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Interview: Leslie Jordan—Melodramatic and Highly Pragmatic

January 31st, 2014 Comments off

Contributor Jim Gladstone chats with Emmy winner Leslie Jordan.

Leslie Jordan

Leslie Jordan

“What amazes me,” says Leslie Jordan, who will spin bawdy biographical yarns in Fruit Fly at Feinstein’s at the Nikko in San Francisco this Friday night. “Is that there are gay kids now who don’t remember Will & Grace.”

“I met a boy on a plane last summer, 16 years old, gay as a goose. He said ‘I think my mom watched that’. I thought ‘Whaaaaaat?!!’ But it’s true, I won my Emmy for that in 2006, so he was only 9 years old then.”

Jordan, 58, who will spin bawdy biographical yarns in Fruit Fly at Feinstein’s at the Nikko this Friday night, admits that he once hoped his sitcom fame from playing Will & Grace’s Beverley Leslie would assure him a steady stream of lucrative television and movie roles.

“After I won that award,” he recalls on the phone from his home in Los Angeles, “I thought, well I’m gonna just sit back and reap the rewards.”

But juicy Hollywood roles have come few and far between for the 4-foot-11 Tennessee-accented character actor (One recent exception being a three-episode jaunt in American Horror Story). And Jordan, who cut his teeth in live theater, has clear priorities when it comes to stage work.

“I’m very comfortable getting on stage, riffing on my own stories. And I’m very lazy when it comes to doing things that aren’t my own. I was offered a role in a new show about cross-dressers in the Catskills by Harvey Fierstein, with Joe Mantello directing [Casa Valentina opens at the Manhattan Theater Club in April]. Wonderful, right?”

“No! I’m done with New York theater. Those eight performances a week are a nightmare.  And they pay $1000 a week for eight weeks of rehearsal. I can make four grand a night out on the road telling my own stories.”

In addition to feathering his nest, Jordan’s dishy one-man storytelling shows have won critical acclaim. The New York Times wrote that Jordan’s coming of age tales in My Trip Down the Pink Carpet combine “a writer’s eye for detail with an actor’s facility for mimicry and a stand-up comedian’s knack for injecting spontaneity into oft-told stories.”

And SF Weekly called Like a Dog on Linoleum hysterical, poignant and endlessly entertaining.”

“The stories I tell in Fruit Fly are about my relationship with my mother. And my biggest goal right now is for my mother to be able to go to her grave knowing that her children are really well taken care of. The best way for me to do that is to go out on the road and tell my own stories.”

“I’ve been acting for 30 years. I’m way past starving for the art. Write me a check!”

Leslie Jordans January 31 performance at Feinstein’s at the Nikko is sold out.

Review: “A Man’s A Man” at Classic Stage Company

January 30th, 2014 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler gets lost in the jungle at Classic Stage Company’s A Man’s A Man.

 Jason Babinsky, Allan K. Washington, Martin Moran, Gibson Frazier, Steven Skybell in "A Man's A Man." (photo: Richard Termine)


Jason Babinsky, Allan K. Washington, Martin Moran, Gibson Frazier, Steven Skybell in “A Man’s A Man” at Classic Stage Company.
(photo: Richard Termine)

If you are looking for a warm space to escape the cold during this final stretch of bleak winter, perhaps you might find comfort in a seat at Classic Stage Company’s current production of Bertolt Brecht’s A Man’s A Man, but if you are hoping to experience anything but a confounding hodgepodge of flat dialogue and misled theatrics… I’m sorry, but you’re out of luck.

It took six years for Brecht’s inception of this farce that follows dockworker Galy Gay (anemically portrayed by Gibson Frazier) through his unorthodox ranks of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces to reach the stage. Director Brian Kulick says, “The result is a play that is awake to the currents of a new age, an age of rampant militarism and machines and what this means for a populace not quite ready for the next chapter of modernity.”

Brecht and his merry band of artisans defined “Epic Theater”—a movement that strayed from Stanislavski’s naturalism and the emotional heft of Chekov. A Man’s A Man, true to form possesses neither, but this isn’t the point of contention. The audience is keenly aware that they are watching a play as the actors break the fourth wall, thud in and out of the action and wreak havoc on Gay’s mental state.

