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Guns, God and Government: ‘Church & State’

March 31st, 2017 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

Rob Nagle in 'Church & State.' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Rob Nagle in ‘Church & State.’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Despite its title, Church & State, a thoughtful but patchy political dramedy by Jason Odell Williams, has very little to do with the separation of powers as mentioned in the Constitution’s first amendment. That’s the one that says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” More germane here is the second amendment.

Not that religion doesn’t play an important part in the play’s treatment of Senator Charles Whitmore (Rob Nagle), a North Carolina “compassionate conservative” seeking reelection. The good Republican’s dilemma occurs when, after witnessing the results of a mass murder at his children’s primary school, he makes a grief-stricken admission to a blogger doubting both God’s existence and the efficacy of prayer. Click! It goes viral on Twitter.

Them’s fighting words. When the pol’s bibulous, Bible-quoting wife, Sara (Nadia Bowers), and dogged campaign manager, Alex Klein (Christa Scott-Reed), learn not only of his potentially damaging gaffe but that he means to defend it by going off script in his last pre-election speech, he seems well on his way to voter perdition.

(l to r) Nadia Bowers and Christa Scott-Reed in 'Church & State.' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Nadia Bowers and Christa Scott-Reed in ‘Church & State.’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

In dramaturgic terms, however, Charlie’s crisis of faith is secondary to the playwright’s real target, the need for saner gun control. To NC conservatives, that’s as sinful as denying the Lord’s existence.

For many of its 75 uninterrupted minutes, snappily directed by Markus Potter, Church & State uses this promisingly provocative material for behind-the-politics domestic comedy. The good senator fights to overcome the shock to Sara’s religious system (she created his campaign slogan, “Jesus Is My Running Mate!”) and to her fondness for her Baby Glock. Meanwhile, Alex does damage control to prevent a debacle at the polls.

Set in a greenroom backstage at a bunting and campaign poster-adorned Raleigh theatre (set by David Goldstein; lighting by Burke Brown) where Whitmore is scheduled to speak, the play teeters uncomfortably between broad comedy and grave issues, seeking every opportunity to garner laughs and argue politics and religion.

Ultimately, after yet another tragic event, it devolves into a gun control admonition, which liberals will relish (the play originated in Los Angeles). It should be interesting to learn of its eventual reception down South, where, reportedly, productions are planned.

Jonathan Luis Dent in 'Church & State.' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Jonathan Luis Dent in ‘Church & State.’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

For all the potential interest in Church & State’s polemics, everything is abridged for immediate gratification, with too many cheap jokes that create an air of superficiality and implausibility. Williams is an Emmy-nominated writer but he’s no Aaron Sorkin.

It’s hard to believe that, even if the senator’s Chapel Hill-educated wife is written as a stereotypically ditzy, blonde, y’all-drawling, good ol’ gal, she’d be clueless enough to call ticker tape “sticker tape,” refer to a blogger as a “blobber,” confuse “petard” with “retard,” or cite Twitter as “the Twitter.” (That last is a running gag even harder to swallow when, in the age of Trump, it comes from the senator’s mouth.)

Would she really call Alex, with whom she has a flinty relationship, a lesbian, and then counter the denial with, “You’re a Democrat from New York—it’s the same thing”? At any rate, the silly belle we see early on is far from the sober one we encounter toward the end, suggesting a character disconnect.

There are too many similar flat notes. It’s doubtful, for example, that the liberal, skeptical Alex would manage a Republican’s campaign. Or that, as a holidays-only Jew, she could she so readily cite an Old Testament reference by chapter and verse, just to set up a joke. And when the play’s most perceptive religious commentary suddenly springs from the innocuous campaign assistant, Tom (Jonathan Louis Dent), you can be forgiven for squirming.

Fortunately, Nagle gives the play ballast by making Whitmore believably sincere and emotionally vulnerable; his big, emotional speech about guns is especially well handled. Bowers’s Sara is colorfully brassy but can’t avoid cartoonish overkill, while Scott-Reed’s Alex is sharply determined, and Jonathan Louis Dent’s four small roles are nicely differentiated. Dianne K. Graebner’s costumes help make everyone look their parts.

