a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for the ‘Off Broadway’ Category

Sam Shepherd Passes;I Debuted as an Actor in His “Melodrama Play” at LaMama

La Mama Ellen Stewart

I made my theatrical debut at La Mama in a Sam Shepherd play called “Melodrama Play.” It’s little known, and I’ve never seen another production of it. The late genius actor/director Seth Allen convinced Ellen Stewart, La Mama herself, to let him have his own company of actors at La Mama, in the heady early ’70s and he called it The Star Car. I was working the box-office at the time and became quite the La Mama fixture for a while.La Mama ext.1

Ellen was a legend even then. She had practically jump-started the Off-Off Broadway movement herself, with her Café La Mama in the ’60s. And Sam Shepherd was a main part of her early success. She adored him. He was one of her “babies.” And Seth Allen was, too.

Sam Shepherd was already a produced star and considered a major American playwright by the time I landed in “Melodrama Play” in 1971. With Seth Allen directing. It was as campy as all hell, and two go-go dancers in cages onstage and in and above the audience added to this outre effect ,and I sure did as Cisco, a hippie with my hair in a huge red-orange ‘fro ( I had hair then ). I was supposed to, per Seth’s direction giggle and laugh all the time. And yes, I was also in hot-pants, cut off jeans, and a skinny T-shirt. There’s a picture of this somewhere and I’ll publish it some day.

 

Young San Shepherd 1

It was the last thing in the world, I think, that Sam expected to see his play done like – this a transgender mini-extravaganza.

Seth had a history with it. He had toured Europe with La Mama E.T.C. in a VAN that was called “the star car” by its inhabitants, and I think Melodrama Play was one of the plays they did, hence Seth’s affection for it.

It was thrilling to do, and I remember meeting the EXTREMELY handsome young playwright at the cast party after opening night, and he looked at me a bit bewildered. He didn’t know what to say, initially. I don’t think he ever thought of this character as gay, but I certainly played it that way, and the audience loved it. It was quite the debut.

And Sam just looked at me with this perplexed expression and after a pause, said, “Good.”

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Congratulations to Susan Haskins & Theatertalk!

Now that’s it’s been publicly announced on the air on PBS tonight on Theater Talk, I can say congratulations to Susan Haskins for winning (her first) Emmy! And she graciously and generously thanked me for introducing her to “the brilliant and impossible Michael Riedel” and she called me a “Public Access Legend.” And the Susan Haskinsterm has stuck. Which has very kind of her.
I now wear a hat that a kind friend gave me for my birthday that says “Puhlic Access Legend”.
There’s almost no woman who. against all odds/ has done so much for American Theater. She’s been doing it for 25 Years.
Especially when there’s so little coverage of theater anymore in NYC. She’s doing what Ed Sullivan used to do. Congratulations, Susan!

 

CD of “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet…”A Masterpiece Recording of a Masterpiece Musical!

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

Rejoice! “Spamilton”s Sparklingly Funny CD Is Out! & The Show Is STILL running!

Rejoice, Musical Theater Lovers! And Haters, “Spamilton”s hilarious new CD is out! Yes! The Original cast in its’ entirety has been captured forever, affording devotees of the Maestro of Mirth Gerard Alessandrini, the ability to listen to his witticisms puncture that OTHER Maestro of the Musical Moment, Lin-Manuel Miranda & his monsterpiece “Hamilton” Things were so out of control last season that when the show opened , I mean, when “Spamilton” opened, and I saw it last fall, that other show “Hamilton”, it was literally eating Bway alive. Other shows were closing (“Shuffle Along” for one for instance) with lines of overnight campers-out literally littering W. 46th St. All hoping desperately to get a returned ticket. As is a  surprise character in the show is…but more on her later…

Things aren’t quite so desperate now. “Hello Dolly” is now the hottest ticket in town. And all of the original cast of “Hamilton” is gone off to Hollywood, or wherever, to be rich. Lin-Manuel himself is shooting “Mary Poppins” for Disney. I don’t know how that’s going to work out. Emily Blunt as Mary herself may save it.

We’ll see, Mary Dugan.

But in the meantime, if you STILL can’t get $800 tickets to “Hamilton” itself, “Spamilton” will do very nicely. And is a fraction of the price. It’s still at the snug Triad night club on W.72nd Street. And the CD is great! And even cheaper!  I can’t stop playing it! And laughing! Here’s a link to my original review from last fall.

https://stephenholtshow.wordpress.com/2016/10/24/spamilton-hilarious-brilliant-hamilton-spoof-off-broadway-at-the-triad/

It seems marvelously effusive in retrospect, but I still stand behind every superlative! And the cast has changed at the Triad. Only the wonderfully vermin-like Dan Rosales as Lin-Manuel and Chris Anthony Giles as the frustrated Leslie Odom as Aaron Burr(“I wanna be in the film, when it happens!) are still in it. But the new cast-members are just as hilariously versatile as the originals and they sing the range-y score magnificently.

