Monday Night Magic

“When you start to wonder, you start to think, and there isn’t enough thinking going on.” (Performer/Historian Todd Robbins)

By: Alix Cohen

October 15, 2021: At 24, Monday Night Magic is the city’s longest running Off-Broadway magic show. Except in Nevada and at private events, the art seemed to otherwise fade (though never disappear) from popular culture, then tenuously resurfaced with more theatrical shows. All the while, Monday Night Magic’s flame burned steadily at various Manhattan locations.

“When you start to wonder, you start to think, and there isn’t enough thinking going on.” (Performer/Historian Todd Robbins)

By: Alix Cohen

October 15, 2021: At 24, Monday Night Magic is the city’s longest running Off-Broadway magic show. Except in Nevada and at private events, the art seemed to otherwise fade (though never disappear) from popular culture, then tenuously resurfaced with more theatrical shows. All the while, Monday Night Magic’s flame burned steadily at various Manhattan locations.

The venerable show shut down in March due to the pandemic, reinventing itself as a regularly streamed event in October. Tonight it reopens live fittingly at The Player’s Theater, a carriage house that converted in the 1950s. Atmosphere takes one back in time. The walls are peeling, music is decidedly old school. It’s kind of a latter day vaudeville experience.

People are curious creatures. If we know an experience includes trickery going in the door, we LIKE to be fooled.   Show me something that creates wonder, that raises the question “how?” audiences challenge. Give me a taste of the inexplicable on which most of us were weaned (fairy tales). Unsettling belief paradigm is a magician’s aspiration. In a world of CGI and fake news, agreeing to be mislead while entertained is something of a relief.

David Corsaro

Tonight’s show is hosted by magician David Corsaro whose bottled enthusiasm could carbonate a cola factory. Amiable and smooth, Corsaro would’ve been a good man to bally outside carnival tents. He draws us in with a warm-up card trick involving a series of random audience member choices leading to an outcome known only to him.

Alexander Boyce

Next is Alexander Boyce (resembling a shy James Dean in a conservative suit). Boyce has a “flash” act with one visual effect following the next – no speaking. A series of live doves, then eggs appear out of nowhere. A handkerchief tossed into the air and a paper plane transform into doves. The practitioner himself looks bemused. There’s something appealingly anachronistic about use of the birds. The act is fluid and visually pleasing.

T.J. Tana

T.J. Tana follows. This young magician’s turn couldn’t be more different. He’s all mouthy, purposeful failure in the name of laughter. Tana’s audience volunteer is extremely game and somewhat droll in her reactions. When he “hypnotizes” her, the lady giggles behind hands over her eyes. Without looking, umbrella is taken for – an umbrella, a rock for a sponge.

Intermission features Boyce and Michael Patrick doing close-up magic involving cards, rope and rings – one artist in the theater and one in the lobby. Patrick’s Herbert-the-rubber-band with its own mind is quirky and amusing as, unseen, it wraps itself (himself?) around dictated cards. Corsaro shows how a married couple are eerily more connected than they might think.

Asi Wind

Asi Wind then appears as tonight’s main event. The magician designates participants by tossing a crumpled piece of paper into the audience, then having whoever caught it toss it further. His is another trick where arbitrary choices lead to an unexpected reveal (which is grand). He suggests some choices may have been subliminally suggested. The artist is wry, quick and smooth, responding to volunteers with humor and skill.

The practitioner’s hands, as proved by folded bills manifesting where they invisibly migrate, are truly quicker than the eye. “People ask whether I can use these techniques in real life.” Poker without cards ends by his discerning a chosen face, number, and suit. A volunteer player finds cards in his T-shirt breast pocket increase in number while Wind stands half way up the theater aisle.

The first person in the audience to reach someone on a cell phone asks that person to select a card. Wind gets the unspoken message. We’re with this artist every step of the way. I find myself grinning broadly at his low key brio. A map burns a path to a city ostensibly unknown to the magician. Rubik Cubes are employed in a fresh manner.

This is a genial, family friendly show (kids not too young) for those who enjoy being stumped;a lighthearted evening that won’t break the bank. We could all use a little more magic in our lives.

Tonight’s Performers:

David Corsaro has brought his unique personality and magic to the Museum of Natural History, the Armed Forces and their families, and Fortune 500 companies as well as donating his talent for a variety of charitable organizations.

Alexander Boyce has consulted on theater productions, television, and film. Performances have been seen at many NYC institutions. At 28 years old, Boyce regularly travels to Las Vegas to apprentice with masters.

At only 18 years old, T.J. Tana was one of the youngest-ever artists at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. By twenty-three, his work had been seen in over eight countries and three continents. The magician  is known for his performances on the Masters of Illusion LIVE tour and his behind-the-scenes work with the touring cast of The Illusionists.

Asi Wind was born and raised in Tel Aviv, where he was voted “Best Magician in Israel.” He’s one of the few performers to constantly perform entirely original material. A committee of his peers recently presented him with the International Merlin Award for “Most Innovative Show” – an award previously given to David Copperfield, Criss Angel, and Penn & Teller. He’s fooled the latter on their television show.

Mike Patrick is an award-winning magician known for his off-beat humor, drawing from comic books and “Weird Al” Yankovic. Every routine is laced with references to TV shows, music, and video games. He honed his craft over the last ten years at the famous Ninja restaurant and at private events.

Monday Night Magic
Every Monday at 8 p.m. with different performers
Vaccination proof and masks please
The Players Theater
115 MacDougal Street

Originally Posted on October 6, 2021 on Woman Around Town

Chicken & Biscuits

Five Reasons Why Chicken & Biscuits is Broadway’s Delightful Main Course

By: Iris Wiener

           October 14, 2021:  Chicken & Biscuits is a delectable treat, one that excites the pallet and leaves its audiences satiated with joy. A funeral may not be the first place one would imagine a comedy being set, but this feast delivers at every turn. Playwright Douglas Lyons builds a full Baptist memorial service in a Black church, at which the Jenkins’, a family of misshapen, foiled characters, arrive to mourn (or celebrate) the passing of their elder. The uplifting heart and abounding humor are only two of many reasons audiences will want second helpings of this perfect reason to revisit Broadway. Here are five more:

Five Reasons Why Chicken & Biscuits is Broadway’s Delightful Main Course

By: Iris Wiener

           October 14, 2021:  Chicken & Biscuits is a delectable treat, one that excites the pallet and leaves its audiences satiated with joy. A funeral may not be the first place one would imagine a comedy being set, but this feast delivers at every turn. Playwright Douglas Lyons builds a full Baptist memorial service in a Black church, at which the Jenkins’, a family of misshapen, foiled characters, arrive to mourn (or celebrate) the passing of their elder. The uplifting heart and abounding humor are only two of many reasons audiences will want second helpings of this perfect reason to revisit Broadway. Here are five more:

1.    Playwright Douglas Lyons’ debut marks insightful comedy and a clever understanding of voice and structure. His résumé boasts prior experience on Broadway as an actor (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and The Book of Mormon), so it is no surprise that he exceptionally captures the nuances of his delightful menagerie of characters as the plot thickens and eventually boils over to epic proportions. Whether biting at one another, crying on one’s shoulders, or engaged in fantastically uncomfortable silences, the Jenkins’ are scrumptiously entertaining. 

2.    The exceptional ensemble never disappoints. The Jenkins family includes a pastor (Norm Lewis), his strait-laced wife Beanetta (Cleo King), and her outrageous, blue-haired, cleavage swinging sister, Beverly (Ebony Marshall-Oliver). Beverly brings her 16 year-old daughter, La’trice (Aigner Mizzelle), whose perfect balance of indifference and energy feel incredibly effortless and insanely funny. Banetta’s daughter Simone (Alana Raquel Bowers) arrives having recently called off her engagement, while her brother Kenny (Devere Rogers) brings his white boyfriend (Michael Urie) along for the rise. Kenny hilariously mutters that the circus-like proceedings are better than Drag Race, and he is not incorrect. NaTasha Yvette Williams also joins the fun commotion in a role that is better left undisclosed. Five of the actors are making their Broadway debuts, and clearly have illustrious careers ahead of them. Mizzelle is a leading comedic actress in the making, vibrant and radiating laughter in her full-on embodiment of a teenager who just wants to hear her mixtape drop next week! Urie steals every show in which he appears, here displaying an amazing ease with physicality and warmth interspersed with comedic timing. His attempt to read the Bible in Biscuits is not to be missed, nor is his interlude with Mizzelle near play’s end. 

3.    Zhailon Levingston’s direction is crafty and creative. His vision is markedly unique, with his cast constantly in motion, playing to an audience of church congregants as they invite them to be a part of the delightful proceedings. Lawrence E. Moten III’s set is minimal yet inviting. In hands less capable than Levingston’s it may have created awkward transitions when moving multiple pieces to move between the inside and front of the church; Levingston keeps the action flowing and the laughs coming with seamless movement. Shockingly, Biscuits marks his Broadway debut; he is also the youngest Black director to work on a Broadway stage, and his fresh vision is a gift.

4.    What better way for Levingston to make is mark than with the glorious playground that is the Circle in the Square Theatre? His use of the theater in the round is exceptional, with actors entering and exiting at all junctures, often times beaming under spotlights that also deck the audience. Moten’s design encompasses the entire theater, including colorful images lining the walls in the round. He has created the authentic feel of stained-glass windows, while Adam Honore’s lights are arranged in such a way that everyone in the room, congregation included, is enveloped in the experience. It is hard to imagine this show not performed in the round, as Lyons’ words integrated with its structure makes for a naturally encompassing experience.

5.    Norm Lewis’ pastor, Reginald, could inspire a non-practicing Jew to venture to church. He gives an inspired, laugh-out-loud, jump-from-your-seat eulogy, one that in lesser hands would never hold up. Lewis’ true genius is on display with his ability to build to a gloriously powerful climax while still imbibing laughs. Reginald says, “When you know where you’re going, you can smile right where you are.” Know that you’re going to see this invigorating, smartly funny new play-you’ll smile right where you are and when you get there. 

Chicken and Biscuits: Oct. 10—Jan. 2, 2022.
Circle in the Square, 1633 Broadway, NYC.
Tue 7pm, Wed 2 pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
$49.50—$225.50. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com. 
Photography: Emilio Madrid

Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Michael Urie, & Devere Rogers in a scene from Chicken & Biscuits
Norm Lewis and the Cast of Chicken & Biscuits
Cleo King, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, & NaTasha Yvette Williams in Chicken & Biscuits
Michael Urie & Devere Rogers in Chicken and Biscuits.
The Cast of Chicken and Biscuits.
Norm Lewis & Cleo King in a scene from Chicken & Biscuits

Thoughts of a Colored Man *****, Chicken and Biscuits **1/2

By: David Sheward

October 13, 2021: While Broadway theaters were shuttered and demonstrations erupted across the country protesting the killing of George Floyd, an African-American, by a white police officer, the industry underwent a reckoning to be more inclusive and diverse. As stages are slowly reopening, the number of productions written by African-Americans like Keenan Scott II’s Thoughts of a Colored Man and Douglas Lyons’ Chicken and Biscuits has increased above the usual token two or three per season.

By: David Sheward

October 13, 2021: While Broadway theaters were shuttered and demonstrations erupted across the country protesting the killing of George Floyd, an African-American, by a white police officer, the industry underwent a reckoning to be more inclusive and diverse. As stages are slowly reopening, the number of productions written by African-Americans like Keenan Scott II’s Thoughts of a Colored Man and Douglas Lyons’ Chicken and Biscuits has increased above the usual token two or three per season.