Judging by Church & State, when it comes to political issues, North Carolinians have little but God and guns on their minds. Even, one supposes, when they go to the bathroom.

Church & State
New World Stages
340 W. 50th Street, NYC
Through July 2

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Only Takes a Moment: Bette Midler’s Gracious Gesture

March 30th, 2017 Comments off
Bette Midler in 'Hello, Dolly!' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Bette Midler in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

It’s no surprise that Bette Midler’s Broadway arrival is generating big buzz. Hello, Dolly! producers reported a record-breaking $9 million in first-day sales. But what happened during last night’s preview—though small news for some—shows just how classy this diva is.

Christian Dante White (Photo: christiandantewhite.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Christian Dante White (Photo: christiandantewhite.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Merely two weeks into previews, actor Gavin Creel, who plays Cornelius Hackl, was unable to perform, catapulting understudy Christian Dante White (Shuffle Along…, The Scottsboro Boys, The Book of Mormon) into the exhilarating opportunity to take on the role. They say the show must go on, and so it did… flawlessly.

Anyone who has worked in the theater knows that understudies are notoriously under-rehearsed, often left to watch from the wings and move through the action during separate rehearsals with the stage manager. A “put-in” usually happens the day that the understudy is to go on, or is often the case, mere hours before the performance.

Without going into great detail as Hello, Dolly! is still in previews, let’s just say that White was a charmer and a consummate professional. And it wasn’t only the audience that took notice. The Grammy Award-winning Midler, who herself received a standing ovation mid-show and thunderous applause at the curtain call, took a step to the side and ushered forth White to take the final bow. The sense of support among the cast was palpable.

Midler is a class act, and if you can snag a ticket, Hello, Dolly! promises to be a revival for the record books.

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Broadway.com Announces Audience Choice Awards, May 25

March 29th, 2017 Comments off
Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard' at the English National Opera. (Photo: Richard Hubert Smith via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ at the English National Opera. (Photo: Richard Hubert Smith via The Broadway Blog.)

Broadway.com announced today that the 18th Annual Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards will be presented at a private reception on Thursday, May 25, 2017.  Each year, the excitement of the Broadway season culminates at this consistently star-studded ceremony, as the theater world’s most democratic award is handed. In recent years, the ceremony has featured award winners Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss, Helen Mirren, John Gallagher, Jr., Megan Hilty and the entire Hamilton principal cast, including Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The Broadway.com Audience Choice Award is the only major theatrical prize awarded solely by votes cast online by audience members. Awards are presented in traditional categories as well as several unique to the Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards, including “Favorite Diva Performance,” “Favorite Breakthrough Performance” and “Favorite Onstage Pair.” In addition, an award is presented for national tours to encourage the participation of Broadway fans not only in New York but across the country. All awards are decided solely by the voting of theater fans on Broadway.com.

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MCC Theater Announces $2.5 Million Challenge Grant

March 28th, 2017 Comments off

MCC TheaterMCC Theater announced today the launch of a matching gift challenge made possible by The Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust. The Trust has awarded a $2.5 million challenge grant in support of MCC’s first permanent home and expanded programming. The campaign has raised $30 million to-date. Upon the Theater completing the dollar-for-dollar matching challenge by April 30, 2018, the company will meet the campaign’s $35 million goal. MCC’s new home will unite the company’s diverse roster of programs under one roof for the first time in its more than three-decade history.

Set to open with the Theater’s 2018/2019 season, the facility will also allow the company to expand its programming and establish it as a cultural anchor within the Clinton neighborhood. One of New York’s leading nonprofit Off-Broadway companies, MCC Theater fosters the dynamic exchange of ideas between artists, audiences, and students through its production of world, American, and New York premiere plays and musicals, a robust playwright development initiative, and one of the nation’s leading arts education programs. 

Stefania LaVie Owen and Lucas Hedges in 'Yen' at MCC Theater. (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

Stefania LaVie Owen and Lucas Hedges in ‘Yen’ at MCC Theater. (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

Robert W. Wilson was a well-known and successful investor from the mid-1960’s to the mid-1980’s. After his retirement, he devoted his life to philanthropy. Wilson was a transformative philanthropist, primarily funding worldwide organizations in the preservation and conservation areas.

