the month…
Name: Nick Cearley
Hometown: Fairfield, Ohio (Between Dayton and Cincinnati)
The best part of the show I’m in now is: Getting to take my make up off.
The most challenging job in show business I ever had was: Being a swing!
If I wasn’t a performer, I would be: I don’t know how to do anything else.
The best pre-show dinner and post-show cocktail in town are at: I love Lillie’s supreme nachos. And actually, I am a beer snob so I love Beer Culture right next to the theatre on 45th so I enjoy going there after the show.
After you’ve hit all the traditional sights of New York City, you should totally go to: Sleepy Hollow (Tarrytown) in the fall. The town turns into a Halloween love letter and the Pumpkin Blaze is something I look forward to all year long. Read more…
Twenty years before receiving his first Broadway production, Nicky Silver scorched onto the New York scene with Pterodactyls, a blazingly prophetic play that seems more urgent by the day. This viciously hilarious yet humane story about the rotting core of the American family suggests that our extinction is beginning not with an asteroid or an ice age, but rather with a severed connection to the ones closest to us.
When a young man returns home with a diagnosis of AIDS, we expect mother, father, and sister to rush to his side. However, the entire Duncan family is too absorbed in its own individual miseries (Hypochondria! Marriage! Nostalgia! Hors d’oeuvres!) to care much about a close-to-home case of a pandemic illness. Unable to communicate about a single thing, the Duncans start to disintegrate, and the audience begins to see that their son’s diagnosis is actually the least of their worries.
This summer, Pterodactyls is returning to the New York stage for a long overdue revival. Directed by Stephen Kaliski and starring Lori Kee, Maggie Low, Jeremiah Maestas, Dennis Gagomiros and Roger Manix, this hard-hitting production brings vibrant new life to an early masterpiece of one of America’s most uncompromising voices. Transcending the categorizations of “AIDS play” or “LGBT-themed drama,” Pterodactyls is a desperate journey to the real source of our problems, the loss of the American family.
Pterodactyls features set design by Peri Grabin Leong, lighting design Jessica Greenberg, costume design by Marisa Kaugars and sound design by Adam Salberg.
at Teatro Circulo
64 East 4th Street
Performances July 17 – August 3, 2014
Monday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets may be purchased online at: http://www.ptero-play.com/tickets.html
Ticket Info: $15 students (with valid ID) and seniors; $18 general admission
Now in it’s 11th year, the New York Musical Theatre Festival returns for three weeks of ingenious works in progress, all vying for the tiara of best musical, in hopes they will get picked up by a bevy of the city’s finest producers. Of the nearly 500 shows curated at NYMF, only three—Next To Normal, [title of show] and Chaplin—have made it to Broadway, and several musicals like Altar Boyz, Yank! and last year’s Volleygirls, which is being developed at New World Stages, have become cult hits.
With some tinkering, the JT Harding and Peter Zinn penned honky-tonk country rock musical Somewhere With You may join the latter. Offering a vicious yarn of addiction and meta-commentary of Bush’s war on terrorism, this Nashville radio-inspired musical gives a 21-gun salute to red-blooded Americans.
Somewhere With You follows TJ (Graham Scott Fleming), an aspiring 19-year-old country music star in backwoods Shreveport, Louisiana, down on his luck after losing his job for “sucking helium from a Slurpee machine” at the local Burger King. When his father evicts him from his trailer park home, TJ, now homeless and destitute, his cumbersome best friend Drew (Jonathan Judge-Russo) takes him in, much to the chagrin of Drew’s demanding girlfriend Nancy (Lauren Hoffmeier).
It doesn’t take long before TJ is kicked out and left to slum it with Benjaman Bakerman (Andrew Rothenberg), a sleazoid petty pusherman that may rival James Franco’s white bread ‘ratchet’ Spring Breakers alter ego. In lieu of a place to crash, Bakerman, a distributor of Methamphetamine, forces TJ to move his product. But the bright-eyed, fresh-faced Nashville crazed singer-songwriter has to know what he’s selling first.