Da’Vinchi and Dyllón Burnside in Thoughts of a Colored Man.

While sitting in the masked audience of Thoughts of a Colored Man, I couldn’t help reflecting that not too long ago, non-musical Broadway was dominated by white British authors such as Tom Stoppard and David Hare. A straight play by an American, white or black, male or female, was a rare thing. August Wilson was the exception, not the rule. Scott’s Thoughts is not only unconventional for the Main Stem because it addresses issues of concern for black audiences, but its form is also a rarity. This dynamic, intense piece is sort of a male version of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, one of the few non-musicals by a black author to achieve a long Broadway commercial run and announced for a revival next season. Shange’s choreopoem followed seven female characters, named only by the color of their costumes as they expressed the joys and challenges of being women and black in America in dance and poetic terms.

Here we focus on seven African-American men identified only by the emotions they primarily express throughout a single day in a changing Brooklyn neighborhood. There is more plot and structure than in Shange’s free-form style, but Scott is equally poetic,  imaginative and searing. From a wide-ranging barbershop confab to a high-school basketball court to waiting in line for the latest sneakers, Scott delivers a passionate panorama of the brutal and precarious state of the black male condition. Steve H. Broadax III’s fluid direction balances humor, pathos and rage. 

Tristan Mack Wilds, Dyllón Burnside, Forrest McClendon, Da’Vinchi in Thoughts of a Colored Man.

The ensemble makes each man an individual with multiple dimensions. Particularly impressive are Forrest McClendon’s Depression, Bryan Terrell Clark’s Happiness, and Esau Pritchett’s Wisdom. McClendon skillfully suppresses Depression’s disappointment at having to work at a Whole Foods while holding a master’s degree in Engineering. His quips drip with sarcasm and his yearning for a better life is palpable. Clark finds comic gold in the elaborate charades Happiness, a gay businessman, must go through to find acceptance from straight black men. His expressions and asides to the audience when confronted with homophobia bring the house down. Pritchett exudes dignity and experience as a Nigerian emigre, seeking to pass on his sage knowledge to a younger generation.

Da’Vinchi displays depth as Lust who initially seems like a thoughtless street kid, but hides a gaping wound. Dyllon Burnside beautifully handles Scott’s most romantic poetry as Love. Luke James sings with passion as Passion and Tristan Mack Wilds simmers with frustration as Anger, an athletic coach burning over a system which exploits his students. Robert Brill’s urban set, Ryan O’Gara’s mood-setting, luminous lighting and Sven Ortel’s projections provide the perfect environment for this thought-provoking Thoughts.

While Thoughts of a Colored Man is an innovative and refreshing journey, Chicken and Biscuits is a familiar sitcom with touches of soap opera. It’s a mostly funny show, but too broad and melodramatic to leave a lasting impression. Both plays run two hours with no intermission. Thoughts flies, while Chicken feels overbaked. Lyons, an actor with Broadway credits, pens a feel-good family comedy-drama which has obvious comic tropes. 

Michael Urie & Devere Rogers in Chicken and Biscuits.

The Jenkins family of New Haven, Conn., are burying their beloved patriarch, a righteous and well-regarded minister. Of course, there are clashes between disparate siblings and couples, and deep, dark secrets ready to be exposed. Dignified Baneatta (Cleo King, skillfully suppressing conflicted emotions) spats with her flashy sister Beverly (a riotous and charismatic Ebony Marshall-Oliver). Baneatta’s daughter Simone (sharp Alana Raquel Bowers) is smarting over a break-up and takes it out on her gay brother Kenny (sturdy Devere Rogers), who has brought along his white Jewish boyfriend Logan (Michael Urie, way overplaying the character’s nervousness). Baneatta’s husband Reginald, the new pastor (the marvelous Norm Lewis, not given enough to do), just wants to maintain peace and hold the family together. Completing the company is Beverly’s self-centered teenage daughter La’Trice (Aigner Mizzelle, in a captivating comic turn) and an unexpected visitor Brianna (Natasha Yvette Williams, quietly real).

Norm Lewis and the cast of Chicken & Biscuits

The play premiered at the Queens Theater in Feb. 2020 and its run was cut short by COVID.  Director Zhailon Levingston has given Chicken a wildly broad staging, complete with musical stings and slow-motion action to emphasize the jokes. The gags can be fairly obvious and even wince-inducing (a clueless Logan says “Mazel Tov” instead of “Amen” during Reginald’s sermon). But there are also genuine laughs and honest limning of family connections. Mizzelle is particularly moving as the scrappy La’Trice. This character could have easily been played as a cartoonish brat, but Mizzelle shows her brashness is a shield for a deep neediness. Williams has the most difficult part, that of the unknown intruder (but you can probably guess the reason for her visit if you’ve watched any TV or movies in the last 20 years). But she gives Brianna a solid center and self-knowledge. When she entered late in the play, it was refreshing to see a character without any comic schtick. Lewis, one of the bright light of musical theater, is reduced to supporting the flashier performances of King and Marshall-Oliver, but he does have a star-turn moment while delivering an emotional eulogy. Kudos also to Dede Ayite’s character-defining, joyously fashionable costumes. 

There are some tasty dishes in Chicken and Biscuits, but the chefs have laid on the comic sauce a bit too thickly. But if that’s your taste, enjoy.

Luke James, Esau Pritchett, Da’Vinchi, Forrest McClendon, Dyllón Burnside, Tristan Mack Wilds, Bryan Terrell Clark.in Thoughts of a Colored Man.

Thoughts of a Colored Man: Opened Oct. 13 for an open run. Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St., NYC. Schedule varies. Running time: two hours with no intermission. $59—$225. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com. 
Photography: Julieta Cervantes.

Chicken and Biscuits: Oct. 10—Jan. 2, 2022. Circle in the Square, 1633 Broadway, NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2 pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. $49.50—$225.50. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com.  Photography: Emilio Madrid

All theatergoers must provide proof of vaccination and photo ID for admission and wear a mask while in the venue.

Cleo King, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, & NaTasha Yvette Williams in Chicken & Biscuits
Norm Lewis & Cleo King in a scene from Chicken & Biscuits

ACA Galleries

African American Abstraction at Frieze Masters on view October 13-17 at The Regent’s Park, London.

October 13, 2021:  ACA Galleries is pleased to announce an exhibition of work by African American artists at Frieze Masters on view October 13 through October 17, 2021 Booth B10 at The Regent’s Park, London. The exhibition examines the often-overlooked contributions of African American artists working in abstraction and aims to give new perspectives on artists not always associated with the genre. The exhibition presents exceptional examples by Henry “Mike” Bannard (1910-1965), Romare Bearden (1911-1988), Winston Branch (b.1947), Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012), Ed Clark (1926-2019), Paul Keene (1910-2005), Norman Lewis (1909-1979), Richard Mayhew (b. 1924) and Faith Ringgold (b. 1930). While Clark, Keene and Lewis are known for their contributions and commitment to abstraction, artists like Bearden and Ringgold are largely recognized for narrative and figurative works.

African American Abstraction at Frieze Masters on view October 13-17 at The Regent’s Park, London.

October 13, 2021:  ACA Galleries is pleased to announce an exhibition of work by African American artists at Frieze Masters on view October 13 through October 17, 2021 Booth B10 at The Regent’s Park, London. The exhibition examines the often-overlooked contributions of African American artists working in abstraction and aims to give new perspectives on artists not always associated with the genre. The exhibition presents exceptional examples by Henry “Mike” Bannard (1910-1965), Romare Bearden (1911-1988), Winston Branch (b.1947), Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012), Ed Clark (1926-2019), Paul Keene (1910-2005), Norman Lewis (1909-1979), Richard Mayhew (b. 1924) and Faith Ringgold (b. 1930). While Clark, Keene and Lewis are known for their contributions and commitment to abstraction, artists like Bearden and Ringgold are largely recognized for narrative and figurative works.

South Pacific ***1/2

“Most People Long for Another Island”

By: Samuel L. Leiter

October 11, 2021: Theatre-loving residents of Nassau County (not to mention the nearby borough of Queens) have reason to rejoice in the presence of Plaza’s Broadway Long Island (a name in need of a redo). The county’s only professional (Equity) company, it just opened its agreeable production of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s 1949 musical classic, South Pacific, the first in an ambitious 2021-2022 musical theater season. Following it will be Man of La Mancha, The Color Purple, and Something Rotten! If you’re still pandemic-hesitant about going to Broadway, why not let Broadway come to you?  

“Most People Long for Another Island”

By: Samuel L. Leiter

October 11, 2021: Theatre-loving residents of Nassau County (not to mention the nearby borough of Queens) have reason to rejoice in the presence of Plaza’s Broadway Long Island (a name in need of a redo). The county’s only professional (Equity) company, it just opened its agreeable production of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s 1949 musical classic, South Pacific, the first in an ambitious 2021-2022 musical theater season. Following it will be Man of La Mancha, The Color Purple, and Something Rotten! If you’re still pandemic-hesitant about going to Broadway, why not let Broadway come to you?  

Plaza’s Broadway Long Island is located in the rather capacious Elmont Memorial Library Theatre, just down Hempstead Parkway from the Belmont Park Racetrack. Here director Kevin F. Harrington (the company’s executive producer, who has staged over 250 musicals) has assembled a substantial company of twenty-one amiable actors, supported by a sixteen-member orchestra under the capable baton of Alex V. Harrington. 

Andrew Brewer, Madison Claire Parks

Fans of the show’s evergreen score should have no difficulty appreciating the fine singing of its memorable playlist, many of whose songs have multiple covers by the foremost pop stars. To remind you: South Pacific’s score includes “Dites-Moi,” “A Cockeyed Optimist,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Bloody Mary,” “Nothing Like a Dame,” “Bali Ha’i,” “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair,” “Wonderful Guy,” “Younger than Springtime,” “Happy Talk,” “Honey Bun,” “Carefully Taught,” and “This Nearly Was Mine.” While most of these might still set aflutter the musical hearts of seniors, one wonders about those who are younger than springtime.

South Pacific is set during World War II on two islands. It was inspired by James Michener’s 1948 Tales of the South Pacific, a loose collection of tales adapted by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan (the original director). It depicts life among the Seabees (the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalion), their military commanders, and a team of female nurses. 

Against a background of danger represented by the Japanese, one of the nurses, the sprightly Ensign Nellie Forbush (Madison Claire Parks), falls for a widowed French plantation owner with a past, Emile De Becque (James Sasser). That past includes two children with a Polynesian wife, which gives the script a slice of social commentary when Nellie, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, is forced to confront her racist prejudices. 

Madison Claire Parks, James Sasser

A secondary romantic plot involves the love affair between the handsome, Princeton-educated Lt. Joe Cable (Andrew Brewer), and Liat (Junko Yasuda), the young daughter of the bawdy Tonkinese trinket seller, Bloody Mary (Lydia Gaston), who pimps her off to the American officer. Fate (and the Japanese), however, have other plans for Cable.

And, of course, there’s the comic relief supplied chiefly by the conniving, entrepreneurial Seabee Luther Billis (Jordan Bell), whose highlight comes when he dons grass skirt, mophead wig, and coconut bra for the base’s Thanksgiving show.

The musical theatre has changed considerably since South Pacific, whose libretto-heavy sections, a once potent combination of wartime tension and romantic fantasies, now tend to drag as we wait for the next great song. Even the treatment of the racist theme, leading to the number about how such feelings are taught, not inborn, seems a tad strained, in dramaturgic terms, despite its obvious relevance. When well sung, however, as here, Rodgers’s glorious score and Hammerstein’s brilliant lyrics help a bit to forget such drawbacks.

