Posted in theater, Tony Awards, Tony winner

TONY (W)rap

I was wrong
Hamilton came on strong

Not seven
But eleven

Statuettes for lighting,
Orchestrations, and fighting

Cast and Lin
All win

Hamilton‘s got a token
Record’s still unbroken

Hamilton– 16 nods, 11 wins– trails
The Producers– winning 12– prevails

Their twelve wins no one’s topped
Even with just 11, Ham can’t be stopped

Try and get a ticket to see it, now– no!
That’s okay, it’ll still be there when you do go


It’s an annual ritual at VevlynsPen.com to have me flail around guessing who the winner will be on TONY’s big night. I am often wrong, and occassionally right. Congratulations, for instance, to Roundabout’s She Loves Me for a best for sets designed by David Rockwell.

But the business of TONY is a double-edged sword. The awards celebration attracts audiences– Hamilton, we might point out, did not need the boost– andthose not getting an award are dubbed TONY losers. Yes, I know, a TONY nominee is not a loser, but if you don’t win it…. well you know. It is in the musical category that productions are particularly vulnerable. (Plays are on their own time-table; very rarely would one last even 500 performances, although it may find a revival every few years.)

Not every musical is as resilient as Something Rotten! which chugs along with only the one lonely TONY winner, Christian Borle, in its cast. From this year’s crop, On Your Feet!, the Emilio and Gloria Estefan musical, has its own special appeal, and is selling tickets through next April.

American Psycho The Musical succumbed before awards night. The luminous Bright Star is closing before the July 4th holiday on June 26th; as CBS news confirms, it did not win the awards needed to keep the public’s interest. Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Broadway Sensation of 1921, and all that Followed is telling its story through October 9th at this point. We’ll see if it gets a second wind if and when Audra McDonald returns from her intermission from the show.

Since I mentioned plays, aka non-musical ones, earlier, it is good to remember that Eclipsed might have had a longer run had it gotten more love from TONY. The Father, which won a TONY for Frank Langella’s star turn, closed on schedule on father’s day.The Humans, this year’s best play will stay open at least through the end of the year at the Helen Hayes.

What can the TONYs do to help Broadway more? Should we all ease up a little on thinking of a TONY win as the pinnacle of a production’s success? In other, maybe TONY should matter less and the play be the thing…..

Posted in theater

Who will win at the 2016 Tonys?

NoLateSeating

My TONY predictions are up for debate and parley: what do you think?
http://www.vevlynspen.com/2016/06/on-tonys-night-gonna-be-fight-with.html
Almost as soon as I make a guess as to which will win what, I want to hedge my bet. For instance, although I suggested that Savion Glover’s choreography for Shuffle Along, or… would win this year’s award, I am now leaning towards Sergio Trujillo’s congas in On Your Feet as prize winning for choreography.

In the musical categories, there is one big show to beat, but it is not the only contender. Without a doubt, however, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliantly original Hamilton will be TONY’s BEST MUSICAL of 2016.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the company of Hamilton. Photo © Joan Marcus
Lin-Manuel Miranda and the company of Hamilton. Photo © Joan Marcus

In other TONY expectations: look for Frank Langella to go home with a statuette for his performance in The Father. Likewise, The Humans looks good for Best Play, especially after its clinch at the Drama Desk Awards, although Danai Gurira’s timely and moving Eclipsed is also a nominee still in the running.

It is ever so tempting to blame the TONYs for early closings, but, honestly, American Psycho was steeped in red ink way before the nominations failed to acknowledge the hard work of its star, Benjamin Walker, or to credit the ingenuity of its creative team, particularly composer/lyricist, Duncan Sheik. TONY nomonations–or lack thereof– are not always the only problem productions face. Plays, especially “difficult” ones like Gurira’s, are often under-appreciated by theater-goers. (AP closed last week, and Eclipsed is scheduled to on June 19th. On Your Feet can carry on without substantial nominations and just its fan based audiences.)

My track record in guessing TONY finalists is not very good. So, let’s just hope for a lovely day and may the best play and players win!

