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Military Mayhem: Pan Asian Rep’s ‘Incident at Hidden Temple’

January 30th, 2017 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

Dinh James Doan & Briana Sakamoto in 'Incident at Hidden Temple.' (Photo: John Quincy  via The Broadway Blog.)

Dinh James Doan & Briana Sakamoto in ‘Incident at Hidden Temple.’ (Photo: John Quincy via The Broadway Blog.)

Damon Chua’s Incident at Hidden Temple, a world premiere at the Clurman, kicks off the 40th season of the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, an accomplishment for which company founder and artistic producing director Tisa Chang deserves the warmest commendation. It’s too bad, however, that Pan Asian’s newest production couldn’t be a stronger one to honor her achievement. On the other hand, she has, through her politically involved father, a personal relationship to one of the play’s central figures, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek.

This is Chua’s second play for Pan Asian, and, like his 2015 Film Chinois, takes us to China in the 1940s, when competing ideologies created an atmosphere of danger and distrust. Film Chinois was set in 1947 Beijing, two years after World War II, while Incident at Hidden Temple occurs in China in 1943, during the war, with American forces supporting the Chinese.

Jonathan Miles & Dinh James Doan in 'Incident at Hidden Temple.' (Photo: John Quincy via The Broadway Blog.)

Jonathan Miles & Dinh James Doan in ‘Incident at Hidden Temple.’ (Photo: John Quincy via The Broadway Blog.)

There are actually two Chinas involved, however, one led by Chiang’s Nationalists, the other by Mao Zedong’s communist forces. The situation creates major strategic tensions for the Americans, led by Gen. Joseph Stilwell, not seen, whose positions are represented by his civilian aide, McAllister (Nick Jordan). The real-life feud that existed between Stilwell and Gen. Claire Chennault, head of the Flying Tigers fighter squadrons, is altered by replacing Chennault with the fictional Gen. Cliff Van Holt (Jonathan Miles), who, like Chennault, is friendly with the generalissimo (Dinh James Doan).

Chua, however, focuses only intermittently on the complex military-historical issues, the outcome of which established the foundation of U.S.-China relations into the 1970s. Instead, he diffuses his treatment by introducing various melodramatic mysteries. The Stilwell-Van Holt friction, concerning major decisions about building a base for attacks on Japan, becomes just another piece of the mosaic on which other elements are played out as the dramatist grapples with issues of truth.

Thus we get an investigation into the murder of an American soldier (Nick Jordan) ; the disappearance of a 16-year-old Chinese girl, Lucy Chao (Briana Sakamoto), while traveling by train with her older sister, Ava (Ying Ying Li), a journalism student; a Chinese-American pilot named Walter Hu (Tim Liu) who appears to be passing himself off as yet another pilot; the hint of a romance between the married Van Holt and Ava; a wise, old, blind man (Dinh James Doan), who prattles in mystical terms about a certain “Hidden Temple”; an unintended pregnancy; and, for good measure, a subplot involving sacred artifacts, Ernest Hemingway, and two people connected to him that Chua suggests were real but can’t be found anywhere on the Internet.

Ying Ying Li and Walter Hu in 'Incident at Hidden Temple.' (Photo: John Quincy via The Broadway Blog.)

Ying Ying Li and Walter Hu in ‘Incident at Hidden Temple.’ (Photo: John Quincy via The Broadway Blog.)

Chua fails to create a sufficiently believable world in which these multiple threads can be effectively woven together. And by having everyone speak in the same, mostly unaccented American English, even when they’re speaking Chinese (one character even speaks Chinese with a folksy American drawl), it remains unclear what language is being spoken when.

There are also any number of plot questions. Why, for instance, has Ava, who could have gone to America, remained in war-torn China to continue her journalism studies, when she could have studied abroad? Or why, if these studies are so important, hasn’t she decided what to do when she graduates? And why are Lucy and Ava given Western names?

An air of superficiality hovers not only over the writing but over the entire, stilted production, performed against Sheryl Liu’s set dominated by a homely wall built in false perspective and painted a dour, grayish-green. Hanhji Jang’s costumes are barely passable, and Pamela Kupper’s lighting only a bit better, although she creates a nice effect that makes the hidden temple visible.

Director Kaipo Schwab’s pacing for the two-hour play is uneven and his staging awkward, beginning with the thoroughly unconvincing stabbing that begins the play. A fight scene staged by Michael G. Chin has two men using traditional martial arts techniques, as if they were in a refereed match instead of a potentially life and death struggle. As for the acting, let’s just say better luck next time.