Tristan J. Shuler as Daveed Diggs looks so much like the actor he replaced, I thought it was the same person! And he seems to just love rocking his jockeys off in “I Kill My Friends in My Underwear!” And Larry Owens is also a doppelgänger for his predecessor, playing Stephen Sondheim (yes, he’s in it, too) as Yoda. Sort of. And Ben Franklin. (Everybody in history is in this!)

I had the privilege of witnessing the performance of pint-sized Claudia Yanez playing ALLLLLL the females in the show, and I thought “Understudy! Uh-Oh!” But she was astounding, and fresh as a daisy. With a voice that could project all the way to Bayonne!

I’m also happy to report that the Playkill Program has been upgraded to allow me to include a strong mention that the amazingly adept and funny choreography on the dime-sized Triad stage is by Gerry McIntyre (“Thighs Up”!), and the just-right costumes are by Dustin Cross. Gina Kreiezermar is “Guest Diva”who does so well imitating Bernadette Peters, and Liza Minelli (among others) crying, disguised as a homeless woman who enters from the audience “Tickets. I need tickets! For a desperate diva!” to the music of the Beggar Woman from “Sweeney Todd.”

And I can now give fulsome credit to the zany, wonderful Glenn Bassett as the Queen of Broadway, who plays Jonathan Groff as the campy King George III to a T and remarks that his number is really the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” as he leads the audience in a rousing chorus of “Gay, gay, gay, GAY!”

Lin-Manuel himself has been to see it TWICE! And is quoted as saying,

“I laughed my brains out!”

“Picnic” Greatly Revived Off Bway by Transport Group in an Inge Rep

Picnic 2

How did I spend my Easter Sunday? Watching a great revival of William Inge’s best play “Picnic” by the Transport Group at the Judson Gym on Washington Square. And they were packed. On Easter Sunday and you could hear a pin drop. A really solid piece of work by all involved. “Picnic” is novelly playing in repertory with another one of Inge’s less-revived works “Come Back, Little Sheba,” which I’ve reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

But director Jack Cummings III and company really hit it out of the ball-park with this really stark take on what is mainly remembered as a very lush Hollywood movie with William Holden and Kim Novak at her absolute peak, as Madge, the pretty one. Here we have Ginna Le Vine, and the studly, hunky track star from “Sheba“, the charismatic David T.Patterson.

 

Patterson does really well here as the muscle-bound tramp that the overly friendly Mrs.Potts takes in, and turns her and all her neighbors lives upside down. Played by the much better cast here Heather Mac Rae, who nearly sinks “Sheba” under her too girthy performace. You can sense the actor’s delight in the repertory feel of playing two different roles right after the other. Especially so with Mac Rae, who is just delightful ogling Hal here, and was so bad three nights ago in “Sheba.”

With this rep, the enterprising and award-winning Transport Group is trying to show NY audiences just what it is missing. Repertory is staple of European Theater and rarely seen in America.

Also appearing well-cast in the supporting role of Howard, the reluctant suitor of school-teacher Rosemary ( a tremendous Emily Skinner ) is the versatile string-bean John Cariani. He played the hell out of THREE small roles in “Sheba” ( a Postman, a milk man and a Telegram delivery boy ). He is also the playwright of “Almost, Maine,” one of the most successful Off Broadway plays of the past decade. Which was also done by the Transport Group. Picnic 6

Patterson as Hal really gets to elicit his character’s desperate pathos as he curls up into a ball of pain, crying after a fight with his best friend, who tears his already tattered shirt, the only shirt he owns.Picnic 3

Holding this marvelous production together just as she is seen trying to hold her family of three from flying apart, is the simply wonderful Michele Pawk.

Picnic 1

Pawk, makes the role of the mother figure of the piece Flo, the surprising center of “Picnic”s beating heart. Her climactic moments after her soon-to-be wayward daughter, Madge, leaves her were shattering. And award-level worthy. You never remember who plays Flo, but Pawk’s Flo is the best I’ve ever seen and one I shan’t soon forget. Yes, it is Flo’s world that we see disintegrating right before her pain-stricken eyes. Bravo, Michele!Picnic 7

And did I mention Dane Laffrey’s pared-down set of only seven peeling garden chairs against a blank plywood wall of flats? Which left us nothing to look at except the marvelous eleven actors, the Transport Group has assembled before them? It bisected the Judson Gym’s small space diagonally and the audience was seated two-deep, as it was with “Come Back Little Sheba.” And in this cramped space, this holiday audience still gave “Picnic” a standing ovation. This was an Easter to remember, I tell you.

Best New Play on Bway “Significant Other”

“Significant Other” is a VERY significant play. In fact, it’s the best play I’ve seen so far this year ON BROADWAY. It’s significant, too, that it’s on Broadway. A play like this, about this topic, is something that has never been articulated on Broadway, and certainly not from the gay character’s point of view. It’s a drama. It’s not JUST a comedy, although that’s how they’re selling it, but young gay playwright Joshua Harmon has some very important points that he wants to make, and he makes them quite strongly. He’s not pulling his punches.

