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When You Wish Upon a Star: Tony Award Picks

June 9th, 2013 Comments off

2013 Tony Awards-nominees pose for a picture atop the Empire State Building. (photo: www.tonyawards.com)

The stars of Broadway are dusting off their patent leather shoes (do they really reflect up?) and breaking out the costume jewelry for the most celebrated night of the year: The Tony Awards. While we’re not going to give you a rundown of every category and projected winner, we do have a few favorites that we’re rooting for and a recap of some zingers from past reviews of our favorite performances.

From contributor Scott Redman:

The cast of "Pippin," directed by Diane Paulus. (photo: Joan Marcus)

Diane Paulus without a doubt is the most deserving of the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical. Paulus should win on her ability to put Pippin into a modern context that is relevant and theatrical. She has bonded a cast and creative team into a unified vision.

Using the circus as a setting isn’t just a clever excuse to have acrobats doing tricks, its supports the theme and characters in the show. The show feels fresh and is invigorating to watch: stellar cast, beautiful design and finally a show that sounds clear and vibrant.

Pippin also signifies the importance of a well done revival – a remount of an existing show that tells us something new about the material or sheds light on new ideas. Paulus has found her “corner of the sky” and I can’t wait to see what she does next. Good Luck Diane!

Lindsay B. Davis’s recap on two of the nominees for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play:
Holland Taylor [in ANN] almost dances across the stage as she entertains and tells jokes, some dirty, which she learned from her warm-hearted dad (Did you hear the one about the Terrier and Great Dane?). She speaks with the delight and skill of a seasoned cabaret artist or vaudevillian comedian. One can’t help but wonder if the real governor Richards was this entertaining but it doesn’t really matter. You’re too busy laughing to care.

I don’t know the last time you watched a radically entertaining, 70-year-old woman perform on stage, uninterrupted, for close to two hours. It commands respect and wins your love. So too, does this production.

Flexing her masterful storytelling muscles and using her real ones (there is a good deal of physical work involved to establish and advance the story), Fiona Shaw in The Testament of Mary delivers a performance that is so visceral, skillful and raw that the 85 minutes performed without an intermission sprint by in a flash. It is a journey marked by incidents in the life of her son, some based on actual Biblical stories — such as when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, healed the sick or turned water into wine, plus the crucifixion itself — and others completely imagined by the author. All manage to illuminate the mother not the messiah. She speaks not to advance the narrative of Christianity but to deeply reveal herself and come to terms with traumatic experience. As an audience it is impossible not to feel her deep torment and fight for survival.

Take the leap for thoughts from The Broadway Blog’s editor Matthew Wexler, including choreography from Matilda The Musical and our pick for “should have been nominated!”
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Inside the Casting of Broadway’s “Pippin”

June 6th, 2013 Comments off

Duncan Stewart (l) and Benton Whitley (r).

A handful of very fortunate (and talented) theater artisans are going to walk away with Tony Awards on Sunday night. But one category that does not receive nominations is that of Casting Director. With a keen eye for talent and social skills on par with a highly trained psychologist (have you ever been around theater people?), casting directors are responsible for helping to create the artistic vision for a show.

From A-list celebrities to chorus kids plucked right out of school, casting directors are a critical — and often overlooked — part of the creative process. The Broadway Blog sat down for an exclusive interview with Benton Whitley, Casting Director (CSA) and Partner at Duncan Stewart and Company. Known for their connections with high profile agents and managers, Duncan Stewart and Benton Whitley have been responsible for putting numerous stars, celebrities and international pop stars into theatrical productions including: Mary-Louise Parker, Kelsey Grammer, Christie Brinkley, Sofia Vergara, Harvey Fierstein and Liev Schreiber to name a few.

Their latest project is Pippin, the most nominated show of the year, including 10 Tony Award nominations, 11 Outer Critics nominations, 3 Drama League Nominations and 6 Drama Desk Nominations. We asked Whitley to share the company’s thoughts about casting its three nominated actors and here’s what he had to say:

The Broadway Blog:

Patina Miller as The Leading Player. (photo: Joan Marcus)

Patina Miller
Nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical.
Patina Miller as the Leading Player is, hands down, spectacular. Was it your concept from the beginning to cast a female or were you looking at all different types? She also has a captivating way of engaging the audience – almost as if they are another character in the show. Was this something you were specifically looking for?

Duncan Stewart and Company:
It was a huge priority in the casting of the role that the actor could break through that fourth wall and engage with the audience. Director Diane Paulus said, “I’m looking for an actor to ingratiate with the audience.”

Somehow this ringleader has the ability to reel you in, from a five-year-old to an 80-year-old man — and not be scared! We saw many actors that had a dominating presence, but didn’t have the heart. It was pivotal in our search.

[Diane] was open to the idea of a female. It was written for a male, the keys, the script, everything was geared toward a man. In auditions we saw men and women, ranging in age from 20- to 60-years-old. It’s our understanding that they’re not sold that Leading Players in the future needs to be an African American female.

By casting Patina, the role has become a showcase for her skill set. She had the edge over people. She’s sexy. She’s young. She’s gorgeous. And (which most people didn’t know) she’s a phenomenal dancer. If she had said no, the dancing would have been a lot more minimal. When it’s time to recast, it’s the bar that we’ll be try reach for, but we believe directors should not try to have actors fit into cookie cutter molds of the originating actors.

The Broadway Blog:

Andrea Martin at Berthe and Matthew James Thomas as Pippin. (photo: Joan Marcus)

Andrea Martin, nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical.

Andrea Martin as Berthe — come on! She received a standing ovation in the middle of the show the night that I saw it. Without giving too much away to readers who haven’t see it yet, how did you know that she would be able to ‘rise to the occasion’?

