& Juliet ***

By: Samuel L. Leiter

November 23, 2022: & Juliet, a raucous jukebox musical that even has a jukebox as a prominent stage property, belongs as well to a genre with a much longer tradition, burlesque. No, not the modern burlesque of dirty jokes, baggy pants comedians, and bump and grind strippers, but the 18th- and 19th-century form—with 17th-century roots—from which that later genre was born. These were full-scale, often spectacular (thus the alternate name of “extravaganzas”), musical take-offs of theatrical genres or famous plays, usually with parody titles. In 1897, for example, you could laugh heartily at The Geezer, a spoof of the recent comic opera The Geisha.

By: Samuel L. Leiter

November 23, 2022: & Juliet, a raucous jukebox musical that even has a jukebox as a prominent stage property, belongs as well to a genre with a much longer tradition, burlesque. No, not the modern burlesque of dirty jokes, baggy pants comedians, and bump and grind strippers, but the 18th– and 19th-century form—with 17th-century roots—from which that later genre was born. These were full-scale, often spectacular (thus the alternate name of “extravaganzas”), musical take-offs of theatrical genres or famous plays, usually with parody titles. In 1897, for example, you could laugh heartily at The Geezer, a spoof of the recent comic opera The Geisha

Continuing this proud lineage, & Juliet spoofs (need I name it?) Shakespeare’s tragedy of young love by introducing the Bard himself (Stark Sands) and his wife, Anne Hathaway (Betsy Wolfe), whose movie star name, naturally, detonates the expected jokes. In fact, such corny ripostes, like those in burlesque, old and newer, are the bread and butter of David West Read’s (“Schitt’s Creek”) yock-riddled book, many based on Shakespeare’s lines that have become familiar catchphrases, which Shakespeare is only too happy to keep reminding us.

Stark Sands and Betsy Wolfe.

Given the near universal familiarity of Shakespeare’s play, the plot is premised on a big what if—what if Juliet (Lorna Courtney) doesn’t die in the tomb scene? Later, it even asks, I kid you not, what if—after Juliet has moved on to other romantic adventures, in Paris, no less—Romeo (Ben Jackson Walker) comes back to life, monkey-wrenching things further? Shakespeare and Anne, themselves sometimes acting in the story, argue about her vision of the play, which is then enacted, the point being to bring things to where Juliet makes a coming-of-age decision to take charge of her life with confidence. 

During the post-Romeo and Juliet situations, other romantic complications evolve, such as that of Juliet’s fast-speaking nurse, Angelique (Melanie La Barrie), with the dashing Lance DuBois (lots of joking about that last name’s pronunciation), and that of Juliet’s non-binary friend May (Michael Ivan Currier, understudying for Justin David Sullivan) with Lance’s nerdy son Francois (Philippe Arroyo), after the latter already has committed to marrying Juliet. And, of course, there’s the need to somehow dispense with the needs of the back-from-the-dead Romeo. 

Lorna Courtney and the cast of & Juliet.

This is just the kind of silly nonsense that packed them in during the 19th century, and it’s been doing the same ever since the show originated in Manchester, England, in 2019, moved to London’s West End soon after, and returned there in 2021 after the initial Covid pandemic. It won a shelf of British awards, sailed across the ocean to open in Toronto this year, and arrived recently at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Broadway. Of course, more than the burlesque premise, what’s driving the fans to see it is the bouncy score, most of it (there’s a rider saying “and friends”) by the Swedish, one-man, pop-song hit factory, Max Martin, who, as his Playbill bio exclaims, “is second only to Paul McCartney and John Lennon with number one U.S. singles.”

However, given the niche nature of modern pop, if you’re over a certain age—in other words, if your listening stopped with Bennett, Sinatra, and Streisand—it’s highly possible you may not be familiar with most of the hits that have been cleverly interpolated into the convoluted plot of & Juliet. On the other hand, older fans of TV’s “The Voice” or “American Idol” may have a leg up on their fellow seniors. 

Lorna Courtney, Betsy Wolfe, Justin David Sullivan and Melanie LaBarrie.

The show employs songs made famous by big names from the 90s through today, like Backstreet Boys (“I Like it That Way,” “As Long as You Love Me,” and others),  Katy Perry (“I Kissed a Girl”, “Roar,” etc.), Britney Spears (“Baby One More Time,” “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”), Demi Lovato (“Confident”), Bon Jovi (“It’s My Life”), Pink (“Fuckin’ Perfect”), Céline Dion (“That’s the Way It Is”), and on and on. Only one original song, “One More Try,” is heard. 

Still, if, unlike the hundreds of teenagers present when I attended (mainly girls who seemed to know the next song as soon as a single bar was played), you don’t know this music, you may not find it as ingratiatingly earwormy as the sounds of another, somewhat older Swedish music phenomenon, ABBA. Much of it is loud, big-voiced, rhythmically dance- or waving arms-oriented, with quiet ballads barely present. Much of Jennifer Weber’s choreography, perfectly executed by a chorus of dynamic singer-dancers, is upgraded variations on the kinds of acrobatic, robotic, break dancing you often see on Tik Tok videos or in street performances. It uses the body to express joyful feelings through difficult rhythmic combinations, but rarely attempts to express narrative ideas or emotional relationships. 

Melanie La Barrie and Lorna Courtney.

Luke Sheppard’s direction is lively, fast-paced, and colorful, abetted by Soutra Gilmour’s complex scenic background of multiple units flying in, sliding on, popping up, or circling around, with imaginatively complex lighting by Howard Hudson, and remarkable video and projection designs by Andrzej Goulding. The eye-popping vision of a tilted, revolving carousel in an amusement park is only one of many images that reveal how much can be done with the magic of modern projections. And Paloma Young’s costumes, a fabulous blend of contemporary hipster and Renaissance flair—notice the silver boy band duds, for example—make numerous striking visual statements. For instance, regardless of your orientation, you won’t fail to notice Lance’s swollen codpiece, which could probably double as a jai alai cesta.  

& Juliet is a visual and musical fest whose technical expertise deserves appreciation, even if you sometimes find it banal, monotonous, and unfunny. The cast is extremely adept at making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (no, Shakespeare didn’t say that), with Queens girl Lorna Courtney (West Side Story)giving a star-making performance as Juliet. An exceptional dancer and awesome singer, she has enough energy to light up the Sondheim even if the lights go out. As Anne, Broadway veteran Betsy Wolfe (Waitress, Falsettos) gets to show her chops as never before, bringing comic skills to her formidable musical ones, while Stark Sands (Kinky Boots) does likewise. 

Philippe Arroyo and Justin David Sullivan.

Paolo Szot (South Pacific), highly regarded as an opera star, shows terrific comedy skills in the role of Lance, even at the cost of looking silly, while tall, slim Ben Jackson Walker makes an impressive Broadway debut as a rock star-like Romeo. Melanie La Barrie has fun and is funny as Angelique, and the rest of the cast does well at whatever they’re asked to do.

I didn’t love & Juliet. You might say I liked it well enough, if only because of its production values and the enthusiasm it stimulated in theatregoers who might not otherwise have gone to see a Broadway show. There’s definitely an audience for this burlesque, but I’ll stick with Romeo and Juliet, where both lovers die (and stay that way). 

& Juliet
Stephen Sondheim Theatre
124 W. 43rd Street, NYC
Open run
Photography: Mathew Murphy

Paulo Szot and Melanie La Barrie.

Broadway Babe

Unique finds from Broadway Babe this week include Tony winner, Glynis Johns, from 1973, Shirley Jones, Marlo & Phil, and a tribute to Kander & Ebb.

November 26, 2022:  Broadway Babe, Randie Levine-Miller, has unearthed some unique finds this week: Tony award winning Glynis Johns on the Tonight Show; Shirley Jones, in her own words; Marlo and Phil Donahue talking about their successful 40 year marriage; and a very special entre nous benefit that pays tribute to Kander and Ebb with performances from the best of Broadway!

Unique finds from Broadway Babe this week include Tony winner, Glynis Johns, from 1973, Shirley Jones, Marlo & Phil, and a tribute to Kander & Ebb.

November 26, 2022:  Broadway Babe, Randie Levine-Miller, has unearthed some unique finds this week: Tony award winning Glynis Johns on the Tonight Show; Shirley Jones, in her own words; Marlo and Phil Donahue talking about their successful 40 year marriage; and a very special entre nous benefit that pays tribute to Kander and Ebb with performances from the best of Broadway!

Marlo & Phil: What Makes a Marriage Last.
I can’t resist posting this! This video is so life-affirming and delightful. Discussing their book at “Live Talks In Los Angeles”— “What Makes a Marriage Last: 40 Celebrated Couples Share With Us the Secrets to a Happy Life” are Show Business Icon, Marlo Thomas and her husband, TV Icon, Phil Donahue who conducted intimate conversations with 40 celebrated couples whose long marriages they’ve admired, including award-winning actors, athletes and newsmakers to writers, comedians, and musicians.  Marlo and Phil reveal the rich journey of their own successful 40-year marriage — a most extraordinary blending of 2 strong personalities. 
Sidebar: Some of you may remember that they met on Phil’s talk show and there was immediate chemistry… I remember Marlo taking Phil’s hand and saying to Phil on the show “Whoever the woman in your life is, is a very lucky woman!” …And the rest, is history!