“In this world, when a Brecht character is faced with the choice of holding onto a name or holding onto life, the only answer is life,” Kulick comments. That sounds ripe with conflict and dramatic tension, but this world of expressionism falls fatally flat.

Justin Vivian Bond, Stephen Spinella in "A Man's A Man" at Classic Stage Company. (photo: Richard Termine)

Justin Vivian Bond, Stephen Spinella in “A Man’s A Man” at Classic Stage Company. (photo: Richard Termine)

Fellow soldiers Polly Baker (Jason Babinsky), Jesse Mahoney (Steven Skybell) and Uriah Shelley (Martin Moran) try to keep Gay on track through this identity transformation, with a little help from Widow Begbick (Justin Vivian Bond). Most known for her role in the wildly popular cabaret act Kiki and Herb, Bond is lost in Brecht’s world, as is most of the cast in spite of gallant efforts and shining moments among them. They are ill-served by Paul Steinberg’s set: 20 or so bright orange oil drums that are rolled around into various tableaus. Clearly difficult to maneuver, they offer little visual appeal and only seem to create further obstacles for the acting company who must clumsily reconfigure them.

Ultimately, the show collapses under Kulick’s direction, which fails to create an accessible world of the play for the audience to participate. And for the final elephant in the room, there is the original music by Duncan Sheik, who won two Tony Awards and a Grammy Award for Spring Awakening. Here, Sheik’s work feels like a forced puzzle piece. Case in point: Bond begins the second act by singing a cabaret song that was cut from the context of the show… yet it isn’t really cut because she is singing it. Sheik manages to offer some haunting melodic lines and rhythms that evoke the play’s Indian setting, but it will only make you crave for another Sheik musical where his body of work can be more fully cultivated.

A Man’s A Man
Classic Stage Company
136 East 13th Street
Through February 16.

“Samson and Delilah” — A Biblical Love Story Inspires New Musical

January 29th, 2014 Comments off

Contributor Scott Redman reviews the concept recording of Samson and Delilah: A Love Story.

samsonThe Bible has been the source of multiple successful musicals including Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Samson and Delilah now joins the mix of Bible-inspired musicals. A new concept recording, Samson and Delilah: A Love Story, releases February 11 with music and lyrics by Ron Yatter, a former William Morris agent.

Listening to the recording is like taking a trip in the Hot Tub Time Machine back to the era when Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sir Cameron Mackintosh ruled the roost of the West End and Broadway with their mega musicals, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.

The epic tale is re-told as a contemporary rock/pop musical, telling the story of Samson (Ace Young), a young man whose strength hinges on the existence of his hair. Delilah (Diana DeGarmo), the sex driven lover of Samson, betrays him and cuts his hair in a moment of passionate jealousy.

The score is billed as a “unique combination of classic legit theater and pop/rock, creating a new musical sound” and is reminiscent of Chess, Dance of the Vampires and the European spectacle, Notre Dame de Paris. The score is filled with ballads very similar to Frank Wildhorn’s over-the-top belting style rampant in his gothic musical, Jekyll and Hyde.

The musical vocabulary of Samson and Delilah is comprised of catchy pop songs that feel outdated before they begin, often starting with soft rock vamps and synthesized intros. Understanding this is a concept album, the songs feel truncated and rarely build into a second thought or reaction to the initial impulse of the song. For example, Samson’s song, “Apple of My Eye”, where he extends his intentions for Delilah as a companion has a pleasant drive that begins the tune. There is a build towards the end of the song and then it ends abruptly. I was hoping the composer would use this opportunity to twist the intention of the character or use it to build a plot point. Instead it goes for a concert ending with a sustained note held admirably by Ace Young.

The lyrics are plain and broad. They lack texture and do not give a sense of setting or time period of the piece. The first track, “When Samson Is Here,” repeats the same idea with the men proclaiming, “We like to sample beauty. We like to pour the brew…We like the scent of women. We like the taste of wine.” This could apply to any sector of history and fails to put the show in a place of its own.  In the song “Let This Night Go On Forever”, the title is also repeated, gives little insight to the heart of the story and is paired with bland commentary, “Come what may tomorrow, I’m with my love tonight.”

The challenge of turning this concept album into a fully realized production will be to place these songs in a world that the audience can relate to, and to sculpt characters that exhibit truthful actions and emotions. Musically, Samson and Delilah fails to break new ground—this show is 25 years too late. It might have worked in the theatrical era of helicopters, chandeliers and the “pop opera,” but for now, the story seems best suited for the Bible.

