Have you ever wanted to spend time with Stephen Sondheim in the lobby during one of his shows? Did you know that Patti LuPone once had a Broadway ghostly encounter? Have you wondered what it was like to be in the landmark Broadway premiere of Angels in America?
From opening nights to closing nights. From secret passageways to ghostly encounters. From Broadway debuts to landmark productions. Score a front row seat to read hundreds of stories about the most important stages in the world, seen through the eyes of the producers, actors, stagehands, writers, musicians, company managers, dressers, designers, directors, ushers, and door men who bring The Great White Way to life each night. You’ll never look at Broadway the same way again.
This is the third book in a series that will tell the stories of all of the Broadway theaters. Volume 3 includes the Broadhurst, the Belasco, the Edison, the Lyric, the Majestic, the Schoenfeld, the St. James and the Walter Kerr: eight Broadway theaters that light up New York City.
(The Majestic Theatre is one of the theaters profiled in the 3rd volume of The Untold Stories of Broadway.)
The Untold Stories of Broadway is a multi-volume series that will examine 40 legendary Broadway theaters in total. Tepper, who is also a producer in her own right, interviewed over 200 theater professionals – actors, directors, producers, stagehands, designers, ushers, and others – to elicit their funniest and most compelling backstage experiences on The Great White Way.
The first two volumes have been lauded by the New York theater press. “I’m enjoying every chapter,” said Michael Riedel in The New York Post. NBC New York named it among its “Must-Reads for any Broadway fan” and raved “the book is filled with juicy anecdotes and inspiring tales.” According to Broadway World, the books “are must-haves for anyone who loves the rich history of musical theatre. Each chapter bursts with information, nostalgia, and good old-fashioned cheesy Broadway love.”
To pre-order the book, visit www.dresscirclepublishing.com.
You have one more chance (at least this time around) to see Lady Rizo’s new show, Multiplied, at Joe’s Pub before she jumps the pond to take her latest creative incarnation to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.
For those of you yet to experience Lady Rizo, the downtown chanteuse is a vocal powerhouse. Imagine a love child comprised of jazz vocalist Holly Cole, eccentric pop icon Lady Gaga, and through-the-rafter vocals of rocker Janis Joplin. That might come close, but Lady Rizo is an entity unto herself—a quirky product of a theatrically inclined hippy family that raised her to embrace her unique form of creativity.
Multiplied is the latest chapter in Lady Rizo’s life, as she contemplates the wonder of motherhood while still holding onto her nightlife persona. It’s a personal journey yet she manages to make the themes of motherhood universal; evident by the audience at the performance I attended last week, which felt like a casting call for a New York City street scene.
Her set is a combination of familiar songs (she opens with Prince’s “Beautiful Ones”), original compositions (“Loving in Color”) and esoteric discoveries that she transforms into endearing narrative (“I Have Never Loved Someone” by My Brightest Diamond). It is that last number—during which she breastfeeds her son—that Lady Rizo nuzzles the audience into her creatively nurturing breast. That might sound as if we all smoked a peyote peace pipe, but that’s the kind of lyrical, free-flowing vibe she gives off. It’s the juxtaposition of that diva-decibel voice that makes Lady Rizo such a find.
There are a few obligatory moments of shock value spattered throughout: the rubbing of an audience member’s head, kissing another woman on the lips after shoving a scarf down her throat. These sorts of antics are best left to the likes of Bridgett Everett or Pam Ann. A production gimmick that envelopes the audience in a symbolic womb feels a bit awkward (she admitted mid-show that they were ironing out the technicalities) while an onstage costume change under a backlit ameba-like curtain offered the opportunity to improvise about motherhood with an audience member.
Anecdotes like her fight with a fellow customer in IKEA over public breastfeeding keep Lady Rizo grounded in the world of the living, yet her voice soars heavenly upward, aided by her one-man band, Yair Evnine on cello, guitar and electronics. Lady Rizo reminds us through song and words that motherhood will always be entertaining, as long as you know how to tell a good story.
Lady Rizo: Multiplied
July 26, 9:30 p.m.
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Fun Home, the groundbreaking, Tony Award-winning Best Musical, raised $113,000 in ticket sales and additional donations, in support of Equality Florida and the LGBTQ community of Orlando during a one-night-only benefit concert performance at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando last night.
