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Telly Leung to Debut at The Green Room 42

March 17th, 2017 Comments off
Telly Leung (Photo: Lesley Bohm via The Broadway Blog.)

Telly Leung (Photo: Lesley Bohm via The Broadway Blog.)

Telly Leung — the Broadway and television star of “Glee,” Godspell and Rent, currently starring on Broadway in In Transit — will debut at the new concert space The Green Room 42 at Yotel (570 Tenth Avenue at 42nd Street) for one show only on Sunday, April 23 at 7:30 pm.. The show has a $30 cover with no minimum.

Leung, who recently returned to Broadway after a two–year hiatus with a “star turn” (NBC New York) in Allegiance opposite George Takei and Lea Salonga, will offer an intimate and deeply personal evening of music and personal showbiz anecdotes, in addition to highlights from his solo albums on the Yellow Sound Label – “I’ll Cover You” and “Songs for You” – and the musical talents of some of Broadway’s finest musicians.

Telly comments, “I have had an amazing time harmonizing and singing a-cappella with my Broadway cast mates at In Transit — but I’ve really missed making live music with a band! I am very excited to perform with some of my favorite musicians on Broadway, and also get the opportunity to perform in a chic, new, intimate venue in Hell’s Kitchen!”

Songs for You features familiar classic music from the worlds of Pop, Jazz, R&B, and Broadway done with a new and innovative twist, accompanied by lush musical arrangements. The album includes songs originally recorded by Michael Jackson (“Human Nature”), Oleta Adams (“I Just Had to Hear Your Voice”), Mama Cass Elliot (“Make Your Own Kind of Music”), John Denver (“Leaving On A Jet Plane”), Des’ree (“You Gotta Be”) and more.

To honor his Broadway roots, Telly also includes songs by his favorite theater composers Stephen Sondheim (“Being Alive”), Jerry Herman (“I Am What I Am”) and Stephen Schwartz (“Dreamscape”), in addition to the world premiere recording of “Second Chances” from the pre-Broadway engagement of AllegianceTelly’s debut CD I’ll Cover You is an eclectic collection that features a variety of genres. It includes songs from Broadway (“Before The Parade Passes By” from Hello, Dolly!, “Children Will Listen” from Into The Woods and the disc’s title track, which he performed in the final Broadway cast of Rent) and fresh interpretations of pop hits (“Firework” by Katy Perry, “Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna and “Galileo” by The Indigo Girls).

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All That Jazz And More: The New York Pops Celebrate Kander and Ebb

March 16th, 2017 Comments off

By Ryan Leeds

Tony Yazbeck, Steven Reineke, and Caissie Levy. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Tony Yazbeck, Steven Reineke, and Caissie Levy. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

There was more than enough razzle dazzle to blind Manhattan on Friday night as The New York Pops presented Life is a Cabaret: The Songs of Kander and Ebb. The always-stunning orchestra was joined by the equally fine talents of stage stars Tony Yazbeck and Caissie Levy. Yazbeck, who made his Broadway debut at the tender age of 11 in the 1989 revival of Gypsy, went on to star in the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line and the 2008 revival of Gypsy starring Patti LuPone. He received a Tony nomination for his role as Gabey in 2014 revival of On the Town.

Levy’s resume is also nothing to scoff at (nor is her astounding voice). The Canadian native has been seen on Broadway in Les Misérables, Ghost, Hair, and Wicked.

Near the beginning of the two-hour evening, conductor Steven Reineke mentioned that he had been wanting to do the concert for some time, but it seemed particularly appropriate to do it in March as composer John Kander turns 90 years old on March 18. Mr. Kander was in attendance, seated beside Tony-winning director Susan Stroman. The two worked together in 2010’s The Scottsboro Boys and by the end of the night, it was announced that they would be joining forces once again on a new musical called The Beast in the Jungle.

Tony Yazbeck and The New York Pops. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Tony Yazbeck and The New York Pops. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

To whittle down the body of work that Kander and his collaborator, the late Fred Ebb created is a near impossible task, but Reineke did an excellent job of selecting many notable songs.

The Pops kicked off the night with a suite from Chicago. It included “All That Jazz,” “Me and My Baby,” and  “Mr. Cellophane.”  Since the 1996 revival, the show has become ingrained in American culture and is still entertaining audiences at the Ambassador Theatre as the longest-running American musical on Broadway. It is one thing to hear this score on the original cast recording. It is yet another to hear it played by the full, lush New York Pops. The night started on a high point and continued to climb into the stratosphere.

