London’s West End 42nd Street

London’s West End Gives the 42nd Street Danceathon Revival a Five-Star Welcome

By: Ellis Nassour

The billboards all over London have it right: 42nd Street, “Broadway’s biggest show on London’s biggest stage.” The lavish revival at the historic (1812) Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where it premiered in 1984, winning the Olivier for Best Musical, has been given a royal welcome not only by critics and audiences but also by HRH the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.

London’s West End Gives the 42nd Street Danceathon Revival a Five-Star Welcome

By: Ellis Nassour

The billboards all over London have it right: 42nd Street, “Broadway’s biggest show on London’s biggest stage.” The lavish revival at the historic (1812) Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where it premiered in 1984, winning the Olivier for Best Musical, has been given a royal welcome not only by critics and audiences but also by HRH the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.

Opening Night was a benefit for the Duchess’ charity, Each [East Anglia’s Children’s Hospice, which supports families/children with life-threatening conditions across Cambridgeshire and three other areas]; and she was the guest of honor in the Royal Box. At the curtain, the Duchess was presented with a pair of tap shoes. Among the celebrities in attendance was Oscar winner Morgan Freeman.

Based on the 1931 musical film noir directed by Lloyd Bacon with groundbreaking

choreography by Busby Berkeley. The plot is set against a producer’s comeback effort at the height of the 30s Depression with a big musical, which on the eve of its opening loses its leading lady to an unfortunate accident. With no time to spare and as it appears the show will close, the ingénue steps in, goes out, and, yes, returns a star.

Its score of Tin Pan Alley hits include “About a Quarter to Nine,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Dames,” “Getting Out of Town,” “I Only Have  Eyes for You,”  “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” “With Plenty of Money and You,” and showstoppers “42nd Street,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and “We’re in the Money.”

There’s a stage-filling cast of 55 plus, which includes the largest dance ensemble ever, and orchestra of 20 plus.

The musical is headlined by two-time Grammy winner Sheena Easton – 

with over 200-million records sold, as comeback diva Dorothy Brock. Halse (Kathy Selden in Paris’ Théâtre du Chatêlet’s Singin’ in the Rain) as Peggy Sawyer is joined by Tom Lister (U.K. stage veteran and TV star) as Julian Marsh; Stewart Neal (Young Ben in Follies, Pippin, Lord of the Rings) as tapper Billy Lawler; scene-stealing Jasha Ivir (Mrs. Gloop, West End Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, many more) as brassy belting co-composer Maggie Jones, and Christopher Howell (West End Wicked, Hairspray) as her partner.

Directing is Mark Bramble, with choreography by Randy Skinner. Todd Ellison is music supervisor, with music direction by the lively veteran Jae Alexander. Sets are by Douglas Schmidt.

To say it’s is merely a revival would be incorrect. It features enhanced production numbers, more songs, bigger sets, non-Depression era lavish costumes, and an unforgettable tap finale that explodes in razzle dazzle.

There’s Champion’s choreography and new choreography by four-time Tony and three Drama Desk-nominee Skinner, who with Karin Baker, was Champion’s tap associate on the Tony-winning 1980 Broadway original. Skinner was choreographer for the Tony and DD-winning 2001 Broadway revival, as well as national tours and international productions.

“Opening Night was thrilling for the cast to hear the audience response after weeks and weeks of drilling,” Skinner says. “It’s been wonderful to watch as they absorbed this style of dancing. They’re certainly being rewarded by the overwhelming audience response and supportive reviews.”

He and Bramble have long been associated with 42nd Street productions worldwide and have high praise for Easton and tapper extraordinaire Halse.

Photo: Brinkoff & Moegenburg

“How appropriate for a pop diva to be portraying a Broadway diva,” says Skinner of Easton. “She’s incredible and seems born to the stage. [Easton took a long leave from show business to raise her children.] Mark and I knew she had that great belt, but her strong soprano was a surprise.”

Halse is “one of the finest dancers I’ve come across,” he adds, “and quite a quick study, which has made working with her such a joy. She can do anything! I know we’ll be seeing a lot more of her.”

The Telegraph headlined their review: “Achingly beautiful revival of an American classic.” Their Dominic Cavendish gave it five stars, writing it was a “stampeding frenzy of a tightly-drilled army of hoofers in the grandest, most palatial theatre in town.” He called the tap beat “an extraordinary, spine-tingling sound.” He added, “David Merrick . . . said he was after the ‘biggest musical since the Second World War.’ And size is absolutely everything in this shiny, streamlined homage to a vanished world of razzmatazz . . . It’s miles apart from Hamilton in terms of diversity . . . almost the un-reinvention of the musical.”

He had special praise for Skinner’s staging of a Berkeley-esque number “that sets a circle of prone, scantily-clad chorines on a revolve beneath a giant mirror, splaying and closing their legs as they turn: an absurd, tasteful floral arrangement of fleshy suggestiveness.” 

The Times’ Ann Treneman, bestowing another five stars, noted, “The show begins with the conductor Jae Alexander rising out of the pit, turning and shooting us a big fat smile, as the curtain rises an inch or two to reveal a row of shoes, all in Popsicle pastels, tapping up a storm. Think a stenographer after 42 coffees. And they are all in perfect harmony. This is an old-fashioned glamour musical that keeps on giving when others would have called it quits.”

Photo: Brinkoff & Moegenburg

In his five-star Express review, Neil Norman called 42nd Street the 30s equivalent of the blockbuster movie: “It’s designed to blow you away. Its key ingredients may seem like clichés but this is the musical that invented them: the Busby Berkeley dance routines performed by scores of girls in feathers, sequins and not much else, the backstage backstabbing, the desperation of the chorus girls and boys in the Great Depression when to be out of a job meant not just hardship but destitution

. . . The show offers more spectacle than Cecil B. DeMille and so much glitz you’ll need to wear sunglasses. This is old-fashioned entertainment on an epic scale. ”

Skinner said the timing couldn’t be better for a show like 42nd Street. “With all the turmoil and uncertainty in the world, this is a show where people can sit back and relish in the energy and joy radiating from the stage – and not just from Douglas Schmidt’s fabulous recreation of the New York Theatre District of old.”

He adds, “Because I have tapped my entire career, I have to remind myself how powerful it is to see our company of 40 dancers in Roger Kirk’s stunning array of gorgeous costumes taking over the entire stage and tapping on giant coins and up and down staircases.”

There have been several attempts to bring this elaborate revival of 42nd Street to London. “There was always the problem of not finding a theatre that could accommodate the size of the production. How extremely ideal it is to be able to return to the show’s original West End home. The Drury Lane is perfect. The stage is so much larger than any on Broadway. The depth and wing and fly space are unbelievable.”

Skinner relates that he’s had a great time visiting the Drury Lane’s art and mural-covered hallways, Royal Circle anterooms, and the Royal Box. “Such history!” he says.

He’s reunited on the show with longtime associate choreographer Kelli Barclay (White Christmas, State Fair, Ain’t Broadway Grand); and a creative that Broadway musicals don’t have, the resident choreographer, young, tall Simon Adkins (Bob Crewe in Jersey Boys; Wicked; The Producers; and Don Lockwood in Singin’ in the Rain; so many more).

“My job is to work closely with our associate director Stephen Whitson and do what Kelli would be doing if she was allowed (under British Equity rules) to stay over here,” he points out.

“Simon and I had never met,” laughs Barclay, “but I feel I’ve known him my entire life – in my heart. He knows the territory from the incredible number of shows he’s done.”As it turns out, he’d done a production of 42nd Street and was adept at tap.

“When Simon auditioned,” states Skinner, “Kelli called my attention to him. When I watched him, I immediately sensed there was a maturity about him in addition to his excellent dance technique. I pulled him aside to see if he’d be interested in being considered for resident choreographer. He was. The next day, I had him assist. He met every challenge. Simon’s doing a terrific job watching over and maintaining the dancers and all that goes along with a musical this size.”

Dance comes naturally for Adkins because his mother was a dance teacher. “So, I’ve been dancing since about age three and acting, singing, and all sorts of dance competitions and shows from there! At university, I took math, biology, and geography to make sure I had something to fall back on. Straight out of college, though, I got my first Equity show, Chicago, and have been fortunate to be in a number of American musicals, some of which played right here. So, the Drury Lane’s like a second home.” 

Barclay was in awe of the huge Drury Lane auditorium, and wondered how the show would play. No worries. She notes, “This production has been designed with a slightly raked stage that makes you feel close no matter where you are; and it’s done to a degree that doesn’t make it difficult on the dancers.”

