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Archive for October, 2011

“Celebrity Autobiography” Returns with Next Volume

October 14th, 2011 Comments off

Carol Kane. Image via CelebrityAutobiography.com.

Don’t f**k with America’s sweetheart.

That’s just one of the useful nuggets of wisdom you’ll learn (in this case, via Melissa Gilbert) from a visit to Celebrity Autobiography, the deliriously funny comedy that’s back in New York for a new season of fame skewering fun and fresh material. At each performance, a rotating group of celebrities, plus show creators Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel, step up to the stage and read excerpts verbatim from autobiographies of the famous and infamous (think esteemed authors like David Hasselhoff, Barbra Streisand and The Situation). It sounds simple and it is; all the actors use is a microphone and a print out of text. But the concept pays huge dividends in laughs as the players dig in to the jaw-dropping silliness found in these self-serious tomes.

The secret joy of the evening is that you get to watch great comedians at play, loose and unpressured, up close and in person. The cast on the night I attended was delightfully game (check the website to see who is scheduled for a particular night) and, in some cases, brilliantly sharp. In particular, a trio of women provided a fascinating case study in style and technique, while nailing joke after joke. Sherri Shepherd (The View) wowed with her range (she essayed Gilbert, Kathleen Turner and the most demented Cher I’ve ever heard) and attacked each line with infectious energy. Rachel Dratch (SNL) masterfully stoked laughs after the lines, tossing a look or a holding a beat that sealed the deal (her passive aggressive Celine Dion was genius). And let me count the ways I love Carol Kane (Taxi, The Princess Bride); whether playing a Streisand-obsessed Carol Channing or explicating the odd “chew and spit” diet of Dolly Parton, Kane employed deliciously controlled pauses to mine every last ounce of humor from her readings.

Top the evening off with their justifiably famous “Rashomon and on and on” telling of the Debbie Reynolds/Eddie Fisher/Elizabeth Taylor saga (related through the editing of their three autobiographies) and you’ve got one of the most unique, laid back and enjoyable comedy evenings in town. Do note: it’s a two drink minimum kind of venue so seating at the Triad Theater is sardine-tight and the tabs are cash only. The show is usually a Monday night event but they’re offering a Saturday night special tomorrow at 7pm.

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Toast Rosie O’Donnell’s Return with Her Best Broadway Clips

October 13th, 2011 1 comment

Sutton Foster on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show". Image via YouTube.

Gimme an “R-O-S-I-E”!

Rosie O’Donnell is back on the airwaves weeknights at 7pm on OWN with a brand new talk show. Although the name and place maybe be different (The Rosie Show airs live from Chicago), it looks like some things haven’t changed; she’s still Broadway’s biggest cheerleader. Tonight, smack dab during her big premiere week, she will make time to showcase the stars of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in a medley of its disco hits…feather boas, platform shoes and all.

Whatever you may think of Rosie and her song & dance abilities (personally, I miss her mixture of exuberance, emotion and prickly wit), her old daytime talk show helped push musical theater back into the cultural mainstream long before Glee downloaded its first auto-tuned hit. Like a daily Tony Awards show, The Rosie O’Donnell show gave everyone outside New York City a taste of the talent that fills Broadway theaters each night. Heck, she probably single-handedly won a Tony Award for Titanic with her high-profile support.

So in honor of her return, let’s raise a glass to Rosie and watch a few of my favorite Broadway (and Off-Broadway) performances featured on her original series.

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SHOW FOLK: Julia Murney on LaChiusa, Wicked and Singing from Your Lady Parts

October 12th, 2011 2 comments

Once a month, a member of the theater community will pull up a chair to our cyber table and join us for a little conversation. I’ll edit the transcripts (removing the truly libelous parts) and post the results here every second Wednesday. For October, meet one of my favorite Broadway singer/actors…

Julia Murney. Photo by Dirty Sugar Photography.

Broadway’s Julia Murney gets the highest compliment I can think of; she’s a pro.  Sure she’s got the stage presence of a star (The Wild Party), the steel pipes of a once-in-a-blue-moon talent (Wicked) and the soul of a character actress (Crimes of the Heart), but I love her because she also happens to tell some of the best (and saltiest) anecdotes in the business. (Don’t believe me; watch her show off her late-night cable voiceover technique.)

After taking her talents on the road to symphony halls around the country, she’s returning to the New York stage in the premiere of Michael John LaChiusa’s Queen of the Mist. I caught up with her over some soup and sushi at a restaurant across the street from her apartment (which happens to be a building over from her parents’ apartment; that’s a true New Yorker) where we discussed the challenges of her new show, seeing Kristin Chenoweth play an African-American maid and the things no one can teach you about show business.

You seem like the busiest person on the planet. I see you doing concerts and benefits and readings. Do you enjoy doing so much?

