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Creative

8 Shows Opening on Broadway in October

Mother Nature has her faux fur coat on the foot of her bed and she’s almost ready to step out for New York’s hottest shows. We are here to celebrate the eight shows that will open up on Broadway before October.

October 2
Leopoldstadt (Longacre Theatre)

  • Olivier Award Winning NEW play by Tom Stoppard
  • Features 38 actors
  • Tom Stoppard’s “most personal work of his career”
  • From Director Patrick Marber (Closer, Tom Stoppard’s Travesties)

October 3
Cost of Living (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre)

  • Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize
  • Martyna Marjok is a new playwright with a very promising future (she’s penning The Great Gatsby with Florence Welch)
  • Kara Young stars after exploding onto the Broadway stage after Clyde’s

October 6
1776 (American Airlines Theatre)

  • Reimagined revival with an all woman presenting cast
  • Jeffrey L. Page (Violet, FELA!) and Diane Paulus (Waitress, Pippin, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Jagged Little Pill) co-directs
  • Carolee Carmello is back on Broadway after 6 years

October 9
Death of a Salesman (Hudson Theatre)

  • Marianne Elliott (Company, Angels in America, Warhorse) directs this critically-acclaimed West End Transfer
  • Tony Award Nominee and Multi-Olivier Award Winner Sharon D. Clarke, Wendell Pierce (HBO’s The Wire) and the incomparable André De Shields round out this powerhouse cast
  • The Black actors portraying the Loman family during the 1940s transcends the writing making an even harder hit for Willy, his wife and his boys

October 13
The Piano Lesson (Ethel Barrymore Theatre)

  • Samuel L Jackson and Danielle Brooks return to Broadway in this much-anticipated revival
  • Directed by Latanya Richardson Jackson
  • August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize Winning Masterpiece about how we perceive our past

October 20
Topdog/Underdog (John Golden Theatre)

  • The first ever Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning drama revival
  • Kenny Leon directs
  • New York Times says it’s “the Greatest Plays of the last 25 years”

October 27
Take Me Out (Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre)

  • The hit revival is back from it’s sold-out run at the Helen Hayes
  • Jesse Tyler Ferguson won his first Tony Award for this hilarious and heart-breaking role
  • A scintillating drama about being authentically oneself and the importance of friendship and community

October 27
Walking with Ghosts (Music Box Theatre)

  • Gabriel Byrne (Hereditary, HBO’s In Treatment) returns to Broadway with his one-man staged biography
  • The incredible Lonny Price directs
  • The Times calls it “Spell-binding”

NOVEMBER OPENINGS

November 3 – Almost Famous (Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre)

November 10 – Kimberly Akimbo (Booth Theatre)

November 13 – Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man & the Pool (Vivian Beaumont Theater)

November 17 – & Juliet (Stephen Sondheim Theatre)

November 20 – KPOP (Circle in the Square Theatre)

November 21 – A Christmas Carol (Nederlander Theatre)

Categories
Creative

History of Movies to Musicals on Broadway

The 2017-2018 Broadway season reached 13,792,614 in attendance and grossed over $1.6 million. Despite these record setting numbers, discussion and debate broke out amongst fans as all four Tony nominated Best Musicals were stage adaptations of films; The Band’s Visit, SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical, Frozen, and Mean Girls. 

The Broadway cast of Some Like It Hot

A major criticism of Broadway is the trend of stage adaptations of popular movies, which has been featured heavily in recent seasons. With this upcoming season having two announced adaptations, Almost Famous and Some Like It Hot, and even more rumored for the future including The Notebook, The Devil Wears Prada, and a transfer of the West End’s Back to the Future, there is an understandable interest in the creation and development of original stories on Broadway. What many theatergoers are unaware of is that this trend isn’t new to Broadway. In fact, Broadway has a long history of translating movies to the stage including some classic and fan favorite shows. 

Little Shop Of Horrors

While some adaptations are more obvious, such as the Disney Broadway catalog including shows like Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, and The Lion King, many well known theater classics were inspired by movies. Sondheim and Wheeler’s A Little Night Music, which originally opened on Broadway in 1973 and ran for 601 performances, is based on the 1955 Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night. The well-known Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon staple Sweet Charity, written by Neil SImon with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, is based on the 1957 screenplay Nights of Cabiria. Little Shop of Horrors, whose award winning Off-Broadway revival is currently running at the Westside Theatre, is based on the low budget 1960 dark comedy, The Little Shop of Horrors. Andrew Lloyd Webbers’ Sunset Boulevard, which broke advance sale records and sold over 1 million tickets with its original Broadway production, is based on the 1950 film of the same name. Some other classics include Nine, based on Frederico Fellini’s 1963 film 8½, On The 20th Century, based on the 1930s film of the same name, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair, and Promises, Promises, based on the 1960 film The Apartment.  

Heathers The Musical on Roku

Beyond the classics, many fan favorites, such as Heathers which currently has a production on the West End, are based on films. The 2007 Legally Blonde, which has become a go-to for many community theaters and High Schools across the country, is heavily based heavily on the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon as well as the Amanda Brown novel. The beloved Sara Bareilles musical Waitress, which ran on Broadway from 2016 to 2020 and returned in a limited engagement in 2021, is based on the 2007 film written by Adrienne Shelly. Other fan favorite adaptations include the currently running Beetlejuice, based on the Tim Burton horror comedy, 9 to 5, based on the 1980 film, Anastasia, based on the 1997 animated movie, and many more. 

Billy Elliott the Musical

Some screen to stage adaptations have even garnered critical acclaim and gone on to win Tony Awards, such as Once, which won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Musical. Carnival, which won the 1962 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical and an Outer Critics Circle Award, was based on the 1953 film Lili. The 2013 winner Kinky Boots, which ran on Broadway for 2,507 performances and is currently running Off-Broadway at Stage 42, is based on a 2005 British film of the same name. The 2021 Tony Award-winning Best Musical, Moulin Rouge!, is based on the 2001 film starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. Other Tony Award winning adaptations include Billy Elliot the Musical, Spamalot, Hairspray, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Producers, and Passion. 

The river flows both ways. While many musicals based on films have gone on to win awards and break records, Hollywood continues to turn out movies based on beloved Broadway shows. In the last 5 years alone, there have been a slew of film adaptations of Musicals including Jonathan Larsons’ Tick, Tick…Boom, directed by Lin Manuel Miranda starring Andrew Garfield, a remake of West Side Story directed by Stephen, In The Heights, 13, The Prom, Dear Evan Hansen, and The Last 5 Years (although this came out in 2014 and has yet to have a Broadway production). Coming to Netflix this December will be a movie adaptation of the acclaimed musical Matilda. The long-running Broadway musical Wicked, which has multiple national tours and international productions, has a film adaptation in the late stages of development starring Ariana Grande, Cynthia Erivo, and Jonathan Bailey. 

While there should be a healthy mix of original stories and adaptations in commercial theater, the relationship between Broadway and the silver screen has an extensive history that shouldn’t be dismissed. If a screen to stage adaptation is done well, it has the potential to connect with audiences, set records, and become a staple in the theater canon. 

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Alan Cox

It was a wonderful opportunity to explore Lillian Hellman’s classic play with such a dream cast as part of this series of online performances. The themes of liberal America and its imperative to combat fascism in all its manifestations feels all too pertinent to the needs of our present times. When Watch On The Rhine premiered in 1941 it served to bring to the theatre-going public a sense of the turmoil that was brewing in mainland Europe and its potential impact on the global stage. 

I was first exposed to the epic dimensions of the American drama when I made my professional theatrical debut in a revival of Strange Interlude by Eugene O’Neill. Written in the shadow of the Great War, this Pulitzer Prize winning drama features the theatrical convention of characters speaking their innermost thoughts as asides. In deploying this classical device in a contemporary setting, O’Neil shows that despite the privileges of modern education, human beings still struggle to communicate directly and truthfully with one another. However, my lasting impression of this masterpiece is not as profound as I would wish. I was thirteen years old at the time and my hair had been bleached a platinum blonde to evoke the archetypal Golden Child. The abiding memory I have is of the cast, which included Glenda Jackson and my father Brian Cox, gently but firmly urging me to go easy on the gold hairspray that I had applied to my side parting when the dark roots began to show. Luckily, I don’t think my besmirching of the beautifully tailored 1920’s costumes could be glimpsed past the front row. 