There will be a special 54 BELOW album launch concert January 29 at 9:30 pm and January 30 at 9:30 pm where attendees will be able to buy the album two weeks early.

diana_ace

Broadway Goes Green

January 28th, 2014 Comments off
Willemijn Verkaik as Elphaba in "Wicked."

Willemijn Verkaik as Elphaba in “Wicked.”

“It’s not that easy being green,” says Kermit the Frog, but that’s not stopping The Broadway Green Alliance (BGA), which celebrates its fifth year and the launch of a new online Theatre Greening Advisor. The BGA is an industry-wide initiative focused on enhancing Broadway’s environmental profile by adopting preferable practices and promoting awareness in the creation and presentation of Broadway shows.

In collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the BGA’s early goal was to assess theater production and offer insights about environmentally preferable options to the Broadway theater community including producers, theater owners, designers, managers, design shops and others. Collectively, the Broadway community has achieved meaningful accomplishments during the first five years of this long-term initiative, including the shift to energy efficient lighting throughout the Great White Way. As a result of this work, Broadway is now a leader in environmental sustainability in the global theater industry.

broadwaygreen“In the past five years, the Broadway Green Alliance has become a part of nearly all Broadway productions, and now is working with Off-Broadway, regional theaters, colleges, and many other venues and shows in and outside of the United States,” says Charlie Deull, co-chair of the Broadway Green Alliance.  “We are grateful to the NRDC for its work on the NRDC Theatre Greening Advisor, which will be a valuable tool for the many BGA participants and allies working to make theatre, and the planet, greener.”

Taking this good environmental work to the rest of the country, the BGA and NRDC are now launching the NRDC Theatre Greening Advisor—an online guide to help theaters across the country implement environmentally intelligent practices. More than two years of work has gone into the creation of this unique online environmental resource for the theatre community, and it is arguably the most comprehensive theater greening information database in existence. The BGA and NRDC are making the NRDC Theatre Greening Advisor available at no cost to all theatre production worldwide.

The new BGA Greener Lighting Guide, designed to help compare greener stage lighting instruments, will be linked to the NRDC Theatre Greening Advisor and both launch this week.

Broadway Green Alliance Achievements to Date:

Broadway theaters have replaced all their marquee and outside lighting with energy-efficient bulbs (over 10,000 bulbs!), saving approximately 700 tons of carbon emissions per year; switched to more environmentally preferable cleaning products and appliances; and established recycling, water filtration and energy efficiency programs.

Broadway shows now have a BGA liaison, or Green Captain, at nearly all shows, bringing greener practices backstage. Green Captains come from all aspects of productions, and sometimes even the star of the show participates in this important role. Bryan Cranston, Alan Cumming, Hugh Dancy, Montego Glover, Harriet Harris and Carol Kane have all served as BGA Green Captains.

Running shows are saving money through reduced waste.  Many shows now use rechargeable batteries in microphones and flashlights, keeping thousands of toxic disposable batteries from the waste stream every month. Wicked went from using 38 batteries every performance to using only 96 rechargeable batteries in a year! Many shows also print their own cast-change stuffers—on recycled paper—saving reams of paper as well as money.

Events and initiatives held by the BGA are now part of the fabric of Broadway, including semi-annual electronic-waste and textile recycling events in Times Square and a free binder exchange (operated in partnership with Actors’ Equity Association) where anyone can pick-up or drop-off binders for use in readings and rehearsals. This keeps binders out of the waste stream and encourages re-use. Over the last five years, the BGA has collected more than 31,000 pounds of e-waste, and nearly 10,000 pounds of textiles.

Outreach programs have brought the BGA to theaters throughout the United States, at colleges, off-Broadway and regional and touring venues.  Internationally, the BGA is a founding member of the International Green Theatre Alliance. The BGA reaches theater professionals and audiences through its website filled with information and resources, and through social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The BGA also launched the BGA Greener Lighting Guide, in partnership with PLASA.

