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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.

 

 

 

‘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.

James Monroe Iglehart to Join ‘Hamilton’ on Broadway

January 17th, 2017 Comments off
James Monroe Iglehart (Photo provided by James Monroe Iglehart.)

James Monroe Iglehart (Photo provided by James Monroe Iglehart.)

Tony Award winner James Monroe Iglehart will join the Broadway cast of Hamilton in the dual roles of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson starting in mid April (date TBD), it has been announced by producer Jeffrey Seller.

James Monroe Iglehart made his Broadway debut in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Iglehart then originated the role of Bobby in Memphis on Broadway before landing the role of Genie in Aladdin. For his work as the Genie, James won both the Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

James made his sold-out solo debut at Feinstein’s/54 Below in a show entitled “How the Heck Did I Get Here?” James has played concert venues across the country. James recurred on Netflix’s original series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as Coriolanus Burt, the rival of male protagonist Titus Andromedon played by Tituss Burgess. James also guest starred on the Fox television show Gotham. He recently filmed his feature debut opposite Richard Gere, Peter Dinklage and Juilianna Marguilles in the upcoming The Three Christs of Ypsilanti. He is a native of the San Francisco Bay area.

With book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, music direction/orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.  The musical won eleven 2016 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Score, Book of a Musical, Direction of a Musical, Choreography and Orchestrations.  Mr. Miranda received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Hamilton.

15 Minutes With ‘In Transit”s Rick Hip-Flores

January 13th, 2017 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

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

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

Rick Hip-Flores is a seasoned musical director, having worked on several projects both on and off Broadway. Yet he, along with the cast of In Transit, is currently exploring unprecedented territory by being the first completely a cappella Broadway show.

The harmonic tuner is currently enjoying an open ended run at Circle in the Square and explores the daily grind for a diverse bunch of New Yorkers—complete with joy, frustration, dreams, and reality.

Photo provided by Rick Hip-Flores.

Photo provided by Rick Hip-Flores.

Hip-Flores recently spoke with the Broadway Blog to discuss the unique aspects of rehearsing and conducting what he considers a “tough beast to tame.”

A cappella singing used to have old-fashioned appeal with glee clubs and barbershop quartets. In the last few years, it’s become quite hip, thanks to groups like Rockapella, Straight No Chaser, Pentatonix and the Pitch Perfect movie franchise. What is it about this style that people find so appealing?

Immediately, I think people react to the human voice. The creative spirit of a cappella is that you don’t need to be classically trained to create music. A group of people can get together, create an arrangement and make it sound great. Mainly, there is an automatic connection when you hear the human voice. Instruments only emulate it.

With “cantata” (musically accompanied singing), it’s somewhat easier to blend singers who possess a variety of vocal skills and techniques, but with a cappella, there has to be a collective synchronicity. You clearly found the right blend with In Transit. What was the audition process like and how you were able to find the right talent?

These actors went through the hardest vetting process of any show I’ve been a part of. They had to sight read, sing in groups, and possess music theory knowledge. In terms of blending with the cast, we listened to their placement of vowels, how much vibrato they used, and other factors that aren’t considered as solo performers. On top of all this, they had to come across as engaging performers. There are many hats that have to be worn for In Transit.

Erin Mackey in 'In Transit.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Erin Mackey in ‘In Transit.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

How is the cast able to stay on pitch from the beginning of each show through the end?

In talking to people after the show, they are always blown away by the cast’s ability to do that, but I have to say that pitch is not the hardest part for them. The most difficult components are staying perfectly in sync rhythmically, keeping the same tempos, and finding the right volume and blend.

Did the cast come into rehearsals knowing the music or was that taught to them?

They all came in completely cold. A few of them had done prior workshops of the show, so they knew a little bit, but all of the parts had been rewritten anyway, so it was all new. The creative team told me that the first ten days would be spent solely on learning the score. In a typical rehearsal process, only three days would be spent on music. At first, I wondered how the cast would sit still for 80 straight hours of music rehearsal. To my surprise, they were extremely intent on learning it and getting it right and I think it shows in the final product.

Margot Seibert and James Snyder in 'In Transit.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Margot Seibert and James Snyder in ‘In Transit.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

I certainly don’t mean to imply that any of the performances in this show are akin to a lip-synced Mariah Carey performance but due to the amount of sounds coming from such a small ensemble, are any of the parts pre-recorded?

