“As You Like It” @ Bay Street

John Doyle’s Jazz Era staging of Shakespeare’s classic As You Like It with original music by Stephen Schwartz showcases a nimble ensemble led by Ellen Burstyn.

August 12, 2017:  A poignant As You Like It opened at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor staged by the visionary director John Doyle. The comedy boasts original music by Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz and a performance by Tony, Oscar, and Emmy award winner Ellen Burstyn as the melancholy Jacques, a role traditionally played by a man.

John Doyle’s Jazz Era staging of Shakespeare’s classic As You Like It with original music by Stephen Schwartz showcases a nimble ensemble led by Ellen Burstyn.

August 12, 2017:  A poignant As You Like It opened at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor staged by the visionary director John Doyle. The comedy boasts original music by Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz and a performance by Tony, Oscar, and Emmy award winner Ellen Burstyn as the melancholy Jacques, a role traditionally played by a man.

The playful tale focuses on the romance of Rosalind, one of Shakespeare’s greatest heroines, and Orlando, played by Hannah Cabell and Kyle Scatliffe. respectively.  When she is banished from the King’s castle Rosalind seeks freedom in the Forest of Arden disguised as a man with her cousin Celia the King’s daughter played by Quincy Tyler Bernstine, and a wise/fool Touchstone played by theater icon Andre De Shields.

Tony Award-winning Director John Doyle’s sets his minimalistic staging of As You Like It in the Jazz Era and transforms the Bay Street theater into the magical Forest of Arden infused with a melodic Jazz score by Stephen Schwartz, the composer of Broadway’s long running hit musical Wicked and luminous lighting by Mike Baldassari.” His gifted ensemble finds love and laughter and even more in Doyle’s lively take on Shakespeare.

 The performances at Bay Street Theater end on September 3rd followed by a 6-week run at Classic Stage in New York’s East Village.

Photography: Barry Gordin

Director John Doyle, Andre De Shields
Executive Director Bay Street Theater Tracy Mitchell, JZ Holden, Jules Feiffer
Artistic Director Bay Street Theater Scott Schwartz, Executive Director Bay Street Theater Tracy Mitchell, Andre De Shields
Kyle Scatiffe, Bob Stillman, Andre De Shields, Noah Brody, David Samuel

Patrick Woerner, Emma Jacbos
Lauren Molina, Bruce T. Sloane, Nick Cearley “The Skivvies”
Deb Zum, Jane Baron Sherman
Judy Carmichael
Bridget LeRoy, Judy Carmichael, Gary Hygom, Tracy Mitchell
Stewart Lane, Bonnie Comley
Patrick Christiano, Ellen Burstyn
Bruce T Sloane, Selma Sloane, Douglas C Petri
Ada Samuelsson
Ellen Burstyn, Andre De Shields
Robin & Joe Sparacio
Lauren Molina, Scott Schwartz, Nick Cearley
Riki Kane Larimer, Bill Castellini
Tracy Mitchell, Lance Gotko, Paul Caddell.
Michael Riedel

 

 

 

Guild Hall Summer Gala

The Black and White Summer Gala: Celebrating AVEDON’S AMERICA

August 11, 2017:  Guild Hall in East Hampton celebrated their annual Summer Gala, a lavish black and white affair honoring Bonnie Lautenberg. The evening started with a private exhibition preview of AVEDON’S AMERICA in the museum followed by cocktails, music, dancing, dining, and a very lively art auction at a private home in Amagansett. The dinner was hosted by April Gornik and honored philanthropist and photographer Bonnie Lautenberg.

The Black and White Summer Gala: Celebrating AVEDON’S AMERICA

August 11, 2017:  Guild Hall in East Hampton celebrated their annual Summer Gala, a lavish black and white affair honoring Bonnie Lautenberg. The evening started with a private exhibition preview of AVEDON’S AMERICA in the museum followed by cocktails, music, dancing, dining, and a very lively art auction at a private home in Amagansett. The dinner was hosted by April Gornik and honored philanthropist and photographer Bonnie Lautenberg.

Alec Baldwin, President of the Board of Trustees, and Andrea Grover, Executive of Director of Guild Hall, spoke briefly at the dinner prior to the auction, which raised a quarter of million dollars from 9 lots. A Richard Avedon photograph, Dovima with Elephants 14 x 11 inches, went for $75,000. The artist Yung Jake, whose “Emoji Portraits” were recently featured in the NYTimes, was the DJ for the cocktail hour and the amazing Questlove was the DJ for the after party.

Photography:Barry Gordin

Martin Avedon, Caroline Avedon, William Avedon, Michael Avedon
Laura Avedon, James Martin, Christina Strassfield
Lucy Cookson, Steve Cookson
Hilaria Baldwin with Baby Leo, Alec Baldwin, Edward Pantzer, Pamela Pantzer
Joanna Grover Watson, Priyanka Chopra
Kasper, Linda Lindenbaum
Alec Baldwin, Hilaria Baldwin

Janet Lehr
Kate Mueth, Josh Gladstone
Museum Director and Chief Curator of Guild Hall Christina Strassfield
Bart & Jane Shallot
Michele Cohen Chairman of Guild Hall Marty Cohen
Alec Baldwin, Reilly Rose Schombs, Andrea Grover, Victoria Dudek-Tipton, Hilaria Baldwin with Leo
Hilaria Baldwin and Baby Leo
David Lewis
David Lewis, Patrick Christiano, Andrea Grover, Cheryl Minikes
Dalita Keumurian, Laura Perrotti, Michael LaGreca
Andrea Grover, Stewart Lane, Bonnie Comley (Broadway HD)
Iris Smyles, Frederic Tuten, Andrea Grover
Michael Minikes, Cheryl Minikes
Joe Brondo, Jennifer Brondo
Andrea Grover, Joanna Grover Watson
Richard Fabricant, Florence Fabricant
Marty Cohen, Carlos Lama
Bonnie Lautenberg, MIchael Lynne

Ron Kaplan, Toni Ross

Questlove

 

Frozen

Frozen Tickets Go On Sale Monday Aug 14, 2017  for Disney’s Stage Adaptation 

By: Ellis Nassour

Though the St. James Theatre box office will not be open until November 13, single tickets for the much-anticipated stage adaptation of Disney’s Frozen go on sale Monday. Performances begin at the renovated St. James on February 22, with opening night planned for mid-March 2018.

Frozen Tickets Go On Sale Monday Aug 14, 2017  for Disney’s Stage Adaptation 

By: Ellis Nassour

Though the St. James Theatre box office will not be open until November 13, single tickets for the much-anticipated stage adaptation of Disney’s Frozen go on sale Monday. Performances begin at the renovated St. James on February 22, with opening night planned for mid-March 2018.

The St. James box office will open on November 13, but you can purchase single tickets beginning Monday at www.FrozenTheMusical.com or by calling the Disney on Broadway hotline, (866) 870-2717. If you wish to purchase tickets for a group of 20 or more, go to www.DisneyTheatricalSales.com or call (800) 439-9000.

Based on the 2013 film written by a trio of Oscar winners, Frozen features music and lyrics by the creators of the film score, Tony, Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy-winner Robert Lopez (Avenue Q, Book of Mormon) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (In Transit). The stage book is written by Jennifer Lee (films ZootopiaWreck-It Ralph), who wrote the screenplay and co-directed the blockbuster animated film (with Chris Buck).

Frozen won 2014 Oscars for Best Song (the chart-topping “Let It Go,” sung, of course, by Tony winner Idina Menzel) and Best Animated Feature. It also received BAFTA’s Award for Best Animated Film.

The roles of Princess/Queen Elsa of Arendelle and Princess Anna will be played, respectively, by Caissie Levy (a former Elphaba in Wicked; Les Miz; Ghost; Hair) and singer/dancer Patti Murin (Lyistrata Jones, Xanadu).