An avid New Yorker, he was also involved with a number of New York’s cultural institutions. He was a major supporter of, and held leadership roles with, the Whitney Museum and the Metropolitan Opera, where he was a board member for many years. In addition, he and the Trust support the New York Public Library, Central Park Conservancy, BAM, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. This matching gift marks the Trust’s first grant to a theater company.

“We are very grateful for the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust’s generosity and we’re proud to launch this matching challenge with their support,” said Bernie Telsey, Co-Artistic Director of MCC Theater, speaking on behalf of the company’s artistic leadership. “As we wrap up our 30th anniversary season, it’s thrilling and truly humbling to consider where we started—operating out of a studio apartment—and the bright future for MCC Theater as we move closer to opening the first home of our own. From new plays and musicals, to workshops developing the next generation of bold artists, to the voices of students in our Youth Company from across the five boroughs, our home will be a vibrant hub of activity in the Clinton neighborhood. We’re eager to open its doors to everyone.”

Groundbreaking at MCC Theater (Photo courtesy of MCC Theater via The Broadway Blog.)

Groundbreaking at MCC Theater (Photo courtesy of MCC Theater via The Broadway Blog.)

Designed by Andrew Berman Architect, the 27,000-square-foot space will advance MCC’s mission and act as a hub for all of its programming, allowing the institution to better serve its growing audiences and broaden its offerings—increasing its productions from four to six per season, supporting a broad and diverse roster of young writers developing new work exploring a range of contemporary topics, and expanding its groundbreaking arts education programs for New York City public school students both at its new home and in classrooms across the five boroughs.

“We are thrilled to support MCC Theater at this important moment of expansion for the company,” said Richard G. Schneidman, a trustee of the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust. “Bob enjoyed and supported cutting-edge theater. We admire the impact MCC has had on the American theater landscape, and its commitment to supporting emerging artists and young people. We invite the cultural community to join us in supporting this great New York company as it broadens its reach and embarks on this exciting period of growth.”

MCC Theater’s new home will feature resources for rehearsals, workshops, meetings, public conversations, and two state-of-the-art theaters, with 249 and 100 seats, respectively, designed to accommodate both traditional and non-traditional stagings. Adjacent to a public lobby that invites connection between the outside courtyard space on 52nd Street and the interior, these two theaters will be the heart of the new home.

The 249-seat theater will be named for Ruth and Harold Newman and Marianne and Steve Mills, who serve as campaign co-chairs alongside Board members Judith Light and Julianna Margulies, in recognition of their leadership gifts. Mr. Newman and Ms. Mills are also longtime board members who have provided significant support for MCC Theater’s education and artistic programs. Mr. Newman is the lead individual donor to one of MCC Theater’s renowned arts education programs, the in-school and after-school partnership programs at George Washington High School in Washington Heights, where he is an alum. Ms. Mills served as MCC’s Miscast gala chair for a decade, helping shape the evening into one of the most anticipated fundraising events each season. The 100-seat theater will be named for Susan and Ronald Frankel in recognition of their campaign gift. Mr. and Mrs. Frankel have been active with the company since 2015. They are proud to be a part of MCC Theater’s development and education of artists and NYC high school students.  Mrs. Frankel is also an MCC Theater board member.

“MCC Theater’s journey to our first permanent home continues to be a thrilling time for everyone at MCC,” said Susan Raanan, Chair of the Theater’s Board of Directors. “I want to thank our entire Board for their leadership and support of this campaign as we take this great leap forward and acknowledge the generosity of the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust. We invite everyone to help us meet this matching gift challenge as we continue building support for this exciting next phase in MCC Theater’s history.”

“Having the support of our partners at the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust means the world as we build a home to serve our artists, audiences, and students for generations to come,” said Blake West, Executive Director of MCC Theater. “The Trust’s generous challenge grant will have an extraordinary impact on this transformational project. As we look forward to welcoming everyone to this great new space for our 2018/2019 season, we invite our entire community to join our campaign.”