Duncan Stewart and Company:
It’s the beauty of creating an original cast and the time in the rehearsal room. Andrea was hired “offer only,” which means she didn’t have to audition. We knew that she was the right type and fit for the role and this production. She did have one stipulation. She said, “I’m only going to do this if you’re not going to make me the old granny that sits on the stool where everybody dances around me. I want to be shot out of a cannon.” Well, we got pretty damn close.

Now it’s a huge challenge for us moving forward. She’s contracted for a year but we’re already thinking about who could do what she does. There are few women in that age bracket who can do that, but the number has been shaped and we’ll do our best to maintain it.

The Broadway Blog:

Terrence Mann as Charles and Charlotte d'Amboise as Fastrada. (photo: Joan Marcus)

Terrence Mann, nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical.
As King Charles, Terrence brings both gravitas and humor (along with his real-life wife, Charlotte d’Amboise, who recently one an Astaire Award for her performance) to the production. How did that all come about?

Duncan Stewart and Company:
He tackles it like Shakespeare. Terry is a classically trained actor and it shows onstage. He also understands the comedy of the show. So many guys came in and played it like a puppet, but he also instilled a sense of realness. When we were pulling the lists together the lightbulb came on. Charlotte was on the list for Fastrada (King Charles’ wife) and we thought the two of them together onstage would be a great combination. They have different representation and were clear that they were both interested in the project independent of one another.

Diane said — and we agree — that Pippin is the definition of musical theater: glorious music, glorious acting and glorious dancing.

Broadway Beauty Pageant Raises $50,000 for Ali Forney Center

May 22nd, 2013 Comments off
Orion Griffiths (Mr. “Pippin), winner of the Broadway Beauty Pageant. (photo: Jonathan Tichler)

The competition was stiff in more ways than one. Orion Griffiths, Mr. Pippin, was crowned as the winner of the sold out, seventh annual Broadway Beauty Pageant held Monday evening at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

The event raised over $50,000 to benefit the Ali Forney Center, which provides shelter to homeless LGBT youth in New York City.

The evening featured Callan Bergmann (Silence! The Musical), Julius C. Carter (SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark), Yurel Echezarreta (Matilda), Matthew Goodrich (The Nance), Orion Griffiths (Pippin), and Paul HeeSang Miller (Mamma Mia!). Nathan Lee Graham (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) also performed.

Each of the contestants went head to head in front of a panel of celebrity judges, but ultimately, the final vote was the hands of the audience.

Judges Andrea Martin (Pippin), Billy Porter (Kinky Boots), and Michael Urie (Buyer and Cellar) kept the laughs coming but it was four-time Tony nominated and Drama Desk Award-winning actress Tovah Feldshuh that truly shined as the evening’s host. With a deep passion for the Ali Forney Center, appreciation for all of the performers hard work and a slew of foul-mouthed jokes, Felshuh deserved a crown of her own by the end of the night.

Host Tovah Feldshuh (photo: Jonathan Tichler)

The Ali Forney Center (AFC) was started in June 2002 in response to the lack of safe shelter for LGBT youth in New York City. The Center is committed to providing these young people with safe, dignified, nurturing environments where their needs can be met, and where they can begin to put their lives back together.

Given the alarming number of gay-related hate crimes plaguing New York City over the past weeks, it is more evident than ever that LGBT youth need a safe place to call home. Click Here to see how you can get involved.

The contestants of the Seventh Annual Broadway Beauty Pageant. (photo: Jonathan Tichler)

Judges (l to r) Michael Urie, Andrea Martin and Billy Porter. (photo: Jonathan Tichler)

The Sexy Men of the 7th Annual Broadway Beauty Pageant

May 14th, 2013 Comments off
Contestants from The Broadway Beauty Pageant. (photo: Matthew Murphy)

Thankfully Donald Trump has no part in the seventh annual Broadway Beauty Pageant, a benefit for New York’s Ali Forney Center. Instead, you can count on some of the hunkiest men of Broadway participating in talent, interview and yes – swimsuit competition.

We got our hands on some sexy preview photos of this year’s participants, which include Callan Bergmann (Silence! The Musical), Julius C. Carter (SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark), Yurel Echezarreta (Matilda The Musical), Matthew Goodrich (The Nance), Orion Griffiths (Pippin), and Paul HeeSang Miller (Mamma Mia!).

Four-time Tony nominated and Drama Desk Award-winning actress Tovah Feldshuh will host the event as contestants go head to head in front of a panel of celebrity judges, but ultimately, the final vote is in the audience’s hands. Andrea Martin (Pippin), Billy Porter (Kinky Boots), and Michael Urie (Buyer and Cellar) have been tapped to judge the event.

The Ali Forney Center (AFC) was started in June 2002 in response to the lack of safe shelter for LGBT youth in New York City. The Center is committed to providing these young people with safe, dignified, nurturing environments where their needs can be met, and where they can begin to put their lives back together. AFC is dedicated to promoting awareness of the plight of homeless LGBT youth in the United States with the goal of generating responses on local and national levels from government funders, foundations, and the LGBT community.

The Broadway Beauty Pageant will take place on Monday evening, May 20 at 8:00p.m. at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

CLICK HERE for tickets.

Tickets range from $25 – $150. All VIP tickets include a pre and post-show VIP cocktail reception, gift bag, and premier seating.

(clockwise from top left) Julius C. Carter, Matthew Goodrich, Orion Griffiths, Yurel Echezarreta, Paul HeeSang Miller (not pictured: Callan Bergmann). Photos: Matthew Murphy

Want more than a taste? Take the jump for a preview video…
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