Co-starring in the cast of 40, which will be one of the largest ever on Broadway, in equally-coveted principal roles are Jelani Alladin (he-man Kristoff), Greg Hildreth (lively snowman Olaf), John Riddle (Prince Hans), Andrew Pirozzi (reindeer Sven), and Lion King, Little Mermaid, and Cagney‘s tough-guy tap dancer extraordinaire Robert Creighton (the scheming Duke of Weselton). Audrey Bennett and Mattea Conforti will portray Young Anna); Brooklyn Nelson and Ayla Schwartz, Young Elsa.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow QueenFrozen tells the story of a fearless princess (Anna) who sets off on a journey alongside a rugged iceman, his loyal pet reindeer, and a naïve snowman to find her estranged sister (Elsa), now the Queen, whose icy powers have inadvertently trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.

The stage musical is told in two acts and, according to Disney “is the first and only incarnation of the tale that expands upon and deepens its indelible plot and themes through new songs and story material from the film’s creators.”

In fact, the stage production features more than twice as much music as the film.

Tony-winning director Michael Grandage (Red) helms the production. Grandage is also a three-time Oliver-winning director. Tony winner Rob Ashford (Thoroughly Modern Millie; revivals, How to Succeed… and Evita; choreographer, Disney’s Cinderella film; TV’s Peter Pan and Sound of Music Live) and multiple Tony and Olivier is choreographer. Two-time Tony  winner Stephen Oremus (Avenue Q, Wicked, The Book of Mormon) is music supervisor; Chris Montan, executive music producer); and Brian Usifer, music director.

Frozen is produced by Disney Theatrical Productions under the direction of Thomas Schumacher. The show will join Disney hits Aladdin and The Lion King on Broadway.

Frozen’s design team includes scenic and costume design by two-time Tony and Olivier Award winner Christopher Oram; lighting by six-time Tony winner Natasha Katz (Aladdin; Hello Dolly!; An American in Paris);  Jeremy Chernick (Aladdin, upcoming two-parter Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), special effects: four-time Tony nominee Peter Hylenski, sound; Tony winner Finn Ross, video; and Michael Curry, puppet design. 

Frozen begins its pre-Broadway tryout next week [through October 1] at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. For information on the Denver engagement visit www.DenverCenter.org.

Bulletin: According to Disney’s press office:Frozen will utilize a series of Disney Theatrical production consumer-friendly programs, such as flexible exchanges and verified resale via Ticketmaster. To combat fraud, print-at-home tickets will be completely replaced by Ticketmaster’s mobile device entry technology.”

 

HIFF SummerDocs @ Gurney’s

Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton

Friday, August 4, 2017: Nestled on a roof top bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean HIFF hosted a documentary where the ocean is a main character. A picture perfect setting for the remarkable story of the legendary surfer Laird Hamilton, an American icon who changed the sport of big wave surfing forever. Transcending the surf genre, this in-depth portrait of a hard-charging athlete told with majestic cinematography explores the fear, courage and ambition that push a man to greatness-and the cost that comes with it.

Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton

Friday, August 4, 2017: Nestled on a roof top bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean HIFF hosted a documentary where the ocean is a main character. A picture perfect setting for the remarkable story of the legendary surfer Laird Hamilton, an American icon who changed the sport of big wave surfing forever. Transcending the surf genre, this in-depth portrait of a hard-charging athlete told with majestic cinematography explores the fear, courage and ambition that push a man to greatness-and the cost that comes with it.

Laird’s incredible story began in 1960s Hawaii. Finding solace from an abusive home, he rebelled and funneled his energy into big wave Pipeline surfing, awakening a natural talent.

More than an athlete with Hollywood good looks, Hamilton proved himself a true innovator, pushing conventions to the extreme and reinventing surfing throughout his career. A pioneer in both tow-in surfing and foil boarding, he distinguished himself from surfing legends of the time who wanted to maintain the purity of the sport.

Mixing evocative, unseen archival footage with intimate access into Laird’s current adventures, distinguished filmmaker Rory Kennedy celebrates Hamilton’s lifelong desire to charge new frontiers and his intense commitment to conquering the next wave at all costs.

After the screening, Alec Baldwin hosted a conversation with the filmmaker Rory Kennedy and the legendary surfer Laird Hamilton. Sponsor Finlandia Vodka poured complimentary drinks all evening long.

Next Up in SummerDoc series is:
“Whitney: Can I Be Me,” showing at Southampton Arts Center on Thursday, August 17, with director Nick Broomfield.
Concluding the HIFF SummerDoc series will be at Guild Hall “Icarus” on Saturday, August 26, with director Bryan Fogel.

Photography: Barry Gordin

Mark Bailey, Gabby Reece, Laird Hamilton, Rory Kennedy, Hilaria Baldwin, Alec Baldwin, Anne Chaisson, David Nugent
Rory Kennedy, Stuart Match Suna
Bruce Weber, Nan Bush, Rory Kennedy, Gabby Reese, Laird Hamilton , Mark Bailey
Cristina Cuomo, Rory Kennedy, Rylan Jacka
Gabby Reece, Laird Hamilton, Hilaria Baldwin, Alec Baldwin

 

 

Raging Skillet ****

By: Iris Wiener

Food plays an integral part in many musicals and plays (Waitress, She Loves Me and Sweeney Todd are only a few); after all, it’s often a metaphor for an overarching theme in the given story. In Jacques Lamarre’s Raging Skillet, food transcends symbolism (and the fourth wall, as delectables are actually distributed to the audience) and it becomes a variety of bookmarks in a delightfully funny piece based on the memoir-with-recipes of Chef Rossi.

By: Iris Wiener

Food plays an integral part in many musicals and plays (Waitress, She Loves Me and Sweeney Todd are only a few); after all, it’s often a metaphor for an overarching theme in the given story. In Jacques Lamarre’s Raging Skillet, food transcends symbolism (and the fourth wall, as delectables are actually distributed to the audience) and it becomes a variety of bookmarks in a delightfully funny piece based on the memoir-with-recipes of Chef Rossi.

The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi, a Memoir with Recipes was discovered by LaMarre at a book expo where Rossi was demonstrating her flair for cooking while wowing patrons with her colorful stories. LaMarre, who also saw success with food-as-a-memoir play I Love, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, has brought Rossi’s bold but endearing story of rebellion and her search for identity to a great triumph in Raging Skillet. Everyone can relate to some aspect of the absorbing story of a mother and a daughter, and the conflicting views that poke at their commitment to their family.

Raging Skillet begins with rebellious caterer Rossi (Dana Smith-Croll) celebrating the launch of her new book with a party. She enters a stage that also functions as a working kitchen (designed by Michael Schweikardt), moving through smoke and fog, surrounded by a backdrop of speakers aimed to set a tone of defiant musicality. The energetic club-like vibe is cemented with the upbeat, entertaining antics of DJ Skillit (George Salazar), who is a multi-threat as he pumps up the crowd in his multiple roles of sidekick, assistant, and the many-sided characters that flitted throughout Rossi’s life. When the ghost of Rossi’s deceased Orthodox Jewish mother (Marilyn Sokol) arrives unannounced, the self-professed “lesbian punk-rock caterer” finds herself coming to terms with the family and traditions that shaped her persona.

Marilyn Sokol

Yes, Skillet does offer its audiences tastes of the treats Rossi prepares as she reminisces about her first catering job, the day Elvis died, and designing vagina-themed fare for an Eve Ensler party (Smith-Croll’s description of a four-foot fruit crotch is hysterical).  However, despite the pizza bagels, Manischevitz spritzers and chocolate covered bacon, the most delightful aspect of the play is the actors. Smith-Croll’s Chef Rossi is as flavorful as her food, spirited and comic in both her snark and buoyancy. Sokol’s Mom gets the best one-liners (“Just like your name, you take a nice Jewish thing and make it Italian,” she tells Rossi of her decision to make pizza bagels). Her snappy, heartfelt delivery of such has audiences simultaneously groaning and longing to embrace their own eccentric mothers. Drama Desk nominee Salazar (The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical) reminds audiences why he is a wunderkind of theatre. As DJ Skillit he takes on a multitude of characters (without the aid of costume changes), demonstrating his versatility, charisma, and flawless ease with physical comedy.

