Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The 2019 Tony Awards: Lifetime Achievement in the Theater Honorees

I'm a bad theater fan! I will be out of town when the Tony Award nominations are being announced. Actually, to be more specific, I will be en route to my destination and unable to see them for hours after they are announced. This will be the first time in years that I haven't seen them as they happen. Until then...

This year, the Theater Wing will be honoring 3 artists with a 2019 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement: Actress Rosemary Harris, playwright/librettist Terrence McNally, and orchestrator/arranger/composer/musical director Harold Wheeler. I've been fortunate to have been able to witness their genius first-hand.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: 27 Broadway credits; 9 Tony Award nominations, 1 win; 7 Drama Desk Award nominations, 5 wins; 1953 Theatre World Award.

Though she's currently starring in My Fair Lady as Mrs. Higgins, my brush with her talents was back in 1994, when she appeared in the brilliant revival of An Inspector Calls. The entire production was breathtaking, and I remember her specifically. She had a quiet intensity and a haughty stage presence that was riveting.

TERRENCE McNALLY: 25 Broadway credits; 7 Tony Award nominations, 4 wins; 12 Drama Desk Award nominations, 3 wins; 1994 Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Brilliant as both a playwright (a revival of his play Frankie and Johnny in the Clare de Lune is starting soon) and as a librettist, he's been responsible for some of my favorite plays and musicals. Among them are Love! Valour! Compassion!, Ragtime, and two of my all time favorite musicals, The Full Monty and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Even his flops are amazing - I love The Rink, Catch Me If You Can and The Visit. His ability to find humor in tragedy and the humanity in any situation truly makes him one of the greats.

HAROLD WHEELER: 30 Broadway credits; 6 Tony Award nominations; 6 Drama Desk Award nominations, 1 win.

Currently represented by the musical Ain't Too Proud, he began his Broadway career with the providing musical direction and the dance arrangements for the original production of Promises, Promises, notably the famous "Turkey Lurkey Time." Over the years, he's done superlative work on such classic shows as Dreamgirls, The Full Monty, The Wiz and Hairspray. Fortunately, we can enjoy his work on cast recordings, even on such notorious flops as Carrie, Grind and both versions of Side Show.

Congratulations to these Broadway legends. And congratulations to all of this year's Tony nominees. Whoever you are...


Monday, April 29, 2019

BROADWAY HEAT: Ain't Too Proud Edition: The Championship Round

HOT on Broadway (adj): fierce, talented, big potential; has "buzz"; has "it" factor.


1st Place: Christian Thompson

2nd Place: Candice Marie Woods
3rd Place: Saint Aubyn

Christian will compete at the end of the season for the title of "Broadway's Hottest Star of the Season!"


Friday, April 26, 2019

The Friday 5: 5 Things We Hope The Tony Nominators Don't Forget

Normally, Mike and I like to offer up our Tony Award nomination predictions list at this time of year. This season, however, we won't have seen four major productions before the nominees are announced (Oklahoma!, Hadestown, Beetlejuice and Tootsie), so we don't feel prepared. Instead, for this week's Friday 5 we offer up a list of possible choices from shows earlier this season - 5 musicals and 5 plays - that the committee may overlook. The list below doesn't include anyone who seems likely to be nominated (i.e. Stephanie J. Block for The Cher Show, To Kill a Mockingbird for Best Play). These are the actors and creatives that really stood out to us, no matter how likely (or not) they are to hear their names called on Tuesday.

NOTE/FYI: We wrote this list up BEFORE any nominations for any awards were announced.

☑ = They didn't forget! SIX!!!

For Your Consideration:

Head Over Heels 
Best Musical
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical - Bonnie Milligan
Best Costume Design of a Musical - Arianne Phillips
Best Lighting Design of a Musical - Kevin Adams
Best Choreography - Spencer Liff
Best Direction of a Musical - Michael Mayer

Pretty Woman
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical - Samantha Barks

The Prom
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical - Brooks Ashmanskas ☑
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical - Angie Schworer
Best Choreography - Casey Nicholaw

The Cher Show
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical - Micaela Diamond
Best Choreography - Christopher Gattelli

