a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

It’s FINALLY Opening! What else? “Hello, Dolly” with Bette Middler on Bway. I will be seeing it in less than a week! Can’t Wait! Here’s the skinny!

MAYORAL PROCLAMATION  DECLARING TOMORROW, FRIDAY, APRIL 21 DOLLY DAY IN NEW YORK CITY HAS BEEN DELIVERED TO THE SHUBERT THEATRE

IN CELEBRATION OF TONIGHT’S OPENING OF  “HELLO, DOLLY!” STARRING BETTE MIDLER        New York, NY –  As previously announced, to commemorate tonight’s official opening of Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler on Broadway, Mayor Bill de Blasio will officially proclaim tomorrow, Friday, April 21, “Dolly Day” in New York City.  As promised, the proclamation, has been hand-delivered to the Sam S. Shubert Theatre.  An image of the proclamation follows on the next page of this release.

The Broadway revival of Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman’s masterpiece Hello, Dolly! is directed by four-time Tony Award® winner Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Tony Award® winner Warren Carlyle.

This Hello, Dolly!, the first new production of this classic musical (based on Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker)  to appear on Broadway since it opened more than fifty years ago, pays tribute to the original work of legendary director/ choreographer Gower Champion, which has been hailed both then and now as one of the greatest stagings in musical theater history.

The Women! The Divas! Patti Lu Pone & Christine Ebersole! Incomparable! Superb! Not to be missed! The play, “War Paint” ~ you could miss it.

And what a shame that Catharine Zuber’s magnificent hats and costumes were worn in the service of a less than deserving musical.

“War Paint” should’ve been grand on every level, and it’s just not. Granted trying to dramatize the story of two woman who hated each other in every way possible sounds good on paper. But in real life, they never met, and so they don’t here. It’s delicious to think of the possibilities, especially with these two magnificent performers, who are at their absolute best here, dramatically and vocally. But alas! The facts, such as they are barely can hold a massive evening about them together.

Talking about “War Paint” is like crying over spilled milk. In fact, that would’ve been a more accurate title. “Spilled Milk”. We should glory in the stupendous performances of two of the greatest actress/singers on this planet. And they are glorious. To see each of them in roles that they more than can get their teeth into is a feast of great acting that we will rarely see again. And flawless, flawless, flawless.

There is nothing audiences enjoy more than a cat fight but since these titans of the powder puff never meet or interact(until the end), it’s like watching two super musicals playing out at the same time. One great story seems like a distraction to the other. Once you get into one saga, you’re snapped back into the other…and so it goes…

And the music is just so-so. There are two stupendous numbers at the end one for each of them.First up, as the play moves to its’ inexorable climax as the women age, is Christine Ebersole’s beautiful/sad reflection of her life in “Pink.” I could listen to that song forever, and probably will. The program lists the number as “Forever Beautiful” but it will always be pink to me.

Followed all too quickly by Patti Lupone’s grande finale “Beauty in the World” as an aging Helena Rubenstein sings an aria to end all arias to the great artists whom she commissioned to paint portraits of her in oils and sketches throughout her long life. Rubenstein herself is vibrantly alive in this mega-number and Lu Pone essays it as if she were Callas herself singing “O Mia Bambino Caro.”

Who could resist these transcendent moments? Unfortunately, we have to slog through  nearly two hours of dull to get to the fabulous. But when “War Paint” gets there, it really gets there.

That supremely under-rated British American actress Kate Burton is really holding her own against her over-blown. self-absorbed actor-husband played by Kevin Kline  in Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter” on Broadway now . Its’ modest charms seem lost in the cavernous St. James theater.

Not one of Coward’s top drawer plays like “Blithe Spirit”, Coward tossed it off(and I mean that in more ways than one) while on tour during WWII with his war play “This Happy Breed.” He must’ve been very bored because the soignee part of Garry Essendine is partially based on his own self.present Laughter 4 As a vehicle, I suppose it can’t be beat, and it certainly is a big, juicy part, and Kline absent from the stage for far too long, makes the most of it. Or makes too much of it. really. I didn’t think you could overact this part of the always acting actor of the Old School Garry Essendine, but Kline comes dangerously close.

I missed Frank Langella is his ’96 production of “Present Laughter.” It was much faster and much funnier and had the great Alice Janney in the part of the no-nonsense, soon-to-be ex-wife Liz, that the Great Kate, is now essaying so elegantly. Liz Essendine, really, I’ve now come to think is the back-bone of the play, and Coward wrote it for Joyce Carey, his almost constant cohort and muse. And wrote a better part for her than he wrote for himself. Liz has to stand up to Garry and she’s the one who is really holding his household and Himself together as all hell breaks loose, as it always would and SHOULD in a comedy.