I do… I started doing these symphony jobs and they’ve been really fun but suddenly I got very itchy to do a show.

And is that when this show [Queen of the Mist] came into the mix?

Yeah. It was really nice. Without question there have been other things I’ve auditioned for and not “won,” as my friend David says. “Did you win?!”

[laughter]

But this was a lovely little present that came straight from Jack Cummings at the Transport Group, him saying, “Hey, do you want to do this?” And they were really great because they went around my schedule. I had to drop out of two symphony concerts that I had scheduled during the run because there are no understudies. But I said, “I need you to go around my conflicts during rehearsal.” And they said, “Yes.” So I’ve been able to keep my commitments to those cities.

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Heather Headley in “The Bodyguard” (and in High School!)

October 11th, 2011 Comments off

Heather Headley in "Funny Girl". Image via YouTube.

All hail the return of the Queen!

After a long absence, Tony-winner Heather Headley is in final talks to get back on stage in a London musical adaptation of The Bodyguard, the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner blockbuster film about a pop singer and her, well, bodyguard. Not only does this mean that she’ll likely be adding to Dolly Parton’s bank account by belting out “I Will Always Love You”, but it also means the ever-regal Headley (Princess Aida, Queen Nala in The Lion King) will be adding another crown to her collection: the Queen of the Night.

Was she always this poised and polished? Check out this amazing video that’s made the rounds of Headley in her high school production of Funny Girl. Normally,  I wouldn’t pass on such a clip; who needs to be embarrassed by their teenage awkwardness and unformed talent? But the thing is, there is nothing to be ashamed of here; Headley is amazing in it. It’s all there–the voice, the command, even the Heather-y hand gestures. In fact, I think it’s a fascinating and watchable testament to a natural talent. I mean, the girl even makes high school theater look good. So sit back and enjoy, the once and future Queen…

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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: Frank Langella in “Man and Boy”

October 10th, 2011 Comments off

The fall theater season is off and running, so let’s see what the critics think of the first big play to hit Broadway.

Frank Langella & Adam Driver. Photo by Joan Marcus.

MAN AND BOY

Three-time Tony winner Frank Langella returns to Broadway as a ruthless businessman caught in an economic meltdown who attempts to save his company and reconcile with his estranged son. While it may feel ripped from Madoff-fueled headlines, it’s actually a revival of the 1963 play by prolific British playwright Terrence Rattigan.

“When Frank Langella plays good, he’s fine; but when he’s bad, he’s a wonder.” New York Times

“At least the ‘Man’ part of the title is in great hands — because the ‘Boy’ bit is a problem.” New York Post

Secondary roles are exceptionally well cast in Maria Aitken’s well-oiled production, providing solid support for Langella’s suave and superbly nuanced perf of a towering figure teetering on the edge of a moral precipice.” Variety

“…his towering performance as Gregor Antonescu, a shrewd, rather sociopathic financier on the verge of collapse, at times threatens to eclipse the rest of Man and Boy.Entertainment Weekly

Man and Boy officially opened Sunday, October 9 at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater, 227 West 42 Street. Tickets are available online or by calling 212.719.1300.

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Starry “Side Man” & “She Loves Me” Benefits and More Theater News

October 7th, 2011 Comments off

Zachary Quinto in "Angels in America". Photo by Joan Marcus.

The week in theater news has a little something for the angel and devil in each of us:

  • The upcoming reading of Side Man to benefit the Off-Broadway company Naked Angels just announced some heavenly casting. Recent Oscar-winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter, Mildred Pierce) and the delightfully talented and handsome Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, Angels in America) will join original Broadway cast members Jeff Binder, Kevin Geer, Michael Mastro, Angelica Torn, and Tony Award winner Frank Wood on October 24 for what promises to be a must-see event.
  • Kate Baldwin & Cheyenne Jackson in "Finian's Rainbow". Photo: Joan Marcus.

    Not to be outdone, Roundabout Theatre announced a starry benefit of their own. On December 5, they’ll be hosting a concert version of the lovely Masteroff, Bock and Harnick musical She Loves Me starring Cheyenne Jackson (Xanadu), Jane Krakowski (30 Rock), Kelli O’Hara (South Pacific), Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother), Michael McGrath (Born Yesterday), Rory O’Malley (The Book of Mormon) and Victor Garber (Alias and Sweeney Todd!). I don’t even know where to begin with that cast. Tickets go on sale October 24 so mark your calendar now.