King Kong
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical - Christiana Pitts
Best Puppet in a Leading Role in a Musical - King Kong ☑
Best Lighting Design of a Musical - Peter Mumford

The Boys in the Band
Best Revival of a Play ☑
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play - Jim Parsons
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play - Zachary Quinto
Best Scenic Design of a Play - David Zinn

The Waverly Gallery
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play - Joan Allen
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play - Lucas Hedges

To Kill a Mockingbird
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play - Gideon Glick ☑
Best Scenic Design of a Play - Miriam Buether ☑

King Lear
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play - Ruth Wilson ☑
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play - Sean Carjaval

Torch Song
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play - Michael Urie

No matter how the nominations turn out, we know there will be surprising nominees, egregiously overlooked nominees and even a few "what were they thinking?" nominees. Still, we offer our congratulations to everyone who makes the list!


Thursday, April 25, 2019

2018 - 2019: The Season That Was...

With today's opening of Beetlejuice, the Broadway 2018 - 2019 is in the record books. Actually, the season doesn't officially end until May 26th, but unofficially, the Tony Awards cut off is today. That's what counts, right? 😉 Though many have decried a dearth of decent musicals, I feel like there are more than enough to fill the slots legitimately. And I think everyone agrees that the on the play front, this season's cup runneth over. Stage adaptations of films continue (for better or worse), including a somewhat rare movie-to-play entry. There were critical darlings, critical flops, and popular-with-fans shows that sometimes succeeded, sometimes failed. In other words, business as usual.

According to the Tony Awards website, there were 37 Broadway openings during the 2018 - 2019 season:
  • Best Musical - 11 eligible: Head Over Heels, Gettin' the Band Back Together, Pretty Woman: The Musical, King Kong, The Prom, The Cher Show, Be More Chill, Ain't Too Proud, Hadestown, Tootsie, Beetlejuice
  • Best Play - 14 eligible: Straight White Men, Bernhardt/Hamlet, The Nap, The Lifespan of a Fact, The Ferryman, American Son, The New One, Network, To Kill a Mockingbird, Choir Boy, What the Constitution Means to Me, Hillary and Clinton, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, Ink
  • Best Revival of a Musical - 2 eligible: Kiss Me, Kate, Oklahoma!
  • Best Revival of a Play - 7 eligible: The Boys in the Band, The Waverly Gallery, Torch Song, True West, King Lear, Burn/This, All My Sons
There were 3 ineligible presentations: The Illusionists - The Magic of the Holidays, Celebrity Autobiography, Ruben and Clay's First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show

Trends This Season:

  • Women Rock!: What a year to be a woman on Broadway! On the creative side, alone, Anais Mitchell brought the music, lyrics and book for the hit Hadestown, directed by Rachel Chavkin, The Go-Go's brought their all-girl rock to Head Over Heels, and both Young Jean Lee and Heidi Schreck brought in their dramas Straight White Men and What the Constitution Means to Me, respectively. Veteran playwright Theresa Rebeck offered up Bernhardt Hamlet. This doesn't even scratch the surface...
  • Real Life Onstage: More bio-musicals showed up this season: The Cher Show and Ain't Too Proud, and Hillary and Clinton featured a few real-life people, too. With Tina coming in next season, it looks like this trend will continue.
  • Gender: Women playing roles written for men was the subject of Bernhardt Hamlet, and happened in King Lear. Head Over Heels made history with the casting of trans actress Peppermint in a major role, and gender identity/sexual identity played a significant part in the plot of that show as well.
  • Politics: It is rare when politics isn't a theme in plays and musicals, but this season had several plays with political themes. Obviously, Hillary and Clinton and What the Constitution Means to Me, but also the politics of the monarchy in King Lear, local politics in To Kill a Mockingbird, and the politics of television journalism in Network and print journalism in Ink.
  • Broadway Goes to the Movies: Pretty Woman: The Musical, Tootsie, Beetlejuice, King Kong and Network all owe their origins to the silver screen.
  • Broadway Goes to the Library: To Kill a Mockingbird, Be More Chill, and Hadestown are based on works of literature.
  • Broadway Goes to the Theater: Bernhardt/Hamlet, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, Head Over Heels, Kiss Me, Kate and Oklahoma! all have their basis in other plays.

