Tuesday, June 29, 2021

B'way Update: Chicken and Biscuits, Plaza Suite, Harry Potter

A new show, a revival, and an altered previously-running show have been added to the 2021-22, post-COVID Broadway calendar. Chicken and Biscuits, a new play, will open at the Circle in the Square, the long-delayed Plaza Suite has announced preview and opening dates, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will resume performances at the Lyric as a condensed, one-evening presentation rather in its previous two parts. Only a few announced productions have not yet claimed dates, so the Broadway schedule is nearly complete.  

The cast of Chicken and Biscuits
at the Queens Theater
Credit: Dominick Totino
Chicken and Biscuits
, a new play by Douglas Lyons, will begin previews at the Circle in the Square Theater on Sept. 23 with an opening set for Oct. 10. Tony nominee Norm Lewis (Porgy and Bess) and Drama Desk winner Michael Urie (The Temperamentals, Buyer and Cellar) star in this comedy which premiered at the Queens Theater in Flushing Meadows in Feb. 28, 2020, but had to close down two weeks into its run because of the COVID pandemic. The play is staged by Zhailon Levingston, who at 27 will be the youngest African-American director in Broadway history. Lyons is also making his Broadway debut as a playwright and has appeared on the Main Stem as an actor in Beautiful and The Book of Mormon. The comedy will have a limited run at Circle in the Square until Jan. 2, 2022. A revival of David Mamet's American Buffalo with Shia LaBeouf was scheduled for the theater before the pandemic and there are plans for the production to open there in March.

Friday, June 25, 2021

'Bewitched' Family Therapy

Would Darren and Endora
benefit from family therapy?
While watching Bewitched reruns, it occurred to me that Samantha, Darren, and Endora should attend a family therapy session. Conflict is the source of all comedy, but it seems that in every episode neither witch nor mortal would give in and there is no learning or healing on either side. How could Samantha stand all that bickering and having her spouse constantly transformed into various beasts or given personality changes? Here's an imagined scene with Samantha, Darren, Endora, and a family therapist, perhaps played by Norman Fell who played Sigmund Freud on an episode.

Therapist: Thank you all for coming. So Samantha, why would you say you, your husband and your mother are here today?

Samantha: Well, doctor--

Therapist: I'm not a doctor. I'm a therapist.

Endora: See, this mortal isn't even a doctor. We are wasting our time. You and I could be in Paris right now, attending all the couture shows instead of babbling on about our insides. The least you could have done was whipped up Sigmund Freud like I did that time--

Samantha: Mother, please. You said you would try. (Endora makes a face of compliance and gestures to Samantha to continue). OK, we're here today because my husband and my mother just can't seem to get along. They get into the most violent arguments. I love them both, but there is endless conflict. It's getting to the point where I feel my loyalties are being divided and it's really hurting me. My mother is a part of my life and I want her to be, but she zaps into the house any time she wants, gives Darren a hard time, belittling him. She can't even say his name correctly. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

B'way Update: Mormon, Mockingbird, Love Supreme Return

Jeff Daniels and Celia Keenan-Bolger
in To Kill a Mockingbird
Credit: Julieta Cervantes
The new Broadway calendar is almost complete. Two more shows shuttered during the pandemic have announced their reopenings and another will have a return engagement. This means nearly every 2020 production has definite dates for a comeback. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Book of Mormon, two shows formerly under the aegis of producer Scott Rudin, have posted their return dates. Rudin has withdrawn from producing due to reports of workplace harassment and toxicity. Mockingbird, Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and the highest-grossing straight play in Broadway history, will resume performances at the Shubert Theater on Oct. 5. Jeff Daniels will return to the role of Atticus Finch and Celia Keenan-Bolger takes up the part of his young daughter Scout through Jan. 2, 2022. 

The Book of Mormon 
Credit: Julieta Cervantes
The Book of Mormon, winner of nine 2011 Tony Awards, will continue its raucous hijinks at the Eugene O'Neill Theater on Nov. 5. The satiric show about Mormon missionaries in an impoverished African village, will also continue performances in London on Nov. 15. It's been reported that the authors Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez will attend rehearsals in response to cast members expressing concerns over the depiction of the Ugandan villagers in the show. Whether this means there will be any script changes remains to be seen. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 17

Season One: 
March 18, 1968: Tim Conway, Jack Jones, Ruth Buzzi
(The Lost Episodes Ultimate DVD Collection) Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In had debuted on Jan. 22,
Ruth Buzzi thinks Roger is "groovy"

1968, just two months before this episode aired. That may have been the reason Ruth Buzzi was not announced as a special guest. She had not caught on yet as a major TV comedy player on that series. Instead her name was read over the closing credits but she did get to sign Carol's book with Tim and handsome singer Jack Jones. (That was something I loved about Carol, the non-star guest actors were treated equally to the big names.) Ruth would appear on Carol's show twice more and was an official guest star. She also made a cameo as her Gladys character with Arte Johnson as Tyrone when Vicki and Don Creighton did a parody of their old-maid-dirty-old-man act. Here, Ruth uses her rubber-like features in the Carol and Sis sketch as Gretchen, a studymate of Crissy who has a crush on Roger. She also appears briefly as a jungle girl in The Jungle Kook, one of three brief sketches satirizing the Late, Late Show reruns of old movies, good or bad. The highlight of this triptych is Shut Uppa You Face, a hilarious send-up of Italian films because of Harvey's ludicrous accent and slipping moustache as well as Lyle's appearance in a tank top. The middle sketch--Sing Sing Dingaling was funny mainly because of Tim and Harvey's reactions to a door that wouldn't stay closed. In other sketches, Tim suffers physical abuse as a drunken matador and he inflicts it on Carol when they play a pair of clumsy castaways. 

