Friday, August 22, 2014

More Summer Stock and TV Memories

Peggy Cass
Since my last post, I've remembered more productions seen at the long-ago-demolished Philadelphia Playhouse in the Park: Tom Poston and Marian Mercer in Lovers and Other Strangers, Jean Marsh of Upstairs, Downstairs in Twelfth Night, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Meg Wynn Owen (also of Upstairs, Downstairs) in a musical revue based on the works of James Thurber called Out on a Limb, Peggy Cass in An Almost Perfect Person, and Steve Allen and Marcia Rodd in The Wake, a play by Allen about an Irish family not unlike the actor-playwright's own in early 20th century New York.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer Stock Memories

Lauren Bacall's passing reminded me I had seen her starring in a summer stock touring production of Wonderful Town at the Valley Forge Music Fair in about 1977. That type of show is pretty much gone. There are still summer stock productions, but not touring editions with stars from TV, the stage and old movies on their breaks taking out the latest hits from Broadway or old warhorses in one-week stands through the Northeast and New England. My parents used to take me to these at Valley Forge and the Playhouse in the Park in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. There we saw Maureen Stapleton in The Glass Menagerie, Sandy Dennis in The Royal Family and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Jan Sterling in The Hot L Baltimore, Lynn Redgrave in The Two of Us, a collection of one-acts, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara in The Last of the Red Hot Lovers and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Tovah Feldshuh in Peter Pan, James Whitmore and Audra Lyndley in a play called The New Mount Olive Motel which never made it to New York, and Paxton Whitehead as Sherlock Holmes in The Crucifer of Blood. Vacant for 12 years, the Playhouse was demolished in 1997.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thoughts on Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall
The deaths of Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall so close together had a stronger impact on me than most celebrity passings. Williams' suicide was so shocking, and though Bacall was 89 and her going was not unexpected, it was still very sad because she was one of my first Broadway crushes.

As with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, I had not really been aware that Williams was dealing with depression and addiction. So on Monday night it was a genuine surprise when my husband Jerry gasped as he was reading New York Times headlines on his I phone as I was driving and I said "What's the matter?" "Robin Williams died," he replied, "they think it was suicide." I had seen Williams live on two occasions, in the Broadway play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo in which he embodied the ferocious title animal in Rajiv Joseph's bizarre dreamscape of a play, and performing stand-up on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera for an HBO special. He performed for about 90 minutes without a break and was amazing. Friends I'd met on the Long Island beach that morning had an extra ticket and I gladly took it. I arrived on time, sandy and sunburnt, while they were all late (Williams called attention to their tardiness.)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

B'way Update: 'Fun Home' Finds a Home

Obie winner Syndey Lucas and Michael Cerveris in Fun Home
Credit: Joan Marcus
There have been a lot of Broadway announcements lately. Love Letters and Side Show are getting revivals, Larry David will make his B'way debut as both actor and playwright in a comedy called Fish in the Dark, and Fun Home will move to the Circle In the Square one year after its acclaimed Off-B'way run at the Public. The oval space surrounded by audience presents interesting challenges for director Sam Gold. Fun Home will join other shows such as UrinetownNext to Normal, Avenue Q, In the Heights, and Grey Gardens which played Off-Bway and on in separate seasons and were therefore eligible for Obies, Drama Desks and Outer Critics one year and Tonys the next. That leads to some weird differences in the awards, like Urinetown and Avenue Q getting a bunch of Tonys but no DDs. Fun Home did get the Lortel, Obie and NY Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical as well as the Outer Critics Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical, but lost the DD to A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. It's too early to tell what Fun Home's competition for the 2015 Tony will be. There will probably be a big push for Sting's The Last Ship and this year the Best Score category will definitely be on the air since the 16-time Grammy winner will be nominated. You'll recall that in 2013, Cyndi Lauper got to accept her Tony on TV for Kinky Boots, while Jason Robert Brown who nobody knows outside of drama clubs across the country, had to pick up his two Tonys for score and orchestrations of Bridges of Madison County during the commercials. Here's a rundown of the Broadway season on and Off-Bway so far: 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The 5th Annual David Desk Awards

Audra McDonald adds a David Desk to her numerous awards for
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
Yes, I know it's July already and the season's been over for a month, but here they are--the David Desk Awards. For the fifth time, here are my choices for the top performances in New York theater during the past season. The classifications are my own. The Tonys and the Drama Desks decided Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill was best suited for Actress in a Play while the Outer Critics put her in the musical category. I know the play choice would be in keeping with Jane Lapotaire in Piaf and Tracey Bennett as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow, with the musical numbers being part of the main character's performance in concert. But even the Drama Desk has not been consistent with this. Sian Philips was in the running for Best Actress in a Musical in Marlene even though her performance was largely dramatic. That year (1999) there were very few available nominees for the category--Bernadette Peters in Annie Get Your Gun and Carolee Carmello in Parade where the only other ones vying for the top award and they tied. I think that McDonald's performance was so dependent on the musical element, she should have been in that category and that's why I placed her there. (Plus when Lonette McKee played the original production in 1987, she was nominated as Outstanding Actress in a Musical). I also felt Marin Ireland in Marie Antoniette was ignored.

So here are my picks for the tops of 2013-14:

Play
All the Way (Robert Schenkkan)
Domesticated (Bruce Norris)
The Night Alive (Conor McPherson)
Nikolai and the Others (Richard Nelson)
Outside Mullingar (John Patrick Shanley)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

B'way Update: 'King and I,' 'Illusionists'

Oscar nominees Ken Wantanabe and Sally Hawkins in
Godzilla or We Need a Paycheck
As summer progresses, more Broadway shows are announced for the fall and winter. One of the most anticipated will be Lincoln Center Theater's revival of The King and I starring Kelli O'Hara and Ron Wantanabe, directed by O'Hara's South Pacific and Light in the Piazza stager Barlett Sher. We just saw Wantanabe in Godzilla on a double bill with Edge of Tomorrow at the Coxsackie drive-in last weekend. I'm still itching from the mosquito bites. I thought Edge of Tomorrow would be as bad as last year's Oblivion because both involved Tom Cruise going through some kind of time-loop or multiple-identity crisis. But it was actually pretty entertaining. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

B'way Update: Tony Aftermath, New Season

Jennifer Hudson at the Tonys:
What is that lady in a silver nightgown doing in our bedroom, boys?

With the Tony Awards handed out, the 2013-14 New York theater season is finally over. There have been a deluge of closings in the wake of that ceremony. Mothers and Sons and After Midnight posted closing notices while big winners All the Way and A Raisin in the Sun will end their limited engagements as scheduled. In a moment worthy of the NBC's crazy Smash, Jennifer Hudson showed up just before the Best Musical category to sing a song from a show she won't be in that hasn't even opened yet (Finding Neverland), dressed totally out of sync with the other characters, all because producer Harvey Weinstein didn't want Sting to be the only one to tout an upcoming production. BTW, next year, I guarantee the Best Score category will be given out on the air because the aforementioned multiple Grammy winner will be a nominee for his The Last Ship (another BTW, did they know that show would have the same title as a sci-fi TV series?)