 

 

Posted in based on a true story or event, historical musical drama, musical theater, theater

Righting Broadway’s Story

Joshua Henry, Brandon Victor Dixon, Billy Porter and Brian Stokes Mitchell, with Richard Riaz Yoder in Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, featuring music and lyrics by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, book by F.E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles, with a new book and direction by George C. Wolfe and choreography by Savion Glover, at The Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th Street). © Julieta Cervantes
Joshua Henry, Brandon Victor Dixon, Billy Porter and Brian Stokes Mitchell, with Richard Riaz Yoder in Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, featuring music and lyrics by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, book by F.E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles, with a new book and direction by George C. Wolfe and choreography by Savion Glover, at The Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th Street).
© Julieta Cervantes

George C. Wolfe has taken a Broadway melody of 1921 and placed it in its historical context. In 1921, the year when Shuffle Along was produced, it was exiled to a theater on 63rd Street. Yes, it was considered a Broadway house, but it was many blocks north of the main stem.

Shuffle Along‘s success, however, was extraordinary. The all-black production team enjoyed critical and popular acclaim, and an unexpectedly long-run of 504 performances.

Shuffle Along made stars of its lead actress, Lottie Gee (Audra McDonald in Wolfe’s retelling) and its creative team. Wolfe’s musical has jettisoned the  F.E. Miller (Brian Stokes Mitchell)-Aubrey Lyles (Billy Porter) book and replaced it with his own, while keeping the music and lyrics from Eubie Blake (Brandon Victor Dixon) and Noble Sissle (Joshua Henry).

Adrienne Warren and company perform “I’m Just Wild About Harry” © Julieta Cervantes
Adrienne Warren and company perform “I’m Just Wild About Harry”
© Julieta Cervantes

Nearly a century later, the musical theater remains indebted to the men and women of color who revolutionized and emboldened Broadway style and syncopation. This is the backstory to Wolfe’s story, but despite the high concept and lofty intentions, the 2016 Shuffle Along… is a very entertaining vaudeville.

Brian Stokes Mitchell, with Adrienne Warren (fourth from left), Billy Porter, Audra McDonald and ensemble © Julieta Cervantes
Brian Stokes Mitchell, with Adrienne Warren (fourth from left), Billy Porter, Audra McDonald and ensemble
© Julieta Cervantes

As it was refreshing to have a musical like Bright Star based on the American idiom of bluegrass, it is welcome to have one that is based on the other all-American art form, tap. The dances, as designed by Tony-award winner (1996 for Bring in Da Noise Bring in Da Funk, and presumptive for 2016 for Shuffle Along…) are masterly. One number takes the cast on a long circuitous train-trip of tryouts in completely mesmerizing taps. The songs are classics from the Blake-Sissle repertoire, including “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find A Way,” from the score for the 1921 Shuffle Along.

The ensemble is excellent, with Brandon Victor Dixon  and Adrienne Warren (bothTony nominated for Featured Actor and Actress) standing out. The always able Brooks Ashmanskas, as the designated white guy in the cast, performs an excellent second act rain-on-their-parade number.

Audra McDonald in © Julieta Cervantes
Audra McDonald in
© Julieta Cervantes

Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, unlike its progenitor, is playing in the heart of Broadway at The Music Box. It is in an open run, although Audra McDonald will exit on July 24th and return in the winter, to be replaced by Rhiannon Giddens. Choreographer and tapper-extraordinaire, Savion Glover will join the cast on July 24th.

George C. Wolfe may be on a mission to right the
story of Broadway’s past, but he does it deftly and
with a showman’s touch

 

 

 

 

Posted in 2016 Tony nominations, Audra McDonald, musical, musical revivals, musical theater, theater

Whoops, I overlooked a contender or 2

In my predictions for the nominations Tony is about to make, http://wp.me/p5jq0w-OI, I left out some of this year’s Broadway starts. School of Rock was not mentioned, and truly, despite its spunk, I doubt it stands a chance in this contest. Nor will American Psycho overturn Hamilton in its run to the top.


May 3rd, noon, Looks like the Tonys left out a contender, too: Audra McDonald was not nominated for the Best leading actress in a musical.


