Pride Film & Plays Announces Inaugural Honorary Board Members

Alexandra Billings and Donna McKechnie (Photo provided by Pride Film and Plays via The Broadway Blog.)

Alexandra Billings and Donna McKechnie (Photo provided by Pride Film and Plays via The Broadway Blog.)

The Board of Directors of Pride Films and Plays has announced Broadway legend Donna McKechnie and actor/activist Alexandra Billings have become the inaugural members of Pride Films and Plays’ Honorary Board. McKechnie and Billings were the featured artists in PFP’s Simply Sensational benefits in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Donna McKechnie says, “Pride Films and Plays is a wonderful organization full of extremely talented and creative people. In the short time I spent with them I was able to experience, first-hand, how much they strive for excellence and how much they respect the courage it takes to be original … an inspiring group.”

Alexandra Billings says, “It is rare that we as a tribe have had safe places to rest. We have spent most of our lives running and hiding and holding on to a hope, never really supported by either history or law. So when a group invites us in and opens a door to an artistic truth, it is with great joy that we hold on tightly and fly through it. PFP—operated, owned, designed and navigated by LGBT people and allies—is that portal. It allows us to speak truthfully and with clarity and ease, through the lens of artistic freedom in a way that is founded in development and newness. It is a harbor for those of us who have survived and fought for civil rights since Stonewall and it is a magnificent introduction for the public at large to see who we are, where we’re headed, and how we got here.”

Michael Daigle, president of PFP’s Board of Directors says, “We are thrilled to have Donna and Alexandra serve as the foundation for what we believe will be a unique group of artistic and community leaders who believe in our mission and are willing to lend their names, voices, and counsel, as we continue to solidify PFP’s place as a leader in showcasing LGBTQ+ writers, performers, crew and stories. We look forward to expanding the honorary board and hope to announce more members over the coming months.”

Founded in 2010, Pride Films and Plays has been ambitiously producing new and relevant works with LGBTQ+ themes that are of interest to all audiences. It has earned 18 Jeff Nominations and give Jeff Awards in works ranging from Design for Living and The Boy From Oz, to new musicals such as Songs From An Unmade Bed and Under A Rainbow Flag. It also is a leader in premiering LGBTQ+ short films and this summer will film its first film project, Counting.

In the meantime, PFP’s summer programs at Mary’s Attic (5400 N. Clark) continue, with The Boys Upstairs closing Saturday, July 2BITE: A Pucking Queer Cabaret, inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will run there from July 8 to August 16. And LezFest IV will celebrate an amazing array of performers on Monday, July 18.

Alexandra Billings is an actress, singer, author, teacher and activist. She stars as Davina in Amazon’s multi-award-winning television series “Transparent.”  She has been acting since 1968 in Chicago and across the United Stages, in many instances the first transgender actress to tackle rolls like Mama Rose in Gypsy. She has worked at Bailiwick Repertory, Court Theater, and Steppenwolf, and has performed off-Broadway. Billings’ activism stretches across the continent. She was inducted into the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in Chicago in 2007. Living with AIDS since the mid-‘80s, she chronicles her life’s journey in her blog “Stilettos and Sneakers” and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Her life story “From Schoolboy to Showgirl” produced by Alex Silets WTTW was nominated for an Emmy for Best Documentary.

Donna McKechnie, the Tony Award-winning star of A Chorus Line, is internationally regarded as one of Broadway’s foremost dancing and singing leading ladies. Her Broadway shows include How to Succeed in Business Without Really TryingA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the ForumState Fair and more. She has starred in numerous productions in London’s West End. Bob Fosse invited McKechnie to play the lead in his last production, a national tour of Sweet Charity, for which she was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award. McKechnie also has performed extensively on the concert stage and with symphony orchestras all over the country. She has appeared as a guest star in numerous television specials and dramatic series including FameCheersFamily Ties and more. McKechnie’s memoir, Time Steps: My Musical Comedy Life, was published by Simon and Schuster.

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Don’t Miss: Paul Rudd at MCC

Paul Rudd (Photo: DFree / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Paul Rudd (Photo: DFree / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

MCC Theater has confirmed that its previously announced benefit reading of a new Neil LaBute play, Reasons to be Pretty Happy, will be led by star of stage and screen—and frequent LaBute collaborator—Paul Rudd, who previously worked with LaBute on the critically acclaimed play, The Shape of Things in both New York and London as well as the film adaptation.  He also starred on stage in LaBute’s bash – in New York and Los Angeles.

The one-night-only world premiere developmental reading is now set for Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 7:30PM at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, and will benefit the nonprofit’s robust education and playwright development programs.  (This replaces the previously announced date of Monday, June 20, 2016.)  Additional casting will be announced at a later date.  For more info, visit www.mcctheater.org.

Tickets are currently on sale for the benefit reading. Prices range from $100 for show-only tickets or $250/$350 for preferred/premium seating plus access to a special post-show reception with LaBute, the cast, and MCC leadership. For tickets, visit www.mcctheater.org or call (212) 352-3101.

