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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.

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.

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)

Sneak Peek: Original Cast Recording of “Kinky Boots”

May 16th, 2013 Comments off

The cast of "Kinky Boots." (photo: Matt Murphy)

Can’t wait to hear the original Broadway cast recording of Kinky Boots, with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper? The Broadway Blog snagged this behind-the-scenes video of the cast in the recording studio. Our prediction: Ms. Lauper better make room on her mantle for a Tony award… and maybe even a Grammy.

Click Here for our review of Kinky Boots.

Meow. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”‘s Scratchy Revival

January 18th, 2013 Comments off

Scarlett Johansson as Maggie in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." (photo: Joan Marcus)

Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is perhaps one of his most personal, diving into the complex undercurrents of sexuality that peppered his own life as well as the dynamics of illness and dysfunction in a family.

The latest incarnation of his work opened last night at the Richard Rogers Theatre for its sixth Broadway revival. All eyes have been on Scarlett Johansson as “Maggie” but the bigger question prevails: How many lives does this cat have? Apparently not as many as one would hope according to the critics. Here’s what they have to say:

Benjamin Walker, Scarlett Johansson (photo: Joan Marcus)

“Ms. Johansson is also the only major player in “Cat” who appears to have a fully thought-through idea of the character she’s portraying. With a palatial bedroom of a set by Christopher Oram and vivid period costumes by Julie Weiss, the show is as light on persuasive acting as it is saturated in Southern Gothic atmosphere.” The New York Times

“One can discern this Maggie’s unhappiness — Johansson is in an energetic rage throughout — but not the vulnerability that causes a woman who well knows she is beautiful to throw off her very dignity and, well, beg for attention. Hardly walking on scorching tin, this Maggie doesn’t really seem to need anything from anyone; you don’t believe that any of those around her could stop her present trajectory, which feels entirely of her own design.” Chicago Tribune

“Somebody spayed the cat. And it wasn’t the hard-working main attraction Scarlett Johansson, who plays Tennessee Williams’ tenacious feline title character in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The star and her similarly marooned fellow cast members are all at the mercy of Rob Ashford, a director out of his depth and reaching for any floatation device he can grab in this sinking Broadway revival, which manages to be both thunderously emphatic and curiously flat.” Hollywood Reporter

“Fireworks light up the night sky during Big Daddy’s birthday party in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” That’s it for the sparks, unfortunately. Broadway’s starry but misguided new take on Tennessee Williams’ 1955 Pulitzer winner about secrets, lies and love is a dim and soggy affair.” Daily News

 

 

We’ve Got Magic To Do. Pippin Returns to Broadway!

January 17th, 2013 Comments off

The cast of Pippin at American Repertory Theatre. (photo: Michael J. Lutch)

The circus is coming to town but it’s not your average Ringling Bros. Oh, no. Diane Paulus’ reimagined revival of “Pippin” is taking flight with the help of Gypsy Snider and Les 7 doigts de la main, a Montreal-based circus troupe. (Remember our post from a few week’s back, “Berlin’s Bedroom?” Same creative team!)

“Pippin,” which snagged four Tony awards for its original 1973 production starring Ben Vereen as the Leading Player, returns to Broadway this April after an initial run at American Repertory Theatre that left audiences spellbound, both by its theatrics and its deep emotional connection. Paulus says she knows Stephen Schwartz’s score inside and out. That familiarity has opened the door for this new interpretation that still pays homage to Bob Fosse’s original work with choreography by Chet Walker.

Patina Miller as the Leading Player (photo: Michael J. Lutch)

“Pippin” tells the story of a young prince on a death-defying journey to find meaning in his existence. The score includes high school talent show favorites “Magic to Do” and “Corner of the Sky.” Guiding the action is the Leading Player, a role that snagged Ben Vereen a Tony award for Best Actor in a Musical. This time around, the role will most likely be played by a woman — Patina Miller — who originated the role of Deloris van Cartier in the West End and Broadway productions of “Sister Act.” While most reviewers were kept at bay, Broadwayworld.com said of of her performance, “the sultry vocal powerhouse Patina Miller takes her slithery song and dance talents even further to create a taunting, tantalizing spiritual guide.”

Casting has yet to be confirmed, but if the creative team sticks with the principal performers from the A.R.T. production, we’ll be  also be seeing Matthew James Thomas (Pippin), Charlotte d’Amboise (Fastrada), Terrence Mann (King Charles), and Andrea Martin (Berthe) back on Broadway this spring.

Our Broadway Blog prediction: this will be the hot ticket of the 2012-13 season.
Follow “Pippin”‘s journey to broadway at www.pippinthemusical.com.

Pick Your Pleasure with The Actors Fund

January 4th, 2013 Comments off

The holidays are over and you’re back in the swing of things. If you are a New Yorker, the  winter doldrums are about to set in and those resolutions of working out and a three-day juice fast are looming over you. Perhaps you’re a tourist converging on the Big Apple to capitalize on discount airfares and hotel rooms. In either case, this is one of the best times of year to snag seats to a Broadway show. While you’re at it, consider attending one of The Actors Fund‘s “Producer’s Picks”.

The Actors Fund “Producer’s Picks” is an 84-year-old tradition where producers add a special performance or hold a special block of seats and donate proceeds to this worthy organization. The Actors Fund is a national organization that helps performing arts and entertainment professionals by providing a safety net through programs and services for those who are in need, crisis, or transition.

Here’s what you can see this month (be sure to use links below to ensure that your ticket purchase benefits The Actors Fund):

Chaplin — special final performance!
Sunday, January 6, 8 p.m.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Wednesday, January 9, 8 p.m.

Dead Accounts
Thursday, January 10, 7 p.m.

 

Brian Stokes Mitchell performs for Harry Belafonte at the 2012 Actors Fund Gala. (photo: Lyn Hughes Photography)

Curtain Up! The Broadway Blog Act II

January 2nd, 2013 Comments off

Happy New Year and greetings from The Broadway Blog! We hope your holiday season was packed with show tunes. The curtain rises on some exciting changes as our founding editor, Tom Mizer, graciously passes the torch to pursue his own theatrical endeavors. Have no fear, though — we’ll be hearing more from Tom as he continues to contribute reviews and commentary on the New York theater scene as well as discover the sexiest guys on Broadway for our Theater Buff column.

So what will become of us? Will we be like Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood — damned to an unfinished eternity? Uh… no. Enter Peggy Sawyer (aka Matthew Wexler). I’ll be stepping into Tom’s character shoes as The Broadway Blog’s new editor to bring you the latest dish on what’s happening on Broadway (and off). I’ll be raiding dressing rooms, going global to discover the best international theater, and revealing some real-life drama with guest contributors from the entertainment industry.

As a special throwback, I thought I’d offer up a clip from the year I moved to New York City to make my own way on the Great White Way. I pounded the pavement for a few years and trust me kids, it ain’t easy. I didn’t resort to “The Life,” but after seeing this gritty musicalization of New York City in the 80s, I was ready to don fishnets and hit Times Square. Lillias White and Chuck Cooper snagged Tony Awards for their performances and I filed away the  first of many playbills to come. Stay tuned… 2013 is going to be filled with high drama!


“My Body” from The Life, performed at the 51st Annual Tony Awards.