Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sesame Street Drama

Today's blog has nothing to do with theatre, but it has a lot to do with drama - unnecessary drama in my mind.

I grew up a part of the Sesame Street generation, and I think I'm a better person for it.  Growing up in rural upstate New York, Sesame introduced me to the urban lifestyle (people that weren't related lived in small parts of bigger buildings?), people that weren't white (Maria was the first Hispanic woman I'd ever seen - and she didn't always speak English!), interracial relationships (before Maria married Luis, she and David - an African-American man - had eyes for each other), imaginary friends, grumps, monsters that were friendly, and the value of the dollar (R.I.P. Mr. Hooper).  These days, they continue to meet the needs of today's children - soon a Muppet whose father is in jail will be introduced.  Many of these lessons were overt, outright teachable moments, others were far more subversive - never discussed, just "there" to see as a normal part of every day life.

Most kids of my generation flocked to all things Grover, Cookie Monster and Big Bird (this was long before Elmo took over the Street).  I had a thing for Bert and Ernie.  I never knew why when I was 5 or 6.  I just loved them.  I know part of me identified with them as having a brotherly relationship, and I wanted a brother so bad I used to ask Santa for one every Christmas.  As I got older, I loved their very close friendship - they used to talk each other through problems as they laid in bed, waiting to drift off.  When one was scared, the other was there.  And how cool was it that Bert was perfectly welcome in the bathroom while Ernie and Rubber Ducky were taking a bath! (My mother still credits Ernie with getting me to take baths as a child.)  Bert and Ernie were the best brothers/best friends in the world, and I wanted that more than anything.

Mind you, I was blissfully unaware of sexuality at the time.  I Love Lucy reruns featured a loving, married couple who slept in separate beds and they had Little Ricky.  Prime time featured Darren and Samantha and Mike and Carol (both couples with children) sleeping in the same bed, just like my mom and dad did.  So what if Bert and Ernie slept in separate beds like Ricky and Lucy?  They loved each other just as much the Ricardos, Bradys and Stevens did.  Love is love no matter what the sleeping arrangements are.  Right?

Now, as a grown up gay man, I think I understand why part of me was so drawn to the orange and yellow boys who lived together.  Because even then, as a 5 year old, I knew that two guys living together was as normal as a black family living with an Hispanic family in the same building and their being harmonious friends was.  I didn't need a story or big lesson - it was just there, two guys living their lives together, a part of the fabric of Sesame Street.  But the sexual aspect of it - even when they were sharing bathtime - was never a part of it.  Not the mechanics of it, anyway.  It shouldn't be, either. 5 and 6 year olds don't need to know the sex part of relationships.  But they NEED to know about the love and acceptance of all relationships.  And Street does that so well.

Until this week.

I've never been disappointed in the Children's Television Network and eveything it has stood for for decades, until I read a re-issue a 2011 statement on the subject, which has made it into current media following the release of a cover on The New Yorker following the Supreme Court decisions of the past week.  They said: "They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves,” the 2011 statement said. “Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”  That they ever felt the need to issue such a statement saddens me.  A company celebrated for its ground-breaking inclusiveness suddenly becomes a turtle hiding in its shell?  

Sorry, folks, but the minute a Muppet is given a gender, sexual orientation is a part of the package.  It doesn't ever need to be directly addressed on the show.  In fact, I don't think it should.  But, rather, just as it always has, Sesame Street should continue to portray all kinds of couples in loving relationships as completely normal and part of life.  If a straight boy sees Bert and Ernie as best friends living together, cool.  If a gay boy sees Bert and Ernie as boyfriends or husbands living together happily, cool, too. Keep their beds apart, what does it matter?  Males, be they human or Muppet, can and should hug each other in emotional moments.  Hugs are not sexual.  Bert and Ernie could be sharing a hug and nothing more.

Will there be any uproar over the "obvious" profiling
of kids with jailed parents?  Note the Muppet's spiky, urban
hair style and hoodie.
Having a Muppet with a father in prison addresses the needs of a portion of their audience.  Fine.  Instead of denying the possibilty that Bert and Ernie could love each other "that way," why not address the needs of the growing number of kids with same-sex parents?  