Nor is his ace director Trip Cullman, who is simply one of the best young directors of his generation. And yes, it’s the Millennial generation. That’s what this play is about, purportedly. It’s 20-something cast thinks nothing of living on their cell phone and their iPhones and their computers and texting, texting, texting. Instead of really just talking to each other. But they DO talk. They have to communicate with each other. This is a play after all, and we want to see them interact with each other, and they do and it gets quite ugly and violent, by the end.

But the feelings that are being articulated here are so important, I didn’t mind how harrowing “Significant Other” gets.  These things needed to be said, and playwright Harmon and director Cullman say them VERY well.“Significant Other” is a play about a young gay Jewish man named Jordan Berman, who surrounds himself with a bevy of girls, who he thinks are this friends. And as the play goes on and one by one each them leaves him to get married, until he’s left utterly alone, and we are as devastated by this climatic state of things as he is.

Gideon Glick as our soon-to-be-hapless hero will probably be nominated for Best Actor in a play as he turns from super-schlub to super-mensch. He is called upon to play a wide variety of comedy, and camp, but by the end he just breaks your heart with a violence that is quite unforgettable.

Because what “Significant Other” is about, really, is about loneliness, the only kind of loneliness many gay men will ever know. When his last BFF shatteringly leaves him, he is facing a life that is going to be lived without his (he thought) heterosexual besties. You can’t help but hate the three young women who are played so well here, the aptly named Sas Goldberg,(no, that’s her real first name), Rebecca Naomi Jones, and especially by the overweight girl, who he thought would NEVER get married, and leave him, too, Lindsay Mendes(in a beautiful, powerful performance).

The climax of the play articulates what I’ve never seen even mentioned in any gay play on Broadway or Off. Glick tears into the shocked Ms. Mendes in a tirade against heterosexual women and the institution of marriage. He realizes that this is never going to happen to him, and the love and life she has found is something that he, as a gay man, is never going to experience.

This play feels like it was written before Gay Marriage was on the table as a viable option, if that’s what you’re looking for, but it seems Gideon isn’t, not really. Not yet. He wants to hang on to his immaturity as long as possible that his life is just going to be one Bachelorette party after the other.

Of course, for balance, the trio of female characters also express their various dissatisfaction(s) with their marital states, but Gideon is just left bereft by what he sees as their betrayal of his kindness and good humor and generosity towards these women.  They are exploiting his good nature, he expresses in a vitriolic scene with Ms. Mendes that could lead them both to the Tony ceremony in June. And of course, Mr. Harmon and Mr. Cullman, too.

And lighting designer Kate Voyce has to be commended, also, for her astute use of multiple chandeliers overhanging the urban interiors below. Y’know, the kind of chandeliers that just scream “WEDDING.”  The institution of marriage and its’ concomitant inevitable promise of happy endings for everyone, is not the case here in “Significant Other.” It ultimately questions loneliness and leaves the gregarious Gideon Glick’s character Jordan Berman with it as his seemingly unavoidable option. And that is its’ power and greatness. Bravo to all involved in bringing this superb production to Broadway.

#Significant Other, #Gideon Glick, # Joshua Harmon, #Trip Cullman, # Broadway, # Best Play of the Year, # Tony Awards, #homosexuality

 

Live Blogging the Oscars! First up, Lucas Hedges!

lucas-hedges-oscarlucas-hedges-shaved-headlucas-hedges-manchesterLive Blogging the Oscars has begun! I never start this early! It’s barely 6pm EST, but Supporting Nominee Lucas Hedges of “Manchester by the Sea” just gave the first speech of the evening to Sandy Kenyon of ABC.

Lucas was in full head-shaved mode for his hit Off Broadway play “Yen.” His trade-mark red-hair was completely gone. He was rocking an out-sized but chic, black bow-tie and traditional tux and he told Kenyon straight off “I don’t think I’m going to win.” But quickly added “The Nomination is the Win.” And compared it to riding on a roller-coaster and that his car had to go through three security/bomb searches on this way it. “They were all dressed up”(the Security men) like they were in Robo-Cop. It’s crazy.” And Kenyon wanted to know how it felt to be nominated for the Oscar at age 20. “It’s unbelievable. I can’t believe I’m here.”

Newsflash! Not! Natalie Portman of “Jackie, up for Best Actress, isn’t coming tonight, “because of her pregnancy.” Which didn’t stop her from coming six years ago, when she was also pregnant, and nominated for “Black Swan” which she won. She probably knew she wasn’t going to win this time. Nothing’s going to stop Emma Stone in “La La Land.” So Portman didn’t want to show up,  pregnant, and lose.

She got to the Golden Globes alright. But she did look very large.natalie-portman-pregnant#Oscar Red Carpet

#Lucas Hedges

#Natalie Portman

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: