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Hooked: ‘Fish Men’ at INTAR Theatre

February 22nd, 2017 View Comment(s)

By Ryan Leeds

Jose Joaquin Perez in 'Fish Men.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Jose Joaquin Perez in ‘Fish Men.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Near the end of playwright Cándido Tirado’s well-crafted play Fish Men, one of his characters looks offstage, reflecting on the events that have just occurred. “People are stories,” says Ninety-Two. (Ed Setrakian) “You see them walking down the street, but you’d never know what events have affected their lives.” Indeed, every person in this rich character study is woven together by a painful tapestry of his or her individual pasts, but the results make for a thoughtful and compelling night of theater.

Fish Men, produced by the INTAR Theatre, takes place in New York’s Washington Square park where Cash (Shawn Randall), an over-confident chess hustler is working the cemented outdoor chess boards with John (Gardiner Comfort), his religious, but not terribly bright Russian sidekick. The pair hold court while Jerome (David Anzuelo), an outspoken Native American and passive chess player, and “Ninety-Two” (whose real name we later learn is Adam Kirchbaum) observe the pair and offer disapproving remarks on the way they take advantage of less experienced players.

Gardiner Comfort, Jose Joaquin Perez, Ed Setrakian, and Shawn Randall in 'Fish Men.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Gardiner Comfort, Jose Joaquin Perez, Ed Setrakian, and Shawn Randall in ‘Fish Men.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Cash isn’t particularly fond of being labeled a hustler, preferring instead to don the moniker “Chess professor.” Cash claims “it’s easier to get a doctorate than it is to become a chess grandmaster” and only “plays for money to make things interesting.” He is certainly not wrong on that account. The events become interesting and at times, grave, when a seemingly nerdy player, Rey (Jose Joaquin Perez) walks into their path and plays the game. Once a hustler himself, Rey is there to exact revenge on the pair. A day earlier, Cash and John took his Uncle Bernie for a ride and Rey is hell-bent on getting even.

The burden of revenge is heavy and carried throughout the drama. As layers are peeled, we are made aware of vulnerabilities and resentments that lie under the surface of Tirado’s men.

Rey and Ninety-Two find common ground in being survivors of genocide. For Ninety-Two, it was the Holocaust. Rey, on the other hand, is a survivor of the “forgotten” Guatemalan civil war, which saw the murder of thousands of Mayan people at the hands of government officials. The survivor’s club, as Ninety-Two points out is “Not the best club to be a member of. No application process. Someone else must make you a member against your will.” Still, the elder gentleman has discovered coping mechanisms. The younger Rey is still blood red with anger. Jerome is also a survivor. As a Native American, he laments our country’s history of 18 million exterminations of his ancestors and the differences that divide us.

Shawn Randall and Ed Setrakian in 'Fish Men.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Shawn Randall and Ed Setrakian in ‘Fish Men.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Tirado could easily have turned this into another drama that assuages the guilt of liberal America by teaching and preaching to the choir, but he wisely masks it with natural and often funny dialogue. There is also intensity, particularly in Act II, which moves the story forward like a slick cat and mouse game.

Director Lou Moreno has given his actors plenty of leeway to explore their characters, but still keeps the stakes high and the action laser focused. Raul Abrego’s set, an intimate park re-creation, works perfectly in the cozy theater, as does lighting designer Christopher Cancel-Pomales effective saturations.

At times, the delivery of dialogue could be tighter and occasionally, some lines are difficult to hear. It’s safe to assume however that this accomplished cast will settle into the play as the run progresses. And the title? I must confess that I recoiled when I first read it. Given the prevalent references throughout, however, it makes perfect sense. Tirado’s work, which premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theater (in collaboration with Teatro Vista), makes a most welcome and moving splash Off-Broadway.