Theater in London – Part One

Theater in London: Home-grown Classics; Broadway Drama, Comedy, Musicals, and Epics

By: Ellis Nassour  

Many are aware of Shakespeare’s works and his Globe, first built in 1599 for the opening of the Bard’s Henry V. However, maybe not as many know of the Rose “playhouse” on London’s Bankside. It’s where for over 50 years, during the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I, an early theatreland thrived – from the 1570s to the closure of theatres in 1642, with the outbreak of civil war..

Theater in London: Home-grown Classics; Broadway Drama, Comedy, Musicals, and Epics

By: Ellis Nassour  

Many are aware of Shakespeare’s works and his Globe, first built in 1599 for the opening of the Bard’s Henry V. However, maybe not as many know of the Rose “playhouse” on London’s Bankside. It’s where for over 50 years, during the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I, an early theatreland thrived – from the 1570s to the closure of theatres in 1642, with the outbreak of civil war.

Without these playhouses, it’s said that London’s vast/spread out theatreland known as the West End wouldn’t have been possible. 

The Globe was destroyed in a 1613 fire and rebuilt; but was closed, as above, in 1642.  In 1997, near the original site, the Globe was reconstructed and later named to honor Sir John Gielgud. It sits on Park Street in the Southwark/London Bridge area known as Market Borough, adjacent to the Thames and not far from historic Southwark Cathedral.

Quite nearby remnants of the original Rose discovered in 1989 led to a campaign by Lord Laurence Olivier to protect the site. The Rose Playhouse (56 Park Street, London SE1 9AR) continues the tradition of that great era. For site history, event scheduling, such as their May 24 A Night in Vienna and August 1 – 26 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and tours, follow on Facebook and visit www.roseplayhouse.org.uk.

American theatrical footprints are all over London theater – just as West End footprints are all over Broadway.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes

Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize, Tony, and Drama Desk-winning double-header Angels in America, the gripping epic of America in the mid-80s in the midst of the AIDS crisis, is being revived at the National’s Lyttelton, with Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches beginning April 11; and Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika, on the 24th.

Directing is Olivier, Tony, and two-time DD winner Marianne Elliott (War Horse; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). The cast includes Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter, Denise Gough, Tony and Drama Desk winner and six-time Emmy nominee Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn, James McArdle, and Russell Tovey.

Part One was first produced at the National in 1992; Part Two, the following year.

Angels in America, Part One will telecast live in cineplexes July 20; Part Two, July 27. [Manhattan’s Beekman is among area theatres screening the play.]


Complicite Theatre’s The Kid Stays in the Picture

There has been much talk about two-time Tony and three-time DD nominee Simon McBurney and his Complicite Theatre’s experimental, multi-media production The Kid Stays in the Picture, which just ended its limited engagement at the award-winning Royal Court Theatre. Co-directed by James Yeatman, it delves into the rise and fall of actor/studio chief/film producer Robert Evans. It’s rumored to be transferring to Broadway. 

McBurney (Director, 2008 All My Sons; The Chairs; Film roles, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, many more), earlier this season created quite an event on Broadway with his The Encounter. His and Yeatman’s adaptation is based on producer/actor/studio chief Robert Evans’ 1994 blistering memoir, written following three strokes. A critic referred to it as “a contemporary Rake’s Progress.” It was adapted into a 2002 film.

The title comes from what 20th Century-Fox studio chief Daryl F Zanuck shouted when he visited the Mexico set of the adaptation of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1957) when director Henry King and cast members (including Tyrone Power and Ava Gardner, but not Errol Flynn) wanted Evans, playing a fiery matador, fired.

Evans, now 87, was a stunningly handsome actor who segued into becoming a major Tinseltown power broker as head of Paramount Pictures and saved it from collapse green-lighting Rosemary’s Baby, Love Story, The Godfather, Parts One and Two, Chinatown, Marathon Man; and then there was the infamous Cotton Club.

U.S. cast members Heather Burns, Christian Camargo, Max Casella, Danny Huston, and Ajay Naidu appeared with notable Brit actors Thomas Arnold, Cline Dyer, and Madeleine Potter.

The play, fast-paced, often hilarious, and certainly unique given McBurney’s flair and intense obsession with sound and video, unfolds live and via shadow acting, projections in/on a giant glass box which can go opaque for projections.

Evans, whose father was a Jewish dentist in Harlem, chose to follow his older brother selling women’s clothing; when they became millionaires and sold the business, he headed West to pursue an acting career.

His break came when screen icon Norma Shearer noticed the scantily-clad sportswear model at a Beverly Hills pool and chose him for the role of her late husband, celebrated M-G-M producer Irving Thalberg, in the Lon Chaney bio-pic Man of a Thousand Faces (Universal Studios).

Film writer David Thomson has an uncannily apt description of young Evans’ beauty and infectious narcissism: “His smile had the unshy self-love of a man seeing his own dazzle in the mirror.” 

Evans wasn’t shy about making headlines. There were seven tumultuous marriages – one to Ali McGraw, an 80s conviction for involvement in cocaine trafficking, and an implication in a murder. Insider tidbits include his shrewd plan to get Francis Ford Coppola to make The Godfather into the family epic he wanted; Marlon Brando’s refusal to attend the Oscars on his nomination as Best Actor; Evans enlisting Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a sort of conciliatory; McGraw’s attraction to “dirty” Steve McQueen [her future husband in an abusive marriage]; and how no one understood what Chinatown was about.

The cast of characters include Paramount/Gulf & Western boss Charles Bluhdorn. Faye Dunaway, Mia Farrow, Ava Gardner, Richard Gere, Hemingway, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Roman Polanski, Mario Puzo, and Sharon Tate.

Evans was as famous as producer Samuel Goldwyn for his quips. One summed up his philosophy: “What matters most is the story. I subscribe to the idea that if you can sum up your story in a paragraph, your film will be a hit. If you can reduce it to a sentence, it will be a blockbuster.”

While 90% of reviews and audience reaction were favorable, some audience members, especially those clueless of cinema history, had difficulty keeping up with the abstractness of presenting different aspects of Evans – son, brother, actor, lover, husband, producer – portrayed by various cast members, including an actress, in “a cantata for voices.” 

Michael Arditti in the Express wrote: “With a mixture of live performance and film clips, [McBurney and Yeatman] create a suitably ornate visual equivalent for Evans’s high-octane prose. The actors’ constant use of microphones is a telling symbol of Hollywood inauthenticity. The result is that rarest of things: a profound exploration of superficiality.”

Time Out’s Andrzej Lukowski noted, “The great Simon McBurney offers a haunting, sense-overloading tribute to Hollywood producer Robert Evans. If  La La Land celebrates Hollywood’s all-singing, all-dancing, Technicolor facade, this production from Complicite’s mastermind is a delve into its brutal black-and-white heart.”

Leslie Felperin noted in the Hollywood Reporter, “As befits the avant-garde reputation of Complicite, this dynamic production is almost constantly in tightly choreographed motion. Projectors, closed-circuit cameras, and audio effects collaborate playfully to amplify, multiply, and distort the action while footage from some of Evans’ films flickers  . . . The whole noisy, giddy shebang is masterful rather than migraine-inducing.”

“It’s a cautionary tale with uncontroversial morals,” stated the Guardian’s Kate Kellaway. “For all its skilful finesse, the production is, by Complicite standards, static. What is most underwhelming is that Evans – workaholic in designer specs, is a colorful cipher . . . It’s hard to feel anything for Evans. He remains as dimensionless as his silhouette. The story stands, but does not run.”

Huston, 54, is the grandson of Walter and son of John (who co-starred in Chinatown as villain Noah Cross and literally stole the movie). Because of his linage, he was very familiar with most of those featured in the play. “I was visited by ghosts,” he said, “some are still alive, but a lot more are not.” He was born in Rome, but spent most of his childhood at the family retreat in Ireland where visitors included Lauren Bacall, Brando, Robert Mitchum, Peter O’Toole, and, among others, author John Steinbeck. “It was a hard-drinking and decadent time!”

The Kid Stays in the Picture was produced in association with Evans, theater/film producer Barbara Broccoli (eight James Bond films; West End/Broadway, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), Brian Carmody, Patrick Milling Smith, and Michael G. Wilson.

Amelie ***

Phillipa Soo stars in musical adaptation of beloved French film at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

By: Patrick Christiano

The French film Amelie enchanted audiences in 2001 winning five Oscar nominations, including one for Best Foreign Language Film. And now last week a whimsical new musical adaptation, starring Tony nominee Phillipa Soo (Hamilton) in the title role, opened on Broadway directed by Pam MacKinnon with a lovely, yet bland score by Daniel Messe that features precious lyrics by Nathan Tysen.

