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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.

Joel Grey to be Honored at York Theatre Company Gala

October 6th, 2016 Comments off
Joel Grey (Ovidiu Hrubaru / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Joel Grey (Ovidiu Hrubaru / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

The York Theatre Company will honor legendary Oscar and Tony award-winner Joel Grey with the 25th Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre at 2016 Oscar Hammerstein Award Gala to be held on Monday, December 5, 2016 at The Asia Society (725 Park Avenue).

The Oscar Hammerstein Award, named in honor of the master lyricist and librettist, recognizes significant lifetime achievement in musical theater. The award is endorsed by the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization and the Hammerstein Family.

“For this Silver Anniversary presentation of the Oscar Hammerstein Award, we are thrilled to celebrate the extraordinary Joel Grey, whose artistry—for over half a century—has become an indelible part of Broadway history,” stated James Morgan, York Producing Artistic Director.

Joel Grey made his theatrical debut at the age of nine in the Cleveland Play House production of On Borrowed Time.  Twenty years later, he made his Broadway debut in Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn. Since then, he has been On and Off-Broadway in more than a dozen shows that have netted him a Tony Award, two Drama Desk Awards, and multiple further nominations for each, including Cabaret, George M!, Goodtime Charley, The Grand TourChicago, Wicked, Anything Goes, Give Me Your Answer, Do!, and The Normal Heart, which he later co-directed on Broadway.

He is currently playing Firs in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of The Cherry Orchard. Joel is one of only nine actors to have received the Tony and the Oscar for the same role, having won both as the Emcee in Cabaret. His other film credits include work with directors ranging from Robert Altman to Steven Soderbergh to Lars von Trier.

In 2010, Joel was honored by the Paley Center for his TV career, which spans more than six decades and includes “Brooklyn Bridge” and “Law & Order” to “Oz” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”  He is also an accomplished photographer with work in the permanent collection at the Whitney and four published monographs: “Pictures I Had to Take” “Looking Hard at Unexamined Things,” “1.3: Images From My Phone,” and “The Billboard Papers.” His memoir Master of Ceremonies was published in 2016. This year marks his 75th year in the theater.

For additional information, pricing and reservations, visit www.yorktheatre.org.

 

Happiness Is: Rediscovering ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’

June 14th, 2016 Comments off
The cast of 'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown' at York Theatre Company. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ at York Theatre Company. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

American comedian W.C. Fields is credited with the adage, “Never work with children or animals.”  Fortunately for us, Director Michael Unger and the York Theatre Company has defied such wisdom with their charming production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown

The new treatment of the 1967 musical casts amazingly talented and accomplished children in the roles of: Charlie Brown (Joshua Colley), Schroeder (Gregory Diaz), Snoopy (Aidan Gemme), Lucy (Mavis Simpson-Ernst), Linus (Jeremy T. Villas), and a new character that was developed for the 1999 Broadway revival, Sally (Milly Shapiro).

Clark Gesner’s original book, music, and lyrics have been enhanced with additional dialogue by Michael Mayer and new music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Gesner based the premise on the classic Charles M. Schultz comic strip, Peanuts.

On the surface, the show is little more than vignettes and sketches pieced together with some catchy melodies. Look closer, however, and you’ll notice subtle life lessons: overcoming fear, tackling the feeling of being left out, cooperating with siblings. Lessons like these are swift reminders for both children and parents.

Joshua Colley in 'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Joshua Colley in ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Each of these kids has at least one Broadway credit to their names, and it is no surprise. They all have their moments to shine and are delivering first rate performances—especially Colley. Earlier this year, he nearly stopped the show in the Broadway bound musical, A Bronx Tale at Paper Mill Playhouse. Colley’s Charlie Brown is sensitive, vulnerable, and heart-warming. There is little doubt that this young actor has a long, successful stage career ahead.

Gemme is also a stand-out as the daydreaming Snoopy. His ode to mealtime, “Suppertime,” is a laugh-out-loud moment and simply adorable.

Forget the over-hyped Disney nonsense—this is the perfect family fare. Although Peanuts is not nearly as popular as it once was, Gesner’s show will appeal to a new audience. Furthermore, the tickets are significantly cheaper, the staging more intimate, and you don’t have to fight your way through Times Square to see it. If that’s not the definition of “happiness,” I’m not sure what is.

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
York Theatre Company
619 Lexington Avenue
Through June 26

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.