Fish Men
INTAR Theatre
500 W. 52nd Street, 4th floor
Through March 18

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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One Night Only: ‘Tales of the City’ on Broadway

February 21st, 2017 View Comment(s)

Tales of the City

The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center has announced the New York City Broadway premiere of the musical, Tales of the City on March 27, 2017 at the Music Box Theatre. The iconic ensemble story of love, identity, and San Francisco will be presented in a one-night-only benefit concert. With a rocking score by the Grammy-nominated Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears and John Garden, and a book by Tony Award-winner Jeff Whitty, this is first time the vibrant new musical will be seen in New York. All proceeds from the concert will benefit the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and The Trevor Project.

Betsy Wolfe (Photo courtesy of The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.)

Betsy Wolfe (Photo courtesy of The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.)

The concert will feature Betsy Wolfe, Justin Vivian Bond, Armistead Maupin, Jose Llana, Wesley Taylor, Mary Birdsong, Josh Breckenridge, Jeffrey Carlson, Kathleen Monteleone, and Dianne J. Findlay, with additional casting to be announced.

Based on the beloved series of novels by Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City follows a community of friends, lovers, and others who reside at the mythical address of 28 Barbary Lane in 1976 San Francisco. Mary Ann Singleton (Besty Wolfe), a fresh arrival from Ohio, falls into a diverse band of Bohemians and bluebloods, as families are created and rediscovered under the watchful eye of mystical landlady Anna Madrigal (Justin Vivian Bond).

Justin Vivian Bond (Photo courtesy of The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.)

Justin Vivian Bond (Photo courtesy of The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.)

Tales of the City was first developed at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Music Theater Conference in 2009, and had a subsequent run at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco in 2011. The concert will feature many returning cast members from both productions as well as support from the original creative team, including original director Jason Moore and music director/vocal arranger Stephen Oremus. The concert is directed by Travis Greislerand music directed by Cian McCarthy.

“I’m excited to rock the Music Box with this very special show. In 2009, the energy in the O’Neill’s Barn Theater was electric as Tales of the City took its first steps, and we’ll light up New York next month when the musical takes its next step,” stated O’Neill Executive Director Preston Whiteway. “It will be a magical evening, with the words and music of Jeff, Jake, and John, under the watchful guidance of Armistead. I’m grateful to our incredible cast, many of whom are returning to the roles, everyone at Dear Evan Hansen and the Shubert Organization for lending us the theatre, and to the authors and creative team for bringing this piece alive again in support of the O’Neill and The Trevor Project.”

Tickets on sale via Telecharge.com.
Pre-show reception with writers available for premier ticket buyers.  

 

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Categories: The Buzz, VIP Access

But What Are They Saying? ‘Evening at the Talk House’

February 19th, 2017 View Comment(s)

by Ryan Leeds

The cast of 'Evening at The Talk House.' (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Evening at The Talk House.’ (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

Have you ever been caught at a cocktail party with someone who prattles on about people and events and in the middle you think to yourself, “Where are they going with this and what are they even talking about?” The chatty speaker continues the garrulous conversation and assumes that you know exactly who he/she is referencing, but in all honesty, you haven’t a clue. Eventually, you lock into a detached, hypnotic glaze of apathy. Then, your mind drifts to the hors d’oeuvres and as you glance down at your empty glass, you silently pray for the proper moment when you can politely excuse yourself for snacks and a refill.

This is primarily the same response I had at various points throughout playwright and actor Wallace Shawn’s play Evening at the Talk House, the starry Off Broadway offering from The New Group and director Scott Elliott.

Shawn’s blurry examination on the state of theater and morality takes place in what Robert (Matthew Broderick) describes as “the almost-legendary, wonderfully quiet and genteel club, known far and wide at one time for its delicious and generously-sized snacks, some of them pleasantly sautéed, some delightfully freezing cold, all rather charming and unexpected.” The inordinate description could economically be summarized as “an old hangout with good food.” This is just one example of Shawn’s excessive musings, spoken near the top of the show during Robert’s 9-page opening monologue.