Kevin Harrington’s no-frills staging is straightforward and non-obtrusive. But this is a nearly three-hour show that needs to move more swiftly if it’s going to make our hearts race faster. For example, one wonders whether an extended opening bit in which the cast sings “The Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by a rather lengthy overture, might be abbreviated. More seriously time-consuming, though, are the dead spaces during the many scene shifts; might these not have been choreographed so that we see them happening as the next scene begins?

Andrew Brewer, Junko Yasuda

Brett Martinez’s attractive, palm tree-bordered set, supplemented by small units for specific locales, relies greatly on an upstage area dominated by the wide swath of a cyclorama. It might work better if Glen Davis’s lighting were more successful in conjuring up a South Seas atmosphere. There are also a number of focus issues leaving faces dimly lit that need to be addressed. Barbara Kirby’s effective costumes, however, pull everything together with just the right touch of period feeling. One does wonder, though, as always, just how Nellie, a nurse assigned to a South Seas island in the midst of a world war, manages to show up in one scene wearing a sophisticated evening gown.

Then there’s the staging of Nellie’s “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair.” In the original production, Mary Martin famously cut her hair short so she could actually give herself a quick-drying shampoo at each performance. Subsequent actresses have either gone that realistic route or faked it with phony suds gently rubbed on their carefully coiffed locks or wigs. Miss Parks does the latter, which I’ve always felt greatly weakens the scene.

Happily, Miss Parks brings her porcelain-pretty looks and greatly appealing charm to the routine, helped by Merete Muenter’s choreography. She has a standout voice with an impressive range that allows her to sail effortlessly through both the comic numbers and the soaring ones. James Sasser’s lightly-accented Emile has both the necessary gravitas and the rich, powerful baritone required for a role created by the great opera singer Ezio Pinza. You wouldn’t want less of the guy who sings “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine.” 

Andrew Brewer, athletically trim, makes a hunky, natural Lt. Cable, singing “Younger than Springtime” with feeling, although some of the high notes are a bit shy of where they should be. Jordan Bell does his energetic best to make Luther funny; it’s not his fault that much of the humor is dated. And Lydia Gaston, who’s played Bloody Mary elsewhere, gives her vivacious flair, weaving a magic spell with “Bali Ha’i.” 

I’ve always had a feeling of personal connection to South Pacific.In 1950, when I was ten, I saw my first production, not with Mary Martin but with Martha Wright, her replacement. It’s amazing how much of that night I still remember, when shows I saw this month are already fading. In 1960, I played the Professor in summer stock. And, as noted, I’ve seen many revivals over the years. The libretto may no longer be a hundred and one pounds of fun, but South Pacific’s score can still provide the better part of an enchanted evening (or matinee). Call me a cockeyed optimist, or, better yet, an impossible dreamer, but I’m already looking forward to Man of La Mancha.

South Pacific
Plaza’s Broadway Long Island
Elmont Memorial Library Theatre
700 Hempstead Parkway, Elmont, New York
Through October 24, 2021
Photography: Mark Schoen.

Broadway Update: Buffalo, Funny Girl, Pal Joey

By: David Sheward

October 10, 2021: With recent announcements of firm openings, casting and theaters, the 2021-22 Broadway season appears to be solidly set. American Buffalo and Funny Girl have solidified their locations and performance dates. That leaves only Sing Street dangling. The musical had announced a Broadway transfer from its New York Theater Workshop run before the pandemic, but that doesn’t seem likely now since almost all of the theaters have been snapped up. Many shows have reopened and a few new ones have opened their doors. There have been bumps on the road–Aladdin had to suspend performances due to a breakthrough outbreak of COVID in the company and Lackawanna Blues cancelled a few shows due to the back injury of Rueben Santiago-Hudson, the playwright and sole performer. But, Broadway is definitely back and open for business.

By: David Sheward

October 10, 2021: With recent announcements of firm openings, casting and theaters, the 2021-22 Broadway season appears to be solidly set. American Buffalo and Funny Girl have solidified their locations and performance dates. That leaves only Sing Street dangling. The musical had announced a Broadway transfer from its New York Theater Workshop run before the pandemic, but that doesn’t seem likely now since almost all of the theaters have been snapped up. Many shows have reopened and a few new ones have opened their doors. There have been bumps on the road–Aladdin had to suspend performances due to a breakthrough outbreak of COVID in the company and Lackawanna Blues cancelled a few shows due to the back injury of Rueben Santiago-Hudson, the playwright and sole performer. But, Broadway is definitely back and open for business.

Buffalo Roams to Broadway

American Buffalo, David Mamet’s gut-punch of a play about three petty thieves planning a burglary of a rare coin collection, had been in rehearsals when COVID shut down all the theaters. The show, directed by Neil Pepe, will now begin previews at the Circle In the Square (currently the home of Chicken and Biscuits) the week of March 22, 2022 and open on April 14. Tony and Emmy winner Laurence Fishburne, Oscar winner Sam Rockwell, and Emmy winner Darren Criss will star. 

Buffalo premiered on Broadway with Robert Duvall, Kenneth MacMillan and John Savage in 1977 and has been revived in 1983 with Al Pacino and in 2008 with John Leguizamo, Cedric the Entertainer and Haley Joel Osmet. There was a 2000 Off-Broadway revival, also directed by Pepe, starring WH Macy and Philip Baker Hall.

Funny Girl Casting

The much-anticipated first Broadway revival of Funny Girl has announced its dates, theater and further casting beyond Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice. Ramin Karimloo (Les Miserables) will play romantic lead Nickie Arnstein, Emmy winner Jane Lynch (Glee, Hollywood Game Night) is Fanny’s mother, and Jared Grimes is cast as Eddie Ryan, Fanny’s dancer friend and confidante. Previews begin March 26 at the August Wilson Theater (currently hosting Pass Over, followed by a limited return engagement of Slave Play). The opening is set for April 24.  

Ramin Karimloo and Jane Lynch
will star in Funny Girl

Pal Joey Rewrite—Again

Looking ahead to 2022-23, a new revival of the Rodgers and Hart favorite Pal Joey is in the works. The musical based on John O’Hara’s short stories about an attractive cad running a nightclub will be helm by a pair of unusual co-directors: actor Tony Goldwyn (last seen on Broadway in Ivo van Hove’s adaptation of Network) and Tony-winning dancer-choreographer Savion Glover. In this revisal, the action will be set in an African-American community in the 1940s (rather than the 1930s of the original) with a new book by Richard LaGravenese. In addition to the evergreen score which featured “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “I Could Write a Book,” and “Zip,” additional Rodgers and Hart favorites such as “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “It Never Entered My Mind,” and “There’s a Small Hotel” will be interpolated.

This is not the first time the show has been rewritten. The original production made a star of Gene Kelly in 1940 but received mixed reviews. A 1952 revival featured changes and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical. The 1957 movie version starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak also had major alterations, shifting the title character from a heel to a nice guy. City Center staged three separate versions, one headlined by Bob Fosse. In 1976, Circle in the Square mounted a revival which was beset with casting problems. Ballet superstar Edward Villella and movie queen Eleanor Parker were replaced during previews by Christopher Chadman and Joan Copeland. Similar difficulties beset the 2008 revival. Lead Christian Hoff who had won a Tony Award for Jersey Boys dropped out and understudy Matthew Risch took over before opening night. This production boasted a brand-new book by Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out), and was met with indifference by critics.

Vivienne Segal and Gene Kelly in the original production of Pal Joey.

Calendar of 2021-22 Broadway/Off-Broadway Shows

Oct. 9–Gazillion Bubbles Show (New World Stages)

Oct. 10–Chicken and Biscuits (Circle In the Square)

Oct. 11–Is This A Room (Lyceum)

Oct. 13–Thoughts of a Colored Man (Golden); Girl from the North Country (Belasco)

Oct. 14–The Lehman Trilogy (Nederlander)

Oct. 16–Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations (Imperial)

Oct. 17–Dana H. (Lyceum)

Oct. 21–Jagged Little Pill (Broadhurst); The Woman in Black (McKittrick Hotel)

Oct. 22–Phantom of the Opera (Majestic)

Oct. 24–Fairycakes (Greenwich House Theater)

Oct. 27–Caroline or Change (Roundabout/Studio 54)

Nov. 3–Morning Sun (MTC/City Center)

Nov. 4–The Visitor (Public); Morning’s at Seven (Theater at St. Clement’s)

Nov. 5–The Book of Mormon (Eugene O’Neill)

Nov. 12–Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Lyric)

Nov. 14–Assassins (CSC)

Nov. 15–Jersey Boys (New World Stages)

Nov. 17–Diana (Longacre); Cullud Wattah (Public)

Nov. 18–Trouble in Mind (Roundabout/AA)

Nov. 22–Clyde’s (Second Stage/Hayes)

Dec. 2–Slave Play (August Wilson)

Dec. 5–Mrs. Doubtfire (Stephen Sondheim)

Dec. 8–Kimberly Akimbo (Atlantic Theater Company)

Dec. 9–Company (Bernard B. Jacobs)

Dec. 11–Dear Evan Hansen (Music Box)

Dec. 13–Flying Over Sunset (LCT/Vivian Beaumont)

Jan. 12, 2022–Skeleton Crew (MTC/Samuel J. Friedman)

Jan. 27–Intimate Apparel (LCT/Mitzi Newhouse)

Feb. 1–MJ: The Michael Jackson Musical (Neil Simon)

Feb. 10–The Music Man (Winter Garden)

Feb. 14–Sleep No More (McKittrick Hotel)

March 20–Paradise Square (Barrymore)

March 28–Plaza Suite (Hudson)

April 4–Take Me Out (Second Stage/Hayes)

April 7–The Minutes (Studio 54)

April 8–Beetlejuice (Marriott Marquis)

April 10–Birthday Candles (Roundabout/AA)

April 13–Harmony (Museum of Jewish Heritage)

April 14–American Buffalo (Circle In the Square); To My Girls (Second Stage/Kiser)

April 19–How I Learned to Drive (MTC/Samuel J. Friedman)

April 24–Funny Girl (August Wilson)

April 25–The Skin of Our Teeth (LTC/Vivian Beaumont)

April 28–Macbeth (Lyceum)

May 17–Golden Shield (MTC/City Center)

Spring 2022 (dates TBA)

Romeo and Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona and Brooklyn (possibly)

No Dates Yet

(New Shows)

Sing Street

Fall 2022

1776 (Roundabout/AA)

Between Riverside and Crazy (Second Stage/Hayes)

2022

Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death, The Piano Lesson, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf

2022-23

Dancin’, Pal Joey, Square One

2023 and Beyond

Game of Thrones, The Great Gatsby

Future–Our Town; Death of a Salesman; K-pop the Broadway Musical; The Nanny; The Normal Heart/The Destiny of Me; Smash; Some Like It Hot; Soul Train; A Strange Loop; The Who’s Tommy

2021-22 Broadway Season Breakdown:

New Plays

Birthday Candles

Chicken and Biscuits

Clyde’s

Dana H. (transfer from Off-Broadway)

Is This A Room (transfer from Off-Broadway)

The Lehman Trilogy (transfer from Off-Broadway)

The Minutes

Pass Over (previously presented Off-Broadway)

Skeleton Crew (previously presented Off-Broadway in a different production)

Thoughts of a Colored Man

Play Revivals

American Buffalo

How I Learned to Drive

Lackawanna Blues (previously produced Off-Broadway)

Macbeth

Plaza Suite

The Skin of Our Teeth

Slave Play (return engagement)

Take Me Out

Trouble in Mind

New Musicals

Diana

Flying Over Sunset

Mrs. Doubtfire

Paradise Square

Romeo and Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona and Brooklyn (possibly)

Sing Street (transfer from Off-Broadway, possibly)

Six

Musical Revivals

Beetlejuice (return engagement)

Caroline or Change

Company

Funny Girl 

Waitress (return engagement)

Specialties

Bruce Springsteen on Broadway (return engagement)

David Bryne’s American Utopia (return engagement)

Freestyle Love Supreme (return engagement)

Originally Posted on The David Desk 2 on October 9, 2021

Photo: American Buffalo Mathew Murphy

Tomatoes Got Talent

Robin Lyon Gardiner Wins The Seventh Annual “Tomatoes Got Talent” contest at the Triad Theatre.