All nine of the show’s onstage company members, including Tony Award-winner Michael Cerveris, four-time Tony Award nominee Judy Kuhn, 2015 Tony Award nominees Beth Malone, and Emily Skeggs, Gabriella Pizzolo, Roberta Colindrez,Cole Grey, Zell Steele Morrow, and Joel Perez flew down to Orlando to participate in the special concert version of the musical for the Orlando community. The show’s Tony Award-winning creators Lisa Kron (Book & Lyrics), Jeanine Tesori (Music) and Sam Gold (Direction) were also on hand, and joined the cast on stage afterwards for a discussion with the audience, which included employees from Pulse Nightclub as well as families of the victims.
One hundred percent of the net proceeds of this benefit performance will support the future work of Equality Florida, and the victims of the horrific Pulse shooting. Half of the money raised will be distributed directly to victims and their families, and half will support Equality Florida’s work to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Fun Home was able to fly down to Orlando for this benefit performance thanks to the generosity of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the producers and co-producers of Fun Home, and the Wyndham Orlando.
Long before there was the theatrical monstrosity otherwise known as Hamilton, A Chorus Line high-kicked its way onto Broadway after a similarly successful run at the Public Theater. Much like Hamilton, it redefined how we viewed musical theater thanks to visionary director/choreographer Michael Bennet, a score by Marvin Hamlisch (music) and Edward Kleban (lyrics) and an often-overlooked but brilliant book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante.
This summer, The Stratford Festival takes on the iconic work with a twist that will have traditionalists saying, “You can’t do that!” Director/choreographer Donna Feore reimagines Bennett’s choreography for the 21st century. But it was no easy feat. She had to convince the executor of Bennett’s estate to allow her to tinker with brilliance.
Playhouse on Park in West Hartford is mounting a mini-version of A Chorus Line this summer, on its 26’x26′ stage. The New York Times gave it an enthusiastic review, with the keen observation that, ” At the top of the play, when several extra dancers join the 17 principals, all doing their step-kick-walk-walk-walk routines before the first cut, you almost fear for the cast; one extra-enthusiastic arm extension and someone might blacken an eye.”
Playbill.com has also published rare photos of the original production. Whether you think you’re more Cassie, Shiela, or Morales, celebrate A Chorus Line today and remember what you did for love.
Take a look at when A Chorus Line broke the record for the longest-running musical on Broadway (now held by Phantom of the Opera):
Ghostlight Records will celebrate the cast album of the critically acclaimed Broadway revival of She Loves Me with a special in-store performance and CD signing at Barnes & Noble on Wednesday, August 3 at 7:00 PM featuring Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski and other cast members, featuring the show’s lyricist Sheldon Harnick as special guest. Barnes & Noble is located at 150 East 86th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues on the Upper East Side. Fans who purchase the CD at the store will be offered priority seating. Please call (212) 369-2180 for details.
Purr. Every month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer fills out editor Matthew Wexler’s nosey little questionnaire and offers a glimpse of what he looks like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. And with all that fur and makeup, we’re happy to strip down Ahmad Simmons as he prepares for his Broadway debut in the much-anticipated revival of CATS.
CATS is a Broadway legacy — when and where did you first see the show and what was your reaction?
My obsession with CATS started back when we performed a part of the opening dance recital with Dian West back home in Texas. I think I was a freshman or sophomore in high school and had just started at the studio. I got the VHS and watched it to see how to paint a unitard to look like a cat but then watched it every night for about a year. I remember playing the jellicle ball over and over again… I couldn’t get enough of it.
Tell us about your audition for the show and your role of “Alonzo.”
When I first saw the audition notice I freaked out. I actually was on a little layoff between tours with Parsons Dance so the timing was perfect. I went to the open call and was immediately terrified. It was actually my first big Broadway audition. The waiting room is my doom… There were over a hundred men. They all seemed to know everything about everything.
My main focus was just to be seen by Andy Blankenbuehler. He is my favorite choreographer. I kept thinking, “no matter what happens, you were in the same room with Andy.” When I got the email saying I was called back I flipped. Then four more rounds later, my life changed! I love playing Alonzo. He’s got a distinct look and gets to really dance a range of emotions. This particular version allows him to be more gritty and aggressive.
This is your Broadway debut… what has surprised you about the rehearsal process?