Thus, TJ is sent to a room to try it out. There he has an unexpected meeting of the minds with crystal meth buff “23,” a spaced out young woman nicknamed after a spy on her mother’s favorite espionage TV show. This chance encounter spearheads the star-crossed couple into dangerous territory when they fall in love with one another.
A prisoner to a drug lord and narcotrafficker, TJ is convinced by “23” to take Drew’s car and leave town, and so the two love birds elope and get clean. A happy ending seems just around the corner, until TJ enlists with the U.S. National Guard on the eve of September 11, 2001. His tenure with the military takes him around the globe while his vulnerable ex-junkie wife is left to her own devices. Things get ugly for the cast and spectators, as Act Two pivots the audience into the Third World of Husaybah, Iraq, and violence balloons. This is not for the faint of heart.
Zinn’s book feels contrived and convoluted at points, if not staggeringly offensive. For instance, shortly after the two love interests meet for the first time in the dark room sharing stories over a bonfire of crystal meth, they are interrupted by Bakerman who proceeds to carry a terrified “23” away before forcing himself on her. Not even a moment later, TJ sings a ballad about how smitten he is about the shell of woman being sexually assaulted in the next room. It is such a moment that one could argue reinforces the insouciant red flags of rape culture. Especially in the first act, the book does similar things in terms of juxtaposition, taking diegetic songs—most of which were previously written and recorded by celebrated artists like Kenny Chesney, Uncle Kracker and Jake Owen—and dropping them in chancy moments that rarely progress the story. But the talented cast anchors many of the glitches.
The cast of young actors, featuring neat cameo appearances by Jay Thomas (Emmy Award winner for Cheers), crafts a believable tale. Graham Scott Fleming’s voice, a silver toned baritenor with raspy tinge, searches the room with soulful, yearning eyes that sees wonder in everything. Katy Frame as “23” is spellbinding, hooking the audience with her warped ingénue character who has been weathered by life, showing a range and hardened exterior rarely seen in performers her age. Her Vaseline smile seems numbed by Novocain and peppered with pain. Jonathan Judge-Russo as Drew echoes America’s answer to James Corden, his offbeat humor tinged with a lick of self-deprecation. Lauren Hoffmeier’s aggressive alto, however, feels unfocused with signs of struggling vocal technique as she attempts to reach the soaring rafter-shaking notes that have become a standard in the musical theater canon.
Nevertheless, this occasionally controversial new musical inspires chill-inducing concerns, questioning the unnerving problems centralized around war and drugs. From the dissection of AA culture to faulty psych evaluations in admitting prospective legionnaires, the production raises profound inquiries for the both the mind as well as the heart.
Somewhere With You
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center
480 W. 42nd St
Remaining performances: Sunday, July 14 – 12 p.m., 4 p.m.
Marcus Scott, an MFA graduate of NYU Tisch, is a playwright, musical theater writer and journalist whose work has appeared in Elle, Out, Essence, Uptown, Trace, Giant, Hello Beautiful and Edge Media Network.
It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2008 and was made into a feature film starring Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep in 2013. Fans of August: Osage County can hear members of the original Steppenwolf and Broadway companies perform the play live in a special reading that will be broadcast on public radio and streamed on demand at www.latw.org.
Deanna Dunagan (Tony Award®, Best Leading Actress), Rondi Reed (Tony Award®, Best Featured Actress), Kimberly Guerrero, Francis Guinan and Mariann Mayberry reunite to record Tracy Letts’ dark, Pulitzer Prize winning comic epic, joined by National Tour cast member Shannon Cochran and directed by Bart DeLorenzo. The Weston family gathers during a brutal summer heat wave to provide comfort to their bitter, substance-abusing matriarch and find their missing father. It’s an unforgettable theatrical journey that offers a painfully funny look at a family struggling in the desolate heart of America. All performances will be recorded live in front of an audience (without sets or costumes) to air on L.A. Theatre Works’ syndicated radio theater series, which broadcasts weekly on public radio stations nationwide (locally, in Southern California, on KPFK 90.7 FM).