“Sometimes truth is just hidden in plain sight,” says the blind man, who, as per the convention, sees more clearly than anyone else. To which those who left at intermission might reply: “The truth shall set you free.”

Incident at Hidden Temple
Clurman Theatre/Theatre Row
410 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through February 12

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Meeting* You Won’t Want to Miss: Justin Sayre

January 28th, 2017 Comments off

by Jon L. Jensen

Justin Sayre (Photo: Ricardo Nelson via The Broadway Blog.)

Justin Sayre (Photo: Ricardo Nelson via The Broadway Blog.)

Justin Sayre’s The Meeting* of the International Order of Sodomites convened again on January 22 at Joe’s Pub. The performance marked the beginning of the final season of Sayre’s hit comedy/variety show, at a time when performances like it could not feel more essential.

Sayre is big in every sense of the word. His bearish looks are matched by a giant wit and intelligence. While many gay performers and icons prize cattiness and cynicism, Sayre is big-hearted, warm and generous. He took the stage at Joe’s Pub two days after the inauguration and a day after the International Women’s March.

“We’re coming in hot,” said Sayre, adjusting his giant amethyst ring, attired in a flowing sweater ensemble, red-sequined pumps and a pink “pussy” cap.

His show featured tributes to two deceased gay icons, George Michael and Debbie Reynolds, but Sayre spent much of the evening processing contemporary events—especially the Women’s March.

Sayre called on the members of his “International Order of Sodomites” to be active participants in a resistance that reaches far beyond the concerns of the LGBTQIA community. Inspired by his participation in the Women’s March, Sayre argued that gays should unite with women, men, people of color and children against America’s new nationalist/isolationist leadership. “We have to come together because it’s too important,” he said.

The Meeting* paid tribute to George Michael who passed away on Christmas Day. Nadia Quinn, channeling a Christian camp counselor circa 1983, sang “Faith.” Julian Fleischer crooned “Kissing a Fool.” And Drew Brody called on the audience to sing back-up for “Father Figure.”

George Michael (Slavko Sereda : Shutterstock, Inc.)

George Michael (Slavko Sereda : Shutterstock, Inc.)

Of all the musical performances, none was as rousing (or envelope-pushing) as Bridget Barkan. The singer came out in an Obama mask and began an electric rendition of Michael’s “Freedom 90.” Soon she stripped of the blackface mask, to reveal a bad comb-over wig and began to sing the song as the new orange-faced POTUS. For the final verse, she stripped off her tuxedo and released her own long, auburn hair—her breasts taped with black gaffer’s tape, the word FREEDOM emblazoned across her chest.

Although the evening would have benefited from more music, Sayre remained the star of the show. He talked warmly of Debbie Reynolds, clued the audience in on this YouTube gem, and sang Reynolds’ “Tammy.”

One of the most poignant moments of the evening, however, came as he teared up recounting his interaction with a small child and her mother at the March. The moment epitomized what makes Sayre such a treasure. Here is a comedian who is not afraid of appearing earnest and vulnerable. According to him, children cannot tear their eyes off of him. “I don’t know if they’re drawn to me out of fascination,” he said, “or an intense fear that they might become me.”

The Gay Agenda - Album Cover (1)I cannot speak for the children, but I share in their fascination with Sayre. This reviewer ended up kicking myself that I showed up to the Meeting* seven years too late.

If you are like me, a little behind the times, do not miss your chance to catch The Meeting*’s final performances at Joe’s Pub. The final shows will tribute:

Michael Bennett (February 19)
The Velvet Underground (March 19)
Patti LuPone (April 23)

The final celebration will be held with two performances on Sunday, May 14 at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. You can also download Sayre’s comedy album, The Gay Agenda, on iTunes here , or subscribe to his podcast “Sparkle & Circulate” here.

Jon L. Jensen is a poet and educator. His forthcoming novel-in-verse attempts to give his native Wyoming an epic makeover.

 

 

 

Gazing at Life: ‘Jitney’ Arrives on Broadway

January 27th, 2017 Comments off

By April Stamm

august wilson's jitney

If we are to be a fly on the wall in an appropriately dilapidated car service station for over two hours with nothing to do but watch the blindingly real comings and goings of cab drivers, a couple of their family members, and a small time bookie, it better be a pretty enthralling jitney station. Lucky for audiences at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway production of August Wilson’s Jitney that those nine souls onstage are mesmerizingly heartbreaking, passionate, comical, and true.