Glynis Johns on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson
A truly rare find — from 1973, actress Glynis Johns, who won the Tony Award for best leading actress in a musical for “A Little Night Music”, appears on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It’s an unusually long, but quite delightful segment and Carson seems mesmerized…she chats with Johnny and then sings, “Send In The Clowns” which Sondheim wrote specifically for her. Glynis then introduces cast member, D’Jamin-Bartlett who sings her showstopping song, “The Miller’s Son”. Glynis John’s is now 98 years old!
Sidebar: I adored “A Little Night Music,” and saw it several times. In those days. we dressed up to go to the theater. 


Private Tribute to Kander and Ebb
From 1997, a true entre-nous musical tribute to Kander and Ebb, a benefit for Musical Theatre Works, featuring appearances by Chita Rivera, Donna Murphy, Bebe Neuwirth, Ann Reinking, Joel Grey, David Sabella, James Naughton, Dorothy Loudon and Marcia Lewis, with Rosie O’Donnell hosting.   A private and very fabulous concert!  A must see for Kander and Ebb fans.


Shirley Jones, Uncut
Legendary singer/actress Shirley Jones, in her own words. A candid interview with this delightful and down to earth personality about her life and times in show business.  Not sure where or when this was done, but it’s absolutely fabulous!  I had the pleasure of meeting her at both the Friars Club, as well as, at Sardi’s.  I was doing one of my Randie’s Roundtables and spotted Shirley going upstairs to the ladies room. I followed her upstairs. I told her about who was at the roundtable downstairs and invited her to join us… which she did!  As it turned out, she knew a few of my roundtablers and one of them, actually worked with her and her then husband, Jack Cassidy, on the Broadway flop musical in 1968, “Maggie Flynn”! 

BroadwayHD

Billy Crystal in Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedy premiers on BroadwayHD December 1, just in time for the Holidays.

November 22, 2022: Broadway HD, the premiere streaming service for live theatre, announced the exclusive streaming release of Billy Crystal’s five-time Tony Award® nominated Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedy. Filmed during its Broadway run, Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedy will be available exclusively on BroadwayHD starting December 1st. Called “The funniest show on Broadway in years!” by Variety, and “Musical comedy heaven” by NY Daily News, Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedy stars Billy Crystal, Tony-Award® nominee for Best Actor in a Musical, as Buddy Young, Jr. in this entertaining musical about an outrageous and outspoken comedian who has one last shot at reclaiming the spotlight – and his family – one hilarious step at a time. Now, some 40 years after his TV career flamed out, Buddy seeks one more shot at the spotlight, and while he’s at it, one last shot at fixing the family he fractured along the way.

Billy Crystal in Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedy premiers on BroadwayHD December 1, just in time for the Holidays.

November 22, 2022: Broadway HD, the premiere streaming service for live theatre, announced the exclusive streaming release of Billy Crystal’s five-time Tony Award® nominated Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedy. Filmed during its Broadway run, Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedy will be available exclusively on BroadwayHD starting December 1st. Called “The funniest show on Broadway in years!” by Variety, and “Musical comedy heaven” by NY Daily News, Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedy stars Billy Crystal, Tony-Award® nominee for Best Actor in a Musical, as Buddy Young, Jr. in this entertaining musical about an outrageous and outspoken comedian who has one last shot at reclaiming the spotlight – and his family – one hilarious step at a time. Now, some 40 years after his TV career flamed out, Buddy seeks one more shot at the spotlight, and while he’s at it, one last shot at fixing the family he fractured along the way.

Tony Award winner, six-time Emmy Award winner, and Mr. Saturday Night Executive Producer Billy Crystal said, “I am so happy that people at home can now see our show. We’ve captured the feeling of being in the theater in the best “House Seats” possible. It was a special experience to perform Mr. Saturday Night with our glorious cast and I know our new audiences at home will experience the same laughs and tears our Broadway audiences did.”

Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedy was filmed August 31st, the week before its celebrated Broadway engagement concluded at the Nederlander Theatre. The musical is based on Billy Crystal’s 1992 comedy film of the same name, which marked Crystal’s directorial debut. Written by Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel (2022 Tony Award® nominees for Best Book of a Musical), Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedy features music by three-time Tony Award® winner Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Bridges of Madison County, The Last Five Years), lyrics by two-time Tony Award® nominee Amanda Green (Bring It On: The Musical), choreography by Ellenore Scott (Funny Girl) and direction by Tony Award® winner John Rando (Urinetown).

Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedy also features Tony Award® winner Randy Graff (City of Angels, Les Misérables) as Elaine Young; David Paymer (City Slickers, Quiz Show, State & Main), who is recreating his Oscar-nominated performance as Buddy’s brother Stan Yankleman; Tony Award® nominee Shoshana Bean (Wicked, Waitress) as Susan Young; and Chasten Harmon (The Good Fight, Elementary, Broadway’s Hair) as agent Annie Wells. The Broadway company also includes Jordan Gelber (Avenue Q), Brian Gonzales (Aladdin), and Mylinda Hull (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Sweet Charity).

 Based on the Castle Rock Entertainment motion picture “Mr. Saturday Night,”written by Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. By special arrangement with Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures.

 “It’s an honor for BroadwayHD to premiere Billy Crystal’s Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedy to our platform, directly following its Broadway run,” said Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, co-founders of BroadwayHD. “BroadwayHD continues to be at the forefront of streaming live theatre. We are thrilled to capture and preserve this world-class stage production and share it with viewers who couldn’t experience it on Broadway, and for those who want to get reacquainted with Billy Crystal’s outrageously funny performance all over again.”

Jordan Gelber, Brian Gonzales and Billy Crystal.

 BroadwayHD’s Lane, Comley, and Gio Messale are the talented team of producers behind the capture. The stage production of Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedyis produced by James L. Nederlander, Face Productions, Inc., Hunter Arnold, Michael Cohl, TEG Dainty, Candy Spelling, Steve Traxler, Marc David Levine, Caiola Productions, Crossroads Live, Jamie deRoy, Roy Furman, Arny Granat, Grove Entertainment, John Gore Organization, Wolf Gutterman, Van Kaplan, Larry Magid, Peter May, Carl Moellenberg, Beth W. Newburger, Albert Nocciolino, Eva Price, Iris Smith, The Shubert Organization, Howard Tenenbaum, and Barry & Fran Weissler. 

Viewers can enjoy Mr. Saturday Night: A New Musical Comedy with friends and family this holiday season by taking advantage of the annual BroadwayHD holiday sale. From now until December 8th, 2022, annual gift subscriptions are available for$99.99, $30 off the regular price

BroadwayHD introduces award-winning theatre from all across the globe with both classic and modern productions. Fans can expect to see the full works of Shakespeare from the Royal Shakespeare Company and a selection of the world’s greatest musicals, including Kinky Boots, Cats, 42nd Street, She Loves Me, Les Misérables, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, and An American in Paris. All performances are adapted specifically for streaming audiences to maximize the entertainment experience.

Founded in 2015 by Tony Award®-winning producers Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, BroadwayHD  is the only streaming service offering premium full-length stage plays and musicals captured specifically for multi-platform viewing to theatre fans across the globe. In addition to exclusive live-streamed content of the world’s best productions, BroadwayHD offers subscribers unlimited on-demand access to a library of more than 300 theatre productions from Broadway, The West End and beyond.  If You Can’t get to Broadway, get to BroadwayHD.

To learn more about BroadwayHD, visit www.broadwayhd.com.
Photography: Matthew Murphy



& Juliet ***1/2

By: Paulanne Simmons

November 23, 2022: On the heels of the international success of Six, comes another woke Elizabethan musical from the West End, & Juliet, directed by Luke Sheppard. Book writer David West Read’s tale of female empowerment does not concern Henry VIII’s many spouses (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived) but one of Shakespeare’s most famous heroines, Romeo’s one and only wife, Juliet.

By: Paulanne Simmons

November 23, 2022: On the heels of the international success of Six, comes another woke Elizabethan musical from the West End, & Juliet, directed by Luke Sheppard. Book writer David West Read’s tale of female empowerment does not concern Henry VIII’s many spouses (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived) but one of Shakespeare’s most famous heroines, Romeo’s one and only wife, Juliet.

The other major difference is that while Six is a pop concert comprising a series of loosely connected songs performed in the style of various artists, & Juliet is a jukebox musical featuring the songs of Swedish pop songwriter Max Martin. The plot is intricate, and worthy of a Shakespearean comedy, with numerous twists and an almost happy ending.

Joomin Hwang, Rachel Webb, Bobby “Pocket” Horner, Lorna Courtney and Virgil Jadson.

It all begins when Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway (Betsy Wolfe), insists Shakespeare provide the tragedy with a different ending, one that features a less submissive Juliet. Shakespeare (Stark Sands) doesn’t appreciate his wife’s interference, but decides to appease her, while still maintaining ultimate control of the writing quill. 

From that moment, all bets are off. Juliet (Lorna Courtney) does not kill herself, partly because she finds out she was not exactly Romeo’s one and only (“Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely”). Instead, Juliet and her non-binary friend, May (at the show I saw, Michael Ivan Carrier Justin David Sullivan’s understudy), go to Paris, along with Juliet’s nurse, Angelique (Melanie La Barrie).

Anne has also written a new part for herself, Juliet’s friend, April, and a part for Shakespeare, who becomes the carriage driver. They set off to the strains of “Show Me Love.”

Ben Jackson Walker, Lorna Courtney, Betsy Wolfe and Melanie La Barrie.