Phillipa Soo stars in musical adaptation of beloved French film at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

By: Patrick Christiano

The French film Amelie enchanted audiences in 2001 winning five Oscar nominations, including one for Best Foreign Language Film. And now last week a whimsical new musical adaptation, starring Tony nominee Phillipa Soo (Hamilton) in the title role, opened on Broadway directed by Pam MacKinnon with a lovely, yet bland score by Daniel Messe that features precious lyrics by Nathan Tysen.

Although the musical begins in 1975 when Amelie, played with spunk by Savvy Crawford, was just a little girl with frigid parents, most of the story about the painfully reticent, yet imaginative Amelie, who decides to dedicate herself to enriching the lives of others, is set in 1997 Paris, where the young woman is a waitress in a café with a group of oddball characters. Amelie is befriended by her reclusive neighbor, an artist played by Tony Sheldon with amusing heart, however the core of the tale is about Amelie’s attraction to an eccentric named Nino, who collects discarded photos, played by Adam Chanler-Berat. The unfolding tale concerns the hurdles each must overcome for these apparent sole mates to come together.

Based on a much-loved film, and starring one of Broadway’s most lauded new stars guided by Tony Award winner Pam MacKinnon expectations for Amelie were high, however with a book by three-time Tony nominee Craig Lucas that barely exists, a colorless score, which like the set by David Zinn, although appealing doesn’t give the slightest hint of Paris, the musical is decidedly dull relying on a unrelenting playfulness that boarders more on corny than original.

MacKinnon’s pleasant staging is imaginative enough so that the evening is painless, but nothing is truly exciting or even consistently witty. The new Broadway star Phillipa Soo sings beautifully, while inhabiting the character with a persistently lovey sweetness, but nothing really happens. She is basically the same at the beginning of the story as at the end with only the slightest hint of transformation. The musical like her journey is served with proficient flair that feels consistently saccharin. 

Amelie ***
Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St., NYC.
Tue—Thu, 7:30 pm; Fri—Sat, 8pm; Wed, Sat, 2 pm; Sun, 3pm.
Running time: one hour and 40 mins. with no intermission. $49.50—$169.50. (800) 745-3000. www.ticketmaster.com.
Opened April 3, 2017 for an open run. Photography: Joan Marcus

Theater in London – Part Two

Theater in London: Home-grown Classics; Broadway Drama, Comedy, Musicals, and Epics

By: Ellis Nassour

American theatrical footprints are all over London theater – just as West End footprints are all over Broadway.

Theater in London: Home-grown Classics; Broadway Drama, Comedy, Musicals, and Epics

By: Ellis Nassour

American theatrical footprints are all over London theater – just as West End footprints are all over Broadway.

Besides American musicals Aladdin, An American in Paris, Beautiful, The Book of Mormon, Five Guys Named Moe, 42nd Street, Kinky Boots, The Lion  King, Motown, Stomp, and Wicked, there’s a revival of Annie opening in May, the eagerly-anticipated arrival in June of Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, and, in September, Young Frankenstein, choreographed and directed by Susan Stroman. On the Town will have a 12-week run in Regent Park beginning May 19.

A production of Cy Coleman, Ira Gasman, and David Newman’s 1997 The Life was just presented, but not to the type of reviews that had been hoped for [maybe this show is one uniquely-suited for Manhattan]. [Through April 15, original Tony-winning co-star of the musical Lillias White is headlining the Fats Waller revue This Joint is Jumpin’ at The Other Palace.]

Hamilton will open in November in the shadow of Victoria Station and shopping mall at the historic Victoria Palace, undergoing a multi-million pound renovation and reconstruction in anticipation.

Then, there are the American plays, which include Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie; two from Edward Albee, The Goat or Who’s Sylvia and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; and Stephen Karam’s Speech & Debate.

One of the problems of being a theaterlover (maybe even a critic) in London is the amazing number of shows by all manner of past and present playwrights presented in limited engagements – when one is loading out, another is loading in. A huge difference in London is the number of daily papers and Time Out, with numerous reviewers and, thus, numerous viewpoints.

Home-grown musicals still do socko business on the West End: Half a Sixpence, Les Miz, Mamma Mia, Matilda,The Phantom of the Opera, and School of Rock.

There’s still the official Half-Price Ticket Booth in Leicester Square, but many shows on the board don’t offer 50% off. There’s a huge amount of confusion on the Square with several unofficial discount ticket sellers. The price of West End tickets has gradually crept up and aren’t too far off the Broadway mark.

There’s a vibe scene at a number of theatres which have nice lobby spaces for tea, coffee, and drinks and are open during non-performance hours; and post-office, pre- and post-theater restaurants where drinks are available. The small West End Arts Theatre not only has a historic private membership club but a very attractive street level café for beverages and snacks.

Two of the most popular are The Other Naughty Piglet at The Other Palace [formerly the St. James, and now owned by the Really Useful Company; 15 Palace Street, SW1E 5JA] [recently presented there was John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe’s The Wild Party] and the vast downstairs space at the Royal Court on busy Sloane Square. One of the most posh is pre-theater and interval service at the historic Theatre Royal Drury Lane (currently home of the lavish 42nd Street revival).

There’s a bit of sad news: Joe Allen’s in the shadow of The Lion King at the colonnaded Lyceum Theatre will soon be closing after 42 years at 13 Exeter Street, due to Robert De Niro’s purchase of the entire block, which will be demolished. The good news is that it will be relocated “quite nearby.”  Orso is still just around the corner.

Olivier-nominated Cherry Jones Makes West End Debut

If you’ve wondered where the heck Tony and Drama Desk winner Cherry Jones has been, wonder no more. She’s making her long-awaited West End debut, reviving her Amanda Wingfield in John Tiffany’s production of Tennessee Williams’
The Glass Menagerie (through April 29) at the Duke of York – seen on Broadway in 2015. It has paid off handsomely with Olivier nominations for Jones, Best Revival, and co-stars Brian J. Smith [from the Broadway cast] and Kate O’Flynn. Michael Esper is Tom. It had a brief run summer, 2016 in Edinburgh.



Tiffany is having quite a hot London season as he’s double Olivier-nominated: for The Glass Menagerie and the Olivier-nominated smash hit adapted from
J.K. Rowling’s book  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two, arriving on Broadway next Spring at the Ambassador Group’s Lyric Theatre (which, on the close of Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour) also will undergo a transformation that will not only remove seating but also relocate the entrance to 43rd Street.

The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish raved, “Although it’s often revived, John Tiffany’s production casts a greater, more shiver-making spell than most . . . It has been said before that American stage star Cherry Jones is perfect as Amanda, the former Southern belle who frets night and day about her troublesome two [children], clinging to memories of the gentlemen callers who once courted her  . . .  Hers is a wonderfully animated performance . . . Kate O’Flynn remains an understated, introverted marvel as Laura  . . . The late-evening brief encounter between her and Brian J Smith as Jim, her long-time high school crush, begins on a note of tender tragi-comedy, moves into a register of romance as glorious as anything you’ll see in La La Land, and ends up with all hopes shattered.”


And now to Edward Albee

Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, starring celebrated TV star Damian Lewis has become an established hit at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Want more Albee? There’s the revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Harold Pinter starring the indefatigable Imelda Staunton (Gypsy revival) as motor mouth monster Martha, Conleth Hill as George. Of the cast, co-starring Luke Treadaway as Nick and Imogen Poots as Honey, “a sabre-toothed pussycat,” a critic wrote “It is hard to imagine a cast that could be bettered.”

James Macdonald directed the production which is being hailed as “pitch-perfect” and “not only the most affecting and intelligent, but the most enjoyable evening in the West End.”

Of this 60s landmark play, Michael Arditti in the Express wrote, “It’s a moot point as to who is in the tighter corner: Nick and Honey, the young academic and his wife, invited for late-night drinks by the college president’s daughter [Martha] to watch her marriage [to George] unravel. Their discomfort is matched by the audience’s delight . . . With the action unfolding over a single night in George and Martha’s sitting room, as well as its conscious echoes of Eugene O’Neill, [it] might well be subtitled Long Night’s Journey Into Day . . .  It’s the magnificent Conleth Hill’s raw pain and simmering resentment as George that provide the abiding image of the night . . . It offers one of the most intricate and intimate portraits of marriage seen on stage.”.

 

Two of the Bard’s lesser characters make a comeback

At the Old Vic, two of the Bard’s bit players find themselves center stage as the world’s most celebrated tragedy [Hamlet] is reworked by director David Leveaux into an absurdist comedy in Tom Stoppard’s “scintillating” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which a reviewer noted, “unleashes a coruscating cascade of wordplay and ideas [such as questions about predestination and free will].”

