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15 Minutes With Ali Stroker

March 1st, 2016 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Ali Stroker

Ali Stroker

Fans of televison’s Glee (also known as “Gleeks”) will probably recognize Ali Stroker from her 2013 appearance on the popular show. That project was the beginning of her successful climb in the world of entertainment. In 2015, she became the first actor in a wheelchair to have appeared on Broadway in the revival of Spring Awakening. Since then, she has continued her passion for charity work, has appeared on the runway of New York Fashion Week, and is preparing her notes for an upcoming TedX Talk she’ll be delivering in her native Garden State.

The Broadway Blog recently spoke over the phone with the tireless performer.

BB: Does it bother you that there is more emphasis placed on the fact that you are the first performer in a wheelchair as oppossed to an amazing performer to make her Broadway debut? 

AS: No. It doesn’t at all. First and foremost, it is a dream come true for me. But I also think that being the first person in a wheelchair on Broadway is also a step forward for my community, so I celebrate it.

BB: What are some misconceptions that the general public has towards those with disabilities and how to do you, as an artist and a person, dispel them? 

AS:  People who don’t have a disability tend to view this community as somehow limited. So I think that gives my community an opportunity to be creative and tell our stories through television, theater, and movies.

Ali Stroker

Ali Stroker

BB: I read that you have turned many obstacles into opportunities. What other obstacles and challenges do you hope to overcome, either personally or professionally? 

AS: I definetly want to do more theater and televison. Of course there will be struggles and obstacles, but now that I feel like I’m on my way, I don’t feel as though I have to push quite as hard because the projects I have done before have helped pave the way for what’s to come.

BB: You’ll be doing a Tedx Talk on March 8. Tell us about that. 

AS: It will be a Tedx Talk at Bergen Community College. I’m from New Jersey, so it’s exciting so being going “home” in way. I’m going to talk about my journey to Broadway and how, as a disabled performer, I was able to step into my full power and gain self acceptance about who I am as an actor and as a person.

BB: You were recently featured in Rachel Antonoff’s show during New York Fashion Week. Had you thought about exploring the fashion world prior to this opportunity? 

AS: Rachel and I grew up together on the Jersey shore and she actually introduced me to musical theater. When she asked me to be a part of her show, I was so excited. She likes do something other than the typical runway show, so we ended up doing the musical number, “A Secretary is Not a Toy” from How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. It was a really creative way to show her line and display some fine New York talent. We did it at the Grace building on 42nd Street, where it was met with surprise and enjoyment.

Ali Stroker

Ali Stroker

BB: You do quite a bit of charity work as well, specifically with ArtsInsideOut, an organization that helps those affected with HIV/AIDS tell their stories. Talk about that experience.

AS: Yes. I’ve been to South Africa three times for teaching and every time I go, it opens my whole perspective to teaching, to the arts, and to humanity in general. The kids are so incredible and so full of life. It’s an equal exchange, though. I believe that what you give is what you get back.

BB: You also do work with the anti-bullying campaign, “Be More Heroic,” right? 

AS: Yes. We spent a year going around to schools and sharing our stories. Instead of being an anti-campaign, we are standing for something instead of against it. About two years ago, we had a camp at Big Bear in California and filmed a documentary about an arts and leadership workshop. All of these outreach programs are so important because I feel like so much has been given to me that it just feels right to be giving.

BB: Any other charities that you’d like to work or align yourself with? 

AS: Yes. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, United Cerebral Palsy of New York City. I just really love this kind of work.

BB: Many who worked with you on Spring Awakening commented that you are a “force of nature” and an incredibly strong person. What is the source of that strength and reason for your positive energy? 

AS: My family has been the biggest source of that strength. They have taught me what it means to show up for your life and achieve your dreams and not be afraid. Plus, all of the people along they way who have believed in me and have said yes to me.

Watch Ali in an excerpt from (Un)Lucky in Love, a new musical.

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

Recap: Duncan Sheik at Carnegie Hall

November 28th, 2015 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Duncan Sheik (photo: Lexi Lambros via The Broadway Blog.)

Duncan Sheik (photo: Lexi Lambros via The Broadway Blog.)

No one can accuse singer-songwriter, Duncan Sheik, of being a slacker. Between the release of his latest solo album, Legerdamain, the work he’s done on Broadway’s current revival of his Tony- and Grammy Award-winning musical Spring Awakening, the final touches he’s putting on his next Broadway venture, American Psycho, and a recent concert tour, Sheik is not letting the proverbial dust collect at his feet.

On Saturday, November 21, Sheik took to the stage at Carnegie Hall to kick off WFUV 90.7 FM’s Live at Zankel series. With his band, consisting of a bassist/cello player, drummer, and pianist, Sheik opened with 2 somber numbers from  his latest release. Clad in semi-casual black garb and standing at the keyboard, Sheik  promised his audience that, “it will get more exciting as the evening goes on.” He then shared about visiting a small English town and taking daily jogs, an experience which inspired his next song “Summer Mourning.”

With the help of the current cast of Spring Awakening, Sheik presented two numbers from that show, “Mama Who Bore Me” and “I Don’t Do Sadness.” Picking up the tempo, he played a cut from the latest album “Photograph” and dedicated it to Nora. “Hopefully  I won’t f*** it up,” he mused.

Stage star Jennifer Damiano joined him in two selections promoting American Psycho: “Seduction” and “A Girl Before.” Damiano will play leading lady, Jean. Assuming the leading man role of Patrick Bateman (which will be played by Benjamin Walker), Sheik joked that he’d have to work on his abs. Both numbers perfectly embody the psychological eeriness captured in novelist and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis’s commentary on wealth and greed. Audiences will have the chance to hear the full score when the tuner opens on Broadway in March. Sheik closed the show with another piece from the show, “This is not an Exit.”

