April 23, 2014
Drama League 2014 Nominations

Drama League 2014 Nominations

dramaleaguelogoBelow are the nominations for the 20014 Drama League Awards, which select winners in five competitive categories, and also gives special awards. Although founded way back in 1922, this is the least regarded of the major theater awards because the voters are any audience members who join the Drama League, and because they have a single performing category (“distinguished performance”) with some 60…

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April 22, 2014

Neil Patrick Harris stars as an “internationally ignored” East German transgender rock singer in the first Broadway production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a musical by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask that began life 20 years ago in a downtown drag-punk club called Squeezebox.

The musical’s name is also the name of the band, whose lead singer, Hedwig (Harris), tells his over-the-top story in some dozen rock songs and the monologues in-between. Harris, best-known for his roles on the TV shows “Doogie Howser  MD” and “How I Met Your Mother” and for his hosting duties on the Tony and Emmy Awards, has performed in three previous Broadway productions.the last time in Sondheim’s “Assassins,” which opened April 22, 2004 ten years ago to the day, A

What did the critics think? Come back later in the evening. Meanwhile, here are photographs from the production. Click on any one to see it enlarged.

 

Hedwig and the Angry Inch Reviews and Photographs: Neil Patrick Harris Rocks Broadway In A Dress Neil Patrick Harris stars as an “internationally ignored” East German transgender rock singer in the first Broadway production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a musical by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask that began life 20 years ago in a downtown drag-punk club called Squeezebox.

April 22, 2014
2014 Outer Critics Circle Nominations: Gentlemen’s Guide, Aladdin, Fun Home Lead.

2014 Outer Critics Circle Nominations: Gentlemen’s Guide, Aladdin, Fun Home Lead.

outercriticscirclelogo

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”, “Aladdin” and “Fun Home” led the nominations of the 64th annual Outer Critics Circle Awards. Here is the complete list:

OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY PLAY

Act One

All the Way

Casa Valentina

Outside Mullingar

The Realistic Joneses

OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY MUSICAL

After Midnight

Aladdin

Beautiful  The Carole King Musical

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Ro…

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April 21, 2014

With the best title of any Broadway play this season, two always-impressive actors as the cast, and a theme of loss and aging that hits close to home, “The Velocity of Autumn” is the sort of play you want to root for, even when its premise is preposterous, and its outcome predictable.
Estelle Parsons plays Alexandra, a 79-year-old painter who has barricaded herself in her Park Slope brownstone, and filled her parlor with Molotov Cocktails, holding her father’s ancient zippo lighter at the ready, although as Eric Coble’s play begins, she has fallen asleep.
Suddenly, we see a man, a pony-tailed aging hippie, climbing up the mammoth tree outside her home, and entering through the window.
Alexandra wakes up and screams.
“Hey mom,” the intruder greets her.
Chris (Stephen Spinella), who is also an artist (albeit working in a shoe store) and the youngest of Alexandra’s three children, has been estranged from the family for decades, but he has come for a visit, at the urging of his two siblings, to try to convince his mother to stop threatening to blow up the block.
She is doing so because her children are worried about her lapses, and wonder whether she might not be better off in a nursing home. If Alexandra is feeling old, it is all the more so because of the way her children treat her.
In the conversation that follows over 90 intermission-less minutes, we get some insights that feel spot-on about what it feels like to be aging – the indignities, the unexplained aches, the constant surprises, the hidden benefits that one could do without: “One of the few pleasures, I have to say, of growing old,” Alexandra says wryly at one point, “is that I can re-read some of my favorite mysteries and still have no idea who’s going to do it.”
In “The Velocity of Autumn,” we sense who’s not going to do it within the first few minutes. The playwright’s plot device can’t stand up to even a few seconds of scrutiny. But at his best, Coble, making his Broadway debut, offers a line or an exchange odd or intriguing enough to feel like just compensation for the missing dramatic tension. Chris’s being gay was not a “dealbreaker” to his father, the widow Alexandra explains. “It just made him uncomfortable. Like Gorgonzola cheese. … Your father was a big cheese fan. You must remember that. ‘Milk’s bid for immortality’. That’s what he used to say.” What follows is a long, loopy story about the father’s unfortunate encounters with Gorgonzola cheese.
“So my being gay was like distasteful cheese to him,” Chris says after a moment.
“I’d say so, yes.”
“I have no idea how to respond to that.”
Spinella, who made his remarkable Broadway debut as Prior Walter in Angels in America some two decades ago, is enough of a pro to make the most of Chris’s monologues full of yearning and regrets, and he seems the right choice to match up with Estelle Parsons, whose most indelible performances include her roles in the movie Bonnie and Clyde, and in the play August: Osage County, one of some 30 Broadway productions in which she’s appeared over more than half a century. She can turn any part into something worth watching, and she certainly can handle a woman who’s fighting to keep from falling apart. That indeed is the underlying irony behind “The Velocity of Autumn.” Parsons is actually older than her character by seven years, but we never quite believe she’s capable of falling apart.