I was pretty prepared for what the schedule would be from doing some summer stock during college. The most surprising thing to me was the amount of people involved to make a Broadway showhappen. Every department has at least five people in it. That was new for me; especially coming from a concert dance background where it’s normally just the dancers, a choreographer, a composer, and a lighting designer.
There were some harsh words reported in the media about original choreographer Gillian Lynne’s reaction to Andy Blankenbuehler’s additional choreography, telling The Stage, “It makes me feel like I’d like to murder.” How do you think his vocabulary of movement is going to improve upon a classic?
Andy is a master of creating brilliant movement that furthers narrative, bleeds intention, and narrows focus. Those are the main things that make a show like CATS even better that it was before. He has such respect for the original body of work and is treating it with the utmost reverence. Our generation is able to access this story at a pace that suits the audience of today. The expectations are higher so our job is even harder. Loyalists will be able to recognize the CATS they fell in love with while feeling its weight and relevance in today’s society.
Which is your favorite: Places, Intermission or Curtain Call?
Definitely places. Hearing the audience respond the overture gets me so hyped!
The best post-show cocktail in New York City is at:
My new favorite place for a drink is Tanner Smith’s. The drinks are worth the price and the atmosphere is fun. OH, and the nachos are bangin!
After you’ve hit all the traditional sites of New York City, you should totally go to:
Chelsea Market. Because who doesn’t love a ton of options for food and a sample sale.
If I could live anywhere else in the world it would be:
Probably Italy. I’ve never been but the people are beautiful, the language is beautiful, and I love carbs.
My workout “secret” is:
This makes me feel guilty because I haven’t quite found my way to the gym since moving here in August. But… I swear by good vitamins and good natural ingredients.
When I’m looking for a date, nothing attracts me more than:
Creativity! I don’t need anything extravagant but it’s nice to be surprised with an experience that’s more than just dinner and a movie.
My favorite website to visit that you may not have heard of is:
Right now I’d say Wayfair because I just moved and all I ever want to do is shop for furniture online.
People would be surprised to learn that I . . .
Won the gold medal at the World Choir Olympics in Bremen, Germany in 2004 with a professional boys choir I spent 10 years singing in. Texas Boys Choir, represent!
When I was 10, I wanted to be just like:
My great-aunt Yolanda Smith. She was the director of all of the choirs at my church. I used to lock myself in the bathroom, put a shirt on my head (for hair) and wave my arms at the mirror as if I was her directing my own gospel choir. How did it take me seven more years to come out?
Ten years from now I’d like to be:
Giving a new generation of dancers opportunity to realize their dreams in the arts.
Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street
Opening night: July 31
Fiddler on the Roof, which The New York Times declared a “superb new production”, announces that it will play its final performance on Saturday, December 31, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. At the time of closing, Fiddler on the Roof will have played a total of 464 performances.
Producer Jeffrey Richards said; “We felt that it was important to provide people with enough time to come see this great musical in a definitive production. Who knows the next time one will be able to experience this award-winning show on Broadway!”.
Fiddler on the Roof, which boast a cast of 40 actors and an orchestra of 23 musicians, was nominated for three 2016 Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival, Best Choreography (Hofesh Shechter) and Best Actor in a Musical (Danny Burstein). Additionally, Fiddler on the Roof took home two Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Director of a Musical (Bart Sher) and Outstanding Actor in a Musical (Danny Burstein). Burstein was also awarded the Outer Critics Circle Award for the Outstanding Actor in a Musical.
Raised by theatrical gypsies, Lady Rizo is one of New York City’s powerhouse vocalists. And while those in the know may recognize her from frequent stints at Joe’s Pub and The Darby, Rizo (a.k.a. Amelia Zirin-Brown) has staying power and international recognition, including a duet on Yo-Yo Ma’s Grammy-winning album, Yo-Yo Ma and Friends: Songs of Joy and Peace.
Rizo returns to Joe’s Pub tonight with her new show, Lady Rizo: Multiplied. Eight months postpartum, she digs her sparkling heels into new motherhood. Backed by a choice New York trio led by longtime collaborator Yair Evnine, Rizo rips apart carefully chosen pop songs and presents them among her own stirring originals.
The Broadway Blog’s editor Matthew Wexler had a chance to chat with her while she was getting her hair done at a Los Angeles salon—what any proper diva should be doing on a Wednesday morning!
The Broadway Blog: It’s embarrassing, but I had no idea who you were until I saw you perform at the recent Night of 1,000 Judys benefit for the Ali Forney Center, hosted by Justin Sayre. How did you meet Justin?