(Joking) Well, I wouldn’t tell you if they were. No. Nothing is pre-recorded. Even offstage singing is live. Sometimes, the cast may be changing a costume, moving a set piece, and singing their part at the same time. So the audience will hear the smooth sounds but have no idea what mayhem is going on behind the scenes.

Is this the first time you’ve worked at length in the a cappella arena?

It is. I worked on some arrangements in college, but this is the first time I’ve worked on it in this capacity. It has a whole series of challenges but I will take what I’ve learned from In Transit and apply it both to music that is not a cappella and instrumental music.

Besides the obvious addition of instrumentation, what are some of the challenges and differences between this show and other musical theater projects?

The biggest challenge is from the audience’s point of view. If you think about the energy that a band creates, you can turn up the volume and have the band providing the foundation for that energy. With a cappella, you don’t have the same dynamic variety and range and you have to create it all with the voice. Musically, it’s tough to create a varied evening through a cappella, but I think that the composers achieved it very well.

In Transit
Circle in the Square
235 West 50th Street, NYC

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theatre 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tyne Daly Joins York Theatre Company’s ‘Dear World’

January 12th, 2017 Comments off

Tyne Daly (Photo: s_bukley / Shutterstock, Inc)

Tyne Daly (Photo: s_bukley / Shutterstock, Inc)

The York Theatre Company, dedicated to the development of new musicals and the preservation of musical gems from the past, has announced 6-time Emmy Award-winner and Tony Award-winner Tyne Daly will star in the 1969 musical Dear World, when she joins the company in celebrating Broadway composers, Jerry Herman and Kurt Weill, with the Winter 2017 Musicals in Mufti Series, January 28 – March 5, 2017.

In conjunction with the series, The York will present Hello, Jerry, a multimedia presentation by renowned musical theater historian Charles Troy for one-night only Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at 7:30pm.

The 3-show Musicals in Mufti series launches with Milk and Honey, book by Don Appel, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Marking the Broadway debut of the incomparable Jerry Herman, Milk and Honey centers on the romance between two Americans in Israel—a lonely widow on tour and an unhappily married man visiting his daughter. Set against the backdrop of Israel’s struggle for recognition as an independent nation, Milk and Honey is a tale of love, optimism, and second chances.

With his first Broadway score, Mr. Herman showed the promise of the wealth of hummable, memorable songs he would compose in the future. Milk and Honey will be directed by York’s Associate Artistic Director Michael Unger, with music direction by Jeffrey Saver. Performances are set to begin Saturday, January 28, 2017 for a limited engagement through February 5, 2017.

It is followed by Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage, music by Kurt Weill, text and format by Gene Lerner, lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, Marc Blitzstein, Bertolt Brecht, Jacques Deval, Michael Feingold, Ira Gershwin, Paul Green, Langston Hughes, Alan Jay Lerner, Ogden Nash, George Tabori, and Arnold Weinstein. Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage is a joyous and moving celebration of Kurt Weill, a cantor’s son and one of the most extraordinary composers of the twentieth century.

Weill’s greatest theatre songs are presented in a fluid blend of music and story, spanning twenty eventful years, from Von Hindenburg and Hitler in Germany to Roosevelt and Truman in the U.S.  Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage will be directed by Pamela Hunt, with music direction by Eric Svejcar. Performances begin Saturday, February 11, 2017 for a limited engagement through February 19, 2017.

The Winter 2017 Series concludes with Dear World, book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, new version by David Thompson (based on an adaptation by Maurice Valency of the play The Madwoman of Chaillot by Jean Giraudoux), music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, starring 6-time Emmy Award and Tony Award-winner Tyne Daly as the Countess Aurelia, the Madwoman of Chaillot.

When a group of businessmen scheme to drill for oil in Paris, there is only one force in the world that can stop them: Countess Aurelia, the Madwoman of Chaillot. With the help of idealism, love, and poetry—not to mention two other madwomen, a local sewerman, and a pair of young lovers—the Countess fights to save Paris and the world from greed.

With Dear World‘s opening on Broadway in 1969, Mr. Herman became the first composer-lyricist to have three productions simultaneously running on Broadway, and for her performance 2015 Oscar Hammerstein Honoree Angela Lansbury received the second of her five Tony Awards.  Michael Montel directs, with music direction by Christopher McGovern.  Performances begin Saturday, February 25, 2017 for a limited engagement through March 5, 2017.