An engine for creative exchange, the company’s new home has been designed by Andrew Berman Architect to provide fluid connections between spaces dedicated to performance, behind-the-scenes development, and front-of-house—all of which will provide greater freedom for MCC Theater’s artists and give audiences greater access and insight into the company’s work. Raw materials are employed throughout, including concrete and warm woods, reflecting the process-based nature of theater-making to which the facility is dedicated.

Francesco Simeti has been commissioned to create two new visual art installations as part of New York City’s Percent for Art program. For the 53rd Street façade, Simeti will create a collage of historic images of New York City that speaks to the cultural and ecological history of the neighborhood. Utilizing digital printing on Mylar interlayers between glass panels, “A Tale of a City” (working title) will incorporate illustrations and references to native weeds and flowers that are now extinct in New York, as well as elements of the botanic, natural, and the human-made urban environment. In a second floor interior public space, the artist will install a tapestry composed of historic imagery relating to theater, sets, masks, and props from cultures all around the world.

Located on West 52nd Street at 10th Avenue, the facility occupies the ground floor of the Avalon Clinton complex, which also includes residential units as well as office and performance spaces for A.R.T./New York and the 52nd Street Project. The $35-million project broke ground on March 22, 2016 and is funded by a public-private partnership between the Theater and the City of New York, which has contributed $25.5 million to the project. The campaign supports construction and expanded artistic and educational programming. Several naming opportunities are still available, including public lobby and backstage areas.

MCC Theater’s annual Miscast gala will be held on April 3 at The Hammerstein Ballroom. This year’s event celebrates MCC’s 30th anniversary and features an all-star lineup of performers, including Tony® winners Annaleigh Ashford, Norbert Leo Butz, Jennifer Holliday, and Kelli O’Hara. Proceeds support the Theater’s artistic and education programming. The company’s final presentation of its 30th anniversary season, the American premiere of Matthew Perry’s new play The End of Longing begins at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on May 18.

 

Don’t Miss: Broadway Cares Benefit at Don’t Tell Mama

March 24th, 2017 Comments off

rainbows and ribbons“Rainbows & Ribbons,” a new show by Ross Hewitt, will be presented tomorrow, Saturday, March 25, at 5:00 p.m. at Don’t Tell Mama (343 West 46th Street, New York City).  This is a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and all proceeds will go the organization. Musical director for the production is Phil Hall.  Director is Alyson Reim Friedman.

The show will feature songs from musical theatre and films including: The Colors of My Life (Barnum), Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here (On A Clear Day…), It Couldn’t Please Me More (Cabaret), Do You Love Me? (Fiddler On The Roof), A Little More Mascara (La Cage aux Folles), My Time of Day/I’ve Never Been in Love Before (Guys and Dolls) as well as other songs from Funny Girl, Hello Dolly, Oklahoma and other musicals.  Mary McKinley will also join Ross and perform other numbers.

Dr. Ross G. Hewitt has been involved with the AIDS epidemic since its beginning, caring for some of the country’s first patients as a medical student at Bellevue Hospital in 1981. He completed training in Internal medicine and Infectious Diseases and became the first Medical Director of the AIDS Designated Center Program at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, for 18 years.

Dr. Hewitt was an active clinical researcher, conducting trials that helped usher in the first 15 antiretroviral medications. He moved back to New York City, his hometown, in 2004 and since has worked in Harlem with the HIV programs at Heritage Health Care, North General Hospital and currently, the Institute for Family Health – Family Health Center of Harlem. He became the Associate Medical Director for HIV services at MetroPlus Health Plan in June, 2015, where he oversees the quality of care delivered to over 8,000 HIV+ members.

$20.00 cover/2-drink minimum.
Reservations can be made by calling (212) 757-0788 or by clicking here.

