Friday, September 12, 2014

Directors Double--and Triple--Dip

Scott Ellis is one of three directors
 to have more than one show on Broadway this season
A former editor of mine used to say "Three times and it's a trend." So we officially have a new Broadway trend: directors having more than one show on in the same season. Anna D. Shapiro (August: Osage County, Of Mice and Men) staged the revival of This Is Our Youth which opened last night at the Cort to great reviews (here's my review roundup for NewYork.com) and will be helming Larry David's new comedy Fish in the Dark. Youth premiered at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company earlier this year so Shapiro has time to start planning for the Larry David piece. Pam McKinnon won a Tony for Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and gives her spin to the playwright's A Delicate Balance. She'll also be directing another revival this spring: Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles. Scott Ellis is staging You Can't Take It With You and The Elephant Man this fall, which played the Williamstown Theatre Festival two summers ago so Ellis had breathing room to work on the Kaufman and Hart classic starring James Earl Jones, Rose Bryne, Elizabeth Ashley and the always-hilarious Kristine Nielsen and Julie Halston. Ellis will be pulling triple duty this season since he'll also be directing Roundabout's revival of On the Twentieth Century opening in January 2015. It will be interesting to see who gets nominated for Tonys and for which show and if anyone will be competing against him or herself.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

B'way Update: Season Starts

Tavi Gevinson and Micahel Cera in This Is Our Youth
Photo: Michael Brosilow
As Cole Porter wrote "Another Openin', Another Show/In Philly, Boston, or Baltimo'" (Did anyone call the Maryland city Baltimo' except for Porter just for a rhyme?). Those lines from Kiss Me Kate were going through my head as I got out of the subway last night and walked to the Cort Theatre for the press preview of This Is Our Youth, the first Broadway show of the fall season which opens tomight. It's always a thrill even though I've been going to Broadway as a critic for 30 years. Recent additions to schedule include Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan in a revival of Skylight; Airline Highway by Lisa D'Amour whose Detroit was a highlight of the Off-Bway scene two years ago; The Heidi Chronicles with Elisabeth Moss, Jason Biggs, Bryce Pinkham, and Tracee Chimo; Finding Neverland which is scheduled to fly into a Nederlander theatre this coming spring--theoretically without Jennifer Hudson in the sparkly gown she wore during the number from the show at the Tony Awards. Here is an updated rundown of 2014-15 and beyond: 

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)