October 08, 2021: The 7th Annual “Tomatoes Got Talent” contest happened at the Triad Theatre, 158 West 72nd Street, on Monday, October 4. Robin Lyon Gardiner took the evening’s top honor, and the runners-up were Lisa Kerr, Leyla Zalutskaya, and comedian Judith George. The contest showcased eleven extraordinary women over 40, who were chosen to perform in the contest finals.The evening is co-produced and hosted by Randie Levine-Miller, who opened the show. “Tomatoes Got Talent” highlights the talents of women, who have made their marks outside of the entertainment world, but who consider the craft of singing and performing to be integral to their lives. Gardiner, a full-time real-estate broker by day, received the highest marks from this year’s judges, Tony nominee Lee Roy Reams, and Tony Award-winning Broadway producers Margot Astrachan and Ken Waissman. Judith George owns her own video production company and is a stand-up comedian. Lisa Kerr is a risk manager with major corporation is, also,  a student of the piano and ukulele. Leyla Zaloutskaya is a global IT trainer for the United Nations.

Robin Lyon Gardiner Wins The Seventh Annual “Tomatoes Got Talent” contest at the Triad Theatre.

October 08, 2021: The 7th Annual “Tomatoes Got Talent” contest happened at the Triad Theatre, 158 West 72nd Street, on Monday, October 4. Robin Lyon Gardiner took the evening’s top honor, and the runners-up were Lisa Kerr, Leyla Zalutskaya, and comedian Judith George. The contest showcased eleven extraordinary women over 40, who were chosen to perform in the contest finals.The evening is co-produced and hosted by Randie Levine-Miller, who opened the show. “Tomatoes Got Talent” highlights the talents of women, who have made their marks outside of the entertainment world, but who consider the craft of singing and performing to be integral to their lives. Gardiner, a full-time real-estate broker by day, received the highest marks from this year’s judges, Tony nominee Lee Roy Reams, and Tony Award-winning Broadway producers Margot Astrachan and Ken Waissman. Judith George owns her own video production company and is a stand-up comedian. Lisa Kerr is a risk manager with major corporation is, also,  a student of the piano and ukulele. Leyla Zaloutskaya is a global IT trainer for the United Nations.

Acclaimed singer and Tony-nominated educator Corinna Sowers Adler made a guest-starring appearance, and the therapist and gerontologist Merrill Stone, who was a runner up in the first “Tomatoes Got Talent” in 2014, also appeared as a guest artist.  The show’s music director was Paul Chamlin.

Co Producers Randie Levine-Miller, Cheryl Benton with cast

Contest co-creator Cheryl Benton is growing the Thethreetomatoes franchise to include book publishing and special events. Through the popular online newsletter on Thethreetomatoes.com (“The Insider’s Website for Women Who Aren’t Kids)” she cheers women of all walks and ages to reach for new heights and experience new possibilities and adventures.

For more information, visit www.thethreetomatoes.com.
Photos: Maryann Lopinto

Six the Musical ***

“Six is a Seven”

By: Samuel L. Leiter

October 7, 2021: The number of shows, films, and TV series inspired by the marital maelstroms of British monarchs is legion. For sheer numbers, none, however, not even the recent outpourings about Princess Diana and her death by paparazzi, can compete with the sixteenth-century tale of King Henry VIII and his six wives. For starters, take a peek at this list of film and TV versions

“Six is a Seven”

By: Samuel L. Leiter

October 7, 2021: The number of shows, films, and TV series inspired by the marital maelstroms of British monarchs is legion. For sheer numbers, none, however, not even the recent outpourings about Princess Diana and her death by paparazzi, can compete with the sixteenth-century tale of King Henry VIII and his six wives. For starters, take a peek at this list of film and TV versions

Broadway musicals, of course, haven’t been immune to Henry’s amorous appetites. Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Sheldon Harnick, both legendary artists, learned that to their dismay when the critics decapitated their 1976 Rex, whose head rolled after only fourteen performances. Happily for the box office, though, it looks like Six: The Musical, the latest tableau of Tudor troubles, will keep its head on indefinitely, although even this slickly entertaining, historically shallow rock musical can’t change what happened to Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.

Abby Mueller (Jane Seymour)

Written and composed by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, Six began its journey with Cambridge University’s Musical Theatre Society, moved to London’s West End in 2018, and was set to open on Broadway last year when the pandemic put the street on the chopping block. As dynamically directed by Ms. Moss and Jamie Armitage, with clockwork choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, it’s a high-energy, high-decibel work, telling its “herstory” through a team of six ethnically and otherwise diverse, hand-mic wielding, glitz-embossed actress-dancer-singers to represent each of Henry’s spouses. Ticking them off chronologically we have Catherine of Aragon (Brittney Mack), Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet), Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller), Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack), Katherine Howard (Courtney Mack, covering for Samantha Pauly when I visited), and Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele).

The premise: a (faux) contest in which the audience is told it will be asked to determine which of these unfortunate women suffered the most from her regal romp. Over the course of eighty uninterrupted minutes, each wife gets the spotlight to recount, in pop musical terms, the essence of her experience—summed up in the recurring lyric, “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived”—with her fellow wives serving as vocal and choreographic backup. Ultimately, Six is more a flashy concert than a conventional stage musical. You might say it’s a variation of the jukebox formula, tied together by a slender theme instead of familiar songs. You could almost call it a revue. Rodgers and Hammerstein it’s not.

Andrea Macasaet (Anne Boleyn, center) with (l-r) Adrianna Hicks (Catherine of Aragon), Brittney Mack (Anna of Cleves), & Samantha Pauly (Katherine Howard)

Costume designer Gabriella Slade provides a sparklingly sequined and bejeweled, miniskirted, Renaissance/show biz mashup. Set designer Emma Bailey offers a spare platform backed by a semicircular rear wall to show off Tim Deiling’s rock concert lighting effects. It also provides space for a four-woman, costumed band, “The Ladies in Waiting,” led by keyboardist Julia Schade. If you watch “The Voice” or “American Idol,” you know the look.  

Snarky wisecracks (lots of head jokes, of course), direct acknowledgement of the audience (including multiple shout outs to “New York”), sassy poses timed to percussion beats, coy double-entendre raunchiness, hip lingo, and feminist pizazz remind you not take the show seriously. If you want insight into the immense historical significance of Henry’s reign—most importantly, England’s break from Roman Catholicism when the Pope said nay to a divorce—wait for something like Wolf Hall or A Man for All Seasons

Anna Uzele (Catherine Parr, center) with (l-r) Adrianna Hicks (Catherine of Aragon), Andrea Macasaet (Anne Boleyn), Abby Mueller (Jane Seymour), Brittney Mack (Anna of Cleves) & Samantha Pauly (Katherine Howard)

Even accepting the show as a tongue-in-cheek spoof, it does sometimes feel that there’s a hollow at its core. Henry’s spouses gang up to outdo one another in complaining about their bridal fates, but the dastardly groom is nowhere to be found. Might not some sense of dramatic tension have been created by making him present to defend himself in a duet or two? His absence, and the subsequent dependence on our having to imagine him, makes him a straw man that weakens the sense of grievance and the implicit argument against the patriarchy using its power to dominate women.

Although the weighty issues surrounding Henry’s reign are sparingly alluded to, they remain peripheral to more personal concerns, giving the affair a sheen of glossy superficiality. Surprisingly, for a show that appears interested in empowering Henry’s victims, you never hear the name of his daughter, Elizabeth, one of the most powerful women in history. At the end, the women contrive a “histo-rewrite” to come out on top of their sad histories, but all it does is remind you that the best way to enjoy Six is to ignore the feminist politics and accept it as a theatrically diverting dive into divadom, with each wife reflective of some flashy pop icon.

Brittney Mack (Anna of Cleves, center) with (l-r) Anna Uzele (Catherine Parr), Abby Mueller (Jane Seymour), Andrea Macasaet (Anne Boleyn), & Adrianna Hicks (Catherine of Aragon)

To help, the Playbill has a section that actually tells you that the “queenspiration” for Catherine of Aragon was Beyoncé and Shakira, for Anne Boleyn Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne, for Jane Seymour Adele and Sia, for Anna of Cleves Nicki Minaj and Rihanna, for Katherine Howard Ariana Grande and Britney Spears, and for Catherine Parr Alicia Keys and Emilie Sandé. If you’re familiar with these stars, you’ll have as good an idea of the show’s musical styles and visual appeal as anything I could describe.

Marlow and Moss contribute nine extended numbers, each worthy of a listen, and, as my gym-rat daughter suggested, solid material for her workout playlist. Several may eventually get covers by major artists, if they haven’t already. The one most likely to do so, Jane Seymour’s “Heart of Stone,” a classic power ballad with lyrics not specifically tied to the narrative, immediately brought Adele to mind. So, much as my familiarity with today’s pop divas is perilously thin, I was happy to discover that superstar was one of the “queenspirations” mentioned above. Regardless, you’d need a heart of stone not to thrill to Abby Mueller’s soaring rendition.

Many critics have taken Six to their own hearts, and theatregoers hungry for Broadway’s (hopefully) post-pandemic revival are said to be shelling out queenly sums to share these ladies’ travails (divorces, adultery, miscarriages, executions, the list goes on). There are many features in Six that deserve grades of ten for talent and skill, most especially the sensational cast, each of whom gives a command performance. But somehow, when I do the math, Six’s grade still comes out a seven.

Samantha Pauly (Katherine Howard, center) with (l-r) Adrianna Hicks (Catherine of Aragon), Andrea Macasaet (Anne Boleyn), Brittney Mack (Anna of Cleves), & Anna Uzele (Catherine Parr).

Six: The Musical
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 W. 47th Street, NYC
Open run

COVID-19 SAFETY PROTOCOL INFORMATION
Please note the following vaccination and mask requirements for all attendees:
MASKS REQUIRED: All guests must wear a properly fitting mask over the nose and mouth in the theatre
VACCINATIONS REQUIRED: All guests must be fully vaccinated to enter the theatre and must present digital or physical proof at the door.
Children under 12 and people with a medical condition or closely held religious belief that prevents vaccination may show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
PHOTO ID: Guests ages 18 and older must present a valid government-issued photo ID. Guests under 18 may also show a school photo ID. Guests under 12 must be accompanied by an adult who meets the above requirements.
Guests who do not comply with these policies will be denied entry or asked to leave the theatre.