Neil LaBute (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Neil LaBute (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

MCC’s Playwright-in-Residence since 2005, Neil LaBute premiered the first two plays in his ‘Reasons’ trilogy, Reasons to be Pretty and Reasons to be Happy, with the company in 2008 and 2013, respectively.  The former transferred to Broadway and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. MCC’s reading of Reasons to be Pretty Happy marks the first of two LaBute plays the company will premiere this year. It was recently announced that his newest completed work, All The Ways To Say I Love You, will kick off MCC’s upcoming 30th Anniversary Season on September 6 in a production starring multi-Tony and Emmy Award winner Judith Light in a solo performance directed by Tony nominee Leigh Silverman.

“As a leading voice in contemporary theater who has premiered 10 full length plays and a number of other short works under our auspices, Neil LaBute exemplifies the strong and enduring relationships that MCC fosters with artists,” said Co-Artistic Director Robert LuPone, speaking on behalf of the company’s artistic leadership. “Our work together over the years and on the ‘Reasons’ trilogy in particular has been incredibly exciting and rewarding. We are so proud to present his new work at this point in its life in a reading that advances our long and fruitful history of collaboration with this important and singular artist.”

“I’m pleased to have the world premiere reading of my latest play at MCC, a place that has supported my work for nearly fifteen years,” said Neil LaBute. “Having led master classes for students in the Theater’s Youth Company, I’m so proud this reading will support MCC’s vital work nurturing the next generation of theater talent through its education and playwright development programs.”

Set on the night of their 20th anniversary high school reunion, Reasons to be Pretty Happy follows Greg and Steph as they revisit their home town after having moved to New York. Kent and Carly are suspicious of their reasons for returning and the four friends dance (sometimes literally) through a series of encounters at their school gym as they try to rekindle old friendships, struggle with their futures (together and separately) and reveal secrets to one another that might have been better left buried beneath a pile of yearbooks.  The play is a funny, sad, silly and sobering look at friendships and loves that have weathered and lasted for a long, long time—some even past their due dates.

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Categories: Show Folk, The Buzz

Spectacular, Indeed: Radio City Rockettes Reach for the Stars

The Radio City Rockettes in 'New York Spectacular' (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Garden via The Broadway Blog.)

The Radio City Rockettes in ‘New York Spectacular’ (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Garden via The Broadway Blog.)

It’s no secret that we’re living in harrowing times. Trump. Brexit. Floods and fires. Turning on the television (or a quick swipe of your mobile device) can induce a Xanax-worthy anxiety attack. Enter New York Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes, the new eye-popping summer show in residence that will not only lift your spirits, but also put you in the most glorious New York state of mind.

Directed and choreographed by Emmy Award winner Mia Michaels and featuring an original book by Drama Desk Award winner and Tony nominated Douglas Carter Beane, the story follows two siblings Emily (Lilla Crawford/Jenna Ortega) and Jacob (Vincent Crocilla) who get separated from their parents while vacationing in New York City. Emily is your typical sulky tween, while Jacob’s wide-eyed enthusiasm calls forth to life the statue of Mercury (Euan Morton) amid the bustle of Grand Central Station. Mercury sets them on a fantastical journey that includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wall Street, the New York Public Library, Central Park, Times Square, Fashion Avenue, and the Empire State Building. Along the way, the inanimate come to life, breathing magical creativity into the children’s journey. As expected, the children are reunited with their parents and all is good in Gotham.

The Radio City Rockettes (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Garden via The Broadway Blog.)

The Radio City Rockettes (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Garden via The Broadway Blog.)

Those familiar with the Rockettes might expect this long-legged precision dance troupe to predictably kick line their way through a few productions numbers in sparkly stockings and tightly pulled buns. Think again. Michaels—whose website portal begins with the quote, “Forgive me if I have only succeeded in entertaining you, I had wished to rile your spirit.”—has put fire in the bellies of the Rockettes. Their energy, first scene in the opening number set to Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York,” is palpable. And it only gets better. From Egyptian Pharaohs to raincoat-clad tappers in a shower of spring rain, each production number (many of which also include a triumphant male dance ensemble) breathes fresh air into a commodity that dates back to 1925. And in a move that feels revolutionary in the hallowed hall, the fashion production number allows each dancer to strut her unique stuff in original couture costumes by designer Emilio Sosa.

Sosa’s work is part of a jaw-dropping creative team that brings New York Spectacular to life, including scenic design by Patrick Fahey, lighting design by Alain Lortie, video & projection design by Moment Factory, and statue design and direction by Matt Acheson. It is only SCK Sound Design’s occasional hiccups that remind one how challenging it must be to project dialogue throughout the 6,000-seat venue. Beane’s script is chock full of ripe one-liners, but many get lost in the echoey hall. Or simply lost by the tourist-heavy crowd, who didn’t seem to catch many of the crafty jabs. But one could hear reassuring pockets of guffaws throughout the cavernous hall, a sign that Beane’s dry humor could also find its way home.

With so many Broadway shows shuttering this summer, visitors and locals alike might be wondering where to turn to for their entertainment fix. Go big or go home. New York Spectacular celebrates the best that the city has to offer.

New York Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes
Radio City Music Hall
Through August 7

 

 

 

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Harrowing Times: ‘Fellow Travelers’ Triumphs at Cincinnati Opera

by Ryan Leeds

'Fellow Travelers' at Cincinnati Opera.

