a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Dina MerrillDina Merrill Hartley (born Nedenia Marjorie Hutton; December 29, 1923-May 22, 2017) was an American actress, businesswoman and philanthropist.  She died peacefully at home surrounded by her family.

Merrill was born in New York City on December 29, 1923. She was the only child of Post Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her second husband, the Wall Street investment broker Edward Francis “E.F.” Hutton.

 She adopted the stage name Dina Merrill, borrowing from Charles E. Merrill, a distant relative and a famous stockbroker like her father. Merrill made her debut on the stage in the play The Mermaid Singing in 1945.  During World War II, she was part of the Moss Hart USO troupe and performed throughout the Pacific Theatre of Operations. Her stage career in regional and Broadway theatre took off after the war and continued through the 1990’s including the1983 Broadway revival of the Rodgers & Hart musical On Your Toes.

 Merrill appeared in more than 25 feature films including Desk Set (1957), Operation Petticoat, The Sundowners (1960),Butterfield 8 (1960), The Young Savages (1961), The Courtship of Eddie’s Father , and Robert Altman’s A Wedding (1978) andThe Player (1992).

 Merrill appeared on more than 100 television shows varying from What’s My Line to The Magnificent Ambersons.

Merrill has been married three times. In 1946 she wed Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr. and had 3 children, including David Rumbough (d. 1973)

In 1966 she married Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson, with whom she had Heather Robertson (d. 2007)

 In 1990’s, Merrill and her third husband, Ted Hartley, merged their company, Pavilion Communications, with the famed RKO to form RKO Pictures which made a number of feature films including Mighty Joe Young (with Disney).

 Merrill devoted a great deal of her time to public and charitable service. She was Chairman of the board and Director emeritus with over 50 years of service to the New York City Mission Society. When her son David was diagnosed with diabetes, Dina founded the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, dedicated to diabetic research. She served as the International Ambassador for ORBIS International, the flying eye hospital which teaches advanced eye care and eye surgical techniques all over the world.

 Ms. Merrill was an energetic supporter of the performing arts. She was a founding t of te O’Neill Theater Center and an early director of the Paley Media Center. She served for 12 years as presidential appointee to the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She was honored by Guild Hall, where she performed on stage for many summers in East Hampton, NY,by the naming of their theater and back theater spaces the Dina Merrill Pavilion.

She was a trustee of the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Washington, DC.

She also served as a board member of the Population Resource Council and the Republican Majority for Choice Committee promoting “choice” for women and was a founding vice chairman of the Pro-Choice Coalition.

As a corporate leader, she served as the Vice Chairman of RKO Pictures and was actively involved in many of its productions and activities. She has served on the Board of Directors of E.F. Hutton Company and the Board of Lehman Brothers.

She is survived by her loving husband Ted Hartley, son Stanley Hutton Rumbough, and ughter Nedenia Rumbough Roosenburg and six grandchildren.

Burial services will be private for the family.  Celebrations of Dina’s life will be scheduled iks to come.

Remembrances of Dina could be sent in her name to:

Orbis International, 520 8th Avenue, 12th Floor, New York, NY, 1001

–        O’Neill Theatre Foundation, The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, 305 Great Neck Road, Waterford, CT 06385

10037, Attention: Development Office

  Hillwood Estate Museum and Gardens, 4155 Linnean Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20008

 Messages of condolence will be gratefully received at dinamerrillremembered@rko.com

FOR MY LOVE, IT IS TIMELESS AND VAST AS THE SKIES
IT IS STRONG AS THE TIDE AND THE WAVES WHEN THEY RISE
IT IS I, ERNEST SHACKLETON, HERE IN COMMAND
AND I PROMISE MY DARLING WE’RE GONNA FIND LAND

“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” is the most wildly inventive musical of the Off-Bway season. And if anyone would have told me I’d be raining superlatives over a two-person love story that’s set simultaneously in Brooklyn and Antartica (!) I wouldn’t’ve believed them! But it’s true! It’s all true! And 19th Century Arctic Explorer Ernest Shackleton has come back to life(Through a date searching app on the Internet) to make wild, theatrical magic love to a single 45-year-old Mom with a baby named Zach in an unheated apartment “far out” in Brooklyn, well, it just sounds preposterous.