Here’s where the oversight is more serious: From the list (entitled The Chanteuse) below, I have left out Laura Benanti, a soprano to be contended with, often on the short list for many an Award, and Tony winner (for “Gypsy”). Benanti stars beautifully in a wondrous revival of She Loves Me, the musical descendent of a personal favorite among Magyar tales–Little Shop Around the Corner. (In view of this oversight, no ice scream for me.) Laura Benanti is as I said always on the nominees list, and we loved her in the underrated Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

THE CHANTEUSE

The contest for Best among musicals leading ladies is always one that excites, and this year is no exception.

Audra McDonald is a powerhouse performer with 6 Tonys to her credit. Jessie Mueller is a Tony winning actor whose charm shines in every role she takes. Her portrayal of Jenna in Waitress is no exception, of course, even if the pop style is not strictly in her wheelhouse. These two are the likely contenders for the 2016 Best Lead Actress in a Musical, with Bright Star‘s Carmen Cusack giving them a long-shot’s run for the gold.

Musical Revivals

If Shuffle Along… prevails in its plea to be considered a revival, it will be in the contest with The Color Purple, and the aforementioned She Loves Me.

There are no guarantees, but in such a case, despite the star power and sincerity of Shuffle Along…, it might have a struggle beating out the brilliantly cast, effervescent She Loves Me. The latter is as bouyant as the shlag in your coffee, with a lovely if familiar romantic story to tell. We have yet to see Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter etc etc in the George C. Wolfe helmed Shuffle Along…. Chances are we’ll be blown away by the cast and Savion Glover’s choreography, so we’ll keep you posted.

Posted in anticipation, musical theater, theater, Tony

Contending

BROADWAY MELODY OF 1921

Just when it looked like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton was an early shoe-in for the 2016 Tonys, a new sensation comes down the pike. Shuffle Along or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, with previews which began in March and set for an April 28th opening at the Music Box Theatre, would be a revival but for the brand new book by George C. Wolfe. Wolfe frames the ground-breaking 1921 show within the back story of how it came to be.

Of course, despite it’s pedigree and interesting premise, chances are that nothing will unseat Hamilton, which just also won a Pulitzer, from the top of the Tony list. However, Shuffle Along… did get the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for BEST MUSICAL; Hamilton received the 2015 prize. 

In May 1921, Shuffle Along…, a new musical conceived by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles with music and lyrics by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, became the unlikeliest of hits, unlikely because this was an African-American musical revue.

Miller and Lyles’s story for Shuffle Along was about a mayoral race fixed by one of the candidate’s campaign managers, and the ultimate overthrow of the elected official by Harry (“I’m just wild about Harry!”) Walton. Even though much of the comedy depended on minstrel stereotypes, Shuffle Along legitimized African-American talent for the Broadway stage, proving to producers and managers that audiences would pay to see black actors, singers and dancers.

[https://vimeo.com/21251492[/embed]

Our 2016 version of the show stars Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Joshua Henry and Brandon Victor Dixon, with choreography by Savion Glover. Everyone associated with the production is a household name in theater circles.

In the three years following its opening at Daly’s 63rd Street Theatre on May 23, 1921, 9 musicals created and performed by African-Americans opened on Broadway.

Shuffle Along came to be treated as a template, which had the disadvantage of limiting black-themed shows from straying from the pattern it set. Nevertheless, it gave black performers and writers as well as other artists a wider acceptance on the main stem. Some scholars have credited “Shuffle Along” with starting and inspiring the Harlem Renaissance.

To learn more about Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, please visit http://shufflealongbroadway.com/

WAITING FOR GOOD PIE

Waiting for that perfect fresh-made pie to come out of the oven offers a kind of thrill. Anticipating Waitress-The Musical had a similar exhilirating effect. The latter is now at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre, having had a widely successful opening on April 24th.

To add to the sweetness, Jessie Mueller is the lead, the pie inventing Jenna in Waitress. Nick Cordero (a treat in “Bullets over Broadway”) plays her husband, Earl.