John Simpkins’ direction of Raging Skillet is intelligent and accessible. Audiences are one with the story from its first moment, as DJ Skillit and Rossi interact with them while they move through the aisles, chatting, ad-libbing, and distributing goodies in a truly unique experience catered to each crowd. Julian Evans’ sound design is clever, both in the creative music used to color segways between “chapters” of Rossi’s life, and the sound’s construction. Salazar should also be credited with his skillful distortion of voices and sound, formed in view of the audience with an iPad. His embodiment of a DJ is truly all-encompassing! John Lasiter’s lighting is intelligent and creative, especially when coupled with Michael McKiernan’s projection design. Images and icons taken from The True Life Story of Chef Rossi layer eye-popping signage of the book’s title.

LaMarre’s flair for connecting with an audience truly pulls Raging Skillet together for a cohesive story, one that is never flat and consistently threatening to boil over with hilarity. The show’s heart is always immediately beneath its uppermost layer. Whether in a solemn moment DJ Skillit is reminding Rossi that she would be much more boring without her mother’s influence, or Mom is watching her daughter longingly as she leaves her one final time, Raging Skillet will stay with audiences far longer than any of the delicious calories consumed.

Raging Skillet ****
TheaterWorks
223 Pearl Street
Hartford, CT 06103
For Tickets Call 860 527-7838
JULY 20, 2017 — AUGUST 27, 2017

Follow Iris Wiener on Twitter @Iris_Wiener or visit her at www.IrisWiener.com.’

To visit Raging Skillet at TheaterWorks Hartford through August 27th visit www.theaterworkshartford.org or call 860-527-7838.
Photos: Lanny Nagler

Remembering Barbara Cook

Barbara Cook: October 25, 1927 – August 8, 2017

By: Ellis Nassour

One of Broadway’s most famous sopranos and a darling of the concert world, Barbara Cook died Tuesday morning of respiratory failure at her Manhattan home. According to publicist Amanda Kaus, at her last meal she was served vanilla ice cream, a nod to one of her most famous roles, shop clerk Amelia Balash, and oft-quoted songs in Bock and Harnick’s 1963 She Loves Me. Lauded as the “singer’s singer,” she was 89.

Barbara Cook: October 25, 1927 – August 8, 2017

By: Ellis Nassour

One of Broadway’s most famous sopranos and a darling of the concert world, Barbara Cook died Tuesday morning of respiratory failure at her Manhattan home. According to publicist Amanda Kaus, at her last meal she was served vanilla ice cream, a nod to one of her most famous roles, shop clerk Amelia Balash, and oft-quoted songs in Bock and Harnick’s 1963 She Loves Me. Lauded as the “singer’s singer,” she was 89.

Barbara Cook’s pure soprano tone and warm presence have delighted audiences around the world just short of 70 years. Considered a favorite ingénue during the heyday of the Broadway musical, Miss Cook launched a second career as a concert and recording artist. She was blessed with the ability of sustaining mesmerizing and lengthy high notes with great clarity. It’s amazing how very personal she could make lyrics. You’d see that she was feeling them and that made for an affecting performance.

In her trademark black pants, black pull-over that was a cross between a chemise and a poncho and those oh-so-comfortable sandals, Miss Cook was equally at home on international stages, such as London’s Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall or intimate cabaret settings, such as Cafe Carlyle, where she often rang in Spring with long-time collaborator and accompanist [the late] Wally Harper, and Feinstein’s at former Loews Regency.

She had a much-lauded career with Tony, Grammy, New York Drama Critics Circle, and Drama Desk Awards. Miss Cook is a Theatre Hall of Fame inductee. In January, 2007 Miss Cook became the first female pop singer to present a full concert at the Metropolitan Opera in its 123-year history.

The person who often told Miss Cook what to do and the one she trusted most, Harper, whom she called her rock, “someone who understood me better than I understood myself.”

His death in 2004 was a devastating blow. Theirs was an incredible partnership “where we knew what the other was thinking before we thought it. That’s not to say we didn’t argue and disagree,” she laughs. “Just like old friends, we went at each other over just about everything under the sun. In spite of that, we got along quite nicely. Now that I think about it, maybe it was because we actually rarely disagreed. On those occasions when we did, I listened to him. The best I can say about Wally is that he was simply a musical genius!”

From their first meetings in the 70s, Harper wanted to add another “element” to Miss Cook. She explained he really pushed her, not always willingly, to experiment to see what she was capable of doing. The result was the addition of a strong rhythmic pattern to her vocals.

In the early 90s, Miss Cook was beyond thrilled to be named to the Theater Hall of Fame. Though concerts and cabaret became her bread and butter, “Broadway,” she said, “is still my first love.”

In 2011, she became an honoree at the 34th annual Kennedy Center Honors and, with her fellow inductees Neil Diamond, Yo-Yo Ma, Sonny Rollins, and Meryl Streep, feted at the White House by President and Mrs. Obama. “With her sublime voice and rich performances,” said Kennedy Center chair David Rubenstein, “Barbara Cook has defined all that’s best and brightest in the Great American Songbook.”

Her 2004 engagement on the West End was SRO. Returning stateside, she took the show to the Lincoln Center’s Beaumont for 14 sold-out weeks, and received critical raves. She was Tony-nominated for Best Theatrical Event. Miss Cook and Harper, a team for over 30 years, were recipients of MAC Lifetime Achievement Awards.

Three years earlier, she premiered Mostly Sondheim at Carnegie Hall and took it to the West End, where she was nominated for Olivier Awards for Best Entertainment and Best Actress in a Musical.

Her last Broadway appearance was in 2010, for 76 performances, in Sondheim on Sondheim, co-starring with Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat, Leslie Kritzer, Norm Lewis, Erin Mackey, Euan Morton, and Matthew Scott.

Morton, currently appearing in Hamilton, says, “I was blessed to work with the very best, but I cannot sing the praises of Miss Cook enough. I simply fell madly in love with her. She was 83and stunning. I couldn’t help but marvel at how she sounded. Her voice was mesmerizing, simply exquisite. She told me she hadn’t done eight shows a week in over three decades and that she was concerned, worried about her physical stamina. We watched her closely, but she soldiered on gloriously!”



Miss Cook related that she never thought of Sondheim tunes as songs, “but as gifts. I love the simplicity and the clarity of Irving Berlin, and Stephen’s work has that also. There’s something so rich about his work that I never tire of his songs. The more I do them, the more I’m finding different things and subtleties. Quite simply, nobody writes as he does.”

She became one of the finest interpreters of the composer’s work, and he had high praise for her: “No one sings theater songs with more feeling for the music or more understanding of the lyrics than Barbara Cook.”

Barbara Cook graduated in 1945 from Girls High in Atlanta, where she remembered how students poked fun at her because she wore the same clothes over and over. She sang for troops at the U.S.O. and many local organizations. Everyone was wowed by her voice. She worked three years as a typist to fulfill her dream of moving to New York.

Three years later, “I was on my way to seek my fame and fortune” with no plans to return. “Mom thought it was just going to be a visit,” she laughs, “but I packed everything I owned. I wanted to see what I can do with my singing. She didn’t believe me, but after two weeks she was on her way home alone. Now, looking back, because we were so close, she must have been devastated. She lost a daughter [complications from pneumonia], but accused me of being responsible – something that haunted me for years. As far as Mom was concerned, we were one person with no separation, no boundaries. Thankfully, I am a strong person or I might not have survived that.”