Saturday, July 12 – 3 p.m., 8 p.m.
Sunday, July 13 – 4 p.m.
James Bridges Theater
UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
235 Charles E. Young Drive Los Angeles, CA 90095
(enter UCLA from Hilgard just south of Sunset Blvd.; park in Lot 3 on the lower level)
For tickets, call 310-827-0889 or www.latw.org
Stars of stage and screen will descend upon Shubert Alley for the 16th Annual Broadway Barks! Founded by Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters, the organization helps many of New York City’s shelter animals find permanent homes and also informs New Yorkers about the plight of the thousands of homeless dogs and cats in the metropolitan area. In celebration of the 16th Annual Broadway Barks!, Jessie Mueller and the cast of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical will be opening the show with a performance from their hit show. Early Birds get a special treat at 12 p.m., when Bernadette Peters, along with illustrator, Liz Murphy, sign copies of the 2014 Broadway Barks poster and Playbill. Murphy, who designed this year’s Broadway Barks graphic has also designed Bernadette’s new children’s book slated for Spring, 2015 publication.
Stars scheduled to appear (among others) include:
Brooks Ashmanskas (Bullets Over Broadway)
Sierra Boggess (The Phantom of the Opera)
Zach Braff (Bullets Over Broadway)
Victoria Clark (Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella)
Christine Dwyer (Wicked)
Linda Emond (Cabaret)
Barrett Foa (Buyer and Cellar)
Alexander Gemignani (Violet)
Justin Guarini (Wicked)
Lena Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)
Jackie Hoffman (The Addams Family)
James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin)
Rachel Bay Jones (Pippin)
Andy Karl (Rocky)
Anika Larsen (Beautiful – The Carole King Musical)
Norm Lewis (Les Misérables)
Kyle Dean Massey (Pippin)
Marin Mazzie (Bullets Over Broadway)
Audra McDonald (Lady Day at Emerson Bar & Grill)
Andy Mientus (Les Misérables)
Bebe Neuwirth (Blue Bloods)
Margo Seibert (Rocky)
Christopher Sieber (Matilda The Musical)
Jarrod Spector (Beautiful – The Carole King Musical)
Will Swenson (Les Misérables)
Mary Testa (Wicked)
Ava Ulloa (Matilda The Musical)
Betsy Wolfe (Bullets Over Broadway)
Heléne Yorke (Bullets Over Broadway)
Karen Ziemba (Bullets Over Broadway)
Shubert Alley/ Booth Theatre
222 W.45th Street (between Broadway and 8th Avenue)
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:
Poster and Playbill signing 12:00p.m. – 1:00p.m.
Adoption Event: 3:00p.m. – 6:30p.m.
Celebrity arrivals: 4:30p.m. – 6:00p.m.
Celebrity presentations: 5:00p.m. – 6:30p.m.
The New York Musical Theatre Festival opened this week, celebrating 11 years of America’s greatest art form by providing an affordable way for artists to mount professional productions. First staged in 2004, the inaugural season featured more than 30 fully staged full-length musicals. Since that time, more than 350 shows have premiered at the Festival, featuring 8,000 artists and seen by more than 300,000 audience members. NYMF was honored with a 2013 Drama Desk Award, recognizing its first decade of creating and nurturing new musicals. Notable shows that have been cultivated at NYMF include Altar Boyz, Next to Normal and [title of show] and Chaplin.
The Broadway Blog had a chance to chat with Festival executive director and producer Dan Markley as the first round of productions were preparing to open. “It’s epic in scope and that’s been intention.” But beyond fully staged productions, Markley is most proud of the new developmental reading series, which offers artists and audience alike the opportunity to celebrate the craft of musical theater. “Our hope is that more shows will be developed in that series and the next year they’ll be done in full productions. There is no yellow brick road on the way to Broadway.” Two shows that were done as readings last year, Searching for Romeo and Cloned!, are part of this season’s full production roster.