The Heat is On: ‘Miss Saigon’ Returns to Broadway

March 23rd, 2017 Comments off

 

The London production of 'Miss Saigon.' (Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The London production of ‘Miss Saigon.’ (Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

I didn’t leave the Broadway Theatre with tears in my eyes after seeing Miss Saigon, the mega-musical revival by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Richard Maltby, Jr., and Alain Boublil. About five blocks from the theatre, it hit me, though, and the tears streamed down my face. All I could hear was the voice of Kim (Eva Noblezada), the parentless teenager forced into a life of prostitution during the Vietnam War…

“I’m seventeen, and I’m new here today.
The village I come from seems so far away.
All of these girls know much more what to say
But I know, I’m so much more than you see.
A million dreams are in me—”

Even Noblezada as Kim in the London production of 'Miss Saigon.' (Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Even Noblezada as Kim in the London production of ‘Miss Saigon.’ (Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

When it originally opened on Broadway in 1991, the Vietnam War was still a not-too-distant memory. Now, nearly 40 years since its end, audiences may see Miss Saigon through a different lens, but one that is just as tainted by the atrocities happening throughout Syria and the Middle East and our own political turmoil on domestic land.

The revival, directed by Laurence Conner and musically staged and choreographed by Bob Avian, is the sweeping, dramatic, and anything-but-subtle journey of Kim’s quest for survival and the aftermath of her brief encounter with an American G.I. named Chris (Alistair Brammer).

The pair’s deep connection is cut short with the fall of Saigon when Chris is forced, along with his buddy John (Nicholas Christopher) and the remaining American troops, to evacuate. Kim is left behind under the sinister eye of the bar owner, otherwise known as The Engineer (Jon Jon Briones), to fend for herself against her cousin, Thuy (Devin Ilaw), to whom she was promised in marriage.

Years later, Chris is now married to Ellen (Katie Rose Clarke) and gets word that Kim is still alive, living in Thailand, and has born him a son, Tam. In an attempt to reconcile his past, Chris, along with Ellen and John, head to Bangkok to meet Kim. Upon discovering that Chris is married, Kim realizes that the dream of a life with him is a fantasy and that the only chance for her young son’s future in America is if she sacrifices herself. A fatal, self-inflicted gunshot wound ends her tragic journey—a stark symbol of the estimated two million civilian lives lost during the Vietnam War.

Reeling off the successful 2014 London revival, Noblezada, Briones, and Bammer have all joined the Broadway company to reprise their roles (along with the stellar Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi), and their deeply dedicated performances carry the sweeping score to new heights. Miss Saigon is a huge show (a cast of 44) in a huge theatre (1,761 seats) and nearly everything about this production is elevated to scale, including the iconic helicopter that comes barreling in from the rafters in Act II’s dramatic flashback sequence.

Even so, Miss Saigon relies just as heavily on its emotions. Connor directs the cast with high stakes, amplified to reach the last row of the balcony. But within this amplified reality, Noblezada can carry your heart in the palm of her hand. With a voice at times a girlish whisper and at others a defiant survivor, she is the face of a fallen country and it is nothing short of heartbreaking. Briones and Clarke are dutiful in their roles, as is Christopher, who delivers the poignant anthem “Bui Doi,” which pays tribute to the thousands of Amerasian children born during the war.

Eva Noblezada in the London production of 'Miss Saigon." (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog)

Eva Noblezada in the London production of ‘Miss Saigon.” (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog)

It is Jon Jon Briones who gets top billing and the final bow (save for whichever little boy is playing Tam, which offers one final heartstring tug before the curtain falls). Briones has been associated with Miss Saigon since the original 1989 London production where, as a production assistant, he weaseled his way into an audition and landed a role in the ensemble.

Now 28 years later, Briones has come into his own and perhaps brings a bit of closure to the role’s original controversy of casting Caucasian actor Jonathan Pryce in the Eurasian role. Briones is a spitfire and delivers much-needed humor to the otherwise ballad-heavy score, and it is his 11 o’clock number, “The American Dream,” that puts Miss Saigon smack dab in the middle of 21st-century relevancy, climaxing with:

Jon Jon Briones in the London production of 'Miss Saigon.' (Photo: Michael Le Poer and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Jon Jon Briones in the London production of ‘Miss Saigon.’ (Photo: Michael Le Poer and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Live like you haven’t a care.
The American Dream.

Take even more than it’s fair.
The American Dream…

Spend when the cupboard is bare.
The American Dream.

Just sell your soul and you gain the American Dream.

At the performance I saw, Briones at one point improvised, “Make America Great Again”—a purposeful jab at today’s headlines—and the audience lapped it up. But it wasn’t necessary. His performance and the material on the page deliver the message loud and clear.