Garry is doing nothing more than swanning about in glamorous dressing gowns and ascots and acting, ACTING, and OVER-ACTING all the time. Coward himself would have no problems with this and Frank Langella certainly hit the right note, but oddly Kevin Kline doesn’t. Too many years in movies has dulled his panache. He seems huffing and puffing and sometimes breaking such a sweat running from schtik to schtik that he is a tad, dare I say it? Too old for the role.

But “Present Laughter” wouldn’t be on Broadway at all if it wasn’t for Kline’s movie star rep and his making all those films. His ex Patti LuPone is having no problem with holding the stage and playing and singing and ringing the rafters just down the Bway block as Helena Rubenstein in “War Paint” But more on Patti later.Kate Burton has quite a history with “Present Laughter” herself having originally played the part of the over-sexed ingénue Daphne Sillington, who has famously “lost her latch key”, in Act One in 1982, opposite George C. Scott. You see, actors keep wanting to revive Garry Essendine, but Kline barely makes it to Act III.

I also don’t remember “Present Laughter” being so long and so slow, especially in Act I. Another factor that defeats Kline. He has to do too much heavy lifting and is really having to put Act III energy into Act I trying to make it more madcap than it is really meant to be.

Someone who really lifts the level to the right manic place is Bhavesh Patel as the demented, obsessed playwright wannabee (read fan) Roland Maule. Patel is so fanatical that he rightly suggests the gay sub-text that we’ve known is there. If only the latch-key losers who keep hiding themselves in Essendine’s guest bedroom were male, the play would seem more relevant and less dated. But alas, in Blackpool, in 1942, when the play premiered in the U.K., Coward could not have done that. So what we’re left with is half-baked piffle. And you know what that tastes like.

 

This seems to be a very unusual, low-octane choice to host the high-powered Tony Awards broadcast, but there it is. Two time Academy Award Winner Kevin Spacey. However, he did win one Tony at the beginning of his career.

The most serious of recent Tony host choices  have all been song and dance men lately. Neil Patrick Harris or Hugh Jackman. Or Comics like James Corden.

The Tony Awards announced today that Tony and Academy Award winning actor Kevin Spacey will host  the 71st Annual Tony® Awards live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Sunday, June 11 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/delayed PT) on the CBS Television Network. This will be Spacey’s first time hosting the Tonys. He won a Tony Award in 1991 for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in “Lost in Yonkers.” The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.  

 

I was their 2nd choice for Usual Suspects, 4th choice for America Beauty and 15th choice to host this year’s Tony Awards. I think my career is definitely going in the right direction,” said Spacey. “Maybe I can get shortlisted to host the Oscars if everyone else turns it down.”

“We are thrilled to have Kevin, who has mastered the Broadway stage, the big and small screens and the West End, host this year’s Tony Awards! His spirit and passion for live theatre makes him the perfect host, and we can’t wait to see the energy he brings to Radio City on Tony night!” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, and Heather Hitchens, President of the American Theatre Wing.

 

“We’re excited to be working with a witty and charming host who is not only a Tony-winning actor and fan of live theatre, he’s also a president who is a true champion of the arts,” said Executive Producers Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner.

 

“A true star of television, film and theater, who better than Kevin Spacey to host this year’s Tony Awards?” said Jack Sussman, Executive Vice President, Specials, Music and Live Events, CBS Entertainment. “With his extensive repertoire, charisma and unparalleled dedication to live theater, we are thrilled to have him join us for this prestigious television event.” 

 

Award-winning producer and actor, Kevin Spacey, received a Tony Award in 1991 for Best Supporting Actor in Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers.” Spacey has also starred in the Broadway and West End productions of “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” opposite his mentor Jack Lemmon; as well as the title role in the Sam Mendes production of “Richard III,” which toured to 12 cities around the world as part of the three year Old Vic/BAM/Bridge Project. He was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) by Her Majesty the Queen for his services to theatre. He has also won the Evening Standard and Olivier Awards for Best Actor for his role in “The Iceman Cometh.”

 

Inspired by Jack Lemmon, Spacey has often launched initiatives to help young people get their start in the competitive worlds of film and theatre, including: The Kevin Spacey Foundation, which offers support to young actors, writers, directors and producers (including workshops during the tour of “Richard III”); And the short film competition “Jameson First Shot,” awarded writer/directors from South Africa, Russia and the US, Canada and other countries with the opportunity to direct a short film starring a major actor. Most recently Kevin was awarded an Honorary Knighthood from Her Majesty the Queen for his work at the Old Vic, education and philanthropy.