The last of Wilson’s Century Cycle plays to be staged on Broadway, Jitney is set in 1977 in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and captures Wilson’s unique vision of the African American experience. This production begins before the house lights even dim on Becker’s (John Douglas Thompson) old, crumbling, but somehow ordered gypsy cab station. To discuss the plot of “Jitney” is a strange thing, because while it could be said that hardly anything happens, what does happen is everything.

André Holland and Carra Patterson in August Wilson's 'Jitney.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

André Holland and Carra Patterson in August Wilson’s ‘Jitney.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cab station is in peril of being torn down by the city within a month and the drivers band together to hold their ground. Meanwhile, the youngest driver in the crew, Youngblood (André Holland), secretly buys a house for his girlfriend, Rena (Cara Patterson), the mother of their two-year-old son, all the while she thinks he’s running around on her with her sister. Becker’s son, Booster (Brandon J. Dirden), returns after twenty years in prison. Shealy (Harvy Blanks), the neighborhood bookie, takes in bets and pays on bets. While some of the happenings are life changing in nature, others are wholly common place, and it all unfolds without melodrama but rather with the steady, burdened pace of living a life full of struggle and frustration, but also spiked with deep love and commitment.

Jitney is only as good as its ensemble. They are complete and realized characters, but also represent a snapshot of 1970s Pittsburgh and the African American experience on a larger scale. To pick out one or two shining stars would do a disservice to the beautiful orchestration of the acting company in this production. Perhaps because many in the cast are August Wilson veterans, there is an authenticity and ease with which the actors flow through the work, including Tony Award winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s direction, which provides the cast with cohesion, nuance, and clarity.

Crafting the perfectly realistic yet ethereal backdrop for the play, scenic designer David Gallo, lighting designer Jane Cox, and sound designer Darron L. West build a Pittsburgh that is achingly beautiful in its mundanity. The cab station is packed with dilapidated details: a couch that sags just so, a touch of soot on the giant windows to the city, and peeling and fading wall paper— all staged in front of a city backdrop that seems to evoke memories. Tony-Leslie James’s costumes embrace an era so easily made outrageous. There are leisure suits and leather blazers that do not mock themselves but instead suit the real lives of the characters who don them.

Do I suggest you see a play full of heartbreak and struggle, in which the characters have regular frustrating arguments, occasionally ignore each other, and almost never resolving anything? Absolutely, because this production—both Wilson’s script and the ensemble that embodies it—show life. Not just in the 70s, not just in Pittsburg, but in all of its hardness and tenacity.

August Wilson’s Jitney
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 W 47th Street, NYC
Through March 12

April Stamm is a freelance theatre, food, and lifestyle journalist. She is a regular contributor to Edge Media Network and is a Chef Instructor at the International Culinary Center.

Pants Smoking But Not on Fire: Classic Stage Company’s ‘The Liar’

January 26th, 2017 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

1. Tony Roach, Christian Conn, and Carson Elrod in 'The Liar' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

1. Tony Roach, Christian Conn, and Carson Elrod in ‘The Liar’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

The gods of irony must have been smiling as I left the Women’s March in midtown to trek down to East 13th Street’s Classic Stage Company in time to catch the matinee of a play called, of all things, The Liar. This is David Ives’s spirited version of Pierre Corneille’s 1643 comedy Le Menteur, set in its original time period but sprinkled with contemporary references. Ives’s verbal liberalism allows for the interpolation of at least one political zinger when the eternally fibbing hero, Dorante, says, toward the end, “I’ll emigrate and become a politician.” It gets the purest laugh of the show.

The Liar is the only comedy by Corneille, who, with Jean Racine, is one of France’s two greatest neoclassical tragic dramatists. Rarely done in English, it has experienced a spate of American productions since Ives prepared what he calls a “translaptation, i.e., a translation with a heavy dose of adaptation,” written in rhyming pentameter for Michael Kahn’s 2010 production at Washington, D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Ismenia Mended and Amelia Pedlow in 'The Liar.' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog)

Ismenia Mended and Amelia Pedlow in ‘The Liar.’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog)

The chief enjoyment lies in Ives’s notable deftness at writing entertainingly clever rhymes, often with corny groaners accompanied by a self-deprecating tone showing just how much he’s aware of his own outrageousness. He also doesn’t hesitate to make the punny language thoroughly contemporary by using expressions like son of a bitch and schmuck.