Broadway Dims Its Lights for Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

January 6th, 2017 Comments off
Carrie Fisher (Photo: JStone / Shutterstock.com)

Carrie Fisher (Photo: JStone / Shutterstock.com)

The Broadway community mourns the loss of two legendary talents in the entertainment industry: actress, singer and film memorabilia collector Debbie Reynolds and her actress, writer and humorist daughter Carrie Fisher. Ms. Fisher passed away on December 27, 2016 at age 60 and Ms. Reynolds passed away the next day, on December 28, 2016 at age 84. The marquees of Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed in their memories on Friday, January 6, 2017, at exactly 7:45pm for one minute.

Mother and daughter both made their Broadway debuts in 1973 in the musical comedy revival of Irene. Debbie Reynolds received a Tony Award nomination for her role in the production. She also appeared on Broadway in Woman of the Year and the musical revue Debbie. Additionally she toured the US with the shows Annie Get Your Gun and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Carrie Fisher wrote and most recently appeared on Broadway in the original solo show Wishful Drinking. Her additional Broadway credits include Agnes of God and Censored Scenes From King Kong.

“Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher were entertainment legends who delighted fans around the world on stage, on screen and on the page. Their unmistakable bond and ability to make audiences laugh, cry, sing and think will be remembered by all those they touched,” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of the Broadway League. “Our sincere thoughts are with their family, friends, colleagues and fans.”

Some of Ms. Reynolds’s notable TV and Film credits included: Singing in the RainThe Affairs of Dobie GillisThe Catered AffairThe Unsinkable Molly BrownTammy and the BachelorThe Tender TrapBundle of JoyIn & Out, “The Debbie Reynolds Show,” “Behind the Candelabra,” “Will & Grace,” and many more. Highlights of Ms. Fisher’s credits in TV and Film included:  Princess Leia in the Star Wars series, When Harry Met SallyThe Man With One Red ShoeThe Blues BrothersHannah and Her SistersShampoo, Soapdish, “Family Guy,” “Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce,” “Catastrophe,” and many more. She wrote humorous and poignant novels and scripts including Postcards from the Edge.

They are survived by Billie Lourd, Ms. Fisher’s daughter and Ms. Reynolds’s granddaughter; and Todd Fisher, Ms. Reynolds’s son and Ms. Fisher’s brother.

Theater Buff: ‘A Bronx Tale”s Rory Max Kaplan

December 24th, 2016 Comments off
Rory Max Kaplan (Photo: Damian Sandone via The Broadway Blog.)

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo: Damian Sandone via The Broadway Blog.)

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. To finish off 2016,  we’re staying close to home with New York native Rory Max Kaplan, currently appearing in A Bronx Tale. Based on Chazz Palminteri’s play and subsequent film, this streetwise musical will take you to the stoops of the Bronx in the 1960s—where a young man is caught between the father he loves and the mob boss he’d love to be.

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo:  Lauren Morrison via The Broadway Blog.)

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo: Lauren Morrison via The Broadway Blog.)

Name: 
Rory Max Kaplan

Hometown: 
New York

The ensemble gets quite a workout in A Bronx Tale. What was your audition experience like and how would you describe Sergio Trujillo’s choreography?
It was a blast and it really tested me – but there was a great vibe in the room and all I could think about was, “Dammit, I want this.”

Marc Kimelman (associate choreographer) taught the combination. He possesses a style that makes it easy to embody Sergio’s choreography—and I feel like I’m fulfilling my grandfather’s dream of dancing like Gene Kelly on Broadway. On the hour break we got after learning the combination, I got to meet and hang out with my future cast mate Cary Tedder. That was an unforgettable experience because for some reason I knew I was going to be working with this guy.

The other half of the process involved my auditions to understudy the role of Calogero. Stepping into a room with Jerry Zaks, Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, all the producers and the rest of the creative team, to show them what I’ve got was one of many unforgettable experiences to come.

You get to play a lot of different characters throughout the show. Do you have a favorite?
I love being one of the four doo-wop guys. The four of us have a serious connection that we really put our hearts into creating. That totally carries over to playing “Handsome Nick.” I love the suit I wear (thanks to costume designer William Ivey Long). If I could have worn it to the opening night party, I would have. 

Did you have a chance to visit the neighborhood that served as Chazz Palminteri’s inspiration? If so, what was your experience?
A good chunk of us cast members took a trip to 187th Street and Belmont Avenue for a whole day. Chazz met up with us and we went to Little Italy where we ate at Mike’s Deli. We also made a trip to Gino’s Pastry Shop. I had the best cannoli and cappuccino ever. We sang some doo-wop under the streetlamp, with our loved ones watching us, which concluded a day truly spent with family. 