Robert and his former colleagues have gathered at The Talk House for a reunion. Ten years prior, Robert wrote “the not-terribly-successful theatrical masterpiece Midnight in a Clearing with Moon and Stars.” Now, they have all come back to their cherished haunt to discuss the show, their pasts, and their socio-political differences. Nellie (Jill Eikenberry) is the warm and caring manager at the now out of fashion club, while Jane (Annapurna Sriram), a once promising actress who starred in Robert’s play, waits tables there. Annette (Claudia Shear) served as the show’s wardrobe supervisor and is currently a freelance tailor. Bill (Michael Tucker) produced the play and has gone on to become a talent agent. Tom (Larry Pine) is Robert’s golden boy who starred in his play and is now a huge television star. The venue location was chosen by Ted (John Epperson), a man whose life led him to compose advertising music. Ted provided the music for Midnight and throughout Evening at the Talk House and lends his beautiful piano skills in a few reflective moments of song. Epperson, who was once the rehearsal pianist for the American Ballet Theater and created the popular female impersonation persona Lypsinka, creates an appropriately reflective and sweet, understated performance.

Matthew Broderick and Annapurna Sriram in 'Evening at The Talk House.' (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

Matthew Broderick and Annapurna Sriram in ‘Evening at The Talk House.’ (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

As patrons enter the theater for Evening at the Talk House, the talented cast is already onstage, mingling with one another and the audience. As we took our seats, my friend leaned over and asked, “Is Wallace Shawn wearing pajamas?” Indeed he was. Shortly thereafter, we learned why from Robert. Shawn’s character, Dick, was once a well-known actor, appearing in Midnight and the hit television series Carlos and Jenny but has become a washed-up, overweight, alcoholic whom people have discounted and/or disposed. Dick has taken up temporary residency in a room above the Talk House and stumbles into the soiree wearing a battered sport coat and loungewear. It becomes clear that the working relationship between Robert and Dick was always strained and neither is particularly thrilled to be in each other’s company.

As the night unfolds, comments are made regarding the lack of plays that are now being produced, the support that is waning for them and a general longing for the way things used to be. In Shawn’s typical writing style, he later drifts into absurdist territory as his characters pose philosophical questions on who should live and who should die. Annette reveals that she earns extra money “targeting,” a practice where lists are reviewed and she “selects the individuals who need to be killed.” Jane is also involved in the practice.

It’s no huge revelation that Shawn would offer commentary on the topic of human extermination. Given his participation in the controversial Jewish Voice for Peace and his pro-Palestinian support, he poses a crucial question about who should decide the value of human life. To that end, I tip my hat. All too often, liberal voices who espouse compassion and love, opt to silence opposition. I applaud his bold choice to portray both sides of the issue. Still, it’s not clear what he is trying to convey: Is Evening at the Talk House about the death of theater or debating the deaths of individuals? In order to make an impact, it should be one or the other and much of the extraneous chatter should be trimmed. As it stands, this is one evening that is still trying to talk its way toward an intellectual bullseye.

Evening at the Talk House
Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street, NYC
Through March 12

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theatre 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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What You See May Not Be What You Get: ‘Girl X’

February 18th, 2017 View Comment(s)

by Samuel L. Leiter

Sachiro Nomoto in 'Girl X.' (Photo: Ayumi Sakamoto via The Broadway Blog.)

Sachiro Nomoto in ‘Girl X.’ (Photo: Ayumi Sakamoto via The Broadway Blog.)

The advent of texting and e-mails as ways of instant communication has not only changed the nature of human interaction; it’s also become a significant factor in plays and films, where projected or inserted words become part of the performative discourse. Japanese avant-garde writer director Suguru Yamamoto and the theatre collective he founded, Hanchu-Yuei, take this idea to a new level in their offbeat work, Girl X (Yōjo X), presented this weekend at the Japan Society as part of its annual performing arts program. It was performed in English at the Japan Society last spring in a staged reading.

Two expressive young actors, Kazuki Ohashi and Sachiro Nomoto, perform Girl X, which runs an hour, on a bare stage. Upstage is a large screen; at the stage lip is a powerful projector. The two actors, designated 1 and 2 in the script, play several characters, named and unnamed, male and female, without any attempt to alter their voices or behavior as the words the characters speak and send by text are projected, in English and Japanese.