‘Cagney’: It’s a Yankee-Doodle Dandy

April 3rd, 2016 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

The cast of 'Cagney.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Cagney.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

This is an edited/updated version of my review of the York Theatre Company’s New York premiere of Cagney, posted on The Broadway Blog on June 2, 2015. The show, a biomusical about movie star James Cagney, now being given a commercial run at Off-Broadway’s Westside Theatre, is essentially unchanged; the same relatively minor weaknesses are present, but Cagney remains entirely pleasurable; in fact, I liked it even better the second time around.

James Morgan’s scenery has been expanded and a new costume designer, Martha Bromelmeier, and lighting designer, Michael Gilliam, are on board but the show, while benefitting from a larger stage, doesn’t look that much different from its earlier version. The same superb acting-singing-dancing cast is back, and Robert Creighton, the sparkplug star in the title role, gives one of the most noteworthy performances on any current New York stage.

Robert Creighton as the legendary James Cagney. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Robert Creighton as the legendary James Cagney. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

It’s a bit early to be celebrating the Fourth of July but there’s a firecracker of an all-American musical named Cagney exploding nightly at Off-Broadway’s Westside Theatre in honor of its eponymous hero. James Cagney was famous not only for his many roles as a redheaded, bantam-sized, tough guy, but for his too infrequently filmed talents as a song and dance man, most notably in the still captivating Yankee Doodle Dandy (1941). In it he played an even greater song and dance man (and playwright, composer, lyricist, director, and producer), George M. Cohan, whose music makes up at least 25 percent of the show. Much of this music—“Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Mary,” “Harrigan,” “Over There,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy”—was heard in the 1968 Broadway musical, George M!.

Cagney, originally created in 2009, is the brainchild of another song and dance man, Robert Creighton, who not only plays the New York-born and raised star, but also co-wrote the original music and lyrics with Christopher McGovern (the book is by Peter Colley). In a program note for last year’s York Theatre production (not included in the Westside’s program), Creighton said his obsession with Cagney started after an acting teacher noted his resemblance to him. And, indeed, he looks just enough like the 5’ 5” star to carry off the impersonation, although he’s a bit stockier—more like the middle-aged Cagney—than the lithe actor who rose to fame playing gangsters in 1930s Warner Brothers flicks.

Creighton’s impression of Cagney’s singular, rapid-fire speaking style is inconsistent, but when he’s saying or singing material lifted directly from Cagney’s films, he nails it, especially when he reprises “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in that memorably breathy, Cagneyesque way. To top it all off, this guy can tap dance, even replicating, with modest success, Cagney’s indelible stiff-legged hoofing. (All that’s missing is his dancing up the proscenium walls.) So, while you can niggle about the inevitable shortfalls of watching an actor portray someone so distinctively familiar, you have to hand it to Creighton for overcoming the handicaps and giving a tour de force performance.

The cast of 'Cagney.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Cagney.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Cagney, which breaks no new ground in the biomusical genre, is performed in front of James Morgan’s set, enlarged and improved from the York version to suggest the proscenium of an old-time movie theatre, with a set of panels on which projection designer Mark Pirolo displays movie posters and various locale-setting images; the five-member orchestra is placed upstage of the panels. The actor’s life story is framed by a 1978 event in which ruthless, self-satisfied Warner Brothers head Jack Warner (perfectly depicted by Bruce Sabath), Cagney’s longtime boss and nemesis, is to present Cagney with a SAG Lifetime Achievement Award.

What’s framed is an extended flashback offering a journey through Cagney’s life, from teenage brawler to vaudeville performer, Broadway actor, and Hollywood star in classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and White Heat. His grapefruit-in-your-face scene with Mae Clark in Public Enemy (1931), his contract battles with Warner, the creation of his own company, and the suspicions of the Dies Committee re: his liberal politics are among the subjects covered.

Many characters appear in Cagney, but the main ones are Warner and his adoring secretary, Jane (Danette Holden); Ma Cagney (Holden); comic Bob Hope (Jeremy Benton); Cagney’s wife, Willie (Ellen Zolezzi); and his brother, Bill (Josh Walden). Each actor in the versatile ensemble plays multiple roles (costume designer Martha Bromelmeier has been very busy); Holden, Walden, Zolezzi, and Benton are also tap dance whizzes.