The cast of 'A Bronx Tale.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘A Bronx Tale.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

As a native New Yorker, what was it like growing up in the city?
New York City will always be my home. You grow up to develop a different perspective about this city versus someone who moves here having grown up somewhere else. I’d like to say it’s a place just like anywhere else, but that would be a lie. I learned everything from this city. And it’s still teaching me. There was nothing like taking dance classes here or having Broadway as your local theater scene. Not to mention the streets and the people—the best character study there is.

Places, Intermission or Curtain Call?
“This is your places call! Places please – places for the top of Act I.”  There is nothing like hearing those words.

If I weren’t a performer, I would be:
A music producer.

The best post-show cocktail in New York City is at:
My dressing room.  

After you’ve hit all the traditional sites of New York City, you should totally go to:
Search the Village and look up where to hear live music. Have yourself a real New York experience—other than seeing a Broadway show, of course.

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo:  Lauren Morrison via The Broadway Blog.)

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo: Lauren Morrison via The Broadway Blog.)

If I could live anywhere else in the world, it would be:
I have yet to see enough places around the world to have a preference, but Canada has been sounding great these days.

My workout “secret” is:
Get really good at throwing women over your head. And catch them as they come down. Please catch them. (Onstage, of course!)

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo courtesy of 'A Bronx Tale.')

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo courtesy of ‘A Bronx Tale.’)

When I’m looking for a date, nothing attracts me more than:
Laughter and soul.

My favorite website to visit that you may not have heard of is:
avengedsevenfold.com
change.org

People would be surprised to learn that I…
Had my first motorcycle ride when I was just over a week old.

When I was 10, I wanted to be just like:
Jim Carrey 

Ten years from now, I’d like to have:
A long career behind me as well as in front of me. Film, TV and still rockin’ the stage, with a wife and family by my side.

A Bronx Tale is currently playing at the Longacre Theatre.

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

Interview: ‘The Untold Stories of Broadway”s Jennifer Ashley Tepper

December 15th, 2016 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

The Untold Stories of BroadwayFor a true theater lover, there is simply no one else who has captured the rich history that lies between the walls of Broadway’s cherished structures better than Jennifer Ashley Tepper, author of The Untold Stories of Broadway. Tepper’s third volume has just been released, and for any theater geek, it’s a must read.

Tepper spent an extensive amount of time interviewing an array of individuals who had not only stepped into the spotlight, but she thoughtfully sought out the “unsung heroes” that make Broadway hum: stage hands, music arrangers, directors, company managers, and box office personnel.

In this volume, she highlights the Broadhurst, the Belasco, the Edison, the Lyric, the Majestic, the Schoenfeld, the St. James and the Walter Kerr. In between interviews, she sprinkles some interesting tidbits about the theaters and infuses her own experiences and memories.

In addition to writing, Tepper has also worn many hats including directing, producing, and marketing of many Broadway shows and is the director of Programming at Feinstein’s/54 Below. As an industry insider, Tepper knows how to gather the “dish,” but she serves it back to theater lovers in a compelling, gracious, and reverent manner. Think of her as Michael Riedel minus the snark and with better lipstick.

From ghost stories to opening night tales, backstage rituals, secret rooms, PR pranks, and auditions, Tepper’s book is as thoroughly entertaining as a Broadway show itself and can either be enjoyed from beginning to end, or by casually leafing through. With the holidays approaching, it’s the perfect gift for the person who already owns original cast recordings or previously published coffee table books.

Jennifer Ashley Tepper (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Jennifer Ashley Tepper (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The Broadway Blog: So many people love the “razzle dazzle” of Broadway, but your interest goes much deeper than that. What is it about these physical spaces that fascinates you?

Jennifer Ashley Tepper: I’ve always loved the idea that when you’re sitting in a theatre, you are where so many other people have been: people who have created hit shows, people you admire, and all of those things that are so unique to Broadway.

You might love a particular movie, but there’s not really a chance to visit the soundstage and pinpoint exactly where the actors stood. These theaters are so specific in the sense of their history. Many of them have been here for at least 100 years. It connects us to the past. Plus, every theatre has secret passageways and weird nondescript rooms. They help chart what Broadway used to be and what it is now.

BB: You reference a secret tunnel between the Broadhurst and Schoenfeld. Tell us about that.

JAT: People don’t really know about it if they aren’t working in either of those theaters, which are on two different blocks. Two of these secret passageways lie in the inner alley that connects the two theaters. Street passerby on 45th Street can look to the left of the Schoenfeld to find a locked alleyway. The stage door is to the right of the Schoenfeld, but the alley on the left also provides an exit, used by audiences and show folk alike. At the very back of the alley, one door leads directly to the Broadhurst stage and another door leads to house left in the Broadhurst auditorium.