Thirty seven years later and one of the benefits of being involved in the remote capture of an online performance of a classic play is that this actor can transform himself without having to make a trip to the hairdresser.


Alan Cox recently played Uncle Vanya at the Hampstead Theatre in London and Claudius in Hamlet for the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. He played David Frost in the national tour of Frost/Nixon, for which he received a Helen Hayes Award nomination. He made his Broadway debut in Translations. He made his motion picture debut as Watson in Young Sherlock Holmes. His film work includes Contagion, The Dictator, Mrs. Dalloway, and An Awfully Big Adventure. Alan’s television credits include The Good Wife, John Adams, and The Odyssey. He can be seen in Spotlight on Play’s Watch on the Rhine streaming this Thursday.

Categories
Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Eric McCormack

One Big Break

In 1981, I was in my last year of high school in the suburbs of Toronto. I’d done a bunch of musicals in theatre class (Godspell, Pippin, Fantasticks) but never worked professionally. I got a job bussing tables at a brand-new dinner theatre uptown, O’Neill’s. The opening show, starring six young actors in their mid-20’s, was a collection of songs (from other musicals) about making it in show biz. It was called, literally, One Big Break. Five nights a week, for months, I’d clear plates and glasses, then sit at the back, by the spotlight, and watch my new, slightly-older friends perform. After one show, I was washing dishes when I overheard the owners, in a kitchen corner, whispering their concerns about Stephen, one of the actors.

“He could barely sing tonight,” said Sandra O’Neill, the theatre’s namesake. “Well, we don’t have understudies, Sandra,” hissed the other owner, “what would you suggest?”

“I can do it,” I blurted.

They looked over at me, in my apron and my mullet. Sandra smiled, like I was an adorable puppy. “Aww,” she cooed, “thanks, hon. It’s Eric, right? We’ll figure it out, sweetheart.”

The next day, in history class, I got called to the front office. This had never happened in my life. The principal’s secretary handed me the phone. Sandra O’Neill was on the other end.

“Were you… serious?” she asked, with hesitation.

“Absolutely,” I replied, with none. The bravado of eighteen.

I met with the musical director at 4:00 and we ran the numbers. Once. When the actors got there, they looked ashen. Sure, I was their favorite busboy, but…this? We reviewed choreography for about half an hour…then we opened the place for dinner.

And I bussed tables.

At 8:00, the waiters (to the surprise of the patrons) suddenly became the performers. One by one they’d put down their trays and start to sing the opening number. I was the last. The first lines out of my mouth, the first words I ever sang in a professional theatre…

“One good break is really all I need to make the world stand up and cheer…”

It was a pretty good night. I played the role for two more months. I will always have a special place in my heart for Sandra.

And for Stephen McMulkin.


Eric McCormack

Best known as Will Truman on TV’s Will & Grace, Eric McCormack made his Broadway debut in The Music Man. He appeared as a mystery guest star in The Play What I Wrote, starred off-Broadway in Neil LaBute’s Some Girl(s) and returns to the Main Stem opposite James Earl Jones in the 2012 revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.

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Stories from the Stage

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Othello.

This may come as a surprise to some, not so much to others, but Othello is a complex role to accept for the 21st century black actor.  On one hand, he’s an incredibly deep, densely drawn character and one of the few that are built specifically for actors of color in the Elizabethan canon.  On the other hand, he’s been reduced to some pretty nasty stereotyping.  The character has a well documented history of blackface, and the optics of a white woman being strangled by a black man brings to mind the gut-dropping feeling we got in those last moments of Jordan Peele’s Get Out (Daniel Kaaluya hands wrapped around the neck of his captor/honeypot/devil in a white dress, Allison Williams, when suddenly red and blue lights wash the screen).  So in my second year of graduate school, when I was called into my department chairs office to talk about playing Othello in the spring…I wasn’t sure what to do.  I mean sure; in the name of the pedagogical experience, in the name of practice (because inevitably it wouldn’t be my last time playing the character) and well, the thing looks good on the resume, so why not?  But does taking the part make me a sellout?  Or worse…is it a full on soul sell?

Around this time, I was reckoning with myself, my artistry and this liquid prison I was attempting to construct. Growing inside me was this festering shadow of insecurity, imposter syndrome, and the ever present doom of letting everyone down, one I tried to bar up with Whiskey, Tequila and Rum.  Little did I know, this shadow loved a drink, and despite my attempts to drown it, grew gills.  I’ll spare you the rest of the bloody details but I can tell you with confidence that some people do indeed crack their skulls open on rock bottom.  Others, however, bounce off stones of despair (it’s my band name, you cannot have it) and are given a chance to change direction.

I started writing letters to Othello in between classes, outpatient treatment, rehearsal and AA meetings on cold Sunday mornings (so much coffee and the squeaking of grey slush on the bottoms of winter boots).  It’s not a ritual I had experienced before, but one of my Sunday Morning Crew was like “I write letters to myself and found xyz”. I thought that was a corny thing for a person to do, so I wrote letters to the characters I was cast as (a practice I still carry with me and yes, it is a far cornier endeavor). 

We all “know” the play, and in that “knowledge” Othello is this larger than life character who looms over the canon/performer.  If the past were to be prologue, he “should” be this gravitational force, the embodiment of strength and “manly-ness”. He’s jealous and angry or something along those lines. So rather than fall in lockstep with the mythic barnacles of the play, I re-read it with the fresh young eyes of a curious child at Disneyworld for the first time. 

The first Act is the portrait of a man in love, a man with purpose, a man who has a grasp on what he wants the world to look like and how he can nudge the paradigm a bit closer to the shores of that promise.  In my letters, I asked Othello to teach me what love was; specifically, to teach me what it was to be in love with oneself and one’s purpose (he later taught me that once you do that, falling in love is relatively easy).  I asked him to remind me of what it means to see beyond what “is” into the realm of what “can be”.  I asked him to demand my radical honesty.  For a time it felt as though the letter went unheeded.  Instead of waiting, I worked my ass off. I scanned and rescanned text, I battled tooth and nail for text to be re-entered into the cut, I linked arms with my castmates/peers to honor the work put in to tell the story as written.  I fought for the story in the hopes that it would fight for me.  And then, out of that big, looming shadow shrank there emerged a man.  He looked a bit like me; a little stockier, a whole lot wiser and a generous smile.  And we walked side by side through the play and he revealed things to me.  Little secrets other people overlook. 

Jealousy seems to be a trait oft associated with The Moor of Venice.  I ask…where though?  He’s one of the highest ranking generals in the nation, he’s got the hand of one of the most sought after bachelorettes in the nation, he talks business, pleasure and war with the Duke.  Iago mentions jealousy, sure…but when does Othello? On the page, he wants to be the change he wants to see in the world.  He chooses to partner with the only other human who sees him as such:  who sees the sensitivity and the vulnerability in Othello, rather than upholding the expectations of manhood set upon him.  With this realization, I felt a little hydrophobic daemon, resistant to my attempts to drown him, squeal away in a puff of brimstone and smoke.  I dug deeper: when it is made known to him the possibility of deceit on the part of Desdemona, there is no time for jealousy when your heart is shattered.  When you’ve been duped, hoodwinked, bamboozled, how can you blame anyone else but yourself?  You can only perform the confusing task of picking up the shards of your heart and fighting through the wincing pain of putting it back together…even though you know it will not refract light the same way. Huh.  That’s not jealousy.  That’s good old fashioned world weary heartbreak and disappointment.  In understanding a bit about him, I understood a bit more about myself. He wasn’t a monolith looming over me, he was right there, next to me, ensuring I honored every step in his shoes. 

