Posted in 2017 Tony Nominations, drama, musical, Tony predictions

Irksome

LACOMBE_17024_5O9A0617_D
Chris Cooper and Laurie Metcalf in a scene from A Doll’s House, Part 2 (c) Brigitte Lacombe

It’s an annual event that has critics and ordinary theater goers in a tizzy. The Tony Award  nominations are in, and this year’s contest (the 71st)  will be televised o n Sunday June 11th on CBS. It is at this ceremony that the results of all that Tony voting will be revealed. “And the winner is…” is a nerve-racking pronouncement. Equally irksome, and this is true year-to-year, are the actual nominations meted out with such parsimony.

All theater should be celebrated, yet the Tony committee chooses to withhold even a nod from some productions. Why? oh why? (BTW, a line from My Sister Eileen, the musical version of which, Wonderful Town, starring Rosalind Russell won the 1953 Tony.)

Nevermind, we just have to face what is coming at us like a freight train, and dig in for some knotty predictions. Horse races are not my thing, and my track record, as it were, for guessing who will get which prize is extremely poor.

Rinse and repeat

The smart money this 2017 season is on Groundhog Day, a musical I have not seen. Reports –from critics, and friends alike– (one a fan of Andy Karl who went to a performance during his absence due to injury, said it was still terrific)– are that this is the one to beat.

May I propose that in honor of Andrew Call’s valiant subbing in for Andy Karl, we add this minor adjustment to the proceedings: “And the Tony for best understudy in a leading role goes to….” (A category on the women’s side once taken by Barbra Streisand.)

The contestants as we know them

War Paint, another musical I skipped this season, has not one but two leading ladies vying for the Best. Truthfully, both Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone are winners, although not necessarily this year. Ebersole has two Tonys as the Lead in 42nd Street (2001) and in Grey Gardens (2007); LuPone’s Tonys include a win for Evita (way back when, and wonderful; 1980) and for her Mama Rose in Gypsy (2008.) Both of these admirable divas have also had more than their fair share of nominations over the years.

5019Let me also admit to not having seen the other nominees for Best Musical, which are the wonderfully named Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, the hyper-modern Dear Evan Hansen and charmingly off-beat Come From Away. As an outsider, as it were, I will make no further assumptions here. We really liked Bandstand, and it has had only limited recognition from the Tony folk. We were sure this first-time Broadway effort by veteran musicians Rob Taylor and Richard Oberacker deserved at least to be named.

 

The play’s the thing

Little FoxesOn the straight play side is where we have slightly better traction, although only slightly so. Of the nominees for Best Play, we have seen (and lovedA Doll’s House Part 2.  We have also seen the nominated revivals, The Little Foxes and Jitney, both in very fine productions; the revival of The Price was not among the plays mentioned. For what it’s worth, we are rooting for …Part 2, and for Little Foxes.

While on the subject of …Foxes, Tony could have given Cynthia Nixon (whom as it happens we saw in the lead) and Laura Linney (who split her lead and featured roles with Nixon) co-nominations in the Best Lead Actress category. Instead, Nixon gets the nod as Best Featured Actress, and Linney is in the running for the Best Lead.

The Glass Menagerie
Madison Ferris and Sally Field in The Glass Menagerie Photo by Julieta Cervantes

We have seen three of the nominated actress in both the Lead and Featured category., and this is a tough call. Sally Field has had her “they really like me” moment, and in fact was a very credible Amanda in my favorite Williams’ play; if I say I really really liked her, it is not to mock but to admire. Since I cannot speak to Linney’s interpretation of the steely Regina Giddens, and I can say that Laurie Metcalf was (as usual) fabulous as the re-imagined Nora in …Part 2, I will send a nod her way. This is in part based on only partial facts and in part based on a long-term admiration for her work. The entire cast in ..Part 2 has been nominated, and I would rally for each of them; the caveat is that this conclusion is also based on limited evidence.

The Men in question

We’ve seen five of the shows in which a male actor was nominated for a 2017 Tony Award. Two of them were leads. Denis Arndt gave an impressive, nuanced performance in the two-handed Heisenberg, (so named, I think, because of some relativity principal the play explored) opposite Mary-Louise Parker. Chris Cooper, Torvald in …Part 2 is definitely a worthy candidate; he is both hot and cold. Still, even with that, don’t feel like I know enough about the Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play.  For the Best Featured Actor, Richard Thomas is an estimable Horace Giddens in the revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. We definitely felt that Danny DeVito stole The Price from under his co-stars. John Douglas Thompson also shined in the excellent revival of August Wilson’s Jitney. From this vantage, I’m certainly unwilling to pick just one. Now, it is I who is proving tiresome. Oh, well.

