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Last Chance: ‘Mamma Mia!’ to End Broadway Run

July 20th, 2015 Comments off
(l to r) Felicia Finley, Judy McLane, and Lauren Cohen in 'Mamma Mia!' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Felicia Finley, Judy McLane, and Lauren Cohen in ‘Mamma Mia!’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

All good things must eventually end. Seen by over 45 million people around the world, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ global smash hit musical Mamma Mia!, is celebrating over 3,700 performances in its tenth smash hit year at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre and remains among Broadway’s top selling musicals. The show plays its final performance on September 12, 2015.

The original West End production of Mamma Mia! is celebrating 10 years and over 4,000 performances in London, an international tour has visited more than 40 foreign cities, and the blockbuster feature film adaptation, produced by Judy Craymer and Gary Goetzman, is the most successful movie musical of all time grossing $600 million worldwide.

With a worldwide gross of over $2 Billion, Mamma Mia! is acclaimed by the Associated Press as “quite simply, a phenomenon.”

Inspired by the story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs, writer Catherine Johnson’s tale of family and friendship unfolds on a tiny Greek island. On the eve of her wedding, a daughter’s quest to discover the identity of her father brings 3 men from her mother’s past back to the island they last visited 20 years ago. Songs including “Dancing Queen”; “The Winner Takes It All”; “Money, Money, Money” and “Take A Chance on Me” are all featured in this feel-good night of fun and laughter.

Mamma Mia!
Broadhurst Theatre
235 West 44th Street
Through September 12

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Review: Hand to God

April 20th, 2015 Comments off
The cast of "Hand to God" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of “Hand to God” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Broadway has gone to hell and a hand puppet—and that’s a good thing. Hand to God, the alarmingly visceral new American play by Robert Askins is a jolt of theater that the Great White Way has been waiting for.

The violent and funny work takes place “somewhere in Texas where the country meets the city” and follows the emotional wreckage of teenager Jason (Steven Boyer) as he attempts to come to terms with the death of his father with the help of a Christian after-school puppet workshop taught by his widowed mother Margery (Geneva Carr). Fellow students Timothy (Michael Oberholtzer) and Jessica (Sarah Stiles) play witness to Jason’s odd behavior and exceptional talent for puppetry as he finds his voice through his alter ego/sock puppet, Tyrone. Enter Pastor Greg (Marc Kudisch) as the hands-on man of the cloth, who persistently tries to persuade Margery to let go of her grief in a more carnal manner. Meanwhile, Timothy has his own pinings for Margery and his teenage testosterone gets the both of them. As the days wear on, the puppet (a.k.a Tyrone) becomes a more consuming presence in Jason’s life, giving voice to Jason’s tormented emotional state through a series of verbally and physically violent episodes.

Steven Boyer in "Hand to God" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Steven Boyer in “Hand to God” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Askins’ play functions brilliantly on multiple levels, tackling sweeping themes like religion and parenthood, as well as intimate ones such as the death of a parent or first love. Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel helms the play with the precision of a race car driver, kicking the action into high gear when necessary but gratefully allowing the prose to coast along through uncomfortable, yet emotion-filled silences. Framing it all is an ingenious set by Beowulf Boritt, whose segmented unit set splits upon itself much like the lobotomized emotional state of its protagonist.

As Jason/Tyrone, Boyer is a chameleon of physical and vocal creativity as he embodies the growing presence of the character’s dark alter ego. Carr tackles the heightened emotion of his mother with furor, morphing from tightly wound after-school teacher to a sexually depraved woman in the midst of a complete nervous breakdown. Oberholtzer and Stiles are given a bit less to work with in terms of depth of character, but their deadpan deliveries are spot-on, adding to the believability in even the most extreme circumstances. And as the pastor with a knack for a well-spun phrase, Kudisch is exceptional, able to garner equal parts empathy and laughter as he befuddles his way through unexpected crises.