Other selections from his new album included “Bicycle Thief,” “Distant Lovers,” “Birmingham,” and the album’s final cut, “So There.”

Alice By Heart is yet another stage show to which Sheik is attached, along with his Spring Awakening writing partner Steven Sater. The show, a darker look at the classic Alice in Wonderland story premiered in London in 2012, and Sheik hinted that New Yorkers may  see a commercial production at MCC Theater.

True to his roots and his fan base, Sheik concluded the evening with, “Barely Breathing”—the song that propelled him to the top of the pop charts in the late 90s.

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.

Don’t Miss: ‘Spring Awakening’

October 20th, 2015 Comments off
The cast of 'Spring Awakening' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Spring Awakening’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

You’ll be happy to know that teen angst, in all its heightened and fleshy glory, is alive and well on Broadway in the stunning revival of Spring Awakening, playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre through January 24. This new production, originally conceived by The Forest of Arden Theatre Collective and Deaf West Theatre, is a wildly impactful and visceral production that goes straight to the heart and doesn’t let go.

German playwright Frank Wedekind’s play—a controversial exploration of sexual discovery and repression, first appeared onstage in 1906 and over the course of the last century has been repeatedly censored due to its sensitive subject matter. Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (music) used the source material for a new musical that opened on Broadway in 2006, snagging nine Tony Awards.

The cast of 'Spring Awakening' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Spring Awakening’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Nine years later, Spring Awakening is as potent as ever, thanks to a triumphant cast that includes deaf actors and their singing counterparts. The plot follows Wendla (Sandra Mae Frank, voice by Katie Boeck) as she begins to question the changes in her body. Her longtime friend Melchior (Austin P. McKenzie) slowly becomes an object of desire and the pair begin to explore their sexual identities, resulting in a conflicted encounter that many might constitute as rape.

Meanwhile, other local teens cope with their trials and tribulations: Moritz (Daniel N. Durant, voice by Alex Boniello) must face his father after being expelled from school; Martha (Treshelle Edmond, voice of Kathryn Gallagher) admits to being abused at home; Ilse (Krysta Rodriguez), somewhat of an outcast, runs away to join an artist colony; Hanschen (Andy Mientus) manipulates his sexuality to seduce Ernst (Joshua Castille, voice of Daniel David Stewart). Though the plotlines are clear, Sater’s book is more of a mosaic that offers different perspectives when examined through the trajectory of a single character or taking in the repressive society as a whole.

While the teens seem to be running the show, the production is blessed with a handful of “adult” actors that set the bar high and create enough dramatic tension to propel the plot forward, including Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin, Patrick Page, Camryn Manhein, and Daniel Marmion.

The cast of 'Spring Awakening' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Spring Awakening’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

It’s blissfully impossible to discern where director Michael Arden and choreographer Spencer Liff’s work begins and ends, for the results of their collaborative efforts are so visually stunning it may take your breath away. Sheik’s pop score pummels through the theater, with pinpointed falls of silence communicated through American Sign Language.

It is this sensory overload that makes Spring Awakening soar.

Anyone who has been around a gaggle of teens can attest to witnessing bodies on the verge of discovering themselves, gangly movement and general awkwardness. There is something almost anachronistic about the punctuated and deliberate “voice” of American Sign Language. These actors—by necessity—are keenly in touch with their bodies and the nuances of each specific gesture, and so magnify the stakes for the entire company.

Spring Awakening, as evident by the handful of teens waiting in tears by the stage door after the performance I saw, is palpable.

Spring Awakening
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street, NYC
Through January 24.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @roodeloo.

Three to See: September

September 2nd, 2015 Comments off

“Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh
so mellow.” – The Fantasticks

New York’s theater scene is anything but slow and mellow this fall, as the season gears up with some innovative new productions that have us on the edge of our seats. Here are the Broadway Blog’s top picks for the month.

 

THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE

(l to r) Keith_Nobbs, Matt McGrath, and Wayne Duvall in 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Keith Nobbs, Matt McGrath, and Wayne Duvall in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride.’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

What happens when an Elvis impersonator becomes a winning drag queen in the Florida Panhandle? Playwright Matthew Lopez (The Whipping Man) dishes up a southern comedy starring Matt McGrath (Boys Don’t Cry) and directed by Mike Donahue.

MCC Theater and the Lucille Lortel
121 Christopher Street, NYC
Opening night: September 9

 

SPRING AWAKENING


Duncan Sheik’s stirring, coming-of-age musical won eight Tony awards when it opened in 2006. The newly reimagined Deaf West Theatre production revisits the work, starring Oscar winner Marlee Matlin and choreographed by Emmy award-nominated So You Think You Dance choreographer Spencer Liff.

Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street, NYC
Opening night: September 27

 

CINDERELLA

Davon Rainey in Company XIV's 'Cinderella' (photo: Steven Trumon Gray via The Broadway Blog.)

Davon Rainey in Company XIV’s ‘Cinderella’ (photo: Steven Trumon Gray via The Broadway Blog.)


Move over, Disney. Austin McCormick’s Company XIV returns with an adults-only tale of the girl with the glass slipper. Expect a baroque-burlesque confection of theater, dance, music, circus, opera and sumptuous design.

Company XIV at the Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane, NYC
Opening night: September 30

Matthew Wexler is the Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @roodeloo.

Happy Spring Awakening

March 20th, 2012 Comments off

It’s the vernal equinox. If I’m going to post something, (as Oscar Hammerstein once wrote) it might as well be Spring.