She continued as a typist and went to as many auditions as she could squeeze in. The summer of 1950, she worked in the Poconos at Tamiment resort. “It was a wonderful time, and I learned so much,” she noted. “There was Danny Kaye, Side Caesar, Herbert Ross, and Jerry Robbins. I was the ingénue, and Jack Cassidy was the juvenile, and we did songs from Broadway shows. People kept encouraging me and I gradually built confidence.” She would in the not so distant future cross paths again with Cassidy.

A long-term cabaret experience in Boston prepared her for Broadway and clubs. “I spent nine months doing revues with small casts. The music was Porter, Gershwin and Berlin.”

It took three years before luck struck, but romance beat luck to the door. Miss Cook met acting teacher David LeGrant in 1952 when they worked the same resort.  After marrying, they hit the road in a 1953 national tour of Oklahoma! [The couple had a son, Adam, born in 1959.] They divorced in 1965, one of the incidents that led her to begin drinking to find solace.

The tour brought her to the attention of casting directors. She made her Broadway debut at 23 in 1951 as the ingénue lead in Sammy Fain, Yip Harburg, and Fred Saidy’s Flahooley, which co-starred the exotic Peruvan singer Yma Sumac. “Considering the great talents in theater at that time,” she said, “that was pure luck. However, we closed after 40 performances.”

She was back to auditioning, which soon paid off with limited engagements of musicals at City Center and went on to roles in Plain and Fancy, the original Candide as Cunegonde, The Music Man as Marian the Librarian, The Gay Life, She Loves Me!, The Grass Harp and, less we forget, Carrie on the West End.

“In 1956, when I heard who was putting Candide together,” she pointed out, “I wanted to be cast, but never thought I’d get a part. My vocal instructor insisted I learn Verdi, Puccini, and Mozart, even though I kept telling him it wasn’t the type of music I wanted to sing.” As it turned out, that insistence was a huge pay off. “When I arrived at my first audition, I was surrounded by opera singers.

“Leonard Bernstein was late, always late,” she continued, “but I used the wait to look over the sheet music. With all those high notes, you could have mistaken it for grand opera.”

Audition she did, and Bernstein was impressed enough to want to hear more, but not what she was prepared to sing. In what she called quite a brazen and foolhardy moment, she told the maestro that she would do an aria from Madama Butterlfy if she had the music.

“He said, ‘I don’t need the music! I know it.’ And Mr. Bernstein sat at the piano and started playing – at a different place than I knew. He was playing a part of the aria I didn’t know! But we got on the same page and I gathered all my strength and ended with a D Flat and, boy, did he perk up!”

Candide lasted only 73 performances. “But,” noted Miss Cook, “what a pedigree it boasted: the only musical libretto by Lillian Hellman and one of Leonard Bernstein’s best scores. Lyricist, John LaTouche, sadly, died prior to rehearsals and Richard Wilbur took over. No less than Dorothy Parker came in to make a few contributions.”

Miss Cook related that she learned a lot about music working with Bernstein. “He was wonderful and made me feel as if I could do anything. He loved to catch you off guard. There was, however, one time I could have strangled him. He came to my dressing room and took great delight in telling me Callas was out front. ‘That’s not what I need to hear before a performance,’ I shot back. He laughed and replied, ‘Watch out! She’d kill for some of your E Flats!'”

She observed when starting out, that she didn’t put a lot of thought into acting a song. “That’s something that evolved. In time, I came to understand how to absorb the lyrics, inhibit and feel them as if they’re part of me. I live inside the songs I love, and sing my way out.”

For The Music Man, Miss Cook won a 1958 Tony. Strangely, it was in the Featured category when she was the co-star opposite Robert Preston and even billed above the title. “There were compensations,” she said. “It was a wonderful show and I couldn’t have asked for a more outstanding, easy-going, or nicer co-star than Robert. It was such a pleasure to come to work and hard to believe I was enjoying every day as much I was. Robert was the engine of the show, the spark. Onstage, he had enough electricity to light Chicago for ten years

“It was nice being in a show that was such a hit,” she adds. “Everyone who was anyone came, and came back after. One night Robert came into my dressing room for our usual chit chat and said, ‘Coop’s out front.’ I replied, ‘Coop?’ He said, ‘Yes, Coop. Gary Cooper.’ That got my attention. I told him if I didn’t meet him there’d be hell to pay. After the curtain, there was a knock on my door. I opened it and there he was – all six foot three of him. I looked up and said, ‘Oh, Mr. Cooper, it’s so wonderful to meet you. I’m a huge fan.’ And he replied, ‘Gosh.’ And that was it. Yes, there are some disappointments in life.”

In 1961, she was cast in the much-anticipated Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz musical The Gay Life, with book by the Fay and Michael Kanin – based on a cycle of late 1890s Viennese short stories by Arthur Schnitzler that focus on a womanizing playboy, who ultimately marries Liesl. The score is a mixture of traditional Broadway tunes and operetta. As Liesl, Miss Cook had two memorable tunes: “Magic Moment” and “Something You Never Had Before.” “It was such a lovely show [directed by Gerald Freedman, choreographed by Herbert Ross]. Walter Chari and Jules Mushin were so wonderful to work with.” The show closed after 113 performances. Another disappointment.

She went on to become a memorable Anna in the City Center revival of The King and I and was a stunning Magnolia in a New York State Theater production of Show Boat. She ventured into non-musical roles during the run of Any Wednesday, in Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders, and Lincoln Center Theatre’s production of Gorky’s Enemies.

Miss Cook was known to have a temper. She also had a long memory. “However,” she recalled, “whenever I was asked how it felt to work in Broadway’s so-called ‘Golden Years,’ I said I didn’t know. I didn’t. I was just walking, one foot in front of the other, wondering where my next job would come from. Do you think, one day, the actors working today will look back at this time as the ‘Golden Years’ of musicals?”

On second thought, rolling off names such as Ethel Merman, Gwen Verdon, Rex Harrison, and Julie Andrews and the shows they were appearing in at the time, she opined, “I guess those were golden years. And I was lucky to be where I was. It was just the right time and I was the right package. I was so fortunate to have worked with such amazing people.”

There was a huge disappointment in 1964. Her She Loves Me! co-star Jack Cassidy was nominated for a Tony for his portrayal of Stephen Kadaly, but in her integral role as Amalia Balash, in one of the great mysteries for theatrical history books, she – who had become a musical theater darling — was inexplicably overlooked, in spite of rapturous reviews, by the Tony nominators.

She did win featured Tonys for The Music Man and Sondheim on Sondheim.

There is one theatrical experience she preferred to talk about. However, she eventually came round.

“Tastes had changed,” she said. “My style of music was out-of-favor with audiences that count. Work was hard to find. In 1988, when Royal Shakespeare Company director Terry Hands offered me the co-starring role in Carrie at Stratford, it seemed like a good idea. It would be a new start. And the show was set to move from London right to Broadway.”

Barbara Cook playing Margaret White was quite unusual casting [the part was played on Broadway for a few nights by Betty Buckley]. Throughout her career, Miss Cook said she played those nice girls Broadway audiences loved. She certainly wasn’t your vision of a rabid religious fanatic, “but I dug in and gave it my all. There were more than a few creative differences during rehearsals.” She and Hands got into heated arguments. She wanted to quit but thought that would be unprofessional, so she courageously stuck with the show.

“Courageously” is not used casually. “On opening night,” reported Miss Cook, “in one of those freak stage accidents, I literally almost gave it my all. I was nearly decapitated when one of the props malfunctioned!” She wanted out as soon as possible, and leave was granted. “I did absolutely the right thing in leaving. It was a debacle. There were some good songs, but as a whole it was…Oh, God!”