Geneva Carr and Marc Kudisch in "Hand to God" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Geneva Carr and Marc Kudisch in “Hand to God” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

But it is playwright Robert Askins who has torn the fabric of traditional Broadway consumption to pieces. Askins, who has written a dozen plays, is still tending bar in Brooklyn. In a recent piece for Playbill, he wrote, “It is nice that while so much has changed, in the theatre and in New York, that a person from nowhere, writing while they work—a very, very lucky person—still has the chance to make something people want to see. As long as they do the best to tell the truth.”

The truths that Askins speaks of in Hand to God—grief, rage, and love—manifest in unspeakable ways. Just ask Tyrone, if you dare.

Hand to God
Booth Theatre
222 West 45th Street
Open-ended run.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at roodeloo

Review: Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons” on Broadway

March 25th, 2014 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler gets a taste of family drama with Terrence McNally’s new play, Mothers and Sons.

The cast of "Mothers and Sons" with playwright Terrence McNally. (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

The cast of “Mothers and Sons” with playwright Terrence McNally. (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

If there is one living playwright who has understood the gay vernacular, it is Terrence McNally. The four-time Tony Award winner brings his latest effort, Mothers and Sons, to Broadway starring Tony and Emmy Award winner Tyne Daly as a hardened mother still grieving the loss of her son. But McNally’s woven tale of love lost and love found lacks the emotional truth of his earlier works such as Love! Valor! Compassion! and The Lisbon Traviata.

Bobby Steggert (l) and Frederick Weller in "Mothers and Sons" (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Bobby Steggert (l) and Frederick Weller in “Mothers and Sons” (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Set against the backdrop of a very expensive Upper West Side apartment, the plot follows Katherine Gerard (Tyne Daly), who pays an unexpected visit to her late son’s former partner Cal (Frederick Weller), who is now married to Will (Bobby Steggert). The couple now have their own child, Bud (Grayson Taylor). Challenged to face how society has changed around her, generations collide as Katherine revisits the past and discovers a new connection she never expected.

McNally has said that he wanted to write a play that addressed the changing issues now affecting gay men and women—particularly marriage and parenthood. And while that subject matter is addressed, it is delivered with a heavy hand. Katherine has appeared in the doorway of Cal and Will’s happy home with the burden of loss, attempting to reconcile feelings regarding her son’s death from AIDS. The two banter back and forth, drudging up memories of their loved one.

The first of several derailments happens as the two are chatting about Katherine’s recently deceased husband, when Cal emphatically states that he didn’t give her son AIDS. These spurts of anger appear throughout the play, cracking the thin plaster of politeness. Will enters with six-year-old Bud and some obligatory child acting takes place before he’s whisked off for a bath and the adults can continue to lament and argue with one another.

Cal drags out a box of photos and it’s clear that we’re all headed down memory lane, but one that doesn’t necessarily propel the action forward. The two continue to alternately comfort and needle each other. On the subject of marriage and AIDS, Cal rages, “Of course we’d never taken marriage vows. We weren’t allowed to. It wasn’t even a possibility. Relationships like mine and Andre’s weren’t supposed to last. We didn’t deserve the dignity of marriage. Maybe that’s why AIDS happened.” Then it’s back to the photo albums as if he had just offered her a hot tea.

Former lover and grieving mother flip through Andre’s journal as they continue to break down the walls of the past. Long-winded monologues ensue. “If that were my son wasting, writhing, incoherent, incontinent in that bed in St. Vincent’s, I would want him to know how much I loved him, how much I would always love him. I did what I could for Andre. I hope to this day it was enough,” says Cal, as he recalls his former lover’s painful death.

Tyne Daly in "Mothers and Sons" (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Tyne Daly in “Mothers and Sons” (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

As Katherine, Tyne Daly delivers an icy performance that eventually melts throughout the 90-minute play. It’s as if the character has left the window barely cracked for her to breath, but Daly manages to finds moments of humanity, humor and gravitas. Frederick Weller as Cal is less successful. At times whiny and at other times rageful, Weller never seems to fit into the pocket of the play, but rather appears as the actor layering on fabrications of bourgeois gay. Bobby Steggert (who managed to land his second Broadway role of the season, appearing last fall in the now closed Big Fish) is tasked with a character shaded with entitlement and vulnerability. He fares best with McNally’s dialogue, and captures the complexities of a new generation of gay men facing marriage and parenthood.