Straightforward dialogue scenes (the weakest links) mingle with musicalized ones and numerous factual liberties are taken. The show includes so many anachronisms and inaccuracies, in fact, that purists will be reaching for their rods. For example, Cagney’s first vaudeville job may have been in drag, but it was as one of a bunch of sailors dressed as a female chorus in an act called Every Sailor, not as someone doing a solo number as a maracas-wielding Spanish dancer at Keith’s 81st Street Theatre (which actually was Keith’s 86th Street Theatre). And, despite what the show says, it wasn’t there that Cagney met his future wife. My advice: shut one eye at the distortions and just enjoy the show as a semi-fictionalized account of Cagney’s life; the movies do it all the time. If you want a good biography, read John McCabe’s Cagney.

Most of the score, which has 18 original numbers, suffers in comparison to Cohan’s standards, but several numbers are more than serviceable, including the opening paean by the company to classic Hollywood, “Black and White.” Other standouts are “A Work of Genius,” “Warner at Work,” and the cleverly done “Cagney at Work,” in which the writers work out storylines as they sit on chairs, tapping the typing sounds with their feet.

Cagney may be imperfect, but this low-concept, high-energy show has so much going for it under the direction of Bill Castellino, especially its abundance of Hollywood nostalgia, a dynamic lead performance, and awesome tap dancing, outstandingly choreographed by Joshua Bergasse (GigiOn the Town), that you’ll rise with the tide for the standing ovation when it’s over.

Cagney
Westside Theatre
407 West 43rd Street, NYC
Open run

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

On Sale: ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’

April 1st, 2016 Comments off

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown

If you were a high school theater geek, then you likely did a production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The original Off-Broadway production was revamped for Broadway in 1999 and earned a Tony Award for Kristin Chenoweth, catapulting her into the limelight. Now some of Broadway’s bright, young stars take on this quirky, little show.

In association with Van Dean and Sister Productions, the York Theatre Company will bring the familiar characters of the Peanuts gang to life on stage this spring in an exciting new production that will combine the toy-piano simplicity of the original with additions from the revival. Stay tuned for casting announcements but grab your tickets now for this limited engagement.

A look back at the 1999 Broadway production…

Don’t Miss: ‘Plaid Tidings’ at York Theatre Company

November 12th, 2015 Comments off

Plaid TidingsThe York Theatre Company, dedicated to the development of new musicals and preserving musical gems from the past, will present the New York premiere of Plaid Tidingsthe holiday edition of the ever popular Forever Plaid, with book by Stuart Ross and vocal and musical arrangements by James Raitt, Brad Ellis, Raymond Berg and David Snyder.  Under the direction and musical staging of Mr. Ross, and with musical continuity and supervision by Mr. Snyder, the four-member cast will be announced shortly.

Performances are set to begin on Tuesday, December 8, 2015 for a limited 3-week engagement through Sunday, December 27, 2015 at The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s (entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue).  Opening night is set for Sunday evening, December 13 at 6:00 p.m.

For the first time in New York, our favorite foursome returns to put on yet another posthumous performance to bring harmony to our troubled world (they get to sing with Perry Como—on stage!), with a holiday special, Plaid Tidings. They are bringing back holiday classics with a Forever Plaid twist—such as “Jingle Bells,” “’Twuz the Night B4…,” and “The Dreidel Song”—while filling the night with general hilarity. Sprinkled among their holiday offerings are audience favorites like their riotous three-minute version of “The Ed Sullivan Show”—this time featuring the Rockettes, the Chipmunks, and the Vienna Boys Choir—and a Plaid Caribbean Christmas which puts the “Day-O” in “Excelsis!”

Plaid Tidings will play the following performance schedule:  Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays – Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Please note, there are two special added performances: Thursday, December 24 (Christmas Eve) at 4:00 p.m. that will include a pre-show reception, holiday cocktails and merriment; and Sunday evening, December 27 at 7:00 p.m.  There is no performance on Friday, December 25 (Christmas Day).

Now on sale, ticket prices for Plaid Tidings from $39.50 -$72.50 and may be purchased by calling (212) 935-5820, online at http://www.yorktheatre.org, or in person at the box office at the York Theatre at Saint Peter’s (Citicorp Building, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue), Monday through Friday (12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.).  York Theatre Members receive a special “Save 45%” for preview performances and a 40% for regular performances.

York Theatre Company offers the 54th Street Membership Program, an exclusive membership package for as low as $54.00 – with elite benefits that includes a 30% discount on tickets to York Theatre Productions (2 per membership), exclusive member pre-sale opportunities, 50% off on all lobby concessions, 20% off on all lobby merchandise, in addition to special member only receptions.