Hands, then a leading light of the RSC, she explained “had a good vision – in the beginning. But he was used to directing works by dead authors. He’d never done a musical [actually, he had]. Carrie was a whole different can of worms. And I think we may have had a few cans of them onstage! I don’t know if it was so much ill-conceived, or just problem-plagued. The biggest problem was that not one person working on it had done a show from scratch. No one had a clue as to how to fix it. I thought if a scene didn’t work, Terry would see it. He didn’t.”

Miss Cook’s new theatrical beginning was not to be. Though she stopped drinking in the late 70s, she developed manic depression, which led her to step away from the limelight and out of public life. “Then, somewhere, somehow when I saw how I was spiraling to that point of no return, I pulled myself up and sought help.”

Part of her “recuperation” was getting back onstage and singing. And her concert appearances and new recordings led to rediscovery from new audiences.

Candide, She Loves Me! and The Music Man were great experiences. “Though I haven’t done musical theater since 1971’s The Grass Harp,” she observed, “there’s nothing like being in a Broadway show. I loved everything about it, especially the rehearsal period and being with people all working toward one goal. I made bonds that will last forever. Theater offers a wonderful sense of family and camaraderie. Even when you don’t always get along!”

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What? Not get along with Cunegonde, Marian the Librarian, and Amalia Balash? “No, when they didn’t get along with Barbara Cook,” she retorted. “It happened occasionally. But usually it was like we were all fighting on the same side, in the trenches, watching out for each other.”

On those rare occasions when there were serious falling outs or a problem with a fellow performer, Cook said it was difficult to leave hurt feelings backstage, especially when she had to go out and sing a romantic ballad and do a love scene. “A couple of times it was quite the most difficult thing! Most of the time, however, I just went out and did it. I didn’t have a choice. Thankfully, the problems I had didn’t last long. I’d try to patch things up quickly.

“It all comes down to the fact that you’re not out there alone,” she continued. “Some actors thrive on that. I never did. I hate that! I always tried to keep things cool because it’s hard to work if you feel you can’t trust the other person.”

Miss Cook was greatly influenced in her approach to concert and cabaret music by the legendary song stylist Mabel Mercer. “I owe so much to Mabel for all I learned from her.”

Surprisingly, Miss Cook never did warm-ups or vocal exercises. When I asked why, she stated, “I was fortunately born with a naturally sweet soprano. I had a wonderful vocal teacher who helped me build my voice. I learned good technique and I’ve always done what I was supposed to do. A lot of it has to do with the genes.”

At the end of an interview promoting her 80th birthday concerts with the New York Philharmonic, I asked Miss Cook if she knew how much longer she could go on. She
replied, “Singing is something I love doing, so, as long as I can do it, why stop?”

She didn’t.

Miss Cook taught master classes around the world. Finally, in 2015, after being promoted to do so for years, she sat down in her apartment on Riverside Drive and began telling her story, co-written with Tom Santopietro. Her brutally honest autobiography, Then and Now, A Memoir (2016), details the working relationships she shared with the key composers, musicians, and actors — among them Bernstein, Harper, Elaine Stritch, Preston, and Sondheim, – and even reveals the long-kept secret of her affair with actor Arthur Hill, when they were both married.

With aging, her crystal soprano changed. She gained weight and wasn’t in the best physical shape. She occasionally forgot lyrics to songs she’s sung a thousand times and often worked with sheet music on a stand. The voice became a shade darker, but not in a blatant or perceptible way. However, when she sang, it was magic. At the last performance I caught, at Queens College, she was down with a bad cold, but soldiered on. She had amazing voice control and only coughed a bit between songs.

In 2011, I was asked by the late American Theatre Wing president Isabel Stevenson to watch for Miss Cook’s arrival at a pre-Tony Awards luncheon at the Waldorf. She arrived with an assistant by taxi, and I greeted her. She didn’t remember my name, but  said she knew my face. I told her we had spent three occasions doing interviews. She replied, “Oh. Okay, so, where do we go?”

I informed we’d be heading for the ballroom, but the one elevator on the Park Avenue side which went there was under maintenance – and, oh no!, that we’d have to walk up a flight of stairs and cross to elevators on the Lexington Avenue side. She was having none of that. Before suggesting a cab to go around, I ran up to the bellman’s desk and asked if there was a way to use the elevator. There wasn’t. I returned to the entrance with the news.

Guests were arriving, and a bellman was putting luggage on a cart. Miss Cook looked at me. I looked at her. Her eyes darted to her assistant, then back to me. “Are you sure?” She replied, “Honey, I’ve done just about everything, but this’ll be a first!”

We were brought a cart, she boarded, and, accompanied by her assistant and a bellman, we went on a block and a half journey laughing all the way. We took the escalators to the elevators and I escorted her to her table in the ballroom. I went to leave and she blurted, “Where are you going? Aren’t you going to help me to the stage?” I asked to be prompted a few minute before she was to be onstage. When I got the signal, we made our way to the stage in the dark. Someone was singing. There were stairs. I got in front and went up backwards, guiding her up. She wouldn’t let me leave. At the appointed time, I walked her out in the dark to the microphone.

Afterward, we did everything in reverse, but went to the Lexington Avenue exit, where her assistant hailed a cab. “Was I terrible?” she asked. “No,” I said, “but I was worried we’d have an accident and I’d be responsible for your injuring yourself.” She laughed, “So was I! That’s why I held on to those brass poles for dear life!”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Especially later in her life, I believe this was the motto Barbara Cook lived by.

A Parallelogram **

By: David Sheward

Bruce Norris’ A Parallelogram, now at Second Stage Theater after productions at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum, certainly has a flashy gimmick which director Michael Greif employs with just the right touch of subtle spectacle in his crisp staging. Through means of a device resembling a TV remote, the central character Bee is able to rewind or flash-forward through moments of her life, reliving and altering her actions, but she discovers the ultimate outcome remains the same. These adjustments are cleverly accomplished thanks to Rachel Hauck’s flexible set, Kenneth Posner’s suggestive lighting, Matt Tierney’s electronic sound design, and Greif’s smart supervision. But this is not just the stage equivalent of that 2006 Adam Sandla movie Click which features a similar premise.

By: David Sheward

Bruce Norris’ A Parallelogram, now at Second Stage Theater after productions at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum, certainly has a flashy gimmick which director Michael Greif employs with just the right touch of subtle spectacle in his crisp staging. Through means of a device resembling a TV remote, the central character Bee is able to rewind or flash-forward through moments of her life, reliving and altering her actions, but she discovers the ultimate outcome remains the same. These adjustments are cleverly accomplished thanks to Rachel Hauck’s flexible set, Kenneth Posner’s suggestive lighting, Matt Tierney’s electronic sound design, and Greif’s smart supervision. But this is not just the stage equivalent of that 2006 Adam Sandla movie Click which features a similar premise.

Bee has plenty to reconsider in her jumbled life. There are cracks in her relationship with her current live-in boyfriend Jay who has left his wife and two small children for her. She has an unfulfilling job as a manager of a Rite-Aid and is beginning to be drawn to JJ, her hunky Latino handyman. And, through the means of her fast-forward device, she learns the whole world is in for major trouble. Can she make a positive change or is it all futile?

Norris asks the questions “Would we change if we knew the truth about ourselves and how our lives turn out? Is it possible to make a real difference in this crazy, self-destructive world?” That’s a powerful theme and the playwright does afford some fascinating explorations of this existential dilemma but the central schtick of redoing scenes gets repetitive long before the evening ends. There are also several holes in the plot. Bee is brought her magical remote by a future version of herself who pops up in various guises, sometimes visible to others, sometimes not. The reasons for Bee 2’s retro visit to her younger self are never made clear. But is the whole thing a hallucination? Even if the latter is true, in order for us to care about the outcome, there must be some internal logic within the illusion.