The plot circles around Dorante (Christian Conn, of the 2010 production), newly come to Paris, who immediately falls for Clarisse (Ismenia Mendes) but confuses her name with that of her friend Lucrece (Amelia Pedlow). This leads to a series of conventional complications involving another suitor for Clarice’s hand, Alcippe (Tony Roach).

Meanwhile, a third young dandy, Philiste (Aubrey Deeker), finds himself involved, partly as a raisonneur and partly as a lover. The presence of Dorante’s anxious father, Geronte (Adam LeFevre), helps increase the tension until, in one of those classic examples of tying multiple plot strands together, the play concludes with smiles, hugs, and the imminent promise of wedding bells.

Kelly Hutchinson and Carson Elrod in 'The Liar.' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Kelly Hutchinson and Carson Elrod in ‘The Liar.’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Like so many other commedia dell’arte-influenced plays of its time, The Liar is replete with romantic mix-ups, confused identities, twins (two pairs, in fact, including one of the long-lost variety), and a silly servant who is actually one step ahead of his master.

In addition to Clarice and Lucrece, the female characters (whose portrayals are all first-rate) include temperamentally opposite twin sisters played by the same actress, Kelly Hutchinson: Isabelle is sexually voracious while Sabine is puritanical. All, happily, are vividly outspoken. Clarice’s frankness, in fact, resembles that of Kate in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. And speaking of the Bard, be it noted that Ives’s dialogue is rife with lines mirroring those from his plays and sonnets.

The Liar’s central conceit is that its title character, Dorante, is congenitally unable to tell the truth, thereby inspiring reams of imaginative dissembling that give the actor playing him delicious opportunities for displays of verbal and physical dexterity. Dorante’s manservant, Cliton (Carson Elrod), on the other hand, is incapable of mendacity; he, too, gets juicy chances to humorously express his defining trait.

Michael Kahn, again at the helm, makes attractive use of Alexander Dodge’s three-quarters-round set of a pale blue parquet floor backed by an elegant wall painted with pixel-like dots and enhanced by flown-in chandeliers and romantic portraits. Kahn’s staging is full of bright ideas, a memorable example being a sword-less duel between the rival lovers.

Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting helps bring out all the charm in the pretty period costumes of Murell Horton, most of the men in dashing, plumed-hat, high-booted, musketeer-like fashions, the women in silks, lace, jewels, and décolletage. (Both Dodge and Horton also designed Kahn’s 2010 version.)

Kahn’s sprightly troupers, attacking the play as high farce, race along with energy and flair, getting the fun from every pun, and making the two hours pass agreeably enough. Truth be told, though, for all the skill and effort expended, The Liar remains on the pleasantly amusing side of the comedy scale, rarely tipping toward hilarity.

The Liar
Classic Stage Company
136 E. 13th St., NYC
Through February 26

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).

‘Sunday in the Park with George’ Announces Full Cast

January 24th, 2017 Comments off

sunday in the park with george

Ambassador Theatre Group (Mark Cornell, CEO; Adam Speers, Executive Producer) has announced the complete casting and creative team for the Broadway revival of New York City Center’s production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George.

Sondheim and Lapine’s masterpiece follows painter Georges Seurat (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Consumed by his need to “finish the hat,” Seurat alienates the French bourgeoisie, spurns his fellow artists, and neglects his lover Dot (Annaleigh Ashford), not realizing that his actions will reverberate over the next 100 years.

Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal (in his Broadway musical debut) and Tony Award winner  Annaleigh Ashford will be joined by Tony Award nominee Brooks Ashmanskas, Jenni Barber,Tony Award nominee Phillip Boykin, Mattea Marie Conforti, Erin Davie, Claybourne Elder, Tony Award nominee Penny Fuller,Jordan Gelber, Tony Award winner Robert Sean Leonard, Liz McCartney, Tony Award winner Ruthie Ann Miles, Ashley Park, Jennifer Sanchez, David Turner, Max Chernin, MaryAnn Hu, Tony Award nominee Michael McElroy, Jaime Rosenstein, Julie Foldesi, and Andrew Kober.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Photo: Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock.com)

Jake Gyllenhaal (Photo: Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock.com)

As previously announced, Sunday in the Park with George will re-open the historic Hudson Theatre (139-141 West 44th Street) on Broadway this winter for a strictly limited 10-week engagement.  Directed by Sarna Lapine, performances are set to begin Saturday, February 11, 2017, with an opening scheduled for February 23 and performances through April 23.