In Paris, both May and Juliet are attracted to François (Philippe Arroyo), a timid musically inclined young man whose father, Lance (Paulo Szot) has just told him he must marry or join the army. Soon it is revealed that Angelique and Lance once had a clandestine affair when Angelique was nurse to Lance’s children, and the musical has another set of lovers.

The action careens through many other hairpin turns before the show’s triumphant, confetti strewn penultimate scene and the final resolution. It would be unfair to recount them all. There is a good deal of Shakespearean references strewn throughout the dialogue, for those of a more intellectual bent, and some pretty corny puns for those of a less demanding intellect.

At times, the plot seems to serve the music rather than vice versa, but the songs are so cleverly introduced most people won’t mind, or perhaps won’t notice in their pleasure at hearing some of their favorites from times gone by. And the performers serve Martin’s catalogue extremely well, the real showstoppers belonging to the females, Courtney and Wolfe, who get huge applause for holding a note.

Lorna Courtney and the cast of &Juliet.

Soutra Gilmour’s set contributes heartily to the carnivalesque atmosphere, and also makes a smooth and clever shift from carnival London to carnival Paris. Howard Hudson’s lighting enhances the fun, if not the drama. 

& Juliet is a bit of fluff that will probably hit a welcome chord for many people. But after the party’s over, there’s nothing much left but the confetti.

& Juliet is at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 West 43 Street. 
Photography: Mathew Murphy

The Old Man and The Pool ***1/2

By: Paulanne Simmons

November 21, 2022: In his newest solo show, The Old Man and The Pool, Mike Birbiglia looks to one of the most unlikely subjects for the source of humor: his own mortality. Heavy stuff, but nonetheless most people are likely to enjoy the show enormously. In fact, Birbiglia is less a comedian than a wonderful raconteur. And he even manages to throw in a few laughs, mostly at his own expense.

By: Paulanne Simmons

November 21, 2022: In his newest solo show, The Old Man and The Pool, Mike Birbiglia looks to one of the most unlikely subjects for the source of humor: his own mortality. Heavy stuff, but nonetheless most people are likely to enjoy the show enormously. In fact, Birbiglia is less a comedian than a wonderful raconteur. And he even manages to throw in a few laughs, mostly at his own expense.  

The Old Man and The Pool (possibly a reference to Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea) begins with Birbiglia’s breath test, which reveals he is barely alive. It then goes on to Birbiglia’s other traumas, which include a bout with bladder cancer, a battle with diabetes and his already well documented sleepwalking episodes (Sleepwalk with Me), which landed him in the hospital several years ago.

Mike Birbiglia

If this doesn’t sound sufficiently gruesome, Birbiglia also includes his father’s heart attack when he was fifty-six, and his follow-up heart attack, which fortunately occurred while he was on duty at a hospital, as well as the death of a beloved neighbor.

Not surprisingly, Birbiglia claims he has occasional panic attacks resulting in this inability to breathe. Many of us might be surprised he can even get up in the morning. But despite his many ailments, Birbiglia is quite limber. Director Seth Barrish has him running around the stage, lying on his back, getting up and sliding down Beowulf Boritt’s curved wall, which reminds us of the bottom of a pool, all with great energy. 

Mike Birbiglia

And there are lighter moments in Birbiglia’s recollections: Christmas in the Birbiglia’s home, a holiday dominated by chicken parmigiana; Birbiglia’s experience with his dietician, who he claims really knows no more than the rest of us (vegetables are good for you); his harrowing encounter with male and female genitalia when his mother first took him to a swimming pool, resulting in his aversion to swimming.

Through all the trials and tribulations he blithely recounts, what makes Birbiglia funny is his matter-of-fact delivery and his perfect timing. Birbiglia’s life may sometimes spin out of control. His material does not.

The Old Man and The Pool runs through Jan. 15, 2022 at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, 150 West 65 Street.
Photography: Emilio Madrid

Mike Birbiglia

The Rat Trap ***

By: Samuel L. Leiter

November 21, 2022: In 1918, when he was a mere stripling of 18, Noël Coward (1899-1973), budding British playwright/ performer/song writer, and so forth, wrote The Rat Trap,a four-act comedy-drama about marital dysfunction, with its accent on the drama. A reflection of Coward’s extreme precocity, it had a Shavian-influenced theme about the overlooked intellectual and artistic powers of the female sex, as told through a scathingly delineated marriage (see its title) between a fatuous playwright and his more gifted novelist wife.

By: Samuel L. Leiter

November 21, 2022: In 1918, when he was a mere stripling of 18, Noël Coward (1899-1973), budding British playwright/ performer/song writer, and so forth, wrote The Rat Trap,a four-act comedy-drama about marital dysfunction, with its accent on the drama. A reflection of Coward’s extreme precocity, it had a Shavian-influenced theme about the overlooked intellectual and artistic powers of the female sex, as told through a scathingly delineated marriage (see its title) between a fatuous playwright and his more gifted novelist wife.

The Rat Trap was published in 1924 in a volume with two other of Coward’s early plays, Fallen Angels and The Vortex, both of which soon had productions that helped launch his West End writing career. On the other hand, the 1926 premiere of The Rat Trap had only a two-week run in the equivalent of an Off-Broadway theatre in Hampstead. Coward, who wasn’t even there, paid it little mind, behavior that may have harmed the play’s reception. After being neglected for eight decades, however, London’s Finborough Theatre revived it to critical acclaim in 2012. And now, Off Broadway’s Mint Theater, dedicated to bringing back long-forgotten, often barely-known, plays, has brought The Rat Trap to the City Center’s Stage II in a version that, for all its intrinsic interest, falls short of acclimation.

Elisabeth Gray and Sarin Monae West.

Sheila Brandreth (Sarin Monae West) is a promising young writer living in a furnished London flat with an older woman named Olive Lloyd-Kennedy (Elisabeth Gray). Sheila is on the brink of marrying young playwright Keld Maxwell (James Evans), who is about to make his professional debut. The once-married Olive, a sophisticated, epigram-dropping gossip, tries to dissuade Sheila from marrying, warning that the nuptials of two writers can result only in a destructive clash of egos. Sheila insists that she and Keld are different, and that their love is great enough to prevent any such disruptions. 

For formulaic contrast, Coward introduces another young writing couple, Naomi Frith-Bassington (Heloise Lowenthal) and Edmund Crowe (Ramzi Khalaf), unmarried, self-professed Bohemians, who live downstairs in sinful bliss. Thus we listen to the posh-accented quintet (several actors are English) discuss the pluses and minuses of married life, including the relative desirability of bearing children. The conversation, while commonplace today, has a distinct piquancy when one considers the time that it was written. And, as viewed in 2022, one may be forgiven for perceiving the friendship of Olive for Sheila through the subtextual lenses of LGBTQ-colored glasses.

Claire Saunders and Sarin Monae West.

Six months afterward—foreseeable in act one when Sheila and Keld were all over each other—the hammer and tongs have come out. Keld, in his rude treatment of the couple’s elderly Cockney maidservant, Burrage (Cynthia Mace), immediately reveals himself to be a pompous, arrogant prig. It’s therefore not surprising when, soon after, his behavior toward Sheila, especially when he’s unable to gracefully accept her critique of his writing, is absurdly insufferable. When you witness Keld’s narrowmindedness and hear that the couple has been “bickering” for some time, you may wonder at Sheila’s ability to stand it, no matter how desperate she is to remain cordial.

Making it worse is the overacting of Mr. Evans, who makes him obnoxious from square one, with nowhere to go except to become more obnoxious as the scene progresses. This is both the fault of Mr. Evans, as charmless as the crumpled manuscript pages he discards, and director Alexander Lass, who either encourages such excess overacting or thinks it’s perfectly acceptable. This is a shame, since the fight between Sheila and Keld, the play’s best scene, is written with great acuity as the dispute accelerates from words to physicality. For a sample of the stinging dialogue, here’s an edited chunk from Sheila:

“Don’t touch me, don’t come near me—not now. For once you’ve gone too far—I’m finished; it was all wrong, we should never have married, however much in love we were; I realise it now. Olive warned me and it’s come true; we’re like two rats in a trap, fighting, fighting, fighting. You need a commonplace, dull, domesticated wife with no brain and boundless open-mouthed appreciation for every mortal thing you do—someone who would hang on your words and convince you all the time of your own incredible brilliance. . . . With a larger mind you’d be a brute—but you’re too contemptible even for that.”

Heloise Lowenthal and Ramzi Khalaf.

By the end of the play, Keld and Sheila have separated and she’s gone off to write in Cornwall. Conventional playwriting contrivances, including pregnancy and an affair with an ambitious flirt of an actress and former chorus girl named Ruby Raymond (Claire Saunders), have made their appearance. A frigid rapprochement, and one difficult to digest, brings things to a final curtain. Both as written and staged, it’s remarkably anticlimactic, closing the play with a whimper, not a bang. Wisely, Coward himself dismissed the final act in the preface to the play’s 1934 republication.

Much as the Mint deserves commendation for bringing to the New York stage overlooked nuggets from playwrights known and (to the average theatregoer) unknown, its productions cannot always be assayed as pure gold. The Rat Trap sometimes shines brightly, but too often the result is dross, largely because of the unmemorable performances. If Mr. Evans is excessively intolerable, Mr. Khalaf seems in the wrong play entirely, being too archly fey despite his wearing, inexplicably, a faddish, unappealing, and anachronistic five o’clock shadow looking more like a five-day one. 