The NRDC Theatre Greening Advisor is a free online guide to help theaters across the country to implement eco-intelligent practices. The tool provides BGA members with valuable and detailed information on all elements of greener theatres and productions. The NRDC Theatre Greening Advisor supports the work of all six Broadway Green Alliance committees with extensive resources for greener efforts related to Pre/Post Production, Production, Venues, Touring, Education, and Outreach. This guide helps theaters continue to commit to energy efficiency, recycling programs, waste reduction, water conservation, smart paper purchasing and use, and other smart operations. In doing so, theaters and productions across the country are helping to keep our nation’s air and water clean, reduce their contribution to global warming, protect biodiversity, and reduce toxic chemicals use, while seeing cost saving benefits.

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Review: “Outside Mullingar” at MTC

January 24th, 2014 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler takes a trip to the Irish countryside with the premiere of Outside Mullingar, a new play by John Patrick Shanley.

mullingarPlaywright John Patrick Shanley and director Dough Hughes, who each won Tony awards for their work on Doubt (which also earned Shanley the Pulitzer Prize), reunite to bring life to Outside Mullingar, a delicate new work that taps into the intimate relationships of neighboring families in a small, rural town in Ireland.

Shanley, perhaps most famous for his Oscar-winning screenplay, Moonstruck, is a master craftsman of language and dramatic construct. He tightly weaves and unravels relationships that evoke both laughter and tears as beautifully conveyed by the tight-knit cast of four. Tony winner Brían F. O’Byrne (Doubt) and Emmy winner Debra Messing (“Will & Grace,” “Smash”) play Anthony and Rosemary, two introverted misfits straddling 40. Anthony has spent his entire life on a cattle farm in rural Ireland, somewhat miserable in his lot in life. Rosemary lives next door, harboring a childhood grudge while simultaneously yearning for his love. With Anthony’s father (Peter Maloney) threatening to disinherit him and a land feud simmering between their families that includes her mother (Dearbhla Molloy), the light plot unfolds more as a means to explore the themes of love and fate amid the stark Irish landscape.

As Anthony, O’Byrne offers a gentle, nuanced rendering of a conflicted man, torn between his familial obligations and unresolved longings. So unaffected is his performance, it at times feels like the audience is merely a fly on the wall—particularly in a poignant scene with his father as the two men come to terms with years of conflict. Messing holds her own with the cast of theater veterans, her emotions and intentions tightly focused by Hughes’ direction. Although her dialect feels forced at times, as if she’s chewing her way through a pint of Guinness, she manages to capture the years of unrequited love that have taken their toll. As Anthony’s father and Rosemary’s mother respectively, Peter Maloney and Dearbhla Molloy might has well have been plucked from a Westmeath pub, so rich and authentic are their portrayals.

Outside Mullingar is Shanley’s 10th play for Manhattan Theatre Club—a testament to the company’s commitment to cultivating new plays. He is a master storyteller, able to foreshadow yet allowing relationships to unfold in the most unexpected ways. His work is served well by Hughes, who allows the play to breathe, the audience to sit in quiet as well as conflict, and for all to wonder what it must be like to live Outside Mullingar.

Outside Mullingar
Manhattan Theater Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
Through March 16.

(L.toR.) Peter Maloney, Dearbhla Molloy, Debra Messing in "Outside Mullingar." (photo: Joan Marcus)

(L.toR.) Peter Maloney, Dearbhla Molloy, Debra Messing in “Outside Mullingar.” (photo: Joan Marcus)

Broadway (and Off-Broadway) Bargains!

January 23rd, 2014 Comments off

For theater die-hards, there’s no better time to catch a show in New York City than during the cold winter months of January and February. Sure, you can pay top-dollar to watch Elphaba soar into the rafters of the Gershwin Theater in Wicked… or you can see a show that hasn’t been around for a decade and support the wildly eclectic theater season currently underway. Here are two options to score great seats at bottom dollar:

The cast of "Twelfth Night."  (photo: Joan Marcus)

The cast of “Twelfth Night.”
(photo: Joan Marcus)

Broadway Week: 2-For-1 Tickets Through February 6
Many of Broadway’s biggest hits are participating. Here are our picks:

PippinOne of our favorite shows from last season, you can still catch Tony winner Patina Miller as The Leading Player—a performance not to miss.

Twelfth Night — Direct from its sold-out run in London’s West End, this all-male retelling of Shakespeare’s classic tale is nothing short of spectacular.