It’s a cliché to say that Theatre saved my life…so I won’t (it did though, *insert eyeroll*).  I know that the characters aren’t actually leaping off the page to rescue me (I’m fully aware it’s my imagination+therapy+the work doing some heavy lifting).  As much as I say that the characters are teaching me things, I know that ultimately it’s me, a room full of people, blood, sweat, tears, imagination, and ink on paper.  Nor am I here to suggest that Theatre is a replacement to therapy, psychiatry, and/or AA/NA meetings (it isn’t, shout out to my therapist).  But it can be a supplement (like B12). The gift and wisdom of the playwright is their ability to teach us lessons about what it means to be human.  Sometimes those lessons are about success.  They are often about failure;  but always, there are lessons to be excavated, digested and shared.  There are empathetic bridges to be built; within ourselves, to each other, and to the world into which we wake.  And while that sounds like a gushy Barney sing along, the work is hard. It requires dedication, it requires an open mind and an open heart. Building empathetic bridges to truly see each other can be painful.  Much like a journey to sobriety, it can feel pretty ugly (ha, I did one of those Shakespeare things).  Much like nudging social norms and our existential paradigm towards a just and verdant society, you take it one day, one hour, one minute at a time. 

It’s worth it.


Brandon Burton is a 2020 graduate of The Yale School of Drama Master of Fine Arts program. He can be seen in Spotlight on Play’s reading of The Baltimore Waltz streaming April 29th

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Austin Pendleton

When I first came to New York, with all those aspirations, I, through a fluke of a chance conversation between an actor I know and her agent, learned that Jerry Robbins, who was about to direct, off-Broadway, Arthur Kopit’s brilliant play Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Momma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling so Sad, was having a terrible time casting the part of the young son in the play.  I worked hard on the audition and waltzed in and knocked him out with the audition.  So he asked me to come to a callback audition a few days later.  At which I totally bombed.  I’d never heard of a callback.  It was a fiasco.  Jerry called me the next day and asked me to come see him.  He said. “what happened?!”  He wasn’t angry, he was just bewildered.  I told him that I had no idea, at that second audition, what I was doing.  So he kept calling me back and calling me back, looking for the fire to return.  Then finally, on, I think, the sixth audition, he had me read opposite the magnificent Barbara Harris.  And we soared.

So my career was launched.  Jerry was the launcher and Barbara was the rocket.

Luck. Pure, wild luck.  This business is beyond capricious.  


Austin Pendleton

Austin Pendleton is an actor and director who made his Broadway debut as the original Motel in Fiddler on the Roof. Other Broadway credits include Hail Scrawdyke!, The Little Foxes, An American Millionaire, Doubles, Grand Hotel, The Diary of Anne Frank and Choir Boy as an actor and Shelter, The Runner Stumbles, John Gabriel Borkman and Spoils of War as a director. He was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for The Little Foxes and most recently appeared on Broadway as Mr. Oldfield in The Minutes.
Categories
Long Form

From Younger Than Springtime to Springtime for Hitler: Broadways Infatuation with Spring

By Katie Birenboim

The sun is shining, cherry blossoms are blooming, and many world economies are opening up (slowly but surely).  It seems like spring 2021 has finally arrived, bringing with it the seasonal sense of joy, promise, and new beginnings that has long been lauded by writers and artists throughout history.  While many people may associate springtime with Shakespeare sonnets, Impressionist paintings, or even madrigals, spring has also been the focus of many Broadway composers and lyricists. 

The most obvious example of springtime making its way into the Broadway canon is the song “Younger Than Springtime” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.  Sung right after Lieutenant Cable and Liat first meet (and make love), “Younger Than Springtime” has all the classic markers of a spring love song.  Cable compares Liat to spring – favorably – saying she is “younger than springtime,” “gayer than laughter,” “sweeter than music,” and “warmer than the winds of June.”  But the song also has a great “turn” – certainly one of the reasons it’s still so well-known today.  While Cable begins the song by saying that Liat is like springtime, halfway through, he implies that she is also transformative: “when your youth/and joy invade my arms/and fill my heart as now they do/then younger than springtime/am I.”  Through Liat’s love, Cable argues that he becomes someone who is “gayer than laughter,” “softer than starlight,” and “younger than springtime,” too.

Another well-known use of spring in the lyrics, title, and imagery of a Broadway song can be found in “It Might As Well Be Spring” from State Fair, another Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration.  The song plays with some of the springtime tropes and patterns used in “Younger Than Springtime.”  The singer, Margy, makes clear that she hasn’t seen any of the typical, physical signs of oncoming spring.  In fact, it’s decidedly not spring: “I haven’t seen a crocus or a rosebud/or a robin on the wing,” Margy sings, “But…it might as well be spring.”  This is a prime example of Oscar Hammerstein’s genius use of conditional thinking.  In the same way Hammerstein implies in Carousel that Julie Jordan is madly in love with Billy Bigelow using the conditional “IF I loved you,” and that Laurie and Curly in Oklahoma! are similarly destined to mate with the conditional “people will SAY we’re in love,” Hammerstein is able to write a spring love song that’s not actually sung during springtime. 

The song grows even more rich and complex in its associations with the season.  While the characteristics of springtime that Cable lists in “Younger Than Springtime” are all positive, for Margy “it might as well be spring” not only because she’s “starry-eyed,” “giddy,” and “gay,” but also because she feels “restless,” “jumpy,” and “vaguely discontented.”  In “It Might As Well Be Spring” you get both sides of the coin: the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, perhaps best summed up by the lyric: “But I feel so gay/in a melancholy way/that it might as well be spring.”  Here, spring is being used as a metaphor for the “nameless” discontent Margy feels with her life at the moment – a vague restlessness which sets up most of the action of the play: while Margy is dating Harry, who wants to marry her, she “keep[s] wishing [she] were somewhere else,/Walking down a strange new street./Hearing words that [she’s]…never heard/ From a man [she’s] yet to meet.”  These lyrics foreshadow her meeting, and falling in love with, Pat at the (titular) state fair.  It’s also hard not to read these lyrics without picking up something of a sexual edge.  When Margy starts the song, she sings of “want[ing] a lot of…things/[she’s] never had before.”  Given the traditional associations of birth, new beginnings, love, and even sexuality, with springtime, “It Might As Well Be Spring” could easily speak to Margy’s desires as a newly minted young woman. 

 Many Broadway songs focus on this deeper side of spring’s transitions.  In Rodgers and Hart’s I Married an Angel, for example, Willy sings “Spring Is Here” when things with his angel-wife (yes, you read that correctly) have gone sour.  “Spring is here/why doesn’t my heart go dancing?/spring is here/why isn’t the waltz entrancing?…Maybe it’s because nobody needs me…Maybe it’s because nobody loves me,” he sings.  It’s another clever inversion of the springtime myth: spring may be here, with its gentle “breezes,” and “lads and girls…drinking May wine,” but because Willy has fallen out of love, he can no longer enjoy it.  It’s a springtime love song that depends on negative space rather than positive space: without “love,” “desire,” or “ambition,” there can be no spring.

“Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf’s 1955 tune which was then incorporated into the 1959 musical The Nervous Set, similarly focuses on the “have-nots” of spring rather than the “haves.”  A send-up of the first lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” (“April is the cruelest month…”), “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” implies that spring can actually be the worst time of the year – if you’re single, that is.  “Spring this year has got me feeling like a horse that never left the post;/I lie in my room staring up at the ceiling/Spring can really hang you up the most!” the lyrics read.  The song reverses traditional springtime psychology and implies that the singer was happy and in love in the winter, and now, during the joyful spring season of rebirth, is experiencing loneliness. “Love seemed sure around the New Year,” she sings, “Now it’s April, love is just a ghost;/ Spring arrived on time, only what became of you, dear?”  It should be noted that this song, as well as “It Might As Well Be Spring,” became jazz standards, covered by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.  The season’s failure to deliver on its promise is clearly a recurring theme on Broadway and beyond.