In conclusion

May we suggest that you watch the ceremony, hosted by the multi-talented Kevin Spacey, on CBS on June 11th at 8pm. Cheer for the performances and productions you’ve seen; enjoy the fine show that Tony always provides; place your bets, and….

Posted in Daily Prompt, dysfunction, family drama

Little glass figurines

via Daily Prompt: Opaque

The Glass Menagerie
Sally Field and Joe Mantello in The Glass Menagerie at the Belasco through July 2nd. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

In memory, everything is swathed in a delicately lovely light. It is not always clear, however, as many of our reminiscences are actually opaque. They are obscured by time, which as Tennessee Williams’ alter ego, Tom Wingfield (Joe Mantello in the current Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie at the Belasco through July 2nd) says is “the longest distance between two places.”

His memories cannot be outpaced by those of his mother, Amanda (Sally Field) whose fierce devotion to her children and their future are part willful delusion and part artful discernment.

The Glass Menagerie
Madison Ferris-Sally Field and Joe Mantello in The Glass Menagerie Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Even when Amanda reflexively flirts with Jim O’Connor (Finn Whittrock), the “gentleman
caller” she hopes will be there for her daughter Laura (Madison Ferris), we never doubt her loyalty to her children. Amanda cannot resist the impulse to pour on her charm as she did in Blue Mountain in her youth. Her intentions are for Laura to benefit from meeting the visitor Tom brought into their home.

Minimalism is the principle course of action for the stagecraft in The Glass Menagerie. The impetus is to allow the play to speak for itself.

The Glass Menagerie
Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris (with Sally Field in background) in The Glass MenageriePhoto by Julieta Cervantes

I applaud and understand the method behind the production, though I still do not like its sometimes puzzling choices.

The scenery, designed by Andrew Lieberman, lacks adornment with its centerpiece being a plain table and a neon sign for the Paradise Dancehall. The lighting by Adam Silverman leaves the house lights up for  a full 25 minutes, and then, later, plunges us into darkness for a while. The costumes by Wojciech Dziedzic for the most part look to be the actors’ streetware. .

Memory is clued by a single symbol, triggered by a simple key. Director Sam Gold and his creative team set the stage for it to exercise its power. Williams’ words, and the talents of the cast take it from there.

For more information and tickets, please visit The Glass Menagerie website.

Posted in domestic drama, drama, family drama, revival, Tennessee Williams

Unicorns

Handle with care

Memories are amongst our most personal possessions.

The Glass Menagerie
Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris in The Glass MenageriePhoto by Julieta Cervantes

The Glass Menagerie, at the Belasco through July 2nd, is Tennessee Williams look backwards with love and regret. His reminiscences could also be said to have the brittleness of glass ornaments.

Amanda Wingfield (Sally Field) lives in fantastical remembrance. Her son, Tom (Joe Mantello) spins a web of care and concern. His sister Laura (Madison Ferris) and a Gentleman Caller, Jim O’Connor (Finn Wittrock) are fragile figments of  Tom’s and Amanda’s collective and conflicting recollection.

Mother Love

 

The Glass Menagerie
Joe Mantello and Sally Field in a scene from The Glass Menagerie Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Not all overprotective mothers who have delusional expectations for their children are of one kind. We’ve seen Amanda intrepreted in any number of revivals.

Sally Field’s rendition is tender-tough. She has just enough steel to bend when disappointed, and a sense of downtrodden grandeur befitting the role.

The Glass Menagerie is a wondrous articulation of poetry written in prose. As its narrator, Mantello plays Tom as straightforward and unsentimental. He is down-to-earth and practical but not unfeeling.

Unadorned

The Glass Menagerie
Madison Ferris and Sally Field in The Glass MenageriePhoto by Julieta Cervantes

Under Sam Gold’s direction, The Glass Menagerie is presented in bare bones style. Except for a pink ballgown in which Amanda flirts with the Gentleman Calling on her daughter, the actors are for all intents and purposes in rehearsal clothes (costumes courtesy of Wojciech Dziedzic). The minimalism extends to the sets (by Andrew Lieberman) and the lighting (designed by Adam Silverman).