Lady Rizo: I met Justin when he first moved to New York City. What a funny fellow… and then I thought—does he really talk like that? He’s completely smart and authentic and hilarious. I spent time with him at a Radical Faerie queer sanctuary in Tennessee. I’ve done his show, The Meeting, a couple of times. I’m happy to be a guest if I’m passionate about the subject.
BB: What was the song you sang? It was captivating.
LR: “Blues in the Night”—a haunting arrangement I created with music director Tracy Stark. I wanted something pastiche, beautiful, dark, and haunting. I’d been practicing it all night, singing it to my infant son as I put him to bed.
BB: You have a strong sense of theatricality when you perform, did you study theater?
LR: I come from a theater family. I was raised on the Oregon coast by a group of theatrical hippies. Their passion was theater—Shakespeare and Brecht in barns and basements. This artistic community I grew up in was incredible rich. I started really early. I was in a Chekov play at two (I didn’t have a speaking role.) Then I studied at Cornish College of the Arts, they offered a merit-based full scholarship.
BB: Was there a point that you could identify a shift from musical theater to your own unique cabaret style?
LR: I was always encouraged to look at art individually and radically, but after graduating I was trying to be a working actor and taking a lot of different gigs. Being cast in musicals, I firmly felt that it wasn’t my place even though I could sing, dance and act.
Then I started to get cast in straight plays with music, and finally it was the evolution of my own shows. I moved to New York City to start over again with this demeaning process. It makes sense: supply and demand—there’s a power dynamic but I had a special breed of insanity and pride that I wasn’t going to do that. So I created a show.
I was married to a beautiful Colombian man at the time and I created [“Lady Rizo”] with him. That was his last name. I didn’t take his name legally. It’s ironic that it’s had more staying power than the marriage.
BB: Do you have a desire to return to the stage in a more traditional theatrical setting (doing the same show eight times per week). If so, are there existing roles that you’d like to put your stamp on?
LR: There was a cool movement when there was a discussion of reviving Funny Girl and Michael Musto wrote a column about me. I love the freedom of making my own rules but I’d love my career to mimic the arc of Bette Midler that transitions back into acting.
BB: I assume your new show, “Multiplied,” is at least—in part—inspired by the birth of your son. What can audience members expect?
LR: This life change… it’s a very strange tug. I’m so happy and love with my beautiful son. He’s charming and sociable—that means a lot to me. It’s how I identity myself. But it takes so much brain space to raise a baby if you aren’t someone who farms out the job to caretakers. I don’t have daycare and nannies. His father, a lighting designer from Sydney, is incredible.
The evolution of mankind took over. It turns out I am a breeder. Part of what I’m grappling with is the resignation of that term. I identify strongly as a queer person and have always in my adult life circled around that and so I’m struggling with my own boundaries as a perceived heterosexual breeder.
Gender is the frontier that we’re at – and something fun to keep in mind when raising a son. What is it like to raise a white male? One can hope he’ll be a homosexual. All I can do is dress him in peach. (I have an aversion to pink.)
The core of my uncomfortability is that I feel like the voices of parents are still so hetero-normative and it becomes so loud. You don’t really hear alternative parenting voices in the media because people that have a problem with society aren’t vocal breeders. We need more artists and free thinkers to fill our population if we don’t want to have it completely hijacked.
Will this be the same show you intend to perform in Edinburgh?
LR: Yes, it’s a show that I started making in London in March. I loved performing pregnant. It lowered everyone’s expectations. They were just happy that I was standing in heels. I didn’t have to work as hard. But it’s good to reflect on that time.
BB: What artists do you listen to and can we expect any new collaborations?
I just recorded my second album at Royal Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s seen some of the legends like Al Green and Isaac Hayes and a lot of the same components of the studio during that time are still there. I’m hoping to release it in the fall.
BB: Beyond music, your social media feeds show solidarity with the LGBT community, women’s rights, and gun opposition. How important is it for you to use your notoriety to shed light on some of these important issues?
LR: Why else do what I do? It’s interesting to hear how people get angry when artists respond to the world around us. I’m not interested in a neo-Nazi loving my singing voice. I’d much rather reach someone who’s thinking humanity more holistically through my voice.
