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Posts tagged ‘Broadway’

Great American Playwright Neil Simon Passes at 91


Neil Simon Theater 2
Neil Simon, long considered America’s most successful and certainly most prolific playwright dies at 91. It’s fitting that the Neil Simon Theater still exists on Broadway.at 250 West 52nd Street.  I hope it always stays “The Neil Simon Theater.”

I did not know Neil Simon personally. But growing up in the theater in the decades where he dominated the Great White Way, his work was overwhelming to a young playwright, me. At one time, he seemed to have every play on Broadway.

The Christmas after my mother died, I was feeling particularly bereft and found myself observing a great Broadway tradition.I went to Chicago. By train. To see the out-of-town try-outs for a musical version, of a movie  he wrote “The Goodbye Girl.” Seeing that only half-successful work in the middle of the cold Chicago winter made me realize that yes, all your idols have feet of clay. IOW, everyone makes mistakes. The Goodbye Girl was a musical with a book by Neil Simon, lyrics by David Zippel, and music by Marvin Hamlisch, based on Simon’s original screenplay for the 1977 film of the same name.

I was also at a rehearsal of “The Goodbye Girl” when it limped to New York, and in the rehearsal room were the star Bernadette Peters and yes, Neil Simon himself.

He seemed so un-prepossessing in person. He was wearing a robin’s egg blue sweater and  kibitzed around with the various actors….But it was his eyes that got me. The intensity of his stare. Nothing was being missed. He saw it warts and all and I’m sure was thinking “How can I fix this? How can I help?” He reminded me of a very warm and friendly rabbi. His vast knowledge of the theater seemed to match those of a rabbinical scholar. He seemed immediately nice. But also intimidating. I mean, he was NEIL SIMON! But he didn’t carry himself like a star as Ms. Peters certainly did.

I guess I was so intimidated by him, I didn’t even have the chutzpah to talk to him. But what could I have said?  “I saw your play in Chicago and really liked it.” God! I hope didn’t say THAT! Which would have been a complete lie.  I don’t think I did.

I never saw him again. And, the show flopped. I thought nothing he wrote could ever flop, but some did.

He strangely isn’t revived much of late, but the Neil Simon Theater is still there. A permanent and fitting monument to a man that made Broadway history over and over again. He will be missed by all in the theater community. It was his great love.

Neil Simon R.I.P.

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Devastated to hear that “Carousel” is closing!

Devastated to hear that my beloved “Carousel” is closing in Sept.! The curt press release didn’t give reasons, but the primary reason for something like this happening, and so suddenly, is money.. The box-office is always the culprit. Ticket sales will now, of course, go through the roof.

Lindsey Mendez, who all you dear readers know, was not in it the performance I saw. She won a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, and was not widely known heretofore. She can be seen on You Tube in a series of backstage-at-Carousel videos she made.

Justin Peck also won Best Choreography for his incredible, soaring, balletic  dance numbers.

This is all so sad. And the press release made it sound quite final, like there was no wiggle room on this blunt decision.If you haven’t seen it, you must rush to see it as soon as possible. Opera Legend Renee Fleming, Tony winner for “Beautiful” Jessie Mueller, and the incredible Joshua Henry  also star.  Jessie Mueller also won Best Actress in a Musical from the Drama Desk. And it has the largest orchestra of a Broadway show in recent memory. And a harp! The superb orchestrations are by Jonathan Tunick and Musical Supervision by Andy Einhorn.

It’s at the Imperial Theater 249 West 45th Street, the same theater where my favorite show of last year “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet” was.*sigh*

Will Brittain’s Buff Butt Stars in Gayest Play Ever (at the Roundabout)

Young Texas actor Will Brittain is pretty much entirely nude for the lengthy part he has to play in Joshua Harmon’s “Skintight” at the Roundabout. Well, he does wear a tight black jockstrap that beautifully frames his bounteous buff bubble butt. And boy does Brittain make the most of that astounding ass of his! He struts. He sways. He sashays this way and that waving his naked rear end in the face of audience, the cast and the face of Broadway. If you consider the Laura Pels Theater of the Roundabout to be Broadway. Some say it’s Off Broadway. But whatever you want off it’s Will Brittain’s clothes. We never want to see him dressed again.