Daniel Radcliffe, “one of the most recognizable young actors on the planet,” as Rosencrantz, is partnered by Joshua McGuire as the more suspicious and cynical Guildenstern.” Several critics have compared the punkish characters to a cross between Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, even Lewis Carroll’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee.


Early Stephen Karam

Recent runs included Tom Attenborough’s production of Stephen Karam’s 2006 dark comedy with music Speech & Debate, which featured Gideon Glick (Significant Other) as Howie. There’s now a film adaptation starring Sarah Steele [from the original cast], Austin McKenzie, and Liam James with appearances by Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.


London as Theater

Many attractions are free or ask for a donation. An absolute must is a visit to the humongous V&A Museum (Victoria and Albert).  It would take days to capture it all, but you can manage some exciting and eye-catching exhibits in a day visit.

In Trafalgar Square is the huge National Gallery, with floors of coveted masterpieces and sculpture from around the world. Currently, through June 25, is a beyond-dazzling retrospective, Michelangelo and Sebastiano, which not only has dozens of canvases from both artists but also details their long friendship – and sad falling out – in expressive letters.

It’s hard to escape theater in London, especially if you wander into the adventure, scents, clothing, and arts and crafts on sale at Covent Garden. There’s plenty of street theater.

Adjacent to Covent Garden is the must-visit Actors’ Church, St. Paul’s, with an array of memorial tributes to the Who’s Who of British Theatre on the walls. Nearby, the popular Transit Museum will take you railroading way back into time.

A lesser known area of the city to a majority of tourists is Market Borough [London Bridge Underground station], situated adjacent to the Thames on the remaining bulwark of old London Bridge. Dozens of restaurants and pubs offer great food at bargain prices. You can even find Louisiana gumbo and pulled pork BBQ! Worthy stops are at the Brood, Boro Bistro, and the vastly popular Italian Padella.

Next to the horror that replaced the old bridge is an octagon-shaped three-story building, Globe Tavern.  On the second floor above the pub is a theater of food courtesy of young Newcastle chef Luke Hawkins. A great time to visit is on Sundays when he carries on the tradition of Sunday Roasties. Popular choices are the rump of beef and roast chicken – both come with old-fashioned Yorkshire Pudding and gravy.

Nearby is the aptly named Old Thameside Inn, with a large bankside outdoor patio. It sits right across from Sir Thomas Drake’s famous galleon, The Golden Hinde II.

Look around and you’ll note the lack of residential buildings in the immediate area. One reason might be that mornings and late afternoons historic and vaulted Southwark Cathedral provides a half-hour concert from its magnificent bell tower.

Guild Hall 2017 Artists Members Exhibition

On Saturday April 8, Guild Hall presented the winners of the 79th Artist Members Exhibition that featured 383 local artists in the oldest non-juried museum exhibition on Long Island. Judge Ruba Katrib, Curator, SculptureCenter, awarded Joyce Kubat Top Honors for her ink on paper piece Armour (2016).

On Saturday April 8, Guild Hall presented the winners of the 79th Artist Members Exhibition that featured 383 local artists in the oldest non-juried museum exhibition on Long Island. Judge Ruba Katrib, Curator, SculptureCenter, awarded Joyce Kubat Top Honors for her ink on paper piece Armour (2016).

Other honorees included: Pam L. Nolan for Best Abstract; Anne Drager for Best Representational Work; Neil Kraft for Best Photograph; Melinda Hackett for Best Work on Paper; Ruby Jackson for Best Sculpture; Luk Zulu for Best Mixed Media; Doug Reina for the Catherine and Theo Hios Best Landscape Award; Gustavo Bonevardi for Best New Artist. Honorable Mentions were Sara M. Kriendler, Alan Lucks, Patti Who, Jeffrey S. Muhs, Ruth Poniarski, Olivia August, Aurelio Torres, and Lawrence & Cornelia Randolph. Many of the works are available for sale.

The installation design is by Christina Strassfield, Director/Chief Curator, Guild Hall Museum and will be on view through June 3, 2017

Olivier Awards

Olivier Awards: Top Prizes Go to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Groundhog Day

By: Ellis Nassour

Going in, U.K.’s Olivier Awards, handed out yesterday at London’s Royal Albert Hall, looked to be a Harry Potter-dominated affair. It turned out to be true. On the West End’s biggest theater occasion, John Tiffany’s smash two-part production of J.K. Rowling’s book Harry Potter and the Curse Child led the pack with a record-breaking 11 nominations. It won nine: Best New Play, Director, Best Actor – Jamie Parker, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Costumes, Design, Lighting, and Sound.

Olivier Awards: Top Prizes Go to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Groundhog Day

By: Ellis Nassour

Going in, U.K.’s Olivier Awards, handed out yesterday at London’s Royal Albert Hall, looked to be a Harry Potter-dominated affair. It turned out to be true. On the West End’s biggest theater occasion, John Tiffany’s smash two-part production of J.K. Rowling’s book Harry Potter and the Curse Child led the pack with a record-breaking 11 nominations. It won nine: Best New Play, Director, Best Actor – Jamie Parker, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Costumes, Design, Lighting, and Sound.

It arrives for its Broadway debut next Spring at Ambassador Theatre Group’s Lyric Theatre, which will undergo massive renovations upon the close of Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour – one major redo will be relocating the entrance to 43rd Street.

Tiffany was twice blessed with director nominations for Harry Potter… and the revival of The Glass Menagerie, starring Best Actress nominee Cherry Jones.

In the musical category, the stage adaptation of the 1993 film Groundhog Day, which has a huge cult following, by Tim Minchin and Danny Rubin (book) picked up eight nominations. It took trophies for Best New Musical and Best Actor – Andy Karl, who’s reprising his role here. The show is in previews for its opening next Monday [April 17].

The much-belated London premiere of Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen classic musical Dreamgirls landed five nominations, with Amber Riley (Glee) named Best Actress for her powerhouse turn as Effie. It also scored a Supporting Actor win.

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar received six nominations, and took the award for Best Musical Revival, for a highly-acclaimed production in Regent’s Park, being revived again this summer.


After a 25-year absence from the stage, Glenda Jackson earned her first nomination since 1984 as King Lear in the play of the same nameIan McKellen picked up his 10th nomination for best actor for No Man’s Land, reprising a role he played on Broadway.

Other notable U.S. nominees included Glenn Close and Ed Harris.

Top winners: 

Best New Play
Elegy – Nick Payne
The Flick – Annie Baker
* Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Jack Thorne, John Tiffany,
and J.K. Rowling One Night in Miami – Kemp Powers


Best Actress
Glenda Jackson, King Lear 
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
* Billie Piper, Yerma
Ruth Wilson, Hedda Gabler 


Best Actor
Ed Harris, Buried Child
Tom Hollander, Travesties
Ian McKellen, No Man’s Land
* Jamie Parker, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Best Supporting Actress
The ensemble of Melissa Allan, Caroline Deyga, Kirsty Findlay, Karen Fishwick, Kirsty MacLaren, Frances Mayli McCann, Joanne McGuinness, and Dawn Sievewright, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour
* Noma Dumezweni, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Clare Foster, Travesties
Kate O’Flynn, The Glass Menagerie 

Best Supporting Actor
*
Anthony Boyle, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Freddie Fox, Travesties
Brian J Smith, The Glass Menagerie
Rafe Spall, Hedda Gabler

Best New Comedy
The Comedy about a Bank Robbery – Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, and Jonathan Sayer
Nice Fish – Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins
* Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour – Lee Hall
The Truth – Florian Zeller  

Best Play Revival
The Glass Menagerie – Tennessee Williams
This House – James Graham
Travesties – Tom Stoppard
* Yerma – Federico Garcia Lorca

Best New Musical
Dreamgirls – Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen
The Girls – Gary Barlow
* Groundhog Day – Tim Minchin and Danny Rubin
School of Rock – Andrew Lloyd Webber, Glenn Slater, and Julian Fellowes


Best Actress, Musical
Glenn Close, Sunset Boulevard
The ensemble of Debbie Chazen, Sophie-Louise Dann, Michele Dotrice, Claire Machin, Claire Moore, and Joanna Riding, The Girls
* Amber Riley, Dreamgirls
Sheridan Smith, Funny Girl

Best Actor, Musical
David Fynn, School of Rock
Tyrone Huntley, Jesus Christ Superstar
* Andy Karl, Groundhog Day
Charlie Stemp, Half a Sixpence


Best Supporting Actress, Musical
Haydn Gwynne, The Threepenny Opera
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Murder Ballad
* Rebecca Trehearn, Show Boat
Emma Williams, Half a Sixpence 

Best Supporting Actor, Musical
Ian Bartholomew, Half a Sixpence
* Adam J Bernard, Dreamgirls
Ben Hunter, The Girls
Andrew Langtree, Groundhog Day 

Best Director
Simon Stone, Yerma
* John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Matthew Warchus, Groundhog Day

Outstanding Achievement in Music
Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen’s  Dreamgirls
Imogen Heap, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child  
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar – “The band and company creating the gig-like rock vibe of the original concept album”
* Andrew Lloyd Webber, Glen Slater’s School of Rock – “Three children’s bands, playing instruments live at every performance”

The Oliviers are produced/presented by the Society of London Theater. For a complete list of nominations and winners, visit www.OlivierAwards.com.

