Tuesday, June 27, 2023

B'way Update: Imitation of Life Musical in Development

Top: Louise Beavers and
Claudette Colbert (1934);
above: Lana Turner
and Juanita Moore (1959)
in Imitation of Life
A new musical based on Imitation of Life, the Fannie Hurst novel and the classic Hollywood film version and subsequent remake, is in development. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage (Ruined, Sweat) authors the book and EGOT recipient John Legend will compose the score and write the lyrics. Tony nominee Liesl Tommy (Eclipsed) directs. A private industry reading took place on April 24-28. 

The Fannie Hurst novel was published in 1933. Universal Pictures produced two different film versions. The first was released in 1934 and starred Claudette Colbert, Louise Beavers, and Fredi Washington. The 1959 remake was headlined by Lana Turner, Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner. Moore was Oscar-nominated for Best Actress and Kohner for Best Supporting Actress. The storyline focuses on the 1920s friendship of Bea Pullman, a white businesswoman and Delilah Johnston, an African-American who serves as her maid and cook and their difficult relationships with their daughters. Delilah's daughter Peola is light-skinned, passes for white and is determined to lead a new and dangerous life. Delilah's secret recipe for pancakes makes both mothers rich, but their economic prosperity doesn't cure the ills of racism.

“When I met with Universal Theatrical Group to talk about a possible collaboration, the only title I wanted to discuss was Imitation of Life. I’d long been a fan of the book and I knew there was a passionate, contemporary, and newly relevant adaptation of this story uniquely suited to musical theater. To my mind the only collaborators for this beautifully complex, wholly American story are Lynn Nottage and John Legend; thankfully, they agreed to join me immediately in bringing their creativity and immense talents to this re-telling. We are thrilled to partner with UTG as we turn a whole new lens on Imitation of Life, using this great American art form to illuminate and uplift Black life,” notes director Liesl Tommy in a statement.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Book Review: The Caterpillar Dogs and Other Early Stories

Found at the Drama Book Shop. Paid full price of $16. I've read practically everything that Tennessee Williams has written, so I figured I should spring for this slim (less than 100 pages) volume of early, previously unpublished stories. You can see the early stirring of Williams' genius at capturing the delicate nuances of characters who later emerge fully developed in The Glass Menagerie, Streetcar Named Desire and his later mature works. In Stair to the Roof, the frightened, artistic shoe-factory clerk Edward Schiller is a combination of Tom and Laura from The Glass Menagerie. This daydreamer's soul is crushed by the monotonous work of filing shoe orders and his only relief is escape to the factory's roof for fresh air and release from the demands of the mimeo machine and carbon copies. Ironically, his additional guilty pleasure is grabbing a quick cigarette, canceling out the physical effects of the open spaces. The title story is a funny vignette about a ruthless old lady and her conflict with a pair of yapping Pekinese. Every Friday Night Is Kiddies Night focuses on a retired minister moving to the big city of St. Louis and finally indulging in such harmless but previously forbidden indulgences as listening to the radio and attending the picture show. Williams gives a detailed portrait of these pitiful outsiders.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

B'way Update: Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells in Gutenberg! The Musical

Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad in
Funny or Die
Book of Mormon
co-stars Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells will be reunited in the Broadway premiere of Gutenberg! The Musical, written by Tony and Emmy nominees Scott Brown and Anthony King and directed by Tony winner Alex Timbers who staged the show's original Off-Broadway production in 2006. 
Previews for the two-man musical begin Sept. 15 at the James Earl Jones Theater prior to an Oct. 12 opening.

The show is set at a backers' audition where playwrights Bud and Doug are playing all the parts in their musical based on the life of the titular inventor of the printing press. The show-within-a-show parodies typical Broadway musical moments such as the big opening number, kicklines, emotional ballads, and a "charm" song about biscuits. The many characters include Gutenberg himself, his girlfriend Helvetica, and the villain of the piece, an evil Monk who wants to keep mankind in ignorance.