Not that he will be. Much. I see A LOT of nudity in his future.And that’s a good thing. It’s a great thing! Has Broadway ever been this nude? Well, there was “Oh! Calcutta!” once upon a time. Has there ever been a play THIS gay? Well, we just had a magnificent, award-winning revival of “Angels in America.” But somehow “Skintight” seems gay-er. And Brittain’s butt just overwhelms the Pels.

And that’s a good thing. It’s a great thing. Will Brittain is having the time of his life upstaging Idina Menzel, no less, and sitting butt-ass naked on her father’s Greenwich Village sofa. The other characters objected to Brittain naked end being strategically placed at one very funny point in this very funny play on their high-end sofa. They all gasped in horror. I gasped in delight. As I’m sure the packed audience did, too.

You see, “Skintight” is very sexy in a way that “Angels” never was. Or could be. It was about the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s. “Skintight” is just about, well, skin. And the fun you could potentially have with it, if you were as un-hung about nudity and the casual display of it as Brittain’s character Trei is. He’s done porn. And he sees it as a legit career choice. Gay porn, of course.

He’s the most philosophically well-adjusted character in Harmon’s charmin’ play. Jack Wetherall, of “Queer as Folk”, has the role of his career as Trei’s 70-year-old lover. “Skintight” is his birthday, which he wants to forget, and get back into bed with Trei, and well, Brittain is so helplessly irresistible, you can’t blame Wetherall’s world-weary fashion designer one bit. Wetherall’s grand-son is gay, too, and he wants to get it on with Trei. In fact, the only straight character is the intrepid Menzel whos gets high marks for making her non-singing debut in THIS extremely gay play.

And she does very well holding her own against, well, Will Brittain’s beautiful butt and playwright Harmon’s beautiful attitude towards being gay. It’s so free. So fun. Go! It’s only on for three more weeks before Will Brittain has to put his clothes back on. Perhaps forever. But being such a perfect physical specimen, I doubt that the Show Biz Godz will have their way with him and he’ll never be able to be clothed again. And that’s a good thing. It’s a great thing!

Cher Saves “Mamma Mia 2,” but It’s Hard to Resist


When Cher, yes, CHER, enters in the Final Act of “Mamma Mia 2,” she saves the film, and yes, kicks it upstairs into Gay Heaven, or at any rate, Camp Heaven with a good, swift  stilletto-heeled sureness, only a stage and screen legend like Cher could provide. Pow! All the dullness and wishy-washiness of her young co-stars vanished, and NOW we were in the midst of a glorious fun-filled summer musical romp. She was so good, I immediately re-wrote my mind’s middling review and began raving like a teenaged fan-girl. Which let’s face it, is a cheery place to be in these troubled times. I guess I ended up loving it, and wanting to see it again. No, really.
In spite of all good sense, I found myself totally abandoning myself to its epic silliness. And why not? I always loved ABBA as a guilty pleasure. Those original, now classic, tunes got me through some very dark times when I was a house-cleaner in London in the ’80s. I was trying to get my plays done and become a right, proper British actor in the grand tradition. And it was tough. But ABBA was so uplifting, it made me forget all the charring.

I was a “Super Trooper”, and now Cher is a Super Trooper, too. In fact, she climaxes this barely organized mish-mash with that song, as well as her much heralded “Fernando” duet. As she and Andy Garcia(yes, ANDY GARCIA!) tango and sing their hearts out, both Senior Citizens now, as fire-works explode behind them, like it was 1968. Or ’86. Or one of those years, or decades that Cher’s career spans and she’s still singing! She’s a goddess for the ages. And FINALLY makes up for Meryl Streep not being in this movie except as a ghost.

You see, “Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again” does not really have a center to it, until Cher appears at the end like the Deus Ex Machina that she is. “Here We Go Again” flips back and forth in time between two stories, both starring lovely young blondes, Amanda Seyfried and Downtown Abbey’s Lily James. They both have to carry half the film each.

It seems Meryl’s character has died a year before “Mamma Mia 2” starts and her cinematic daughter Sophie (Seyfried) has to carry on without her, trying to re-build her mother’s dream of a turning their Greek island into a perfect Aegean guest house. Meanwhile, the film flashes back in time to the ’70s, when Donna (Lily James) was a wild young thing cavorting all over the continent, shagging everybody in sight.