The text sometimes identifies the speaker, and sometimes not. Spoken lines are also projected and an English-speaking audience may be forgiven for occasionally wondering which lines are subtitles to help follow the action and which are there simply to replicate the spoken words, even for Japanese speakers. On several occasions, long passages ensue during which only text is shown and no one speaks. The opening sequence, for example, does this when a baby in the womb begs his mother to end his life before he’s born. Yamamoto has spoken of his fondness of writing not just words to hear, but “words for the eye.”

Kazuki Ohashi and Sachiro Nomoto in 'Girl X' (Photo: Ayumi Sakamoto via The Broadway Blog.)

Kazuki Ohashi and Sachiro Nomoto in ‘Girl X’ (Photo: Ayumi Sakamoto via The Broadway Blog.)

There’s no denying that the projections, often spread across brilliantly colored backgrounds, are artfully designed, using a variety of font styles and sizes; some are still (like numerous Chinese characters for “cry”) and some show movement, including a video of the sea. There also may be geometric forms suggesting a dining table or TV, or a diagram naming characters in a particular scene.

As ominous thrumming plays, the actors, their hair wildly coiffed, appear both singly and together, moving in carefully choreographed patterns that cast their huge, looming shadows on the screen, like grotesque images from an expressionistic nightmare. Actor 1’s movements are made even more threatening by the wooden hammer he wields. In a dining room scene, the actors lie on the floor, placing their feet on the screen on either side of a table image, as if they were being observed from overhead.

Because of the abstract techniques it’s often difficult to follow the narrative or to know who’s speaking at every point. Since there is definitely a narrative, Yamamoto’s methods, interesting as they are, become an end in themselves and do little to clarify the nature of his story. I had to read the script (in a slightly incomplete version) twice, once before the show and once after, to make sure I knew what it was about.

It also doesn’t help matters, even with diagrammatic projections, that Actor 2, in his guise as the younger brother of a married sister, refers throughout to his sister’s ex-boyfriend as the Bacterium, to his mother as the Blood Platelet, to his sister’s little girl as the Red Blood Cell, to himself as the White Blood Cell, and to his sister as the Cut in which those other hematological elements vie for control.

The play, first produced in 2013, is inspired by the unease created in Japan following the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami of 2011. The narrative, though, while filled with disquieting fears and anxieties, ignores that 2011 disaster to track the behavior of a “Man,” played by Actor 1, who was once the boyfriend of a woman named Akemi, now married to a surgeon, with whom she’s the mother of a little girl, Yo-chan. He carries a hammer, counts the “alienation points” he’s accumulating, and is on the lookout for “the enemy.”

Countering him is Ryota, Akemi’s younger brother, played by Actor 2, another lost soul who’s preoccupied with how frizzy his pillow makes his hair, and holds the Man responsible for causing Akemi to slash her wrists (thus his name for her, the Cut). Eventually we learn of a series of rape-murders of little girls, and of the relationship to them of the characters in the story.

Regardless of its dramatic potential, Girl X seems mainly interested in using its narrative to experiment with its unique combination of live action and projected images. While it may be fascinated by the nature of modern communication, that doesn’t prevent it from having communication problems of its own.

Girl X
Japan Society
333 E. 47th St., NYC
Through February 18

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

 

 

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Categories: Way Off Broadway

Giving Face: Glenn Close’s Return to Broadway in ‘Sunset Boulevard’

February 17th, 2017 View Comment(s)

by Samuel L. Leiter

Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Talk about star power! No, I’m not referring to Glenn Close, the estimable star of Sunset Boulevard, now in glittery revival at the Palace Theatre. I mean Hillary Clinton, who, the night I attended, brought the house to a roaring, cameras-out, standing ovation as she took her seat just before the show began. Close, despite a fine, if overripe, performance, had to compete with her audience’s divided attention all night.

Partly, this is because the musical adaptation of Sunset Boulevard, based on the classic 1950 Billy Wilder film, is, while generally entertaining, simply not that great. It was first produced with Patti LuPone as Norma Desmond in London in 1993, with Glenn Close (who won the Tony) starring in the 1994 Broadway version (which, despite a nearly two and a half year run, lost a fortune). The current version arrives after premiering at London’s English National Opera, its leads intact.