The next Kander and Ebb (or Ahrens & Flaherty, or Stephen Sondheim… the list goes on) are clamoring for their chance to be part of this creative incubator. This year the festival received nearly 250 submissions, up 50 percent from last year. What does it take for a new work to make the cut?
Initially, Markley says the committee is less concerned about the breadth of work in terms of the Festival season, but more concentrated on the “quality in book, music and lyrics. For a writer or writing team who understands where that show is in the developmental process and agrees with how we can all find the best path of success.”
“As we get the collection of shows that fit within those high standards,” says Markley, “then we start to separate what shows might be too similar in theme or musicality. I’m just watching it play out for the first time and it’s a very sophisticated process.” The reading committee consists of about 40 theater professionals, followed by 10 grand jurors—a highly qualified panel of agents, actors, directors and theater professionals who “have been down the road with putting new musicals into play.”
Take the jump for our top five Festival picks…
Broadway’s On The Town and FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance are teaming up to offer the winner of Season 11 a role in this fall’s highly anticipated Broadway revival, marking an exciting new addition to the TV series’ prize. The show’s winner, crowned “America’s Favorite Dancer,” will be offered the opportunity to join the On The Town cast in Spring 2015.
On Wednesday, July 9 (8:00-10:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed) on FOX, On The Town choreographer Joshua Bergasse (Emmy Award winner for Smash) will choreograph a performance of the show’s iconic opening number, “New York, New York,” featuring the Top 20 finalists.
On The Town, the classic musical comedy love letter to New York City, will return to Broadway this fall in a critically acclaimed production directed by John Rando (Tony Award® for Urinetown) and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse. Bergasse makes his Broadway debut as a choreographer with the production. On The Town will begin previews on Saturday, September 20, 2014 and officially open on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at Broadway’s Lyric Theatre (213 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036). Tickets for the new Broadway revival of On The Town are on sale now at Ticketmaster.com.
The Bronx is up, the Battery’s down, and three sailors are hoping to get just a little bit lucky on their one day of leave in the Big Apple. From the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Coney Island to Times Square and Carnegie Hall, On The Town zigzags through New York City as the sailors and the three high-spirited young women they meet chase love, dreams, and each other during an unforgettable day in the city that never sleeps. The classic score features the standards “New York, New York,” “I Can Cook Too,” “Lonely Town,” and “Some Other Time” and will be played in this production with their original orchestrations, performed by what will be the largest orchestra on Broadway, with 28 musicians led by musical director James Moore (Follies, Ragtime).
The cast will be led by Tony Yazbeck (Gypsy, A Chorus Line), Jay Armstrong Johnson (The New York Philharmonic’s Sweeney Todd, Hands On A Hardbody, Hair), and Clyde Alves (Bullets Over Broadway, Nice Work If You Can Get It) – as the sailors on 24-hour shore leave who take on the Big Apple – with Megan Fairchild (New York City Ballet Principal Dancer), Alysha Umphress (American Idiot) and Elizabeth Stanley (Company) as the women who steal their hearts. Fairchild, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, will make her Broadway debut playing ‘Ivy Smith.’
Created by the legendary creative team of Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jerome Robbins, On the Town grew out of the Jerome Robbins ballet Fancy Free, about three sailors on leave in New York, which debuted in 1944 with the American Ballet Theatre. The musical opened at Broadway’s Adelphi Theater later that year, directed by George Abbott, and played through February 2, 1946 for a total of 462 performances, transferring to the 44th Street Theatre and Martin Beck Theatre along the way.
The production will feature scenic design by Tony Award® winner Beowulf Boritt (Act One, Chaplin, Rock of Ages), lighting design by Drama Desk nominee Jason Lyons (Bring it On, Rock of Ages), costume design by Tony Award® winner Jess Goldstein (Newsies, Jersey Boys, The Rivals), and sound design by Tony® nominee Kai Harada (Follies, Million Dollar Quartet).