Thus explaining (or trying to) how three different men could have potentially been the father of the single Mom Meryl’s child. As played by a trio of young hunks, notably “War Horse”s Jeremy Irvine (who grows up to be Pierce Brosnan). They make the case quite clearly how and why the young Donna/Meryl couldn’t keep her hands off all of them, one after the other, in rapid succession.

I would say Josh Dylan, who is making his big screen debut here as the young yachtsman that one day would become Stellan Skarsgard, has the best chiseled bod. British actor Hugh Skinner, who plays the young Colin Firth, doesn’t really get enough foreshadowing that his character is in later life going to be gay. An interesting opportunity missed.

Though Firth does camp up a storm in his own reserved way as his grown up self, and Christine Baranski (and Julie Waters) are back supplying even more camp (as if this film needed it).Which goes to prove something I’ve always felt. There can never be too much of a muchness. Or too much camp. Camp makes you happy. And so will “Mamma Mia 2.”

And last but not least, the young British hunk of hunks Dominic Cooper is back again as Sky, Sophie (Seyfried)’s hotter than hot love interest, and absentee husband. Dominic was one of the many stars of my year’s Best Film of that year “My Week with Marilyn” playing Milton Green, Marilyn Monroe’s ex-lover and now exasperated agent. He was also one of the original “History Boys” on Broadway and in film, and has been on “The Stephen Holt Show” more times than just about any one else (in this movie).And he used to date Cher! He just told Stephen Colbert. So it must be true!

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

Superb! Superb! Superb!Laura Linney & Cynthia Nixon On Bway in “Little Foxes”

When theater is this good, it’s a joy! And something as good as the current revival of “Little Foxes” on Bway at MTC with two of our absolute best actresses, Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney alternating  roles is an evening to be treasured. And treasured again because you can see it a second time with the parts of the villainous Regina and the flibbertigibbet Birdie played by these two towering woman of the American Theater reversed. The critics were given a choice of who to see in which role first and I chose Nixon as Regina and Linney as Birdie. And I’ve never been happier! I can’t wait to see it again with the roles reversed! It’s a win-win situation. And to my knowledge this is an historic first. Actors have switched roles before, but not actresses.

And how smart of Artistic Director Lynn Meadow to allow this to happen on Bway! This is something we never see! Men have been switching up historically, since as long as I can remember. “Becket” is one example. “Othello” is another.  But women? Never! All the more cause for rejoicing. And with one of America’s great stage directors Daniel Sullivan doing the work of HIS career, too! Why I just want to tear my program up and throw it into the air like confetti! Except I won’t because it’s too precious to me as a memory of a theatrical experience that was just about perfect!Of course, I saw Bette Davis do Regina in the movie, and she was pure evil. And she got ANOTHER Oscar nomination. I saw Elizabeth Taylor, of all people, doing the last revival of “Little Foxes” to be on Bway back, when I was in high school. So I felt I knew what I was going to see when I went in to the Samuel J. Friedman Theater on W.47th. But this “Little Foxes” was a total revelation. Never before have I see Regina played as more than a two-dimensional witch of a woman. Nixon added intelligence. I’d almost say compassion to Regina’s bitchy mix.

She seemed torn, for a second, just a tiny second, as her ailing husband (a very good Richard Thomas) climbed to his death on their staircase, like perhaps she considered going to help him. But of course, she does not. She resolutely stared into the audience as he chillingly dies, crying out for her help. Shivers. It gives me shivers just to write about this.

And never also has the character of Aunt Birdie been played as anything except pathetic and bonkers. When I saw Felicia Montealegre play it opposite Elizabeth Taylor, she was totally mad, and sad. And I thought “What hell it must’ve been for her to be married to Leonard Bernstein,” which in real life,   she was.

Laura Linney has none of that. Birdie is her Hamlet. She’s feigning madness to shield herself from the blows that life and her husband (a frightening oaf, Darren Goldstein) is dealing her. When the hulking Goldstein hits her across the face, you could hear the audience gasp as well as scream. Otherwise, the production was so taut and tense, you could hear a pin drop. This superb “Little Foxes” has preserved playwright Hellman’s original three-act structure, which is kind of refreshing.  Act One and Act Two ending with curtain lines that punch you right in the gut. It’s a well-made play. Remember them?