The women offer more satisfactory performances than the men, although none are exceptional. This is the more notable given that, in the extensive program note by Maya Cantu, much is made of the premature death in 1923 of the highly regarded young actress Meggie Albanesi, who allegedly had a powerful influence on Coward; the play’s first publication was dedicated to her memory, so Coward may have hoped for her to originate the role of Sheila. Sara Monae West plays Sheila with intelligence and strength, but it would be hard to say of her, as John Galsworthy did of Albanesi, that she has a “curious and unique faculty of emotional truth.”

Heloise Lowenthal, Claire Saunders and Ramzi Khalaf.

Hunter Kaczorowski’s costumes look more 1918 than 1926, when dress lengths would have been higher, although they are effective enough; the men’s look less authentic, especially a suit worn by Edmund that makes him look more like a bellhop than a poet. 

Unlike most Mint productions, the scenery (Vicki R. Davis), adequately lit by Christian DeAngelis, is less than impressive, probably because of technical problems with presenting three distinct locales. The stage, surrounded by the audience on three sides, shows the first act merely as an arrangement of furnishings before a billowing beige traveler curtain; the second and third as disparate pieces of furniture and bookcases before an oddly clashing upstage wall; and the final, a room in a wall-less Cornwall cottage placed in front of the now revealed background, an amateurishly painted scene of the seacoast. The complex scene changes are carried out by the actors moving things in dim light, which is excusable, but the shift from act one to act two, which is covered by having Naomi and Edmund do a music hall routine to a little-known Coward song, is a directorial distraction. 

If you’re looking for the kind of snappily witty, airily stylish atmosphere of plays like Coward’s Private Lives or Blithe Spirit, you won’t find it here. Yet, for all its lack of superlative acting, its dull scenery, and its structural obviousness, the pulse of a coming dramatist beats loud and clear in several scenes. The promise shining through that second act spat alone is nearly enough to make a visit to The Rat Trap worth the effort.  

The Rat Trap
City Center Stage II/Mint Theater
131 W. 55th Street, NYC
Through December 11, 2022
Photography: Todd Cerveris

Sarin Monae West and James Evans.

Cheese Fries & Froot Loops

A new solo show, Cheese Fries & Froot Loops, written and performed by Chris Fuller will play the Triad Theater on Tuesday, November 29th @ 7pm.

November 22, 2022:   Step Forward Entertainment announced Cheese Fries & Froot Loops, a humorous new solo show written and performed by Chris Fuller, will play The Triad Theater on Tuesday, November 29th at 7pm. The poignant tale about the playwright’s pursuit of a life-long dream, to play on the PGA Tour while living with Bipolar Mental Disorder, will be followed by an open discussion with a panel of Mental Health Experts, who will speak on the healing power of telling your own story. A question and answer will follow. Tickets are $20.00 plus a 2-drink minimum for the LIVE performance or $10.00 to view LIVE via streaming or on demand for 2 weeks.

A new solo show, Cheese Fries & Froot Loops, written and performed by Chris Fuller will play the Triad Theater on Tuesday, November 29th @ 7pm.

November 22, 2022:   Step Forward Entertainment announced Cheese Fries & Froot Loops, a humorous new solo show written and performed by Chris Fuller, will play The Triad Theater on Tuesday, November 29th at 7pm. The poignant tale about the playwright’s pursuit of a life-long dream, to play on the PGA Tour while living with Bipolar Mental Disorder, will be followed by an open discussion with a panel of Mental Health Experts, who will speak on the healing power of telling your own story. A question and answer will follow. Tickets are $20.00 plus a 2-drink minimum for the LIVE performance or $10.00 to view LIVE via streaming or on demand for 2 weeks.

For Information… https://www.cheesefriesandfrootloops.com/ and Tickets Click Here

 A limited number of books from each panelist will be available for purchase. Fuller, diagnosed with bipolar mental disorder, details the difficulties of competing in professional golf tournaments, while his mind raced out of control with sudden mood swings setting him on a path to self-destruction.

The show, directed by noted Off Broadway director Mark S. Graham and produced by veteran theatre producer Robert R. Blume (Drama Desk Awards 1999-2018) with Pat Labez, chronicles Fuller’s journey to control his extreme highs and lows. In doing so, he meets a cast of colorful characters who help him arrive at a self-actualization, when he unexpectedly finds his bliss. The story is told with self-deprecating humor and unedited insight as Fuller recounts events in his life, moving freely from the past to the present.

Fuller is the son of famed author John G. Fuller (The Ghost of Flight 401) and playwright Elizabeth Fuller (Me & Jezebel). He had previously written a satire called “Goodnight, Golf!” and at the Tuesday performance, he will give a copy to an audience member after an onstage putting contest.  

Circus Vazquez

Home-Grown Circus Vazquez Is Celebrating 20th Season Under the Big Top in the New York Area

By: Ellis Nassour

November 18, 2022: The extraordinarily entertaining Circus Vazquez, one of the U.S.’s premier and longest-running family-owned shows, is no stranger to the New York area where it’s played for 20 seasons. The 2022 Edition plays through December 11 in Queens across from Citi Field (123-01 Roosevelt Avenue) with a high-energy family show under a brand new Big Top. It’s, as usual, a don’t miss/must see show.

Home-Grown Circus Vazquez Is Celebrating 20th Season Under the Big Top in the New York Area

By: Ellis Nassour

November 18, 2022: The extraordinarily entertaining Circus Vazquez, one of the U.S.’s premier and longest-running family-owned shows, is no stranger to the New York area where it’s played for 20 seasons. The 2022 Edition plays through December 11 in Queens across from Citi Field (123-01 Roosevelt Avenue) with a high-energy family show under a brand new Big Top. It’s, as usual, a don’t miss/must see show.

The heated tent could fit another popular area circus in it. There’s a huge entrance lobby with typical concessions and photo opts with the friendly cast. And, under the Big Top are more ringside seats than ever, and no obstructed views. If you’re having a family outing, before the show, during intermission, and after the show, Circus Vazquez’s daredevil stars, famous clown, and a couple of very friendly bears welcome you for portraits – for a fee, of course.

Circuses like to boast of presenting “one-of-a-kind” acts and “all-new” shows; however, when two of the circus world’s most popular acts are seen over and over and over again, that’s a hard job. Yet, ringmaster and co-owner Memo Vasquez [one of five brothers] came up with new variations to make the tried-and-true even  more exciting, more edge-of-the-seat.  

Cases in point: the Act One finale — Columbia’s six X-Metal Riders inside the huge Globe of Death revving their motorcycle engines plowing the globe in all sorts of configurations with split-second precision timing. It’s mindboggling and mind-blowing! One tiny burp, and it’s chaos. The reveal at the end is quite a surprise: The sixth rider is none other than the stunning Karen Rodriguez. 

Closing the show, Colombia’s Duo Vanegas (Alejandro and Ricardo) perform gravity-defying stunts on the skyscraper-high speeding Wheel of Wonder – exterior racing, summersaults, jumping rope – even with Alejandro blindfolded. Their hold-your-breath but do-not-close-your-eyes thrills redefine “death-defying, awe-inspiring.” Seeing is believing!

In between there’re plenty of laughs with seventh-generation superstar Italian clown, David Larible, former Ringling Bros. headliner as well as international TV, stage, and film artist. He’s the recipient of the Gran Prix for Lifetime Achievement from the International Clown Festival and the Gold Clown at Monte Carlo’s International Circus Festival. Besides his hilarious interaction with audience members in some of his classic routines, a highlight is his singing “My Way” in multiple languages. And, yes, he does comedy his way!

Sandwiched between these three standouts are Carolina Vazquez [Yes, one of the Vasquezes] ascending on trapeze into the crown of the tent to mesmerize audiences with her agility. What she does next with a folding chair is not for the faint-hearted – especially since all is done without a net. 

Ringmaster  Memo Vasquez (one of five brothers) then introduces an act (I’d) never seen before: Alla Chebanova and Lunhu Kateryna channeling as twins on double trapezes flying over audience heads, sway side-to-side, spinning faster than figure skaters, and exchanging places on the trapezes. 

Also appearing, by virtue of a stroke of good fortune, is the huge Bingo Troupe from the Ukraine, who with a stroke of good fortune escaped to Poland as the conflict there segued into all-out war. Headliner Valeria Koshova takes to the in an elegant routine with the aerial straps as other members perform on unicycle and do contortion. 

Italy’s brother and sister act, Asia and Dylan, Medini Xtreme Skaters, perform hair-raising synchronized roller skating maneuvers dizzily spinning on the equivalent of an Eisenhower dollar. The carpet rolls out to welcome the four Super Tumblers from the U.S. and the Republic of Guinea doing double somersaults, hand balancing, and flinging each other through the air with the greatest of ease. 

High above the ring, laying down the beat behind each act, are the young, talented musicians of the Circus Vazquez Band.

Showtimes are Monday-Friday at 7:30 P.M.; Saturday at 2, 5, and 8; and Sunday at Noon, 3, and 6.  

Tickets, available at www.CircusVazquez.com  or onsite at the Circus Vasquez  box office, are at $48 – $ 70, inclusive of all fees. In addition, there are children, senior, military, and handicap pricing. Order online and save $10 on adult tickets.  The website has directions and a map. Reach Circus Vazquez via the IRT 7 train to the Mets-Willets Point station. Take the exit to the right and walk straight ahead one block. Parking onsite is available for an outrageous $30 [mandated by the City of New York]. 

