Posted in based on a true story or event, based on an actual life, bio-musical, dance, musical theater, theater

What’s doin’?

Photo by John B. Barrois: Todd d'Amour (Valentine Xavier) and Beth Bartley (Carol Cutrere)
Photo by John B. Barrois: Todd d’Amour (Valentine Xavier) and Beth Bartley (Carol Cutrere). Orpheus Descending directed by Austin Pendleton at St. John’s Lutheran Church

Cagney: tough guy in soft shoes: “Ma, I’m on top of the world,” could have been a quote from Cagney’s life. He started in the slums of New York, and ended as a household name. He worked in Vaudeville and went on to star in many an iconic movie.

Cagney, making its cross town transfer from the York Theatre began previews at the Westside on 43rd Street on March 16th and now is in an open run.  In Cagney, Robert Creighton reprises his role as the song-and-dance man turned Hollywood superstar.

Learn more about Cagney, please visit cagneythemusical.com/.

Evening – 1910 comes roughly out of the same era as that of the young Cagney.  Playwright, songwriter and director Randy Sharp and songwriter, guitarist and longtime Blondie member Paul Carbonara have teamed up to create Evening – 1910, a new musical about an immigrant to 1910 New York and a Bowery theater facing eviction as Edison’s kinetoscope makes vaudeville old hat. Their point of departure for this new musical is the earlier one about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Solitary Light. The world premiere of Evening – 1910  is presented by the Axis Company, of which Sharp is the founding Artistic Director, from April 28 – May 28.

Learn more about Evening – 1910 at axiscompany.org

Tennesee Williams’ Orpheus Descending gets a rare revival, directed by Austin Pendleton, from April 23 to May 14th, at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Williams’s modern recreation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice opened on Broadway in 1957 and was revived in 1989 in a celebrated production directed by Sir Peter Hall and starring Vanessa Redgrave. It has rarely, if ever, been produced in New York since.

For more information about , please visit twptown.org/orpheusnyc

Another rarely produced play will be presented by Voyage Theater Company  from May 5th through 14th. August Strindberg’s The Pelican, is a little known psychological drama about a greedy mother who lets her children go hungry while she lives a life of luxury. Directed by Charles C. Bales and Wayne Maugans (actor in Broadway’s August: Osage County), the production runs just 75 intermission-less minutes. Strindberg’s familial tragedy is as shocking today as it was in 1907.

Find out more about this production at http://voyagetheatercompany.org/current-season/

On the other hand, new plays are the subject on April 21st at the annual Writers Block Party at The Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse in the Samuel B. & David Rose Building. Presented by and for the benefit of The Playwrights Realm, led by Katherine Kovner, Artistic Director, and Roberta Pereira, Producing Director, Writers Block Party will celebrate its ninth anniversary with  MCs Vella Lovell (“My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) and Hubert Point-Du Jour (Sojourners).

Learn more at playwrightsrealm.org

William Kernen spent 27 years in baseball both as professional player and coach, before turning to a career as a playwright in 1997. Kernen spent two years studying at Columbia University under the instruction of Eduardo Machado. Kernen’s play And Other Fairy Tales… was a finalist in the Oglebay Institute National Playwriting Competition. In April 2001 his play, Galleria degli Angeli was produced in New York at The Independent Theatre, with first-time director Kernen at the helm. In 2005, his script In the House of Athazagora, was produced as a short film, which Kernen also directed.

Then, Kernen went back to coaching in Division 1 college baseball, building a brand new program from scratch at California State University, Bakersfield. In June 2015, Kernen again retired from baseballand returned to NYC to write and direct in theater and film.

Gallery Of Angels, Inc. brings the world premiere production of William KernenísAnd Other Fairy Tales…, directed by Kernen at The Workshop Theater from April 28 through May 22nd.

Find out more about And Other Fairy Tales… at williamkernen.com/

They’ve won awards for presenting little known musicals, but this year, Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) is presenting the Tony-winning The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee from May 5th through 28th. The musical, which runs 2 hours with one intermission, is at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Astoria.

For more information about the production, please visit apacny.org.

 

Posted in Balanchine, Baldwin, based on a true story or event, based on an actual life, performance piece

“Stranger on Earth” at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse

Harlem Stage has a post-Valentine’s treat for us. Not the hearts and flowers kind of gift but a bouquet that honors the important American heritage of James Baldwin and Dinah Washington.

Marcelle Davies Lashley  interpreting the vocals of Dinah Washington in Carl Hancock Rux's "Stranger on Earth" at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse, Feb 19-20.
Marcelle Davies Lashley interpreting the vocals of Dinah Washington in Carl Hancock Rux’s “Stranger on Earth” at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse, Feb 19-20.

On February 19th and 20th at 7:30pm at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse, they present Stranger on Earth written and performed by Obie winning playwright Carl Hancock Rux. The production, commissioned by the company, is in celebration of Year of James Baldwin Centenary.

Stranger on Earth imagines a chance encounter at a Harlem jazz lounge between Dinah Washington and James Baldwin. The singer and the writer/philosopher/social commentator were the eras two most iconic African Americans. In this performance piece, Rux uses Baldwin’s landmark essays to create a work that addresses race, identity, and the future of a world which both Baldwin and Washington struggled to comprehend and inhabit. ASccompanying Rux is vocalist Marcelle Davies Lashley who interprets Washington’s songs. Rux draws from Baldwin’s “Notes of A Native Son,” “Nobody Knows My Name,” and “The Fire Next Time” for his original text, and from Washington’s final album (1964) for the title.

Carl Hancock Rux, performance artist, OBIE-winning playwright envisions a meeting between singer Dinah Washington and writer James Baldwin in "Stranger on Earth."
Carl Hancock Rux, performance artist, OBIE-winning playwright envisions a meeting between singer Dinah Washington and writer James Baldwin in “Stranger on Earth.”