But no discussion of spring on Broadway would be complete without “Springtime for Hitler” from Mel Brooks’ The Producers.  The major song in the musical’s show-within-a-show, a favorable retelling of WWII from the perspective of a disgruntled Nazi, “Springtime for Hitler” shows Brooks’ thoughtful understanding – and appreciation – of spring’s metaphorical function in Golden Age musicals.  As the tap-dancing, sausage-wearing Nazis sing lines like “And now it’s springtime for Hitler and Germany/Deutschland is happy and gay,” Brooks is sending up the positive traits associated with springtime in musicals like South Pacific and State Fair.  And to the Nazis represented in the show, “springtime for Hitler” is indeed positive: it encapsulates their military campaign to take over the world.  Brooks makes clear, however, that this seasonal rebirth is actually extremely dark.  Peppered in with the image of a “happy and gay” Germany are lyrics about “U-boats…sailing once more.”  In the song, springtime equals gaiety, but it also happens to equal “bombs falling from the skies again.”  Combined with the schmaltzy musical style, movie-musical tap-dancing, over-the-top costumes, and of course the late, great Gary Beach’s acting, springtime in “Springtime for Hitler,” repeated over 20 times in the eight-minute song, becomes an absurd (and incredibly funny) dramatic irony.

Brooks’ hilarious treatment of springtime is similar to the season’s representation in a lesser known E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy song, “Springtime Cometh” from the 1951 flop Flahooley.  Like “Springtime for Hitler,” “Springtime Cometh” relies on and leans into the audience’s positive associations with spring and its traditional representation in Golden Age musicals.  Sandy/Penny and her genie (truly – don’t ask) sing about “lilacs growing on the clothesline,” “roses growing in the ashcan,” “hummingbird[s],” “merry maidens,” and repeat the word “springtime” six times in the short song.  Harburg went one step further and even wrote the lyrics in a sort of faux Olde English: “Springtime cometh,” the characters sing. “Hummingbird hummeth,/little brook rusheth,/merry maiden blusheth…springtime cometh for love of thee.”  Harburg pushes this construction even further for comedic effect with “Sugarplum plummeth,/Heart, it humpty-dummeth,/And to summeth up,/The Springtime cometh for the love of thee.”  The faux Olde English language reaches its zenith with Harburg’s tongue-and-cheek reference’s to spring’s inherent sexuality: “Lad and lass/In tall green grass/Gaily skippeth,/Nylon rippeth,/Zipper zippeth…which is to say/Spring cometh.”  Harburg’s ironic send-up of springtime is sexual, funny, self-aware, and, most importantly, irreverent.

Broadway clearly has a long-time fascination – and infatuation – with all things spring.  From the huge number of songs with “spring” in their title (and chorus) – to ones that rely on springtime imagery like the lilac trees in My Fair Lady’s “On the Street Where You Live” –  lyricists have used the season to convey and inspire romance, joy, lust, restlessness, loneliness, humor, and personal transformation in equal parts.  So in this close-to-post-pandemic moment: crank up the Broadway show tunes, smell the flowers, and look forward to a new (and hopefully, better) day. As they say: “springtime cometh!” 


Katie Birenboim is a NYC-based actor, director, and writer. She’s performed and directed at Classic Stage Company, Berkshire Theatre Group, Barrington Stage, City Center Encores!, The Davenport Theatre, and Ancram Opera House, to name a few.  She is a proud graduate of Princeton University, member of Actors’ Equity, and hosts a weekly interview show on YouTube with theatre’s best and brightest entitled “Call Time with Katie Birenboim.”

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE – Brian Cox

A Memory Lapse

In 1997 I did a one man play about a drunken Irish theatre critic at the Bush theater in London. St Nicholas! Written by Conor McPherson, which I subsequently performed the following year at Primary Stages in New York on 45th street, and for which I was honored with ‘The Lucille Lortel Award’!

But the previous year the play was premiered at the Bush Theatre in London. The Bush was a small intimate theatre with the audience on three sides. This particular night was a sellout performance. The audience were packed to the rafters.

Now St Nicholas is an extremely intricate complicated and fantastical text. With a sinewy comic thread! It demands an incredible level of Concentrated attention from the player. That evening started well.

But…About 6 minutes into the evening I noticed that sitting on front row…in…the middle…to my right was my ex girlfriend. Who I had recently broken up with. I was a little thrown by this …and wondered why on earth she had chosen that particular, really, quite prominent, seat. 

I recovered from this slight ‘hiccup’ and continued, feeling proud of myself that I was not thrown by this ‘obstacle’. So I proceeded with renewed confidence.

After a few minutes, I’d just gotten back in stride when I turned to address my audience stage left and there sitting…in the middle of the left front row was…my ex ex girlfriend. The girl friend previous…to the girl friend…now sitting stage right. In fact these two young ladies were actually sitting…facing…each other. I didn’t panic… but, my anxiety…was, shall we say…mounting.

What on earth was going on? And of course various scenarios began to play out in my mind!

Had they come together?

And as some bizarre joke decided to sit opposite each other? 

Or??….were they there by pure coincidence?

My brain became occupied with, what seemed endless permutations on these shifting scenarios. The text of the play, the main purpose of my attention, was drifting in my consciousness. And..ten minutes into the evening….the inevitable happened. I went up! Dried stone dead.

I struggled like a drowning man seeking a life raft. But after..a beat..which seemed a lifetime. I stopped turned to the audience, and said “Ladies and Gentlemen I’m afraid for reasons I can’t entirely explain, I need to start the evening over again! Apologies!” And so indeed I did…and it was truly scary!

“Will I get over the point where concentration abandoned me.”

And…”Will I indeed get through the entire evening….”

The moment where I had lost my way, was looming like one of those huge fences at the English Grand national horse race. Would I get over the fence? The moment arrived… and I lept the fence.. and..proceeded obsessively to the finish. After it was over, I left the stage exhausted!

I sat in my dressing room. There was a knock on my door. It was my ex-girlfriend. “Brian that was wonderful, what an incredible evening.” I was about to answer when there was another knock at the door. Enter my ex-ex-girlfriend “Brian that was wonderful, what an amaz….Oh hello, blank!

I was about to answer when there was another knock at the door. Enter my ex-ex-girlfriend “Brian that was wonderful, what an amaz….Oh hello, blank! Were you in?”

Ex-girl friend, “Yes, were you, wasn’t it wonderful 

Ex-ex-girlfriend “Amazing!”

I sat there in a state of stupefaction! Me “But weren’t you?… didn’t you? ..Um..ah…see..?”

Both, “What?

Me,  “Oh…Nothing…”

Ex girlfriend “ I was absolutely caught from the moment you came on!

Ex-ex-girlfriend “Oh, Me too! Me too”.

Both “But..why did you stop?”

Me, “Ah!…That!…Momentary lapse of concentration!”


Brian Cox

Brian Cox is an Olivier Award, Emmy Award and Golden Globe winner known for playing Logan Roy on HBO‘s Succession. He has worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he gained recognition for his portrayal of King Lear. Additional credits include: Super Troopers, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, X2, Braveheart, Rushmore, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Troy.

Categories
Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE – Estelle Parsons

My First (and Last) Artistic Directorship: 1986-8

I was in a sauna with my husband and 3 year old son on the Dingel peninsula when I received a phone call from Joe Papp asking me to start a multicultural Shakespeare company for him to play for the New York City school system.

Why me? He had seen a multicultural-multilingual production of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA that I had directed at the Womens’ Interart Theater on 52nd Street. I put together a company: 5 Blacks, 6 Hispanics, 3 Japanese, 2 Whites and 1 Turk.

We played in the Anspacher theater at 425 Lafayette Street for one year and then moved to the Belasco Theater on West 44th Street as SHAKESPEARE ON BROADWAY. It was Joe Papp’s dream.

We played daytimes during the school week for high school and junior high school students. On Friday and Saturdays they could bring their families from great grandparents to babes-in-arms. It was all free.

I TOOK FIVE MONTHS TO DEVELOP THE COMPANY

First an hour of relaxation and physical work led by a member of the company who was a dancer.