Levy, in one of her many Liza Minnelli moments during the show, took to the stage with  “Sing Happy” from Flora, The Red Menace and struck a naughty spell with  “Mein Herr,”  from Cabaret. Levy, like Ms. Minnelli, proves herself a consummate performer, combining vocal finesse with the keen ability to act a song.

Yazbeck joined her on the complex, patter heavy “Money, Money” and the title song from Cabaret. Yazbeck charmed audiences with “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” from 70, Girls, 70. 

Chicago was revisited with four selections: “Hot Honey Rag,” the jazzy orchestral number that begs for Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon, who masterfully executed Bob Fosse’s trademark choreography in the original production. “Roxie,” sung by Levy followed. Yazbeck closed the portion with “Razzle, Dazzle” and “All I Care About.” It was then announced that he would once again be joining the Broadway cast as Billy Flynn.

Caissie Levy performs with The New York Pops. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Caissie Levy performs with The New York Pops. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Act I ended with a rousing rendition of “Ring Them Bells,” another showstopper from Levy that was first performed by Minnelli in the television special, Liza With a Z in 1972.

Kiss of the Spider Woman earned Kander and Ebb seven Tony Awards for their 1993 hit and the Pops paid tribute to it, opening the second act with “Gimme Love.”

Although it wasn’t a critical success, Funny Lady (the film sequel to Funny Girl ) did yield an Academy Award-nominated song and Levy revived the Streisand classic, “How Lucky Can You Get.”

Yazbeck delivered one of the more poignant moments of the night as he sat on a stool, accompanied only on piano and sang a painfully beautiful version of “Sometimes A Day Goes By,” from Woman of the Year. Then the debonair triple threat shifted gears with the rousing  “City Lights” from The Act.

Levy followed with “Colored Lights” from 1984’s The Rink. The show was one of Kander’s proudest musicals but failed to win the hearts of critics. Still, it included the lovely waltz, performed to absolute perfection by the night’s leading lady. Next came  “Everybody’s Girl,” from Steel Pier.

The Pops reclaimed the spotlight with “Minstrel March” from The Scottsboro Boys.

Yazbeck channeled his inner diva for the following two numbers: “You, You, You”, a song that was originally written for Chita Rivera in 2015’s The Visit, followed by “And the World Goes ‘Round,” which Minnelli made famous in the film New York, New York. 

Levy ended the night with a heartfelt rendition of “Maybe This Time,” from Cabaret. Thunderous applause ensued and an encore of “New York, New York” followed.

John Kander and Fred Ebb had their share of hits and flops throughout their decades-long partnership, but they remain two of the most dynamic writing teams in musical theater history. Kudos to Reineke and The New York Pops for showcasing their work and choosing two amazing talents to carry out this vision.

The NY Pops’ next concert will be You’ve Got a Friend: A Celebration of Singers and Songwriters on April 21 at Carnegie Hall.


Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter 
@Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

 

 

2017 Drama League Special Recognitions Announced

March 16th, 2017 Comments off

The Drama League

The Drama League will honor two outstanding stage luminaries at this year’s 83rd Annual Drama League Awards, set for Friday afternoon, May 19, 2017, at the Marriott Marquis Times Square.

The 2017 recipients are:  Bill Berloni will receive the Unique Contribution to the Theater Award; Tony Award-nominee Michael Greif, represented this season on Broadway by Dear Evan Hansen and War Paint, will receive The Founders Award for Excellence in Directing. A third honoree for Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater will be announced shortly.

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

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

These Special Recognition Honors are in addition to the five competitive categories. The 2017 Drama League Nominees for Outstanding Play, Outstanding Revival of a Play, Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Revival of a Musical, and the much-coveted Distinguished Performance Award will be announced on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, at 11:00 a.m. at Sardi’s, and will be streamed live via  BroadwayWorld.com. The Nominee Announcement will be hosted by Resolution Life, the proud Lead Season Sponsor of The Drama League and supporter of the arts.

The 83rd Annual Drama League Awards Ceremony and Luncheon includes a nominees cocktail reception, luncheon, and awards presentation and will be held at the Marriott Marquis Times Square in the Broadway Ballroom on Friday, May 19, 2017, beginning at 11:30 a.m.