Present Laughter *** – Amelie **** – How to Transcend a Happy Marriage ***

By: David Sheward

Charm and whimsy are the main ingredients in three recent theatrical offerings on and Off-Broadway. Each has its own unique tastes and flavors—one is a reliable old favorite, the second a delightfully frothy new dessert and the third a strangely interesting souffle of emotions, ideas, and observations on modern life.

By: David Sheward

Charm and whimsy are the main ingredients in three recent theatrical offerings on and Off-Broadway. Each has its own unique tastes and flavors—one is a reliable old favorite, the second a delightfully frothy new dessert and the third a strangely interesting souffle of emotions, ideas, and observations on modern life. The most charming and familiar of this trio is Noel Coward’s Present Laughter (1939), an autobiographical romp centering on Garry Essendine, a comically vain British stage star, not unlike Coward himself, as he prepares for a whirlwind theatrical tour of Africa and untangles a web of friends, lovers, and crazed fans. I missed the first two American Broadway stagings with Clifton Webb (1946) and Coward himself (1958) since they were put on before I was born, but I did see it with productions starring George C. Scott (1982), Frank Langella (1996) and Victor Garber (2010). Kevin Kline, still dashing and trim at nearly 70, makes a joyously pompous Garry. He is full of funny, over-the-top bits meant to convey Garry’s inflated ego and tendency to histrionics. Watch as he puffs up like an offended pigeon when accused of overacting or when he stops to check out his thinning hair in front of a hall mirror, even when answering a frantically rung doorbell.

But Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s uneven direction makes this production not nearly as dizzying a knockabout farce as Scott’s self-directed show or the highly sexualized almost-orgy Scott Eliot made of the Frank Langella version. This is more along the lines of Nicholas Martin’s mildly amusing 2010 Victor Garber edition for Roundabout Theatre Company, fun but not wildly so. There are several fits and starts as the comic engine of Coward’s intricately constructed plot warms up in the first act. It isn’t until the hilarious second act when Garry must juggle two lovers, his former wife, a jealous husband, an kooky stalker, and a dignified titled visitor that the action really gets going. After that pinnacle of merriment and confusion, the engine runs down and the evening ends on an anticlimactic note.

The reliable Kristine Nielsen nearly steals the show as Garry’s sarcastic secretary. She matches Kline gesture for gesture and expression for expression. Kate Burton, who made her Broadway debut in the 1982 production as the ingenue (here played winningly by Tedra Millan), returns with dry wit as Liz, Garry’s former, but still loving wife. Ellen Harvey does a delicious deadpan as the chain-smoking Swedish housekeeper. Not quite as successful are Bhavesh Patel (overplaying the nutty adoring fan), Cobie Smulders (lacking allure and passion as the temptress Joanna), and Reg Rogers (using the same Cowardly Lion/Snaggletooth voice he’s employed in numerous other roles). David Zinn’s stylish set and Susan Hilferty’s gorgeous costumes provide the perfect atmosphere for this light entertainment.

Equally bubbly, but with an emphasis on whimsy rather than charm, is Amélie, the new musical based on Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant’s 2001 French hit film. The title character is sort of like Garry. She’s a dreamy waitress at the center of an odd assortment of friends, but instead of complaining about their eccentricities, she performs secret good deeds for them. Director Pam MacKinnon proves she is as adept at staging enchanting adult fables as she is at enlivening dramas such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Delicate Balance. The Gallic bon-bon features a sweet score by Daniel Messe and Nathan Tysen, a tidy book by Craig Lucas, and an enchanting lead performances by a spritely Phillipa Soo. The boyishly endearing Adam Chanler-Berat makes a sweetly off-beat love interest. A versatile ensemble delivering memorable work includes Tony Sheldon as a reclusive artist, Paul Whitty as a friendly fish and an amorous plumber, Randy Blair as Elton John-like rock star and a struggling writer, and Alyse Alan Louis as a daffy hypochondriac.

Present Laughter’s David Zinn designed the candy-colored costumes and the adorable set suggesting a fantasy version of Paris, lit like a Renoir by Jane Cox and Mark Barton. At a fast 100 minutes, Amélie is a sweet and tasty creme brûlée of a show.

 Sarah Ruhl’s awkwardly-titled How to Transcend a Happy Marriage starts out as neither whimsical nor charming. The audience is greeted by the carcass of slaughtered goat hanging over the smart contemporary set designed by (who else?) David Zinn. The first act unravels like a tacky sex farce as two straight couples voyeuristically discuss a charismatic temp worker who lives in a triad arrangement with two men and kills her own meat (hence the animal corpse). They invite the threesome (or throuple) over for New Year’s Eve for bicurious games. Sexual and spiritual complications follow in the deeper second act. The characters gain dimension and the proceedings acquire a fantastic, whimsical—and yes, somewhat charming—tinge as the participants consider the serious consequences of their salacious actions and the tempting temp undergoes a magical transformation. The play becomes much more than a dissertation on the trendy topic of polyamorous arrangements, addressing the very nature of family. Director Rebecca Taichman and an adept cast handle the transition with dexterity, shifting from naughty jokes to existential sorrow to communal joy. As George, one of the straight wives and the play’s confused narrator, Marisa Tomei paints the stage with a palette-full of emotional colors—bright comic reds, deep sad blues, and fascinating purples when they get mixed together. It’s a startlingly affecting performance in a surprisingly effective play which transcends categories.

Present Laughter ***
 April 5—July 2. St. James Theatre, 245 W. 44th St., NYC. Tue, Thu, 7 pm; Wed, Fri—Sat, 8 pm; Wed, Sat, 2 pm; Sun, 3 pm. Running time: two hours and 30 mins. including intermission. $55—$150. (877) 250-2929. www.ticketmaster.com. Photos: Joan Marcus

Cobie Smulders, Kevin Kline “Present Laughter”

Amelie ****
Opened April 3 for an open run. Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St., NYC. Tue—Thu, 7:30 pm; Fri—Sat, 8pm; Wed, Sat, 2 pm; Sun, 3pm. Running time: one hour and 40 mins. with no intermission. $49.50—$169.50. (800) 745-3000. www.ticketmaster.com. Photo: Joan Marcus

Adam Chanler-Berat, Phillipa Soo. “Amélie”

How to Transcend a Happy Marriage ***
March 20—May 7. Lincoln Center Theater at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, 150 W. 65th St., NYC. Tue—Sat, 8pm; Wed, Sat, 2 pm; Sun, 3 pm. Running time: two hours with one intermission. $87. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com.  Photo: Kyle Froman

Omar Metwally, Marisa Tomei, Lena Hall, Austin Smith, David McElwee “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage”

EXTINCTION at Guild Hall

Gabe McKinley’s dark, yet funny drama Extinction opens at Guild Hall in East Hampton

By: Patrick Christiano

Josh Gladstone, Artistic Director of Guild Hall, helms a strong production of Extinction starring Sawyer Spielberg as Finn and Eric Svendsen as Max. The actors turn in impressive work as two friends at odds with one another in Gabe McKinley’s scorching drama. The story about male bonding is set in adjoining rooms circa 2007 at The Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City, where the two long-time college buddies have come to renew their bond, or have they?

Gabe McKinley’s dark, yet funny drama Extinction opens at Guild Hall in East Hampton

By: Patrick Christiano

Josh Gladstone, Artistic Director of Guild Hall, helms a strong production of Extinction starring Sawyer Spielberg as Finn and Eric Svendsen as Max. The actors turn in impressive work as two friends at odds with one another in Gabe McKinley’s scorching drama. The story about male bonding is set in adjoining rooms circa 2007 at The Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City, where the two long-time college buddies have come to renew their bond, or have they?

Their tale unfolds on an extremely inventive set by Raye Levine, who also plays Victoria. Her expansive, yet intimate recreation of two rooms at the hotel is filled with all sorts of nooks and crannies, where the audience sits on the stage practically immersed in the action like flies on the imaginary walls. The exceptional psychedelic lighting design is by Sebastian Paczynski with cool neon projections by Raye Levine and Joe Brondo.