And about that magazine cover: 1. If your 5 year old is readingand commenting on The New Yorker, whether Bert and Ernie are gay better be far down your list of issues to deal with.  2. (And more seriously) In light of the decisions by the Supreme Court, we see them as holding each other happily.  The same cover could have been used had the decisions gone the other way, only we'd see them as holding each other sadly.  I don't know about you, but I love my Muppets - gay, straight or otherwise - happy.  


Friday, June 28, 2013

Summer Theatre Vacation: Broadway Around the World in 20 Stops

Broadway sure can be expensive - if you bought Premium Seats (or, in some cases, simply top ticket prices) to every Broadway show currently on the boards, it would cost you a whopping $6,078.00!  But imagine if you took a long summer vacation and toured the locations of all the currently running Broadway shows.  Talk about costly!

While it wouldn't exactly be an around the world tour, you would get a pretty decent tour of Europe, a couple of stunning stops in Africa, and a coast-to-coast tour of the United States.  If you start in old New York (Newsies, The Nance, Annie, The Assembled Parties, Lucky Guy) you can make 19 stops (The Book of Mormon is so huge, it gets 2 stops) before returning to modern-day New York to see the sights found in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark!

From 1899 New York City (Newsies)...

*see legend below map
(Zoom in and out to make the place markers visible.
Left-click on the map and move the hand around the map to move across.)

... to 2013 New York City (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark)

New York, New York, USA
* Newsies
** Annie
*** The Nance
**** The Assembled Parties
***** Lucky Guy
* The car ramp onto the Brooklyn Bridge, site of The Pulitzer Building until 1955 – home of the New York World- and seize the day!
** While you are at the Brooklyn Bridge, envision a Hooverville on the rivers’ edge, and then check out an upper East Side manse, then to Times Square for a movie.
*** While in Times Square take a walking tour of Broadway theatres, taking special note of which one used to house burlesque shows.
**** Check out the ultra chic apartment buildings that face Central Park West, starting with the block where The Dakota is.
***** 220 East 42nd Street – former home of The Daily News, 1211 Avenue of the Americas, home of the New York Post, then off to Suffolk County to see where New York Newsday is made.
Dublin, Ireland, UK
Do a pub crawl, stopping only when you get to one that features an earthy woman strolling the place playing the accordion…
Inverness, Scotland, UK
Check out castle ruins and the Burnham woods, of course!
Derbyshire, England, UK
Tour a public school – maybe even the one where Roald Dahl attended – be good, though, or you’ll tour the Chokey, too!
Northampton, England, UK
Kinky Boots
Tour the actual factory where the film (and later, the musical) was based.
Paris, France
* Cinderella
** The Phantom of the Opera
* Tour the countryside outside the city, and, later, in the city, find where Charles Perrault – he wrote the version that the show is partially is based upon.
** See the Paris Opera House, duh.
Arles, France
Tour the area from which Charlemagne ruled the world – watch out for dagger-wielding priests in disguise in the cathedral!
Skopelos, Greece
Mamma Mia!
See the clear blue water and the rocky terrain of one of Greece’s most scenic islands.  And leave your spandex home!
Mara, Tanzania
The Lion King
You have to tour the Serengeti from here!  Hit the Savannah and the deep jungle to get the full feel of the land where Simba rules.  Bring water, just in case!
Uganda, Africa
The Book of Mormon
The first of 2 Mormon inspired stops…  see firsthand what those Mormon boys are up against.
Hollywood, California
* Rock of Ages
** I’ll Eat You Last
* Party Hardy, dude!  Check out a bar or three on the Sunset Strip!
** Discreetly roll and smoke your joint in the back of the Tour of the Stars’ Homes bus, while checking off the homes of Sue Mengers’ former clients.
Provo, Utah
The Book of Mormon
Check out all things CLS! Or randomly ring doorbells and sing “Hello!” until Donny and Marie answer!
Anywhere, Kansas
Go storm chasing until you see a twister.  But get out of the way… [spoiler alert] Oz isn’t real.  And don’t bother applying to Shiz U, either.
Rural Central Texas
Drive to a small, central Texas community college, sit in their auditorium and wait for the Governor of Texas to speak.
Houston, Texas
The Trip to Bountiful
Tour the city, and then take a bus trip to a nearby small town. Bring a box lunch and feel nostalgic.
Chicago, Illinois
Go on, babe… after you pull up your stockings, see the Cook County Jail!
Detroit, Michigan
2648 West Grand Avenue is where you can see where it all started – Hitsville, USA.  But don’t count on seeing Berry, Diana or Smokey…
New Hope, Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
You don’t have to dress like Snow White to see stars – check out the Bucks County Playhouse.  Maybe they’re doing a Chekov revival.
Newark, New Jersey
Jersey Boys
See where it all started for Frankie and the boys.  And just across the river…
New York City, NY, USA
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
It’s today!  Swing by The Foxwoods and wave to Spidey.  But first, go to the top of the Chrysler Building and fend off the Green Goblin…