John Lee Beatty’s set is perhaps symbolic of the play’s idiosyncrasies. McNally description in the script says that Cal and Will’s apartment  “doesn’t look “decorated” but someone at Architectural Digest would love to get their hands on it. The possibilities are boundless; they just haven’t been realized yet.”

Such is the demise of Mothers and Sons. Though the play chugs along due to McNally’s decades worth of experience, its voice misses the mark, leaving one to wonder what yet unknown writers may be on the verge of portraying the LGBT experience for the 21st century theater.

Mothers and Sons
John Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street
Open-ended run.

Our Favorite Broadway Love Songs

February 14th, 2014 Comments off
Margo Seibert and Andy Karl in "Rocky." Photo by Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.

Margo Seibert and Andy Karl in “Rocky.” Photo by Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.

There’s nothing more romantic (besides diamonds, a trip to Paris or a home cooked meal) than a Broadway love song. Here are our top picks for beautiful belters, dulcid duets and passionate patter songs.

No matter your style, there’s a wee bit of musical theater that can tell your story better than you.

From Kerrigan-Lowdermilk Live at last year’s New York Musical Theater Festival, Jeremy Jordan sings one of  the songwriting team’s signature tunes, “Run Away With Me.” And we’d like to do just that.

“One Second and a Million Miles” is one of Jason Robert Brown’s soaring melodies from The Bridges of Madison County, opening February 20 at The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

While the revival of Pippin is receiving well-deserved accolades, this throwback clip of William Katt and Leslie Denniston singing “Love Song” holds its own special charm.

Want more? Take the jump!

Read more…

Review: Beautiful, The Carole King Musical

January 21st, 2014 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler goes on a musical journey at Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

The cast of "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical." (photo: Joan Marcus)

The cast of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” (photo: Joan Marcus)

Jessie Mueller enters the stage at the beginning of Beautiful—The Carole King Musical, the latest biopic tale to open on Broadway, and you can’t help but be captivated by her maxi dress, free-flowing hair and natural report with the audience. Mueller burst onto the scene in several years ago in the ill-received revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and still managed to snag a Tony Award nomination for her spot-on performance and jazz-inflected vocals. She has since appeared as Cinderella in the Public Theatre revival of Into the Woods and the Roundabout’s revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Make no mistake: Mueller is a chameleon—adept at shifting gears from character actress to ingénue.

In this case, she is saddled with a formulaic book by Douglas McGrath that is so polite and non-confrontational that it leaks any dramatic tension out of the piece. By the middle of Act 1, it’s clear that King and cohorts are going to chat about some theme or creative struggle, namedrop a portion of lyric or song title, then—Pizazz!—The Drifters or The Shirelles appear to deliver the goods.

Jessie Mueller in "Beautiful—The Carole King Musical." (photo: Joan Marcus)

Jessie Mueller in “Beautiful—The Carole King Musical.”
(photo: Joan Marcus)

Most are familiar with King’s work from Tapestry, the 1971 album that earned four Grammy Awards. The song cycle deeply tapped into King’s personal life and helped define the ‘70s era of pop vocals, but her songwriting legacy includes dozens of hits, written in partnership with her husband Gerry Goffin (earnestly portrayed by Jake Epstein). The duo befriended and had a longstanding rivalry with the lyricist/composer team of Cynthia Weil (Anika Larsen) and Barry Mann (Jarrod Spector).

In the musical’s context, these relationships never reach a pinnacle. Goffin’s mood swings (manic depression?) contribute to the dissolve of his marriage to King, but even when tempted with an affair, he tells her first. Although this may be how the facts played out, it certainly doesn’t make for dramatic tension. Nor does the sugarcoated professional competition between the two couples that remain besties through the years as they each vie for the next hit song.