Fortunately, the adept four-person cast brings much shading to these confused characters. Celia Keenan-Bolger’s Bee has warmth and humor as she struggles to find her way out of a philosophical maze. Stephen Kunken gives a hilarious spin to Jay’s self-absorption, launching into breathless monologues defending his narcissistic behavior, pausing for a split-second to allow Bee to have her say, and then either continuing or running out of the room to watch the football game on TV. Anita Gillette is sharply wry as the various future Bees and Juan Castano has a welcome charm as JJ, a relatively small role which could have been thrown away. 

Norris has previously presented complex and layered puzzles in his plays, examining in depth such vital topics as racism (Clybourne Park), sexuality (The Qualms), sexual politics (Domesticated), and social responsibility (The Pain and the Itch). But Parallelogram comes across as a one-joke sketch stretched out to two acts.

A Parallelogram **
August 3-20, 2017
Second Stage Theater at the Tony Kiser Theater, 305 W. 43rd St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm and 7pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm and 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time: two hours and 20 mins. including intermission. $86. (212) 246-4422. www.2st.com. Photos: Joan Marcus

Stephen Kunken, Juan Castano, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Anita Gillette

 

Barbara Cook

BROADWAY TO DIM ITS LIGHTS ON WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 9, 2017 AT 7:45 PM IN MEMORY OF TONY AWARD® WINNING ACTRESS & SINGER BARBARA COOK

The Broadway community mourns the loss of legendary actress and recording artist Barbara Cook, who passed away on Tuesday, August 8th at age 89. The marquees of Broadway theaters in New York will be dimmed in her memory on Wednesday, August 9th at exactly 7:45pm for one minute.

BROADWAY TO DIM ITS LIGHTS ON WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 9, 2017 AT 7:45 PM IN MEMORY OF TONY AWARD® WINNING ACTRESS & SINGER BARBARA COOK

The Broadway community mourns the loss of legendary actress and recording artist Barbara Cook, who passed away on Tuesday, August 8th at age 89. The marquees of Broadway theaters in New York will be dimmed in her memory on Wednesday, August 9th at exactly 7:45pm for one minute.

On Broadway, Ms. Cook is known for originating the roles of Amalia Balash in She Loves Me (1963), Marian Paroo in The Music Man (1957), and Cunegonde in Candide (1956). She also appeared in many Broadway concerts and specials including: Sondheim on Sondheim (2010), Barbara Cook’s Broadway! (2004), Mostly Sondheim (2002), and Barbara Cook: A Concert for the Theatre (1987). Her additional credits on Broadway include: Enemies (1972), The Grass Harp (1971), Little Murders (1967), Any Wednesday (1965), Something More! (1964), The Gay Life (1961), Carousel (1957), Plain and Fancy (1955), Carousel (1954), Oklahoma! (1953), and Flahooley (1951).

“Barbara Cook was an unforgettable talent with a voice that dazzled audiences and kept them coming back over her 50-year career. With charisma, determination, and perseverance she made a remarkable contribution to theatre and inspired fans around the world,” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of the Broadway League. “She will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with her family, friends, and colleagues.”

In 1958 Ms. Cook won the Tony Award® for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for The Music Man. She received a second Tony Award nomination in 2010 for Sondheim on Sondheim. She was the recipient of many honors including the Theatre World Award, the Drama Desk Award, and the Grammy Award.

Ms. Cook’s full Broadway biography can be found on the Internet Broadway Database.

 

Dog-Days of Summer Movies

Kapow! Hot Movies for Summer’s Dog-Days: Comedy, Drama, Thrills, Murder, Superheroes, and War-Zone Chaos

By: Ellis Nassour

These Dog-Days of summer are a good time to hit the cineplexes. Milk Duds, Goobers, a tub of “buttery” popcorn, and a bottomless iced cold drink, a chaise lounge experience in posh [anti-bedbug] leather seats, and A/C. What more can you ask for? And, unlike most summer Augusts, there’s much to shout about at cineplexes.

Kapow! Hot Movies for Summer’s Dog-Days: Comedy, Drama, Thrills, Murder, Superheroes, and War-Zone Chaos

By: Ellis Nassour

These Dog-Days of summer are a good time to hit the cineplexes. Milk Duds, Goobers, a tub of “buttery” popcorn, and a bottomless iced cold drink, a chaise lounge experience in posh [anti-bedbug] leather seats, and A/C. What more can you ask for? And, unlike most summer Augusts, there’s much to shout about at cineplexes.

The days are long, and some of the best films are short. The studios aren’t waiting for late October roll-out of prestige films. They’re putting them out weekend after weekend – often with three/four openings on a Friday. Some making a big impact at box offices are indies. There’s comedy, drama, romance, murder, Superhero thrills, war-zone chaos, one determined dude on a snowmobile, and a new action goddess.

Oscar-nominee Taylor Sheridan (Deputy Chief David Hale, TVs Sons of Anarchy; Danny Boyd, Veronica Mars) of Hell or High Water fame has sneaked in with the season’s sleeper, crime thriller Wind River, which he wrote. Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner is letter perfect as rough and tumble game tracker of mountain lions and coyotes who prey on livestock on a remote Wyoming Native American reservation. He’s also no slouch on snowmobiles! Already in the stark winter of their discontent, the poor natives are devastated by a second murder of a young woman, found viciously beaten and raped multiple times. This is not savory going — especially when Renner is called upon to assist urban (Las Vegas via Ft. Lauderdale) FBI Agent Elizabeth Olsen (Captain America: Civil War’s Scarlett Witch). We’ve seen directors handle flashbacks many ways, but Sheridan, no slack when it comes to inventiveness, introduces a new and seamless approach. The estimable Oscar nominee Graham Greene is featured as the girl’s father. In a brief but memorable seduction scene, HOHW’s Gil Birmingham – showing different sides of himself, will have a lot of audience members swooning.

In the U.S., a child goes missing every 40 seconds. You never think it’ll happen to you. Until it does. In Kidnap (Aviron/Di Bonaventura Pictures), when mom, Oscar winner Halle Berry, returning to the big screen after three years, catches a glimpse of the abductors speeding away, she begins a high speed pursuit across Louisiana highways, byways, and bayous, overcoming obstacle after obstacle. The nappers messed with the wrong mom! TV veteran, 10-year-old Sage Correa delivers a masterful performance during the marathon chase that had to be shot with great care. Pay no attention to the red herons, as they don’t deliver pay dirt. The only delivering is done by indefatigable Halle Berry. The ending is powerful, but, on second thought, it would’ve been interesting to have another motive behind the kidnap other than the crackers out for ransom, that include long-time character actress Chris McGinn – move over (Misery’s) Kathy Bates!

There’s another Man in Black and, alas, he’s not Johnny Cash. The mind of Stephen King has no limits when it comes pulp fiction, but his works have proved to be a mixed bag when brought to the screen. Nikolaj Arcel’s brave attempt to adapt his seven novels and a short story published over 30 years [with homages to Robert Browning, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Sergio Leone] in Dark Tower (Columbia Pictures) falls into that category. It’s a box office champ, but no critics’ darling. However, who needs critics? Idris Elba is the last gunfighter in an alternate land out to keep the world from colliding; and Matthew McConaughey is evil incarnate as the Man in Black, with whom he’s locked in eternal battle.


Oscar winning director/and co-producer Kathryn Bigelow proved her mettle with Best Picture The Hurt Locker, and followed with a Best Picture nomination for Zero Dark Thirty. She and ZDT collaborator Mark Boal know a thing or two about war zones. This one is stateside, 1967 Detroit (Annapurna Pictures/M-G-M), where a police raid and a number of murders set off a literal African-American rebellion that set off a night of turbulence that segued into one of the nation’s largest race riots. The film is docudrama realistic, raw, disturbing, engrossing, brutal. A writer aptly summed it up: “The degree of terror and carnage is so strong that ‘based on a true story’ is too tame to do the film justice.”
Not for the faint of heart, and in these Dog-Days of summer, certainly not a date movie. There are lessons that should have been learned and weren’t. John Boyega, John Krasinski, Jacob Latimore, Anthony Mackie, Will Poulter, and Algee Smith headline a huge cast.