It’s the way I was raised. Overt power and sensuality on stage can be considered radical. Slut shaming is really high. It only takes a moment reading the Internet to see that anonymity breeds contempt. We’re living in a patriarchy. We can accept that, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t voice opposition to it. Misogyny affects everyone—including men—because it denies the feminine inside the man.
If people get excited about my music, it allows me to explore these deeper causes.
Lady Rizo: Multiplied
425 Lafayette Street, NYC
July 19, 9:30 p.m.
July 20, 9:30 p.m.
July 25, 7 p.m.
July 26, 9:30 p.m.
Producers John Freedson, Christine Pedi, and David Zippel, and author Gerard Alessandrini have today announced an unprecedented 10-cent ticket lottery to Spamilton, a sneak peek into Forbidden Broadway’s Alessandrini’s ongoing obsession with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.
Coined #Spam4Roosevelt based on FDR on the American dime, this 10-cent lottery takes after the popular #Ham4Ham lottery tradition being offered before select performances of Hamilton. This lottery will begin tomorrow, July 19, at the show’s first performance, which is one of many already sold-out performances.
Participants can enter the lottery in person at the Triad (158 West 72nd Street) 40 minutes prior to curtain time to enter their names for the chance to see that evening’s performance. 30 minutes prior to the show, names will be chosen at random by Alessandrini himself. Limit one entry per person and up to two tickets per winner. Tickets are subject to availability.
Spamilton promises an evening that celebrates, roasts and eviscerates the Broadway blockbuster.
by Ryan Leeds
Like the play itself, mere words cannot express the depth and beauty that abounds in Bess Wohl’s transcendent Small Mouth Sounds. Last year, it succeeded in making major critics’ “Best of” theatre lists when it premiered at Ars Nova. It recently transferred for a limited run at the Pershing Square Signature Center for 12 weeks.
Small Mouth Sounds introduces us to six vastly different individuals, all of whom have gathered at a silent spiritual retreat in order to find contentment. Led by a cold-ridden teacher (Jojo Gonzalez) who suggests that the “key to enlightenment might be cold medicine,” they each try to come to terms with physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. Sounds hilarious, right?
In spite of the serious sounding synopsis, it is incredibly amusing. With sparse dialogue, the cast is forced to pantomime much of the action, the results of which will leave you smiling in one moment and crying the next. For the most part, the characters names are unknown (unless you look at the playbill, which ushers provide after the show). It is a powerful approach which allows us to connect to all of their plights in an everyman sense. At some point in our lives, we have experienced the exact same emotions as these characters: love, hate, rage, regret, sadness, confusion, joy, shame, jealously. Each of them are laid bare in a manner that is equal parts entertaining and therapeutic.
Towards the end of the retreat, one of the participants, Ned (Brad Heberlee), shares a bit about his personal problems and provides some commentary on the doomed state of the planet: “I keep thinking that maybe we shouldn’t be at peace… because to be at peace in a world that’s… At war… Just seems… Wrong?” It is perhaps one of the most thought provoking lines in the play, one in which I am still contemplating. Wohl’s script is packed with moments like this, leaving audiences with a feast of intellectual and emotional food for thought.
Hit maker Rachel Chavkin, currently represented downtown with Hadestown and director of Broadway’s upcoming Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 has succeeded in giving her ultra-talented cast enough leeway to fully explore every nuance through Wohl’s well-written characters. The simple but effective staging also allows theatergoers the chance to witness fellow audience reactions, adding an additional layer of humanity.
It is perhaps premature and prejudice given the fact that we are only halfway through the year, but I can’t imagine that a better theater piece will emerge in 2016. My only criticism is that, after the show’s closing on September 25, these weary pilgrims will permanetly end their retreat. Let’s hope—after careful meditation—that enlightened producers will lead them to the light of Broadway.
Here’s what other critics had to say:
“When the week ends, we don’t get the impression that sore hearts have necessarily been healed; some may be even sorer than before. But as the characters awkwardly bid one another goodbye, the play leaves behind its own warming afterglow. You may not emerge wanting to spend a week with your mouth shut, but Ms. Wohl’s play makes a wonderful case for how eloquently silence can speak.” New York Times
“It is joyful and hilarious about the absolutely worst things we all face, producing, as in The Humans, its enormous wallop of emotional power, no less than its comedy, from the acknowledgment of the pain most people are in.” New York Magazine
Small Mouth Sounds
Pershing Square Signature Center
480 W. 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th)
Through September 25th
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.