 

Spacey currently stars in and executive produces the Netflix original series “House of Cards.” Since the show premiered in 2013, he’s been nominated for multiple Emmys and has won both Golden Globe and SAG Award for his performance as Frank Underwood. He has won Academy Awards for his performances in “The Usual Suspects” and for “American Beauty”. He was most recently seen opposite Michael Shannon in “Elvis & Nixon”. He will next be seen in “Billionaire Boys Club”, Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver,” and “Rebel In The Rye” for director Danny Strong. For over a decade, Spacey served as the Artistic Director of The Old Vic Theatre Company in London. Spacey recently stepped down from this role, but during his time appeared on stage at the Old Vic in productions of “National Anthems,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Speed the Plow” with Jeff Goldblum, “Inherit the Wind,” “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” and the acclaimed production of the one-man show, “Darrow” – an examination of the legendary Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow.

 The Tony Awards announced today that Tony and Academy Award winning actor Kevin Spacey will host  the 71st Annual Tony® Awards live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Sunday, June 11 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/delayed PT) on the CBS Television Network. This will be Spacey’s first time hosting the Tonys. He won a Tony Award in 1991 for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in “Lost in Yonkers.” The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.  

 

I was their 2nd choice for Usual Suspects, 4th choice for America Beauty and 15th choice to host this year’s Tony Awards. I think my career is definitely going in the right direction,” said Spacey. “Maybe I can get shortlisted to host the Oscars if everyone else turns it down.”

“We are thrilled to have Kevin, who has mastered the Broadway stage, the big and small screens and the West End, host this year’s Tony Awards! His spirit and passion for live theatre makes him the perfect host, and we can’t wait to see the energy he brings to Radio City on Tony night!” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, and Heather Hitchens, President of the American Theatre Wing.

 

“We’re excited to be working with a witty and charming host who is not only a Tony-winning actor and fan of live theatre, he’s also a president who is a true champion of the arts,” said Executive Producers Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner.

 

“A true star of television, film and theater, who better than Kevin Spacey to host this year’s Tony Awards?” said Jack Sussman, Executive Vice President, Specials, Music and Live Events, CBS Entertainment. “With his extensive repertoire, charisma and unparalleled dedication to live theater, we are thrilled to have him join us for this prestigious television event.”   

Award-winning producer and actor, Kevin Spacey, received a Tony Award in 1991 for Best Supporting Actor in Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers.” Spacey has also starred in the Broadway and West End productions of “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” opposite his mentor Jack Lemmon; as well as the title role in the Sam Mendes production of “Richard III,” which toured to 12 cities around the world as part of the three year Old Vic/BAM/Bridge Project. He was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) by Her Majesty the Queen for his services to theatre. He has also won the Evening Standard and Olivier Awards for Best Actor for his role in “The Iceman Cometh.”

 

Inspired by Jack Lemmon, Spacey has often launched initiatives to help young people get their start in the competitive worlds of film and theatre, including: The Kevin Spacey Foundation, which offers support to young actors, writers, directors and producers (including workshops during the tour of “Richard III”); And the short film competition “Jameson First Shot,” awarded writer/directors from South Africa, Russia and the US, Canada and other countries with the opportunity to direct a short film starring a major actor. Most recently Kevin was awarded an Honorary Knighthood from Her Majesty the Queen for his work at the Old Vic, education and philanthropy.

 

Spacey currently stars in and executive produces the Netflix original series “House of Cards.” Since the show premiered in 2013, he’s been nominated for multiple Emmys and has won both Golden Globe and SAG Award for his performance as Frank Underwood. He has won Academy Awards for his performances in “The Usual Suspects” and for “American Beauty”. He was most recently seen opposite Michael Shannon in “Elvis & Nixon”. He will next be seen in “Billionaire Boys Club”, Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver,” and “Rebel In The Rye” for director Danny Strong. For over a decade, Spacey served as the Artistic Director of The Old Vic Theatre Company in London. Spacey recently stepped down from this role, but during his time appeared on stage at the Old Vic in productions of “National Anthems,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Speed the Plow” with Jeff Goldblum, “Inherit the Wind,” “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” and the acclaimed production of the one-man show, “Darrow” – an examination of the legendary Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow.

 

Picnic 2How 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 work “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 hunk 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 strinbean 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 She, who makes the role of the mother figure of the piece Flo, the surprising center of “Picnic”s beating heart. Her climatic moments after her soon-to-be wayword 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 7And 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.

So sorry to report that my favorite new drama of the year so far, “Significant Other” is closing this weekend. I loved it. I thought it was powerful. I thought it was original. I thought it was disturbing.

I also knew that it was a hard sell to Broadway audiences, who were perceiving as a light comedy about Millennials and their penchant for elaborate Bachelorette parties and expensive bridal showers. While those events did occur in “Significant Other,” they were not being celebrated, they were being depicted as nails in the coffin of a semi-immature gay man, whose marriages of his three best girl friends were seen by him as a betrayal of his friendships with them.