‘Fellow Travelers’ at Cincinnati Opera.

Tales of forbidden love are as old as storytelling itself, but rarely are they told with as much painstaking heartbreak as Fellow Travelers, a new opera by composer Gregory Spears and librettist Greg Pierce having its world premiere at the Cincinnati Opera.

Based on the 2007 historical novel of the same name by Thomas Mallon, Fellow Travelers tells the story of Hawkins Fuller (Joseph Lattanzi) and Timothy Laughlin (Aaron Blake), a gay couple who find themselves embroiled in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s (Marcus DeLoach) witch hunt to prosecute homosexuals amidst the 1950s threat of communism.

Fuller, a dashing, masculine state department employee meets the sweet, “boy next door” type Laughlin at a park in the Washington D.C. neighborhood of Dupont Circle. In spite of their polar opposite world views, Fuller and Laughlin—whose pet names for each  another are  “Hawk” and  “Skippy,” respectively—fall madly for one another.

Hawkins assistant, Mary Johnson (Devon Guthrie) and another office secretary, Miss Lightfoot (Alexandra Schoneny), overhear the lovers at an office party, setting the wheels of suspicion and scrutiny in motion. If their surreptitious affair weren’t enough, it is further complicated by their own internal struggles. Fuller is torn between marriage to a woman for career and convention’s sake, and his affection for Laughlin.

Laughlin’s inability to reconcile his Catholic faith and gay relationship plagues him. Librettist Greg Pierce has done a remarkable job with character depth. He has adapted Mallon’s fictitious leading roles into multi-layered men of complexity. It should also be noted that Mallon, who identifies as a gay conservative Catholic, based Laughlin after himself, making the piece all the more potent.

The Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.

The Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.

Pierce has also achieved success by keeping his story and the cast lean. Composer Spears has created a score that is often hauntingly beautiful yet simultaneously tuneful. Its musical resonance within the intimate Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, can also be attributed to conductor Mark Gibson’s passionate skill.

Vocally, there is not a weak performer on the stage. Lattanzi’s rich baritone, combined with his imposing height is swoon-worthy and could probably charm the pants off of Rush Limbaugh; an incredibly unsettling image, but I think I’ve made my point. Blake’s tenor is spectacular and clear. Even in his upper register, his tone remains wholly focused. The rest of director Kevin Newbury’s cast is stellar but it is Lattanzi and Blake who do most of the heavy lifting here.

Victoria (Vita) Tzukun’s set design is appropriately sparse, yet slick. With a few simple pivots, we are transported between the office and various apartment settings. Paul Carey’s stylish costumes evoke the strict conformity of the era and Thomas C. Hase’s dramatic lighting adds a subtle yet important layer of profundity to the tragic tale.

By the time the curtain fell, there were stifled tears , caused not only by the events on stage, but because they inspired serious reflection about the state of our nation. While this is a gay themed opera, it is impossible not to draw a correlation between McCarthy’s lavender scare and the anti-Muslim sentiment that has recently become sickeningly acceptable in our country. In addition, the Orlando tragedy remains on the forefront in our community and has rippled throughout the world.

Thankfully, stories like this provide a civil, but extremely powerful catalyst for change and help reinforce a defiant pride suggesting that we will not remain invisible, bullied, or powerless. Not only does love ultimately win; music shares in the triumph.

Fellow Travelers
Cincinnati Opera
Aronoff Center for the Arts
650 Walnut Street, Cincinnati, OH
Through July 10

For more information on arts and culture in Cincinnati, visit www.CincinnatiUSA.com.

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook

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Categories: Opera, Way Off Broadway

Breaking: ‘Shuffle Along’ Posts Closing Notice

shuffle along

Producer Scott Rudin announced today that SHUFFLE ALONG Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, will play its final Broadway performance on Sunday, July 24, 2016.  As was previously announcedAudra McDonald, the six-time Tony winning star of SHUFFLE ALONG, was already set to depart the production on July 24 for what was planned as a multi-month maternity leave.

“Audra McDonald is the biggest star on Broadway, and audiences have been clamoring to see her in this role since the first preview of Shuffle Along in March of this year,” said Mr. Rudin.  “She is absolutely extraordinary in the show, and I am filled with gratitude for both her exemplary partnership on Shuffle Along and also for her remarkable resilience and fortitude in doing everything possible to play as many shows as she can, despite the circumstance of her pregnancy.”

“We are thrilled that she and her husband, Will Swenson, are experiencing the opportunity to expand their family — and we wish them all good things as they approach the birth of their child this fall,” Rudin continued,  “It has, however, become clear that the need for Audra to take a prolonged and unexpected hiatus from the show has determined the unfortunate inevitability of our running at a loss for significantly longer than the show can responsibly absorb, and we have decided to close the show when she leaves on July 24.  On behalf of myself and George C. Wolfe, I want to say how deeply grateful we are to her for everything she gave and continues to give the show. There is simply nobody like her.”