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Broadway Ladies: Ms. Broadway June 2013: Ann Harada

MS. JUNE 2013

WHY SHE'S MS. BROADWAY: File this one under "it took far too long." For more than a decade, she's been a real Broadway "scene stealer," winning the hearts of thousands of theater fans.  She's the kind of actress that people always say has "it."  No matter if she's in the ensemble (Seussical, 9 to 5) or in a featured role (Madame Thenardier in Les Miserables), you can't help but notice her charisma, superb sense of timing, and sincere warmth.  Of course, she'll probably always be most remembered for creating the role of Christmas Eve in Avenue Q, but these days, she's causing quite a scene (and singing the showstopper "Step-Sister's Lament") in Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella.  Everybody loves a good "bad girl," so why shouldn't Ann Harada (finally) be Ms. Broadway!?


  • Ann was born on February 3rd in Honolulu, Hawaii.
  • She went to Brown University.
  • Ann has a son named Elvis!
  • Ms. Harada was in every version - from first reading through original Broadway cast of Seussical.
  • She's the only Avenue Q cast member to originate her role on both Broadway and the West End.
  • She played the stage manamger of Bombshell in both seasons of TV's SMASH.
  • She and her AQ co-star, John Tartaglia, appered on the Disney Channel in his original series, Johnny and the Sprites.
  • Ann got rave reviews for her performances as Miss Darbus in a regional production of Disney's High School Musical, and as Trina in an all-Asian production of Falsettoland.
  • She made her Broadway debut as a production assistant for the short-lived play, Sleight of Hand, and made her Broadway acting debut in the play M. Butterfly.

Off-Broadway: Love, Loss and What I Wore

Off-Broadway: The Kid

Broadway: Seussical
(2nd Row, Far Left)

Broadway: Avenue Q

Benefit: Christmas Eve with Christmas Eve

Broadway: Les Miserables

Broadway: 9 to 5

Television: SMASH

Broadway: Rodgers + Hammerstein's

Ann Harada visits Seth Rudetsky's Obsessed


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Broadway Boys: Mr. Broadway June 2013: Billy Porter

MR. JUNE 2013

WHY HE'S MR. BROADWAY: Hmmm... two words: Tony Award!  OK, the truth is, I've been following Billy Porter long before he donned those kinky boots!  Let me show my age: I first saw him in his debut show, Miss Saigon, when he was in the ensemble, and later when he took over the role of John.  I missed him Five Guys Named Moe, but loved his outrageous star-turn as Teen Angel in the 1994 revival of Grease! Since then, he's been all over the place - on and off-Broadway, in concert, in the recording studio.  But it will likely be his current role as the strong but loveable Lola that will be a major turning point in an already long, distinguished career.  I can't think of anyone who deserves it more.


  • Billy's from Pittsburgh, born on September 21, 1969. He's a graduate of Carnegie-Mellon.
  • When he made his debut on Broadway, his name in the Playbill was W. Ellis Porter.
  • Billy was a winner of Star Search - Best Male Vocalist.  In Grease!, he shared the stage with 2 other Star Search winners: Rosie O'Donnell and Sam Harris.