This is one of my favorite of Williams’ masterpieces, but this production is not among my favorites. That is not to say that the cast are not at ease in their characters’ skins; they are convincing and comfortable, showing affection for each other, as the memories unfurl. Like the setting, however, it just all feels too plain, simple and no-frills.

Theirs is an interesting interpretation, of course, and it could be concluded that the simplicity of the decor and costumes, and perhaps even the candle-lit scenes, may force us to concentrate on the words.

My take leans towards the view that rather than underscoring the beauty of the language, the lack of stage embellishments undercuts Williams’ intent.

For more information and tickets, please visit http://glassmenagerieonbroadway.com

 

 

Posted in musical revivals, revival, theater

Revivals and transfers

Originality is always prized, but is it always good box office?

Back by popular acclaim

On Broadway, the revival is generally a vehicle that’s had tried-and-true success. The public likes the play or its author, and adding a marquee name will probably bring them in again. An eager new cast and crew doing the hard bits is probably a formula that will minimize a producer’s risk.

There are no guarantees, of course, in the theater. The audiences can be fickle. Is O’Neill still a draw? Will Arthur Miller appeal? Do they want to see Neil Simon, or Ibsen? Is Chekhov a lock for their full attention?

Setting the stage

Les Miz and Miss Saigon (currently in a revival at The Broadway Theatre) cycle through periodically, generally with good success. Cats is bringing back “Memory” at the Neil Simon Theatre at the moment. Sondheim gets out quite a bit too– from revivals of Follies to Sweeney Todd to Gypsy, to mention a few, and of course the current revival of Sunday in the Park with George starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford at the refurbished Hudson Theatre.

Bette Midler is expected to be a very effective matchmaker in Hello Dolly! Given her fanbase,  she should attract a loyal audience to the Shubert Theatre, running through January 7, 2018, and in fact, the website’s performance calendar is already offering tips on availability.

On the dramatic side, Tennessee Williams gets his share of the Broadway air. His works are often produced, and not just at the not-for-profit subscription houses. So many roles tempt actresses to climb the mountains of his beautiful poetic prose that The Glass Menagerie has seen a number of recent renditions. In 2014, Cherry Jones tackled the part of Amanda Wingfield; in 2010 it was Blythe Danner. Currently, it’s Sally Fields taking on the mother of all roles (sorry Mama Rose) in the Broadway run of The Glass Menagerie
through July 2nd.

Crossing over

Broadway transfers create a very different equation for the money behind productions. The show did well in, say, a 300-seat house. How will it fare in one with 500+?

We caught In Transit in its off-Broadway run at 59E59 in a Primary Stages production, and the move to Broadway for this gritty a cappella musical should be interesting to watch. It’s at Circle in the Square through June 25th.

Often, Broadway’s bookmakers like the odds. They’ve taken The Humans, for instance, out of Roundabout’s Laura Pels and plucked it onto the Helen Hayes where it has flourished. Stephen Karam’s domestic drama won the 2016 Tony® as Best Play. Significant Other, another Roundabout vehicle is heading over to Broadway’s Booth Theatre, through July 2nd.

Dear Evan Hansen is doing very well, thank you, since moving around the corner from 43rd Street’s 2nd Stage to the Music Box in an open run. A dramusical with lots of heart and the off-Broadway cred of its creative group, Steve Levenson (book) and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics.) It’s attracting Broadway audiences. Its lead, Ben Platt, who like Significant Other‘s Gideon Glick , has star quality; both transferred with the pvehicles they lead.

Big ticket

Avenue Q took a circuitous route, after transferring from off Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre, it landed off a well-received Broadway run (it won 3 Tony®s in 2004) at New World Stages for seven years.

The most famous name in Broadway transfers came from the Public Theater to win 11 Tony Awards®. It is, of course, Hamilton, a story onto itself. Another recent  Public Theater production, Sweat, opens at Studio 54 on March 26th; Lynn Nottage’s timely drama about the dystopia of working class America should do well on a bigger stage.

For my money…

If you were putting up money for a Broadway produciton, would you opt for a revival or take a fly on bringing a production uptown? Tough call. And a big thanks to all the folks who do put their money in and bring theater to us.

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 based on a Tennessee Williams story, drama, theater

Desire and longing

It’s easy to confuse desire with longing. Tennessee Williams often deftly treads that line in his lyrical story-telling, as he does in his plays.