The two men at the center of McKinley’s drama spent most of their collegiate time together running around Manhattan trying to score with as many girls as possible. That’s score, literally, as in single women were three points, married women, five and the first to 10 points wins. Since last seeing each other the men have taken completely different paths in life, and each comes to their meeting with a different agenda. The result is an engaging conflict that examines the evolution of friendship through the eyes of these two young men. 

The show title from Max’s thesis “that humans must bang everything that moves or risk extinction” illuminates how he justifies his coarse behavior. Finn disagrees, reminding him women are people too, and that we’re more than just animals.

When secrets are revealed and harsh words exchanged, Max explodes leaving with Finn’s cell phone, only to return later with two women he believes are prostitutes, Missy and Victoria nicely played by Brynne Kraynak and Raye Levine respectively. The women are further catalysts to the tension between the men, and the play escalates with effective dialogue into an explosive conclusion.

Click Here for Opening Night Photos By Barry Gordin

Extinction includes graphic language and mature subject matter. Tickets at www.GuildHall.org; Box Office 2 hours prior to curtain; 631.324.4050; Theatermania.com; or 1.866.811.4111. 

General Admission $25 ($23 Members); $15 Students under 18

The John Drew Theater in the Dina Merrill Pavilion at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton, New York 11937, 631.324.0806; GuildHall.org
Thursday March 30 – Sunday April 16, 2017

Brynne Kraynak, Raye Levine Photo: Jason Riker

2017 Tomatoes Got Talent

The “4th Annual Tomatoes Got Talent” show took place on Monday April 3, 2017 at The Triad, 158 West 72nd St., playing to a sold-out crowd!


The “4th Annual Tomatoes Got Talent” show took place on Monday April 3, 2017 at The Triad, 158 West 72nd St., playing to 
a sold-out crowd!

The winner was Teresa Fischer, an executive assistant for an Executive Search firm by day, who sings at various cabaret venues…Runners up were Audrey Givens, a former child performer, Lissa Joseph, a retired school secretary for the NY Board of Education and Cathy Szabo who runs a seafood catering business.   

Randie Levine-Miller, hosted as well as  co-produced  (with Cheryl Benton of Thethreetomatoes.com)  the talent competition featuring women over 40 who have segued to other careers, and don’t currently make their livings in show business.

According to Levine-Miller: “Some of our performers started out to be pros, but “life” took them in other directions.  But now they’re back…and some are as fabulous as current “pros” in the business!”

For the fourth year in a row, the judges were show business veterans: Beth Fowler, Tony Award nominated actress/singer, as well as SAG Award winner for Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black”; Margaret Colin, TV and Stage Actress, currently in NBC’s “Shades of Blue”; and Alyce Finell, co-director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation. Also, Paul Chamlin was Musical Director for the 4th year in a row!

Kathleen Waters, last year’s winner, was  a special guest performer, as was Edna Kaufmann, a runner up in 2014 and Karen Nason, who won the first Tomatoes Got Talent Contest in 2013

This year’s winner, Teresa Fischer,  will perform on Tuesday, June 13, at The Triad in Randie Levine-Miller’s Annual Showstopper Divas/Divos starring outstanding  theater and cabaret performers to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society

The 2017 “Tomatoes Got Talent” Winner Teresa Fischer

 “The bottom line is never give up on your dream,” says show co-creator Cheryl Benton, whose popular website and e-newsletters, The Three Tomatoes (thethreetomatoes.com) is “The Insider’s Guide for Women Who Aren’t Kids”.
Photography: Maryann Lopinto

Lissa Joseph
The 2017 Tomatoes Got Talent Winner Teresa Fischer
Audrey Givens
Cathy Szabo
Kathleen Waters
Margaret Colin, Randie Levine Miller, Beth Fowler
Judges Margaret Colin, Beth Fowler , Alyce Finell
Cheryl Benton

2017 Miscast Gala

By: Iris Wiener

Norbert Leo Butz as Dreamgirls’ Effie. Carmen Cusack as Hamilton’s King George. Kelli O’Hara as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Willy Wonka. The evening’s line-up reads like an April Fool’s joke, but casting this unique is par for the course at MCC Theater’s annual Miscast gala, which was held Monday night at Hammerstein Ballroom. Now celebrating its 30th year, MCC produces the event to help fund their Off-Broadway work, in addition to supporting their Youth Company and in-school partnerships that serve New York City public high school students.

By: Iris Wiener

Norbert Leo Butz as Dreamgirls’ Effie. Carmen Cusack as Hamilton’s King George. Kelli O’Hara as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Willy Wonka. The evening’s line-up reads like an April Fool’s joke, but casting this unique is par for the course at MCC Theater’s annual Miscast gala, which was held Monday night at Hammerstein Ballroom. Now celebrating its 30th year, MCC produces the event to help fund their Off-Broadway work, in addition to supporting their Youth Company and in-school partnerships that serve New York City public high school students.

The exciting evening features performers taking on roles in which they would never be cast, allowing them the opportunity to give numbers of their own choice a new twist. O’Hara kicked off the show, followed by Miscast newbie Mandy Gonzalez (Hamilton), who paid homage to Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt. He also happened to be sitting only a few feet away, awaiting his turn at the mic. Before launching into her rendition of “Waving Through a Window,” Gonzalez had Platt sign her prop cast, a la Hansen, and even asked for a seat to his show.

Also performing at Miscast for the first time, Come From Away’s Jenn Collella got emotional, prompting her to remind herself, “Don’t cry before you sing. That’s a rule.” She spoke of being told “no” quite often, not only as an actor but as a female and a lesbian as well. In that vein she chose a song that she felt demonstrated kindness and compassion- “Everybody Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle.

Carmen Cusack added humor to the evening when she pre-empted Brian D’Arcy James’ upcoming return to Hamilton as King George with her own rendition of “You’ll Be Back.” As for James, he reminisced about performing in Titanic twenty years ago, in addition to his continued passion for Maury Yeston’s music. He proceeded to take on Nine’s “Unusual Way,” enhanced by Al Crawford’s incredibly beautiful lighting design. Stephanie J. Block confessed to having a major “talent crush” on James, a sentiment surely shared by everyone in the room following his emotional song. Block went on to croon The Wild Party’s “What is it About Her?” a song made famous by James, the original Burrs.

“I’m sitting between Jennifer Holiday and Norbert Leo Butz, how’s your night going?” doe-eyed charmer Ben Platt asked. The night was going really well for the audience after he sang “The Man That Got Away” from A Star is Born, a nod to his childhood during which he dressed as Dorothy at every opportunity.

Though Jennifer Holliday’s raspy, captivating rendition of “I Am What I Am,” a breathtaking tune from La Cage aux Folles, was saved for the finale, the true show-stopping performance came when Butz took to the stage. The two-time Tony winner took on Effie to Brandon Victor Dixon and James’ other Dreams, along with Block, O’Hara, Collella and Jordan Fisher. Butz’s inner, powerful black-diva was as stunning as it was funny as he demonstrated his compelling vocals in Dreamgirls “It’s All Over” and “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” The cherry on top? Watching original Holliday (the original Effie), react to the once in a lifetime spectacle.

Iris Wiener is an entertainment journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Iris_Wiener or visit her at IrisWiener.com.

Joan of Arc: Into the Fire ****

By: Paulanne Simmons

Joan of Arc, also known as “The Maid of Orleans” and “St. Joan,” has been a source of artistic inspiration for centuries. As early as 1429, when the peasant warrior was still alive, Christine de Pizan wrote a poem eulogizing her. In 1801, Friedrich Schiller wrote Die Jungfrau von Orleans, a tragedy based on her life, which Tchaikovsky turned into an opera. Subsequently, George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht, Maxwell Anderson and Jean Anouilh all dramatized her life.

By: Paulanne Simmons

Joan of Arc, also known as “The Maid of Orleans” and “St. Joan,” has been a source of artistic inspiration for centuries. As early as 1429, when the peasant warrior was still alive, Christine de Pizan wrote a poem eulogizing her. In 1801, Friedrich Schiller wrote Die Jungfrau von Orleans, a tragedy based on her life, which Tchaikovsky turned into an opera. Subsequently, George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht, Maxwell Anderson and Jean Anouilh all dramatized her life.