But the theater exists to make the unbelievable, believable.And “Ernest Shackleton” amazingly does just that .Our heroineKat (the extraordinary singer/actress/musician Val Vigoda) is an experimental music composer, whose living room is filled with every kind of electronic musical device imaginable, including a red, heart-shaped electric violin, which she barely puts down and a set of amplified drums that she beats all her many frustrations out on. This assemblage of electronicaErnest Shackleton 2 is backed by a gigantic computer screen, behind the stage, on which we see her many, many wild fantasies play out on.

The frigidity of her (very) cold water flat and the stress of her life as an artist. “I gave my life to art!” she plaintively sings, sends her over the edge and into the imaginary arms of studly Arctic hero, Ernest Shackleton, who calls out to her romantically through the Internet dating site, “Katherine! Katherine!..”and then enters her own version of Antarctica, through (where else?) her refrigerator.

Wade McCollum and Val Vigoda are the star-crossed lovers linked by the heroic struggles both are going through. He, to reach his high-flown Arctic goals, and she, well, just to survive her life. Her baby never stops crying, her computer’s keyboard keeps re-looping the word “Alone,” and they spend “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” finding each other in the highly unromantic ice and snow, which the dauntless duo here turn into a winter wonderland.

The fiery Ms. Vigoda has also written the equally red-hot, heartfelt lyrics to go with Brendan Milburn’s Irish-inflected score.

There are a lot of sea shanties mixed in with the hard-rock and the love songs and the rock-solid book is by Joe DiPietro of “Memphis” fame, who really knows his way around a musical.  And underground there is massive musical amplification on  every kind of instrument imaginable by Sound Designer Rob Kaplowitz and Orchestrators Ryan O’Connell and Glen Milburn. And the super-skillful director Lisa Peterson makes the duo seem like a cast of thousands.

At no time do Kat and Shackleton strain our credulity, as the metaphor of his ice-bound ship, the Endurance, freezes over and sinks, stranding them and a crew of 22. This is based on a true story, which I won’t spoil here.(You can look it up. It’s a recorded fact.)And they had a videographer with them, too! As newsreel footage of Shackleton’s impossible dreams becomes all of our dreams of achievement, love and survival against all odds.“Ernest Shackleton’s motto was “Optimism is a form of moral courage.”
I left “Ernest Shackleton” filled with more optimism, and hope, yes, hope for the innovative American Musical than I’ve felt since well, since “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”
He sings “FOR MY LOVE, IT IS TIMELESS AND VAST AS THE SKIES
IT IS STRONG AS THE TIDE AND THE WAVES WHEN THEY RISE
IT IS I, ERNEST SHACKLETON, HERE IN COMMAND
AND I PROMISE MY DARLING WE’RE GONNA FIND LAND!”

#Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, # Ernest Shackleton, #Val Vigoda,#Wade McCollum,#Antartica, #Artic Explorer, #Endurance, # Electric Violin, # Single Mom

Sweat 4“Sweat”is this year’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play. and it more than earns that great accolade, as well as its’ daring title. “Sweat” dares you to take into account the sweat of most of its’ main characters’ smaller-than-life lives. Sweat could be a synonym here for “work,” and that is what most of its’ squashed denizens of Reading, Pennsylvania do. Actually, it’s more like slavery. They are slaves to the Steel Mill that the entire town’s economy and their lives are attached to at the hip –Sweat 1 morning, noon and night, until they die. It’s brutal. It’s tough stuff. Now two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage is no stranger to horror. Witness her other, superb, previous Pulitzer-winner “Ruined” about the unspeakable terrors of African warfare and its’ ruinous effect on women.

“Sweat” tackles horrors you can speak of. Over-work and under-pay being the two main topics of nearly every conversation, its’ hard-scrabble characters carry on at the local bar, which is almost womb-like in its’ superb setting by John Lee Beatty, which is so familial and familiar, you feel like you’ve been hanging out there for years, as the plays bedraggled characters have.