Director Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (Warner Bros.), a sweeping 70-mm IMAX epic [with the help of CGI] restaging of the 1940 evacuation of more than 300,000 Allied troops [French, British, Belgian, Dutch] in fast retreat from the Western Front at Dunkerque, France. Penned in by the Germans, they’re stranded due to a lack of transport. Fionn Whitehead, in a near silent role, delivers a shattering performance. There’s also Sir Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and, in his acting debut, Harry Styles. Except for Branagh, you may find it hard to spot the others. Olivier, BAFTA, Oscar, and Tony winner Mark Rylance gives a solid performance helming his boat, which joins the civilian watercraft armada aiding the rescue. Though you never see blood, the gore as Germans strafe and use their U-boats in unconscionable torpedo attacks, is harrowing– but something’s missing. At 1:45, there’re no humanizing back stories to motivate audiences to care instead of just being blown away. The Dunkirk headlines were instrumental in getting FDR to aid the U.K. to avoid a conditional surrender to Germany.

How does a sweet gal with the name Lorraine become a bad-ass spy? In Atomic Blonde (Focus Features), adapted by Kurt Johnstad from Anthony Johnston’s graphic novel series The Coldest City, illustrated by Sam Hart, Charlize Theron is an agent sent to walled Berlin to retrieve a list of spies destined to fall into the hands of Russia for Britain’s MI6 military intelligence group. It seems like a set-up, because she’s a marked woman upon arrival; but like Berry in Kidnap, Lorraine isn’t to be messed with. With almost 90% of the 115 minutes so bloated with mortal combat, karate chops, all manner of guns, and objects for body blows, it begins to get monotonous, sometimes ridiculous, and lacks a core.  The story gets muddled with the intro of a lesbian [it appears] French spy, played by Sofia Boutella – but it also gets rather steamy. Numerous flashbacks don’t help the film’s coherence. That said, Theron is, indeed atomic as a spy who doesn’t know when to come in from the cold. Kudos to director and veteran stunt coordinator David Leitch (John Wick), fight coordinator Jon Valera, and crew. Without their precision choreography, bloodied, bruised Theron and cast mates wouldn’t have come out of this alive. James McAvoy co-stars. John Goodman and Toby Jones are featured.

There’s nothing sanitized about the raucous, crass R-rated comedy about female friends bonding, nonetheless is non-stop hilarious [and probably would be just as hilarious with less F-bomb raunch and sexual innuendos and more creative expletives], Girls Trip (Universal), made for $20-mill, rolled in out of the blue and has swept up $86-mill. In addition to stellar performances by Regina Hall and tiny dynamo Jada Pinkett Smith, brilliant comic Tiffany “Shake it ‘til it brakes” Haddish, better known to TV audiences, has had the big-screen break-out role of the year; and the gals have found a new crush in former Off Broadway actor and now hunk Mike “The Arm” Colter (who’s been gym-pumping since his Good Wife Lemond Bishop days).

It’s been a good summer for superheroes. In Spider-Man: Homecoming (Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios), director Jon Watts does a high dive, forgets the past, and begins anew. Tom Holland (Lost City of Z) soars to new heights in the third reboot of the webby franchise by not taking himself seriously and being adept at slapstick. He’s superbly abetted by Oscar winner Michael Keaton’s intense menace– some of the film’s best moments are when Fresh-faced kid v Grizzled villain, and guest star Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Peter Parker wasn’t alone waking up to the full potential of power. In Wonder Woman [Warner Bros.] Gal Gadot (a prime asset of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) spectacularly segues with gusto from princess of the Amazons to discover her true destiny as guardian of the world. With global grosses in the multimillions, it’s no wonder sequels are in the pipeline.

Leslie Odom Jr. @ WHBPAC

Tony Award winner from Hamilton wows SRO audience at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.

August 5, 2017:  Leslie Odom Jr., who originated his 2016 Tony Award winning role as Adam Burr in Hamilton, performed for a sold-out house at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC) with a sensational group of 5 backup instrumentalists. His band included pianist Michael Mitchell, guitarist Steven Walker, percussionist Cenfu Stoney, bassist Orlando le Fleming, and drummer John Davis. They thrilled the SRO audience for an hour and a half with songs from Odom’s debut album, as well as favorites from Hamilton and Rent. Odom Jr. made his Broadway debut in Rent at the age of 17. He is the recipient of a 2002 Princess Grace Award for Acting, which is dedicated to identifying emerging talent in theater, film and dance.

Tony Award winner from Hamilton wows SRO audience at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.

August 5, 2017:  Leslie Odom Jr., who originated his 2016 Tony Award winning role as Adam Burr in Hamilton, performed for a sold-out house at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC) with a sensational group of 5 backup instrumentalists. His band included pianist Michael Mitchell, guitarist Steven Walker, percussionist Cenfu Stoney, bassist Orlando le Fleming, and drummer John Davis. They thrilled the SRO audience for an hour and a half with songs from Odom’s debut album, as well as favorites from Hamilton and Rent. Odom Jr. made his Broadway debut in Rent at the age of 17. He is the recipient of a 2002 Princess Grace Award for Acting, which is dedicated to identifying emerging talent in theater, film and dance.

Leslie Odom Jr. has been active on the small screen most notably in the NBC musical series “Smash,” and his recurring role as Reverend Curtis Scott on “Law and Order.” On the big-screen he starred in the 2012 film “Red Tails,” with Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. And this fall he is part of the all-star cast of the re-make of “Murder on the Orient Express,” which will be released in September.

The day after the show Leslie celebrated his 36th birthday, and jetted back to California to see his  wife Nicolette Robinson and their 3 month old daughter.

The evening was generously sponsored by Abby Merrill.

Photography: Barry Gordin

The Band

Leslie Odom Jr., Dr. Stanley ZInberg

Leslie Odom Jr., Robert J. Rosenberg (President of The New Group)
Leslie Odom Jr., Clare Bisceglia (Executive Director WHBPAC)

 

Leslie Odom Jr.

1984 ***1/2

By: Isa Goldberg

Transferred from London to Broadway, this adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, is vividly staged and convincingly well-acted. Here Reed Birney’s O’Brien, is a totally banal character. He is no more the creator of the evil he perpetuates, than any ordinary man who fails to think for himself would be. Like the other characters in this tale – in which political terror reigns, “He’s just doing his job.” As such, he maintains a front of utmost innocence, even perpetuating violent deeds, as though he were acting out of empathy.

By: Isa Goldberg

Transferred from London to Broadway, this adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, is vividly staged and convincingly well-acted. Here Reed Birney’s O’Brien, is a totally banal character. He is no more the creator of the evil he perpetuates, than any ordinary man who fails to think for himself would be. Like the other characters in this tale – in which political terror reigns, “He’s just doing his job.” As such, he maintains a front of utmost innocence, even perpetuating violent deeds, as though he were acting out of empathy.

As depicted, in the society of 1984, thought is crime, and the words that could express thought are being eliminated. Indeed, the ability to question and think for oneself, is replaced by falsifications that nullify history, eliminate memory, and reduce reality to that which can be maintained without any conflict. Here the status quo is a pure and unadulterated state. And human experience is defined by the thought police. “They want to abolish orgasm. It’s a threat to the party,” one of the characters informs us early on in the production, which runs 110 minutes without intermission.