Director Marc Bruni and the design team keep things moving at a brisk pace. The show is tightly directed and seamlessly flows from the songwriters to the pop artists that shared their work with the world. The hard-working ensemble takes on these musical icons, and while they look and sound incredibly polished, there is a decidedly “Broadway” sound to their vocal delivery. Two blocks away, the supporting cast of A Night with Janis Joplin, deliver interpretations of Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Etta James and Aretha Franklin with more vocal authenticity.

Criticism aside, Beautiful delivers an entertaining evening of theater, and while you may feel at times that “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” Jessie Mueller’s performance is, indeed, “Beautiful.”

Beautiful—The Carole King Musical
Stephen Sondheim Theater
124 West 43rd Street

Take a peek at Beautiful on Broadway…

Broadway by the Numbers

January 13th, 2014 Comments off

The cast of "Jersey Boys."  (photo: Joan Marcus)

The cast of “Jersey Boys.”
(photo: Joan Marcus)

If you’re curious as to who is attending Broadway these days, where they’re coming from and how they are purchasing tickets, The Broadway League recently released its 16th annual report, The Demographics of the Broadway Audience 2012-2013. The report is an interesting (if you are a theater fan or number cruncher) snapshot of how this multi-million dollar industry continues to evolve. Here’s a snapshot:

Tourists accounted for 66% of all ticket sales.

The number of attendances by domestic tourists has grown from 3.4 million in 1999 to 5 million in 2013.

International visitors comprised almost 23% of admissions, the highest percentage in recorded history.

The average age of the Broadway attendee was 42.5 years old.

This season attracted the highest percentage of theatregoers age 18–24 (14% or 1.6 million admissions) in the history of this analysis.

78% of admissions were made by Caucasian theatergoers.

There has been a growth in the Hispanic audience to 8% of the theatergoing audience, representing approximately 880,000 admissions.  This is an increase from two years ago of 2%, or 170,000 theatregoers.

41% of respondents said they purchased their tickets online.

68% of the audiences were female.

The average Broadway theatergoer reported attending 4 shows in the previous 12 months.

Founded in 1930, The Broadway League is the industry’s national trade association. Learn more at www.BroadwayLeague.com.

Fall Preview: Broadway, Off Broadway and Concert Performances

September 4th, 2013 Comments off
The Glass Menagerie (photo credit: Michael J. Lutch)

The Glass Menagerie (photo credit: Michael J. Lutch)

Contributor Lindsay B. Davis offers her take on the latest shows previewing or opening on Broadway and Off Broadway between September 2013 and the end of the year.

As if the promise of pumpkin pie, fall fashions and the end of summer humidity is not enough to garner some excitement, a fresh offering of new shows is here to rock your next few theatergoing months. Broadway and Off Broadway are abuzz with new works, notable revivals, adaptations of Hollywood films plus the now familiar presence of movie and television stars making their Broadway debut.

This season is an unusually exciting blend, beginning with adaptations of two major Hollywood films into musicals — Big Fish (based on the 2003 film directed by Tim Burton, which itself was based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel) and Little Miss Sunshine (based on the 2006 film starring Abigail Breslin). While a musical adaptation of A Time To Kill (the John Grisham novel turned 1996 Hollywood blockbuster) would be an interesting creation, it comes to Broadway relatively in-tact as a courtroom drama.

Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad in "Romeo and Juliet." (photo: Robert Ascroft)

Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad in “Romeo and Juliet.” (photo: Robert Ascroft)

Hollywood’s infiltration continues with Romeo & Juliet, starring A lister Orlando Bloom of The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean fame, opposite two-time Tony nominee Condola Rashad in the title roles. The production is notable not only because it is the first time in 36 years the Shakespearean tragedy will be performed on Broadway (Orlando Bloom’s age is also 36, incidentally, making him possibly one of the oldest actors to play the teenage protagonist) but also because the modern adaptation features a white Montague and black Capulet family, thus rendering the parents’ strife one of racial tension. Another Romeo and Juliet is being produced this season, this one Off Broadway at Classic Stage Company. Under the direction of Tea Alagic, it stars budding film actress Elizabeth Olson (Martha Marcy May Marlene) as Juliet, newcomer Julian Cihi (Roger in the Japanese tour Rent) as Romeo and Daphne Ruben-Vega (of Broadway’s Rent) as the nurse.