Multiple openings per theater:
  • 3 - American Airlines: Bernhardt/Hamlet, True West, All My Sons
  • 3 - Booth: The Boys in the Band, American Son, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
  • 3 - Hayes: Straight White Men, Torch Song, What the Constitution Means to Me 
  • 3 - Marquis: The Illusionists - The Magic of the Holidays, Celebrity Autobiography, Tootsie
  • 3 - Samuel J. Friedman: The Nap, Choir Boy, Ink
  • 2 - Belasco: Gettin' the Band Back Together, Network
  • 2 - Cort: The New One, King Lear
  • 2 - Hudson: Head Over Heels, Burn/This
  • 2 - Imperial: Ruben and Clay's First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show, Ain't Too Proud
  • 2 - John Golden: The Waverly Gallery, Hillary and Clinton
  • 2 - Studio 54: The Lifespan of a Fact, Kiss Me, Kate


Welcome to the Theater! The Broadway Debuts of Beetlejuice

Today we celebrate the 5 cast members of Beetlejuice who are making their official Broadway debut tonight.

Congratulations to everyone making their dreams come true! Here's to great reviews, a terrific run, and many more opening nights.

Opening Night: Thursday, April 25, 2019
Winter Garden Theatre

Johnny Brantley III (Ensemble)
Abe Goldfarb (Ensemble)

Eric Anthony Johnson (Swing)
Mateo Melendez (Ensemble)

Kim Sava (Swing)


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Fosse/Verdon: The First 3 Episodes


I've had a thing for Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon since almost the beginning of my lifelong love of musical theater. It all started with a framed copy of the original Broadway poster from Sweet Charity, a gift to my high school drama director from the cast of their production of the same show a couple of years before I arrived. I was so taken by the pose of Verdon - hip strut, knee bend, flexed foot...and the look on her face. I was smitten and had the cast recording the first Saturday after I saw it. Then we did Pippin. Immersed in the Fosse frame of mind, practicing our best jazz hands, life was all about The Manson Trio for 4 months.

So, you can imagine my reaction when Fosse/Verdon was announced. "Fan girling" doesn't even come close. So far, I'm happy to say I am thrilled with the result. Where to start?

EPISODE #1: "Life is a Cabaret"
The nonlinear presentation of events heightens the drama and relieves the series of the burden of a documentary feel. Instead, while we see events depicted, Bobby and Gwen (and their host of famous friends and conquests) are treated like characters. In that sense, knowing anything at all about the subject isn't a requirement. That said, I can't imagine people not already interested in musicals, musical films or musical stars would enjoy this. Even so, there is a nice balance between plot and insider/meta moments. Of course, I loved the passing comment from Hal Prince about Company. And seeing them function in real world settings with the likes of Neil Simon and Cy Feuer is a treat for the theater geek in me.

Knowing that Fosse was a highly sexual, meticulous bastard of a genius who cheated on Verdon is one thing. Seeing it played out is another - and I don't mean in that All That Jazz kind of way. Somehow, even knowing this is a fictionalized/autobiographical hybrid, it fills in a lot of the blanks. As portrayed here, he's not really a bad guy - a bastard, sure, but not totally bad; she is not a victim exactly, either - I pity her, sure, but I admire her strength.

My favorite sequence has to be the entirety of the Cabaret filming of "Mein Heir," especially given Kelli Barrett's dynamic performance as Liza Minnelli. I also got a kick out of the canning of a dancer during the "filming" of Sweet Charity's "Big Spender."

EPISODE #2: "Who's Got the Pain?"
Here we see the juxtaposition of their break up with their first meeting over Damn Yankees. This works especially well with the "rehearsal" of the cat and mouse game that is "Whatever Lola Wants" paired with his seduction of her, and again when they get "stuck" and create "Who's Got the Pain?," a rather pointed parallel with their marital struggles. It works beautifully.  It's also a great way to introduce a recurring theme in his work and his life - using his signature style to save that day after a deep dive into self-loathing and paralyzing insecurity.

Of course, the evolution of this number is excellently recreated, and I know I'll never hear or see it the same way again.

EPISODE #3: "Me and My Baby"
There wasn't a lot of "performing" in this episode, but I really loved it. The opening tribute to his work on How to Succeed... to "Wilkommen" is so jarring it is inspired! The episode establishes a lot in the timeline. That new kid, Schwartz (Stephen), wants Fosse to talk him through his ideas for a new show called Pippin; Bob says he doesn't want to do it, but we know his need to save the day and fix "the horrible" show will win out. And we know how this turns out - nearly 2,000 Broadway performances! But can you imagine Gwen as Fastrada? (I can...)

This is a decidedly Verdon-centric episode, and watching her struggle through her straight-play debut is painful to watch, and brilliantly acted. I suspect the problem wasn't Verdon entirely; Children! Children! closed on opening night. But the standout sequence here is when we find out why she freaks out when Nicole is left with Paddy Chayefsky (an amiable, slightly skeezy scene with Norbert Leo Butz). The little known shot gun wedding and son she had with James Henaghan (a cruel turn by Santino Fontana) and the harassment/rape that caused it explains so much about her insecurities and co-dependence.

Will they ever explain why that stop-the-show curtain call out of town during Can-Can was both a high and low point in Gwen's life?

I have plenty to say about Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell. But that's for another time.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Broadway's a Real Drag

With Santino Fontana opening tonight in Tootsie, once again, Broadway has one of its favorite things - an actor in drag. This season's Torch Song is also a potential nominee this season, including Michael Urie. From Albin to Hewdig and beyond, it seems hardly a season goes by without a performer donning the garb of the opposite gender. (It isn't limited to men - think Edwin Drood and Victor/Victoria...) In fact, the Tonys especially loves a drag. It seems like you are practically guaranteed a nod, if not the prize itself!

In just the second time the award for Best Actor in a Musical (1949) was awarded to Ray Bolger, who donned a dress for part of his performance in Where's Charley? (Raul Julia was nominated for the same role in the 1975 revival.) Interestingly, the second time the award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical (1950) was awarded to Myron McCormick for his hilarious turn as Luther Billis in South Pacific. In that show, he was Mary Martin's "Honey Bun." In that same number, Ms. Martin, Best Actress in a Musical, was dressed as a seabee!


On the distaff side, Stephanie J. Block was nominated for the trouser/title in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2013), and, even thought she tried to turn it down, Julie Andrews was nominated for playing both Victor and Victoria in 1995's Victor/Victoria.


Add Robert Morse (nominee for Sugar, 1973), Tony Sheldon (nominee for Priscilla Queen of the Desert, 2011), Tom Hewitt (nominee for Rocky Horror Show, 2001), Bertie Carvel (nominee for Matilda: The Musical, 2013), and Jefferson Mays (nominee for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, 2014) to the list. Most recently, on the winners list, Hedwig and the Angry Inch yielded the coveted Tony for Best Actor Neil Patrick Harris and Best Featured Actress Lena Hall (2015).



The late Gary Beach was two for two, nominated (and winning) in 2001 for his role as Roger DeBris in The Producers, and nominated (but losing) in 2005 for his role as Albin/Zsa Zsa in that year's revival of La Cage aux Folles. And while Mr. Beach lost the trophy to Norbert Leo Butz, both of the other Albin/Zsa Zsas won - George Hearn (1984) and Douglas Hodge (2005). Oh, and Butz dipped his toe in the drag pool in in 2007's Is He Dead?



Speaking of that drag musical, all three times its been on the boards, it has won Best - Musical (1984) and Revival of a Musical (2005, 2010). And its author (and one-time Zsa Zsa) is the King of Broadway Kings - multi-Tony winner Harvey Fierstein who has written 4 drag-related shows: Torch Song Trilogy (Best Play, 1983), Casa Valentina (Best Play nominee, 2014), La Cage aux Folles (Best Book, 1984), and Kinky Boots (Best Book nominee, 2013). He also won the Tony for Best Actor in a Play for Torch Song Trilogy, and Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. Tony recognition for a drag role for being in one of his shows has been granted to Reed Birney (Best Featured Actor in a Play nominee, Casa Valentina, 2014) and Billy Porter (Best Actor in a Musical winner, Kinky Boots, 2013.

If history is any indicator, Santino, Tootsie, Michael and Torch Song all have a decent shot at good news come Tuesday.

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