Ted Cruz, composer and producer, is on piano, with Jason DiMatteo on bass. DiMatteo, who works internationally with hundreds of musicians, is a frequent collaborator on Rux performances. Lashley has also worked with Rux on the Rux Revue, and was the mistress of ceremonies at the Jazz Foundation of America’s Gala at the Apollo in 2012.

Stranger on Earth plays out under a video montage by conceptual artist Onome Ekeh. The video sets the historic background for the piece in the violent and socially disruptive year of 1963. Yen Moon directs. Another of Rux’s collaborators, Hamilton “Fitz” Kirby provides the sound design for Stranger on Earth.

Harlem Stage kicked off the Year of James Baldwin on April 26, 2014 with a workshop of Stranger on Earth. The Baldwin initiative is envisioned as a 14-month, city-wide celebration of one of America’s most important and trenchant thinkers. The Year will culminate in the world premiere presentation at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse on June 3rd through 7th with Stew’s Notes of a Native Son. In this new work, Stew, the Tony-winning composer, singer and storyteller, is inspired by Baldwin’s visionary way of airing uncomfortable truths and finding in them both beauty and poetry.

To learn more about Stranger on Earth, please visit www.harlemstage.org

Posted in #Billy Porter, #LiliasWhite, #S.EpathaMerkerson, #SharonWashington, autobiographical, based on an actual life

Too close: Billy Porter’s "While Yet I Live"

Sometimes we are just to close to our own lives to properly document them.

Billy Porter’s While Yet I Live, at Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd Street through October 31st, is a case in point.

S. Epatha Merkerson and Sharon Washington in While I Yet Live.
(c) 2014 James Leynse.
Primary Stages production of While I Yet Live by Billy Porter,
directed by Sheryl Kaller at Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd Street.

The cliche- (and on occasion, stereotype-) laden script does not let the characters fully develop, despite a mostly stellar cast.

While Yet I Live tells the story of Calvin (Larry Powell), a stand-in for the author, or rather of his family.

Living in “The Big House” in Pittsburgh, PA, are his mother, Maxine (S. Epatha Merkerson), his grandmother, Gertrude (Lilias White), his great aunt Delores, aka Aunt D (Elain Graham), and his little sister Tonya (Sheria Irving in a standout performance.) Also living with them is the shut-in Arthur, whom we never see, but to whom Tonya brings trays of food, and Maxine’s best friend, Miss Eva (Sharon Washington)

Calvin leaves home for complicated reasons which involve his stepdad Vernon (Kevyn Morrow) to return at the end of Act I after success on Broadway.

Elain Graham, Lilias White and Larry Powell in While I Yet Live. 
(c) 2014 James Leynse. 

S. Epatha Merkerson is completely at ease in her role as a troubled, handicapped woman who is taking care of everyone around her. Sharon Washington makes you want a friend like that. It’s Sheria Irving’s Tonya, narrating and moving the drama along, who steals the show.

While Yet I Live is too loose and gangly. A few too many “Name it and claim its” and “You are not brokens” keep it from being taut. In fact, While Yet I Live, could easily be trimmed to bring the play to a more desireable intermissionless hour and fifteen. It could shed some ghosts to let the narrative move more smoothly and dramatically.

To learn more about Primary Stages and get tickets for While Yet I Live, please visit http://www.primarystages.org/.

Posted in based on an actual life, Brendan Behan, Chelsea Hotel, drama based on real events, drinker, famous, iconclast, Irish, Janet Behan, literary lion

Hear Him Roar: "Brendan at the Chelsea"

It seems that torment often comes with great talent.

Photo courtesy of The Lyric Theatre (Belfast). Adrian Dunbar as Brendan Behan and Samantha Pearl as Lianne in a scene from Janet Behan;s “Brendan at the Chelsea” at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre through October 6.

Brendan Behan, iconoclast, playwright, writer, documentarian of life in New York, Irishman, genius, and hard drinker, is a case in point. Behan came to New York for the opening of his play, “The Hostage” in September 1960 and soon moved from the Algonquin to the Chelsea Hotel. There he narrated his book on New York, which was published after his death at the age of 41, and caroused mightily with New Yorkers of all stripes.

It is at the bohemian hotel that we meet up with Behan (Adrian Dunbar) in  his niece, Janet Behan’s tribute “Brendan at the Chelsea,” on tour at the Acorn in the Lyric’s production through October 6th. Brendan Behan was a literary lion, and welcomed in the city’s literary, theatrical and boho circles that he embraced so wholeheartedly.

Drink was his nemesis and he also embraced that with all his heart.  Dunbar, who also directs “Brendan at the Chelsea” is a marvelous Behan.  He gives a full-throttle performance as a force of nature. Matching him, but with the appropriately quieter intensity, is Pauline Hutton who is a very fine Beatrice to his roaring Behan. The ensemble, rounded out by Richard Orr as his song-writing neighbor George (and others), Samantha Pearl as Lianne, a Katherine Dunham dancer who is charged with caring for the wayward Behan, and Chris Robinson as Don, whom Behan meets on an excursion with his wife, Beatrice, to Fire Island’s Pines, (and in other roles), do excellent work in the narration of the plot.

The play takes on the large project of conveying genius and torment with intelligence, although “Brendan at the Chelsea,” is an uneven work. There are moments when it strays too far in exposition, having taken on perhaps a bit more than is easily managed. Something one could also say of its central character.

The production holds more than just interest for those who know Behan’s work. “Brendan at the Chelsea” is a welcome entertainment.

For more information about “Brendan at the Chelsea,” visit www.BrendanChelsea.com.