First awarded in 1922 and formalized in 1935, The Drama League Awards are the oldest theatrical honors in America. The Drama League Awards recognize distinguished productions, performances, and exemplary career achievements. The first Drama League Award was presented to Katharine Cornell in 1935; since then, the Distinguished Performance Award has been accorded to a roster of theatre legends such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chita Rivera, Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Lane, Audra McDonald, Liam Neeson, Hugh Jackman, Patti LuPone, Glenn Close, Liev Schreiber, Sir John Gielgud, Harvey Fierstein, Cherry Jones, Alec Guinness, James Earl Jones, Helen Hayes, Jeremy Irons, Mary-Louise Parker, Sir Ian McKellen, Bernadette Peters, and Christopher Plummer.

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Billy Porter: The Soul of Richard Rodgers

March 15th, 2017 Comments off

Billy Porter Soul of Richard Rodgers Album CoverTony and Grammy Award-Winner Billy Porter’s new studio album, Billy Porter Presents The Soul of Richard Rodgers, will be released April 14, 2017 and is now available for pre-order. The album, which features new, soulful takes on classic Richard Rodgers songs, includes solos and duets from the following artists (in addition to Porter himself): Tony and Grammy Award winners Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) and Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton), Tony Award-winner Patina Miller (Pippin), Grammy Award winners Pentatonix and India.Arie, Tony Award nominees Brandon Victor Dixon (Shuffle Along), Joshua Henry (Violet), and Christopher Jackson (Hamilton), alongside YouTube sensation and Kinky Boots star Todrick Hall and multiple Grammy Award nominees Deborah Cox and Ledisi.

Billy Porter is a Tony and Grammy Award-winning singer, composer, actor, playwright and director from Pittsburgh, PA. As a recording artist, Porter’s solo albums include his first CD, Untitled, on A&M records, At the Corner of Broadway + Soul – LIVE on Sh-K-Boom Records, and Billy’s Back on Broadway, on Concord Records. He originated the role of ‘Lola’ in the Broadway hit Kinky Boots, which won him 2013 Tony, Grammy, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards.

As a director, Porter’s credits include Topdog/Underdog and The Colored Museum (both for Huntington Theatre Company); Film/TV: “Law & Order: SVU,” “So You Think You Can Dance” (as a guest judge), “The Broken Hearts Club,” “Shake Rattle & Roll,” “The Big C,” The Humbling, starring Al Pacino, Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down.

Porter’s concerts credits include opening act for Rosie O’Donnell and Aretha Franklin, Carnegie Hall, John McDaniel and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, as well as The Buffalo Philharmonic, Peter Nero and The Philly Pops, soloist for President Bill Clinton and various benefits throughout the United States.

The complete track listing for Billy Porter Presents The Soul of Richard Rodgers is as follows:

  1. Oh, What a Beautiful Morning (Pentatonix & Billy Porter)
  2. My Romance (Leslie Odom Jr.)
  3. If I Loved You (Renée Elise Goldsberry & Christopher Jackson)
  4. With a Song in My Heart (Brandon Victor Dixon & Joshua Henry)
  5. I Have Dreamed (Patina Miller)
  6. My Funny Valentine (Cynthia Erivo)
  7. I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair (Todrick Hall & Billy Porter)
  8. This Nearly was Mine (Deborah Cox)
  9. Bewitched (Ledisi featuring Zaire Park)
  10. Carefully Taught (India.Arie & Billy Porter)
  11. Lady is a Tramp (Billy Porter featuring Zaire Park)
  12. Edelweiss (Billy Porter)

“I like to think of this as the Richard Rodgers version of the Hamilton Mixtapes,” Porter said.  “These are classic songs that everybody knows and loves, and I’m so excited for people to hear them in a brand new way.”

Billy Porter Presents The Soul of Richard Rodgers marks Porter’s fourth studio album, and his first as producer and content curator, with collaborators James Sampliner and Michael “Lofey” Sandlofer.

This month, Porter launches a national tour that kicks off in Bayside, NY on March 19. Full tour schedule below:

March 19 – Queensborough PAC – Bayside, NY
March 29 – Embassy Theater – Fort Wayne, Indiana
March 31 – Ocean Reef Cultural Center – Key Largo, FL
April 2 – Aventura Arts – Aventura, FL
April 3 & 4 – Crest Theater – Delray Beach, FL
April 6 – Nugent-Custer Performance Hall – Columbus, IN
April 7 & 8 – The Columbia Club – Indianapolis, IN
April 21 – Adelphi – Garden City, NY
April 22 – Kean University – Union, NJ
May 5 – Emelin Theater – Westchester, NY
May 14 – Venetian Room – San Francisco, CA
May 20 –Goodman Theatre Gala, Fairmont Hotel – Chicago, IL
June 17 – Playhouse Square Gala –Cleveland, Ohio
July 15 – Willow Valley Communities Cultural Center Theater – Lancaster, PA
August 14 – Bay Street Playhouse – Sag Harbor, NY
August 19 & 20 – Paramount Theater – Provincetown, MA

Then and Now: ‘The View UpStairs’

March 15th, 2017 Comments off

By Ryan Leeds

The cast of 'The View UpStairs.' (Photo: Kurt Sneddon via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘The View UpStairs.’ (Photo: Kurt Sneddon via The Broadway Blog.)

Thank goodness for Max Vernon, the 28-year-old wunderkind who continues to carry the torch of gay history to a new generation. Vernon, an NYU graduate, is the author, composer, and lyricist for the thoroughly thoughtful and entertaining Off-Broadway musical, The View UpStairs.

Loosely based on an actual event, this disco-spiked show begins with Wes (Jeremy Pope), a know-it-all millennial fashionista who returns to his native town of New Orleans in 2017 to renovate what was once a very popular gay bar known as the UpStairs Lounge.

Much to his surprise and dismay, the realtor (Nancy Ticotin) failed to inform Pope that the lounge had serious fire damage. Just as Wes is ready to throw in the towel, the locals who used to frequent the establishment visit him in a hallucinogenic Dickensian style) by. Suddenly, he is transported back to 1973.

Frenchie Davis in 'The View UpStairs.' (Photo: Kurt Sneddon via The Broadway Blog.)

Frenchie Davis in ‘The View UpStairs.’ (Photo: Kurt Sneddon via The Broadway Blog.)

The bar’s regulars include Henri (Frenchie Davis), the butch lesbian matron of the joint, Richard (Benjamin Howes), a pastor who conducts weekly church services here, Freddy (Michael Longoria), a spritely Puerto-Rican drag queen whose mother (played in a dual role by Ticton) not only supports her son’s lifestyle but also offers assistance with everything from make-up to tucking (he politely refuses the latter.) The watering hole also attracts some less desirable characters including Dale (Ben Mayne) whose only crime appears to be poverty and wanting to be noticed. Buddy (Randy Redd) serves as the glue to this gay “Cheers,” and Patrick (Taylor Frey) provides the romantic plotline, along with Wes, who is somewhat wary of this blast from the past pretty boy.

Of everyone in this cornucopia of carefree spirits, it is Willie (Nathan Lee Graham) who commands the most attention. Graham, whose antics never tire, could read a business card and turn it into a carefully executed work of dramatic art. Here, he is the “old queen” who is quick with a quip and an arched eyebrow with the tacit implication:  “I will cut you and keep on walking.” Graham is a stunning performer who knows precisely when and how to respond to his fellow castmates but is also careful not to pull focus from the main scene. His work in this piece is a master class in the art of acting.

Vernon is mostly wise to utilize the vocal talents of his cast. Willie’s “Theme Song,” which evokes memories of the good ‘ole days, is something to cherish.  A touching moment occurs when Dale, an outcast, sings “Better Than Silence,” a plea for wanting to fit in better with this tightly knit clan. The show’s main song, “Some Kind of Paradise,” is an upbeat anthem that exalts both the lounge and its inhabitants.

The score is terrific, but I wish that Vernon had showcased Davis a bit more. From American Idol fame to Broadway’s Rent, Davis has wowed audiences with her remarkably soulful voice. Unfortunately, she has little opportunity to share it.

(l to r) Randy Redd, Benjamin Howes, Michael Longoria, and Jeremy Pope in 'The View UpStairs.' (Photo: Kurt Sneddon via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Randy Redd, Benjamin Howes, Michael Longoria, and Jeremy Pope in ‘The View UpStairs.’ (Photo: Kurt Sneddon via The Broadway Blog.)