Martha Graham choreographed Seraphic Dialogue, in which Joan looks back over her life in a series of danced dialogues with St. Michael, her spiritual advisor. Rubens, Ingres, Daniel Gabriel Rossetti, Gaugin and Howard Pyle have all imagined the virgin visionary on canvas. Sculptures of the saint can be found in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, Place du Martroi in Orléans, Riverside Park, in New York City and Decatur Street/French Market in New Orleans. Films about Joan abound.

Nor is Joan of Arc absent from the domain of music. She not only appears in the lyrics of many songs; she is the central figure in Leonard Cohen’s “Joan of Arc,” and Elton John’s “Did Anybody Sleep with Joan of Arc?”

So it was probably inevitable that someone would finally write a musical about the French heroine.

This musical, Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, comes from the pen of David Byrne, lead singer of the Talking Heads and creator of another musical about a historic figure, Imelda Marcos, Here Lies Love. It is directed by Alex Timbers who directed Here Lies Love, as well as Love’s Labour’s Lost, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (not coincidentally, all at the Public) and Peter and the Starcatcher, which traveled from California to off-Broadway, to Broadway, and finally ended up at New World Stages.

Given this creative pedigree, it’s not surprising the show is a rock musical. Happily, this turns out to perfectly suit the story of the martyred saint. There’s not much dialogue here. Nor does there need to be. Byrne’s score does a marvelous job conveying the passion of Joan’s faith and the pathos of her fate.

What’s not conveyed by the music is delivered by Steven Hoggett’s energetic choreography, Justin Townsend’s ecstatic lighting and an ensemble cast headed by the androgynous Jo Lampert as Joan.

Today, when women serve in the army and in combat, it’s difficult to imagine how extraordinary it was to the medieval world when a girl, inspired by her visions, dressed as a boy and took up arms to save her homeland from the English invaders. Both church and state were shocked and terrified. The fact that Joan remained recalcitrant only made it worse.

In this musical, Joan starts off very much a peasant girl, becomes an armed warrior, and ends up swaddled in bandages that cover only those body parts that would identify her as a woman. She is de-sexed and defeated.

But of course, we know Joan will live on in posthumous immortality. Sometimes faith, like the pen, is mightier than the sword.

Joan of Arc: Into the Fire ****
The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, www.publictheater.org, through April 30.
Photo: Joan Marcus


Bette Midler to be Honored @ The Drama League

Put on your Sunday clothes!  The Drama League (Executive Artistic Director Gabriel Stelian-Shanks) will honor Grammy® and Emmy® Award-winning, icon Bette Midler with the Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater Award at this year’s 83rd Annual Drama League Awards, set for Friday afternoon, May 19, 2017 at the Marriott Marquis Times Square (1535 Broadway)

Put on your Sunday clothes!  The Drama League (Executive Artistic Director Gabriel Stelian-Shanks) will honor Grammy® and Emmy® Award-winning, icon Bette Midler with the Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater Award at this year’s 83rd Annual Drama League Awards, set for Friday afternoon, May 19, 2017 at the Marriott Marquis Times Square (1535 Broadway)

 As one of the world’s most versatile entertainers, Bette Midler is a performer who continues to defy categorization and to garner accolades across all facets of show business. She is a recording artist who has sold more than 35 million albums and won four Grammy Awards. She is a performer who has, year after year, sold out the largest venues around the world. She is a three-time Emmy, three-time Golden Globe winning and twice Academy Award-nominated actress. She made her Broadway debut in 1967 in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, then went on to star in dozens of blockbuster films, creating some of the most iconic screen performances in cinematic history.   Her contributions to the musical form, on both stage and screen, are immeasurable, and include her acclaimed turn as Mama Rose in Gypsy and her award-winning performances in The Rose, Divine Madness, For The Boys, and Beaches, and dozens of others.

 In 2013, Midler returned to the Broadway stage, after a nearly 40-year absence, to star in the one-woman play, I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers, playing the legendary Hollywood agent, wowing critics, selling out performance after performance and breaking house records at the Booth Theatre. This season, she is back on the Broadway stage (and once again breaking box office records) starring in Hello, Dolly!, now in previews at the Shubert Theatre.  In addition to being one of the best-loved and instantly recognizable entertainers in the world, Midler is also one of New York’s most generous and tireless citizens. In 1994, she started the New York Restoration Project, a non-profit organization devoted to bringing abandoned and neglected parks, gardens and open spaces in all five boroughs back to abundant life.

 It was previously announced that Bill Berloni will receive the Unique Contribution to the Theater Award; Tony® Award-winner Michael Greif will receive The Founders Award for Excellence in Directing.  

 These Special Recognition Honors are in addition to the five competitive categories.  The 2017 Drama League Nominees for Outstanding Play, Outstanding Revival of a Play, Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Revival of a Musical, and the much-coveted Distinguished Performance Award will be announced on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. at Sardi’s (234 West 44th Street), and will be streamed live via BroadwayWorld.com. The Nominee Announcement will be hosted by Resolution Life, the proud Lead Season Sponsor of The Drama League and supporter of the arts.

 The 83rd Annual Drama League Awards Ceremony and Luncheon includes a nominees cocktail reception, luncheon, and awards presentation and will be held at the Marriott Marquis Times Square in the Broadway Ballroom (1535 Broadway) on Friday, May 19, 2017 beginning at 11:30 a.m.

 Resolution Life is the proud Lead Season Sponsor of The Drama League. Delta Air Lines is the Official Airline of The Drama League.  MAC Cosmetics is the Official Make-up Partner of The Drama League. The Drama League Awards Chairpersons are Bonnie Comley and Jano Herbosch.

 First awarded in 1922 and formalized in 1935, The Drama League Awards are the oldest theatrical honors in America. The Drama League Awards recognize distinguished productions, performances, and exemplary career achievements. The first Drama League Award was presented to Katharine Cornell in 1935; since then, the Distinguished Performance Award has been accorded to a roster of theatre legends such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chita Rivera, Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Lane, Audra McDonald, Liam Neeson, Hugh Jackman, Patti LuPone, Glenn Close, Liev Schreiber, Sir John Gielgud, Harvey Fierstein, Cherry Jones, Alec Guinness, James Earl Jones, Helen Hayes, Jeremy Irons, Mary-Louise Parker, Sir Ian McKellen, Bernadette Peters, and Christopher Plummer.

 For more information about the Drama League Awards, please call (212) 244-9494 or visit www.dramaleague.org.

 

American Musicals Dominate London

American Musicals Dominate London’s West End
By: 
Ellis Nassour

Broadway is big business on London’s West End, and not just because of U.S. and Asian tourists. Soon there’ll be 11 musicals which originated here.

American Musicals Dominate London’s West End
By: 
Ellis Nassour

Broadway is big business on London’s West End, and not just because of U.S. and Asian tourists. Soon there’ll be 11 musicals which originated here.

Currently on the boards are: Disney’s Aladdin and The Lion King; An American in Paris, which just opened to across-the-boards raves; Beautiful; The Book of Mormon; , in its West End premiere; Kinky Boots; Motown; Wicked; and, not to be forgotten, Stomp.  Jersey Boys just closed after nine years. The first revival of 42nd Street is in previews and opens in a week.

Coming in May is a Annie revival; Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, a 12-week engagement beginning June 17; and, on September 28, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, choreographed and directed by Susan Stroman.

In November, and quite eagerly anticipated, the groundbreaking Tony-winning Hamilton opens at the 1,500 plus seat Victoria Palace, now undergoing a multi-million pound top-to-bottom renovation and reconstruction.

The two American musicals currently all the buzz are former Royal Ballet dancer Christopher Weldon’s An American in Paris, which one critic called “an instant classic”; and the first revival of Gower Champion’s 42nd Street.

It appears the West End will have a highly competitive battle of American musicals.

The Tony-nominated Best Musical (with 14 nominations) An American in Paris stars Broadway and Paris leads New York City Ballet’s Robert Fairchild, Royal Ballet principal Leanne Cope, and a company of 40 plus, is at the former large cinema, the Dominion. Fairchild, Cope, and the production received rapturous notices. It won for Choreography, Director, Orchestrations, Scenic Design (Bob Crowley), and Lighting (Natasha Katz). In addition, there were 13 Drama Desk nominations, including for Musical — with, among its three wins, Weldon for Choreography.

Joyous, and sometimes dark, it’s a blend of ballet, jazz, and tap, stunning design, and memorable Gershwins’ classics such as “I Got Rhythm,” “But Not for Me”,  “Liza,” “The Man I Love,” “Shall We Dance,” “’S Wonderful,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” and the soaring Mittyesque fantasy filled with ostrich-plumed chorus girls, “Stairway to Paradise.” 