In a season of stripped down revivals, including minimalistic productions of Sunset Boulevard, The Glass Menagerie, and Sunday in the Park With George, you’ll feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth with Miss Saigon‘s flashy production design (conceived by Adrian Vaux and designed by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley). But once you’ve left the theatre and the stage goes dim, it will be Miss Saigon’s haunting score and timely reflection on how war impacts the human spirit that will stay with you.

Miss Saigon
Broadway Theatre
1681 Broadway, NYC
Through January 2018

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

Theater Buff: Transport Group’s David T. Patterson

March 22nd, 2017 Comments off

This month’s Theater Buff offers you a slice of Americana via the good looks and charm of David T. Patterson, currently starring in Transport Group’s ambitious William Inge repertory of Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba.

(Photo provided by David T. Patterson via The Broadway Blog.)

(Photo provided by David T. Patterson via The Broadway Blog.)

Name:
David T. Patterson

Hometown:
Tampa, Florida

You’re tackling two William Inge plays: Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba. That must have been an intense audition process — what was it like?
The initial audition was just another day at Pearl Studios. But the callback process was a trip. It was a chemistry read with the four girls they were considering for Madge, and it was the scene (spoiler alert) where my character breaks down, kisses her passionately, and then carries her offstage.

I remember frantically googling “do you kiss in a callback” on the J train heading over that morning, ’cause I had no idea what the protocol was for that. In what felt like a truncated episode of The Bachelor, I did the scene twice with each different girl. The scene was so different every time, which I loved, and thankfully I brought ChapStick and Listerine breath strips that day.

David T. Patterson in 'Picnic.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

David T. Patterson in ‘Picnic.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

For those not familiar with Inge’s work, how would you describe these plays in terms of their place in American theater history?
Inge was a contemporary of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, and was actually more initially successful than they were. These plays explore American loneliness, and yearning like no other playwright since. Inge has a beautiful mix of the poetic and the quotidian.

Picnic is a true ensemble piece. There are no set changes and no real breaks in storytelling. Come Back, Little Sheba was also groundbreaking in that it was one of the first plays to ever open a discussion on alcoholism, gender roles and domestic abuse. Both shows have very strong, beautifully written female characters, and Come Back, Little Sheba is told completely from one of their points of views. Inge was way before his time in a lot of ways.

What has been director Jack Cummings III’s approach to these plays?
It’s been all about the text and the acting with these productions, which is so exciting. It’s pared down. Simple set. With a beautiful, original score by Michael John LaChiusa featuring the vocal stylings of our very own Hannah Elless and some really gorgeous lighting. Jack gave the cast a lot of freedom to explore and embody these characters, which is so appreciated. He made a point to honor what Inge intended and focused on the humanity, loneliness, and yearning of the two pieces.

Transport Group

In Picnic, you portray Hal, a ‘drifter.’ If you were to wander off for a few months, where would you head and why?
I’d backpack through Europe. There is so much history and so many cultures to explore, as well as cuisines to try and people to meet. You can be in a completely different world in less than two hours. Also, I’ve always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. Make the jaunt up from Georgia to Maine, then roam around New England some. I love being in nature and I love eating lobster. Win-win.

If I weren’t a performer, I would be: 
In advertising. Don Draper, minus the chauvinism, womanizing, and secret past.

Places, Intermission or Curtain Call? 
Intermission. The show is under way, those initial nerves are gone, you’ve established a rapport with the audience. Plus, I can go back to the dressing room and goof off with John Cariani.

The best post-show cocktail in New York City is at:
Lillie’s Victorian Establishment on 49th Street in midtown is super classy and near all the theaters. Good Old Fashions, with a cozy Old World feel. And for a solid beer list and a quieter spot to talk, Hurley’s Saloon is a great spot to decompress after a show. Unless it’s fight night.

After you’ve hit all the traditional sites of New York City, you should totally go to: 
Either of New York City’s botanical gardens. They’re both far away, so it’s definitely a trek, but worth it! I’m a big fan of the Orchid Festival in the Bronx and the Cherry Blossom Festival in Brooklyn. I also love Smorgasburg, which is a huge food truck/stand outdoor market. The one in Williamsburg is great because it’s right on the water. And I love the Brooklyn Bridge Park. I’m a park guy. #sorrynotsorry

(Photo courtesy of David T. Patterson via The Broadway Blog.)

(Photo courtesy of David T. Patterson via The Broadway Blog.)

If I could live anywhere else in the world it would be:
Montana. Near Big Sky. On my own ranch.

My workout “secret” is:
Meal prep. Technically it’s outside of the gym, but the kitchen is where the real progress is made. Making/bringing your own meals isn’t only healthy, but it’s also cost effective. And don’t skip leg day.

(Photo courtesy of David T. Patterson via The Broadway Blog.)

(Photo courtesy of David T. Patterson via The Broadway Blog.)

When I’m looking for a date, nothing attracts me more than:
A great smile and laugh. A sense of humor is super important to me. As well as good dental hygiene.

My favorite website to visit that you may not have heard of is:
Duolingo. Technically it’s an app, but it’s free and can help you learn a language on the go. Factcheck.org is also a pretty useful site these days, too…

People would be surprised to learn that I . . .
Was very sickly and scrawny as a kid. Severe peanut allergy, severe asthma, plus lactose intolerant. I was “that” kid. The kid who sat alone in a corner every day during lunch because if I were near a PB&J I’d break out in hives and pass out.

When I was 10, I wanted to be just like:
Batman.

Ten years from now I’d like to be:
Batman.

Transport Group’s Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba play through April 16 at The Gym at Judson. Click here for tickets. 

 

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

‘Broadway Backstage’ Heads to Brooklyn

March 21st, 2017 Comments off
Daniel C. Levine in Broadway Backstage (Photo:  Daniel C. Levine Productions via The Broadway Blog.)

Daniel C. Levine in Broadway Backstage (Photo: Daniel C. Levine Productions via The Broadway Blog.)

On April 1, Broadway Backstage will give audience members a behind-the-scenes look at Broadway with an all new show. Six Broadway stars will belt out tunes from the world’s grandest stages and share backstage gossip, on-stage mishaps, “big break” moments, and other insider stories. The show will take the audience beyond the glitz and glamor and give them a rare opportunity to see what really goes on backstage during a Broadway show, with stories of how the stars got their big break, costume mishaps and more.

On Stage at Kingsborough, a leading performing arts presenter located at Brooklyn’s Kingsborough Community College presents its 2017 spring season, featuring world-class artists from around the globe. On Stage at Kingsborough brings internationally renowned performing artists to Southern Brooklyn with an eclectic roster spanning multiple genres including music, dance, theater and family programming. The full 2016-2017 season began September 24, 2016, and runs through May 20, 2017.

Tangled: Keen Company’s ‘When It’s You’

March 19th, 2017 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

Ana Reeder in 'When It's You.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Ana Reeder in ‘When It’s You.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Courtney Baron’s When It’s You, the Keen Company’s latest offering, is a one-person play about a woman coming to terms with her grief. For 70 minutes, she stands on a bare stage and relates a rambling, sometimes disconnected, but occasionally moving tale about two people she’s recently lost; the play offers her the opportunity to react to these losses and reexamine her life. Why she’s speaking to us is never explained but, by the time the piece concludes, we can be forgiven for feeling like we’ve been part of a grief counseling session listening patiently to a member’s lengthy account of her trauma and what she’s learned from it.

The locale is Dallas, Texas, where Ginnifer (Ana Reeder), still single at 37, has grown up and to which she’s returned after living and working in St. Louis for 17 years. A “dutiful” daughter, she came back when her mother was dying of cancer and moved into hospice care. After her mother died Ginnifer took over the family house, where her mom’s stuff became hers.

Ana Reeder in 'When It's You.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Ana Reeder in ‘When It’s You.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The practically bare setting, designed by Steven Kemp, offers a minimalist platform, being little more than walls and pillars painted a tasteful shade of pale gray. A wooden chair with a carton on it stands at center. Atmospheric variations are supplied by Josh Bradford’s subtle lighting and Justin West’s unobtrusive projections.

