Friday, July 29, 2022

B'way Update: Woods Extends, Mockingbird Not Flying Back, High Noon, Frida Kahlo Musical

Joshua Henry and Gavin Creel in
Into the Woods.
Credit: Matthew Murphy and 
Evan Zimmerman for
Into the Woods is now officially extending its limited run at the St. James through Oct. 16. The acclaimed revival of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine fairy-tale musical was originally intended to play only till Aug. 21 after its sold-out City Center run. The announcement came one day after producers of The Piano Lesson revealed they were moving the August Wilson production to the Barrymore rather than the previously announced St. James. New casting for later in the run will be announced in the coming days. What's surprising is the extension is only for another two months. Perhaps there will be another extension if the box office continues to hold strong. Woods pulled in a whopping near $2 million last week. Maybe the show could become like another Encores transfer, Chicago which is still running and holds the record as the longest-playing American musical in Broadway history. Chicago boosted its epic run with some interesting big names in replacement casting including most recently Pamela Anderson. With so many juicy roles, Woods could become star-bait and attract new audiences with each new cast.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Trump Reality Show Finally in Its Last Season?

Is the perverted Trump reality show we've all been forced to live through from the past six years finally reaching its last season? Has America finally had enough of this monster some have praised as a hero? Trumpy has survived before. We thought he was out of the running for president when he insulted John McCain. We counted him out with the release of the pussy-grabbing video with Billy Bush. Shithole countries, very fine people on both sides of racism, siding with Putin over his own intelligence agencies, the botched, incompetent COVID non-response, even the violence of Jan. 6 itself weren't enough to turn his rabid MAGA base away from him. But now the Jan. 6 Select Committee has taken over the narrative and Trump has been transformed from idol of the poor, downtrodden white race to mad king clinging to power at all costs, even if it means ending our democracy itself.

To counterprogram Trump's mendacious mini-series, the Committee has staged its hearings like a better mini-series with eight episodes or hearings, each having a different focus, plot arc, heroes and villains. Unlike the Watergate and impeachment hearings which dragged out over two summers while I was in high school in 1973 and 1974, the J6 segments feature short video clips from testimony, video and visuals of emails and texts. With Watergate, we had to sit through days and days of witnesses testifying in real time. The J6 people give us bite-sized portions and intelligent speakers breaking it down to explain it. Because the stubborn Congressional Trump Republicans refused to cooperate, there are no dissenting voices to offer the Orange Mussolini's twisted version of events. It's clear that Trump intended to lead the mob in their assault on the capitol. But then what? Would he have taken Mike Pence prisoner? Burned the electoral certificates? Declared himself dictator for life? Only the secret service stopped him. And the deleted texts from their phones will reveal the whole story. Sooner or later, what was on those phones will be revealed. But that's the cliffhanger and we will have to wait for the next season to begin in September.

If nothing else, the hearings have damaged Trump enough so that his chances of being re-elected in 2024 are significantly lower. At least I hope so. What's really horrifying is so many Americans don't care that Trumpy almost overthrew our government or worse they would be OK with that.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Broadway Update: Piano Lesson, Cost of Living

It looks like Into the Woods WILL stay at the St. James and Piano Lesson will open at the Ethel
Denzel Washington and
LaTanya Richardson Jackson in
A Raisin in the Sun
at the Barrymore.
Credit: Brigitte Lacombe

Barrymore rather than the previously announced St. James. Greg Evans of Deadline reports (as of 5:00 am this morning, July 26) the transfer of theaters. In an interview with Piano Lesson director LaTanya Richardson Jackson, the website confirms the August Wilson Pulitzer Prize-winning revival will begin preview performances at the new venue on Sept. 19 with no opening date announced as of yet. (The Piano Lesson website now lists the Barrymore as the show's home.) Woods producers have not confirmed if their smash-hit Sondheim-Lapine revival will be extending. 

Richardson Jackson will be making her Broadway directorial debut and is the first woman to stage a Wilson play on Broadway. She will be directing her husband Samuel L. Jackson as well as John David Washington and Danielle Brooks. The Barrymore is the site of her Tony-nominated performance as Lena Younger in the 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun (opposite Denzel Washington, John David's father.) She also acted in a Broadway revival of Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone. In another example of such theatrical serendipity, the Barrymore was the home for original productions of both Raisin (1959) and Joe Turner (1988).

