Posted in Theatre

Daily Prompt: Tide

Oh, and how they are a-changing.

As you know, dear readers, I am (first and foremost) a creative soul. Specifically, I love to express myself with the fine arts- lyricism, playwriting, and acting. In the time I’ve come to take my craft more seriously, I’ve deduced that my strengths lie in “heartfelt dramedies.” As I see it, these are a myriad of story types, but they are all quite sanguine in their evaluation of the human experience.

(The lone exception to this would be the historical drama I’m trying to put together for a graduate-level course, but that’s something for another day…)

Now, enter the article that showed up on Playbill this week. For those who don’t feel like clicking: it’s a brief spread of three female artists whom the author describes as “poised for major career breakthroughs.” She suggests that you “learn their names before their work hits it big.” As I read the trio’s reflections on their goals, I noticed an all-too-familiar trend. This trend is one that has been permeating the subject matter of many new plays, particularly ones that find artistic and/or critical success.

Dear Evan HansenThe HumansEclipsedFun Home…almost anything written by Lynn Nottage or Tracy Letts…the list goes on! And they are all (to paraphrase The New Yorker) “problem shows.” They deal with very serious, socially relevant topics and sometimes feature dismal endings. Even the current projects of the three aforementioned female artists (the women’s suffrage movement, queer POC) fit this bill.

Boy, am I screwed!

Now you could argue that recent hit shows like AnastasiaMean Girls, or even The Play That Goes Wrong don’t fit the mold- and you’d be right. But there’s a difference: those pieces usually have the benefits of being adapted from a beloved property and/or an already-established writer or actor.

What’s a woman like me to do, one who is still trying to make her mark AND cannot bring herself to formulate plots where the main character dies, loses their faith in humanity, or both?! I often wonder if I was born in the wrong “age of theatre,” so to speak. So I’m going to ask an open question.

Friends, when it comes to stage, screen, or otherwise: do you prefer to escape current events, or engross yourself in them? Please answer honestly! How beneficial might it be to step outside my comfort zone as a writer?

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Posted in Theatre

Her cat, a bed, and a chair…

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The day had finally arrived: my paternal grandmother, Lucie- who I don’t see very often- was giving me my Christmas gift. Two tickets to the Marquis Theatre’s production of the Follies revival. It was to be only the second Sondheim show I’d see live onstage (the first was the revival of A Little Night Music).

The lights went down and I was immediately swept away. All these veteran Broadway actresses- from Jayne Houdyshell to Mary Beth Peil and even Elaine Paige- strutting their stuff in one of the greatest musicals of all time. My favorite number overall was Terri White’s showstopping “Who’s That Woman?”

And, of course, there were the two female leads: the legendary Bernadette Peters as Sally Durant Plummer and elegant, charismatic Jan Maxwell as Phyllis Rogers Stone. Jan Maxwell died this week at the age of 61. Now there seems to be some speculation as to whether the lights on Broadway will be dimmed for her. (For those who don’t know, the theatre community has long had a tradition of briefly dimming the marquees at all the Broadway houses to honor the death of an esteemed colleague.)

I’m writing this to pay tribute to Jan Maxwell, but also to assert my firm hope that they will dim the lights for her. I mean…I have a selfish reason for wanting this done…but I think few would argue with me if I said that Maxwell represents what being a thespian is all about.

Not only was she a great talent, but she made her entire career out of performing onstage. She did dabble in screen work, yet the theatre was always her home. She’s a model for what every artist aspires to become.

Powers-that-be, please consider honoring this true lady of the stage in the best possible way. If you can justify doing it for Joan Rivers, surely you’ll easily make a case for Jan Maxwell. Rest in peace, Beautiful Girl.

Posted in Theatre

Follow the Money

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What is going on with this most recent Broadway season?

Last year, we got OsloIndecentDear Evan Hansen, and even Come from Away. This time around, it seems we’re getting sub-par play revivals, Margaritaville, and the equivalent of REALITY SHOW: The Musical. More on that later.

Don’t get me wrong…there are a lot of potentially great things on the horizon, namely the revivals arriving in the spring. (Angels in AmericaThe Boys in the BandMy Fair LadyCarousel!)

But it also seems like a truckload of variety acts are landing on stages that were once reserved for theatrical ideas/innovation. As we already know, showbiz is…well…a business, and producers put their money into projects they believe will be successful. Which begs the question- what criteria are they using?

With the deluge of live shows that open during the Christmas season- including the Radio City Christmas SpectacularElf at MSG, and A Christmas Carol on MacDougal Street- who made the decision that a revue starring reality show winners should be playing a coveted Broadway house? (It’s the August Wilson Theatre, to be exact, and they had to take down its Mean Girls marquee.)

I hate to say this, but I almost feel like productions that pander to the non-theatergoing crowd need to struggle at the box office. Perhaps then producers will recognize that they can’t just throw money at anything and have a Broadway smash. Perhaps then they’ll be more inclined to take a chance on fresh, quality material.

I don’t wish bad on Home for the Holidays. I am sure some folks will enjoy it. But to artists who pour their heart into original work and struggle to have it seen, it can feel like a slap in the face. I implore you, producers of the world: try to avoid giving prestigious Broadway credits to Bachelorette contestants and invest more in those who want to use art to change the world.

Posted in Theatre

For Your Consideration: I Don’t Know What to Make of Falsettos

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As most arts-minded people know, the seminal Lapine/Finn musical Falsettos had its lauded Broadway revival broadcast on PBS last week. It was part of the station’s Live from Lincoln Center programming…although the production didn’t actually play at the Vivian Beaumont. It was indeed produced by Lincoln Center Theater, but found its home at the Walter Kerr…pre-Amelie.

I DVR’d the broadcast and watched it yesterday during a rainstorm…and, well, I just had a lot of thoughts about it. So many random thoughts, in fact, that I feel it best to present them to you in a bullet-point form. Here goes!

  • Okay, so first off: I actually had no clue that the show was sung-through. And here I call myself a theatre aficionado!
  • Falsettos is usually classified as a “gay story,” or even a “family drama,” but I believe there is another component: the characters’ Jewish identity. This show would read very differently if that element were absent.
  • I enjoyed the 2nd act more than the 1st. Compared to the complications and themes of Act 2, Act 1 felt a bit like extended exposition. The 1st act is also more “theatrical” in its use of fantasy sequence and nonlinear events to tell the story.
  • Speaking of which, it’s too bad that Tracie Thoms and Betsy Wolfe don’t show up until Act 2. I wanted to know more about them.
  • I didn’t know too much about Stephanie J. Block, other than that she was one of Wicked‘s Elphabas, but this show made me a fan. She looked beautiful and has a really versatile voice. Her big solo, “I’m Breaking Down,” was clearly an audience favorite.
  • Anthony Rosenthal, portraying her preteen son, is a star in the making. He was so easy to love, and considering the demands of this show, I’d already call him a consummate actor.
  • “March of the Falsettos” was probably one of the creepiest production numbers I’ve seen in a while. I know it’s not really intended to come off that way.
  • Brandon Uranowitz, as psychologist Mendel, completely stole the show. He was hilarious in his gestures and vocal inflections…and as a bonus, his chemistry with the kid was great. As a result, “Jason’s Therapy” and “Everyone Hates His Parents” were particularly entertaining moments.
  • On the flip side, Marvin’s final song- “What Would I Do?”- was absolutely gut-wrenching, mainly due to Christian Borle’s facial expressiveness. That’s one of the great things about filmed theatre, you know? Closeups enable you to see things you might miss from a high-up venue seat.
  • Weird opinion: I wasn’t in love with Whizzer’s character, though Andrew Rannells was an ideal choice for the part. However, his fate in the show still moved me to tears because of his loved ones’ reactions/how much he meant to them.

Falsettos takes place over two years…1979-1981. I think it is important to note this, as the piece manages to provide a “slice of the past” while still demonstrating how much and how little its issues have changed. That, in my opinion, is crucial for touching people with this art form.

However, the unusual structure and breakneck pace of the musical make me worry that some folks will miss the significance of those issues. And that, dear readers, is why I don’t know how to rate Falsettos.

Do you?

Posted in Theatre

And the Band plays on

I had lots of adventures this week. Between that viewing of The Star and a job interview and touring the National Arts Club, I was a busy bee. But perhaps the most exciting thing I did was attending the 1st preview of a Broadway show…a little Atlantic Theater transfer known as The Band’s Visit.