Cinderella — Wait until February 4 and you’ll catch pop star Carly Rae Jepsen in the title role and TV star Fran Drescher as her evil stepmother.

Feeling lucky? Enter to win the ultimate Broadway experience, which includes dinner for six and tickets to a Broadway show.

The cast of "Disaster!" (photo: Jeremy Daniel)

The cast of “Disaster!”
(photo: Jeremy Daniel)

20at20: $20 Tickets Through February 9
Why should Broadway have all the fun? Take a few steps off the Great White Way and discover a more intimate theater experience. Simply go to the box office of one of the participating shows 20 minutes before curtain and request a $20 ticket. Here is our shortlist of not-to-miss productions:

Disaster! — We recently reviewed this hysterical mash-up of 70s disaster movies and gave it a thumbs up. Life jackets not included.

The Clearing — Are you looking for a modern family drama with plot twists and turns? One of the best new plays off Broadway this winter.

iLuminate — Sometimes you need a little bling, and this groundbreaking combination of storytelling, music and technology will be sure to get your heart racing.

Review: Beautiful, The Carole King Musical

January 21st, 2014 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler goes on a musical journey at Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

The cast of "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical." (photo: Joan Marcus)

The cast of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” (photo: Joan Marcus)

Jessie Mueller enters the stage at the beginning of Beautiful—The Carole King Musical, the latest biopic tale to open on Broadway, and you can’t help but be captivated by her maxi dress, free-flowing hair and natural report with the audience. Mueller burst onto the scene in several years ago in the ill-received revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and still managed to snag a Tony Award nomination for her spot-on performance and jazz-inflected vocals. She has since appeared as Cinderella in the Public Theatre revival of Into the Woods and the Roundabout’s revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Make no mistake: Mueller is a chameleon—adept at shifting gears from character actress to ingénue.

In this case, she is saddled with a formulaic book by Douglas McGrath that is so polite and non-confrontational that it leaks any dramatic tension out of the piece. By the middle of Act 1, it’s clear that King and cohorts are going to chat about some theme or creative struggle, namedrop a portion of lyric or song title, then—Pizazz!—The Drifters or The Shirelles appear to deliver the goods.

Jessie Mueller in "Beautiful—The Carole King Musical." (photo: Joan Marcus)

Jessie Mueller in “Beautiful—The Carole King Musical.”
(photo: Joan Marcus)

Most are familiar with King’s work from Tapestry, the 1971 album that earned four Grammy Awards. The song cycle deeply tapped into King’s personal life and helped define the ‘70s era of pop vocals, but her songwriting legacy includes dozens of hits, written in partnership with her husband Gerry Goffin (earnestly portrayed by Jake Epstein). The duo befriended and had a longstanding rivalry with the lyricist/composer team of Cynthia Weil (Anika Larsen) and Barry Mann (Jarrod Spector).

In the musical’s context, these relationships never reach a pinnacle. Goffin’s mood swings (manic depression?) contribute to the dissolve of his marriage to King, but even when tempted with an affair, he tells her first. Although this may be how the facts played out, it certainly doesn’t make for dramatic tension. Nor does the sugarcoated professional competition between the two couples that remain besties through the years as they each vie for the next hit song.

Director Marc Bruni and the design team keep things moving at a brisk pace. The show is tightly directed and seamlessly flows from the songwriters to the pop artists that shared their work with the world. The hard-working ensemble takes on these musical icons, and while they look and sound incredibly polished, there is a decidedly “Broadway” sound to their vocal delivery. Two blocks away, the supporting cast of A Night with Janis Joplin, deliver interpretations of Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Etta James and Aretha Franklin with more vocal authenticity.

Criticism aside, Beautiful delivers an entertaining evening of theater, and while you may feel at times that “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” Jessie Mueller’s performance is, indeed, “Beautiful.”

Beautiful—The Carole King Musical
Stephen Sondheim Theater
124 West 43rd Street

Take a peek at Beautiful on Broadway…

Review: “The Clearing”

January 20th, 2014 Comments off

Contributor Lindsay B. Davis reviews The Clearing, a new play by Jake Jeppson.