With kitsch knick-knacks and Christmas lights adorning Jason Sherwood’s detailed set, one might think that this is a dive bar—maybe it is. But to the customers, it is a haven of friendship and community that nurtures face-to-face human connection, something that is sorely lacking for Wes, whose only concern is erasing valuable history and collecting followers on social media.

Vernon’s commentary is astute and on target. In April last year, Michael Musto wrote a piece in the New York Times regarding the death of gay clubs, thanks to a combination of mobile apps, high cover charges, and increased real estate costs. Connection has become transactional.

The View UpStairs also covers eerily prophetic territory as Patrick describes what will happen to the gay community before 2017. It is a vital reminder to young generations of what those who have gone before us have suffered, sacrificed, and endured.

It should be noted that, while the characters in Vernon’s piece are fictitious, the event that inspired it was tragically factual. The UpStairs Lounge was located in the French Quarters of New Orleans and on June 24, 1973, it was the victim of an arson attack that left 32 people dead. It remains to this day an unconvicted crime and—until the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando—the worst attack on a gay establishment in U.S. history.

The View UpStairs, smartly directed by Scott Ebersold, is an important retrospective of the gay community: where we’ve been, where we are, and who we could—and should—be.

The View UpStairs 
Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project
45 Bleecker Street, NYC
Through May 21

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

 

Curtain Up! All Broadway Shows Will Perform Tonight

March 14th, 2017 Comments off

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

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

All Broadway shows will perform evening performances tonight as scheduled. For questions about exchange policies, theatregoers should contact their point of purchase.

Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, said, “The show must go on! For visitors who are staying in hotels and can’t get home, it’s a great time to see a show. Locals can see a hot show in a warm theatre! As always, the safety and security of theatregoers are everyone’s primary concerns, so those who can’t get into the city should contact their point of purchase for questions about exchange policies.”

Check Broadway.org for updates and to link to official show websites. Weekly performance schedule can be found at: http://broadway.org/performance-times

 

 

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The Beat, Beat, Beat of the Tom-Tom: ‘The Emperor Jones’

March 14th, 2017 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

Obi Abili in 'The Emperor Jones.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Obi Abili in ‘The Emperor Jones.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The Irish Repertory Theatre has a rather liberal interpretation of its titular mission, which can be seen by its occasional production of plays by Irish Americans, like Eugene O’Neill, whose explosive 1920 play The Emperor Jones, is now receiving its second revival. (The first was in 2009 starring John Douglas Thompson and directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, who staged this replication of his earlier production.)

O’Neill’s semi-expressionistic one-act was considered an artistic pathbreaker in its day. Partly this is because it was one of the first important plays by a white playwright centered on a black character (played by Charles Gilpin in the original and Paul Robeson in the 1933 movie), and partly because it broke away so radically from then conventional realism in favor of imaginative, nonrealistic, theatrical staging for its final scenes. Over the years, the play has had to overcome charges of racism, but, fortunately, it continues to receive notable productions.

Andy Murray in 'The Emperor Jones.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Andy Murray in ‘The Emperor Jones.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Its present incarnation, running a swift 65 minutes, enjoys the commanding presence of British actor Obi Abili. This impressive-looking thespian fully embodies the boastful, crafty, ruthless, crap-shooting Brutus Jones, a former Pullman porter and murderer who escaped from a U.S. prison to a West Indian island where he manipulated the locals to become their emperor. Forget about skin color and listen to some of his words for reflections on our current political leadership.

O’Neill, using a story he’d heard about an actual Haitian leader, attributes Jones’s sway to his exploitation of the natives’ superstitious fears by claiming only a silver bullet can kill him. Aiding him is a greedy, craven Cockney trader named Smithers (Andy Murray).

When his corrupt dictatorship, under which he makes the laws and embezzles the money, turns his victimized people against him, the haughty Jones flees through the jungle, with the money he’s stolen, toward a waiting boat. In a half dozen brief scenes, during which he’s the only speaker, the jungle comes alive in his increasingly fevered imagination with “the Little Formless Fears,” seen as terrifying spirits, frightening rituals, and chilling sounds (created by the top-notch Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab), including the heartbeat-like throbbing of drums. Jones’s past misdeeds and racial memories, such as a slave auction, burst into vivid life before he fires his silver bullet at a huge crocodile before he himself dies by such a bullet crafted by the natives.

