Saturday, April 30, 2022

B'way Update: Cost of Living; Tony and DD Noms Delayed; DD-OCC Mash-Up

Greg Mozgala and Jolly Abraham in
Cost of Living.
Credit: Joan Marcus
Manhattan Theater Club will produce Martyna Majok's Pulitzer Prize-winning Cost of Living on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater this fall (no specified date). The play, which debuted at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 2016 and had its NYC premiere at MTC's Off-Broadway space in 2017, deals with four characters facing challenges ranging from physical disability to unemployment. Greg Mozgala, who has cerebral palsy and Katy Sullivan who was born a bilateral transfemoral amputee and is missing both legs, will recreate their roles from the 2017 production. Jo Bonney, the original director, will also return for the Broadway version.

MTC has also announced three productions for its 2022-23 Off-Broadway season but with no specific dates announced. Jeff Augustin's Where the Mountain Meets the Sea which will play MTC's City Center Stage I in the fall, focuses on the son of a Haitian immigrant who recreates his dad's Miami-to-California trek in reverse. Summer, 1976 by Pulitzer Prize winner David Auburn (Proof), about the unlikely relationship between independent artist Diana and young housewife Alice, will play at City Center's Stage II. In the spring of 2023, Qui Nguyen's Poor Yella Rednecks, will open at City Center Stage I. A sequel to Vietgone, the play follows a family of Vietnamese immigrants settling in Arkansas.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Robert Morse, Star of How to Succeed and Mad Men, Dies at 90

Robert Morse in
How to Succeed in Business
Without Really Trying
Yesterday, I reported on the new version of Some Like It Hot coming to Broadway. Robert Morse, one of the stars of a previous musical edition of the classic film comedy called Sugar, just passed away at 90. Morse is best known for his star-making role in both the film and Broadway versions of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He won a Tony for playing the boyishly charming, gap-toothed but ruthless schemer J. Pierrepont Finch. Succeed ran for over 1,400 performances, and won seven Tonys as well as the Pulitzer Prize, a rarity for a comic musical. Morse won his second Tony for playing another impish character, Truman Capote in the solo play Tru. He made a late-career triumph in the TV series Mad Men as Bertram Cooper, one of the senior partners at the ad agency which provided the focus for the satirical show. He was nominated for five Emmys and won a SAG Ensemble Award for the series in 2010. His last Broadway performance was in an all-star revival of The Front Page in 2016.

Morse made his Broadway debut as the eager Barnaby opposite in Ruth Gordon in Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker which served as the basis for Hello, Dolly. He later reprised the role in the film version with Shirley Booth. He continued to make positive impressions in Say, Darling and Take Me Along before starring in How to Succeed. He later played another eager young man in So Long, 174th Street, a musical based on Carl Reiner's memoir of his days as an aspiring actor.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

B'way Update: Some Like It Hot to Heat Up the Shubert

Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and
Tony Curtis in the original
Some Like It Hot.
Credit: United Artists
Some Like It Hot
, a new musical version of Billy Wilder's 1960 film classic about two musicians who don drag to escape the mob, will be coming to Broadway this winter. Previews begin Nov. 1 at the Shubert Theater prior to an opening of Dec. 11. The book will be Matthew Lopez (The Inheritance) and Amber Ruffin (The Amber Ruffin Show) with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray). Tony winner Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Something Rotten) directs and choreographs. The cast will be headed by Tony winner Christian Borle (Something Rotten) and J. Harrison Ghee (Mrs. Doutfire) as the cross-dressers and Adrianna Hicks in the Marilyn Monroe role of Sugar, the alluring star feature of the all-female orchestra the boys join. Also in the cast will be Kevin Del Aguila as Osgood, NaTasha Yvette Williams as Sweet Sue, Adam Heller as Mulligan and Mark Lotito as Spats. 

The original film starred Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Monroe and is regarded as one of the classic comedies of the tail-end of Hollywood's Golden Age. The American Film Institute voted it "the Funniest American Movie of All Time."