The Velocity of Autumn by Eric Coble. Directed by Molly Smith. Scenic design by Eugene Lee. Costume design by Linda Cho. Lighting design by Rui Rita. Sound design by Darron L. West.
Cast: Estelle Parsons, Stephen Spinella
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: 65 to 135

The Velocity of Autumn Review: Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella Fight, Age With the best title of any Broadway play this season, two always-impressive actors as the cast, and a theme of loss and aging that hits close to home, “The Velocity of Autumn” is the sort of play you want to root for, even when its premise is preposterous, and its outcome predictable.

April 20, 2014
Violet Review: Sutton Foster on a Bus To Beautiful

Violet Review: Sutton Foster on a Bus To Beautiful

Sutton Foster and Joshua Henry in "Violet"

Sutton Foster and Joshua Henry in “Violet”

Before she wrote the songs for the astonishing “Fun Home” or collaborated with Tony Kushner on the extraordinary “Caroline, Or Change,” Jeanine Tesori wrote the music for “Violet,” her first musical. It debuted at Playwrights Horizons in 1997 about a woman with a big scar on her face who takes a bus ride in 1964 from her rural home in North Carolina to…

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April 20, 2014

Daniel Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple of Inishmaan on Broadway

There was no applause for Daniel Radcliffe when he first enters “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” the first and first-rate Broadway production of Martin McDonagh’s harsh 1996 comedy. I’m sure the many Harry Potter fans in the audience would have applauded if given the chance, but director Michael Grandage’s staging discouraged such behavior – proof that a good director can hire a movie star without turning a play into a mere vehicle.

cripplelogoIt’s undeniable that Radcliffe is the marketing draw – the poster and Playbill cover show his face three times – and unlikely that this play, which has had two previous Off-Broadway productions, would now be on Broadway without his being in the cast. But it doesn’t take a Radcliffe fan to appreciate his physically impressive performance as the character everybody else calls Cripple Billy. Radcliffe persuasively inhabits the cruelly deformed body with which Billy was born, and subtly shows the sensitive intelligence bombarded daily by the even crueler behavior of his neighbors.

Many a theatergoer is sure to find more than just Radcliffe’s performance winning, providing they are able to make two adjustments. First, we must adjust to the thick ladling of Irish accents. Then we have to submit to the dark, violent and belittling sense of humor of the playwright, who makes every character blunt-speaking and eccentric to the point of caricature. One character talks to stones, another likes to throw eggs at people, a third is obsessed with telescopes and sweets, another is trying to kill his mother with drink, yet another likes to stare at cows. They are all, as we might say by the end of the play, a wee daft.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

Is this because they all live on Inishmaan, the most isolated of the three actual remote Aran islands in Galway Bay? The play takes place in 1934, when in real life the Hollywood filmmaker Robert Flaherty traveled to the islands and recruited locals to make “Man from Aran,” a feature film disguised as a documentary. When the island’s gossip Johnnypateenmike (Pat Shortt) spreads the news, 17-year-old Cripple Billy decides this is his chance to escape the island. He hatches a plan that will enable him to attend the auditions, although it upsets several of those closest to him. Billy is the one who likes to stare at cows. He also likes to read. It’s not clear which behavior that his two aunties find odder. Aunty Kate (Ingrid Craigie) and Aunty Eileen (Gillian Hanna), proprietors of the island’s only shop – mostly stocked with peas and sweets — have been caring for Billy since his parents drowned when he was an infant.

Kate: A fool waste of time that is, looking at cows.

Eileen: If it makes him happy, sure, what harm? There are a hundred worse things to occupy a lad’s time than cow watching. Things would land him up in hell.

Kate: Kissing lasses.

Eileen: Kissing lasses.

Kate: Ah, no chance of that with poor Billy.

Eileen: Poor Billy’ll never be getting kissed. Unless it was be a blind girl

Kate: Or Jim Finnegan’s daughter.
Eileen: She’d kiss anything.