If this bar, and its’ Christ-like bartender (a superb James Colby) seem right out of “The Iceman Cometh”, you’re not far wrong. Nottage is really plowing Eugene O’Neill’s lower depths, as well as her own. And like O’Neill, they are all being crushed and cursed by alcohol. Being that it’s 2017, other addictions apply, and pile up on “Sweat”s beleaguered characters as the actions to close down the Mill roll over all their lives in a relentless juggernaut of corporate greed and union busting that leads, of course, to catastrophe.

“Sweat” is terrifyingly prescient. This is the first play I’ve seen that explains why “You Know Who” to quote the View’s Whoopi Goldberg, got elected. This is a Rust-Belt play with all the Rust in full view.Sweat 2“Sweat” begins its’ road to hell-in-a-hand-basket with two matched monologues of two young men, barely out of their teens, childhood friends’ it turns out, one black, one white, who have been imprisoned there for some unspeakable, violent act. We don’t find out just what, until the frightening ending, but suffice it to say, that Khris and Jacob’s predicament hangs over the play like the doomed fog that has shrouded all these characters’ lives, white and black. Eugene O’Neill’s characters have gone from Pipe Dreams to Rust.Sweat 3The cast is uniformly excellent but I do have to single out the German descent White-Supremicist-in-the-making of Will Pullen, who has totally nailed the seemingly sweet, but really brutal Jason, a totally exact product of rural Pennsylvania and his factory working Mom, the Tony nominated Johanna Day.

The two of them enact a scene of horror that rivals any horror film, when he finally gets out of jail and comes home to borrow $5 from her only to find that she is now completely unemployed and a hopeless pill-head, Without that pollution-spilling Steel Mill, they’re both reduced to hopeless addicts and their lives and hopes destroyed.Sweat 5No, “Sweat” isn’t for the faint-of-heart, but it’s god-damned powerful. And Lynn Nottage’s capturing their pain and frustration so winningly is a compelling sign of hope.


#Lynn Nottage #Pulitzer Prize, #Sweat, #Broadway, #Will Pullen # Johanna Day, #Reading Pennsylvania # Stell MillsSweat 4

The soon-to-be-released 2-disc CD of the Original Broadway Cast of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is a masterpiece of recording of a masterpiece musical. I’m sorry, I just can’t stop the superlatives when talking about “Natasha, Pierre..” or as some call it “The Great Comet.” But whatever you call it, I predict it’s going to land like a bomb in the middle of TONY awards season. It’s due out May 19 and it will be flying off the shelves, like, well, like the great comet that it memorializes forever in this dazzling pop-opera spectacle that I’ve seen FOUR times and I can’t wait to see again!

Natasha, Pierre 22And yes, the magnificent lyric baritone of the legendary Josh Groban pierces through the massive ensemble and breaks your heart, with a vocal range we have barely heard him use before, especially thrilling in the darker, almost guttural, lower tones. Groban is turning into a consummate actor-singer right before our very eyes, and he has been selling out Broadway with this fiery, very avant-garde opera that challenge him at every step he takes and every note he sings and he meets the challenges magnificently..

And yes, I could see him singing at the Met one of these years. His voice just grows in depth and resonance in this incredible recording, as his performance as Pierre Bezukov has grown, too, since I first saw it. “Poor, bewildered Pierre, a warm-hearted Russian of the old school” sings the full-throated chorus, masterfully orchestrated by composer Dave Malloy. He was nominated for TWO Tonys, for his score and his orchestrations of it.

Natasha, Pierre 20Groban has two stunning solo numbers “Dust and Ashes” which ends his Act One and the title song, which ends the show. He is also singing throughout the entire score, with that pure, moving voice that is sometimes here almost a rock rasp. “What? What? WHAT?” he wails as his cousin Maria Demitryevka (the frightening Grace McLean) tells him some very alarming news indeed regarding his unrequited love, beautiful, young Natasha.