And it’s an astonishment to see that in Laura Linney’s hands, playwright Lillian Hellman has written not one but TWO famous scenes. Of course, there is the staircase scene where Regina lets her husband die. But there’s also a staggering scene at the beginning of Act Three, where Birdie fiercely charges to her niece Alexandra (Francesca Carpanini)”Don’t be like me!” because she has never had “a happy day, a whole happy day” in her life. Birdie is a symbol of the aristocratic south that is truly gone with the wind. And Regina is its’ frightening, mercenary 20th century future.

And both actresses play these juicy roles with such smartness that we are unavoidably reminded its the repressive, male dominance of their patriarchal society that have driven them to madness(though perhaps feigned here) and murder, for real.

Cynthia Nixon, Laura Linney, director Dan Sullivan are all here to remind us that there is greatness in living theater and that “Little Foxes” is a tremendously underestimated American play. Lillian Hellman would be turning cartwheels were she still with us. Brava, Divas!

I would also lastly like to note that come the Tonys (the nominations are to be announced shortly), Ms. Linney will be considered in the Leading Actress in a Play category for her Regina and Ms. Nixon in Supporting for her Birdie, because that’s how they appeared on Opening Night.

#Little Foxes, #Laura Linney, #Cynthia Nixon, #Lillian Hellman, #Broadway (more…)

“The Price” on Bway Saved by Danny De Vito & Jessica Hecht

There is definitely a Tony Award in Danny DeVito’s future. This super-feisty 72-year-old(same age as Bette Middler in “Hello Dolly.” But more on that later) is making his Broadway debut in what is arguably Arthur Miller’s worst play, “The Price.” It’s as dusty as the old sheets covering the antique furniture, which is soon to be dispensed with. The dust from these items, including a harp, are what make the audience in the front row sneeze, when Mark Ruffalo’s put-upon cop enters and pulls the sheets off them, scattering their dust everywhere. It’s his parents un-used and abandoned apartment in a tumbling down building, which is an apt metaphor for this tumbling-down play.

Dust is what has settled on this barely-a-play at all. Dated it certainly is and it’s infuriatingly so. Because DeVito’s wise ole, funny ole furniture appraiser in Act One named Solomon, (yes, I said he was wise) disappears in Act Two, as so does our involvement in the play because everybody else in this star-studded cast of only four famous actors, just can’t hold our attention.The Price 1

And it’s not totally their faults. Jessica Hecht as Ruffalo’s clothes-conscious wife, gives a delicious performance, but is shunted to the side for most of the action, which concerns the clash of the two Frantz brothers, played by Ruffalo and Tony Shaloub.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so embarrassed for two such famous actors in my life. But it’s not their faults. They are giving “The Price”s Act II their alls, but there is no writing beneath them to support their Herculean efforts to try to create something out of nothing. There is just not much there there, as Gertrude Stein once said about Hollywood.

Shaloub’s ass-hat doctor is the villain of the piece. Rich, successful, and supposedly friendless, he is recovering from a nervous breakdown which no one seems to have noticed.

And Ruffalo, poor guy, still seems to be learning his lines, as a last minute replacement for the exiting actor who quit during rehearsals and got out while the getting was good, I guess. So we’re stuck with a suffering and soldiering-on Ruffalo, who is playing the poor sap who gets stuck holding the family bag as it were, and who hasn’t spoken to his brother Shaloub in 16 years. This should be a monumental clash of the titans. The privileged v. the working class, and you KNOW that’s what Miller was probably aiming at, but he misses it by a lonnnnnng mile. Reams and reams and REAMS of dialogue with the two brother going at it hammer and tongs. But the text just isn’t there beneath. It’s sheer verbosity.

And you’re just dying for Danny DeVito to come back and enliven things. Or for Jessica Hecht to have more to do, but it just doesn’t happen.If only Act Two was as dramatic as the above picture ^. It isn’t.

#the Price, # Mark Ruffalo, # Danny DeVito, # Jessica Hecht

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