  • In more Harnick news, Fiddler on the Roof‘s matchmaker is keeping up with the times. At the request of Reverend Joshua Ellis (an Interspiritual minister and former theatrical press agent), the beloved lyricist recently rewrote some of the words to his classic “Sunrise, Sunset” so that it can be sung at same-sex weddings. Check out the official (and copyrighted) new versions at Rev. Ellis’ website.
  • The holy trinity is complete; the acclaimed Stratford Shakespeare Festival production of Jesus Christ Superstar is officially making the move to Broadway. Beginning previews March 1, 2012 at the Neil Simon Theatre, the Des McAnuff directed version of the Lloyd Weber and Rice pop opera will join Godspell and The Book of Mormon for some serious holy rolling.
  • Mike Bartlett’s award-winning Cock is coming to Off-Broadway in Spring of 2012. I’d love to leave it at that but, for those literal-minded types, Cock is a controversial, Olivier-winning play about a young man torn between his boyfriend and the “girl of his dreams.”
  • How do you say “trailer trash” in French? Find out thanks to the strangest theater announcement I’ve seen in a while. The NYMF hit The Great American Trailer Park Musical is returning for a two-day-only engagement this Saturday and Sunday…but in French. This Quebecois version entitled Ma Femme, Ma Blonde et Ma Roulotte comes from The Centre for Education and Theater in Montréal and seems to have received great reviews there. I feel some Celine Dion coming on…
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Angela Lansbury Works Out the Kinks

October 6th, 2011 Comments off

Angela Landsbury in "Positive Moves". Image via YouTube.

Let’s see. So far in our survey of odd Broadway-themed workouts we’ve discovered that: Shirley Jones clenches when she drives, Bonnie Franklin does it one day at a timestep and this guy likes to storm the Les Miz barricade to build his guns. Well, now we can add the delightful knowledge that Angela Lansbury keeps in shape by touching herself.

Yeah, you read that right. It would seem that Angela Lansbury, one of the greatest and most beloved musical theater actresses of all time, released an exercise video in the 80’s with a decidedly sensual spin. If reading that sentence alone has you covering your eyes for fear of catching even a glimpse of her Bedknobs and Broomsticks, I’d suggest you move along and pretend this never happened.

For those who bravely wish to be a Lansbury completist, may I suggest you watch the following excerpts from Positive Moves (goodness, even the title sounds like a Cinemax film starring Shannon Tweed as a public defender by day, stripper by night). I’ve provided a little time code commentary to highlight “the good parts”.  You’ve been warned…

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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: Steppenwolf’s “Clybourne Park”

October 5th, 2011 Comments off

Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up with what’s on stage with a review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents. For October, I’m hitting the road to see an acclaimed play that is soon to make its way to Broadway:

Photo by Michael Brosilow.

CLYBOURNE PARK

Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer and Olivier Award winning play, inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s classic  A Raisin in the Sun, finally takes residence in its home city of Chicago under the auspices of the legendary Steppenwolf Ensemble. When it’s discovered that a black family is moving in to a white enclave (and fifty years later, yuppies are reclaiming the house for gentrification), neighbors turn on neighbors in an incendiary (yet often hilarious) examination of ownership and otherness.

“…a masterful work for various reasons.” Chicago Tribune

“…a brilliantly acted Chicago premiere.” Chicago Sun Times

“…a tense, probing, provocative production from Steppenwolf Theatre Company.” Chicago Reader

“…stands on its own as a powerful, intriguing, gaspingly funny, and undeniably tragic contemporary masterpiece.” Variety

Mizer’s Two Cents: Broadway may be getting its own production of this explosively funny, beautifully structured play, but I can’t imagine it could get better than this bone deep version directed by actress Amy Morton and populated by the kind of unselfconcious, hard working actors Chicago is known for. And what performances. The ensemble rumbles and simmers as a perfect unit until they boil over in dangerous and delirious tirades of racially fueled mistrust. Thoughtful, moving AND entertaining, this is a great night of theater.

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Joanna Gleason Returns in “Sons of the Prophet”

October 4th, 2011 Comments off

Joanna Gleason in "Sons of the Prophet". Photo by Joan Marcus.

You never forget your first love.

From the moment my best friend in high school eagerly slipped me a homemade cassette copy of Into the Woods, I fell for Joanna Gleason–as only a young, music-theater-lover-in-training can do. Tony voters were similarly smitten and gave her the award for Best Actress in a Musical for her sensible, sexy and deeply relatable Baker’s Wife.

The ardor was long and lingering (to this day friends of mine can still stop conversation with a perfectly timed imitation of her exasperated, stunned, “I need your shoes!”). Any time she unexpectedly appeared on a movie screen (think of her terrifying mother in Boogie Nights or priceless discomfort in Hannah and Her Sisters) or returned to the stage (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, etc.), it was met with a sigh of satisfaction, the warm glow of fond memories and reawakened appreciation for her talents.

So, this is all a long-winded way of saying Joanna Gleason is back on the New York stage in a new play, Sons of the Prophet, currently in previews…and the world feels right again. Let’s watch a few video highlights from her career to welcome her back…

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