The creative team for Sunday in the Park with George features set design by Tony Award winner Beowulf Boritt, projection design byTal Yarden, costume design by Tony Award winner Clint Ramos, lighting design by Tony Award winner Ken Billington, sound design by Tony Award nominee Kai Harada, co-projection design by Christopher Ash, hair and wig design by Cookie Jordan, make-up design by Joe Dulude II, music coordination by Tony Honor recipient Seymour Red Press, orchestrations by 2-time Tony Award winner Michael Starobin, production supervision by Tony honor recipient Peter Lawrence, casting by Carrie Gardner/Stephen Kopel, technical supervision by Hudson Theatrical Associates, general management by 101 Productions, Ltd., musical staging by Ann Yee, and music direction by Chris Fenwick.

Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased online at www.TheHudsonBroadway.com, by calling 855-801-5876, or in person at the Hudson Theatre Box Office.

 

Don’t Miss: ‘Falsettos’ Cast Album Release Event on 1/27

January 23rd, 2017 Comments off

falsettosGhostlight Records will celebrate the cast album of the critically acclaimed Broadway revival of William Finn and James Lapine’s Tony Award-winning musical Falsettos with a special in-store performance and CD signing at Barnes & Noble on Friday, January 27 at 7:00 p.m.

The date also marks the album’s worldwide digital release, with physical copies also available and two-disc set available online and in stores. Barnes & Noble will welcome cast members Stephanie J. Block, Anthony Rosenthal, Tracie Thoms, Brandon Uranowitz and Betsy Wolfe, in addition to the show’s composer/lyricist William Finn as special guest. The store 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. Call (212) 369-2180 for details.

'Falsettos' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Falsettos’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The first-ever full cast album of the musical includes a 60-page full-color booklet with complete lyrics, production photos, and an essay from Lincoln Center Theater’s Producing Artistic Director, André Bishop and Musical Theater Associate Producer Ira Weitzman. The cast album was produced by Kurt Deutsch with Lawrence Manchester serving as co-producer.

William Finn and James Lapine’s groundbreaking, Tony Award-winning musical Falsettos (Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Scorerecently returned to Broadway in an all-new production from Lincoln Center Theater. Lapine returned to direct an extraordinary cast featuring Stephanie J. Block (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Tony nom.), Christian Borle (Something Rotten!, Tony Award), Andrew Rannells (The Book of Mormon, Tony nom.), Anthony Rosenthal, Tracie Thoms, Brandon Uranowitz(An American in Paris, Tony nom.) and Betsy Wolfe.

Christian Borle and Andrew Rannells in 'Falsettos.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Christian Borle and Andrew Rannells in ‘Falsettos.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

“Growing up with Falsettos was a game changer musical for me. With its gorgeous score and trailblazing takes on love, life and crisis, Falsettos is one of our great musicals and we’re honored to preserve the new Broadway cast album on Ghostlight Records,” says the label’s founder Kurt Deutsch. “Having released Finn’s wonderful 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, we’re thrilled to add this recording to our catalog, especially featuring such an unbelievable cast breathing such magnificent life into this ‘tight-knit family.’”

According to The New York Times, “There’s hardly a moment in the exhilarating, devastating revival of the musical Falsettos that doesn’t approach, or even achieve, perfection. It feels as fresh and startling as it did back in 1992.”

Time Out New York raved, “few musicals have the range, idiosyncrasy and emotional punch of this profoundly unconventional and personal work.” Newsday called the show “brave and hilarious, a charming and deeply moving treasure” and added “Finn matches his jaunty and vaudevillian, then haunting, music to enormously quotable, conversational lyrics that catch in the throat as often as they stick in the mind.”

The Chicago Tribune heralded the show as “a musical that throbs with passion and compassion, a masterwork.  It is a unequivocal pleasure to let Finn’s music and lyrics return to your consciousness.”

Falsettos was directed by James Lapine, with choreography by Spencer Liff, sets by David Rockwell, costumes by Jennifer Caprio, lighting by Jeff Croiter, sound by Dan Moses Schreier, and musical direction by Vadim Feichtner, conducting Michael Starobin’s original orchestrations.

 

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Don’t Miss: Justin Sayre’s Final Season of The Meeting* at Joe’s Pub

January 22nd, 2017 Comments off
Justin Sayre (Photo: Ricardo Nelson via The Broadway Blog.)

Justin Sayre (Photo: Ricardo Nelson via The Broadway Blog.)

The Meeting* hosted by Justin Sayre — the monthly gathering of the International Order of Sodomites, the centuries-old organization which sets the mythic Gay Agenda — has announced the themes of the Winter/Spring 2017 season.