Brian P. Murphy (Chris Ellis) and Brian McManamon (Les Ellis) play brothers in "The Clearing." (photo: Hunter Canning)

Brian P. Murphy (Chris Ellis) and Brian McManamon (Les Ellis) play brothers in “The Clearing.”
(photo: Hunter Canning)

Rarely does a set take my breath away before the action even begins, but The Clearing, a new play premiering at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, does just that. The perimeter of the stage is lined with trees with branches adorned with beautiful fall foliage and a wooden floor overlay covers the stage’s entire 1,710 square feet. A massive tree trunk juts out of the floor between the stage and first row of audience seats—giving the feeling of an orchestra pit populated by bark, leaves and dirt. It is that impressive.

The forest’s potential for theatricality was clearly on the mind of Jerome Fellowship playwright Jake Jeppson, who endows the space between the trees with a dark secret. His particular upstate New York clearing is the site of an event that the Ellis brothers Les (Brian McManamon) and Chris (Brian P. Murphy) have managed to keep between each other until the former’s new boyfriend Peter (Gene Gallerano) enters the picture and begins prodding through the family’s closet of skeletons. As Les and Peter’s relationship deepens, Chris, who struggles with an undisclosed mental affliction, draws even closer to his mother Ella (Allison Daugherty). She is a woman whose church going ways and conservative tendencies are sometimes at odds with both sons, even as they are all bonded by a grief 18 years in the making.

The Clearing is told non linearly, initially aided by voiceovers to establish time before eventually changing direction and moving forward in sequence, a structure that is occasionally confusing (particularly when the voiceovers stop and we are left unsure of where we are in the chain of events) but ultimately works. Tenderly performed by all members of the cast, each tasked with a series of emotional and physical reveals, The Clearing goes deep into a heart of darkness and accomplishes a level of intimacy that leaves you stirred.

Brian P. Murphy (Chris Ellis) in "The Clearing." (photo: Hunter Canning)

Brian P. Murphy (Chris Ellis) in “The Clearing.”
(photo: Hunter Canning)

Murphy’s Chris is a generously drawn boy-man, both entertaining and sad, one of the most compelling aspects being his negotiation of the freedom he seeks and the impulses that drive his behavior. McManamon as Les, the more reserved and softer spoken of the two brothers, finds the levels in himself that balance out the more vociferous Chris. His scenes with his inquisitive, photographer boyfriend Peter, who Gallerano plays with plainspoken, poetic charm, are a fulfilling depiction of a gay male relationship. Neither character feels the least bit stereotypical. All the men on stage are quite serious and though they have playful sides (you will delight in what Murphy does with making s’mores). They are thoughtful, grounded and rooted in their emotional lives with which they are wrestling, and they explore their psyche and each other with articulate language and bold gestures.

The singular woman’s voice is Daugherty’s Ella, portrayed as strong, funny, sensitive and stoic for reasons explained as the story unfolds. While certain directorial and design choices left me dissatisfied with some of the details of her character (thick Midwestern accent that is out of sync with her sons and the upstate New York setting; high-waisted belted pants and costume pieces that create a caricature “mom who isn’t with it and doesn’t get it”), Daugherty finds a vulnerability that is so raw and authentic, one forgives these details or at least is challenged to find their justification.

Read more…

Interview: Sam Harris and “Ham: Slices of Life”

January 19th, 2014 Comments off

Contributor Jim Gladstone chats with vocalist and author Sam Harris about his new book, Ham: Slices of Life.

Sam Harris (photo: Ray Garcia)

Sam Harris
(photo: Ray Garcia)

Before there was American IdolX Factor or The Voice, there was Star Search and a tuxedo-clad belting tenor who won America’s hearts.

“I found a formula that worked for me back then,” says Sam Harris, who first came to national fame 31 years ago, belting ‘Over the Rainbow’ as Grand Champion of the Ed McMahon-hosted TV talent show, Star Search. “But I started to feel boxed in by it. I always wanted to explore different areas.”

“It would have been very easy for me to build a career as a pop torch singer who does a big dramatic key change at the end of each song like his head is going to blow off. But my taste in music is eclectic. And my interests are eclectic, too.”

Instead of allowing himself to be wedged into a simplified persona and packaged as Brand Sam, Harris—who will present a theatrical blend of songs and stories at Feinstein’s at the Nikko January 24 and 25—has chosen “for my happiness, for my creative soul” to follow a wandering path.

He’s performed in Broadway and touring musicals (The Life, The Producers, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Hair), written for—and acted in—television sit-coms, headlined concerts and cabarets, been an interviewer for television’s EXTRA, and most recently, written a book, Ham: Slices of a Life.