Set in post-war Paris, it takes liberties with the 1951Academy Award-winning film that inspires it. Army veteran Jerry Mulligan falls in love with the City of Love, where he’s keen to begin a new life and nurture his passion as a painter, especially after he falls for ballerina Lise, who’s spoken for by Henri, the son of the family who protected her from the Nazis.

The musical co-stars David Seadon-Young as the war-maimed, acerbic Jewish composer Adam Hochberg (one of his great lines: “Who says music needs to cheer people up?”), who’s also in love with Lise; Haydn Oakley as Henri Baurel, who hides a secret passion to be a nightclub singer; Zoë Rainey as rich American arts patron Milo Davenport, who has eyes on Jerry; and former child star with a later career on TV (including Dr. Who) and in film (including 1966’s Alfie) and best-selling author Jane Asher as Madame Baurel (she was formerly engaged to Paul McCartney, whom she met at 17 when she interviewed the Beatles).

42nd Street, billed as “Broadway’s biggest show on London’s biggest stage,” opens next week at the historic (1812) Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where it premiered in 1984, winning the Olivier for Best Musical.

Its score of Tin Pan Alley hits include “About a Quarter to Nine,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Dames,” “Getting Out of Town,” “I Only Have  Eyes for You,” “Keep Young and Beautiful,”  “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” “With Plenty of Money and You,” and those four showstoppers “42nd Street,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and “We’re in the Money.”

Based on the 1931 musical film noir directed by Lloyd Bacon with groundbreaking choreography by Busby Berkeley, it’s headlined by two-time Grammy winner with over 200-million records sold Sheena Easton as Dorothy Brock.

The plot is set against a producer’s comeback effort with a big musical, which on the eve of its opening loses its leading lady former chart-topping recording artist Sheena Easton; and how the ingénue steps in and becomes a star.

There’s a stage-filling cast of 55 plus, which includes the largest dance ensemble ever, and orchestra of 20 plus. Co-stars are Clare Haise as Peggy Sawyer; Tom Lister as Julian Marsh; Stewart Neal as tapper Billy Lawler; Jasha Ivir as brassy  co-composer Maggie Jones; and Christopher Howell as her partner.

Directing is Mark Bramble. Todd Ellison is music supervisor, with music direction by the lively veteran Jae Alexander. Sets are by Douglas Schmidt.

To say it’s is merely a revival would be incorrect. It features enhanced production numbers, more songs, bigger sets, non-Depression era lavish costumes, and an unforgettable tap finale that explodes in razzle dazzle.

There’s Champion’s choreography and new choreography by four-time Tony and three Drama Desk-nominee Randy Skinner, who with Karin Baker, was Champion’s tap associate on the Tony-winning 1980 Broadway premiere. Skinner was choreographer for the Tony and DD-winning 2001 Broadway revival, as well as national tours and numerous international productions.

American musicals received just-announced Olivier Award nominations: Best New Musical: Dreamgirls at the Art Deco Savoy Theatre, with Amber Riley getting a nod as Best Actress; and Groundhog Day [in previews here], which played at the Old Vic – with Andy Karl and Andrew Langtree nods for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. In the Best Actress category, Glenn Close was nominated for the Sunset Boulevard revival, which played at the huge Coliseum, and is now on Broadway at the Palace. The Awards are announced April 9.

London’s West End, Equity not-for-profit, and first-class Fringe theatres total over 75, compared with 50 here [which would include the top Off Broadway houses]. At the moment, American/Broadway musicals are dominating the West End. Where plays in smaller houses are concerned, limited runs are the thing. Before one production is loaded out, another loads in.

Revivals, especially of the works of stellar British playwrights, are always on; and London boasts some prestigious Fringe houses, such as the Royal Court and Really Useful Company’s The Other Palace [formerly the St. James (it’s neighbor is the historic Victoria Palace)], which focuses on new musicals and revivals. They just closed a revival of Michael John La Chiusa and George C. Wolfe’s The Wild Party. April 4-15 will be This Joint is Jumpin’, a celebration of Fat Waller’s music, which will headline Tony winner Lillias White. From May 30 – July 8, TOP will present Belgrade Theatre Coventry’s production of Benji Bower’s La Strada, based on the Fellini film (not to be confused with Lionel Bart/Charles Peck’s 1969 one-night-only Broadway production which starred Bernadette Peters and Larry Kert). Directing will be Sally Cookson (National Theatre’s Jane Eyre).

The Royal National on London’s South Bank across Waterloo Bridge, which was founded by Sir Laurence Oliver, is publicly-funded as is the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Opera. In that vicinity, across Blackfrairs, Millennium, and London Bridges, you’ll find the Young Vic and Shakespeare’s Globe. In the area is also the Menier Chocolate Factory, known for its innovative revivals (most recently: Into the Woods; Funny Girl, which transferred to the West End; and She Loves Me).

Extinction @ Guild Hall

Opening Night Photos from Gabe McKinley’s dark yet funny drama Extinction, strongly helmed by Josh Gladstone and starring Sawyer Spielberg (Steven Spielberg’s son) and Eric Svendsen with Brynne Kraynak, Raye Levine.
Click Here for Full Review
Photography: Barry Gordin

Opening Night Photos from Gabe McKinley’s dark yet funny drama Extinction, strongly helmed by Josh Gladstone and starring Sawyer Spielberg (Steven Spielberg’s son) and Eric Svendsen with Brynne Kraynak, Raye Levine.
Click Here for Review
Photography: Barry Gordin

Alec Baldwin, Eric Svendsen, Raye Levine, Josh Gladstone, Brynne Kraynak, Sawyer Spielberg
Eric Svendsen, Josh Gladstone, Sawyer Spielberg
Alec Baldwin, Tina Jones
Stephen Hamilton, Emma Walton Hamilton
Kate Mueth, Josh Gladstone
Marriana Feldman Levine, Yuka Silvera
Harris Ulin, Sawyer Spielberg
Josh Gladstone, Martin Cohen
Patrick Christiano, Jeryl & MIchael Goldberg
Eric Svendsen, Sawyer Spielberg
Sawyer Spielberg, Kate Mueth
Raye Levine, Eric Svendsen
Josh Gladstone, Harris Ulin
August Gladstone, Sabrina Rucci
Joe Brondo, Brynne Kraynak

 Extinction includes graphic language and mature subject matter. Tickets at www.GuildHall.org; Box Office 2 hours prior to curtain; 631.324.4050; Theatermania.com; or 1.866.811.4111.

General Admission $25 ($23 Members); $15 Students under 18

The John Drew Theater in the Dina Merrill Pavilion at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton, New York 11937, 631.324.0806; GuildHall.org

Paulanne Simmons Unscripted

Theater and the Seamy Side of Life

Write a play about two middle-aged couples and a polyamorous co-worker (plus her two boyfriends) who welcome in the new year with an orgy.  End act one with one of the couples’ 17-year-old daughter surprising them en flagrant déit. Critics will hail the work for its penetrating insight. 

Theater and the Seamy Side of Life

Write a play about two middle-aged couples and a polyamorous co-worker (plus her two boyfriends) who welcome in the new year with an orgy.  End act one with one of the couples’ 17-year-old daughter surprising them en flagrant déit. Critics will hail the work for its penetrating insight. 

Write a musical about a bunch of good-hearted Canadians who come to the aid of stranded travelers after 9/11. Critics will grudgingly approve but wonder why enough attention wasn’t paid to the darker side of human nature.

Why is it we find any type of human misbehavior mature and thoughtful, while we mistrust philanthropy? 

As a matter of fact, the second story is true, while the first is most probably an invention. What’s more, the premise that couples would invite a stranger (and those two boyfriends) to an intimate New Year’s Eve party solely because they know she has an interesting sex life and kills her meat is sort of ridiculous, even if it does raise interesting dramatic possibilities. While the probability that people will help a group of strangers in need has been proven over and over again.

The truth is most of us experience daily much more goodwill than nastiness. Of course there’s the guy who cut us off on the highway and the lady who wouldn’t hold the door a moment longer at the grocery store. But trip and fall on any street in New York City and at least half a dozen people will stop to pick you up and gather your scattered belongings. To say nothing of the real help most of us get from family and friends over a lifetime.

Perhaps all the negative news we learn about on television, radio and social media overwhelms the occasional heartwarming human interest story. Or maybe we just enjoy wallowing in our misery.

But back to theater.

It’s the playwright’s job to present life in all it’s complexity. This includes the evil that lurks in human souls. But it also includes the kindness and generosity.

That doesn’t mean plays should offer lessons in good living. Nor does it mean plays must be uplifting or reassuring. But surely we have not become so cynical that we cannot admit of the human capacity for love, kindness and generosity without eliciting the condescending smiles of the cognoscenti.