Then an hour of vocal work led by another member of the company. Then, five hours of free form work to find out who these actors were.

The reason for these five months?

Commercial actors of whatever culture or race learned to “act white” back in the 80s. I wanted to know who these people really were, their customs, their talk, their heritage, themselves. That stuff is the bedrock of compelling theater and fine acting.

One day Rene Moreno, an Hispanic, was showing us something of his heritage when Vince Williams, a big black guy from a family of musicians in New Orleans, sitting near me watching in the audience, piped up with “My heritage is some guys standing on a beach waiting to be brought here to be slaves”. Necessary talk this. Five months of it.

What do high school students like? Sports teams, oh, yes!

We put sweats on the actors and we had a sports team. (Ruth Morley of ANNIE HALL fame did the costumes). THE NEW YORK SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL PLAYERS

AFTER 5 MONTHS, HERE’S THE DRILL!

The actors came out to introduce themselves “Hello. I’m . . .”

But-hold it! Is that theater? What is your moniker, what is your “John Hancock”?

What is yourself? Show me your essence!

Not easy. Maybe impossible. Try.

One actor was really good at juggling. One could do backflips. One had been trained at New York City Ballet. Got it? Too big a challenge? Yes. Try!

By now the kids were into it.

Bess Myerson, a former Miss America, now part of the city government saw just this much of the performance and gave us a big donation.

BLACKOUT. LIGHTS UP. AS YOU LIKE IT.

Natsuko was Rosalind. Celia was Regina Taylor—with a live boa constrictor around her neck. 25 pounds. Had his own dressing room.

“I can’t rehearse all day with this thing around my neck.” Of course not—but it had been her idea.

One matinee, lights came up and a big girl in the front row shot to the back of the house – faster than any animal I had ever seen run.

The snake was still on Regina’s shoulders.

We alternated AS YOU LIKE IT and ROMEO AND JULIET.

We played the Anspacher, the Mobile Unit in the parks all summer, and then added the Scottish play when we became SHAKESPEARE ON BROADWAY. Ching Valez played Lady M.

Oh, but she could.

After the students had seen the productions, the actors, as themselves, visited the schools and “played Shakespeare” with them.

At the end of our second season, I went, as a wife, to Gracie Mansion for dinner with the Mayor. My husband worked in the city government.

Bobby Wagner, head of the school board, was there. He told a story.

“I was in a school elevator and asked a teacher how her year had been. She said ‘Estelle Parsons’ Shakespeare program was the only good thing that happened all year.”


Estelle Parsons received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Blanche Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde, and was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Rachel, Rachel. She is well known for playing Beverly Harris, on the sitcom “Roseanne”, and its spinoff “The Conners”. She has been nominated five times for the Tony Award (four times for Lead Actress of a Play and once for Featured Actress) for her work in The Seven Descents of Myrtle, And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, Miss Margarida’s Way, Morning’s at Seven, and The Velocity of Autumn. 

Categories
Interviews

All The World’s Her Stage (…and Backstage)

Beverly Jenkins is not afraid of a cut show. That’s a performance where there are more actors calling out than there are understudies or swings to replace them, and it requires a last-minute reconfiguration of everything from blocking to costuming to the placement of props.

For many people, this would be terrifying, but for Jenkins, who’s been a Broadway stage manager since the early 90s, it’s an opportunity.

“It’s a challenge I actually enjoy,” she says. “I know it’s a crazy thing to enjoy. It’s not something you wish for, but if you need to make it happen and you have the right people, you can make it happen.”

Case in point: At one performance of Broadway’s A Bronx Tale The Musical, she only had one Black actress available, even though there was a scene that required two. “I had to decide,” she recalls. “‘Do I have one Black female on stage, or do I have a Black female and a Black male in that other track?’ I’d planned for that, because you have to plan for that, even if it never happens. So I made the decision to have a Black male on stage, because otherwise it would have thrown some things off [to just have one person]. I spoke to some people; we made a few changes, and it worked. No problem.”

That solution indicates what a distinct style of stage management Jenkins has developed over her career, which includes landmark productions like Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk; the original Miss Saigon; and her current gig as the production stage manager for Hadestown.

The cast and crew of Hadestown

Crucially, she sees a cut show as a chance to connect. “It’s a community event,” she says. “You check with wardrobe, and they’ll make adjustments. The music department and the dance captains are involved. I always reach out to the director or the AD to make sure my choices are okay. And I take the personal trip to tell people what’s happening. I get a couple of extra steps in on my FitBit, and I’m good. I want to make sure I’m personally letting people know what’s going on before they step on stage.”

Those steps — up and down stairs, into the green room, into the wings — set Jenkins apart “Beverly runs a building, and she doesn’t have to open her computer to do it,” says Michael Rico Cohen, a fellow stage manager who has worked alongside her on A Bronx Tale The Musical, Amazing Grace, and Fully Committed.

“She is the person-to-person contact. She’s the problem solver. She’s the empathy master.”

Or to borrow a phrase Jenkins uses to describe herself, she’s a mom of many. “I’m fine with the tech,” she says. “It’s all good. I’m very calm, and I can call a cue just as well as the next person, but I believe my speciality is about being hands-on with the people. I put a lot of thought and care into everyone — not just the actors, but everyone — coming into that theatre.”

On every show, then, a big part of her job is figuring out exactly what this particular group of people needs. For instance, on Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk, the 1996 dance musical that uses tap to trace Black history in the United States, Jenkins worked with performers who were more familiar with the dance world than with Broadway. “Sorry Equity, but I had to bend the rules for this group of young men,” she says. “I had to assess the rules and see what they needed. Like, ‘I know this is half hour, and if you’re not here at half hour, then I need you to call me and tell me how far away you are. And as Iong as I know you’re coming, you get a five-minute grace period.’ And that’s something I still do, the five-minute grace period.”

On Noise/Funk, she also turned her office into an occasional daycare center, so that parents in the company could bring their children with them when there were no other options. She recalls, “I had Barney tapes. I had a playpen. I was like, ‘You’re not going to be forced to miss work because you’re doing the right thing with your child.’ I have to get my show up, no matter what. I have to figure out how to get the best show on stage today. And on that show, watching kids was part of it.”

For Amazing Grace, the 2015 Broadway musical that explores how the British slave trade inspired the titular hymn, Jenkins knew her job required extra compassion. She says, “Amazing Grace was important to me because of what was happening on stage. How hard is it that the first time you see Black people on stage, they are stuffed in a crate, and then they get pulled out, thrown on the ground, and shot in the back? So when the actors come off stage, how can they not carry that off stage? How do we make sure that these people are not carrying the feelings of trauma off stage with them?

“We had company morale-building events. We had t-shirt day. We made sure the dressing rooms were mixed, and that we weren’t keeping the Puritans over here and the Africans over here. It was good to see everyone put thought into how to make this a harmonious backstage area and still tell that particular story.”

It no doubt helped that Jenkins herself was spearheading the backstage culture. “She is wildly good at creating fellowship and community,” says Rachel Chavkin, the director of Hadestown.

“She exudes exuberance, but also doesn’t beat around the bush when she’s got a problem to work through. And she’s not precious, because she’s focused on problem-solving at every turn.”

Jenkins asserts that small touches help a company avoid bigger problems, particularly when they’re together for a lengthy run. That’s one reasons she runs a “turkey hand” contest for Thanksgiving, getting everyone in the building to trace their hand on construction paper and then turn it into a decorated turkey drawing. “And believe me, there are prizes, honey,” she says.

Cohen confirms, “There’s nobody that loves a turkey hand competition more than Beverly Jenkins. But it’s more than just turkey hands or door decorating contests or the Father’s Day barbecue. She’s a master of the casual-but-meaningful interaction. It creates a camaraderie and an immediate trust. It’s these little things that really make the building a happy place over a period of years. All of those things are just as important — and sometimes more — than announcing what we’re doing in understudy rehearsal on Friday.”


Mark Blankenship is the founder and editor of The Flashpaper and the host of The Showtune Countdown on iHeartRadio Broadway.