Photography: Joan Marcus

Diana: The Musical **

By: David Sheward

October 6, 2021: The disappointing Diana—The Musical occupies an awkward position—not entertaining enough to be a guilty pleasure and not bad enough to be a campy hoot. Puerile, tasteless, and simplistic, this tabloid tuner is the first show to be streamed on TV before it opens on Broadway and will probably suffer big time at the box office as a result. The live version of the musical portrait of the late Princess of Wales was forced to close up shop while in previews because of the COVID pandemic. Perhaps anticipating a long quarantine and a massive financial loss, the producers sold the streaming rights to Netflix and taped a performance in the empty Longacre Theater in September 2020. The video edition began airing on Oct. 1, weeks before the official Broadway opening on Nov. 17. It will be interesting to see if this move will damage the show’s fate. Will virus-shy audiences be willing to plunk down cash for a production they can watch from their couches?

By: David Sheward

October 6, 2021: The disappointing Diana—The Musical occupies an awkward position—not entertaining enough to be a guilty pleasure and not bad enough to be a campy hoot. Puerile, tasteless, and simplistic, this tabloid tuner is the first show to be streamed on TV before it opens on Broadway and will probably suffer big time at the box office as a result. The live version of the musical portrait of the late Princess of Wales was forced to close up shop while in previews because of the COVID pandemic. Perhaps anticipating a long quarantine and a massive financial loss, the producers sold the streaming rights to Netflix and taped a performance in the empty Longacre Theater in September 2020. The video edition began airing on Oct. 1, weeks before the official Broadway opening on Nov. 17. It will be interesting to see if this move will damage the show’s fate. Will virus-shy audiences be willing to plunk down cash for a production they can watch from their couches?

Jeanna de Waal as the title role in “Diana: The Musical.”

In addition, the royal drama market may be saturated. Not only are Netflix viewers still soaking up four seasons of the Emmy-winning The Crown (the latest set of episodes focuses on Diana), but there is also a forthcoming feature film, Spencer with Kristin Stewart, covering the same material. If these factors do not spell Diana’s doom, its overly-familiar pop score, nursery-rhyme lyrics, and People Magazine-style book won’t help any.

By now everyone knows the storyline: naive pre-school teacher Diana Spencer is wooed and won in whirlwind fashion by the world’s most eligible bachelor, Charles Windsor, the heir apparent to British throne. But the fairytale soon turns sour when Charles fails to discard his former mistress and true love, Camilla Parker Bowles, whose married status prevented her from wedding the prince. As her marriage crumbles, Diana becomes a prisoner of the paparazzi and Buckingham Palace, indulging in self-harm and bulimia. Eventually overcoming her poor self-image, she becomes a champion of causes such as AIDS advocacy and protection from land mines in war-torn underdeveloped regions. After finally being granted a divorce by the royal family, the princess is free, only to die in a tragic auto accident with photographers in hot pursuit. In a final ironic twist, she was hounded by the press up until the end.

The plot need not be fodder for soap opera as evidenced by The Crown’s insightful and complex take, but Joe DiPietro’s book reels from headline to headline with little depth or reflection. The characters are one-dimensional, like figures in a photo spread. Diana comes across as a whiny child most of the time. Camilla and Charles are cast as conniving schemers engineering his marriage to Diana for appearances so they can continue their liaison. Queen Elizabeth is a cold scold. 

The songs fail to take us inside the protagonist’s psyches beyond banalities and the attempts at humor are embarrassing, such as having the romance novelist Barbara Cartland, Diana’s step-grandmother, drool over James Hewett, the riding master who had an affair with the Princess. A chorus of trench-coated reporters spew venom. The music by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan is routine pop-rock-light and the lyrics by Bryan and DiPietro are simplistic at best. Cringeworthy moments include Charles cooing after the birth of Prince William: “Darling, I’m holding my son/So, let me say, jolly well done” or Queen Elizabeth moaning: “My son is on the telly pouring out his heart/While his wife goes on the town dressed like a tart.” When Diana and Camilla get into a catfight, the ravenous elite onlookers snarlingly call it “the thriller in Manilla/with Diana and Camilla.” The co-lyricists go even lower by rhyming Camilla with Godzilla. The weirdest whopper comes when Diana declares “Serves me right for marrying a Scorpio.” Huh?

Roe Hartrampf, Jeanna de Waal and Erin Davie in “Diana: The Musical.” 

The cast does its best with these flimsy royals. Jeanna de Waal resembles Diana and has an entrancing voice. She endeavors to endow this stick-figure princess with human characteristics, but is finally defeated by the thin material. Roe Hartrampf fails to find any sympathetic qualities in the authors’ sniveling version of Princes Charles. Erin Davie has a few moments of believable conflict as Camilla. Tony winner and stage veteran Judy Kaye brings the closest thing this show has to dignity as the Queen. In “An Officer’s Wife,” the only musical number displaying complexity and nuance, she feelingly conveys Elizabeth’s delicate balancing act between mother and monarch. But then she’s also asked to mug and cavort like mad in her second role of a fuzzy, fizzy, over-the-top Barbara Cartland. 

Christopher Ashley’s staging is fast-paced at least, so we don’t have time to suffer for too long. In the video edition, David Zinn’s set incorporating the gates of Buckingham Palace feels like a confining box. William Ivey Long’s costumes provide fashionable diversion. The final image we get of Diana is made memorable by lighting designer Natasha Katz. Just before her last exit, the now-unhitched princess walks into the darkness, illuminated only by flashbulbs. It’s a dazzling few seconds. Too bad the rest of the two hours is less so. Diana was a tragic figure, she deserves better.

Photography: Matt Murphy and Neflix

BroadwayHD

Acclaimed musical theater films, West Side Story & Yentl starring Barbra Streisand join BroadwayHD’s October slate.

October 5, 2021:   Discover the magic of movie musicals this month as BroadwayHD, the premiere streaming service for theater fans, delivers an unforgettable lineup of some of the most beloved and well-known productions in history.  Starting October 1, West Side Story, winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture and starring Natalie Wood, George Chakiris, and EGOT winner Rita Moreno, who is playing Valentina in the upcoming new West Side Story from Director Steven Spielberg, will make its way to the platform along with Academy Award-winning musical film Yentl, starring Barbra Streisand.  Additionally on October 1, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, an unsettling tale of a Victorian-era barber starring Tony Award winners Angela Lansbury and George Hearn, joins the streamer’s library along with Vincente Minnelli’s Bells Are Ringing, which features the iconic Judy Holliday and Dean Martin.  

Acclaimed musical theater films, West Side Story & Yentl starring Barbra Streisand join BroadwayHD’s October slate.

October 5, 2021:   Discover the magic of movie musicals this month as BroadwayHD, the premiere streaming service for theater fans, delivers an unforgettable lineup of some of the most beloved and well-known productions in history.  Starting October 1, West Side Story, winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture and starring Natalie Wood, George Chakiris, and EGOT winner Rita Moreno, who is playing Valentina in the upcoming new West Side Story from Director Steven Spielberg, will make its way to the platform along with Academy Award-winning musical film Yentl, starring Barbra Streisand.  Additionally on October 1, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, an unsettling tale of a Victorian-era barber starring Tony Award winners Angela Lansbury and George Hearn, joins the streamer’s library along with Vincente Minnelli’s Bells Are Ringing, which features the iconic Judy Holliday and Dean Martin.  

Then, on October 14, prepare to be enchanted by The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a new West End musical which brings audiences a memorable twist on the timeless poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.   

Also, this month, BroadwayHD will be releasing brand-new episodes from the latest season of BBC One’s smash hit series The Goes Wrong Show, with new episodes rolling out every Tuesday.  Sets collapse, special effects fail, actors dry – life, limb and the studio audience are threatened. But the show must go on…  The Goes Wrong Show is simply Mischief Theatre ‘s biggest disaster yet.   Based on the BBC The Play That Goes Wrong Christmas Specials and the popular Broadway and West End production that started it all, The Goes Wrong Show is written by and stars Henry Shields, Bryony Corrigan, and Jonathan Sayer, original founders of the Mischief Theatre Company, which also adapted both Peter Pans Goes Wrong for BBC One in December 2016 and A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong starring Diana Rigg and Derek Jacobi, which aired in December 2017.

“Theater fans of all ages will delight in both well-known classics like West Side Story and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and mesmerizing new productions like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” said Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, co-founders of BroadwayHD. “We are proud to continue bringing the best in theater to the platform and helping to cultivate a love and appreciation for the arts with theater-lovers everywhere.”

The new productions coming to BroadwayHD in October include:

West Side Story – October 1- Winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, West Side Story is a musical in which a modern day Romeo and Juliet are involved in New York street gangs. Starring Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, and George Chakiris, tensions are high on the harsh streets of the upper west side as two gangs battle for control of the turf. The situation becomes complicated when a gang member falls in love with a rival’s sister.

Yentl – October 1 – Barbra Streisand plays the title role in the Academy Award-winning film Yentl, which tells the story of Rebbe Mendel, a single father who teaches the Talmud, a sacred text of Judaism, to the boys of his small Polish town. Behind closed doors, he also instructs his daughter, Yentl, despite the fact that girls are forbidden to study religious scripture. When Yentl’s father dies, she still has a strong desire to learn about her faith — so she disguises herself as a male, enrolls in a religious school, and unexpectedly finds love along the way.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – October 1 – One of the darkest musicals ever written, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is the unsettling tale of a Victorian-era barber who returns home to London after fifteen years of exile, in order to take revenge on the corrupt judge who ruined his life. When revenge eludes him, Sweeney (George Hearn) swears vengeance on the entire human race, murdering as many people as he can, while his business associate, Mrs. Lovett (Angela Lansbury), bakes the bodies into meat pies and sells them to the unsuspecting public. Based on the 1973 play of the same title, this version from 1982 stars Tony Award winners Angela Lansbury(Mame, Gypsy) and George Hearn (La Cage aux FollesSunset Boulevard). It features a lush score by the legendary Stephen Sondheim and is directed by Hal Prince, who died this past year, leaving behind a stunning legacy of work on Broadway–from Cabaret to The Phantom of the Opera.

Bells Are Ringing – October 1 – Ella Peterson (Judy Holliday) is an operator for an answering service run by her cousin, Sue (Jean Stapleton). Lacking excitement in her personal life, Ella starts becoming involved in the lives of the service’s clients, including a struggling playwright, Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin). As Ella gets in over her head dealing with a bookie posing as a record producer (Eddie Foy Jr.), she tries to hide her real identity. That becomes more difficult when she begins to fall in love with Jeffrey.

Goes Wrong Show Season 2- Every week, the well-meaning amateurs of the Cornley Dramatic Society perform a half-hour play – live in front of a studio audience : a horror story, a wartime drama, a legal thriller, a period romance, a deep south melodrama and a Christmas fable. And every week, the performance goes terribly, terribly wrong. 

Episode 200 – The Nativity – September 28

Episode 201 – Summer Once Again– September 28

Episode 203 – The Lamentable… – October 5

Episode 204 – There is No Escape – October 12 

Episode 205 – The Cornley Drama Festival Part 1 – October 19 

Episode 206 – The Cornley Drama Festival Part 2 –

October 26 The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – October 14 – This enchanting new West End musical explores the extraordinary world of a sorcerer and his rebellious daughter, as she discovers the explosive possibilities of her newfound magical powers.  Acclaimed musical theatre writers Richard Hough and Ben Morales Frost have created this gender-swapped twist on the timeless poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which also inspired the Dukas symphony that memorably featured in the Disney film Fantasia.  Against the backdrop of the Northern Lights, a small town has been pushed to the brink of collapse in a bid for progress and prosperity. To rescue Midgard from certain destruction, father and daughter must heal their relationship and work together. This gripping family-friendly story sees brooms coming to life and love blossoming anew.