GREASE! 1994



TOP: with Michael Urie
BOTTOM: with Zachary Quinto




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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

JKTS Chat: More with THE NANCE's Jonny Orsini (Part 2)

Last week, Jonny Orsini chatted about winning the prestegious Dorothy Loudon Award, given each season to an actor making his or her Broadway debut. (Click HERE for Part I of this interview.)  But as you'll read today, The Nance is not his first stage play, nor his first time doing nudity.  In fact, it isn't even his first role in a play by Douglas Carter Beane - he took over the role of the male prostitute in Beane's The Little Dog Laughed from an ailing Jeremy Jordan in Boston!

What follows is Orsini's take on The Nance, working with Nathan Lane and Jack O'Brien, and even his dream role (he's a real romantic!).

JEFF: Now you are making your Broadway debut, though this is not your first play by a long shot.  You’ve done Shakespeare, modern classics and contemporary works.  What stage roles are you dying to take on?

JONNY: I’d love to play Romeo. I feel most strongly connected to him more than any other classic character I’ve yet come across to this point in my life. [He’s] girl crazy, [has a] wide open heart, [and] incredibly passionate. I am all these things. That said, I believe in living in the moment and being true to yourself, so if the right production never came up for some reason, that’s fine, too.  There are many other roles, an infinite amount not yet written, that I’d be honored to dive into.

JEFF: All of this brings us back to The Nance.  I guess the obvious question to start with is the full nudity required of the role.  Unless The Little Dog Laughed was much different in Boston than New York, this isn’t your first time doing nudity on stage.  In both plays, I felt that the nudity was necessary and germane to the story, the characters, and themes – certainly not gratuitous.  

JONNY: Every human being exists in a pure natural state of nudity at some point in the day. I, as Ned, am a living, breathing, loving human being, and the scene happens to catch one of those parts of my day where I’d be in this natural state. What is gratuitous is certainly up for interpretation, but I agree with you, the nudity in this and in Little Dog is just an expression of vulnerability, not exploitation in any way.

JEFF: And how is it to have made your debut with a cast and director who are seasoned veterans?  How has that wealth of experience informed your experience with this play, and what do you think you’ll take away from it as a growing actor?

JONNY: I believe in the importance of telling stories so we can share experiences with each other and let each other know even if we're different in certain surface ways, we are all the same at heart and, therefore, not alone. It’s universal. This, to me, is an opportunity to tell a story with some of the best storytellers in the business, therefore meaning essentially the most powerful, affecting version of the story possible, and I’m very honored to be a part of that.

JEFF: I can only imagine what it must be like to rehearse scenes with an esteemed director like Jack O’Brien and a beloved and esteemed actor like Nathan Lane.  What did they bring to the table that helped you create the palpable (even from the upper balcony) chemistry between the two of you?

JONNY: Nathan and Jack are both such loving people. And me, being a straight guy, Nathan makes it so easy to fall in love with him, because he is that beautiful of a human being in his heart. And Jack created an atmosphere for all of us as a company to feel this warmth and comfort with each other.

JEFF: Finally, what about The Nance makes the play so relevant today, despite its taking place so long ago?  In this era of gay rights and marriage equality, what do you hope audiences are getting from this show?  For me, Ned’s naiveté and innocence about people being able to live the way they want to, despite the world he lives in, reminds me of my many painful years in the closet – inwardly feeling the way Ned does, but not being brave enough to outwardly live it.

JONNY: The most beautiful thing about this story to me is Ned who... gay/straight/whatever!... loves with a wide open heart and is unashamed to do so. And that is the most honorable way to live as far as I can tell. And the thing is, by doing that you’re really putting yourself out there completely. (Easier said than done!) But, if you’re rejected, keep in mind people’s issues with you are much more often deep seeded issues they have with themselves.  So if you always love openly and are good to people and good to yourself, go where that love is appreciated. There is a place for all of us when our hearts are open.

JEFF: Thanks so much, Jonny!

The Nance continues at the Lyceum Theatre through August 11.

(Production photos by Joan Marcus; The Nance excerpt from the LincolnCenterTheater channel on YouTube.)

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