Categories
Cover Story Interviews

Eight Questions with Native American Broadway Playwright, Larissa FastHorse

In honor of National Native American Heritage Day, we asked The Thanksgiving Play writer about the show’s rebirth coming to Broadway this spring, making greater Indigenous strides from Hollywood to the theatre, and how she uses yoga (and much more) to help her through it all.

By Jim Glaub

A member of the Sicangu Lakota nation of South Dakota, Larissa FastHorse is the first known, female Native American playwright produced on Broadway. Her show, The Thanksgiving Play, was a 2018 hit and was apart of the Broadway’s Best Show’s award-winning series Spotlight on Plays and will return to the stage, this time at the Helen Hayes Theater in the spring of 2023, and will be directed by Rachel Chavkin, who won a Tony for Hadestown. 

In honor of National Native American Heritage Day on November 26, we asked FastHorse a number of questions we had for the history-making playwright. Read on for her witty answers. 

Where did The Thanksgiving Play come from? 

Larissa FastHorse: For starters, it wasn’t easy locking down non-white actors for my shows. It was early in my career and Broadway producers were more timid about casting too far outside of traditional norms in order to draw demand. But what I mostly wanted to accomplish with this play is what it’s like to be me in the room—a contemporary Indigenous person—and where the pitfalls are to the best-meaning folks in the theatre industry who, if not for lack of trying and sometimes to their own detriment, do want to make sincere cultural strides. 

Now that The Thanksgiving Play is something that people really love to see and that it’s such a fun production, and I was able to keep the things I wanted to say in it, I was really excited to have this as my first real Broadway play. 

That fact that the show is so funny, and has such an approachableness to the otherwise difficult conversation on American colonialism, really sets it apart from other comedy. Do you find comedy a lot easier to do? 

FastHorse: Oh yes. Comedy and satire is what I do. I don’t love going to the theatre and being hit over the head. Plenty of people do and that’s great for them! I go to the theatre to engage with those around me in a fun and silly way. That’s my gift to the audience. You’re going to show up to my show and laugh and have a great time and be able to engage your friends afterwards. I like to make you think and contemplate things, but I want you to have fun with it too. 

Do you imagine yourself stepping off the stage and into film and TV? 

FastHorse: I have several in development right now, actually. They’re comedies, of course, and I’m doing a lot of animation. Suddenly, here I am with Dreamworks and Netflix, working on movies. When they gave me Peter Pan to work with, you’ve never seen funnier pirates. I’m the girl writing fart jokes and getting carried away with the silliness before I tone it down and make sure it’s also intelligent enough for adults. 

How do you approach a story as big as Peter Pan and make it your own? 

FastHorse: I’ll be honest—it’s hard. As someone who wasn’t a Peter Rooter or a watcher growing up, I had no clue how to approach it, which was probably a good thing. By having some conversations about it, I began to realize that so many people love this title and have unique and differing experiences watching it with their parents and grandparents. So I asked folks what they loved most about the story because all I could see were the problems. It’s been a great time listening and starting to write based on these personal stories. 

How did you find your way to doing theatre?

FastHorse: Long story short, I was a young ballerina finding my creative way before someone suggested I start writing. Back then I wasn’t seeing a lot of Native representation in Hollywood. I’d sold a few TV shows but felt really frustrated with the watered down nativism so I then found my way to the theatre. I got commissioned to do my first play at Children’s Theater Company in Minneapolis. And that was the first place where I was told, okay, you tell us how best to do this. From there we hired Native American consultants in every area, including elders, and we simply wanted everything done correctly. It was incredible getting to do all the things that Hollywood wasn’t doing yet. From the caterer on opening night to the commissioned art in the lobby—it was all Native talent. 

So that’s how Indigenous Directions came to be? 

FastHorse: To be more accurately Native American, yes. At least to fight for that accuracy. We’ve gotten to do some good things. We’ve even been working with Macy’s for the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade to make floats and balloons a more appropriate. These are subtle changes slowly happening over the last three years and this project is weirdly one of our favorites. For example, the Tom Turkey is no longer a pilgrim but a Show Turkey, complete with top hat and bowtie. He’s very New York now!

The theatre is an institution that has existed for a very long time. So it’s hard to come in and shake things up. But you’ve got to know the rules in order to break the rules, right? 

FastHorse: Oh yeah. I’ve known Rachel Chavkin, the new director of the upcoming version of The Thanksgiving Play, for a long time now, but this is our first time working together. It’s great because she really knows the rules of Broadway from all sides of the stage and inner production. She’s helped me understand a lot of things that are newer to me. It’s important to have good partners to help guide you, especially as a Native American newcomer who didn’t have the same access to such folks and resources as I do now. 

Okay, last question. You’re in the “explosive” stage of your rising career. What are you doing to nurture yourself and stay safe? 

FastHorse: It’s definitely a challenge. Just as suddenly as it hit us, COVID protocols ended and then everything came flooding in at once. I now have five shows in a row next year. It’s your best and worst nightmare at once. From Broadway to film, every production is challenging in its own way but also hugely exciting. I’ll be honest, I’m nervous about it all because it’s a lot and a lot of pressure. And with a Broadway show also comes all the other Broadway stuff, like the Tony’s and press and so forth. So I’m currently trying out a million things to relax and steady myself, too. Haha. 

I’m trying new types of yoga and meditation and self-care things to try and figure out what’s best for me and which practice to add to my toolkit. I’m also working to stay conscious and focused on what’s ahead. 

It’s going to be an incredible year for Larissa FastHorse so be sure and see and experience any production she’s behind as it will be unlike anything else on the stage or screen. 

Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving and hope that you join us in celebrating National Native American Heritage day for all days to come. 

Categories
Creative

Broadway’s Best Thanksgiving Day Parade Performances

As Thanksgiving approaches, many Broadway fans will be gathering around their TV or streaming device to catch the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  To celebrate, Broadway’s Best Shows is looking back at some of our favorite parade performances throughout the years. 

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will kick off on Thursday, November 24th at 9am on NBC or streaming on Peacock. This year’s performance lineup includes Lea Michele and the cast of Funny Girl, A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical, The Lion King (Celebrating 25 years on Broadway), and Some Like It Hot. Who are you excited to see?

Moulin Rouge! Performing The Sparkling Diamond at the 2021 Thanksgiving Day Parade

NEWSIES performing King of New York at the 2011 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Once performing Falling Slowly at the 2012 Thanksgiving Day Parade

TINA: The Tine Turner Musical performing The Best/Proud Mary at the 2019 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Matthew Broderick and the cast of How To Succeed… performing Brotherhood of Man at the 1995 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang performing Toots Sweet at the 2005 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Footloose performs the title number on the 1998 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Sister Act: The Musical performs Spread the Love Around at the 2011 Thanksgiving Day Parade 

Christina Applegate and the cast of Sweet Charity perform I’m A Brass Band at the 2005 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Kelli O’Hara, Matthew Broderick, and the cast of Nice Work… perform Lady Be Good/S’Wonderful at the 2012 Thanksgiving Day Parade

The cast of Little Shop of Horrors perofrm Little Shop of Horrors/Suddenly, Seymour at the 2003 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Categories
Creative

The Rise of the “Dance-ical”

By Jordan Levinson

When we see most musicals, they tend to use spoken word and song to get their point across, with elements of dance mixed in. However, there have also been several “dance revues” through the years in which the choreography does the heavy lifting. For instance, earlier this week, MCC Theater’s Only Gold officially opened. It tells the story of a royal family returning to Paris in the 1920s (including a king who tries to save his fading marriage) and three couples falling in and out of love, making everyone in town reexamine their lives and the choices they have made. Using the music of singer-songwriter Kate Nash, the diverse, multitalented cast performs Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography, a series of moves that turn “eye-catching sequences into long narrative arcs.” (The New York Times) Their postures, twists, and turns tell the bulk of the story. 