Juliet Brett and Kristen Adele in Beth Henley’s The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin, in DESIRE, produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Juliet Brett and Kristen Adele in Beth Henley’s The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin, in DESIRE, produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Fans of Tennessee Williams are treated to 6 servings of plays built from his short stories in The Acting Company’s production of DESIRE  playlets based on Williams’ short stories, at 59E59 Theater’s 5A series, running through October 10th.

The playwrights, undaunted by their task to recreate what Tennessee has left for them, are mostly familiar names, most of whom don’t quite get the recipe right.

Only one of them, John Guare, dug right in to The Glass Menagerie. In his  You Lied to Me About Centralia, based on the short story Portrait of a Girl in Glass,  he regales us by revealing what that dinner at the Wingfields looked like to their guest.

Mickey Theis and Megan Bartle in John Guare’s You Lied to Me About Centralia, in DESIRE, produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Mickey Theis and Megan Bartle in John Guare’s You Lied to Me About Centralia, in DESIRE, produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The “Gentleman Caller,” Jim (Mickey Theis) tells his girl Betty (Megan Bartle) about his dinner with “Shakespeare,” and his mother and sister. Betty, in her turn, tells him about her trip to visit her Uncle Clyde to ask him for a gift so they could afford to buy a house.

Elizabeth Egloff covers Tent Worms  from a Williams story from 1980 of the same name. Her adaptation looks at destiny, disappointment and failure. Egloff’s treatment is the most satisfying of the items on the bill.

Derek Smith and Liv Rooth in Elizabeth Egloff’s Tent Worms, in DESIRE, produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Derek Smith and Liv Rooth in Elizabeth Egloff’s Tent Worms, in DESIRE, produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

 

In Tent Worms, Billy (Derek Smith) obsesses over the worms that have taken over the trees in his and Clara’s (Liv Rooth) Cape Cod rental. Clara tries to shepherd him back to his typewriter but he is hell-bent on eradicating the pests, whose fate somehow parallels his own.

Rebecca Gilman transposes a 1939 short story to the present, with characters engaging in such contemporary activity as texting each other.

John Skelley and Megan Bartle in Rebecca Gilman’s The Field of Blue Children, in DESIRE, produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
John Skelley and Megan Bartle in Rebecca Gilman’s The Field of Blue Children, in DESIRE, produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

In her The Field of Blue Children,  students at an Alabama college are divided as highbrows and sorority. Layley (Megan Bartle) traverses the categories by taking a poetry class and going out with Dylan (John Skelley), a poet who is dating snarky fellow intellectual Meaghan (Kristen Adele). “Behold the New South rising,” Dylan recites and then crosses out the line.

Anna’s (Liv Rooth) scarlet evening dress is her attempt at romance in David Grimm’s Oriflamme, adaprted from the  eponymous 1974 story.

Liv Rooth and Derek Smith in David Grimm’s Oriflamme, in DESIRE, produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp
Liv Rooth and Derek Smith in David Grimm’s Oriflamme, in DESIRE, produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp

She encounters Rodney (Derek Smith) in the park at midday. “God, they say,” he tells her, “gives no man more sin than he can handle, and gambling seems to be my allotment.”

If Anna has the airs of a Blanche du Bois, Rodney is her Stanley.

Yaegel T. Welch (top) and John Skelley in Marcus Gardley’s Desire Quenched by Touch, in DESIRE, produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Yaegel T. Welch (top) and John Skelley in Marcus Gardley’s Desire Quenched by Touch, in DESIRE, produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Desire Quenched by Touch is based on Desire and the Black Masseur. Like the original, Marcus Gardley’s play is freely laced with stereotypes. Grand (Yaegel T. Welch), a musician turned masseur, is being questioned by Detective Bacon (Derek Smith) about the disappearance of his client Burns (John Skelley). This lurid little tale is full of humor , and twists.

Sad to say, none of the plays in DESIRE rise to the level of a Williams at his best, but many capture the rich and unexpected flavors of his art. The plays, like the stories from which they are sprung, are often odd.

Sometimes desire, and DESIRE as well, is tinged with intimations of mortality. The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin is whimsical. Beth Henley, no stranger to the Southern tale, speculates on the story of a piano prodigy, Roe (Juliet Brett) who abandons imagination and play with her brother Tom (Mickey Theis) to practice a Chopin violin and piano duet with Richard Miles (Brian Cross).

Director Michael Wilson pulls together the divergent works offered under the umbrella of DESIRE.

For more information, please visit www.59e59.org.