A second British actor making her Broadway debut this fall is Rebecca Hall (herself with an extensive West End theatre resume and known to American audiences for roles in Iron Man 3Vicky Christina Barcelona and The Town) in the Roundabout’s revival of Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal. The play is inspired by the infamous 1927 murder trial of Ruth Snyder and Hall plays a stenographer in the 1920s who escapes her marriage by having an illicit love affair and finds herself in deep and dangerous waters. While Machinal is having its first Broadway revival since 1927 (when it starred Clark Cable), the classic The Glass Menagerie was last mounted at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 2005 and is back for a 17-week run starring Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto and Celia Keenan-Bogler as Laura. A lesser known Williams play called The Two-Character Play is underway at New World Stagesthrough the end of September 2013.

Fans of the TV shows Psych and West Wing will be happy to see actor Dule Hill return to the Great White Way in the hotly anticipated new musical After Midnight, a Broadway production of Encores’ critically acclaimed Cotton Club Parade that brings Harlem’s Golden Age back to life with the songs of Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Cab Calloway, choreography of the era and the poetry of Langston Hughs. The jazz fest features 17 world-class musicians, an ensemble of 25 vocalists and dancers, plus Grammy-nominated and American Idol winner Fantasia (The Color Purple).

Two rock music icons will be honored in musicals with A Night With Janis Joplin and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, starring Mary Bridget Davies and Jessie Mueller (On a Clear Day), respectively.  Women who rock can also be found a little further downtown — do not miss Bridgett Everett and the Tenders performing their album release party at Joe’s Pub for one night only on October 1st and Sheri Sanders, rock musical theater coach, singer and author of the book Rock the Audition, presenting her concert experience, Sheri Sanders: In Concert at the American Theater of Actors.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

And finally, fresh off his performance in Shakespeare in the Park’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, Bryce Pinkham stars in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, a new musical described as “Downton Abbey with a delightfully depraved edge.” Another unconventional new musical is Playwrights Horizons’ Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play. More Off Broadway offerings on our radar include 100 Monologues by Eric Bogosian at the Labyrinth Theater, Stop. Reset. at the Signature Theater and Bad Jews, which moves from the Roundabout Theatre’s black box into the Laura Pels Theater after its successful first run and stars Tracee Chimo (Circle Mirror Transformation) as Daphne, who you may recognize from Orange is the New Black. It sounds like Broadway is the New Hollywood.

Lindsay B. Davis is an arts/culture journalist and theater artist living in New York City.

Review: American Conservatory Theater’s “Arcadia”

May 27th, 2013 Comments off

Our new west coast correspondent Gabriella West dives into Tom Stoppard’s complex play about… well, we’ll let her explain it.  

Jack Cutmore-Scott (Septimus Hodge) and Nicholas Pelczar (Ezra Chater) in A.C.T.’s “Arcadia.” (photo: Kevin Berne)

Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia was a huge hit when it opened in London in 1993. American Conservatory Theater’s then-newish artistic director Carey Perloff staged it at the nearby Stage Door Theatre in 1995, after a lengthy struggle to acquire the production rights. Perloff was still proving herself as artistic director back then, with punchy productions that included Pinter’s Celebration. She has always had a light hand with heavy, intellectual material, and she nurtured a warm friendship with Stoppard that continues to this day.

Now in her twentieth season as artistic director, Perloff has brought Arcadia back, this time to the much-grander Geary Theater, A.C.T.’s home base. She clearly wanted to do the play justice in a bigger, more beautiful venue.

The set of Arcadia is visually stunning. The play begins in a Palladian country house in England in 1809, a light-filled room with big windows looking out onto the garden. Young Thomasina (Rebekah Brockman) is being instructed in higher mathematics by her tutor, Septimus Hodge (Jack Cutmore-Scott). Hodge is a handsome fellow in his early twenties, a contemporary and friend of Byron.