Review: ‘Rothschild & Sons’

October 18th, 2015 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

'Rothschild and Sons' (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Rothschild and Sons’ (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Bankers, stockbrokers, financiers, hedge fund managers, investors—all you one-percenters—have I got a show for you! Everyone else, save your money. But if you’re panting for a show about moneymaking, with dialogue sprinkled with sexy words like stocks, bonds, currency, investments, interest, loans, payments, profit, and loss, then hop into your limo and have your driver drop you off at Off Broadway’s York Theatre Company, where Rothschild & Sons, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Sherman Yellen, is playing.

If you’re thinking that there’s already a musical about the Rothschilds by this very team, you’re right. The Rothschilds opened in 1970 and ran for 505 performances, with Hal Linden (who won the Tony) as the patriarch, Mayer Rothschild. There was also a successful Off Broadway revival in 1990, with Robert Cuccioli as Nathan, one of Mayer’s sons. Cuccioli now plays Mayer in this stripped-down, hour and 45-minute, one-act version of the original.

Robert Cuccioli in 'Rothschild & Sons' (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Robert Cuccioli in ‘Rothschild & Sons’ (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

While the trajectory of the plot, covering the rags to riches story of the German-Jewish Rothschild family, is intact, various incidents and characters have been excised, and several musical numbers not in the original have been included, with new lyrics by the 91-year-old Harnick. The Broadway version had a cast of almost 50, while the new staging uses only 11, some of whom play several roles. Dance was also a prominent factor in the original (iconic director-choreographer Michael Kidd helmed it), but the few moments of choreography at the York (credited to Denis Jones) look more like staged movement than dance.

Harnick and Bock (who died in 2010) created Fiddler on the Roof. Rothschild & Sons has a number of parallels to that great musical. Each focuses on a proud Jewish patriarch, his supportive wife, Gutele (Glory Crampton), and a brood of five children over whose welfare their parents obsess. The Rothschild offspring are boys, unlike Tevye and Golde’s daughters; the Rothschilds live in a German ghetto while Tevye’s family resides in a Russian shtetl. However, while Rothschild starts out as a poor peddler but becomes a financial titan, Tevye remains a poor milkman, only dreaming “If I Were a Rich Man.”

The episodic show (based on a book by Frederick Morton) begins with Mayer’s days as a Frankfurt peddler in 1772, when, by selling rare coins, he ingratiates himself with Prince William of Hesse (Mark Pinter). The crafty Mayer convinces the prince to approve his marriage to Gutele, at a time when only a dozen local Jewish couples a year were allowed to wed. He becomes an agent for court bankers, fathers five boys in rapid succession, trains them in business, shares their desire to see the walls of Europe’s ghettos torn down, sends them off to collect the money owed throughout Europe to Prince William, and has his son Nathan (Christopher M. Williams) invest that money in England. (The original’s romance between Nathan and the wealthy Britisher Hannah Cohen is gone.) Eventually, his dealings with Prince Metternich (Pinter, again), who at first reneges on his promise to remove restrictions against the Jews, succeed, and the House of Rothschild, granted a barony, climbs ever higher in wealth and position.

'Rothschild & Sons' (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Rothschild & Sons’ (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The tech and design elements all click, from Carrie Robbin’s period-appropriate costumes to Kirk Bookman’s creative lighting to James Morgan’s simple set of black walls, with sconces, leading in perspective to a rear wall with an opening for dramatic entrances. Although quality performers, Glory Crampton and Broadway star Robert Cuccioli never rise above being conventionally glamorous leads. Most interesting is Mark Pinter in his several aristocratic roles, displaying something of the colorful versatility that helped Keene Curtis win a Tony for these roles in The Rothschilds.

Still, even a smoothly professional production can’t hide the doldrums that eventually set in with a disappointingly bland score that reveals little of the emotional or humorous impact of Fiddler, and whose sole familiar number, the power ballad “In My Own Lifetime,” needs new batteries. With a script that eliminates romance and, except in dribs and drabs, comedy, this is a show that even Mayer Rothschild might have considered flat, stale, and, worst of all, unprofitable.