With book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton (much of the ordinary dialogue is sung as even more ordinary recitative) and score by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the show closely follows the movie’s plot and includes many of its familiar lines. Apart from two aria-like songs displaying Webber at his most lushly melodic and theatrically emotional—“As If We Never Said Goodbye” and “With One Look”—the well-performed score is not particularly memorable. Fortunately, a huge, 40-piece orchestra led by Kirsten Blodgette (one of Broadway’s largest ever we’re told) makes even the more mediocre numbers sound their best.

Michael Xavier and the cast of 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Xavier and the cast of ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Sunset Boulevard, as any film buff knows, tells of onetime, silent screen goddess Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson on screen), 50, her fame a memory, living in the decaying splendor of a Sunset Boulevard mansion with her faithful, bullet-headed, immaculately groomed butler and first husband, Max Mayerling (Fred Johanson; Erich von Stroheim on screen), the former director who made Norma famous.

There the deluded, reclusive, garishly dressed and heavily made-up former star—her fantasies maintained by the ever-looming Max—dreams of her comeback in a spectacular film she’s written about Salomé in which she hopes to star at Paramount under the direction of Cecil B. DeMille (Paul Schoeffler; DeMille himself on screen). When a handsome, flat-broke screenwriter, Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier; William Holden on screen), shows up, desperate for work, she asks for his help on what he recognizes as her awful screenplay. Joe’s status as Norma’s kept man coupled with a budding romance with script reader Betty Schaeffer (Siobhan Dillon) leads to tragic results.

Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

At the end, the now insane, wild-eyed Norma—garbed outlandishly as a 1920s movie version of Salomé—mistakes the cops and reporters for studio employees as she descends a staircase to deliver her devastating tagline, “And now, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Director Lonny Price’s revival has eliminated much of the fabled grandiosity of the overproduced first production, opting for a more simplified approach within James Noone’s elaborate framework of metal staircases and catwalks, dominated by a remarkable chandelier suggesting a series of drooping teardrops, one above the other.

Supplemented by the brilliant lighting of Mark Henderson, the excellent period costumes of Tracy Christensen (with Anthony Powell doing Close’s strikingly over-the-top ensembles), b/w videos (uncredited) of 1940s Hollywood, and lively choreography by Stephen Mear, this Sunset Boulevard remains visually sumptuous. And let’s not forget the dead-body-in-the-pool effect that opens and closes the show.

For all its exaggerations and Swanson’s larger-than-life performance, Wilder’s film was a darkly cynical, noirish satire on the fickleness of fame and the ruthlessness behind Hollywood’s glamorous exterior. Except for rare moments, Price’s staging, in a fatal mistake, fails to capture the darkness, being surprisingly upbeat, paced at machine-gun speed, and with only scattered moments of the needed gothic anxiety demanded by the story.

Xavier’s Joe, tall and hunky (body worshipers will appreciate his swimsuit scene), comes off more like a James Stewart-like boy-next-door than a down-on-his-luck skeptic. Johansen’s Max, physically imposing with a gifted baritone voice, is too overbearing and lacks the necessary subtle menace. Dillon plays Betty, the formulaic ingénue, according to formula.

Close, nearly 70 but playing 50, inspires thoughts regarding similarities between herself and Norma. Her pitchy singing voice is not Broadway’s best, but her acting is strong enough, even within the deliberately broad, almost grotesque, theatricality she adopts (even Swanson’s own campiness doesn’t compare) to jerk tears when she launches into “With One Look.” But the emphasis on her exaggerations takes the show too far from its deeper implications.

This revival of Sunset Boulevard is smart to have pared down its visual excesses. The darkness it evokes, though, is more in its lighting than in the world it creates. Which is not so smart.

Sunset Boulevard
Palace Theatre
1564 Broadway, NYC
Through June 25

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: To See or Not To See

Florence Henderson Tribute Scheduled for 2/21

February 17th, 2017 View Comment(s)
Florence Henderson (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock, Inc.)

Florence Henderson (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock, Inc.)