The finale is a bizarre combination of camp and hoedown. Jack and Carol sing a medley of Texas-related tunes while the chorus cavorts in weird outfits. The boys sport yellow rubber chaps with ten-gallon hats while the girls are in black-and-white checked blouses and bonnets with daisies. It's as if Bob Mackie dropped acid while in a yellow taxicab.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

B'way Update: Springsteen, Skeleton, Paradise, Lehman, etc.

The 2021-22 Broadway and Off-Broadway season continues to take shape with new productions and those postponed from previous seasons announcing dates and theaters. In the latest round of updates, Bruce Springsteen returns to Broadway, Manhattan Theater fills out its roster, a new musical set during the Civil War is slated, and The Lehman Trilogy finally makes the transfer from Off-Broadway to on with one cast change. 

Bruce Springsteen will return to Broadway
Credit: Rob DeMartin
The beginning of the season keeps getting earlier. Bruce Springsteen on Broadway will now be the first show to open since the theaters closed last March. The Boss's Tony-winning 2017 concert show is slated for a return engagement at the St. James Theater starting June 26 for a limited engagement through Sept. 4. Just last week Pass Over announced it was commencing performances in August. Springsteen's show is also the first to announce official COVID audience protocols. Theatergoers must show proof of COVID vaccination and fill out a health screening within 24 hours of attending. We'll see if anti-vaxxers and libertarians scream invasion of privacy or unconstitutionalism. Last time I check, you don't have a constitutional right to see a Broadway show.

Phylicia Rashad will also return to Broadway, headlining Dominique Morriseau's Skeleton Crew, set in a

Phylicia Rashad will star in
Skeleton Crew

Detroit auto factory in 2008, part of Manhattan Theater Club's season at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. Rashad will play one of four workers at the endangered factory, facing economic instability. Skeleton Crew has previously been presented Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company's Stage 2 in 2016 and regionally. This production will be directed by Reuben Santiago-Hudson who staged the Atlantic version and will also be appearing as part of MTC's Friedman season in his own autobiographical solo play Lackawanna Blues. Previews begin Dec. 21 in advance of a Jan. 12, 2022 opening. Morriseau is the book-author of Ain't Too Proud which reopens this fall. 

Rashad last appeared on Broadway in August: Osage County, is slated to direct a revival of Charles Randolph Wright's Blue and has just been named Dean of the Chadwick A. Boseman School of Fine Arts at her alma mater, Howard University. MTC has also announced Broadway dates for its revival of Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive with original stars David Morse and Mary-Louise Parker (previews March 29, opens April 19.) Off-Broadway MTC productions have also been announced for the company's City Center space: Morning Sun, Prayer for the French Republic, and Golden Shield.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

B'way Update: Pass Over and Tonys Announce Dates

John Michael Hill and Namir Smallwood
in Pass Over
(Credit: Jeremy Daniel)
The new post-quarantine Broadway season keeps getting earlier and earlier. Pass Over, Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu's play focusing on two African-American men dealing with pervasive discrimination, will now begin performances at the August Wilson Theater on Aug. 4 with an opening set for Sept. 12. The production will have a limited run until Oct. 10. This beats the previously announced Hadestown's date of Sept. 2 by nearly a month as the earliest starting date for a Broadway show since all 41 Main Stem theaters closed on March 12, 2020. Inspired by Waiting for Godot and Exodus, the 85-minute play is about two young black men, Moses and Kitch, and their encounters with white police oppression. Pass Over will star Tony nominee Jon Michael Hill (Superior Donuts), Namir Smallwood, and Tony winner Gabriel Ebert (Matilda), recreating their roles from an Off-Broadway production at Lincoln Center's LCT3 Theater in 2018. Danya Taymor will repeat her direction. An earlier staging at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater Company has been filmed by Spike Lee and is available on Amazon Prime. The playwright has made changes since the earlier staging. In the previous version, one of the two main characters dies. Nwandu has stated she will make the new ending more positive. 

Finally! The long delayed Tony Awards for the abortive 2019-20 Broadway season will be presented on Sept. 26 in a two-part ceremony. The main event will be a two-hour TV spectacular called The Tony Awards Present: Broadway's Back on CBS from 9-11pm. Only three awards will be presented: Best Musical, Best Play and Best Revival of a Play (there were no musical revival nominees.) The rest of the show will be taken up with musical numbers from classic shows and currently running ones. The bulk of the accolade distribution will be done from 7-9pm in a pre-broadcast ceremony available on the Paramount Plus streaming service.