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Categories: The Buzz

15 Minutes with Douglas Carter Beane

When the curtain rises on opening night this evening at The New York Spectacular starring the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, there will be more than flashy costumes, high-kicking precision dancers, and soaring sets (though there will be plenty of all of that). This season’s incarnation also includes a book by Tony-nominated and Drama Desk Award-winning playwright Douglas Carter Beane.

The Broadway Blog caught up with Beane during the last week of previews as The New York Spectacular found its footing. Here’s what he had to say in our exclusive “15 Minutes With…”

Douglas Carter Beane with the Radio City Rockettes. (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Garden via The Broadway Blog.)

Douglas Carter Beane with the Radio City Rockettes. (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Garden via The Broadway Blog.)

BB: How did this project come to fruition?
DCB: I’ve been living in London for last 10 months—my partner and I said when we had kids we’d spend a year abroad— and we were doing a reading of one of my plays. A Scottish man came up to me afterwards and said, “I’d like to have lunch with you in the next two days.” It happened to be Colin Ingram, the Executive Vice President of Productions for the Madison Square Garden Company. And the rest, shall we say, is history.

BB: How familiar were you with The Rockettes?
DCB: Are you kidding me? I’m from New York. And as for Radio City… as Sinatra used to say, “It’s my favorite room.”

BB: More than a room in this case, it’s my understanding that a lot of the production elements were in place when you came on board?
DCB: Yes. We had all these set and Mia Michaels had been hired as director/choreographer. I looked at the different pieces and thought that I wanted it to be a fable, a sort of an American folk tale—just two kids lost in New York City. It has a Wizard of Oz quality. The numbers and the Rockettes are the stars of the show.

I did Skype meetings with Mia and I flew to New York a couple of times. She has a great background in spectacle—shows in Las Vegas, rock concerts, etc.—her work is filled with joy and eccentricity and a level of sophistication that excited me.

It’s a story of two children on a journey, but I wanted to add a spike to it verbally that’s also in the choreography. It’s Mia’s first time as a director dealing with text. Watching her be intimated and then take control has been a delight.

The Radio City Rockettes in 'New York Spectacular' (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Garden via The Broadway Blog.)

The Radio City Rockettes in ‘New York Spectacular’ (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Garden via The Broadway Blog.)

BB: If anyone can rise to the occasion, it’s Mia Michaels. But the craft of playwriting presents its own challenges. Can you teach someone to be funny?
DCB: Well this particular project is very concise… It’s not a sonnet, it’s a haiku. We’re making big choices and making them known.

It’s a spectacle first and foremost, so we need to create connective tissue with prepared eyes. We want to set up the audience so they’re prepared for what follows. I’ve been doing this for the past 20 years and this show is truly structured like an American musical theater comedy. It’s all there, but it’s hidden, you don’t have to know it’s there. You can relax, I’m a professional, you wouldn’t want an amateur!

BB: Xanadu, Sister Act, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella—you’ve made a name for adapting material, is there a method to your madness or specific approach to working with pre-existing material?
DCB: I love it. I like the challenge… of challenges. The excitement that comes with you have to do “this, this and this.”

The production has these enormous statues coming to life, and it reminded me of when I walk around the city with my kids, my daughter says hello to Gandhi in Union Square. When they showed me the set with statues, I thought, “I’ve got something to work from here.” And there’s so much inspiration when you’re talking about New York City: Wall Street, Fashion Avenue, it goes on and on.

BB: Any teasers that you can offer us regarding upcoming projects?
DCB: I’ll be directing a musical version of Robin Hood, which I co-wrote with Lewis Flinn. [Hood plays June 29 – August 6, 2017 at Dallas Theater Center.] I’m also working on another project that combines many familiar fairy tales titled Fairy Kings. I’m also in the process of creating something for Alan Cumming. Sometimes what inspires me is what I love is an actor, so I begin to write a show with him in mind.

BB: Given the recent events in Orlando, how important is humor in times like these?
DCB: It was a horrible tragedy. Yet another group is considered separate, and that’s not what America is about. Humor heals us. It shows us the possibility of a better day, and it’s why I’ve chosen to spend my life writing it.

New York Spectacular
Radio City Music Hall
Through August 7

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What They Did For Love: ‘Broadway by the Year: The 1970s’

by Samuel L. Leiter
Broadway by the Year
When I got home after the theatre, my wife, who’d been otherwise engaged, asked, “What’d you see tonight?” “One of those Scott Siegel, one night-only, Broadway show-tune revues at the Town Hall,” I answered. “Broadway by the Year: The 1970s.”

“How was it?,” she asked. “Very much like the one I once took you to,” I said. “They’re always delightful. Lots of first-class Broadway performers, some on the rise, some established, and a string of great show numbers from a particular time. As usual, Scott stood at a podium at one side introducing each number, usually with a show biz anecdote; the singer came out and did a more or less faithful rendition, accompanied by Ross Patterson and two other musicians; the audience applauded; and the next performer was introduced. Few bells and whistles but lots of talented artists and memorable songs.”

“Sorry I missed it,” she sighed. “We probably saw most of the shows from the nosebleed seats back in the day.” “Yes,” I said. “Probably 90 percent of them. Remember, I even wrote a book about those years, Ten Seasons: New York Theatre in the Seventies.”

“Who’d you go with?,” she asked.

“Mimi,” I answered, referring to an old friend, a veteran Broadway singer-actress. “This stuff is right up her alley.” It should be. She made her Broadway debut 71 years ago at age six in the original cast of Carousel!

“What did they sing?”

Maxine Linehan (Photo: Genevieve Rafter Keddy via The Broadway Blog.)

Maxine Linehan (Photo: Genevieve Rafter Keddy via The Broadway Blog.)

“Well,” I said, “It began with Kerry Butler singing ‘Here Comes the Sun’ from Beatlemania, which I didn’t think was representative of Broadway musicals but hit the right note of nostalgia. Then came a rush of Broadway standards, the most familiar including Morgan Weed singing ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ from Grease, Maxine Linehan doing ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ from Jesus Christ Superstar, Farah Alvin blasting the same show’s ‘Gethsemane’ out of the theatre, a show-stopping ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile’ from Annie sung and tap danced by Cagney’s Robert Creighton and Jeremy Benton, and Linehan closing out the first act with a vibrant ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ from Evita. There were also a few less iconic songs from They’re Playing Our Song, Working, The Robber Bridegroom, and Pippin. And Carlton Terrence Taylor rocked the old Fats Waller tune, ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’ from the revue Ain’t Misbehavin’, one of the many black musicals of the 70s that challenged Broadway’s nickname of the Great White Way.”

“During the intermission,” I added, “I told Mimi my only regret was that some of the songs, while sung very well, lacked the dramatic specificity they have in their original context. She thought it might be a good idea if Scott were to offer fewer anecdotes and more background context for the songs.”

“I love those songs! How about the second act?,” my wife queried.

Noah Racey (Photo: Genevieve Rafter Keddy via The Broadway Blog.)

Noah Racey (Photo: Genevieve Rafter Keddy via The Broadway Blog.)

“Much like the first,” I replied. “I hadn’t looked at the song list so I whispered to Mimi halfway through asking where the hell was A Chorus Line? It was good to be reminded, though, of less iconic but still super songs from The Magic Show, Shenandoah, Side by Side by Sondheim, and Bubbling Brown Sugar, as well as the old-time favorite ‘I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby’ from Ain’t Misbehavin’, given the old razzle-dazzle by singer-tap dancer Noah Racey.

The classics included Creighton’s flashy ‘Mr. Cellophane’ from Chicago; Butler’s charming ‘The Bus from Amarillo’ from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; Rachel Bay Jones’s beautifully subdued ‘Send in the Clowns’ from A Little Night Music, accompanied by the delicate guitar of Sean Harkness; Weed’s emotional ‘Time Heals Everything’ from Mack & Mabel; Alvin’s unamplified ‘Tomorrow’ from Annie, sung in tribute to the Orlando victims; Butler’s enthusiastic ‘Home’ from The Wiz; and, finally—the one I was waiting for all night—A Chorus Line’s ‘What I Did for Love,’ begun by Linehan and brought to crescendo force by the entire company.”

“Damn. Looks like I missed a good one, huh?,” she asked.

“Looks like you did.”

Coming up at Town Hall:
Broadway Rising Stars
A national showcase that introduces New York audiences to the next generation of up-and-coming talent as chosen by a panel of discerning judges from among the most outstanding new graduates from schools such as the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, The American Musical and Dramatic Academy, CAP21, Circle in the Square Theatre School, Marymount Manhattan College, The New School, NYU’s Steinhardt Department of Music and Performing Arts, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and other acclaimed institutions.
July 18, 8 p.m.

Broadway Unplugged
Scott Siegel’s Broadway Unplugged returns: great show tunes, great Broadway stars, great (big) voices, and NO microphones… just the pure human voice, the way it used to be on Broadway!
July 25, 8 p.m.

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: Broadway Barks!

Broadway Barks

BROADWAY BARKS announces their 18th annual star-studded dog and cat adoption event to benefit New York City animal shelters and adoption agencies. Founded by Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore, Broadway Barks also features celebrities from the hottest shows currently on Broadway. The event, produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, will take place on Saturday, July 30, in Shubert Alley (located between 44th and 45th Streets, between Broadway and Eighth Avenues). The festivities begin at 3 p.m. when attendees can meet all the adoptable dogs and cats; celebrity presentations of adoptable pets will take place between 5-6:30 p.m. This year’s event will be co-hosted by Bernadette Peters and Gloria Estefan. The event is free and open to the public.

Marking its 18th anniversary, Broadway Barks will again help hundreds of New York City’s shelter animals find permanent homes by informing New Yorkers about the plight of thousands of homeless dogs and cats in the metropolitan area. The popular and highly attended event will feature hundreds of adoptable animals from 27 animal rescue groups.

Designing this year’s Broadway Barks Playbill program and poster is famed illustrator and theatrical poster designer, James McMullan. Perhaps best known for designing 40 plus Lincoln Center Theater posters, McMullan has credits that span outside the theater community as well. After serving in the U.S. Army, McMullan moved to New York City in the 1950s and his illustrations have appeared in such publications as Esquire, Sports Illustrated and New York Magazine, where he helped develop the magazine’s graphic personality.

Bernadette Peters with her dog, Stella. (Photo: Timothy White via The Broadway Blog.)