His Pierre is angry, frustrated, and almost always reading or drunk. He is married to “a bad wife”, the slinky, sensual Amber Grey as Helene.

amber-grey

She continues with this sensational role of “the slut”, wailing like a blues singer, belting out “Charmante,” wearing green furs and sequins, and sounding for all the world like a Russian Billy Holliday. As she helps seduce innocent Natasha, a better-than-ever Denee Benton, for her dissolute brother Anatole.Denee Benton 1

He is played to the hilt and beyond by Lucas Steele, who has also been with the show through all the years of its’ many peregrinations as has Amber Grey, McLean and many others. He actually has a larger role than Groban!Josh and Lucas

“Natasha, Pierre…” has had a grueling five year journey From the tiny Ars Nova theater Off-Off Broadway to the festive circus tent in the meat-packing district, where I first saw it. where they served dinner! They also went to Boston to the ART theater there. All the while under the stupendously inventive guidance of  director Rachel Chavkin. who is herself nominated for a Tony, too.

“Natasha, Pierre…” has now been nominated for TWELVE Tony Awards and I hope it wins all of them. Groban, Benton and Steele have all been nominated in their categories, but only Lucas Steele of the actors has won an award for the evil Anatole so far. He scored a prestigious Lucille Lortel Award.Lucas Steele 1Lucas Steele Lucille Lortel Award 1

In his category, Best Featured Actor in a Musical, he’s up against Broadway veteran Gavin Creel, who is a riot in “Hello, Dolly!” Both shows are mega-hits, but Steele’s Anatole is so dastardly, and also so devilishly handsome and sexy AND he plays the violin, having a wild solo as he fiddles away, preparing his plans to abduct the underage Natasha. He’s married already, and it’s a crime that he’s about to perpetrate. Yes, even in 1812 Moscow, he would be considered a criminal. and yes, this is all out of a tiny sliver of the 1000+plus-paged novel “War and Peace” from which this epic is adapted by the uber-talented Malloy.

This sliver is so epic…you can only imagine what the rest of Tolstoy’s classic novel is like. Believe it or not, I read it in the 8th grade. The other kids in the Bronx Catholic boys school I was doomed to,  made fun of me carrying his huge tome around with me for a year.

“Are you really reading all that?”

Yes, I was and I did, and I’m so glad now that I can say that I felt every inch a genuine Russian after reading it and especially seeing “Natasha, Pierre” FOUR times! And now this extraordinarily beautiful, tuneful, masterfully recorded treasure of a CD is coming soon! May 19! Remember that date!

I saw “NPATGCOE,” as the Internet might abbreviate, this last time, seated RIGHT ON THE STAGE! Every time you see it sitting in a different place in the wildly re-devised Imperial theatre,  it’s like seeing a different play! When you’re sitting on the stage itself, you feel like you are IN the play! The stage actually vibrates with the bass notes of the synthesizer that sometimes Josh Groban himself is playing in the pit of the orchestra. Which is stage center and completely unhidden.Natasha, Pierre Marquis

In fact, from his first entrance in front of a blinding blaze of  white lights, he is playing the accordion himself, and he rarely if ever leaves the stage.  Bespectacled Pierre is Tolstoy’s alter-ego. He is one of the first, modern anti-heroes. He is thoroughly depressive, a big Russian,
beaten-up bear of a character. And yes, he’s the hero of “War and Peace.”  Groban to his everlasting credit has totally immersed himself to the point of unrecognizability in his heroic, vanity free performance. He is wearing a fat suit. He now lumbers and growls and shuffles his considerable weight as a middle-aged man would. His long, thin fingers shake with what may be delirium tremens as in a man who drinks Way too much. His young brow is now furrowed, without any make-up.

You can hear this bear of a character that he is so perfectly portraying growling through the CD like a wounded animal. But like the maestro he is, Pierre’s voice, his howl of pain, is always also modulated and very, very beautiful.  And moving.Natasha, Pierre Broadway SetYou must hurry and buy it. I predict it will be a best seller, the first Broadway recording and the best maybe ever. It could go platinum in five minutes. And go see Groban live and onstage before he leaves the show forever in July. He’s entitled. He’s been packing them in on Broadway, for nearly a year, revitalizing it and don’t even get me started on Mimi Lien’s transformative set and the wild, magnificent lighting of Bradley King! Both also nominated for Tonys. I hope they all win!