Kate: She’d kiss a bald donkey.

Eileen: She’d kiss a bald donkey. And she’d still probably draw the line at Billy. Poor Billy.

The key to the humor of this and many similar passages is in its credible, deadpan delivery, and the mastery of its rhythms. It is hard to picture a better ensemble than the nine-member cast that Grandage has put together.

Although he is loathe to admit it to anybody, Billy would love to be kissed by Slippy Helen McCormick (Sarah Greene) – so-called because, while she works for the egg-man, she is just as likely to throw the eggs as to deliver them. Helen is the meanest person in all of Inishmaan.

“It doesn’t hurt to be too kind-hearted,” Helen’s dim brother Bartley McCormick (Conor MacNeill) says to her.

“Uh-huh,” she replies. “Does this hurt?” – and she pinches him, twists his arm, then breaks some eggs on his forehead.

Helen is the most violent of the characters in “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” but, hers is not the only violence. Christopher Oram’s Depression-era costumes and rotating sets full of cracked stone walls and broken-down wood furniture, as well as Paule Constable’s stark lighting,  help underscore the bleakness of their environment.

Still, Cripple is among the least gruesome of the plays by McDonagh (who is probably better known now as the director and screenwriter of the film “Seven Psychopaths.”) McDonagh’s plays include the very bloody “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” as well as “The Beauty Queen of Lenane,” and, his last foray on Broadway, in 2010, A Behanding in Spokane, with its severed hands littering the stage. That was the only one of his plays set in the United States, and its failure was instructive. “The Cripple of Inishmaan” has a plot of sorts, made up mostly of a series of twisty revelations and teases that play with the audience’s expectations, and a tentative resolution that could be called bittersweet, if it were somewhat less bitter and somewhat more sweet. But, although born and raised in London (albeit of Irish parentage), what McDonagh most has to offer in this play is the culture and characters and context and above all the language of the Irish.

 The Cripple of Inishmaan

At the Cort Theater

Directed by Michael Grandage

Scenic and costume design by Christopher Oram, lighting design by Paule Constable, sound design by Alex Baranowski

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe (Billy), Ingrid Craigie (Kate Osbourne), Pádraic Delaney (Babbybobby), Sarah Greene (Helen McCormick), Gillian Hanna (Eileen Osbourne), Gary Lilburn (Doctor), Conor MacNeill (Bartley McCormick), Pat Shortt (Johnnypateenmike) and June Watson (Mammy).

Running time: About two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Tickets: $27 to $152

The Cripple of Inishmaan is set to run through June 20, 2014

The Cripple of Inishmaan Review: Daniel Radcliffe Back on Broadway There was no applause for Daniel Radcliffe when he first enters “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” the first and first-rate Broadway production of Martin McDonagh’s harsh 1996 comedy.

April 19, 2014
A whole new kinky world, ya hear me? #TimesSquarebillboards

A whole new kinky world, ya hear me? #TimesSquarebillboards

April 19, 2014
Times Square on a beautiful day: Not an Elmo in sight

Times Square on a beautiful day: Not an Elmo in sight

April 17, 2014

“Act One,” the  well-meaning stage adaptation of the beloved theatrical memoir by Moss Hart, aims to explore the intoxicating appeal of the theater, but it instead demonstrates the theater’s mysterious alchemy in ways that it surely did not intend. Nearly every element of this play promises sparkling entertainment – the terrific source, the experienced creative team, a huge and hugely talented cast that features Tony Shalhoub, Santino Fontana, Chuck Cooper and Andrea Martin, even an elaborate three-tiered set that rotates – but somehow “Act One” doesn’t even begin to deliver on that promise until, ironically, Act II.

Written and directed by James Lapine, Sondheim’s frequent collaborator, as a way of celebrating his own three decades as a theater artist, the play uses some of Hart’s choice lines and presents many of the incidents from the book.

Three different actors portray Moss Hart at different stages of his life. Matthew Schechter is the child growing up in poverty in the Bronx in the early 1900s, whose love of the theater is inspired by his  crazy aunt Kate (Andrea Martin.)

Santino Fontana plays the young man, forced to leave school in eighth grade to help support the family. His first job is in a smelly fur factory, but he is serendipitously hired as an office boy for a theatrical producer, who keeps on calling him Mouse. Hart has a series of theater-related jobs – more like adventures, one more improbable than the next. Still an office boy, he writes a play that his boss takes on the road aiming for Broadway, with disastrous results. At age 17, he debuts as an actor on Broadway, playing a 60-year-old man in “The Emperor Jones” by Eugene O’Neill, opposite the great (if often drunk) performer Charles Gilpin (Chuck Cooper.) That Broadway debut, however, did not launch his career as an actor; it ended it. From there he became a social director at a Catskills hotel – a world now gone, and one Hart writes about extensively in the memoir, but is here given just a single scene. (This is not a criticism; something had to go.)