Bernadette Peters with her dog, Stella. (Photo: Timothy White via The Broadway Blog.)

Celebrity participants already lending their support include:

Bill Berloni (The Crucible)
Reed Birney (The Humans)
Sierra Boggess (School of Rock-The Musical)
Sophia Anne Caruso (Lazarus/Runaways)
Allison Case (Matilda The Musical)
Michael Cerveris (Fun Home)
Leanne Cope (An American in Paris)
Alma E. Cuervo (On Your Feet!)
Drew Gehling (Waitress)
Rick Holmes (Matilda The Musical)
Jayne Houdyshell (The Humans)
Judy Kaye (Wicked)
Beth Malone (Fun Home)
Willow McCarthy (Matilda The Musical)
Judy McLane (Mamma Mia)
Brian Stokes Mitchell (Shuffle Along)
Bebe Neuwirth (The Addams Family)
Brad Oscar (Something Rotten!)
Jill Paice (An American in Paris)
Gabriella Pizzolo (Fun Home)
Emily Skeegs (Fun Home)
Peter Scolari (Wicked)
Carrie St. Louis (Wicked)
Max von Essen (An American in Paris)
Aviva Winick (Matilda The Musical)
Amra-Faye Wright (Chicago)
Jessica Keenan Wynn (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)

Gloria Estefan with her dog, Noelle. (Photo: Alberto Tolot via The Broadway Blog.)

Gloria Estefan with her dog, Noelle. (Photo: Alberto Tolot via The Broadway Blog.)

Gloria Estefan has sold over 100 million records and sold out stadiums around the world. Together, Gloria and her husband, Emilio have won 26 GRAMMY Awards® – but their music is only half the story. From the heart of Havana to the streets of Miami came a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the music industry had ever seen. ON YOUR FEET!, the Tony nominated hit Broadway musical that follows the Estefan’s journey to superstardom, set to their chart-topping, smash hits, including “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “Conga,” “1-2-3,” “Get On Your Feet,” “Mi Tierra,” “Don’t Want To Lose You Now,” and “Reach,” in addition to an original song written by Gloria and her daughter Emily Estefan.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is one of the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. By drawing upon the talents, resources and generosity of the American theatre community, since 1988 BC/EFA has raised more than $285 million for essential services for people with AIDS and other critical illnesses across the United States. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is the major supporter of the social service programs at The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic. Broadway Cares also awards annual grants to more than 450 AIDS and family service organizations in all 50 states.

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Categories: The Buzz

Broadway Bares 26 Raises Over $1.4 Million

Broadway CaresChiseled morning show hosts, rock-hard reality show contestants and pumped up politicos took over the airwaves at this year’s ratings-raising edition of Broadway Bares, an evening of elaborately staged burlesque production numbers that gave a new meaning to “Bares TV.”

Produced by and benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Broadway Bares: On Demand raised an impressive $1,482,724 in two performances on Sunday, June 19, 2016.

Broadway Bares: On Demand featured 198 of New York’s sexiest and most talented dancers, entertaining standing-room-only audiences at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom. The evening was dedicated to the victims, families and friends of last week’s Orlando night club tragedy.  

For the first time in the event’s history, Stripathon, an online fundraiser by the show’s cast and crew, was the single largest contributor to the total, raising by showtime a record $612,212. 

This year’s guest performers included Tony and Grammy Award winner Billy Porter, Olivier Award winner LesliMargherita, two-time Tony nominee Christopher Sieber, Frankie J. Grande, Daniel Dae Kim, Michael Longoriaand NY1 News’ Frank DiLella and Roma Torre.

The show also included special “on demand” video appearances by seven-time Grammy Award winner Gloria Estefan, Tony nominee Andrew Rannells, Emmy Award nominee Wendy Williams, RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Bob the Drag Queen, Cassandra Peterson as her horror hostess alter ego Elvira and HGTV’s Property Brothers, Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott. 

The evening followed a fledgling TV network’s efforts to turn itself into an audience favorite by asking its stars to drop their drawers and opt for “all nude, all the time.”

The show also included special “on demand” video appearances by seven-time Grammy Award winner Gloria Estefan, Tony nominee Andrew Rannells, Emmy Award nominee Wendy Williams, RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Bob the Drag Queen, Cassandra Peterson as her horror hostess alter ego Elvira and HGTV’s Property Brothers, Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott.

The evening followed a fledgling TV network’s efforts to turn itself into an audience favorite by asking its stars to drop their drawers and opt for “all nude, all the time.” 

The show opened with Broadway’s Erik Altemus and Morgan Weed as the chirpy and ultimately cheeky morning show hosts of “Crack of Dawn,” an inane way to start your day. As the network’s executive producer, Margherita decided to address their bottom-basement ratings by tapping into America’s salacious fantasies and creating “Bares TV.” She proclaimed, “Nudity, that’s what will make America great again.”

Weatherman Jelani Remy with his sassy trio of “weather girls” and the pole dancing Rommel Pierre O’choa, reporting on the ups and downs of the stock market, joined in bearing it all for the network’s new format.