A previous musical incarnation called Sugar opened in 1972, starred Robert Morse, Tony Roberts, and Elaine Joyce and featured a book by Peter Stone, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill. It ran for 505 performances. A revival tour was renamed Some Like It Hot and featured Curtis as Osgood.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Drama Desk Dates Announced

The 2021-22 New York theater season is in the home stretch and the awards calendar is filling up. The dates for the Drama Desk Awards have just been added to the mix, after a hiatus of two years. The last DDs were presented remotely via NY1-News in June of 2020, after a delay due to coverage of the death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests. Since all New York theaters were closed due to the COVID pandemic, the awards were suspended in 2021. Now they are back.

The cut-off for Drama Desk Award eligibility is May 1 and the nominations will be announced on May 2 (one day before the Tony nominations come out and one day after the Lortels are presented). It has not been announced if the nominations will be given out by press release or if there will be a press conference as has been the case prior to 2020. Voting for the awards ends at midnight June 6. The date and location of the ceremony has yet to be announced. The Tony Awards are June 12.

The Drama Desks are the only major New York theater awards to include on and Off-Broadway in all of its multiple categories. The nominations are chosen by a seven-member nominating committee consisting of Martha Wade Steketee (Chair; freelance, Peter Filichia (Broadway Radio), Kenji Fujishima (freelance: Theatermania), Juan Michael Porter II (; freelance: TDF Stages, Did They Like It?, New York Theatre Guide), Ayanna Prescod (freelance: Variety, New York Theatre Guide, Today Tix), Zachary Stewart (TheaterMania), and Diep Tran (freelance: Backstage, American Theatre, Broadway News, New York Theater Guide). The awards are voted on by the 110 active members of the Drama Desk, a New York-based organization of theater critics, reporters, journalists and publishers.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part 24: The Elusive Ethel Merman Episode

Season 2:
March 3, 1969: Tim Conway, Ethel Merman
This one has been difficult to pin down but I finally watched the whole thing on Channel 21 reruns. The MeTV/ShoutFactory/Amazon chopped-up version only featured the infamous dentist sketch with Tim cracking up Harvey as a rookie tooth doctor shooting himself up with Novocain and the scene with Carol as Ethel Merman's understudy scheming to get her out of the way so she can go on for the closing performance of Fanny Get Your Gun. The latter was based on Merman's reputation of never missing a performance during her many Broadway shows. There is a YouTube video of Carol and Ethel singing a Broadway medley and I seem to recall the sketch about a murder mystery being part of the promotion package to market DVDs of the show. But this complete episode does not appear on any of the DVD collections so it was exciting to see it pop up on Channel 21's program schedule.

Friday, April 8, 2022

B'way Update: New Stoppard Play; Kinky Boots Off-B'way; COVID Woes

Ed Stoppard (the author's son), Alexis Zegerman,
Faye Castelow and Adrian Scarborough in
Tom Stoppard's Leopoldstadt.
Photograph: Marc Brenner
What a coincidence. Just as I finish reading Hermione Lee's comprehensive, 700-plus page biography of Tom Stoppard, an announcement by Twitter arrives that his latest play, Leopoldstadt will be arriving on Broadway at a future, unspecified date. The tweet was sent by the production. Auditions for the New York company will take place later this month. The play concerning a Jewish-Catholic family in Vienna over several decades, opened in London in 2020 but closed after a brief run due to the COVID pandemic. A production was set for Toronto earlier this year but was cancelled due to ongoing COVID restrictions. The production reunites Stoppard, director Patrick Marber and producer Sonia Friedman who collaborated on Travesties in 2017.

A Dark Time

The forces of darkness are getting stronger in the US and around the world. It seemed we had a glimmer of hope when Biden defeated Trump, but our joys of liberal sanity have been short-lived. No sooner does the COVID crisis wane than Putin decides to invade Ukraine, sending gas prices through the roof. Even though Trump has been kissing Vlad's ass and would have done absolutely nothing to stop his boyfriend if he had been re-elected, MAGA nutbags will blame Biden for the inflation and price increases. States are passing laws banning books, forbidding teaching history with accuracy, and silencing gay families in the early grades. The latter complaint stems from the "Don't Say Gay" Bill in Florida which claims to protect elementary school children from the horrors of acknowledging the existence of gay and trans people. Governor DeSantis is confusing sex education and gender identity with gay visibility. He and his right-wing base don't want to admit there is nothing wrong with being gay. What happens if a gay teacher casually says "My partner and I went to the movies this weekend?" or if a student with gay parents brings up his or her family? Can the teacher of this class be sued by the outraged parents of "straight, normal" students? Previous generations of gay people were stereotyped as single, sex-crazed, 24-hour party people. Now we have families and kids and we're in commercials and on game shows. We're like everybody else. That's what frightens these people.

The recent SCOTUS confirmation hearings of Ketanji Brown Jackson are another indicator of the deep polarization of our politics. Republicans who voted for her a year ago for a lower court appointment now villify her and smear her just to score points with the base. Their reasoning seems to be "The Dems treated Kavanaugh badly, so we have to do the same to their nominee."

I fear the dissatisfaction with inflation will spur a Republican takeover of the House and possibly the Senate this November. Then Biden will not able to get anything done. In 2024, I pray the disenchantment with Trump will be enough to keep him out of the race, but he could still secure the Republican nomination despite his two impeachments and incitement to overturn a legitimate transfer of power. Biden will then be 82 and if it's a Biden-Trump rematch the outcome is far from certain.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 23: Oscar-Winning Actresses Step Out

Channel 21's reruns of Carol's show has included several of the episodes starring Dame Maggie Smith. Now best known as the dragon-like Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey and the stern magical schoolmistress of the Harry Potter films, Smith began her career in musical comedy, at least in NY. Her Broadway debut was in the revue New Faces of 1956. After several triumphs in London and an Oscar for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, she returned 20 years later to star in Noel Coward's Private Lives in 1974-5.

Maggie Smith (long before Downton Abbey)
with Carol in a musical finale from Season 9
When Private Lives was in LA before opening on Broadway, she also guest-starred on Carol's show. I hadn't realized Dame Maggie had appeared with Carol a total of three times and seemed to be enjoying a vacation from Shakespeare and the classics to be clowning around, singing and dancing. She won her second Oscar for a comic role in California Suite (1979). Other Oscar-winning actresses making Carol guest shots during this period included Joanne Woodward (The Three Faces of Eve, 1957), Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment, 1984), Rita Moreno (West Side Story, 1961), and Cher (Moonstruck, 1987). Woodward rarely made TV variety appearances while MacLaine did her own specials but did not appear as a guest on variety series. Moreno was a fixture on TV, especially on the children's series The Electric Company. Cher, of course was headlining her own series at this point and had appeared together with Sonny Bono on Carol's show during the first season. In honor of the recent Oscars, here's a look at award-winning ladies on Carol's show:

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Macbeth Pauses Previews Due to COVID

COVID is not done with Broadway yet. The new BA2 variant is playing havoc with shows as just as Omicron did. The new revival of Macbeth at the Longacre has paused preview performances until April 8 because star Daniel Craig and several cast members have tested positive. Performers in Paradise Square and Plaza Suite were out due to the virus and understudies went on in their place. A recent photo from a performance of Company featuring the cast list with several replacements was posted on Twitter. Hadestown cancelled two performances due to COVID absences. This complicates the Broadway schedule as April is stuffed with openings in order to beat the cut-off for Tony Award eligibility. The Scottish Play is scheduled to open on April 28, the last day for Tony eligibility. Note that Chris Rock said the unlucky name of the play minutes before Will Smith slapped him at the Oscars. 

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Post-Slap Oscar Thoughts, Final Nominees List

Insert obligatory Chris Rock/Will Smith 
photo caption here
Okay, here is the obligatory post-Oscar rant. Only this year's is a bit different. I was all set to celebrate my getting 21 out of 23 categories right in my predictions and to complain about eight technical and design awards being presented before the show started, but then Will Smith had to go and slap Chris Rock and ruin it for me. The show had been pretty routine up to that point and I was complaining on Twitter about all the commercials (there seemed to be more than usual). Then Chris Rock did his lame joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's lack of hair and Smith went off after an eye-roll from the wife. All kinds of horrible triggers here. Toxic masculinity. Over protective patriarchy. Trumpist violence becoming acceptable. Racist stereotypes of black men being unable to control their emotions reinforced. Idols like Bill Cosby, OJ Simpson and now Will Smith falling. Comedians being in danger for doing their job.