Ginnifer’s family issues, explained by Reeder in a dead-on Texas accent (although she mispronounces “ogle”), are intermingled with her recitation of a far more traumatic recent event. This is a mass killing and suicide by her high school sweetheart, Jason Hanley, whom she dated for five or six months, but hadn’t seen in 20 years. No reason is given for the slaughter but the ease with which Jason was able to buy his weapon offers a brief, if peripheral, reflection on America’s gun culture.

As the former girlfriend of a mass murderer, Ginnifer naturally draws attention from those who think she might be able to offer some clues to explain an atrocity that took everyone by surprise. Jason, after all, came from a decent Christian family and showed no warning signs, unlike the local tornadoes that give you notice that they’re coming. As would anyone, she’s stumped by the dilemma of how much any of us ever know about other people. Or how much we even know about ourselves, as suggested by the Cabbage Patch doll in the carton, a memento her mother left for her that reminds her of herself at ten.

Ginnifer’s tangled narrative, which moves around in time, requires patience as it slowly comes into focus. She herself refers to it this way:

There is a ball of yarn. You think you are a ball of yarn, so you think that everything from every time of your life is close together, but you have to untangle it. You have to untangle the yarn. And I think you will find. You will find that in order for the yarn or string to make a ball, it must be a long string.

As Ginnifer untangles her “ball of yarn,” we become enmeshed in her “unbearable loneliness,” her wondering if she actually loved Jason, and her concern over whether she can bring herself to forgive him. But the narrative surrounding these themes isn’t especially novel or interesting. Boiled down to its core, When It’s You is little more than a character study of a lonely woman whose mother died of cancer, and whose high-school boyfriend, with whom she’s been out of touch for decades, turned out many years later to be a mass murderer.

While not much of a play, the vaguely titled When It’s You offers Ana Reeder an extended acting exercise in which she offers a lovingly constructed performance, one that fully captures the emotional toll of Ginnifer’s experiences. As smartly directed by Jonathan Silverstein, she renders the woman’s ordinariness with telling honesty, showing us a simple, friendly (on and off Facebook), unassuming human being expressing her bewilderment at how her life has transpired, and what she sees when she looks in the mirror or clings to a childhood doll when seeking the answer to who she is.

When It’s You
Clurman Theatre/Theatre Row
410 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through April 8

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Concert for America: Stand Up, Sing Out!’ Heads to Chicago

March 18th, 2017 Comments off

concert for americaDon’t miss CONCERT FOR AMERICA: STAND UP, SING OUT! Featuring Chita Rivera, Melissa Manchester, Alice Ripley, Ana Gasteyer, the Chicago cast of Hamilton, Sharon Gless, Lynne Jordan, Marya Grandy and Emily Bear, the third edition of CONCERT FOR AMERICA will take place on Monday, March 20 at 8 p.m. at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in Chicago (50 E Congress Parkway).  Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com.

A concert of songs, comedy, and commentary, CONCERT FOR AMERICA has been hailed by the New York Times as “striking for its emphasis on the importance of faith in the United States and optimism about its future.” The innovation of Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley, who also organized the Broadway For Orlando/What the World Needs Now is Love recording, CONCERT FOR AMERICA: STAND UP, SING OUT! debuted its monthly series at New York City’s The Town Hall on Inauguration Day and performed the second concert there in February.

Proceeds from CONCERT FOR AMERICA: STAND UP, SING OUT! will benefit five national organizations working to protect human rights: Southern Poverty Law Center, National Immigration Law Center, The Sierra Club Foundation, NAACP and National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Tickets range from $18 to $103 and are available at my.auditoriumtheatre.org and at the Auditorium Theatre box office. Participating performers are subject to change.

For those unable to attend CONCERT FOR AMERICA in person, it will be broadcast via Facebook Live and at ConcertsforAmerica.com, beginning at 9 p.m. EST on Monday, March 20.

CONCERT FOR AMERICA: STAND UP, SING OUT! is created and organized by Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley, in association with Your Kids, Our Kids, as well as the generous support of The Actors Fund.  It is co-produced by Joey Monda and Frankie Dailey. CONCERT FOR AMERICA will be directed by Tony nominee Lisa Mordente.

The next CONCERT FOR AMERICA will return to New York in April.

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