WAITRESS MUSICAL ORIGINAL BROOKS ATKINSON THEATRE 256 W. 47TH ST.
Waitress featuring Keala Settle as Becky, Jessie Mueller as Jenna and Kimiko Glenn as Dawn. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Mueller originated the role of Carole King in “Beautiful,” for which she won the Tony. We like to think we “discovered” her opposite Harry Connick, Jr. in “On A Clear Day, You Can See Forever,” one of the strangest musicals ever (but that is grist for another discussion.)

Sara Bareilles’ music and lyrics have lovingly turned Adrienne Shelley’s sad and sweet indie film into a bright pop-inflected musical. The libretto is by Jessie Nelson with choreography by Loren Lotarro. The project, which is a fine tribute to the talented Adrienne Shelley, who was murdered before her movie was released, is under Diane Paulus’ direction.

To learn more about Waitress-The Musical, please visit http://waitressthemusical.com/

DEM BELLS….

Most theaters have given up on the pre-curtain warnings. Everyone should know by now. Those that continue to try to keep the peace in the auditorium generally have a cast member make the announcement. Often, audiences are cleverly asked to turn off their cell-phones in order to preserve the period of the show they are about to see.

The Tony for Best Request, however, goes to Waitress, where the warnng was put to song with a deadline– ‘by the time I finish.’

THE CHANTEUSE

The Tony nominations will be officially broadcast on the morning of May 3rd, with Patina Miller and Andrew Rannells doing the honors. We’re making a couple of presumptious predictions ourselves.

Neither the smalltown-friendly allure of Waitress nor the bright shine of Bright Star, nor the big concept of Shuffle Along… can take the prize from Hamilton.

The contest for Best among musicals leading ladies is always one that excites, and this year is no exception.

Audra McDonald is a powerhouse performer with 6 Tonys to her credit. Jessie Mueller is a Tony winning actor whose charm shines in every role she takes. These two are the likely contenders for the 2016 Best Lead Actress in a Musical, with Bright Star‘s Carmen Cusack giving them a long-shot’s run for the gold.

Posted in based on a true story or event, drama, family drama, musical theater, theater

On Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-off Broadway

Original dateline January 31, 2016, republishing:

The Great White Hope with James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander was one of the highlights of my 1968 theater-going season. (It played through January 1970 and was tecognized for the 1969 Tony for both actors and the play, and received a Pulitzer for its author, Howard Sackler.)

Marco Ramirez’ The Royale, at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater starting February 11th, retells the story of the flamboyant Jack Johnson from a different vantage point.

McKinley Belcher III, John Lavelle, Clarke Peters and Khris Davis.Photo by T. Charles Erickson
McKinley Belcher III, John Lavelle, Clarke Peters and Khris Davis.Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Johnson was the World Heavyweight Champ from 1908 to 1915, amidst great controversy. His supremacy for the title caused much racial tension. There was a rallying cry for a great white fighter to knock him out of the ring and riots in many of the cities in which he fought.

Greg Pierce, author of Slowgirl, which also played the LCT3 Claire Tow, (and a slew of other works produced around the country) has a new play opening in LC’s blackbox upstairs, beginning February 6th. 

Like Slowgirl, Pierce’s Her Requiem looks to be an arresting piece. Tickets at just $30 in a house that holds just 112 people go fast. Starring Peter Friedman, Mare Winningham, Joyce Van Patten, Kelly McQuail, Naian Gonzalez Norvind, and Robbie Collier Sublett, this will prove to be an interesting drama.

Shuffle Along…, coming to the Music Box Theatre in March, will be not just “another opening of another show” but an event. It’s a historically significant musical, having had great success as the first all Negro production to make it big on Broadway in 1921. With music and lyrics by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, Shuffle Along launched Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson and Adelaide Hall. The book by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles was a stretch, using a connecting plot about a corrupt mayoral race. In 1921 it ran for 504 performances and was revived in 1933 for just 17 evenings, and again, even less successfully in 1952. Road shows toured the country through 1924 to great acclaim, however, and Shuffle Along legitimized the African-American performer and proved that audiences would indeed pay to see an all black production.

Officially titled  Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed it will feature the original music from Shuffle Along and a libretto written by its director,  George C. Wolfe.  Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell will be reunited in this production. Billy Porter and Joshua Henry will also star in Shuffle Along…. The choreographer is Savion Glover.