The material turns risqué almost immediately, as Thomasina demands to know what is a “carnal embrace.” The wife of a visiting poet, Ezra Chater, has been spotted in a compromising position in the garden gazebo with—we soon find out—none other than Septimus Hodge himself. Thomasina is innocent enough to be entirely ignorant of sex, yet is clearly drawn to Septimus. Brockman plays her as sweet and precocious but lacks the pathos for a fully realized character.

Cutmore-Scott has a tricky role here—he has to be both a believable seducer and a believable intellectual. He clearly cares about Thomasina and, unlike Byron, is not a scoundrel, but he’s constantly preoccupied by his own sexual life and seems not to grasp that his charge is a budding genius. The wry comedy of the first act continues, with the angry but cowardly Ezra Chater constantly intruding on Thomasina’s lesson to demand satisfaction from Hodge. Finally, Hodge agrees to a duel. The furious notes that Chater sends Hodge are slipped into Hodge’s copy of Chater’s latest book of poems, The Couch of Eros—which will eventually end up in his friend Lord Byron’s hands.

Think that’s it? Take the jump for Act II….
Read more…

Review: “Spandex, a new musical for all SIZES”

May 25th, 2013 Comments off

Guest contributor Scott Redman puts on his scrunchy socks and heads to a new off Broadway show that leaves him in a sweat for all the wrong reasons. 

(l to r) Will Boyajian, Jerielle Morwitz and Zachary Karon are among the synthetically clad cast members of "Spandex, a new musical for all SIZES." (photos: www.spandexmusical.com)

Where would the world be without spandex? Spandex, a new musical for ALL SIZES is finishing up its run at the 777 Theatre in Midtown West. I caught the show last Friday and sat through the 80s inspired show trying to figure out what this was all about. I still have no idea.

The show stretches and lunges itself into two full acts — a bit overdone for this skimpy premise involving a house wife, Linda, who is determined to reclaim her youth where she once ruled the football field as head cheerleader. Her husband is an oaf who fails to realize his wife has needs and dreams, instead focusing on fixing his car and watching TV. Enter a pair of sassy aerobics instructors who inspire the timid housewife into jumping into a spandex exercise suit and away we go! And that’s not all — one of the instructors has an addiction to caffeine pills (very reminiscent to the famous Jessie Spano freak out on “Saved by the Bell” – see clip below) but must keep up her energy if she has any hope of making it to the Crystal Light National Aerobics Championship, hosted by Alan Thicke (see video below).

The large ensemble delivers bright and energetic performances as they pounce out the aerobic exercise numbers. There are a few catchy tunes including, “My Body Is My Temple” and “Whatever Happened to Caring?” catching wind from the 80s rock we all miss dancing to at The Pyramid Club. Liz Piccoli’s choreography does a good job utilizing the talents of the cast. Daniel F. Levine and Annie Grunow’s book, peppered with political jokes and nods to Michael Dukakis, thinks it’s smarter than it is and is overwrought.

Overall Spandex is underwhelming as a musical and an evening of theater. It’s not cheeky or fun enough to be a guilty pleasure and not tempered with enough realism to be heartfelt or leave with any takeaway. Unfortunately, this musical proves to be as synthetic as its inspiration.

Spandex, a new musical for all SIZES
777 Theatre (Eighth Avenue at 47th Street)
Through May 26.

Take the jump for that famous “Saved by the Bell” clip as well as the Crystal Light National Aerobics Championship, which insipred Spandex, a new musical for all SIZES.

Read more…

Gayfest NYC Gives Voice to LGBT-Themed Plays

May 24th, 2013 Comments off
The original BASiC Theatre Project cast of “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.” (photo: Catherine Bell)

Now in its fifth season Gayfest NYC 2013 presents “new plays for our times,” offering playwrights a unique opportunity to submit LGBT-themed plays for full production in New York City. Presented by veteran Broadway producers Bruce Robert Harris and Jack Batman, this year’s festival opened last night and runs through June 16.