Each month, the I.O.S gathers to honor an artist or a cultural work that is iconic to the gay community. Justin Sayre, the show’s creator, writer and host, serves as the Chairman of the Board of the International Order of Sodomites and brings his singular wit to essential business of the day through such regular features such as ”Letters to the Chairman” and “New Rulings from the Board.”

After seven years of audacious humor, trailblazing political discourse and button-pushing cultural exploration, the acclaimed comedy/variety show is being presented for the eighth and final season at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, which concludes its run in May 2017. The Winter/Spring 2017 shows are Sunday nights at 9:30 PM and will feature tributes to:

George Michael (January 22)
Michael Bennett (February 19)
The Velvet Underground (March 19)
Patti LuPone (April 23)

The final celebration will be held with two performances on Sunday, May 14 at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tracy Stark serves as the season’s music director. Special guests will be announced for each show.

The Meeting* has been called “delicious and delightfully droll” by The New York Post and “hilarious and sardonic” by The Village Voice. After originally opening at the historic Duplex in the West Village, The Meeting* has also enjoyed successful runs at the Broadway nightclub 54 Below in New York, the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles and  Oasis in San Francisco. Sparkle & Circulate with Justin Sayre, the official podcast of the International Order of Sodomites, was recently named among “10 Comedy Podcasts You Should Listen To” by Backstage.

Justin Sayre and The Meeting* – known for a signature blend of outrageous comedy, politics, culture and everything in between – were named among the Top nightclub shows of 2013 by Time Out New York, and received the 2012 Bistro Award for “Comedy Artistry” and a 2011 MAC Award nomination for Best Male Comedy Performance.

Theater Buff: ‘Big River”s Andrew Cristi

January 20th, 2017 Comments off

Every month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer fills out editor Matthew Wexler’s questionnaire and offers a glimpse of what he looks like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. We’re sailing downriver this month with Andrew Cristi, who will be appearing in the New York City Center Encore! production of Big River. It’s been more than 30 years since the show first premiered on Broadway and will be directed by Lear DeBessonet.

Andrew Cristi (Photo: Karen Sieber via The Broadway Blog.)

Andrew Cristi (Photo: Karen Sieber via The Broadway Blog.)

Name:
Andrew Cristi

Hometown:
Glenview, IL 

Big River reinterprets Mark Twain’s classic tale of Huckleberry Finn. What are some of your favorite books and authors?
The Road (Cormac McCarthy), The Giver (Lois Lowry), and The Last Lecture (Randy Pausch & Jeffrey Zaslow).

Big River City CenterWhat was your audition like for director Lear DeBessonet and choreographer Josh Rhodes?
I sang “Rain Song” from 110 In The Shade. Lear was very quiet and most of my interaction was with casting director, Jay Binder. After I sang Jay said, “You are the first person to ever sing this song at an audition and make it work.” It was a great confidence booster.

Next, I had to read a scene. I was extremely happy to do a Southern accent considering I’m almost never asked to do one. Big River is not a dance show, so the dance callback was very simple. (My favorite kind!) It was all about energy and personality. I can’t jump into the splits, but I will shatter the glass with my chutzpah. That’s Yiddish for “shameless audacity.”

Later that night I told my boyfriend that I was pretty sure an offer was coming. I’m not one to verbalize things like that usually, but sometimes you just know. Chutzpah!

Andrew Cristi (Photo: Karen Sieber via The Broadway Blog.)

Andrew Cristi (Photo: Karen Sieber via The Broadway Blog.)

Huck’s adventures include discovering new regions as he drifts down the Mississippi. How have your own travels—growing up in the Chicago area as well as Thailand—influenced your perspective on life, both professionally and personally?
I have been incredibly fortunate in my upbringing. I went to an international school in Thailand until I was 13. I was surrounded by kids and teachers from all over the world.

We moved to a Chicago suburb when I was in the eighth grade and thankfully, my middle and high school experience was very diverse. I went to NYU for college. All my life I have been surrounded by diversity, which is ironic because I have chosen a profession in an industry that often times is not very inclusive. I’d say my upbringing influenced my advocacy, empathy and support for groups who are overlooked.

If I wasn’t a performer, I would be:
An ASL interpreter! I have taken 3 semesters at the Sign Language Center and I am hooked. I can say all the dirty words.

Places, Intermission or Curtain Call?
Places! Hearing that overture before the curtain rises is the most exciting thing to me. And it’s the perfect time to harness my chutzpah (OK, I’ll stop now).