Charlie Corcoran’s set of loose hangings, dominated at first by Jones’s raised throne, becomes, in the scenes of jungle madness, a kaleidoscopic playground for lighting designer Brian Nason’s nightmarish effects. Costume designers Antonia Ford-Roberts and Whitney Locher contrive a variety of eerie costumes for the spirits, many of them seeming to be offshoots of the surrounding trees, while puppets and fearsome masks (the work of Bob Flanagan) further heighten the hair-raising atmosphere. Every move is excitingly choreographed by Barry McNabb, most memorably a dance featuring a colorful witch doctor (Sinclair Mitchell).

Obi Abili in 'The Emperor Jones.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Obi Abili in ‘The Emperor Jones.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Abili fills the stage with ample physical and vocal force although his words, written in heavy “Negro” dialect, are sometimes muffled. At one point he whips his throne platform with one muscular blow after another, such that you shudder at the thought of what the effect would be on a human back. The ensemble, including Carl Hendrick Louis as the native called Lem, are all up to the task.

I missed Thompson’s 2009 performance so I can’t compare him to Abili but, for now, Abili has set the high standard I’ll remember the next time someone tackles The Emperor Jones.

The Emperor Jones
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 W. 22nd Street, NYC
Through April 23

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).

 

15 Minutes with Michael Cerveris

March 13th, 2017 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Michael Cerveris (Photo: Zack Smith via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Cerveris (Photo: Zack Smith via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Cerveris has sunk a ship (Titanic), shot a U.S. President (Assassins), slashed a few throats (Sweeney Todd), and committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a truck (Fun Home). It’s a dark resume, but one that has earned him four Tony nominations and two awards. Not that he’s counting. The mild-mannered Broadway star tends to shun the fanfare of ceremony, focusing more on the joy of stagecraft and performing with his band, Loose Cattle.

On Thursday night, his fellow folk/country music cronies will take to the stage at the Sheen Center, where audiences will be treated to selections from his albums, Dog Eared and Hinterland. He’ll also be playing tunes from his new album Piety.

On a recent rainy morning, the Chelsea resident grabbed coffee at the Grey Dog Cafe with The Broadway Blog to discuss his upcoming gig, his career, and why—with complete sincerity—he doesn’t consider himself “the best.”

The Broadway Blog: First and foremost, let’s clarify the pronunciation of your last name. 
Michael Cerveris: It’s “server-iss” (rhymes with hiss). I have close friends who mispronounce it and I have to say ‘You are my friend, but that’s not my name.’

BB: And you come from an artistic family?
MC: Yes. My brother is an actor, my sister was a ballet dancer and later a Broadway actor. My parents met at Juilliard. They tried to send us to good schools so that we’d have ended up in lucrative, stable careers but that just didn’t happen.

BB: How did Loose Cattle get started? 
MC: My girlfriend at the time, Kimberly Kay, and I were going through an argumentative phase in our relationship and decided to create something a little more productive. She loved to sing and I did, too. After years of being away from the South and then returning, I realized that my formative years were spent here (West Virginia). We decided to start a casual country band for fun, but it grew from there.

BB: How did the name originate? 
MC: I was singing backup for my friend, Laura Cantrell, at Hill Country Barbeque [in New York City.] There was a photo on the wall of a road sign in Texas warning people of “Loose Livestock.” I thought it would be a great name for a band, but I misremembered the sign as “Loose Cattle.”

BB: Your night at the Sheen Center will be billed as “Michael Cerveris and his Accomplices.” Who will be joining you? 
MC: Unfortunately, Kimberly won’t be able to make this show but I’ll have a string quartet, fiddle, and mandolin players. Joe McGinty will play piano and a few others.  It’s going to focus mostly on my Piety album, which has just been released. There will be 10 of us altogether.

BB: Which do you prefer: Performing in your band or on Broadway? They are vastly different. 
MC: They are totally different. I’m so grateful that I haven’t had to choose. To be able to have acting as a day job is pretty exciting, but my band is really a labor of love.

'Fun Home' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Fun Home’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

BB: You mentioned in a NY Times article that you “have ambivalence about awards in the arts, especially competitive awards.” Why is that?
MC: In general, I think I’ve struggled with competition. I used to run cross-country in junior high school in the hills of West Virginia. I would love the practice runs but as the week would progress towards the track meets, by Saturday morning I would be a ball of nerves. I think I that have color to my personality, which has aversion to ambition and competition.