The three productions on the docket for this year include:

Moonlight & Love Songs by Scott C. Sickles — A 45-year-old man’s romantic dreams come true when he falls in love with a young college student. Their romance seems motion picture-perfect until a staggering revelation causes it to implode.

The Loves of Mr. Lincoln — A historically inspired piece by Pulitzer Prize nominated poet David Brendan Hopes that explores the many facets of one of our most famous presidents.

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde — The critically acclaimed BASiC Theatre Project production of Moisés Kaufman’s play.

The Broadway Blog had a chance to chat with Bruce and Jack about their inspiration for the festival and their special connection to its beneficiary, The Harvey Milk High School.

What was your inspiration for creating Gayfest NYC?
Bruce: It was a real creation of both Jack’s and mine. I was producing a gay pride series but it had really become too much. Jack was on my literary board. He called me one day and said why aren’t you doing this anymore?

It took us about 18 months to find an identity, create a logo, etc. Seven years ago there weren’t festivals calling attention these issues. It’s not always easy. We know it’s become very mainstream now. But it wasn’t 7 years ago. We give the plays lots of love and raise a lot of money – but we want the audiences to know everything we do goes toward our beneficiary, the Harvey Milk High School. These kids don’t have much. We’re helping them get a dorm room, a meal card, and provide funding for scholarships and educational programming.

Gerald McCullouch (l) and Nick Bailey (r) in “Moonlight & Love Songs.” (photo: Carlos Gustavo Monroy)

Given how LGBT roles have become more prominent in both theater and mainstream media, why do you feel Gayfest NYC is still relevant?

Jack: Even though playwrights like Terrence McNally, Charles Bush and Douglas Carter Beane can get their plays produced, there is still a huge pool of untapped talent where their plays aren’t even looked at. I feel like Gayfest is almost like a playwright’s festival. At least these authors have a place to send their play and know that somebody is reading it.

Our first year we received more than 200 submissions – plays from around the world. They all address our issues. I also think that as far along as we are, there is still a big fight to be fought for equal rights and civil rights. These are our causes, our issues and our history.

There is also a difference in how we approach the festival. Others festivals may provide theater space, some marketing, a bit of help for the playwrights, but the shows have to come in with a producer – production needs to be brought to them whole. We start from scratch. It’s as if we’re producing a mini-Broadway show with a high production value.

Gayfest NYC co-producers and founders Jack W. Batman (l) and Bruce Robert Harris (r).

How did the relationship with the Harvey Milk School come to fruition?

Bruce: We read an article about the school in the newspaper and were intrigued by what was going on there and investigated further. What the school truly was – was a safe haven – this was way before bullying was in the media. Here were these kids – gay, transgender, thrown out of their families – they need an education – and Harvey Milk was creating a safe haven. We gravitated toward that and the principals care so much for those kids.

Upon visiting the school – we looked at each other and said ‘We have to do this – this message has to get out.’ It’s the same feeling we had as commercial Broadway theater producers when we’d see a show that we knew we wanted to be a part of. That’s how we roll – we’re very passionate, Jack and I, and this is what propels me.

Jack: The school didn’t have a library or gym and we saw the passion that those teachers had as well as a lack of resources. It was going on love alone, and that we could add some. We thought there might be a way to support them in some way.

As a partner of the Hetrik-Martin Institute, they have programming everyday and we stepped in to help the school directly. At first we offered acting classes as a way for the kids to have an outlet but we found they were hesitant to get on their feet and tell their story. But they were willing to put their stories on paper. It became the most successful elective class and was put into the curriculum. We hire professional actors and present a reading of the students’ work. It’s a wonderful occasion to see what has been accomplished by making this class available to them. We can also offer students school credit by interning with us at the festival as well as a mentoring program and scholarship fund.

We get back a hundredfold in love – to go to graduation and see these kids who a few years ago were down and out. And now they are graduating at a rate of approximately 95%.

Gayfest NYC runs through June 16.
Click Here for tickets.