Downstate ****

By: Samuel L. Leiter

November 18, 2022: In Downstate, Bruce Norris’s invigoratingly provocative new play at Playwrights Horizons—previously seen at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre and London’s National Theatre—four paroled pedophiles cohabit at a group home in downstate Illinois. Each is tethered to the authorities by a GPS ankle bracelet that monitors their movements. Responsible for overseeing their behavior is a humane, wearied, but nevertheless tough as rawhide, middle-aged female parole officer named Ivy Delgado (a hard-hitting Susanna Guzmán).

By: Samuel L. Leiter

November 18, 2022: In Downstate, Bruce Norris’s invigoratingly provocative new play at Playwrights Horizons—previously seen at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre and London’s National Theatre—four paroled pedophiles cohabit at a group home in downstate Illinois. Each is tethered to the authorities by a GPS ankle bracelet that monitors their movements. Responsible for overseeing their behavior is a humane, wearied, but nevertheless tough as rawhide, middle-aged female parole officer named Ivy Delgado (a hard-hitting Susanna Guzmán). 

Over the course of two and a half hours, the audience contemplates the relative decency or perversion of these allegedly evil men; the great constraints under which they’re forced to live as sex offenders, not only by legal restrictions but the demands of neighborhood pressure groups; the different forms and degrees of pedophilia they represent; and, among other things, distinctions between victimhood and victimization that are not necessarily what you might expect. As for specifics regarding what transpired with the children, Norris holds little in reserve.

Mr. Norris (Clybourne Park) can’t quite avoid a few of the pitfalls of conventional well-made playwriting, and not everything rings completely true. Regardless, Downstate, staged with knockout power by Pam McKinnon, is a sturdily written, sensitively handled, exceptionally well-acted, and thoroughly engrossing confrontation with an unpleasant subject from which it’s difficult to divert your eyes. Contrivances, like what we might call Chekhov’s bat, and even a long coil of extension wire, play their role, and both a climactic blowup and a big reveal can be sensed way in advance, yet the play clings like a magnet and never lets you go.

Francis Guinan, Glenn Davis, Susanna Guzmán, Eddie Torres, and K. Todd Freeman.

Fred (Francis Guinan, beautifully modulated) is a soft-spoken, mild-mannered, even kindly, Chopin-loving gent in his 70s, confined to a motorized wheelchair. As a piano teacher, he molested his pre-pubescent male pupils, for which he feels regret. Or says he does. Dee (K. Todd Freeman, consistently authentic) is a gay black man, a former theatre performer devoted to Diana Ross, and now and then given to flashes of flamboyance. He was sentenced to fifteen years for having a two-year relationship—he insists it was a love affair—with a boy who was 14 when they met. The boy stayed in touch with him by mail for six years afterward. The most grounded and knowledgeable of the residents, Dee serves sometimes as the play’s apologist and raisonneur. As played by Mr. Freeman, you may even catch yourself inclining toward Dee’s justifications.

Gio (Glenn Davies, histrionic TNT), who works at Staples, is a loud, temperamental, motor-mouthed go-getter, a man who quotes the Scriptures fluently and holds entrepreneurial ambitions despite having nothing specific to sell. His crime: having sex with an underage teen girl. Finally, there’s Felix (Eddie Torres, convincingly crushed), a mechanic who molested his daughter when she was young. He agonizes tragically because the limits on his freedom prevent him from having any contact with her as her fifteenth birthday approaches. A ban on internet use and smart phones makes life hard for everyone, but Felix in particular.

As such thumbnails reveal, none of these men fits the stereotype of the creep who lurks in the bushes to steal children so they can be locked in basements to serve as sex slaves. Each, even Gio, the most obnoxious, was arrested for a single infraction. To what degree, the play seems to ask, do the punishments these men received—and still do, considering the limits on their freedom—fit their crimes? 

Eddie Torres, K. Todd Freeman

The outside world intrudes mainly in the presence of Andy (Tom Hopper, artfully navigating a difficult role from introverted to explosive), a white man in his 40s, who, at 12, was one of Fred’s victims. He has come to confront his molester and get him to sign a document detailing his transgressions, even though Fred’s on parole after having served his time. Andy continues to suffer the trauma of his brief childhood experience; he belongs to a survivor’s group that, apparently, has made him almost professorially well-versed in the subject of child abuse. 

However, it takes some time for him to express himself well on the subject since, when we first meet him, he seems painfully hesitant and inarticulate when sitting next to his abuser. In the second act, however, when he engages in a long, polemical discussion with Dee, he sounds almost like a professional advocate for those who have been abused.

We must ponder the question: how much is actually resolved of Andy’s trauma by having Fred sign a paper admitting what he’s already admitted? In fact, Fred, otherwise so ready to comply, insists that the list of alleged improprieties provided by Andy is incorrect, suggesting that what Andy remembers may never have happened, or, at least, not in the same way. 

Francis Guinan, Glenn Davis, Susanna Guzmán and Eddie Torres.

Two minor characters are involved. One, Effie (a hotwired Gabi Samels), is a confrontational woman friend and co-worker of Gio’s; despite her generally crude demeanor, she has no trouble fully enunciating her rights in the face of Ivy’s official demands. The other is Em (Sally Murphy, saddled with the weakest role), Andy’s wife, who is given a speech at the end castigating the parolees that seems artificial and out of place.

Depending on who’s talking, Norris’s dialogue ranges from the commonplace to the sizzling, but nearly everyone manages to be ultra-articulate, regardless of educational background. Fiery scenes are often peppered with laugh lines, and each moment has something about it to grab your attention. You probably never met such a team of verbally precise, yet emotionally disparate people, but what they say is usually so ear-catching you wouldn’t have it otherwise. 

Sally Murphy and Tim Hopper.

Todd Rosenthal’s set, less shabby than Norris describes it in his stage directions, is a blandly realistic beige interior that could serve for any number of households. Seated on audience right, however, I could not see a bullet-damaged window on the stage left wall. Clint Ramos’s costumes satisfy all the naturalistic, character-revealing requirements, and Adam Silverman provides the appropriately flat illumination needed to de-romanticize the environment.

Like the small number of other good plays about pedophilia (How I Learned to Drive and Doubt among them), Downstate can make you cringe one moment and laugh the next. But what it does better than anything is make you feel and think.

Downstate
Playwrights Horizons
416 W. 42nd Street, NYC
Through December 11, 2022
Photography: Joan Marcus

 K. Todd Freeman, Francis Guinan, Glenn Davis, Susanna Guzmán and Eddie Torres.

Only Make Believe Gala

Stars Celebrate at Only Make Believe’s Back on Broadway Gala

By: Iris Wiener

On November 14th,  Broadway’s elite came out to celebrate Only Make Believe’s 23rd Annual Gala, “Back on Broadway.” Only Make Believe is an inspirational, joyous organization that creates interactive theatre with children who have severe medical conditions and developmental disabilities. The nonprofit has brought theatre into hospitals and schools for special needs children throughout New York, all without charge. To date, Only Make Believe has inspired more than 100,000 children through performance.

Stars Celebrate at Only Make Believe’s Back on Broadway Gala 

By: Iris Wiener

On November 14th,  Broadway’s elite came out to celebrate Only Make Believe’s 23rd Annual Gala, “Back on Broadway.” Only Make Believe is an inspirational, joyous organization that creates interactive theatre with children who have severe medical conditions and developmental disabilities. The nonprofit has brought theatre into hospitals and schools for special needs children throughout New York, all without charge. To date, Only Make Believe has inspired more than 100,000 children through performance. 

The gala, which took place at the St. James Theatre (current home to Into the Woods), truly embodies the spirit of theatrical performers, as it demonstrates their passion for inspiring and helping others through the use of imagination. The goal at this generous event was to raise money and awareness. John Oliver was on hand as host to bring humor and grace. Oliver and other exciting performers spoke with Theaterlife on the event’s red carpet. 

John Oliver

“As a kid we had performers come to our school, the kind of thing you see this organization doing,” he said of his own first time experiencing make believe. “I was really taken by the idea that you can escape into some other world and some other role. Not that I was Daniel Day Lewis-ing my performances as Willy Wonka or the Artful Dodger, but I did my best,” he laughed, describing his own experiences on stage. “For me, it did become a way to both escape whatever was happening in my life at that time, and also pointed me towards something that I wanted to do. I could not be a Broadway performer due to limitations such as not being able to sing or dance! Apparently, those two things are pretty important, so instead I can stand next to the actors and introduce them.”

The performers whom Oliver introduced included Beth Leavel (The Prom),  Bonnie Milligan (Kimberly Akimbo), AJ Shively (A Man of No Importance), Brad Oscar and Rob McClure (Little Shop of Horrors), Montego Glover and Andy Karl (Into the Woods), and Orfeh (Pretty Woman).

Kate Abbruzzese and AJ Shively

“If I hadn’t used imagination and make believe and gone though my mother’s closet and acted out all of these characters and tried singing…I was a young kid from North Carolina who had no theatre in her life, no magic in that way,” Leavel told The New York Independent, before sharing that she is hoping to return to Broadway with the new musical The Devil Wears Prada. “Make believe helped me a great deal.” She performed an astounding rendition of “Some People” at the gala.

“Theatre is so important,” said Milligan, who proved that she should be leading the cast of Funny Girl with her take on “Don’t Rain On My Parade.” “Sometimes, we hear about defunding of any arts programs and those are the first to go. They are so important in a kid’s development, let alone for children in need or children with health issues of any kind. Only Make Believe is a life raft in many ways. To give money, time and space to these families with the power of imagination is so powerful it can’t be understated.”

 Bonnie Milligan

Brad Oscar has worked with Only Make Believe since a benefit at 2001 at the Westside Theatre, where ironically, he is currently performing in Little Shop of Horrors. “I don’t remember ever not wanting to get dressed up, tell stories and put on little skits and plays and dance around to cast albums and all that stuff,” he says of his appreciation of how the use of imagination helps children. “The first album I wore out was Damn Yankees. I danced to all the characters. Who would limit themselves to just having to choose one? Whoever was singing, that was the role I was playing!” Oscar celebrated his first year as a “real live” board member for Only Make Believe. 

 Beth Leavel

Up until the previous evening, Oscar was playing Mr. Mushnik opposite Rob McClure, who finished his run as Little Shop’s Seymour. They did one last tango in “Mr. Mushnik and Son” at the gala. “I remember playing Ninja Turtles on my front lawn with cars going by and me not caring because I was making believe,” McClure recalled. “I feel like I was my best actor when I was 5, because the world hadn’t told me to be self-conscious yet. I could fully inhabit it. One of the things I admire most about Only Make Believe is how they take people who have training and are professional make believers, and they meet the people who are still in the place where make believe is as real as anything. They bring the power of play to the people who need it most.”

Diego Prieto & Brad Oscar

Montego Glover and Andy Karl are currently calling the St. James Theatre home, as they are starring in Into the Woods as the Witch and Rapunzel’s Prince, respectively. “It isn’t lost on me that I’m doing a play about the importance of children and what we say and do around them and to them,” Glover said of the poignancy of the gala taking place to the backdrop of Into the Woods set. “Only Make Believe strives to include children in the experience of art, but also the healing power of art. Any person who’s an artist can attest to that,” she said. She gave everyone a taste of her Broadway role with her rendition of Woods’ “Greens Greens.”

Imagination was incredibly important throughout the pandemic, and Andy Karl remembers how it shaped his own experience as an adult, inspiring him to give back. “Where there was no theatre we made one,” he said. “We found a place to do it. I wrote many plays myself and did Zoom readings and screen readings. Theatre is the most inspiring thing for people.”

Monica Wyche

“It’s phenomenal to get to inspire kids when they can’t make it to the theatre,” said Orfeh. “Children get to see live people doing this, and everything is sprung forth from your imagination. The impetus for every invention on this planet was once in somebody’s imagination.”

To donate to Only Make Believe visit www.onlymakebelieve.org/donate.
Photography: Jason Steinberg

Christian Thompson
John Oliver
Telly Leung
Kathryn Allison
 Only Make Believe Board
Rob McClure & Brad Oscar

 Montego Glover
Alicia Quarles
Dea Jullien
Joe DiPietro
Alyssa May Gold
 Ryan Duncan

The Museum of Broadway

The Museum of Broadway, Saluting the Artistry and History of New York Theater, Opens in the Heart of the Theatre District.

By: Ellis Nassour

November 17, 2022 –  A museum dedicated to the history of Broadway theater, New York City’s Number One industry, has been talked about, even planned again and again, but never materialized. Finally, it has come to be. The Museum of Broadway has officially opened in the heart of the Theatre District at 145 West 45th Street, between Broadway/Seventh Avenue and Sixth Avenue.  It joins the American Theater Hall of Fame, housed in the Gershwin Theatre, to become the first permanent entity dedicated to the storied history and legendary artistry of Broadway theater and  Broadway theatres.

The Museum of Broadway, Saluting the Artistry and History of New York Theater, Opens in the Heart of the Theatre District.

By: Ellis Nassour 

November 17, 2022 –  A museum dedicated to the history of Broadway theater, New York City’s Number One industry, has been talked about, even planned again and again, but never materialized. Finally, it has come to be. The Museum of Broadway has officially opened in the heart of the Theatre District at 145 West 45th Street, between Broadway/Seventh Avenue and Sixth Avenue.  It joins the American Theater Hall of Fame, housed in the Gershwin Theatre, to become the first permanent entity dedicated to the storied history and legendary artistry of Broadway theater and  Broadway theatres.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, recognizing the importance to Broadway theater to the city, was joined at the ribbon-cutting by Museum co-founders Julie Boardman and Diane Nicoletti and, among numerous city officials and industry luminaries, Anne del Castillo of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. 

Boardman is a two-time Tony winning producer and Nicoletti is founder of Rubik Marketing Agency. The Museum is an immersive experience featuring the work of dozens of designers, artists, and theatre historians presented in a massive time line from the birth of New York theater along 14thStreet and the segue up, up, up town to legendary  Times Square, where present day joins the past in a glittering array of costumes, props, music, and artifacts.

The Museum celebrates will feature numerous themed exhibits. The first, The Making of a Broadway Show, is joined by The American Theatre as seen by Hirschfeld, which follows the one-of-a-kind work of artist Al Hirschfeld through nine decades and 25 caricatures from 1928 to 2002. You will even be able to sit in a replica of his barber chair, where he finished the sketches he did more often than not during live performances. 

Years in the making, visitors will see memorabilia, portraits and photos of the artists who brought theater to life, production highlights, a gallery of seasons and seasons and seasons of   Playbill, theatrical tableaus, production stills, and to top it all off, of course, an incredible gift shop. 

A definite highlight of any visit are the scenic designs and costumes featured in classic shows, as well as tributes to 500 productions from the 1700s through the present – shows such as Beauty and the Beast, Carousel, Chicago, Fiddler on the Roof, Follies, Grease Funny Girl, Gypsy, Hello Dolly!, The King and I, The Lion King, Oklahoma!, The Phantom of the Opera, Ragtime, Sunday in the Park with George, West Side, Story, Wicked, and gillions more.

Visitors also will learn about shows that transformed the landscape of Broadway – the moments in shows such as Show BoatSouth Pacific, Parade, Rent, and A Raisin in the Sun that pushed creative boundaries and challenged social norms. 

The team of expert curators for the Museum is headed by Ben West, resident historian and Timeline Walls curator), John Kenrick, Michael McDonald, Matthew Schneider, Jennifer Ashley Tepper, Faye Armon-Troncoso, and Lisa Zinni.

The Museum of Broadway is founded in collaboration with Playbill, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the Al Hirschfeld Foundation, Goodspeed Musicals, Creative Goods, and Concord Theatricals. The co-producers are a roster of the Who’s Who in theater.

Timed tickets for the Museum of Broadway start at $39 [with a portion of every admission donated to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS] can be purchased at www.themuseumofbroadway.com/tickets. For more information on the Museum of Broadway, visit: https://www.themuseumofbroadway.com and follow @museumofbroadway on social media.

Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man & The Pool *****

By: Samuel L. Leiter

November 13, 2022: Comedian—or better, humorist—Mike Birbiglia’s life may be more a bowl of cherry pits than cherries, but he still manages to live and laugh at it all. And in his hilarious solo show, Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man & The Pool (previously seen at three major regional theatres), he even gets a nearly full house at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre—many of whom may have similar problems—to laugh along with him for most of its 85 laugh-a-minute minutes. While it’s yet another in the trend of monologue-driven plays (including those with more than one character) I’ve recently been noting with dismay, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Mr. Birbiglia has been doing these solo shows for years, his last example, The New One, having mercilessly tickled my ribs in 2018, as reported on this site. As directed by Seth Barrish, his usual collaborator, he’s a maestro of the form.

By: Samuel L. Leiter

November 13, 2022: Comedian—or better, humorist—Mike Birbiglia’s life may be more a bowl of cherry pits than cherries, but he still manages to live and laugh at it all. And in his hilarious solo show, Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man & The Pool (previously seen at three major regional theatres), he even gets a nearly full house at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre—many of whom may have similar problems—to laugh along with him for most of its 85 laugh-a-minute minutes. While it’s yet another in the trend of monologue-driven plays (including those with more than one character) I’ve recently been noting with dismay, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Mr. Birbiglia has been doing these solo shows for years, his last example, The New One, having mercilessly tickled my ribs in 2018, as reported on this site. As directed by Seth Barrish, his usual collaborator, he’s a maestro of the form.

Mike Birbiglia

A boyish guy living in Brooklyn with his wife Jennie and daughter Oona, Mr. Birbiglia has had enough run-ins with health issues to make him stare at his mortality right in its face, even though he’s only in his mid-40s. Very much aware that his grandfather and father, a doctor, both died of heart attacks at 56, he has cause for concern when, during an annual checkup, he has barely enough breath to move the ball in a tube the doctor has him blow into. A cardiologist recommends that he strengthen his heart through cardio exercise. Regardless of his aversion to pools (all that pee, all that chlorine!), swimming at the local YMCA seems the likeliest solution; the doctor’s request that he do it five times a week inspires a terrific bit of back and forth in which Michael Phelps figures, but I’ll leave it at that. And, of course, we now learn why the show’s subtitle is “The Old Man and the Pool.” As for the old man, you’ll have to see the show to appreciate that as well.

Mr. Birbiglia, dressed—thanks to Toni Leslie-James—unremarkably in sneakers, slacks, and a long-sleeved shirt worn outside his pants, has the kind of amiable guy-next-door persona that embraces his audience as if the event were taking place in a venue much more intimate than the Beaumont. His slightly high-pitched voice, delivered in a conversational drawl, never strains for effect; many of his most effective lines are practically toss-aways. He’ll say something moderately funny in his normal voice, then drop it for a moment to add an afterthought, and get an even bigger reaction. 