There are very few musicals like The Band’s Visit out there today. Ones that don’t project, don’t spiral, don’t flash…but just ARE.

The show doesn’t even follow a consistent plot arc, really. Each character’s thread- from musical conductor Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub) to the wistful Telephone Guy (Adam Kantor)- is like a vignette comprising the whole. As the opening lines remind us, the events of the story “aren’t very important.” At least, maybe not in the grand scheme of things…but to these characters, they mean the WORLD.

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It might sound like I’m getting philosophical, but you can’t not think about the meaning of The Band’s Visit. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be: simple. Beautifully simple. It cuts through much of the modern musical theatre BS and unearths our shared humanity as only this medium can.

Perhaps that sentiment is best expressed in one of the show’s best numbers, “Omar Sharif,” a haunting solo for Katrina Lenk’s character, Dina. This song is a memory of Dina’s childhood and how music continues to play an important role in her spiritual health. She recaptures that wonderful feeling through her relationship with Tewfiq. Meanwhile, in one of the story’s more comical moments, a charismatic member of the orchestra coaches a young man in the art of talking to girls.

Again- it is all very simple, and yet very real. It reminds me of how an old teacher once described Thornton Wilder’s Our Town: “a celebration of the mundane.” But it is there that we often find the interactions that matter most.

Just by nature of its uniqueness, I hope The Band’s Visit is able to find as much success on Broadway as it did during its run in Chelsea. True, its quietness might not be for every theatergoer…but, in my humble opinion, it is still an important piece of the tapestry called the modern American musical.

Posted in Theatre

Best Not-So-Secrets of the Theater District

Everyone loves those tours that offer glimpses into NYC’s “hidden” side, the stuff that tourists can’t tell you about. These are often called local secrets…even though, thanks to social media and the like, many of them are badly-kept. This week, I thought it would be fun (for both my readers and me!) to put together my own list of hidden gems.

In keeping with the code of honor for Puccini’s Chronicles, all secrets will center on the performing arts (of course). I apologize in advance if you already know some of these, but I’ve never claimed to be an exclusive source. Either way- here we go!

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The Hidden Mermaid: Disney’s The Little Mermaid may have closed on Broadway quite some time ago, but Ariel seems to be sticking around! If you sneak toward the other side of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (where the show played) near 46th Street, you can see its one marquee that was never taken down. A timeless reminder of how sometimes a “sure thing” on Broadway, doesn’t turn out to be!

One Singular Sensation: Seeing Hello Dolly at the Shubert Theatre? Lucky you! But while you’re there, you shouldn’t forget to check out the bronze plaque in the lobby. What plaque, you ask? The one dedicated to A Chorus Line, honoring its status as one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. Caught up in the excitement of Bette Midler fans, this can be easy to miss!

Imperially Miserable: While we’re talking about bronze plaques, there’s another one embedded in the pavement in front of the Imperial Theatre. This circular emblem pays homage to the legendary Les Miserables, which played the majority of its astounding Broadway run at this venue.

Poster Pandemonium: Are you missing your favorite show’s window-card from your merch haul? Consider stopping by Triton Gallery, inconspicuously located in a building on 8th Ave between 43rd and 44th Streets. Nick, the owner, is always happy to help you find the poster of your dreams in his inventory. Prices vary.

Theatre Hall of Fame: This place is easier-to-find than the others on my list, but there’s a catch. You must be seeing the Gershwin Theatre’s current production (Wicked) to access it! That’s right- the Theatre Hall of Fame is housed within the walls of the largest house on Broadway, and they won’t let you in unless you’ve got show tickets. I was only 13 when I saw Wicked, so unfortunately, I only have a faint memory of the performing legends who are immortalized on the walls.

Posted in Theatre

Impressions of THE OLDEST BOY

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On one of my always-magical trips to the Drama Book Shop, I picked up a play that I had always been curious about: Sarah Ruhl’s The Oldest Boy. This curiosity stemmed from two things- one, the original Lincoln Center production artwork (which I thought was gorgeous). Two, the premise of the piece, which explores an American mother and Tibetan father faced with a Hobson choice about their three-year-old son.

As an aside, I really hoped that the cover of the published play would have the original Lincoln Center artwork. It did not. Nevertheless, I plunked down my cash and planned to tackle it after reading the libretto of Heathers the Musical. Got some serious diversity going on, don’t I?!

Having completed The Oldest Boy in one bus ride home, I’m going to share some thoughts about it with you guys. For starters, the parents’ big choice arises when they are visited by a pair of Buddhist monks. The monks are immediately drawn to Mother and Father’s little son…as it turns out, he is a reincarnated Lama, or high-ranking Buddhist teacher. Interestingly, Sarah Ruhl dispels that mystery early on; she has said that the play is not about “if,” but “now what.”

The Mother (portrayed by Celia Keenan-Bolger in the original production) is the central character, facing her own spiritual tugs-of-war while deciding whether or not her child should live in an Asian monastery to fulfill his destiny. It’s a meaty, heart-wrenching role, and one I would love to do someday.

The play’s dialogue was surprisingly breezy and easy-to-read…it could have been very lecture-like but was not. And I still learned quite a bit about the doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism (I’ve long had an interest in world religions). Despite the heavy subject matter, Ruhl managed to infuse some humorous moments, too.

The staging requirements for the show were very odd to see on paper. Apparently, there is an optional chorus of Tibetan dancers that appears symbolically at pivotal moments in the story. Furthermore, the role of Tenzin (the son) is actually done by an adult speaking his lines while manipulating a child puppet. It’s a curious dramatic device, and one you don’t see very often. I imagine that when this play is performed by smaller companies, these elements get heavily modified.

I don’t have the resources to properly investigate that, but I can tell you that the original Lincoln Center presentation received mixed reviews. Much of the positivity in these reviews was indeed aimed at the unusual staging and direction by Rebecca Taichman (this year’s Tony winner for Indecent). Knowing such facts, I cannot help but wonder if The Oldest Boy will lose a chunk of its power when done on a smaller scale.

Even while reading it, I pondered how the play could translate as a narrative as opposed to a live piece. Could it be that this work fares better as a novella? I don’t know.

I also did not fully understand the final scene, but that might just be my naïveté. The Mother’s struggles were very moving, and I teared up more than once. These themes- loss, parental attachment, and love- are ones that affect us all. In that regard, which is the purpose of all theatre…I find The Oldest Boy to be a success.

Posted in Theatre

Little Theatres in the Big Village

Have you ever been hanging out on Wall Street and thought, “Damn…why is Times Square so far away? I want to catch some quality theatre!” No? Well, too bad. As the “pink elephant phenomenon” teaches us, you’re thinking it now.

Never fear, because I’ve got a secret to share. There are a host of wonderful theatrical venues nestled in the fabulous Village of New York City! They’re not terribly massive, but sometimes a close-knit experience is what you want. As a bonus, many excellent new productions and classic revivals will find a home in these theatres.

The three houses I’m spotlighting were so chosen because they do not belong to a theatre company. Off-Broadway, for example, venues like the Laura Pels (Roundabout), Lucille Lortel (MCC), or Mitzi Newhouse (Lincoln Center) are often owned by bigwig arts institutions. But the three below are typically rented out for independent productions. And sometimes, you’ll get to see a big-name star in their show, up close!

Let’s get to it!

Minetta Lane Theatre. 18 Minetta Lane. Pictured show: Himself and Nora

09himself-master768 The Minetta Lane Theatre opened in the East Village in 1984. It is noteworthy for having two seating levels (orchestra and balcony) that can accommodate 391 total patrons. Fun fact: Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years (which has become a cult classic) first premiered at this house!

Cherry Lane Theatre. 38 Commerce Street. Pictured show: Out of the Mouths of Babes

mouth-of-babes-450x300__main The Cherry Lane Theatre opened in the West Village in 1924, making it the oldest operating theatre off-Broadway. It was converted from a warehouse by the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Today, it seats 179 people and is mostly known for hosting new and unconventional works.

Barrow Street Theatre. 27 Barrow Street. Pictured show: Sweeney Todd

02sweeneyjp-superjumbo The Barrow Street Theatre opened in the 1990s, but its location (within Greenwich House) has been around since 1902. The venue has a 200-seat capacity. Nowadays, it is getting a great deal of buzz for hosting the lauded immersive production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd!

What is the best production you have seen at one of these little Village theatres?

Posted in Theatre

Get You a Man Who Does It All

If you don’t know who this fellow is, you’re probably at the wrong blog. (Just kidding…I welcome all readers who wanna talk about the arts.)

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But seriously- I attended a preview performance of Manhattan Theatre Club’s Prince of Broadway on Friday, and I walked away from it astonished. Astonished that one man could helm so many productions that make for theatrical lore. As the show notes, it takes luck, guts, and hard work. Harold Prince socked away all of these.

Perhaps even better than the crash course in Prince’s career was getting to see the production’s superb cast bring it to life. For me, Tony Yazbeck was the standout. This easy-on-the-eyes triple threat blew the roof off the Friedman Theatre with “The Right Girl” during the Follies segment. Let me tell you something about that song. When I saw Follies on Broadway, I remember feeling that “The Right Girl” was the weakest song in the score. Yazbeck’s rendition of the number changed that. To say he danced the hell out of this song would be the understatement of the year. He also seemed to get the most applause at curtain call.

Chuck Cooper’s Tevye (from Fiddler on the Roof) and Emily Skinner’s Desiree (from A Little Night Music) were also major crowd-pleasers.

Another memorable moment was Janet Dacal’s “You’ve Got Possibilities” from It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. Yes, there was a superhero musical before Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. And it also did not fare too swiftly. However, I think “You’ve Got Possibilities” is one of the greatest ditties ever written for musical theatre. It’s snappy, it’s funny, and the lyrics are wonderfully written.

Bryonha Marie Parham was particularly impressive, too, because she probably showed the most versatility in the characters she portrayed. After delivering a glorious “Will He Like Me?” from She Loves Me, she proceeded to belt her way through the title song of Cabaret. This lady’s vocal range must be nuts.

This show reassured me that anything is possible if you’ve got a great support system and are willing to take risks. All in all, I walked away from Prince of Broadway in a very inspired frame of mind. And isn’t that what going to the theatre is all about?

Posted in Theatre

It Takes a Woman (Three, actually)

Greetings, readers! Sorry this post is late, but it was a long week and I was also suffering from some writer’s block. (Drat!) Luckily, I found some great subject matter this weekend in the form of a production of Jerry’s Girls.

My doll, Cecily, is on hand to help me with this recap.tumblr_ocyid8cb591thkr0po1_500
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The show was presented at my theatrical home-away-from-home, off-Broadway’s York Theatre Company. It is a breakneck revue of the songs of Jerry Herman, composer/lyricist for such classics as Hello Dolly!Mame, and La Cage Aux Folles. He was also the brain behind some lesser successes, i.e. Mack and Mabel and Dear World. Nevertheless, the fact that a piece of the Jerry Herman songbook is able to fill a 2-hour show…without any dialogue…cements him as one of musical theatre’s literary greats.

I got tickets to this production as a birthday gift for my grandmother, who loves all those old showtunes. It starred “two Stephanies and a Christine,” tasked with singing every number as a solo, duet, or trio- no ensemble required.

What I found particularly interesting was that each actress seemed to have a particular strength. Stephanie #1 (D’Abruzzo) was the physical actress, Christine (Pedi) was the classic comedienne, and Stephanie #2 (Umoh) was the torch singer. There was never a dull moment, thanks also in part to the charismatic (and very animated) pianist, Mr. Eric Svejcar.

Group songs like “Take It All Off” and “Hello Dolly” produced big laughs and inevitably brought the house down. In my opinion, each lady also had a couple of standout solos. I loved Christine’s rendition of “The Man in the Moon” from Mame, originally recorded by the peerless Bea Arthur…heaven rest her soul. Stephanie #1 delivered a simultaneously poignant and rousing “Before the Parade Passes By.” And Stephanie #2 showed off every vocal chop with a knockout performance of “I Am What I Am.”

Also, all three girls sang a number that made me cry. But I’ll let my doll friend cover that. Take it away, Cecily!

Cecily: “Your humble blogger cried first during Stephanie #2’s rendition of ‘I Won’t Send Roses.’ She bawled again during Christine’s ‘If He Walked Into My Life.’ Finally, she teared up with Stephanie #1’s ‘Time Heals Everything (But Loving You).’ She really ought to carry around a water-well when she goes to the theatre.

That’s all, folks! I hope you enjoyed this trip through history with Jerry’s Girls and little me. Stay tuned for next week’s post. I promise it won’t be as delayed.