Rothschild & Sons
York Theatre Company/The Theater at St. Peter’s
619 Lexington Avenue, NYC
Through November 8

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

Review: ‘Cagney’ at York Theatre Company

June 2nd, 2015 Comments off

Want to win FREE tickets to Broadway and Off Broadway? CLICK HERE!

by Samuel L. Leiter

(l to r) Josh Walden, Ellen Zolezzi, Robert Creighton, Danette Holden and Jeremy Benton in 'Cagney' (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Josh Walden, Ellen Zolezzi, Robert Creighton, Danette Holden and Jeremy Benton in ‘Cagney’ (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

It’s a bit early to be celebrating the Fourth of July but there’s a firecracker of an all-American musical named Cagney exploding nightly at Off-Broadway’s York Theatre Company in honor of its eponymous hero. James Cagney was famous not only for his many roles as a redheaded, bantam-sized, tough guy, but for his too infrequently filmed talents as a song and dance man, most notably in the still captivating Yankee Doodle Dandy (1941). In it he played an even greater song and dance man (and playwright, composer, lyricist, director, and producer), George M. Cohan, whose music makes up at least 25 percent of the show. Much of this music—“Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Mary,” “Harrigan,” “Over There,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy”—was heard in the 1968 Broadway musical, George M!.

Robert Creighton (l) and Jeremy Benton (r) in 'Cagney' (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Robert Creighton (l) and Jeremy Benton (r) in ‘Cagney’ (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Cagney, “A New Musical about Hollywood’s Tough Guy in Tap Shoes,” originally created in 2009, is receiving its New York premiere after earlier showings in Florida and Ontario. It’s the brainchild of another song and dance man, Robert Creighton, who not only plays the New York-born and raised star, but also co-wrote the original music and lyrics with Christopher McGovern (the book is by Peter Colley). In a program note, Creighton says his obsession with Cagney started after an acting teacher noted his resemblance to him. And, indeed, he looks just enough like the 5’ 5” star to carry off the impersonation, although he’s a bit stockier—more like the middle-aged Cagney—than the lithe actor who rose to fame playing gangsters in 1930s Warner Brothers flicks.

Creighton’s impression of Cagney’s singular speaking style is inconsistent, but when he’s saying or singing material lifted directly from Cagney’s films, he nails it, especially when he reprises “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in that memorably breathy Cagneyesque way. To top it all off, this guy can tap dance, even replicating, with modest success, Cagney’s indelible stiff-legged hoofing. So, while you can niggle about the inevitable shortfalls of watching an actor portray someone so distinctively familiar, you have to hand it to Creighton for overcoming the handicaps and giving a tour de force performance.

(l to r) Jeremy Benton, Ellen Zolezzi and Josh Walden in 'Cagney' (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Jeremy Benton, Ellen Zolezzi and Josh Walden in ‘Cagney’ (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Cagney, which breaks no new ground in the biomusical genre, is performed in front of James Morgan’s simple set of movable panels on which projection designer Mark Pirolo displays movie posters; the five-member orchestra is placed upstage of the panels. The actor’s life story is framed by a 1978 event in which ruthless, self-satisfied Warner Brothers head Jack Warner (perfectly depicted by Bruce Sabath), Cagney’s longtime boss and nemesis, is to present Cagney with a SAG Lifetime Achievement Award.

Robert Creighton as the legendary James Cagney in 'Cagney' (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Robert Creighton as the legendary James Cagney in ‘Cagney’ (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

What’s framed is an extended flashback offering a journey through Cagney’s life, from teenage brawler to vaudeville performer, Broadway actor, and Hollywood star in classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and White Heat. His grapefruit-in-your-face scene with Mae Clark in Public Enemy (1931), his contract battles with Warner, the creation of his own company, and the suspicions of the Dies Committee re: his liberal politics are among the areas covered, but at nearly two and a half hours, further compression would be a good idea.

Many characters appear, but the main ones are Warner and his adoring secretary, Jane (Danette Holden); Ma Cagney (Holden); comic Bob Hope (Jeremy Benton); Cagney’s wife, Willie (Ellen Zolezzi); and his brother, Bill (Josh Walden). Each actor in the versatile ensemble plays multiple roles (costume designer Amy Clark has been very busy); Holden, Walden, Zolezzi, and Benton are also tap dance whizzes.

Straightforward dialogue scenes (the weakest links) mingle with musicalized ones and numerous factual liberties are taken. Cagney’s first vaudeville job may have been in drag, but it was as one of a bunch of sailors dressed as women, not as someone dressed anachronistically in a Carmen Miranda fruit cocktail headdress. (See Mickey Rooney’s version of similar material in Babes on Broadway for how to make such corn work.)

Most of the score, which has 18 original numbers, suffers in comparison to Cohan’s standards, but several numbers are more than serviceable, including the opening paean by the company to classic Hollywood, “Black and White,” “A Work of Genius,” sung by Warner and Jane, and both “Warner at Work” and “Cagney at Work,” in which the men work out storylines with their writers who, while sitting, tap the typing sounds with their feet.