Mike Birbiglia

His stories of health issues include heart problems, bladder cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, and a sleep disorder that makes him act out his dreams—he once walked through a glass door—while he’s having them. Nevertheless, he discusses them with casual good nature, entwined with accounts of how these relate to his family life, which make us feel like we somehow know him. The pool stories, which dominate, are especially funny, and, to emphasize them, designer Boritt Beowulf has created a backdrop resembling a pale green sheet of tile that curves like paper onto the floor, and can also serve for projections showing words or images. Aaron Copp’s lighting navigates the narrative with surprisingly subtle variations.

Mr. Birbiglia’s seemingly off-the-cuff memories touch on his youthful experiences as a reluctant high school wrestler whose chief strategy was to get the ordeal over as fast as possible by getting pinned, which didn’t work when that was also his opponent’s strategy; his childhood experiences seeing vaginas and penises in pool locker rooms; his pondering such conundrums as signs that say “Slippery when wet”; his family’s preference for saying “take care” instead of “I love you”; his obsession with pizza (even the word “plaza” can blow him away), not to mention chicken parmesan, and so on. The swimming lessons he takes at the YMCA are another source of hilarity as he gradually becomes more adept at the sport, even to the point of equipping himself with all the necessary equipment and rhapsodizing on its pleasures. 

Mike Birbiglia

Although craftily crafted, the monologue has a stream-of-consciousness affect that allows for generating amusement out of things like how his family coped with black mold in their apartment by renting an Airbnb, the complications of making a will, the imminence of death from unexpected sources (like being hit on the head by a falling coconut), how the loudness of someone’s doorbell is a sign of how rich they are, the significance of nutritionists, and too many other things, all of which he turns to comic gold. 

Mr. Birbiglia so successfully befriends us that he gets away with having the house lights turned up to single out individuals for not complying when he asks for a moment of silence for a dead person. At another moment, he asks the audience to repeat lines after him. Usually, audiences are hesitant to respond to such requests, but not the one I saw at Lincoln Center when a sea of balding and whitehaired auditors responded in one loud, mask-muffled voice, like kids in a kindergarten class.

You may not pee in the pool at the Beaumont, but I can’t guarantee you won’t pee in your pants. If you’re in the dumps, perhaps because you, too, have been contemplating life’s evanescence, I can think of no better way to cheer you up than a visit to Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man and the Pool, whose motto should be, “Come on in, the water’s fine.”

Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man & the Pool *****
Vivian Beaumont Theatre (at Lincoln Center)
150 W. 65th Street, NYC
Through January 15, 2022
Photography: Emilio Madrid

Mike Birbiglia

The Museum of Broadway – It’s About Time!

“You’ve got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna make a dream come true?” Oscar Hammerstein II (South Pacific)

By Alix Cohen

November 15, 2022: That Broadway brought in 1.43 billion dollars in the 2018/2019 season employing 97,000 people are just statistics unless you own a business in the neighborhood or among those employed. That its cluster of theaters has illuminated and entertained us since 1735 when the first venue opened is something personal to each of us who experiences The Great White Way, referring to its multitude of lights. Remember the thrill of your first show, of seeing an actor known only by reputation, of laughing, crying, thinking differently, humming new tunes? How many aspiring thespians has it fueled? How many celebrations has it seen?

“You’ve got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna make a dream come true?” Oscar Hammerstein II (South Pacific)

By Alix Cohen

November 15, 2022: That Broadway brought in 1.43 billion dollars in the 2018/2019 season employing 97,000 people are just statistics unless you own a business in the neighborhood or among those employed. That its cluster of theaters has illuminated and entertained us since 1735 when the first venue opened is something personal to each of us who experiences The Great White Way, referring to its multitude of lights. Remember the thrill of your first show, of seeing an actor known only by reputation, of laughing, crying, thinking differently, humming new tunes? How many aspiring thespians has it fueled? How many celebrations has it seen?

Shows

Founders Julie Boardman and Diane Nicoletti have established a home for the history of theater around Times Square. This tribute to “creators, sustainers, invaluable supporters and fans” is now housed in a warren of galleries at 145 West 45th Street.  (Each floor feels something like a genial maze.) One journeys through a visual and audible progression including costumes, props, stage set maquettes (that of Wicked is immensely complex), renderings, photos, programs, posters. Even the hallways between floors are covered with illuminating materials.

Costumes clockwise- Oklahoma- Hair- Phantom of the Opera- Chorus Line

 Costumes from such as Oklahoma, Little Foxes, Chorus Line, Phantom of the Opera and Hamilton are just a few of what’s on display. The candy store set from the original production of West Side Story is recreated. Sit in the flowered swing from Hair or walk among corn stalks (Oklahoma!) for a photo.

 Videos of performance and talking heads (watch Lynn Ahrens discuss lyrics, Emmanuel Azenberg talk about producing and Derek McLane wax poetic about set design), quotes, brief biographies like those of theater founders, the Nederlanders and legendary songwriters, George and Ira Gershwin), terminology explanations, even a light and sound board…in front of and behind the scenes. More than 500 individual productions are featured.

Sets- Top to bottom- Anything Goes- West Side Story- Bye Bye Birdie

  “Today Broadway is associated almost exclusively with legitimate stage (i.e. plays and musicals). But when the term originally took root in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it encompassed multiple stage forms.” (museum signage) The controversial, conspicuously American  minstrel show started in the 1840s following decades of individual performers. 

Minstrel, Vaudeville George M. Cohan

Vaudeville featured everything from dog acts to slapstick skits to dance teams…George Burns and Gracie Allen, Fred and Adele Astaire started in vaudeville. (Fred made it to films.) George M. Cohan grew up in it, then produced his own shows writing innumerable classic songs (inspiring the musical George M.) Read all about it. See photographs, posters, programs.

Inspired by the Folies Bergere of Paris, Florenz Ziegfeld introduced his famous Follies in 1907 spotlighting leggy chorines with sequins and feathers parading down long stairways, balancing sky high headdresses.  The Follies made stars of Fanny Brice (inspiring the musical Funny Girl), Eddie Cantor, Ray Bolger, Sophie Tucker, and  W.C. Fields. There are Follies costumes, a photo op, and an evocative dressing table. Revue formats became ubiquitous.

Ziegfeld FolliesZiegfeld Follies

1927’s Showboat introduced serious, realistic themes to the musical, something Rodgers and Hammerstein  later did repeatedly. “The more you go to theater and the more you hear stories that you aren’t necessarily familiar with, the more open you become to embracing other perspectives.” Playwright Lynn Nottage

The 1943 musical Oklahoma! introduced ballet to Broadway in Agnes de Mille’s capable hands. Decades later An American in Paris arrived. “You use the bodies of dancers as instruments, like the keys on a typewriter, to tell a story.” Director/choreographer Gower Champion who among other credits, helmed the glorious tapping of 42nd Street.

The Original Broadway Cast of Oklahoma!

Shows that pushed social and political boundaries fit into the context of a timeline. Why then? What came before, what followed? “The nervous system of any age or nation is its creative workers, its artists. And if that nervous system is disturbed by its environment, the work it produces will inescapably reflect the disturbance, sometimes obliquely and sometimes with violent directness.” Playwright Tennessee Williams

Swing from Hair- original lyric sheet from Chorus LIne

Remember what a shock Hair was to that nervous system? Sit in its flowered swing and have your photo taken. See the exuberantly colorful costumes. Hear the music. The visionary juggernaut Chorus Line, midwifed at our own, home-grown Public Theater told the story of indispensible gypsies in their own words.

An area called Broadway Responds to the Aids Epidemic opens with” You would go into rehearsal and before you could get to previews, friends, colleagues and coworkers would have disappeared. People became sick and landed in the hospital. Some would come out, many would not.” Anonymous. A Broadway Cares patchwork quilt is on proud display indicating the tremendous hit suffered by its community. The astounding Angels in America won a Pulitzer.

Broadway Cares Quilt

Broadway tackled race relations, religious bigotry, LGBTQ, fatal illness, dysfunctional families, and the Middle East; Shakespeare, fantasy, film adaptation, jazz and juke box musicals. Hip-hop burst onto the scene like a firecracker with In the Heights and then the ground breaking Hamilton. Revivals came and come, sometimes updated, often restaged. New generations see classics. Terrifically multifaceted designer David Rockwell has installed The Making of a Broadway Show giving us a glimpse into process, nomenclature, and underpinnings. 

Let’s Write a Show poster

A small exhibit on the ground floor features the oeuvre of iconic artist Al Hirschfeld in celebration of a new volume, The American Theatre As Seen By Hirschfeld. Follow the incisive chronicler and the history of the Great White Way unfold before one. Get up close with a sampling of his remarkable work.

Hirschfeld

Whether you’ve been among Broadway audiences since a child, are in the business or visiting the Big Apple with an eye to seeing some shows, The Museum of Broadway is a good bet. Give yourself time to read some of what’s on the walls, listen to a few talking heads, and inspect that which is on close display. Curation is excellent. One garners a real feel for Broadway’s evolution from T.D. Rice’s original character Jim Crow to crawling through an ersatz Alice in Wonderland door from Company.

Julie Boardman is a Tony Award winning Broadway producer, and also runs an event staffing agency (Boardman Productions) through which she has worked on hundreds of promotional brand activations.  She went to her favorite client & longtime friend, event producer Diane Nicoletti with this idea. Contributors are legion.