BroadwayHD introduces award-winning theater 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, awe-inspiring performances from Cirque du Soleil and a selection of the world’s greatest musicals including Kinky Boots, Cats, 42nd Street, She Loves Me, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I, The Sound of Music, and An American in Paris. All performances are adapted specifically for streaming audiences to maximize the entertainment experience.  To learn more about BroadwayHD, visit www.broadwayhd.com.

Feinsteins/54 Below

Cristina Fontanelli returns to Broadway supper club in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn on Tuesday, October 12 at 7pm.

September 23, 2021: Back by popular demand, Cristina Fontanelli, the award-winning singer/Actor/PBS-TV host, returns to Feinsteins/54 Below in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Two, accompanied by her fabulous trio, Dennis Buck on piano, Ray Kilday on bass and Ray Grapponon on drums. 

Cristina Fontanelli returns to Broadway supper club in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn on Tuesday, October 12 at 7pm.

September 23, 2021: Back by popular demand, Cristina Fontanelli, the award-winning singer/Actor/PBS-TV host, returns to Feinsteins/54 Below in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Two, accompanied by her fabulous trio, Dennis Buck on piano, Ray Kilday on bass and Ray Grapponon on drums. 

This Feinstein’s regular is a Boston Pops soloist and PBS-TV host for Andrea Bocelli, Michael Buble and Il Volo. She has sang for Presidents, sheiks, and VIPs all over the world, and performed for audiences everywhere from the Kennedy Center to Carnegie Hall. Cristina Fontanelli will show you just what an Italian girl from Brooklyn can do! Her show, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn Two, plays Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, on October 12 at 7:00 p.m. There is a $45-$90 cover charge and $25 food and beverage minimum. Tickets and information are available at www.54Below.com. Tickets on the day of performance after 4:00 are only available by calling (646) 476-3551.

Cristina Fontanelli has become an international personality through her recordings and appearances on-stage, radio and TV.  Her appearances include PBS-TV host for Andrea Bocelli, Il Volo and Michael Buble TV specials. She has appeared on CBS Weekend NY, has won Best Actress awards in the Cutting Room International Film Festival and the Venus International Film Festival in Las Vegas in 2019 for her role in SANTINO, a NIAF/Russo Brothers Production grantee winner. Best Actress Promo Clip She is a regular at Feinsteins 54 Below Cristina sings “Vissi d’Arte” at Feinsteins at the Regency Hotel and has shared stages with Tony Bennett.  Other TV appearances include co-hosting on CBS-TV  and starring opposite Kevin James in a CBS promo special. She has sung title roles with the Palm Beach Opera, and internationally with the Hong Kong and Cairo Opera’s and has been featured soloist with the Boston Pops and the St. Louis Symphony performing in major concert halls throughout the U.S. and the world, including the Lincoln and Kennedy Centers, Carnegie Hall, the Philadelphia Academy of Music, Boston Symphony Hall and Guild Hall in East Hampton. She has been named one of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts most notable alumni (along with Robert Redford, Danny DeVito and Anne Hathaway); has performed at the White House as part of President Clinton’s holiday celebration, and Cristina opened the 2005 Stars and Stripes Inaugural Ball for President George W. Bush.   Her awards include the “Lifetime Achievement Award in the Arts” from the Order Sons of Italy in America (previous honoree Luciano Pavarotti).  Cristina has been an on-air radio guest on WOR radio with Joe Piscopo, and on Bloomberg and Sirius Satellite Radio. She is included in the book “The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney” (Simon and Schuster 2015) for singing “Happy Birthday” at Mickey’s 90th birthday party (Donald Trump, Regis Philbin, Tony Bennett in attendance) The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney/Cristina Fontanelli.  She was signed by platinum-record winning producer, Sandy Linzer, to record Cristina Fontanelli Sings Great Italian Favorites Listen to Cristina singing “Ave Maria”. Cristina produces and stars in “Christmas in Italy®” now in it’s 18th year, which has given hundreds of children performance opportunities every year.  (Sold-out Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall).  It is produced by The Cristina Fontanelli Foundation who’s “mission” includes raising funds for children’s causes and raising awareness of the scientifically proven benefits of classical music and the arts. Cristina appears annually with Opera & Broadway of the Hamptons and has opened the ceremonies at the Hampton Classic.   She sings and entertains in 9 languages.  

Feinstein’s/54 Below is committed to the health of its performers, staff, and guests and has created a Safety Plan to ensure safe conditions along with optimum performing conditions. The new policies require that performers, production, kitchen, and dining room staff, as well as all audience members show proof of vaccination to enter the premises. Additional information on our safety protocols can be found here.

Feinstein’s/54 Below has installed improved air circulation and filtering systems as well as added plexiglass barriers between some tables. Based on CDC and New York State guidelines at the time of performance, safety protocols and seating capacity may change and policies may be adjusted as is appropriate.

Cristina Fontanelli in A Tree Grows In Brooklyn Two plays Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54thStreet) on October 12 at 7:00 p.m. There is a $45-$90 cover charge and $25 food and beverage minimum. Tickets and information are available at www.54Below.com. Tickets on the day of performance after 4:00 are only available by calling (646) 476-3551.

Magician Escapist, Dorothy Dietrich, Inspired by Houdini – Part 2

By: Alix Cohen

Extreme Performance

“The easiest way to attract a crowd is to let it be known that at a given time and a given place someone is going to attempt something that in the event of failure, will mean sudden death.” Harry Houdini

October 3, 2021: “I wanted to do things Houdini did, to be the bravest person in the room,” said Dorothy Dietrich. Handcuffed and tied to a chair with 100 feet of rope, even shut in a barrel, didn’t seem like enough. Dorothy began to end her act by being buckled into and escaping from a straitjacket. Her jackets, bought at auctions or mail ordered from the likes of Humane Restraint Company, have always been early models rather than the wide-necked ones magicians tend to use.

By: Alix Cohen

Extreme Performance

“The easiest way to attract a crowd is to let it be known that at a given time and a given place someone is going to attempt something that in the event of failure, will mean sudden death.” Harry Houdini

October 3, 2021: “I wanted to do things Houdini did, to be the bravest person in the room,” said Dorothy Dietrich. Handcuffed and tied to a chair with 100 feet of rope, even shut in a barrel, didn’t seem like enough. Dorothy began to end her act by being buckled into and escaping from a straitjacket. Her jackets, bought at auctions or mail ordered from the likes of Humane Restraint Company, have always been early models rather than the wide-necked ones magicians tend to use.

Instead of having an assistant restrain her, she asked policemen or volunteer audience members. Nor was her visual like the Master’s. “Houdini fell down, struggled with exaggeration, rolled round – it was rough and tumble, too ugly for a female. I stood up and executed it gracefully.” Again, not enough for agents/audiences.

Public Domain Staff of the “New Orleans States” photo of New Orleans, 1907. Houdini suspended upside down in a strait-jacket from “States” newspaper building.

“Police intervention prevented Harry Houdini from trying to escape from a straitjacket while suspended from a derrick over the Longacre Square subway excavation at noon yesterday. The exhibition was ordered stopped and reserves from the West Forty-Seventh Street station had to be called to disperse the crowd which had gathered in anticipation of the event. No arrests were made.” (March 29, 1916 New York Sun) In 1922, Houdini got out of a straitjacket hanging upside-down from Keith’s Theater in Washington, D.C.

Dorothy decided to do the escape suspended from a burning rope. With Lou Lancaster’s help, she practiced in a two-story drop at the Towne House, dangled from cranes, then went to a junkyard where sandbags or car parts in exactly her weight were used to time the burning rope’s release.

Left with Tony Curtis, Right – Buckled in- The Great Escape– Photos by Dick Brooks

In 1980, Dorothy appeared on HBO’s World’s Greatest Escapes hosted by Tony Curtis who had played Houdini in the entertaining, but inaccurate 1953 movie. Her hair in pigtails, wearing a silver jumpsuit and heels, she hung 15 stories from an amusement park parachute ride. “That was really hairy. It was windy and cold.” The artist extricated herself in less than the 3 minutes 37 seconds it took the rope to split: The Excerpted Feat on YouTube.                                                                        

Hanging Around- photos by Dick Brooks

It was not the only time she accomplished a feat no woman had attempted before. Mentored by magician/inventor Jack London, Dorothy was also only the second woman in history to do The Bullet Catch in which a marksman shoots a bullet – generally initialed by a volunteer – directly at a magician who somehow catches it. The first, in 1897, was Adelaide Hermann who inherited the trick from her deceased magician husband. To date, at least 20 performers have died attempting it.

When Magician Chung Ling Soo (William E. Robinson) was tragically killed while performing the catch in 1918 England, Houdini announced he’d add it to his act. Magician Harry Keller dissuaded him: “Now, my dear boy, this is advice from the heart, DON’T TRY THE D—N Bullet Catching…no matter how sure you may feel of its success. There is always the biggest kind of risk that some dog will `job’ you. And we can’t afford to lose Houdini.” (From the website Wild About Harry March 2011, originally from the April 1937 issue of Genii Magazine.) By that Keller meant not only are there accidents, but also that the feat brings out mentally unbalanced “snipers.”

After two years of research, Pittsburgh’s Convention of the International Brotherhood of Magicians was the first occasion on which Dorothy stood before a marksman who shot a .22 caliber bullet at her that was caught in a specially designed and coated cup she held in her mouth.

The Bullet Catch- photo by Dick Brooks

In this case, the shooter was a ranger and Vietnam Vet informed of his role only the day before. Dorothy and Dick took him to a rifle range where he hit 100 bull’s-eyes before being cleared for the show. She allowed an independent committee to buy and bring the bullets under guard. The Bullet Catch The performer did the Catch three more times, including one on the television show You Asked for It. She offered $10,000 to anyone who could prove a bullet had not left the gun.

Forced out of business by Donald Trump’s “buying up the neighborhood” and aware of the evolution of New York entertainment, the couple decided to move. Several copycat venues (since closed) had risen.

Later, Monday Night Magic founded by alumnus Michael Chaut in 1997 (now run by Peter Samelson,Todd Robbins, Frank Brents and Jamy Ian Swiss) continues  to entertainingly present the art to this day. (Reopens September 20: Monday Night Magic.)

Dorothy and Dick settled on Scranton, Pennsylvania, once on the vaudeville circuit where Houdini performed. They spent time in a hotel to check it out, and bought real estate that included a closed synagogue and the rabbi’s house. After extensive renovation, The Houdini Museum opened. Dorothy had been buying things since she was a teenager and amassed a large collection. (Houdini’s legacy items went to The Library of Congress. David Copperfield also bought a great deal.)  The Houdini Museum                                        

The Houdini Museum Courtesy of Dorothy Dietrich

Though closed during the pandemic, the museum had garnered excellent reviews on Trip Advisor. A typical visit starts with rare film footage of Houdini, followed by an interactive tour of the collection and a live, interactive magic show.

More Houdini

Harry Houdini died on October 31, 1926 at 1:26 p.m. from septic poisoning, the result of a ruptured appendix (unattended to) after taking a punch to the stomach. His wife Bess promised to hold annual séances to give him opportunity to contact her with a special code. She tried for 10 unsuccessful years, then passed the tradition on to Walter Gibson who held several of these at The Magic Towne House. Gibson, in turn, passed it to Dorothy. Last year she streamed a séance,  likely to occur again in 2021.  