Book Review: The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Downloaded on my Kindle for $10. Another of the 100 books the BBC says I should read before I die. Maybe so I'll know what to expect after I kick. A pleasant enough fast read, but basically a giant Hallmark card with the message, "Everyone's life is connected to everybody else's, so be nice while you're alive, or you'll meet someone in heaven you were rude to on Earth and it will be awkward for a few minutes. But then you'll apologize and go on to meet somebody whose toe you stepped on while getting off the subway." That's oversimplifying this simplistic book, but you get the idea.

An ordinary Joe named Eddie buys it on his 80th birthday. When he gets to the hereafter, he meets 5 people who explain his "ordinary" life to him. And like George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, he realizes he was important to many people. Cue the harps and violins.

Why the BBC chose this as an essential tome I don't quite get. It is sweet and sentimental, somewhat overwritten in parts with Albom hitting you over the head with metaphors comparing love to rain. I get that it's comforting to think of the Great Beyond as a counseling session, but not a great revelation or a great book.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Book Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Found for free in a library sale. This is one of the 100 Books the BBC says you should read before you die, so I figured I could polish it off in a few hours and have a more impressive literary score. I'd seen the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as well as the recent Broadway musical version. Fun and silly, a classic for anyone who loves candy and the innocence of childhood. Dahl skewers bad juvenile habits such as gum-chewing and TV watching. He would have exploded at today's I-phone obsessed kids who make Mike Teavee and Veruca Salt look like Rhodes scholars.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Book Review: Vinegar Girl

Bought at the Strand for $10. I've read almost all of Anne Tyler's books and this one was as warm and charming as any of them. Tyler's novels are comforting portraits of eccentric families struggling to get along and living through everyday moments. This is an updated, gentler version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Tyler avoids the Bard's sexist extremes and focuses on the quiet, quirky blossoming of romance between Kate, an aloof pre-school teacher, and Pyotr, her father's lab assistant whom she is marrying so he can get a Green Card. This Kate is not the vile-tempered virago of the play and Pyotr is not the savage domineering Petruchio who starves and whips his shrew into submission. Tyler's Kate is a drifting, prickly loner with no life plan. Her absent-minded scientist dad got the job for her and she reluctantly agrees to his scheme with Pyotr because she has nothing better to do with her life. Pyotr is an orphaned Eastern Europe emigre with no family seeking a place in a foreign land. He is stubborn like Kate and their unlikely dance into matrimony is sweetly rendered. I liked the scene where Kate fixes herself a meal with the odds and ends in Pyotr's refrigerator. The details are so vivid it makes preparing an egg salad into a major event in her life as she accepts her new role.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

B'way Update: Cabaret, Purlie, Second Stage, Cats, etc.

Eddie Redmayne in the
London revival of Cabaret which
may be transferring to Broadway in 2024.
Credit: Marc Brenner
It's not official, but according to a report by Philip Boroff in Broadway Journal, the hit London revival of Cabaret will transfer to Broadway with previews beginning in March of 2024 ahead of an April opening. According to Boroff, Oscar, Tony and Olivier winner Eddie Redmayne is slated to repeat his award-winning performance as the Emcee in this immersive staging. Rebecca Franknell will repeat her staging which included an immersive experience in the world of the Kit Kat Klub in 1930s Berlin. This will be the fifth Broadway production of the musical based on John Van Druten's I Am a Camera which was in turn derived from Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories about the reckless Sally Bowles in the decadent German capital before the rise of the Third Reich. Harold Prince's original 1966 production starred Jill Haworth, Joel Grey, Jack Gilford, Lotte Lenya and ran for 1,165 performances. The 1972 movie version directed by Bob Fosse won 8 Oscars including Best Actress for Liza Minnelli and Best Supporting Actor for Grey. Grey returned to the Emcee role for a 1987 revival. Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson headlined a 1998 revival which also originated in London and ran for 2,377 performances. This staging was revived in 2014 also with Cumming and ran for 388 performances.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

B'way Update: Melissa Etheridge, Musicians in Here Lies Love, Tonys

Melissa Etheridge
Pop star Melissa Etheridge joins Bruce Springsteen and David Byrne in bringing an autobiographical, concert-style show to Broadway. She begins previews of Melissa Etheridge: My Window at the Circle in the Square on Sept. 14 in anticipation of a Sept. 28 opening for a nine-week limited engagement.

“I truly love Broadway," Etheridge said in a statement, "and it’s long been a dream of mine to tell my story and share my music there. I never felt more connected to this community and New York audiences than I did after telling my life story off-Broadway last year. The intimacy of the live theatrical stage is like no other, and Circle in the Square is going to be a magical home for my show’s Broadway debut. I can't wait to come back to the City! It’s a deeply personal experience to be able to tell these stories again, in a fresh and exciting way, and reconnect with my fans and theatergoers.”

Friday, June 9, 2023

Book Review: Zero Gravity

Downloaded from my Kindle for $19. Now I have read everything Woody Allen has written. This collection of short pieces is as slight as his previous one, Mere Anarchy. All are amusing and raised a mild smile from me. When Your Hood Ornamant Is Nietzsche was probably my favorite. A self-driving, intelligent car poses philosophical questions of morality as it contemplates if it should run over a pedestrian or save its driver. The final piece, Growing Up in Manhattan is an actual short story, close to a novella, but ultimately unsatisfying. It follows an autobiographical Allen-like hero, as he experiences a Brooklyn childhood, a rocky first marriage, finding work as a TV writer and playwright, and a taking up with a frighteningly self-possessed new love as his first union dissolves. It's well-written and the only piece with a plot and characters beyond cartoons. But there's little or no point to the story, other than a charming portrayal of 1960s NYC. It ends rather abruptly with the hero breaking it off with his new girl. Why is Allen telling this story other than to reminisce about his youth?

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Off-B'way Update: Alicia Keys Musical and More at the Public

Alicia Keys
Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Alicia Keys is coming to Off-Broadway with Hell's Kitchen, a new musical loosely based on her own life, beginning performances Oct. 24 at the Public Theater prior to a Nov. 19 opening. The score will consists of new material from Keys and her previous hits. The book is by Pulitzer Prize finalist Kristoffer Diaz (The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity). Tony nominee Michael Greif (Rent) directs and Tony nominee Camille A. Brown (for colored girls) provides the choreography. The story follows Ali, a 17-year-old girl living with her overprotective mother in a cramped Times Square apartment. Tensions are high between the two when Ali falls for a young drummer. Then, the girl hears a piano from a neighboring apartment and she begins to liberate herself through music. Newcomer Maleah Joi Moon will play Ali. The cast also includes Shoshana Bean (Mr. Saturday Night) and Brandon Victor Dixon (Hamilton).

Thursday, June 1, 2023

B'way Update: Doubt; Prayer; Writers and Musicians Up in Arms

Tyne Daly and Liev Schreiber will
star in a revival of Doubt.
Tony and Emmy winner Tyne Daly and Tony winner Liev Schreiber will headline the first Broadway revival of John Patrick Shanley's Doubt: A Parable, presented by Roundabout Theater Company with performances beginning in February 2024. Tony Award nominee Scott Ellis directs. The play about a strong-willed nun confronting a priest over a suspected illicit relationship with a young male student originally premiered Off-Broadway in 2004 at Manhattan Theater Club's City Center space. That production starred Cherry Jones, Brian F. O'Byrne, Heather Goldenhersh, and Adriane Lenox and later transferred to Broadway where it won four Tony Awards including Best Play and the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A 2008 film version starred Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis.

Prayer for the French Republic
will transfer to Broadway in 2024.
Credit: Matthew Murphy
Speaking of Manhattan Theater Club, the company will present the Broadway premiere of Joshua Harmon's Prayer for the French Republic, which was seen at MTC's City Center stage in 2022 where it won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway play. The play concerns three generations of a French-Jewish family as they deal with the horrors of anti-Semitism. David Cromer repeats his direction and performances begin at the Samuel J. Friedman in February 2024. Casting and specific dates will be announced at a later date. MTC's first Broadway offering of the season will be Jocelyn Bioh's Jaja's African Hair-Braiding, dealing with the titular Harlem styling establishment, which will open sometime during the fall.