I also have to add that there seems to be a thousand-voiced choir, an epic number of voices that call themselves “The Great Comet Singers” who are pictured in the CD program and contribute to the amazing sound and rhythm of “Balaga” and “The Abduction.” They are also credited as “Shakers.” Because the audience was all given egg-shaped shakers to increase the beat of the delirious troika ride to end all troika rides in Act Two. Yes, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet” of 1812 will abduct you, too. Your heart, I mean. You’ll never think of musicals the same way again.

Lucas Steele & Denee Benton 1
#Natasha, Pierre, # The Great Comet of 1812, #Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 # Josh Groban, #Lucas Steele, #Tony Awards, #Denee Benton, #Russia, #War and Peace

As I predicted both “Glass Menagerie” and “Amelie” will close before Tony Awards. Sally Field, nonetheless, received a nomination for Best Actress in a Play. “Amelie” received none and will close first on May 21.

Present Laughter 3LIttle Foxes 16As I predicted only yesterday, BOTH Laura Linney AND Cynthia Nixon won awards for their unforgettable roles in the double cast “Little Foxes.” It was the Outer Critics Circle who first declared this double victory, which I think will be repeated at both the Drama Desk Awards AND the Tonys, if history is any indicator. But of course, this is an historic first, the double casting of female leads in one terrific show. Men have done this before but not women. Linney won for Best Actress for her Regina-with-a-heart, and Cynthia for the Supporting role of the sad Aunt Birdy. But the actresses both switch parts at alternating performances. So they really were BOTH being honored for BOTH parts, too. As well they should be!Bette Midler and “Hello Dolly” also won. As did Andy Karl for “Groundhog Day.” “”Come from Away” the Canadian Musical about 9/11 on for Best Musical . Jenn Collella, the only character with a song to herself in “Come From Away,” got best featured actress in a musical for her feisty pilot and Gavin Creel got Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his high-stepping Cornelius Hackl inAndy Karl Ground Hog Day 1“Hello, Dolly!” as I predicted he would. The Outer Critics Circle made up from critics whose reviews are read outside New York City are always the first to announce and often predict won the following awards, the Drama Desks, the Tonys, will go, especially in the Actors’ categories. Oh! And Danny DeVito in his Broadway debut as the kibbutzing  furniture appraiser in “The Price” won for Best Featured Actor in a Play, and Kevin Klein for “Present Laughter” as Best Actor in a Play.

For a complete List of winners go to OuterCritics.org.

Come From Away 1.PNG


Newsflash! I just saw “The Little Foxes” for a second time and had an incredible theatrical experience all over again. This time I saw Laura Linney in the leading role of the much-maligned, anti-heroine Regina Giddens, and in Linney’s lustrous hands, she is evil no more. She is simply magnificent.

Because Laura Linney plays this part startlingly, with love.

You feel she loves her dying husband (Richard Thomas, never better) and is torn apart by his chronic illness and approaching demise, and is preyed upon by her two evil brothers (Michael McKean and Darren Goldstein) in ways that have twisted her and embittered her, to the point where she seems like a woman who is a classic villainess. But is she? Linney’s unforgettable performance makes us question and re-see Regina in a very wonderful, complicated, modern light.

Littlr Foxes 7

If she’s a villainess, she’s a villain  that you’re rooting for. And in her own way, she wins.

I think playwright Lillian Hellman has written someone much more complex than originally thought. Laura Linney’s Regina is a valiant, strong woman, who has had her heart broken and has to resort to her brutish ways, which is exactly how her cigar-smoking brothers are treating her She replicates them as the play’s action progresses, words and acts that she is not really comfortable with. But if she has to do them and say them, she will. Men behave this way. Why can’t she?

Linney plays her as the ultimate Southern Belle. I kept thinking of Scarlett O’Hara, a Southern woman, who has to be a monster to survive the Civil War. Linney’s Regina has to become a monster to survive her family. It’s also interesting to note that both these fictional Southern female icons where written in the same decade, the 1930s by Southern women writers, Lillian Hellman and Margaret Mitchell.

At the performance I saw, the supporting cast just jumped up quite a few notches in their various roles. Caroline Stefanie Clay as the devoted, but tart Mammie of the household got tarter. Michael Benz as the dumb son of the horrid brother Horace, got dumber, and Darren Goldstein as Horace became even more frightening and brutish. Michael McKean became so oily & slimy, you’d think he was going to slip off the stage. Their cigar smoke wafting over the first few rows of the house, was as nauseating as their behavior.

lITTLE fOXES 13

Tony Nominee Richard Thomas loves and understands his difficult wife and blames himself for the bitch he now sees standing before him, as he’s dying. You really sense the rich history of their marriage. And you sense his love and deep, deep regrets that the sweet girl he married has turned into this grasping, acquisitive virago, who is capable of killing him.

And Linney’s Regina is just the ultimate Southern belle. She just smiles and smiles, and butter could melt in her mouth. She is so sweet at the start(and flirty) that her smile could give you diabetes. She’s Scarlett O’Hara at the Twelve Oaks ball, surrounded by potential suitors, all wanting her hand. Except Regina’s already married, but the way she behaves you’d never know it.

lITTLE FOXES 14She’s voluptuous and she’s beautiful and she’s charming. But don’t cross her, or god forbid underestimate her! She’s not just a pretty plaything for her dastardly, thieving brothers to dominate and manipulate in their nefarious ways and schemes.  And you cheer for her, when she gets the best of them at the end.

This production is so different for the one I saw several weeks ago, with the two female leads reversed, that I just couldn’t believe it. With this masterful, magnificent Regina, Laura Linney becomes one of the great actresses of our time. As she lets her sick husband die in the famous staircase scene at the end, you sense her heartbreak that her life and her love for him has come to this. It’s killing her as she kills him. She lets out a moan at one point, watching him die, and facing upstage, in a green dress, the color of money, that is positively earth-shattering.

And what of her fellow  co-star and switch-ee, Cynthia Nixon? After glorying in her very different Regina, I felt she really played Aunt Birdy is a two-note character, as most do. Laura Linney did not. She had many varied colors in her Birdy palette, whereas Nixon seems to fade into the background, and just stares at the incredible performance Linney is giving. Her Regina was ice-cold, and very, very intellectual. It was all in her head. The wheels were always turning. LITTLE fOXES 3

And there seemed to be nothing between her and her sick husband. She hated him as much as she hated her hateful brothers. You understood her Regina, and it’s just as valid an interpretation as Linney’s much softer, conflicted one.  But her Birdy was a disappointment to me. It was almost like Nixon was so checked out, she was phoning her Birdy in. And reverting to the classic Birdy as a stage drunk. I think she was drinking more than Linney as Birdy did. Nixon’s Birdy was a dyed-in-the-wool alcoholic. It’s almost like she wasn’t even there.

And now that the Tony Awards and the Drama Desks nominations have come out, Laura Linney is nominated, she’s clearly in the lead in the race for Best Actress. And Cynthia Nixon has been placed in the Supporting Actress category. Linney has been nominated three times (as she has for the Oscar) and never won. Nixon has two Tonys already. In a weak category, Nixon may win again. The award given for both performances, really.

Linney has got competition from Laurie Metcalf in “Doll’s House, Part Two” a play that is the last one I’m going to see this season. So we’ll see how this all plays out.

Seeing it for a second time, I noticed the cracks in the ceiling set and that the ugly, tiny chandelier was positively filthy, and the set itself seemed skewed slightly, like everything was off-kilter in this mad house, and more than a little falling apart. The furniture seemed grand, but didn’t match and the upholstery and rug were faded. Bravo to set designer Scott Pask for creating this worn-down mausoleum for these snake-pit characters to writhe in.

But what a magnificent theatrical experience to see these two astounding American actresses tackle an American classic TWICE! GO TO BOTH!!!Little Foxes 11
#Little Fozes, #Laura Linney, #Cynthia Nixon # Regina Giddens, #Scarlet O’Hara, #Lillian Helman, #Southern Belle

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