The best post-show cocktail in New York City is at:
I’m not a big drinker because I become embarrassingly intoxicated after very little. But I will tell you that the Frozen Pomegranate Margarita at Rosa Mexicano is delicious.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Cristi.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Cristi.

After you’ve hit all the traditional sites of New York City, you should totally go to:
My favorite restaurants! I will list them for you. Grab a pen!
Pye Boat Noodle
Pure Thai Cookhouse
Rosa Mexicano (18th St Location)
Gato
The Stanton Social
Butter
Jing Fong (Dim Sum)
Marea

And for dessert: Ube bread pudding at Manila Social Club, halo halo at Jeepney, hibiscus donut at Dough, chocolate shake at Bareburger, cinnamon crispies and butterscotch cashew bar at Amy’s Bread.

If I could live anywhere else in the world it would be:
Anywhere warm and there’s a beach close by.

My workout “secret” is:
I eat what I want when I want.

When I’m looking for a date, nothing attracts me more than:
A sense of humor! My boyfriend makes me laugh every day.

My favorite website to visit that you may not have heard of is:
www.towleroad.com

People would be surprised to learn that I . . .
Pulled a knife on my older brothers when I was about 10. I think it was a butter knife, which makes it even more hilarious. Boys will be boys!

When I was 10, I wanted to be just like:
Mariah Carey. Sans knife.

Ten years from now I’d like to be:
Married, 10 to 15 pounds heavier (muscle or fat, I’ll take either), and blissfully content.

Big River plays at New York City Center’s mainstage February 8-12. 

‘Allegiance’ Announces Canadian Film Screening, 2/19

January 19th, 2017 Comments off
Lea Salonga and George Takei in 'Allegiance' (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Lea Salonga and George Takei in ‘Allegiance’ (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

After a successful North-American premiere, Cineplex Events brings George Takei’s (Star Trek, Heroes) Broadway musical Allegiance back to Canadian theatres for an encore on Sunday, February 19 at 6:30 p.m. local time. This date is the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, known as the Day of Remembrance, which marked the beginning of the forced relocation and internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during WWII.

“George Takei’s Allegiance: The Broadway Musical On The Big Screen” will begin with an exclusive introduction from Takei and immediately move into the musical’s presentation. After the feature, audiences will also be treated to behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with George Takei and the rest of the cast and creative team.

Participating Theatres:

  • Toronto – Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas and VIP
  • Vancouver – The Park Theatre
  • Halifax – Cineplex Cinemas Park Lane
  • Ottawa – Cineplex Odeon South Keys Cinemas
  • Calgary – Cineplex Odeon Eau Claire Market Cinemas
Telly Leung (center) and the cast of 'Allegiance' (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Telly Leung (center) and the cast of ‘Allegiance’ (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“At a time when echoes of the interment ring once again far too loud in our political discourse, there’s never been a better moment for the story of Allegiance to find new audiences,” said star Takei. “It is a true testament to the power and the relevance of this story that so many people attended its premiere in December, and it is only appropriate that even more people will be able to witness it on such an important day as February 19, 2017. The Day of Remembrance is a day of commemoration, of reflection, and of learning, and I hope Allegiance can play an important role in its celebration, this year, and for many years to come.”

Allegiance illuminates one of American history’s lesser known chapters as it tells the story of Sam Kimura (Takei), transported back nearly six decades to when his younger self (Telly Leung, Godspell, Glee) and his sister Kei (Tony Award-winner Lea Salonga, Miss SaigonMulan) fought to stay connected to their heritage, their family and themselves after Japanese Americans were wrongfully imprisoned during World War II.

“The response from the audience who attended the premiere has been overwhelming. While its Broadway run may have been cut short, the story of Allegiance truly speaks to audiences everywhere and we are honored that its legacy continues, through this encore with Fathom Events and beyond,” said Allegiance producer Lorenzo Thione. “Moreover, we are excited that the story, music and message of Allegiance will expand its reach to more people, cities, and even countries, continuing to move, educate and inspire, truly fulfilling George’s legacy.”

Tickets are now on sale for “George Takei’s Allegiance: The Broadway Musical On The Big Screen” and can be purchased online by visiting Cineplex.com/Events or at participating theatre box offices.

For more information visit www.AllegianceMusical.com/movie.

 

 

 

Unwrapping Chekhov for the 21st Century: ‘The Present’

January 18th, 2017 Comments off

Cate Blanchett The Present There is no denying Cate Blanchett’s magnetism. As the fading trophy wife Anna in Andrew Upton’s The Present (a modern adaptation of Chekhov’s Platanov), Blanchett exudes power that often doesn’t translate onstage from movie stars attempting to tackle live theater.