Later, the facts having been altered, we learn that there never was a party. Society has become pure, and happy, and there is no record that it has ever been different. Throughout all of this, there is only one character who expresses opposition. Winston, brilliantly played by Tom Sturridge, is a diarist, who, while rewriting the dictionary for the party, has been recording his daily experience from his own perspective, from his own thoughts. Regardless of his job, he is the last remaining person who knows anything about the meaning of words that existed before the “Newspeak.” As an actor, Sturridge is physically highly reactive, his psychological urges speaking through his thin, skeletal physique. Kinetic and contagious, his Winston is devoted to a selfless pursuit of the truth. As his love object, Julia, Olivia Wilde appears vulnerable, evocative and compassionate, at first. But in this staged production, the outcome of the romantic duo is ambiguous. Who betrays whom; and whether or not they are equally tortured into happy submission is just not clear. In Orwell’s novel it is.

Adapted and directed by Rocker Icke and Duncan MacMillan, this is a high-octane production. Its use of violence, while not visually graphic in the way cinematic violence can be, is emotionally alarming, as it is charged with the immediacy of being performed live.

As designed by Tim Reid, the story line is both created and recorded through videos that are shot in real time. Natasha Chivers’ lighting is haunting and well nuanced, and Cloe Lamford’s scenic design moves fluidly from the world of memories (represented by a room of antiques), to the dark confined spaces of communal life, to the future in which all of reality is brilliantly illuminated.

1984 ***1/2
Hudson Theatre
139-141 W. 44th Street
For Tickets and more information Click Here thehudsonbroadway.com
July 10 – September 3, 2017
Monday @7pm, Tuesday @7pm, Wednesday @7pm, Thursday @7pm, Friday @5pm and 9pm, Saturday @5pm and 9pm
RUNNING TIME: 1 HOUR 40 MINUTES, WITH NO INTERMISSION
Published on August 6, 2017

Photos: Julieta Cervantes

Reed Birney, Olivia Wilde, Tom Sturridge

 

Pipeline ****

By: Isa Goldberg

While Dominique Morisseau’s new play, Pipeline, at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater has all the trappings of a realistic drama with an overt pedagogic message, Morisseau beats the drum with surprising depth. Carrying her message with immediacy, director Lileana Blain-Cruz, wrangles her team of six actors into full on-stage battle –  all while they stand around talking about violence in the classroom.  That violence, which is not acted out on stage, is suggested in video projections (Hannah Vasileski), set to rumbling drums (Justin Ellington).

By: Isa Goldberg

While Dominique Morisseau’s new play, Pipeline, at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater has all the trappings of a realistic drama with an overt pedagogic message, Morisseau beats the drum with surprising depth. Carrying her message with immediacy, director Lileana Blain-Cruz, wrangles her team of six actors into full on-stage battle –  all while they stand around talking about violence in the classroom.  That violence, which is not acted out on stage, is suggested in video projections (Hannah Vasileski), set to rumbling drums (Justin Ellington).

Teaching youth is the collective objective here, in the sense of convey 
as a pipeline conveys. Specifically, the play asks how do we convey, when the obstacle is the students – African American students particularly. Karen Pittman (Nya), an actor who has embodied a wide range of theater roles with commanding presence, plays the mother of such a student. She’s a divorcee, as well as a teacher in an inner city high school. 

Since the play doesn’t dance around the issues, neither should we. Nya and her ex-husband, Xavier (Morocco Omari), are upper middle class people who have sent their son away to a private school so that he “can get out of the hood,” and the school system that constricts him. The young man’s history – the fact that there is no father in the picture – is like many other African American kids, regardless of the pretense of privilege.

In fact, their son Omari, sensitively portrayed by Namir Smallwood, has a strapping youthful build with a face that looks a hundred years old. His is an old story. His acting out expresses the pain of losing a father, just the way losing a limb continually informs the nervous system that a connection needs to be made.  But that pain is really a reminder that there is no connection to make. Similarly, the play requires us to ask where that hidden link is that binds this young man to society, to social norms and expectations.

Morisseau, whose works include Detroit ’67 and Skeleton Crew, about the plight of our auto workers, grapples with glaring, fundamental social issues, without shrinking. In Pipeline the level of conflict is constant, as Nya also allies herself with a white school teacher, played with frenzied energy, and a gruff, sarcastic edge by Tasha Lawrence. Accused of interfering with two kids in her class, while she was only trying to keep two teenage boys from killing each other, she is equally the victim.

Fortunately, the characters as portrayed reach beyond explicit stereotypes, especially Omari’s teenage girlfriend Jasmine (Heather Velazquez), who feels that his breaking up with her, has denied her of a real relationship, because she didn’t get the chance to argue with him. For a girl who would be a likely candidate for teenage pregnancy, she certainly has a mature concept of relationship. Other scenes of comic relief also break up the seriousness of the material. 

But it is very much to the playwright’s intention to teach a lesson, or at least invite us to think about how to teach the lessons that will allow our youth to become members of a social order, no matter how disarming it is. As Nya alludes, if we’re turning out animals, it’s because “we built the jungle.” 

Pipeline ****
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater
150 West 65th Street, NYC
212 239-6200
90 Minutes,  No Intermission
Performances Through August 27, 2017
Opening Night July 10, 2017
Published on August 6, 2017

Photos: Jeremy Daniel

Super Saturday in Watermill

20th Annual Designer Garage Sale benefits OCRFA.

July 29, 2017: Super Saturday is the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance’s (OCRFA’s) day-long charity shopping event with designer items, a kids’ carnival with activities, and gourmet treats. The annual event is one of the most fashionable and successful fundraising events in the Hamptons. Together, Donna Karan and Liz Tilberis, the late and beloved Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar and President of OCRF created the event in 1998. This year honored the past 20 years of the charity shopping event. Donna Karan has sponsored and hosted the event since its founding, and Kelly Ripa has been a co-host since 2004. In 2016, OCRF merged with Ovarian Cancer National Alliance to become OCRFA, the voice for ovarian cancer.

20th Annual Designer Garage Sale benefits OCRFA.

July 29, 2017: Super Saturday is the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance’s (OCRFA’s) day-long charity shopping event with designer items, a kids’ carnival with activities, and gourmet treats. The annual event is one of the most fashionable and successful fundraising events in the Hamptons. Together, Donna Karan and Liz Tilberis, the late and beloved Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar and President of OCRF created the event in 1998. This year honored the past 20 years of the charity shopping event. Donna Karan has sponsored and hosted the event since its founding, and Kelly Ripa has been a co-host since 2004. In 2016, OCRF merged with Ovarian Cancer National Alliance to become OCRFA, the voice for ovarian cancer.

OCRFA and QVC united once again for “QVC Presents Super Saturday LIVE,” a live broadcast, offering viewers nationwide the chance to purchase premier beauty, jewelry, apparel and electronics at half the manufacturer’s suggested retail price with proceeds to benefit OCRFA. “QVC Presents Super Saturday LIVE” has generated more than $11 million since 2007.

In addition to shopping luxury designers at deep discounts for a great cause, Super Saturday guests were invited to; have their hair styled by Conair hair gurus, experience a Reiki session from Urban Zen, get a mani on Kendra Scott’s manicab, make a flower crown at B Floral, snap a selfie with the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation and Project Lyme, and spin with Northwell Health by hopping on a bike that creates artwork while you ride. The kids were welcomed to Camp Divalysscious, for puppet shows, glitter tattoos, dance parties, musical appearances, and story time for moms, dads, and kids. The most anticipated element of the day was the fashion designer sale featuring discounted merchandise from nearly 125+ prominent participants.

Photography: Barry Gordin

June Ambrose
 Luann D’Agostino 
Rodger Berman, Kaius Jagger Berman, Skyler Morrison Berman, Rachel Zoe
Kelly Ripa
David Muir
Gabby Hanna
Stephania de Felice
Jean Shafiroff
OCRFA President and CEO Audra Moran,  Luann D’Agostino

Molly Sims
Marisol Patton
Jean Shafiroff, US Representative Carolyn Maloney