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part 30: Still More Broadcast Masters

Here are more broadcast masters of episodes that were unavailable on DVD or in the syndicated Carol Burnett and Friends hatchet jobs. Now you can find them on Amazon and the FreeVee service (formerly imdb's streaming platform)

Season Five:
Oct. 20, 1971: Dom DeLuise, Peggy Lee

(Previously seen on MeTV/Amazon/ShoutFactory and Reviewed in Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part Two: Carol and Dom in Antique Store; Murder Mystery with Alice Portnoy.)
The highlight of this complete episode is a game show spoof called Do or Die. Contestants can win
Vicki, Carol and Dom DeLuise
in the Do or Die Game Show sketch

ridiculously lavish prizes like a key to Fort Knox or the gross national product of a European country, but the penalties for wrong answers are equally extravagant: getting shot in the leg or beheaded. Dom is the overly enthusiastic and sadistic host while Harvey as George is the contestant and Vicki is the dumb but curvaceous model. Naturally, George's wife from hell Zelda (Carol) is hauled out to help her hubby. Today, this sketch would probably be censored for its stereotyping of women as either stupid and sexy or plain and shrewish. But the extremes are pretty funny with George putting his head in a guillotine and Zelda having to shoot out a candle before the flame burns the rope holding the blade. 

In the next scene, Zelda interrupts Peggy Lee's solo number and pleads with her to sing her signature hit "Is That All There Is?" When Zelda loudly munches an apple and then calls Peggy overrated, the singer gives her a karate chop. Earlier, Lee gave her smooth silky style while being shot in soft focus to Carol King's "I Feel the Earth Move" and Michel Legrand's "Watch What Happens."

Monday, July 18, 2022

B'way Update: What's Up with Into the Woods and Piano Lesson?

Gavin Creel and Julia Lester in
Into the Woods.
Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman 
for MurphyMade.
The Encores! revival of Into the Woods is such a big hit that there are rumors it will extend beyond its relatively brief limited run ending Aug. 21 at the St. James. (Here's a link to my review on where I call this ITW the best Broadway show in 30 years.) But the revival of August Wilson's The Piano Lesson starring Samuel L. Jackson, Danielle Brooks and John David Washington is slated to begin previews at the St. James on Sept. 19. Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post reported last week that Woods producers want their show to stay put and have Piano Lesson move to the Barrymore where Paradise Square has just closed. (Side note: Paradise producer Garth Drabinsky has been placed on Equity's Do Not Work list for "outstanding payments and benefits, and a continued pattern of abuse and neglect that created an unsafe and toxic work environment.") There has been no confirmation on Woods extending or Piano Lesson changing its venue. Tickets are not being sold for Woods beyond Aug. 21 and tickets are being sold for Piano Lesson at the St. James from Sept. 19 until Jan. 8, 2023.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

B'way Update: Lea Michele in Funny Girl; Ain't No Mo Transfers; Paradise Square to Close

Lea Michele (right on Glee) will
replace Beanie Feldstein (left)
in Funny Girl.
It was one of the worst kept secrets in recent Broadway history, but now it's official. Lea Michele will be taking the lead role of Fanny Brice from Beanie Feldstein in the current revival of Funny Girl. In addition, Tony nominee and Drama Desk winner Tovah Feldshuh will take over for Jane Lynch as Fanny's mother. Both will begin performances Sept. 6 at the August Wilson Theater. Beanie Feldstein, currently playing Fanny was initially slated to leave the show on Sept. 25, but that was moved up to July 31 with Feldstein announcing her departure on Instagram. Standby Julie Benko will play the lead from Aug. 2 through Sept. 4 and will continue for Thursday performances starting Sept. 8. 

Michele was last on Broadway in Spring Awakening. During her tenure on six seasons of Glee, she often performed songs from the Funny Girl score and at one point there were rumors she would star in a production which never came to fruition. Glee cast member Samantha Marie Ware has accused Michele of creating a toxic work environment on that series. She tweeted her displeasure with the casting news.

Feldshuh was last seen on Broadway in the Pippin revival and she has been nominated for four Tonys (Golda's Balcony, Lend Me a Tenor, Sarava, Yentl) and won two Drama Desks (Golda's Balcony, Lend Me a Tenor). But I remember her most for playing Peter Pan at Philadelphia's Playhouse in the Park.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part 29: Paley Center for Media Visit Two

I returned to the Paley Center for Media and viewed another brace of complete Carol Burnett Show episodes unavailable on DVD or YouTube. This set had segments previously seen on the MeTV series of chopped-up episodes, but with much missing material now finally unearthed.