(Photo: Daniel Douglas / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

(Photo: Daniel Douglas / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

BB: Most of your stories are warm and nostalgic or bittersweet. You also tell stories of people who have had ghost experiences. I’m wondering if there were any that were too bleak, gossipy, or just downright depressing to share?

JAT: There totally were and I have a file marked as “Off the record.” People have instructions to destroy it (laughs). But actually, Fritz Weaver was a Broadway actor who just passed away. He was an amazing man. I had the pleasure of interviewing him and he told me a very sad dark story. He played a Tony Award winning role in a show called Child’s Play and it was about an incredibly dark, violent, suicidal teacher.

Fritz was a method actor and he told me that the biggest regret of his career was the year he did that play because he took the show home to his young kids. He admitted that although it was critically acclaimed, he spent so much time trying to make it up to his children who were terrified by his presence while doing the show. I thought that it was so moving that he focused not on winning the Tony, but what toll it took on his family. That really stuck with me.

BB: Any stories of all out brawls between creative teams or All About Eve type stories?

JAT: There is a lot of that and sometimes you get the true stories of what you’ve heard through gossip, but you get to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. One the best examples in this book is the real story behind Taboo, the Boy George musical. Raul Esparza talked about quitting, working with Rosie O’Donnell, and why the show failed. People tend to be honest as long as—say—ten years have passed.

Rosie O'Donnell and Boy George at the opening on 'Taboo' on Broadway, November 13, 2003. (Photo: Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Rosie O’Donnell and Boy George at the opening on ‘Taboo’ on Broadway, November 13, 2003. (Photo: Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

BB: You mention in the preface that you wanted to focus on people of color and women whose theatrical contributions were either not applauded or remembered. Who were some of those people?

JAT: One of the things that I ran into is that I tried to find female playwrights who had worked at a particular theatre and there either weren’t any or they were deceased. Some other influential artists of color were hard to pin down for an interview. It’s hard to get people you’ve never met before to answer a phone call or email regarding an unfamiliar project. I tried to get as many as I could, but I filled in the blanks quite a bit in this volume.

The Schoenfeld has a cool history of women writers so I charted that in the book and I also found women who worked behind the scenes at that theatre.

George C. Wolfe, who is one of my heroes, has a lot of incredible material in the book. Baayork Lee talked about being in The King and I with white actors who were made-up to appear Asian. People either didn’t care or didn’t protest. So there were some markers that I found with regards to race and gender.

BB: What are your most vivid memories of theaters that you reference in this third volume?

JAT: A Chorus Line revival at the Schoenfeld really sticks out. I saw it 11 times and can recall skipping class on my birthday to go to a matinee. I was working on title of show at the time, directed by Michael Berresse. Michael was also playing Zach in A Chorus Line and took me backstage following the show.

I had the launch of my book at the Lyric Theatre and have such a vivid memory of my first time being there. I came to the city as a teenager with my parents and we were planning to see Aida, but learned that Adam Pascal was out of the show that day. I cried so much that the box office exchanged our tickets for later in the week and instead, we rushed down to Broadway and ran to our seats for 42nd Street. Whenever I walk into a Broadway theatre, I immediately think of the last few times I’ve been there. Those memories are powerful.

(Photo: Shubert Organization)

(Photo: Shubert Organization)

BB: Did you happen to find any research on the size of seats and the limited leg room?

JAT: I found a lot of fascinating information. I interviewed Bob Wankel, President of the Shubert Organization, who talked about how, when all of the theaters were first built that women didn’t go to the bathroom that often in public. They didn’t want to remove their corsets or petticoats.

So now, if you’ve ever heard complaints about the lines at ladies’ room it’s because the bathroom was probably built into what was once an office. Things like that definitely affect the physical space. Plus, people used to be smaller so there is less leg room. It’s interesting to learn that the actual life of people go into how these buildings were built.

BB: Coming from someone who is 6’1 and fuller framed, if you have any clout on the design and leg room in newer theaters, I’d appreciate that!

You have a few other volumes coming out after this, right?

JAT: I do. There are 40 Broadway theaters—soon to be 41 with the Hudson—so I’m looking at about six volumes in total. I don’t know how long that will take but I plan to get to all of them.

All three volumes of The Untold Stories of Broadway can be purchased on Amazon.com.

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.