The opening number was choreographed by Nick Kenkel, who returned for the fourth year as director of BroadwayBares. The opening was written by Hunter Bell and Wade Dooley with music by Matt Sklar and lyrics by AmandaGreen.

Broadway Bares: On Demand ultimately laid bare every iconic genre of television, from classic “As Seen on TV” exercise infomercials to a sexy sweet treat of a cooking show, from late-night horror flicks to strong and do-it-yourself shows.

In her search for higher ratings, Margherita sent one of her inquiring cameramen into the locker room for some undercover footage of the championship Bears baseball team. As the hard-bodied team steamed up the stage in a heart-pounding all-male number dubbed “Bases Loaded,” cameraman Zach Frank was ultimately discovered by team MVP Josh Drake and stripped of his camera – and his clothes – by the none-too-shy baseballers. The number was choreographed by Kellen Stancil.

Politics became much more interesting when hunky Adam Perry and sultry Ericka Hunter turned “Debate This” into a presidential boxing match, backed by each candidate’s scantily clothed campaign workers. The hard-hitting number was choreographed by Charlie Sutton.

Home improvement took a decidedly sexy turn in “Nailed It” as handyman Judah Frank helped home decorator Mark MacKillop get in touch with his stronger side. Choreographed by Michael Lee Scott, the number proved that do-it-yourself shows are the most entertaining when you work with an extra set of hands.

To celebrate the fast rise in ratings, the new “Bares TV” celebrated with its own singing reality competition. The finale of “Bares Idol,” choreographed by Jim Cooney, found YouTube celebrity Grande awarding the crown to the strappingAdam Roberts, who quickly found himself stripped of his clothes – but not his title. Dressed in silver-sequined thong, Roberts celebrated as the full Broadway Bares: On Demand cast joined him onstage for an electrifying end to the show.

Other numbers that paid homage to the sizzing small screen included: 

●      “¡Daytime Dramatico!,” staged by Kenkel, gave an over-the-top look at the already melodramatic world of telenovelas. Holly James played a soap opera diva on the fictional series “The Young and the Rhythmless,” unable to dance until her inhabiitions are stipped away with each piece of clothing she sheds.

●      A wildly popular medieval fantasy epic got the Broadway Bares treatment as “Throne Games” pitted a warrior and servant in an aggressive physical battle over the attentions of a powerful dragoness in choreography by Eamon Foley. Her exotic dragons were portrayed by three aerial artists spinning high above the runway staged by Ryan Lyons.

●      As stormy weather moved in, “Bares TV” reporter Lawrence Alexander was sent out into the elements to cover a severe thunderstorm that sent him writhing out of his business suit in passionate choreography byBrice Mousset. The “Soakin’ Wet” weather elements were performed by a team of eight aerialists, staged byBares favorite Armando Farfan Jr.

●      “Get Pumped” featured a battle of “As Seen on TV” exercise options, with aerobics battling the Thigh Master before the Shake Weight took over. Featuring Ariana DeBose, Hope Easterbrook and AmakerSmith, the high-octane number was choreographed by Laya Barak.

●      Chef Nicole found extra help in the kitchen as she whipped up “Sweet Treats,” in a number choreographed by James Harkness. Helped by six sexy sous chefs, Nicole Spencer dished out ingredients and whipped off her clothing in a decidedly sensual “taste test.”

●      A toy makers’ fate was in the hands of its new fashion doll as “Stock Tip” explored how a trio of company executives learned a lesson in marketing. Choreographed by John Alix, the number featured Whitney Sprayberry as the doll who found friends and empowerment in women of all shapes and sizes.

●      In a parody of late-night horror flicks, complete with an introduction by Elvira, “Scared Stiff,” choreographed by Sidney Erik Wright, found an unsuspecting group of coeds haunted, hunted and disrobed by classic scary movie villains.

Kim, currently starring in Broadway’s The King and I and a veteran of TV’s Lost, made a cameo appearance with Margherita who cajoled Kim into losing his T-shirt and revealing “Love is Love” painted on his chest. DiLella and Torre, hosts of NY1’s On Stage theatre show, both “auditioned” to be “Bares TV” news anchor, with Torre landing the job after agreeing to be more “nude and balanced” than DiLella. 

Closing each performance, Sieber led the show’s famous “rotation,” where the entire cast danced freestyle to encourage individual appreciation tips from the audience. This year’s rotation raised an additional $22,621.

This year’s top Stripathon fundraiser was Ricky Schroeder, who raised a remarkable $21,500. He was closely followed by Ariana DeBose, raising an impressive $16,116 – setting a record for most money raised by a woman inBroadway Bares history. Rounding out the top five were Ben Ryan with $16,000, Ed Stanley with $13,347 and Madeline Reed with $12,661. 

Broadway Bares: On Demand was produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, led by Producing DirectorValerie Lau-Kee Lai and an extraordinary staff. Production Stage Manager Kathleen Purvis led a team of 33 stage managers with more than 700 other volunteers behind the scenes to create the show. Paul Miller served as lighting designer; Nevin Steinberg handled sound design; and the show’s scenic designer was Jason Lee Courson. Hunter Bell wrote the show’s book. Aaron Hamilton served as assistant director.