Season Two:
Jan. 20, 1969: Tim Conway, Perry Como
Tim as the warden on New Year's Eve
Two sketches from this show featuring Tim Conway are part of the abbreviated syndicated package but I have not reviewed them previously because they were not particularly memorable. In the first Tim is a drunk prison warden called out of a New Year's Eve party to quell a riot. Harvey is the head guard vainly attempting to get his blotto boss to address the dire situation. The second features Tim as rich, plain girl Carol's fiancee seeking to impress her ultra-stuffy father Harvey. (Lyle appears as Carol's swishy, ultra-handsome brother for exposition purposes.) The only trouble is Tim has been given an allergy shot which makes him act like a cat. This basic premise was repeated on another show with Tim reacting to an injection meant for the family dog by behaving like a canine in front of his supervisor (Harvey again). 

Friday, July 8, 2022

B'way Update: Collaboration, & Juliet, Almost Famous

Summertime and the livin' is easy. Fewer shows are opening so my life isn't quite so hectic. But we do have some news of Broadway openings and changes for the fall season. Two productions from London have confirmed Broadway transfers and a previously announced new musical has landed a theater and shifted its dates.

Jeremy Pope and Paul Bettany
in The Collaboration.
Credit: Marc Brenner
The Collaboration, a new play by Oscar nominee Anthony McCarten (The Two Popes, The Theory of Everything, Bohemian Rhapsody) focusing on the relationship between artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, will open on Broadway as part of Manhattan Theater Club's season at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater after a hit London run at the Young Vic. Previews begin Nov. 29 in advance of a Dec. 20 opening. McCarten is also the book-author of A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical which will open Dec. 4 at the Broadhurst.

Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope will repeat their London performances as Warhol and Basquiat. The play, directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Young Vic, takes place in 1984 when the two influential artists were working together on what would become one of the most famous exhibitions in modern art history. Bettany, best known for his film work including several Marvel Universe films as The Vision and A Knight's Tale, A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, will be making his Broadway debut. Pope recently achieved the rare feat of receiving two Tony nominations in the same season--for Choir Boy and Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations. He also received an Emmy nomination for the Netflix mini-series, Hollywood

The Collaboration will follow MTC's staging of Cost of Living at the Friedman, but no specific dates have been announced yet for that production. 

Note: While this show adds to the number of new British plays planned for Broadway, there are no new original American plays which have not been seen previously Off-Broadway, with definite Broadway dates for 2022-23.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 28: Paley Center for Media Visit One

Carol at the Paley Center for Media
Now that it's the summer, I have more free time to complete my life's work of piecing together the missing Carol Burnett Show episodes from the first five seasons. Amazon has made available several complete masters of shows which have been chopped up for half-hour segments in syndication (see Part 26 and 27, and future blogs). But there are still incomplete episodes with missing material. About eight or nine of these are available for viewing at the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Broadcasting) in Manhattan. My fellow Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle member Jane Klain who works there, helped me to take a look recently. I spent a lovely summer afternoon filling in the blanks on several episodes, some were in black and white, many contained the original commercials. 

Season One:
Sept. 18, 1967: Sid Caesar, Liza Minnelli

(Previously seen on MeTV/Amazon/ShoutFactory and YouTube and reviewed in Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Parts 9 and 15: VIP sketch Lucy Brains; Liza sings "The Debutante Ball"; Sid first time father monologue; "Who's Afraid of Virginia Robot" sketch; Liza and Carol in Time medley; Carol and Sis--sleeping pill Sketch with Reta Shaw)
The only new pieces of material from this second-ever broadcast episode were the opening number, a brief commercial spoof and the finale. The opening features Carol singing the title song from Cabaret (funny to think it was brand new at the time). For some reason, we are in a giant kitchen with the chorus boys dressed as chefs (look closely and you will see future Tony nominee Lee Roy Reams) and the girls as waitresses. Carol sings the number while the chorus balances trays and glasses, finally setting up a table with a bucket of champagne for Carol and she promptly drops her tray and breaks the glasses. The short commercial spoof has a disappointed Carol coming home from a date. She's down because her fellow offered a handshake at the door instead of a kiss. Her roommate suggests using a new mouthwash. "I'll try it, maybe it'll work," Carol moans. Then we cut to a few weeks later, Carol enters with her clothes half-ripped-off, her hair disheveled and she cries happily, "IT WORKED!" So in 1967, the goal of every young woman was to have fresh breath and be sexually assaulted?

The finale involves Carol as a clumsy chorine lousing up Sid's big number in a Ziegfeld Follies type extravaganza. She manages to rip his sleeve off, get her bracelet stuck on his costume, and her feather boa attached to his back.