In the arts, there is no way to objectively compare two performances and say that one is better than the other. The year that I won [the Tony Award for] Fun Home is a perfect example. The job description for my fellow four actors is completely different. There is no way I could have done what Tony Yazbeck, Robert Fairchild, or Brian D’Arcy James did. So to say that I was better makes no sense. I wish they would take away the “best” moniker. I love the celebration of the work, but the actual competition part drives me crazy.

BB: Who has influenced you in the Broadway realm and in the country/folk genre? 
MC: Seeing Len Cariou in the original Sweeney Todd is what made me think that I could do serious musical theater. I’ve always admired Ed Harris. In music, my tastes are pretty varied. John Prine, Dan Fogelberg’s early work, Cat Stevens, Harry Chapin, and Jim Croce were also influences. I’ve also had my indie-rock and punk rock phases.

Now, I’ve rediscovered a lot of country music like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and those singer-songwriters who could capture a scene or character in the most commonplace words that take on a poetic essence. There are some modern bands I really like such as Blackberry Smoke and Drive-By Truckers.

Michael Cerveris & His Accomplices
Sheen Center
18 Bleecker Street, NYC
March 16
7:30 p.m.

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

 

 

Laughing through Tears: ‘Cry Baby: My (reluctant) Journey into Motherhood’

March 10th, 2017 Comments off

by April Stamm

Cry Baby Jamie AderskiMotherhood is no f-ing joke. And comic Jamie Aderski will be the first to agree with me on that. Terrible stuff happens when you carry, birth, and try to raise a baby; vividly gross, heart-breaking, explosively painful, and exhausting stuff. In her one-woman show, Cry Baby: My (reluctant) Journey into Motherhood, Jamie Aderski takes us through all of it, in minute detail.

In her self-written solo show about her own pregnancy, birth, and first 11 months of motherhood, Aderski breaks it down pretty clearly into three parts. Part I (aptly titled “You’re F*cked”) includes visual aids by way of a large notebook on an easel and some audience shout out participation as she takes us the through the horrors that befall a woman’s body during pregnancy, birth, and post-partum. Of course, she goes over the common knowledge catastrophes most likely familiar even to the layman, that pregnancy makes you blow up like a balloon, birthing a five- to nine-pound human being out of a tiny hole can hurt just a little bit, and that babies cry a lot. Then she delves into the lesser-known (unless you’ve done it) disasters like that your hair, once made uber thick and shiny by pregnancy, falls out in literal clumps after birth. Part I concludes as Aderski takes us through the actual process of birth in all of its frightening and rippingly painful glory framed in a film noir motif.

Jamie Aderski (Photo: Mindy Tucker via The Broadway Blog.)

Jamie Aderski (Photo: Mindy Tucker via The Broadway Blog.)

On to Part Two: “This is Not a Game.” Through this portion of the evening, we actually do play a game, an audience member is called up, a baby doll is handed out, a basket of soothers given including your standard pacifier, bottle, and some more bewildering (to the non-stroller wielding set) items like a Nose Frida (parent favorite used to literally suck babies boogers out with a tube you put in your own actual mouth) and the ever popular fart whistle… then a timer is put on and said audience member gets to “sooth” the baby.

Part III, “Aftermath,” starts with a slightly awkward, but truthful and connectable story about Aderski’s relationship with her own mother and her scarred view of what she would be like as a mother. The section ends with a somewhat random yet heartfelt collection of thoughts, small stories, shout out’s to “mom’s groups,” claims that moms can and do remain “themselves” post motherhood, all to the tune of marathon wine drinking.

Jamie Aderski (Photo: Mindy Tucker via The Broadway Blog.)

Jamie Aderski (Photo: Mindy Tucker via The Broadway Blog.)

It all it works… for a subset of the population. Cry Baby feels a bit like it’s preaching to the choir. If you happen to be a mom (and to some degree a dad) and are in on nature’s sickest joke and most beautiful miracle, there are lots of moments to connect with in Aderski’s cautionary tale of copious bodily fluids, unending physical pain, love, and disillusionment all wrapped up in an adorable screaming little package. Some moments feel self-indulgent and even sad on a plane beyond the comic parameters of harsh reality for the sake of funny. Other moments tend towards forced (the film noir bit in Part I could be smoother with less physical movement and a little editing).

At its best, though, Aderski’s piece is personal and honest, which does strike a humorous chord, as so many of the hardest things in life can be if you just take a step back and see the funny through the pain.

Cry Baby: My (reluctant) Journey into Motherhood
Written and Performed by Jamie Aderski
The People’s Improv Theater
123 E. 24th Street, NYC
March 10, 7 p.m.
March 31, 7 p.m.

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

The Family Ties That Bind: ‘The Glass Menagerie’

March 10th, 2017 Comments off
Sally Field and Joe Mantello in 'The Glass Menagerie' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Sally Field and Joe Mantello in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

I have no doubt that Sam Gold’s stark, contemporary interpretation of Tennessee Williams’ masterwork, The Glass Menagerie, will polarize audiences and critics alike. The current Broadway revival, which opened last night at the Belasco Theatre, is a muscular, often anachronistic work. “The play is memory,” says the son, Tom (Joe Mantello), “Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.” If you believe those words at face value, as I did, you will discover a production that bristles with familial uncomfortability. That pushes your boundaries beyond the suspension of disbelief. And that, ultimately, breaks your heart as the ties that bind unravel before your eyes.

Set in an alley in St. Louis, “Now and in the Past,” The Glass Menagerie reveals the layered dysfunction in the Wingfield household, helmed by matriarch Amanda (Sally Field) and her two children, Tom (Joe Mantello) and Laura (Madison Ferris). A gentleman caller, Jim O’Connor (Finn Wittrock) later appears, but it is the unseen fifth character of the father, “a telephone man who fell in love with long distances,” who looms over the proceedings like an emotional grim reaper.

Madison Ferris, Sally Field, and Joe Mantello in 'The Glass Menagerie.' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Madison Ferris, Sally Field, and Joe Mantello in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Williams’ construct is quite simple, really. During the day, Tom is trapped in a warehouse job at Continental Shoemakers while his wanderlust slowly simmers away. At home, his recluse sister plays with her glass menagerie as his mother tries to pine and manipulate her way toward an idealistic vision for a charmed life for herself and her two wayward adult children. When Tom invites his colleague, Jim, home for dinner, Amanda sets a social entrapment in the hopes that the young man will find Laura suitable for the taking. Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans…

As narrator and son, Mantello is wiry, perhaps more middle-aged neurotic New Yorker than down-on-his-luck warehouse worker. Putting “type” aside, it makes no difference. Mantello bites into Williams’ language with a ferocity that some might remember from his Tony award-nominated performance in Angels in America. Mantello has no fear of unhinging Tom’s squelched life. And it helps that he has a terrific sparring partner in Sally Field.

Last seen on Broadway in Edward Albee’s 2002 The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, most of Field’s body of the work has been on the screen, both big and small. The two-time Academy Award winner and three-time Emmy Award winning actress as spanned half a century. Once again, the actress delivers a watershed moment, the culmination of more of a decade of yearning to return to the role, which she played at a Tennessee Williams Festival at the Kennedy Center in 2004. Gold guides her through a fluid vacillation between aging southern belle and contemporary matriarch.

Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris in 'The Glass Menagerie.' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Making her Broadway debut, Ferris is tasked with perhaps the play’s most challenging role. Laura, often portrayed as waif-like with a non-discriminant limp or another physical challenge, is lost in the world of her menagerie. Drifting in and out of life’s social demands, it is easy to shroud her as a victim. But Ferris, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in her teens but hasn’t let that stop her from pursuing a theater degree from Muhlenberg College and moving to New York City, often as difficult to navigate as Williams’ masterwork. This conflict of strength and vulnerability sheds new light on Laura, who seems almost flippant at her mother’s eccentric pursuit of a gentleman caller. But Ferris tends to, at times, vacantly drift, nearly consumed by Mantello and Field’s master class.

But when Wittrock arrives as her gentleman caller, Ferris lights up. And who wouldn’t? He embodies an easy, All-American façade, but don’t be fooled by his good looks. Wittrock mines Jim for all he’s worth, clutching to a gem given by the playwright, who pegs Jim as a man in pursuit of upward mobility. Jim is taking a night course in public speaking, and Wittrock joyfully nudges this character detail to the forefront with a bellowing voice.

Stripped down to its bare walls, scenic designer Andrew Lieberman and lighting designer Adam Silverman create a barren theatrical landscape at the Belasco. But there is plenty to feast on in this eighth Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie.

The Glass Menagerie
Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th Street, NYC
Through July 2