Friends and family of Florence Henderson will come together on Tuesday, February 21, at 1:30 p.m. at the Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th Street) to celebrate the treasured star. Alan Cumming, Michael Feinstein, Judy Gold, Whoopi Goldberg, Isabel Leonard, Chita Rivera, James Snyder, Bruce Vilanch and Barry Williams will share their memories and talent to honor Florence. Presented by Rich Aronstein, Kayla Pressman and Glen Roven, this memorial event is open to the public on a first-come-first-serve basis with doors opening to the public at 1:20 p.m.

Florence Henderson was one of the most beloved American entertainers of the last six decades.  Florence arrived in New York at the age of 17 to attend the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Within a year of attending the Academy, Broadway beckoned with roles in Oklahoma, Fanny, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, and The King and I, among others.

The emerging medium of television piqued her interest and Florence accepted the job as the “Today Show” Girl alongside pioneering broadcaster Dave Garroway. Florence was also a mainstay on live performance shows like “Ed Sullivan,” the “Bell Television Hour” and others. That was all a warm up for mega-popular “The Brady Bunch,” the television series that has remarkably not left the airwaves in syndication since it ceased production in 1974 after 117 episodes. It still airs in over 122 countries. Carol Brady became one of the most popular mothers in television history.

In the aftermath of “The Brady Bunch,” Florence Henderson continued to star in major theatrical productions, headline in Las Vegas and perform live at major venues around the country, including in her autobiographical one-woman show All the Lives of Me.

In 2011, Florence released her memoir Life Is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to Lovely Lady and Beyond (Center Street/Hachette Book Group). The autobiography spent time on the New York Times Bestsellers List. In 2003, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Florence’s enthusiasm, professionalism, commitment to quality and artistry has made her one of the most respected and endearing performers of our time.Florence is survived by her four children, five grandchildren, one brother and two sisters.

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Categories: Show Folk, The Buzz

The New York Pops Celebrates Kander and Ebb

February 16th, 2017 View Comment(s)

the scottsboro boys
kiss of the spider woman

chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New York Pops, led by Music Director Steven Reineke, will continue its 34th season at Carnegie Hall on March 10 by bringing to life the iconic partnership of Fred Ebb and John Kander, who celebrates his 90th birthday this year. The concert will feature highlights from their five-decade partnership, including selections from CabaretKiss of the Spider WomanThe Scottsboro Boys, and Chicago. Guest artists Caissie Levy and Tony Yazbeck will bring these legendary show tunes to life with the 78-piece New York Pops.

Tony Yazbeck (Photo: lev radin / Shutterstock, Inc.)

Tony Yazbeck (Photo: lev radin / Shutterstock, Inc.)

“Caissie Levy and Tony Yazbeck are absolutely terrific triple threats – they are both spectacular actors, dancers, and singers,” said Music Director and Conductor Steven Reineke. “I can’t wait for them to join our fantastic New York Pops orchestra in a truly wonderful concert celebrating the 90th birthday of one of Broadway’s biggest heroes. John Kander and Fred Ebb worked together for nearly 50 years, producing some of the best and most enduring music in the musical theatre canon. If their illustrious careers are any indication, this concert is destined to be a hit!”

As the orchestra continues its year-long celebration of the 25th anniversary of its flagship education program, Kids in the Balcony, the orchestra has announced that Tony Yazbeck will become a PopsEd Ambassador. Representing some of the brightest performers working today, the PopsEd Ambassadors raise awareness of the incredible programs PopsEd offers to the community.

The New York Pops’ 34th season will conclude with You’ve Got a Friend: A Celebration of Singers and Songwriters on Friday, April 21, featuring Will Chase, Jessie Mueller, and Adrienne Warren. The concert will pay tribute to the soundtrack of a generation, inspired by the music of James Taylor, Carole King, and more.

 

 

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Categories: The Buzz

Broadway’s Three to See

February 15th, 2017 View Comment(s)

Broadway and beyond is delivering the goods this month, with star turns from Glenn Close and Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as the latest musical from legendary composer John Kander. Here are our picks of what not to miss.

Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Sunset Boulevard
Glenn Close returns to Broadway in her Tony Award-winning role as the wide-eyed Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epic Sunset Boulevard. John Napier’s towering sets for the original production have been stripped down to make room for the largest Broadway orchestra in 80 years.

In her mansion on Sunset Boulevard, faded, silent-screen goddess, Norma Desmond, lives in a fantasy world. Impoverished screenwriter, Joe Gillis, on the run from debt collectors, stumbles into her reclusive world. Persuaded to work on Norma’s ‘masterpiece’, a film script that she believes will put her back in front of the cameras, he is seduced by her and her luxurious life-style. Joe becomes entrapped in a claustrophobic world until his love for another woman leads him to try and break free with dramatic consequences.

Ben Brantley described Glenn Close’s Norma Desmond as “One of the great performances of this century.”

Sunset Boulevard
Palace Theatre
1564 Broadway
Through June 25

The cast of 'Kid Victory.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Kid Victory.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Kid Victory
Kid Victory, a haunting new musical, is the latest collaboration from the creators of Vineyard Theatre’s The Landing, composer John Kander (Cabaret, Chicago, The Scottsboro Boys) and playwright Greg Pierce (Slowgirl, Her Requiem).

Seventeen-year-old Luke returns to his small Kansas town after a wrenching one-year absence. As his friendship grows with the town misfit, Emily, his parents realize that in order to truly find their son, they must confront some unnerving truths about his disappearance. Directed by Liesl Tommy (Broadway’s Eclipse, recipient of The Vineyard’s Susan Stroman Directing Award) and choreographed by Christopher Windom (Pippin, Drama League Fellow Assistant Director) in their Vineyard debuts.

Kid Victory
Vineyard Theatre
108 East 15th Street
Opening night: February 22

 

sunday in the park with george
Sunday in the Park with George

One of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s most celebrated musicals returns (again) for a limited run starring Jake Gyllenhaal making his Broadway debut, and Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford (Kinky Boots, Wicked). With a two-act structure that loosely follows the life of Impressionist painter George Seurat, Sunday in the Park with George has become a cult favorite since its original 1983 Off Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons. Past revivals have included the 2008 transfer of Menier Chocolate Factory’s production.

This production is based on the 2016 City Center concert and has a limited run through April 23.

Sunday in the Park with George
Hudson Theatre
139-141 West 44th Street
Opening night: February 23

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

 

 

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For Whom the Bell Drolls: ‘Ring Twice for Miranda’

February 14th, 2017 View Comment(s)

By Samuel L. Leiter

Katie Kleiger and Daniel Pearce in 'Ring Twice for Miranda.' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Katie Kleiger and Daniel Pearce in ‘Ring Twice for Miranda.’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Ring Twice for Miranda’s title suggests that audiences are in for a naughty Feydeau-style bedroom farce, perhaps like the one Noël Coward adapted as Look after Lulu. And, indeed, publisher and former lawyer Alan Hruska’s labored, dystopian “tragicomedy” (as its advertising calls it) includes a cute young thing named Miranda (Katie Kleiger) wearing an abbreviated French maid’s costume. There’s also a canopied set resembling a huge bed (under which an actual bed plays a part) and a white-bearded old gent named Sir (Graeme Malcolm) in a Hugh Hefner bathrobe who rings twice for Miranda via a hanging bell pull when in need of her services.

Ring Twice for Miranda has the musty air of one of those European, allegorical, politically tinged, absurdist satires of the 1950s and 1960s—think Ionesco, Sartre, Durrenmatt, Arrabal, or Frisch—but without their wit, cogency, depth, or flair. It’s set in some unnamed urban “district” governed by the calmly tyrannical Sir from the expansive bedroom of his huge, well-stocked mansion. How much of this desiccated civilization Sir controls remains undefined; we have no idea if there are other Sirs out there as well.

George Merrick and Ian Lassiter in 'Ring Twice for Miranda.' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

George Merrick and Ian Lassiter in ‘Ring Twice for Miranda.’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Something indefinite has caused civilization to crumble, food and other necessities to dry up, and the starving masses to seek survival in the warm south or cold north even though no gas or food is available. Those in Sir’s employ and living in his upstairs/downstairs mansion have their needs supplied but are at the mercy of his whims, carried out by his second in command, a smarmy, power-hungry bureaucrat named Gulliver (Daniel Pearce).