“We put a bunch of Harry’s possessions on a table and try to reach him. This isn’t a gag. Have we ever reached him? No, but we came close once. On the 50th Anniversary of his death, a framed poster fell off the wall during our moment of silence.” (Dick to journalist Fred Feretti) Last year, there was an unexpected anomaly. The séance.

Library of Congress,  McManus-Young Collection. Public Domain image of “My Two Sweethearts”. Harry Houdini and his wife Beatrice and mother Cecilia Steiner Weiss, circa 1907

Dorothy also started The Houdini Commandos who for years tended his Machpelah, Queens gravesite. Besides a large statue of a grieving woman, the tomb featured a bust of Houdini that had been vandalized four times. The Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.) owned a bust, but wouldn’t allow it out. After years of unsuccessfully lobbying, Dorothy took dozens of photographs of a Museum of the City of New York copy and replicated it.

Without telling anyone at the cemetery, her merry band showed up with a weed-wacker, garbage bags (people are forever leaving him things like plastic handcuffs), and the new bust. Eventually maintenance funding was assumed by the national chapter of S.A.M. “In his lifetime, Houdini paid for fixing dozens of magicians graves in disrepair. This was fitting payback.” (From a New York Times interview with David Dunlap October 2011.)

Houdini Bust; Dorothy and Dick at the grave site. (Photo by Houdini Museum Staff)

Debunking

“We have fought long and hard to escape from medieval superstition. I, for one, do not wish to go back.” James Randi

Like Houdini and the great James Randi, Dorothy is adamantly against so-called mediums taking (often financial) advantage of vulnerable people wanting to get in touch with loved ones who have passed.

Kim Dennis, a medium with a Canadian TV show declared herself in contact with Houdini every day. She contacted his great nephew, Jeff Blood, inviting him to Canada. Jeff said he wouldn’t do anything without Dorothy’s involvement. “Scheduling didn’t work out for us to go up, so she came down. We met at the museum. Jeff, his wife Debbie, and his daughter wanted to talk to his mother which was also promised.”

“Dennis grasped my hands top and bottom to get a read on whether I was a doubter. I stayed warm and fuzzy to go with it. I said, ‘If you can contact him, holy cow, I have a lot of questions.’ S.A.M sent a representative from the Skeptic Committee who the medium asked to leave the room saying she was uncomfortable. As both Dick and she were videoing, he agreed.”

“I brought several things to the table. There was a manila envelope with three Houdini letters in it. On the front, I’d written when he wrote each, where it was sent, and to whom. If he came through, Houdini could tell me the contents…” Dennis brushed it aside. She received the “message” of Houdini’s mother’s name – “I’m receiving a C, the name Cecelia” and his having stomach pain both well known facts.

Seance

Dorothy was unfailingly polite and encouraging. “If you can do it, do you know how famous you’ll be?!” Dennis grew increasingly anxious. “I’ve never been treated like this!” In the end the pretender fled. There have apparently been others.

I ask what the woman who broke the glass ceiling of magic thinks of contemporary female magicians. (Yes, there are young women magicians.) “They’re great, but I’m offended when a woman goes for the sex angle. We’ve come so far, can’t we leave that behind?” 

What about escape artists? “If you’re going to be a woman magician today, the first thing you apparently do is to go out and buy a straitjacket. Recently, a woman called me about doing The Bullet Catch. I asked why? ‘You wouldn’t be the first,’ I told her, `and you might die.’” Good advice.

Today Dorothy (with Dick) runs the museum, does her act, occasionally creates magic for industrials, and consults. She’s grateful for her life, (one that she herself created), and hopes to pass on both knowledge and the museum.“I never get tired of seeing the look of wonder on people’s faces. It’s the best gift in the world that I have the ability to share.”

NOTE: Dorothy and Dick invented “Houdini Opoly, an elaborate board game based on the master escapist’s life. It’s beautifully produced. A marvelous gift for anyone into magic, the game can be ordered from the museum.

“for those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice.” Joseph Dunninger “

All unattributed quotes are Dorothy Dietrich.

Opening Photo of Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks by museum staff.

Click to Read Part 1

Originally posted by Alix Cohen on Woman Around Town- September 17 2021

Broadway Update: Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga to Star in Macbeth

By: David Sheward

October 1, 2021: Broadway is definitely back with Sunday night’s long-delayed Tonys followed by announcements of new productions. Then Slave Play and Skin of Our Teeth released dates for openings. Now, we heard Daniel Craig will bounce back on stage after his fifth and final performance as James Bond in No Time to Die. The action and dramatic star will headline a revival of Macbeth opposite Ruth Negga, who played Hamlet at St. Ann’s Warehouse. This new production of the Scottish Play will begin previews at the Lyceum Theater on March 29, 2022 in advance of an April 28 opening.

By: David Sheward

October 1, 2021: Broadway is definitely back with Sunday night’s long-delayed Tonys followed by announcements of new productions. Then Slave Play and Skin of Our Teeth released dates for openings. Now, we heard Daniel Craig will bounce back on stage after his fifth and final performance as James Bond in No Time to Die. The action and dramatic star will headline a revival of Macbeth opposite Ruth Negga, who played Hamlet at St. Ann’s Warehouse. This new production of the Scottish Play will begin previews at the Lyceum Theater on March 29, 2022 in advance of an April 28 opening. Tony winner Sam Gold (A Doll’s House, Part 2, Fun Home) directs. Craig has previously appeared on Broadway in A Steady Rain and Mike Nichols’ production of Betrayal. Off-Broadway, he played Iago to David Oyelowo’s Othello.

“Daniel is not only a great film actor but a magnificent theatre actor as well. I am thrilled that he will be supporting the return of Broadway playing this iconic role with the exquisitely talented Ruth Negga making her Broadway debut and under the expert direction of Sam Gold,” said producer Barbara Broccoli.

“I am beyond thrilled to be participating in this historic season as theatre re-emerges, and to be working with two such masterful actors on one of dramatic literature’s most challenging and epic dramas,” said director Sam Gold. “I can’t wait to get started!”  

This is the 48th Macbeth to play Broadway. Recent productions have starred Ethan Hawke, Alan Cumming, Patrick Stewart, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Plummer, and Philip Anglim (1982). Off-Broadway Macbeths have included Corey Stoller, Kenneth Branagh, Liev Schreiber, John Douglas Thompson, Alec Baldwin, and Raul Julia. 

In addition, Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Frances MacDormand will play the bloody couple in a new film adaptation directed by Joel Coen, which just played the New York Film Festival.

In other news, the opening of Lackawanna Blues has been postponed to Oct. 7 due to an injury sustained by its sole actor and playwright Reuben Santiago-Hudson.

Calendar of 2021-22 Broadway/Off-Broadway Shows

Oct. 1–Diana premieres on Netflix

Oct. 3–Six (Brooks Atkinson)

Oct. 4–Letters of Suresh (Second Stage/Kiser)

Oct. 5–To Kill a Mockingbird (Shubert)

Oct. 7–Freestyle Love Supreme (Booth); Lackawanna Blues (MTC/Samuel J. Friedman)

Oct. 8–Tina: The Tina Turner Musical (Lunt-Fontanne)

Oct. 9–Gazillion Bubbles Show (New World Stages)

Oct. 10–Chicken and Biscuits (Circle In the Square)

Oct. 11–Is This A Room (Lyceum)

Oct. 13–Girl from the North Country (Belasco)

Oct. 14–The Lehman Trilogy (Nederlander)

Oct. 14–Fairycakes (previews begin; Greenwich House Theater)

Oct. 16–Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations (Imperial)

Oct. 17–Dana H. (Lyceum)

Oct. 21–Jagged Little Pill (Broadhurst); The Woman in Black (McKittrick Hotel)

Oct. 22–Phantom of the Opera (Majestic)

Oct. 27–Caroline or Change (Roundabout/Studio 54)

Oct. 31–Thoughts of a Colored Man (Golden)

Nov. 3–Morning Sun (MTC/City Center)

Nov. 4–The Visitor (Public); Morning’s at Seven (Theater at St. Clement’s)

Nov. 5–The Book of Mormon (Eugene O’Neill)

Nov. 12–Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Lyric)

Nov. 14–Assassins (CSC)

Nov. 15–Jersey Boys (New World Stages)

Nov. 17–Diana (Longacre); Cullud Wattah (Public)

Nov. 18–Trouble in Mind (Roundabout/AA)

Nov. 22–Clyde’s (Second Stage/Hayes)

Dec. 2–Slave Play (August Wilson)

Dec. 5–Mrs. Doubtfire (Stephen Sondheim)

Dec. 8–Kimberly Akimbo (Atlantic Theater Company)

Dec. 9–Company (Bernard B. Jacobs)

Dec. 11–Dear Evan Hansen (Music Box)

Dec. 13–Flying Over Sunset (LCT/Vivian Beaumont)

Jan. 12, 2022–Skeleton Crew (MTC/Samuel J. Friedman)

Jan. 27–Intimate Apparel (LCT/Mitzi Newhouse)

Feb. 1–MJ: The Michael Jackson Musical (Neil Simon)

Feb. 10–The Music Man (Winter Garden)

Feb. 14–Sleep No More (McKittrick Hotel)

March 20–Paradise Square (Barrymore)

March 28–Plaza Suite (Hudson)

April 4–Take Me Out (Second Stage/Hayes)

April 7–The Minutes (Studio 54)

April 8–Beetlejuice (Marriott Marquis)

April 10–Birthday Candles (Roundabout/AA)

Daniel Craig, Ruth Negga

Originally Posted on The David Desk 2 on September 29, 2021
Photos: Greg Williams

Magician Escapist Dorothy Dietrich – Inspired by Houdini – Part 1

By: Alix Cohen … Part 1

September 30, 2021: When you were putting together Legos or dressing dolls, one little girl was picking locks, making a ball appear and disappear and changing a lit candle into a silk handkerchief: The trick. She had an empty 14-inch tube out of which she’d one day pull a 20-foot silk scarf, a feather boa, six balls, and a can of Coke. Dorothy Dietrich would be the first woman to saw a man in half, get out of a straitjacket – taking Houdini’s feat further – and the second in history to do the bullet catch. She was a burgeoning magician.

By: Alix Cohen

September 30, 2021: When you were putting together Legos or dressing dolls, one little girl was picking locks, making a ball appear and disappear and changing a lit candle into a silk handkerchief: The trick. She had an empty 14-inch tube out of which she’d one day pull a 20-foot silk scarf, a feather boa, six balls, and a can of Coke. Dorothy Dietrich would be the first woman to saw a man in half, get out of a straitjacket – taking Houdini’s feat further – and the second in history to do the bullet catch. She was a burgeoning magician.

Early Days

“As children we believe that anything is possible. The trick is to never forget it.” Magician David Blaine

The Dietrich family, nine kids and two parents, lived in Erie, Pennsylvania. Mr. Dietrich was an abusive, irresponsible alcoholic, which left his wife to work multiple jobs. When Dorothy wasn’t doing chores, she could often be found up a tree to avoid being dragged across the floor by her hair or beaten. The Dietrichs successively lived in three houses – the first, lost to taxes, had no running water, the second was rat infested. (The third Dorothy would buy back after her father’s death.)

Dorothy

School offered no respite. Attending a Catholic institution on charity, wearing second-hand uniforms, Dorothy was mercilessly teased by her peers and “disciplined” by the nuns. To her, church meant occasional Latin liturgy “heavenly” and 6 a..m donuts before school. She was hungry. Every Dietrich sibling fended for themselves.

At 11, feeling there was no way out, she ran in front of a tractor trailer. The driver screeched to a stop and sat on the curb with her. “Whatever it is, I want you to know something. Even if you think your life is not worth living, you can’t do this to another person. How could I live with myself if I killed you?!”  “He said he used to be me,” she recalls. “He saved my life.”