Call Board

The museum is open 7 days a week from 10am to 10pm.
There are timed (15 minutes grace) and flexible tickets at different price points. The first Tuesday of each month entrance prices will be reduced. https://www.themuseumofbroadway.com/

Exhibits are meant to be explored in one direction. Guides will be on hand should you get turned around. Stairs take you there but the facility has an elevator, just ask. Guests 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult 18 or older. There’s coat check just behind a shop on the ground floor.

A portion of each ticket will be donated to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Group and student rates available.

Only Gold ****

By: Isa Goldberg

November 14, 2022: Watching the director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler’s new work, “Only Gold,” at MCC Theater, brings a surge of energy, such as one needs to become a woke person. Woke, in this case, means listening to your heart regardless of what society may dictate. Told primarily through dance, to the beat of British recording artist Kate Nash, the show is thrilling, in many ways.

By: Isa Goldberg

November 14, 2022: Watching the director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler’s new work, “Only Gold,” at MCC Theater, brings a surge of energy, such as one needs to become a woke person. Woke, in this case, means listening to your heart regardless of what society may dictate. Told primarily through dance, to the beat of British recording artist Kate Nash, the show is thrilling, in many ways.

Known for his choreography of “Hamilton,” and “In the Heights,” Blakenbuehler wrote the book to this new show, along with Ted Malawer.  As a dance musical with a nonlinear narrative, it speaks to those coming of age in a digital era, and that sense of limitlessness. In our contemporary world, one can search for, see, and share whatever one wants.  Still, as storytelling, “Gold” clings closely to the emotional arc of a traditional romance. 

Ryan VanDenBoom and Hannah Cruz 

Set in a festive Paris 1928 – on the brink of worldwide depression, “Gold” speaks to a society like our own, facing rupture. The main narrative involves King Belenus (the fabulous Terrence Mann), from a fictional land who needs his daughter, Princess Tooba (Gaby Diaz) to agree to her arranged marriage with a Count (Tyler Hanes). Much to her father’s delight, she falls in love with Paris. But as we know, there are definitely kinks on the way to ideal love, which each of the three couples reveal.

Ironically, the story turns on the tale of a watch maker, who dreams of being a Jeweler (Ryan VanDenBoom), like his father was. His dream comes true when he meets the King, who seeks a charm, to rekindle Queen Roksana’s (Karine Plantadit’s) love. Prompted by his wife’s (Hannah Cruz’s) encouragement, the Jeweler shows the King his designs. And what turns out to be a supreme partnership between Jeweler and King, leaves his musical wife without even the right to keep her piano. That Cruz sings wonderfully  is a crowning pleasure. 

Their reconciliation is the underpinning to the book, about a woman’s need for fulfillment through self-expression, and the right to be recognized for it. Happily, the jeweler’s gold is in his heart. It’s also in the costumes by Anita Yavich, and the scenic design by David Korins. 

Ryan Steele and Gaby Diaz

More importantly, it’s in the music. Kate Nash’s score, especially her up-tempo arrangements bring the style she developed from her first hit “Foundations,” to the stage, in an exciting way. In this production she includes folk-style ballads that are quite beautiful, and seductive. 

Still, her music is upbeat, even in the face of bitterness. In the music video to “Foundations,” we see her eating lemons joyously. Her feminism speaks through her lyrics, and her personal struggles relate to modern women. 

As for the costumes, the main characters standout. Dressed in a stunning gold and black suit with a large flowery design, Terrence Mann gives an incredible performance. Alternately comic, or romantic, – he is necessarily commanding, and his eleventh hour number is fueled with enormous passion. It is, indeed, the culmination of the actor’s work -from his Tony nominated role as Javert, the main antagonist in “Les Miz,” to Charles, the conqueror/hero of “Pippin.” His presence is bigger than life, as well as most of what we see on many a stage these days. 

Hannah Cruz

But the most astonishing performance is Karine Plantadit’s, a lead dancer with Alvin Ailey, she is widely known for her work in Twyla Tharp’s jukebox musicals. A dainty, yet forceful dancer, Plantadit builds a strong, sensitive character – lover, wife, mother, and truth seeker. She is a formidable contender to the King, in demanding her rightful place in government, and in life. 

As the romantic lead, Diaz is highly energetic, but as a dancer she lacks the physical strength to sustain the role, as it is being interpreted here. Indeed youth, and young love sometimes appear callow. As the young man she falls in love with, Ryan Steele is fetching in his in mid-air poses. 

Blakenbuehler’s choreography, while rooted in modern dance, also explores a range of styles, including tap, and ballroom, with a twerk of street dance, for the youthful performers. It’s exciting, but lengthy interludes of choreography, also distract from the directness of storytelling. Dance creates a life in and of itself, whether or not it carries the action – in the narrative sense. Its marriage with the American musical takes considerable strides here. 

Finally, the piece rests on the small orchestra of strings, and the youthful buoyant dancers, who celebrate love so buoyantly. 

Only Gold ****
The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theatre Space
 511 West 52nd Street, WEST of 10th AVE and just past the COMMUNITY GARDEN
Photography: Daniel J. Vasquez.

Leslie Uggams @ 54 Below *****

By: Patrick Christiano

Tony & Emmy award winner, Leslie Uggams, returns to 54 Below with a marvelous new show, Only In New York.

November 12, 2022:  Leslie Uggams’ return to the intimate supper club, 54 Below, is a cause for celebration. Missing in action for eight years while busy with film and TV projects, the Lady is back with a marvelous new show, Only In New York. Sporting a spikey new hair style that suits her playful, yet serious mood, she moved effortlessly through a beautiful selection of songs including iconic Broadway showstoppers along with songs she made famous or just loved. Her emotional connection to the music is profound, filled with seven decades of wisdom, and her soulful voice is strong displaying an impressive power and range.

By: Patrick Christiano

Tony & Emmy award winner, Leslie Uggams, returns to 54 Below with a marvelous new show, Only In New York.

November 12, 2022:  Leslie Uggams’ return to the intimate supper club, 54 Below, is a cause for celebration. Missing in action for eight years while busy with film and TV projects, the Lady is back with a marvelous new show, Only In New York. Sporting a spikey new hair style that suits her playful, yet serious mood, she moved effortlessly through a beautiful selection of songs including iconic Broadway showstoppers along with songs she made famous or just loved. Her emotional connection to the music is profound, filled with seven decades of wisdom, and her soulful voice is strong displaying an impressive power and range. 

Her show played tribute to all the wonderful things New York, her hometown, has brought her. And now can we talk? The Lady was in a decidedly playful mood and ready to share funny stories from her journey in show business. Beginning in Harlem at the age of nine, she has been performing for close to seven decades now and is an authentic legend with Tony and Emmy award winning credentials. The Lady was never less than authentic, and her show was cabaret at its finest served by a consummate artist.  

She opened with a soaring “Something’s Coming,” from West Side Story, connecting with the audience beautifully and moving right into “Only In New York” from Thoroughly Modern Millie, followed by, “My Own Morning,” from Hallelujah, Baby!, which she sang in the Broadway show. She owned the song, before pulling out all the stops on another Jule Styne stunner, with an altered lyric, “Don’t Rain on My Parade, from Funny Girl.

She paused a moment to share a riotous story about singing the Rogers & Hammerstein’s, “June is Bustin Out All Over,” from Carousel, at The Capital in Washington D.C, before singing the improvised version that has made her famous in every gay bar across the country. Next, she hit all the right notes on “Hello Young Lovers,” from The King and I, followed by a haunting rendition of the John Lennon and Paul McCartney classic, “Yesterday/Yesterdays.

She weaved an enchanting spell on the Jule Styne, Comden, and Green classic, Being Good Isn’t Good Enough,” from Hallelujah Baby!  She won the Tony singing this song and has been singing it for 50 years. “The more I sing it, the more I feel I must do it,” she commented.

Speaking about the composers she was blessed to work with and referring to her dear friend the composer, Jerry Herman, who died in December 2019 she said. “Jerry is the most positive man I ever met. And she shared a gift he gave her when he surprised her with an unexpected telephone call asking if she would like to go on the road that summer, for 8 weeks, with Carol Channing and Andrea McCardle in a little show to be called Jerry’s Girls? That little show ran for 48 weeks, eventually coming to Broadway, and one of her songs in Jerry’s Girls was the classic from Mame, “If He Walked Into My Life.” She sang it next, and the room was stilled by her unforgettable interpretation, poignant and heartbreaking. 

Her manager and husband of 57 years was in the room along with her daughter, Danielle Chambers, who she brought to the stage for a magical duet of “You Will Be Found,” from one of her favorite Broadway shows, Dear Evan Hansen. Another beautiful moment! 

Leslie Uggams & Danielle Chambers

Her final song was a tribute to another legend, Lena Horne, who Leslie Uggams has portrayed in a Broadway Bound musical called Stormy Weather. It was another stunning moment in an evening filled with them. 

54 Below is located at 254 West 54th Street (cellar), New York, NY
Musical director: Don Rebic
Director: Michael Bush
Featuring: Buddy Williams, George Farmer, Danielle Chambers 
Photography/Video: Barry Gordin

Leslie Uggams
George Farmer on Bass.
  Don Rebic Musical Directing from the piano
Danielle Chambers & Patrick Christiano
Leslie Uggams
Leslie Uggams