Miranda’s butler friend Elliot (George Merrick), summoned with one ring, is dismissed and the altruistic Miranda—hoping to change Sir’s mind—threatens to leave with him. Although this will deprive Sir of the highly mysterious service she performs for him, he lets her go.

Outside, stranded with too much luggage near an abandoned, graffiti-covered building, Miranda and Elliot encounter the horrible circumstances they’d only heard about. A bizarre couple pulls up in a car. He’s the brash, long-haired, Cockney-accented Chester (William Connell); she’s his vain, glammed-up Egyptian girlfriend Anouk (Talia Thiesfield). They offer to give Miranda and Elliot a lift in return for directions to a gas station.

Chester and Anouk are discovered by a wrench-wielding, so-called plumber named Felix (Ian Lassiter) who works for Sir and is something of a rival to Gulliver; he recruits the couple as replacements for Elliot and Miranda. That hapless pair returns, seeking to retake their former jobs from the incompetent usurpers. And thus we finally discover what it is that Miranda does for Sir that he finds so irreplaceable. Let’s just say it defines the meaning of anticlimax.

As in his equally problematic 2015 play Laugh It Up, Stare It Down, Hruska provides an indeterminate final curtain when, as Sir rings twice, Miranda and Elliot, trapped, ponder their next move.

As the two-act play trudges along, Sir’s image as a whimsically inscrutable God controlling people as if they were puppets becomes sharper, with Gulliver as his soon-to-fall Lucifer. Perhaps Miranda and Elliot are angels hoping to retain God’s grace. There’s also the possibility that Hruska is seeking to say something (don’t ask me) about the disempowerment of the 99 percent by showing the callousness of the one percent. It’s a stretch but Sir—despite the vagueness of his motives—might be a stand-in for Donald Trump.

Apart from scattered moments, there’s precious little to keep you invested for nearly two hours. Kreigel and Lassiter bring a modicum of charm and conviction to the maid and the plumber, Malcolm is haughty yet subtly mischievous as Sir, Pearce’s slimy Gulliver is dismissive in a Sean Spicer way, Merrick fails to make anything substantial of Elliot, and Connell and Thiesfield (especially the latter) provide an object lesson in overacting.

Rick Lombardo’s direction (far better in his recent Albatross), Haddon Kime’s original music, Jason Sherwood’s sets, Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes, and Matthew Richards’s lighting, while perfectly professional, never provide the inventive magic an offbeat play like this requires. That, however, may be like seeking gas or water in Hruska’s post-apocalyptic world.

Ring Twice for Miranda
City Center Stage II
131 W. 55th St., NYC
Through April 16

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

 

 

 

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Cast Recording of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Debuts at #8 on Billboard

February 13th, 2017 View Comment(s)
'Dear Evan Hansen' (Photo: Matthew Murray via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Dear Evan Hansen’ (Photo: Matthew Murray via The Broadway Blog.)

Producer Stacey Mindich and Atlantic Records announced today that the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Dear Evan Hansen has made an extraordinary debut on the Billboard 200, entering the chart at #8 – the highest charting debut position for an original cast album since 1961.

In addition, the album debuted at #4 on Billboard’s “Top Album Sales” ranking, and #1 on the “Top Broadway Albums” chart. The Original Broadway Cast Recording of Dear Evan Hansen is available now for streaming and purchase at digital retailers nationwide. Physical editions arrive in stores on Friday, February 24.

One of only four cast albums to reach the top 10 of the “Billboard 200” in the last 50 years, the album’s historic success even outpaced the debut chart position of the Hamilton, which bowed at #12. The other two albums to reach the top 10 in the last half century were Rent and the Original 1969 Cast Recording of Hair.

With a book by Obie Award-winner Steven Levenson, a score by Tony® Award nominees Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, and directed by 3-time Tony® Award nominee Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen officially opened to rave reviews on December 4.

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