Regardless, this low-concept, high-energy show has so much else going for it under the direction of Bill Castellino, especially its abundance of awesome tap dancing, outstandingly choreographed by Joshua Bergasse (Gigi, On the Town), that you’ll rise with the tide for the standing ovation when it’s over.

Cagney
York Theatre Company
The Theater at Saint Peters
619 Lexington Avenue, NYC

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

“Inventing Mary Martin” Premieres at York Theatre Company

February 27th, 2014 Comments off

Peter Pan is perhaps the most important thing, to me, that I have ever done in theater,” said stage and screen star Mary Martin. But her work transcended that production, with lead roles in South Pacific, The Sound of Music, and One Touch of Venus to name a few. Her life is the subject of a new bio-musical to be presented by The York Theatre Company (James Morgan, Producing Artistic Director; Andrew Levine, Executive Director).

The cast of "Inventing Mary Martin" at York Theatre Company (photo: Jenny Anderson) via The Broadway Blog.

The cast of “Inventing Mary Martin” at York Theatre Company (photo: Jenny Anderson) via The Broadway Blog.

Inventing Mary Martin, conceived, written and directed by Stephen Cole, with music supervision and arrangements by David Krane, music direction by Lawrence Goldberg, co-directed and choreographed by Bob Richard, and featuring original music and lyrics by legendary composers Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein, among others, opens this April for a limited run (opening night, April 27).

The world premiere multi-media musical will feature Cameron Adams, Lynne Halliday, Jason Graae and Emily Skinner. In this musical revue, four fabulous performers, none of whom actually plays Mary (who could?) take us on her amazing journey from naive but ambitious Texan to movie star to Broadway legend, reinventing herself constantly along the way.

The show shines a light on the magic that was Mary Martin. Imagine Side by Side by Sondheim meets Ain’t Misbehavin with a score with musical giants of the Golden Age of Broadway—a time when stopping the show with a saucy but innocent striptease in “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” could propel a novice to a 4o-year career as the Great White Way’s brightest star.

Review: “I’m a Stranger Here Myself”

May 6th, 2013 Comments off


Guest contributor Jason Mitchell reviews
I’m a Stranger Here Myself

When the curtain speech finished with “All Aboard the S.S. Weimar” and the lights rose on an interesting set outlined in art of the era, I was excited to be transported to the Weimar Republic. This is a time period that gifted performer Mark Nadler is clearly passionate about and has chosen to write and perform about his new musical I’m a Stranger Here Myself. Unfortunately we’re never taken very far from our seats at the York Theatre Company, as the format of the show feels much more like a lecture Nadler would give on the subject at a university rather than a theatrical journey to the Weimar and beyond.

The show includes a thought-provoking selection of music, including work by Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz, Frederick Hollander, and Arno billing among others. Nadler is at his strongest skillfully playing the piano and singing with gusto, joined by Franca Vercelloni (accordion) and Jessica Tyler Wright (violin), as he evokes artists such as Lotte Lenya, Marlene Dietrich, and Gertrude Lawrence. These musical moments are the highlight of the piece and showcase Nadler’s musical talent, especially his passionate “Bilbao Song,” “The Lavender Song,” and his endearing “Schickelgruber.” The two musicians are as gifted as Nadler, but at times the way they are incorporated could use a bit more finesse.

Mark Nadler in "I'm a Stranger Here Myself." (photo: Carol Rosegg)

Where the show suffers is in between the music. Nadler is attempting to cover too much ground, from his own family history, story of moving to New York, and cabarets that used to exist here in addition to the background and inspiration of the artists whose work he’s performing, Hitler’s lineage, and the plight of Jews and homosexuals as the Weimar era was destroyed. The weaving of story-telling, history lessons, and musical performance isn’t particulalry seamless, and since it’s told in direct address to the audience and accompanied by a non-stop and at times distracting LCD presentation of images, I couldn’t help but wish this was a professor whose class I’d love to enroll in. And in educational format, Nadler really hits the audience over the head by poitning out recurring themes found in all of this music, rather than giving us a chance to make connections and discoveries of our own.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself is an ambitious piece, and Nadler’s performance is filled with passion and heart. If he had formatted this piece differently, perhaps I would have joined him to “Come A-Wandering With Me” or thought to myself “I May Never Go Home.”

I’m a Stranger Here Myself
Through May 19, 2013
York Theatre Company
619 Lexington Avenue
www.yorktheatre.org 

Jason Mitchell is an event planner, author, and playwright who resides in New York City.