The book, on which Harris’ new show is based, is a collection of heartfelt but sharply funny memoirs. At a time when other essayists in the style of David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs seem to have scraped the bottom of their autobiographical barrels, Harris arrives with great observational writing chops and a deep well of material to draw upon.

Not only does Harris spin the terrific, empathetic tales of family eccentricity and personal growth that have become the genre’s hallmark, he’s got an eclectic career’s worth of backstage stories, too. Rarely a frivolous name-dropper, Harris’ tales of time spent with the likes of Liza and Aretha not only deliver big laughs, but unexpected depth. (His Donny Osmond story is a heartbreaker).

Harris wants—and deserves—to be read for his storytelling skills, not because he has a modicum of celebrity. To that end, he asked that his face not appear on the front cover of his book. Instead, the jacket art features a photo of a curly-tailed pig’s posterior.

Take the jump for more about Sam’s Harris’s new book and excerpts from Ham.

Read more…

“Disaster!” Takes a Bite Out of Off-Broadway

January 17th, 2014 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler risks it all at the Off-Broadway hit, Disaster! and catches up with co-creator Seth Rudetsky.

The cast of "Disaster!" (photo: Jeremy Daniel)

The cast of “Disaster!”
(photo: Jeremy Daniel)

Shortly after Jaws was released and I was old enough to swim at the public pool, I quickly took on the role of that fateful swimmer chomped to bits in the opening scene. Much to my delight, several years later Piranha was released and I could succumb to a watery death all over again (that is, until the lifeguards became tired of my antics).

Clearly I wasn’t the only one obsessed with disaster movies. There was quite a string of them… Airport, The Towering Inferno, and the grandmother of them all — The Poseidon Adventure. Imagine all of them wrapped up into one gloriously ridiculous musical peppered with hits from the ’70s including “Feel So Good,” “Daybreak,” “Hot Stuff” and “Nadia’s Theme.” The list goes on and I wouldn’t dare reveal much more for fear of ruining their most unexpected interjections throughout the course of Disaster!, a new musical playing at St. Luke’s Theatre.

The cast of "Disaster!" (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

The cast of “Disaster!”
(photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Written by longtime collaborators Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick, Disaster! is one big guilty pleasure and holds nothing back. While it’s heavy on schtick, Rudetsky says the show was inspired by the great hits of the ’70s and a crazy idea: “What if we did every single disaster movie ever?  We wanted it to be a show that had characters that go on a journey. [It’s about] teaching people how to love – and by the end they realize how to love someone else.”

Rudetsky is no stranger to the artistic form of musical theater. Unlike many industry professionals who pursue careers onstage or behind the scenes, Rudetsky has built a ricochet career that has included playing piano for more than a dozen Broadway shows (he was a piano performance major at Oberlin Conservatory), radio host on Sirius XM, stand-up comedian, staff writer for The Rosie O’Donnell Show, published author and TV host. All of that (and then some) has been poured into Disaster!, in which he also appears.

Casting is half the battle and Rudetsky and team have assembled a collection of seasoned pros and new talent. “People know if they’re going to do something with me they know it’s going to be good. I’m obsessed with talent, not stars,” he admits. Longtime Broadway belter Mary Testa (whose role will be taken over by Annie Golden then Judy Gold) is one of many Rudetskians… a visit to his TV channel reveals candid conversations and exclusive concerts with the likes of Sutton Foster and Patti LuPone. Other stand-out performances in Disaster! include Jennifer Simard as Sister Mary and newcomer Charity Dawson as Levora.

Disaster! is almost too good to be true. When poised with the question of a possible transfer, Rudetsky, who is happy in the old-school St. Luke’s Theatre, says, “There’s lot of talk about everything. I like the proximity of everybody. It’s a little gem of a show. I’m loving it right now where it is.” But as history shows, “where it is” doesn’t last long for Rudestky, who simply just loves the theater and will undoubtedly be dipping his toe into something new before we know it. And if there are piranhas in the pool? Well, that’s OK, too.

Disaster!
St. Luke’s Theatre
308 West 46th Street
Performs Monday and Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, 7 p.m.
Friday, 8 p.m.

Take a sneak peek — don’t say we didn’t warn you!