Presenting sponsor M∙A∙C VIVA Glam delivered a $300,000 check, presented by Jennifer Balbier, M∙A∙C senior vice president of global product development and M∙A∙C AIDS Fund board member. Balbier also saluted the extraordinary skills of more than 70 M∙A∙C makeup artists who volunteered to create the show’s incredible looks.

Broadway Bares was created by Tony-winning director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell in 1992 as a way to raise money to help those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. In its first year, Mitchell and seven of his friends danced on a New York City bar and raised $8,000. To date, Broadway Bares has now raised $15.8 million for Broadway Cares.

In addition to presenting sponsor M∙A∙C VIVA Glam, Broadway Bares receives generous support from BC/EFA corporate partner United Airlines.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is one of the nation’s leading industry‐based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant‐making organizations. By drawing upon the talents, resources and generosity of the American theatre community, since 1988 BC/EFA has raised more than $285 million for essential services for people with AIDS and other critical illnesses across the United States.

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Categories: The Buzz

15 Minutes with Barrett Foa

by Jim Gladstone

Barrett Foa (Photo provided by Feinstein's at the Nikko via The Broadway Blog.)

Barrett Foa (Photo provided by Feinstein’s at the Nikko via The Broadway Blog.)

“After seven years of being a featured actor,” quips Barrett Foa, who brings his cabaret act to Feinstein’s at the Nikko June 24 and 25 in San Francisco. “It’s nice to get back to being self-indulgent again.”

Behind every joke, of course, is a little truth.

New York born-and-bred, Foa—best known for playing operative Eric Beale in the ensemble of the stalwart CBS drama NCIS: Los Angeles—is a theater kid at heart.

Foa, 38, made his Broadway debut fifteen years ago in the original cast of Mamma Mia! and has also played Princeton/Rod in Avenue Q (Foa was the first non-puppeteer specifically trained for the show) and replaced Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Leaf Coneybear in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

“Television has given me a cushion,” he says, “So I can get back to singin’ and dancin’. I’ve really missed the immediate gratification of laughs and applause that you get from a live audience.”

Barrett Foa (far right) and the cast of 'NCIS: Los Angeles' (Photo: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Barrett Foa (far right) and the cast of ‘NCIS: Los Angeles’ (Photo: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

“To be honest, that’s why I started putting this show together,” says Foa, who debuted his new act in April at Los Angeles’ Rockwell and played Feinstein’s 54 Below in New York earlier this month.

“Cabaret is really the most self-indulgent of all the art forms,” he says, suggesting that it may also be and antidote-of-sorts to disappearing into formulaic procedural television.

“I’ve dipped my toe into this a bit before, doing some numbers in collaborative shows with a group of friends at Ars Nova and the Duplex in New York, but this is my first full show.”

Called Grin and Barrett, the show began with Foa assembling a long list of his favorite songs—“These are all songs that make me happy every time I hear the first chords play”—and then paring it down to dovetail with a group of anecdotes he wanted to share about his life in and out of the theater.

“It’s not your mother’s cabaret,” he says, noting that the show includes songs by James Taylor, Randy Newman, Rufus Wainwright and other pop composers as well as theater music. “I need it to appeal,” he jokes, “to laypeople as well.”

Barrett Foa at the PaleyFest 2015 Fall TV Preview (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Barrett Foa at the PaleyFest 2015 Fall TV Preview (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Molding his own show also gave Foa a chance to create structure amidst the unpredictability of ensemble TV series work in Los Angeles compared to a live theater schedule.

“On Broadway, you know exactly where you need to be every night. You plan brunch at 11 and dinner at 5. With a series, you can have a 13-hour day and you don’t necessarily know when you’re going to start or finish. Over time, things have become a little more regular at NCIS and we usually work from very early in the morning and get off at 6 or 7. It’s been interesting for me to have an evening at my disposal instead of providing someone else’s entertainment.”

As he makes clear in his cabaret act, Foa loves losing himself in a character and looks forward to returning to Broadway after NCIS: LA runs its course. “People used to want to cast me as romantic characters like Hero in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum or Rolf in Sound of Music. But I don’t think those are the roles for me any more. I’m ready to be a quirky leading man.”

On hiatus last summer, Foa tested those waters, playing Harold Hill in a successful Connecticut production of The Music Man. “It was a blast,” he recalls, “And I was really grateful to have a chance to play a lead like that.”

The show also held some nostalgic value for Foa, who performed a smaller role in the show while studying theater at the University of Michigan. Also in that cast were friends and fellow Broadway actors, Gavin Creel (Hair) and David Burtka (husband of Neil Patrick Harris).

Foa has fond memories of the Michigan program and this past May 16, joined dozens of fellow graduates in a New York concert celebrating their one-time professor, Brent Wagner, before his retirement.

“Every year I’m out of college I realize how important it was to me. That program really gave me my life.”

And that life, Foa makes clear, has live theater at its heart.

“My heart and soul are in New York. I want to be on stage and I want to be closer to my family. I have a seven-year-old nephew and I want to be more to him than ‘Uncle Barrett from California.’”

Barrett Foa
Feinstein’s at the Nikko
Friday, June 24; Saturday, June 25

 

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.

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