But those familiar with Blanchett’s body of work know that she is a longstanding member of Sydney Theatre Company, where she received critical acclaim for her performance as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Along with Upton, the couple served as co-artistic directors from 2008-2012, and it is with deep commitment and understanding of the art form that Blanchett and co-star Richard Roxburgh lead an ensemble of exceptional actors through a ringer of unrequited love, political corruption, and unraveling friendships.

Chekhov’s older brother, Alexander, wrote to the young playwright, “You know yourself that your play is a lie; you felt it too, but only instinctively, not clearly enough.” Upon his death, Chekhov’s sister, Maria Pavlovna, secured the draft in a safety deposit box and there it remained until Soviet literary scholar Nikolai Belchikov published it in 1923 without much fanfare — it would be five years before the play was even produced.

Upton’s adaptation jolts the play into the mid 1990s post-perestroika Russia. The nuanced shifts in the political system may be lost on those without an understanding of the Cold War or the country’s rise of oligarchs. But where there’s a Chekhov play there’s bound to be a squabble over an estate or other relatable tensions.

The cast of 'The Present.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘The Present.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Anna has gathered friends and neighbors to celebrate her 40th birthday, including a trio of male friends that anchors the supporting players. Mikhail (Richard Roxburgh) arrives with his wife Sasha (Susan Prior). A soured schoolteacher, Mikhail has unhappily settled into country life as his attraction toward Anna simmers at every turn. Nikolai (Toby Schmitz) also pines for Anna, but brings his young girlfriend Maria (Anna Bamford) as an unsatisfying substitution. And then there’s the nebbish Sergei (Chris Ryan), the son from her deceased husband’s first marriage, and his newlywed Sophia (Jacqueline McKenzie) — who also has a past with Mikhail. Yes… it’s the stuff that a Molière comedy could be made of, but in this case slamming doors are swapped for guns.

Afternoon turns to evening as the conversations twist and turn, simultaneously about nothing and everything. Nikolai and Sasha’s father, Ivan (Marshall Napier) chimes in:

Life breaks you. It picks you up and shakes you like this. And then you are left, standing. It has gone through you like a train. Life. Boys. LIFE? What is it?… When a man is born he goes on one of three paths, that’s it – one, two, three. To the right – wolves will eat him up. To the left – he will eat the wolves. The same wolves. Or straight. Down the middle? – you eat yourself.

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh in 'The Present.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh in ‘The Present.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The party moves into the summer folly, a garden cottage that Anna has rigged with dynamite. Copious amounts of vodka are consumed and past lovers rekindle the flame.

The second act begins in the early morning hours before sunrise. A thick fog rolls in as Mikhail sits amid the ruins of the blown up structure. Sergei futilely challenges Mikhail’s actions, then Maria, followed by Anna. It is the final pair’s understanding of one another’s flaws that transcends the fleeting relations surrounding them. She tries to reconcile their relationship by saying:

I want you to live. Just live. Embrace life don’t worry and don’t judge yourself and others and keep seeing the problem and stewing on your failures or your missed opportunities or your stupidity — of which there seems to be an endless supply. But live. Stand and embrace life and go where it takes you. Forward. Upward. Onward.

(L to R) Toby Schmitz, Richard Roxburgh, and Chris Ryan in 'The Present.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(L to R) Toby Schmitz, Richard Roxburgh, and Chris Ryan in ‘The Present.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The final scene takes place in the living room of the main house at the end of the weekend. The dreary afternoon wears on as rain pours outside. Sophia is planning on leaving Sergei for Mikhael, but he’s not ready to acquiesce his new bride to his old friend — nor is Mikhail interested in leaving one tepid relationship for another. Tempers flare as the truths finally simmer to the surface, and Anna delivers prophetic words that echo our own struggles in today’s world:

We mustn’t be like this. You mustn’t be mean. Listen – it’s just a whole lot of mistakes. Yours. Yours. His, hers. Other people who aren’t even here. People who are dead. People who are long dead. All of us. Me. Just. Don’t be mean. To her. To me. To your friends. It’s not their fault. It’s not your fault … it’s a great big … endless … problem. For all of us.

The “endless problem”… perhaps it’s love: our quest, our consumption, our addiction, and ultimately our destruction. This is Chekov’s gift to the theater, and The Present’s stark reimagining of an age-old struggle.

The Present
Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street
Through March 19

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