“Significant Other” explored that heretofore untouched delusion that only a VERY young gay man could have about his heterosexual girl friends. It showed that these women as superficial and self-centered as they were, were going to be better friends to him, long term, than the gay male alternatives Gideon Glick’s character was being presented with.

He was bound to be left terribly lonely and THAT was what “Significant Other” was about. It was a drama that addressed a topic I had never seen explored before in a gay play. Just what IS friendship? And is friendship with heterosexual women a walk in the park for a gay man? In this case certainly not.

And Gideon Glick suffers mightily for the short-sightedness of his silly, youthful choice. Yup. A life of loneliness lies ahead. But I applaud producer Jeffrey Richards and director Trip Culllman for bringing this thorny play by Joshua Harmon to Broadway. It was a brave thing to do under any circumstances. I still say “Bravo.”

I wonder if it will get any of the Tony Awards or certainly nominations that had it run longer it might have. It certainly deserved to.

Also “In Transit” one of the worst musicals I’ve ever seen, a capella or not, is closing, and good riddance.

Having spent a large part of the past 17 years traveling to Canada and reporting very positively on Canadian culture, once again, I was not surprised by the fact that one of the hottest tickets on Bway right now is, of all things, a feel-good musical about 9/11! No, I’m not kidding. Only Canadians could have written this foot-stomping and even funny look at a tragedy, that I who was also stuck in Canada while it was happening can verify. I was trapped at the Toronto Film Festival with my camera crew of three. We were lucky. We had TRAIN tickets so we could get out of there as scheduled. But no planes were flying. FOR DAYS!

Which is what “Come From Away” is dealing with. It’s the rather arcane story(on paper) of some 7000 passengers getting diverted to Newfoundland, a small island in the far eastern part of this very large and large-hearted nation. “Come From Away” is the most positive take on Newfoundland I’ve ever seen and so enjoyable it makes the case very well for Americans, who are restive and restless in this particularly troubling time in our history to just get on a plane, boat or train as soon as possible and move there, lock, stock and barrel. Which is what “Come From Away” tries to depict. And the openness, do-good-ed-ness, politeness and warmth many American will find a tad unbelievable. But it’s true. Yes, they ARE like that. Meryl Streep recently called them “the nicest people in the world,” and I think she’s right.

Newfoundland, particularly, as strange as it may seem, is the butt of endless Canadian jokes, akin to our own misguided Polish jokes. As in “How many Newfis does it take to screw in a light-bulb?” etc.

But not the Newfoundland in “Come From Away”. The husband-and-wife writing team of Irene Sankien and David Hein, Torontonians  both, have done their homeland proud here. The strangest thing that their Newfis offer to the “plane people” is their tradition of kissing a fish(pictured above and also below),And yes, that’s Drama Desk nominee and Broadway stalwart Chad Kimball as the put-upon gay fish kisser, Kevin I. Yes, there’s a gay couple on the stranded plane, too, who are both named Kevin. “It was cute at first, but then it got old” says one Kevin.

Kimball is also called upon to play President George W. Bush, and he does it with raising nary a snicker. The Other Kevin, the amazingly versatile Cesar Samayoa also plays a Muslim, and many other dizzying roles. The whole singing cast of twelve is made to seem like a cast of thousands in that respect as they flash instantly from one role, and one accent and nationality, at the speed of light.

In such a strong ensemble, it seems unfair to single out individual actors, but I have to mention another Broadway bright light Jenn Collela, as the pilot of one of the grounded planes. She gets almost the only complete solo in “Come From Away” as  she sings about her girlhood dream of becoming a pilot in the on-point “Me and the Sky.”Come From Away 4

I wish some of the other characters were more developed. Kimball ALMOST gets a solo in “Prayer” but then others join in. It’s hard to sit for an intermission-less 90 minutes, and try in identify with an amassed crowd, as opposed to single characters. But I’m old-fashioned that way. I like characters. In plays. In musicals. On film. And this is the flaw in “Come From Away” and leads to many of its’ distressing lulls.

It’s got a rousing opening number “Welcome to the Rock” that the entire cast sings and I wish there were more songs like this. The great Christopher Ashley as director whips them into a frenzy, as much as he can. It’s hard to whip a singing throng.

This is currently being talked up as a possible Best Musical of the Year. But against “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” which is just across the street, I wonder….I play the music for “Natasha, Pierre…” morning, noon, and night, and I’m talking about the ORIGINAL circus tent Off Broadway cast album which stars Phillipa Soo. And now, FINALLY, they’ve recorded Josh Groban and the Original BROADWAY cast singing it, which is due in stores any minute now….

“Come From Away” is a musical that is incredibly timely in that it’s not too early and not too late in the cultural conversation to be embraced and enjoyed for its’ light-hearted look at a national tragedy.

It’s recency cuts both ways.

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