But more than half of  “Act One” the play – as more than half of Hart’s memoir – is taken up with the lengthy process that resulted in Hart’s first big hit on Broadway, the comedy “Once in a Lifetime.”

Tony Shalhoub plays Moss Hart as the older adult (the age he wrote the memoir), and performs the duties of narrator. As with most of the actors in “Act One,” Shalhoub plays multiple roles. His two other parts are as Hart’s embittered immigrant father, and as Hart’s mentor, George S. Kauffman, who co-wrote “Once In A Lifetime.” Kaufman apparently shared many of the quirks of Shalhoub’s most beloved character, Monk. He washed his hands a lot, obsessed over pieces of lint on the rug. He also literally ran away whenever anybody tried to offer him heartfelt thanks. The scenes between Hart and Kaufman as they try to hammer out the script offer a liveliness and a lightness that are the most rewarding in the play.

There is plenty here to keep your attention. Beowulf Boritt’s set alone is a complicated contraption three stories tall, that seems always in motion, full of staircases and tenement apartments that spin around into rundown offices and theater balconies, and then that are transformed in the second act to plush offices and Kaufman’s elegant townhouse. The cast of some two dozen, most playing multiple parts, also seem always in motion as they populate scenes that unfold from 1914 to 1930.

Yes, there are some obvious missteps, such as Lapine’s choice to begin with the staging of a scene from Oscar Wilde’s “A Man of No Importance,” which he presents as the first play that Hart ever saw, at age 11. The scene doesn’t feel witty; it certainly doesn’t communicate why a boy would find it the stage so wondrous. At best, it’s confusing, and since we’re presented no context for this drawing room comedy, it seems pompous.

But many of the scenes are more or less faithful re-creations of moments in the memoir that are exquisite. On page, they are moving or amusing or otherwise delightful. And yet on stage, they seem mostly… informative.

They aren’t horrible. They aren’t embarrassing. They aren’t even all dull. If it approaches something of a cruel irony that the second act of “Act One” focuses so extensively on how to fix a play, the play in which those scenes occur doesn’t seem so horribly unfixed. It’s just that it all seems so respectful, as if striving above all for accuracy;  the earnest, straightforward scenes rarely capture the lively, passionate, amusing tone Hart establishes in his memoir.

As I wrote in my profile of Santino Fontana, Moss Hart’s name is no longer widely known, but at the time he wrote Act One in 1959, he was one of the most celebrated men of the theater.  As a director, he won a Tony for  the original production of My Fair Lady. As a playwright, he won a Pulitzer  for You Can’t Take It With You, and gained great success with such evergreens as The Man Who Came To Dinner. As a book writer of musicals, he worked with Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers; a play he wrote inspired Stephen Sondheim to create a musical adaptation with the same name, Merrily We Roll Along.  He wasn’t just a playwright and director. He produced  Camelot. He was even the co-owner of the Broadway theater (the Lyceum) where Born Yesterday debuted.  As if all that were not enough, Moss Hart also wrote the screenplays for the popular movies Gentleman’s Agreement starring Gregory Peck, Hans Christian Anderson starring Danny Kaye,  and A Star Is Born starring Judy Garland.

None of this is in his memoir – which is why it’s called “Act One. ” The book, which was a number one bestseller when it was first published, takes the readers on a funny, hair-raising and often moving journey from Hart’s poverty-stricken childhood to his first big Broadway hit.

 The best thing to say about “Act One” the play is that it will remind readers of “Act One” the memoir how charming it is, and inspire theatergoers who haven’t read it to get hold of that wonderful book

Act One Review: Moss Hart’s Beloved Theater Memoir Brought to Broadway Stage “Act One,” the  well-meaning stage adaptation of the beloved theatrical memoir by Moss Hart, aims to explore the intoxicating appeal of the theater, but it instead demonstrates the theater’s mysterious alchemy in ways that it surely did not intend.

April 17, 2014
Why I miss mail. This a sheet of official Jimi Hendrix stamps issued by @Usps

Why I miss mail. This a sheet of official Jimi Hendrix stamps issued by @Usps

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