Bob Fosse’s Dancin’

Meanwhile, it was recently announced that a revival of Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ will arrive on Broadway in the spring; previews begin March 2 at the Music Box Theatre with an official opening set for March 19. A tribute to the art form that is dance, Dancin’ sets Fosse’s moves to a variety of musical styles and artists — from Mozart and Bach to Cat Stevens and Neil Diamond and everything in between — celebrating his influential form and exemplary spirit. The revue was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning two (including Fosse for Choreography), and running on Broadway for over four years and 1,774 performances. 

Other “dance-icals” have jetéd to NYC in seasons past, to varying degrees of success. The late 1990s and early 2000s especially saw a renaissance of extended dance pieces reach New York stages.

The three-act musical revue Fosse is a more direct link to the many shows Bob Fosse worked on, and some of their most memorable numbers. Conceived by Fosse interpreter Chet Walker, Fosse played over 1,000 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre, from 1999 to 2001.  

Lincoln Center Theater also got in on the dancing act at the turn of the century, as Susan Stroman’s Contact opened in March 2000 and was met with critical acclaim. Made up of three separate extended dance pieces (and set to prerecorded music from all different eras, from Tchaikovsky to The Beach Boys), each one follows a central character’s desire to make a romantic connection or increase their “contact.” Contact won four Tonys including Best Musical but did not shy away from controversy because there was no live singing or original music in the show; a separate award for Best Special Theatrical event (which has since been discontinued) was introduced the following year. 

Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk

In 1996, Savion Glover (of next season’s Pal Joey revival) put on his dancing feet as he choreographed Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, which also won four Tonys (including Choreography). Here, dance served as both entertainment and a guide to history, as the concept of this revue revolved around the Black experience, from slavery to the present day. Glover was also part of the dynamic original cast, returning to the show for its final weeks before it shuttered after a successful 1135 performances. 

Right before the dawn of the 2000s, Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s swing musical, the aptly titled Swing!, opened December 1999 at the St. James Theatre. Told entirely through music and dance, the show celebrates the look and sound of the swing era; Swing! featured well-known tunes from Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and many others. Though it didn’t win any Tonys, it was nominated for Best Musical and Choreography; it closed after over a year on Broadway.

Riverdance

Even the Irish received some love in New York at the turn of the century, as a company of 16 led Riverdance to the Great Bright Way. This show’s path was an unorthodox one, having been an interval act during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. It was expanded into a stage show the following year, opening (where else?) in Dublin. To this day, over 25 million people have witnessed the step-dancing wonder of Riverdance, in over 450 venues worldwide. It ran for a year and a half in New York, from early 2000 to mid-2001.

The early 2000s introduced the world to the work of renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp, who had three separate Broadway “dance-icals” utilizing the work of popular artists. The most successful of them was Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out, about a group of Long Island youths and their experiences with the Vietnam War. The rock ballet ran three years (2002 to 2005), won two Tonys (Joel for co-orchestrating, as well as Tharp), and spawned a national tour — a commercial hit. 

Tharp also received a Tony nomination for her short-lived 2011 Frank Sinatra ballet Come Fly Away, which, like that of Contact, told the story of several couples in search of love. Despite only lasting five months on Broadway, it also received a national tour of its own. 

A valid reason as to why all these moving-and-grooving productions have popped up here and there is that dance is a language of its own. When words can’t say quite enough, choreography at its finest can be expressed by emotion and physical expression. Dancing breaks all language barriers and can easily be communicated amongst vastly different cultures. “Dance-icals” get their point across to both English and non-English speakers, opening themselves up to large audiences whenever they kick-ball-change their way over to Broadway houses.

Categories
Creative

Spotlight on Plays Series wins Silver Clio Award

The 2022 Clio Entertainment Awards, recognizing creative excellence in the marketing of film, television, home entertainment, gaming and live entertainment, were handed out on Tuesday night in Hollywood and 2021 Spotlight On Plays series were awarded with a Silver Clio.

Live Entertainment winners include AKA for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, RPM for A Strange Loop and Super Awesome Friends for Spotlight on Plays.


During the Dolby Theater ceremony, Netflix was revealed as the network of the year, Microsoft Studios/Xbox as game publisher of the year, Walt Disney Studios as studio of the year and Trailer Park Group as agency of the year.

Click here to see the winning entry. Congratulations to all the winners.

Categories
Interviews

Q&A with Tony Nominated Lighting Designer Allen Lee Hughes

By Maia Glasman


We did a Q&A with Ohio State Murders Tony nominated lighting designer, Allen Lee Hughes (four times for K2, Strange Interlude, Once on This Island, A Soldier’s Play) and here’s what he has in store for us.

Q: What drew you to this play?

A: I was drawn to the play by the great director Kenny Leon.  I did not know the play.  Now that I know it, I can see why it is so respected. I have also admired Audra McDonald’s work and I’m looking forward to lighting her. 

Q: What is your process like?  

A: Of course, I read the script two or three times.  I do a scene breakdown and meet with the director. Usually the light plot (drawing of where to place the lights) is due around or before first rehearsal.  I have to take an educated guess about what I will need when we go into technical rehearsals. I then attend rehearsals, where I get a sense of what the show really needs.  

Q: Who in the theater world has been an inspiration to you? 

A: Lighting Designers; Jennifer Tipton, Tharon Musser, Arden Fingerhut.  Notice that I picked all women.

Q: What’s your favorite restaurant in the Theater District? 

A: It used to be a Sushi place on 45 or 46th and 8th avenue.  Alas, they did not survive the pandemic.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not at the theater?  

A: I like to hang out and eat with friends and watch the news.

Q: What other projects are you working on this season? 

A: I designed the lighting for Topdog/Underdog and later I will design the tour for A Soldier’s Play the tour.

Categories
Interviews

Seven Questions with Tony-Nominated Sound Designer Justin Ellington

by Maia Glasman

This week, I got the change to do a Q&A with Ohio State Murders Tony nominated sound designer, Justin Ellington (For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When The Rainbow Is Enuf) and here’s what he had to say:

Q: What drew you to this play?

A: Adrienne Kennedy, Kenny Leon and Audra McDonald for starters. I have been a fan of Ms. Kennedy’s writing and had the opportunity to compose and sound design for her most recent play, He Brought Her Heart Back In A Box (2018). Her writing, rich imagination and particular construction of story is intriguing, bold and delicate and offers a welcomed challenge for me. 

Q: What is the most exciting part about working with Audra McDonald? 

A: First time working with Mrs. McDonald actually. I am excited to tell this story with a truly superb group of people. Having the pleasure to share space and collaborate with Audra McDonald, Kenny Leon and this creative team will forever be cherished.

Q: What is your process like?

A: Before I start making any sound, I do a lot of listening. I listen to the cast and their collective rhythm, I listen to the descriptive words and phrases used by my director and collaborators. I take all of that information along with my own life experiences and start building the sonic world of the play. I tend to make more than enough material so that my director can have options to choose from. Once we find “it”, the work because implementing these ideas into storytelling. It should be stated that most theaters DO NOT have a sound system in house, so a huge part of the process is designing a speaker system that can support the sonic storytelling needs.  

Q: Who in the theater world has been an inspiration to you?

A: Freddie Hendricks, Kenny Leon, Kent Gash, Dwight Andrews. I can name so many others because I am inspired by each new group of people I work with, but these four gentleman have showed me some of the possibilities this theater world has to offer and how my talents can work within this arena.

Q: What’s your favorite restaurant in the Theater District? 

A: Ohh this is not an easy question, but if I had to pick one, I am a big fan of Hummus Kitchen on 9th Ave between 51st and 52nd.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not at the theater?

A: I have really fallen in love with photography over the years and when I am not in tech or preparing for a show, I like to get out of the city and access some of the amazing offerings mother nature has for my camera to capture. Also, I am always writing music and spending time in the music industry working with various artist and producers.

Q: What other projects are you working on this season? 

A: Soon after Ohio State Murders opens, I will be in La Jolla working on a premiere production of The Outsiders which has been made into a musical.

Congratulations to the cast and crew who go into their first preview on Friday 11/10! 