A transfer to public school brought an end to one source of mistreatment. In its auditorium theater with vividly remembered red curtains, Dorothy saw her first magician. “I was mesmerized. The impossible is happening-how? I thought, if he gets paid, I want to do this.” There was a single novelty store in town. The preteen bought what they had of purposefully showy (not card) tricks, and practiced. And practiced.

One day, playing cowboys and Indians with her brothers, she was, as usual, tied up. Self described as scrawny, she slipped out of the knots. “My aunt saw me and said, ‘Who do you think you are, Houdini?’ I went to the library and tried to look him up under ‘W’ for Whodini.” With help, Dorothy checked out Walter Gibson’s book Houdini on Magic and Escapes. (Gibson was an author, ghostwriter, performer, and creator of the popular pulp series The Shadow.)

An Early Performance

For the book, its writer had access to Houdini’s notebooks and memoranda as well as assistance from Houdini’s widow, Bess. Magic and Escapes is touted as the most thorough description of the artist’s feats and how he performed them. Dorothy calls it “a tutorial.” The book became her magic bible. She began to perform at local events, convinced magic would be her vocation. After all, the German word dietrich translates as “lock pick.”

Until then, the youngster worked like crazy to contribute to her household – shoveling snow, raking leaves, cleaning houses, babysitting… Determined to leave, she now started squirreling away funds in the hem of a family room curtain so her father couldn’t steal from her. Somehow she was able to amass $3,000.

At 13, Dorothy tells me, she got a ride to New York with a friend’s brother. “I didn’t know who could do what to whom, but no one came after me.” A roommate-wanted ad in the back of Show Business Magazine lead to the fourth floor, Hell’s Kitchen walk-up of three young, aspiring actresses. “For the first time in my life, I felt secure; not helpless. Here’s the thing about New York, no one judged me.” She lied about her age.

When she finally called home, Mr. Dietrich said, don’t come back. Her new roommates showed the underage girl how to make up to look older and create a fake resume. Savings paid for dance and acting classes. “A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician,” she says, quoting Jean Eugene Robert Houdin. Without a social security card, there was no question of a real job. “I was offered porno movies, nude photography, and stripping jobs.” Dorothy refused. Apparently she’d learned acute “diplomacy” with her father which kept compromising situations at bay. Quite a trick. She busked in Central Park.

“Agents have small spots to fill. One finally took a chance on me. That led to work in small dinner theaters. I started with a ‘flash’ show (music and a series of tricks without speaking) to show my skills while avoiding catcalls.” That summer, she was hired to do 30 family-oriented shows in Westchester parks. The parks department recommended her to the New York Board of Education. Dorothy put together a presentation called Believe in Yourself, essentially her own story, and took it into public schools. She opened with, “When I was a kid, everybody told me girls can’t do magic,” and ended with, “so…do you think girls can do magic? “YES!” rang out. “Do you think girls can drive a truck? “NO!” came the answer. “There’s no reason a girl can’t do what a boy can…” She was 14.

A Phoenix Rises from the Ashes

“Personality must be bigger than the prop.” Magician Harry Blackstone Jr.

Try it, it works. (photo CC Public Domain)

Magic shops have always been hosts to a selective social scene. In those days there were several at which practitioners gathered to gossip, network, and show off. Though status/success/skill was acknowledged, it was possible for a newbie to rub elbows with an icon. At Russ Delmar’s Magic Center, Delmar nurtured the determined teenager. “Russ was someone who really cared about his customers. He was family to me as well as a working magician who gave helpful tips.” Mike Tannen’s Circle Magic Shop and his kid brother Louis’ Tannen’s might have more and better to sell, but owners had little time for her.

Al Flosso, “The Coney Island Fakir,” was another mentor. For 37 years he helmed Martinka & Co., America’s oldest magic company once owned by Houdini. (His name comes from a slang term for cotton candy, “floss.”) An old time practitioner, he was the first magician invited on The Ed Sullivan Show and appears as a Punch and Judy puppeteer in the film, A Night at the Opera.

Magazine Cover by Permission of Genii Magazine

Flosso held court on an old, threadbare sofa at the back of his shop, a kind of fraternity house for magicians. “Picture a pitchman at a carnival, add a wise guy personality with a comic spin…He’d go right to the edge of being rude, but left  people giggling.” This artist taught Dorothy ‘The Miser’s Dream,’ which makes coins appear out of thin air, landing in a bucket with a clink. She sometimes convinces child volunteers they can work magic with this trick.

Next came a job at Tommy Laird’s Times Square basement ten-in-one (a program of ten sequential acts under one tent for a single admission price). Dorothy describes it as appropriately “dirty, dank and sleazy…Each act had its own stage and curtain. A crowd moved around the room. “I was there to hone new routines and my adlibbing chops.” Not to mention paying her rent.

“Tommy was a magician and pitchman. He sold magic tricks on the street and had a small shop in the 42nd street subway station. In the 1970s, he took over the old Ripley’s Believe It or Not space, turning it into the American Theater of Magic. Tommy employed sword swallower Estelline Pike and Hezekiah Trimble, who did a wildman/witch doctor act and was known as Congo-the Jungle Creep.” (Performer/Historian Todd Robbins) Dorothy particularly remembers Congo’s leopard loin cloth and that he scared the crowd with wet, rubber snakes.

All Bound Up (Photos by Dick Brooks)

Other magicians at the basement venue included Lou Lancaster, according to Dorothy, “a magic know-it-all” who would one day become her right-hand man, fitting rigging for a straitjacket escape that took a Houdini stunt one step further, and mentalist Dick Brooks who became her life partner. The theater closed in the early 1980s and the building was torn down to build the Marriott.

“Adopted” by senior professionals, she was sometimes a guest at The Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.). Under 18 at the time, Dorothy was turned down for membership. Nonetheless, the Parent Assembly hired her for their annual show. Her flash act was well received. “I kept it elegant and classic, lots of colorful silk scarves, lit candles and doves.”

One of the people who came backstage to congratulate her turned out to be the elderly Walter Gibson. Discovering who he was, she chased him down a hall. Gibson became a mentor and friend, teaching her not only about the business of the business, put plausibly some of Houdini’s methods only he might know. “I get goose bumps when I think how lucky I was to know Walter. He was my window into Houdini. They were close friends. I’d ask, ‘what would Houdini think or handle this or that.’”

”A lot of people believed Houdini was either supernatural or had some amazing secrets. Actually, other magicians had bigger tricks, but no one had his style.” Walter Gibson (The New York Times, November, 1981 article by Daniel E. Harmon). Gibson believed Dorothy had style. The magician’s performance was feminine without resorting to sexual innuendo.

A later photo of Dorothy and one of her doves. (Photo by Dick Brooks)

Dorothy and Dick moved to a storefront on East 6th Street. Here, she could house the birds (doves) and animals she used in her act. “Doves are wonderful critters. I generally bought them from magicians as babies. As long as they know they can trust you to take care of them…You can’t just borrow some doves for a show and then return them.” A few years later, she’d author an article called The Magician’s Field Guide to Doves, which explained how to breed (they need privacy) and keep them (no overcrowding). “I currently use five doves, two small ducks (a breed called Calls), a rabbit, and a poodle.”       

By now she was levitating people. Dorothy used the stationary method in which whatever the volunteer lay on was taken away, leaving them floating. It would be some years before she performed the moving technique wherein someone suspended would float up with no visible means of support. The time gap was not because of skill, but rather because the second effect is expensive and cumbersome to transport.

Television came calling. She appeared, in part, on the Tom Snyder, Montel Williams, Bill Cosby, Gary Moore, and Robert Klein shows. Tired of being mistaken for an assistant at stage doors, Dorothy became the first woman to saw a man in half, a trick that had been popular in magic acts since 1921. “Just think how famous I’ll become if this doesn’t work,” she quipped to Robert Klein who lay under her saw. The Robert Klein Show excerpt on YouTube.

The Bill Cosby Show (Photo by Dick Brooks)

Uptown at 61st and Third, amateur magician Eddie Davis was having trouble keeping his Magic Towne House afloat. Dorothy and Dick who had been performing there bought the venue (on installments) and moved in upstairs. Both established magicians and fledglings appeared on stage at what became the New York Mecca for magic. The only other places for magic acts were The Playboy Club or comedy venues. David Copperfield, Penn and Teller, Harry Blackstone, Jr. and other headliners visited.  Even Johnny Carson, himself a magic aficionado, was seen in an audience.

Peter Samelson, then in his twenties, was among the first roster of in-house magicians. He remembers Dorothy as a kind of den mother. She was fair, took good care of the magicians, and critiqued when she thought it might be helpful. Joe Devlin was an 18 year-old intern/dogsbody who eventually performed at the House’s children’s parties. “I remember clearly the amount of dedication, creativity and promotional savvy that Dorothy lived by,” he says.

Eric DeCamps arrived as an apprentice. After a main performance, audiences were invited to stay to watch newbies. When the young man felt ready, he was encouraged to try his act here. It was, he recalls, a disaster. “Nobody told me you had to be entertaining!” Dorothy and Dick spent 45 minutes critiquing the show, all in a positive tone. They told him he was welcome to keep coming back. DeCamps did just that and became a professional magician. One of the things the alumnus particularly remembers is Dick’s innovative use of mirrors above a close-up magic table so the entire audience could see what was going on. Ahead of its time, the set-up preceded the use of video cameras.

Poster of The Magic Townhouse courtesy of Anique Taylor, artist*

Public awareness came with a piece in The New York Times ‘Going Out Guide’ by Howard Thompson. “Whether you’re into the craft of illusion or merely curious, a visit to the Magic Towne House can be a delightful surprise. On Fridays and Saturdays, from 9 p.m.. until 1 a.m. or so, you can relax comfortably in an attractive lounge on the midtown East Side and enjoy a variety of legerdemain by professionals. The evening tab is $6 on Friday and $7.50 on Saturday…You enter beneath a chandelier and face an inviting, mirrored stairway of red rails and deep carpeting…The real surprise…was a cheerfully tasteful sanctum with some rakishly eerie touches (dig the big, white spider web in the ceiling extension.)”

At the Towne House- Courtesy of Dorothy Dietrich

A shop sold rubber chocolates, vanishing ink, candy-covered beetles, bugs in fake ice cubes and jars that erupted in snakes. Dorothy (and Dick) used the Towne House as home base. At this point her agent was getting her a lot of private events. She performed for David Rockefeller, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and at Sean Lennon’s 5th birthday party.

October 9, 1980 Sean Lennon’s Birthday (Photo by Dick Brooks)

From 1978 to 1982, she and Dick also published Hocus Pocus Magazine. (Genii was in California, Tops in Michigan.) They painstakingly used a Linotype and Headliner machine. “We gave the East Coast guys the publicity they needed to get into worldwide conventions.” The newsprint journal ran articles about and interviews with magicians, advertisements for books and tricks, descriptions of effects, a classified for exchange of magic related items and a consumer complaint department for those professionals who had issues with magic paraphernalia.

There’s no question of the couple’s dedication to nurturing magic and magicians. Working hard, Dorothy nonetheless needed help making her way up a ladder that seemed to simulate the Indian Rope Trick: a rope that levitates with no external support and is climbed by an assistant. She gave back.

Opening Magazine Photo by permission of The Society of American Magicians and Genii Magazine

Originally Posted on September 16, 2021 by Alix Cohen on Woman Around Town