Categories
Capsule Reviews

The Notebook

by Noah Price (Chicago)

Based on the 1996 Nicholas Sparks novel and the 2004 Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling film, The Notebook may be one of the most surprisingly successful and genuinely touching musical adaptations in recent history. It tells the story of two lifelong lovers, Allie and Noah, from teenage meeting through the end of their lives, framed through the memories Older Noah must recount to Alzheimer’s patient Allie from the titular notebook. The musical not only elevates the source material, but stands on its own as a uniquely grounded and heartbreakingly beautiful piece of theatre. Ingrid Michaelson has made her debut into musical theatre scoring seamlessly, crafting a luscious, cohesive, soaring soundscape that takes us on the journey of these two lovers.
 

The stellar cast includes Jordan Tyson and John Cordoza (both wonderful new talents as younger Allie and Noah), Joy Woods and Ryan Vasquez (as middle Allie and Noah), and Tony Winner Maryann Plunkett and John Beasley (as older Allie and Noah). The marvelous effect of this structure being that the different aged counterparts can sing simultaneously in each other’s thoughts and memories, creating genuinely heartbreaking moments. Directed by Michael Grief and Schele Williams, The Notebook is ready to be a Broadway hit.

Categories
Cover Story Long Form

Broadway in the Age of Streaming

What Broadway Can Learn from TV and Streaming

By Nicholas Pessarra

The theatre has always been a place of inspiration and invention. From the stories that we tell to the increasingly innovative ways we tell them, the theatre has continued to flourish and evolve throughout the centuries.

However, with the advent of digital streaming and the unforeseen impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the theatre – and Broadway in particular – are facing a rocky road ahead.

The good news is that there is still time to do what the theatre has always done: adapt. 

Frozen on Broadway musical canceled because of COVID-19 outbreak at St. James Theatre. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Global Shutdown

When the world shut down in the spring of 2020, the creators, casts, and crews of Broadway were forced to reimagine the theatergoing experience. Concerts, plays, musicals, and more took to the digital sphere with virtual performances; helping audiences stuck at-home experience the bright lights of Broadway.

In fact, during this period, people everywhere discovered that they could access a wide variety of experiences from the comfort of home: online shopping, video streaming, gaming, socializing, and so much more. 

This was already a trend prior to 2020, but the pandemic accelerated digital development and led to a massive influx of services designed to make the desire to stay home more sustainable. 

Needless to say, there will always be a demand for in-person experiences and interactions, but there is also a lot to be said for the convenience of having the outside world come directly to your doorstep.

Embrace the Change

Prior to the pandemic, digital streaming was becoming increasingly popular with seemingly every media company creating their own exclusive platform and content. This caused a major disruption in the movie theater industry that was only exacerbated by the global shutdown. 

Even as COVID-19 restrictions and stay-at-home orders became more lax and were eventually lifted, movie theaters failed to see the return of audiences that they would have liked.

In fact, several movie studios including Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures have continued to release top-priority films either exclusively on their respective streaming platforms or simultaneously with the wider theatrical release. 

This has given audiences the option of going to the theater or streaming the most anticipated films remotely. 

Falsettos on BroadwayHD

Critics of this film release strategy consider it a cannibalization of the film’s potential box office take. However, while the direct profit from ticket sales may have taken a hit, streaming services themselves are seeing an increase in subscribers, viewing hours, and overall engagement.

This strategy also has meant that more audiences have had exposure to films, television series, and other content that they normally would not.

Newsies on Broadway

Broadway’s Broader Audience

Broadway has always had a difficult time obtaining mass appeal primarily due to its geographical limitations. Even if potential theatergoers had general interest and consideration for attending any specific show, there is always a barrier to overcome.

Travel costs, schedules, and more become prohibitive for many consumers as they opt instead for the convenience of in-home viewing. However, instead of writing these audiences off, there is an opportunity to meet them where they are. 

The idea of broadcasting musicals into movie theaters and televisions is far from revolutionary. The movie musical and live television special have enjoyed their own successes in the past, but as audiences continue to “cut the cord” and shift from traditional appointment viewing to mobile and digital streaming, it has become essential that Broadway do the same. 

Media companies like BroadwayHD have already started this process. However, their business model prevents the casual viewer from experiencing their productions as a result of its focused appeal in the oversaturated market of streaming platforms. 

By partnering with major media companies like NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS, and Warner Bros. Discovery, Broadway has an opportunity to tap into existing audiences and subscribers. 

This would provide shows with an opportunity to reach entirely new audiences and to raise awareness of up-and-coming Broadway talent giving them immediate exposure to a much wider fan base.

Ultimately, nothing will ever compare to the thrill of live, in-person theater – the connection with an audience, the energy, the spectacle – but there is a huge opportunity for Broadway to seize; not simply out of a necessity for continued growth but to expand and promote a love of theater like never before.

Categories
Capsule Reviews

Parade

by Sydney Smith

For many musical theater devotees, PARADE exists only in their minds, through the Original Broadway Cast recording.  Now, Leo Frank’s story takes center stage at this New York City Center  gala production led by Tony Award winner Ben Platt and Michaela Diamond.  Anchored by a sensational orchestra (led by the musical’s Tony Award winning composer, Jason Robert Brown), this production, rehearsed in just eight days, confirms stager Michael Arden’s rise as one of the most exciting new artists in the American musical theatre, a capstone for him after his imaginatively reinterpreted productions of “Once On This Island” and “Spring Awakening”.    An impressive ensemble of 30 actors  brings this powerful but sad story to vivid life….  In today’s times, with antisemitism on the rise, the story of a Jew wrongfully convicted in a post-Confederate South, holds an elevated sense of profoundness for the audience. This production of PARADE, which only runs thru the weekend, deserves to be seen.

Categories
Creative

Six Broadway Shows to Open in November

November brings a slot of new musicals and unique theatrical offerings

November 3 – Almost Famous (Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre)

– Would the season be complete without a Tom Kitt musical?

– The much-anticipated new musical stars the up-and-comer Solea Pfieffer who will knock you out with her smooth vocals.

– Everyone is wondering how to they will stage the infamous plane scene.

November 10 – Kimberly Akimbo (Booth Theatre)

– Hot off the tails of the sold-out Atlantic run, Kimberly Akimbo hits Broadway with full 90s nostalgia.

– Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, Or Change, Fun Home) is back with her beautiful score

– Jessica Stone (Broadway’s new IT director) leads this cast of fresh new faces.

– Written by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire.

– The show stars Victoria Clark and early buzz is already throwing her a Tony for this performance.

November 13 – Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man & the Pool (Vivian Beaumont Theater)

– Mike Birbiglia is back on Broadway with a hilarious new tale of life, death and a highly-chlorinated pool.

– Previously played to sold-out houses in Berkeley, Chicago and Los Angeles

– This strictly limited Broadway engagement ends December 30.

November 17 – & Juliet (Stephen Sondheim Theatre)

– A cunning twist on Romeo & Juliet using the catalogue of Pop Music King Max Martin

– This new musical was a hit in London and is written by Schitt’s Creek writer David West Read.

– A wild and fun night at the theatre!

November 20 – KPOP (Circle in the Square Theatre)

– A new musical score by the talented Helena Park and Max Vernon all about the making of the hit factory of KPOP phenomenon.

– The incredible dancing comes from the mind of Jennifer Weber (who is also choreographing & Juliet!)

November 21 – A Christmas Carol (Nederlander Theatre)

– Jefferson Mays plays over 50 characters in this one-man version of the timeless classic.

– Michael Arden (Tony-winning Best Revival – Once on This Island) directs.

Here’s what’s coming up in December:

December 1
Ain’t No Mo’ (Belasco Theatre)

December 4
A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical (Broadhurst Theatre)

December 8
Ohio State Murders (James Earl Jones Theatre)
Closing Date: February 12th, 2023

December 11
Some Like It Hot (Shubert Theatre)

December 19
Between Riverside and Crazy (Hayes Theater)

December 20
The Collaboration (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre)